Monday, March 31, 2014

And Reuters Joins the Chorus

(Reuters) - Security industry pioneer RSA adopted not just one but two encryption tools developed by the U.S. National Security Agency, greatly increasing the spy agency's ability to eavesdrop on some Internet communications, according to a team of academic researchers.


Reuters reported in December that the NSA had paid RSA $10 million to make a now-discredited cryptography system the default in software used by a wide range of Internet and computer security programs. The system, called Dual Elliptic Curve, was a random number generator, but it had a deliberate flaw - or "back door" - that allowed the NSA to crack the encryption.

A group of professors from Johns Hopkins, the University of Wisconsin, the University of Illinois and elsewhere now say they have discovered that a second NSA tool exacerbated the RSA software's vulnerability.


While Extended Random [the second tool] was not widely adopted, the new research sheds light on how the NSA extended the reach of its surveillance under cover of advising companies on protection.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Bella Abzug 1920 -1998

Bella Abzug was one of those political dissenters the CIA refers to as international terrorists. As part of the CIA’s secret surveillance of peace activists, they had records on Congresswoman Abzug’s activities with the Women’s Strike for Peace in 1967.    She did her part to try to stop the CIA trampling on civil liberties.  She said she began wearing hats as a young lawyer because everywhere she turned up for a professional meeting, someone always asked her to serve the coffee.

Bella died sixteen years ago today.   And I expect she's turning in her grave.
In mid-1970s, feminist and peace movement activist Congresswoman Bella Abzug tore through the intel world, fearlessly taking on the CIA and the NSA for surveilling Americans. So I’ve been reading some of her hearings, and it turns out that the dynamics of the intelligence world (in this case the CIA) and its relationship with Congress and the public haven’t changed at all. Today, journalist Jason Leopold is nicknamed a ‘FOIA terrorist’ by a ‘certain government agency’ because he files so many requests so effectively, and sues when they deny him the things to which he is entitled.

  Matt Stoller


North Korean shells have landed in South Korean waters, prompting Seoul to open fire across a disputed border zone. North Korea announced plans early on Monday morning to conduct military exercises along the western maritime boundary.

The North fired several artillery shells in territory north of the North Limit Line in the Yellow Sea at 12:15pm local time (03:15 GMT), reports South Korean news agency Yonhap. After several shells landed south of the border, South Korean military opened fire with K-9 self-propelled howitzers.

"Some of the shells fired by North Korea dropped in our area and our side responded with fire," a military spokesman told AFP news agency, adding that for the moment both sides were firing into the sea.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

History Repeats

From a discussion of the book "The Burglary" by Betty Medsger who was the Washington Post reporter who received the stolen FBI documents that revealed the illegality of J. Edgar Hoover's infiltration and spying upon peace activists in the 60s  (click to enlarge):

Discussion at FireDogLake Book Salon.

It's Sunday

And so close to Easter.

American Christians love to be persecuted. So much so, they fake it.
On March 2, three Baptist ministers in Akron, Ohio, arranged for the local police to mock-arrest them in their churches and haul them away in handcuffs for the simple act of preaching their faith. A video was posted on YouTube to drum up buzz for an upcoming revival show. A few atheist blogs object to uniformed police taking part in a church publicity stunt, but far more people who saw the YouTube video (24,082 views), in Ohio and elsewhere, took this media stunt as reality — confirmation of their wildest fears about a government clampdown on Christianity.


And the feature film “Persecuted,” a political thriller about a federal government plan to censor Christianity in the name of liberalism, is due out in May. Featuring former Sen. Fred Thompson and Fox News host Gretchen Carlson, the movie received a rapturous reception at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference on March 10.


Needless to say (or maybe not) this news ticker of persecuted American Christians floats far and free from reality. More than 75 percent of the United States identifies as Christian; 57 percent believe in the devil, and nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe the Bible to be either the “inspired word” or literal word of God. Despite the constitutional separation of church and state, the government began under President George W. Bush to outsource social welfare programs to faith-based organizations (more than 98 percent, according to one 2006 study, of them Christian churches), and schools with religious ties (mostly Christian) in several states are now well fed by direct public subsidies. But then, American places of worship (again, most of them Christian) have long enjoyed a de facto public subsidy as tax-exempt 501(c)3 organizations funded by tax-deductible contributions. Last month President Barack Obama himself held forth at National Prayer Breakfast about the importance of Jesus in his life.

That man is a whore, plain and simple.
To be sure, there are Christians in the world who face persecution, from Copts in Egypt to Catholics in northern Nigeria. But in the U.S., the Christian faith and its institutions have never been more pampered by the state.
Read the article and learn of the Christian “invented tradition of victimization” along with some history of the invention.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

It's Sunday

There's just no pleasing some people. 
Noah has been in the spotlight ever since October, when Paramount studio reportedly screened the film for Christian audiences and received a negative reaction. Executives had apparently been hoping for a successor to Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, which took $611m (£367m) worldwide in 2004 after US evangelicals flocked to see it. Aronofsky's film, by contrast, views the famous flood story from an environmental perspective and features a segment showing how Darwinian evolution has transformed amoebas into apes.

Yet Aronofsky, director of the Oscar-winning psychological drama Black Swan, revealed in February that he had won a battle with Paramount to screen his own version of Noah in cinemas after around half a dozen alternate cuts also failed to find traction with evangelical Christian filmgoers. The studio reportedly had been so desperate to court Christian audiences in the US that it tested one version which opened with a montage of religious images and ended with a Christian rock song.

Paramount now appears to have given up on its efforts to market Noah to Christians, with the studio issuing a statement in February making clear that the movie is not intended as a direct translation of the bible story. The film has also been banned across large parts of the Middle East and parts of north Africa for contravening Islamic rules on the depiction of prophets.


[Star Russell] Crowe said Aronofsky's film created vital discussion of a number of themes surrounding its core story. "You come out of this movie and you want to talk … about our stewardship of the earth, our relationship to animals, what is spirituality, who am I in this world – all these fantastic subjects for conversation," he said. "Art that can do that for people is a wonderful thing."

Aside from the fact that it hints at evolution (which is where the marketing aspect would naturally hit a brick wall) and the virtues of environmentalism, perhaps there wasn't enough anti-Semitism in it for Christians.

Sounds like it might be pretty good. If you like epics.

You can watch the trailer and clips here:

And if you're like me, by the time you watch trailers and clips (which usually include all the "good" parts), you feel like you've seen the movie, and in fact, you won't remember any of the rest of it anyway.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Drip, Drip, Drip

Secret documents newly disclosed by the German newspaper Der Spiegel on Saturday shed more light on how aggressively the National Security Agency and its British counterpart have targeted Germany for surveillance.

A series of classified files from the archive provided to reporters by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, also seen by The Intercept, reveal that the NSA appears to have included Merkel in a surveillance database alongside more than 100 others foreign leaders. The documents also confirm for the first time that, in March 2013, the NSA obtained a top-secret court order against Germany as part of U.S. government efforts to monitor communications related to the country. Meanwhile, the British spy agency Government Communications Headquarters targeted three German companies in a clandestine operation that involved infiltrating the companies’ computer servers and eavesdropping on the communications of their staff.

  The Intercept

Did Putin Just Blink?

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia reached out to President Obama on Friday to discuss ideas about how to peacefully resolve the international standoff over Ukraine, a surprise move by Moscow to pull back from the brink of an escalated confrontation that has put Europe and much of the world on edge.

After weeks of provocative moves punctuated by a menacing buildup of troops on Ukraine’s border, Mr. Putin’s unexpected telephone call to Mr. Obama offered a hint of a possible settlement. The two leaders agreed to have their top diplomats meet to discuss concrete proposals for defusing the crisis that has generated the most serious clash between Russia and the West since the end of the Cold War.

He blinked! We’re Number One! We’re Number One!
While the White House account of the call emphasized the possible diplomatic movement, the Kremlin’s version stressed Mr. Putin’s complaints about “extremists” in Ukraine and introduced into the mix of issues on the table the fate of Transnistria, another pro-Russian breakaway province outside his borders.[*]

Neither American nor European officials expect Mr. Putin to easily reverse his seizure of Crimea, the largely Russian-speaking Ukrainian peninsula Moscow annexed last week after Russian troops took control there.
Seizure? Did the people of Crimea not just hold an election asking to be annexed?
Amid intelligence reports warning of a further Russian incursion into Ukraine, American officials were trying to puzzle through the situation on Friday night, unsure what Mr. Putin was up to, but deeply suspicious.
Yes, and our brilliant intelligence reports have served us quite well to date.
The presence of masked, armed demonstrators threatening to storm the [Ukrainian] Parliament building offered the Russian government an opportunity to bolster its contention that the ouster of President Viktor F. Yanukovych, a Moscow ally, after pro-European street protests last month was an illegal coup carried out by right-wing extremists with Western encouragement.

In fact, the nationalist groups, largely based in western Ukraine, had formed just one segment of a broad coalition of demonstrators who occupied the streets of Kiev for months demanding Mr. Yanukovych’s ouster.
Supporting data, please.

Could I be forgiven for thinking that the coup in Ukraine was a justifiable reason for citizens of Crimea (who are apparently largely Russian) to ask for annexation, and for the Russian government to take action to protect them?

*Apparently, Ukraine has set up a blockade that prevents Transnistria from getting its supplies from Russia.

Charitable Effort or Misguided Attempt to Remove the Heat?

Gary Edwards [...] is CEO of the National Native American Law Enforcement Association. In 2009, the NNALEA won a contract with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to "recruit for and hire critically needed law enforcement officers (police, corrections, and criminal investigator positions) to work in Indian Country." According to a 2012 investigation into the contract, first reported by USA Today, NNALEA produced 748 applicants for law enforcement positions—only about 4 percent of which were Native American. Even worse, not a single applicant was qualified, meaning the $967,100 in funds amounted to absolutely nothing.

  Mothe Jones
Oh, well, oops. Gary has a new position.
[Washington Redskins] team owner Dan Snyder reflected on the challenges facing Native Americans, and, in a letter released Monday, promises to change the team's n—

Wait, sorry. Snyder actually defends the team's name as "rooted in pride." After traveling the country and hearing from tribal leaders, though, Snyder says the real problem is that keeping the team's racial slur name is just too small an honor. "It's not enough to celebrate the values and heritage of Native Americans," he writes. "We must do more." Enter the Original Americans Foundation.

The foundation is meant to "provide meaningful and measurable resources that provide genuine opportunities for Tribal communities." Its work has already started: Snyder writes that the charity purchased a backhoe for the Omaha Tribe in Nebraska and donated coats and shoes to several other tribes. "Because I'm so serious about the importance of this cause, I began our efforts quietly and respectfully, away from the spotlight," Snyder notes in the four-page letter, which was quietly and respectfully posted on the front page of the team's website, away from the spotlight.

  Mother Jones
Gary Edwards was hired to head up the Original Americans Foundation. Sounds like a good fit.
See the whole letter, which Indian Country Today called "rife with self-satisfaction and misdirection."
It’s embedded in the Mother Jones article.

Here's Your Reform. With Bipartisan Approval!

This week was undoubtedly a turning point in the NSA debate [...S]ome of the NSA's most ardent defenders, including the House Intelligence Committee and the White House, suddenly released similar proposals endorsing the end of the NSA's bulk collection of phone records as we know it.


[B]ut if you read between the legislative lines, the government might not be curtailing mass surveillance so much as permanently entrenching it in American law.


While the Obama plan is undoubtedly more promising [than the Intelligence Committee bill], with court requests and much more, Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union has several important questions about the proposal that need to be answered before anyone will really be able to judge. And the Cato Institute's Julian Sanchez detailed why neither of these proposals are as good as the USA Freedom Act, which may now be getting boxed out.


To be sure, neither of the two new proposals would actually "end mass surveillance", as this National Journal headline proclaimed, or even "end bulk collection" entirely, as most of the other reports suggest.


[A] large majority of the House bill focuses on new ways for the government to collect data from "electronic communications service providers" – also known as the internet companies.


According to the first report in the New York Times on Monday, the NSA would only be allowed to search phone records under the Obama proposal if the agency could prove a reasonable suspicion to terrorism. By the end of the week, the White House’s "fact sheet" said the NSA would be able to search "within two hops" of phone records – that's potentially tens of thousands of people – based on a phrase that should send chills down the spine of every journalist who has ever had a source the government may not like: "national security concerns".

  The Guardian
Sounds like fishing to me.
And what about all the reforms left out of both proposals? Like preventing "backdoor" warrantless searches on Americans. Like stopping the NSA from undermining common encryption used by everyone. Like leaving bulk collection for the rest of the world's citizens untouched.


The White House, after dragging its feet for months, now is imploring quick action by Congress.
It’s probably not necessary to say, but it’s a good idea to be wary of anything they want pushed through quickly.
We'd do well to remember a more recent time in which Congress took up NSA wrongdoing, during the first warrantless wiretapping scandal of the Bush years.


Congress responded with outrage and public hearings, but when it came to passing actual new laws, there was no sweeping reform – there was sweeping under the rug: Congress legalized much of the Bush administration's illegal practices with the FISA Amendments Act (now Obama's justification for PRISM and upstream surveillance), and killed lawsuits against the telecommunications companies like AT&T by giving them retroactive immunity
That, too.
Maybe it's time we heed the warning of the late George Carlin: "'Bipartisan' usually means that a larger-than-usual deception is being carried out."
And I wouldn't be surprised if Obama threw out his plan just to make the Republicans approve the worse congressional bill, which he'll sign in the interest of "cooperation".

So, after nine months of ignoring the Snowden revelations, downplaying the the Snowden revelations, not telling the truth about the Snowden revelations, insulting the Snowden revelations, sending members of his administration to lie to Congress about the Snowden revelations and claiming everything the NSA does is legal, righteous and necessary to keep the barbarians outside the gates, Obama is coincidentally now proposing some “reforms” without acknowledging the Snowden revelations. Let’s have a look based on what we know right now.

  Ghosts of Tom Joad
That article lays out the inadequate, misleading Obama proposal and what's missing from it.

What He Said

After the meeting today between President Obama and King Abdullah, a “senior administration official” told CNN that, despite policy differences over Iran and Syria, “the United States and Saudi Arabia are ‘very much aligned.’” Moreover, “Obama and Abdullah steered clear of international complaints of human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia” (they also presumably “steered clear” of human rights abuses in the U.S., although CNN – which likely does not recognize the existence of such abuses – did not indicate whether this was the case). So all in all, it sounds like it was a very harmonious and constructive meeting between these two close, long-time allies and partners.


The purpose of this trip: “trying to smooth relations with Saudi Arabia without making the longtime US ally seem like an afterthought.” Indeed, “top presidential advisors say the visit is an ‘investment’ in one of the most important US relationships in the Middle East.”

If you want to justify all of this by cynically arguing that it benefits the US to support repressive and brutal tyrannies, go ahead. At least that’s an honest posture. But don’t run around acting as though the US is some sort of stalwart opponent of political repression and human rights violations when the exact opposite is so plainly true. And if you’re someone who has worked extensively to provide the world’s worst regimes with all sorts of vital support, don’t hold yourself out as the leader of the mob condemning others for expressing support for far more benign governments.

  Glenn Greenwald
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Friday, March 28, 2014

There Will Be Street Parties

Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee Mike Rogers (R-Mich.) said Friday he will not seek reelection in 2014.

In a statement from his office, Rogers said he always believed in the idea of a "citizen legislature" and expected to return to the private sector.

  The Hill
He always believed in the revolving door, where he can turn his ex- government position into a much more lucrative future.

Are there Edward Snowden files revelations out there that make now a very good time for Mike Rogers to get out of the spotlight?
"As I close this chapter in my life, I am excited to begin a new one that allows me to continue serving as a voice for American exceptionalism and support a strong national security policy agenda."
American exceptionalism. Perfect person for an oversight committee, eh?
Rogers has become a regular voice on the Sunday morning political affairs shows. According to the Detroit News, he will take a job as radio talk show host after stepping down.
Seriously? Beck and Limbaugh need help?   Well, there's a lot of money in right wing radio.

Effing Idiot

Obama told CBS News that the decision by the Russian president, Vladimir Putin. to assemble forces on the border may "simply be an effort to intimidate Ukraine, or it may be that they've got additional plans".


"There's a strong sense of Russian nationalism and a sense that somehow the west has taken advantage of Russia in the past and that he [Putin] wants to in some fashion,… reverse that or make up for that," Obama said.

"What I have repeatedly said is that he may be entirely misreading the west. He's certainly misreading American foreign policy. We have no interest in circling Russia and we have no interest in Ukraine beyond letting Ukrainian people make their own decisions about their own lives."

Jesus Christ on a bicycle…what is Obama on? Some Republicans have criticized him for not being harsh enough on Russia, and he wants to, for the eleventy trillionth time, show them what a good Republican he actually is.  Maybe they'll say nice things about him.  Or is he just an idiot?

It could be Putin has troops on the border in case the Ukraine breaks out into a total quagmire, which doesn't seem all that remote a possibility.  It could be Putin has troops on the border to protect Crimea.  It could be Putin has troops on the border because "the west" that he is "misreading" is aligning itself with and supporting the unrest in Ukraine. 

There's a "strong sense" that Obama is a fool, perhaps even a bigger one that his predecessor, if that's possible.  And let's hope that he doesn't create even more destabilization and anti-American sentiment around the world than we've already managed. 

Unfortunately, he's got a few more years to show his incompetence and true colors.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

UN Finds US in Violation of Human Rights

A wide-ranging United Nations report released Thursday strongly criticizes the United States for a host of human rights concerns — from jailing the homeless and sentencing juveniles to life sentences, to drone warfare and spying by the National Security Agency.

While the U.N. praised some steps the U.S. government has taken, like curbing human trafficking and a 2009 ban on Central Intelligence Agency torture and secret detention, the report’s authors found the U.S. wanting on 25 human rights issues.

"The U.S. is adept at demanding human rights change from other governments, while failing to meet international standards itself," said Jose Luis Diaz, Amnesty International representative at the United Nations.


Regarding the use of torture, reforming interrogation techniques does not go far enough, according to the U.N’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The global body called for an investigation and prosecution of members of the “armed forces and other agents of the U.S. government” allegedly involved in torturing detainees.

They better be careful if they want to stay in New York.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Legacy of the Big Dick

Mark Danner has an interesting article on Dick Cheney wherein he recounts the movie moment (one of them) in Dubya’s presidency where – if you are to believe Dubya’s memoir – the dunce prince was not even involved in his presidence enough to know that the surveillance order he signed was being resisted by his justice department.

The key passage, I think, is this:
The president had approved Stellar Wind on October 4, 2001, a few weeks after the September 11 attack, and given the temper in Washington and in the country at that time he likely could simply and easily have amended the law. “We could have gone to Congress, hat in hand, the judicial branch and the executive together,” Royce Lamberth, then the chief FISA court judge, tells Gellman, “and gotten any statutory change we wanted…. But they wanted to demonstrate that the president’s power was supreme, and the judiciary was just a tagalong when necessary, but not appreciated.” They didn’t want to change the law, that is; they wanted to circumvent it, and so demonstrate that, in the face of the president’s wartime powers, the law didn’t matter.
And I believe that Dick Cheney’s agenda all along was to take the oval office himself at the end of Bush’s second term. But then it all went horribly wrong for him.

Read the article – very interesting, even though some assessments may be questionable. (For instance, he calls Dubya “intelligent” – what does that make every other president? Genius?)
It is an astute point, all the more so for seeming obvious: the unique policies put into effect by Bush and Cheney were not consequences of the September 11 attacks but calculated responses to them. There was nothing fated about Stellar Wind, or “black sites” and the “enhanced interrogation techniques” that were practiced in them, or Guantánamo and military commissions; these and the other distinctive post–September 11 policies that still cast their shadows over us were born of choices made by government officials and, in the event, by a vanishingly small number of them.
Which makes the secret way our government runs a recipe for disaster. Barton Gellman, quoted by Danner, says Cheney ushered in a new world where the executive proceeded “by rules invented on the fly.” Unfortunately, he’s right.
But the reader is left to puzzle out who exactly Bush is referring to when he writes that “some in the White House” wanted him to let [Deputy Attorney General James] Comey, [FBI Director Robert] Muller, and their colleagues, and perhaps [Attorney General John] Ashcroft himself, resign. Even writing his memoirs years after leaving office Bush is loathe to identify Cheney as the antagonist who almost scuttled his presidency—though had he done so, his account, which portrays an incurious president very much out of touch, might have been less embarrassing to him personally.
Perhaps he’s too clueless to be embarrassed. Or perhaps he thought it better not to be shot in the face.
It goes on still. This is the way of the post–September 11 world, where whistleblowers and news organizations reveal what would have once been considered illegal and then, years later, find themselves “revealing” it yet again, and then again. So it has been with torture and extrajudicial killing and warrantless wiretapping. We might call these frozen scandals, which begin in revelation and white-hot controversy and end with our learning to live with secret wrongdoing that is in fact no secret at all. This is our new normal—and a vital attribute of the world Dick Cheney bequeathed us.

She's Baaaaack

Condoleezza Rice is wading back into the political waters, a sign she plans to maintain a higher profile in both world events and the battle for the soul of the GOP.


In a rare move, she recently penned an op-ed weighing in on the situation in Ukraine, and cut an ad for American Crossroads on behalf of her friend and former employee Dan Sullivan (R), who’s running for Senate in Alaska.


The former secretary of State is headlining the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual fundraising dinner on Wednesday, a marquee slot often reserved for White House contenders.

  The Hill
So what makes you think she’s not going to contend?


Barack Obama is to charge Vladimir Putin with being a menace to an international system built up over decades following the Russian leader's sudden appropriation of part of Ukraine.

In his sole big policy speech of a four-day trip to Europe, Obama, on his first presidential visit to Brussels.

What a dupe.
As well as Ukraine and Russia, the US and EU leaders will discuss their ambitious negotiations on a transatlantic free trade area which, if successfully concluded, would boost the EU economy by more than €100bn (£83bn), according to Brussels, although economists say trade agreements actually have little impact on levels of trade and point to China's soaring trade performance as proof.
And yet, countries keep entering trade agreements with us.
The trade talks may also be encumbered by European complaints about the National Security Agency surveillance scandal, with White House reforms of NSA bulk data gathering in the pipeline. The Europeans will press the US leader to facilitate reciprocity in the courts, meaning that Europeans in the US should be able to seek redress in the American courts if they feel their data privacy rights have been violated by US agencies.

Americans in Europe can go to the courts, but not vice versa.
How did that happen?

Our economy is unstable, our promises are not always kept, and we have no allegiance to international law. America’s super power status is a lot of smoke and mirrors. When the dollar comes unhinged, surely the rest of the world will stop bowing.
"There's no question that Nato is prepared to defend any ally against any aggression," said the senior US official. "To reassure them, we do think we should take additional steps. We've already deployed Baltic air policing, additional planes over the Baltic countries. We've deployed an aviation detachment to Poland.

"We are looking at doing more things like that. We'll be discussing very specifically what more can be done in terms of signalling concrete reassurance to our eastern European allies."
Reassurance?  More like fear-mongering. Ramp up the demonization of Putin and Russia. Tell them Russia is becoming aggressive and looking to gobble them up. Yes, world, it’s Russia that’s the destabilizing force in the world today.

So, are the troops we’re withdrawing from the mess we created in the Middle East going to be redeployed to Eastern Europe?  That would be reassuring, wouldn't it?

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Gang of 8 Becomes G-7

Seeking to isolate Russia, the United States and the world’s other leading economies moved to indefinitely cut Moscow out of G-8 meetings on Monday, including canceling an economic summit that President Vladimir Putin planned to host this summer in Russia.


U.S. President Barack Obama huddled with the leaders of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan for an emergency meeting of the G-7.


[He] was expected to face resistance from some European officials. Russia is one of the European Union's largest trading partners, and officials fear that the still economically fragile continent could suffer if Moscow retaliates, particularly by curbing oil and gas supplies.

I’m not really understanding what it is they want Putin to do. Crimeans voted to become a part of Russia. Do they want him to deny them? I haven’t even been able to ascertain whether it’s true that Russia has invaded Ukraine – or as this article puts it, they are warning Russia against escalating its “incursion” into Ukraine. But perhaps they are talking about Russian forces in Crimea when it was part of Ukraine?

At any rate, Russia isn’t claiming any concern about getting booted from the G-8.
"If our Western partners think that this format has outlived itself, then so be it," said Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

"At the very least, we are not trying to hold on to this format, and we see no great tragedy if it [the G-8] does not meet," he told reporters after holding concurrent talks with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and Ukraine's interim Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya on Monday.


"So what we want to do is take the G-7 as a platform to coordinate the national actions that we're taking and then to work with our European partners as they formulate responses through the EU and European Council so that we have the strongest unified voice in imposing sanctions," said Ben Rhodes, U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications, at Monday's press briefing.

"The more we coordinate the designation of individuals and entities and potentially sectors of the Russian economy, the more that's going to have an impact on Russia," he said.
That sound you just heard was the laughter of all of Cuba.
In another attempt to isolate Russia, Obama held a separate meeting Monday with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
I bet that went well.
In a counterpoint to Obama and the other G-7 leaders, a group of five major emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — issued a statement Monday opposing sanctions and urging nations to work through the U.N. instead. The so-called BRICS nations said hostile language, sanctions and force do not "contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution."
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Perhaps the confusion is only on the part of the alJazeera journalist. The Guardian has a little different nuance.
As Russian troops appeared to mass on Ukraine's eastern border, the G7 statement hinted at much broader sanctions if Russia made further expansionist moves.

"We remain ready to intensify actions including co-ordinated sectoral sanctions that will have an increasingly significant impact on the Russian economy, if Russia continues to escalate this situation," the statement said.


The Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, shrugged off the loss of G8 membership as being inconsequential. "The G8 is an informal club, with no formal membership, so no one can be expelled from it. If our western partners believe that such format is no longer needed, so be it. We aren't clinging for that format and we won't see a big problem if there are no such meetings for a year, or a year-and-half," said Lavrov after his first meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart, Andrii Deshchytsia.

The Ukrainian embassy in The Hague said in its account of the meeting: "Lavrov stressed that Russia has no intention of using military force in the eastern and southern regions of Ukraine. The two sides agreed to hold emergency consultations at the level of the ministries of foreign affairs and the ministries of defence of both countries in the case of exacerbation of the situation."


Leaders from the US, UK, France, Germany, Italy, Canada and Japan met in The Hague as the G7 for the first time since Russian was brought into the group in 1998 to seal east-west co-operation and lay the cold war to rest.

So is this their way of telling us that the cold war is back on again?

As for the Chinese leader’s response:
US officials acknowledged that Xi had given little by way of formal response to the request, but the Chinese leader appeared to go out of his way to emphasise a warm and personal relationship with Barack Obama, heaping praise on the US president's wife and daughters who have just visited China and jokingly conveyed Michelle Obama's greetings to her husband.
”Let’s not talk about it.”

Monday, March 24, 2014

Occupy Oakland Settlement

Remember the young veteran who was fired on by police during an Occupy Okland event?
A United States military veteran who was critically injured by the police during an Occupy Wall Street protest in October 2011 will be awarded $4.5 million by the city of Oakland, California


Olsen was with around 1,000 other demonstrators that evening who had decided to protest the local police department’s recent clearing of Occupy activists from an encampment they established in a city park. During a march through downtown, Olsen was hit in the head with a non-lethal projectile fired by an unknown police officer and quickly admitted to an area hospital in critical condition where he was diagnosed with a fractured skull, broken neck vertebrae and swelling of the brain.

The marine served two tours in Iraq between 2006 and 2010, and then joined the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. He was employed as a systems administrator in the San Francisco Bay area at the time of the 2011 protest.


One of Olsen’s attorneys, Jim Chanin, told the San Francisco Chronicle on Friday that it’s "a very sad day, not only for Scott, who's going to have to start his life all over, but for the city of Oakland, which has been hit with yet another unnecessary lawsuit with a very large settlement that could have been used for the public good while Scott went on with his life, without his injury."

Speaking to Democracy Now! this week, Olsen said, “It has been a very stressful experience having to deal with it. So, for that reason alone, I’m happy that it’s over.”


Enemies of the Internet

Watchdog group Reporters Without Borders released its annual report on which countries restrict access to the internet through censorship and surveillance this week. Repeat offenders China and North Korea made the list again this year, but the democracies of America and Britain joined the ranks thanks to the National Security Agency and the Government Security Headquarters’ activities, respectively. Another democratic newcomer to the group? India, for its Centre for Development of Telematics.


The report’s authors slammed America’s “highly secretive” NSA, which they said has “come to symbolize the abuses by the world’s intelligence agencies.”


The report dubbed the United Kingdom the “world champion of surveillance” thanks to British eavesdropping agency Government Communications Headquarters.

Damn! We’re not even number one in surveillance.

Enemies of the Internet report

Saddled With Antonin "Fat Tony" Scalia

Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia got an incredibly astute question from a law student Friday night that could have huge implications for the NSA's domestic surveillance programs.

The question came during a spirited Q&A curated by Brooklyn Law School's Judge Andrew Napolitano, who asked Scalia about the controversial subject of the NSA's surveillance of Americans.

Scalia made it clear the issue would likely come before the high court, and he hinted he would rule that "conversations" (i.e., the conversations the government might listen to) aren't protected by the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment, Scalia pointed out, prohibits the government from searching your "persons, houses, papers, and effects" without a warrant — not "conversations."

However, one student asked the justice whether data in a computer might be considered "effects" under the Fourth Amendment, an interpretation that would prohibit the NSA's capture of communications over the Internet.

Scalia, who's remarkably avuncular in person, was visibly pleased by the question but said he "better not answer that."

  Business Insider
While suggesting that the high court will take up NSA surveillance, Scalia expressed his opinion that judges should not be deciding matters of national security. "The Supreme Court doesn't know diddly about the nature and extent of the threat," Scalia said. Later on, he added, "It's truly stupid that my court is going to be the last word on it."

  Business Insider
I’m going to have to agree….it’s truly stupid that Scalia’s court would be the last word on anything.

The Real Cost of the Edward Snowden Files

Microsoft has lost customers, including the government of Brazil.

IBM is spending more than a billion dollars to build data centers overseas to reassure foreign customers that their information is safe from prying eyes in the United States government.

And tech companies abroad, from Europe to South America, say they are gaining customers that are shunning United States providers, suspicious because of the revelations by Edward J. Snowden that tied these providers to the National Security Agency’s vast surveillance program.

Economic fallout.  But we can still blame the messenger.

Way to Be, KC

From Mother Jones

Oh, Those Wacky Russians

Russian social media has sprouted a meme: mock sanctions against US officials.  Example:

Oil Spill in the Houston Channel

A massive oil spill clean-up operation shut down the Houston Ship Channel for the second day on Sunday, blocking dozens of ships. An oil barge with a 900,000-gallon tank collided with a ship on Saturday and spilled up to 168,000 gallons.

Clean-up efforts managed on Sunday to transfer all the oil from the barge and are moving it out of the Houston Ship Channel.

“This is an extremely serious spill,” Coast Guard Captain Brian Penoyer said during a press conference late on Saturday. “This is a persistent oil. It’s a large quantity. It will spread. People should be aware of that.”

"Extremely serious spill," not because marine life is endangered, like in the Gulf - who cares about that - but because the Houston port deals in billions of dollars of commerce.
Authorities have closed the channel in order to contain environmental damage and avoid any additional collisions, the Coast Guard said. The decision has blocked the movements of more than 60 vessels between the Gulf and Galveston Bay, among which are three cruise ships.
Hey, Galveston used to be the major port before the Houston ship channel was built. If their receiving docks are not too outdated or dilapidated, perhaps the island could score a coup. No, I expect this is one oil spill that will be cleaned up in record time.

That Ought to Light a Fire Under Negotiations

Employees of Israel's Foreign Ministry went on an all-out strike Sunday for the first time in the country’s history over a dispute surrounding workers' salaries and conditions.


Israeli ambassadors abroad will not go to work, no consular services will be available, and Israel will not be represented at any international gatherings during the strike. Even the Foreign Ministry’s political leadership and management will be locked out.

The strike is indefinite and will affect everyone, including employers bringing foreign workers to Israel for work, immigrants, and anyone who wants to travel to Israel – including foreign dignitaries.


A number of visits have already been canceled or put on hold, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s planned trip to Mexico, Panama, and Colombia next month, as well as Pope Francis’ planned visit to Israel in May.


The diplomats are demanding an increase in their monthly salaries and want compensation for their spouses who have to quit jobs because of foreign postings. They say that one-third of Israeli diplomats have already quit over the past 10 years because of low salaries.

Let me guess….Israel’s diplomatic posts are not simply rewards for cash contributions like ours?

The Failure of Empire

[I]mperialists would like to ignore how neoliberalism has gutted the former source of our strength [(manufacturing)], has led us to increased reliance on Intellectual Property [(IP)], and has not offered the people in our realm of influence the stability [Robert] Kaplan claims empire brings []. People can’t eat, they can’t educate their children, they can’t retire because of the policies Kaplan and his buddies have pushed around the world. And the US solution to this is more trade pacts that just further instantiate IP as a core value, regardless of how little it serves those people who can’t eat.


It’s a lot more expensive to coerce power, both in terms of the military adventures or repression you must engage in, but also in terms of the dragnet you must throw across the world rather than the enhanced communication of an open Internet. Nevertheless, the Obama Administration, for all of Kaplan’s claimed post-Imperialism, seems to be doubling down on more coercive (or, in the case of trade agreements, counterproductive) means of retaining power.

  Emptywheel – Marcy Wheeler
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Drip, Drip, Drip

David Sanger and Nicole Perlroth report about how the NSA has successfully placed backdoors into the networks of the Chinese Telecommunications giant Huawei for purposes of (a) discerning Huawei’s links to the People’s Liberation Army and (b) preparing for offensive operations in third countries.


The Huawei revelations are devastating rebuttals to hypocritical U.S. complaints about Chinese penetration of U.S. networks, and also make USG protestations about not stealing intellectual property to help U.S. firms’ competitiveness seem like the self-serving hairsplitting that it is. [...] “The irony is that exactly what they are doing to us is what they have always charged that the Chinese are doing through us,” says a Huawei Executive. The Sanger and Perlroth story comes at about the same time that Michelle Obama is in China extolling the virtues of free speech and an open Internet. Censoring speech is not the same as secretly monitoring speech, and the Chinese do both. But the two are obviously related, and the First Lady’s speech – which of course follows other speeches and pronouncements in this vein, and reflects the views of the Obama administration – will widely be viewed as hypocritical in light of the NYT revelations.

And she should be embarrassed at the least.

The NYT states that it “withheld technical details of the operation at the request of the Obama administration, which cited national security concerns.” (The Washington Post recently withheld important details from an NSA story as well.) But note that the NYT is co-disclosing the information about Huawei with the German magazine Der Spiegel.


Der Spegel [has] more and more interesting detail, and promises a longer version of the story in its print edition tomorrow.
While the US has been telling the world that the Chinese government is spying on them through backdoors in Huawei products, it’s actually the NSA that has been doing that. It also yet again gives the lie to the claim that the NSA does not engage in economic espionage.

  Glenn Greenwald

Snowden Reminders

As he has said repeatedly, [Edward Snowden] wanted journalists – not himself – to make these decisions based on what is in the public interest and what can be disclosed without subjecting innocent people to harm. He was adamant that not all of the documents he provided were appropriate for publication, and was especially clear (at least to me) that certain categories of documents not be published (which is why those who demand that all documents be released are arguing, even though they won’t acknowledge it, that we should violate our agreement with our source, disregard Snowden’s conditions for furnishing the documents, and subject him to a wide range of risks he did not want to take).


‘There have of course been some stories where my calculation of what is not public interest differs from that of reporters, but it is for this precise reason that publication decisions were entrusted to journalists and their editors,’ he told Time.”

  The Intercept
The most striking numbers show a generation gap in the way people think about Snowden. Just 35% of Americans ages 18 to 30 say Snowden should be charged with a crime, compared with 57% of those 30 and older, according to a November poll by the Washington Post and ABC News. And 56% of young adults say he did the “right thing,” compared with 32% of their elders.

So maybe there is some reason to be hopeful about the future.

And Snowden has some suggestions for how to reform:
“The President,” Snowden wrote, “could plausibly use the mandate of public knowledge to both reform these programs to reasonable standards and direct the NSA to focus its tremendous power toward developing new global technical standards that enforce robust end-to-end security, ensuring that not only are we not improperly surveilling individuals but that other governments aren’t either.”
He could, but he won’t. And neither will the one who comes after him. Politics in this country has been careening toward corruption and the abuse of power for decades. Even when Congress and the public disapproved of ideas like the Pentagon’s Big Brother TIA, those ideas have not been abandoned, but merely carried on under a different guise and in secret.

It's Sunday

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Scientists Agree: Climate Change is a Threat

According to a 2013 report by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, 33 percent of Americans said they believed there was widespread disagreement among scientists and four percent said that “most scientists think global warming is not happening.”

  Bll Moyers
How close are they?
“As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do or must believe about the rising threat of climate change,” the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) wrote in the introduction to its new report, “What We Know.” “But we consider it to be our responsibility as professionals to ensure, to the best of our ability, that people understand what we know: human-caused climate change is happening, we face risks of abrupt, unpredictable and potentially irreversible changes and responding now will lower the risk and cost of taking action.”


The report noted that even though 97 percent of experts agree climate change is happening and we humans are causing it, Americans remain under the impression that the question is still unsettled.


These numbers suggest that disinformation circulated by the fossil fuel industry, utility companies and their political and media allies has successfully confused the public about the truth of global warming.
I think we need to give some credit to the fundamentalist religions.
“This in fact was [Big Tobacco's] primary strategy — to sow doubt,” [said Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz, the director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication.] “They literally wrote, ‘doubt is our product.’ As long as they could give people a false perception that the health community was still undecided about whether smoking caused human health problems, people would continue to smoke. They used that strategy very successfully to delay action on smoking for many years. And it’s been very well-documented that the groups that oppose climate action lifted chapter and verse the exact same strategy right out of the tobacco playbook.”


“These problems are very likely to become worse over the next 10 to 20 years and beyond,” the AAAS authors write. By becoming aware of the science behind global warming now, Americans will be better prepared to make “risk management” choices.
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

One Less A-Hole in the World

And the anti-gay extremist Fred Phelps has died at the age of 84. Phelps was the founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, a Kansas-based group known for holding anti-gay protests at the funerals of military veterans and AIDS victims. His daughter told a local news station there would be no funeral for Fred Phelps.

  Democracy Now!
Didn’t want to draw picketers?

Friday, March 21, 2014

Further Assessment of the Recent SEALS "Oil Rescue" Operation

Background/Original post
A March 11 statement from Libya’s National Oil Company stated, “the crude oil loaded upon the vessel “Morning Glory”, which is now at Essider Terminal in Libya, is the property of NOC and its Partners.” A March 9 State Department statement said, “The oil belongs to the Libyan National Oil Company and its joint venture partners. These partners include U.S. companies in the Waha consortium.”


ConocoPhillips owns a 16.3% stake in the Waha Concession, and an even bigger stake in some less productive ventures. Marathon Oil also owns a 16.3% stake (and Hess a 8.2% stake).


[A March 19 statement] not only added, “U.S. forces took control of the tanker in international waters at the request of the governments of Libya and Cyprus,” but repeated that “The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company.” Those partners — which both NOC and State were happy to reference before the SEALs valiantly rescued the crude — seem to have disappeared from the Administration’s messaging.


So while [NSC spokesperson] Caitlin Hayden would like you to believe this was a heroic op that saved the Libyan democracy from disintegration — I’m sure the SEALs acquitted themselves against 3 armed Libyans quite courageously and it may well help the Libyan state — it also happens to be an operation that served to rescue around $8 million of crude owned by American companies.


In addition to the hit this would have on Marathon’s bottom line (the Libyans have first bid here and informed Marathon they’d pay less than market rates), it would open up yet another new front for China to invest in big reserves. The last thing the US wants in China extending its influence in Africa.

Again, I’m not questioning the courage or excellence of the SEALs, nor am I diminishing the importance of oil to propping up the Libyan state right now. But it seems the push to turn this into a heroic narrative also serves to obscure the degree to which this is also about using our military to ensure the viability of this exploration so as to ensure US oil companies continue to exert influence — and keep pumping oil — in Libya.

Yes, this was not the catastrophe that Benghazi was (which has been magnified in any case). But that doesn’t mitigate that the overthrow of Qaddafi risks spiraling even further out of control into yet another colossal catastrophe of American (and European) intervention.

  EmptyWheel – Marcy Wheeler

US - Laltin American Relations - Still Crap

Russia’s defense minister says the country is planning bases in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, and just last week, Putin’s national security team met to discuss increasing military ties in the region.

“They’re on the march,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) said at a Senate hearing earlier this month. “They’re working the scenes where we can’t work. And they’re doing a pretty good job.”

  The Hill
Yeah, I wonder why.

Our Latin American foreign policy hasn’t exactly been designed to win the favor of those countries.
The U.S. military says it has been forced to cut back on its engagement with military and government officials in Latin America due to budget cuts.
Yeah, that’s it. That’s why Latin America isn’t our friend. Our military budget is too low.
Iran has opened up 11 additional embassies and 33 cultural centers in Latin America while supporting the "operational presence" of militant group Lebanese Hezbollah in the region.


China is making a play for Latin America a well, and is now the fastest growing investor in the region, according to experts. Although their activity is mostly economic, they are also increasing military activity through educational exchanges.
Clearly we need a bigger military budget.
Some experts warn against being too alarmist, and say Russia, China and Iran do not have the ability or desire to project military power beyond their borders.


According to Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), there are 10 countries in Latin America that currently have no U.S. ambassador because they either haven’t been nominated yet or confirmed, a sign that the region is seen as a low priority.
WTF? ...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Surveillance States and Their Economies

Theresa May summoned the internet giant Yahoo for an urgent meeting on Thursday to raise security concerns after the company announced plans to move to Dublin where it is beyond the reach of Britain's surveillance laws.

By making the Irish capital rather than London the centre of its European, Middle East and Africa operations, Yahoo cannot be forced to hand over information demanded by Scotland Yard and the intelligence agencies through "warrants" issued under Britain's controversial anti-terror laws.


In February, the Guardian revealed that Britain's eavesdropping centre GCHQ intercepted and stored the images of millions of people using Yahoo webcams, regardless of whether they were suspects. The data included a large quantity of sexually explicit pictures.

The company said this represented "a whole new level of violation of our users' privacy".


The move to make Dublin the centre of its headquarters for Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) was announced last month and will take effect from Friday.


Emma Carr, deputy director of Big Brother Watch, said: "It should not come as a surprise if companies concerned about maintaining their users' trust to hold their information start to move to countries with more rigorous oversight processes, particularly where courts oversee requests for information." Surveillance laws have a direct impact on our economy and Yahoo's decision should be ring an alarm in Parliament that ignoring the serious questions about surveillance that are being debated around the world will only harm Britain's digital economy."

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

"Adultry" - So That's What the Army Is Calling Rape These Days

Brigadier General Jeffrey Sinclair, 51, was initially charged with forcible sodomy and other counts of sexual assault based on allegations from a female US Army captain who served under him in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Sinclair, who allegedly threatened the lives of the young woman and her family, was facing a sentence that could have put him behind bars for the rest of his life.

Yet last weekend, Sinclair’s lawyer announced that the former rising star in the Army would plead guilty to adultery – a crime in the US military – and mistreating his accuser. The punishment that came down on Thursday reflected that change, absolving Sinclair of any prison time and instead sentencing him to a $20,000 fine and an official reprimand.


After the general’s 20-year sentence was reduced to a plea deal worth a maximum of 18 months in prison earlier this week, the judge announced that jail time would not be necessary. He did not explain his decision-making process and prosecutors would not speak to reporters.


Sinclair previously pleaded guilty to possessing pornography on his computer while serving in Afghanistan, interfering with an investigation by deleting explicit pictures from his computer, and pressuring other junior officers to send him nude images of themselves.


He said later that he “maltreated” the Army captain and that she seemed to him to be “emotionally invested in a way I was not.”


Sinclair, who could still face a reduction in rank and a lowered pension, announced his retirement immediately after the sentence was announced.

“This system worked. I’ve always been proud of my Army,” he said, as quoted by Jeffrey Collins of the Associated Press. “All I want to do now is go north and hug my kids and wife.”

Oh, indeed the “system” worked. It always does.

I hope his wife takes the kids and leaves him.

Giving Putin More Opportunity to Look Good

We do love to punish. Very Godlike of us, don't you think?

...but hey, do what you will anyway.
Vladimir Putin has mocked US sanctions imposed on Russia, saying he will open an account at US-sanctioned Rossiya Bank. During a meeting with the country's senior security officials he added that he won’t introduce a visa regime with Ukraine.


On Thursday the US expanded its sanctions list by adding 20 more names. US President Barack Obama announced a new executive order imposing further sanctions on top Russian officials and businessmen.


The order also allows for measures against Russian energy, mining, defense, and engineering sectors.


Putin also commented on the latest sanction of the US authorities that concerned Russia’s Rossiya Bank, to which international payment systems Visa and MasterCard stopped serving clients on Friday.


“I’ve already said that I was going to open an account in this bank, more than that I asked for my salary to be transferred to this account,” he said.


Putin added that Russian authorities should provide any possible support for the clients of the blocked Rossiya Bank, as this “finance establishment has nothing to do with Ukraine crisis.”

“The clients of the bank must be taken under our protection. We also should make sure that neither clients nor the bank will sustain any negative outcome from this situation,” he added.


Putin assured that Russia will refrain from retaliatory sanctions against the US and introducing a visa regime with Ukraine.

Putin believes that millions of innocent Ukrainian would suffer should Russia introduce a visa regime with Ukraine.

“These people are not rich. They work in Russia to provide for their families. We shouldn’t do this,” he added.


An Assessment of the Situation in Ukraine... an actual expert.

Former US ambassador to Russia, Jack Matlock Jr*, was interviewed by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez yesterday. Here are some excerpts from his responses to their questions:
I think that what we have seen is a reaction, in many respects, to a long history of what the Russian government, the Russian president and many of the Russian people—most of them—feel has been a pattern of American activity that has been hostile to Russia and has simply disregarded their national interests. They feel that having thrown off communism, having dispensed with the Soviet Empire, that the U.S. systematically, from the time it started expanding NATO to the east, without them, and then using NATO to carry out what they consider offensive actions about an—against another country—in this case, Serbia—a country which had not attacked any NATO member, and then detached territory from it—this is very relevant now to what we’re seeing happening in Crimea—and then continued to place bases in these countries, to move closer and closer to borders, and then to talk of taking Ukraine, most of whose people didn’t want to be a member of NATO, into NATO, and Georgia. Now, this began an intrusion into an area which the Russians are very sensitive. Now, how would Americans feel if some Russian or Chinese or even West European started putting bases in Mexico or in the Caribbean, or trying to form governments that were hostile to us? You know, we saw how we virtually went ballistic over Cuba. And I think that we have not been very attentive to what it takes to have a harmonious relationship with Russia.


[It is the] very prospect, that the United States and its European allies were trying to surround Russia with hostile bases, that has raised the emotional temperature of all these things. And that was a huge mistake.


The fact is, Russia now has returned Crimea to Russia. It has been, most of its recent history, in the last couple of centuries, been Russian. The majority of the people are Russian. They clearly would prefer to be in Russia. And the bottom line is, we can argue 'til doomsday over who did what and why and who was the legal and who was not—I'm sure historians generations from now will still be arguing it—but the fact is, Russia now is not going to give up Crimea. The fact also is, if you really look at it dispassionately, Ukraine is better off without Crimea, because Ukraine is divided enough as it is. Their big problem is internal, in putting together disparate people who have been put together in that country. The distraction of Crimea, where most of the people did not want to be in Ukraine and ended up in Ukraine as a result of really almost a bureaucratic whim, is—was, I think, a real liability for Ukraine.


[Ukkraine is not] going to solve [its] problems by taking a government that basically represents one half of the country and making it work on the whole country. And all of this interference, both by Russia and by the West, including the United States, has tended to split Ukraine. Now, that is the big issue there. And we need to turn our attention more to it.


And, you know, the idea that we are acting, you know, contrary to what Russians would consider their very natural interests—that is, in bringing an area which had been Russian and traditionally Russian for a long time back into Russia—they look at that as a good thing. It’s going to be very costly to Russia, they’re going to find out, in many ways. But to continue all of this rhetoric, I would ask, well, how is it going to end? What is your objective? Because it isn’t going to free up Crimea again or give it back to Ukraine.


[We] should start keeping our voice down and sort of let things work out. You know, to ship in military equipment and so on is just going to be a further provocation. Obviously, this is not something that’s going to be solved by military confrontations. So, I think if we can find a way to speak less in public, to use more quiet diplomacy—and right now, frankly, the relationships between our presidents are so poisonous, they really should have representatives who can quietly go and, you know, work with counterparts elsewhere.

  Democracy Now!
Sadly, both of our countries are saddled with megalomaniacs for presidents. I wonder how sick other countries must be of their subordination to one or the other.
We do have to understand that a significant part of the violence at the Maidan, the demonstrations in Kiev, were done by these extreme right-wing, sort of neo-fascist groups. And they do—some of their leaders do occupy prominent positions in the security forces of the new government. And I think—I think the Russians and others are quite legitimately concerned about that. Therefore, you know, many of these things are not nearly as black and white, when we begin to look at them, as is implied in much of the rhetoric that we’re hearing. And I do think that everybody needs now to take a quiet breath to really look at where we are and to see if we can’t find ways, by keeping our voices down, to help the Ukrainians in present-day Ukraine to get to a road to greater unity and reform that will make them a viable state.
And good luck to that.

*Ambassador to Moscow from 1987 to 1991 under both President Reagan and President George H.W. Bush, and he’s the author of a number of books, including Superpower Illusions and Autopsy on an Empire: The American Ambassador’s Account of the Collapse of the Soviet Union, as well as Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ed at TED

And a cool robot that Snowden controls on stage from his position in Russia. Drone? Droid?

Obit: Lawrence Walsh

Lawrence E. Walsh, the special prosecutor who spent six years investigating misconduct by President Ronald Reagan administration officials in the Iran-Contra affair, has died. He was 102.


"While struggling to learn the truth and unravel a willful cover-up that extended all the way to the Oval Office, my staff and I had to fend off attacks from members of Congress and the president's Cabinet and to break through the barriers erected by the national security community," Walsh wrote.

Iran-Contra had its roots in two covert operations directed from the Reagan White House. In both, Congress was kept in the dark.

Where they seem to be most at home.
Eleven people pleaded guilty or were convicted by juries in Iran-Contra. But the two biggest courtroom victories for Walsh's prosecutors — convictions of national security adviser John Poindexter and former Marine Lt. Col. Oliver North — were overturned on appeal.

Over Walsh's strenuous objections, Congress had granted North and Poindexter limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for both men's testimony in nationally televised hearings.


The biggest case of all, that of Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger, never came to trial because President George H.W. Bush pardoned the defendant and five other Iran-Contra figures on Christmas Eve of 2002, two weeks before Weinberger's trial was to start.


In the end, the Iran-Contra probe cost $47 million and resulted in just one person being sent to prison — a retired CIA officer who helped deliver weapons to the Contras.
In Mr. Walsh’s private life of later years, he litigated on behalf of AT&T and General Motors, but in his public career he made a name for himself on the moral/legal side of some important issues from racket busting in New York and New Jersey to drafting the Civil Rights Act of 1960, to attempting to bring to justice the political criminals of the Iran-Contra affair.


Bush I’s pardon of Iran-Contra criminals, and Walsh’s response

Firewall: Inside the Iran-Contra Cover-up by Lawrence Walsh
“For Walsh, a lifelong Republican who shared the foreign policy views of the Reagan administration, the Iran-contra experience was a life-changing one, as his investigation penetrated one wall of lies only to be confronted with another and another -- and not just lies from Oliver North and his cohorts but lies from nearly every senior administration official who spoke with investigators. […]Walsh's investigation broke through the White House cover-up in 1991-92. Almost by accident, as Walsh's staff was double-checking some long-standing document requests, the lawyers discovered hidden notes belonging to Weinberger and other senior officials. The notes made clear that there was widespread knowledge of the 1985 illegal shipments to Iran and that a major cover-up had been orchestrated by the Reagan and Bush administrations. […] The Iran-contra cover-up marked the restoration of a Cold War status quo in which crimes, both domestic and international, could be committed by the Executive while the Congress and the press looked the other way.”

  Consortium News
In which we got the now infamous Reagan defense: “I forgot.”
"What set Iran-contra apart from previous political scandals was the fact that a cover-up engineered in the White House of one president and completed by his successor prevented the rule of law from being applied to the perpetrators of criminal activity of constitutional dimension."
A precedent which appears to be becoming a pattern.
[T]he cover-up likely could not have worked if the other institutions of Washington -- Congress, the courts and the press -- had not helped.
Of course. ...but hey, do what you will anyway.

National Security

Is our defense budget actually being slashed under Obama? Is it inadequate?

Take a look:

Aiding the Enemy

House officials launched a new initiative Wednesday that they said would help local communities plan for the effects of climate change by providing them with troves of government data.


“Hundreds of thousands of infrastructure and geographical features across the U.S. will be made public by the [U.S. Geological Survey], the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Defense and the National Geospacial Intelligence Agency,” Podesta said. “These data will be crucial to helping communities prepare for floods and other climate impacts.”

  The Hill
Wait, wait, wait.

I thought we were supposed to have hidden all that stuff so the terrorists couldn’t get hold of it. What gives?

How Safe Are You Now That the NSA Is Collecting "Everything"?

A 16-year-old boy has been accused of bypassing security and climbing to the top of the One World Trade Center building in New York to take pictures.


[A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey], Joe Pentangelo, says the teen got on the construction site of nearly completed tower through a small fence opening. He then allegedly entered the tower by climbing scaffolding.

Pentangelo says the teen eluded a guard on the 104th floor. The guard has since been fired.


Disproportionate Benefit to Blacks

The Affordable Care Act expands Medicaid coverage to all adults below 138 percent of the federal poverty level. Under the law, the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost for the first three years—from 2014 to 2016. The federal contribution then gradually declines to 90 percent, where it will remain.

However, the Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that the decision to expand must be left up to the states. While the Obama administration assumed that states would still jump at the federal funding, this turned out not to be the case.


Currently, 25 states and the District of Columbia have opted into Medicaid expansion, while 19 have opted out. That leaves six that have not yet decided.

  National Journal
I was just watching an NPR segment with Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, pastor at the church in Atlanta where Dr. Martin Luther King was stationed. He was arrested recently along with 38 other people from a group called Moral Mondays for protests to have Medicaid expanded in Georgia. He says Georgia’s government is claiming that Georgia can’t afford to expand Medicaid, when the federal government is underwriting the cost 100% for two years and then 90%. He gave the figures on the number of jobs that would be created and the amount of revenue expected.

It does seem as though the arguments against Medicaid expansion are mostly political – Republicans determined not to accept anything involved with the Obama administration – and perhaps punitive, with the same arguments our righteous citizens have about welfare “handouts” to the undeserving poor (read "blacks").

And the absolute proof of dog-whistle politics in Georgia is that another bill awaiting the governor's signature is one that would make it a crime for state employees to assist anyone in signing up for the Affordable Care Act.  Seriously, Georgia.  WTF?