• Congrats America! One Out of Five of Your Kids Needs Food Stamps

    January 30, 2015 // 10 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage, Post-Constitution America



    Data released by the Census Bureau Wednesday showing a staggering 16 million children in the U.S., about one out of five kids under the age of 18, received food stamp assistance in 2014.

    Overall, more than 46.5 million Americans were on food stamps last year, according to the Department of Agriculture. Food stamps are officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP.



    More and More Hungry Kids in America

    The census numbers show while one percent of Americans wallow in obscene, record-setting amounts of wealth, large swaths of the country remain in real trouble. In 2014 more American kids relied on food stamps than at any time since the 2008 economic crash. In raw, hungry mouth numbers, nine million children received food stamps in 2007 compared to 16 million now, and 26 million Americans of all ages received assistance compared to the 46.5 million now. It’s a new personal best, a new record and thus a new low for America.

    These statistics come from the 2014 Current Population Survey’s Annual Social and Economic Supplement, which has collected statistics on families and living arrangements for more than 60 years.


    Congress: Parents are Lazy

    “The spike in food stamp spending has caught the attention of Congress, and House Republicans tried to cut the program by around $4 billion a year in 2013,” the Associated Press reports. “In an eventual compromise, Congress agreed to cuts of around $800 million a year. The food stamp program will be under scrutiny in the new Republican Congress.”

    But really, lazy is what lazy does. Why shouldn’t we cut public assistance and force people into the job market?


    So Cut the Damn Handouts

    At some point in this kind of discussion, someone will drop the nuclear option: cut federal and state benefits and do away with most public assistance. That’ll motivate parents to find jobs or watch their kids starve. Why should tax dollars be used to give food to people who won’t work for it? “If you’re able-bodied, you should be willing to work,” former House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said discussing food stamp cuts.

    The problem with such statements is 73 percent of those enrolled in the country’s major public benefits programs are, in fact, from working families — just in jobs whose paychecks don’t cover life’s basic necessities. McDonald’s workers alone receive $1.2 billion in federal assistance per year. It’s not complicated. Workers in the minimum-wage economy often need them simply to survive.



    Mother’s Day

    In Ohio, where I did some of the research for my book Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent, the state pays out benefits on the first of each month. Pay Day, Food Day, Mother’s Day, people call it. SNAP is distributed in the form of an Electronic Bank Transfer card, or EBT, which, recipients will tell you, stands for “Eat Better Tonight.” EBT-friendly stores open early and stay open late on the first of the month because most people are pretty hungry come the Day.

    A single person with nothing to her name in the lower 48 states would qualify for no more than $189 a month in SNAP. If she works, her net monthly income is multiplied by .3, and the result is subtracted from the maximum allotment. Less than fifty bucks a week for food isn’t exactly luxury fare.

    Sure, she can skip a meal if she needs to, and she likely does. However, she may have kids; almost two-thirds of SNAP children live in single-parent households. Twenty percent or more of the child population in 37 states lived in “food insecure households” in 2011, with New Mexico (30.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (30 percent) topping the list. And it’s not just kids. Households with disabled people account for 16 percent of SNAP benefits, while nine percent go to households with senior citizens.



    What’s for Dinner?

    So, to recap. In a time when some 20 percent of our own children need help just to be fed, Congress wants to cut further the thing that stands between those kids and malnutrition. Our system is trending toward asking kids (and the disabled, and the elderly) to go to hell if they’re hungry. Many are already there.

    Yep, that’s us today in America.

    BONUS! A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund, on the well-being of children in 35 developed nations, shows the United States ranks 34th of the 35 countries surveyed, above only Romania and below virtually all of Europe plus Canada, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. We love could care about our kids!



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Dems: Hillary Willing to Testify on Benghazi; Here’s What to Ask Her

    January 29, 2015 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Libya



    Hillary Clinton has agreed to testify before a House committee investigating the terrorist attacks in Benghazi ahead of her expected 2016 presidential run.



    Clinton Says Yes

    Representative Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the committee, told reporters Clinton was ready, after he reached out to Clinton at the request of committee Chairman Trey Gowdy.

    Gowdy reiterated on Tuesday that he would like to hear from Clinton but said the panel needed additional documents from the State Department before he would ask her to appear. The State Department has sent the Benghazi panel more than 40,000 documents — including 15,000 never previously sent to Congress — but Gowdy and House Republicans have dozens of standing requests State hasn’t filled.



    Clinton Previously Said No

    Clinton says she won’t “be a part of a political slugfest on the backs of dead Americans” over the 2012 Benghazi attacks,” though she devotes a full chapter to the incident in her book Hard Choices, from which the quotes below are drawn.


    The Questions

    It is very, very difficult to discuss Benghazi and Clinton without almost immediately dipping deep into partisan politics, and no doubt any hearings she will testify at will be ugly and deeply partisan.

    That said, there are important questions about what Clinton’s handling of Benghazi that are relative to her desire to be president. Here are some of them.



    1) Where was Clinton?

    The Benghazi attack unfolded from about 4pm in the afternoon until very late at night, Washington time. Clinton said she was first told of the incident as it began. She has refused to be specific about her whereabouts and actions that night. Where was Clinton between 4pm and say midnight? The State Department Operations Center was on the phone live with officials in Benghazi, Tripoli or both locations and may have been monitoring live TV pictures fed to them from a drone. Was Clinton in the State Department Operations Center? If not, why not? When did she leave the State Department? Why did she leave? Did she go to the White House Ops Center, who no doubt was monitoring the situation? If not, why not?

    Senator Charles Schumer was called to the White House, from 5:30 p.m. to midnight, as the Benghazi attack unfolded. Clinton would be an unlikely source to explain Schumer’s presence, but certainly should be asked to explain her own non-presence.

    For example, the CBS timeline for the attack states that 4 a.m. Washington time Obama was told of Ambassador Stevens’ death. Where was Clinton at that time? If she was asleep, at home or elsewhere, why did she chose that over staying at the State Department?

    Clinton has refused to explain where she was the night of the Benghazi attack. CNN asked her, and here is her response:

    QUESTION: … could you tell us a little bit about what you were doing when that attack actually happened? I know Charlene Lamb, who as the State Department official, was mentioning that she back here in Washington was monitoring electronically from that post what was happening in real time. Could you tell us what you were doing? Were you watching? Were you talking with the President? Any details about that, please.

    SECRETARY CLINTON: … I think that it is very important to recognize that we have an investigation going on… So that’s what an investigative process is designed to do: to try to sort through all of the information, some of it contradictory and conflicting… So I’m going to be, as I have been from the very beginning, cooperating fully with the investigations that are ongoing, because nobody wants to know more about what happened and why than I do. And I think I’ll leave it at that.

    Why It Matters: A Commander-in-Chief is responsible for lives and decisions. She has to be present and ready to make the “hard choices” in real time. If Clinton was elsewhere and not directly monitoring Benghazi in real-time (as opposed to getting periodic “briefings” aside some other event), how will she act as president in a similar crisis?

    2) About That Anti-Muslim Video

    In her book Hard Choices Clinton states about Benghazi:

    There were scores of attackers that night, almost certainly with differing motives. It is inaccurate to state that every single one of them was influenced by this hateful video. It is equally inaccurate to state that none of them were. Both assertions defy not only the evidence but logic as well.

    What evidence can Clinton present that any Benghazi attackers were directly motivated by the video so offensive to Muslims? The attacks appear to have been well-coordinated and goal-oriented, not the faceless mobs content to tear down the American flag as seen in Cairo. Some were certainly angry about the video, but was it truly a “motivation?”

    For example, at 6:07 p.m. Washington time an alert from the State Department Operations Center stated the U.S. Embassy in Tripoli reported the Islamic military group “Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack”… on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli. It did not appear that the offensive video was cited.

    The UK’s Independent noted the Consulate attackers made off with documents listing names of Libyans who are working with Americans, and documents related to oil contracts.

    Why It Matters: If you cite evidence, put up or shut up. The president must speak precisely, both to avoid misunderstandings and to preserve her credibility.


    3) What is Responsibility?

    Clinton writes:

    As Secretary I was the one ultimately responsible for my people’s safety, and I never felt that responsibility more deeply than I did that day.

    Define “responsibility.” Many definitions imply some sort of relationship between being responsible, making decisions and accepting consequences. What decisions did Clinton make as Secretary of State vis-vis security in Benghazi? If delegated, to whom? What controls, management tools or other means did she employ to assure those delegates acted out her intentions?

    Why It Matters: As president, Clinton will need to delegate almost everything. If she is unable to manage that, simply saying she takes “responsibility” while shucking off consequences will undermine her leadership.


    4) More About Responsibility

    In Hard Choices, Clinton writes about the messages from Benghazi before the attack requesting more security:

    The cables were addressed to her as a ‘procedural quirk’ given her position, but didn’t actually land on her desk. “That’s not how it works. It shouldn’t. And it didn’t.”

    Fair enough. Obviously the Secretary cannot read even a fraction of what pours into the State Department. So, who were the highest level people to see those cables? What were their instructions on which issues to elevate to the Secretary and which to deal with themselves? Clearly the need for more security at Benghazi was not addressed. Following Benghazi, did Clinton initiate any internal review, leading to changes? Details are important here.

    Following Benghazi, no one in the State Department lost his/her job. No one was fired. Several people were placed on administrative leave, a kind of purgatory, until media attention focused elsewhere. All were eventually reinstated. The one person who claimed to have resigned actually just changed job titles, “resigning” from one to take on another.

    At the time, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., chairwoman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said “the discipline is a lie and all that has happened is the shuffling of the deck chairs. That will in no way change [the] systemic failures of management and leadership in the State Department.”

    Why It Matters: God alone knows how much paper, how many memos and reports, arrive at the White House daily. The president must have staff and a system that filter the right things up and down. The country needs to have confidence that President Clinton will be able to handle that to prevent bad decisions that may lead to more tragedy. And when things go wrong, the president must be willing to shed ineffectual people and replace them with better ones.



    5) Leading

    Clinton writes of her non-appearance on television, with Susan Rice taking the lead:

    [People] fixate on the question of why I didn’t go on TV that morning, as if appearing on a talk show is the equivalent of jury duty, where one has to have a compelling reason to get out of it. I don’t see appearing on Sunday-morning television as any more of a responsibility than appearing on late-night TV. Only in Washington is the definition of talking to Americans confined to 9 A.M. on Sunday mornings.

    At the time, Susan Rice was America’s ambassador to the UN, what many saw as an unusual choice for a spokesperson for such a State Department-specific tragedy with little UN touchpoint.

    Clinton was Secretary of State, the leader of the State Department, which had just had one of its consulates overrun, and two of its employees killed, one an ambassador. Clinton admits she held “responsibility” for this. Why wouldn’t she be the person to speak of this to the American people? Indeed, it was Clinton, not Susan Rice, in the foreground of the serious, patriotic photos taken later at the Dover Air Force base when the remains of the dead were returned to the U.S. in their flag-draped coffins.

    Clinton went on to miss numerous opportunities to speak of her role regarding Benghazi.

    Why It Matters: The buck stops here, said president Harry Truman. The president needs to be the one who speaks to America, explains things that happened to Americans, the one who shows by example her role, her compassion, for those whom she sent into harm’s way. The president, to lead, can’t duck that.



    6) Information and Disinformation

    Clinton writes in her book:

    [There is a] regrettable amount of misinformation, speculation, and flat-out deceit by some in politics and the media, but new information from a number of reputable sources continues to expand our understanding of these events.

    Can Clinton be specific about what new information she is referring to, and from what sources? Can she explain how she determined these sources are reputable as opposed to those she characterizes as “flat-out deceit”?

    One Democratic talking point opposing additional investigation into Benghazi is that the event has been dissected fully and we know all there is to know, that a new hearing in Congress is simply partisan politics. But if there is new information, as Clinton says, it seems more investigation would be helpful.

    Why It Matters: A president’s word choice is very important. Precision is important and establishes credibility.


    7) Accountability

    Clinton writes that the Accountability Review Board (ARB), State’s after-action process following any tragedy abroad as significant as two employees being killed by terrorists, did not interview her for their report, by their own choice. She does not know why they did not call on her. The report was bland and singled out no one for discipline or sanction despite the deaths and the decisions (by someone) not to increase security as personnel on the ground demanded.

    Given the central role the Secretary of State and her office, delegates and staffers played in Benghazi before, during and after the crisis, how could this possibly be true? Assuming that the ARB truly found no reason whatsoever to speak to the head of an organization about arguably the most significant event of her term as head of that organization, why didn’t Clinton seek them out? Why didn’t she prepare a written statement, ask to add in her recollections? Get her role on record? Make sure history was recorded.

    The Accountability Review Board personnel were hand-selected by Clinton.

    And as John Kerry said (about Edward Snowden) “patriots don’t run away.”

    Why It Matters: Not participating in such a review process, and then dismissing such non-participation simply as “they didn’t ask,” even if true, raises significant credibility questions about the validity of the ARB and the leader who did not participate. Credibility to her own staff, as well as to the American people, is a critical thing for a president.

    If either lose faith in her, she cannot be effective. Leaders lead without excuses.


    Something Important

    OK, let’s get this out of the way. It is impossible to divorce an attempt at serious, dispassionate discourse about Benghazi from the political side promoted by Republicans and Democrats. And yes, of course, it is aimed at Hillary 2016.

    But Hillary 2016 is a big deal. If the election were held today, she’d likely be the next president. So maybe, albeit with some of the inevitable political mud slung alongside, we should pay attention to how she acted, if she failed to act, and whether she enjoyed some sort of cover-up/soft-sell over what really happened in Benghazi.

    To paraphrase Mrs. Clinton’s own political rhetoric as directed at then-candidate Obama, we need to know how she’ll act when that tragic 3 a.m. phone call comes through. While past performance is no guarantee of future success or failure, it is how the smart money should bet.

    What kind of president would Hillary Clinton be? Let’s ask some real questions, and hold out for real answers.




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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Muslim Woman Sues Police For Forcing Her To Remove Hijab

    January 28, 2015 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    kazan

    The Dearborn, Michigan area is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States, so this can’t be blamed on some small-town cops ignorant of the law. Of course, since that “law” is actually the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantee of freedom of religion, even that is not much of an excuse.

    So we’re left with the “What were they thinking?” defense.

    A Muslim woman who was forced to remove her hijab by police in Michigan claims her religious rights were violated. She filed a civil rights lawsuit demanding the policy change.


    Today’s American Traffic Stops

    Malak Kazan, 27-years-old, pictured, is suing the police department and city of Dearborn Heights, a suburb of Detroit, after officers refused her request to keep her headscarf on while taking booking photos.

    Kazan was stopped for a traffic violation and arrested after the cops found her license had been suspended for outstanding traffic tickets. Fair enough. At the police station she was told to remove her headscarf. When she said that would violate her religious beliefs, the cops said there were no exceptions. A supervisor said the same thing. Kazan says she then requested a female officer take the picture, also denied. Her lawsuit says she was threatened with further detention if she didn’t comply. Kazan reluctantly removed her hijab and was photographed under protest.

    The lawsuit demands the police department change its policy to allow headgear worn for religious purposes.

    The Fake Excuse

    Dearborn Heights Police Chief Lee Gavin said his department requires individuals to remove head coverings, as they can “contain concealable items that could pose a threat or chance of injury to the cops or to themselves.” He said procedure is to have women remove hijabs in the presence of a female officer, but there aren’t always enough female officers at the station.

    The Chief did not explain why any such search was not conducted prior to the booking photo, at which time Kazan had already been in police custody for some time. Any threatening objects concealed could have long come into play at that point. Typically suspects are searched at the time of arrest, and immediately upon arriving at the police station.

    Dearborn Out of Sync

    After various legal actions, several cities, including all of Orange County, California and Washington, DC, have changed their policies to allow hijabs and other religious headgear. Generally, so does TSA. An officer may request removal of religious headgear only when a traveler is unable to pass metal detection, or after a pat down when a concern has not been resolved.

    Reminder: It will be the taxpayers on the hook for the costs of litigation, plus the inevitable settlement offered to Kazan.



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Terrorist Prosecution Fail; Taxpayers Eat it for $25,000+

    January 27, 2015 // 8 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    george


    Here’s another reason to be even more skeptical when you see those statistics about how the United States has arrested or detained 1,200,761,324 terrorists or whatever.

    A former college student, Nicholas George, the Face of Evil, pictured, was detained in 2009 for hours at Philadelphia International Airport because he was carrying Arabic flashcards and thus suspected by the TSA of having something to do with terrorism. With the assistance of the ACLU, George successfully sued the United States Government for abusing his First and Fourth Amendment rights. The $25,000 settlement ends five years of litigation, including numerous attempts to stall the case by the government, all paid for by you, the taxpayer. Because, freedom, ‘kay?

    The Madness

    The government’s madness began after Nicholas George was detained for having Arabic-English flashcards with words like “terrorist” and bomb” written on them. He was 21-years-old at the time and on his way to California, where he was a senior at Pomona College majoring in — wait for it — Middle Eastern studies. The U.S. government actually encourages Americans to learn “critical languages” such as Arabic, and both the CIA and the State Department offer recruitment incentives to those who do. The government also offers generous grants and loans to those who study Arabic. In order to better decode what a bad guy might be saying, it would make sense for a student to learn words such as “bomb.” The term would also certainly come up in any contemporary reading about world events.

    Back at the front lines of the war on terror, apparently the Philly airport, things played out a little differently.

    “At the metal detector at airport security, Transportation Security Administration agents asked me to empty my pockets,” George said. “I took the set of flashcards from my pocket and handed them to the officers. After I cleared the metal detector, they asked me to step aside for additional screening. One of them started rifling through the cards, and another took a book critical of U.S. foreign policy written by a Reagan administration official out of my carry-on. The minutes ticked by, and I got more confused about why I was being detained and more concerned that I would miss my flight. One of them called a supervisor.”

    Bin Laden Spoke Arabic

    After a half-hour delay at the security line, the supervisor showed up. After looking at the book and flashcards, the supervisor asked “Do you know who did 9/11?” George answered: “Osama Bin Laden.” Then she asked him if he knew what language Osama Bin Laden spoke. “Arabic,” he replied. George was in college, after all, so knew the answers. “So do you see why these cards are suspicious?” she finished. George did not know the answer to that question.

    George was then handcuffed and paraded through the airport to a police substation. Authorities searched his luggage and kept him locked up in a cell handcuffed. After about two hours George asked to go to the bathroom, and on the way back asked his jailer why he was being held. The cop answered, contending for the banality of evil award, “I dunno, what’d you do?” George was eventually set free without explanation. Having missed his flight, he was left on his own to get home.

    First and Fourth Amendments? Never Heard of ‘Em

    “Even after searching my luggage without probable cause of a crime and finding nothing out of the ordinary, TSA agents and the police felt they had the authority to detain and then arrest me, purely on ignorant assumptions about a language spoken by 295 million people worldwide,” George wrote in a blog post.

    Another victory in the war on terror,or for bullying, or for the triumph of the will of ignorance. Thanks TSA!



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    Copyright © 2015. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • The Sad Case of a Teen Convicted of Terrorism

    January 26, 2015 // 3 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America



    Shannon Conley, circled in the photo above, a 19-year-old suburban Denver teen, was sentenced to four years in prison on one count of conspiracy to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization, ISIS. We’ll get to the specifics of Conley’s crime in a moment, but first some more details from her sentencing.

    Impartial Justice?

    U.S. District Judge Raymond Moore said Conley needed psychological help. In addition to the four years behind bars, he also sentenced her to three years of supervised release and 100 hours of community service and barred her from possessing black powder used in explosives, saying, “I’m not going to take a chance with you.”

    “I don’t know what has been crystallized in your mind,” Moore told her, adding that he hoped the sentence would discourage others with similar intentions. “I’m still not sure you get it.”

    Assistant U.S. Attorney Gregory Holloway also said Conley “continues to defy authority, making vitriolic comments about law enforcement even though authorities showed restraint in their handling of her case. That’s a troubling sign that she may reoffend.”



    The Threat of Shannon Conley

    To put Conley’s sentencing, and the government’s actions, in context, let’s look into her so-called material support for ISIS.

    The government’s interest in Conley started thanks to two alert Citizens. A security guard and pastor at the Faith Bible Chapel in Arvada, Colorado, contacted police to report the girl had been wandering their campus taking notes. The girl also became “confrontational” with church staffers when they asked to see her notes. The guard thought she was suspicious and that she seemed to be “visiting the church in preparation for an attack.” It is unclear how whatever the woman was doing appeared to be in preparation for an attack.

    The FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force went on to investigate Conley for eight months. They discovered that she had met a man online who identified himself as a 32-year-old Tunisian terrorist associated with ISIS and with whom she built what she felt was a romantic relationship. He encouraged her to travel to Syria to fight alongside him, because of course everyone you meet online is exactly who they say they are and especially guys who meet girls online never lie to them (there is at least some evidence that this whole thing jihad thing was just a trick to lure vulnerable foreign women into prostitution.)

    The FBI’s “investigation” of all this included meeting with Conley in person on a near-weekly basis for six months. Even her attire was cited as “evidence” at her trial: At her first meeting with FBI agents she wore a T-shirt that read “Sniper. Don’t run, you’ll die trying.” We shall not comment on the irony of that when the movie “American Sniper” dominates the box office. The FBI also met with Conley’s parents, warning them of their daughter’s “radical beliefs.”



    Seriously?

    Here’s the serious part: The girl was interviewed by an FBI special agent, at which point she said she was training in military tactics through a non-profit youth group called the U.S. Army Explorers and that she hoped to share what she learned with Islamic jihadi fighters. A few weeks later, she told the FBI agent she would be “ready to wage jihad in a year.” The suspect told the FBI, however, that her knowledge of Islam and jihad was based mostly on her research conducted using Google.

    The U.S. Army Explorers, where the girl was seeking training to enable her to survive on the battlefields of the MidEast alongside hardened terrorists, describes itself as a program that “exposes cadets to what career opportunities in the military are like, and provides them first hand knowledge and experience in the many military occupational skills… Our program is a part of the Learning for Life Explorer program with the Boy Scouts of America.” The group accepts cadets as young as age 13. It costs $85 to join, but that includes an ID card and uniform patches. The girl also told the FBI she planned to use her Army Explorer skills to “train Islamic Jihadi fighters in U.S. military tactics.”

    The Price of Freedumb

    So, in what was likely the worst online dating story of the year, the FBI launched an eight month investigation leading to an airport takedown when Conley sought to board a flight to Turkey, a country described as “near Syria.” In between, the Feds spoke numerous times to Conley, and her parents, and no doubt must have come to the conclusion that her chances of waging jihad were about the same as her chances of finding true love on the web.

    But instead of advising her parents to take back their credit card, they busted her for planning to travel to Turkey. Even the antagonistic judge at her trial seemed to see another side of Conley at one point, stating “I’m not saying her actions were a direct product of mental illness, but she’s a bit of a mess. She’s pathologically naive.”

    The really sad part, absent wrecking this girl’s already pathetic life (when released at age 23 she’ll be a convicted felon, hardened by three years inside, with a terror rap), is that this case will no doubt now be counted among the many other examples of how the government is protecting us from the terrorists in our midst.



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  • Iraq Captain Urges End to Celebratory Gunfire Killing Off Fans

    January 25, 2015 // 1 Comment

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq

    CAUCUSUS



    When I was in Iraq, learning to recognize “celebratory gunfire” by sound was a useful skill. First, you did not want to shoot back and kill innocent people. Second, you did not want to show up where people were all excited and shooting guns.

    But mostly, you wanted to avoid the gravity thing. Rounds shot into the air to celebrate a wedding or a sports victory had to come back down. Especially when Iraqis fired off entire clips at a time, you just didn’t want to be under that stuff when it came falling back to earth.

    The captain of Iraq’s football team agrees. On Sunday he urged fans to refrain from shooting after celebratory gunfire wounded 89 revelers following a dramatic penalty “shoot-out” victory against arch-rival Iran.

    “I urge you to express your happiness in a dignified way because I think the shooting is hurting people,” he said. “This shooting could hurt a family and this family will not have fun with us, it will be prevented from celebrating with us. I urge you all to stop firing.”

    Reports have surfaced of at least two children killed by falling bullets.

    Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi promised to crack down on any further celebratory gunfire in Iraq, which is awash with weapons, but such pledges have been made before with little effect. “I have ordered the security forces to prevent celebratory gunfire and punish violators,” he said in a statement. He urged the security forces, the sport, health and tribal authorities as well as civil society to “play an active role in spreading awareness and contribute to ending this uncivilised behavior.”

    BONUS: The image above actually shows an American in trouble with Tampa, Florida authorities for letting off celebratory gunfire.



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  • Barrett Brown Went to Jail for My Sins

    January 23, 2015 // 18 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America



    This– THIS LINK– could have sent me to jail. Another link came very, very close to sending Barrett Brown to jail. Brown was just sentenced to five years in jail on other charges that the government could make stick, in another step towards the criminalization of everything.



    The United States v. Barrett Brown

    Brown, pictured, 33-years-old, was arrested in 2012 after his and his mothers’ homes were raided and he used “threatening” language toward FBI officers in a response posted to YouTube. He was subsequently accused of working with hackers, whose efforts yielded a huge tranche of embarrassing and revealing information concerning misbehavior and sleaze at U.S. government contractors, primarily Stratfor.

    Among the secrets exposed were collaborative efforts between the government and private contractors to monitor social networks, and to develop online surveillance systems.

    The charges against Brown included the claim that merely linking to the leaked information was illegal, an alleged crime for which prosecutors sought decades in prison. Brown ultimately signed a plea deal on three lesser charges: transmitting a threat (the YouTube video), trying to hide a laptop computer during a raid, and to being “accessory after the fact in the unauthorized access to a protected computer.” He spent a year awaiting trial in federal prison, and was subject to a six-month gag order prohibiting him from even discussing his case with the media.

    On January 22, a Dallas court sentenced Barrett Brown to 63 months in federal prison, minus time already served. He was also ordered to pay $890,000 in restitution to the Stratfor Corporation.



    Who is Barrett Brown?

    Barrett Brown is an internet guy. He may or may not have been involved with web naughty boys Anonymous (he denies the association) and most certainly was deeply involved with broad free speech issues online. In 2011, Brown posted a link in a chatroom, pointing to data that was obtained during the late-2011 hack of Stratfor Global Intelligence. The link pointed to documents on the Wikileaks site. The docs are still there.

    The government arrested Brown and charged him with a number of offenses, the most significant of which was for posting that link. The link, the government contended, exposed enormous amounts of credit card information, a crime. Not mentioned by the government, the link also documented discussions of assassination, rendition and how to undermine journalists and foreign governments, plus the social media stuff mentioned above.

    To be clear, neither the government nor anyone else accused Brown of stealing the info himself, or misusing the info to use others’ credit cards, physically possessing the information, hosting it on a server he controlled or anything like that. His crime was simply linking to data that already existed on the Internet and which was already available worldwide for viewing.



    Looking for a Test Case

    Prior to Brown pleading guilty to the three lesser counts he was sentenced for January 22, the government dropped the other charges related to linking as a crime. Though the government in its Motion to Dismiss gave no reasons for its decision, the implication is that while they were clearly looking to set a precendent on the Brown case, they did not want that precedent to be a loss. Better to let a small fry like Brown swim away than risk the greater goal.

    What kind of test case? Having failed to find any legal or otherwise effective way to deal with sites like Wikileaks, or the publication of classified materials elsewhere on the Internet such as the Snowden documents, the government is taking a side-step in seeking to punish those that use, view or handle the material itself.

    For example, when the Wikileaks information first started pouring out across the web, most government agencies blocked access to the data via their firewalls, claiming the content was still classified and thus could not be viewed on a government computer even while it could be viewed on any other web-connected computer from Cleveland to Karachi. Similar blocks have been put in place to prevent much of the Snowden material from being viewed at various work sites.



    Before Barrett Brown, Me?

    The attempt by the government to punish people for links to “objectionable” material did not start with Brown. Though I can’t promise I was the first test case, I was certainly an early attempt.

    In 2010 the Department of State suspended the Top Secret security clearance I had held without incident or question for over twenty years because I linked to a supposedly classified document on the Wikileaks site from my blog.

    State referred my linkage to the Department of Justice for prosecution in fall 2010. When Justice declined without reason to pursue the case, State took the non-judicial action of “temporarily” suspending my security clearance indefinitely, because of the link. State claimed that via that link I revealed classified information publicly, a major no-no for cleared personnel and sought to fire me. As in the Brown case, in the end State choose not to pursue charges, again without comment. I was defended by several excellent lawyers, and retired from State on my own terms, including no gag orders.

    There may be other such link cases out there that we do not yet know of. They may be classified, or the parties involved may be under gag orders, as was Brown.

    Who’s Next?

    There appears little question that the government is testing the concept, looking for a case that it can win that would criminalize linking. From the government’s point of view, the win would pay off handsomely:

    — With use of their content criminalized, sites like Wikileaks would slip beneath the world radar. People would be increasingly afraid of reading them, and the crowdsourcing critical to sifting through millions of documents would slow down significantly.

    — In cases the government saw as particularly dangerous, people would disappear into jail. With a precedent set in a “good” test case, winning such prosecutions would be rote work for interns. Is there a link? Did Ms. X create the link? Does the link go to classified information? It’s a slam dunk.

    — Best of all from a control standpoint, prosecuting links will have a chilling affect. Many people will simply be afraid to take the chance of legal trouble and stop creating links or following them. That will certainly be the case among the main stream media, already far too skittish about security matters. One wonders what effect such prosecuting of links will have on search engines like Google, essentially little more than a collection of links.

    Another step toward a post-Constitutionalization of America is the creeping criminalization of everything. If every act is potentially cause for prosecution, the ability of the government to control what people do or say grows.

    So while we still can, better hit these links: Wikileaks, Cryptome, some Snowden.

    Who could have guessed that in 2015 a click of the mouse would be a subversive act?



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  • ISIS v. Saudi Arabia, Implementation of Sharia Law

    January 22, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Sharia-zone-4X3

    One is an enemy of America, a group of evil Sunni terrorists who ruthlessly employ their own twisted vision of Islamic Sharia Law to behead people, punish homosexuality and criminalize adultery.

    And the other’s one of America’s staunchest Sunni allies in the Middle East, on the road to democracy, albeit one that employs its own twisted vision of Islamic Sharia Law to behead people, punish homosexuality and criminalize adultery.


    Having trouble telling the difference between ISIS and Saudi Arabia? It can happen to anyone! Let Middle East Eye help you out with this handy chart:




    It was all kind of a trick question. See dummy, ISIS are terrorists. The Saudis just fund terrorists (including, perhaps until only recently, ISIS!) Duh.



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  • U.S. Economic Inequality at Highest Levels in 100 years

    January 21, 2015 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Minimum Wage

    yellen


    Unless you are very, very rich, you are getting poorer. Federal Reserve chief Janet Yellen warned that the gap between the rich and poor in the United States is widening and has reached a near 100-year high.

    The One Percent of the One Percent

    Not sure? Between 1979 and 2007, income grew by 275 percent for the top one percent of households, compared to only 18 percent for the bottom twenty percent of us. Back in 1980, 0.01 percent of the population owned three percent of national wealth. Today that top 0.01 percent, only about 32,000 people, owns 11 percent of national wealth. That’s a staggering increase from an already high base. It suggests even the one percent no longer are that big of a deal in the economy. We need now to pay attention to the one percent of the one percent.

    “By some estimates, income and wealth inequality are near their highest levels in the past hundred years,” Yellen said, noting the gap has grown steadily over recent decades, despite a brief pause during the 2008 crisis when pretty much everyone got whacked.

    About the 2008 Recession

    “But widening inequality resumed in the recovery, as the stock market rebounded,” Yellen said, noting that “wage growth and the healing of the labor market have been slow, and the increase in home prices has not fully restored the housing wealth lost by the large majority of households for which it is their primary asset.”

    If you read that carefully, it means that the rich, who earn their money in significant part via capital, owning stock and things like multiple pieces of real estate, have done just fine recently.

    The rest of us, who work for wages as our primary income, are still in trouble. If your home, assuming you still own it post-2008 (and that’s a huge assumption. Some five million homes were lost to foreclosure between 2008 and 2013. 8.2 million more foreclosure starts took place in that same time period. Another three million homes in the next three or four years will face foreclosure), is not in a high-growth area, then the value of the one piece of capital you do have, then it does you little good.

    None of this is new or shocking. Economist Thomas Piketty in Capital in the Twenty-First Century laid out the very simple math: R > G. R is capital and G is wage growth, and the value of capital, stuff the rich own, always, always grows faster than wages. Thus the rich get richer and the poor stay poor.

    Student Loans

    The Fed chief also warned of the burden of student loan debt, which quadrupled between 2004 and 2014. In a bit of an understatement, she added “I think it is appropriate to ask whether this trend is compatible with values rooted in our nation’s history, among them the high value Americans have traditionally placed on equality of opportunity.”

    Americans owe over $1.2 trillion in college loans. Many students will work as essentially indebted servants for many years to pay them off. Or maybe their parents will. Or both. Yellen said that the trend in recent years in the United States has seen “stagnant or falling living standards for many families.”

    The One Percent of the One Percent of the One Percent

    Yellen offered no remedies for decreasing the rich-poor gap, because why should she. She works for the wealthy.

    With the concentration of wealth, 132 people in the U.S. essentially control elections. They do so by donating, just that handful of people, over 60 percent of the SuperPac money. Those 132 people represent 0.000042 percent of the total number of voters; most other contributions to candidates are small, many below $200. How much is your vote worth?

    Yellen went on to say two “cornerstones of opportunity” are resources available to children and access to higher education, and added that ownership of a family business and inherited wealth can also be important sources of economic opportunity.

    Let’s look at that. Poor people have no resources available to their children. Rich people can pass on robust inheritances. Result: kids of the rich get richer. Wouldn’t life be easier if you knew you’d be a billionaire once daddy kicked it? And as for that access to higher education, please refer back to Yellen’s earlier statement about student loan debt. Escalating tuition costs that have contributed to a dramatic increase in student loan debt — the outstanding balance quadrupled from $260 billion in 2004 to $1.2 trillion this year. Of course the rich pay cash for college, so this debt is disproportionately, and increasingly, affecting poorer families and may put college and graduate degrees out of reach.

    Global, But Worse in the U.S.

    Globally, the gap between the haves and have-nots has reached levels not seen since the 1820s, the OECD said earlier this month, in a report that looked at trends in health, education, inequality, the environment and personal security.

    The mathematical measure of wealth-inequality is called “Gini,” and the higher it is, the more extreme a nation’s wealth-inequality. The Gini for the U.S. is 85; Canada, 72; and Bangladesh, 64. Nations more unequal than the U.S. include Kazakhstan at 86 and the Ukraine at 90. The African continent tips in at just under 85.

    Odd company for the self-proclaimed most powerful nation on earth.



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  • Seriously? NSA Knew North Korea Hacked Sony Because it Hacked North Korea First

    January 20, 2015 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    kim_jong_un_computer


    What’s wrong with this picture?

    We all famously know the U.S. government directly blamed North Korea for the Sony hack, allegedly in retaliation for the sad Seth Rogen “comedy” The Interview. Serious questions arose almost immediately about how the U.S. could be so sure it was the boys from Pyongyang at fault, and not some outside hacking group pretending to be North Korea, or a disgruntled Sony insider. After all, the initial contacts between the hacker and Sony (below) mentioned nothing about The Interview, and of course, even after the movie was released, nothing happened.


    Snowden Docs Suggest an Answer

    According to new Edward Snowden documents published by der Spiegel and others, the source of the U.S. government’s confidence may be simple: the NSA claims to have inserted malware into North Korea’s computer systems in 2010, years before the hack even happened, creating backdoor access. The malware was targeted specifically at North Korea’s own hackers, not necessarily the government their per se. The NSA was watching North Korea’s geeks the whole time.


    So Where was the NSA?

    Assuming that U.S. malware tale is true, it begs the question: if the NSA had such broad access to North Korean hacking resources, why didn’t they know about the Sony hack and warn the company? It seems unlikely that the North Koreans just plopped down one day and zoomed into Sony’s networks, hoovering up the mass of data someone got a hold of.

    It appears that whoever hacked into Sony took their time. The New York Times reports the first step was a simple “spear phishing” attack on Sony, the use of emails that insert malicious code into a computer system if an unknowing user clicks on a link. This took place in early September 2014. The intruders then stole the credentials of a Sony systems administrator, which allowed them to roam freely inside Sony’s systems. Investigators have concluded that the hackers spent more than two months, from mid-September to mid-November, mapping Sony’s computer systems, identifying critical files and planning how to destroy computers and servers. The damage only began on November 24.


    Counter-Arguments

    One counter-argument offered is that the NSA did not want to disclose their access into North Korea over something as small as Sony. The response is quite obvious. All that needed to be done is for someone to make a quick call to Sony and say “Hey, don’t ask who I am or how I know, but you might want to take a look at XYZ on your network. Bye!” Like the way the NSA uses the FBI and DEA as cut outs to pass data to local law enforcement, nobody at the receiving end knows how or why the lucky information fell into their laps.

    Another counter-argument is that the NSA was focused on protecting U.S. government systems and did not see anything all that important about Sony. The first thing wrong with the idea is that one of NSA’s stated missions is cybersecurity for the U.S. as a whole, not just Federal systems. The other argument is that if Sony being hacked was just not that big a deal, the rest of the U.S. government sure acted like it was. And all over a movie.

    So Seriously, Where was the NSA?

    So where was the NSA? With claimed access directly into North Korea’s systems, access that made attributing the Sony hack post-facto a supposed slam dunk, where was the NSA when it came to stopping the attack? This question is the one looming over the entire world-wide spying operation the NSA has become, given its stated purpose of protecting things. Where was the NSA ahead of the Boston Bombings? Ahead of the attacks in France? Ahead of all the shootings and lone wolves wandering around America? Ahead of the much more financially-damaging hacks against the credit card processing systems of Target and Home Depot?

    The question remains thus begged: if all the money spent, and civil liberties shunted aside, in the name of protection, doesn’t protect us when it matters, then what is the point of the NSA?

    We’ll call that a rhetorical question.






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  • I Wonder What Dr. King Would Say

    January 19, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    martin luther king


    There will be many, many articles today speculating what Dr. Martin Luther King would say about this event or that. There is much to talk about — the police killings of young black men, crippling economic inequality (today the 85 richest people on the planet have the same wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion combined), the use of gerrymandering and election day tricks to disenfranchise people — the list is a long one.

    Dr. King’s most powerful message revolved around freedom. Freedom for blacks, freedom for whites, freedom for Americans, freedom. Writing from jail, in his famous letter from Birmingham, King said “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” King was rightly focused primarily on the injustices of segregation. But his concept of freedom extended far beyond simply race. He understood the word in the broadest possible sense, and so I’ll add one more article to the stack today putting words into Dr. King’s mouth, seeking to bring his message forward.



    Following a singular day — one day — of terror attacks, we set fire to the whole world. Willingly, almost gleefully, we invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, the former on the promise of bloody revenge and the latter based on flimsy falsehoods that today seem as real as childhood beliefs. We reinvaded Iraq in 2014, and brought war to many other places. But we want to believe and so it is easy to lie to us, just like with the Tooth Fairy.

    Worse yet, we turned on ourselves. With a stroke of a pen, we did away with 226 some years of bitterly fought for civil rights — silence the First Amendment and do away with critics and whistleblowers, cow journalists and use the police to break up the peaceful assembly of citizens seeking to address their government, rip open the Fourth Amendment and allow the government to spy into our lives. Plumbing for the depths of evil, we as a nation torture men, create an archipelago of secret prisons and make excuses to keep them still open, build a regime of indefinite confinement and rendition to feed our concentration camps, hungering for flesh. When even that was not enough, we unleashed death from the sky, smiting people who bothered us, maybe occasionally threatened us, often times simply people who were near by or looked like our possible enemies. In the calculus of the day, we kill them all without a concern that any deity would sort the bodies out later. How much would be enough for revenge?

    That our nation can be both vengeful and impersonal at the same time horrifies. I wonder what Dr. King would say.


    We thought we had a chance at change in 2008 but instead were proven again to be just dupes and amateurs. He could have turned it all around, in those first weeks he could have asked the rivers to flow backwards and they just might have. He could have grounded the drones, torn up the Patriot Act, held truth commissions to bring into the light our tortures, re-emancipated America in ways not unlike Lincoln did in the 1860s. Slam shut the gates of Guantanamo, close the secret prisons that even today still ooze pus in Afghanistan, stop the militarization of Africa, bring the troops home, all of it, just have done it. What a change, what a path forward, what a rebirth for an America who had lost her way so perilously. One man could have made a difference and when he did not even try, he helped solidify in America a sense of cynicism and powerlessness that empowers evil people further. I wonder what Dr. King would say.

    Today, this day, we are left with only ironic references to where we were and what we had been. We now today go through the motions of a celebratory day like an old married couple dutifully maintaining civility where joyous lust once was. We are raising a new generation who accept that their nation tortures, invades, violates and assassinates, all necessary evils requiring us to defame democracy while pretending to protect it.

    On this same day we celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, who wrote to us all from a jail cell in sweltering Birmingham. King’s guidance in that letter was that the “means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek.” We cannot fight wrongs by committing wrongs. For what noble crusade do we allow the torturers to walk free? To claim the right to kill people, even Americans, anywhere in the world simply because we can do so? Why do we prolong wars, long ago not just lost but rendered pointless, in Afghanistan and Iraq and elsewhere? For what crusade do we keep our enemies in Guantanamo? These are the features and questions of Post-Constitutional America. I wonder what Dr. King would say.


    I’ve been accused of over-romanticizing America’s Constitutional Era, 1789-9/11/2001. Indeed, didn’t the worst of the abuses Dr. King fought against take place during that time, as King describe them “vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize, and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity.”

    The horrors ranged from those depths to the smallest of examples; again, from Birmingham, King wrote “when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six-year-old daughter why she cannot go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her little eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see the depressing clouds of inferiority begin to form in her little mental sky, and see her begin to distort her little personality by unconsciously developing a bitterness toward white people.”

    America’s Constitutional Era was grossly imperfect. Yet for its obvious failings, there was a sense of the possibility of progress; halting, awkward, unfinished, but, well, for lack of a better word and to use a word that has become a symbol of modern times’ irony, Hope. Dr. King believed in Hope, and indeed based the soul of his movement on it — things could be made better, saying “If the inexpressible cruelties of slavery could not stop us, the opposition we now face will surely fail.” I wonder what Dr. King would say today about America.


    Lots of talk today, Martin Luther King Day. But those are some of the questions Dr. King would demand answers for from his grave.



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  • America Is Open for Business in Iraq

    January 16, 2015 // 10 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq

    iraq oil 2

    The current American war in Iraq is a struggle in search of a goal. It began in August as a humanitarian intervention, morphed into a campaign to protect Americans in-country, became a plan to defend the Kurds, followed by a full-on crusade to defeat the new Islamic State (IS, aka ISIS, aka ISIL), and then… well, something in Syria to be determined at a later date.

    At the moment, Iraq War 3.0 simply drones on, part bombing campaign, part mission to train the collapsed army the U.S. military created for Iraq War 2.0, all amid a miasma of incoherent mainstream media coverage. American troops are tiptoeing closer to combat (assuming you don’t count defensive operations, getting mortared, and flying ground attack helicopters as “combat”), even as they act like archaeologists of America’s warring past, exploring the ruins of abandoned U.S. bases. Meanwhile, Shia militias are using the conflict for the ethnic cleansing of Sunnis and Iran has become an ever-more significant player in Iraq’s affairs. Key issues of the previous American occupation of the country — corruption, representative government, oil revenue-sharing — remain largely unresolved. The Kurds still keep “winning” against the militants of IS in the city of Kobani on the Turkish border without having “won.”

    In the meantime, Washington’s rallying cry now seems to be: “Wait for the spring offensive!” In translation that means: wait for the Iraqi army to get enough newly American-trained and -armed troops into action to make a move on Mosul.  That city is, of course, the country’s second largest and still ruled by the new “caliphate” proclaimed by Islamic State head Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. All in all, not exactly inspiring stuff.

    You can’t have victory if you have no idea where the finish line is. But there is one bright side to the situation. If you can’t create Victory in Iraq for future VI Day parades, you can at least make a profit from the disintegrating situation there.

    Team America’s Arms Sales Force

    In the midst of the December holiday news-dumping zone, the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) quietly notified Congress of several pending arms deals for Iraq. DSCA is the Pentagon office responsible for coordinating arms agreements between American defense contractors and foreign buyers.

    Before those thousands of not-boots-on-the-ground troops started hemorrhaging back into Iraq late last year, DSCA personnel made up a significant portion of all U.S. military personnel still there. Its staff members are, in fact, common in U.S. embassies in general. This shouldn’t be surprising, since the sales of weaponry and other kinds of war equipment are big business for a range of American companies, and the U.S. government is more than happy to assist. In fact, there is even a handbook to guide foreign governments through the buying process.

    The DSCA operates under a mission statement which says the “U.S. may sell defense articles and services to foreign countries and international organizations when the President formally finds that to do so will strengthen the security of the U.S. and promote world peace.” While the Pentagon carries out the heavy lifting, actual recommendations on which countries can buy U.S. gear are made by the secretary of state, and then rubber-stamped by Congress.

    As for countries that can’t afford U.S. weaponry, Washington has the Foreign Military Finance program up its sleeve. This opens the way for the U.S. government to pay for weapons for other countries — only to “promote world peace,” of course — using your tax dollars, which are then recycled into the hands of military-industrial-complex corporations.

    Iraq’s Shopping List

     Here’s part of what the U.S. is getting ready to sell to Iraq right now:

    * 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks;

    * 15 Hercules tank recovery vehicles (you can’t have a tank without the tow truck);

    * 55,000 rounds of main gun ammunition for the tanks (the ammo needed to get the biggest bang for your bucks)

    And what will all that firepower cost? Just under $3 billion.

    Keep in mind that these are only the most recent proposed sales when it comes to tanks. In July, for example, General Dynamics received a $65.3 million contract to support the existing Iraq M1A1 Abrams program. In October, the U.S. approved the sale of $600 million in M1 tank ammunition to that country. There have also been sales of all sorts of other weaponry, from $579 million worth of Humvees and $600 million in howitzers and trucks to $700 million worth of Hellfire missiles. There are many more examples. Business is good.

    While the collapse of the Iraqi army and the abandonment of piles of its American weaponry, including at least 40 M1s, to IS militants, helped create this new business opportunity for weapons-makers like General Dynamics, the plan to cash in on Iraq can be traced back to America’s occupation of that country. Forward Operating Base Hammer, where both Private Chelsea Manning (she collecting State Department cables for WikiLeaks) and I (supervising State Department reconstruction efforts) lived for a year or so, was built across the street from the Besmaya Firing Range. That testing grounds was U.S.-outfitted not just for the live firing of artillery, but for — you guessed it — M1 tanks. It was to be part of the pipeline that would keep an expensive weapons system heading into Iraq forever. In 2011, as U.S. troops left the country, both facilities were “gifted” to the Iraqis to serve as logistics bases for training in, and the repair of, U.S.-sold weapons.

    As I write this, American contractors still live on the remnants of Hammer, supporting the Iraqi army’s use of whatever M1 tanks they didn’t turn over to the Islamic State. On a contractor job-review site, “job work/life balance” at the base gets an acceptable 3.5 stars from those working there and one American trainer even praises the fact that work starts and ends before the heat of the day (even if another complains that the only toilets available are still port-a-potties).

    The new tank sales to Iraq will, of course, keep Besmaya humming and are significant enough that the Motley Fool, an investment advice website, offers this background information:

    “This is about more than just immediate sales and profits for General Dynamics. Currently, the U.S. Army has all the M1A1 tanks it needs… Last year, General Dynamics successfully lobbied Congress to provide $120 million for upgrading Abrams tanks, just to ensure the factory remains at least partially open (and avoid having to pay the expense of restarting production from zero at a later date). In 2012, similar logic caused Congress to spend about $180 million on the tanks, despite Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno telling lawmakers at the time: ‘…these are additional tanks that we don’t need.’ Luckily for General Dynamics, though, Iraq does need tanks. And at the Lima plant’s recent production rate of 10 tanks per month, the Iraq order should keep General Dynamics’ tank business running well into 2016.”

    Would You Like the Extended Warranty?

    Iraqis have a saying: “The rug is never sold.” It means that there’s always more money to be made from any transaction. General Dynamics would agree. Arms sales work remarkably like consumer electronics (and Iraqi carpets). Want the extended warranty for your new smartphone? Extra battery? Accessories? Insurance against loss or damage? Suddenly the cost of your phone doubles.

    Same for tanks. The M1 is a complex beast. You’ll need to pay General Dynamics for trainers to teach your guys to operate its systems. You’ll need lots of spare parts, especially operating in the desert. And it won’t be long before you’ll want to do some upgrades — maybe better computers or a faster engine. The U.S. is currently working on “urban warfare” upgrades for the 140 M1s the Iraqis have hung onto. In the defense world, these after-sales are known as the “tail.” And the longer the tail, the bigger the profits.

    For example, built into the contract for the new M1 tank sale is the provision that “approximately five U.S. Government and one hundred contractor representatives [will] travel to Iraq for a period of up to five years for delivery, system checkout, program support, and training.” And that isn’t going to come cheap from General Dynamics, though the five government employees may be a bargain financed by American taxpayers.

    None of this even touches on the potential for repeat sales. After all, most of the Islamic State’s heavy gear comes from stuff the Iraqi army abandoned or somehow lost in their headlong flight from the country’s northern cities. And keep in mind that every tank and shell IS pulls out of that inventory means more business for General Dynamics and similar firms. Essentially selling weapons to both sides of a conflict is smart business.

    Big, heavy military equipment, however, takes months to manufacture. So even a quick order placed today doesn’t mean your gear will arrive in time for that promised spring offensive. So why not buy, or have gifted to you, something pre-owned and ready for immediate delivery? If you’re the government of Iraq, the U.S. military is already way ahead of you on this.

    Since June, the U.S. has been stockpiling massive amounts of gear coming out of Afghanistan at Shuaiba, a port in Kuwait, in preparation for ultimately shipping at least some of it across the border into Iraq. The depot already houses 3,100 vehicles, mostly the Mine-Resistant Ambush-Protected (MRAP) vehicles ubiquitous in America’s wars. MRAPs are useful for protecting troops from roadside bombs, including the Explosively Formed Penetrator (EFP) versions made in Iran that took the lives of many Americans during Iraq War 2.0. That must take a weight off Iraqi minds.

    Another thing that may help: The United States has already donated 250 MRAPs to Iraq as well as $300 million in weapons handed over free-of-charge by the Department of Defense in 2014. And don’t forget: Into an omnibus spending bill Congress passed last month is tucked $1.2 billion in future training and equipment for Iraq. And let’s not forget either all those need-to-be-replaced bombs being regularly dropped on Iraq by the U.S. Air Force at a cost of up to one billion dollars and counting.

    Are Tanks Good for Anything Other Than Profits?

    For Congress to approve the DSCA arms deals, the Department of Defense must certify that “the proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.” So the tanks to fight IS will have to be certified in writing not to affect the regional situation.

    Whatever the Iraqis think they need the tanks for, America’s nine-year-long slog through Iraq War 2.0 should have offered a lesson in how relatively useless heavy armor is for the kind of urban fighting and counter-insurgency warfare usually seen against a foe like IS. In fact, the logistics needed to maintain an M1 in combat can actually slow an advance, while the steel beasts are relatively easy targets in the confines of a Middle Eastern city like Mosul.

    Maybe, in the end, some of those M1s will even land in Iranian hands, given the robust role that country is playing in the current Iraq war. America’s front-line military technology could, in other words, find its way into the hands of people capable of a little reverse engineering to mine technology for Iran’s own tank corps or to sell on the world market. It seems Baghdad is already sharing other U.S.-supplied weapons with Iranian-influenced Shia militias, so why not tanks?

    Let’s put it this way: From any point of view except General Dynamics’s, the Islamic State’s, or maybe the Iranians’, these tank sales don’t add up.

    Call Your Broker

    It’s easy enough to toss around terms like “military-industrial complex” and equally easy to slip from there into what some might consider blood-for-oil conspiracy theories or suggestions that Iraq War 2.0 was all about the mega-contractor Halliburton’s bottom line. While oil and Halliburton were certainly part of that past war’s calculus, they can no more account for it than the piles of money General Dynamics is about to make selling tanks can alone account for Iraq War 3.0.

    Still, it’s hard to ignore the way defense companies find themselves buried in cash from selling weapons that aren’t needed to people who can’t use them, sales that are, in the end, likely to harm, not help, America’s geopolitical interests. Perhaps it is better to see the immediate profits from such deals as just a part of a much bigger process, one that demands America have enemies to crusade against to ensure the survival of the national security state.

    To such a “wartime” paradigm one just needs to plug in new bad guys from time to time, which is proving an ever-easier venture, since each of our previous wars and conflicts seems to offer a remarkably helpful hand in creating them. In this way, radical Islam has proven, with Washington’s help, a worthy successor to the Soviet Union, itself once a superb money-making venture and a great way to build a monumental national security state.

    Even as the Obama administration stumbles and bumbles along in search of a magical political strategy in Iraq that would make sense of everything, American weapons-makers can expect a bountiful future. In the meantime, Washington is putting forces in place that, by doing more of the same for the third time in a disintegrating Iraq in the middle of a fracturing region, guarantee more of the same. In that sense, you might say that American forces are partly in place to help promote the investment. If one needed an example of how the military-industrial complex works today, that might be it. Every mistake by Washington is a boon for future arms sales.

    So if you’ve got money to invest in General Dynamics, you might want to call your broker.




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  • Pentagon Sends Afghans on Months-Long Gem Training Junkets

    January 15, 2015 // 2 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Military

    money


    America, think carefully about what you would want your tax money spent on: Schools? Roads? Public bong stations?

    Hah, it doesn’t matter because your tax money was spent on this crap.


    A Pentagon task force in Afghanistan is under investigation for ejaculating taxpayer dollars to send Afghan jewelers on lavish “gem training” junkets to India, Paris, and Milan, according to findings by a government watchdog.

    The Pentagon’s Task Force for Business and Stability Operations (TFBSO) in Afghanistan is being accused of “imprudent spending, profligate travel by employees and contractors, and possible mismanagement” of its programs by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

    The TFBSO was provided $700 million in taxpayer funds to pursue, among other things, the development of Afghanistan’s gem industry. These funds (SHOCK!) were not managed properly and were wasted instead on lavish trips abroad that (SHOCK!) did not actually foster economic development or increased employment in Afghanistan, according to SIGAR.

    Afghan jewelers were sent on “months-long gem training programs in India,” while other were sent to jewelry shows in “locations including Paris and Milan,” according to SIGAR. “Despite these expenditures, it is not clear [SHOCK!] that the gem industry program produced any positive and lasting economic development or increased employment in Afghanistan.”

    The U.S. has so far spent multiple billions of your tax dollars on such economic projects, the goal of which was supposed to be to make Afghanistan such a wonderful and prosperous place that the Taliban would not be welcomed. So how’s that working out? Ask any gem dealer.



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  • ‘Christian’ Church Halts Woman’s Funeral Midway Because She Was Gay

    January 15, 2015 // 2 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Other Ideas

    Collier_Vanessa


    Religion is not about hate. It is not about intolerance. It should never be used to harm innocents. Believers need to be very suspect of those who quote holy words to justify such things.

    Je Suis Vanessa Collier

    Hundreds of Vanessa Collier’s friends and family gathered Saturday at New Hope Ministries, sitting before an open casket that held the woman they loved, when suddenly the minister overseeing her funeral stopped the service.

    An hour-long viewing of Collier’s body had just finished and the memorial service was 15 minutes underway when Chavez stopped it.

    The memorial could not continue, Pastor Ray Chavez said, as long as pictures of Collier with the love of her life, the spouse she shared two children with, were to be displayed. Chavez said there could be no images of Collier with her wife, Christina. There could be no indication that Collier was gay. Because, Christianity.

    Hate Crime
    Chavez, who apparently read one line out of the Bible’s Old Testament and completely missed the entire point of love, caring, tolerance and peace in the entire freaking New Testament, committed a hate crime. He harmed every grieving friend and relative of the deceased, and harmed her children. “It was humiliating,” said Victoria Quintana, Collier’s longtime friend. “It was devastating.”

    Those who loved Collier picked up programs, flowers and eventually the dead woman’s casket itself, hand-carrying them to a mortuary across the street.

    A representative for New Hope Ministries declined to comment before hanging up on a Denver Post reporter on Tuesday. A biography on the church website says Chavez founded the ministry in 1981 with his wife, Lola. It says the church “is a place where those bound by drugs, alcohol, gangs and violence can find an ‘Ounce of Hope.'”

    About four dozen supporters of Ms. Collier and her family gathered outside of the church in protest, chanting “Give us an apology!” and “Shame on Pastor Ray!” Security guards were stationed in front of the building to ensure none of the marchers made their way onto the property.

    Collier’s friends say they still haven’t been reimbursed by New Hope Ministry for the cost of the funeral.

    Unclear from news reports is how the church was unaware that the deceased was a gay woman, and why that only became apparent to the hateful pastor well into the memorial service.

    And hey, if you have thoughts you’d like to share with the pastor, he and his church can be contacted online.

    Here is Pastor Chavez and what I assume is his hetero spouse:





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  • Let’s Waste $1.3 billion on the Afghan Police!

    January 14, 2015 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Military, PRT Life

    Operation Enduring Freedom


    A big part of the U.S. plan to “win” in Afghanistan after only 13 years of effort rests on the Afghan National Police (ANP).

    Alongside the Afghan Army (RIP), the police are supposed to hunt down the Taliban and preserve order inside the cities. The army, for what it is worth, is supposed to hunt down the Taliban outside the cities. This is so that Afghanistan can develop a “civil society” where the army and the police are different things with different roles. Just here in the Homeland.

    For the funs, this was the same plan in Iraq, and how’d that work out?

    Well, it seems the police thing in Afghanistan is headed toward about as much success as it has enjoyed in Iraq. Also like Iraq, that failure is very expensive. Or so says what must be the most depressed group of people in the U.S. government, the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). SIGAR just released an audit of U.S.-funded salary payments for the Afghan National Police (ANP), which total $1.3 billion.


    The audit found:

    –The U.S. is spending over $300 million annually for ANP salaries with little assurance that these funds are going to active police personnel or that the amounts paid are correct.

    –There are almost twice as many ANP identification cards in circulation as there are active police personnel.

    –After nine expensive years of effort, an electronic human resources system has still not been successfully implemented.

    –Reports have disclosed inflated police rosters, payments being made to more police personnel than are authorized in particular locations, and police personnel receiving inflated salaries.

    –20 percent of ANP personnel are at risk of not receiving their full salaries because they are paid in cash by a non-governmental agent, where as much as half of these payments are possibly diverted.

    –U.S. officials confirmed that over the past year they accepted, without question, all personnel totals provided by the Afghan Ministry of Interior (MOI).

    –Independent monitoring groups may have artificially inflated the percentage of successfully verified ANP personnel from 59 percent to as much as 84 percent.

    –The U.S. plans to continue for an open-ended period of time (“Until hell freezes over”) handing over $300 million in annual funding for ANP salaries.




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  • Why America Keeps Losing Its Wars

    January 13, 2015 // 3 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Military

    tank


    Walter Stewart (Major General, U.S. Army, retired) has some pretty good ideas why America keeps losing its wars. Arguably, allowing for some “ties” as in Korea, since WWII America’s unambiguous wins have really been only in one-sided contests like Grenada and Panama. You might want to argue Iraq War 1.0, in 1991, but you better figure out a way to account for 12 years of following sanctions, bombing and missile attacks, never mind Iraq Wars 2.0 and the current 3.0.


    Stewart says there are three basic reasons for the loses:

    — America is losing its wars because they are unconstitutional to begin with. They are unconstitutional because they are undeclared.

    If America’s wars are not worth formal Congressional declarations, which act to unite the American people, they are by that fact not worth fighting. However, in the classic definition of insanity, America’s leaders keep doing the same thing over and over – fighting undeclared and unnecessary wars without rallying the support of the people – expecting different results.

    — Strategic-level commissioned officers who swear an oath to support and defend the U.S. Constitution have an obligation to protest these wars. However, none have. Indeed, our most senior officers have even misstated their oaths, suggesting they are sworn to obey the president rather than to defend the Constitution. In the process, they fall prey to a version of the Nuremberg Defense of “I was just following orders.”

    Even when senior officers recognize the folly and illegality of America’s wars, they refuse to resign in protest. Why? Because they convince themselves they can better effect change within the system. Or they conclude they are beholden by civilian authority to follow orders. Or they believe that resignation would be disruptive and disloyal. But such excuses are corrosive to their oath of office, an oath that officers – especially the most senior – must find the personal integrity and moral courage to follow.

    — Until America returns to declared wars by Congress that have the support of the people, America will continue to lose its wars, further weakening itself while sowing the seeds for even more unconstitutional — and unwinnable — wars.

    His whole argument is a worthwhile read.



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  • Saudi Who Created Bomb Scare at US Army Post Sent Home without Punishment

    January 12, 2015 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Bush-Saudi-Arabia


    I’m not a big one to trade in conspiracy theories, but this all begs for an explanation.


    Saudi Bomb Threat to U.S. Army Post

    A Saudi in the U.S. on a student visa (now where have we heard that one before?), who prompted a four-hour lockdown at a U.S. Army post in Texas when he claimed to have a bomb in his car, pleaded guilty to two federal charges. He agreed to leave the country with his only penalty being about seven weeks of time-served awaiting trial.

    U.S. District Judge Fred Biery agreed not to sentence Mutasim Abdul-Aziz Alati, 24-years-old, to prison on condition he not return to the U.S. As soon as his family in Saudi Arabia buys him a one-way ticket, Alati will be escorted to the airport.

    Prosecutors say Alati showed up at the main entrance to U.S. Army Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio in November and told military police he had a bomb in his vehicle. This prompted a high-speed chase through the post. He was apprehended and no bomb was found in the car.

    Despite what might in other circumstances be called a terrorist bomb threat, Alati was only charged with evading authorities and illegally entering military property. Even if he had been sentenced, the likely time would have only been two years.

    By way of explanation, Alati told the court he was “stressed out” by tests he was taking at the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio.

    (By way of a quick comparison, Mohammed Hamzah Khan, 19, faces one count of “attempting to provide material support to a foreign terrorist organization,” which carries a maximum penalty of up to 15 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, after being arrested at a Chicago airport allegedly on his way to join ISIS, not having done anything else.)



    The 9/11 Report and the Saudis

    While these unusual events passed relatively unnoticed in Texas, other events related to Saudi citizens and possible terror acts passed relatively unnoticed in Washington DC.

    Since the September 11 attacks, what Jeff Stein of Newsweek calls “dark allegations” remain about official Saudi ties to the terrorists, most of whom were Saudi citizens. Fueling the suspicions: 28 still-classified pages in the Congressional 9/11 Report. Former Florida Senator Bob Graham, a Democrat who co-chaired the joint investigation into the attacks, says the classified pages raise questions about Saudi financial support to the hijackers.

    “There are a lot of rocks out there that have been purposefully tamped down, that if were they turned over, would give us a more expansive view of the Saudi role” in assisting the 9/11 hijackers, Graham said.

    Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama refused to declassify the pages, citing “national security.” But critics, including members of Congress who have read the pages, say national security has nothing to do with it. U.S. officials, they charge, are trying to hide the double game that Saudi Arabia has long played with Washington, as both a close ally and a player in Islamic Sunni extremism.


    Small World!

    One of course cannot forget the oddity in the days right after 9/11, when the Bush administration used the FBI to facilitate the departure of 160 Saudi nationals, including relatives of bin Laden, out of the United States. Their chartered planes were among the very few non-military flights allowed in the air at the time.

    The Saudi ambassador to the United States at the time of the 9/11 attacks, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, was known as “Bandar Bush” for his close ties to the Bush family in Texas. He went on to become chief of Saudi intelligence. Bandar had led Saudi efforts to coordinate the supply of weapons to Syrian rebels. He faced criticism for backing extreme Islamist groups and thus risking a repeat of the “blowback” that brought Osama bin Laden’s Saudi fighters home after the Saudi-sanctioned jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan.

    And hey, just recently, Prince Khaled bin Bandar, the new chief of Saudi intelligence, arrived in Washington for “discussions on joint efforts to fight the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).” The Saudi’s have been widely-held to have helped fund ISIS in the recent past.



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  • Talkin’ Those Why U.S. Terror Policy Just Fails Blues

    January 10, 2015 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria

    Former U.S. ambassador Chas Freeman, hit the nail on the head when recently describing America’s failed strategy in the Middle East: “If at first we don’t succeed, we do the same thing again harder, with better technology, and at greater expense. The patch provides a cogent – if uncouth – summary of the results of this approach so far this century.”


    Freeman’s remark was my inspiration in responding to questions in this episode of Crosstalk.






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  • Your Tax Dollars Pay for This Douche

    January 9, 2015 // 11 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    oreck


    See that? It is a Christmas card, with the official seal of the United States on it. See the guy on the card? He is the American ambassador to Finland. You pay his salary. You paid for his Christmas card. You pay for him to be a douche and represent your country.

    The guy of all guys you see is Bruce Oreck. Oreck earned his lifetime title of ambassador and job by being the major son of famed vacuum cleaner manufacturer David Oreck, and by being a major Obama bundler and Democratic contributor ($500,000 in donations.) Oreck also served as Executive Vice President for his privately held family business, the major Oreck Corporation. So yeah, a self-made man.

    Oreck is what is called a “political appointee,” someone who gets a cushy job like ambassador just because the president wants him to have it. No qualifications other than being tight with the president by buying his favor.

    Fun Fact: Close to half of America’s ambassadors are “political appointees.” This tradition, pretty much unique to the U.S. and third world crap nations, crosses all party lines and is warmly embraced by both Democrats and Republicans. These political appointees range from mildly competent to complete idiots, with a heavy lean toward the latter. See above.

    But Oreck is no slouch. As an ambassador, Oreck’s signature accomplishment so far, not including the photo here, has been to get the U.S. government to spend more money on the very important U.S. embassy in Finland. Indeed, an official USG report acknowledged that “the embassy renovation project would not have been funded or advanced at an accelerated pace without the constant pressure of the ambassador, both from Helsinki and during frequent trips to Washington.” Oreck picked up 250,000 frequent flier miles (ambassadors fly first class, ‘natch, and get to keep their taxpayer-funded miles for personal use) in dozens of trips between Washington, D.C., and Helsinki to personally address concerns. Luckily, he was able to divert scarce State Department building and security funds from dumps like Benghazi.

    In case you are not sure by this point if Oreck is or is not a douche, check out his Facebook page.

    The worst insult of all, however, is the kindergarten level Photoshopped tattoos. Look at his upper right shoulder. Steroids really fry your brain.

    Proud of you America!



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  • Monitoring and Criminalizing Online Speech and Social Media

    January 8, 2015 // 1 Comment

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    free-speech

    Challenges to free speech don’t always involve guns.

    Citizens, you have an obligation to remain silent. What you say online, once upon a time an arena of free speech, can and will be used against you.

    Here are two creeping examples.


    In the UK

    Six British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, what the Prime Minister called a “desperately sad day for our country.” A British teenager, Azhar Ahmed, went on Facebook to angrily object, saying innocent Afghans killed by British soldiers receive almost no attention from the media. He opined the UK’s soldiers in Afghanistan are guilty, their deaths deserved, and are therefore going to hell.

    The following day Ahmed was charged with “a racially aggravated public order offense.” He was convicted “of sending a grossly offensive communication,” fined and sentenced to 240 hours of community service. The judge Ahmed’s opinions “beyond the pale of what’s tolerable in our society.”

    The Independent newspaper noted that Ahmed “escaped jail partially because he quickly took down his unpleasant posting and tried to apologize to those he offended.” Apparently, says Glenn Greenwald at The Intercept, “heretics may be partially redeemed if they publicly renounce their heresies.”

    Criminal cases for online political speech are now commonplace in the UK. Around 20,000 people in Britain have been investigated in the past three years for comments made online. The investigations have by no means been neutral, instead directed at the country’s Muslims for expressing political opinions critical of the state’s actions.

    Wow, luckily this can’t ever happen in America… right? Oh wait, it just did.


    In America

    A man convicted in a fatal car crash and released early from prison on parole has ended up back behind bars after an Ohio judge and the victim’s family took issue with a post he made on Facebook.

    Ryan Fye’s post included a photo of him making an obscene gesture and a message saying, “Prison didn’t break me. It MADE me.” Fye claims he was responding to a Facebook threat from someone unrelated to his case who said they “couldn’t wait to bump into” him and that prison ought to have made him tough enough to handle the encounter.

    The message upset relatives of the man killed by Fye in the 2013 crash. A judge also found the Facebook posting disrespectful toward the family and concluded it violated parole sanctions imposed on Fye.

    While typical terms of probation prohibit threats, intimidation, harassment, and retaliation against the victims, prosecution, judges, family of victims and so on, it is quite unclear that Fye’s Facebook posting is even directed at any such people, or that it is even a threat or act of intimidation. Many people might characterize it as boastful at worst.

    Fye’s defense attorney said Fye didn’t violate probation or the law. “Committing a crime is a probation violation, not abiding by the rules is a probation violation. Mr. Fye didn’t do any of those things.” Fye is back in custody while he appeals the judge’s decision to lock him up.

    Over a Facebook posting.




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  • Your Most Gigantic Waste of Taxpayer Money Today List, Afghan Edition

    January 7, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    stripper with money


    Our good friends at the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR) released a high-risk list for the Afghanistan reconstruction effort that calls attention to areas that are especially vulnerable to significant waste, fraud, and abuse.

    Quick recap for those who haven’t binge-read the SIGAR reports for the past 13 or so years: the U.S. has spent $104 billion on the “reconstruction” of Afghanistan since 2001. The goal of all this was to defeat the Taliban with “soft power,” winning the hearts and minds of the Afghan people by building them stuff like the roads and bridges and schools America needs here at home, and by creating jobs and providing Afghans the job training needed here at home. This massive waste of money follows the failure of a similar multi-year effort in reconstructing Iraq. Success in both instances can be judged by the rising success of the Taliban/ISIS.

    But anyway, enough about history. Here’s where your tax dollars are being specifically wasted in Afghanistan, as quoted from the SIGAR report!

    1) Corruption/Rule of Law
    –The initial U.S. strategy in Afghanistan fostered a political climate conducive to corruption.
    –U.S. assistance has been provided for reconstruction without the benefit of a comprehensive anticorruption strategy.

    2) Sustainability
    –Much of the more than $104 billion the United States has committed to reconstruction projects and programs risks being wasted because the Afghans cannot sustain the investment without massive continued donor support.
    –Under current and future plans, the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are not fiscally sustainable.

    3) Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) Capacity and Capabilities
    –In an audit report on ANSF facilities, SIGAR found that the Afghan government would likely be incapable of fully sustaining ANSF facilities after the transition in 2014/2015 and the expected decrease in U.S. and Coalition support.
    –An audit report raised concerned that, despite a $200 million literacy-training contract, no one appeared to know the overall literacy rate of the ANSF.

    4) On-Budget Support
    –SIGAR has long been concerned about the risk to U.S. funds provided to Afghanistan in the form of on-budget assistance, since 2002 U.S. has committed more than $7.7 billion.
    –An audit of the $236 million Partnership Contracts for Health program found USAID continues to provide millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars in direct assistance with little assurance that the Afghan Ministry of Public Health is using these funds as intended.

    5) Counternarcotics
    –Although the U.S. has invested about $7.8 billion in counternarcotics efforts in Afghanistan, Afghan farmers are growing more opium than ever before.
    –The latest U.S. strategy documents indicate that combating narcotics in Afghanistan is no longer a top priority.

    6) Contract Management and Oversight Access
    –No one knows the precise value of contracting in the Afghanistan reconstruction effort that began in 2002: the federal government has no central database on the subject.

    7) Strategy and Planning
    –Lack of “implementation/operational planning” — making sure that U.S. activities in Afghanistan actually contribute to overall national goals there — threatens to cause agencies and projects to work at counter-purposes, spend money on frivolous endeavors, or fail to coordinate efforts to maximize impact.

    What a great war we’re having!



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  • Let’s All Do Something Useful Today: Write to Manning and Kiriakou

    January 6, 2015 // 3 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    Let’s all do something useful today. Call it a New Year’s Resolution.

    Prison sucks. Being in prison because you blew the whistle on our government sucks harder. Getting a letter makes it suck less.

    So if you want to do something good today, write a short letter to one of these guys. It need not be anything more than good wishes, or just introducing yourself as a supporter (if you can’t say anything nice, go post your bile somewhere else).

    You should assume what you write will be reviewed by prison authorities, so don’t write anything that could conceivable cause trouble or harm for the guy you’re trying to support.

    Both prisoners receive a lot of mail. Understand that they may face restrictions on how many letters they can receive each day, and are often restricted in how many they can send out. So, you may not get a reply, or it may take awhile. The point is to send something today to them.

    You must address the letter EXACTLY as shown below. You cannot change “Bradley” to “Chelsea,” for example.


    Bradley E. Manning
    89289
    1300 N. Warehouse Road
    Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
    66027-2304

    I have been unable to locate information on what can and cannot be sent to Manning, so until/unless you know more, best to stick with short letters and no enclosures.

    John Kiriakou
    79637-083
    Federal Correctional Institution
    Loretto, P.O. Box 1000
    Loretto, PA 15940

    John is permitted to receive mail from anyone, and soft cover books and magazines only from individuals. Hard cover books may be received if sent directly from a publisher, a bookstore or Amazon.com.

    BONUS: Info on conditions in Leavenworth. I have seen the place (from the outside), and it is grim– heavy, Gothic castle in appearance.

    The photo is of John and me at his going-away party before prison. That’s the White House in the background. The location was chosen because we look down on criminals.




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  • What Didn’t Happen in 2014: The Paranoia Year in Review

    January 5, 2015 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Police State

    paranoia



    So how’s 2015 so far?

    Outside playing on your hoverboard while Dad brings in the family helicopter? Mom inside serving up a hearty meal, all in pill form? Planning a trip to the Lunar Grand Hyatt? Enjoying a life free from all disease, war and hunger, courtesy of the alien overlord world government?

    Good, good.


    With 2015 underway, let’s take a quick look back at the highlights of government paranoia from 2014.

    America’s War of Terror requires all of us (do your part!) to maintain a high state of fear while at the same time trusting our government to keep us safe. This means we need to be spoon-fed a constant stream of faux threats to Der Homeland to justify, whatever, without any of the threats coming true so we are pleased with what we are giving up in return for this faux security.


    Got it? So here we go:


    Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks: Julian Assange, evil mastermind of Wikileaks, remains trapped in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Chelsea Manning remains in prison. The dire predictions of what the leaked information was going to do to national security, blood on Chelsea’s hands when soldiers got killed and all, never happened.


    Edward Snowden: Snowden remains in exile in Russia. The dire predictions of what the leaked information were going to do to national security, blood on Snowden’s hands when soldiers got killed and terrorists ran amok and all, never happened.


    Boko Haram: Remember these guys and #SaveOurGirls? Nobody saved them. Boko never got on planes and flew to the U.S. as we were warned they might.


    Kim Jong Un: Wow, he may have lessened the chance we ever have to see another Seth Rogen movie. We owe the guy a Starbucks gift card or something. He otherwise did not transform America into a sea of flames. Oh, and hey, those hacks of Target, Home Depot and others that caused millions of dollars in lost revenues, nope, that wasn’t cyberterrorism, no, not at all.


    Ebola: OHMYGOD WE’REALLGONNA FREAKINGDIE. Quarantine the airports, nobody breathe on the east coast, get ready to nuke West Africa. Except nothing happened.


    Putin: We… are… seconds away from nuclear annihilation if Crimea eastern Ukraine the rest of Ukraine falls. Except nothing happened.


    Iran: We… are… seconds away from nuclear annihilation because they will get the Bomb. Except nothing happened.


    Home-Grown Terrorists: Yep, they are everywhere, no doubt rooming with the North Korean and ISIS sleeper cells that are also everywhere. Absent two clown-like kids in Boston that every single spying thing missed completely, not much. And oh, all those mass shootings, please note they are not home grown terrorists even though they mowed down more Americans since 9/11 than anything else. Grand juries are also not home-grown terrorists.


    Al Qaeda: Nope, nothing out of them this year either but You Never Know (c) We’ll keep killing their Number Two guys. But dammit, we were promised a Butt Bomb!


    Taliban: Nope, nothing out of them this year either but You Never Know (c) We better keep 10,000 troops in Afghanistan.


    Syria’s Assad: He gassed his own people! He is close to nuclear weaponization! He harbors terrorists who’ll take over our fast food franchises! Except he didn’t, and now we sort of passively support him because he does not care for ISIS.


    ISIS: 2014’s big winner in the paranoia sweepstakes. They never showed up at our shopping malls or our July 4th parades, but, what the hell, let’s invade Iraq again anyway.


    Also, everything that FOX, Lindsey Graham and John McCain said.


    BONUS: That thing on your shoulder, the red thing with the weird hair growing out of it? You probably should be worried about that.



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  • Did You Know We Won the Afghan War This Weekend?

    January 2, 2015 // 22 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq, Military

    kiss


    Winning wars used to be much cooler.

    But hey, did you know we won the war in Afghanistan this past weekend? Or, at least we ended the war in Afghanistan this weekend? It is true. America’s longest war, clocking in at more than 13 years, (fun fact: the U.S. involvement in WWII, when we defeated the Nazis and the Japanese, only lasted three and a half years), is over.


    Live from Hawaii

    Seriously. While you were eating your Christmas roast beast, Your President was in Hawaii. From that forward deployment, Obama announced that “thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of our men and women in uniform, our combat mission in Afghanistan is ending, and the longest war in American history is coming to a responsible conclusion… We are safer, and our nation is more secure, because of their service. [We] have helped the Afghan people reclaim their communities, take the lead for their own security, hold historic elections and complete the first democratic transfer of power in their country’s history.”


    USA! USA! USA!

    Now, there is no journalism without fact-checking, so let’s dig in on the president’s statement. Afghanistan no longer is under threat from the Taliban, and all terrorism has been taken care of. Instead of an economy based on corruption, smuggling and opium production, Afghanistan is a thriving consumer society. Women walk the streets in mini-skirts, and elections happen without incident. An American can stroll among Kabul’s cafes and quaint bazaars with his head held high and his safety guaranteed by grateful Afghans. America and its allies’ investment of over 3,400 lives and four trillion dollars has paid off. Also, all the dead Afghans, whatever.

    Oh, wait, none of that is true.


    It Ain’t Over Until It’s Over

    And for a war that is over, the U.S. has over 10,000 troops stationed and still fighting in Afghanistan under a legacy defined as a “transition from a combat mission to a ‘noncombat mission in a combat environment’ with a definition that “remains as unclear as Afghanistan’s future.”

    The Taliban have obviously not heard all the good news out of Hawaii. Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid characterized a hand-over event in Kabul as a “defeat ceremony” and added “We will fight until there is not one foreign soldier on Afghan soil and we have established an Islamic state.”

    Despite such gloom, it is obvious that America’s accomplishments in Afghanistan rank alongside its accomplishments in Iraq.



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  • The Dumbest North Korea/”The Interview” Articles You’ll Read This Week

    December 30, 2014 // 14 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Post-Constitution America

    North-Korean-Propaganda-Poster-01


    The competition was heavy, but the results are in: the dumbest article you’ll read this week about North Korea, and Seth Rogen’s ugly stain on his sheets The Interview, was published by the web site Business Insider. Second place goes to the Washington Post. Respect, bros.


    Psst… Wanna Buy a Copy of “The Interview?” Only $50…

    In a piece of turgid so-called journalism, Business Insider states “demand for The Interview has been shooting up among North Koreans. People are willing to pay almost $50 a copy of the movie…” The web site’s sole source for this information is an anti-Kim propaganda site, Free North Korea Radio, an online radio network run by North Korean defectors.

    The article mirrors an Op-Ed piece from the Washington Post, which tells us to “Think of the movie as Chernobyl for the digital age. Just as the nuclear catastrophe in the Soviet Union and the dangerously clumsy efforts to hide it exposed the Kremlin’s leadership as inept and morally bankrupt, overseeing a superpower rusting from the inside, so does The Interview risk eroding the myths, fabrications and bluster that keep the Kim dynasty in power.”


    Let’s Break This Down

    As for the idea that there is any demand for The Interview, let alone a “shooting demand,” within North Korea, one wonders how people there might even have heard of the film. Aren’t we bombarded with constant tales about how information into the country is so tightly controlled, and of how the internet is available to a tiny handful of super-loyal people unlikely to be a fertile audience for an anti-Kim film full of adolescent jokes? And who’s got fifty bucks laying around in North Korea for a movie that if owned could send you to a labor camp for the rest of your life? Do you think the film is available on Betamax or LaserDisc or whatever 1980s format North Korea uses?

    For any news outlet to push out such nonsense, especially sourced only to an obvious propaganda site, is just sad.

    As for the Washington Post Op-Ed, really? After decades of economic sanctions and international shunning, it’ll be a stupid bro comedy that brings down the Kim dynasty that has held power since 1945? While we are at it, was it really the Chernobyl nuclear disaster that exposed “the Kremlin’s leadership as inept and morally bankrupt?” Chernobyl happened in 1986; it was three full years later that the Berlin Wall came down, not exactly cause and effect. And the ascension to power of Mikhail Gorbachev also had some connection to the changes in the then-Soviet Union, apart from the nuclear mess.

    It is just possible the writer of that Op-Ed really doesn’t know what he is talking about. To be fair, maybe Wikipedia was broken the day he wrote his piece.


    So Why Publish Such Transparent Crap?

    Why publish such transparent crap? Because people want to believe it is true, and the media gives the people what they will pay for.

    In the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world where the U.S. flounders for purpose and staggers like an aged fighter who went into the ring one too many times, Americans want black and white villains. They want a nation-state, ruled by a Bond villain, to fight, and if they can’t have one they’ll allow one to be created. Remember how Saddam was portrayed pre-2003 invasion of Iraq?

    North Korea represents little threat to the United States (as with Saddam, or Syria’s Assad, or ISIS for that matter.) It is a small, isolated country. Granted, it has a nuke or two that might work, but no way to deliver them. Pakistan, on the Taliban’s doorstep if not in its lap, has a much more robust nuclear arsenal and missiles with which to deliver it. There are any number of “threshold” nations (Iran and Saudi come to mind) that could field nukes very quickly if desired. The U.S. wants nothing from North Korea — other than to be the evil super villain we all love to hate, the fat kid on the playground that is always fair game to bully. After all, other than a little bluster no one takes seriously, he never fights back.

    None of this is to say “fair and balanced” reporting on North Korea need tell us the trains run on time or that people are thrilled to be there. There is no doubt that North Korea is a dictatorship, like many that exist and some that the U.S. supports, which abuses its people. But fear-mongering and outright silly reporting accomplishes nothing but the churning of always-ready America jingoism, and distracts from real global issues at hand.

    After all, there was a reason circus freak shows were popular, and the phrase “dog and pony show” has an honored place in our vocabulary.



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  • Senator Mark Udall: Disclose the Full Torture Report

    December 29, 2014 // 6 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    mark-udall1-291x300As a member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, I am proud to post this appeal from our group for Senator Mark Udall to release the full text of the Senate Torture Report.

    Senator Mark Udall has called for the full release of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s report on torture. However, as a still-sitting member of Congress, he has a constitutional protection to read most of the still-secret report on the Senate floor — and a group of intelligence veterans urges him to do just that.

    We, the undersigned are veteran intelligence officers with a combined total of over 300 years of experience in intelligence work. We send you this open letter at what seems to be the last minute simply because we had been hoping we would not have to.

    You seem on the verge of leaving the Senate without letting your fellow Americans know all they need to know about CIA torture. In the eight weeks since you lost your Senate seat you gave off signs that, during your last days in office, you would provide us with a fuller account of this sordid chapter in our country’s history, exercising your right to immunity under the “Speech or Debate” clause in Article 1 of the Constitution.

    Your rhetoric against torture and in defense of the Constitution has been strong, but we now sense a white flag beneath it. We fear you intend to silently steal away, and thus deny the American people their last best chance to learn what they need to know about the record of CIA torture.

    We had been encouraged by your December 10 speech on the Senate floor, in which you referred to the release of the Executive Summary of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s Study on CIA torture the previous day and said: “My goal is to ensure the full truth comes out about this grim time in the history of the CIA and our nation, so that neither the CIA nor any future administration repeats the grievous mistake this important oversight work reveals.” (our emphasis)

    Very quickly, though, your goal became fuzzier. When Scott Raab of Esquire Magazine asked you right after your speech, “Do you think the remaining 6,000 or so pages will become public?” You answered: “I do. It’s my fervent hope that they will be declassified. I will continue to call for the entire report to be declassified. The details are important … the entire report ought to be released.”

    With all due respect, Senator, exactly who do you think is going to do that, if not you? Was your “goal to ensure the full truth comes out” more rhetoric than reality? We are extremely disappointed at your apparent readiness to throw in the towel.

    You had told Raab on November 21, “What happened [the torture, lying, and cover-up] broke faith with the Constitution,” adding, “There are some that would like this report [the Senate Intelligence Committee Study] never to see the light of day. There are some that are running out the clock.” Clearly, you are on to their game. Are you going to let the clock run out, when what we actually need is a full-court press?


    A Fine Floor Speech

    You called, again, for CIA Director John Brennan to resign, while at the same time noting that President Obama has expressed full confidence in him and has “demonstrated that trust by making no effort at all to rein him in.” In your words, the CIA keeps “posing impediments or obstacles” to full disclosure of its “barbaric program” of torture. And you made light of Obama’s merely stating, “Hopefully, we don’t do it again in the future.”

    “That’s not good enough,” you added, and of course you are right. Finally, you complain: “If there’s no real leadership from the White House helping the public understand that the CIA’s torture program wasn’t necessary and didn’t save lives or disrupt terrorist plots, then what’s to stop the next White House and CIA director from supporting torture? …

    “The CIA has lied to its overseers and the public, destroyed and tried to hold back evidence, spied on the Senate, made false charges against our staff, and lied about torture and the results of torture. And no one has been held to account. … There are right now people serving at high-level positions at the agency who approved, directed, or committed acts related to the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.”

    QED – as you have demonstrated – there is no “real leadership” in the White House on this transcendentally important issue.

    Thus, it struck us as disingenuous to finish, as you do, with a glaring non sequitur. You call on our timid President to “purge his administration” of a CIA director in whom he says he has “full confidence,” together with the torture alumni and alumnae still tenaciously protected by the same director.

    Again, with all due respect, it seems equally disingenuous to appeal to this President to declassify and release the earlier review ordered by former CIA Director Leon Panetta, the conclusions of which directly refute several of Brennan’s claims – much less release the full 6,800-page study of which we are permitted only a heavily redacted “executive summary.”

    You even include Panetta’s own observation that President Obama and Brennan both were unhappy with Panetta’s initial agreement with the committee to allow staff access to operational cables and other sensitive documents about the torture program.

    So where is the real leadership going to come from? Clearly, not from the White House. Russian President Putin is going to give Crimea to NATO before Obama does any of the things you suggested. And you know it.

    So where could the initiative come from in these final days before the Senate changes hands? Frankly, Senator Udall, we had been counting on you rising to the challenge before this unique opportunity is lost, probably forever.


    Where We Are Coming From

    We are, frankly, at a loss to explain your hesitancy – your lack of follow-through toward your stated goal “to ensure the full truth comes out … so that neither the CIA nor any future administration repeats the grievous mistake [of torture].”

    If you summon the courage to discharge what you no doubt realize is your duty, there is no way you will end up in jail. Indeed, this is precisely the kind of situation the Founders had in mind when they wrote the “Speech or Debate” clause into Article 1 of the Constitution.

    Whatever it is that you fear, you might keep in mind that several of us – who lack the immunity you enjoy – have paid and continue to pay a heavy price for exposing lies, injustice, and abuses like torture. One of us – the first to reveal that those grisly kinds of torture (aka “enhanced interrogation techniques”) were approved at the highest level of government – is in prison serving a 30-month sentence. A number of us have seen the inside of prisons for doing the right thing; and all of us know what it feels like to be shunned by former colleagues.

    Also important, despite our many years of service as senior intelligence officers and our solid record for accuracy, we are effectively banned from the so-called “mainstream media,” which continues to prefer the role of security-state accomplice in disparaging, for example, the findings of the Senate Intelligence Committee Study. (Never mind that the study is based on indisputably original CIA cables and other documents.) In contrast, you are not banned from the media – yet. You have a few more days; you need to use them.

    In your “Additional Views” on the Senate committee Study released on Dec. 9, you applaud Sen. Dianne Feinstein “for seeing this project to completion.” But wait. You are surely aware (1) that the project remains far from complete; and (2) that if you or one of your Senate colleagues do not move tout suite to release the full Study together with the earlier review commissioned by Panetta, the “project” will not be brought to “completion” any time soon – unless a courageous whistleblower runs great risk and does what you can do with impunity.

    Moreover, releasing the report, as you have the authority to do under the Constitution, would publicly demonstrate that at least one legal method of whistleblowing does exist. So when such truly illegal actions occur, even at the most senior levels, there is a way of righting wrongs.

    You are correct to call the committee Study “one of the most significant examples of oversight in the history of the U.S. Senate.” We imagine that the strong support you and Sen. Ron Wyden gave Sen. Feinstein helped make it so. And we join you both in applauding Sen. Feinstein’s tenacity in getting the Study’s 500-page executive summary released. John Brennan used every conceivable ruse to slow-roll and eviscerate the summary, but Sen. Feinstein faced him down. She achieved all she could, given the circumstances. But the project remains far from “completion.”

    In your “Additional Views” you note that, as a new member of the intelligence committee four years ago, you were “deeply disturbed to learn specifics about the flaws in the [torture] program, the misrepresentations, the brutality.” You add that you wrote the President letters about this in May, June, and July of this year. Surely the lack of response told you something. Please – not another letter to Obama. You need to go beyond letters.


    Your Turn

    Now it’s your turn, Senator Udall. Put Constitution and conscience into play, together with the immunity you enjoy. You can – and, in our view, your oath to the Constitution dictates that you must – rise to the occasion and find a way to release the entire 6,800-page Study, including CIA’s comments (but not redacted to a fare-thee-well). You need to put this at the very top of your job jar – now, before it is too late.

    The American people are owed the truth. As you have noted more than once, they are not likely to get it from Brennan – or the President for that matter. Nor will it come from the mainstream media with their customary “on-the-one-hand-and-then-on-the-other” approach to journalism. Polling data on the widespread acceptance of using torture “to keep us safe” is a direct result of that kind of coverage – as well as of the artful crafting of words and phrases in the questions asked in those surveys.

    The comments of the many of the TV talking-torture heads seem almost designed to discourage viewers from reading the damning executive summary itself. Who wants to read such abhorrent stuff at Christmastime, anyway?

    If those who approved and conducted torture are not held accountable, torture is a virtual certainty for the future. In that sense, you are quite right in saying that the Committee staff has done “seminal” work. The seeds have been sown for reining in an executive agency acting lawlessly; or, alternatively, for endorsing, out of fear, the practice of torture in the future.

    John Brennan, those who were in the CIA chain of command for torture, and the co-opted lawyers and faux-psychologists who lent their needed skills to the enterprise may be a bit nervous over the next few days until you are safely gone. But there is little sign they actually expect you to rise to the challenge.

    Indeed, Brennan and Co. seem intent on advertising their power and impunity by recently leaking the latest demonstration of lack of accountability. Surprise, surprise: the panel appointed by Brennan to investigate Brennan and his people for hacking into Senate Intelligence Committee computers has reportedly decided to hold no one accountable, including Brennan himself, who initially lied about it. Now we learn that he apparently authorized the hacking in the first place, so everyone involved receives a stay-out-of-jail-free card. Smug impunity needs to be challenged using your immunity.

    Finally, Senator Udall, history books will record the release of the highly redacted summary of the five-year-in-the-making Senate report on torture. It will also record whether or not the Senate rose – even if only in the form of a single, un-intimidated man, to expose truly and in fullness what was done in the name of the American people. Our history is replete with such individual acts of courage by Americans who put country before self. Will you join them?


    For the Steering Group, Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS)

    William Binney, former Technical Director, World Geopolitical & Military Analysis, NSA; co-founder, SIGINT Automation Research Center (ret.)

    Thomas Drake, Defense Intelligence Senior Executive Service, NSA (resigned)

    Daniel Ellsberg, former State Dept. & Defense Dept. Official (VIPS Associate)

    Mike Gravel, former Senator from Alaska; former Army intelligence officer

    Larry Johnson, CIA analyst & State Department/counterterrorism, (ret.)

    John Kiriakou, former CIA counterterrorism operations officer; federal prison, Loretto, Pennsylvania

    Edward Loomis, former Chief, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA

    David MacMichael, USMC & National Intelligence Council (ret.)

    Ray McGovern, Army Infantry/Intelligence officer & CIA presidential briefer (ret.)

    Elizabeth Murray, Deputy National Intelligence Officer for Middle East (ret.)

    Todd Pierce, MAJ, U.S. Army Judge Advocate (ret.)

    Coleen Rowley, Minneapolis Division Counsel & Special Agent, FBI (ret.)

    Peter Van Buren, Department of State, Foreign Service Officer (ret.)

    Kirk Wiebe, Senior Analyst, SIGINT Automation Research Center, NSA (ret.)

    Ann Wright, Col., US Army (ret); Foreign Service Officer (ret.)



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  • Patriots’ First Amendment Fail Over “The Interview”

    December 29, 2014 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    american-flag (1)


    A handful of ragtag, plucky patriots defended their own misguided understanding of free speech by seeing the Seth Rogen-James Franco assassination bro-movie The Interview on our most American of holidays, Christmas.

    God Bless The Interview

    At the Austin Alamo Drafthouse (Remember the Alamo!) a few, proud moviegoers stood before the film ran to sing Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA”, and posted the effort to YouTube. The brave representative of that band of brothers and female virtual brothers, risking near-certain death at the hands of any North Korean sleeper agents in Austin, reminded the audience that beer is better in a democracy. The sing-along ended with chants of “USA! USA!”

    The owner of the Alamo Drafthouse said “It’s more than watching a silly Seth Rogen buddy comedy. Today it’s really, in a small way, it is sort of an act of patriotism to come and watch this movie this week.”

    In Atlanta, similar selfless acts were seen as the sold-out crowd sang along to Kate Smith’s rendition of “God Bless America” before the screening of Sony Pictures’ ode to free speech and assassination. “The movie, and the singing,” said the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, “served as a statement from many theatergoers that a foreign power would not dictate what forms of entertainment Americans could or could not enjoy.”


    All-American Hysteria

    Perhaps a little insight is needed in these heady times.

    In November someone hacked deeply in Sony Entertainment’s U.S. computer network. They dumped all sorts of data onto the Internet, including embarrassing racist emails by Sony execs mocking Obama, salary details of big stars and silly things about how bad Adam Sandler movies are. The initial hacks included nothing specific about “The Interview.” American mainstream media feasted on the dumped gossip, ensuring any embarrassment to Sony reached a worldwide audience. The FBI stated the hacks were not committed by North Korea (a suspect given the topic of Sony’s film) and DHS dismissed threats someone claiming to be the hackers made later against theatres that would show the film at Christmas. “The Interview” had its premiere in Hollywood and was shown in many locations as part of the usual media preview PR campaign. Nothing violent happened.

    Oops! Major theatre chains decided on their own to not show the film. Sony pulled the film from distribution, a business decision, albeit a lame and weak one.

    Then, in some sort of chum-churning all-American exercise (following the release of the Senate torture report — coincidence!) blame for the Sony hack was re-directed squarely at North Korea not only by the revised FBI, but by the President of the United States himself. This in spite of fairly weak explanations from the FBI about why the hacks seemed to come from North Korea, and fairly robust explanations from the tech media explaining why the hacks did not seem to come from North Korea.

    The President vowed revenge on the North Koreans for what had morphed overnight from just another example of corporate hacking into a literal act of war, the first shots in the endless cyberwar the Pentagon had been hoping for predicting for years. It was on! And Americans rose to the bait, fueled by a growing media hysteria over… free speech?


    Free Speech

    The First Amendment of the Constitution makes clear the government is not allowed to restrict speech: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

    The concept of free speech in the Bill of Rights is directed at OUR government stopping us, not whether or not some other government wants to stop us.

    The First Amendment was meant to make one thing indisputably clear: free speech was the basis for a government of the people. Without a free press, as well as the ability to openly gather, debate, protest, and criticize, how would the people be able to judge their government’s adherence to the other rights? How could people vote knowledgeably if they didn’t know what was being done in their name by their government? An informed citizenry, Thomas Jefferson stated, was “a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.”

    “Free Speech” in our Constitutional context is speaking truth to our own government and society, not imagining you are flipping off Kim Jong Un.


    Sunshine Patriots

    What the faux-patriots ignore is that what Sony and the theatre chains did and did not do is far short of the ideals of “free speech” and much closer to the bowels of cold, hard business decisions. Sony’s and the theatre chains’ lawyers very likely decided that showing the film in light of weak threats would open them to liability should some nut case have done something, and/or that the weak threats would have scared moviegoers off anyway and they wouldn’t have made any money. That’s it. Cash.

    The true patriotic exercise of free speech is not masking a business decision as a principled stand. It is not recycling some old jingoistic songs in front of a sympathetic group of beer drinkers. You want courage? Say something unpopular against the government. Blow the whistle at great personal risk on a wrong that needs to be exposed. March in protest at risk of a police beating or arrest.

    By all means, go see any movie you want, and have fun (reviews suggest the Seth Rogen character hides an explosive device in his own butt in one scene from The Interview). But don’t conflate that with acts of true patriotism and the exercise of free speech.



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  • Book Review: Methland, The Death and Life of a Small American Town

    December 27, 2014 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent



    Methland: The Death and Life of a Small American Townby Nick Reding is one scary book. It is the only book I’m aware of that understands at a fundamental level meth isn’t a drug problem, it is a symptom of our current societal and economic problems. The meth epidemic isn’t about a drug, its about the economy, and so Reding’s book is as much about the death of a way of life as the birth of a drug.

    Left Behind

    For those looking for a Breaking Bad experience, or another drug-porn description of whacked-out meth addicts, this is not your book. Instead, Reding, after returning to his hometown of Oelwein, Iowa, chronicles the descent from a thriving agricultural-based economy into a desperate place where cheap, easy to obtain drugs like meth were just waiting to move in. Along the way Iowa’s story parallels the changes in our broader national society and economy, focused here on Big Agra moving in, first destroying family farms and local meat packers, then replacing the workers in its new mega-facilities with cheap, disposable labor from south of the border. Such changes, whether wrought by Big Agra businesses, Chinese steel or Walmart, take away the life of the town but leave behind the people.

    Just like Big Agra destroyed a way of life in Iowa, Big Pharma profited off the remains. Reding details how the pharmaceutical industry spent heavily and lobbied successfully to not limit the import of pseudoephedrine into the U.S. The drug companies needed that chemical to be available and cheap for their cold medicines, and were without care that that same chemical, distilled out of those same cold medicines, fueled the meth epidemic. Hey, it was just business, a perfect metaphor for the rise of profit above all else, the leaving behind of the 99 percent.

    And Then There is Meth

    Reding touches on how easy the drug is to cook up in small batches, although a small mistake in the chemistry can result in horrific burns and explosions. Meth wasn’t a social drug, and so you didn’t need to hang around with old juicers in a dark bar. Meth came to you. Your friends were using it, if not selling it or cooking it, and the angry, speedo high it gave fit the young guys better. Meth wasn’t only for boys, either. Girls liked it too, and because you never thought about eating on a meth cruise, they called it the Jenny Crank diet.

    As part of research leading to my upcoming book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99Percent, I spent some time in the Rust Belt of the Midwest, where meth is as popular as in Iowa, and for the same reasons. Reding’s descriptions and conclusion ring true.

    But most importantly, meth just isn’t cheap and easy, it is a Midwest drug. Instead of the flighty high of weed or the dulled feeling of alcohol, meth at first offers a powerful feeling of self-worth, of energy, that is the perfect antidote for the crushing depression and lack of hope the space around the user represents. For a world stuck in crap, meth was the answer. This was a drug designed for unemployed people with poor self-images and no confidence. Of course the drug is a false front, as users quickly suffer from the debilitating health problems we are all familiar with. But that’s a tomorrow kind of problem, and the lost users in Iowa and elsewhere know they have no tomorrow anyway.

    Criticisms of the book are few. Reding includes far too much information on the personal lives of the few good people in town trying to better things, and about himself. These do little to support the central ideas and often detour the narrative. The book tries perhaps too hard to end on a positive note, focusing on the progress made but losing sight of how little winning one battle in rural Iowa means in the larger war for our America.

    Rock Bottom

    But don’t let those points stop you from looking into this book. Skim the filler and focus on the important point: People without jobs, without hope, without tomorrows, will turn to things like meth to ease the pain. It’s human nature. As Reding writes, rock bottom is not a foundation to build on. And unless we as a nation figure out a better way forward– jobs that pay a living wage for more Americans, the reining in of big interests that rip apart the fabric of the nation around them– methland will be our land. We can’t fix America’s meth problem without fixing America.

    Methland: The Death and Life of a Small American Town



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  • Utah May Fight NSA by Cutting Off Their Water

    December 26, 2014 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    nsadatacenter

    It may be time to fight fire with water. Specifically, the NSA’s fire with Utah’s water.


    Congressional Fail

    Some eighteen months after the first Snowden revelations showed the government of the United States, primarily via the NSA, has created a near-complete surveillance state over its own frightened citizens, the people’s voice in Washington, Congress, has done exactly nothing in response. Even the comically-weak and Orwellian-named Leahy attempt at showpiece reform of the NSA, the USA Freedom Act, failed to move forward.

    Once again the intelligence agencies’ allies in Congress fought to kill the bill, as they succeeded in doing with a companion House measure that passed in May. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, due soon for his upgrade, argued the bill would help ISIS. “God forbid that tomorrow we wake up to the news that a member of ISIS is in the United States,” claimed Senator Marco Rubio. Without the NSA’s call tracking program, he said, “that plot may go forward, and that would be a horrifying result.” “Let’s not have another repeat of 9/11,” added Senator Dan Coats. It is unlikely in the hyper-extreme that the Republican-controlled Senate would act any differently once they take power in January.


    Utah Water Sports

    So it is with some Quixotic pleasure that a Utah state legislative committee will vote on a bill that could deprive a National Security Agency facility just outside Salt Lake City of its water, all in protest of the government agency’s collection of civilian data.

    Specifically, the Utah bill prohibits municipalities from giving “material support or assistance in any form to any federal data collection and surveillance agency,” a very thinly veiled reference to the NSA’s Utah Data Center, a massive collection facility in Bluffdale, outside Salt Lake City. The Bluffdale center is believed to be one of the world’s largest data warehouses, intended as the electronic realization of the NSA’s stated desire to “collect the whole haystack.” The haystack is every piece of data the NSA can collect on every single person and entity globally. The concept is to amass such data with the ability to later reach back into it as needs grow and emerge. The email you send today is likely of little value to the government, but will be stored anyway. If in three years you or someone you know becomes a “person of interest,” your entire life can then be reconstructed historically.


    Power from the People

    The Bluffdale facility consumes a staggering 65 megawatts of power, enough to run about 33,000 homes. Hardware that uses that much juice needs a lot of cooling, hence the center’s need for water. A lot of water. Cut off the water and you close down the center.

    In the spirit of these Post-Constitutional times, the people are getting doused twice by the NSA. Not only are Constitutional rights being trod upon, but taxpayers are being made to pay for it. In addition to the actual construction and maintenance costs of the center, the city of Bluffdale chose to issue $3.5 million in bonds to pay for the water lines servicing the facility. Bluffdale also signed an agreement with the NSA that allows the agency to pay less for water than city ordinances would otherwise require.

    And exactly how much cheap, taxpayer-subsized water is the NSA gulping down? That’s a secret. The Salt Lake Tribune has no far failed to force the NSA to reveal how much water the facility requires. The NSA contends information about water usage would allow someone to calculate the computing power inside the data center.


    Symbols

    Though there is no chance that even one drop of water will be denied the NSA in Utah, the action is symbolic, and in troubled times symbols may count for something. Remember, Congress refused to endorse even the lightest of symbolic gestures, so the action of a Utah state legislative committee should not be dismissed.



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  • Christmas in the White House Basement

    December 24, 2014 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    santa2


    Hold the fat bastard down!

    Answer me punk! Is it true that you give toys to every child in the world? Even the ones whose moms and dads are terrorists?

    Hah, that’s material support. Hit him with the electric shock.

    Do you refuse to hand over the naughty or nice list for us to use in drone targeting? Tell me, do it now!

    He won’t answer. Let’s anally feed him again.

    My turn, my turn.

    No, you did it last time.

    Alfreda! Cheney! Stop fighting. Look at his jolly, round belly like bowl full of jelly. He’ll need plenty of anal feedings. There’ll be time for everyone.

    I wanna use the candy cane on him.

    No, no, chestnuts!

    Alright, if you won’t cooperate old St. Nick, we’re going to rape a loved one in front of you. That should loosen your tongue. Bring in Rudolph.

    Cheney, get off the damn reindeer. We’re only threatening to do that this year.

    Damn reindeer was asking for it. Lookit the way she prances around with that saucy red nose.

    Now old man, we’ll shave off your beard. I think that offends his North Pole religion.

    And blast him with the music. No, no, not more Nine Inch Nails. Hit him with the ten minute Christmas song loop they play over and over while you’re in line for 40 minutes at Walmart.

    Hey, who wants egg nog?

    Feinstein, you came! We invited you again this year of course, but I never expected you to show up after everyone caught you with Brennan in the supply closet. I bet that hurt. It is good to see that whatever the CIA does to you, you are never fully humiliated.

    Well, it is the season to be jolly.

    So, everyone, gather round, Barack is about to waterboard Santa.

    Aw, he always gets to do that first.

    Now, now, boys, you all know you’re not spending this Christmas in jail because of Barack, so show some respect. Anyway, we’ll move the mistletoe over the waterboarding table and everyone will get a chance to torture Santa. Sheik Khalid Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times before he was made insane for freedom, so Santa will be screaming with us for a long time.

    After that, can we watch the tapes again? Please?

    Well, OK, Condi, one more time. Uncle Jose brought his own copies of the torture tapes again this year —

    You said the T word, you said the T word! Five dollars into the jar.

    Ugh, OK. Anyway, Uncle Jose brought the, er, enhanced interrogation tapes for us all to enjoy — really, Jose, you shouldn’t have — but after that, it is right to bed for everyone. We have to render Santa all around the world, to every country that tortures so they can all have a “crack” at the bastard, in just one night. Even with an early start, that takes some Christmas magic!

    Hey, wasn’t Jesus tortured to death in a way?

    You’re right, He was. Why, we’re putting the Christ right back into Christmas!

    God bless torturers and those who support them, everyone!

    Honey, I don’t know how you do it, but every year it just gets better.




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