Saturday, September 28, 2013
T-Minus 4 Days Till Government Shutdown: The Latest Summary
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/27/2013 16:55 -0400
With government shutdown day (now in 3-D IMAX) just four days away, some are unsure what the latest developments are in the fluid and rapidly shifting landscape of Capitol Hill. For their benefit, here is a pithy but comprehensive summary of where we stand currently.
- Latest news about the debate in Washington over the U.S. federal budget and the debt ceiling:
- Senate adjourns until Monday after passing a clean stopgap spending bill to send the measure back to the House void of any language to defund Obamacare
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid urges House Speaker John Boehner to bring the bill as-is to the House floor for a vote
- Obama says House GOP should follow Senate’s example and act responsibly, rather than acting to appease Tea Party
- House Republicans set a noon meeting for tomorrow with vote likely tomorrow or Sunday; GOP newcomers want to push plan delaying Obamacare 1-yr and send CR back to Senate
- In case of govt shutdown, Labor Dept says it will issue jobless claims data, SEC says EDGAR system and crucial enforcement will continue, Treasury says it will operate debt programs and manage cash, USPTO says it will stay open "a few weeks"
- Commerce Dept says it won’t issue economic data in case of shutdown
Watchdog: FBI Has Used Drones Since 2006
September 27, 2013 by UPI - United Press International, Inc.
WASHINGTON– The FBI has tracked U.S. criminal activity with drones since 2006 but has not codified rules to protect privacy rights, a Justice Department watchdog says.
The FBI’s domestic drone use, costing more than $3 million as of May and starting years earlier than previously acknowledged, is also expected to expand to the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the 35-page report by the department’s watchdog Office of the Inspector General said.
The ATF has already spent $600,000 to test small unmanned aerial vehicles the FBI uses, the report said.
The unarmed craft, which can weigh up to 55 pounds and fly “in close proximity to a home,” cost about $25 an hour to operate, compared with $650 an hour for a helicopter or other piloted aircraft, the report said.
A drone was used by the FBI during a six-day hostage standoff in Midland City, Ala., in late January and early February, the report said.
In that case, the FBI used a drone with a 9-foot wingspan to watch the entrance to a bunker where 65-year-old Vietnam War-era veteran Jimmy Lee Dykes held a 5-year-old boy hostage.
On the afternoon of Feb. 4, law enforcement agents entered the bunker, killed Dykes and rescued the boy.
The U.S. Marshals Service and Drug Enforcement Administration, which also fall under the Justice Department, purchased and tested the small drones but told auditors they had “no plans to deploy them operationally,” said the inspector general’s report, which can be found at tinyurl.com/UPI-OIG-Drone-Report.
In addition to buying drones for internal use, the Justice Department gave at least $1.2 million to local police departments to purchase the small drones “for reconnaissance, surveillance and crime scene examinations,” the report said.
But in most cases the department appeared not to have properly tracked how the money was spent, the audit found.
From 2004 to May 2013, the Justice Department spent almost $5 million on the unmanned aircraft.
While the drones have helped the FBI in cases such as the Alabama hostage crisis, they raise “unique concerns about privacy and the collection of evidence,” the inspector general’s report said.
Robert Mueller, who retired as FBI director Sept. 4, testified as director before the Senate Judiciary Committee June 19 the bureau employed drones in “a very, very minimal way and very seldom.”
“I will tell you that our footprint is very small,” he said, responding to a question from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa. “We have very few and have limited use, and we’re exploring not only the use but also the necessary guidelines for that use.
“We already have, to a certain extent, a body of law that relates to aerial surveillance and privacy relating to helicopters and small aircraft … which could well be adapted to the use of drones,” Mueller said. “It’s still in its nascent stages … but it’s worthy of debate and perhaps legislation down the road.”
But despite the unique concerns and the FBI’s seven-year use of domestic drones, the bureau hasn’t revised its policies to address drone-surveillance privacy concerns, the auditors said.
Bureau guidelines simply “require that agents request supervisory approval before conducting any aerial surveillance and comply with aviation laws and policies,” the report said.
In a footnote, the report says FBI officials told auditors their Office of the General Council was “conducting a privacy review” tied to drone surveillance.
ATF officials told auditors they “did not believe that there was a need to develop additional privacy protocols” because they didn’t see much practical difference between using drones or piloted aircraft for surveillance, the report said.
The ATF is developing a standard operational checklist to guide how pilots should use drones, the report said.
But the agency watchdogs said a consistent department policy may be needed for the use of small drones, which can secretly hover in areas where people might expect privacy and remain there far longer than a traditional aircraft could.
The inspector general’s office recommended the deputy attorney general’s office consider writing new guidelines across the entire Justice Department to curb improper surveillance by law enforcement drones.
American Civil Liberties Union Senior Policy Analyst Jay Stanley said the non-profit rights group was “encouraged by the inspector general’s recognition that drones have created a need for privacy policies covering aerial surveillance.”
“We urge the Justice Department to make good on its plans to develop privacy rules that protect Americans from another mass surveillance technology,” Stanley said.
He added Congress should pass legislation introduced by Reps. Ted Poe, R-Texas, and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., that requires law enforcement to get court approval before deploying drones and explicitly forbids the arming of such craft.
Personal Use Of NSA Assets Prove NSA Has The Ability To Check Into Anything You Say Or Do. This Is Scary
NSA Analysts Used Government Spying Powers To Track Lovers
September 27, 2013 by Personal Liberty News Desk
The United States spends billions of dollars on surveillance each year, and at least some of that taxpayer money could be benefiting love-struck Romeos in the National Security Agency.
The NSA recently responded to a letter sent by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), revealing at least 12 incidents in which NSA analysts have abused their spying powers since 2003.
The Hill recounts some particularly disturbing cases:
In one case, an analyst spied on a foreign phone number she discovered in her husband’s cellphone, suspecting that he had cheated on her. She intercepted phone calls involving her husband, investigators discovered. The analyst resigned before any disciplinary action could be taken.On one analyst’s first day of access to the NSA system, he pulled records on six email addresses belonging to his ex-girlfriend. He claimed he just wanted to test the system. The NSA demoted him and docked his pay for two months.In another case, an analyst collected call data on his girlfriend and his own home phone number “out of curiosity.” He retired before the agency took any action.Another analyst based in a foreign location collected phone records on her foreign national boyfriend and other foreign nationals, saying she wanted to be sure she wasn’t associating with “shady characters.” She resigned before the agency took disciplinary action.
The NSA said in its letter to Grassley that it currently has two open investigations related to such conduct and a third case that could potentially bear investigating.
“I appreciate the transparency that the Inspector General has provided to the American people,” Grassley said in a statement. “We shouldn’t tolerate even one instance of misuse of this program. Robust oversight of the program must be completed to ensure that both national security and the Constitution are protected.”
The Middle East Lessons--America Is No Longer A Major Force, It Is A Bit Player. The World Is Changing And The US Is Shrinking In Influence--Thanks Obama!
BY ELLIOTT ABRAMS
The Weekly Standard
September 23, 2013
The Weekly Standard
September 23, 2013
Americans watch our tragedy-of-errors Syria policy from the safety of houses and apartments in suburbs and cities 5,000 miles from the conflict. Israelis are next door, and two weeks ago—when an American strike and possible Syrian counterstrike at Israel seemed imminent—they were lining up for gas masks. There are no such lines in Tel Aviv today. But what can Israelis make of the Syria crisis now, after the Obama speech and with action moving to Geneva and to the United Nations? What are the lessons they may learn?
Israel has maintained decent relations with Russia throughout the Putin years, under the Sharon, Olmert, and Netanyahu governments, and the lesson here is that this was a smart move. It turns out that Vladimir Putin and Russia remain important players in the region after all, not just by selling arms to Syria but at the U.N. as well. Issues like Iran and Syria can play out in part in Moscow and in part in Turtle Bay, and being able to communicate directly with Putin and foreign minister Sergey Lavrov—in a relationship separate and independent from that of the United States—helps protect Israel’s interests. Watching Obama and Kerry fumble and change positions as Putin and Lavrov seize opportunities and play the game like professionals must teach Israelis that keeping a line open to Russia is smart.
No one in Israel has the slightest faith that President Obama means to bomb the Iranian nuclear sites. His rhetoric on preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons has been very tough, including during his visit to Israel in 2013. But the handling of Syria shows his aversion to using force and potentially involving the United States in another Middle East war. Democratic party loyalists who have hitherto advised Israel that Obama might act are, it is said, no longer offering such assurances.
The Israeli conclusion will be that if Iran is to be stopped they must do it themselves. The odds of an Israeli attack over the coming year have risen, and the Israeli question about the United States is whether the administration will reconcile itself to Israeli action or even perhaps come to see it as a useful way to stop Iran without U.S. action.
But Israelis will also be more concerned now about a Russian-led diplomatic offensive, some kind of clever offer that does little to disarm Iran but whose wide international acclaim makes an Israeli strike nearly impossible. The lessons here are to work hard (sometimes along with the French) to toughen the American position in negotiations with Iran, and keep honing their own strike plans. Israelis hope for a diplomatic solution as much as the Obama administration does, but will not kid themselves about the chances of a Western collapse that embraces a bad deal.
The most sobering lesson for Israelis has been the unreliability of their own chief ally and closest friend. They watched the administration pressure Prime Minister David Cameron into a quick and risky parliamentary vote and then change course—so that his defeat was entirely unnecessary. They watched us turn President François Hollande from momentary hero into a butt of jokes. They were stunned by the Obama reversals that led him to talk of strikes at Syria, then demand a congressional vote, then postpone it when he saw he would likely lose. And they saw Putin maneuver around these changes to a proposal that could help keep his ally Assad in power and fend off American strikes indefinitely.
As with the pro-American Arab states (such as Jordan, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia), these developments leave Israelis deeply nervous, but they realize American policy is unlikely to change for the next three years. What to do, then? First, keep humoring the Obama administration, seeking to maximize influence in its counsels. That means verbally supporting Obama on Syria even as his policy gyrates, and continuing negotiations with the Palestinians despite near-universal skepticism about the talks among Israelis. With policy changing by the day, who knows? Maybe those White House guys will occasionally listen to advice; worth trying.
But Israelis should have learned that advising and jollying up the administration does not mean intervening in America’s domestic political disputes. According to press reports, the president prevailed on Netanyahu to seek support in Congress for the Syria resolution—the resolution the president has now said must be postponed and may never come to a vote. So they wasted some credibility and angered some Republicans; just how grateful is Obama? The lesson there is to stay out of our partisan arguments unless they very directly affect Israel’s security.
Second, pursue your own relationships with Russia, Europe, and the Arab states. Israel always does that, but with American leadership now discounted, those direct relationships are more important. Perhaps Israel and France can toughen the Western negotiating position on Iran, or Israel and Egypt can work together to weaken Hamas in Gaza, or Israel and the Gulf Arab states can talk together about how to handle conflicts with Iran. Right now it is likely that Israeli-Egyptian, Israeli-Jordanian, and perhaps Israeli-Gulf state conversations are especially candid in reviewing shared challenges—not the least of which is dependence on a power that appears to be choosing to diminish its influence in the region.
There is another, harsher lesson from the developments in Syria. One-hundred-thousand Arabs, mostly Sunni, have been killed there and millions driven from their homes, in a world where the Arab League has 22 member states, the Islamic Conference has 57, and there are in the world perhaps two billion Muslims. No one saved those Sunni, Arab, Muslim Syrians, and no one is doing much now to prevent additional killing; the reactions of their co-religionists and fellow Arabs have ranged from ineffective to uninterested. Christian communities have for years been threatened and attacked in Iraq, Lebanon, and most recently Syria and Egypt with little reaction from the world’s two billion Christians. Who would intervene to protect the Jews should they ever be in a similar situation?
Israelis know this; their view of their neighborhood was (controversially, to be sure) summed up by Ehud Barak in 2006 when he called Israel “a villa in the jungle.” Israelis don’t believe they survive because they are a democracy or a “startup nation” but because they are strong—and willing to use their strength, as they proved yet again in multiple attacks in Syria in the last two years. Their national experience as Israelis parallels their history as Jews: The strong survive, and the weak may well perish. And when the weak are attacked, there are some excellent speeches made but precious little help is forthcoming.
So the fate of Syria’s dead and its millions of refugees is but confirmation that Israel must in the end be able and willing to defend itself, by itself. On September 11, Prime Minister Netanyahu quoted the sage Hillel at an Israeli Navy graduation ceremony: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me?” He then added that this saying “is more relevant than ever these days in guiding me, in my key actions as prime minister” and said the meaning “is that Israel will always be able to protect itself, and will protect itself, with its own forces, against all threats.”
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Tested by Zion: The Bush Administration and the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
U.N. Panel Will Need Literary License To Spin Climate Change Myth
September 27, 2013 by Ben Bullard
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the United Nations committee that has been pushing the urgency of manmade global warming on its member nations for decades, is set to deliver its latest findings today when it releases its assessment report before the media.
Since the IPCC is responsible for creating and developing a significant chunk of the plot in the human drama of global warming, it’s in no position to kill off Climate Change, the story’s main character. But how it will avoid doing that as it attempts to explain its own findings — that “global warming” has been in abeyance since 1998 — should be entertaining enough.
Critics of the climate change agenda don’t expect the ICPP to come clean. Writing forThe Telegraph Thursday, James Delingpole explained that global warming careerists have… well, an inconvenient truth on their hands.
Though the details are a secret, one thing is clear: the version of events you will see and hear in much of the media, especially from partis pris organisations like the BBC, will be the opposite of what the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report actually says.… In truth, though, the new report offers scant consolation to those many alarmists whose careers depend on talking up the threat. It says not that they are winning the war to persuade the world of the case for catastrophic anthropogenic climate change – but that the battle is all but lost.… [This year’s report is] the first in its history to admit what its critics have said for years: global warming did “pause” unexpectedly in 1998 and shows no sign of resuming. And, other than an ad hoc new theory about the missing heat having been absorbed by the deep ocean, it cannot come up with a convincing explanation why. Coming from a sceptical blog none of this would be surprising. But from the IPCC, it’s dynamite: the equivalent of the Soviet politburo announcing that command economies may not after all be the most efficient way of allocating resources.… Al Gore’s “consensus” is about to be holed below the water-line – and those still aboard the SS Global Warming are adjusting their positions.
The IPCC’s assessment report is viewed as “the gospel of climate change” by policymakers and elected officials who employ its findings as the moral basis for tinkering with fees, fines, incentives and taxes.
As the member nations involved in compiling this year’s report are fretting over how to spin a dead narrative, there’s one option they should — but won’t — consider: walking manmade climate change back to theory status, and letting it stay there until it demonstrate by reason, and not emotion, that it is fact or fraud.
Cyprus-Style Wealth Confiscation Is Starting All Over The World
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/26/2013 15:10 -0400
As we warned two years ago, "the muddle through has failed... and there may only be painful ways out of this."
Submitted by Michael Snyder of The Economic Collapse blog,
Now that "bail-ins" have become accepted practice all over the planet, no bank account and no pension fund will ever be 100% safe again. In fact, Cyprus-style wealth confiscation is already starting to happen all around the world. As you will read about below, private pension funds were just raided by the government in Poland, and a "bail-in" is being organized for one of the largest banks in Italy. Unfortunately, this is just the beginning.
The precedent that was set in Cyprus is being used as a template for establishing bail-in procedures in New Zealand, Canada and all over Europe. It is only a matter of time before we see this exact same type of thing happen in the United States as well. From now on, anyone that keeps a large amount of money in any single bank account or retirement fund is being incredibly foolish.
Let's take a look at a few of the examples of how Cyprus-style wealth confiscation is now moving forward all over the globe...
For years, there have been rumors that someday the U.S. government would raid private pension funds.
Well, in Poland it just happened.
According to Reuters, private pension funds were raided in order to reduce the size of the government debt...
Poland said on Wednesday it will transfer to the state many of the assets held by private pension funds, slashing public debt but putting in doubt the future of the multi-billion-euro funds, many of them foreign-owned.
The Polish government is doing the best that it can to make this sound like some sort of complicated legal maneuver, but the truth is that what they have done is stolen private assets without giving any compensation in return...
The Polish pension funds' organisation said the changes may be unconstitutional because the government is taking private assets away from them without offering any compensation.Announcing the long-awaited overhaul of state-guaranteed pensions, Prime Minister Donald Tusk said private funds within the state-guaranteed system would have their bond holdings transferred to a state pension vehicle, but keep their equity holdings.He said that what remained in citizens' pension pots in the private funds will be gradually transferred into the state vehicle over the last 10 years before savers hit retirement age.
For years, Iceland has been applauded for how they handled the last financial crisis. But now it is being proposed that the "blanket guarantee" that currently applies to all bank accounts should be reduced to 100,000 euros. Will this open the door for "haircuts" to be applied to bank account balances above that amount?...
Following the crisis in October 2008, Iceland's government declared all deposits in domestic financial institutions were 'blanket' guaranteed - an Emergency Act that was reafrmed twice since. However, according to RUV, the finance minister is proposing to restrict this guarantee to only deposits less-than-EUR100,000. While some might see the removal of an 'emergency' measure as a positive, it is of course sadly reminiscent of the European Union "template" to haircut large depositors. This is coincidental (threatening) timing given the current stagnation of talks between Iceland bank creditors and the government over haircuts and lifting capital controls - which have restricted the outflows of around $8 billion.
European finance ministers have agreed to a plan that would make "bail-ins" the standard procedure for rescuing "too big to fail" banks in the future. The following is how CNN described this plan...
European Union finance ministers approved a plan Thursday for dealing with future bank bailouts, forcing bondholders and shareholders to take the hit for bank rescues ahead of taxpayers.The new framework requires bondholders, shareholders and large depositors with over 100,000 euros to be first to suffer losses when banks fail. Depositors with less than 100,000 euros will be protected. Taxpayer funds would be used only as a last resort.
What this means is that if you have over 100,000 euros in a bank account in Europe, you could lose every single bit of the unprotected amount if your bank collapses.
As Zero Hedge reported on Tuesday, a "bail-in" is now being organized for the oldest bank in Italy...
Recall that three weeks ago we warned that "Monti Paschi Faces Bail-In As Capital Needs Point To Nationalization" although we left open the question of "who will get the haircut including senior bondholders and depositors.... given the small size of sub-debt in the capital structures." Today, as many expected on the day following the German elections, the dominos are finally starting to wobble, and as we predicted, Monte Paschi, Italy's oldest and according to many, most insolvent bank, quietly commenced a bondholder "bail in" after it said that it suspended interest payments on three hybrid notes following demands by European authorities that bondholders contribute to the restructuring of the bailed out Italian lender. Remember what Diesel-BOOM said about Cyprus - that it is a template? He wasn't joking.As Bloomberg reports, Monte Paschi "said in a statement that it won’t pay interest on about 481 million euros ($650 million) of outstanding hybrid notes issued through MPS Capital Trust II and Antonveneta Capital Trusts I and II." Why these notes? Because hybrid bondholders have zero protections and zero recourse. "Under the terms of the undated notes, the Siena, Italy-based lender is allowed to suspend interest without defaulting and doesn’t have to make up the missed coupons when payments resume." Then again hybrids, to quote the Dutchman, are just the template for the balance of the bank's balance sheet.Why is this happening now? Simple: the Merkel reelection is in the bag, and the EURUSD is too high (recall Adidas' laments from last week). Furthermore, if the ECB proceeds with another LTRO as many believe it will, it will force the EURUSD even higher, surging from even more unwanted liquidity. So what to do? Why stage a small, contained crisis of course. Such as a bail in by a major Italian bank. The good news for now is that depositors are untouched. Unfortunately, with depositor cash on the wrong end of the (un)secured liability continuum it is only a matter of time before those with uninsured deposits share some of the Cypriot pain. After all, in the brave New Normal insolvent world, "it is only fair."
Fortunately, it does not appear that this particular bail-in will hit private bank accounts (at least for now), but it does show that European officials are very serious about applying bail-in procedures when a major bank fails.
The New Zealand government has been discussing implementing a "bail-in" system to deal with any future major bank failures. The following comes from a New Zealand news source...
The National Government are pushing a Cyprus-style solution to bank failure in New Zealand which will seesmall depositors lose some of their savings to fund big bank bailouts, the Green Party said today.Open Bank Resolution (OBR) is Finance Minister Bill English’s favoured option dealing with a major bank failure. If a bank fails under OBR, all depositors will have their savings reduced overnight to fund the bank’s bail out."Bill English is proposing a Cyprus-style solution for managing bank failure here in New Zealand - a solution that will see small depositors lose some of their savings to fund big bank bailouts," said Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman."The Reserve Bank is in the final stages of implementing a system of managing bank failure called Open Bank Resolution. The scheme will put all bank depositors on the hook for bailing out their bank."Depositors will overnight have their savings shaved by the amount needed to keep the bank afloat."
Incredibly, even Canada is moving toward adopting these "bank bail-ins". In a previous article, I explained that "bail-ins" were even part of the new Canadian government budget...
Cyprus-style "bail-ins" are actually proposed in the new Canadian government budget. When I first heard about this I was quite skeptical, so I went and looked it up for myself. And guess what? It is right there in black and white on pages 144 and 145 of "Economic Action Plan 2013" which the Harper government has already submitted to the House of Commons. This new budget actually proposes "to implement a 'bail-in' regime for systemically important banks" in Canada. "Economic Action Plan 2013" was submitted on March 21st, which means that this "bail-in regime" was likely being planned long before the crisis in Cyprus ever erupted.
So what does all of this mean for us?
It means that the governments of the world are eyeing our money as part of the solution to any future failures of major banks.
As a result, there is no longer any truly "safe" place to put your money.
One of the best ways to protect yourself is to spread your money around. In other words, don't put all of your eggs in one basket.
If you have your money a bunch of different places, it is going to be much harder for the government to grab it all.
But if you don't listen to the warnings and you continue to keep all of your wealth in one giant pile somewhere, don't be surprised when you get wiped out in a single moment someday.