MongoDB startup hired by Aadhaar got funds from CIA VC arm

Two weeks ago, Max Schireson, chief executive of MongoDB, a New York-based technology startup, was in New Delhi to sew up a very important contract for his company — with the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI). MongoDB, which makes software that helps manage large databases, especially unstructured data, has raised $231 million (Rs1,400 crore) since being founded in 2007. Some of its funding is from In-Q-Tel, the not-for-profit venture capital arm of CIA. Besides CIA, In-Q-Tel works with National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency and Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate. Schireson, the CEO, was also one of the national co-chairs for Technology for Obama, an interest group that campaigned for the reelection of President Barack Obama after his first term.

— source economictimes.indiatimes.com

2 journalists sue Trump over ‘kill list’

Two journalists who believe they are on the so-called “kill list” of individuals targeted by the U.S. for deadly drone strikes are suing President Donald Trump and other top administration officials. Former Al Jazeera Islamabad bureau chief Ahmad Zaidan and freelance journalist Bilal Kareem filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court in Washington, contending that they were erroneously placed on the “kill list” during the Obama administration and that Trump has illegally maintained that designation. The suit also alleges that Trump has loosened some of the safeguards the previous administration placed on the program.

— source politico.com

Republicans Are Using Big Tobacco’s Secret Science Playbook to Gut Health Rules

Much of the country has been watching in horror as Donald Trump has made good on his promises to eviscerate the Environmental Protection Agency — delaying 30 regulations, severely limiting the information staffers can release, and installing Scott Pruitt as the agency’s administrator to destroy the agency from within. But even those keeping their eyes on the EPA may have missed a quieter attack on environmental protections now being launched in Congress.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology is expected to hold a hearing on a bill to undermine health regulations that is based on a strategy cooked up by tobacco industry strategists more than two decades ago. At what Republicans on the committee have dubbed the “Making EPA Great Again” hearing, lawmakers are likely to discuss the Secret Science Reform Act, a bill that would limit the EPA to using only data that can be replicated or made available for “independent analysis.”

The proposal may sound reasonable enough at first. But because health research often contains confidential personal information that is illegal to share, the bill would prevent the EPA from using many of the best scientific studies. It would also prohibit using studies of one-time events, such as the Gulf oil spill or the effect of a partial ban of chlorpyrifos on children, which fueled the EPA’s decision to eliminate all agricultural uses of the pesticide, because these events — and thus the studies of them — can’t be repeated. Although it is nominally about transparency, the bill leaves intact protections that allow industry to keep much of its own inner workings and skewed research secret from the public, while delegitimizing studies done by researchers with no vested interest in their outcome.

The top-billed witness scheduled to provide testimony at the House hearing on Tuesday is a lawyer named Jeffrey Holmstead, who has has worked to block the EPA’s efforts to limit mercury pollution while representing coal companies including Duke Energy, Progress Energy, and Southern Company. Meanwhile, Lamar Smith, the Texas Republican chair of the House Science Committee who has been zealously promoting the“secret science” bill, is also in the pocket of the energy companies. Though he’s also received funding from Koch Industries and iHeartMedia (formerly Clear Channel Communications), Smith’s biggest contributors are oil and gas companies, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Also testifying on Tuesday will be Kimberly White of the American Chemistry Council, the chemical industry trade group.

This bald industry bid to subvert public health-based regulations that can cut into profit isn’t new. What’s new is that this upside-down environmental attack, in which those who benefit directly from polluting industries are policing the independent scientists who can show the harms of their products, could now succeed. Although the House passed the secret science bill in 2014 and 2015, it never made it to the Senate floor. After it passed the House in 2015, Barbara Boxer called the bill “insane,” Bernie Sanders called it “laughable,” and President Obama promised to veto it. This time, it’s not a joke. With a Republican majority in both houses and Trump in the White House, the secret science act could easily become law.

The small group of lawyers and PR strategists orchestrating the secret science effort are closely tied to those attacking the EPA from within. All have connections to either big tobacco, oil, or both — and almost all have been affiliated with a small, right-wing group called the Energy & Environment Legal Institute. It’s interesting that E&E should fixate on transparency since the group has gone to great lengths to conceal its donors. Nevertheless, public records document some of the group’s ties to big coal companies, including the now bankrupt Alpha Natural Resources, Peabody Coal, and Arch Coal.

E&E senior policy fellow Steve Milloy, a former tobacco industry attorney, has perhaps written the most — at least publicly — about the secret science strategy, both in an ebook and for Steve Bannon’s Breitbart News. Milloy calls Myron Ebell, who oversaw Trump’s EPA transition team, his “friend and hero.” In the late 1990s, Milloy and Ebell were both members of the American Petroleum Institute’s Global Climate Science Communications Team, which laid out the oil industry’s strategy to undermine the science of global warming. Meanwhile, three of Milloy’s colleagues from E&E are also members of the EPA landing team. Among them are David Schnare, E&E’s general counsel, who is perhaps best known for harassing Michael Mann and other environmental scientists with FOIA requests, and Amy Oliver Cooke, an energy industry think tanker who created MILF, Mothers In Love with Fracking.

Two other E&E associates have been wrapped up in the secret science strategy for years. The first is Christopher Horner, a senior fellow at both E&E and the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who is also a member of Trump’s EPA landing team. Back in the 1990s, Horner worked for Bracewell LLP, the law firm (formerly known as Bracewell & Giuliani) supplying the top witness at Tuesday’s hearing. The dawning awareness of the dangers of second-hand smoke was putting tobacco companies on the defensive, including Horner’s client, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. In a 1996 memo, which seems to be the earliest known reference to the secret science strategy, Horner laid out a plan to fight back.

“We propose creating, beginning with congressional oversight and a goal of enacting legislation, required review procedures which EPA and other federal agencies must follow,” Horner wrote in his memo. “This is important to your organization because, at some point in the near future, EPA will most likely be ordered to re-examine ETS [environmental tobacco smoke].” Horner’s plan? “To construct explicit procedural hurdles the agency must follow in issuing scientific reports. Because there is virtually no chance of affecting change on this issue if the focus is ETS.”

Horner already saw that the secret science approach could subvert far more than the imminent regulations based on the science about second-hand smoke. “Our approach is one of addressing process as opposed to scientific substance, and global applicability to industry rather than focusing on any single industrial sector,” he wrote, going on to explain how the strategy could be used to interfere with the EPA’s efforts to address mercury emissions, hazardous waste, and dioxins as well as restrictions on air pollution.
The Attack on Air Pollution Protections

By 1998, Powell Tate, a lobbying firm that represented R.J. Reynolds, had helped organize a secret science working group to look at questions of “data access,” according to one internal memo. The memo clarified that its intention was to “focus public opinion on the importance of requiring the disclosure of tax-payer funded analytical data.”

Though it was the brainchild of tobacco strategists, the energy industry soon followed Horner’s advice and adopted the secret science approach as a way to hamper air quality improvement efforts. In the 1990s, the EPA began efforts to reduce the amount of tiny particles in the air, a kind of pollution known as PM 2.5, that are produced by combustion from power plants, cars, and manufacturing. The clearest evidence of the need to limit such particles came from the “Six Cities” study, in which a team of Harvard researchers clearly tied higher levels of PM 2.5 particles to increased mortality, as well as lung cancer, asthma, and sudden infant death syndrome.

While the new limits were designed to save lives — preventing 15,000 premature deaths annually, according to EPA projections — the rules would also increase costs in some sectors by, for instance, making energy companies install pollution equipment. In response, a group funded by the Koch brothers rose up to challenge the EPA and the scientists on the grounds that scientists were hiding their data from the public. Citizens for a Sound Economy, a forerunner of the Koch brothers’ current Freedom Works, demanded that the Harvard researchers provide their original data so an “independent” scientist could analyze it.

At first the researchers refused to share the data, which they had collected from individuals with the promise that their health information would remain confidential. Eventually, after an elaborate and expensive pressure campaign, the Six Cities researchers agreed to allow their data to be reanalyzed by two separate teams of researchers. Both confirmed the group’s findings that rates of PM 2.5 were correlated with increased mortality.

The EPA went on to institute the changes. And scientists throughout the world have since come to recognize the dangers posed by small particle air pollution, which accounted for “over 2.1 million premature deaths and 52 million years of healthy life lost in 2010,” according to the 2010 Global Burden of Disease report. The report drew on research by more than 450 experts from around the world and was led by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington; the World Health Organization; the University of Queensland, Australia; Johns Hopkins University; and Harvard University.

Despite the scientific consensus, a small group of extremists has continued to fixate on the idea that the science on the dangers of air pollution is somehow a sham. Even more disturbingly, this small extreme group now holds sway in key parts of the U.S. government. Not least among them is Rep. Lamar Smith, who in 2013 subpoenaed the EPA in yet another effort to obtain the data from the Six Cities study.

In an op-ed that ran in the Wall Street Journal shortly afterward, Smith noted that “the data in question have not been subjected to scrutiny and analysis by independent scientists.” Smith pressed his point in a House Science Committee hearing a few days later, insisting that independent scientists were being denied access to the air pollution data. When Democrat Donna Edwards pressed Smith about who these scientists were, he mentioned the name Jim Enstrom.

Enstrom, you may not be surprised to learn, has been a research fellow at E&E and has received money from the Council for Tobacco Research, the Tobacco Institute, Philip Morris, and R.J. Reynolds. In part because he didn’t disclose his tobacco industry ties in a study he did on the connection between second-hand smoke and mortality (which he found to be inconclusive), he was widely criticized by the scientific community, including the American Cancer Society, and was subsequently dismissed from UCLA.

Correction: Feb. 7, 2017

An earlier version of this article gave the incorrect name of a representative of the American Chemistry Council who testified today before the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Her name is Kimberly White, not Kimberly Smith.

— source theintercept.com By Sharon Lerner

Former Senior FBI Counterterrorism Agent Slams Trump on Torture and Muslim Ban

A veteran U.S. counterterrorism agent says that President Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from seven majority Muslim countries will harm the fight against terrorist organizations and make it more difficult for intelligence agencies to maintain partnerships with foreign partners in the battle against ISIS and al Qaeda.

“Any kind of blacklisting countries like this will probably ruin effective local partnerships that are already in place,” said Ali Soufan, a former FBI special agent who served as one of the central U.S. officers targeting al Qaeda in the years leading up to 9/11. “When you’re operating in conflict zones in places like Yemen or in places like Iraq or Syria or Libya, you need local support,” he told The Intercept in an interview. “You need local help. You need people to assist you, to translate for you, to show you the lay of the land. Unfortunately, if this ban is seen as an anti-Muslim ban, or if this ban is blacklisting a whole entire population, that will end up fighting back on the much-needed, local cooperation that we depend on.”

Soufan was in the FBI from 1997 to 2005, when he served as a supervisory special agent. In 2005, Soufan resigned from the FBI because of what he alleged was the CIA’s refusal to share crucial counterterrorism intelligence. Soufan believes the CIA had information that if shared could have thwarted the 9/11 attacks. In 2009, Soufan rose to prominence after testifying in front of the U.S. Senate and penning an anti-torture Op-Ed in the New York Times. He has become an outspoken critic of torture on not only moral grounds, but because he has deemed it ineffective and counterproductive to intelligence gathering. Despite his criticism of torture, Soufan opposed prosecuting CIA personnel who participated in the torture program and has often voiced support for the agency.

Referring to Trump’s overt support for torture, Soufan said, “He’s not putting any lipstick on a pig. He’s just trying to sell a pig to the nation. I think there is overwhelming support for the idea that torture is not only illegal, but it’s also immoral and ineffective.”

In 2002, Soufan interrogated terrorist Abu Zubaydah for four months, obtaining what he called crucial and accurate intelligence from him, including the central role Khalid Sheikh Mohammed played in the planning of 9/11. In August 2002, however, the CIA snatched Zubaydah from the FBI and sent him to a CIA black site where he was waterboarded more than 80 times. Despite the intelligence gathered by Soufan from Zubaydah without torture, the CIA claimed it was their waterboarding that extracted the intelligence. “There was no actionable intelligence that was generated because of torture,” said Soufan. “Abu Zubaydah lied after 83 sessions of waterboarding. He claimed that he was a number three of al Qaeda, even though he wasn’t an al Qaeda member. And later on, when they went back to him and they said, ‘Why did you lie?’ He said, ‘Well, you were torturing me. I told you what you want to hear.’”

“You don’t want to get the information that you want to hear,” Soufan added. “You want to get the truth.”

Soufan pointed out that torture is illegal under U.S. law, though he recognized that Trump seems to believe his executive orders override such quaint facts. “The president can put any executive order that he wants, but in order to change the law, he needs Congress,” said Soufan. “And I really doubt you’re going have a congressional debate that authorizes the president to use torture. I would like to watch that hearing and see how they will try to sell it to the American people.”

— source theintercept.com

On Final Day of Obama Presidency

Eddie Glaude talking:

I think it was important for the president to kind of identify the threat that Donald Trump poses to the fourth estate. He did it in his own unique and, of course, centrist way, but the idea of calling attention to the fact that a free and independent press may very well be under siege as Donald Trump enters the White House, I think, is an important—was an important—an important gesture. I would—you know, I would want to caution, though, that the way in which the president made the point, he, of course, wasn’t attentive to the corporate dimensions of the press, that in some ways the so-called free press has been compromised by big money, by its own pursuit of profits. And so, it’s a critique that only goes so far.

And then I think to kind of point his attention or point our attention or direct our attention to the question of Israel and Palestine, the issues around the DREAMers, issues around race or continued inequality, the issues around LGBTQ—right?—communities, I think, was important as a way of, in some ways, framing his own presidency over and against what is to come. But I have this fear, though, Sister Amy, that he’s positioning himself as, in some ways, the voice of a kind of resistance post his presidency. And I worry about that because of—because of his containing and limiting voice, you know, because President Obama, at the end of the day, is just simply a centrist liberal.

I think his analysis is limited. I mean, to the extent to which the question of voter fraud or voter suppression, tracing its origins back to Jim Crow and slavery, giving it—giving attention to its racial underpinnings is right. But there’s a reluctance, though, to speak to voter suppression—right?—the ways in which voter ID laws are directly targeting black communities, what happened in North Carolina, what happened in Wisconsin, what happens—what tried to happen—what Texas tried to do, what Pennsylvania attempted to do. And to speak specifically to the ways in which race, and particularly the way black and brown communities are targeted today, there’s a reluctance. So, in other words, you get this kind of general claim about an assault on voting rights, that we’re making it more difficult for people to vote, tracing it specifically to Jim Crow and the institution of slavery, but a reluctance to name specifically the ways in which Republicans across the country have targeted black and brown voters in very distinct ways. I mean, the court was very clear in North Carolina, what North Carolina Republicans were doing. And instead, at this point, instead of making that move—and again, I want to begin by saying he’s right to give the historical backdrop to the question of trying to limit voting in the United States, but instead of kind of pointing our attention to what specifically is happening around race, and particularly with regards to people of color, today, he wants to say that people have the right to vote, but they don’t vote. Right? So it’s a kind of, again, on the one hand and then on the other, without him really going to the core of the problem.

it’s one thing for President Obama to point to increasing inequality in the country, and it’s another thing for us to look at his policies. When we look at over the last—when we kind of assess the last eight years, what we’ve seen is that you’ve had a series of policies that really have benefited Wall Street and left Main Street behind. We have a policy that is, in some ways, fit—it fits perfectly with the increasing financialization of our economy, that’s really tailored for the top 1 percent and top 0.01 percent. And there’s kind of modest gains for everyday, ordinary people working. Even if they tout job creation, we know, from one of my colleagues here at Princeton, that 95 percent of the jobs created over the last 15-plus years have been part-time and contractual work. So people are working harder and earning less. So, there’s one thing to point to inequality, but there’s another thing to kind of look to the policies that he has supported and pushed that’s produced inequality. That’s the first thing.

And the second thing—the second move that we have to kind of be very, very careful about is the way in which he always engages in this equivalency. Right? We have to pay attention to the fact that there are some white voters out there who voted for Donald Trump who are catching hell. Of course there are white voters out there who have lost ground, who have suffered in this economy. But at the same time, we have to be mindful that 53 percent of black wealth over the last eight years has just simply been wiped off the planet. It’s gone. And it has a lot to do with housing policy, has a lot to do with his failure over the last eight years to really address the racialized dimensions of the housing crisis. And so, I really want us to say that he’s right to point to inequality, but I’m not sure he’s the right messenger to point to inequality, if that makes sense.

Now, where do we—where are we now, and where are we going? Well, we have deepening racial inequality. We have deepening economic inequality. We have a neo-fascist who is about to be inaugurated. We have the billionaires and millionaires who are about to take over government. What we are in, in some ways, is a conjunctural moment where crisis opens up space for us to put forward a more progressive vision of what this country could and ought to be. So we need to prepare ourselves for day one, as Donald Trump ascends, and attack the policies that, in some ways, Barack Obama’s administration, Clintonism broadly, has made possible.

Rashid Khalidi talking:

he did what he’s been doing for eight years: He sent a signal. The most powerful country on Earth, the sole serious supporter of Israel, without whose support Israel couldn’t do anything, has now, yet again, for administration after administration, sent a signal that what Israeli governments have been doing for decades is going to lead to a one-state solution, in which Palestinians, as he said, are disenfranchised, are not even citizens and so on and so forth. So we have the diagnostician-in-chief telling us about this problem, which he and previous presidents have absolutely—done absolutely nothing to solve. The United States can, could, should act to stop this ongoing annexation, colonization and so forth, which has led to disenfranchisement. I mean, his analysis is impeccable, but his actions—as Professor Glaude said, his actions are just not in keeping with his words, and have not been over eight years in keeping with his words.

president-elect’s team includes people like his son-in-law, his nominee for ambassador to Israel and others, who are not just in favor of incendiary acts like moving the embassy, but are themselves major financial or political supporters of the Israeli settler movement. So we’re not just talking about people who are rhetorically in favor of this or that extremist position.

Jared Kushner, who will be a top adviser his son-in-law. David Friedman. the ambassador designate, and Jared Kushner are both, according to all the reports, major financial backers of the settlement movement. So, what we have in American and Israeli politics with the arrival of Trump is the completion of a convergence between the extreme right-wing settler, colonial regime that we have in Israel and a segment of the American ruling class, if you want. I mean, Jared Kushner is a major real estate entrepreneur, and he’s used many, many, many of his family’s millions to support not just charitable causes in Israel, but the settler movement, among many other extreme causes.

And so, what we’re seeing on the policy level, what we’re seeing on the media level, what we’re seeing in terms of people who are making political contributions to both the right-wing parties in Israel and American political parties is sort of a convergence of the two systems, but at a time when we’re going to have the most extreme—we have had the most extreme right-wing government in Israel’s history, and when we’re going to have a president who is in favor of things that are sometimes to the right even of that right-wing Israeli government, in terms of what his designees for various positions have said.

I think every American president who has stood by idly and just uttered words, like the president has done in his press conference and like the secretary of state did in his speech, and did nothing to actually stop this trend, that he so accurately described, are—they’re all responsible. He is certainly responsible. Had Security Council Resolution 2334 been passed in the first year of this president’s eight years, who knows what might have happened?

That resolution said that everything Israel has done in the Occupied Territories, in Jerusalem and the rest of them, is illegal. It has said that moving its population into occupied territories is a violation of the Geneva Convention, i.e. moving a half a million or 600,000 Israelis into territory occupied is illegal, that the acquisition of territory by force is illegal. And it went on to lay down various other parameters for a solution, including a two-state solution, and the ’67 borders as the basis of that. Now, none of this is new. The United Nations has said this again and again and again. This is a reiteration of Security Council Resolution 242 of November 1967. It’s also a reiteration of positions that have been taken by every single American administration from President Johnson’s to George W. Bush’s, and this one, as well.

But had that been laid down as a marker, a slap in the face of the Netanyahu government, in 2009, when the president came into office, instead of mollycoddling them, instead of continuing to fund settlements—we fund settlements by giving American so-called charities 501(c)(3) status. The president could have reversed that on the first day he was in office, saying, “You cannot send money, tax-free money—you cannot reduce your taxes to support illegal occupation and colonization.” He didn’t do that. The Justice Department, the Treasury could have done that. So, we have financed by—we taxpayers, who are actually paying our taxes, have enabled people who are not paying our taxes, by making so-called charitable deductions, support the settlement movement. Jared Kushner is one of them. [David] Friedman is one of them. There are many, many others.

this should be a wake-up call for people in the United States who had some kind of idea of Israel as the light unto the nations, to wake up and realize that the United States has helped to create a situation in which Israeli Jews rule over disenfranchised Arabs, that this is not a light unto the nations. This is not really a democracy, if you have helots. He called them “not citizens.” Well, you can call them what you want. He said they’re disenfranchised. It’s actually worse than that. Go to the Occupied Territories. Go to Arab communities inside Israel. Look at what happened to a member of Knesset yesterday, shot in the face by Israeli border police, because he protested the demolition of a village in the south of Israel. You’re talking about people who, in some cases, nominally have rights—Palestinian citizens of the state of Israel—or in the Occupied Territories having really no rights, and both of whom live under an unjust and discriminatory regime. We have fostered that. We have helped to finance and fund that, all the while our political leaders talk about how wonderful Israel is, how its values and our values—well, these are Jim Crow values. The president talked about Jim Crow. What Israel is enforcing are worse than Jim Crow values. And I think we have to start talking and thinking in those terms and setting ourselves apart or understanding how to set ourselves apart from those kinds of practices that are discriminatory or racist.

– what do you think it was that led President Obama to have the ambassador for—to have the United States abstain from this, at the very end of his two terms?

I can’t speculate what was going on in his mind, why at the very end. It’s a really good question. I would love to have seen this eight years ago. Maybe it was his chance to get back at the slights and insults that he’s been receiving from Prime Minister Netanyahu over the past eight years, coming to Congress and attacking American—

– Netanyahu, famously, to say the least, disrespects him. And yet President Obama has been more solicitous of Israel than all the previous presidents from the Bushes on to Clinton, all involved with resolutions that were critical of Israel, but President Obama did not allow that to happen until now.

This is the first such resolution that has passed under Obama. Every—as you’ve just said, every previous American president has allowed or has sponsored resolutions that are just as harsh as this or involved elements of this resolution. So, maybe he was—you know, what he seems to be doing in his last few days, few weeks, few months, is to doing—is to do some of the things that maybe he wanted to do but felt he couldn’t do. And it’s really a terrible shame. I mean, this is a—this is a man who came into office, supposedly, with fresh ideas about how to deal with the Middle East. He appointed Senator Mitchell, who ultimately was undermined by people he himself had appointed, and was not able to do what he wanted to do. And from that point on, I think it really was downhill for this president, as far as the Middle East is concerned. His legacy is not a good one, as far as Arab-Israeli issues, as far as the Palestinians are concerned. Palestinians will not—and Arabs and, I would argue, Israelis should not remember this man’s legacy with any fondness.
____

Eddie Glaude
chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, author of several books, most recently “Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul.”

Rashid Khalidi
Edward Said professor of Arab studies at Columbia University. He’s the author of several books; his most recent is titled Brokers of Deceit: How the U.S. Has Undermined Peace in the Middle East.

— source democracynow.org

Defense Secretary Nominee Commited War Crimes in Iraq

President-elect Donald Trump’s pick for defense secretary, James “Mad Dog” Mattis, faces his Senate confirmation hearing today. This comes as House Democrats are threatening to revolt over the waiver needed for Mattis to serve as defense secretary, after the Trump transition team blocked him from testifying before the House Armed Services Committee. Mattis only retired from the military in 2013, meaning he needs Congress to waive rules requiring defense secretaries to be civilians for seven or more years after leaving the military. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand has said she’ll vote against the waiver for General Mattis, saying, “Civilian control of our military is a fundamental principle of American democracy, and I will not vote for an exception to this rule.”

James Mattis reportedly received his nickname “Mad Dog” Mattis after leading U.S. troops during the 2004 battle of Fallujah in Iraq. He enlisted in the Marines at 19, fought in the Persian Gulf War, in Afghanistan, in Iraq, where he served as major general. In May 2004, Mattis ordered an airstrike in a small Iraqi village that hit a wedding, killing about 42 people who were attending the wedding ceremony. Mattis went on to lead the U.S. Central Command from 2010 to 2013, but the Obama administration cut short his tour over concerns General Mattis was too hawkish on Iran, reportedly calling for a series of covert actions there. Mattis has drawn criticism over his apparent celebration of killing, including saying in 2005 about the Taliban, “It’s a hell of a lot of fun to shoot them”.

Aaron Glantz talking:

James Mattis got the nickname “Mad Dog” for his command responsibility as a general during the April 2004 siege of Fallujah. This was a battle that I covered as an unembedded journalist, where the U.S. Marine Corps killed so many people, so many civilians, that the municipal soccer stadium of that city had to be turned into a graveyard. U.S. Marines there shot at ambulances. They shot at aid workers. They cordoned off the city and prevented civilians from fleeing. Some marines posed for trophy photos with the people that they killed.

And what we say in the story is that all of these events that occurred in Fallujah when James Mattis was the commanding general are the same sort of events that other commanders in other countries have been convicted of war crimes for, including General Yamashita, who was a general in World War II for the Japanese, who was tried and executed by a U.S. military tribunal, and his execution was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. We found that James Mattis likely committed similar war crimes.

He, when that assault happened—and, importantly, he argued against the attack beforehand. And he said, very presciently, that so many civilians would be killed, that it would be ultimately damaging to the U.S. military’s overall occupation effort. But once that attack was launched, that’s exactly what happened. There was massive outcry across the Arab world, including in Iraq, a rise of insurgency across the country and a complete devastation of the city. I remember walking through the city shortly after the Marines pulled out, and there were rotting bodies all over the streets, because during the actual siege, U.S. Marine snipers would shoot at anyone who was outside, so people were afraid to go and bury the dead. Shopping centers were destroyed. And this gets to an important issue of disproportionality.

This whole assault was launched because of the killing of four Blackwater security contractors. And, you know, in response, James Mattis leveled the city.

The very important legal doctrine in the United States of America and around the world is the doctrine of command responsibility. If you have a large-scale atrocity that takes place, the commanding general of the operation is held responsible. We held General Yamashita, who was the commanding general in the Japanese Army of a number of operations in the Philippines, under this standard back in World War II, and we executed him. And his execution was upheld by the Supreme Court. Legal scholars that I’ve talked to said the same standard applies to General Mattis. And so we have to look very closely at his command of the U.S. Marine Corps in Fallujah, which is an event that I covered in 2004 as an unembedded journalist. And in that battle, U.S. marines, under his command, killed so many people—one U.N. estimate says 90 percent of them were civilians—that the municipal football stadium of the city had to be turned into a graveyard. Marines shot at ambulances. Marines shot at aid workers. Marines posed with trophy photos with the dead that they had killed. All of these are things that Mattis could be tried for, potentially, for war crimes. And he is Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of defense.

In addition, we also spoke about his role as the convening authority of trials for marines in other cases—the Haditha massacre, the Hamdania massacre—where he wiped away or granted clemency to people who were already convicted, freeing them from prison, for atrocities. And if a person in his kind of command responsibility allows others to get off the hook for war crimes, that’s also something that he could be held culpable for, held accountable for. And, you know, it would be my hope that in his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, and perhaps in follow-on hearings in the House, if they occur, regarding the waiver that he’s going to need to get to become secretary of defense, that James Mattis be asked to explain himself regarding the actions that we’ve been discussing.

He has been very vocal in saying that he supports the Geneva Convention. He has been an advocate against torture. Donald Trump emerged from a meeting with him and began to back off his support for the practice of waterboarding, after listening to General Mattis. But you also have to look at what happens when General Mattis is in the field. And what we saw in Fallujah and in other instances in Iraq is that when General Mattis is in the field, often he allows his marines to go well beyond what is normally permitted in the law of war.

In Fallujah. a wedding party that was bombed on his call in western Iraq not long after that, where he later told a Marine historian, Bing West, that he deliberated less than 30 seconds over whether to carry it out, simply because it was in the middle of the desert. And then, you know, the Associated Press later obtained footage that showed that there was indeed a wedding party, where dozens of civilians were killed. Later, as James Mattis moved up the chain of command, was no longer a field commander in Iraq, he became a convening authority in a number of tribunals involving war crimes committed by marines in the country, including the most famous massacre that occurred during the Iraq War, the Haditha massacre, where a number of marines went on a killing spree in the town of Haditha after one of their comrades was killed. They killed dozens of people in a number of houses, and charges were brought. And as the general overseeing the entire court-martial process, General Mattis dismissed charges against three of the perpetrators, and ultimately no one charged with that massacre of dozens of Iraqis was—spent a single day in prison.

when that massacre happened in 2005, nobody on the ground reported it. And it wasn’t until the story was broken sometime later by Time magazine that the Marine Corps even investigated what happened. Then, following the investigation, charges were brought against the Marine squad that committed the crimes that were described in the video. She mentioned that charges were dismissed against six of the accused. Mattis himself was responsible for three of those dismissals. Ultimately, only one person was convicted, who was the supposed ringleader of the operation, and he did not serve one day behind bars, although he did tell the court that he regretted telling the other marines to shoot first and ask questions later.

Mattis should be asked about what his marines did in Fallujah. I think that he should be asked if he was aware of the scale of civilian casualties—over 600 people killed, and, you know, official Marine Corps estimate is 220 civilians in just the first two weeks of the fighting, there was a U.N. official at the time who estimated that 90 percent of the people killed were civilians—if he’s aware of those deaths, if he thinks they’re proportional, if he thinks the destruction of the city was proportional to the killing of the four Blackwater security contractors. I think he should be asked about the other activities that I described—the shooting at ambulances, the shooting at aid workers, if he was aware of it. If he was aware of it, you know, how does he justify it? If he wasn’t aware of it as the military commander in the field with command responsibility, does he think he should have been?

And in these other cases—we talked about the wedding party, we talked about the Haditha massacre—there’s another massacre where he was also the convening authority, the Hamdania massacre, which was broken by The Washington Post, where a group of marines pulled a disabled Iraqi out of his house, shot him four times in the face and then framed him by planting a shovel and a machine gun next to him to make him look like an insurgent. In that case, General Mattis intervened to free some of the marines from prison, granting them clemency. I think he should be asked to explain himself for his actions and how all of the actions that we’ve been discussing comport with his well-known advocacy for the Geneva Conventions and international law.

James Mattis needs to be confirmed by the Senate, right? In our system of government, presidential appointees need to be confirmed by the Senate. But because he has not been out of the military for seven years, he needs Congress to change a law—and, you know, which is something that hasn’t been done since the Korean War—and allow a recently retired general to become head of the Defense Department, make an exception to our long-held belief in civilian control of the military, for him. The Democrats on the House Armed Services Committee were expecting that he would testify before the House Armed Services Committee on a hearing over whether Congress should grant that waiver. The Trump administration pulled him back, and now the members of the House on the Democratic side are very upset and saying that they may try to hold up his waiver, which would also hold up his confirmation.

If you look at somebody like General Mattis, he’s incredibly well respected within the military community. He’s a marine’s marine. They call him a warrior monk. I’ve received a lot of backlash for my article from members of the military who revere him. There is an idea, though, that we have in our government, that somebody like General Mattis, who, you know, as we’ve been talking about, in Fallujah, is a good soldier and will do anything possible to get the job done, no matter how many people end up dead, that there should be a civilian check on that in a democracy. We have made exceptions to this before. General Marshall was appointed by Harry Truman during the Korean War, and Congress granted that waiver. But it has not happened since then. And it is a big deal for Congress to consider. And the Democrats in the House said, “Look, before we approve this waiver for General Mattis, we would at least like to hear from him and be able to ask him questions.”

And there are some other questions that Democrats want to ask General Mattis, and may be asked in the Senate confirmation hearing today, that have nothing to do with the issues that we’ve been discussing around war crimes. He has expressed an opposition to allowing women in combat roles. He expressed opposition to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military at one point.

the book that he co-edited came out very recently. The comments about women in combat also happened very recently, were given in a speech in the Marines’ Memorial in San Francisco. So, these are not statements that he made in the 1980s. You know, these are statements that he made during the Obama administration. And also, you know, we have to remember that President Obama removed him early, as you mentioned at the outset, as the commanding general of Central Command because of his very hawkish position on Iran. And it’s rare, you know, for a president to remove a general from a command before his term is up in that way. So, I would imagine that we might hear members of the Senate today, and perhaps, if he does appear before the House, members of the House also, asking him about, you know, some of his hawkish beliefs.

Of course, all of this is mollified by the fact that some of the same Democrats who are very concerned about him are even more concerned about General Michael Flynn, who is Donald Trump’s national security adviser designee, who doesn’t have to be confirmed at all and has said that, you know, ISIS wants to drink our blood and that we’re already involved in a Third World War. So, Mattis looks pretty conservative by comparison to Flynn. And that’s just the world that we live in.

Iran nuclear deal is been a little bit unclear. You know, he was—he’s critical of it in general. The more important question, I think, for us now is, going forward—and it’s the same question that we have for the Trump administration in general—you know, Donald Trump, as with many agreements signed by President Obama, has criticized it mightily. But now, you know, we’re hearing that General Mattis might be of the opinion that we might want to just hold them to it very, very aggressively, rather than throwing it out. And perhaps we’ll get some clarity on that during his confirmation hearing.

I think the veterans’ community breathed a huge sigh of relief with the appointment of Mr. Shulkin as VA secretary. This is a man who was appointed to the position of undersecretary of VA for healthcare by President Obama. He is a well-respected doctor. He’s well respected in the veterans’ community. As you mentioned, he’s not a veteran. But veterans’ groups were extremely concerned about the possibility, given Trump’s campaign rhetoric, of a wholesale privatization of the VA. And they were concerned, many of them, about the floating of the name of Pete Hegseth, who founded a group funded by the Koch brothers called Concerned Veterans of America, which was advocating towards privatization. And, you know, by and large, the opinion of veterans’ groups is, while some private care is welcome, especially when you can’t get into the VA, that a privatization of the VA system would be a disaster for veterans. And so, with the appointment of Shulkin, it seems like Trump—you know, it’s likely private care will be expanded, but possibly not at the expense of the core mission of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
____

Aaron Glantz
senior reporter at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

— source democracynow.org

Wealthiest Cabinet in U.S. History

A barrage of Senate confirmation hearings is set to begin Tuesday for what could be the wealthiest Cabinet in modern American history. This comes despite concerns that ethics clearances and background checks are incomplete for several of President-elect Donald Trump’s Cabinet picks. Senator Jeff Sessions faces questions Tuesday for his nomination as attorney general, along with Trump’s pick to head Homeland Security, retired Marine General John Kelly. On Wednesday, hearings are set for former Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, along with education secretary [nominee] Betsy DeVos, Transportation Secretary nominee Elaine Chao and CIA director nominee Mike Pompeo.

Tillerson’s net worth is at least $300 million, and several other nominees hold assets of more than a billion dollars, including Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose confirmation hearing is on Thursday. As Cabinet appointees, the nominees are required to submit a financial disclosure report that’s used by the agencies they’re to take over, along with the Office of Government Ethics. The New York Times reports some of the nominees have so many assets, there are not enough boxes on the standard form for them.

The head of the Office of Government Ethics, Walter Shaub, wrote in a letter to Senators Chuck Schumer of New York and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts that, quote, “This schedule has created undue pressure on [the Office of Government Ethics’] staff and agency ethics officials to rush through these important reviews.” Senator Warren later tweeted, quote, “Cabinet officials must put our country’s interests before their own. No conference hearings should be held until we’re certain that’s the case,” she tweeted. Trump’s transition team responded with a statement: quote, “In the midst of a historic election where Americans voted to drain the swamp, it is disappointing some have chosen to politicize the process,” unquote. This comes as NBC reports it requested emails between the Office of Government Ethics and Trump’s transition team and found Shaub had emailed Trump aides in November to say, quote, “We seem to have lost contact with the Trump-Pence transition since the election.”

Richard Painter talking:

we have historic elections for the office of president of the United States every four years and a transition from one president to another at least every eight years. So we’ve all been through this process before, and so has the Office of Government Ethics. The Office of Government Ethics has been spending at least a year preparing for the transition that is taking place right now. But it’s critically important for the nominees to have finished their Form 278, which is the financial disclosure form that lays out what their assets are and what their sources of income are, and then also to have entered into an ethics agreement with the agency that they’re going to go into that specifies what assets are going to be sold in order to avoid conflicts of interest and what matters, government matters, they are going to have to recuse from in order to avoid financial conflicts of interest with respect to the remaining assets.

This is critically important because there is a criminal conflict of interest statute that prohibits any executive branch official from participating in a matter in which that person has a financial interest. So they either need to sell assets or recuse. We cannot have people who are going to be having leadership positions, with respect to national security, with substantial investments or any investments in Turkey, Russia, Indonesia—countries that are strategically very sensitive for the United States. We can’t have a secretary of education who’s invested in the for-profit education business. These are investments that are going to have to be divested in order for the person to do their job.

And the job of the Office of Government Ethics is to make absolutely sure that happens and to work with the nominees and their lawyers before the Senate confirmation hearings begin, so the senators see exactly what the assets are, what the sources of income are and what the plan is with respect to addressing conflicts of interest. And that’s what they’ve done with Rex Tillerson, and I believe they have a plan ready to go. The assets are fully disclosed. So I think the Senate can have that hearing.

But I understand that with respect to some of the others, that they do not have a complete Form 278. They do not have an ethics agreement in place. And those hearings will have to wait. This is exactly the point that Senator Mitch McConnell made in 2009 when he wrote a letter to Senator Harry Reid about it. We can’t have the hearings until we have the financial disclosure forms and the ethics agreement. And Senator McConnell was exactly right on that. So that’s what they need to do now, is make sure they have those agreements and those financial disclosure forms in place before they have the hearings.

Robert Weissman talking:

I think what we’re seeing with the failure to comply with these ethics rules is a reiteration of what we knew early on after the election, which is we’re going to see the most corrupt administration in the history of the United States. And we’re going to see now two kinds of corruption, one that is extremely likely because of the failure to take ethics rules seriously, which is scandals and violation of the law. I mean, the reason you do this stuff in advance is to avoid breaking the criminal statutes that Professor Painter is referring to. It’s actually to help the Cabinet officials themselves. And it’s also to give the Senate its only opportunity to actually enforce these rules.

The second kind of corruption, which is guaranteed—100 percent guaranteed—is the revolving door kind of corruption. So we have all kinds of people coming in from corporate America—billionaires, huge contributors—and they’re going to rule on matters that directly relate to corporate interests, their own personal interests, whether or not they have—are going to be transgressing the conflict of interest rules. So we have the amazing spectacle of the former CEO of Exxon nominated to be secretary of state. You know, Exxon runs its own foreign policy; now Exxon is effectively taking over the foreign policy of the United States.

At the Department of Labor, not up this week, I think, we have Andy Puzder, fast-food chain mogul, about the worst possible place to look for someone to enforce labor laws, now proposed to enforce national labor laws. At the Environmental Protection Agency, we have Scott Pruitt, the attorney general from Oklahoma, who has sued the agency, who has written letters on behalf of oil companies, drafted by oil companies, attacking EPA regulations, now proposed to run the agency. And you go on down the list, and it’s kind of endless. Each one of these people, by themselves, would be an outrage in any other administration. But the totality of what we’re seeing from the Trump administration has no precedent in American history.

Tom Price is a member of Congress. He has been nominated to run the Department of Health and Human Services. It turns out he’s been an active trader in pharmaceutical stocks. Thanks to a recently passed law, members of Congress are required to disclose what they trade and when. And we’ve seen that his stock trades seem to correlate very closely with another member of Congress, Representative Collins. Representative Collins sits on the board and owns a one-sixth share in a small Australian biotech company called Innate Immuno. And Representative Price has also traded in this penny stock from Australia, that very few people ever would have heard of, at moments that correlate closely with the trades by Representative Price—by Representative Collins.

So we don’t know for sure that something is wrong here, but it doesn’t look good, and it certainly merits an investigation. We’ve actually—Public Citizen has called on the Office of Congressional Ethics, the thing that was being attacked last week, to undertake that investigation. And we think that investigation ought to take place before Mr. Price is confirmed for the Department of Health and Human Services. You just don’t want people who are transgressing ethics rules as a matter of course in charge of these vitally important agencies.

I think there’s a few things happening, but I think the biggest one is that President Trump—President-elect Trump has shown his utter disregard and lack of concern for ethics rules as regards himself. And, you know, just like Meryl Streep was saying in those remarks last night, what the president-elect does and the president-to-be does, that filters down. So members of Congress figure, “Ethics rules don’t matter for him. Why should they matter for—why should we be bothered with them? Let’s get rid of this pesky agency that actually enforces them.” And the Senate Republicans figure, “Why should we bother with having these tough ethics reviews from the Office of Government Ethics, if this kind of standard doesn’t apply to the president-elect and maybe he’s able to get away with it?” Now, I think, actually, that’s a miscalculation. They’re not going to be able to get away with it, as we saw last week. And even if they do momentarily, it’s going to come back to bite them, because we’re guaranteed to see multiple scandals because of their casual disregard for ethics standards.

Richard Painter talking:

This is critical to the integrity of our government and avoiding violation of a criminal conflict of interest statute that prohibits a government official from participating in any matter that has a direct or predictable effect on that government official’s financial position. And so, Senator McConnell was absolutely right in 2009 when he wrote that letter to Senator Reid. This is not just some procedural posturing. This is all about conflicts of interest. And we need to make absolutely sure that we don’t have them in this administration, just like we did in the last administration and in the Bush administration. There needs to be proper vetting of the nominees for financial conflicts of interest before they go in.

And that’s happened with some of them. Rex Tillerson has disclosed his assets, and he has disclosed that he’s going to sell the oil company stock. And so far as I’m concerned, from the financial conflicts of interest perspective, that clears him to go into the hearing and then discuss his views on such critically important issues as global warming, which I understand he actually believes in the fact that there is global warming, which anybody but an idiot, of course, would believe by 2017. But that may put him in the top half of the class at the Trump University there. So, let’s give him a chance, now that he’s made his disclosures and divestment decisions.

But every one of these nominees has to do the same. And the president of the United States himself should set the right example by divesting himself of his own assets that create conflicts of interest. We’re looking forward to an announcement on that this week. And I will give President Trump—President-elect Trump credit for last week having blasted the United States House of Representatives for that absurd plan to abolish the Office of Congressional Ethics. They didn’t get that idea from him. They’ve been planning that for a long time, because they don’t like being investigated. And I think the voters ought to find out whether their congressmen voted for that. I know my congressman voted for getting rid of the Office of Congressional Ethics, and we’re going to hold them accountable in 2018, because that’s unacceptable.

Carl Icahn—the position the transition is taking right now with respect to Carl Icahn is that he is not going to be a government employee. Well, that’s just wrong. If he is going to be advising the president and be given a title and advising the president as to who the next chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission is going to be, who the top regulators are going to be, he needs to disclose his assets and divest from the assets that create conflicts of interest. And you can’t just get around a criminal statute by saying, “Well, he’s not a government employee, because he doesn’t want to get paid.” He’d rather go in there and influence government policy with respect to his billions of dollars’ worth of assets. That doesn’t get around the criminal conflict of interest statute. So Carl Icahn needs to either be a government employee, subject to the same rules as everyone else, or he needs to butt out.

And I would ask every single person who is put up for a position, who has had communications with Carl Icahn, including the new nominee for the Securities and Exchange Commission—the senators need to ask specifically what conversations took place with Carl Icahn. He has no business helping choose these nominees and performing United States government functions, when he’s not going to be a United States government employee. And the senators need to know exactly what’s going on and should refuse to confirm those nominees.

he’s a well-known corporate raider and skirts very close to the edge of rules with respect to the securities laws that are enforced by the Securities and Exchange Commission. I don’t understand why a president would put Carl Icahn in charge of choosing who the next SEC chair is going to be. And I want to know exactly what was said between the nominee, Mr. Clayton, and Mr. Icahn, before I even think about a confirmation vote on that one. Same with the energy sector and everything else. He owns a lot of energy companies that would like to see everything get deregulated over there, so he can make more money. Well, that may or may not be in the public interest.

Once again, if he is going to get involved in the United States government decision-making and advising the White House, he needs to be a United States government employee. He needs to file a financial disclosure form like everybody else and divest of the conflict-creating assets, or he’s going to end up violating criminal statute. And they’re not going to get around that simply by saying he’s not a United States government employee. They can say that all they want, but if he’s functioning as a U.S. government employee, he has to follow the rules.

Robert Weissman talking:

it’s going to be a test for the Republicans to see if they’re willing to say, “Look, they’re not following the rules. We’re not going to let this thing proceed.” And so far, it looks pretty bad.

it’s during the committee process that you have a chance to really hold them accountable. And, you know, this Carl Icahn example shows why the rules are so important and why Mitch McConnell is so wrong. These are not just procedural technicalities. Carl Icahn is not just making—giving advice on matters that relate to enriching him personally, although he is doing that, because he’s got huge stakes in the oil and gas industry, and he wants to get that regulated. And as Richard Painter was saying, he plays fast and loose with the SEC rules, and he wants to make sure those aren’t too toughly enforced either. But he is giving advice on broad matters of policy that will materially affect all Americans, including by worsening the prospect of climate change. So these are not just technical matters, that, you know—picayune rules that are kind of a pain to follow. They go to broad policy questions. And that’s why it’s so important that they be enforced. That’s why it’s so important that the traditions be respected. It’s why it’s so important that the committees have a chance to delve into these matters before they take votes. And it’s why we’re on course for the most scandal-prone and corrupt administration in American history.

folks can go to CorporpateCabinet.org and get a quick look at some of these worst nominees and their conflicts. Of course, we’re trying, with many others, to mobilize opposition across the board, including to many of the worst, most conflicted and corrupt picks.
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Richard Painter
professor of corporate law at the University of Minnesota. He was the chief White House ethics lawyer for President George W. Bush from February 2005 to July 2007.

Robert Weissman
president of Public Citizen, which has just launched the CorporateCabinet.org website, tracking the corporate connections and conflicts of interest of Trump Cabinet appointees.

— source democracynow.org