Sincerely, Ralph Nader – By RALPH NADER July 05, 2015

A collection of letters to the White House.

“I have always preferred the ink-and-paper, written letter method of communicating with elected officials,” writes Ralph Nader, consumer advocate and former presidential candidate, who has been writing letters to American politicians, with some success, for more than 50 years.

But he’s been disappointed with the past two administrations. “Rhetoric by both Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama would have you think that these presidents encourage and support citizens sharing their opinions with their commander in chief,” he writes in a new collection of his correspondences, Return to Sender: Unanswered Letters to the President, 2001-2015. But “once delivered to the White House, my letters could not penetrate the multi-layered White House bubble.” Perhaps, Nader says, if presidents these days didn’t spend so much time raising money, waging unnecessary wars and taking photo ops with sports stars, they might find more time to engage with a concerned citizenry.

Who knows whether Nader’s book of letters, which he hopes will be the first step toward repairing the degraded relationship between U.S. citizens and their elected officials, will catch the president’s attention; but it certainly caught ours. From a missive scolding Bush for being an “out-of-control West Texas sheriff” to a note to Obama from the point of view of an E. coli bacterium, here are some of Politico Magazine‘s favorite Nadergrams.



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White House Finally Stands Up to Google (For a Lousy Reason) – KLINT FINLEY 05.27.15 6:48 PM

The White House is finally standing up to Google, but at perhaps the exact wrong time.


The Department of Justice filed a brief Wednesday recommending that the US Supreme Court reject Google’s appeal in Oracle’s lawsuit against the company over its use of elements of the Java programming language. This doesn’t mean that the Supreme Court won’t hear the case. But the White House’s opposition does cast doubt on whether it will wind up on the docket.

Much has been made of Google’s close ties to the White House. Earlier this year the Wall Street Journal examined Google’s cozy relationship with regulators during the Federal Trade Commission’s antitrust investigation into the company, which was settled in 2012. And advocacy group Consumer Watchdog has been calling foul for years. Both point out that Google spends an enormous amount money on lobbying, outspending competitors and similarly sized companies in other industries, and enjoys extensive access to political leaders.

But while a break with Google on other major issues, such as privacy law, might be a welcome sign of independence, this recommendation may not be in the public’s interest.

Fundamental Building Blocks

Oracle sued Google in 2010 for copying parts of the Java programming language called a “application programming interfaces,” or APIS. You can think of an API as a set of terms and commands that programmers use to tell a computer what to do. Google created its own code for actually executing those commands, but by copying Oracle’s APIs, Google made it easier for developers who already knew Java to write Android apps. Google admitted that it copied the APIs, but claimed that the APIs shouldn’t be subject to copyright, since they’re the fundamental building blocks of new programming languages, operating systems, and other technologies.

A court decision finding that APIs are copyrightable could make it much harder for software companies to create cross-compatible products, such as cloud services that can interact with Amazon’s cloud APIs, or development platforms that don’t require developers to learn an entirely new programming language. It could also embroil countless companies in lawsuits, since a huge number of products, especially open source software, depend on APIs created by other companies or individual developers. For example, UNIX-like operating systems such as Oracle Linux and Oracle Solaris depend on APIs developed originally at AT&T and subsequently by a whole host of outside contributors. The Java programming language was itself inspired by existing programming languages such as C. It’s impossible to predict how future lawsuits over APIs would shake out.

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White House awakes to ‘national crisis’ – By EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE 4/28/15 6:13 AM EDT

Baltimore riots show limits of task force recommendations, deference to local authorities.

Police detain a man after a march to City Hall for Freddie Gray, Saturday, April 25, 2015 in Baltimore. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

For President Barack Obama and Congress, one thing was clear amid the smoke in Baltimore: A task force didn’t solve the problem.

There weren’t a lot of firm recommendations from the 11 people whom Obama appointed after last year’s uproar in Ferguson, Missouri, to give him an interim report on 21st Century Policing last month (No. 1 recommendation: “Law enforcement culture should embrace a guardian mindset to build public trust and legitimacy”). They skipped over body cameras. They skipped over racial bias training.

They did recommend the creation of another task force, this one called the National Crime and Justice Task Force.

Congress managed to do even less.

Since then, Walter Scott was shot five times in the back by a police officer in North Charleston, S.C., and Freddie Gray died from spinal injuries he didn’t have before he was taken into custody by the police in Baltimore, which burst into riots and looting Monday, right in the middle of the day.

With a dozen incidents in a year and a half, all around the country, the frustrations appear to transcend local conditions. And though local officials keep blaming round-the-clock cable news coverage for encouraging the violence, the speed and intensity of the protests in city after city make clear how much deeper than police misconduct these frustrations are — joblessness, hopelessness, racial double standards.

“It’s a state of emergency of tremendous proportions,” said Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League. “The response you’re having is not about the incidents. The response is about lack of faith in the political system to adequately respond to what we’re dealing with here.”

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Report: U.S. officials say Russians hacked White House computer system – by Robert Hackett APRIL 7, 2015, 8:49 PM EDT

White House officials believe hackers who gained access to their computer network may be the same ones who broke into the State Department’s system, CNN reported.

Photograph by Chip Somodevilla — Getty Images

The White House has been hacked and investigators think they know how, according to unnamed officials in a CNN report.

In November, hackers are said to have breached the U.S. State Department’sunclassified email system. A month later, “suspicious cyber activity” was noticed on a White House computer network, Reuters said. Now it appears as though these same hackers used the State Department cyber intrusion—which has been ongoing despite the department’s best efforts to block and wipe it—as a beachhead to gain entry into the White House’s computer systems.

White House deputy national security advisor—and Fortune 40 under 40 alum—Ben Rhodes told Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room” that the White House has separate networks: one classified, one unclassified. Hackers appear only to have breached the unclassified one, CNN reported. As Rhodes told Blitzer:

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Do unions have the oomph to stop Obama’s trade agenda? – By Doug Palmer and Brian Mahoney 3/14/15 8:55 AM EDT

The AFL-CIO’s bold announcement that it would withhold contributions to congressional Democrats in advance of votes on fast-track trade protection authority thrilled labor supporters and annoyed many Democrats.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka is pictured. | Getty

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in an email to labor leaders obtained by POLITICO that the freeze includes events that have already been scheduled. | Getty

But it remains to be seen whether the move will impede the Obama administration’s trade agenda — or merely become the latest illustration of unions’ declining clout.

The AFL-CIO has tried such moves in the past — including during the 1993 fight over the North American Free Trade Agreement — only to be defeated and then resume funding Democrats again. Now, with a wide margin of pro-trade Republicans in the House and fervent lobbying from the White House and groups that support President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, labor is more marginalized on trade policy than it’s been in years, despite its growing influence with the president on other workplace issues.

“They certainly have gotten the attention of people who have relied on union support,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who acknowledged that her fellow Democrats often take labor’s loyalty for granted. “Sometimes Democrats feel the default position is always going to be to support Democrats when it comes to organized labor.”?

Labor groups vigorously oppose fast track, saying it would speed approval of trade deals that lower labor standards and create additional wage stagnation for the middle class. The AFL-CIO also says that past promises in trade deals to enforce labor standards weren’t worth the paper they were printed on, citing a recent Labor Department report documenting labor rights violations in Honduras and a 2014 Government Accountability Office report faulting the monitoring efforts of the U.S. Trade Representative and Labor Department.

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GOP stands in way of Obama gambit for offshore corporate cash – by Ben Piven March 12, 2015 5:00AM ET

President proposes to tax companies’ foreign profits for half-trillion in revenue but faces tough congressional fight

Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at Mar 12, 2015 3.16

Under a plan baked into the White House’s budget for 2016, U.S. corporations would theoretically be forced to pay hundreds of billions in new taxes on money kept abroad.

Levying fees on the $2.1 trillion in funds largely held by shell companiesthrough an accounting trick called deferral, the move, which President Barack Obama announced last month, is aimed at raising cash for desperately needed public works programs and infrastructure improvements. If he is successful, companies would no longer have a legal way of avoiding the 35 percent corporate tax by indefinitely investing funds outside the U.S.

But analysts say it’s unlikely such a tax haven windfall will materialize, because it depends on being included in budget legislation drafted and passed by a Republican-controlled Congress. In that sense, the proposal — part of a larger fiscal document outlining where the White House stands on important questions — is seen as a starting gambit in tax reform negotiations.

Republican politicians have vowed to scupper the plans when they come before Congress, where the GOP has a four-seat majority in the Senate and overwhelming control of the House after midterm elections last year from which they emerged victorious and emboldened.

“For six years the president has pursued higher taxes and higher spending, and our economy has paid the price. This budget is simply more of the same,” said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis.

Yet behind such a stance lie powerful business interests that have long stored cash offshore rather than paying U.S. taxes. Representing hundreds of multinational companies, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Business Roundtable successfully defended against more modest tax reforms in Obama’s first term.

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White House Proposes First-Ever Rules For Oil Drilling In The Arctic – by Emily Atkin Posted on February 21, 2015 at 12:55 pm

The Obama administration has proposed the first-ever safety regulations for drilling in the U.S. portion of the Arctic Ocean, where big oil companies have long been hoping to lay their claim.



The proposed rule, which is preliminary and is expected to take at least a year to reach its final version, would for the first time impose specific requirements on oil companies that want to take the plunge into the Arctic’s icy waters. Among those are requirements for companies to have contingency plans for mishaps — companies must be able to “promptly deploy” emergency containment equipment to deal with a spill, and must build a second rig close to their initial operations so a relief well could be drilled in the event of a blowout, among other things.

Only exploratory drilling is covered by the rule, not large-scale production, which is not expected to be approved for another few years. Thirteen percent of the world’s undiscovered oil reserves and 30 percent of its undiscovered gas — up to 160 billion barrels of oil — are thought to be held in the Arctic.

On the one hand, environmentalists are glad that some kind of safety rule has been proposed, but on the other, they are queasy about the prospect of drilling in one of the most environmentally sensitive and isolated areas of the world. One of the loudest criticisms of Arctic drilling is that oil spills there would be notoriously hard to clean — weather conditions are frigid and often unpredictable. In a 2011 report, Canada’s National Energy Board found that even during the warm season, cleanup conditions are not possible about 20 percent of the time in June, 40 percent of the time in August and 65 percent of the time in October.

Most environmental groups point to Royal Dutch Shell’s disastrous attempt to drill in the Arctic in 2012 as reason for their concern. While the company was towing its Kulluk oil rig out into Dutch Harbor via ship, a harsh winter storm hit and the ship lost control of the rig. The rig, along with 150,000 gallons of fuel and drilling fluid, then washed up on an island along one of Alaska’s pristine coastlines.

Climate change is also often cited as a problem. Though the warming oceans and atmosphere is gradually making it easier for ships to foray into Arctic waters, drilling there has been shown pose further risks to the climate, via the continued burning of fossil fuels and released of black carbon and methane from the drilling process itself.

“There is no proven way to respond to a spill in icy Arctic waters and, as Shell unfortunately demonstrated, companies simply are not ready for the Arctic Ocean,” Susan Murray, Ocean’s deputy vice president for the Pacific, told the Guardian. “Until and unless companies can operate safely and without harming the Arctic Ocean ecosystem, the government has no business allowing them into the region.”

Still, the U.S. government has allowed at least three companies into the region, one of which is Shell. Despite its mishap in 2012, the company still has its initial permits from the U.S Department of Interior, which in 2011 gave it permission to drill four shallow-water wells there. Though it is facing lawsuits over those permits, Shell still hopes to begin drilling by this summer, long before the rules are expected to be finalized.

Statoil and ConocoPhillips also own leases in the U.S. Arctic, but neither have released plans to drill there in the immediate future. No company is currently drilling there.

Obama defends immigration plan after legal setback – BBC News 17 February 2015 Last updated at 18:03 ET

President Barack Obama has hit back at a ruling in Texas that brought to a halt his controversial migrant plan.

Honduran boy in shelter

Many Hondurans make the journey north through Mexico

A federal judge sided with 26 US states, ruling against the president’s attempt to spare up to five million undocumented people from deportation.

The first stage was due to start on Wednesday, so the process is on hold with legal battles ahead.

But the president said he was confident the issue would be resolved in the White House’s favour.

“With respect to the ruling … I disagree with it,” Mr Obama told reporters in the Oval Office.

“I think the law is on our side and history is on our side.”

White House officials say they are are “on very strong legal footing” and could seek an emergency stay of the decision within days.

The Justice Department is also going to appeal but until then, the administration has suspended its plans to give undocumented migrants the chance to apply for legal status.

About 270,000 undocumented immigrants who came to the US as children and have lived in the US since 2010 were hours away from being eligible to apply.

Shelters in Mexico help migrants heading to the US

Shelters in Mexico help migrants heading to the US

Analysis: Thomas Sparrow, BBC Mundo, Washington

Far from the political debate that has dominated immigration, Monday’s ruling has the potential to affect millions of undocumented immigrants across the country.

About 270,000 undocumented immigrants will be immediately affected. And the halt may also increase the fear many Hispanics around the country feel about releasing their personal information for a programme that is limited in scope, temporary in nature and could be reversed by decisions like the one on Monday.

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How Rand Paul trolls his rivals – By KATIE GLUECK 2/5/15 5:36 AM EST

Behind the Republican’s effort to be the first true Twitter candidate for the White House.““““`

U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., holds his phone while speaking before the Berkeley Forum, Wednesday, March 19, 2014, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)

Rand Paul has the most aggressive feed of the 2016 field, an account that emits a steady stream of snark, rapid response and gimmicks. A recent sampling: He’s suggested Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are conspiring, charged that Marco Rubio wants to “build a moat” around Cuba and joked that Bush and Mitt Romney have exchanged friendship and charm bracelets.

Paul doesn’t write the tweets himself: Roughly a half-dozen staffers have access to the account, and they post without getting sign-off from the the senator, according to Doug Stafford, Paul’s senior political adviser. But he is deeply involved with his Twitter feed, driven by the sense that he wants to be a different kind of Republican candidate who reaches out to new constituencies — and he sees social media as key part of that engagement.

It’s all part of a broader strategy to run a tech-savvy, “crowd-sourced” presidential campaign, where online communication is the first messaging priority and edginess is essential to cut through the clutter.

Paul frequently fires off emails to his staff with concepts for tweets and social media pushes, and sometimes offers specifics.

“He and this organization will continue to be engaging, continue to be creative, continue to use digital almost as a first place of communication, because that’s the world we live in,” said Vincent Harris, the chief digital strategist of RANDPAC, Paul’s political arm. The senator “himself believes that content online needs to be unique, needs to be delivered not in long, paragraph form, but in pithy, visual memes and images and games. And if you look at the type of content the senator’s organization has been pushing out over the last two months, you see that’s reflected.”

Paul leads most of his Republican rivals in Twitter followers, with the exception of Sen. Marco Rubio, who started tweeting two years before Paul did. But Paul is the most prolific, delivering daily, sometimes hourly missives. So far this year, he has posted around 250 tweets (including retweets), eclipsing New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Ted Cruz Cruz (around 200 each) as well as Bush and Sen. Marco Rubio (about 40 tweets each). By that same measure, Hillary Clinton has tweeted only eight times this year — but she has close to 3 million followers, trouncing all of the Republicans.

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Obama’s tech team hopes to make this the most interactive State of the Union ever – Updated by Timothy B. Lee on January 19, 2015, 8:00 p.m. ET

The State of the Union address is a spectacle designed primarily for television. But this year, the Obama administration is hoping to use the web to enhance the experience of watching the speech.

Pool/Getty Images

The president’s tech team has been hard at work on a revamped State of the Union page on the White House website. As in previous years, it will offer a livestream of the speech and display supporting information. But this year, the information will be more personalized and interactive.

If you visit the White House’s State of the Union page tomorrow evening, you’ll see a live, streaming video of the president’s speech at the top. Below that will be a grid of shareable boxes that display information about the speech. Right now, those boxes look like this:

Tomorrow, this section of the page will be different in two important ways.

First, the grid won’t be static. As the president talks, the White House will post new boxes explaining and supporting the president’s proposals. They’ll pop up automatically in the upper-left of the grid, with older boxes sliding down to make room — an approach the White House calls a river. The White House expects to present more than 100 boxes during Tuesday’s speech.

Second, some of the boxes will be interactive.

“You’ll be able to see state-by-state or demographic data points in real-time,” Nathaniel Lubin, acting director of the White House’s Office of Digital Strategy, wrote by email. “You’ll be able to answer questions and respond to prompts, share feedback, discover related material, and see and share social media content.”

For example, when the president discusses his proposal for mandatory paid sick leave, there could be a box where a site visitor can choose his or her own state to see how many people in that state are lacking coverage.

Lubin says the Obama tech team has been working to make the site useful to users on a wide variety of devices. It’s designed to work well on mobile phones as well as PCs. And for visitors who prefer to watch the speech on their TV, there will be a “second screen” mode that disables the video stream but still presents the river of interactive content related to the president’s comments.

The Obama administration has embraced the web — and sites like Twitter, YouTube, and Flickr — as a way to bring its message directly to Americans. For example, the president posts a weekly video address on Saturdays that visitors can view on the White House website. The revamped State of the Union website is the latest component of that public outreach strategy, allowing the president to present his arguments to the public without having them filtered by conventional news organizations.