Thursday, April 10, 2014

What are the mechanisms by which corruption operates in the US? Some breathtaking examples of bonuses and revolving doors are discussed by Michael Krieger

Why is the country practically bankrupt and mired in corruption? Can the parts of our economic culture that enable huge government giveaways be identified?

We certainly don't know about how most decisions are made at the federal level, nor do we have any idea how much money changes hands and how.  But there are some things that are known.  Persons in policymaking or oversight positions often seem to have been placed there to carry out certain predefined tasks.

In David Stockman's Contra Corner website, Michael Krieger lays out many examples of how those responsible for major policies get rewarded by industry via bonuses, special contract provisions and revolving door jobs:

"Nothing is more important to a fully streamlined corrupt crony capitalist economy as the ever-present “revolving door” between regulatory agencies and the industries/companies they regulate. These moves have become so pervasive in American society that it is simply impossible to keep up with them all, but I try my best to cover the most egregious examples whenever possible. As a refresher, I suggest reading the following:

How Obama’s Chief Negotiators on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Treaty Received Huge Bonuses from Mega Banks
Revolving Door 2014: Former Head of the Federal Communications Commission Joins Carlyle
Journalism’s Revolving Door: Washington Post’s National Security Editor Joins the State Department
The Pentagon’s Revolving Door with Defense Contractors…Some Shocking Statistics
How Jack “Bailout Bonus” Lew Got to Treasury
It Never Ends: Top Obama Housing Advisor Jumps Ship to Wells Fargo
Meet Liz Fowler: Architect of ObamaCare Jumps Ship to Johnson & Johnson
Meet Mary Jo White: The Next SEC Chief and a Guaranteed Wall Street Patsy"

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Syria's chemical weapons attack(s) an Erdogan False Flag/ Seymour Hersh

Seymour Hersh provides a very plausible deconstruction of how chemical weapons were used in an attempt to draw the United States into military engagement with Syria last year---by the Turkish government in cahoots with anti-Assad Syrian rebels. Hopefully you have heard about the leaked YouTube audiotape in which planning for a Syria false flag attack is discussed.  It did not get much mainstream press, though both Voice of America and RT carried the story.

Last September I blogged about possible transfers of weapons located in Libya to Syrian rebels, particularly surface-to-air missiles (SAMs).  This seemed related to the Benghazi consulate takeover. Hersh provides more details on this, though much remains unknown.

Hersh pays close attention to what we knew and when did we know it--and what did the administration do about it.  An important read.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Anthrax Industry report published/ Research and Markets

Wondering which corporations feed at the anthrax biodefense rice bowl?  For a minimum of $995 (US) you can find out about where the anthrax money is being spent and who's doing what. Yet the biggest feeder (Emergent BioSolutions) is missing from the list. So is Pharmathene, which was perhaps Emergent's biggest competitor, and which just had its USG contract for anthrax vaccine scaled back today.
"The Anthrax Partnering 2007-2012 report provides understanding and access to the anthrax partnering deals and agreements entered into by the worlds leading healthcare companies."
Top anthrax deals by valueDeals listed by company A-Z, industry sector, stage of development, technology type. 

Companies mentioned: 
Aspen Pharmacare
Baxter International
Biogen Idec
Boehringer Ingelheim
Bristol-Myers Squibb
Daiichi Sankyo
Dainippon Sumitomo
Eli Lilly
Endo Pharmaceuticals
Forest Laboratories
Gilead Sciences
Johnson & Johnson
Kyowa Hakko Kirin
Merck & Co
Merck KGaA
Mitsubishi Tanabe
Novo Nordisk
Warner Chilcott

Friday, April 4, 2014

UN Human Rights Committee Finds US in Violation on 25 Counts/ Truthout

    This is a very long piece, but it needs to be said and all the points are important.  The US' record on Human Rights is pitiful, and our commitment to our international  obligations doubly so.  From Truthout:hudson img
While President Obama told the country to "look forward, not backward" when it came to Bush's torture program, the United Nations has taken a different route. Recently, the UN Human Rights Committeeissued a report excoriating the United States for its human rights violations. It focuses on violations of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the country is party. The report mentions 25 human rights issues where the United States is failing. This piece will focus on a few of those issues - Guantanamo, NSA surveillance, accountability for Bush-era human rights violations, drone strikes, racism in the prison system, racial profiling, police violence, and criminalization of the homeless.Accountability for Bush-Era Crimes, Torture
The UN committee expressed concerned with "the limited number of investigations, prosecutions and convictions of members of the Armed Forces and other agents of the US government, including private contractors" for "unlawful killings" and "torture" during the Bush years. It welcomed the closing of the CIA black sites, but criticized the "meagre number of criminal charges brought against low-level operatives" for abuses carried out under the CIA's rendition, interrogation and detention program. The committee also found fault with the fact that many details of the CIA's torture program "remain secret, thereby creating barriers to accountability and redress for victims."
In response to the 9/11 terrorist attack, the Bush administration jettisoned the Constitution and international law and openly embraced the use of torture against suspected terrorists captured overseas. The CIA tortured people in secret prisons around the world known as "black sites." Torture was sanctioned from the top down. Then-President George W. Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, lawyers and many others in the executive branch played roles in crafting nifty ways to justify, approve and implement the use of torture. 
Rather than be held accountable, the top-level government officials responsible for authorizing torture and other crimes have been given comfort in the public sphere. Condoleezza Rice returned to Stanford University as a political science professor. John Yoo, who authored the torture memos, is a law professor at UC Berkeley. Jose Rodriguez, a former CIA officer in the Bush administration, vigorously defends torture in his autobiography and interviews. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are able to rest comfortably in retirement and continue to defend their records. 

Of the report's 25 issues, four looked at racial disparities within the United States' criminal justice system and law enforcement practices.

In the Guantanamo military commissions, evidence of torture is concealed. A "protective order" restricts what defense lawyers and the accused can say about how the defendants were treated in CIA black sites, including details of torture, because that information is classified. Defense lawyers have been fighting for declassification of those details, as they are mitigating evidence. 
The potential release of portions of the Senate Intelligence Committee's report on the CIA report could tip the scale in their favor. "There is every reason to believe the SSCI [Senate Select Committee on Intelligence] Report contains information about the CIA's torture of Mr. al Baluchi," said defense attorney James Connell, who represents Ammar al-Baluchi, one of the five 9/11 defendants, in a press statement. "The SSCI knows the truth of what happened, and the military commission considering whether to execute Mr. al Baluchi should know too." 
Racism in the Prison System, Racial Profiling, Police Brutality
Of the report's 25 issues, four looked at racial disparities within the United States' criminal justice system and law enforcement practices. It denounced the "racial disparities at different stages in the criminal justice system, sentencing disparities and the overrepresentation of individuals belonging to racial and ethnic minorities in prisons and jails." The committee condemned racial profiling by police and FBI/NYPD surveillance of muslims - but it did welcome plans to reform New York City's "stop and frisk" program. It also denounced the continuing use of the death penalty and "racial disparities in its imposition that affects disproportionately African Americans." Finally, it expressed concern at "the still high number of fatal shootings by certain police forces" and "reports of excessive use of force by certain law enforcement officers . . . which have a disparate impact on African Americans, and the use of lethal force by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at the US-Mexico border." 
The United States contains the largest prison population in the world, holding over 2.4 million people in domestic jails and prisons, immigration detention centers, military prisons, civil commitment centers and juvenile correctional facilities. Its prison population is even larger than those of authoritarian governments like China and Russia, which, respectively, hold 1,640,000 and 681,600 prisoners, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies. More than 60 percent of the US prison population are people of color. African Americans, while 13 percent of the national population, constitute nearly 40 percent of the prison population. Moreover, one in every three black males can expect to go to prison in their lifetime, compared to one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males. Thus, black men are six times more likely to be incarcerated than white men. Even though whites and blacks use drugs at roughly the same rates, African Americans are more likely to be imprisoned for drug-related offenses than whites.
Every 28 hours, a black person is killed by a police officer, security guard, or self-appointed vigilante, according to a report by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. Recently in New York City, NYPD brutalized two teenage African-American girls at a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn. A 16-year-old girl's face was slammed against the floor, while police threw the 15-year-old through the restaurant's window, shattering it as a result. The incident started when police ordered everyone to leave the restaurant, but one of the girls refused. 
While police violence against people of color has long existed, the militarization of American police exacerbates this trend. This militarization began in 1981, when President Ronald Reagan signed the Military Cooperation with Civilian Law Enforcement Agencies Act, which provided civilian police agencies with military equipment, training, advice and access to military research and facilities. When 9/11 hit, police militarization kicked into overdrive with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, which has given police still greater access to military and other highly-sophisticated hardware like armored vehicles and riot gear. Now police look, act and think like the military, with dangerous consequences for the communities they serve. 
Drone Strikes, Assassinations
To execute its perpetual global war on terrorism, the Bush administration favored large-scale, conventional land invasions and occupations, as in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obama has moved away from such operations and embraced seemingly lighter tactics of irregular warfare to continue the perpetual war, while making it less visible to Americans. Extrajudicial killing and drone strikes are the most notable methods, but others include air strikes, cruise missile attacks, cyberwarfarespecial operations, and proxy wars
These tactics have meant more use of the military's Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and the paramilitary branch of the CIA. Both the CIA and JSOC carry out drone strikes and sometimes collaborate in joint operations. The CIA, not the military, is legally mandated to launch covert operations, which are classified and unacknowledged by the US government. However, JSOC performs essentially the same operations, particularly extrajudicial killings. Thus, transferring control of the drone program from the CIA to the military would make little difference.
The UN report criticized the United States' assassination program and drone strikes. It expressed concerned with the "lack of transparency regarding the criteria for drone strikes, including the legal justification for specific attacks, and the lack of accountability for the loss of life resulting from such attacks." The United States' position for justifying its extrajudicial killing operations is that it is engaged in an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban and "associated forces" - a term the Obama administration created to refer to co-belligerents with al-Qaeda - and that the war is in accordance with the nation's inherent right to self-defense against a terrorist enemy. 
However, the committee took issue with the United States' position, particularly its "very broad approach to the definition and the geographical scope of an armed conflict, including the end of hostilities." A May 2010 report by Philip Alston, former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, notes that, under international law, states cannot wage war against non-state actors, such as international terrorist groups like al-Qaeda, because of their nebulous character and loose affiliations. 
The committee's report also took issue with "the unclear interpretation of what constitutes an 'imminent threat' and who is a combatant or civilian taking a direct part in hostilities, the unclear position on the nexus that should exist between any particular use of lethal force and any specific theatre of hostilities, as well as the precautionary measures taken to avoid civilian casualties in practice." 

So far, US drone strikes and other covert operations have killed between 2,700 and nearly 5,000 people.

Under international law, self-defense against an "imminent" threat is "necessity of that self-defense is instant, overwhelming, and leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation." However, the Obama administration completely obliterated this meaning. In a 16-page white paper leaked to NBC News, the Obama administration believes that whether "an operational leader presents an 'imminent' threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interest will take place in the immediate future." Thus, a "high-level official could conclude, for example, that an individual poses an 'imminent threat' of violent attack against the United States where he is an operational leader of al-Qa'ida or an associated force and is personally and continually involved in planning terrorist attacks against the United States" without any proof of an actual plot against the United States. Thus, in Obama-lingo, the word "imminent" means the complete opposite of what it is in the English language.
There is no due process in the assassination program, either. President Obama and his advisors decide who will be killed by a drone strike in a secret internal executive branch process that occurs every Tuesday. Even American citizens are fair game for the assassination program. In fact, four US citizens have been killed by drone strikes, including a 16-year-old boy. A database called the "disposition matrix" adds names to kill or capture lists, ensuring the assassination program will continue no matter who is in office. Targeting for drone strikes is not based on human intelligence but, rather, signals intelligence, particularly metadata analysis and cellphone tracking. The NSA geolocates a SIM card or mobile phone of a suspected terrorist, which helps the CIA and JSOC to track an individual to kill or capture in a night raid or drone strike. Since this methodology targets a SIM card, rather than a real person, civilians are commonly killed by mistake. 
As with the word "imminent," the Obama administration utilizes its own warped definitions of "civilian" and "combatant." As The New York Times reported in May 2012, the Obama administration "counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent." 
Despite claims to the contrary, drone strikes kill a significant number of civilians and inflict serious human suffering. So far, US drone strikes and other covert operations have killed between 2,700 and nearly 5,000 people, including 500 to more than 1,100 civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, according to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism's figures. Many of those deaths occurred under Obama's watch, with drone strikes killing at least 2,400 people during his five years in office. Only 2 percent of those killed by drone strikes in Pakistan are high-level militants, while most are low-level fighters and civilians. In addition to causing physical harm, drone strikes terrorize and traumatize communities that constantly live under them. 
Drone strikes have lulled in Pakistan due to peace talks between the Pakistani government and Pakistan Taliban, which collapsed on February 17. The last US drone strike in Pakistan happened on Christmas Day 2013. In Yemen, drone strikes have continued. Several US drone strikes in Yemen occurred during the first 12 days of March. Last November, six months after President Obama laid out new rules for US drone strikes, a TBIJ analysis showed that "covert drone strikes in Yemen and Pakistan have killed more people than in the six months before the speech." It also was recently reported that the Obama administration is debating whether to kill a US citizen in Pakistan who is suspected of "actively plotting terrorist attacks," according to The New York Times.  
It is very likely these operations will continue. The Pentagon's 2015 budget proposal, taking sequestration into account, spends $0.4 billion less than 2014 at $495.6 billion, shrinks the Army down to between 440,000 to 450,000 troops from the post-9/11 peak of 570,000, and protects money for cyberwarfare and special operations forces. Cyber operations are allocated $5.1 billion in the proposal, while US Special Operations Command gets $7.7 billion, which is 10 percent more than in 2014, and a force of 69,700 personnel. While President Obama promised to take the United States off a "permanent war footing," his administration's policies tell a different story. The Obama administration is reconfiguring, rather than halting, America's "permanent war footing." 
Guantanamo, Indefinite Detention
President Obama recommitted himself to closing the prison in Guantanamo last year, but has made little progress, which the UN report noted. The committee said it "regrets that no timeline for closure of the facility has been provided." It also expressed concern that "detainees held in Guantanamo Bay and in military facilities in Afghanistan are not dealt with within the ordinary criminal justice system after a protracted period of over a decade in some cases." 
The report called on the United States to expedite the transfer of prisoners out of Guantanamo, close the prison, "end the system of administrative detention without charge or trial" and "ensure that any criminal cases against detainees held in Guantanamo and military facilities in Afghanistan are dealt with within the criminal justice system rather than military commissions and that those detainees are afforded fair trial guarantees." 

Indefinite detention violates international human rights law, but has been embraced by Obama ever since he stepped into the White House.

Currently, 154 men remain held in the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Of those, 76 are cleared for release; around four dozen will remain in indefinite detention; 20 can be "realistically prosecuted," according to chief prosecutor Brig. Gen. Mark Martins' estimate; six are being tried in military commissions and two are serving sentences after being convicted in the commissions. 
President Obama promised to close Guantanamo right when he stepped into office. However, he has yet to fulfill that promise. Congressional obstructionism, especially from the Republican Party, has stalled his plans as, for a long time, Congress blocked funding for transferring prisoners. Recently, though, Congress eased those restrictions, making it easier to transfer prisoners to other countries, but not to the United States. 
While the Obama administration is working to close the prison at Guantanamo, it maintains the policy of indefinite detention without trial, designating close to four dozen Guantanamo prisoners for forever imprisonment. Obama's original plan to close Guantanamo was to open a prison in Illinois to hold Guantanamo detainees, many indefinitely. While soon killed, this plan would have effectively moved the system of indefinite detention from Guantanamo to US soil. Now the Obama administration is considering opening a prison in Yemen to hold the remaining Guantanamo prisoners, many of whom are Yemeni. Indefinite detention violates international human rights law, but has been embraced by Obama ever since he stepped into the White House. The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that Obama signed into law contains sections that allow for the indefinite detention of US citizens on American soil. 
NSA Surveillance
Notably, the UN report denounced the NSA's mass surveillance "both within and outside the United States through the bulk phone metadata program (Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act) and, in particular, the surveillance under Section 702 of Amendments to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) conducted through PRISM (collection of the contents of communications from US-based companies) and UPSTREAM (tapping of fiber-optic cables in the country that carry internet traffic) programs and their adverse impact on the right to privacy. "The report also criticized the secrecy of "judicial interpretations of FISA and rulings of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)," which prevent the public from knowing the laws and legal interpretations that impact them. Promises of "oversight" obviously did not persuade the committee, either, as it said "the current system of oversight of the activities of the NSA fails to effectively protect the rights of those affected," and "those affected have no access to effective remedies in case of abuse." 
Continuing NSA leaks, provided by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden last year, have revealed the depth of the United States' massive surveillance system. The bulk collection of phone metadata is probably the most well-known program. Recently, President Obama promised to end the bulk phone metadata collection program. But the NSA's surveillance system extends far beyond phone metadata. 
In a program called PRISM, the NSA collects user data, such as search history and message content, sent through internet communication services like Google, Yahoo!, Facebook and Skype. Major tech companies have denied knowledge of the program, but the NSA claims those companies knew and provided full assistance. The NSA uses a back door in surveillance law to monitor the communications of American citizens without a warrant. As mentioned earlier, the NSA is also involved in the drone program through the collection of signals intelligence. Additionally, much of NSA surveillance is used for economic espionage. The NSA, with the help of Australian intelligence, spied on communications between the Indonesian government and an American law firm representing it during trade talks. Indonesia and the United States have long been in trade disputes, such as over Indonesia's shrimp exports and a US ban on the sale of Indonesian clove cigarettes. It is highly unlikely Obama's reforms will curb these abuses. 
Criminalizing the Homeless
Compared to torture and war crimes, the plight of homeless people is rarely held up as a pressing human rights issue. But, in the UN report, it is. The committee expressed concern "about reports of criminalization of people living on the street for everyday activities such as eating, sleeping, sitting in particular areas etc." It also "notes that such criminalization raises concerns of discrimination and cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."
For evidence of such criminalization and of "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment," look no further than to the liberal, historically countercultural city of San Francisco. The city that smugly prides itself on progressivism has a sit-lie ordinance that forbids people from sitting or lying on public sidewalks between 7 AM and 11 PM. It particularly hurts and targets homeless people. 
In the same city, homeless people are washed away. Street cleaners from the San Francisco Department of Public Works regularly spray their high-powered hoses at homeless people sleeping on the streets.
Recently, in Albuquerque, New Mexico, police shot and killed a homeless man. His crime? Illegal camping . . . in the Albuquerque foothills. Albuquerque police went to arrest 38-year-old James Boyd, who was sleeping in a campsite he set up. After arguing with police for three hours, Boyd was apparently about to leave and picked up his belongings. As he started walking down the hill, police shot a flash-bang device at Boyd. He dropped his bags, appeared to take out a knife, and then police fired multiple bean-bag rounds at Boyd. The man dropped to the ground, hitting his head on a rock, his blood spattered on it. Officers yelled at him, telling Boyd to drop his knife. When Boyd didn't answer, police fired more bean-bag rounds and sicced their dog on him. Boyd was later taken to a hospital and pronounced dead a day later. In addition to stun guns and bean bags, officers shot six live rounds at Boyd. The shooting prompted an FBI investigation, which is ongoing, and a protest in Albuquerque that was met with intense police violence as officers fired tear gas into the crowd. 
Clean Your Own House
The UN report elevates the suffering inflicted by US domestic and foreign policies to the realm of international human rights. To be tortured, spied on, unjustly imprisoned, put in solitary confinement, indefinitely detained, extrajudicially killed by the state, racially profiled, deprived of a home and criminalized for being homeless is to have one's basic human rights violated and dignity as a human demolished. That's why there are international laws to protect those rights - laws with which the United States and every nation-state are bound to comply. Even as the United States commonly condemns other countries for their human rights abuses, it has yet to clean its own house. 

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The CIA should cooperate with the Senate on torture report/ WaPo editorial

The Senate committee votes whether to declassify on April 3.  Give the committee members your opinion. Maine's Senators Collins and King will vote to declassify.  Here is WaPo's:
AT THE heart of the dispute between the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency is a document known as the CIA’s internal review. This is a summary and analysis of a dark chapter in the CIA’s history: the use of torture in the interrogation of suspected terrorists after the Sept. 11 attacks. The internal review was undertaken when Leon Panetta was director of the agency and is drawn largely on some 6.2 million pages of CIA documents that the Senate panel was permitted to examine during a five-year investigation.
The Senate panel is putting the finishing touches on a 6,300-page report on the CIA’s use of torture — waterboarding and other techniques — in the interrogations. While reviewing the CIA documents, Senate staffers found a draft of the internal review but have not said exactly how they got it. Committee chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) says the internal review is important because it contradicts CIA statements and it documents agency wrongdoing. John Brennan, the CIA director, maintains that the internal review should never have been seen by the committee because it is “sensitive, deliberative, pre-decisional” material protected by executive privilege.

public breach has emerged between the CIA and Ms. Feinstein, normally a strong defender of the agency, over whether and, if so, how it attempted to interfere with the Senate probe by penetrating computers used in the investigation. Mr. Brennan denies trying to thwart the Senate.
Not all details of this episode are known, but some preliminary conclusions are possible. In principle, Mr. Brennan is right to argue that certain documents are legitimately excluded from disclosure to Congress. But the internal review is in Senate hands, so it seems rather futile for the CIA to insist that the cork be put back in the bottle. The Senate is perfectly capable of handling classified material. In the interest of airing the whole story of the interrogations, the CIA ought to quickly work out an accommodation with the Senate that will permit use of the internal review in the Senate’s report. It should not be shunted off to some vault.
Sharp, penetrating intelligence is crucial to the United States. Tens of thousands of people labor each day at the CIA, National Security Agency and elsewhere to protect the country’s interests. They are not some kind of whipping boy for Congress or the public. What the CIA did after Sept. 11, 2001, was part of a covert action program authorized by the president; when the full report comes out, we hope for a debate that goes beyond just the CIA. It should be about decisions made by President George W. Bush.
To maintain the essential confidence of the American people, intelligence agencies, like all in government, must at times admit mistakes and face accountability. Denial and obfuscation only erode that confidence. The Senate has a legitimate function in oversight. Let’s get on with publishing the torture report, the internal review and the CIA’s comments — and then focus on how to improve democracy, counterterrorism, intelligence collection and protecting the nation.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Is American democracy headed to extinction? WaPo editorial

Behind dysfunctional government, is democracy itself in decay?

It took only 250 years for democracy to disintegrate in ancient Athens. A wholly new form of government was invented there in which the people ruled themselves. That constitution proved marvelously effective. Athens grew in wealth and capacity, saw off the Persian challenge, established itself as the leading power in the known world and produced treasures of architecture, philosophy and art that bedazzle to this day. But when privilege, corruption and mismanagement took hold, the lights went out.
It would be 2,000 years before democracy was reinvented in the U.S. Constitution, now as representative democracy. Again, government by popular consent proved ingenious. The United States grew into the world’s leading power — economically, culturally and militarily. In Europe, democracies overtook authoritarian monarchies and fascist and communist dictatorships. In recent decades, democracy’s spread has made the remaining autocracies a minority.
The second democratic experiment is approaching 250 years. It has been as successful as the first. But the lesson from Athens is that success does not breed success. Democracy is not the default. It is a form of government that must be created with determination and that will disintegrate unless nurtured. In the United States and Britain, democracy is disintegrating when it should be nurtured by leadership. If the lights go out in the model democracies, they will not stay on elsewhere.
It’s not enough for governments to simply be democratic; they must deliver or decay. In Britain, government is increasingly ineffectual. The constitutional scholar Anthony King has described it as declining from “order” to “mess” in less than 30 years. During 10 years of New Labor rule, that proposition was tested and confirmed. In 1997 a new government was voted in with a mandate and determination to turn the tide on Thatcherite inequality. It was given all the parliamentary power a democratic government could dream of and benefited from 10 years of steady economic growth. But a strong government was defeated by a weak system of governance. It delivered nothing of what it intended and left Britain more unequal than where the previous regime had left off.
The next government, a center-right coalition, has proved itself equally unable. It was supposed to repair damage from the economic crisis but has responded with inaction on the causes of crisis, in a monopolistic financial-services sector, and with a brand of austerity that protects the privileged at the expense of the poor. Again, what has transpired is inability rather than ill will. Both these governments came up against concentrations of economic power that have become politically unmanageable.
Meanwhile, the health of the U.S. system is even worse than it looks. The three branches of government are designed to deliver through checks and balances. But balance has become gridlock, and the United States is not getting the governance it needs. Here, the link between inequality and inability is on sharp display. Power has been sucked out of the constitutional system and usurped by actors such as PACs, think tanks, media and lobbying organizations.
In the age of mega-expensive politics, candidates depend on sponsors to fund permanent campaigns. When money is allowed to transgress from markets, where it belongs, to politics, where it has no business, those who control it gain power to decide who the successful candidates will be — those they wish to fund — and what they can decide once they are in office. Rich supporters get two swings at influencing politics, one as voters and one as donors. Others have only the vote, a power that diminishes as political inflation deflates its value. It is a misunderstanding to think that candidates chase money. It is money that chases candidates.
In Athens, democracy disintegrated when the rich grew super-rich, refused to play by the rules and undermined the established system of government. That is the point that the United States and Britain have reached.
Nearly a century ago, when capitalist democracy was in a crisis not unlike the present one, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis warned: “We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.” Democracy weathered that storm for two reasons: It is not inequality as such that destroys democracy but the more recent combination of inequality and transgression. Furthermore, democracy was then able to learn from crisis. The New Deal tempered economic free-for-all, primarily through the 1933 Banking Act, and gave the smallfolk new social securities.
The lesson from Athens is that success breeds complacency. People, notably those in privilege, stopped caring and democracy was neglected. Six years after the global economic crisis, the signs from the model democracies are that those in privilege are unable to care and that our systems are unable to learn. The crisis started in out-of-control financial services industries in the United States and Britain, but control has not been reasserted. Economic inequality has followed through to political inequality, and democratic government is bereft of power and capacity. Brandeis was not wrong; he was ahead of his time.

Friday, March 28, 2014

5 years after H1N1 Swine Flu was discovered, what do we know about Pandemrix and Narcolepsy?

1.  How widely was Pandemrix vaccine used?

Virtually all the narcolepsy data comes from Europe, where the GlaxoSmithKline Pandemrix swine flu vaccine was given to about 31 million Europeans and was used in 47 countries.  It was used in Canada (12 million doses) and a number of developing countries, but little is known about increased cases of narcolepsy outside Europe.  Increased narcolepsy cases have been confirmed post-vaccination in (at least) Finland, Sweden, England, Ireland, France, and Norway. 

2.  Did the US use Pandemrix?

No. The US purchased novel adjuvants as it prepared to deal with the swine flu epidemic, including Pandemrix's ASO3, but then chose not use Pandemrix, instead using other brands of H1N1 vaccines (without novel adjuvants) for swine flu.  This was almost certainly in response to extensive public discourse on the subject. I wrote a number of pieces on the potential risks of novel adjuvants in 2009-10, including those herehere, here and here.

3.  How many people developed narcolepsy as a result of Pandemrix?

800 European children are reported to have developed this condition after Pandemrix vaccine in about 6 European countries.  The number in other countries and excess cases in adults are not known.

Several studies, but not all, found maximum rates of narcolepsy (attributable risk from the vaccine) of 6/100,000 in vaccinated children aged about 4-19.  According to Ireland's Health Protection Surveillance Center, the increased rate of developing narcolepsy after receiving a Pandemrix inoculation, compared to the unvaccinated baseline rate, ranged from 4-5 fold in Sweden and France, up to 16 fold in the UK.  The increase was 13 fold in Finland and Ireland, and 15 fold in Norway.

In addition to kids being more susceptible to narcolepsy following Pandemrix, there were also relatively more children than adults vaccinated.  In Ireland, 42% of all children were vaccinated, but only 14% of adults over 20. Therefore almost exactly the same number of Irish children as adults received the vaccine, even though 3/4 of Ireland's people are adults.  In other European countries as well, higher percentages of children were vaccinated than adults.

Although the greatest risk for narcolepsy occurred in children aged 4-19, there is also a mildly increased risk of narcolepsy in vaccinated adults (2-3 times the baseline rate) and younger children.

4. Who is responsible to pay damages for narcolepsy?

Because all countries that purchased or were given the vaccine were required to give a liability waiver to GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) (and to the other manufacturers of different brands of swine flu vaccines), GSK is not responsible to compensate families for illnesses related to the vaccine.

Instead, the taxpayers of each country are responsible for paying families for serious illnesses caused by the vaccine, because this was the agreement made by their governments.  Each country is evaluating and compensating affected families its own way. In countries where no studies were done to look at whether Pandemrix caused narcolepsy, there may be no method for affected individuals to receive compensation.

There is a financial conflict of interest when a government that is responsible for damages is the same government that determines whether Pandemrix caused narcolepsy cases.

5.  What was WHO's role regarding liability?

It was the World Health Organization (WHO) that facilitated this vaccine "tort reform," transferring the liability for vaccine injuries from manufacturers to taxpayers, as noted in this 2012 WHO report:
     "To facilitate the acceptance of vaccines by the large number of recipient countries involved, WHO developed a Letter of Agreement that was signed by each recipient-country government as a condition of receiving vaccines. This Letter of Agreement acknowledged and incorporated clauses from the donation agreement outlined above. All agreements with countries therefore included the same required terms, including those relating to limitations of liability, that were included in the agreements between WHO and donors.
     Because the initial urgency of the pandemic response required an unprecedented number of doses of a new vaccine to be deployed globally in a period of only a few months, vaccine manufacturers required that all customers (primarily developed-country governments) indemnify them (or otherwise discharge them from liability) for any adverse events arising from the use of the pandemic H1N1 vaccine, except to the extent that such adverse events were caused by a failure to comply with cGMP or to meet agreed specifications..."
WHO in 2012 also downplayed the significance of Pandemrix to narcolepsy, despite a report by Canada's Globe and Mail in 2011 that WHO acknowledged increased narcolepsy cases in 12 of 47 countries that used Pandemrix:
Although the preliminary information was not conclusive, subsequent data indicated an increased incidence of narcolepsy in children between the ages of 4 and 19 years who had been immunized against pandemic H1N1 influenza. These increased incidences were observed only in Finland, Iceland and Sweden (where higher rates of narcolepsy normally occur)...  
6.  How did Pandemrix cause narcolepsy?

There is some evidence that a portion of the hemagglutinin of the 2009 swine flu virus (and vaccine) resembles hypocretin (which is the hormone produced in the hypothalamus that induces wakefulness, and is in short supply or absent in narcolepsy patients), and therefore may stimulate an immune response via "molecular mimicry" against cells producing hypocretin.  But against this hypothesis is the fact that getting the swine flu illness did not increase cases of narcolepsy (here and here); only the vaccine did that. So the answer is we don't know yet.

7.  Did Pandemrix cause other medical problems?

Were other neurological conditions caused by Pandemrix?  This question should have been asked by many international enhanced surveillance projects put in place in 2009.  It has been answered for Sweden as "no"--only narcolepsy cases increased.  There may be slightly increased risks for other conditions, such as paresthesias and inflammatory bowel disease.  I await more studies on this subject.

Monday, March 24, 2014

U.S. Scurries to Shore Up Spying on Russia In Crimea: Russia May Have Gotten a Jump on West by Evading U.S. Eavesdropping/ WSJ

Here we go again.   Twenty-five years ago, the US intelligence community did not know that the USSR was about to fall.  Since then, many hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent by the intelligence agencies, but they still missed the boat on the invasion of Crimea--a subject that should have been of utmost importance.

According to the Wall Street Journal, our spies did not know that Russia was about to invade Crimea. Even when they saw troops positioning, they failed to overhear phone calls that discussed the invasion.  They had no clue the Russians were communicating using methods we hadn't tapped.  They had no idea they were missing something.

Can NSA stop wasting money and talent on the easy targets (like you and me) and actually due what is supposedly (for no one without a very high clearance has ever seen their charter) the job for which NSA was created:  to protect the US from foreign enemies? 

"No statute establishes the NSA," former Senate intelligence committee chairman Frank Church reported, "or defines the permissible scope of its responsibilities." That is not very comforting.  And whatever happened to HUMINT? Why did we have no spies on the ground in Crimea?

From the WSJ
U.S. military satellites spied Russian troops amassing within striking distance of Crimea last month. But intelligence analysts were surprised because they hadn't intercepted any telltale communications where Russian leaders, military commanders or soldiers discussed plans to invade. 
America's vaunted global surveillance is a vital tool for U.S. intelligence services, especially as an early-warning system and as a way to corroborate other evidence. In Crimea, though, U.S. intelligence officials are concluding that Russian planners might have gotten a jump on the West by evading U.S. eavesdropping. 
"Even though there was a warning, we didn't have the information to be able to say exactly what was going to happen," a senior U.S. official says...
U.S. officials haven't determined how Russia hid its military plans from U.S. eavesdropping equipment that picks up digital and electronic communications... 
Inside Crimea, Russian troops exercised what U.S. officials describe as extraordinary discipline in their radio and cellphone communications. Remarks that were intercepted by U.S. spy agencies revealed no hint of the plans...
European Command officials again asked for more intelligence-collection resources. The military increased satellite coverage of Ukraine and Russia but couldn't steer too many resources away from Afghanistan, North Korea, Iran and other hot spots, U.S. officials say. (With hundreds of orbiting satellites we couldn't do better?--Nass)
 There were no Americans on the ground in Crimea to check reports of Russian military movements, U.S. officials say. The U.S. also didn't have drones overhead to gather real-time intelligence, officials say. That increased the U.S.'s reliance on satellite imagery and information gleaned from an analysis of social media, which was muddled by Russian disinformation. State Department officials declined to discuss any technical-intelligence activities.
If Mr. Putin decided to launch a takeover, many U.S. intelligence analysts thought he would use troops participating in the military exercises. Officials now say they underestimated the quality of Russian forces inside Crimea...

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

NSA warrantless spying on Americans (and probably blackmailing) goes back decades

Thanks to DS Wright at FireDogLake for this article with useful links.  Don't miss Scott Shane's Baltimore Sun piece of how intelligence agency trainees listened in to phone conversations by tapping microwave towers, as part of their training--in 1995!
During the drama over the so-called Amash Amendment General Keith Alexander, head of the NSA, went to Capitol Hill to lobby against the law. During the course of his lobbying members of Congress responded to his presentations with a reasonable question – can we see our own files? Alexander said no. According to David Sirota of NSFW Corp (paywalled) these exchanges are quite revealing as to how the NSA’s power works in Washington.
"Consider the deep messaging of the NSA’s brand. Only forty years removed from the blackmail-tinged reign of J. Edgar Hoover, the NSA has developed an image which implies the agency is vacuuming up more than enough incriminating phone records, emails and text/sext messages to politically torpedo any rank-and-file congressman, should that congressman step out of line.
And here’s the thing: for all the agita intelligence officials express about new disclosures, those disclosures illustrate the sheer size and scope of governement surveillance. That doesn’t weaken the NSA – on the contrary, it serves to politically strengthen the agency by constantly reminding lawmakers that the NSA 1) probably has absolutely everything on them and 2) could use that stuff against them." 
Sirota also spoke with Rep. Alan Grayson who told him that in the course of the conversation about the NSA and files they might have on members of Congress said “one of my colleagues asked the NSA point blank will you give me a copy of my own record and the NSA said no, we won’t. They didn’t say no we don’t have one. They said no we won’t.” Dare anyone accuse the NSA of being cryptic?
Of course we already know that it was Nancy Pelosi that killed the Amash Amendment. What we don’t know is whether she did so out of fear of an NSA file, party interests or both. We also know she was involved in insider trading while in Congress. What more does the NSA know about her?
There was also a report by a former intelligence analyst and whistleblower Russell Tice that the NSA wiretapped Barack Obama in 2004. Is there some massive archive of politicians’ dirty secrets somewhere at the NSA? Surely the NSA at least has their metadata – they have everyone’s. It is hard to imagine when push comes to shove and its budget time that the NSA doesn’t take a peek at who they are doing business with in Congress. Intelligence is all about having as much information as possible, that’s the training and that’s the game. Old habits probably die hard.
It was a troubling thought, but I had no smoking gun evidence to support it, until I heard Mark Ames discussing Sirota’s story with Sirota yesterday. Ames referenced a blockbuster story broken by New York Times reporter Scott Shane. Published by the Baltimore Sun, the story Listening in: Though the National Security Agency can’t target Americans, it can — and does — listen to everyone from senators to lovers, provides smoking gun evidence that the NSA has been spying on members of Congress andallowing the information to be used for leverage since at least the Reagan Administration.
“We listened to all the calls in and out of Washington,” says one former NSA linguist, recalling a class at the Warrenton Training Center, a CIA communications school on a Virginia hilltop. “We’d listen to senators, representatives, government agencies, housewives talking to their lovers.”