- Anger in Costa Rica Over Deal to ‘Invite’ 46 US Warships
- Backlash Grows vs. Full-Body Scanners
- Fed Gets More Power, Responsibility
- Hundreds of Contractor Deaths in Afghanistan Unreported
Posted: 17 Jul 2010 03:34 PM PDT
Opposition leaders in Costa Rica are up in arms over an agreement between the country and the United States that reportedly allows 46 US warships and 7,000 US Marines to enter the country as part of an anti-drug effort.
According to several Costa Rican news sources, the government there signed an agreement with the US last week to extend an 11-year-old cooperative program aimed at eradicating the maritime drug trade.
But opponents say this year’s deal differs from previous ones in that it allows US warships to enter the country. Previously, opponents say, only US Coast Guard vessels were allowed to enter Costa Rican territory. The new agreement expires on December 31 of this year.
A committee of the People’s Movement political party said the deal turns Costa Rica into a “US protectorate” and brings the country into “a new phase of military occupation,” according to the Costa Rican newspaper El Pais.
Costa Rica’s Nacion newspaper reported last week that the new agreement will see 7,000 US Marines, supported by 200 helicopters and 46 warships, “enter and leave the country at will.” The paper also cited a June 2 letter from Costa Rica to the US declaring that US troops will have “the right to carry out the activities it deems necessary in carrying out its mission.”
Inside Costa Rica reports that opposition leaders see the US military force as disproportionately large compared to the problem of Central American drug-running.
Luis Fishman, head of the Christian Social Unity Party, said the deal amounts to a “blank check” for US forces in Costa Rica. “We cannot support the illegal; we cannot allow our Constitution to be trampled,” he said, as quoted by ICR.
Writing at Inside Costa Rica, John Holtz says the fact that the deal allows such a large US troop presence, allows warships rather than Coast Guard vehicles, and expires rapidly at the end of this year, has made many Costa Ricans suspicious of the US and Costa Rican governments’ motives.
“This story is not going away and for sure the pro–con arguments will grow exponentially as will the theories and hidden agenda accusations. A military presence of this magnitude on foreign soil with what amounts to be a ‘blank check’ is serious stuff and fodder for speculation,” he writes.
The US State Department says the US-Costa Rica Maritime Cooperation Agreement, first signed in 1999, “facilitates cooperation between the Coast Guard of Costa Rica and the US Coast Guard.”
It says the program “has resulted in a growing number of narcotics seizures, illegal migrant rescues, illegal fishing seizures, and search-and-rescue missions.”
Posted: 17 Jul 2010 11:04 AM PDT
From USA Today
Opposition to new full-body imaging machines to screen passengers and the government’s deployment of them at most major airports is growing.
Many frequent fliers complain they’re time-consuming or invade their privacy. The world’s airlines say they shouldn’t be used for primary security screening. And questions are being raised about possible effects on passengers’ health.
“The system takes three to five times as long as walking through a metal detector,” says Phil Bush of Atlanta, one of many fliers on USA TODAY’s Road Warriors panel who oppose the machines. “This looks to be yet another disaster waiting to happen.”
The machines — dubbed by some fliers as virtual strip searches — were installed at many airports in March after a Christmas Day airline bombing attempt. The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has spent more than $80 million for about 500 machines, including 133 now at airports. It plans to install about 1,000 by the end of next year.
The machines are running into complaints and questions here and overseas:
•The International Air Transport Association, which represents 250 of the world’s airlines, including major U.S. carriers, says the TSA lacks “a strategy and a vision” of how the machines fit into a comprehensive checkpoint security plan. “The TSA is putting the cart before the horse,” association spokesman Steve Lott says.
•Security officials in Dubai said this month they wouldn’t use the machines because they violate “personal privacy,” and information about their “side effects” on health isn’t known.
•Last month, the European Commission said in a report that “a rigorous scientific assessment” of potential health risks is needed before machines are deployed there. It also said screening methods besides the new machines should be used on pregnant women, babies, children and people with disabilities.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office said in October that the TSA was deploying the machines without fully testing them and assessing whether they could detect “threat items” concealed on various parts of the body. And in March, the office said it “remains unclear” whether they would have detected the explosives that police allege Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate on a jet bound for Detroit on Christmas.
TSA spokeswoman Kristin Lee says the agency completed testing at the end of last year and is “highly confident” in the machines’ detection capability. She also says their use hasn’t slowed screening at airports and that the agency has taken steps to ensure privacy and safety.
The TSA is deploying two types of machines that can see underneath clothing. One uses a high-speed X-ray beam, and the other bounces electromagnetic waves off a passenger’s body.
Passengers can refuse screening by the machines and receive a pat-down search by a security officer, screening by a metal detector, or both, the TSA says.
Posted: 17 Jul 2010 08:23 AM PDT
After fending off most challenges to its independence and winning new powers to oversee big financial firms, the Federal Reserve has emerged from a bruising debate on the overhaul of U.S. financial rules as perhaps the pre-eminent regulator in the sector. But that could only bring it added blame if things go wrong again.
With financial reform clearing Congress, the Fed has emerged as perhaps the pre-eminent financial regulator, but that could only bring it added blame if things go wrong again. Jon Hilsenrath, Evan Newmark and Kelly Evans discuss. Also, Jennifer Valentino-DeVries discusses Apple’s options ahead of its anticipated press conference on the troubled iPhone-4.
Just a few months ago, amid populist anger at the Fed for failing to prevent the financial crisis of 2008 and bailing out Wall Street, Congress was talking of stripping the central bank of its supervisory oversight of banks or forcing it to submit to congressional audit of its interest-rate decisions.
Instead, the new law gives the Fed more power and a better tool box to help prevent financial crises. It will become the primary regulator for large, complex financial firms of all kinds, such as American International Group, the insurer which built a massive derivatives portfolio that regulators didn’t see until it was too late.
Congress approved a sweeping rewrite of rules that touch every corner of finance in the biggest expansion of government power over banking and markets since the Great Depression. David Wessel, David Reilly and Al Lewis discuss the likely impact of Dodd-Frank.
This isn’t the first time Congress has expanded the Fed’s role. After the Great Depression, it passed the Employment Act in 1946, charging the Fed with averting the huge unemployment seen in the 1930s. After the double-digit inflation of the 1970s, the Fed was formally given a dual mandate of promoting both price stability and maximum sustainable employment. In the wake of the latest financial crisis, the Fed is effectively being told to add the maintenance of financial stability to its responsibilities.
The risks, however, are that the Fed still won’t be able to prevent another crisis, and that it will be an even clearer target for blame if that occurs. “The bill has good intentions, but I’m worried about its implementation. If I were the Fed, I’d be seriously worried about being left holding the bag,” said Anil Kashyap, a professor at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business.
The Fed, of course, still shares responsibility for overseeing the financial system with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the Securities and Exchange Commission and other agencies with which it sits on the new Financial Stability Council. And in a change, the new law requires the Fed to get the Treasury’s go-ahead before using its extraordinary authority to lend to almost anyone, and limits loans to sectors of the economy rather than individual firms, such as Bear Stearns or AIG.
But the Fed’s role is in most respects expanded by the legislation. The central bank will decide whether the council should vote on breaking up big companies if they threaten the stability of the entire financial system. It also will be able to force big financial companies—not just firms legally organized as banks—to boost their capital and liquidity. It will have the power to scrutinize the largest hedge funds.
All this could suck the Fed into political controversies. A decision to break up a big bank because of its size likely would subject the Fed to conflicting pressures from lobbyists and politicians. “It could give a lot of people reason to interfere,” says Thomas Cooley, professor at the New York University Stern School of Business.
The Fed’s role in the rescue of AIG and Bear Stearns, and its acquiescence in letting Lehman Brothers fail, led the public to question the Fed’s powers and prompted Congress to consider curtailing its powers. One threat came from legislation sponsored by long-time Fed critic Ron Paul (R., Texas), author of the best-selling book “End the Fed,” who sought to expand the authority of the congressional Government Accountability Office to audit the Fed. The new law expands the GAO’s auditing authority but avoids nearly all provisions that alarmed the Fed.
In the end, the Fed’s emergency lending during the 2008 crisis will face a one-time audit to be published by Dec. 2010 and it will be required—with a two-year lag—to reveal which banks borrow from its discount window. With lobbying from several presidents of the 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, the Fed also fought off proposals to remove it from supervision of the large number of smaller banks.
“Basically, they ended up winning almost on everything that counts,” says Laurence Meyer, a former Fed board governor now with economic consulting firm Macroeconomic Advisers LLC.
The Fed will surrender its responsibilities for consumer-finance regulation —never central to its mission or to its chairmen—which will be shifted to a new independent agency. It will be housed and financed by the Fed, but the central bank won’t have any authority over it.
In a sign of the greater importance assigned to financial stability, the Federal Reserve Board will get a second vice chair position, this one responsible for supervision, to be chosen by the White House. One likely contender is Daniel K. Tarullo, a Georgetown University law professor who was President Barack Obama’s first appointee to the Fed board and is the point person on bank regulation. He already has been pulling control of bank supervision to Washington from the New York and other regional Fed banks, which oversees the big Wall Street firms.
Congress also gave the Fed responsibility for setting the fees merchants must pay banks when customers use their debit cards, another political hot potato. The Fed will have nine months to collect data and decide on a ceiling for such fees that must be “reasonable and proportional to the cost of processing those transactions.” During this time, there’s certain to be a lobbying war pitting retailers and banks. The Fed faces criticism from consumer groups if it sets the fee threshold too high or anger from banks if the level is set too.
Posted: 16 Jul 2010 09:56 PM PDT
Hopefully this doesn’t shock anyone who regularly reads this blog.
A recent report by the US Congress has found that private security contractors in Afghanistan are dying at 4.5 times the rate that US soldiers are in the nation. The report also found that the contractors’ deaths go virtually unreported internationally.
While most of the contractors are said to have been killed guarding convoys, though the exact details are largely unknown, and the deaths are scarcely investigated.
The number of security contractors has also risen precipitously, from 2,401 in September 2007 to 3,184 in December 2008. Since President Obama took office the number as increased more than fourfold, with 13,214 contractors now operating under the Department of Defense.
Despite the fact that there are nearly 100,000 US troops in Afghanistan, the death toll from the much smaller pool of contractors is actually not far from the same. 260 were killed from June 2009 through April 2010. There is no reliable data available since then.