Tag Archives: Michael Whitney

Fun With Jane And David

Michael Whitney at Firedoglake:

Jane Hamsher is with David House who is trying to visit Pvt. Bradley Manning at Quantico today while carrying a petition with 42,000 signatures requesting humane treatment for Manning. The military isn’t making it easy at all and detained Jane and David for two hours. We’re publishing her tweets as well as David House’s tweets here as a post in case you haven’t been able to follow them on Twitter (@JaneHamsher and @DavidMHouse

UPDATE: At 2:50pm the military released Jane and David, and told David he could go off base and come back on to visit Bradley. But visiting hours end at 3pm, so Bradley won’t get a visit. We’ll have more soon.

Jane Hamsher at Firedoglake:

I just wanted to say a quick thank-you to everyone today for your support when David House and I were being detained at Quantico.

I don’t think any of this had anything to do with me, or frankly the 42,000 petition signatures. The only thing I did was provide housing and transportation to David House, because he’s just out of college and Glenn Greenwald told him he could stay with me when he comes to visit Manning.

Everyone but David has stopped coming to see Bradley, and it takes a lot of courage to do what David is doing. It’s a very intimidating situation. So I try to support him by giving him a place to stay and driving him to the base when he comes to town. That’s really my only involvement.

There is no doubt in my mind that the primary objective of everything that happened today was to keep Bradley Manning from having the company of his only remaining visitor. The MPs told us they were ordered to do this, the brass showed up to make sure that they did, and they held us until 2:50 by repeatedly asking for information they already had whenever we asked to leave.

Visiting hours at the brig end at 3pm, and don’t begin again until the next weekend. It’s a half hour walk from the front gate to the brig, and although they have allowed David to walk before, they wouldn’t let him do it this time. They said he’d have to catch a cab and come back on the base, but they wouldn’t release him to do that until 2:50.

This was all about detaining David, not me. I would not be surprised to learn they were also punishing him for speaking out about Manning’s conditions. The State Department, the FBI and just about every three-letter government agency has been investigating David and the other Boston hackers since they began organizing support for Bradley Manning last summer, with one witch hunt after another attempting to implicate them in one of Adrian Lamo’s fabulist tales of a physical disk hand-off from Manning to Wikileaks.  The New York Times keeps printing that one, over and over again, with the Justice Department whispering in their ear and nothing but the word of the inconsistent Lamo for evidence.

David has been detained at the airport, his computer seized and held for months with no explanation. The McCarthy-esque actions of the security agencies has terrified all of these idealistic young people.  It is exceptionally admirable that David and others persist in supporting Bradley Manning despite it all.

The net effect of the MP’s actions today was to escalate the climate of threats and intimidation around David, a 23 year-old who just graduated from college, and cut Manning off from any personal contact with the one person who is still showing up to visit him after the government consciously scared everyone else off.

I am very happy that I went, and could be there to support David, because one of the first things the MPs said to us when we arrived — long before they asked for driver’s license, social security numbers,  registration, phone numbers, quizzed us about the addresses on our licenses, etc, etc, was that they had orders to do all of this. Which means they were planning to detain us long before we got there. They were going to use any excuse to keep David from visiting Manning, and try to intimidate him from coming back.

Rachel Slajda at Talking Points Memo:

A spokesman for the base told the AP that the two were never detained. He said Hamsher’s car was towed after she failed to show proof of insurance, and after MPs determined her car’s license plates were expired.

Manning, who is 23, has been charged with eight crimes related to illegally leaking classified information. Manning is accused of leaking 250,000 diplomatic cables, tens of thousands of military dispatches from the war in Afghanistan and a video that shows U.S. forces opening fire on civilians in Iraq, including two Reuters journalists.

Kevin Drum:

This doesn’t appear to be a shining moment for either our government or our military forces.

Jazz Shaw:

Here’s a free tip for those who are obviously not terribly familiar with the military. You don’t give the military a courtesy call to tell them you are coming. You ask their permission. It’s a military base, not a theme park. And when you tell them in advance that you’re coming to their turf to pull off a media stunt intended to make them look bad and challenge their authority, they’re going to mess with you. Further, even if one of you is on the approved visitor list, (Hamsher is not) when you arrive at a United States Military facility, you are there as their guest. They may choose to suffer your presence, but from the moment you pass through those gates you’re playing by their rules.

Perhaps even more amazing than the other complaints and accusations was this puzzling, cryptic statement.

Nobody knows why Marines are holding Bradley Manning who is in the Army anyway. Manning attorney unable to get an answer.

If there’s any truth to that, Manning needs to fire his attorney. The Marines handle security duty at numerous military facilities around the world, including the brigs on larger Navy ships. Quantico’s brig, which is staffed by both Marine and Navy personnel, is famous as a secure destination for suspects and convicts in transition, particularly in high profile cases. It has housed a variety of notorious figures ranging from wannabe presidential assassin John Hinkley to convicted traitor and spy Clayton J. Lonetree. There is absolutely nothing unusual about a suspect like Manning winding up there.

In the end, this stunt was just the next phase in Hamsher’s relentless campaign to lionize both Bradley Manning and Julian Assange as some sort of heroes. It’s an effort which has been regularly abetted by Glenn Greenwald, who jumped into the brewing Twitter storm almost immediately. At one point I asked him if he thought Manning might actually be guilty of releasing all those documents and if that made him some sort of hero in Glenn’s eyes. His response was refreshingly honest.

I have no idea – we wait until what’s called a “verdict” before imposing punishment on people. And yeah, I think it’s heroic.

I’m sure we’re all anxious to find out where this story goes next. Will more visitors take on the U.S. Marines? Will Private Manning have his cable TV access reduced to even more barbaric levels less than six hours per day? Will Jane get her car back and find her insurance card? Tune in next time on, As the World of Manning Turns.

Glenn Greenwald:

The claim is that Hamsher has only electronic rather than printed proof of car insurance — the same proof she’s had every other time she brought House there, though without a petition — and they have thus impounded her car.  They also, though, are refusing — without any explanation — to let House visit Manning despite his being on the approved visitor list.  So much for Manning’s once-a-week reprieve from solitary confinement.

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Filed under Crime, New Media, Torture

An Oily Smorgasbord Of BP-Related Blog Posts

Michael Whitney at Firedoglake:

Early on the Fourth of July, the US government announced it was taking over the main website of the BP oil disaster response, deepwaterhorizonresponse.com. From early on in the disaster, that site has served as a joint venture of BP and various government agencies to post press releases, media advisories, photos, video, and other PR materials about the oil, including a mailing list for media and other interested parties.

Now, the Department of Homeland Security wants to make a “one-stop shop” for the disaster response under a .gov URL. That means shutting down the current site, and taking another look at who has access to post on the site, with government deciding control of the content and message.

So why did DHS allow BP to walk off with the mailing list of everyone who signed up for information about the disaster?

I’ve received emails from the site every day since it went live 10 days after the disaster. Every email has come from some variation of “Joint Information,”  or “Deepwater Horizon Response.” Yet today, less than 24 hours after DHS announced it planned to take over the response website, I get my very first email from “BP America Press Relations,” titled “BP update on Gulf of Mexico spill.” The email from BP was sent to the same address with which I signed up on the original response website.

It seems quite clear that either BP made a copy of the mailing database before it loses access to the site, or the government will continue to give them access to the database. It’s also clear that no matter what, this is in clear violation of the privacy policy of the website, of the US Coast Guard, and of the government itself.

Juliet Eilperin at WaPo:

In recent weeks, the Obama administration has sought to distance itself from BP in handling the Gulf of Mexico oil spill — with one notable exception: When it comes to assessing how badly the spill has harmed the gulf, the two sides are working hand in hand.

Their shared goal? To calculate the incalculable: how much it will cost to restore the gulf to its pre-spill state.

But this close collaboration between federal and state authorities and BP — which is routine procedure under a legal process known as the Natural Resource Damage Assessment (NRDA) — has begun to spark concerns among lawmakers and some environmentalists.

“I want this to be independent, for the credibility of the information,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who as chair of the Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife will hold hearings this month on the issue.

The collaborative approach, established under the 1990 Oil Pollution Act, marks a sharp departure from the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, where the federal government kept the oil company at arm’s length. Exxon hired its own boats and experts, who followed state and federal officials at a distance, replicating the tests they believed were being done so they could provide a rival analysis

Ed Crooks and Lina Saigol at Financial Times:

Although BP generates a huge amount of cash with oil prices at their present levels, the market is still concerned about its financial strength in the face of rising liabilities.

So it is only natural that BP is looking at a range of options for improving its liquidity.

Its problem is that very few sources of finance are open to it at the moment. Since the failure of its attempt to use a “top kill” – pumping drilling fluid down the well so it can be cemented over – at the end of May, the markets have become alarmed about BP’s financial position.

The shares have hit 14-year lows, its bonds have also fallen sharply, and the price of its credit default swaps – the cost of insuring the company’s debt against default – have soared. Its debt has been downgraded by all the major rating agencies, pushing up the cost of its borrowing.

The UK oil producer is not in a position to make a significant difference to its financial position until its second-quarter results on July 27 at the earliest, when it will give some idea of the total bill it is facing. More crucial to investor confidence is the success of BP’s latest plan to stop the leak – a relief well, which is scheduled for completion in August.

In the near-term, the company is not facing a liquidity crisis. The agreement it reached with the White House in mid-June, which gave it three-and-a-half years to pay into a $20bn (£13.2bn) fund to compensate victims of the spill, has bought BP precious time.

By suspending the dividend for the rest of the year and cutting capital spending, it is freeing about $10bn of cash, and plans another $10bn of disposals during the next 12 months.

However, a rapid escalation of liabilities, or a squeeze on cash flows caused by a fall in the oil price, could still force it to raise new funds.

Jeff Neumann at Gawker:

According to a report in today’s Washington Post, in the current fiscal year, BP has fuel contracts with the US military worth at least $980 million. And the Environmental Protection Agency, before the oil spill, had looked into barring BP from all federal contracts due to its 2006 Alaskan oil spill and the deadly 2005 explosion at one of its refineries in Texas. If successful, the EPA would have cut BP off from signing contracts with the Defense Energy Support Center (DESC), which handles military fuel purchases. From The Washington Post:

Jeanne Pascal, a former EPA lawyer who until recently oversaw the review of BP’s possible debarment, has said she initially supported taking such action but held off after an official at the Defense Department warned her that the Pentagon depended heavily on BP fuel for its operations in the Middle East. “My contact at DESC, another attorney, told me that BP was supplying approximately 80 percent of the fuel being used to move U.S. forces” in the region, Pascal said. She added that “BP was very fortunate in that there is an exception when the U.S. is involved in a military action or a war.”

A Defense Department spokeswoman, Wendy L. Snyder, disputed Pacal’s claims, saying the DESC “informed the EPA that there are adequate procedures and processes to protect the U.S. military missions should EPA determine that BP should be debarred.” The Post talked to BP spokesman Robert Wine, who said he knew of at least one “big contract” agreed to between BP and the Pentagon after the Gulf oil spill, and:

He did not challenge Pascal’s claim that BP’s health, safety and environmental unit had been moved lower on the corporate structure before the gulf spill, reporting to the head of a business unit instead of directly to the top executive. But, Wine said, “what difference does that make?”

“Safety comes through the organization through every root,” he said, and remains “paramount in every part of the business.”

Yeah, why should safety and people’s lives be put in the hands of the person who actually runs the company, when you can pawn that stuff off to some desk jockey? But at least we know the government is living up to all of the big talk, right? We’ll see. On June 2, Attorney General Eric Holder said, “If we find evidence of illegal behavior [by BP], we will be forceful in our response.”

Glenn Greenwald:

Last week, I interviewed Mother Jones‘ Mac McClelland, who has been covering the BP oil spill in the Gulf since the first day it happened.  She detailed how local police and federal officials work with BP to harass, impede, interrogate and even detain journalists who are covering the impact of the spill and the clean-up efforts.  She documented one incident which was particularly chilling of an activist who — after being told by a local police officer to stop filming a BP facility because “BP didn’t want him filming” — was then pulled over after he left by that officer so he could be interrogated by a BP security official.  McClelland also described how BP has virtually bought entire Police Departments which now do its bidding:  “One parish has 57 extra shifts per week that they are devoting entirely to, basically, BP security detail, and BP is paying the sheriff’s office.”

Today, an article that is a joint collaboration between PBS’ Frontline and ProPublica reported that a BP refinery in Texas “spewed tens of thousands of pounds of toxic chemicals into the skies” two weeks before the company’s rig in the Gulf collapsed.   Accompanying that article was this sidebar report:

A photographer taking pictures for these articles, was detained Friday while shooting pictures in Texas City, Texas.

The photographer, Lance Rosenfield, said that shortly after arriving in town, he was confronted by a BP security officer, local police and a man who identified himself as an agent of the Department of Homeland Security. He was released after the police reviewed the pictures he had taken on Friday and recorded his date of birth, Social Security number and other personal information.

The police officer then turned that information over to the BP security guard under what he said was standard procedure, according to Rosenfield.

No charges were filed.

Rosenfield, an experienced freelance photographer, said he was detained shortly after shooting a photograph of a Texas City sign on a public roadway. Rosenfield said he was followed by a BP employee in a truck after taking the picture and blocked by two police cars when he pulled into a gas station.

According to Rosenfield, the officers said they had a right to look at photos taken near secured areas of the refinery, even if they were shot from public property. Rosenfield said he was told he would be “taken in” if he declined to comply.

ProPublica’s Paul Steiger said that the reporting team told law enforcement agents that they were working on a deadline for this story about that facility, and that even if DHS agents believed they had a legitimate reason to scrutinize the actions and photographs of this photographer, there was no reason that “should have included sharing them with a representative of a private company.”

These are true police state tactics, and it’s now clear that it is part of a pattern.  It’s been documented for months now that BP and government officials have been acting in unison to block media coverage of the area

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Brand New Cadillac Will Get The Excise Tax

David Kurtz at TPM:

It appears that a deal has been struck between labor and the White House (though there are lots of players here, including, of course, the House and Senate) on the excise tax on “Cadillac” health insurance plans. Details still to come. This doesn’t mean a final bill has been agreed to, but it was one of the major sticking points.

Ezra Klein:

There are no details yet, but it’s apparently the product of “more than 15 hours of negotiating at the White House, ending after midnight. Participants included AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka; Andy Stern, head of Service Employees International Union; Anna Burger, head of Change to Win, and the leaders of unions representing teachers, government workers, food and commercial workers and electricians. Obama’s deputy chief of staff, Jim Messina, was the lead White House bargainer, although Vice President Joe Biden also was involved periodically.”

Obama is supposed to head over to the House later today, and it’s probably fair to assume the point of that visit is to sell members on this compromise and clear the way for a final compromise on the bill. Early reporting is that the deal exempts union plans for a couple of years and raises the threshold for the tax, but we’ll see.

David Frum at FrumForum:

This continues the evolution of the Obama plan: ever more entitlement expansion, ever less reform and cost control. The tax on so-called “Cadillac plans” was not just a revenue raiser. It was intended to end one of the most dangerous perverse incentives in the US health system: wages are taxed, but health benefits are not, incentivizing everybody to take compensation as much as possible in the form of benefits. That incentive will now be perpetuated, at least for union employees – precisely the group for whom the incentive did the most damage.

As things are going, by the time Obama and the congressional Democrats are finished, we’ll have expanded the present system without reforming it. Bill Clinton’s White House deployed the phrase: “Mend it, don’t end it.” Obama’s motto seems to be: Why fix it when you can inflate it?

Michael Whitney at Firedoglake:

If unions take this deal, it’s a sell-out of epic proportions.  I’m hard pressed to think of a deal unions could cut in health care that would cause more long-term damage to not just the credibility of the labor movement, but to the middle class itself.

The excise tax is a tax on more expensive insurance plans that is supposed to fund part of health care reform.  It was branded the “Cadillac tax,” but that distorts the reality of who it will effect.  This isn’t a tax on the rich; it’s a tax on the middle class, the old, and the sick with more expensive plans.  And a good chunk of those plans are negotiated under collective bargaining agreements, i.e. under union contracts.

Richard Trumka laid down a line and said the AFL-CIO would not support a plan without a public option.  While other labor groups haven’t been as forceful, progressives have looked to the AFL-CIO as the most defiant of the veal pen.

Presumably, in Monday’s meeting at the White House, labor leaders made clear that the excise tax on their plans wouldn’t fly, and that the Employee Free Choice Act would have to come up for a vote (and pass?) in a few months after health care.  And I’m sure they got the same assurance they’ve got from Rahm and Reid for more than a year on labor law reform: be patient, it will come up and pass.

If unions take this “deal,” if the labor movement decides to fold and exempt themselves from the excise tax, they fulfill one of the worst of stereotypes of labor unions: blind self interest.  By abandoning the nonunion middle class and protecting only their own, the labor movement is throwing any hope of future relevancy out the window.

Conn Carroll at Heritage Foundation:

And Obamacare’s Big Labor handouts don’t end there. The legislation also sets aside $5 billion to subsidize the costs of employer health benefits for early retirees. As Heritage fellow James Sherk notes, few nonunion employers, of course, pay pension and health benefits for workers to retire at 55. And then there’s the small business exemption from the employer mandate for businesses with less than 50 employees. At first this applied to all small businesses, but after aggressive lobbying by Big Labor, non-unionized construction businesses were unexempted. Big Labor lobbyists explicitly admitted they wanted to use Obamacare’s job-killing employer mandates as a competitive advantage to drive non-unionized firms out of business.

So where does the White House and Congress propose to regain the revenue lost from exempting unions from the health care excise tax? The people who fund job creation: investors. The Obama administration wants to apply the Medicare payroll tax not just to wages but to capital gains, and for the first time ever, to dividends and other forms of investment income. This tax will hit seniors the hardest since many of them live off their dividend and interest income, in addition to their pension and Social Security checks. But it also hurts us all since high taxes on capital gains, dividends, interest and business income increase the cost of capital, thus depressing investment at the very time the economy needs new investment to grow and create jobs.

Big Labor’s high wages and inflexible work rules have already bankrupted our nation’s once proud automobile industry. Across the country, their early retirement and exorbitant pensions are bankrupting states. The health insurance excise tax was once the signature health care spending cost cutter of Obama’s entire health care plan. Now it has been gutted at the altar of Big Labor power. The big loser in all of these cases is you, the American taxpayer.

UPDATE: Megan McArdle

Tyler Cowen

Ezra Klein

UPDATE #2: David Brooks in NYT

Ross Douthat

Jonathan Chait at TNR

Jonathan Cohn at TNR

Douthat again

UPDATE #3: Chait responds to Douthat

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Filed under Health Care, Legislation Pending