Posts Tagged ‘White House’

Obama and the “birthers”

December 6, 2013

Hearing Obama speak today about Nelson Mandela, I was wondering what Obama’s legacy would be.

I am not convinced that the US requirement that only those born in the US can become President makes any sense in today’s world. It may have had a purpose once upon a time but it seems to me to be particularly inappropriate to “The American Dream”.

In any event the requirement is on the books and if it could have been shown that Barack Obama had not been born in the US before he was elected President, he could have been ineligible and his candidature would have ended. The convolutions of the birthers who have tried to make their case with strange and exotic conspiracy stories about his birth in Kenya or of not having been born in Hawaii or of being an Indonesian citizen or of being a dual citizen, have been very entertaining but have not developed much traction. Their strident and often racist tone has not helped them much.

In two years Barack Obama will complete his two terms and go down in the record as the 44th President of the US. Probably he will be remembered most for having promised much but for not having been able to deliver. He will be remembered more for his risk aversion and not so much for Osama Bin Laden having been killed on his watch. I have a feeling that he may not wish to be remembered for how Obamacare finally turns out. He will not be remembered as we remember Nelson Mandela today.

Where he was actually born – one would think – is a little irrelevant now.

But a little story in the Washington Post makes me think that he has not been completely transparent about his early life.

After denial, White House now says Obama lived with uncle

The White House acknowledged Thursday that President Obama lived with his uncle for a brief period in the 1980s while he was a student at Harvard Law School — despite previously saying there was no record of the two having met.

“The president did stay with him for a brief period of time until his apartment was ready,” White House spokesman Eric Schultz said in a statement. “After that, they saw each other once every few months, but after law school they fell out of touch. The president has not seen him in 20 years, has not spoken with him in 10. “

Onyango “Omar” Obama faced a deportation hearing earlier this week following a drunk-driving arrest. During the hearing, he said that the president had lived with him while he was a student at Harvard. 

The Boston Globe reported in 2012, after Omar Obama’s arrest, that the White House said he had “never met his famous nephew.” The White House now says it only told the Globe that there was no record of the two having met — not definitively that they hadn’t met.

In its report Thursday, the Globe confirmed that the White House initially said that there was no record that they had met. It said the White House never asked for a correction. ….

Omar Obama comes from his father’s side of the family and is a Kenyan national. Obama was not close to his father, who left the family when the president was very young.

Obama’s relationship with his uncle is also news to scholars of the president, who also found no evidence that the two had met, according to a 2011 Washington Post report.

Omar Obama, 69, was allowed to stay in the United States following his hearing. The White House emphasized that it did nothing to assist him in his deportation case. He had said following his arrest that the president would help him out.

It all strikes me as a little odd. Why would Obama/the White House deny knowing or meeting his uncle? Was he so scared of being accused of interfering in his Uncle’s case that he was prepared to lie? Or was he/is he afraid that the Omar connection could lead elsewhere? And the current explanation that nobody had asked Barack Obama before making the previous denial does not seem very credible. If that denial, about such a personal event, had been issued without Obama’s knowledge, then somebody at the White House was pretty incompetent.

But it makes me wonder as to what would happen if, after Obama has completed his two terms, it comes to light that he was – in fact – ineligible to have been elected President under Article Two of the U.S. Constitution? After all Pope Joan is now legend!

Would the record of his Presidency be expunged? Would all legislation signed by him fall? Would the next President then become the 44th President? Would he lose his pension? Could he be prosecuted? for what?

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Trigger happy in Washington

October 4, 2013

Just a “little” story with one death of a 34 year old mother in Washington on a day when over 300 would-be migrants from Africa drowned off the Sicilian coast. Yet I find it more disturbing and I wonder why?

A dental hygienist – with her baby in her car – apparently drove over some lowered security bollards outside the White House  and then panicked as security officers went – it seems  – more than a little berserk in trying to stop her. She had her toddler with her in the car. She was unarmed.

But after a hot pursuit she was shot dead in a fusillade of some 15 shots.

Stamford Advocate: A Stamford woman was shot and killed after trying to ram her car into a White House security barrier and leading police on a high-speed chase past the Capitol with her 18-month-old daughter in tow.

Miriam Carey, 34, of 114 Woodside Green, drove her black Infiniti coupe onto a driveway leading to the White House and over a set of lowered barricades.

When Carey couldn’t get through a second barrier, she spun the car in the opposite direction, flipping a Secret Service officer over the hood of the car as she sped away, said B.J. Campbell, a tourist from Portland, Ore.

A representative of Carey’s family in Brooklyn, N.Y., said the family is still gathering information and was surprised by Thursday’s incident.

The family was expected to issue a statement later Thursday night, said Dennis Jones, a friend of the family.

Carey was a licensed dental hygienist and according to a local law enforcement official, she suffered from mental illness, but had no criminal record.

But this is Washington. Where weighty matters such as government shut-downs and debt crises and wars and drone strikes are decided.

Security services protecting the most important people in the US – and therefore the World – have carte blanche when it comes to protecting their charges. I noted that the politicians were very quick to thank their trigger-happy security staff.

So what is just another death of a “disturbed” but unarmed woman who panicked – even if it happened a little closer to home than the great people in Washington are used to? Just some very minor collateral damage in the Great War on Terror.

What disturbs most – I think – is the indiscriminate application of power and brute force on the one hand and the total helplessness of the victim on the other. She drove over a barricade that had been lowered (and effectively was not there). She seems to have been surrounded by screaming armed security and panicked. Who wouldn’t? Once the security staff got their guns out it was only going to end in one way. She was probably doomed from the moment she drove over the lowered security bollards — and everything that followed was then inevitable. And it is that inevitability of her death the moment she drove onto the wrong driveway that disturbs.

But the President is safe and all the Senators and Representatives are safe. A job well-done?

Is there an element of anti-Snowden PR in the current US security alert?

August 3, 2013

We shall never know of course.

Edward Snowden has revealed the absolutely massive scale on which the NSA gathers information – almost indiscriminately. The UK government and German government agencies are apparently complicit in this dredging of information. But in spite of this the US and its allies were not capable of anticipating events in North Africa and the Middle East. The Arab spring in particular seems to have caught all the Western intelligence agencies napping. The apparent lack of intelligence analysis about Egypt is particularly interesting. The threat to Mubarak – as close an ally of the US as you could get outside of Israel – was not anticipated. The threat of the Muslim Brotherhood was not anticipated. The dethronement of Mursi by the Army was not anticipated. The attack on the US Embassy in Libya – which was not some spontaneous mob action, but a planned attack  – was not anticipated.

The indiscriminate volume of intelligence gathering does not seem to be matched by the analytical capabilities of the intelligence gatherers. But they did find Osama – even if it took ten years. They did find the Boston bombers – very quickly but only after the event. But the intelligence for the drone attacks does not seem – from the number of civilians and children killed – to be very precise.

Post Snowden there is now considerable criticism even within the US about the level of intelligence gathering and leaves Obama and the Democrats looking like the enemies of civil liberties. The “escape” of Snowden and his asylum application in Russia leaves the Democratic administration in Washington looking inept at worst and severely embarrassed at best. After Snowden was granted a years residence in Russia, the White House media response was mere thrashing about. A summit meeting to be held this fall was threatened (does Putin even care?). Even the venue of next G20 meeing planned for St. Petersberg was “questioned” by a blustering White House spokesman.

And now comes this announcement of a Security Alert and an Al Qaida threat (unspecified) in North Africa and the Middle East. Perhaps there is a real threat. If it does not materialise then the NSA can take credit for thwarting the threat (even if it never existed). If some act of terror does materialise during August, the intelligence agencies will pat themselves on the back (but someone else will be blamed for not preventing the event).

BBC: The US state department has issued a global travel alert because of an unspecified al-Qaeda threat.

In a statement, the department said the potential for an attack was particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa. It comes shortly after the US announced nearly two dozen embassies and consulates would be shut on Sunday.

The alert expires on 31 August 2013, the department said. It recommended US citizens travelling abroad be vigilant. “Current information suggests that al-Qaeda and affiliated organisations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August,” the statement said.

Maybe there is a real threat — and maybe there is not. Certainly the track record of the intelligence agencies correctly forecasting events in the Middle East and North Africa is not terribly impressive.

The White House clearly does see an increasing need to justify the scope of its intelligence gathering activities. Obama needs to show his own left wing that he is not a “bad guy”. The Administration also needs to show that Snowden is not a hero and a defender of civil liberties and that he has actually put national security at risk. All these are matters of perception and can be addressed by “spin”.  I just observe that this current Security Alert – whether the threat is real or not – does achieve that – if only partially.

Repression of the bulk of the people, by some of the people for the benefit of others of the people

July 24, 2013

How the political tables do turn.

It seems more than a little ironic – but quite delicious nevertheless – that a Democratic President in the White House is trying to block an amendment by a Republican in the House which aims to restrict the unbridled spying by the Government on the bulk of the people, on the grounds that the amendment is a ” blunt approach” which ” is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process”.  

Business InsiderIn a terse statement late Tuesday evening, the White House blasted the so-called “Amash Amendment” that would limit the National Security Agency’s ability to collect data on personal phone communications, calling the program crucial to national security. 

 “We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation,” Press Secretary Jay Carney said.

The amendment is one of several the House of Representatives will consider to the 2014 Defense Appropriations Bill. It was introduced by Rep. Justin Amash, a libertarian Republican from Michigan, and has earned bipartisan backing from, among others, Reps. John Conyers (D-Mich.) and Jared Polis (D-Colo.). Conyers is a co-sponsor.

The amendment would “end authority for the blanket collection of records under the Patriot Act,” as well as prevent the NSA from using Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect records, “including telephone call records, that pertain to persons who are not subject to an investigation under Section 215.” It is targeted at the first part of revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden in disclosures to The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald.

Tuesday’s statement clearly shows that the White House is worried about it passing. The NSA is also worried — it held a “top secret” meeting with members of Congress to lobby against the amendment. 

Here’s the full statement from Carney:

In light of the recent unauthorized disclosures, the President has said that he welcomes a debate about how best to simultaneously safeguard both our national security and the privacy of our citizens.  The Administration has taken various proactive steps to advance this debate including the President’s meeting with the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, his public statements on the disclosed programs, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence’s release of its own public statements, ODNI General Counsel Bob Litt’s speech at Brookings, and ODNI’s decision to declassify and disclose publicly that the Administration filed an application with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.  We look forward to continuing to discuss these critical issues with the American people and the Congress.

However, we oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our Intelligence Community’s counterterrorism tools.  This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process.  We urge the House to reject the Amash Amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.

It must be a little galling for President Obama that history will probably show a Democratic President as being more “repressive” of citizens than most Republican Presidents. But probably not as galling as having a US citizen who discloses his Administration’s repression of US citizens now receiving sanctuary and seeking asylum in Russia!


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