Saturday, August 03, 2013

A planned distraction







Today that State Dept Tweeted:

  1. is issuing immigrant visas to same-sex couples. Answers to FAQs is available at .
  2. MT : "We are tearing down the unjust & unfair barrier that stood in the way of same-sex families traveling"

Good for the State Dept and good for John Kerry.  That said, the above does not erase The Drone War, the illegal war on Libya and assorted other actions of the US government in the last few years.  Nor does it erase Kerry's problem with regards to taking his oral promises regarding women's rights and failing to follow them (see Ava's "Secretary Kerry doesn't really support women's rights").  I know John Kerry, I like him (I like Tereasa as well and have strong admiration for her).  In 2003, there was no question that John would get my support and I have no regrets for that.  I also happen to agree 100% with what Ava wrote.

My point here is that there are contradictions.  The US government can take needed actions.  It can also do highly destructive things (actions which destroy lives).  NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden is in Russia and that's supposed to be suspect -- especially now that he has temporary asylum -- and supposed to discredit him in some way.

On Democracy Now! today (link is text, video and audio), Amy Goodman spoke with US House Reps John Conyers and Thomas Massie regarding the ongoing spying and the disclosures of the spying that whistle-blower Ed Snowden made.  Excerpt.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Massie, what are your thoughts about Russia granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who really started this ball rolling by revealing what—what the intelligence officials of this country, from Keith Alexander to James Clapper, have long denied, but now admitted they weren’t telling the truth about, that the U.S. is spying on American citizens?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: Well, clearly his disclosures have changed the course of human history, really. And I think his initial disclosures were a service to our country, because now we’re having this conversation. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I can’t speak for Mr. Snowden’s actions now. He’s basically a person looking out for his own life at this point. But what he did initially was a service to our country. We need to facilitate a way for whistleblowers to do that in a better fashion. And I don’t think our current whistleblower laws would have provided for him to do what he’s done in a better fashion, so I’d like to see some reform there, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Russia was right to grant him temporary asylum?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I’m not going to comment on what Russia should have done with Mr. Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: But do you feel that Mr. Snowden did the right thing?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I think initially he did. And now, it would be hard for me to fault his actions at this point. He’s a person who fears for his life, and so, you know, he’s doing what he can, I think, to stay alive at this point.

Those were some strong statements that Massie made -- and good for him for making them at a time when too many in Congress are either silent or else attacking Ed.  He's right that Ed's choices are limited at this point.

But the point I want to make, as elements of the US press repeatedly attempt to churn up outrage, is that the Russian government's record does not make Russia evil.  Whatever country you live in, hopefully you're able to turn your head from one side to the other and see people you are glad to know.  People are not their governments.  Governments frequently lie to the people, mislead them, ignore them.  That's true in the US, that's true in Russia, it's true pretty much everywhere.

The Russian government's actions?  In some ways, the government of Russia is worse than the US.  If you look at the domestic actions of both, Russia's efforts at censorship and targeting its LGBT community are appalling.  But over one million Iraqis have not died in the last ten years as a result of the Russian government.  The State Dept does an annual report and its honest if you think it's fair for the US government to finger point at other countries while failing to examine itself in the same way.

Russia's a wonderful country with many wonderful people.  The government is flawed (as are all governments) and has some outrageous and criminal behaviors -- as does the US government.  Ed Snowden's options are limited -- as a direct result of shameful actions on the part of the US government.  He did not intend to stay in Russia, it was to be a stop on the way to somewhere else.  He now has a one year, temporary asylum.  His taking that fortunate offer does not make him suspect.

Amnesty International made this point very strongly (far better than I have above) in a statement yesterday:

Russia's decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum is a positive development and should allow governments and civil society to focus on the sweeping nature and unlawfulness of the US government’s surveillance programmes.
“The drama of the five weeks since Snowden’s arrival in Russia has distracted attention from the key issue: how the ever-burgeoning security apparatus in the US has used secret courts to undertake massive, sweeping and systematic invasions into the right to privacy of people living in the USA,”said Widney Brown, senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
“Let’s not lose sight of why Snowden was forced to seek asylum in Russia.  Once he disclosed the full scope of the US government’s actions, they cancelled his passport and called him a criminal.
“Freedom of expression – a fundamental human right – protects speech that reveals credible evidence of unlawful government action. Under both international law and the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, the US government’s actions are unlawful.”
With regard to Snowden’s temporary asylum status, the organization is concerned that he has been told that he should not disclose any further information that could harm the USA.
“Everybody has the right to seek asylum. That right can’t be contingent on a promise not to speak out or disclose information on a matter of public concern,” said Widney Brown.
“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure that his rights are respected. He should be allowed to travel freely, including outside of Russia, if he wishes.”
“The US government has been more intent on persecuting Edward Snowden than in addressing or even owning up to its flagrant breaches of international law. It is time that the USA desists from its deplorable attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s efforts to seek asylum now or in the future.”

Prensa Latina reports on Snowden's attorney Anatoli Kucherena, "Although at first moment Kucherena announced that Snowden would stay in this country and could apply for temporary residence and then citizenship, he now admits that his client will decide that in the future. He himself will announce it, he said."  With the knowledge that Ed is (at least) temporarily safe, that he has found a place to live, and that he has at least one job offer,  let's turn to his revelations and the US government's response.

Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting.  At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work.  Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora.  US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."  Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about.  That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans."  The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported,  was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe."  The spin included statements from Barack himself.   Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move."  Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about."  Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights."  Former US President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial." 
Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson explains, "Intelligence officials in the Obama administration and their allies on Capitol Hill paint the fugitive analyst as nothing but a traitor who wants to harm the United States. Many of those same officials grudgingly acknowledge, however, that public debate about the NSA’s domestic snooping is now unavoidable."

The more Barack attempted to defend the spying, the more ridiculous he came off.  Mike Masnick (TechDirt) reviewed Barack's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show and observed of the 'explanations' offered, "None of that actually explains why this program is necessary. If there's a phone number that the NSA or the FBI gets that is of interest, then they should be able to get a warrant or a court order and request information on that number from the telcos. None of that means they should be able to hoover up everything."  As US House Rep John Conyers noted, "But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else.  You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned."  Barack couldn't deal with that reality but did insist, in the middle of June, that this was an opportunity for "a national conversation."  He's always calling for that because, when it doesn't happen, he can blame the nation.  It's so much easier to call for "a national conversation" than for he himself to get honest with the American people. And if Barack really believes this has kicked off "a national conversation" then demonizing Ed Snowden is a really strange way to say "thank you."

The revelations continue.  Wednesday, Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) reported:

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

Amy Goodman covered the report:


AMY GOODMAN:  On Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper revealed details about another secret NSA program called XKeyscore, based on leaked documents provided by Snowden. XKeyscore allows analysts to search, with no prior authorization, through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals. According to a slide presentation provided to The Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden, XKeyscore gives NSA analysts real-time access to, quote, "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet." In its own training materials, the NSA calls XKeyscore its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the Internet. While the program is supposed to target overseas Internet users, The Guardian reports XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even Americans for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant. Edward Snowden first hinted at the program during an interview with The Guardian in June.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.
AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian published its exposé on Wednesday morning just minutes before the Senate Intelligence Committee opened an oversight hearing on the NSA’s surveillance programs.

The XKeyscore was discussed on today's first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- link is audio and transcript):

CBS News and Slate's John Dickerson:   The president said he welcomes a conversation. He doesn't welcome a conversation. But this is the conversation that's now taking place. And then the other big development was a new set of documents that were released about another program... 

Diane Rehm:  Called the XKeyscore.

John Dickerson: XKeyscore. And that is a basic scraping of the Internet for overseas or so, the administration claims, that basically captures people's conversations, email, basically everything that you can do online. 

Wall St. Journal's Jerry Seib:  I think what you got a sense of at that Senate hearing and then in the aftermath of it was a feeling that's -- which is a bipartisan feeling, to some extent at least, that the NSA took a program that Congress actually wanted to happen and legally authorize it. It wrote the law that allows the program to happen but then stretched it out of proportion to what the lawmakers intended. And there is now some pushback developing, which is -- but it's difficult because most people in Congress, and this is also bipartisan, actually want the program to continue. They just think the fencing around it ought to be a little sturdier, and that, I think, is something that you're gonna hear discussed. I don't think anybody wants to eliminate it. I think they wanna bring it more under control.  

If Seib's speaking of the ridiculous Senate Judiciary Comittee and it's cowardly members, he's correct, they don't want to eliminate it.  They don't want to protect the Constitution.  As Trina observed early this morning:

It's a good column [Dave Lindorff's]  but what it actually reminded me of was the Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that C.I. reported on "Iraq snapshot," Wally's "THIS JUST IN! RUSS FEINGOLD WHERE ARE YOU NOW!" and Cedric's "Punchline: US Senate,Ava's ""Blumenthal disappoints (Ava)," Wally's ""Leahy and Feinstein are disgraces," Ann's ""The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing" and Kat's "The Constitution has been shredded."  Read their reports. The Committee didn't want to address how outrageous it was that spying was going on, they wanted to put a few limits on the spying so it could continue.  It was disgusting.

But they are not the only members of Congress and Seib should damn well know that the Amash - Conyers amendment came very close to passing last week -- an amendment that would have indeed ended it.  Diane would do her listeners a world of good if she'd pay attention to what her guests say and correct them.

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Friday, August 02, 2013

Where are the jobs?





Today is a new day and, in fact, the first day of August.  Now that July is over, death tolls are being released for the month's violence in Iraq.  Iraq Body Count is missing Thursday the 31st but for the other 30 days, they note their total is 968  AFP offers 875  -- Prashant Rao is not in Iraq currently.  When he's in Iraq, the spreadsheet is done regularly.  The fact that he's been out of Iraq may account for the huge undercount.  Yesterday, Iraq's government ministries released their total:  989.  This morning,  the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq issued their totals for violent deaths and the number of people left injured in July:

Baghdad, 1 August 2013 – According to casualty figures released today by UNAMI, a total of 1,057 Iraqis were killed and another 2,326 were wounded in acts of terrorism and violence in July.

The number of civilians killed was 928 (including 204 civilian police), while the number of civilians injured was 2,109 (including 338 civilian police). A further 129 members of the Iraqi Security Forces were killed and 217 were injured. 

“The impact of violence on civilians remains disturbingly high, with at least 4,137 civilians killed and 9,865 injured since the beginning of 2013,” the Acting Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Gyorgy Busztin, warned. “We haven’t seen such numbers in more than five years, when the blind rage of sectarian strife that inflicted such deep wounds upon this country was finally abating. I reiterate my urgent call on Iraq’s political leaders to take immediate and decisive action to stop the senseless bloodshed, and to prevent these dark days from returning.”

Baghdad was the worst-affected governorate in July with 957 civilian casualties (238 killed and 719 injured), followed by Salahuddin, Ninewa, Diyala, Kirkuk and Anbar (triple-digit figures).

Babil, Wasit and Basra also reported casualties (double-digit figures).

Since UNAMI began publicly releasing their monthly tolls, this is the quickest they've done so and they accomplished that under the leadership of  Gyorgy Busztin who is serving as the acting UN Secretary-General's Special Representative in Iraq.  In terms of the numbers, many outlets are announcing a Hawija moment, such as Yang Yi (Xinhua), "However, April 23 was a turning point in the Sunnis' protests when security forces backed by helicopters stormed a rally in the city of Hawijah, some 220 km north of Baghdad, killing and wounding dozens of protesters."  The April 23rd massacre of a sit-in in Hawija resulted from  Nouri's federal forces storming in.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.   AFP reported the death toll eventually (as some wounded died) rose to 53 dead.   UNICEF noted that the dead included 8 children (twelve more were injured).

The massacre in Hawija was a major event and many outlets and observers have pointed to it as some form of a turning point.  Though it surely hardened resolve against Nouri -- as all governmental  slaughters against innocents hardened opinions against leaders -- the reality is the violence was already on the rise in Iraq.  We'd been noting the increase throughout 2012 and throughout 2013 prior to the April 23rd massacre.  Iraq analyst Kenneth J. Pollack (a centrist) pointed out this week:

2012 saw a 10 percent increase in Iraqi deaths (from 4,100 in 2011 to nearly 4,600 in 2012), the first annual increase since 2006. 3 This year is s haping up to be even worse. Iraq could experience as much as a 100 percent increase in violent deaths over 2012, with roughly 3,000 killed in the first six months of 2013 already -- roughly 1,000 in May alone -- according to the United Nations.

Again, I don't doubt that the massacre on the innocents of Hawija hardened resolve but violence was already increasing before Nouri used his US-trained SWAT forces to attack the people.  This point has been bungled by many (including Thomas E. Ricks).  Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) probably puts it better than anyone in the press when observing today, "The killings significantly picked up after Iraqi security forces launched a heavy-handed crackdown on a Sunni protest camp in the northern town of Hawija on April 23. A ferocious backlash followed the raid, with deadly bomb attacks and sporadic gunbattles between insurgents and soldiers -- this time members of the Iraqi security forces rather than U.S. troops."  Reporter Jane Arraf is a longtime observer of Iraq so when she offers an analysis, it's worth considering her judgments.  Today she offers one for the Christian Science Monitor which includes:

Despite the Iraqi government’s attempt to combat a record wave of bombings, the attacks across central and southern Iraq are paralyzing the country, leaving many Iraqis to suffer through a long hot summer with neither public services nor security.
But seven years after an Al Qaeda bombing of a Shiite shrine touched off a civil war, attacks aimed at reigniting a sectarian battle have failed to provoke wider conflict. Although the country continues to reel from the explosions, enough has changed since 2006 that even continued attacks are unlikely to bring Iraq back to the brink of war, officials and many analysts say.

It's really difficult to ascertain what she's saying -- other than she thinks Iraq is not going to move into civil war.  The analysis would have benefited from another page.  Her argument needs more room.

It's especially needs more room since it's contrary to the US government's take -- a take that is neither discussed nor mentioned in passing the column.

Dropping back to the July 23rd snapshot:

"Iraq is now back in a civil war, US officials tell NBC," Richard Engel announced this morning.  And that's not surprising except for the fact that if US officials believe Iraq is "back in a civil war," you'd think they'd be addressing that and asked about it in press briefings.  Engel reported that fact on this morning's Today show.  Hours later at the White House press briefing, no one bothered to raise the issue and, even later, at the State Dept press briefing no one raised the issue.

The same evening, on Nightly News with Brian Williams, Richard Engel reported on Iraq.

Richard Engel: Iraq is back in a civil war -- bad for Iraqis.  More than 600 killed just this month in bombings and Sunni versus Shi'ite vengeance.  And bad for Americans -- after all nearly 4,500 US troops died to bring stability to this strategic, oil rich country A trillion dollars was spent, hundreds of thousands of American troops were deployed and deployed again.  But now Iraq is tearing itself apart again.  al Qaeda in Iraq won a big victory this weekend, perhaps enough to reconstitute itself.  They staged a major prison break, a major assault on Iraq's notorious Abu Ghraib Prison.  Hundreds of militants were freed from their cells.  Iraqi officials today said at least 250.  al Qaeda in Iraq puts the number even higher at 500.  Militants stormed the prison, car bombs blasting open the gates, as suicide bombers rushed in and reinforcements fought off guards with mortars and assault rifles.  Nothing good seems to come from Abu Ghraib.  It was Saddam Hussein's dungeon.  After his fall, it held US detainees and became infamous for graphic images of prisoner abuse and humiliation.  And now a prison break releasing militants who will likely target the Iraqi government but who also have years of training fighting American troops. Richard Engel, NBC News.

The US government saying Iraq is in a civil war does not make it so.  (For the record, I happen to agree with the assessment.)  But if Jane Arraf is going to argue a counterpoint a week after the US government's position is known, the column would be stronger if she would acknowledge that.   To provide a counter-argument to that position would be even better but even acknowledging the position would have improved her analysis.  (And her analysis may be 100% correct or a majority correct.  I have no idea.  But I do agree with the assessment of the US government -- and not because "IT'S THE US GOVERNMENT!" -- the US government is often wrong.  But the violence has been on the increase and I'm not a Nouri apologist.  Jane Arraf frequently is.)

Earlier, we were noting Kenneth Pollack on the violence for the last two years.  Pollack made his points earlier this week, when the Brookings Institute released his analysis entitled (PDF format warning) "The Fall and Rise and Fall of Iraq."   Excerpt.

The problems reemerged after Iraq’s 2010 national elections. Ayad Allawi’s mostly - Sunni Iraqiyya garnered slightly more votes than Maliki’s overwhelmingly Shi’a State of Law coalition. But Maliki refused to believe that he had lost, and refused to allow Allawi to take the first shot at forming a government. He pressured Iraq’s high court to rule that he could get the first chance to form a government.
Rather than insist that Allawi be given the first chance, as is customary in most democracies and was clearly what was best for Iraqi democracy, the United States (and the United Nations) did nothing. Ten months of bickering, backstabbing and political deadlock followed. In the end, the Iranians forced Muqtada as - Sadr to back Maliki, uniting the Shi’a behind him. At that point, the Kurds fell into place, believing that the prime minister had to be a Shi’a, and Iraqiyya’s goose was cooked. But so too was Iraqi democracy.
The message that it sent to Iraq’s people and politicians alike was that the United States under the new Obama Administration was no longer going to enforce the rules of the democratic road. We were not going to insist that the will of the people win out. We were willing to step aside and allow Iraq’s bad, old political culture of pay - offs, log - rolling, threats and violence to re - emerge to determine who would rule the country -- the same political culture that the U.S. had worked so hard to bury.
It undermined the reform of Iraqi politics and resurrected the specter of the failed state and the civil war. Having backed Maliki for prime minister if only to end the embarrassing political stalemate, the Administration compounded its mistake by lashing itself uncritically to his government. Whether out of fear of being criticized for allowing him to remain in office in the first place, or sheer lack of interest and a desire to do what required the least effort on the part of the United States, the Administration backed Maliki no matter what he did -- good, bad or indifferent.

You cannot divorce the violence from Nouri al-Maliki.  Yes, he is prime minister but he's also in charge of more than that.

The 2010 parliamentary elections saw Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya beat Nouri al-Maliki's State of Law.  It was a major (press) upset since so many (in the press) had been saying not only that State of Law would come in first but that it would do so by a huge margin.  NPR's Quil Lawrence could be heard, right after the election, announcing State of Law's victory.

But State of Law didn't win.  Someone might want to ask Quil if he was paid by the hour for that whoring?  What happened was not surprising.  As we've noted repeatedly since the results of 2010 were announced, they confirmed the trend of the 2009 parliamentary elections -- both results were a move against sectarianism towards a broader based Iraqi national identity.   Pollack makes the same assessment in his analysis this week so maybe everyone who wanted to argue that reality with me over the course of the last three years will take Pollack's word for it now? (I'm not referring to drive-by e-mails from visitors, I'm referring to the members of the press who wanted to argue the meaning of the results with me.)

Nouri refused to step down even though, per the Constitution, Ayad Allawi was now supposed to be named prime minister-designate and then, if he could assemble a Cabinet in 30 days, he was to be named prime minister.

But Nouri wouldn't step down.  For eight months he refused to do so.  Prior to the 2010 elections, General Ray Odierno, then the top commander in Iraq, had seen this as a likely outcome and had warned that the US should not only prepare for the possibility but should plan how to ensure democracy triumphed.  But the White House didn't want to listen.  The idiot Chris Hill was in the midst of his disaster turn as US Ambassador to Iraq and Hill was bad mouthing Odierno to the White House and insisting that he needed support (which translated as Hill wanting the White House  to tell Odierno to stop talking to the media -- Hill's real beef was that his own press presence wasn't more important and high profile). As Nouri turned a demand for a recount into a long political stalemate where he would not leave the office he had lost, then-Secretary Robert Gates was made aware of the problems with Hill (who was lazy, too cozy with Nouri, anti-Sunni and more eager to plan 'fun functions' for staff than to do diplomatic work), He went to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with those facts and how Odierno's observations had been ignored.  The two of them then met with US President Barack Obama to explain the problems.  This is when the White House stops backy the idiot Chris Hill and asks for his resignation. Hill did not want to leave. That needs to be underscored because he's repeatedly treated today -- by outlets like NPR -- as if he's some sort of genius on Iraq.

He didn't know the facts about Iraq before he was confirmed for the post.  When Hill was nominated the press was all over itself, licking one another, purring and cooing, humping and moaning.  I had no opinion of Hill until I attended the confirmation hearing (see the March 25, 2009 snapshot and the March 26th one) and it became very clear that he was uninformed, ignorant and full of himself (with no reason to be).  It was also conveyed to me (as I noted here before the confirmation point) that Hill's own State Dept personnel record made a strong case for him not being named ambassador.  All of this was ignored and, as a result, any headway in terms of diplomacy that Ambassador Ryan Crocker had made in 2008 and early 2009 was lost.  Hill didn't know Iraq, didn't want to know Iraq.  We pointed that all out ahead of his confirmation.

Let's again note John Barry's "'The Engame' Is A Well Researched, Highly Critical Look at U.S. Policy in Iraq" (Daily Beast):

Washington has little political and no military influence over these developments [in Iraq]. As Michael Gordon and Bernard Trainor charge in their ambitious new history of the Iraq war, The Endgame, Obama's administration sacrificed political influence by failing in 2010 to insist that the results of Iraq’s first proper election be honored: "When the Obama administration acquiesced in the questionable judicial opinion that prevented Ayad Allawi's bloc, after it had won the most seats in 2010, from the first attempt at forming a new government, it undermined the prospects, however slim, for a compromise that might have led to a genuinely inclusive and cross-sectarian government."

If you read that book, you'll find many of the things we pointed out in real time.  Hill's disrespect for the Iraqi people, for example.  We noted it repeatedly here.  The book reveals that it was not just an open secret among the US diplomatic staff (which is why I knew about it) but that Hill even showed the disrespect in front of Iraqis.  At one point, he's trashing the country and its people and doing so in front of an Iraqi.  You think that didn't get out?

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Thursday, August 01, 2013

Princess Barack and the TV





Senator Patrick Leahy: Today, the, uh, Judiciary Committee will scrutinize government surveillance programs conducted on the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act or FISA.  In the years since September 11th,  Congress has repeatedly expanded the scope of FISA, has given the government sweeping new powers to collect information on law abiding Americans and we must carefully consider now whether those laws may have gone too far.  Last month, many Americans learned for the first time that one of these authorities, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, has for years been secretly interpreted -- secretly interpreted -- to authorize the collection of Americans' phone records on an unprecedented scale.  Information was also leaked about Section 702 of FISA which authorizes the NSA to collect the information of foreigners overseas.

That was Leahy at this morning's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing -- he is the Chair of the Committee.  From there Leahy embarrassed himself by attacking NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden while not naming him. Let's continue with Leahy.

Senator Patrick Leahy:  Let me make clear that I do not condone the way these and other highly classified programs were disclosed, and I am concerned about the potential damage to our intelligence-gathering capabilities and national security. We need to hold people accountable for allowing such a massive leak to occur, and we need to examine how to prevent this type of breach in the future. In the wake of these leaks, the President said that this is an opportunity to have an open and thoughtful debate about these issues. And I welcome that statement, because this is a debate that several of us on this Committee in both parties have been trying to have for years. Like so many others, I'll get the classified briefings but then of course you can't talk about them.  There's a lot of these things that  should be and can be discussed.   And if we are going to have the debate that the President called for, the executive branch must be a full partner. We need straightforward answers.  Now I am concerned that we are not getting them. Just recently, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March, and his office had to remove a fact sheet from its website after concerns were raised about its accuracy. I appreciate that it is difficult to talk about classified programs in public settings, but the American people expect and deserve honest answers. It also has been far too difficult to get a straight answer about the effectiveness of the Section 215 phone records program. Whether this program is a critical national security tool is a key question for Congress as we consider possible changes to the law. Some supporters of this program have repeatedly conflated the efficacy of the Section 215 bulk meta data collection program with that of Section 702 of FISA even though they're entirely different. I do not think this is a coincidence, when we have people in government make that comparison but it needs to stop. I think the patience of the American people is beginning to wear thin.  But what has to be of more concern in a democracy is the trust of the American people is wearing thin.

Leahy is part of the problem.  He had to be shamed into holding this hearing and have it thrown in his face repeatedly that the House Judiciary Committee had held a hearing.  Forced into holding a hearing, note the crap Leahy offers.

He doesn't approve of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden's actions and "we need to hold people accountable" as he worries about "the potential damage to our intelligence-gathering capabilities and national security."

Contrast that with James Clapper.  Leahy says Clapper "acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March."

I'm sorry, where's your outrage over that?  Where's your statement about the need for accountability for that?

Has Leahy forgotten what perjury and "contempt of Congress" are?

Has he forgotten that is a crime to provide Congress with false testimony?

That's regardless of whether or not the witness is put under oath.

So the way it works is that Leahy is outraged and wants accountability -- done by others.  But Leahy and other members of Congress refuse to exercise their power to punish an official who came before the Congress and lied.

The American people are exhausted, yes.  They are tired of the spying but they're most of all tired of the lazy and useless people they voted into the US Congress who refuse to do their jobs or to honor their oaths to uphold the Constitution.  As Ranking Member Charles Grassley observed, "We have a Constitutional duty to protect American's privacy.  That's a given."

Yes, it is.  And maybe we need Grassley to offer a briefer on that to the Committee?

We should actually thank Leahy because, in his opening remarks, he made it clear that he really didn't give a damn about accountability or Congressional oversight.  He made it clear how useless he and his Committee are.

He did so by fawning over Dianne Feinstein ahead of the meeting, in fact.  The ethically challenged DiFi who has abused her office also heads the Senate Intelligence Committee.  DiFi does a lot.  When not practicing nepotism and worse, she likes to pretend she's governor of California -- an office she's never held.  It's in that delusional capacity that she recently insisted that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner should resign.  That's not her damn business and she needs to take her big nose out of it.  (As noted Monday, that decision is up to the people of San Diego.  I live in District 8, so I offer no opinion on what the 'right' thing to do is.  San Diego needs to be having that conversation with one another and they don't need the rest of us telling them what to do.)

It's amazing that she wants to talk about morals when, had Democrats not controlled the Senate, she would have most likely been censured by the Ethics Committee for her actions in giving her husband -- her War Hawk husband -- government contracts.

I think she a lot of gall even showing up for this hearing.

For those who don't know, Dianne Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. So when the NSA spying emerged in May, her tired ass should have been all over this issue with hearings.  How many public hearings has DiFi held on this issue?


She has not called one hearing.  (And she hasn't held a public hearing since March 13, 2013.  Someone needs to ask her what 'sunlight' and an 'informed public' mean to her.)  President Barack Obama claims a national dialogue needs to take place and Dianne Feinstein goes against that.  She's happy to hector and lecture, she just won't due the job required of her and schedule open hearings on this matter.

Today, she fawned over the unconstitutional spying and she also offered a disturbing series of remarks that indicated even she doesn't listen when she speaks.

Senator Dianne Feinstein:  Yesterday, at the Intelligence Committee,  I outlined some changes that we might consider as part of our authorization bill and let me quickly run through them.  Uh, uhm, the number of American phone numbers permitted as queries on a regular basis annually from the data base, the number of referrals  made to the FBI each year based on those queries and how many times the FBI obtains probably cause warrants to collect the content of a call which we now know is very few times relatively, the number of times a company, this is at their request -- from the high tech companies -- that any company is required to provide data pursuant to FISA's business record's provision.  As you know, the companies who provide information are seeking to be able to speak more publicly about this and I think we should.  There's some changes we can make to the business records section.  We're looking at reducing the five year retention period that NSA keeps phone records in its data base down to two or three years.

And Sarah Palin was ridiculed for how she spoke?  Sarah Palin was mocked in a Saturday Night Live skit for how she spoke?  I found that disturbing in real time -- and noted in real time that if you attended Congressional hearings, Palin's manner of speaking wasn't that surprising when compared to other politicians (changing topics -- or subjects or verbs -- mid-sentence, for example).  From those remarks above, let's highlight Dianne Feinstein saying this:

Uh, uhm, the number of American phone numbers permitted as queries on a regular basis annually from the data base, the number of referrals  made to the FBI each year based on those queries and how many times the FBI obtains probably cause warrants to collect the content of a call which we now know is very few times relatively, the number of times a company, this is at their request -- from the high tech companies -- that any company is required to provide data pursuant to FISA's business record's provision. 

Those aren't "changes."  They might be 'topics,' but what the hell she's saying who knows?

What's really disturbing is that those remarks weren't made in response to a question from Katie Couric.  DiFi made them herself, reading from a list, and never grasped that they didn't make sense.  Behavior like that, in our state of California (Dianne and mine), would mean she wouldn't get her driver's license renewed.

Along with her not making sense in the middle of a Senate hearing, there's also the reality that, if she wanted a debate on these topics yesterday, she should have chaired an open hearing and not the closed one Tuesday afternoon

Do we need to speak more slowly for Dianne?

Above you have Dianne Feinstein making ridiculous statement's.  It's not until the last sentence quoted that she finally does what she said she was going to do share "outlined" changes.
 At the age of 80, would you honestly let her drive the family car on a road trip or even a trip to the grocery store?

No, you probably wouldn't.

So why do we let her remain in the Senate, let alone give her the position of Chair.  This dying -- of old age -- in office really needs to be addressed by the Senate.  It's time for either term limits or age limits.  I do not trust the 80-year-old Dianne Feinstein to chair a Committee on anything.

"I think they will come after us," the dottering and aged fool insisted -- never defining who "they" were but making the case for putting her into assisted-living facilities.  We don't need the shut-in CBS viewers in charge of our rights?  We don't the need reactionary, elderly -- already spooked by societal changes -- determining what will keep us safe. Repeating: It's time for term limits or its time for age limits.  At 80, her fears falling out like busted sofa, Dianne Feinstein is too old to be a Chair of anything and should not be in the US Senate.

Dianne's way of fixing things is to insist that the actions continue but -- embrace this consolation -- the records from the spying will be held "two or three years" and not five.

"I read intelligence regularly, she insisted "and I believe we would place this country in jeopardy if we eliminated these two programs."

Though this morning's hearing served as a setting for various senators to make spectacles of themselves, there were actual witnesses offering testimony.  Appearing before the Committee were two panels.  The first was made up of Dept of Justice's James Cole, NSA's John Inglis, Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Robert S. Lift and the FBI's Sean Joyce.  The second panel was Judge James G. Carr, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and the woefully ignorant Stewart Baker.

Meta data, James Cole wanted to insist, is not classified information.  It is private information.  Many of us are aware, for example, that in the early hours of Marilyn Monroe's death, the Secret Service grabbed the meta data (then known as "toll slips") from the phone company.  So JFK deserves privacy but the American people don't?

Did anyone on the Committee not self-disgrace, is there any member of the Committee do anything worthy of applause?  Al Franken.

Senator Al Franken:  I want to be clear at the outset, I think that these programs protect our country and have saved lives.  But I do think there is a critical problem at the center of this debate and that's the lack of transparency around these programs.  The government has to give proper weight to both keeping America safe from terrorism and protecting American's privacy.  But when almost everything about these programs is secret and when the companies involved are under strict gag orders, the American public has no way of knowing whether we're getting that balance right.  I think that's bad for privacy and bad for democracy.  Tomorrow, I'm introducing a bill to address this, to fix this.  It will force the government to disclose how many Americans have had their information collected under key authorities in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and it will give force -- it will also force the government to disclose how many Americans have had their information actually reviewed by federal  agents.  My bill would also allow private companies to disclose aggregate figures about the number of FISA orders they're receiving and the number of their users that these orders have effected.

That may not be enough for you.  Sitting through the hearing -- the awful hearing -- you can argue lowered my expectations.  But I don't think so.

Recommend: "Iraq snapshot"
"Tough Talk For The Left (Ava and C.I.)"
"Who is Bradley Manning?"
 "The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing"
"Blumenthal disappoints (Ava)"
"David Westin is a creep"
"Leahy and Feinstein are disgraces"
"The embarrassing Bob Orr of CBS News"
"The Constitution has been shredded"
"Cancel Parks and Recreation already"
"C.I.'s coverage of the House Judiciary Committee hearing"
"Ron Wyden"
"Punchline: US Senate"

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Punchline: US Senate









Starting in the United States where a verdict has been declared in the court-martial of an Iraq War veteran.  Military judge Colonel Denise Lind has declared Barack guilty of all but two of the 21 charges but, Tom Vanden Brook (USA Today) notes, the charge of aiding the enemy wasn't one of the 19 charges Lind found him guilty of.  Michael Sherer (Time magazine) points out, "A military judge, Col. Denise Lind, rebuked the prosecutors claims Tuesday by ruling that Manning was not guilty of the government’s most serious charge against him, aiding the enemy, in a decision that amounts to a victory for Manning and his supporters by sparing him an immediate life sentence without the possibility of parole." Jes Burns (Free Speech Radio News) adds that Brad still  "faces lengthy jail time.Dorian Merina (also Free Speech Radio News) observed that Brad "could now face more than 100 years in prison."

Aiding the enemy?  Who was the enemy?  Apparently WikiLeaks.     Monday April 5, 2010, WikiLeaks released  military video of a July 12, 2007 assault in Iraq. 12 people were killed in the assault including two Reuters journalists Namie Noor-Eldeen and Saeed Chmagh. Monday June 7, 2010, the US military announced that they had arrested Bradley Manning and he stood accused of being the leaker of the video. Leila Fadel (Washington Post) reported in August 2010 that Manning had been charged -- "two charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The first encompasses four counts of violating Army regulations by transferring classified information to his personal computer between November and May and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system. The second comprises eight counts of violating federal laws governing the handling of classified information." In March, 2011, David S. Cloud (Los Angeles Times) reported that the military has added 22 additional counts to the charges including one that could be seen as "aiding the enemy" which could result in the death penalty if convicted. The Article 32 hearing took place in December. At the start of this year, there was an Article 32 hearing and, February 3rd, it was announced that the government would be moving forward with a court-martial. Bradley has yet to enter a plea. The court-martial was supposed to begin before the November 2012 election but it was postponed until after the election so that Barack wouldn't have to run on a record of his actual actions. adds, "A court martial is set to be held in June at Ford Meade in Maryland, with supporters treating him as a hero, but opponents describing him as a traitor."  February 28th, Bradley admitted he leaked to WikiLeaks.  And why.

Bradley Manning:   In attempting to conduct counter-terrorism or CT and counter-insurgency COIN operations we became obsessed with capturing and killing human targets on lists and not being suspicious of and avoiding cooperation with our Host Nation partners, and ignoring the second and third order effects of accomplishing short-term goals and missions. I believe that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information contained within the CIDNE-I and CIDNE-A tables this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general as [missed word] as it related to Iraq and Afghanistan.
I also believed the detailed analysis of the data over a long period of time by different sectors of society might cause society to reevaluate the need or even the desire to even to engage in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations that ignore the complex dynamics of the people living in the effected environment everyday.

For truth telling, Brad's being punished by the man who fears truth: Barack Obama.  A fraud, a fake, a 'brand,' anything but genuine, Barack is all marketing, all facade and, for that reason, must attack each and every whistle-blower.  David Delmar (Digital Journal) points out, "President Obama, while ostensibly a liberal advocate of transparency and openness in government, and of the 'courage' and 'patriotism' of whistleblowers who engage in conscientious leaks of classified information, is in reality something very different: a vindictive opponent of the free press willing to target journalists for doing their job and exposing government secrets to the public."

Bradley Manning had a laughable defense provided by David Coombs.  Early on, in pre-court-martial appearances, he argued that Bradley was transgendered and then largely ignored that defense until the prosecution used a photo of Bradley taken shortly after he leaked to WikiLeaks -- in the photo, Brad was smiling and in drag.  The prosecution argued that the photo meant that Brad was not troubled by leaking and glad to have leaked while Coombs countered that the photo just suggested Brad was -- in drag -- at last comfortable with who he was.  Other than that, the transgender issue was largely ignored and you had to wonder why Coombs raised it and ticked off a number of Brad's defenders who were uncomfortable with the transgendered?  The assertion was also disputed by some in the LGBT community.  Lou Chibbaro Jr. (Washington Blade) notes:


Transgender advocates have also expressed skepticism of a claim by one of Manning’s defense attorneys that his action was due, in part, to his personal struggle over his gender identity. The attorney and others who know Manning noted that he referred to himself for a short period of time with a female name and downloaded information over the internet about gender identity disorder.
“I don’t see that his identity has anything to do with what he did,” said Maryland transgender advocate Dana Beyer. “His sexual identity, however you want to define it, is completely irrelevant.”

There was never method to Coombs madness and Brad's guilt was determined when the decision was made to forgo a military jury and allow a judge to determine guilt or innocence.

As we've long noted, when you go with a judge (especially in a military court), you're not making a hearts and flowers appeal.  A military judge will blow off such a defense (and a female military judge might find it offensive and assume that the defense is making that argument due to some stereotypical notion they have of women).  With a judge determining guilt or innocence, you lead them into the maze that is the legal system -- where this law conflicts with that law.  You present them with a mess and an attitude of: "Please, Judge, in all your training and wisdom, figure this out."  This appeals to the judge's vanity.  In closing arguments, Coombs appeared to grasp that notion.

Coombs failed Brad with witnesses as well.  Every witness in the chain of command that was called to testify should have been asked -- by Coombs -- what their punishment was.  If this was truly the biggest and most shocking crime that the prosecution repeatedly argued it was, then why is Brad the only one punished?  In the military, there is responsibility up the chain of command.  That means Brad's superiors share guilt if Brad is guilty.  By pointing out (repeatedly) who was not punished, Coombs would have underscored that this was not a case of the military seeking justice but of the US government lashing out at Brad.

The verdict was announced at 1:00 pm EST and Amy Goodman's Democracy Now! did a special broadcast on this (this is in addition to Democracy Now!'s regular broadcast this morning).  The Nation's Greg Mitchell told Amy during the broadcast that the decision that Brad was not aiding the enemy  was very important.

Greg Mitchell:  Well it's extremely significant, both for Manning and for journalists and whistle-blowers and people who really care about this everywhere.  But, of course, it probably gets him off the hook for the most serious sentencing -- which the process does begin tomorrow -- which was life in prison.  The other charges and the 19 charges -- whatever the final total is -- of course, will mean he will spend many years in prison, no doubt.  But the aiding the enemy was the most serious for him.  And, in terms of others, it -- if he'd been convicted of that -- it certainly threatened journalists everywhere and, of course, whistle-blowers.  Amy, as many of your listeners know, this kind of charge was unusual in this case and it would put in danger people who disseminate, publish, leak or make public important information for the public that could be or ended up in the hands or was cited by some unknown enemy abroad which would mean that, you know, any kind of information that you could charge that someone, somewhere -- one of our alleged enemies -- made us of, you could then be brought up on this charge to face, you know, to face life in prison or whatever.

Amy Goodman:  Now Greg, we're reading the Tweets as we talk to you.  This is a live broadcast on the day of the verdict.  The most serious charge -- aiding the enemy -- Bradley Manning has been aquitted of.  Alexa o'Brien now writes:

  1. Spec 9, Charge II GTMO File 793(e) Espionage GUILTY (10 Years MAX)

Amy Goodman (Con't): Kevin Gosztola writes:

  1. Manning was found GUILTY of wantonly causing to be published intelligence on the Internet

Amy Goodman (Con't):  Explain.

Greg Mitchell:  Well these are the long list of charges -- many of which, or some of which -- he had pleaded guilty to quite some time ago.  The judge today had to affirm them so they're included as if he hadn't really pleaded to them but they're part of the charges he is now found guilty of and, you know, the array of charges against him, you know, was espionage, was use of a computer to leak information, leaking the videos.  I haven't quite -- I haven't seen the verdict on the Granai video -- this is not the Collateral Murder video which I believe he did admit to but the other video which was a mass slaying abroad.

Mitchell is referring to the May 4, 2009 US airstrike on Granai in Afghanistan in which close to 150 innocent civilians were killed.  Brad stated he had leaked that video to WikiLeaks as well.  (WikiLeaks has since lost the video.)

Mitchell (and others) are right that Lind not finding Brad guilty of aiding the enemy is important but there's also a self-serving manner in the coverage. I'm not referring to Mitchell or anyone highlighted above or below.  I am referring to cable TV coverage which left at least two people convinced Brad was acquitted of the charges against him.  We were discussing the verdict with a group of students -- fairly well informed ones taking summer semester classes -- and two who had caught cable TV coverage were convinced Brad had been acquitted of all charges.

The press is thrilled that aiding the enemy was tossed.  But that really isn't about Brad -- their excitement. It's about what it would have possibly meant for them if Brad had been found guilty of it.  Brad did a great thing when he exposed what was taking place and had taken place.  And while he had entered a plea on many of the other charges, that doesn't change the fact that Brad was found guilty and that this wasn't a good thing.  He first raised the issue of War Crimes with a superior who blew him off.  He then leaked evidence of War Crimes.  He should be applauded for that.  The US government is supposedly against War Crimes so Brad's actions should be seen as a good thing and his conviction on any charges -- let alone ones that potentially add up to a lengthy prison sentence -- is nothing to be thrilled about.  Alexa O'Brien has posted the document listing the charges Brad was convicted of.   An exception in the MSM coverage may have been Jim Miklaszewski's report for NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams who observed legal experts predict Manning's convictions will have a chilling effect on future leakers." Newsday's editorial notes:

President Barack Obama has gone overboard in his crackdown on leakers. The administration has brought seven cases under the Espionage Act against CIA and FBI employees and contractors accused of leaking national security information -- more than all previous administrations combined.
And Obama's Justice Department has clumsily entangled journalists in its net. Federal prosecutors, investigating a leak that intelligence officials had warned Obama about North Korea's plan to conduct a nuclear test, labeled James Rosen of Fox News a "co-conspirator" after he reported the story in 2009. And prosecutors are still demanding that New York Times reporter James Risen testify at the espionage trial of a former CIA official accused of leaking information in 2003 about the U.S. effort to disrupt Iran's nuclear weapons program.

On The NewsHour (PBS -- link is audio, text and video) this evening,  Jeffrey Brown moderated a debate on the convictions -- the Center for Constitutional Rights' Michael Ratner debated form CIA official Jeffrey Smith.  Excerpt.

MICHAEL RATNER, Center for Constitutional Rights: I think it's probably one of the greatest injustices of our decade.
Here you have man who who's revealed very important information about war crimes, whose information actually sparked the Arab spring, and you have him being convicted of 20 charges that can carry 134 years. And you have to people who were engaged in the criminality he revealed not being investigated at all.
Bradley Manning is a whistle-blower. He shouldn't be prosecuted. The people who committed the crimes ought to be prosecuted.

Other NewsHour coverage includes:

Mike McKee is with the Bradley Manning Support Network and he told Free Speech Radio News that he and others gathered at Fort Meade to show their support, "We had about between 50 or 60 people here today as well as a rather revved up media presence as well, both representatives of American media and foreign as well. We’ve held a vigil on the first day of each week of court proceedings, attendance fluctuates, this was certainly one of the larger ones although the numbers weren’t totally uncommon. You saw a good variety of home-made signs as well as banners that people have made for various events and demonstrations that have been had for Bradley over the past year."

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