Quick Hits

Here are some other stories making news today.

The House Ethics Committee released its formal charges against Democratic Congresswoman Maxine Waters who represents the California Thirty-Fifth Congressional District that covers South-Central Los Angeles. Representative Waters and Mikael Moore, her grandson and chief of staff, are accused of improperly intervening on behalf on OneUnited, a minority-owned Boston-based bank in which Waters's husband owned stock.

The charges are laid out in a ten page Statement of Alleged Violation released today by the House Ethics Committee. If OneUnited had not received the aid from the Troubled Asset Relief Program, Waters' husband's financial interest in the bank would have been worthless, according to the House Ethics Committee's 10-page statement of alleged violations. The report accuses the 10-term congresswoman of violating three House rules: one that requires its member to "behave at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House"; a second that prohibits lawmakers from using their influence for personal benefit; and a third forbidding the dispensing of favors. The story in the Los Angeles Times.

The Hill reports that Senator Tim Johnson of South Dakota has been hospitalized with a high fever.

The first Guantánamo Military Tribunal of the Obama Presidency started today at the Guantánamo Bay US Naval Base in Cuba. The trial of Omar Khadr, a Canadian citizen, faces a maximum life sentence if convicted of charges that include conspiring to commit terrorism, providing material support to Al Qaeda and the killing of US Army Sgt. Christopher Speer in Afghanistan with a hand grenade near the end of a four hour battle. US forces captured Khadr in Afghanistan in July 2002, when he was just 15 years old. The military trial is in violation of various international statues that state that children captured in war should be treated as victims and not perpetrators. More from the Christian Science Monitor.

Speaking of Afghanistan, National Public Radio reports on the evolving, by which they mean increasing, US role in Afghanistan as NATO allies depart.

Letitia A. Long is the new director of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency becoming the first woman to head one of the 16 major US intelligence agencies. More on the appointment from the Associated Press.

Bloomberg News reports that for the first time since the start of the financial crisis in August 2007, U.S. investors own more Treasuries than foreign holders. Mutual funds, households and banks have boosted the domestic share of the $8.18 trillion in tradable U.S. debt to 50.2 percent as of May, according to the most recent Treasury Department data.

Matthew R. Simmons, the founder of Simmons & Company International, a boutique energy investment bank, has died of a heart attack at his vacation home in Maine. Mr. Simmons, 67, was one of the foremost experts on energy and a leading advocate of green energy. He was also the founder the Ocean Energy Institute in 2007 to investigate ways to use the ocean to generate power.

Editorial of the Day
The editorial board of the New York Times writes on the slowing economy - Goldman Sachs last week cut its forecast of US GDP for 2011 to 1.9 percent from 2.4 percent - urging policy makers to tackle the nation's anemic economy.

The economic news — on growth, consumers, housing and manufacturing — was bad enough before the jobs report for July, released last Friday. The report leaves no doubt that a slowdown is well under way. The odds of renewed recession remain uncomfortably high.

And yet, the response from Washington has been inadequate, at best, with Democratic initiatives too timid and Republicans bent on obstruction. When legislation does emerge from the gridlock, it is invariably a disappointment in the face of a dissolving recovery.

With unemployment persistently high, the economy is losing whatever momentum it had after last year’s stimulus. Recovery, such as it is, appears to be a repeat of the lopsided growth of the Bush years, with corporate profits rebounding and jobs and incomes lagging. Back then, policy makers advised patience, saying that with time, economic gains would distribute themselves more evenly. We know how that ended.

There is no one way to foster job growth. There are many ways, and they should all be deployed. Maybe after Congress gets back from vacation.

Shedding Light on Our Leviathan National Security State

Investigative reporters Dana Priest and William Arkin have Pultizer Prize caliber story today in the Washington Post "Top Secret America" detailing the vast national security state apparatus that has been built up since the September 11, 2001 attacks. Their introduction begins "the top-secret world the government created in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, has become so large, so unwieldy and so secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs, how many programs exist within it or exactly how many agencies do the same work."

Among their findings:

* Some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States.

* An estimated 854,000 people, nearly 1.5 times as many people as live in Washington, D.C., hold top-secret security clearances.

* In Washington and the surrounding area, 33 building complexes for top-secret intelligence work are under construction or have been built since September 2001. Together they occupy the equivalent of almost three Pentagons or 22 U.S. Capitol buildings - about 17 million square feet of space.

* Every day, collection systems at the National Security Agency intercept and store 1.7 billion e-mails, phone calls and other types of communications.

* Many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. For example, 51 federal organizations and military commands, operating in 15 U.S. cities, track the flow of money to and from terrorist networks.

* Analysts who make sense of documents and conversations obtained by foreign and domestic spying share their judgment by publishing 50,000 intelligence reports each year - a volume so large that many are routinely ignored.

Glenn Greenwald over at Salon writes that "we chirp endlessly about the Congress, the White House, the Supreme Court, the Democrats and Republicans, but this is the Real U.S. Government: functioning in total darkness, beyond elections and parties, so secret, vast and powerful that it evades the control or knowledge of any one person or even any organization." He adds that "what's most noteworthy about all of this is that the objective endlessly invoked for why we must acquiesce to all of this -- National Security -- is not only unfulfilled by 'Top Secret America,' but actively subverted by it."

There's more...

Dos Vedanya Tovarischa Anna Chapman née Kushchenko

I really haven't been following the embedded Russian spy story closely, though I have found it rather exceptionally amusing at times. I mean it is not often that one gets to see spy porn plastered in the British tabloids. Few page three girls can boast the lifestyle, if not the breasts, of a character that reads as if from the fiction of John Le Carré. The Russian femme fatale Anna Chapman née Kushchenko, aka The Lady in Red, is, no doubt, the Mata Hari of our day and age but unlike the Dutch tulip of yore, this Russian turnip gets to live another day. Today, she was deported to Moscow as part of a spy swap, the first in 24 years, between the United States and Russia.

Marc Ambinder over at The Atlantic finds that "the fact that the two countries managed to so quickly figure out a mutually beneficial solution after the arrests of Russian spies last week suggests that Moscow and Washington work together well and that both countries believe it is in their best interest to move on from the wilderness of mirrors." In Marc's view, the quick deal is "a sign of a healthy relationship." My take away is more nuanced. The relationship is as healthy as it can be given the dysfunctional nature of the relationship between the two countries. Frankly, I'd like to know what both the US and Russia are so eager to cover up. Alas, given the deal we are never likely to know.

It is somewhat stunning to me that in this entire episode no one has brought up the Cambridge Five, the most notorious embedded spy ring to ever operate in the West. In the 1930s amidst the background of the rise of fascism, the Soviet Union managed to recruit five Cambridge students - Donald Maclean, Guy Burgess, Anthony Blunt, Kim Philby and John Cairncross - to provide intelligence even before they embarked on diplomatic and intelligence careers. Maclean, in particular, was quite the catch given that his father had been the leader of the Liberal party in the 1920s. And Kim Philby was the son of St. John Philby, the noted British diplomat and explorer who was instrumental in placing Ibn Saud on the throne of Saudi Arabia. And as per Anthony Blunt, well, he was a third cousin of Queen Elizabeth, the wife of King George VI and mother of the present monarch. Sir Anthony Blunt, a noted art historian, would also advise the royal family on its art collection but would have his peerage revoked after Margaret Thatcher revealed his role, minimal compared to Philby's and Burgess' roles, in the whole sordid affair. By these standards, Anna Chapman née Kushchenko's pedigree is rather that of a mongrel.

Personally, I can't wait until the BBC turns this latest chapter of Russian espionage into a mini-series. Below a delicious scene from Cambridge Spies with Imelda Staunton as Queen Elizabeth and Samuel West as Sir Anthony Blunt:

This is par for the course. There is no reason to believe that Russia, the United States, Israel, China, the United Kingdom or most any country will curtail their spy games. We can only hope that in future such spy games are as entertaining as these.


The Mother of All Nothingburgers Has Quite a Pickle

Over at neo-con central, they just don't get it. In the National Review, Michael Goldfarb writes, "From what I can tell this Cheney scandal story . . . is the mother of all nothingburgers. It's hard for me not to see it as a ploy by Democrats to distract from the fact that the stimulus bill is a dud, healthcare is going badly and cap-and-trade looks like a disaster. The base always enjoys beating up on Cheney and the press likes that stuff too."

Well, that mother of all nothingburgers has quite a pickle. The problem isn't the nature of the secret CIA program but rather that a political decision was made in the Vice President's office not to inform the Congressional leadership. That's simply a rule of law matter. It is that simple.

Beyond this, there are also operational concerns as Spencer Ackerman reported in the Washington Independent from his conversation with Congressman Rush Holt (D-N.J.) of the House Intelligence Committee. "The CIA should not want to take such risks of various covert action programs over the years without [congressional] oversight," said Representative Holt, "You just do a better job when you have to justify your actions to an independent evaluator." Having Congressional oversight would have either strengthened the program or would have ended it sooner and without the embarrassment that it is now causing.

There's more...

It Just Doesn't Add Up

David Kurtz of Talking Points Memo and I are on the same page bewildered as to why the secret CIA program that aimed to liquidate Al Qaeda operatives would be so controversial, or "radioactive" as David puts it, that Vice President Cheney deemed that it had to be concealed from Congress. Let's face it, this program is going on at the same time that extraordinary renditions were occurring and that we were detaining hundreds of "enemy combatants" in military gulags across the world. Nor is the policy seemingly different from our current use of drones to target Al Qaeda's leadership and operatives. Drones, it can be argued, are in fact worse than CIA assassination hit squads since drones have also left dozens of innocents dead. Furthermore, Al Qaeda is a military target and the Clinton Administration had concluded that killing Al Qaeda operatives was legal.

While there has been intense speculation about the nature of the CIA program since members of the House Intelligence Committee disclosed last week that CIA Director Leon Panetta had ended it upon learning of it on June 23, 2009 four months into his tenure, what remains puzzling is that nothing revealed so far seems illegal that would then necessitate concealing from the Congress.

There's more...


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