April 6, 2012
By Eric Blair
CBS is reporting that Senate Bill 1813 that would “suspend passport rights for delinquent taxpayers” passed the Senate 74-22 on March 14th.
A bill authored by a Southland lawmaker that could potentially allow the federal government to prevent any Americans who owe back taxes from traveling outside the U.S. is one step closer to becoming law.
…The ‘Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act’ or ‘MAP-21′ includes a provision that would allow for the ‘revocation or denial’ of a passport for anyone with ‘certain unpaid taxes’ or ‘tax delinquencies’.
This is the most recent example of the U.S. government treating rights as privileges that they can remove through legislation. This bill should be renamed “Keeping the Slaves on the Plantation Act.”
Unfortunately, it’s understandable why this type of bill would draw majority support. Since more than 70% of Americans don’t have passports, the law doesn’t affect them. Additionally, many would equate this as a justified loss of freedom for wealthy people who seek to evade taxes by moving themselves and money offshore.
Indeed, Section 40304 of the 1679-page bill seems to only target well-off individuals; “that any individual has a seriously delinquent tax debt in an amount in excess of $50,000, the Secretary shall transmit such certification to the Secretary of State for action with respect to denial, revocation, or limitation of a passport”.
Of course, these figures are generated by the IRS which places the burden of proof on the individuals to prove that they don’t owe what the IRS says they owe. Consequently, they can arbitrarily determine any figure they wish to impose on a citizen without much recourse for the accused.
However, those described as having “seriously delinquent tax debt” must have “an outstanding debt under this title for which a notice of lien has been filed in public records”. Which means that the amount has to be agreed upon in court and levied against the property or wages of the citizen.
This new “revocation authorization”, created as an amendment to the Passport Act of 1926, gives the Secretary of State the authority not only to deny passport applications, but also to revoke current passports even if the citizen resides abroad.
February 22, 2012
By Matthew Lee and Bradley Klapper
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is trying to ramp up diplomatic efforts against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime on a trip to North Africa this week, as some countries begin to explore the possibility of arming Syria’s rebels.
Clinton is traveling to London on Wednesday for a conference on Somalia, but U.S. officials will be using the international gathering to lay the groundwork for a major conference on Syria’s future taking place later this week in Tunisia. The trip comes as the Obama administration is opening the door slightly to international military assistance for Syria’s armed opposition.
In coordinated messages, the White House and State Department said Tuesday they still hoped for a political solution. But faced with the daily onslaught by the Assad regime against Syrian civilians, officials dropped the administration’s previous strident opposition to arming anti-regime forces. It remained unclear, though, what, if any, role the U.S. might play in providing such aid.
“We don’t want to take actions that would contribute to the further militarization of Syria because that could take the country down a dangerous path,” White House press secretary Jay Carney told reporters. “But we don’t rule out additional measures if the international community should wait too long and not take the kind of action that needs to be taken.”
The administration had previously said flatly that more weapons were not the answer to the Syrian situation. There had been no mention of “additional measures,” despite daily reports from Syrian activists of dozens of deaths from government attacks.
At the State Department, spokeswoman Victoria Nuland used nearly identical language to describe the administration’s evolving position.
“From our perspective, we don’t believe that it makes sense to contribute now to the further militarization of Syria,” she told reporters. “What we don’t want to see is the spiral of violence increase. That said, if we can’t get Assad to yield to the pressure that we are all bringing to bear, we may have to consider additional measures.”
Neither Carney nor Nuland would elaborate on what “additional measures” might be taken but there have been growing calls, including from some in Congress, for the international community to arm the rebels. Most suggestions to that effect have foreseen Arab nations such as Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia — and not the West — possibly providing military assistance.
February 6, 2012
By Alice Fordham
The United States has closed its embassy in Damascus and pulled all diplomats and U.S. staff out of the country, citing security concerns, the State Department said Monday.
State Department spokeswomanVictoria Nuland said Ambassador Robert S. Ford will continue “his work and engagement with the Syrian people,” who have been demonstrating against the government of President Bashar al-Assad for 11 months.
In an emergency session, the U.N. Security Council failed to approve a resolution calling for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside, following the deadliest one-day crackdown in Syria’s 11-month uprising. (Feb. 5)
Assad’s government has carried out an increasingly violent crackdown on anti-government demonstrators, with new reports of shelling in the cities of Homs and Zabadani on Monday.
The United States wants Assad to cede power and make way for a democratically elected government. It supported a U.N. resolution condemning Syria that was vetoed by Russia and China on Saturday.
While couched in security concerns, the decision to close the embassy could signal a shift in policy toward Syria following the collapse of the U.N. diplomatic efforts. The State Department had long sought to keep the embassy open in order to better monitor the situation in Syria, and to preserve an open channel with the Syrian opposition.
In recent days, however, the administration’s rhetoric has toughened, toward both Syria and its few remaining allies. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Sunday denounced the vetoes by Russian and China as a “travesty.”
Still, the White House has continued to downplay the possibility of a Libya-style military campaign to aid Syria’s rebels. President Obama, in an NBC interview broadcast on Sunday, said it was “very important for us to try to resolve this without recourse to outside military intervention.”
“I think that’s possible,” Obama said. “My sense is that you’re seeing more and more people inside of Syria recognizing that they need to turn a chapter . . . This is not going to be a matter of ‘if.’ It’s going to be a matter of ‘when.’ ”
October 21, 2011
By Kurt Nimmo
Secretary of State Clinton was unable to keep her professional composure yesterday when told about the alleged murder of deposed Libyan leader Gaddafi at the hands of al-Qaeda. She had a good laugh over the gruesome act.
“We came, we saw, he died,” she joked in between formal interviews.
Clinton’s remark is a take on Julius Caesar, who reportedly said after his war with Pharnaces II of Pontus: “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered’).
Paraphrasing Caesar is appropriate – the dictator took Rome from a republic to an empire. Like Caesar, Clinton’s boss, Obama, took the nation to war without consulting Congress or gaining the consent of the American people.
Clinton’s gleeful if ghoulish comment also reveals the degree of her psychosis. Most people do not laugh when told about the murder of others, even rivals. Clinton is unable to contain herself and displays her joy at the news of Gaddafi’s violent death.
March 15th, 2011
School boards and local governments across Wisconsin are rushing to reach agreements with unions before a new law takes effect and erases their ability to collectively bargain over nearly all issues other than minimal salary increases.
The law doesn’t go into effect until the day after Secretary of State Doug La Follette publishes it and it doesn’t supersede contracts already in place, fueling unions’ desire to reach new deals quickly. La Follette said Monday that he will delay publication until the latest day possible, March 25, to give local governments as much time as possible to reach agreements.
Republican Gov. Scott Walker had asked La Follette to publish the law Monday, but the Democratic secretary of state said he didn’t see any emergency that warranted him doing so. La Follette opposed the bill and said he sat in his office watching parts of a weekend protest that brought as many as 100,000 people out in opposition to the law.
“This is the biggest change in Wisconsin labor management history in 50 years,” La Follette said, describing his reasoning for holding off on its enactment.
The law ends collective bargaining for public workers over everything except salary increases no greater than inflation. It also forces state workers to make benefit concessions that amount to an 8 percent pay cut on average.
Walker also is proposing a nearly $1 billion cut in aid to schools in his two-year budget plan that would take effect in July. He argued that for that reason, districts needed to get more money from their employees to help mitigate the loss in aid. Walker also wants to limit the ability of schools and local governments to pay for the cuts through local property tax increases.
The Wisconsin Association of School Boards is telling districts to be cautious about approving contracts that will make it more difficult for them to handle the cuts in aid Walker is seeking. Since Walker unveiled the bill on Feb. 11, between 50 and 100 of the state’s 424 districts have approved deals with unions, said Bob Butler, an attorney with the association.
The vast majority of them included benefit concessions consistent with what Walker proposed under the new law, Butler said.
The Madison school board met in a marathon 18-hour session Friday night to reach an agreement with the local teachers union to approve a new contract that runs through mid-2013.
That agreement freezes wages and requires the same pension contribution as state workers will be required to pay starting later this month under the new law. It also allows the district to require health insurance premium contributions up to 5 percent in the first year of the deal and up to 10 percent in the second year.
The Racine school district voted to approve a new contract with its teachers union on Wednesday evening, as Walker’s collective bargaining proposal was being approved by the state Senate. Several local governments, including the city of Janesville and La Crosse County, also have pushed through contracts in the past month ahead of the new law.
Schools and local governments would be foolish to rush through deals that don’t account for concessions at the same level or greater than what is called for under the law, said Republican Rep. Robin Vos, co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee.
January 27th, 2011
By: Raphael G. Satter
Nearly two months after WikiLeaks outraged the U.S. government by launching the release of a massive compendium of diplomatic documents, the secret-spilling website has published 2,658 U.S. State Department cables – just over 1 percent of its trove of 251,287 documents.
Here’s a look at what the consequences of the cables’ release have been so far, and what the future could hold for WikiLeaks.
IT’S LIFTED THE VEIL ON INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS
WikiLeaks has given the world’s public an unprecedented, behind-the-scenes look at U.S. diplomacy. Among the most eye-catching revelations were reports that Arab countries had lobbied for an attack on Iran, China had made plans for the collapse of its North Korean ally, and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had ordered U.S. diplomats to gather the computer passwords, fingerprints and even DNA of their foreign counterparts.
Some of the most controversial cables dealt with a directive to harvest biometric information on a range of officials. U.S. diplomats have been forced repeatedly to deny spying on their counterparts – although none have specifically addressed the instructions to gather personal details, sensitive computer data, and even genetic material or iris scans.
Anthony Cordesman, an analyst for the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, cautioned that some cables were less explosive when taken in the context they were written. He noted that Arab belligerence toward Tehran has festered for years – and suggested the rhetoric was being ratcheted up at a time of high tensions over Iran’s nuclear program.
As for the cables on scooping up fingerprints, frequent flyer numbers, and other personal information, Cordesman said that “there isn’t a diplomatic service in the world that doesn’t serve its intelligence community.”
IT’S SHOWN HOW LEADERS LIE
Over and over again, the cables captured world leaders lying – to each other, to their allies, and to their own citizens.
Diplomacy “comes across as a scheming, duplicitous profession – which it kind of is,” said Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who resigned over the Iraq war.
November 29th, 2010
By: Luisita Lopez Torregrosa
A large batch of secret American diplomatic cables over the past three years offers an unusual look at back-channel discussions by embassies around the world, unflattering views of world leaders and stark evaluations of nuclear and terrorist threats, The New York Times reported Sunday.
The disclosures in the Times and four other major world news organizations could fuel a worldwide diplomacy crisis with the United States at its center. “It is nothing short of a political meltdown for U.S. foreign policy,” said Der Spiegel, the German publication that, like The Times, obtained the secret cables.
The White House condemned the disclosure of classified documents and released a statement Sunday saying, in part: “We anticipate release of what are claimed to be several hundred thousand classified State Department cables on Sunday night that detail diplomatic discussions with foreign governments. By its very nature, field reporting to Washington is candid and often incomplete information. It is not an expression of policy, nor does it shape final policy decisions.” The statement acknowledged that the cables could “compromise private discussions with foreign governments and opposition leaders,” and warned that the disclosures put diplomats and intelligence and other officials at risk.
The cables were initially obtained by WikiLeaks, a website dedicated to obtaining and disseminating government secrets. Late Sunday, WikiLeaks issued a statement saying the leaked cables are the largest set of confidential documents ever to be released into the public domain. The website said that the cables, which date from 1966 until the end of February this year, will be released in stages over the next few months. WikiLeaks claimed that the documents show the extent of United States spying on its allies and the United Nations; overlooking or accepting corruption and human rights abuse in friendly states; doing backroom deals with supposedly neutral countries; and lobbying for American corporations.
“Every American schoolchild is taught that George Washington – the country’s first president – could not tell a lie,” WikiLeaks said. “If the administrations of his successors lived up to the same principle, today’s document flood would be a mere embarrassment. Instead, the U.S. government has been warning governments — even the most corrupt — around the world about the coming leaks and is bracing itself for the exposures.”
The cache of a quarter-million U.S. diplomatic cables were obtained in turn by the Times, Der Spiegel in Germany, The Guardian in Britain, Le Monde in France and El País in Spain. The cables constitute the third bundle of classified material involving the United States released by WikiLeaks to selected news media in the past six months.
The cables, most of them from the past three years, reportedly reveal the Obama administration’s communications and discussions over foreign crises. Among startling revelations, The Guardian disclosed that Arab leaders privately urged an air strike on Iran and that American officials have been ordered to spy on the United Nations leadership.
Such revelations have thrown Washington into a worldwide diplomatic crisis. The expected disclosure of the cables had reportedly alarmed the diplomatic establishment in Washington and other world capitals in the past days.
Anticipating an uproar, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and American ambassadors around the world have been contacting foreign officials in recent days to alert them to the expected disclosures, The Times said Sunday.
The cables are part of the daily traffic between the State Department and some 270 embassies and consulates and, according to the Times, amount to a secret account of Washington’s relations with the world in an era of global terrorism.
Among disclosures that could potentially cause a problem for Washington, according to The Guardian, are fears in Washington and London over Pakistan’s nuclear program; suspected links between the Russian government and organized crime; criticism of British military operations in Afghanistan; and claims of inappropriate behavior by a British royal family member.
The Times cited “gaming out an eventual collapse of North Korea: American and South Korean officials have discussed the prospects for a unified Korea, should the North’s economic troubles and political transition lead the state to implode. The South Koreans even considered commercial inducements to China, according to the American ambassador to Seoul. She told Washington in February that South Korean officials believe that the right business deals would ‘help salve’ China’s ‘concerns about living with a reunified Korea’ that is in a ‘benign alliance’ with the United States.”
The Times also cited “suspicions of corruption in the Afghan government: When Afghanistan’s vice president visited the United Arab Emirates last year, local authorities working with the Drug Enforcement Administration discovered that he was carrying $52 million in cash. With wry understatement, a cable from the American Embassy in Kabul called the money ‘a significant amount’ that the official, Ahmed Zia Massoud, ‘was ultimately allowed to keep without revealing the money’s origin or destination.’ (Mr. Massoud denies taking any money out of Afghanistan.)”
The Times said that more than 251,287 cables, first obtained by WikiLeaks, were obtained by the newspaper from an intermediary to whom the newspaper promised anonymity. Many of the documents, the Times said, were unclassified and none were marked “top secret.” But some 11,000 are classified “secret.”
The Times concluded that the cables demonstrated that “the dark shadow of terrorism still dominates the United States’ relations with the world.” The Times said it planned to publish details of the revelations in the coming days.
In a critical article Sunday, Der Spiegel concluded: “Never before in history has a superpower lost control of such vast amounts of such sensitive information — data that can help paint a picture of the foundation upon which U.S. foreign policy is built. Never before has the trust America’s partners have in the country been as badly shaken. Now, their own personal views and policy recommendations have been made public — as have America’s true view of them.”
As for WikiLeaks, the U.S. Justice Department and other agencies have been investigating the website for potential violation of national security laws. In the meantime, the controversial founder of WikiLeaks, Julian Assange, is under investigation in Sweden on allegations that he sexually abused two women while visiting that country last summer. Assange, an Australian master hacker, is believed to be living in London.
October 1, 2010
David S. Morgan
The U.S. government has formally apologized for a secret study conducted in the 1940s in which Guatemalan prisoners, service members and mental hospital patients were secretly infected with gonorrhea and syphilis without their knowledge or consent, calling the program “clearly unethical.”
In a joint statement issued Friday by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, released in English and Spanish, the government apologized to Guatemala and to those involved in the study, conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service (PHS) between 1946 and 1948.
The results of the Sexually Transmitted Disease Inoculation Study were uncovered by a Wellesley College researcher, Susan Reverby.
The story is uncomfortably similar to the “Tuskegee” Syphilis Study in the 1960s, in which the PHS monitored, but did not treat, hundreds of African American men suffering from syphilis.
Unlike that case, however, subjects in the Guatemala study were intentionally infected with sexually transmitted diseases, and then given penicillin, to help determine the efficacy of the drug to cure or even vaccinate against STDs.
Reverby wrote that the Guatemala syphilis inoculation project was run by a PHS physician, Dr. John C. Cutler (who would later oversee the Tuskegee, Ala., study two decades later).
The study’s doctors chose as subjects men incarcerated at the Guatemala National Penitentiary, as well as army service members, and men and women confined in the National Mental Health Hospital. There was a total of 696 people in the study. Guatemalan authorities (and not the individuals themselves) granted permission, in exchange for supplies.
According to Reverby, who studied Cutler’s records in the University of Pittsburgh archives, doctors used infected prostitutes to pass the disease on to prisoners (conjugal visits were allowed in Guatemalan jails). Direct inoculations of syphilis bacteria were made to other subjects. Treatment by penicillin was also administered, though not always successfully.
Cutler seemed to recognize the delicate ethical quandaries their experiments posed, particularly in the wake of the Nuremberg “Doctors’ Trials,” and was concerned about secrecy. “As you can imagine,” Cutler reported to his PHS overseer, “we are holding our breaths, and we are explaining to the patients and others concerned with but a few key exceptions, that the treatment is a new one utilizing serum followed by penicillin. This double talk keeps me hopping at time.”
Cutler also wrote that he feared “a few words to the wrong person here, or even at home, might wreck it or parts of it … ”
PHS physician R.C. Arnold, who supervised Cutler, was more troubled, confiding to Cutler, “I am a bit, in fact more than a bit, leery of the experiment with the insane people. They can not give consent, do not know what is going on, and if some goody organization got wind of the work, they would raise a lot of smoke. I think the soldiers would be best or the prisoners for they can give consent.”
Apparently difficulties in transmission, as well as in replicating results, added to concerns over the study, and it was dropped after two years.
Cutler went on to participate in another Syphilis Study at Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, N.Y. (although in that case the subjects were informed about the nature of the inoculations administered to them).
“Although these events occurred more than 64 years ago, we are outraged that such reprehensible research could have occurred under the guise of public health,” today’s State Dept./DHS statement said. “We deeply regret that it happened, and we apologize to all the individuals who were affected by such abhorrent research practices.
“The conduct exhibited during the study does not represent the values of the United States, or our commitment to human dignity and great respect for the people of Guatemala. The study is a sad reminder that adequate human subject safeguards did not exist a half-century ago.”
The officials also announced an investigation into the specifics of the case from 1946, and will also convene a meeting of international experts to devise methods that effectively ensure all human medical research meets rigorous ethical standards.
September 21, 2010
By: Jeff Mason
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will announce on Tuesday a U.S. contribution of more than $50 million toward providing clean cooking stoves in developing countries to reduce deaths from smoke inhalation and fight climate change.
The U.S. funding, which will be spread over five years, is part of a Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves being started to combat a problem officials equate with malaria and unclean water in terms of their health impact worldwide.
Some 1.9 million premature deaths, mostly among women and young children, occur every year due to smoke inhalation from rudimentary stoves, which in many cases consist of a few stones and an open fire inside or outside a shelter, officials said.
Smoke from such cooking methods can lead to childhood pneumonia, lung cancer, bronchitis and cardiovascular disease while contributing to climate change through emissions of carbon dioxide and methane — two major greenhouse gases — and black carbon.
The new alliance to combat the issue groups U.S. government agencies with the United Nations Foundation, Germany, Peru, Norway, the World Health Organization and corporate backers including Morgan Stanley and Shell, among others.
“This is something that touches on climate, on health, on women’s empowerment, on deforestation and on poverty,” Reid Detchon, vice president for energy and climate at the United Nations Foundation, said in an interview.
He said the group would seek to create a market for cleaner, less-polluting stoves and fuels to supply some 500 million households worldwide now using inefficient and dangerous cooking methods.
India, south Asia and sub-Saharan Africa were areas in which the problem was most acute.
“You’re not going to solve this problem with aid alone,” he said. “You’re going to have to create a thriving cookstove industry that can supply both stoves and fuels that people want and need.”
Better technology is available at affordable prices. More efficient stoves can be purchased for $10 to $100, according to one senior U.S. administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity ahead of Clinton’s funding announcement.
Doing away with subsidies and focusing on a market-based approach was part of a focused development strategy the alliance hoped would prove more effective than previous attempts to address the problem in the past, he said.
July 19, 2010
Arizona Daily Star
Most Arizonans no longer think Barack Obama is doing a decent job as president.
A new Behavior Research Poll released Sunday shows that nearly four out of every 10 Arizonans now rate Obama’s performance as poor or very poor. That’s up 5 points from the same survey taken in January.
What’s different is that the number of those who think he’s doing an excellent or good job has plummeted.
Three months after taking office, fully 51 percent of Arizonans gave Obama positive ratings, even though the state went for hometown favorite John McCain in the 2008 election.
A year into office, that had slid to 40 percent. But by the time pollster Earl de Berge conducted this latest survey, between June 30 and July 11, only 28 percent of Arizonans were willing to say they like the job he’s doing.
According to de Berge, much of that slide tracks with a separate poll he does asking Arizonans about their views on the economy and current job market conditions.
“As might be expected, those who think the job market is static or worsening have the least favorable view of his performance,” de Berge said.
But the survey also was taken about the time it became clear that the Department of Justice, asked to look at Arizona’s new immigration law, intended to file suit. In fact, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in an interview with a television station in Ecuador, spilled the beans early in June.
That all became official when the Obama administration went to federal court on July 6 – right in the middle of the polling – asking a judge to block the statute from taking effect as scheduled July 26.
The law, which spells out when police have to ask those they have stopped about their immigration status, is popular in Arizona, with every single survey showing it’s backed by more than half of residents.
Obama maintains his popularity with Democrats, 52 percent of whom still have a positive assessment of his work. Still, that’s down from 85 percent in April 2009.
His positive rating among independents, which was 54 percent in that first post-election survey, now has dropped to 22 percent. And 8 percent of Republicans now score his performance as excellent or good.
The survey of 800 adult heads of households has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.