Tag Archives: Congress

Trump Mocks Mika Brzezinski; Says She Was ‘Bleeding Badly From a Face-Lift’

WASHINGTON — President Trump lashed out Thursday at the appearance and intellect of Mika Brzezinski, a co-host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” drawing condemnation from his fellow Republicans and reigniting the controversy over his attitudes toward women that nearly derailed his candidacy last year.

Mr. Trump’s invective threatened to further erode his support from Republican women and independents, both among voters and on Capitol Hill, where he needs negotiating leverage for the stalled Senate health care bill.

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Drug War Turned Mexico Into World’s Deadliest Conflict Zone After Only Syria: Survey

Mexico’s drug war has created the second deadliest conflict area in the world after only Syria, according to a global survey.

The International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) reported that the six-year war in Syria is the world’s deadliest conflict zone for the fifth consecutive year, causing an estimated 50,000 casualties in 2016. The Armed Conflict Survey 2017, the IISS annual summary of conflicts and casualties worldwide published on Tuesday, found that the war on drugs plaguing Central America has received ”scant attention.”

Continue reading Drug War Turned Mexico Into World’s Deadliest Conflict Zone After Only Syria: Survey

U.S. Concerned Russia Supplying Arms To Afghan Taliban

A top U.S. Army general has suggested during a visit to Afghanistan by U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis that Russia is arming Taliban militants.

General John Nicholson, the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, said during a joint press conference in Kabul with Mattis on April 24 that he wouldn’t dispute that Russia’s involvement in the Afghan war includes Moscow providing weapons to the Tailban.

Continue reading U.S. Concerned Russia Supplying Arms To Afghan Taliban

US Senate panel says “no indications Trump Tower was subject of surveillance” after Donald Trump wiretap claim

There are “no indications” that Trump Tower was under surveillance by the US government before or after the election, a Senate committee has said.

The statement from Republican Senator Richard Burr, Senate Intelligence Committee chairman, dismissed Donald Trump’s claim his phones were tapped.

Mr Trump had accused his predecessor Barack Obama of wiretapping Trump Tower during the presidential race.

Mr Burr joins a cadre of lawmakers who have rejected the allegation.

Earlier on Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan also said “no such wiretap existed”.

Continue reading US Senate panel says “no indications Trump Tower was subject of surveillance” after Donald Trump wiretap claim

Great-power politics – The new game

A CONTINENT separates the blood-soaked battlefields of Syria from the reefs and shoals that litter the South China Sea. In their different ways, however, both places are witnessing the most significant shift in great-power relations since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

In Syria, for the first time since the cold war, Russia has deployed its forces far from home to quell a revolution and support a client regime. In the waters between Vietnam and the Philippines,

America will soon signal that it does not recognise China’s territorial claims over a host of outcrops and reefs by exercising its right to sail within the 12-mile maritime limit that a sovereign state controls.

For the past 25 years America has utterly dominated great-power politics. Increasingly, it lives in a contested world. The new game with Russia and China that is unfolding in Syria and the South China Sea is a taste of the struggle ahead.

Facts on the ground

As ever, that struggle is being fought partly in terms of raw power. Vladimir Putin has intervened in Syria to tamp down jihadism and to bolster his own standing at home. But he also means to show that, unlike America, Russia can be trusted to get things done in the Middle East and win friends by, for example, offering Iraq an alternative to the United States (see article).

Lest anyone presume with John McCain, an American senator, that Russia is just “a gas station masquerading as a country”, Mr Putin intends to prove that Russia possesses resolve, as well as crack troops and cruise missiles.

The struggle is also over legitimacy. Mr Putin wants to discredit America’s stewardship of the international order. America argues that popular discontent and the Syrian regime’s abuses of human rights disqualify the president, Bashar al-Assad, from power. Mr Putin wants to play down human rights, which he sees as a licence for the West to interfere in sovereign countries—including, if he ever had to impose a brutal crackdown, in Russia itself.

Power and legitimacy are no less at play in the South China Sea, a thoroughfare for much of the world’s seaborne trade. Many of its islands, reefs and sandbanks are subject to overlapping claims. Yet China insists that its case should prevail, and is imposing its own claim by using landfill and by putting down airstrips and garrisons.

This is partly an assertion of rapidly growing naval might: China is creating islands because it can. Occupying them fits into its strategy of dominating the seas well beyond its coast. Twenty years ago American warships sailed there with impunity; today they find themselves in potentially hostile waters (see article).

But a principle is at stake, too. America does not take a view on who owns the islands, but it does insist that China should establish its claims through negotiation or international arbitration. China is asserting that in its region, for the island disputes as in other things, it now sets the rules.

Nobody should wonder that America’s pre-eminence is being contested. After the Soviet collapse the absolute global supremacy of the United States sometimes began to seem normal. In fact, its dominance reached such heights only because Russia was reeling and China was still emerging from the chaos and depredations that had so diminished it in the 20th century.

Even today, America remains the only country able to project power right across the globe. (As we have recently argued, its sway over the financial system is still growing.)

There is nevertheless reason to worry. The reassertion of Russian power spells trouble. It has already led to the annexation of Crimea and the invasion of eastern Ukraine—both breaches of the very same international law that Mr Putin says he upholds in Syria (seearticle).

Barack Obama, America’s president, takes comfort from Russia’s weak economy and the emigration of some of its best people. But a declining nuclear-armed former superpower can cause a lot of harm.

Relations between China and America are more important—and even harder to manage. For the sake of peace and prosperity, the two must be able to work together.

And yet their dealings are inevitably plagued by rivalry and mistrust. Because every transaction risks becoming a test of which one calls the shots, antagonism is never far below the surface.

American foreign policy has not yet adjusted to this contested world. For the past three presidents, policy has chiefly involved the export of American values—although, to the countries on the receiving end, that sometimes felt like an imposition.

The idea was that countries would inevitably gravitate towards democracy, markets and human rights. Optimists thought that even China was heading in that direction.

Still worth it

That notion has suffered, first in Iraq and Afghanistan and now the wider Middle East. Liberation has not brought stability. Democracy has not taken root.

Mr Obama has seemed to conclude that America should pull back. In Libya he led from behind; in Syria he has held off. As a result, he has ceded Russia the initiative in the Middle East for the first time since the 1970s.

All those, like this newspaper, who still see democracy and markets as the route to peace and prosperity hope that America will be more willing to lead.

Mr Obama’s wish that other countries should share responsibility for the system of international law and human rights will work only if his country sets the agenda and takes the initiative—as it did with Iran’s nuclear programme. The new game will involve tough diplomacy and the occasional judicious application of force.

America still has resources other powers lack. Foremost is its web of alliances, including NATO. Whereas Mr Obama sometimes behaves as if alliances are transactional, they need solid foundations. America’s military power is unmatched, but it is hindered by pork-barrel politics and automatic cuts mandated by Congress.

These spring from the biggest brake on American leadership: dysfunctional politics in Washington. That is not just a poor advertisement for democracy; it also stymies America’s interest. In the new game it is something that the United States—and the world—can ill afford.

Obama, in Oklahoma, Takes Reform Message to the Prison Cell Block


EL RENO, Oklahoma — They opened the door to Cell 123 and President Obama stared inside. In the space of 9 feet by 10, he saw three bunks, a toilet with no seat, a small sink, metal cabinets, a little wooden night table with a dictionary and other books, and the life he might have had.

As it turns out, there is a fine line between president and prisoner. As Mr. Obama became the first occupant of his high office to visit a federal correctional facility, he said he could not help reflecting on what might have been.

After all, as a young man, he had smoked marijuana and tried cocaine. But he did not end up with a prison term, let alone one lasting decades.

“There but for the grace of God,” Mr. Obama said after his tour. “And that is something we all have to think about.”


Close to one in every 12 black men ages 25 to 54 are imprisoned, compared with one in 60 nonblack men in that age group.

Mr. Obama came here to showcase a bid to overhaul America’s criminal justice system in a way none of his predecessors have tried to do, at least not in modern times. Where other presidents worked to make life harder for criminals, Mr. Obama wants to make their conditions better.

With 18 months left in office, he has embarked on a new effort to reduce sentences for nonviolent offenders; to make it easier for former convicts to re-enter society; and to revamp prison life by easing overcrowding, cracking down on inmate rape and limiting solitary confinement.

What was once politically unthinkable has become a bipartisan venture. Mr. Obama is making common cause with Republicans and Democrats who have come to the conclusion that the United States has given excessive sentences to too many nonviolent offenders, at an enormous moral and financial cost to the country.

This week, Mr. Obama commuted the sentences of 46 such prisoners and gave a speech calling for legislation to overhaul the criminal justice system by the end of the year.

He came to the El Reno Federal Correctional Institution on Thursday to get a firsthand look at what he is focused on.

Accompanied by aides, correctional officials and a phalanx of Secret Service agents, he crossed through multiple layers of metal gates and fences topped by concertina wire to tour the prison and talk with some of the nonviolent drug offenders he says should not be serving such long sentences.

The prison was locked down for his visit. He was brought to Cell Block B, which had been emptied for the occasion. Only security personnel were outside on the carefully trimmed grass yards.

The only inmates Mr. Obama saw were six nonviolent drug offenders who were selected to have a conversation with him recorded by the news organization Vice for a documentary on the criminal justice system that will air on HBO in the fall.

But those six made an impression. “When they describe their youth and their childhood, these are young people who made mistakes that aren’t that different from the mistakes I made and the mistakes that a lot of you guys made,”

Mr. Obama told reporters afterward. “The difference is, they did not have the kind of support structures, the second chances, the resources that would allow them to survive those mistakes.”

He added that “we have a tendency sometimes to take for granted or think it’s normal” that so many young people have been locked up for drug crimes.

“It’s not normal,” he said. “It’s not what happens in other countries. What is normal is teenagers doing stupid things. What is normal is young people who make mistakes.”

If they had the same advantages he and others have had, Mr. Obama added, they “could be thriving in the way we are.”

Still, he made a distinction between nonviolent drug offenders like those he was introduced to here and other criminals guilty of crimes like murder, rape and assault.

“There are people who need to be in prison,” Mr. Obama said. “I don’t have tolerance for violent criminals; many of them may have made mistakes, but we need to keep our communities safe.”

More than 2.2 million Americans are behind bars, and one study found that the size of the state and federal prison population is seven times what it was 40 years ago. Although the United States makes up less than 5 percent of the world’s population, it has more than 20 percent of its prison population.

This has disproportionately affected young Hispanic and African-American men. And many more have been released but have convictions on their records that make it hard to find jobs or to vote.

In visiting El Reno, Mr. Obama got a look at a medium-security prison with a minimum-security satellite camp, housing a total of 1,300 inmates.

He said the facility was an “outstanding institution” with job training, drug counseling and other programs, but had suffered from overcrowding. As many as three inmates have been kept in each of the tiny cells he saw.

“Three full-grown men in a 9-by-10 cell,” Mr. Obama said with a tone of astonishment. Lately, the situation has improved enough to get it down to two per cell. But, he said, “overcrowding like that is something that has to be addressed.”

Advocates said no president has ever highlighted the conditions of prisoners as Mr. Obama has.

“They’re out of sight and out of mind,” Cornell William Brooks, the president of the N.A.A.C.P., said in an interview. “To have a president say by his actions, by his speech, by his example, ‘You’re in sight and in mind of the American public and of this democracy,’ it’s critically important.”

But the president is not the only one these days. Republicans like Senators John Cornyn of Texas, Rand Paul of Kentucky, Charles E. Grassley of Iowa and Mike Lee of Utah have been working with their Democratic counterparts to develop legislation addressing such concerns.

Conservative organizations like Koch Industries, controlled by the billionaire brothers David H. and Charles G. Koch, have joined forces with liberal groups like the Center for American Progress to advocate changes. Many states, both conservative and liberal, have been changing policies lately to reduce prison populations.

“The good news is that we’ve got Democrats and Republicans who I think are starting to work together in Congress and we’re starting to see bipartisan efforts in state legislatures as well,” Mr. Obama said. He vowed to use his remaining year and a half in office to accelerate the trend. “We’ve got an opportunity to make a difference.”

Hack Friday – Black Friday cybercrime is unstoppable

Twelve months after data from 40 million cards were stolen from Target, beginning a year of escalating hacks of retailers’ payment card systems, not much has changed beyond awareness.

The absence of federal action reflects the difficulty of improving cybersecurity. Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agree on the goal of improving the security of the nation’s networks, but disputes over even small details can sidetrack progress.

Congressional action has been bogged down in side fights, and industry-led changes have been slow and narrow. Executive action, and power, on the issue is limited, and most administration efforts have been designed to encourage retailers to take extra precautions against theft, rather than apply new regulations.

It’s not that retailers haven’t tried to shore up security this year — but there’s only so much they can do against a determined hacker who constantly develops new ways to strike at computer systems.

Nearly a dozen bills were introduced in Congress in 2014 designed to in some way to protect Americans’ personal information against breaches. One got a hearing, but none were voted out of committee.

In two cases, laws introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller and Sen. Patrick Leahy saw zero progress in committees that their sponsor himself chaired.

The bills have been held up by a major feud between retailers and card issuers about who should bear the cost of breaches. Meanwhile, consumers — numb to the news of repeated hacks and reimbursed for fraudulent charges — haven’t applied the grass-roots political pressure necessary to prompt congressional action.

Instead, the White House has aggressively pushed a voluntary set of cybersecurity standards for the private sector, developed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

And in October, the president signed an executive order to spur the adoption of chip and PIN card technology in government-issued purchasing and benefit cards. The new chips make cards almost impossible to duplicate and thus cut down on a significant amount of fraud. But the target date for the government and some private sector volunteers’ adoption of the plan is January 2015, after the holiday shopping season concludes.

The executive order applies only to the federal benefit and purchasing cards, and industry-led efforts to better secure the vast majority of payment cards have been painstakingly slow.

Starting next October, however, any party in the payment chain who doesn’t use the new chip technology will be held liable for any breaches. But even that improvement reflects the industry’s inability to move quickly in adopting new safeguards: The move was announced by major card companies starting back in 2011.

“We called [2013] the year of the data breach. Then we had 2014,” said Atlantic Council expert Jay Healey, a former White House and financial sector official. “Now 2014 is … the year of the data breach. We’re not seeing any diminishing of the numbers of stories, so certainly you can imagine that 2015 will also be year of the data breach.”

And the risks escalate with the start of the holiday shopping season, as cybercriminals are very much aware of the flurry of shopping.

“I’d bet that the growth of data breaches during the holiday season is very much tied to the growth of Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” Healey said. “Hunters are more likely to be out when there’s more prey to be hunted.”

So why has so little been done?

Part of the problem is consumers rarely feel the pain of such breaches — most only dealing with the inconvenience of getting a new credit card or contesting fraud for which the banks will ultimately cover the cost.

And the two biggest breaches in recent memory — at Target and Home Depot — both show that customers don’t blame retailers for the data breach, at least for long.

Target fired its CEO and saw its earnings drop in the immediate wake of the breach. But last week, Target’s CFO said opinion surveys show customers “moved past” the breach by midyear.

Months after the Target breach, Home Depot announced an even bigger breach, but the company’s earnings actually went up in the quarter it announced the incident.

A survey conducted for the National Retail Federation found only 18 percent of customers said breaches might affect their holiday shopping habits.

“After Target, I was on the Hill: the members got maybe five phone calls. After the Home Depot breach, I found one member who got one phone call,” said Scott Talbott, senior vice president of governmental affairs for the Electronic Transaction Association.

“I think the public is numb to it,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said at a financial industry cyber event in September. “We really thought the Target event was going to be a game changer. … The problem is the fight became not about that individual having any exposure, but about who was going to pay for the change of the cards.”

Indeed, despite widespread agreement in Congress and industry that better security is an important goal and legislation could help, most of the lobbying of Congress has been dedicated to finger-pointing between banks and retailers over who is to blame for data breaches and who should be left holding the bag.

And while practically everyone agrees there should be some type of uniform federal data-breach legislation — including the pro-industry Chamber of Commerce — the devil is, as always, in the details.

Outgoing Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.) worked for months to try to introduce a data breach bill in the House that never got finalized. A House Republican aide familiar with those negotiations said too many interests wanted a stake in the bill, from the privacy community to the retailers and banks.

An industry lobbyist said the issue is so wrapped up in the retailers-banks fight that it stymies progress.

That battle has also slowed industry adoption of better card security. Banks want retailers to upgrade their terminals to use the new chips, saying it’s not worth issuing the cards if there’s nowhere that accepts them. Retailers say there aren’t enough cards in circulation to justify the expense of upgrading terminals. Both sides are slowly moving forward now.

When asked if the retail vs. banks fight was derailing legislation, National Retail Federation SVP and general counsel Mallory Duncan answered by pointing the finger back at banks.

“It’s hard to have a fight about something that’s not yours,” Duncan said. “If the cards [banks and other issuers] produce are fundamentally flawed, they are eminently hackable, then it’s hard to say it’s others’ responsibility to secure them. … If someone has a trash pile at their house and its attracting vermin, it’s not everyone else’s responsibility to lock their doors.”

On the other side, the National Association of Federal Credit Unions has led a letter-writing campaign to Congress this year demanding new standards for retailers and blaming them for breaches without picking up the cost. Those letters almost always includes the line:

“As long as retailers are more concerned with their bottom line than protecting consumers, no one should expect their personal data to be protected.”

Some in the finance sector have sought a more collaborative approach, and the Financial Services Roundtable pointed to the Merchant-Financial Cyber Partnership formed this year by retail and bank representatives as a good start. But they acknowledged that even as the partnership has made progress, it’s still clear that neither side is willing to compromise sufficiently to enact needed protections.

“I think consensus was entirely achievable, but unfortunately as is far too often the case in this town, politics get in the way,” said Jason Kratovil, FSR vice president of government affairs for payments.

The steady stream of data breaches have left folks wondering what it would take to spur action. By one estimate, nearly 1 billion records were compromised by criminals in 2014.

“If Congress could not pass a data breach law after a week that there are breaches impacting nearly every segment of the population — from naked celebrity pictures, to credit card information from thrift stores and home improvement stores shoppers — I’m not sure when they could,” said Francine Friedman, a senior policy counsel for Akin Gump, referring to a single week in September that saw the Home Depot breach, Apple hack and a Goodwill breach update hit the headlines.

The near certainty that someone will be breached this holiday season does not mean retailers are entirely unprepared. The Target breach and subsequent hacks prompted the boards of some firms to invest more heavily in security, said William Stewart, senior vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton, where he leads the commercial financial services business.

But investments only lower the probability of getting hit, they don’t eliminate it, he added.

The Secret Service, financial services industry’s joint cyberthreat center and retail industry’s cyberthreat center put out a joint advisory earlier this month to raise awareness about the risk and offer some steps to make payments more secure.

But even if companies have taken steps to prepare, the merchant payment system “is more secure, but it is not totally secure,” Duncan said.

“To think that the entire United States payment ecosystem can transform itself completely and entirely and fix all of the payment issues involved in protecting consumers in 12 months or less, is simply not realistic,” said FSR’ Kratovil, adding he believes it’s been a “watershed year” in terms of progress.

Nonetheless, Brian Finch, a partner at Pillsbury’s public policy practice, said that with malware as cheap and available it is, criminals can even hire “cyber mercenaries” to conduct attacks for them — meaning everyone from the big retailers to small shops are vulnerable.

And every new security technology has a flaw, which hackers spend plenty of time and resources finding.

“There’s always going to be penetration — it will be a question of how quickly are they going to catch it,” Finch said. “There’s no eliminating the risk; it’s a question of how well you manage it.”

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