OLC Undermines DOJ Inspector General Independence

For over a year, DOJ’s Inspector General has been trying to ensure it got ready access to things like grand jury materials (this has been pertinent in the Fast and Furious investigation and how DEA and FBI use the latter’s dragnet, among other things). As part of this effort, the IG asked OLC to weigh in on whether it should be able to access this information, or whether it needed to ask nicely, as it has been forced to do.

Here’s the opinion. Here’s the key passage:

In particular, Title III permits Department officials to disclose to OIG the contents of intercepted communications when doing so could aid the disclosing official or OIG in the performance of their duties related to law enforcement, including duties related to Department leadership’s supervision of law enforcement activities on a programmatic or policy basis. Rule 6(e) permits disclosure of grand jury materials to OIG if a qualifying attorney determines that such disclosure could assist her in the performance of her criminal law enforcement duties, including any supervisory law enforcement duties she may have. And FCRA permits the FBI to disclose to OIG consumer information obtained pursuant to section 626 if such disclosure could assist in the approval or conduct of foreign counterintelligence investigations, including in the supervision of such investigations on a programmatic or policy basis. In our view, however, Title III and Rule 6(e) forbid disclosures that have either an attenuated or no connection with the conduct of the Department’s criminal law enforcement programs or operations, and section 626 of FCRA forbids disclosures that have either an attenuated or no connection with the approval or conduct of foreign counterintelligence investigations.

And here’s OIG’s response.

Today’s opinion by the OLC undermines the OIG’s independence, which is a hallmark of the Inspector General system and is essential to carrying out the OIG’s oversight responsibilities under the Inspector General Act. The OLC’s opinion restricts the OIG’s ability to independently access all records in the Justice Department’s possession that are necessary for our audits, reviews, and investigations, and is contrary to the principles and express language set forth in the Inspector General Act.

The opinion also finds that, in adopting Section 218 of the Department of Justice’s FY 2015 Appropriations Act, Congress’ intent was not sufficiently clear to support independent OIG access to all records in the Department’s possession. The OLC’s opinion reaches this conclusion even though Congress passed Section 218 “to improve OIG access to Department documents and information” following the Department’s failure to independently and timely provide all responsive records to the OIG, and Section 218 explicitly provides that the Department may not use appropriated funds to withhold records from the OIG for reasons other than as expressly provided in the Inspector General Act.

As a result of the OLC’s opinion, the OIG will now need to obtain Justice Department permission in order to get access to important information in the Department’s files – putting the agency over which the OIG conducts oversight in the position of deciding whether to give the OIG access to the information necessary to conduct that oversight. The conflict with the principles enshrined in the Inspector General Act could not be clearer and, as a result, the OIG’s work will be adversely impacted.

The OIG will immediately ask Congress to pass legislation ensuring that the OIG has independent access to the information it needs for its work. The Attorney General and the Deputy Attorney General have each expressed their commitment to join the OIG in this effort.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz stated:

“I strongly disagree with the OLC opinion. Congress meant what it said when it authorized Inspectors General to independently access ‘all’ documents necessary to conduct effective oversight. Without such access, our Office’s ability to conduct its work will be significantly impaired, and it will be more difficult for us to detect and deter waste, fraud, and abuse, and to protect taxpayer dollars. We look forward to working with the Congress and the Justice Department to promptly remedy this serious situation.”

[This post has been updated to add the opinion.]

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The Bullshit Excuses for Not Retaliating for OPM

A handful of anonymous sources have given Ellen Nakashima some bullshit explanations for why the Administration is not retaliating against China for the OPM hack.

Most laughable is that they’re willing to retaliate for “economic” spying but not “political” spying. While also mentioning the Sony example, Nakashima points to the DOJ case against Chinese hackers for eavesdropping on discussions about trade disputes from the steel industry.

As a result, China has so far escaped any major consequence for what U.S. officials have described as one of the most damaging cyber thefts in U.S. government history — an outcome that also appears to reflect an emerging divide in how the United States responds to commercial vs. traditional espionage.

Over the past year and a half, the United States has moved aggressively against foreign governments accused of stealing the corporate secrets of major U.S. firms. Most notably, the Justice Department last year filed criminal charges against five Chinese military officers accused of involvement in alleged hacks of U.S. Steel, Westinghouse and other companies.

Nakashima doesn’t say whether her sources made this connection or she did, but it’s an inapt example. As I pointed out at the time, spying on trade negotiation adversaries is precisely the kind of “commercial” spying we embrace. We do this all the time. DOJ chose to indict on those trade dispute discussions but not on a never-ending list of hacks against more sensitive targets — like the F-35 development team — that fit more comfortably (though still not entirely) in the kind of “economic” spying we fancy others do but we don’t; DOJ probably made that choice because both the target and the evidence was segregable from more sensitive issues (the Chinese government and our clusterfuck of DOD contracting cyberdefense). In other words, it is not (as Nakashima claims uncritically) an example of the split between political and economic spying we claim to adhere to. That indictment is far better understood as us indicting Chinese hackers for something we not only do but also falls into what is considered acceptable spying internationally — that is, us trying to subject the rest of the world to our legal system — but doing so in an area where we won’t have to give any secrets away to prosecute.

The rest of the WaPo story focuses on another nonsensical explanation for not going after China: to avoid revealing sources and methods.

“We have chosen not to make any official assertions about attribution at this point,” said a senior administration official, despite the widely held conviction that Beijing was responsible. The official cited factors including concern that making a public case against China could require exposing details of the United States’ own espionage and cyber capabilities.

Again, this is nonsensical and should not have been repeated uncritically.

The FBI and everyone else has been happy to blame North Korea for the Sony hack. But we’ve gotten no more proof there than we have that China is behind the OPM hack. Rather than exposing sources and methods to prove attribution, the government simply said, “trust us.” There’s no reason they couldn’t do the same here (indeed, that’s what they have been saying in secret). The Sony hack is proof that the government doesn’t feel like it needs to offer proof before it blames another country for a hack.

There are two far more likely reasons we’re not retaliating against China in this case (though the fact that we do this kind of stuff to China all the time — and they could happily point to proof of that to demonize us in response — is one of them).

First, we simply don’t “retaliate” against countries that are big enough to fight back (as Nakashima’s other example, of the Russian hack of State for which we haven’t retaliated, makes clear). It’s one thing to go after a group of hackers from which China can claim some plausible deniability. It’s another to go after China itself.

Finally, Nakashima alludes to what is probably the real reason we’re going to remain quiet about this hack.

The government also is pursuing an array of counter-intelligence measures aimed at guarding against the Chinese government’s ability to use the stolen data to identify federal workers who might be induced to spy for Beijing.

China has much of our intelligence community — and many other easily embarrassed types, including politicians — by the nuts right now. It knows who our spooks are, where they are, what they might know, what their fingerprints are, and what extramarital affairs they’ve admitted to. When someone has you by the nuts like that, it’s usually a good idea to extract your nuts before you start trying to throw punches. It’s going to take a long time for the US to do that.

Which strongly suggests that the more laughable excuses for not retaliating — the claim we’re not blaming China because of sources and methods and some split between economic and political spying that we don’t really follow — serve no other purpose than to avoid admitting how much China does have us by the nuts.

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DEA’s One Minute Confidential Source Vetting Process

I’m still reading this report on DEA’s informant program, which shows that DEA operated by its own rules, sometimes resulting in DEA having high level informants that didn’t comply with the Attorney General’s guidelines, at other times resulting in informants engaging in unreviewed otherwise illegal activity, and generally showing inadequate vetting and paperwork.

But here’s an awesome table showing that before 2012, DEA was spending less than a minute reviewing its use of sources.

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The report explains:

Based on the aforementioned risks involved with long-term sources, the oversight of these long-term confidential sources is critical to the overall management of the DEA’s Confidential Source Program. Further, the importance of the long-term confidential source reviews requires that the [Sensitive Activity Review Committee] members, including any DOJ representatives, invest an appropriate amount of time and effort evaluating the benefits and risks of the continued use of each long-term confidential source.

[snip]

We reviewed the DEA’s documented meeting minutes for the SARC meetings conducted specifically for the review of long-term confidential sources that occurred between 2003 and 2012 and found that between 2003 and 2012, the DEA SARC’s reviews of long-term confidential sources appear to have been inadequate and infrequent. The DEA held only 7 SARC meetings during that 9-year period. Moreover, between its meeting in October 2009 and its most recent meeting in July 2014, a nearly 5-year timespan, the SARC met only once, in February 2012.

[snip]

Although the minutes reflect that starting in 2006, headquarters’ confidential source files were available for SARC members during the formal meetings, there is no indication that any SARC members actually reviewed any of these files. According to this information, between 2003 and 2012, during these formal meetings the SARC devoted what we calculated to be an average of just 1 minute per confidential source to consider the appropriateness of the source’s continued use.

As the table notes, there weren’t always DOJ people present for the review either.

The longer review process reflected in the 2012 meeting reflects a new review process, so hopefully this has been improved (to a whopping 6 minute review of DEA’s long-term relationships with sources).

But for years before that, DEA was spending as little as 13 seconds reviewing the appropriateness of its use of sources.

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Why Apple Should Pay Particular Attention to Wired’s New Car Hacking Story

This morning, Wired reports that the hackers who two years ago hacked an Escape and a Prius via physical access have hacked a Jeep Cherokee via remote (mobile phone) access. They accessed the vehicle’s Electronic Control Unit and from that were able to get to ECUs controlling the transmission and brakes, as well as a number of less critical items. The hackers are releasing a report [correction: this is Markey’s report], page 86 of which explains why cars have gotten so much more vulnerable (generally, a combination of being accessible via external communication networks, having more internal networks, and having far more ECUs that might have a vulnerability). It includes a list of the most and least hackable cars among the 14 they reviewed.

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Today Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal are releasing a bill meant to address some of these security vulnerabilities in cars.

Meanwhile — in a remarkably poorly timed announcement — Apple announced yesterday that it had hired Fiat Chrysler’s former quality guy, the guy who would have overseen development of both the hackable Jeep Cherokee and the safer Dodge Viper.

Doug Betts, who led global quality at Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV until last year, is now working for the Cupertino, Calif.-based electronics giant but declined to comment on the position when reached Monday. Mr. Betts’ LinkedIn profile says he joined Apple in July and describes his title as “Operations-Apple Inc.” with a location in the San Francisco Bay Area but no further specifics.

[snip]

Along with Mr. Betts, whose expertise points to a desire to know how to build a car, Apple recently recruited one of the leading autonomous-vehicle researchers in Europe and is building a team to work on those systems.

[snip]

In 2009, when Fiat SpA took over Chrysler, CEO Sergio Marchionne tapped Mr. Betts to lead the company’s quality turnaround, giving him far-reaching authority over the company’s brands and even the final say on key production launches.

Mr. Betts abruptly left Fiat Chrysler last year to pursue other interests. The move came less than a day after the car maker’s brands ranked poorly in an influential reliability study.

Note, the poor quality ratings that preceded Betts’ departure from Fiat Chrysler pertained especially to infotainment systems, which points to electronics vulnerabilities generally.

As they get into the auto business, Apple and Google will have the luxury that struggling combustion engine companies don’t have — that they’re not limited by tight margins as they try to introduce bells and whistles to compete on the marketplace. But they’d do well to get this quality and security issue right from the start, because the kind of errors tech companies can tolerate — largely because they can remotely fix bugs and because an iPhone that prioritized design over engineering can’t kill you — will produce much bigger problems in cars (though remote patching will be easier in electric cars).

So let’s hope Apple’s new employee takes this hacking report seriously.

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Mankiw’s Principles of Economics Part 3: Rational People Think At The Margin

The introduction to this series is here.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.

Mankiw’s third principle: Rational People Think At The Margin. His definition is:

Rational people systematically and purposefully do the best they can to achieve their objectives, given the available opportunities.” Principles of Macroeconomics 6th Ed. at 6

He defines marginal change: a small incremental adjustment to a plan of action. He teaches that rational people often compare the results of marginal changes to make decisions. Finally we get to his major premise:

A rational decision maker takes an action if and only if the marginal benefit of the action exceeds the marginal cost.

The first example is dinner. The choice, Mankiw says, is not between fasting and eating like a pig, but whether to eat another spoonful of mashed potatoes. At exam time, the choice is not blowing them off versus pulling all-nighters, but whether to put in an hour on your notes or goof off for that hour. His next example is seat prices for airplanes. The airline should sell seats at the price above the marginal cost of flying the passenger. Then we get the water/diamonds example. Water is essential for life, but it’s cheap. Diamonds are an extravagance, but they are very expensive.

All of this is in support of a central element of neoliberal and mainstream economics, that economies can be modeled by treating them as made up of rational agents. This idea fits neatly into Mirowski’s commandments of neoliberalism, specifically number 6: Thou Shalt Become The Manager Of Thyself. This means that individuals must learn to act rationally to decide upon a set of investments in themselves and changes in their behavior that will improve your appeal to people with money so they will give you money to work for them.

The food example is straight-forward enough, but how is the choice made? Some people are raised to clean their plates, and they do even if they could have skipped the last few forkfuls. Some people feel differently about meat than about French fries or carrots. Some people are abstemious, and always leave food. Others make the choice at the outset, by serving themselves a fixed amount and then eating all of it. Suppose the person would prefer to eat the last few bites of pork chop and skip dessert? If all these are rational choices for individuals, what possible generalization about eating is there? What, if anything, can this principle predict? How would Mankiw use that idea to model eating dinner?

The study example is fascinating. I remember my college days, and I ‘m sure I didn’t rationally choose whether to goof off with my friends or to study for finals. I chose, but it was random. And how would you calculate the benefit of one hour of study versus one hour of relaxing? Is that a real possibility?

The airline example is obvious to anyone familiar with basic business principles. It certainly isn’t an indication of “rationality” in the sense Mankiw is using the term. It merely requires an understanding of the difference between fixed costs and variable costs.

Then there’s the water/diamonds example. Here’s Mankiw’s explanation, so you won’t think I’m being snarky:

The reason is that a person’s willingness to pay for a good is based on the marginal benefit that an extra unit of the good would yield. The marginal benefit, in turn, depends on how many units a person already has. Water is essential, but the marginal benefit of an extra cup is small because water is plentiful. By contrast, no one needs diamonds to survive, but because diamonds are so rare, people consider the marginal benefit of an extra diamond to be large.

So water is cheap because people have a lot of it? Of course, there is plenty of water in most parts of the country, in our commonly held lakes, rivers, underground acquifers, and water run-off. As a commonly-owned asset, it’s free, if you could get it. But it has to be cleaned, delivered, and disposed of. That means the real question is why do we have a lot of clean water at the tap and few diamonds? The real reason is that our ancestors decided to make sure we all had clean water to drink, and explicitly chose to keep the “free market” out of it.

There are plenty of diamonds, though they are hard to find and dig up. The diamond business is controlled by a monopoly that artificially restricts the supply. Our ancestors made sure that didn’t happen to water. To see this clearly, think about the price of a bottle of water at the movies. There we have artificial scarcity, produced by the theater’s policy against bringing in snacks. Just ask yourself whether you want to buy your water from a profit-maximizing monopoly, say the Comcast or the DeBeers of water. Maybe you’d like to buy your water from the private company that didn’t have a system in place to detect the foul chemicals in the water supply of Charleston, WV?

So now let’s see how this rationality principle works in practice. Consider retirement savings. What would it mean operationally to say that people act rationally when making decisions about saving and preparing for retirement? What does this principle tell them to do? How should they invest? What should they do to protect themselves against losing big in those investments? What happens if they are hurt and can’t work, or if their spouse gets hurt and they need to quit work to take care of them? How do you calculate the value of a dollar today against the value of that dollar in retirement? For a short lesson in the prevalence of financial literacy, look at this paper, or this site.

Finally, it isn’t just one choice. There is a chain of choices in life, each one eliminates other choices and creates new choices and possibilities, each with its own probability of success. In the retirement example, you might have a 75% chance of correctly guessing at how much to save, a 95% chance of getting an honest financial adviser, a 60% chance that the investments will be very successful, and related chances of less good outcomes. Your chances of getting the best result are about 43%, and that’s before you consider the general state of the economy when you need money, continued good health, unexpected possible current uses for your money, good relations with your partner and your partner’s success in contributing, and all the other variables. That tells you that most people will be somewhat successful, a few will be wildly successful, and a fair number will crash and burn. The reality is that most families have very little success, and are dependent on Social Security and Medicare for a decent retirement. Even people who do reasonably well need those social arrangements to secure a good retirement.

This analysis shows that the margin plays little or no role in the lives of ordinary humans. It’s just a construct used to simplify human life in a way that permits economists to justify their use of calculus.

Here are some possible conclusions:

1. This principle makes sense when considered in the very short run, like the mashed potatoes example. For any longer term, it feels more or less random, mostly because there is no way to determine the probabilitiies. Some people get lucky and win the game of life. Others don’t get lucky. The number of things that seem perfectly rational at a point in time either work, or they don’t, and the results are unpredictable. That accords with my understanding of markets as minute by minute affairs. In the longer run, investment and housing markets are a real threat to the marginal thinking of Mankiw’s rational people.

2. We all want to think we are pursuing their goals systematically and purposefully, Mankiw’s definition of rational people. We want to believe our success is the result of their personal skill, and many people apparently feel justified in looking down on, and even punishing, the losers. I’d say the reality is that it’s better to be lucky than rational.

2. By deciding that the economy is full of rational people, the door opens to armchair speculation. Hmmm, says Mankiw, if I were faced with a bowl of mashed potatoes, here’s how I’d decide how much to take. I’m rational, so that means everyone would act that way. So, I’ll model mashed potato eating based on purely rational me. In exactly the same way, they figure out how they prepare for retirement, and draw conclusions about the way rational people act and build that into their models. No.

3. I do not think this is the definitive discussion of the role of rationality in human decision making. The entire subject of rational agents has been subjected to criticism on philosophical and practical grounds, and I hope to get to it at some point.

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WikiLeaks Reveals Steinmeier Intercepts, 2 Years before Helping Condi Look Unconcerned by Kidnapping Liabilities

In its latest release on the individual intercepts the NSA collected on top German officials, WikiLeaks revealed that Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier had been a priority 2 target in NSA’s monitoring of German political affairs.

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The actual intercept released with today’s list of targets pertains to Steinmeier’s first visit to DC as Foreign Minister in November 2005.

The intercept described how Steinmeier was pleased to have gotten a non-committal answer from Condi Rice when he asked her whether the CIA had run rendition flights through Germany.

(TS//SI//NF) New German Foreign Minister Pleased With First Official  Visit to Washington

(TS//SI//NF) Frank­-Walter Steinmeier seemed pleased on 29 November  with the results of his first visit to Washington as the new German Foreign Minister. Steinmeier described the mood during his talks with U.S. officials as very good, but feared that the most difficult part was still ahead. He seemed relieved that he had not received any  definitive response from the U.S. Secretary of State regarding press reports of CIA flights through Germany to secret prisons in eastern  Europe allegedly used for interrogating terrorism suspects. Steinmeier remarked that Washington is placing great hope in his  country’s new government. In this connection, he is looking for areas where bilateral cooperation can be strengthened and is considering  the southern Caucasus as one possible area.

This would have been of particular concern for Steinmeier as he was Chief of Staff in German’s Chancellery, in charge of intelligence. If German intelligence did know about the flights, he would be complicit. So he might be particularly happy to report that the US — that Condi Rice — was officially giving a non-answer to the question of whether or not the CIA was using Germany as a base for its kidnapping flights.

Better to officially not know.

Now, I actually am not at all troubled that NSA is wiretapping foreign officials. They’re surely doing the same to our equivalents. So while I’m interested in what these WikiLeak releases say about our NSA activities, I’m not critical of these activities.

But I am interested that Steinmeier was wiretapped for this reason.

As a State cable released by WikiLeaks back in 2010 showed, in 2007, Steinmeier and Condi met to discuss the recent arrest warrants issued by a German court. Steinmeier came out of the meeting and said publicly that Condi had told him she and the US would have no problem with the issue of arrest warrants for 13 US agents. After Steinmeier created that impression in the press, the Deputy Chief of the Mission to Germany corrected that impression, making it clear that the US had a very big problem with the planned arrest of its agents for kidnapping.

Just as the German prosecutor issued arrest warrants for 13 CIA personnel, Condi Rice and Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met in DC for a discussion of Mideast peace efforts. After they met, Steinmeier told the German press that Condi had assured him that the arrest warrants wouldn’t affect German-US relations.

Steinmeier told the Welt am Sonntag newspaper that he had raised the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who “assured me there would be no negative impact on German-American relations.”

Steinmeier, whose remarks were released a day ahead of publication on Sunday, said he told Rice the warrants could only be served in Germany at present, but the government expected the court to issue international warrants at some stage.

The cable describes a February 6, 2007 meeting in which the Deputy Chief of Mission of the US Embassy in Germany, John Koenig, “corrected” the impression that Steinmeier had gotten from his meeting with Condi the week before.

In a February 6 discussion with German Deputy National Security Adviser Rolf Nikel, the DCM reiterated our strong concerns about the possible issuance of international arrest warrants in the al-Masri case. The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case. The DCM emphasized that this was not the case and that issuance of international arrest warrants would have a negative impact on our bilateral relationship. He reminded Nikel of the repercussions to U.S.-Italian bilateral relations in the wake of a similar move by Italian authorities last year.

Koenig goes on to note that the government would have political problems in the US if the Germans issued the international arrest warrants.

The DCM pointed out that the USG would likewise have a difficult time in managing domestic political implications if international arrest warrants are issued.

[snip]

[T]his was obviously a hastily called meeting in response to Steinmeier’s quotation of Condi’s assurances the warrantswouldn’t cause a problem. Note the specific language Koenig uses:

The DCM noted that the reports in the German media of the discussion on the issue between the Secretary and FM Steinmeier in Washington were not accurate, in that the media reports suggest the USG was not troubled by developments in the al-Masri case.

He’s not telling the Germans that Steinmeier was wrong, that he mis-quoted Condi. Rather, Koenig’s simply saying that the content–what Condi had said–was wrong.

While the cable makes it clear that Koenig was emphasizing the stance of the USG, it’s still not clear whether Condi just lied to Steinmeier about USG concern, using that as cover for the kidnapping that she, who was National Security Advisor during the kidnapping, would have been implicated in, or whether Steinmeier knowingly put disinformation into the press that State subordinates could correct in secret. That is, it’s not clear how knowingly Steinmeier served as a stooge in US disinformation that ultimately protected Condi.

But I do find the continuity of Steinmeier’s happiness about pretending there was no kidnapping going on in Germany to be notable. I also find it notable that Condi and her friends would have had very detailed understanding of Steinmeier’s opinions and activities from the interim period.

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The Bipartisan Push for Internment Camps

On Friday, Franklin Graham posted this on his Facebook page:

Four innocent Marines (United States Marine Corps) killed and three others wounded in ‪#‎Chattanooga‬ yesterday including a policeman and another Marine–all by a radical Muslim whose family was allowed to immigrate to this country from Kuwait. We are under attack by Muslims at home and abroad. We should stop all immigration of Muslims to the U.S. until this threat with Islam has been settled. Every Muslim that comes into this country has the potential to be radicalized–and they do their killing to honor their religion and Muhammad. During World War 2, we didn’t allow Japanese to immigrate to America, nor did we allow Germans. Why are we allowing Muslims now? Do you agree? Let your Congressman know that we’ve got to put a stop to this and close the flood gates. Pray for the men and women who serve this nation in uniform, that God would protect them.

Also on Friday, former Democratic Presidential candidate Wes Clark said this in an interview:

We have got to identify the people who are most likely to be radicalized. We’ve got to cut this off at the beginning.  There are always a certain number of young people who are alienated.  They don’t get a job, they lost a girlfriend, their family doesn’t feel happy here and we can watch the signs of that. And there are members of the community who can reach out to those people and bring them back in and encourage them to look at their blessings here.

But I do think on a national policy level we need to look at what self-radicalization means because we are at war with this group of terrorists.  They do have an ideology. In World War II if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put him in a camp, they were prisoners of war.

So, if these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they are disloyal to the United States, as a matter of principle fine. It’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict.  And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this, not only in the United States but our allied nations like Britain, Germany and France are going to have to look at their domestic law procedures.

Interestingly, both comments were made in the wake of an attack that defies easy labeling, both according to the law and the absence of evidence of anything but depression. But nevertheless, the Chattanooga attack seemingly made it okay to talk about doing something we claim to have forsworn after our World War II experience. This, at a time when the number of people killed in Islamic terrorist attacks in the US since 9/11 still numbers in the tens.

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O’Malley’s Explanation for White Lives Matter

As you’ve no doubt heard the Presidential forum at Netroots Nation was interrupted by a Black Lives Matter action, with probably about 50-75 people (mostly, but not entirely, African Americans) who interrupted the discussion between Jose Antonio Vargas and Governor Martin O’Malley chanting the names of Sandra Bland and others who have been killed by cops. The action virtually ended O’Malley’s discussion, which only got worse when he tried to respond and said, “black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter.” The term “white lives matter” got used by white people using other racist comments in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Effectively he was responding to an expression of outrage by repeating language used by people who want to suppress that expression.

I attended a roundtable with Governor O’Malley shortly after the forum.

Angélique Roché, an African American political consultant who serves as a Director at the Women’s Campaign School at Yale, asked the first question. She asked how, across a number of issues (including Black Lives Matter, but she named several others), he is ensuring a wide variety of voices are represented: not just people of color, women, orientation, class, but also generation and region. O’Malley responded by talking about keeping a broad circle of advisors, and suggested that,technology allows you to do that in ways that weren’t possible [a few] years ago.” Roché reiterated that to really hear that kind of diversity represented, you really need to work to make that happen.

Later in the round table, someone asked O’Malley to explain his “white lives matter” comment. He explained that he had first used that term about 90 days ago, and that in the moment he used it again. He hadn’t upgraded his lexicon to reflect the new connotation the term has taken on. O’Malley said, “that was a mistake and I shouldn’t have said it.” (He has since given a similar statement on This Week in Blackness.)

I’ll have more to say about the action — which I think fits squarely within a tradition of such confrontations at Netroots Nation — later. But I did want to explain part of what happened right after.

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Remember Yemen?

Eid Mubarak. Today Ramadan ends, a big celebration in the Muslim community.

Saudi Arabia chose to celebrate by doing what they’ve been doing for over a hundred days: bombing Yemen.

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Yet the continued plight of Yemenis — and the expanding humanitarian crisis — has fallen off the media radar.

That’s particularly notable given that according to the formal readouts, every conversation the President has had with Gulf allies about the Iran deal has also included some discussion of Yemen. There’s his conversation with UAE’s Crown Prince, on July 14:

The President spoke today with Crown Prince Mohammed Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. The President shared details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program agreed to among the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. In discussing the details of the JCPOA, the President affirmed that it will verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon by cutting off all of the potential pathways to a bomb while ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward. Recalling the productive discussions with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members at Camp David in May, the President underscored that the United States is as committed as ever to working with our Gulf partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region, support our partners in building their defense capabilities, and pursue together efforts to resolve the region’s crises. The President and the Crown Prince also discussed the urgent humanitarian situation in Yemen, the importance of getting assistance to the Yemeni people in all parts of the country, and the need for a political solution that ends the ongoing conflict.

His phone conversation with King Salman, also on July 14:

The President spoke today with King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia. The President offered his personal condolences over the passing of Prince Saud al-Faisal. He shared details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) regarding Iran’s nuclear program agreed to among the P5+1, the European Union, and Iran. In discussing the details of the JCPOA, the President affirmed that it will verifiably prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon by cutting off all of the potential pathways to a bomb while ensuring the peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program going forward. The President underscored that the United States is as committed as ever to working with our Gulf partners to counter Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and promote stability as well as resolutions to the region’s crises. Consistent with the productive discussions the President conducted with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) members at Camp David in May, he reiterated the United States’ support in building the capabilities of our regional partners. The President and the King also spoke about the urgency of stopping the fighting in Yemen and the importance of ensuring that assistance can reach Yemenis on all sides of the conflict through international humanitarian channels.

And his face-to-face meeting today with Foreign Minister (and former Ambassador to the US) Adel al-Jubeir:

Today, President Obama met in the Oval Office with Saudi Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir to discuss a range of regional and bilateral issues. They welcomed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) reached between the P5+1, EU and Iran on July 14 which, once fully implemented, will effectively cut off all of Iran’s pathways to a nuclear weapon and verifiably ensure that Iran’s nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward. Following on the Camp David meetings with Gulf Cooperation Council leaders, they discussed efforts underway to further enhance the close and long standing partnership between our two countries and build Saudi Arabia’s security capabilities, noting that Secretary of Defense Carter’s visit to Saudi Arabia next week will advance those discussions.

They also reviewed efforts to jointly address and seek to resolve regional crises. They discussed the urgency of stopping the fighting in Yemen and the importance of ensuring that assistance is reaching Yemenis in need through international humanitarian channels without any impediments or delays. They discussed cooperation to reach a genuine political solution in Syria. They also reaffirmed our mutual commitment to reinforce efforts to support Iraq and continue the coalition’s work in the counter-ISIL campaign. The President asked Foreign Minister Al-Jubeir to convey his best wishes to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

The Houthis had started to lose ground (reportedly at the hands of Emirate forces, not Saudi ones) in Aden, but that hasn’t stopped the bombing.

Given the way the Obama Administration has tied some solution to Yemen with the Iran deal, I think it fair to ask whether there has been some kind of understanding that even as Obama pursues this deal, the US will continue to facilitate Saudi Arabia’s efforts to extend its hegemony at the expense of Shias (in Yemen, but also in Syria).

The war in Yemen is America’s war, even if we have no known troops involved. But the US is simply disavowing it — it, and the disaster the war has brought for an already beleaguered people.

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European Neoliberals Crushed the Leftist Party in Greece

Two of the most depressing interviews I have ever seen are the Jacobin interview with Stathis Kouvelakis and the New Statesman interview with Yanis Varoufakis in the wake of the Greek referendum and the capitulation of Prime MInister Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party. Kouvelakis is a member of the Left Platform in Syriza, Tsipras’ governing party. Until shortly after the referendum, Varoufakis was the finance minister, charged with leading the negotiations with the Troika. I thought Tsipras was trying to fulfill his promises during the elections that he would be able to get an acceptable deal from the Troika and remove the burden of austerity from the Greek economy, while rationalizing Greece’s weak governmental institutions. Varoufakis confirms this. But then came capitulation.

Varoufakis says that he prepared for the negotiations like an academic. He worked out his theoretical position and the data that supports his view that Greece would never be able to recover from under the strain of the austerity and other demands of the Troika. He claims that the Troika knows that is true, though they won’t admit it, and at least initially there was personal sympathy with the problems of Greece and the positions he was taking. This is his major point:

HL: You’ve said creditors objected to you because “I try and talk economics in the Eurogroup, which nobody does.” What happened when you did?
YV: It’s not that it didn’t go down well – it’s that there was point blank refusal to engage in economic arguments. Point blank. … You put forward an argument that you’ve really worked on – to make sure it’s logically coherent – and you’re just faced with blank stares. It is as if you haven’t spoken. What you say is independent of what they say. You might as well have sung the Swedish national anthem – you’d have got the same reply. And that’s startling, for somebody who’s used to academic debate. … The other side always engages. Well there was no engagement at all. It was not even annoyance, it was as if one had not spoken.

He says that Wolfgang Schauble, the German Finance Minister, took the position that the previous government had agreed to the austerity program, and the Greeks were stuck with it. When Varoufakis asked if debtor countries should just dispense with elections, Schauble was silent, which Varoufakis interprets to mean it would be great if that could be done. Then came the referendum, a smashing win for rejecting the austerity demands of the Troika. Varoufakis says he had a plan ready to get ready to exit the Euro, but Tsipras rejected it, and moved to capitulation.

So from this we can conclude that what we thought about Europe is true: it is a purely neoliberal state, one in which creditors cannot suffer losses. Either the debtor pays or the taxpayers pay, but the creditors do not lose money. And, of course, by taxpayers, I mean the working class and any remaining middle class. The elites use their control over governments to make sure they don’t pay.

The interview with Kouvelakis makes it clear that this was purposeful. He tells us how it looked from the standpoint of the Left Platform, the leftist element of Syriza. He thinks that in June it became clear that the Troika was not negotiating in good faith, and were out to humiliate the people of Greece. Tsipras used the referendum to get himself out of the negotiating trap. He expected the referendum to win, not, as it did, to lose. The decisive factor was the decision by the ECB to force closure of Greek banks, which panicked people.

Kouvelakis says that the rightist wing of Syriza argued that the referendum would be perceived as a serious provocation by the Troika, and they were right. Syriza lost all its leverage, and was forced into humiliating surrender. Even so, Kouvelakis doesn’t have harsh words for Tsipras.

What I think actually happened was that Tsipras honestly believed that he could get a positive outcome by putting forward an approach centered on negotiations and displaying good will, and this also why he constantly said he had no alternative plan.

In this Kouvelakis agrees with Varoufakis. He also agrees that their approach was logical and lucid, to use his words. The weakness was their belief in Left Europeanism. Tsipras and Varoufakis both thought that this was a negotiation between partners in the European project.

But what actually happened was akin to a fight between two people, where one person risks the pain and damage of losing a toe and the other their two legs.

So it is true that there was a lack of elementary realism and that this was directly connected with the major problem that the Left has to face today — namely, our own impotence.

Kouvelakis tells us that this was a class vote. The working class supported the no vote, and the wealthy supported the yes side. The age group 18-24 voted no overwhelmingly. These groups see the EU as hostile, and they are anti-European. They were betrayed by the people they elected.

Kouvelakis says that the yes supporters, the old guard in Greek politics, collapsed in the wake of the loss. But then Tsipras revived them with his call for a council of political leaders. These people decided to treat the referendum as a vote to continue negotiations, even for capitulation. Kouvelakis feels betrayed by this reversal. After a discussion of internal Greek procedures, Kouvelakis says that the Left Platform will leave Syriza, and that the rightist wing and the rest of the group will more or less unite with those rejected parties to form a party of national unity.

That’s so depressing it’s hard to write. One of the EU demands was replacement of the elected government of Greece. It is a direct rejection of democracy. The EU refuses to work with anyone outside the neoliberal consensus, meaning leftist parties. Syriza was never a revolutionary leftist party, more of a highly reform oriented leftist group, and that’s how Kouvelakis sees the Left Platform. So, by removing the Left Platform, Syriza is now nothing more than the Third Way Democrats: economic destruction of human beings with a nice smile. Large groups of Greeks were willing to do battle with the neoliberals, but they were betrayed, and their misery will go on indefinitely. The destruction of human lives is just the way things are in neoliberal lands. Greece’s young people and its working class are losers, the markets have spoken, and they will be sacrificed. It’s enough to gag a maggot.

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Emptywheel Twitterverse

emptywheel @BillPutnamPhoto I was wondering that too. Stealth drone! I guess F-35 is supposed to replace unreliable allies on the ground? @AthertonKD
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emptywheel Did Vlad Putin ever gain political advantage by physically threatening those who teach the nation's future?
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JimWhiteGNV When was the last time the Mets and Yankees were both in first place in Aug or Sept?
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emptywheel @jakemcintyre Also, you're not a Jets fan and so not irrationally forgetting there are others in division...
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emptywheel Why NOT promote Lindsey beyond contributions? He contributes where it counts, in unquestioning devotion to military. https://t.co/WzLmjzL4qQ
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emptywheel @jakemcintyre Where's your excitement for the Pats-debacle-year Bills supremacy?
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emptywheel @KevinOfMI Oh yuck! Do you take the truck across if often (you were in a car today, weren't you?)
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emptywheel @KevinOfMI That bridge scares me.
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emptywheel If MI still had film credits that storm would have made a great setting for Sharknado4.
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bmaz @mattapuzzo @Nick_Hentoff Sure, but thats no filter, that is a joke. The problem is that it has been allowed to infest+slide thru trial cts
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emptywheel RT @KailiJoy: So the journalists who went to the hush-hush Koch party aren't the same ones who complain Hillary won't talk to 'em, right?
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emptywheel @Priestic1 You MUST be being a downer cause I asked the same thing a few hours ago.
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