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The risk of reporting US drone strikes – Features – Al Jazeera English

The risk of reporting US drone strikes – Features – Al Jazeera English.

Yemen researcher says he received a death threat after investigating deadly wedding-convoy attack.

 Last updated: 12 Feb 2014 14:17

A photo of alleged victims killed in a December 12, 2013 drone strike in central Yemen [Reprieve]
The disturbing phone call came after Baraa Shiban investigated a drone strike on a wedding party that killed 12 people in central Yemen in December. A clear message was delivered to the human rights researcher over the phone after a major news network reported the story based on his research.

“The caller refused to identify himself and threatened my life if I continued my investigation of the strike,” Shiban told Al Jazeera, noting he conducted similar studies of US drone operations in the past, but had never before received death threats.

Shiban works for the UK-based human rights group Reprieve and interviewed survivors two days after the attack. His investigation ascertained that 12 people were killed after four missiles were fired at the convoy. There were also 14 victims with severe wounds; some lost limbs, others their eyes.

Along with the eyewitness testimony, Shiban gained access to video and still images of the alleged victims of the drone strike. Photos of the aftermath of drone attacks – whether in the tribal regions of Pakistan, or in the deserts of Yemen – are rarely captured. Most occur in obscure regions with hostile terrain, making access difficult for journalists and activists.

I was in the front car and I heard a huge explosion. I went out to see what happened and suddenly another two missiles hit the place. Everyone in the car behind us got killed.

– Mohammed Abdullah al-Taisi,drone victim

 

On December 12, 2013 , about 60 people were traveling in a convoy to attend the wedding near the city of Radda, in Yemen’s central province of al-Bayda. At about 4:30pm, the drivers halted the vehicles when they heard an aircraft approach.

“I was in the front car and I heard a huge explosion,” recalled victim Mohammed Abdullah al-Taisi. “I went out to see what happened and suddenly another two missiles hit the place. Everyone in the car behind us got killed.”

Equipped with the evidence Shiban went to the media, and a day later he received the call threatening his life.

“Just because the people were in a convoy of trucks, they were assumed to be militants and the decision was made to target them,” he said. “The people who died were shepherds and farmers. There was clearly a wedding party.”

Fear and anger

Drones piloted by the CIA and the Pentagon have operated in Yemen since 2002, killing hundreds of people – mostly members of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, but also dozens of civilians.

Peter Schaapveld is psychologist who traveled to Yemen to study the programme’s effects. He told British members of parliament in March 2013 that the constant presence of drones in the skies was causing a “psychological emergency” in the country.

“What I saw in Yemen was deeply disturbing,” Schaapveld said . “Entire communities – including young children who are the next generation of Yemenis – are being traumatised and re-traumatised by drones. Not only is this having truly awful immediate effects, but the psychological damage done will outlast any counter programme and surely outweigh any possible benefits.”

Reports of the missile strike, on a seemingly innocent wedding party, have infuriated nearly every sphere of Yemeni society, including many of the country’s top politicians.

Family members of drone strike victim Aref al-Shafee [Abubakr al-Shamahi/Reprieve] 

“The fact that the Yemeni parliament has just passed a resolution banning drones in Yemeni airspace, and that the National Dialogue has criminalised the use of drones for extrajudicial killing, demonstrates that a national consensus has been reached that these brutal and unlawful attacks are unacceptable,” Shiban said.

Reprieve said the US government is now investigating the strike in Radda following Shiban’s work. The human rights group said the Defense Department was targeting Shawqi Ali Ahmed al-Badani , whom the White House accused of organising a bomb plot that led to 19 US embassies being closed last year.

‘US values and policy’

Caitlan Hayden, a spokeswoman for the US National Security Council, noted that Yemen’s government had stated the targets of the operation were “dangerous” senior al-Qaeda figures. She said she couldn’t comment on this specific attack.

“We take extraordinary care to make sure that our counterterrorism actions are in accordance with all applicable domestic and international law and that they are consistent with US values and policy … And when we believe that civilians may have been killed, we investigate thoroughly,” Hayden told Al Jazeera .

But one survivor of the December drone attack, Salam al-Taisi, insisted no one from the wedding party was involved in terrorism. “None of the victims had anything to do with al-Qaeda or any other group. They were all from the area and all were poor villagers,” he said.

The deaths in Baydah have more resonance considering President Barrack Obama’s announcement upholding the “highest standard” when conducting operations using unmanned aerial vehicles.

“Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured,” Obama said in a speech at the National Defense University on May 23, 2013.

Yemen’s security forces have also scrutinised Shiban’s work on the US drone programme. But it’s not just the Yemeni police that have shown interest in him.

Baraa Shiban from human rights group Reprieve [Al Jazeera]

On September 23 last year, he arrived in the United Kingdom with the intention of speaking at a conference at Chatham House . But at Gatwick Airport he was stopped by police and questioned under Schedule 7 of the British government’s Terrorism Act 2000.

“I was asked about my investigation of the covert US drone attacks in Yemen. When I asked why the question was relevant, I was threatened with further detention,” Shiban said.

Drone-reporting dangers

Apparent attempts to suppress any kind of criticism of US covert operations are not new.

In Pakistan, an anti-drone campaigner set to testify before European parliaments has gone missing in the city of Rawalpindi. Kareem Khan , whose brother and teenage son were killed in a drone attack in December 2009, was picked up at his home by security forces in the early hours of February 5, his lawyer said. He hasn’t been heard from since.

Shiban said he is also well aware that the path he’s on now could lead to the same fate of Yemen-based journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye .

On December 17, 2009, the Yemeni military announced it had successfully destroyed an al-Qaeda camp in al-Majala in Abyan province. But after travelling to the town, Shaye discovered it wasn’t at all an operation carried out by his government, but in fact a US cruise missile strike. And he discovered the people who died weren’t al-Qaeda fighters but innocent civilians. Among the 41 people killed, more than two-thirds were women and children.

Shaye was arrested on August 6, 2010 by Yemeni security forces and charged that October with aiding al-Qaeda by recruiting new operatives for the group. By January 2011, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in prison.

International human rights groups condemned his trial as a sham , which couldn’t provide any credible evidence of his alleged al-Qaeda associations. Shaye was being punished for exposing a US covert operation that resulted in a massacre.

After being incarcerated for nearly three years, Shaye was pardoned in July 2013 but one of the conditions of his release is he must not leave the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, for two years.

Asked about Shaye’s case, and the threats he’s received to his own life, Shiban said he’s determined to carry on highlighting the impact of drone strikes.

“This is an issue of vital importance to Yemen’s future, and I and other human rights activists will continue to defend the basic rights and democratic wishes of the Yemeni people,” he said.

Do more to prevent war | www.timesrecord.com | The Times Record

Do more to prevent war | www.timesrecord.com | The Times Record.

BY DAVID SWANSON
GUEST COLUMN


David Swanson

David Swanson

Polls showed a large percentage of us in this country supporting the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and even — though somewhat reduced — the invasion of Iraq in 2003. But not long after, and ever since, a majority of us have said those were mistakes.

We’ve opposed attacking Iran whenever that idea has entered the news. We opposed bombing Libya in 2011 and were ignored, as was Congress. And, by the way, advocates of that happy little war are rather quiet about the chaos it created.

But last September, the word on our televisions was that missiles must be sent to strike Syria. President Barack Obama and the leaders of both big political parties said they favored it. Wall Street believed it would happen, judging by Raytheon’s stock. When U.S. intelligence agencies declined to make the president’s case, he released a “government” assessment without them.

Remarkably, we didn’t accept that choice. A majority of us favored humanitarian aid, but no missiles, and no arming of one side in the war. We had the benefit of many people within the government and the military agreeing with us. And when Congress was pressured to demand approval power, Obama granted it.

It helped more that members of Congress were in their districts with people getting in their faces. It was with Congress indicating its refusal to support a war that Obama and Kerry accepted the pre-existing Russian offer to negotiate. In fact, the day before they made that decision, the State Department had stressed that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad would never ever give up his chemical weapons, and Kerry’s remarks on that solution had been “rhetorical.”

The war in Syria goes on. Washington sent guns, but refrained from air strikes. Major humanitarian aid would cost far less than missiles and guns, but hasn’t materialized. The children we were supposed to care about enough to bomb their country are still suffering, and most of us still care.

But a U.S. war was prevented.

We’re seeing the same thing play out in Washington right now on the question of whether to impose yet more sanctions on Iran, shred a negotiated agreement with Iran, and commit the United States to joining in any war between Israel and Iran.

In January, a bill to do all of that looked likely to pass through the Senate. Public pressure has been one factor in, thus far, slowing it down.

Are we moving away from war?

The ongoing war in Afghanistan, and White House efforts to extend it beyond this year, might suggest otherwise. The military budget that still eats up, across various departments, roughly half of federal discretionary spending, and which is roughly the size of all other countries’ military spending combined, might suggest otherwise. The failure to repeal the authorizations for war from 2001 and 2003, and the establishment of permanent practices of surveillance and detention and secrecy justified by a permanent state of war, might suggest otherwise. As might the ongoing missile strikes from drones over a number of nations.

But you’ll notice that they don’t ask us before launching drone strikes, and that their assurances that no innocent people are harmed have proven highly misleading.

War may be becoming acceptable only as what its advocates have long claimed it was: a last resort. Of course if we can really make that true, we’ll never have a war again.

DAVID SWANSON will be speaking at 3 p.m. Feb. 15 at Curtis Memorial Library in Brunswick.

Paul Singer’s “Vision” Of The Coming “Riot Point” And The Fed’s “Formula For Destruction” | Zero Hedge

Paul Singer’s “Vision” Of The Coming “Riot Point” And The Fed’s “Formula For Destruction” | Zero Hedge.

We sympathize with traditional stock and bond investors, who are faced with extremely poor choices today. QE has distorted the prices of all traditional asset classes to such an extent that none currently promises a fair return with modest risk…. Because the dominant force in securities-price movements today is government policy, particularly the governmental buying of bonds and stocks, there is a vulnerability to all trading and investing prospects that cannot be assessed or measured with confidence… Since there is no history of Americans losing confidence in the basic soundness of their currency and their government, and since monetary policy today is so manipulative and large, it will be hard to parse the reasons for any particular market moves in 2014.

      – Paul Singer, Elliott Management

As always, perhaps the best periodic commentary on the state of the “markets” (even if such a thing has not existed for the past 5 years) and global economy comes from the person whose opinion has not been swayed by fly-by-night screechers and book-peddling pundits who fit in CNBC’s octobox and who come fast and are forgotten even faster, and whose 37 year track record at Elliott Management, whose assets he has grown from $1.3 million to $23 billion, speaks for itself: Paul Singer.

 

 

Below are the key excerpts from his January letter.

VISION

Imagine how mainstream experts would have reacted to the following set of predictions in 2006: “In two years Lehman will be bankrupt; Merrill and Bear will be acquired in distressed takeunders; Citicorp, AIG, Chrysler, GM, Delphi, Fannie and Freddie will be taken over by the government facing possibly hundreds of billions of dollars of losses; and only 13 global megabanks will survive.”

The 2008 crisis had a lasting and profound impact on virtually the entire developed world. The financial system was brought to the brink of collapse; conditions were created for the radical monetary policy of the past five years and a severely distorted recovery; the plans and dreams of hundreds of millions of people were disrupted, in some cases catastrophically; and societal values were significantly twisted away from individual responsibility toward dependency. In fact, the consequences of the bubble, the bust and the policy aftermath are not yet in full historical view. Despite all the pain, policymakers
refuse to take responsibility for the bubble, the distortions of the bubble years, the ensuing failure to lay the groundwork for strong post-bust growth, the continued riskiness and fragility of the major financial institutions, the lack of appropriate policies to deal with the bust, or their total inability to deal with competitive and technological challenges in the labor market.

It is not that the path toward destruction was impossible to see. On the contrary, a number of people saw the disaster coming, even if they did not all see the timing or the shape of it. The strangest part of the whole series of events is that only a few large professional investors noticed the smoke and shouted “fire.” Policymakers, particularly at the Fed and including (importantly) Janet Yellen, paid some small lip service to the building risks, but they were wedded to their primitive “models” and had a completely inadequate grasp of modern financial instruments, leverage and the interconnectivity of financial institutions. Not only did policymakers fail to understand what was happening and how to deal with the crisis and its aftermath, but also many of those same policymakers, and ALL of the structures and assumptions that prevailed pre-crash, are still in place today. No apologies have been issued. There has been a great deal of partisan back-and-forth and successful lobbying, but sadly the financial system is still not sound. This may be impossible to prove until the next crisis, but you could have said the same about conditions leading up to the last one.

Policymakers were and remain asleep at the wheel. The lack of introspection at the Treasury, the Fed, Congress, the White House and other regulatory bodies is astounding. Instead of taking reasonable and conservative steps to strengthen the financial system and to reach consensus on what is necessary to generate growth, there has been a series of cronyist, ideological, punitive steps that have neither catalyzed the growth that this country needs nor made financial institutions safe. At the same time, the Administration has allowed (and encouraged) the Fed to carry the ball all by itself, heaping praise on it for saving the world at the very time that the White House is shirking its own responsibilities. The Fed’s “dual mandate” (to promote “maximum employment” as well as “price stability”) is bunk in today’s context. It seems as if the entire world is acting as if the Fed actually has a “total mandate” and the rest of the federal government gets to stand around and applaud its heroic efforts. In fact, what we have now is a lopsided recovery, gigantic price risk in financial markets because of QE, and unknown but potentially massive risks of inflation and the ultimate loss of confidence in the major paper currencies, all because the federal government is more interested in ideology than in getting the country back on track, and the Europeans are more interested in preserving the euro than promoting the prosperity of the sovereign nations of Europe.

* * *

For private investment firms like hedge funds, leverage in the modern world is a matter of semi-volition. True, it is much more readily available than in the past, but there are credit departments and initial margins limiting the size of positions. The big financial institutions, on the other hand, found themselves in an  environment starting a couple of dozen years ago in which leverage was entirely voluntary, subject to no real constraint because they were not required to post initial margins with each other. Since many of their positions were “hedges” in similar securities, they risk-underwrote those trades using models that projected very little possibility of generating losses. As a result, the entire system has become super-leveraged, super-interconnected and very brittle. Given the benefits of hindsight, we do not have to prove the proposition that the limits of leverage were exceeded in the recent past and that the system was improperly risk-managed by governments and by the managements of financial institutions. It is frustrating, therefore, that no meaningful de-risking of the financial system has occurred since the crisis. You will see a system primed for a rerun of 2008, perhaps even faster and more intense this time.

***

MONETARY POLICY GOING FORWARD

QE has created asset price booms, but historically high excess bank reserves are still generally not being lent, and monetary velocity remains relatively low. But last spring, we witnessed the first tangible sign that the Fed may be trapped in its current posture. The Fed cannot retreat due to excessive debt in the system, the fragility of major financial institutions (still opaque and overleveraged) and the prospect that a collapse of bond prices could lead to a quick, deep recession. This situation may be the early stages of a phase in which the Fed is afraid to act because it has the “tiger by the tail,” and perhaps is beginning to realize that the current situation carries significant risks. QE has not generated a sharp upsurge of sustaining and self-reinforcing growth thus far. What it has done is lift stock and asset prices and exacerbate inequality. If investors lose confidence in paper money, as evidenced by either a hard sell-off in one of the major currencies or a sharp fall in bond prices, the Fed and other major central bankers will be in a pickle. If they stop QE and/or raise short-term rates to deal with the loss of confidence, it could throw global markets into a tailspin and the worldwide economy into a severe new recession. However, if they try to deal with the loss of confidence by stepping up QE or keeping interest rates at zero, there could be an explosion in commodity and other asset prices and a sharp acceleration in inflation. What would be the “exit” from extraordinary Fed policy at that point? The current, benign-looking environment (low inflation and
stable economies) is by no means ordained to be the permanent state of things. At the moment, “tapering” is expected to get underway, but that prospect represents a tentative, slight diminution of bond-buying. It contains no real promise of normalizing monetary conditions. If the economy does not light up, the impact of another year of full-bore QE is impossible to predict. Five years and $4 trillion have created economic and moral distortions but very little sustainable value. Maybe the sixth year will produce the “riot point.” Nobody knows, including the Fed.

 

As we and others have said, the Fed is overly reliant upon models that do not account for real-world elements of instruments, markets and traders in the derivatives age. Models cannot possibly take into account unpredictable interactions among huge positions and traders in new and very complicated instruments. Thus, the Fed should be careful, humble and conservative. Instead, it is just blithely plowing ahead as if it knows exactly what is going on. Intelligent captains sail uncharted waters with extra caution and high alert; only fools think that each mile they sail without sinking the vessel further demonstrates that they are wise and the naysayers were fools. This is a formula for destruction. The crash of 2008 should have been smoking-gun evidence of the folly of this approach, but every mistake leading up to the crash, especially excessive and “invisible” leverage and interest rates that were too low, has been doubled down upon in the years since.

What Constitution? Obama To Emphasize Intention To Use Unilateral Presidential Authority | Zero Hedge

What Constitution? Obama To Emphasize Intention To Use Unilateral Presidential Authority | Zero Hedge.

While the stats of the union remain unremarkable at best, it would appear that despite the rancor in Washington, President Obama will get his way “whatever it takes.” As the WSJ reports, the State of the Union address Tuesday night will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority — bypassing Congress when necessary — to an extent not seen in his previous State of the Union speeches. “We need to show the American people that we can get something done,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, told CNN; it seems no matter how totalitarian and unconstitutional it would appear to be

Via WSJ,

President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday night will seek to shift the public’s souring view of his leadership, a challenge the White House sees as critical to shaping the nation’s policy direction over the next three years.

Mr. Obama will emphasize his intention to use unilateral presidential authority—bypassing Congress when necessary—to an extent not seen in his previous State of the Union speeches, White House officials said.

Mr. Obama will stress that he intends to take unilateral action on a host of other issues: infrastructure development, job training, climate change and education. Administration officials hinted broadly at the assertive new direction Sunday.

We need to show the American people that we can get something done,” Dan Pfeiffer, a senior White House adviser, told CNN as part of a round of interviews previewing the speech.

The more aggressive, executive-led approach marks a recalibration by the White House after seeing how congressional Republicans responded in 2013 to the president’s re-election, a senior administration official said. Several key White House initiatives stalled in Congress last year, including an immigration revamp, an increase in the minimum wage, gun-control legislation and economic proposals.

“He says, ‘Oh well, it’s hard to get Congress to do anything.’ Well, yeah, welcome to the real world. It’s hard to convince people to get legislation through. It takes consensus,” said Sen. Rand Paul (R., Ky.). “But that’s what he needs to be doing is building consensus and not taking his pen and creating law.”

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D., N.Y.) said in an interview that Mr. Obama’s speech wouldn’t present “a grandiose agenda. It’s going to be a very practical agenda aimed at middle-class people.”

One big agenda item is apparently a “pledge” to hire more by US companies…

He also is expected to announce that some of the nation’s largest employers, have signed a White House pledge agreeing not to discriminate against the long-term unemployedwhen making hiring decisions, according to a draft of the policy and interviews with several people familiar with the matter.

But the corporate hiring pledge also shows the limits of executive power. Under the nonbinding agreement, companies won’t be obligated to hire the long-term unemployed, and it is unclear how the administration will monitor progress.

More lip-service, more class-warfare, more totalitarianism… just what we need for ‘growth’… It does make one wonder if the surge in t-bill yields around the debt-ceiling dates are indicative of some reaction by the Republicans to this aggression?

Kiev protesters expand street barricades – Europe – Al Jazeera English

Kiev protesters expand street barricades – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

Ukrainian protesters have erected more street barricades and occupied a government ministry building, fuelling tension after the failure of crisis talks with the president, Viktor Yanukovich.In response to opposition calls, about 1,000 demonstrators moved away from Kiev’s Independence Square in the early hours of Friday and began to erect new barricades closer to the presidential headquarters.

Masked protesters, some carrying riot police shields seized as trophies, stood guard as others piled up sandbags packed with frozen snow to form new ramparts across the road leading down into the square.

After leaving a second round of talks with Yanukovich empty handed late on Thursday, opposition leader Vitaly Klitschko voiced fears the impasse could now lead to further bloodshed.

After speaking first to protesters manning the barricades, Klitschko then went to Independence Square where he declared: “Hours of conversation were spent about nothing. There is no sense sitting at a negotiating table with someone who has already decided to deceive you.”

Klitschko had earlier brokered a truce in the violence between protesters and police, and the ceasefire appears to be holding so far.

A group of protesters took control of the main agricultural ministry building in the centre. “We need the place for our people to warm up,” a local protest leader was quoted as saying by Interfax news agency.

Meanwhile, protesters near Dynamo Kiev football stadium, the new flashpoint in the city, cranked up their action, setting tyres ablaze again and sending a pall of black smoke over the area.

There were no signs that protesters were heeding an appeal from general prosecutor Viktor Pshonka who said early on Friday that those so far arrested would be treated leniently by the courts if protest action was halted.

At least three protesters have been killed so far after clashes between protesters and riot police.

East-West tensions

Hundreds of thousands have taken to the streets in the capital after Yanukovich backed away from signing a free trade deal with the EU, which many people saw as the key to a European future, in favour of financial aid from Ukraine’s old Soviet master Russia.

But the movement has since widened into broader protests against perceived misrule and corruption in the Yanukovich leadership.

Protesters have been enraged too by sweeping anti-protest legislation that was rammed through parliament last week by Yanukovich loyalists in the assembly.

Earlier on Thursday, Yanukovich had suggested he might be prepared to make concessions to the opposition when he called for a special session of parliament next week to consider the opposition demands and find a way out of the crisis. But this did not impress opposition leaders.

Underlining the level of mistrust between the government and opposition, the prime minister Mykola Azarov on Thursday accused protesters of trying to stage a coup and dismissed the possibility of an early presidential election.

Violence as Ukraine anti-protest law enacted – Europe – Al Jazeera English

Violence as Ukraine anti-protest law enacted – Europe – Al Jazeera English.

A controversial anti-protest law has come into effect in Ukraine, despite violent rallies against the legislation that have taken place for the past two days, ignoring an appeal for calm by President Viktor Yanukovych.

The new law, which bans all forms of protests, was published in the official Golos Ukrainy, or Voice of Ukraine, newspaper, raising fears that the government would use excessive force to quell dissent.

Opposition and and the West have condemned the bill, demanding that it be reversed, but the interior ministry said at least 32 protesters had been arrested in the most recent round of demonstrations.

Yanukovych made a call for calm on Monday, when demonstrators braved sub-zero temperatures and clashed with police over new anti-protest laws.

A statement issued on the presidential website said: “When peaceful actions have escalated into mass riots accompanied by demolition, arson and violence, I am confident that such phenomena threaten not only Kiev but the whole of the Ukraine. I call for dialogue, compromise and peace in our native land.”

The situation was tense in Kiev, with protesters occasionally charging against police lines guarding the passage to government buildings, throwing stones and Molotov cocktails.

The violence, which began on Sunday, came after Yanukovych pushed through an anti-protest law that significantly increased fines and imposed jail terms for unauthorised street protests.

The new law also prohibits activists from wearing helmets or masks to demonstrations, curbs free speech and limits the ability to investigate or monitor the activity of officials, including judges.

Sunday’s fighting left about 200 people wounded.

Reconciliation talks

In an attempt to find a compromise, opposition leader and former boxer Vitali Klitschko travelled to Yanukovych’s home outside Kiev to meet him.

The president received Klitschko and promised on Monday to create a special commission of officials set up by national security council secretary Andriy Klyuyev to solve the crisis. The move was announced by Klitscko’s party, the Ukrainian Democratic Alliance for Reform, and the presidency.

The presidency said the new commission would meet the opposition but there was no sign that the meeting had taken place as of Monday evening.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign ministers meeting in Brussels deplored the continued violence, saying the government was at fault for adopting the repressive laws.

The White House urged an end to the fighting, with US National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden saying that Washington was deeply concerned and urged “all sides to immediately de-escalate the situation”.

“The US will continue to consider additional steps – including sanctions – in response to the use of violence,” Hayden added.

Iran, Russia Ruffle US Feathers With Oil-Swap Deal | Zero Hedge

Iran, Russia Ruffle US Feathers With Oil-Swap Deal | Zero Hedge.

This morning’s apparent U-turn in US-Iran relations – when the US demanded the UN rescind Iran’s invite to the Syrian peace conference having somewhat instigated their invitation in the first place – is a little confusing for some. However, as OilPrice’s Joao Peixe points out, reports are emerging that Iran and Russia are in talks about a potential $1.5 billion oil-for-goods swap that is sure to upset the powers that be in Washington.

 

Submitted by Joao Peixe via OilPrice.com,

Reports are emerging that Iran and Russia are in talks about a potential $1.5 billion oil-for-goods swap that could boost Iranian oil exports, prompting harsh responses from Washington, which says such a deal could trigger new US sanctions.

 

So far, talks are progressing to the point that Russia could purchase up to 500,000 barrels a day of Iranian oil in exchange for Russian equipment and goodsaccording to Reuters.

 

“We are concerned about these reports and Secretary (of State John) Kerry directly expressed this concern with (Russian) Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov…  If the reports are true, such a deal would raise serious concerns as it would be inconsistent with the terms of the P5+1 agreement with Iran and could potentially trigger US sanctions,” Caitlin Hayden, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, told Reuters.

 

Russian purchases of 500,000 bpd of Iranian crude would lift Iran’s oil exports by 50% and infuse the struggling economy with some $1.5 billion a month, some sources say.

 

Since sanctions were slapped on Iran in July 2012, exports have fallen by half and Iran is losing up to $5 billion per moth is revenues.

 

In the meantime, a nuclear agreement reached in November with Iran and world powers is in the process of being finalized, and the news of the potential Russian-Iranian oil swap deal plays to the hands of Iran hawks in Washington who are keen to seen the November agreement collapse.

 

The November agreement is a six-month deal to lift some trade sanctions if Tehran curtailed its nuclear program. Technical talks on the agreement began last week.

Under the terms of the tentative November nuclear agreement, Iran will be allowed to export only 1 million barrels of oil per day.

 

In mid-December, Iranian oil officials indicated that they hoped to resume previous production and export levels and would hold talks with international companies to that end.

 

This announcement sparked an immediate reaction from US Congress, which has threatened oil companies with “severe financial penalties” if they resume business with Iran “prematurely” following the six-month agreement reached in Geneva.

 

There are plenty of figures in Congress—Republican and Democratic alike—who are opposed to the deal. The key “Iran hawk” in US Congress, South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham, has described the deal as “so far away from what the end game should look like”, which should be to “stop enrichment”.

 

The opposition in this case believes any talk between Tehran and Western oil companies is premature because they are convinced that we won’t see a comprehensive resolution after the six-month period, and that sanctions will be laid on stronger than ever before.

Yet again, it would seem, Iran is another proxy pissing match between the US and Russia… and remember, nothing lasts forever...

 

Activist Post: Why Are Dozens Of High Ranking Officers Being Purged From The U.S. Military?

Activist Post: Why Are Dozens Of High Ranking Officers Being Purged From The U.S. Military?.

Michael Snyder
Activist Post

Since Barack Obama has been in the White House, high ranking military officers have been removed from their positions at a rate that is absolutely unprecedented. Things have gotten so bad that a number of retired generals are publicly speaking out about the “purge” of the U.S. military that they believe is taking place.

As you will see below, dozens of highly decorated military leaders have been dismissed from their positions over the past few years. So why is this happening?

When I was growing up, my father was an officer in the U.S. Navy.  And what is going on right now is absolutely crazy – especially during a time of peace.  Is there a deliberate attempt to “reshape” the military and remove those that don’t adhere to the proper “viewpoints”?  Does someone out there feel a need to get officers that won’t “cooperate” out of the way?

Throughout world history, whatever comes next after a “military purge” is never good.  If this continues, what is the U.S. military going to look like in a few years?

Perhaps you are reading this and you think that “purge” is too strong a word for what is taking place.  Well, just consider the following quotes from some very highly decorated retired officers…

Retired Army Major General Paul Vallely: “The White House protects their own. That’s why they stalled on the investigation into fast and furious, Benghazi and Obamacare. He’s intentionally weakening and gutting our military, Pentagon and reducing us as a superpower, and anyone in the ranks who disagrees or speaks out is being purged.”

Retired Army Major General Patrick Brady: “There is no doubt he (Obama) is intent on emasculating the military and will fire anyone who disagrees with him.”

Retired Army Lt. General William G. “Jerry” Boykin: “Over the past three years, it is unprecedented for the number of four-star generals to be relieved of duty, and not necessarily relieved for cause.”

Retired Navy Captain Joseph John: “I believe there are more than 137 officers who have been forced out or given bad evaluation reports so they will never make Flag (officer), because of their failure to comply to certain views.”

According to the Blaze, one anonymous Pentagon official has said that even young officers have been told “not to talk about Obama or the politics of the White House”…

A Pentagon official who asked to remain nameless because they were not authorized to speak on the matter said even “young officers, down through the ranks have been told not to talk about Obama or the politics of the White House. They are purging everyone and if you want to keep your job — just keep your mouth shut.”

Now this trend appears to be accelerating.  We have seen a whole bunch of news stories about military officers being dismissed lately.

Almost always, a “legitimate reason” is given for the dismissal.  And without a doubt, if a military officer is actually behaving unethically, that officer should be held accountable.

However, the reality is that everyone has “skeletons in the closet”, and if you really want to get rid of someone it is usually not too hard to find a way to justify your decision.

The following are excerpts from three news stories about military officers in trouble that have come out so far in 2014…

#1 The Air Force Times: A group of former Air Force majors, forced out this summer by a noncontinuation board, plans to file a lawsuit claiming the service had no right to separate them simply to meet end-strength numbers set by Congress.

More than 10 of the 157 dismissed majors are banding together to challenge the move in court, seeking either reinstatement or early retirement pay. All 157 had been twice passed over for promotion and were within six years of retirement.

#2 Defense News: Acting US Navy Undersecretary Robert Martinage, the department’s No. 2, has resigned under pressure, sources confirmed for Defense News.

The resignation, which Martinage announced to his staff Tuesday morning, came after allegations were made of inappropriate conduct with a subordinate woman, the sources confirmed.

#3 Huffington Post: The Air Force says 34 nuclear missile launch officers have been implicated in a cheating scandal and have been stripped of their certification in what is believed to be the largest such breach of integrity in the nuclear force.

Some of the officers apparently texted to each other the answers to a monthly test on their knowledge of how to operate the missiles. Others may have known about it but did not report it.

The cheating was discovered during a drug investigation that involves 11 Air Force officers across six bases in the U.S. and England.

—–

Taken alone, it would be easy to dismiss those stories as “coincidences”.  But when you put them together with the stories of dozens of other high ranking military officers that have been purged from the U.S. military in recent years, a very disturbing pattern emerges.

The following is a list of high ranking military officers that have been dismissed over the past few years that has been circulating all over the Internet.  I think that you will agree that this list is quite stunning…

Commanding Generals fired:

  • General John R. Allen-U.S. Marines Commander International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] (Nov 2012)
  • Major General Ralph Baker (2 Star)-U.S. Army Commander of the Combined Joint Task Force Horn in Africa (April 2013)
  • Major General Michael Carey (2 Star)-U.S. Air Force Commander of the 20th US Air Force in charge of 9,600 people and 450 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (Oct 2013)
  • Colonel James Christmas-U.S. Marines Commander 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit & Commander Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response Unit (July 2013)
  • Major General Peter Fuller-U.S. Army Commander in Afghanistan (May 2011)
  • Major General Charles M.M. Gurganus-U.S. Marine Corps Regional Commander of SW and I Marine Expeditionary Force in Afghanistan (Oct 2013)
  • General Carter F. Ham-U.S. Army African Command (Oct 2013)
  • Lieutenant General David H. Huntoon (3 Star), Jr.-U.S. Army 58th Superintendent of the US Military Academy at West Point, NY (2013)
  • Command Sergeant Major Don B Jordan-U.S. Army 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command (suspended Oct 2013)
  • General James Mattis-U.S. Marines Chief of CentCom (May 2013)
  • Colonel Daren Margolin-U.S. Marine in charge of Quantico’s Security Battalion (Oct 2013)
  • General Stanley McChrystal-U.S. Army Commander Afghanistan (June 2010)
  • General David D. McKiernan-U.S. Army Commander Afghanistan (2009)
  • General David Petraeus-Director of CIA from September 2011 to November 2012 & U.S. Army Commander International Security Assistance Force [ISAF] and Commander U.S. Forces Afghanistan [USFOR-A] (Nov 2012)
  • Brigadier General Bryan Roberts-U.S. Army Commander 2nd Brigade (May 2013)
  • Major General Gregg A. Sturdevant-U.S. Marine Corps Director of Strategic Planning and Policy for the U.S. Pacific Command & Commander of Aviation Wing at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan (Sept 2013)
  • Colonel Eric Tilley-U.S. Army Commander of Garrison Japan (Nov 2013)
  • Brigadier General Bryan Wampler-U.S. Army Commanding General of 143rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command of the 1st Theater Sustainment Command [TSC] (suspended Oct 2013)

Commanding Admirals fired:

  • Rear Admiral Charles Gaouette-U.S. Navy Commander John C. Stennis Carrier Strike Group Three (Oct 2012)
  • Vice Admiral Tim Giardina(3 Star, demoted to 2 Star)-U.S. Navy Deputy Commander of the US Strategic Command, Commander of the Submarine Group Trident, Submarine Group 9 and Submarine Group 10 (Oct 2013)

Naval Officers fired: (All in 2011)

  • Captain David Geisler-U.S. Navy Commander Task Force 53 in Bahrain (Oct 2011)
  • Commander Laredo Bell-U.S. Navy Commander Naval Support Activity Saratoga Springs, NY (Aug 2011)
  • Lieutenant Commander Kurt Boenisch-Executive Officer amphibious transport dock Ponce (Apr 2011)
  • Commander Nathan Borchers-U.S. Navy Commander destroyer Stout (Mar 2011)
  • Commander Robert Brown-U.S. Navy Commander Beachmaster Unit 2 Fort Story, VA (Aug 2011)
  • Commander Andrew Crowe-Executive Officer Navy Region Center Singapore (Apr 2011)
  • Captain Robert Gamberg-Executive Officer carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower (Jun 2011)
  • Captain Rex Guinn-U.S. Navy Commander Navy Legal Service office Japan (Feb 2011)
  • Commander Kevin Harms- U.S. Navy Commander Strike Fighter Squadron 137 aboard the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln (Mar 2011)
  • Lieutenant Commander Martin Holguin-U.S. Navy Commander mine countermeasures Fearless (Oct 2011)
  • Captain Owen Honors-U.S. Navy Commander aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (Jan 2011)
  • Captain Donald Hornbeck-U.S. Navy Commander Destroyer Squadron 1 San Diego (Apr 2011)
  • Rear Admiral Ron Horton-U.S. Navy Commander Logistics Group, Western Pacific (Mar 2011)
  • Commander Etta Jones-U.S. Navy Commander amphibious transport dock Ponce (Apr 2011)
  • Commander Ralph Jones-Executive Officer amphibious transport dock Green Bay (Jul 2011)
  • Commander Jonathan Jackson-U.S. Navy Commander Electronic Attack Squadron 134, deployed aboard carrier Carl Vinson (Dec 2011)
  • Captain Eric Merrill-U.S. Navy Commander submarine Emory S. Land (Jul 2011)
  • Captain William Mosk-U.S. Navy Commander Naval Station Rota, U.S. Navy Commander Naval Activities Spain (Apr 2011)
  • Commander Timothy Murphy-U.S. Navy Commander Electronic Attack Squadron 129 at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, WA (Apr 2011)
  • Commander Joseph Nosse-U.S. Navy Commander ballistic-missile submarine Kentucky (Oct 2011)
  • Commander Mark Olson-U.S. Navy Commander destroyer The Sullivans FL (Sep 2011)
  • Commander John Pethel-Executive Officer amphibious transport dock New York (Dec 2011)
  • Commander Karl Pugh-U.S. Navy Commander Electronic Attack Squadron 141 Whidbey Island, WA (Jul 2011)
  • Commander Jason Strength-U.S. Navy Commander of Navy Recruiting District Nashville, TN (Jul 2011)
  • Captain Greg Thomas-U.S. Navy Commander Norfolk Naval Shipyard (May 2011)
  • Commander Mike Varney-U.S. Navy Commander attack submarine Connecticut (Jun 2011)
  • Commander Jay Wylie-U.S. Navy Commander destroyer Momsen (Apr 2011)

Naval Officers fired: (All in 2012):

  • Commander Alan C. Aber-Executive Officer Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 71 (July 2012)
  • Commander Derick Armstrong- U.S. Navy Commander missile destroyer USS The Sullivans (May 2012)
  • Commander Martin Arriola- U.S. Navy Commander destroyer USS Porter (Aug 2012)
  • Captain Antonio Cardoso- U.S. Navy Commander Training Support Center San Diego (Sep 2012)
  • Captain James CoBell- U.S. Navy Commander Oceana Naval Air Station’s Fleet Readiness Center Mid-Atlantic (Sep 2012)
  • Captain Joseph E. Darlak- U.S. Navy Commander frigate USS Vandegrift (Nov 2012)
  • Captain Daniel Dusek-U.S. Navy Commander USS Bonhomme
  • Commander David Faught-Executive Officer destroyer Chung-Hoon (Sep 2012)
  • Commander Franklin Fernandez- U.S. Navy Commander Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 24 (Aug 2012)
  • Commander Ray Hartman- U.S. Navy Commander Amphibious dock-landing ship Fort McHenry (Nov 2012)
  • Commander Shelly Hakspiel-Executive Officer Navy Drug Screening Lab San Diego (May 2012)
  • Commander Jon Haydel- U.S. Navy Commander USS San Diego (Mar 2012)
  • Commander Diego Hernandez- U.S. Navy Commander ballistic-missile submarine USS Wyoming (Feb 2012)
  • Commander Lee Hoey- U.S. Navy Commander Drug Screening Laboratory, San Diego (May 2012)
  • Commander Ivan Jimenez-Executive Officer frigate Vandegrift (Nov 2012)
  • Commander Dennis Klein- U.S. Navy Commander submarine USS Columbia (May 2012)
  • Captain Chuck Litchfield- U.S. Navy Commander assault ship USS Essex (Jun 2012)
  • Captain Marcia Kim Lyons- U.S. Navy Commander Naval Health Clinic New England (Apr 2012)
  • Captain Robert Marin- U.S. Navy Commander cruiser USS Cowpens (Feb 2012)
  • Captain Sean McDonell- U.S. Navy Commander Seabee reserve unit Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 14 FL (Nov 2012)
  • Commander Corrine Parker- U.S. Navy Commander Fleet Logistics Support Squadron 1 (Apr 2012)
  • Captain Liza Raimondo- U.S. Navy Commander Naval Health Clinic Patuxent River, MD (Jun 2012)
  • Captain Jeffrey Riedel- Program manager, Littoral Combat Ship program (Jan 2012)
  • Commander Sara Santoski- U.S. Navy Commander Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (Sep 2012)
  • Commander Kyle G. Strudthoff-Executive Officer Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 25 (Sep 2012)
  • Commander Sheryl Tannahill- U.S. Navy Commander Navy Operational Support Center [NOSC] Nashville, TN (Sep 2012)
  • Commander Michael Ward- U.S. Navy Commander submarine USS Pittsburgh (Aug 2012)
  • Captain Michael Wiegand- U.S. Navy Commander Southwest Regional Maintenance Center (Nov 2012)
  • Captain Ted Williams- U.S. Navy Commander amphibious command ship Mount Whitney (Nov 2012)
  • Commander Jeffrey Wissel- U.S. Navy Commander of Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron 1 (Feb 2012)

Naval Officers fired: (All in 2013):

  • Lieutenant Commander Lauren Allen-Executive Officer submarine Jacksonville (Feb 2013)
  • Reserve Captain Jay Bowman-U.S. Navy Commander Navy Operational Support Center [NOSC] Fort Dix, NJ (Mar 2013)
  • Captain William Cogar-U.S. Navy Commander hospital ship Mercy’s medical treatment facility (Sept 2013)
  • Commander Steve Fuller-Executive Officer frigate Kauffman (Mar 2013)
  • Captain Shawn Hendricks-Program Manager for naval enterprise IT networks (June 2013)
  • Captain David Hunter-U.S. Navy Commander of Maritime Expeditionary Security Squadron 12 & Coastal Riverine Group 2 (Feb 2013)
  • Captain Eric Johnson-U.S. Navy Chief of Military Entrance Processing Command at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, IL (2013)
  • Captain Devon Jones-U.S. Navy Commander Naval Air Facility El Centro, CA (July 2013)
  • Captain Kevin Knoop-U.S. Navy Commander hospital ship Comfort’s medical treatment facility (Aug 2013)
  • Lieutenant Commander Jack O’Neill-U.S. Navy Commander Operational Support Center Rock Island, IL (Mar 2013)
  • Commander Allen Maestas-Executive Officer Beachmaster Unit 1 (May 2013)
  • Commander Luis Molina-U.S. Navy Commander submarine Pasadena (Jan 2013)
  • Commander James Pickens-Executive Officer frigate Gary (Feb 2013)
  • Lieutenant Commander Mark Rice-U.S. Navy Commander Mine Countermeasures ship Guardian (Apr 2013)
  • Commander Michael Runkle-U.S. Navy Commander of Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 (May 2013)
  • Commander Jason Stapleton-Executive Office Patrol Squadron 4 in Hawaii (Mar 2013)
  • Commander Nathan Sukols-U.S. Navy Commander submarine Jacksonville (Feb 2013)
  • Lieutenant Daniel Tyler-Executive Officer Mine Countermeasures ship Guardian (Apr 2013)
  • Commander Edward White-U.S. Navy Commander Strike Fighter Squadron 106 (Aug 2013)
  • Captain Jeffrey Winter-U.S. Navy Commander of Carrier Air Wing 17 (Sept 2013)
  • Commander Thomas Winter-U.S. Navy Commander submarine Montpelier (Jan 2013)
  • Commander Corey Wofford- U.S. Navy Commander frigate Kauffman (Feb 2013)

So what do you think about all of this?

Do you believe that a “purge” of high ranking military officers is taking place?

Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

This article first appeared here at the American Dream.  Michael Snyder is a writer, speaker and activist who writes and edits his own blogs The American Dream and Economic Collapse Blog. Follow him on Twitter here.

Obama Says Surveillance Program Changes Coming in January – Bloomberg

Obama Says Surveillance Program Changes Coming in January – Bloomberg.

President Barack Obama said he will act in January on the recommendations of an advisory panel suggesting changes to government surveillance programs.

“What we’re doing now is evaluating all of the recommendations that have been made,” Obama said at a news conference today. “I’m going to make a pretty definitive statement about all of this in January.”

He’ll decide which recommendations “make sense” and which need further work, Obama said at a White House news conference, his final planned for 2013.

The Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, a five-member panel, offered 46 policy changes this week that would allow U.S. surveillance programs to continue while limiting worldwide collection of communications by the National Security Agency.

The proposals, which Obama isn’t obligated to adopt, aim to alter spy programs in response to a domestic and international backlash over the extent of U.S. surveillance exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Before the report was released, Obama rejected the panel’s recommendation that the NSA be given a civilian leader and separated from the Pentagon’s Cyber Command.

“I have confidence in the fact the NSA is not engaging in domestic surveillance or snooping around”, he said, while “we may have to refine this further to give people more confidence” because of evolving technology.

“Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we necessarily should,” he added.

Possible Legislation

Lawmakers may consider legislation early next year to rein in the NSA.

In its report, made public on Dec. 18 and submitted to the president on Dec. 13, the panel recommended satisfying a demand of Internet companies such as Yahoo! Inc. (YHOO) andFacebook Inc. (FB) Internet companies should be permitted to make public “general information” about government orders compelling them to turn over data, including how many users are affected.

The panel also would put new burdens on telecommunications providers to retain data for future snooping.

It recommended the NSA retain access to bulk phone-calling records, with two changes: Phone companies, not the spy agency, should keep the records, and the NSA should have to obtain court orders for specific customer data.

Surveillance of foreign leaders could continue if more consideration is given on a case-by-case basis to national security, economic and diplomatic implications, the panel said.

The panel also recommended that the U.S. not undermine or weaken encryption standards, and establish international norms to prevent a splintering of the Internet.

The so-called “metadata” bulk collection of phone data “has probably got the most attention,” Obama said today. The NSA, based on its experiences following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, thought that “it was necessary for us to track” calls coming into the U.S. and store the data.

Any changes must be made with the agency’s goal of protecting the U.S. public in mind, he said.

 

Podesta’s Push for Executive Power Raises Stakes on Obama Agenda – Bloomberg

Podesta’s Push for Executive Power Raises Stakes on Obama Agenda – Bloomberg.

When the Republican victory in the 2010 midterm election raised the prospect of political gridlock, John Podesta was ready with an answer: The president should bypass Congress and wield the executive powers of his office.

Less than two weeks after the returns came in, Podesta had compiled 47 pages of proposals for unilateral action on issues from immigration to solar energy. PresidentBarack Obama’s ability to “accomplish important change through these powers should not be underestimated,” he wrote.

Now, Podesta’s appointment as counselor to Obama adds a strong promoter of that strategy to the president’s inner circle as Republicans stand in the way of the White House agenda.

The activist vision of the 64-year-old former chief of staff to President Bill Clinton could play out across the economy, encompassing matters such as greenhouse gas emission standards forpower plants, food safety and border enforcement.

“John will be an advocate for forceful executive action, either for its own sake or to force congressional action,” said Jake Siewert, a former Clinton White House press secretary who is now a managing director at Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Among the proposals Podesta forwarded to Obama three years ago as head of the Center for American Progress, a research group with close ties to the administration, were a $2-per-barrel fee on imported oil to finance clean-energy projects, solar panels for Air Force hangars and curbs on detention of undocumented immigrants without criminal records.

Forcing Confrontation

Greater use of executive power would raise the stakes in Washington, provoking a clash with Republicans that could lead to a wave of congressional hearings, lawsuits from aggrieved parties and more tense negotiations over spending and taxes. It would also add to Republican bitterness already fueled by Senate Democrats’ move to limit filibusters of Obama appointees.

Podesta may find a receptive audience in the White House.

“He’ll be preaching to the choir in this administration,” said Bruce Reed, who worked with Podesta as Clinton’s chief domestic policy adviser and until recently was Vice President Joe Biden’s chief of staff.

Under the theme “We Can’t Wait,” the White House started a series of executive actions before the 2012 election, including an order to stop deporting undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children, if they have no criminal record. Unable to win passage of a gun-control bill, Obama announced moves on firearms using his presidential authority earlier this year.

Sinking Polls

Podesta joins a White House at a low ebb in public standing after Obama’s inability to win passage of a revamp of immigration policy, a 16-day government shutdown and the botched rollout of the federal online insurance exchanges at the core of his signature health-care law.

After starting his second term with an inaugural address calling for a more activist government — he vowed to come up with executive moves to fight climate change “if Congress won’t act soon” — Obama has little to show for it.

His 42 percent job approval in the Gallup Poll for the week ended Dec. 15 is down 10 percentage points from the same week a year earlier and comparable to the 41 percent approval at this point in the administration of George W. Bush, who left office as one of the most unpopular presidents in recent history.

At the end of the fifth year of an administration, when attention shifts to the next election, a president has “a sense that the sand is running out of the hourglass,” said Stephen Hess, a scholar at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“Your time is short and you want to do as much as you can,” said Hess, who has studied the presidency since serving in Dwight Eisenhower’s administration. “You then want to do things by executive orders and executive regulations.”

Crucial Year

Because government regulations take so much time to complete if they are to withstand legal challenges, the coming year will be crucial in setting the administration’s final initiatives, said Carol Browner, who ran the Environmental Protection Agency under Clinton.

“It takes you a minimum two years to get a rule done, start to finish,” said Browner, who’s also a former Obama White House aide. “They’ve got to have a clear agenda now. What are the 10 or 20 things that are most important that they want to get done before he leaves office using existing authority?”

While Podesta recused himself from involvement in the administration’s consideration of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline because of his public opposition to the project, his portfolio will include environmental and energy issues.

Reassuring Presence

His presence in the White House will reassure environmentalists that administration regulations on cutting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants will be as “effective as possible,” said David Goldston, director of government affairs at the Natural Resources Defense Council, where Podesta has been on the board of the group’s political arm.

“Beyond that, he’ll be looking at all the tools that he can use to reduce carbon emissions and address climate change,” Goldston said.

Podesta didn’t respond to a request to be interviewed for this story.

As chief of staff during the final years of Clinton’s presidency, he oversaw a frenzy of rule-making, executive orders and land-preservation edicts. He was so closely identified with the burst of activity that some aides dubbed it “Project Podesta,” according to a National Journal report at the time.

The regulations in the administration’s final months included protection of 59 million acres of forest from roads and logging; work-safety rules on repetitive stress injuries that required millions of offices and factories to be redesigned; and more stringent standards for arsenic in drinking water.

Clearing Way

Clinton designated more land protected in the lower 48 U.S. states than any president sinceTheodore Roosevelt. He made five of the national monument designations on Jan. 17, 2001, with only three days left in his term.

Podesta “cleared the way” for conservation regulations, particularly a rule prohibiting virtually all road-building, logging, or coal, gas, oil and other mineral leasing in designated roadless areas of national forests, said Bruce Babbitt, who served as Clinton’s Interior secretary.

That rule, issued eight days before Clinton left office, survived legal challenges that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2012.

“The roadless rule was a huge achievement and a bureaucratic nightmare,” said Babbitt.

Thwarting Rule

During Clinton’s last year in office, Republican lawmakers tried to thwart an EPA regulation in the final stages of review. They tacked a rider onto a bill funding military construction and disaster assistance that would have barred the use of government money to complete the rule which set stricter pollution standards for watersheds.

The president couldn’t afford to veto the legislation, and after a series of meetings led by Podesta, his aides came up with their own gambit: stall on signing the legislation while they rushed the rule through the review, said Chuck Fox, then the EPA’s assistant administrator for water.

That culminated in a 90-minute meeting in Podesta’s office in which Browner and then budget director Jack Lew personally negotiated the rule’s final wording line by line, Fox said.

Once Browner signed the regulation, Fox jumped in a taxi to get the document to the printers to beat an end-of-day deadline to publish the regulation in the Federal Register, as required.

Though Republicans were furious over the end run, the rule survived, said Fox, now program director at Oceans 5, a conservation group.

Podesta “was very bold on it,” Fox said.

 

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