Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Proof that Harry Reid the Majority Leader in the U.S. Senate is an idiot

Our Government in action

"Hell, back in 1990, the Government seized the Mustang Ranch brothel in Nevada for tax evasion and, as required by law, tried to run it. They failed and it closed. Now we are trusting the economy of our country and our banking system to the same nit-wits who couldn't make money running a whore house and selling whiskey!"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Obama orders 60-day cybersecurity review

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama on Monday ordered an immediate 60-day review of federal cyber security efforts and named Melissa Hathaway, a top U.S. intelligence official, to oversee the effort, according to a White House statement.

Hathaway, who served as a top cyber security adviser to Mitch McConnell, the former director of national intelligence, will conduct the review for the White House National Security and Homeland Security Councils.

The review, which will examine what the federal government already is doing to protect vital U.S. computer networks, underscores mounting concerns about the risks of cyber attacks, and points to a growing market for U.S. contractors.

Northrop Grumman Corp, Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, the Pentagon's biggest contractors, already are working on a variety of cyber security projects for the U.S. government, many of which are classified.

Industry executives say the sector will be one of their fastest-growing markets in coming years, and analysts say it could generate over $10 billion in contracts by 2013.

Hathaway, who had been coordinating cyber security efforts for the intelligence community, will serve as acting senior director for cyber space during the review period, according to the White House statement, which was released late on Monday.

Obama highlighted the importance of safeguarding the nation's vital computer networks against enemy attacks during his campaign, and has promised to appoint a national cyber adviser to coordinate federal agency efforts and develop a national cyber policy.

Just before he left office last month, McConnell told reporters that the Internet had introduced an unprecedented level of vulnerability. "If you get in our systems and you're trying to destroy banking records or electric power distribution or transportation, it could have a debilitating effect on the country," he said.

The Senate last month confirmed Adm. Dennis Blair to be the new director of national intelligence, replacing McConnell.

Immediately upon taking office, the Obama administration underscored the importance of protecting U.S. information networks in a posting on the White House website.

It pledged to work with industry, researchers, and citizens to "build a trustworthy and accountable cyber infrastructure that is resilient, protects America's competitive advantage, and advances our national and homeland security."

The White House also said it would initiate a drive to develop next-generation secure computers and networking for national security applications; establish tough new standards for cyber security and physical resilience; battle corporate cyber espionage and target criminal activity on the Internet.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Panetta says he would end harsh CIA interrogation tactics

Panetta says he would end harsh CIA interrogation tactics

By Mary Anne Ostrom

Mercury News
Posted: 02/05/2009 06:01:41 PM PST

Vowing a clean break from the CIA's controversial recent past, Leon Panetta, President Barack Obama's surprise pick to lead the spy agency, promised Thursday to end controversial detainment and interrogation practices used during the Bush years and bluntly declared that "waterboarding is torture."

The former Monterey congressman's denouncement of the harsh interrogation tactic used on suspected terrorists came during his first day of Senate confirmation hearings, which are expected to conclude today.

Describing waterboarding as torture is the toughest language yet used by a would-be senior Obama administration intelligence official. Panetta promised a thorough review of Bush administration policies at the Central Intelligence Agency, and he vowed to share findings with congressional intelligence committee members.

Already Obama has issued executive orders to start the process of closing down the Guantánamo Bay detention center in Cuba and to assess what should happen to the remaining detainees. Panetta said he would not support prosecution of CIA agents who used harsh interrogation practices if they were following Bush administration guidance.

Asked about recent comments by Vice President Dick Cheney that Obama's executive orders put the nation at risk, Panetta said, "The implication is that somehow this country is more vulnerable to attack because the president of this country wants to abide by the law and the Constitution.
I think we are a stronger nation when we abide by the law and Constitution."

Asked what would happen to Osama bin Laden if he were captured, Panetta said, "We would debrief him and incarcerate him, probably in a military prison."

Among the biggest challenges facing the agency, he said, is the growing economic crisis and its repercussions on global stability. He said the CIA needs to fill intelligence gaps, focusing on Russia, China and Africa. "My biggest challenge now is to figure out where those gaps are," he said.

Since leaving Washington in 1997, after serving as President Bill Clinton's chief of staff, Panetta has spent most of his time running the Leon and Sylvia Panetta Institute for Public Policy, headquartered at California State University-Monterey Bay.

When the confirmation hearing resumes today, Republican senators are expected to ask Panetta about details of his income since leaving government. In a filing with the Office of Government Ethics, Panetta reported that last year he was paid for making speeches to troubled financial institutions Merrill Lynch and Wachovia. He reported making $1.2 million from his activities and investments last year and said he had assets worth nearly $4 million.

Obama's nominees are under increased scrutiny in the wake of discoveries that forced two nominees to withdraw after it was learned they had failed to pay taxes.

The White House has said that Panetta has no similar tax problems and did not have to pay any back taxes after being tapped by the White House to lead the CIA.

Obama appoints Indian American in interfaith council

Obama appoints Indian American in interfaith council
6 Feb 2009, 0947 hrs IST, IANS
WASHINGTON: President Barack Obama has included an Indian American in a revamped White House office for faith-based and neighbourhood
programmes, expanding an initiative started by the Bush administration to support charitable organisations delivering social services.

Indian American Eboo S. Patel, founder and executive director of the Chicago-based Interfaith Youth Corps, was named to a 25-member President's Advisory Council composed of religious leaders and scholars from different backgrounds.

"No matter how much money we invest or how sensibly we design our policies, the change that Americans are looking for will not come from government alone," Obama said, creating the new office by executive order. "There is a force for good greater than government."

While at home it will focus on making community groups an integral part of US economic recovery as its top priority, beyond American shores the new office will work with the National Security Council to "foster interfaith dialogue with leaders and scholars around the world".

The revamped office will work on behalf of Americans committed to improving their communities, no matter their religious or political beliefs, Obama said.

"It is an expression of faith, this yearning to give back, this hungering for a purpose larger than our own, that reveals itself not simply in places of worship, but in senior centres and shelters, schools and hospitals, and any place an American decides."

The new office "will be a resource for nonprofits and community organisations, both secular and faith based, looking for ways to make a bigger impact in their communities, learn their obligations under the law, cut through red tape, and make the most of what the federal government has to offer".

Headed by Joshua DuBois, a former associate pastor and advisor to Obama in his US Senate office and campaign director of religious affairs, the office will carry out its priorities upholding the principle of "the separation of church and state".

The revamped office has reignited a contentious debate over whether religious organisations that accept funds from the government should be allowed to discriminate when hiring.

Obama's executive order does not rescind Bush's provision to allow faith-based groups to discriminate in their hiring practices, but does provide a legal process for organisations to go through in order to that ensure hiring is legal and non-discriminatory.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Congressman Twitters secret trip to Iraq

For security reasons, the congressional delegation led by House Minority Leader John Boehner to Iraq today was supposed to be secret. Everything had been going fine in that regard. Even media outlets that knew of the trip, like the Congressional Quarterly, kept a lid on the news.

That was, until Representative Peter Hoekstra Twittered his arrival into Baghdad. "Just landed in Baghdad. I believe it may be first time I've had bb service in Iraq. 11 th trip here," he sent from his Blackberry.

I don't know if Rep. Hoekstra broke any laws by revealing the trip, but the political blogs are fond of pointing out that such a security lapse is surprising for the Ranking Member of the House Intelligence Committee.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Senate Leaders Reach $780 Billion Compromise

Senate Leaders Reach $780 Billion Compromise
Democrats and GOP Moderates Negotiate a Leaner Plan as Obama Ratchets Up the Pressure After Dismal Economic Report

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WASHINGTON -- Senate Democratic leaders struck a deal with a handful of moderate Republicans late Friday on a leaner economic-recovery package and pushed for a vote after five days of partisan deadlock over a plan that had swollen to $930 billion.

Senate leaders valued the compromise, struck on the same day as the government announced the loss of nearly 600,000 more jobs in January, at about $780 billion, although some aspects of the plan remained unclear late Friday. The deal's proponents said the new plan would cut spending for an array of projects, such as $870 million for pandemic flu preparedness, included in the earlier House and Senate bills.

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Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine, who helped craft the less-costly stimulus plan with a bipartisan group of moderate senators, board an elevator at the Capitol Friday after a meeting where they bargained with Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
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Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine, who helped craft the less-costly stimulus plan with a bipartisan group of moderate senators, board an elevator at the Capitol Friday after a meeting where they bargained with Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine, who helped craft the less-costly stimulus plan with a bipartisan group of moderate senators, board an elevator at the Capitol Friday after a meeting where they bargained with Democratic Leader Harry Reid.
Republican Sens. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Susan Collins of Maine, who helped craft the less-costly stimulus plan with a bipartisan group of moderate senators, board an elevator at the Capitol Friday after a meeting where they bargained with Democratic Leader Harry Reid.

The compromise didn't sway some Republican opponents. Among those criticizing the stimulus plan – Sen. John McCain, (R-Ariz.), the losing Republican Presidential candidate. "This is a Christmas tree," Mr. McCain thundered.

The deal jettisons or pares back a number of items that President Barack Obama had wanted. Funding to computerize health records is all but gone, as is a national study on the comparative effectiveness of health treatments. Mr. Obama's Make Work Pay payroll tax holiday was clipped back, and an expansion of the per child tax credit for the working poor was also trimmed. At least half the funds to stop cutbacks at the state level in education were eliminated.

White House aides refused to call those cuts a defeat for the president. Instead, one called it "a strategic retreat" to get the bill into House-Senate negotiations and off the Senate floor where it was being picked apart.

"Wait til conference," another White House aide cautioned. The reference was to the House-Senate conference that will shape the final bill.

The compromise package makes some $20 billion to $25 billion in trims from the tax-relief elements of the earlier Senate package. Under the package, the cuts would fall on planned investments in Medicaid, the federal-state program that provides health to the poor, housing, energy and education. But proponents said it would still offer tax relief for low and middle income families, breaks for small businesses, and a one year patch to protect millions of Americans from paying the alternative minimum tax.

With Republicans and Democrats in the Senate still at loggerheads over an economic stimulus package, President Barack Obama expressed frustration at the GOP's demands to cut spending and focus on tax cuts in the bill.

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said the decision to scale back the tax cuts reflected "push back from the left," which insisted that all of the reductions in the package not come from spending. One Senate aide said some of the reductions in tax relief would come from trimming a tax cut that would promote development of clean energy, as well as money-losing firms by allowing them to get refunds for taxes paid in past years.

Still unclear is what the Senate will do with popular tax breaks -- for home and auto purchases -- that received wide support on the Senate floor. Some senators suggested those provisions would still remain in play, as efforts to meld the House and Senate bills begin.

Even a scaled-down Senate package, if passed, would likely be broadly consistent with the House-passed bill, and well within the range of what Mr. Obama originally called upon Congress to approve.

The new plan would still provide an array of tax cuts for individuals and business, aid to cash-strapped states, and billions of dollars in new spending, boosting support for jobless benefits, food aid for the poor, and road and bridge construction, among other things.

If the Senate passes a plan, it would set up private House-Senate negotiations, which are expected to begin next week. That will be where Mr. Obama and senior Democrats could exert far more influence on the details of the final package, amid efforts to conclude action by the end of the week.

Senate passage would be a critical victory for Mr. Obama, a little more than two weeks into his term. The past three days have strained Mr. Obama's efforts to shape a post-partisan presidency that leaves behind decades-old ideological debates. The stimulus debate has highlighted the reality that President Obama faces: a smaller but more vociferously conservative Republican Party and a liberal Democratic leadership anxious to put its large majorities to work passing long-deferred priorities.
[Harry Reid]

Harry Reid

Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, in his effort to round up the votes to push the measure through, bargained for much of Friday with Republican Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe, and Arlen Specter (R., Pa.), who all played key roles in developing a bipartisan alternative to the Obama plan. Working in concert with a group of moderate Democrats led by Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Sen. Collins and others proposed to cut tens of billions of dollars from the original Senate bill, with the goal of snipping out projects -- from education funding to spending on polar ice breakers -- not deemed of immediate benefit to the economy.

Mr. Obama spoke with Mr. Reid in the wee hours of Friday, and again Friday morning. White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel worked the phones with Democratic leadership all day. White House budget director Peter Orszag ran through the spending and tax totals with lawmakers, while the president's legislative staff buzzed in and out of Senate meetings.

The delays in Senate action on the economic-stimulus plan provoked sharp criticism from Mr. Obama, who seized on the bleak jobs report to blast the Senate's inaction.

"These numbers demand action," Mr. Obama said early Friday, as he announced the creation of an outside advisory board on economic policy. "It is inexcusable and irresponsible for any of us to get bogged down in distraction, delay and politics, while millions of Americans are being put out of work."

After a closed-door caucus of Senate Democrats, party leaders emerged saying they are ready to go to the floor. "We have a deal," said Mr. Baucus, the Senate Finance Chairman.

Unclear, though, was whether the full Senate would push immediately toward a final vote Friday night. Mr. Reid, the majority leader, said he wanted to vote on more amendments to the plan Friday night, but it was unclear whether Mr. Reid could get a final vote Friday. Mr. Reid said the Senate would vote "if not tonight…then in next day or so."

The push for action reflected the sense of renewed urgency among lawmakers over the deepening recession.

* Discuss: Do you think the stimulus legislation will work?


* Wash Wire: White House Calls for Speed
* Video: Stimulus Plan May Hurt Housing
* Opinion: Why "Stimulus" Will Mean Inflation
* See the full text of the Senate bill prior to this week's amendments.

To ratchet up the political pressure on lawmakers, who must still reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill, the president will make his first foray Monday out of the Washington area since his inauguration, to a town-hall meeting in Elkhart, Ind., where the jobless rate in the last year has soared to 15.3% from 4.7%, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs announced Friday. Following a Monday night press conference on primetime television, he will head to Fort Myers, Fla., another hard-hit city, to sell the package on Tuesday.

Mr. Reid had to compromise to win the handful of Republicans he needs to swing behind the president's plan and pass the bill. Democrats control the chamber with a 58-41 majority. But they need Republican support to achieve the 60 votes needed to ensure passage of any measure.

Two Republican senators -- Susan Collins of Maine and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania -- endorsed the package, Friday night.

Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy, who has been ill, was flying back to Washington Friday night to bolster the vote for the plan.

But Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, (R-Ky.) Friday night criticized the compromise plan, and said the plan is "not likely…to produce the results we desire."

The tenacity of the Republicans' opposition to the stimulus plan in the House and Senate has appeared to catch the Obama administration off balance.

"In the political hurly-burly, we've lost contact with the basic economic concepts here: States are trying to balance their budgets, and they are raising taxes, cutting benefits and laying people off," a White House economist said. The economist said the education cuts under discussion Friday were unacceptable.