• What to Do if You Think You’re on the No-Fly List

    April 25, 2015 // 8 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    It has come to this. There is a self-help guides from the ACLU on what to do if you think you are on the U.S. government’s no-fly list. Oh, and the TSA says 99 percent of the people who contact them about no-fly have been denied boarding only because their names are similar to a real bad guy. In most applications, a 99 percent failure rate is cause for alarm for an organization. In America, it is cause for alarm for us.

    Background

    On September 10, 2001, there wasn’t any formal no-fly list, though the FBI held a folder of 16 names of suspicious flyers. Among the many changes pressed on a scared population starting September 12 was the creation of two lists: the no-fly list and the selectee list. The latter was for person who would undergo additional scrutiny when they sought to fly. The former, like its name, meant if your name was on the list you simply could not board a flight inside the U.S., out of the U.S. or from some other country into the U.S.

    The flight ban can also extend far outside of America’s borders. The no-fly list is shared with 22 other countries.

    Names are nominated for no-fly or selectee by one of perhaps hundreds of thousands of government officials: an FBI agent, a CIA analyst, a State Department visa officer and so forth. Each nominating agency has its own criteria, standards and approval processes, some strict, some pretty sloppy. Your name may end up on the list based on scraps of online postings or as the result of a multi-year detailed investigation or because of a bureaucratic typo. The nominated name is sent to The Terrorist Screening Center (TSC), located in a classified location in suburban Northern Virginia. TSC is a multi-agency organization administered by the FBI, staffed by officials from the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of State, and all of the intel community.

    A key issue is that people are never notified they are on the no-fly list. The only way to even get a hint is to buy an airplane ticket and be prevented from boarding once you arrive at the airport after at check-in the airline receives a “no-fly” message. Through the interrogation process you may (or you may not) learn you might live in the list. You will never have any idea why you are on the list; maybe you share a similar name with some real or imagined bad guy. Still on the list? The only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat.

    What Do You Do?

    For the most part, once denied boarding, you are on your own to get home. It is a long walk home from L.A. if you live in New York. But, in the topsy-turvy post-9/11 world, though the U.S. will not let you on an airplane (Twin Towers!) you can, for now, as a suspected terrorist, travel by ship, train, bus, rental car, horseback, donkey cart, unicycle or other means. Of course none of those conveyances have even rudimentary screening or security.

    One option if you find yourself denied boarding is to contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) via their TRIP Program and ask them to remove your name from the no-fly list. You might succeed just by asking nice; the TSA itself says that 99 percent of individuals who apply for redress are not on the terrorist watchlist, but are misidentified as people who are. To start, you simply use DHS’ online form. They strongly encourage an online submission, warning on their web site that “if documents are mailed, it may take 10-15 business days to receive your submission due to federal government mail screening requirements,” something left over from the very small and long ago anthrax powder letters mailed to a handful of people in 2001. Careful though– proving you are not a terrorist must be done in a 10 meg attachment or less or DHS will reject your request.

    If DHS agrees you are not a terrorist, you get a redress number which you can use when booking a ticket. There is never an explanation, and DHS is not allowed to tell you you are still on the no-fly list, or ever were, or why they did or did not issue you a redress number. If you never hear back from DHS and wonder if you are allowed to fly, the only way to tell is to buy another ticket and see if you can board. Repeat. Even with a redress number, DHS advises arriving at the airport extra early in anticipation of extra screening and questioning.

    What If You Stranded Overseas?

    One popular trick the government likes to occasionally use is to wait for someone to depart the U.S., then slap him/her on the no-fly. The traveler, stuck abroad, clearly has fewer resources to challenge anything or file internet forms and wait by the post box.

    A nice scheme, but since U.S. citizens have a right under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution to return to U.S. territory after traveling abroad, and lawful permanent residents (“green-card holders”) have a similar right to return under the Immigration and Nationality Act, in fact such a move by DHS is essentially unconstitutional and/or illegal.

    So, as one part of the government says you are a terrorist and cannot fly to America, another part of the government is constitutionally obligated to get you back to America. Denied boarding overseas due to the no-fly? Someone in the U.S. (can be a lawyer) must call the State Department and ask that they help you. The ACLU has a handy cheat-sheet with all the details. At some point you will visit the American Embassy in your country of no-fly exile, and, after an average two week delay, re-book your ticket to return to the United States. The cost of all this is on you, and you can expect a detailed welcome from the FBI and others when you touch down in the Homeland. Coming “home” may then mean your mom’s place in Cleveland, or it can mean a jail cell near the airport in Cleveland.

    Bad Guys?

    We’ll admit that there probably are some really bad people out there who’d we would just prefer not sitting next to us on a flight. But who ends up on the no-fly instead?

    The Associated Press reported in 2012 that the federal no-fly list had “more than doubled in the past year” and had grown to about 21,000 people, including some 500 Americans. CBS’ news show, 60 Minutes, states the no-fly list actually has 44,000 names on it. A CBS reporter claims to have seen a portion of the names on no-fly in 2007, and noted Saddam Hussein was on the list, as well as 14 of the 19 September 11th hijackers, all of whom were very dead at the time. Osama bin Laden was also on the list on the off-chance he would have decided to fly to the U.S. under his real name for some reason.

    Represented by the American Civil Liberties Union, a group of thirteen Americans who were barred from boarding domestic flights or planes leaving or bound for the U.S. between June 2009 and November 2012 is suing. One of the plaintiffs in that case is Army veteran Raymond Earl Knaeble, who found himself unable to fly coincidentally after converting to Islam. Four others in the no-fly lawsuit are also military veterans. One was forced to return to the U.S. from Columbia by bus, a long and dangerous trip. Another plaintiff was placed on the list only after he flew from California to the U.S. Virgin Islands. He was forced to take a five-day boat trip and a four-day train ride home.

    How Can This Be Legal?

    Like much of the (known) legislation passed after 9/11, it has been very hard to challenge the no-fly in courts. One significant issue is standing, the right to sue. Persons typically never know for certain they are on the no-fly list, the government will never confirm or deny someone is on the list, and so, absent proof, one may not be able to sue the government. The government has and likely will also continue to cite national security and classified information to block cases from even entering the court system.

    In the lawsuit noted above, the ACLU is arguing that the no-fly list is a violation of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment says to the federal government that no one shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” The meaning is that all levels of American government must operate within the law and provide fair procedures. For example, you cannot be arrested and tried without having legal counsel, being informed of the charges, having the chance to review the evidence against you and so forth. Creating a secret list without any clear means of challenging placement on that list, is, the ACLU contends, unconstitutional.

    The government argues in return that national security prevents a more open system– we can’t tip off the terrorists– and that limited judicial review covers any due process requirement. No-fly list appeals may ultimately go to a federal appellate court, but that court makes decisions based only on government input. The person affected is not even present and will never know what evidence the government presented against him in this secret court.

    The ACLU’s case against the no-fly list is currently being heard in U.S. District Court, in front of a judge who at least appears to be asking serious questions of the government, and who has stated she holds not being able to fly is indeed a case of the government depriving someone of their “liberty,” as stated in the Fifth Amendment. The outcome of the case is of course uncertain, and will no doubt be appealed as far as it can go.

    Until then Americans, happy travels!



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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!

  • Government Can Kill Cell Service During “Emergencies”

    April 24, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, NSA, Police State

    bars

    The government can kill all cell service in a designated area of its choice during “emergencies,” and does not want to disclose any details about how or when they might employ this.

    Implications for the First Amendment are made clear by one known local use — San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit System disabled service to quell protests in four downtown San Francisco stations over the fatal shooting of Charles Blair Hill by police.



    Standing Operating Procedure 303

    The Department of Homeland Security came up with the Federal-level plan — known as Standing Operating Procedure 303 — after cellular phones were used to detonate explosives targeting the London public transportation system in 2005. Unbeknownst at the time to the public, the government shut down cell service in various locations in New York City, primarily around tunnels to and from Manhattan.

    SOP 303 spells out a “unified voluntary process for the orderly shut-down and restoration of wireless services during critical emergencies such as the threat of radio-activated improvised explosive devices.” Since the details of SOP 303 remain secret, no one is certain when or how it might be invoked.



    FOIA Lawsuits

    The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in February sided with the government and ruled that the policy did not need to be disclosed under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC.) The court agreed with the government’s citation of a FOIA exemption that precludes disclosure if doing so “could reasonably be expected to endanger the life or physical safety of any individual.”

    EPIC asked the court to revisit its ruling. On April 10, the court ordered the government to respond, a move that suggests the appellate court might rehear the case.

    EPIC originally asked for the document in 2011 in the wake of the shut down of mobile phone service in the San Francisco Bay Area subway system during a protest. The government withheld the information, EPIC sued and won, but the government then appealed and prevailed.

    Who Decides When to Kill the Network?

    Under the direction of the so-called National Security Telecommunications Advisory Committee, SOP 303 allows for the shutting down of wireless networks “within a localized area, such as a tunnel or bridge, and within an entire metropolitan area.” That Advisory Committee is a Reagan-era, presidentially-appointed body composed of up to 30 senior executive-level representatives from communications, information technology, banking, and aerospace companies.

    Since SOP 303 is not a law, it cannot be enforced. However, the telecoms have agreed to cut off cell service voluntarily whenever the Federal government requests SOP 303 be invoked.

    The process of shutting down the cell service goes through the National Coordinating Center for Telecommunications (NCC), a coordination body set up by Ronald Reagan in 1984. The NCC, which includes representatives from the Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Security Agency, every important cabinet department, and a few dozen big telecommunications and defense companies, takes shutdown requests from state and national Homeland Security officials, verifies whether they are “necessary,” and passes those requests on to wireless carriers in the affected areas.



    First Amendment Questions

    Because cutting off communications imposes a prior restraint on speech, it’s unclear whether SOP 303 is constitutional, and of course the specifics of the agreement are secret and the limits of government authority in this area have never been tested in court.

    According to Eva Galperin of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, governments in places like China regularly shut down cellphone service to quell protests. “They did it in Egypt as well,” she explained, during the protests that deposed former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak.

    The exact decision-making process in the United States is classified. But you’ll know when it happens — check your phone for bars.




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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 Iranian Ascendancy

    April 22, 2015 // 15 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq, Military, Syria, Yemen

    Nuclear-Explosion-001



    The U.S. is running around in circles in the Middle East, patching together coalitions here, acquiring strange bedfellows there, and in location after location trying to figure out who the enemy of its enemy actually is. The result is just what you’d expect: chaos further undermining whatever’s left of the nations whose frailty birthed the jihadism America is trying to squash.

    And in a classic tale of unintended consequences, just about every time Washington has committed another blunder in the Middle East, Iran has stepped in to take advantage. Consider that country the rising power in the region and credit American clumsiness for the new Iranian ascendancy.

    Today’s News — and Some History

    The U.S. recently concluded air strikes in support of the Iraqi militias that Iran favors as they took back the city of Tikrit from the Islamic State (IS). At the same time, Washington began supplying intelligence and aerial refueling on demand for a Saudi bombing campaign against the militias Iran favors in Yemen. Iran continues to advise and assist Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whom Washington would still like to depose and, as part of its Syrian strategy, continues to supply and direct Hezbollah in Lebanon, a group the U.S. considers a terror outfit.

    Meanwhile, the U.S. has successfully negotiated the outlines of an agreement with Iran in which progress on severely constricting its nuclear program would be traded for an eventual lifting of sanctions and the granting of diplomatic recognition. This is sure to further bolster Tehran’s status as a regional power, while weakening long-time American allies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf States.

    A clever pundit could undoubtedly paint all of the above as a realpolitik ballet on Washington’s part, but the truth seems so much simpler and more painful. Since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, U.S. policy in the region has combined confusion on an immense scale with awkward bursts of ill-coordinated and exceedingly short-term acts of expediency. The country that has most benefited is Iran. No place illustrates this better than Iraq.

    Iraq Redux (Yet Again)

    On April 9, 2003, just over 12 years ago, U.S. troops pulled down a statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad’s Firdos Square, symbolically marking what George W. Bush hoped was the beginning of a campaign to remake the Middle East in America’s image by bringing not just Iraq but Syria and Iran to heel. And there can be no question that the invasion of Iraq did indeed set events in motion that are still remaking the region in ways once unimaginable.

    In the wake of the Iraq invasion and occupation, the Arab Spring blossomed and failed. (The recent Obama administration decision to resume arms exports to the military government of Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Egypt could be considered its coup de grâce.) Today, fighting ripples through Libya, Syria, Yemen, the Maghreb, the Horn of Africa, and other parts of the Greater Middle East. Terrorists attack in once relatively peaceful places like Tunisia. There is now a de facto independent Kurdistan — last a reality in the sixteenth century — that includes the city of Kirkuk. Previously stable countries have become roiling failed states and home to terrorist groups that didn’t even exist when the U.S. military rolled across the Iraqi border in 2003.

    And, of course, 12 years later in Iraq itself the fighting roars on. Who now remembers President Obama declaring victory in 2011 and praising American troops for coming home with their “heads held high”? He seemed then to be washing his hands forever of the pile of sticky brown sand that was Bush’s Iraq. Trillions had been spent, untold lives lost or ruined, but as with Vietnam decades earlier, the U.S. was to move on and not look back. So much for the dream of a successful Pax Americana in the Middle East, but at least it was all over.

    You know what happened next. Unlike in Vietnam, Washington did go back, quickly turning a humanitarian gesture in August 2014 to save the Yazidi people from destruction at the hands of the Islamic State into a full-scale bombing campaign in Syria and Iraq. A coalition of 62 nations was formed. (Where are they all now while the U.S. conducts 85% of all air strikes against IS?)  The tap on a massive arms flow was turned on. The architect of the 2007 “surge” in Iraq and a leaker of top secret documents, retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus, was brought back in for advice. Twenty-four-seven bombing became the order of the day and several thousand U.S. military advisors returned to familiar bases to retrain some part of an American-created army that had only recently collapsed and abandoned four key northern cities to Islamic State militants. Iraq War 3.0 was officially underway and many pundits — including me — predicted a steady escalation with the usual quagmire to follow.

    Such a result can hardly be ruled out yet, but at the moment it’s as if Barack Obama had stepped to the edge of the Iraqi abyss, peered over, and then shrugged his shoulders. Both his administration and the U.S. military appear content for the moment neither to pull back nor press harder.

    The American people seem to feel much the same way. Except in the Republican Congress (and even there in less shrill form than usual), there are few calls for… well, anything. The ongoing air strikes remain “surgical” in domestic politics, if not in Iraq and Syria. Hardly noticed and little reported on here, they have had next to no effect on Americans. Yet they remain sufficient to assure the right wing that the American military is still the best tool to solve problems abroad, while encouraging liberals who want to show that they can be as tough as anyone going into 2016.

    At first glance, the American version of Iraq War 3.0 has the feel of the Libyan air intervention — the same lack of concern, that is, for the long game. But Iraq 2015 is no Libya 2011, because this time while America sits back, Iran rises.

    Iran Ascendant

    The Middle East was ripe for change. Prior to the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the last major transformational event in the area was the fall of that classic American stooge, the Shah of Iran, in 1979. Otherwise, many of the thug regimes in power since the 1960s, the height of the Cold War, had stayed in place, and so had most of the borders set even earlier, in the aftermath of World War I.

    Iran should send America a fruit basket to thank it for setting the stage so perfectly for its ascent. As a start, in 2003 the United States eliminated Iran’s major border threats: Iraq’s Saddam Hussein to the west and the Taliban in Afghanistan to the east. (The Taliban are back of course, but diligently focused on America’s puppet Afghan government.) The long slog of Washington’s wars in both those countries dulled even the reliably bloodthirsty American public’s taste for yet more of the same, and cooled off Bush-era plans in Tel Aviv and Washington for air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities. (After all, if even Vice President Dick Cheney couldn’t pull the trigger on Iran before leaving office in 2008, who in 2015 America is going to do so?)

    Better yet for the Iranians, when Saddam was hanged in 2006, they not only lost an enemy who had invaded their country in 1980, launching a bitter war against them that didn’t end for eight years, but gained an ally in the new Iraq. As U.S. influence withered away with the failure of the March 2010 Iraqi elections to produce a broadly representative government, Iran stepped in to broker a thoroughly partisan settlement leading to a sectarian Shia government in Baghdad bent on ensuring that the country’s minority Sunni population would remain out of power forever. The Obama administration seemed nearly oblivious to Iran’s gains in Iraq in 2010 — and seems so again in 2015.

    Iran in Iraq 

    In Tikrit, Iranian-led Shia forces recently drove the Islamic State from the city. In charge was Qassem Suleimani, the leader of the Qods Force (a unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards), who had previously led the brutally effective efforts of Iranian special forces against U.S. soldiers in Iraq War 2.0. He returned to that country and assembled his own coalition of Shia militias to take Tikrit. All of them have long benefited from Iranian support, as has the increasingly Shia-dominated Iraqi army.

    In addition, the Iranians seem to have brought in their own tanks and possibly even ground troops for the assault on the city. They also moved advanced rocket systems into Iraq, the same weapons Hamas has used against Israel in recent conflicts.

    Only one thing was lacking: air power. After much hemming and hawing, when it looked like the assault on Tikrit had been blunted by well-dug-in Islamic State fighters in a heavily booby-trapped city, the Obama administration agreed to provide it.

    On the U.S. side, the air of desperation around the decision to launch air strikes on Tikrit was palpable. You could feel it, for instance, in this statement by a Pentagon spokesperson almost pleading for the Iraqi government to favor Washington over Tehran: “I think it’s important that the Iraqis understand that what would be most helpful to them is a reliable partner in this fight against IS. Reliable, professional, advanced military capabilities are something that very clearly and very squarely reside with the coalition.”  

    Imagine if you had told an American soldier — or general — leaving Iraq in 2011 that, just a few years later in the country where he or she had watched friends die, the U.S. would be serving as Iran’s close air support.  Imagine if you had told him that Washington would be helping some of the same Shia militias who planted IEDs to kill Americans go after Sunnis — and essentially begging for the chance to do so. Who would’ve thunk it?

    The Limits of Air Power 101

    The White House no doubt imagined that U.S. bombs would be seen as the decisive factor in Tikrit and that the sectarian government in Baghdad would naturally come to… What? Like us better than the Iranians?

    Bizarre as such a “strategy” might seem on the face of it, it has proven even stranger in practice. The biggest problem with air power is that, while it’s good at breaking things, it isn’t decisive. It cannot determine who moves into the governor’s mansion after the dust settles. Only ground forces can do that, so a victory over the Islamic State in Tikrit, no matter what role air strikes played, can only further empower those Iranian-backed Shia militias. You don’t have to be a military expert to know that this is the nature of air power, which makes it all the more surprising that American strategists seem so blind to it.

    As for liking Washington better for its helping hand, there are few signs of that. Baghdad officials have largely been silent on America’s contribution, praising only the “air coverage of the Iraqi air force and the international coalition.” Shia militia forces on the ground have been angered by and scornful of the United States for — as they see it — interfering in their efforts to take Tikrit on their own.

    The victory in that city will only increase the government’s reliance on the militias, whom Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi now refers to as “popular volunteers,” rather than the still-limited number of soldiers the Americans have so far been capable of training. (The Pentagon might, by the way, want to see if Iran can pass along any training tips, as their militias, unlike the American-backed Iraqi army, seem to be doing just fine.) That also means that the government will have no choice but to tolerate the Shia militia atrocities and acts of ethnic cleansing that have already taken place in Sunni Tikrit and will surely follow in any other Sunni areas similarly “liberated.” Claims coming out of Washington that the U.S. will be carefully monitoring the acts of Iraqi forces ring increasingly hollow.

    What Tikrit has, in fact, done is solidify Iran’s influence over Prime Minister al-Abadi, currently little more than the acting mayor of Baghdad, who claimed the victory in Tikrit as a way to increase his own prestige. The win also allows his Shia-run government to seize control of the ruins of that previously Sunni enclave. And no one should miss the obvious symbolism that lies in the fact that the first major city retaken from the Islamic State in a Sunni area is also the birthplace of Saddam Hussein.

    The best the Obama administration can do is watch helplessly as Tehran and Baghdad take their bows. A template has been created for a future in which other Sunni areas, including the country’s second largest city, Mosul, and Sunni cities in Anbar Province will be similarly retaken, perhaps with the help of American air power but almost certainly with little credit to Washington.

    Iran in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen

    Tehran is now playing a similarly important role in other places where U.S. policy stumbles have left voids, particularly in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen.

    In Syria, Iranian forces, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, the Qods Force, and their intelligence services, advise and assist Bashar al-Assad’s military. They also support Hezbollah elements from Lebanon fighting on Assad’s side. At best, Washington is again playing second fiddle, using its air power against the Islamic State and training “moderate” Syrian fighters, the first of whom refused to even show up for their initial battle.

    In Yemen, a U.S.-supported regime, backed by Special Forces advisers and a full-scale drone targeted assassination campaign, recently crumbled. The American Embassy was evacuated in February, the last of those advisers in March. The takeover of the capital, Sana’a, and later significant parts of the rest of the country by the Houthis, a rebel Shiite minority group, represents, in the words of one Foreign Policy writer, “a huge victory for Iran… the Houthis’ decision to tie their fate to Tehran’s regional machinations risks tearing Yemen apart and throwing the country into chaos.”

    The panicked Saudis promptly intervened and were quickly backed by the Obama administration’s insertion of the United States in yet another conflict by executive order. Relentless Saudi air strikes (perhaps using some of the $640 million worth of cluster bombs the U.S. sold them last year) are supported by yet another coalition, this time of Sudan, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, and other Sunni powers in the region. The threat of an invasion, possibly using Egyptian troops, looms.  The Iranians have moved ships into the area in response to a Saudi naval blockade of Yemen.

    No matter what happens, Iran will be strengthened. Either it will find itself in a client relationship with a Houthi movement that has advanced to the Saudi border or, should they be driven back, a chaotic state in Yemen with an ever-strengthening al-Qaeda offshoot. Either outcome would undoubtedly discombobulate the Saudis (and the Americans) and so sit well with Iran.

    To make things even livelier in a fragmenting region, Sunni rebels infiltrating from neighboring Pakistan recently killed eight Iranian border guards. This probably represented a retaliatory attack in response to an earlier skirmish in which Iranian Revolutionary Guards killed three suspected Pakistani Sunni militants. Once started, fires do tend to spread.

    For those keeping score at home, the Iranians now hold significant positions in three Middle Eastern countries (or at least fragments of former countries) in addition to Iraq.

    Iran Ascending and the Nuclear Question

    Iran is well positioned to ascend. Geopolitically, alone in the region it is a nation that has existed more or less within its current borders for thousands of years. It is almost completely ethnically stable and religiously, culturally, and linguistically homogeneous, with its minorities comparatively under control. While still governed in large part by its clerics, Iran has seen evolving democratic electoral transitions at the secular level. Politically, history is on Iran’s side. If you set aside the 1953 CIA-backed coup that ousted the democratically elected prime minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and put the U.S.-backed Shah in power for a quarter of a century, Iran has sorted out its governance on its own for some time.

    Somehow, despite decades of sanctions, Iran, with the fourth-largest proven crude oil reserves and the second-largest natural gas reserves on the planet, has managed to hold its economy together, selling what oil it can primarily to Asia. It is ready to sell more oil as soon as sanctions lift. It has a decent conventional military by local standards. Its young reportedly yearn for greater engagement with the West. Unlike nearly every other nation in the Middle East, Iran’s leaders do not rule in fear of an Islamic revolution. They already had one — 36 years ago.

    Recently, the U.S., Iran, and the P5 (Britain, France, Germany, Russia, and China) reached a preliminary agreement to significantly constrain that country’s nuclear program and lift sanctions. It appears that both the Obama administration and Tehran are eager to turn it into an official document by the end of June. A deal isn’t a deal until signed on the dotted line, and the congressional Republicans are sharpening their knives, but the intent is clearly there.

    To keep the talks on track, by the end of June the Obama administration will have released to the Islamic Republic a total of $11.9 billion in previously frozen assets, dating back to the 1979 Iranian takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. In addition to the straight-up flood of cash, the U.S. agreed that Iran may sell $4.2 billion worth of oil, free from any sanctions. The U.S. will also allow Iran approximately $1.5 billion in gold sales, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.” Put another way, someone in Washington wanted this badly enough to pay for it.

    For President Obama and his advisers, this agreement is clearly a late grasp (or perhaps last gasp) at legacy building, and maybe even a guilty stab at justifying that 2009 Nobel Peace Prize. The urge to etch some kind of foreign policy success into future history books that, at the moment, threaten to be grim reading is easy enough to understand. So it should have surprised no one that John Kerry, Obama’s once globetrotting secretary of state, basically took up residence in Switzerland to negotiate with the Iranians. He sat at the table in Lausanne bargaining while Tikrit burned, Syria simmered, his country was chased out of Yemen, and the Saudis launched their own war in that beleaguered country. That he had hardly a word to say about any of those events, or much of anything else going on in the world at the time, is an indication of just how much value the Obama administration puts on those nuclear negotiations.

    For the Iranians, trading progress on developing nuclear weapons for the full-scale lifting of sanctions was an attractive offer. After all, its leaders know that the country could never go fully nuclear without ensuring devastating Israeli strikes, and so lost little with the present agreement while gaining much. Being accepted as a peer by Washington in such negotiations only further establishes their country’s status as a regional power. Moreover, a nuclear agreement that widens any rift between the U.S., Israel, and the Saudis plays to Tehran’s new strength. Finally, the stronger economy likely to blossom once sanctions are lifted will offer the nation the possibility of new revenues and renewed foreign investment. (It’s easy to imagine Chinese businesspeople on Orbitz making air reservations as you read this.) The big winner in the nuclear deal is not difficult to suss out.

    What Lies Ahead

    In these last months, despite the angry, fearful cries and demands of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Saudi royals, and neo- and other conservatives in Congress, Iran has shown few signs of aspiring to the sort of self-destruction going nuclear would entail. (If Iran had created a bomb every time Netanyahu claimed they were on the verge of having one in the past two decades, Tehran would be littered with them.) In fact, trading mushroom clouds with Israel and possibly the U.S. never looked like an appealing goal to the Iranian leadership. Instead, they preferred to seek a more conventional kind of influence throughout the Middle East. They were hardly alone in that, but their success has been singular in the region in these years.

    The U.S. provided free tutorials in Afghanistan and Iraq on why actually occupying territory in the neighborhood isn’t the road to such influence. Iran’s leaders have not ignored the advice. Instead, Iran’s rise has been stoked by a collection of client states, aligned governments, sympathetic and/or beholden militias, and — when all else fails — chaotic non-states that promise less trouble and harm to Tehran than to its various potential enemies.

    Despite Iran’s gains, the U.S. will still be the biggest kid on the block for years, possibly decades, to come. One hopes that America will not use that military and economic strength to lash out at the new regional power it inadvertently helped midwife. And if any of this does presage some future U.S. conflict with an Iran that has gotten “too powerful,” then we shall have witnessed a great irony, a great tragedy, and a damn waste of American blood and resources.




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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!

  • Too Little, Too Late? Clinton Foundation Too Limit Foreign Govt Donations

    April 20, 2015 // 8 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016

    hillaryclinton



    By coincidence, only days after Hillary announced her candidacy, The Clinton Foundation announced changes to the way it handles donations and accountability.

    Let’s look at the BS Factor on two of the most important “changes.”



    Foreign Money

    After years of accepting donations from foreign governments, The Clinton Foundation said it will “limit” donations from foreign governments to six countries that already support it: Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway and the United Kingdom.

    Until, well, a day or two ago, the Foundation imposed no such restraints on itself. According to The Wall Street Journal, the foundation has already received funding from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Australia, and Germany. A Canadian government agency that supports the Keystone XL oil pipeline has also given money to the foundation.


    No potential conflicts of interest here, right? Let’s see:

    — The Canadian Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development agency donated between $250,000 and $500,000 (the Clinton’s only report donations in such ranges.) The Journal, however, claims the exact amount of the donation was somewhere around $480,000.

    — Last year, the United Arab Emirates donated somewhere between $1 million and $5 million.

    — Saudi Arabia’s donations total between $10 million and $25 million.

    — The Australian government has given between $5 million and $10 million in 2014. It also gave in 2013, when its donations fell in the same range.

    — Qatar’s government committee preparing for the 2022 soccer World Cup gave between $250,000 and $500,000 in 2014. Qatar’s government had previously donated between $1 million and $5 million.

    — Oman, which had made a donation previously, gave an undisclosed amount in 2014. Over time, Oman has given the foundation between $1 million and $5 million.

    BS Factor: Very High. Despite appearances, nations like Canada still have need to influence the possible next president of the United States. In addition, does anyone really think just because donations stopped this week, the previous millions given by the Saudis and others will have no influence? Finally, we have seen this before. The fact that the Foundation previously stopped seeking such donations when Hillary became Secretary of State, then restarted them again after she left office, only makes things seem more sleazy and hypocritical.



    Donor Transparency

    The Clinton Foundation also said it will now disclose its donors more frequently, publishing the names of new contributors four times a year. Where have we heard this before?

    Oh, right, from the The Clinton Foundation.

    According to Reuters, in 2008, Hillary Clinton promised president-elect Barack Obama there would be no mystery about who was giving money to her family’s charities. She made a pledge to publish all the donors’ names on an annual basis to ease concerns that as Secretary of State she could be vulnerable to accusations of foreign influence. The Clinton Foundation did indeed publish a list of donors at first, but, in a breach of the pledge, the charity’s flagship health program, which spends more than all of the other foundation initiatives put together, stopped making the annual disclosure in 2010.

    Officials at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the foundation confirmed to Reuters no complete list of donors to the Clintons’ charities has been published since 2010. CHAI was spun off as a separate legal entity that year, but the officials acknowledged it still remains subject to the same disclosure agreement as the foundation. CHAI published only a partial donor list, and only for the first time, and only this year.

    BS Factor: Very High. Nothing in the past suggests any reason to trust these folks. Hey, if you want to publish your donor lists, just do it. Today. Now. Online, in searchable form.

    We’re Ready, for Hillary.




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  • America’s Refusal to Face the Hard Moral Issues of War

    April 18, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Military

    kobane

    (Today we feature, with permission, a guest post by Daniel N. White. The post originally appeared on Contrary Perspective. All opinions are the author’s.)

    James Fallows, a noted journalist and author of National Defense (1981), is tits on a boar useless these days.

    That’s my conclusion after reading his Atlantic Monthly cover story, The Tragedy of the American Military, in which he asks, “Why do the best soldiers in the world keep losing?” It is a truly terrible article that, regrettably, is mainstream U.S. journalism’s best effort by one of their better talents to answer a vitally important question.

    Right off the bat, I’m going to have to say that the U.S. Army doesn’t produce “the world’s best soldiers” — and it never has. We Americans don’t do infantry as well as others do. This is reasonably well known. Anyone who wants to dispute the point has to dispute not me but General George Patton, who in 1944 said: “According to Napoleon, the weaker the infantry the stronger the artillery must be. Thank God we’ve got the world’s best artillery.” Operational analysis of us by the German Wehrmacht and the PLA (China) said the same thing. We should know that about ourselves by now and we don’t, and the fact that we don’t, particularly after a chain of military defeats by lesser powers, says a good deal bad about us as a people and society. The Atlantic and James Fallows are both professionally derelict to continue printing these canards about our infantry prowess. “The world’s best” — there is no excuse for such hyperbolic boasting.

    Why the U.S. keeps losing its wars, and why James Fallows has no clue as to why, is revealing of the American moment. It’s painfully obvious the U.S. has lost its most recent wars because it has lacked coherent and achievable objectives for them. (Or no objectives that our ruling elites were willing to share with us.)

    Just what, exactly, was the end result supposed to be from invading Iraq in 2003? If the Taliban were willing as they stated to hand over Osama Bin Laden to us, why did we invade Afghanistan? Why did we then start a new war in Afghanistan once we overthrew the Taliban?

    Of course, this isn’t the first time in recent history that the U.S. has fought wars with no coherent rationale. Vietnam had the same problem. The Pentagon Papers showed that insofar as we had a rationale it was to continue the war for sufficiently long enough to show the rest of the world we weren’t to be trifled with, even if we didn’t actually win it. Dick Nixon was quite upfront in private about this too; that’s documented in the Nixon tapes.

    Not having clear and achievable political objectives in a war or major military campaign is a guarantee of military failure. Here’s what arguably the best Allied general in WWII had to say about this, William Slim, from his superlative memoirs, Defeat into Victory, writing of the Allied defeat in Burma, 1942:

    Of these causes [of the defeat], one affected all our efforts and contributed much to turning our defeat into disaster — the failure, after the fall of Rangoon, to give the forces in the field a clear strategic object for the campaign… Yet a realistic assessment of possibilities there and a firm, clear directive would have made a great deal of difference to us and to the way we fought. Burma was not the first, nor was it to be the last, campaign that had been launched on no very clear realization of its political or military objects. A study of such campaigns points emphatically to the almost inevitable disaster that must follow. Commanders in the field, in fairness to them and their troops, must be clear and definitely told what is the object they are locally to attain.

    Anyone who wishes to dispute the lack of clear and achievable objectives for America’s wars should try to answer the question of what a U.S. victory in Iraq or Afghanistan would look like. What would be different in the two countries from a U.S. victory? How would the application of force by the U.S. military have yielded these desired results, whatever they were?

    I invite anyone to answer these questions. They should have been asked, and answered, a long time ago. All the parties concerned — the political class, the intelligentsia, the moral leadership, and the military’s senior officer corps — in America have failed, stupendously, by not doing so.

    Indeed, the lack of coherent objectives for these wars stems from the fraudulence of our pretenses for starting them. Even senior U.S. and UK leaders have acknowledged the stage-management of falsehoods about weapons of mass destruction for a rationale for war with Iraq. When wars are started on falsehoods, it isn’t reasonable to expect them to have honest (or moral) objectives.

    The question then arises: What were the real objectives of these wars? Economic determinists/Marxists look to oil as the underlying reason, but this can’t be it. None of the economic determinist explanations for the Vietnam War made a lick of sense then or now, and any arguments about war for oil make an assumption, admittedly a remotely possible one, about the ruling elites in the U.S. and UK not being able to read a financial balance sheet. The most cursory run of the financials under the best possible assumptions of the promoters of the wars showed Iraq as a giant money loser, world’s third largest oil reserves or not. Economic reasons for a war in Afghanistan? Nobody could ever be that dumb, not even broadcast journalists.

    Judging from the results, the real intent of our political leadership was to create a state of permanent war, for narrow, behind the scenes, domestic political reasons. The wars were/are stage-managed domestic political theater for current political ruling elites. The main domestic objective sought was a Cold-War like freezing of political power and authority in current form by both locking up large areas of political debate as off-limits and increasing the current distribution of societal resources toward economic elites. This was the real objective of both sides in the Cold War, Americans and Russians both, once things settled out after 1953, and most historians just lack the ability and perspective to see it.

    A related factor Americans aren’t supposed to discuss is how much of the drive to war was neo-con war promotion manipulated by Israel. There’s no getting around the high percentage of Jewish neo-cons inside the Beltway. There’s a seven decade-long history of American country-cousin Jews being manipulated by their Israeli city-slicker relations, too, but I’d call this a contributing factor and not a causative one. But the willingness of American neo-cons to do Israel’s bidding and launch a war against Iraq is most disturbing and does require more research. (They all seem to be willing to do it again in Iran – was there ever a neo-con ever against an Iran war ever? Just look at the current situation vis-à-vis Iran, and the direct intervention by the Israeli Prime Minister into American foreign policy.)

    There is one other possibility: that America’s leaders actually believed their own PR about spreading democracy. That’s been known to happen, but under present circumstances, their coming to believe their own PR knowing it was false from the git-go would be something truly unique and horrifying. But not impossible, I’m afraid.

    Cui Bono? (To whose benefit) is always the question we need to ask and with 13 years of war the beneficiaries should be obvious enough. Just follow the money, and follow those whose powers get increased. James Fallows, and everyone else in the mainstream news media, hasn’t.

    But the most pressing issue isn’t any of the above. The most pressing issue is moral, and most importantly of all our society’s unwillingness to face the hard moral questions of war.

    Above all else, war is a moral issue; undoubtedly the most profound one a society has to face. Wars are the acme of moral obscenity. Terrible moral bills inevitably accrue from the vile actions that warfare entails. It has always been so. As long as there has been civilization there has always been great debate as to what political or social wrongs warrant the commission of the crimes and horrors of war. About the only definitively conceded moral rationale for war is self-defense against external attack. Domestic political theater is nothing new as a reason for war, but it has been universally condemned as grotesquely immoral throughout recorded history.

    Our country is ostrich-like in its refusal to acknowledge the moral obscenity of war and its moral costs. Insofar as your average American is willing to engage with these moral issues, it is at the level of “I support our troops” to each other, combined with the “Thank you for your service” to anyone in uniform. Moral engagement on the biggest moral issue there is, war, with these tiresome tropes is profoundly infantile. It isn’t moral engagement; it is a (partially subconscious) willful evasion.

    The Hollywood sugarcoated picture of what war is hasn’t helped here; blindness due to American Exceptionalism hasn’t helped either. Our intellectual and moral leadership—churches in particular—have been entirely AWOL on the moral failings of our wars and the moral debts and bills from them we have accrued and continue to accrue. And these bills will come due some day, with terrible interest accrued. Anyone paying attention to how the rest of the world thinks knows that we currently incur the world’s contumely for our failings here on this issue.

    Mr. Fallows and the Atlantic are both equally blind and AWOL on the moral issues of our wars. The moral issues, and failings, of the wars are paramount and are completely undiscussed in the article, and the magazine, and always have been since before the wars began. Mr. Fallows, and the Atlantic, by framing the war issue in terms of “why the best (sic) soldiers in the world keep losing our wars” are avoiding them in a somewhat more sophisticated way than the “Thank you for your service” simpletons are. They should know better and they don’t, and they lack the situational- and self-awareness to understand that they are doing this. They deserve our contempt for it. They certainly have mine.

    The issue isn’t why the world’s best (sic) soldiers keep losing our wars. The issue is why we started and fought wars this stupid and wrong and show every sign of continuing to do so in the future. Why do we learn nothing from our military defeats? How can we remain so willfully and morally blind? Well, types like James Fallows and The Atlantic Monthly are a large part of why.

    Missing the biggest political and moral question in our lifetimes, for this many years, well, hell, The Atlantic Monthly and James Fallows are just tits on a boar useless these days.



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  • On the Ethics of Hell

    April 17, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Hooper's War

    flyers



    Japan absorbed WWII. The collective memory was tidied up. Little is taught about the war in modern Japanese schools, and even less of what is taught is true. There seems no reason to bring up all those bad deeds and rotten memories. For the most part, the Japanese created their own alternate history of the war.


    Vivisection

    So it is all the more shocking that a Japanese university opened a museum acknowledging that its staff performed vivisections on a handful of downed American airmen (above) during World War II. The incident has been previously documented by both sides of the war, but the very public and ongoing acknowledgement of the atrocity at the site where it was committed is quite unusual for Japan.

    The newly-opened museum at Kyushu University explains how eight U.S. POWs were taken to the center’s medical school in Fukuoka after their plane was shot down in May 1945. The flyers were subjected to horrific medical experiments. Doctors dissected one soldier’s brain to see if epilepsy could be controlled by surgery, and removed parts of the livers of other prisoners as part of tests to see if they would survive. Another soldier was injected with seawater, in an experiment to see if it could be used instead of sterile saline solution to help dehydration.

    The airmen so tortured were aboard a B-29 on a bombing raid over Fukuoka. They all bailed out when their aircraft was rammed by a Japanese fighter.


    Firebombing

    The ethics of hell come into play when we think a bit on what those flyers were doing in the skies over Fukuoka: dropping bombs in hopes of burning, shredding or maiming as many Japanese as possible.

    The U.S. at this late stage of the war was as a strategy not discriminating between “military” and “civilian” targets, and often conducted mass firebombing raids over cities. Thousands of incendiaries were dropped simultaneously in hopes of creating a firestorm, a conflagration that burned hot and long enough to literally suck the oxygen out of the air and kill everything beneath it.

    I have a history of the war on my bookshelf that makes quite a point of being horrified, with no obvious irony, that when the Japanese captured another group of shot-down B-29 crewman from firebombing missions, the flyers were burned alive in an impromptu fire; some others were killed with boiling water. It says elsewhere a negotiated peace was impossible when one side was fighting for civilization and the other represented barbarism.

    Same kind of thing in an actual description from another book of one of the terrible things that happened in the Pacific War: “As the bodies started to sizzle, their arms and legs twitched, and they sat up as if they were alive. Smoke came out of their eye sockets, their mouths opened, and licks of flames came out. Their lungs were full of steam, and hissing noises came out.”

    Did that description come from the firebombing of a Japanese city, or from the burning alive of American prisoners? It was one of the two, though it describes both, but how does that matter?




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  • U.S. to Widely Export Killer Drones

    April 16, 2015 // 12 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    drone love



    Here’s one of those “Now what could possibility go wrong?” stories.



    Drones for Everyone

    Reversing years of restricted sales of America’s robot drone killers, the Obama administration announced it will begin allowing sales of armed drones to some friendly and allied countries. Until now, only the UK has been allowed to purchase armed drones, though select other countries have bought unarmed craft.

    The change comes as China begins exporting its own drones. Sales of drones could be worth billions to American companies.

    In the published policy, the State Department (which ostensibly controls arms export policy but hah hah) did not specify which countries would be considered for armed drone sales, but unnamed officials told U.S. media previous requests by Italy and Turkey would be considered. The United Arab Emirates is also being considered, though only for the unarmed versions which could never at all in no way be modified to carry weapons, no siree.



    Safeguards?

    But don’t worry, because the State Department sales rules have safeguards against drone misuse built right in:

    – Countries purchasing drones must sign agreements that the aircraft will only be used for military campaigns and not to, say, wipe out political opponents;

    — Certain drones capable of carrying a payload of 500kg (1,100lb) will still be barred from export except under undefined “highly unusual circumstances.”

    — The recipient will be required to use drones in accordance with international law (hilarious given how the U.S. does not follow international law in its own drone use);

    — Drone owners must promise not use the aircraft “to conduct unlawful surveillance or use unlawful force against their domestic populations.”

    So that’s all covered. Or maybe not. The full rules for drone sales are classified.



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  • Advisor Huma Abedin’s Job Arrangement under Hillary Investigated by State Department

    April 15, 2015 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Democracy

    huma



    The State Department’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has agreed, only two years after the fact, to investigate a program that allowed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to hire one of her key personal advisors, Huma Abedin, for government work even as she was also employed by a private firm.



    Conflict of Interest?

    Inspector General Steve Linick said he is looking into whether those employed as Special Government Employees (SGE), the designation Clinton gave to Abedin, are following the law, and avoiding conflicts of interest. The idea is if you are being paid by two organizations, where your loyalty lies can come into question. Never mind the potential misuse of sensitive information you might acquire at the Secretary of State’s side.

    “The OIG intends to examine the department’s SGE program to determine if it conforms to applicable legal and policy requirements,” Linick said in response to a request from Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Charles Grassley.

    Clinton approved hiring Abedin, her long-time assistant, as an SGE, which allowed her to collect a government salary while also continuing to work for Teneo, a private firm. Teneo is a global advisory firm that helps with investments and other financial needs for many of the world’s largest and most complex companies and organizations. Knowing a bit about upcoming U.S. government decisions and plans would make someone quite a valuable asset in such a company.



    Not the Right Order of Things

    In addition to the conflict of interest issue, Senator Grassley also questioned whether Abedin was qualified to be designated an SGE at all.

    The designation of someone as a Special Government Employee is supposed to be used to entice someone already in the private sector to split his or her time in order for the government to tap “special knowledge and skills.” However, in Abedin’s case, she was already working for Clinton. It was only after Clinton unilaterally designated her as an SGE that she moved to take an outside job, Grassley said.

    In other words, the SGE program is designed to bring outside experts in to assist the government, not allow State Department employees to launch second careers in the private sector while remaining tied to the Department.

    State Department records show that a half-dozen of Clinton’s political allies were also granted the special designation status during her tenure.


    How Much Did She Make, and Why Can’t We Know?

    There is no legal prohibition against State Department employees having an outside job per se, but they cannot be seen as taking advantage of their official position, and they must report their outside income to the Department.

    Abedin, however, did not report her income. “Ms. Abedin did not disclose the arrangement — or how much income she earned — on her financial report,” the New York Times discovered. “An adviser to Clinton, Philippe Reines, simply said that Abedin was not obligated to do so.”

    No explanation was given, and the State Department did not question the unique arrangement.



    All Roads Lead Back to the Clinton Foundation

    Abedin is a busy woman. In the midst of her multiple jobs, she also found time to, you guessed it, serve as a consultant to the Clinton Foundation.

    Abedin only ended her private sector consulting practice to move on to become director of Clinton’s transition office out of State. She now, of course, works for the Hillary campaign.

    Abedin is married to former Democratic Representative Anthony Weiner, who resigned after a sexting scandal that involved photos of his penis and the use of false name, “Carlos Danger.”




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  • Come See Me April 14 at University of North Carolina Asheville!

    April 14, 2015 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, PRT Life

    unc_asheville_logo




    I am excited that the University of North Carolina, Asheville, will host me for an afternoon of speaking, reading and book signing, in connection with my book, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. I’ll also be discussing the current mess in Iraq, as well the whistleblowing and the ideas of patriotism and courage in a post-9/11 world.


    The event is free, at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, April 14, in UNC Asheville’s Humanities Lecture Hall. There will be a Q&A session. Everyone is welcome.

    Things are sponsored by UNC Asheville’s Department of Political Science and the Belk Distinguished Professor. For more information, contact Mona Moore at 828.251.6634.

    Please come join me!




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  • Hillary Clinton Team Held Off-The-Record Journalist Dinner Ahead Of 2016 Announcement

    April 13, 2015 // 20 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: 2016, Democracy

    clinton



    No doubt vying to be the most transparent administration ever someday, the Clinton campaign is off to a great start — sucking up to powerful journalists, who are happy to play along, excluding non-mainstream press, and swearing everyone to secrecy. What more likely scenario for open and objective news coverage could there be?

    Oh, in case you weren’t sure, that was sarcasm. The actual event for so-called journalists was not, and really, sadly, took place.

    Hillary Clinton’s campaign team held an off-the-record dinner Thursday night in Washington, D.C., for roughly two dozen journalists and staff members at John Podesta’s house. Podesta is Chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, and previously served as Chief of Staff to president Bill. The Clinton team is also holding a private event in New York on Friday night for journalists.

    All off the record, of course.

    Invited “reporters,” who promised not to report anything that was said included people from The New York Times, The Washington Post, Politico, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Bloomberg, McClatchy, Reuters, HuffPo and several major TV networks.

    Clinton herself did not attend. But several key Clinton staffers, including Campaign Manager Robby Mook, Chief of Staff Huma Abedin, Communications Director Jennifer Palmieri, Strategic Communications Adviser Karen Finney, Senior Adviser Mandy Grunwald and pollster Joel Benenson, were there.

    A Clinton spokesman declined to comment on the gathering. Naturally.

    So if you don’t get it, get it now. Like with the emails, you, lousy slugs of citizens consumers voters, will only be told what the Clinton campaign wants you to be told. The media, in return for a free dinner and the occasional exclusive leak, are happy to assist the Clinton’s in keeping quiet what they wish to keep quiet.

    For those with a little free time, look up “investigative journalism” in your history books for a laff.




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  • Body Blows Against the First Amendment

    April 11, 2015 // 11 Comments

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

    continental congress


    Two recent cases show the contempt with which our government, at the federal and state levels, views the First Amendment.



    First Amendment Semi-Win After Military Police Harass, Sexually Threaten Journalist

    A very basic tenet of our democracy is that a free press exists to report to The People on the actions of their government, and that government is prohibited by the beautiful words of the First Amendment from interfering. In a small instance in Ohio, after the government had military police officers in the United States harass and confiscate the cameras of journalists, the journalists went to court and won back their rights.

    The U.S. government agreed to pay The Toledo Blade newspaper $18,000 for seizing the cameras of a photographer and deleting photographs taken outside the Lima Tank plant last year. In turn, The Blade agreed to dismiss the lawsuit it filed U.S. District Court on behalf of photographer Jetta Fraser and reporter Tyrel Linkhorn against Chuck Hagel, then Secretary of Defense and the military police officers involved in the March 28, 2014, incident.

    An attorney for The Blade said the settlement was made under the First Amendment Privacy Protection Act, which prohibits the government, in connection with the investigation of a criminal offense, from searching or seizing any work product materials possessed by a journalist. “The harassment and detention of The Blade’s reporter and photographer, the confiscation of their equipment, and the brazen destruction of lawful photographs cannot be justified by a claim of military authority or by the supposed imperatives of the national security state.”

    The government admits no wrongdoing, however, and just paid off the settlement.

    Here’s what happened. The reporter and photographer were in Lima to cover a news conference at another facility and had been tasked to take photos of area businesses for future use, including pictures of the tank plant, known as the Joint Systems Manufacturing Center.

    As the pair were leaving they were detained by three military police officers and questioned. Fraser showed the officers her Blade identification, but initially declined to provide her driver’s license as she was not driving. She was removed against her will from her vehicle and handcuffed for more than an hour.

    During the confrontation, the officers repeatedly referred to Ms. Fraser in the masculine gender. She objected and was told by one officer, “You say you are a female. I’m going to go under your bra.”

    The officers then confiscated two cameras, memory cards, a pocket-sized personal calendar, and a notebook in clear violation of the First Amendment.


    Philly Cop Arrests Man for Photographing Philly Cop Harassing Homeless Woman

    A college student arrested as he photographed a Philadelphia police officer harass a homeless woman in a public park was put into handcuffs and held for an hour. Federal jurors must now decide whether the cop had cause to cuff Coulter Loeb, 24, and charge him with disorderly conduct.

    The case, however, is about far more than a simple disorderly conduct rap. At issue is how the Philadelphia government sees the First and Fourth Amendments to the Constitution, and how it views people fulfilling their responsibilities as citizens to provide oversight to government employees performing their jobs. And it does not look good for all that in Philly.

    Things went south almost from the get-go, after the trial judge dismissed any connection between the arrest and the First Amendment.

    In a pretrial order that covered two similar cases, the judge ruled that the federal appeals court in Philadelphia had not “clearly established” a First Amendment right to photograph police as of 2011, when this incident occurred. “Whether the Third Circuit will eventually decide to follow what appears to be a growing trend in other circuits to recognize a First Amendment right to observe and record police activity is, of course, not for this court to decide, even if there are good policy reasons [to] adopt that change,” U.S. District William Yohn wrote. He therefore threw out Loeb’s free-speech claim, leaving a jury to weigh only the Fourth Amendment issues of false arrest and malicious prosecution.

    Moving on to how the city of Philadelphia views these issues, we turn to the city attorney working the case, who described arrestee Coulter Loeb, in front of his ACLU attorney, as “a meddlesome 24-year-old” with “very high-minded ideas about government” and the role of media. The Assistant City Solicitor told jurors that Loeb was interfering with police work by photographing police work in a public place.

    But what was in the mind of the arresting officer? “He [Loeb ]looked me up and down, and then took one step back. That to me was being a wise guy,” said the cop.

    Irony Alert: Yes, yes, it was in Philadelphia in 1787 that the Constitutional Convention was held. How far we have fallen.




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  • Colombian Oil Money, Moroccan Cash, Flows into Clinton Foundation

    April 10, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Embassy/State

    colombia



    The flow of money from foreign governments seeking influence over Candidate/President Hillary Clinton continues at a steady pace; get used to it folks, it could be a long eight years of influence-buying.


    And have you money ready people, and step right up! No need to push and shove, there’s enough sleaze available for everyone!



    Moroccan Cash

    We start with the most current example, a $1 million donation from OCP, a phosphate exporter owned by Morocco’s leaders, to hold a high-profile conference next month in Marrakech. According to Clinton Foundation records, OCP previously donated between $1 million and $5 million to the charity in 2013.

    The OCP firm’s CEO is Mostafa Terrab, who also lobbied on behalf of the Kingdom of Morocco in 2013 and 2014, according to Justice Department records. Terrab filed papers under the federal Foreign Agents Registration Act showing that he worked for Morocco between November 2013 and May 2014, advising Moroccan government officials and helping them prepare for meetings with U.S. officials about economic development issues relating to Africa.

    Hillary is currently still scheduled to appear at what is called the Clinton Global Initiative Middle East and Africa Meeting, on May 5-7. Even if Hillary bows out, Bill and Chelsea will join Moroccan King Mohammed. Who else is expected? Executives from OCP and Coca-Cola, as well as the presidents of Rwanda and Tanzania, and senior officials from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.

    Who are these nice folks Hillary will be hanging out with? The president of Rwanda, according to Human Rights Watch, heads a country where “freedom of expression and association remain tightly controlled. The government obstructed opposition parties and independent civil society organizations, and threatened its critics. Parliamentary elections resulted in an overwhelming majority for the ruling party, with no meaningful challenge. The leadership of one of the last remaining independent human rights organizations was taken over by pro-government elements.”

    Given Hillary’s campaign meme of support for women and girls, she probably already knows that “child marriage in Tanzania limits girls’ access to education and exposes them to serious harm. Human Rights Watch documented cases in which girls as young as seven were married.”

    At least everyone will have plenty to talk about as they stand around counting the money.

    So how’d the Clinton’s get hooked up with all these nice folks? OCP, the company who shelled out the $1 million on behalf of the government of Morocco, was connected with the Clinton Foundation by longtime Clinton supporter Stuart Eizenstat, of the powerhouse law firm Covington and Burling, which represents OCP in Washington.

    Eizenstat is a major Democratic donor who maxed out to Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign and gives generously himself to the Clinton Foundation. And small world — During Clinton’s State Department years, OCP paid a team led by Eizenstat $760,000 to lobby federal agencies. Eizenstat previously served as Deputy Secretary of the Treasury, among other jobs, in the Bill Clinton administration. Oh, and remember Coca Cola, who’ll be at the conference? Eizenstat sits on their International Advisory Board.


    Colombian Oil Money

    According to International Business Times, as union leaders and human rights activists conveyed reports of labor violence to then-Secretary of State Clinton in late 2011 (the photo shows Clinton on a visit to Colombia as Secretary), urging her to pressure the Colombian government to protect labor organizers, she responded with silence. The State Department publicly praised Colombia’s progress on human rights, thereby permitting hundreds of millions of dollars in U.S. aid to flow to the same Colombian military that labor activists say helped intimidate workers.

    At the same time that Clinton’s State Department was lauding Colombia’s human rights record, her family was forging a financial relationship with Pacific Rubiales, the sprawling Canadian petroleum company at the center of Colombia’s labor strife. The Clintons were also developing commercial ties with the oil giant’s founder, Canadian financier Frank Giustra, who now occupies a seat on the board of the Clinton Foundation.

    IBT claims after millions of dollars were pledged by the oil company to the Clinton Foundation, supplemented by millions more from Giustra himself, Secretary Clinton abruptly changed her position on the controversial U.S.-Colombia trade pact.

    Having opposed the deal as a bad one for labor rights back when she was a presidential candidate in 2008, Clinton promoted it as Secretary of State, calling it “strongly in the interests of both Colombia and the United States.” The change of heart by Clinton and other Democratic leaders enabled congressional passage of a Colombia trade deal that experts say delivered big benefits to foreign investors like Giustra.

    The examples of Morocco and Colombia are only the most recent; read more about the way money flows from foreign governments and corporate donors through the Clinton charities.




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  • DEA Secretly Tracked Billions of Americans’ Calls a Decade Before 9/11

    April 9, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Military, NSA

    phone



    While the Snowden-NSA revelations continue to shock Americans on a daily basis, and illustrate how intrusive the government is in our lives, and how casually it violates our Fourth Amendment right against unwarranted searches, it just got worse.

    It turns out the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) was spying on Americans, gathering metadata on our phone calls, almost a decade before 9/11, and right up to 2013. With help from the U.S. military.



    Decades of Metadata Spying

    In an exclusive report, USA Today learned the U.S. government started keeping secret records of Americans’ international telephone calls nearly a decade before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, harvesting billions of calls in a program that provided a blueprint for the far broader National Security Agency surveillance that followed. The DEA spying only stopped, supposedly, in 2013, no longer needed due to the NSA.

    For more than two decades, the Justice Department and the DEA amassed databases of virtually all telephone calls from the U.S. to as many as 116 countries “linked to drug trafficking.” The State Department officially says there are 195 countries out there, so the DEA was monitoring most of them. The Justice Department revealed in January that the DEA had collected data about calls to “designated foreign countries.” But the comprehensive scale of the operation has not been disclosed until now.

    Federal investigators claim they used the call records — metadata — to track drug cartels’ distribution networks. They say they also used the records to help rule out foreign ties to the bombing in 1995 of a federal building in Oklahoma City and to identify U.S. suspects in other investigations.

    Still believing metadata is not intrusive? Read this.



    Telecoms Roll Over

    America’s telecommunications and phone companies apparently turned over their records voluntarily and without asking for warrants. Officials said a few telephone companies were reluctant to provide so much information, but none ever challenged the issue in court. Those that hesitated received letters from the Justice Department urging them to comply.

    The data collection was “one of the most important and effective Federal drug law enforcement initiatives,” the Justice Department said in a 1998 letter to Sprint. The previously undisclosed letter noted the operation had “been approved at the highest levels of Federal law enforcement authority,” including then-Attorney General Janet Reno and her deputy and later Attorney General during the NSA-spying era, Eric Holder.

    The data collection began in 1992 during the administration of George H.W. Bush, nine years before his son, George W., authorized the NSA to gather its own logs of Americans’ phone calls in 2001. The program was re-approved by top Justice Department officials in the Clinton and Obama administrations. There was no oversight or court approval.



    U.S. Military Involvement

    The DEA program also employed U.S. military assets. When the volume of data threatened to overwhelm DEA, the military responded with a pair of supercomputers and intelligence analysts who had experience tracking the communication patterns of Soviet military units. The supercomputers were installed in DEA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia.

    To keep the whole program secret and thus outside of any legal challenge, the DEA did not to use the information as evidence in criminal prosecutions per se. Instead, its Special Operations Division passed the data to field agents as tips, a process approved by Justice Department lawyers.

    That process is know as “parallel construction,” and has a sordid history. Read this.



    The Template

    They just did it. The template for the NSA’s later spying on America was set long before 9/11. All the elements were already in place: no-questions-asked cooperation from the telcoms, no warrants or oversight, near-perfect secrecy, near-perfect pointless, dragnet security on American citizens in their homes. Multiple administrations, and multiple corporate executives of publicly-traded companies, kept silent.

    One notes that despite all this spying, drugs are still quite available in the U.S. and while it is nice that there was no foreign connection to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, the DEA spying did miss a whopper of a terror attack some years later. At least 9/11 was not drug-related.

    And for those criminal defense attorneys who might want to reopen some old cases and challenge guilty verdicts based on the unconstitutionality of these searches, sorry. The DEA has destroyed the databases.


    BONUS: The DEA is still mass-targeting Americans, only now via large-scale subpoenas.



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  • Onward Christian Soldiers – to Iraq!

    April 8, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military, Syria

    crusader


    Estimates are that 20,000-30,000 foreigners, many from the west, have joined IS. The numbers are likely wrong, could be double, might be half.

    A number of politicians and security analysts believe one of the greatest threats facing the United States is from so-called “lone wolf” attacks. These would be perpetrated by western foreigners returning from the battlefields of Syria and Iraq radicalized and weaponized.

    The U.S. devotes significant resources to identifying these wolves, though often to results more comic than anything else. Nonetheless, it is illegal for Americans to join and fight for groups such as IS — that is called conspiracy to provide material support for terrorism, and is prosecuted with vigor.



    Crusaders

    Yet it seems less of an issue when it is good Christian Americans zooming off to the Middle East to join Christian militias.

    Reuters reports idealistic Westerners are enlisting in Christian militias now fighting in Iraq, citing frustration their governments are not doing more to combat the Islamists. The militia they joined is called Dwekh Nawsha, meaning “self-sacrifice” in the ancient Aramaic language spoken by Christ and still used by Assyrian Christians in Iraq.

    A map on the wall in the office of the Assyrian political party affiliated with Dwekh Nawsha marks the Christian towns in northern Iraq, fanning out around the city of Mosul. The majority are now under control of IS, which overran Mosul last summer and issued an ultimatum to Christians to pay a tax, convert to Islam, or die by the sword.

    Dwekh Nawsha operates alongside very non-Christian Kurdish peshmerga forces to protect Christian villages on the frontline in Nineveh province. “These are some of the only towns in Nineveh where church bells ring. In every other town the bells have gone silent, and that’s unacceptable,” said American citizen “Brett,” who has “The King of Nineveh” written in Arabic on the front of his army vest.

    Another fighter is “Tim,” who shut down his construction business in Britain last year, sold his house and bought two plane tickets to Iraq: one for himself and another for a 44-year-old American software engineer he met through the internet. “I’m here to make a difference and hopefully put a stop to some atrocities,” said the 38-year-old Tim. “I’m just an average guy from England really.”

    “Scott,” a software engineer, served in the U.S. Army in the 1990’s. He was mesmerized by images of ISIS hounding Iraq’s Yazidi minority and became fixated on the struggle for the Syrian border town of Kobani. Scott had planned to join the YPG, which has drawn a flurry of foreign recruits, but changed his mind four days before heading to the Middle East after growing suspicious of the group’s ties to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). See, he was worried he would not be allowed home if he associated with the PKK, which the United States and Europe consider a terrorist organization.

    The only foreign woman in Dwekh Nawsha’s ranks said she had been inspired by the role of women in the YPG, but identified more closely with the “traditional” values of the Christian militia. Wearing a baseball cap over her balaclava, she said radical Islam was at the root of many conflicts and had to be contained.

    “Everyone dies,” said Brett, asked about the prospect of being killed. “One of my favorite verses in the Bible says: be faithful unto death, and I shall give you the crown of life.”



    Overt Sarcasm

    The chances of any of these westerners becoming radicalized and weaponized and returning home to commit violent acts against a U.S. government they perceive as not doing enough “to combat the ultra-radical Islamists” is of course nil. That their very presence will fuel ISIS propaganda efforts to portray America’s war in the Middle East as a modern-day crusade is also nil.

    Also, there is no doubt that The Prince of Peace would love to see Americans traveling half way around the world to add to the death toll in Iraq.

    God bless.



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  • $416 Million Afghan Program to Empower Women: No “Tangible Benefit”

    April 7, 2015 // 14 Comments

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

    clinton_afghan_women


    The American reconstruction campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan have, and continue, to spend billions of taxpayer dollars on pointless projects seemingly designed solely to funnel money into the pockets of U.S. government contractors.


    Empowering Women

    These projects (Iraq War examples are detailed in my book We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People seem to bounce between the merely pointless, such as dams that are never completed and roads to nowhere, to the absurdly pointless.

    One ongoing theme under the absurdly pointless category has been the “empowerment of women.” In both countries, the U.S. has acted on the assumption that the women there want to throw off their hijabs and burkas and become entrepreneurs, if… only… they knew how. Leaving aside the idea that many women throughout the Middle East and beyond prefer the life they have been living for some 2000 years before the arrival of the United States, the empowerment concept has become a standard.

    However you may feel about these things, and the programs are in some part designed as “feel good” but cynical gestures to domestic American politics, the way “empowerment” is implemented is absurd. Lacking any meaningful ideas, women are “empowered” by holding endless rounds of training sessions, seminars, roundtables and hotel gatherings where Western experts are flown in laden with Powerpoint slides to preach the gospel. Over time, in my personal experience in Iraq at least, these proved so unpopular that the only way we could draw a crowd (so we could take pictures to send to our bosses) was to offer a nice, free lunch and to pay “taxi fare” far in excess of any reasonable transportation costs; bribes.

    One Army colonel I worked with was so into the goals of the program that he called these things “chick events.”


    Women’s Empowerment in Afghanistan

    So much for Iraq. How’s it going for women’s empowerment in Afghanistan?

    Not well, at least according to the latest report by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR). Some highlights from that report include an inquiry into USAID’s Promoting Gender Equity in National Priority Programs (Promote), which has been highlighted as USAID’s largest women’s empowerment program in the world. Promote has left SIGAR with a number of “troubling concerns and questions,” to wit:

    –SIGAR is concerned that some very basic programmatic issues remain unresolved and that the Afghan women engaged in the program may be left without any tangible benefit upon completion. SIGAR is also concerned about whether USAID will be able to effectively implement, monitor, and assess the impact of Promote.

    –Many of SIGAR’s concerns echo those of Afghanistan’s First Lady. To quote Mrs. Ghani, “I do hope that we are not going to fall again into the game of contracting and sub-contracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else.”

    –Promote has been awarded to three contractors: Chemonics International, Development Alternatives, Inc., and Tetra Tech, Inc. The overall value of the contracts is $416 million, of which USAID is funding $216 million and other—still unidentified—international donors are expected to fund $200 million.

    –USAID does not have any memoranda of understanding between any of the three Promote contractors and the Afghan government.

    Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?




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  • Interactive Guide to Corporate Donors, Political Favors and the Clinton Charities

    April 6, 2015 // 15 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, 2016, Democracy, Embassy/State

    clinton9

    We’ve shared with you that of the 425 large corporate donors to the Clinton Foundation, the Wall Street Journal found 60 of those donors lobbied the State Department during Hillary Clinton’s tenure.

    We’ve shared with you how Candidate Clinton, who cites the rights of women as a cornerstone of her campaign, accepted millions through her charities from governments who oppress women.

    We’ve also shared how Clinton lied about her promise to disclose her donors, and how she would have the State Department review things and then did not.

    We have even offered up Bill’s explanation about why all this was somehow “OK.”


    Meet Your Little Sis

    But you said “Oh, pish-posh.” You wanted someone to draw you a picture. And now someone has.

    Little Sis is a database detailing the connections between powerful people and organizations. Their goal is to bring transparency to influential social networks by tracking the relationships among politicians, business leaders, lobbyists, financiers, and their affiliated institutions. In other words, they try and follow the money.

    So here’s the Little Sis interactive graphic of the flow of money between corporations that lobbied the State Department, contributions to the various Clinton charities, and the nice things Hillary did as Secretary of State on behalf of those generous donors. It’s just like when you give $25 to PBS; you get a tote bag and they buy up more episodes of Downton Abbey.

    Use the + and – buttons in the upper left hand corner to scroll around. If the graphic is too small as it is embedded here, jump over to the Little Sis site and see it full-size.



    But He Does it Too!

    Someone out there is saying “But ________ does it too!”

    There is probably some, or even a lot, of truth there. Politics in America is controlled by money in America. But of course none of that, however accurate, makes it right.

    I think also that since everyone does it, it may then be important to look another level deeper, to how they do it. What is clear is that the Clinton candidacy is built on a global network of organizations (“charities”) that act as fronts and cut-outs to move large sums of money between wealthy corporate and foreign government donors who benefit from being nice to one or more of the Clinton’s. Apart from any good work the Clinton charities may or may not accomplish, they seem to have at least a secondary purpose as a huge money funnel.

    See, there’s crime, there’s organized crime, and there’s big league, global organized Bond-villain crime. That might help in sorting out how to think in an age when everyone commits crimes.




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  • Statement of Terms Regarding My Private Email Server

    April 4, 2015 // 17 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Embassy/State

    pcPlease note that the files, including emails sent and received, for WeMeantWell.com, as well as The We Meant Well Foundation and the Peter, Hillary and Miley Global Initiative and Crime Syndicate, are maintained on a private server unguarded by pretty much anyone except this one dude who comes in Tuesdays and Thursdays.

    As such, all such files, should they in fact exist, are private property and not subject to any existing disclosure laws or regulations, should those exist. Since I forgot to sign any release forms when leaving the Department of State, the eight bazillion gigabytes of files that stuck to the bottom of my shoe as I was frog-marched out of the building are also not subject to disclosure. Those files are now held in a paper bag in the former Benghazi Consulate and Shoulder-to-Air Missile Emporium. Since as of 2012 that facility is no longer U.S. property, they are not subject to Congressional subpoena. If Trey Gowdy freaking wants them, he can go to Libya himself and demand them from the militias there.

    However, in the interest of full disclosure, I have instructed my intern, who unfortunately does not read English, to carefully review every file in my possession and turn over to the Department of State any she finds that are work-related. How you want to play this is up to you– either she’ll learn English first before getting right to work, or we’ll just shred the files. Either way, don’t expect jack sh*t out of me.

    Sorry, my lawyer just advised me to rephrase that. The review process will be robust, ongoing, and comprehensive.


    Quick Note: Any State Department folks reading this, I sorta left something behind when I last left the office. It is stuffed between my old desk and the wall, a manila folder marked “Stuff I Gave to Wikileaks.” It’s next to the “Snowden” things. I don’t need those, they’re on the web now. If you could grab the Wikileaks thingie for me, I’ll buy coffee!




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  • Despite Hillary Clinton Promise, Her Charity Did Not Disclose Donors

    April 3, 2015 // 13 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Democracy

    bill-clinton-birthday



    The operations of the Clintons’ main non-profit, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, aka the Clinton Global Initiative, aka The Clinton Foundation, have come under increasing scrutiny, particularly over their lack of overall transparency, and their acceptance of significant foreign government donations that some feel are little more than payola.

    Now, there is more.



    Broken Promises of Transparency

    According to Reuters, in 2008, Hillary Clinton promised president-elect Barack Obama there would be no mystery about who was giving money to her family’s charities. She made a pledge to publish all the donors’ names on an annual basis to ease concerns that as Secretary of State she could be vulnerable to accusations of foreign influence. The Clinton Foundation did indeed publish a list of donors at first, but, in a breach of the pledge, the charity’s flagship health program, which spends more than all of the other foundation initiatives put together, stopped making the annual disclosure in 2010.

    Officials at the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI) and the foundation confirmed to Reuters no complete list of donors to the Clintons’ charities has been published since 2010. CHAI was spun off as a separate legal entity that year, but the officials acknowledged it still remains subject to the same disclosure agreement as the foundation. CHAI published only a partial donor list, and only for the first time, and only this year.

    A spokesperson for Hillary Clinton declined to comment. Bill, who also signed on to the agreement with the Obama administration, was traveling and could not be reached for comment, his own spokesman said.

    It gets worse.



    No State Department Review

    Reuters also raised questions about a second assurance Hillary Clinton made to the Obama administration: that the State Department would be able to review any new or increased contributions to CHAI by foreign governments while she served as Secretary of State. The Clintons said at the time the pledge was intended to defuse accusations that foreign governments might use such donations to earn favors. Payola.

    By the time Clinton left office in February 2013, the charity had received millions of dollars in new or increased payments from at least seven foreign governments. Five of the governments came on board during her tenure as Secretary of State, while two doubled or tripled their support in that time.

    You know what comes next.

    The State Department said it was unable to cite any instances of its officials reviewing or approving new money from any foreign governments. A CHAI spokesperson confirmed that none of the seven government donations had been submitted to the State Department for review. The spokeswoman said CHAI did not believe State needed to review the donations. One explanation offered was that the new money was for “expansions of existing programs.”

    The White House declined to answer questions about whether the Obama administration was aware of CHAI not disclosing its donors or submitting new donations from foreign governments.



    Quick Summary

    Hillary Clinton was running the State Department from a hidden, private email server, outside of all government accountability as Secretary of State, while taking tens of millions of dollars from foreign governments that abuse women and gays, while promoting herself as a champion of women’s and LGBTQ rights. Did I miss anything?




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  • George and Barack Talk April on Fools Day

    April 2, 2015 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    “It all started with a postcard,” said former president George W. Bush in an exclusive interview.

    “The card was from Lesotho, a country I learned which was one of them African nations you never hear about. The Lesothoians wrote ‘Thanks for Not Invading Us’ and claimed to be one of the last places on earth that had not been invaded by the United States, either on foot or by drone or via our sneaky Pete special forces. Got me to thinking, so I called up Barack. We talk from time to time, usually when he can’t find something around the White House and needs my help.”

    “It was George’s call that made me get out the map,” said Obama. “I didn’t want to bother the Joint Chiefs, and the CIA was tied up with new prisoners, so I just used one of Sasha’s from school. Turns out George was right, there was a country called Lesotho– it was even on Wikipedia– and as best I could tell the U.S. had not ever invaded it. I made a quick call to the Pentagon and they said they weren’t sure if it was a country, but they were sure we had not invaded it. The guy over there asked me if I wanted to invade it, he’d get things started, but I said I’d want to think about it.”

    “So Barack called me back, and as we were talking we realized between the two of us we had invaded, droned, sent Special Forces, set up secret prisons, had CIA sites and what have you just about everywhere else in the world. You know, there after 9/11 I kinda let Dick Cheney run things for awhile, and he may have done a lot of it but darn it, it turns out I signed off on a bunch of them myself. You don’t think of it as you do them one-by-one but over time the countries really add up.”

    “Once I started making my own list,” continued Obama, “it was damn near everywhere.”

    “Everywhere,” said Bush, “‘Cept maybe that Lesotho place.”

    “I was faced with a real quandary,” continued Obama. “But then George and I got to talking.”

    “Turns out,” said Bush, “between the two of us we had damn near bankrupted the U.S. with wars every freaking place, but Lesotho. I logged on my secret worldwide cabal account, and sure enough, almost all of the U.S. tax money had been transferred into my Rothschild MegaFund, in Chinese currency no less. Since I was online anyway– damn AOL account is so slow and I hate that modem sound– I started reading these ‘blogs’ and message boards and it turns out most people around the world hate the U.S. Nobody told me.”

    “George was right. The Secret Service doesn’t let me get online much, but I kept this kinda secret account from Michele running off Hillary’s old server she said she didn’t need anymore, so I could, um, look at, um, nature photography sites, and people really did hate us. Pretty much everyone except Lesotho.”

    “So me and Barack put two and two together. We made a list of all the places the U.S. had messed up since 9/11 and then sent a note to the Pentagon and Langley recalling every soldier, spook, analyst, torturer, diplomat and all the rest. Everybody– just brought them all back to the U.S. in one awesome Executive Order.”

    “Should I tell him George?”

    “Nah, it’s a surprise… oh hell, go ahead Barack.”

    “We didn’t recall any Americans. I just ordered a nuke strike on Lesotho. April Fool!”



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  • April 1: U.S. Declares Sharia Law

    April 1, 2015 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Democracy

    clintonhijab

    Claiming the change is a “one and done” strategy, everybody in the Government of the United States today declared that sharia law would now control most of Americans’ lives.

    “When you think about it, we were basically already there,” said former State Department spokesdrone Jen Psaki, wearing a hijab as she briefed reporters in her new role as Iman of Total Bullsh*t. “This is really just a minor administrative change.”

    Effective immediately, pretty much the laws of Indiana will now govern the other 49 states. Under a new interpretation of “religious freedom” as well as a novel application of the Second Amendment, white, straight, Christian Americans may stone to death anyone they do not like (aka, “infidels.”) “That’s right Believers,” continued Psaki, “you can legally now march down to the local gay bar, synagogue or that place the black guys hang out in the parking lot, and throw rocks at them until they are dead. In fact, it is kind of a new obligation of citizenship!”

    “You may also smite them, or cause their garments to rend,” added Psaki.

    States with the death penalty breathed a sigh of relief. “We were down to our last fifth of lethal drug cocktail here in Texas, and frankly, weren’t sure how we were gonna be able to execute the 10 or 12 completely innocent people of color we have now on death row. So this sharia law thing is a real life saver for us!” claimed one Texan prison warden whilst pleasuring himself at the thought.

    The phrase “right to life” has also been reconfigured to mean “right to be a white person of the ‘right’ religion.” Initially many Republican lawmakers wanted to limit this to males, and in some cases, young, hairless males who are into “exploring,” but after the basic facts of life were explained to them, the Republicans reluctantly expanded partial rights to white women, as well as “a few hot Asian babes” at the insistence of Vice President Joe Biden.

    In a last minute amendment to the “It’s Not Sharia Law, So You Don’t Need to Read This Whole Thing Before You Vote on It” bill that created sharia law in the U.S., Once-and-Future Presidential Candidate Hillary Clinton was declared an honorary male for statistical purposes.

    One part of sharia that will not be implemented in the United States is fasting. “Traditional sharia includes a lot of fasting,” said spokes-iman Psaki. “Obviously this will not work in America. Yes, we were lobbied hard by the fast food industry; and hey, if the Dunkin’ Donuts guys are listening, thanks for the Lard Lad cream-filled! But at the end of the day, America was not going to give up the obesity crown to the Russians. Some things are sacred.”

    Reached while praying to the God of the Underworld and All Things UnHoly, Satan, President Barack Obama chuckled. “For years those boneheads have been calling me a Muslim when I actually worship the Dark Lord. And still none of them saw this sharia law sh*t coming! LMAO! I’m so outta here in about a year and a half, bitches.”

    The new $20 bills, with Bill O’Reilly’s face on the front, should be entering circulation as you read this. Inshallah!







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  • Federal Judge Says U.S. Must Release Abu Ghraib Photos

    March 31, 2015 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Iraq

    torture_at_abu_ghraib

    The few photos publicly seen of the abuses American soldiers committed inside the Abu Ghraib prison are only a tiny portion of the whole (former Senator Joe Lieberman said in 2009 that there were nearly 2,100 more photographs.)

    The photos, such as the ones you see here, were released by a whistleblower. A significant number of photos, said to show acts of sodomy and brutality far worse than what is already known, have been kept from the public by the U.S. government for eleven years now, ostensibly to protect American forces from retaliation. Since the American Civil Liberties Union first filed a lawsuit against the government in 2004 seeking the release of the photographs, the government has been successful in blocking them. That may — may — change.

    A federal judge ruled March 20 that the U.S. government must release photographs showing the treatment of detainees in U.S. custody at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and other sites. However, Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan ruled that his order would not take effect for 60 days to give the U.S. Department of Defense time to decide whether to appeal.

    “The photos are crucial to the public record,” ACLU’s deputy legal director said. “They’re the best evidence of what took place in the military’s detention centers, and their disclosure would help the public better understand the implications of some of the Bush administration’s policies.”

    Keep in mind Hellerstein first ordered the government to turn over the photographs in 2005, but while that order was being appealed, Congress passed a law allowing the Secretary of Defense to withhold the photographs by certifying their release would endanger U.S. citizens. Then remember Hellerstein already ruled last August that the government had failed to show why releasing the photographs would endanger American soldiers and workers abroad, but then immediately gave the government until March 20 a chance to submit more evidence. The judge’s most recent order said the additional evidence had failed to change his decision. Yet Hellerstein has still left open a further appeal.

    Meanwhile, the horrors of Abu Ghraib done in our names, and well-known to the Iraqi victims, remain shielded from only the American public by their own government.


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  • Hillary Wins by Wiping the Slate, er Server, Clean

    March 30, 2015 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Democracy, Embassy/State, Post-Constitution America

    clinton9

    There’s a point where the game has been decided, and the teams are just running down the clock. We’re there with Hillary. She won.



    A Largely Ceremonial Position

    In 2008 some deal with the Obama campaign landed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. It was the perfect platform for her to work from toward 2016, when she expects to be selected as president of the United States. Secretaries of State these days are not really expected to do much, not like the old days. Most foreign policy is run out of the White House directly, and with communications as they are the president just interacts directly with foreign leaders as he choses.

    In such a largely ceremonial position, Clinton was able to keep herself in the public eye, creating B-roll footage for her 2016 campaign in exotic locales, making “fun” memes like “Texts from Hillary,” running up some faux foreign affairs credibility and achieving “accomplishments” on soft, feel-good, working on can’t go wrong issues like stopping AIDS, helping poor kids and empowering women. None of those things ever really end, so you are always moving forward and can’t really fail. It’s all about progress.

    Let’s go to the horse’s mouth, so to speak, and quote Hillary Herself, from a speech summing up her own version of accomplishments as “…hosting town halls with global youth, raising awareness for religious minorities, protecting Internet freedom and advancing rights for women and the LGBT community around the world.”

    So there.



    Her Greatest Accomplishment

    We now know that Hillary was working the biggest accomplishment of her tenure at the State Department behind the scenes: eliminating any hint of a politically-dangerous or embarrassing paper trail by using her own personal email server, perhaps alone in the Federal government. This is evil genius at a Bond-villain level.

    Clinton maintained 100 percent control over everything she wrote, and, with the State Department’s conveniently antiquated policy of not archiving its own senior officials’ record communications, everything that was written to her. For the most sensitive communications, between Hillary and her personal aides, she controlled every aspect of the process. Her server, her email addresses, no outsiders.

    When she left the State Department, everything left with her. When no one asked about the emails for a couple of years, Hillary just held on to them. When someone did ask, she culled out her choice of what constituted official messaging, consulting no one outside her own inner circle, and then delivered those to the State Department on paper. No metadata.

    When Congressional committees and the media came looking for the official messages, Clinton referred them to the State Department, where the emails were supposedly going to be “reviewed,” perhaps for a very long time. Any release or withholding would come from State; Hillary could stand back and call for “full disclosure” knowing a) only what she already selected could ever be disclosed and b) even that will take a long time, nothing she could do about it, check with Foggy Bottom.



    She Nuked the Email Server

    Then the final stroke of brilliance. We learned only on March 28 that after selecting the emails to turn over to State, Clinton nuked her email server and any backups. Congress and the media can subpoena and FOIA from now until the end of time, but there is nothing to seek. It. Is. All. Gone.

    “Thus, there are no hdr22@clintonemail.com emails from Secretary Clinton’s tenure as secretary of state on the server for any review, even if such review were appropriate or legally authorized,” her attorney said in a letter to the House select committee investigating the 2012 attacks in Benghazi.

    Bonus points to Clinton: Before having her lawyer announce the server was blanked back in 2014, she obtained a two-week extension on the 2015 subpoena asking for its contents, you know, just to mess with Congress, let ‘em know who’s the boss. FYI: There is speculating that the server was only nuked recently, after Clinton’s March press conference.

    And oh yes, at her one and done tell-all press conference about the email issue, Clinton never mentioned she had had the server wiped clean three months earlier. Cleverly, she said only that the emails she did not turn over to State would remain “private.” And indeed they will.

    Computer hackers of the world: you can bet your stash of black T-shirts that when the decision was made in December to get rid of the emails, someone with a suitcase of cash showed up wherever the server and the backups where and purchased the physical hard drives and tapes. Those rest, in small pieces, at the bottom of the Potomac.



    You Have No Other Choice

    So there you have it. Heading into the campaign, all anyone will know of Hillary’s four years as Secretary of State is what she wants us to know. The photo ops she scheduled, the communications she chose for you to know about, nothing more. And with the emails deleted, there is not a thing anyone can do about it. There never can be a smoking gun, should one ever have allegedly existed.

    The whole thing was planned from Day One, six years ago, just for this moment. It represents a giant, cynical, raised middle finger to the concept of open government and democracy. You see what she wants you to see, know what she wants you to know. You have no other choice. Hillary Clinton got exactly what she planned to get.




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  • Talking Arms Proliferation on Chinese Television

    March 28, 2015 // 10 Comments

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

    So how’s that war on terror going? Well, it may not be very successful in actually stopping any terrorism, but it sure as hell has been profitable for America’s arms manufacturers. I was on Chinese CCTV recently to discuss the issue.

    Part I


    Part II




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  • State Department Now Just Making It Up to Explain Away Clinton’s Excesses

    March 27, 2015 // 26 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: 2016, Embassy/State

    ?????

    State Department spokesdrone Jen Psaki is now just straight out making things up to explain away the questions surrounding Clinton and her email, and the State Department’s complicity.

    Her “misstatements” can now be debunked with a click of a mouse, which we will do in a moment.

    The devil is in the details on these things, as no one expects to find a notarized document that reads “Yes, I did it all to hide embarrassing stuff from the Freedom of Information Act because dammit it is my turn to be president, signed, Hillary”).

    So let’s drill down.



    The OF-109 Form

    Outgoing State Department personnel are required to sign a statement called an OF-109. I signed one when I retired from the State Department.

    Though the possibility exists some folks get out the door without signing for whatever reason, mostly negligence, I can find no stated exceptions to having to sign. The document is straightforward; read it here. Basically it says you turned over “all [classified and] unclassified documents and papers relating to the official business of the Government acquired by me while in the employ of the Department or USIA.” The rest has to do with acknowledging you understand disclosure laws relating to those documents.

    Clinton, somewhat infamously, never signed an OF-109. Had she done so, she would have committed perjury, at the minimum, because as we now know she did not turn over her emails upon exiting the job. She did not do what every other outgoing State Department person is required to do. Clinton has a large staff, and no doubt had the attention of State’s HR people, so it seems there was near zero chance her not signing was some mere oversight.

    What Jen Psaki Said

    But here’s what Jen Psaki said instead of all that:

    The State Department spokesperson also explained why Clinton would not have signed the OF-109 separation statement. Psaki said that former secretaries of state “want to remain accessible” to future secretaries and presidents, which is why they maintain their security clearance. Psaki added that former secretaries may also want access to their files for future books.

    See, none of that is true. Signing the OF-109 has nothing at all to do with retaining one’s security clearance. That is a fully separate, independent process. Signing the OF-109 has nothing at all to do with remaining accessible to future secretaries and presidents. Signing the OF-109 has nothing to do with accessing files for future books. As a private citizen, Clinton has no more special access to State Department files than you do.

    It was all a lie. Psaki is the spokesperson. She has been asked about this matter numerous times, and has the full resources of the State Department behind her to research an answer. There is near zero chance she was uninformed. She just lied.

    But It’s Just Some Form

    One true thing Psaki did say was “that there has long been a responsibility placed on the outgoing employee to account for his or her emails.” Indeed. That accountability is embedded in the OF-109 form; that’s where the outgoing employee certifies she has done what she is required to do.

    Of course signing or not signing the form does not change the underlying law and regulation requiring outgoing personnel to turn over their stuff, so there is also that independent of the form itself.

    In rebuttal you will no doubt hear someone say “Yeah, yeah, it’s just another government form, so let’s focus on the important stuff.” This is the important stuff. Judging character, honesty and intent requires understanding the details.


    BONUS: Sounds like somebody is leaning forward hoping for that sweet, sweet White House spokesperson job in 2016. Also, an unexplored side of all this is the complicity of the State Department in Clinton’s email “issues.” State allowed her to operate outside its rules and regulations, perhaps outside the law, for four years.




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  • Why the U.S. Will Fail by Winning in Mosul (and Tikrit)

    March 26, 2015 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Military

    kobane

    The United States will most likely suffer defeat in Mosul, even if it “wins” against IS. And you can pretty much substitute “Tikrit” in the story below anywhere you see “Mosul.”

    The reasons will be much the same as those that caused the defeat of American strategy in Iraq War 2.0: a failure to force reconciliation among the Iraqi Shia, Sunni and Kurds.

    Some History of Mosul

    A little history, repeating itself. In April 2003, an entire Iraqi Army Corps in Mosul surrendered to a small U.S. Special Forces group. The city fell into disorder, with the Central Bank plundered and the university library pillaged. Sound familiar? Chaos ensued as Kurds fought both Sunni and Shia Arabs. The Sunnis, tribally dominant in the area, fought hard against the rise of Shia power emanating from the new government in Baghdad.

    During the occupation by the U.S. 101st Airborne Division in 2003, a 21,000-strong force under General David Petraeus pushed the Kurdish militias largely out of Mosul and created an uneasy peace with the Sunni tribes (Petraeus would revisit the idea as part of the Anbar Awakening.) Via his own military muscle and the skillful use of American reconstruction money, Petraeus tried to foster a governing structure that integrated Kurdish parties without alienating Sunni Arab constituencies. After Petraeus left, and as the war worn on and Kurdish influence began to exert itself in Mosul, the Sunnis turned to Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI; the precursor to IS) for support. Multi-sided fighting continued in Mosul, as the fundamental issue of which group truly controlled the city — as it was for Iraq as a whole — was left unresolved as the U.S. pulled out in 2011.

    Assault on Mosul

    The 2015 American ambitions to retake Mosul have made it to the front pages. Significant quantities of U.S. weapons are flowing into Iraq in anticipation of a large-scale assault.

    Sometime this year (maybe in the autumn or later) the U.S. hopes to organize 25,000 Iraqi troops, 12 full brigades, at least five of which have not even begun training yet, for the assault. Three Kurdish brigades will also join the attack, as well as an unspecified number of non-government Shia militias aided by whatever Iranian assets may be supporting them (now acknowledged to include elements of Hezbollah.) U.S. officials say there would also be Sunni force of former Mosul police and tribesmen who would enter the city once the Islamic State fighters are cleared out.

    Boots on the Ground

    U.S. forces on the ground will almost certainly be required to coordinate the many disparate elements on the “Iraq” side, as well as to call in close air support. Secretary of State John Kerry initiated the process of walking back the president’s pledge about no boots on the ground, speaking to the Senate Appropriations Committee in support of Obama’s request for authorization for use of military force against IS. Kerry said American soldiers embedded with Iraqi troops would not be in violation of the ban on enduring ground offensive operations. “If you’re going in for weeks and weeks of combat, that’s enduring. If you’re going in to assist somebody and [do] fire control and you’re embedded in an overnight deal, or you’re in a rescue operation or whatever, that is not enduring.”

    Assuming the logistics of moving 25,000 troops across the desert, as well as training, equipping, and sustaining them with food and water (difficult, and fully impossible without direct U.S. assistance and cargo flights) can be solved, the real questions about the upcoming Battle of Mosul are twofold.

    The Key Questions

    The tactical question. Will it become necessary to destroy Mosul in order to save it. Look at the victory in Kobane over ISIS. By all accounts, the over 700 airstrikes the U.S. conducted on a round-the-clock basis on Kobane devastated the town. The civilian death toll has never been calculated. No plans to rebuild the city have been announced. It is unclear what entity governs the remains. Some 230,000 refugees have fled. Photos of the place make it look like Stalingrad. As an activist in the ISIS capital of Raqqa wrote, “People don’t look at Kobani and see a defeat, because everyone had to leave and the Americans bombed it to rubble to win.”

    The greater strategic question. Who will control whatever is left of Mosul after IS is driven out? The American command and control efforts, plus American air power, needed to ensure the physical destruction of IS will be welcomed by all sides, as they are in greater Iraq. Less clear will be the reaction to follow-on U.S. demands that some of the victorious forces withdraw in favor of the others. The Sunnis controlled Mosul before 2003, and contested the space with the Kurds after that. The Baghdad Shia government then forfeited its claim to the city when the Iraqi Army cut and ran in 2014. It seems highly unlikely that the Peshmerga, especially after shedding blood to retake the city, will simply walk away and see the small paramilitary police force of Sunnis move in. The role the Iranians will choose to play is unclear. A fair number of Mosul’s one million residents support IS, leaving open the question of ethnic cleansing and score-settling.

    Sound Familiar?

    The United States continues to dig the same hole deeper in Iraq. It sees problems in a wholly-military light, focusing on an urban assault rivaling set-piece battles of WWII while paying little attention to the underlying political factors that will surely snatch defeat from any “victory.”

    Sound familiar?



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  • That’s What Friends Are For: Israel Spied on U.S. Talks with Iran

    March 25, 2015 // 11 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Iran, Military, NSA

    obama_netanyahu

    So U.S. counter-surveillance gets whooped by Israel, who then uses information gathered on Iran nuclear talks so that Netanyahu can try and convince Congress to torpedo Obama’s negotiations with Iran so that Israel can remain America’s bestie in the Middle East and shove Iran off to the side like a B-level Kardashian. And some people still prefer professional sports to watching politics?


    Israel spied on Iran’s nuclear talks with the United States — and used the information to undermine the Obama administration’s position with the GOP-led Congress, according to an explosive report in The Wall Street Journal. While Israeli officials deny the accusations, claiming they got the info by spying on the Iranians, the White House found out about the operation while it was spying on Israel. U.S. intelligence agencies intercepted messages among Israeli officials containing details that U.S. officials believed could only have come from inside the top-secret negotiations.

    The anonymous officials say that classified information, such as the number of centrifuges that Iran might be able to keep operating as part of a final accord, were then shared with GOP lawmakers in an effort to derail the talks.


    Now why would Israel want to undermine U.S. attempts to reach some sort of nuclear agreement with the Iranians that, if successful, would lessen the chance that Iran would become a nuclear state?


    Israel wants to accomplish two things. Well, three, if they could.

    Israel wants to remain the only nuclear power in the Middle East (and yes, of course they have nukes, c’mon.) They may be afraid the U.S.-Iran deal is 99 percent Obama-Kerry legacy grab and will be weak enough that Iran will remain a nuclear threshold state. The Iranians are unlikely to upset things by testing a device, but they’ll hover as close to the line as they think they can. That’s pretty much how the Republicans see the deal as well, so the Israeli connection is hand in glove.

    Israel is also concerned about any U.S.-Iranian rapprochement. Iran has all the makings of a regional power to rival Israel and the Sunni states which quietly more or less support at least some Israeli goals. About the only thing that keeps Iran in check is U.S. sanctions that cripple the country economically. A nuclear deal could pave the way for reopening of relations with the U.S. and the lifting of sanctions.

    The third Israeli aim is kind of a long shot. Israel would love to send Iran back to the Stone Age, nuclear development-wise. It would be most convenient for them if the U.S. were to bomb Iran, though Israel would be more than happy to do the job itself with U.S. permission and support. The bombing is very, very unlikely to take place. After all, if Dick Cheney couldn’t get Bush to sign off on it during eight years of near-constant saber rattling over Iran, who is going to get it pushed through in 2015?

    Yet despite all the spying and bad vibes these days between the U.S. and Israel, remember, money talks and bullsh*t walks. U.S. military aid alone to Israel exceeds $100 billion, with lots and lots of other official money flowing in around the edges. So smile whenever you read about diplomatic rifts in the relationship.




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  • U.S. Weapons Worth $500 Million Vanish in Yemeni Chaos

    March 24, 2015 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen

    army


    Remember back in the good ‘ole days when America didn’t supply the bad guys with the weapons they’ll use later to kill Americans? Good times, good times.

    Cited by Obama as a model for fighting extremism as he sent the U.S. back into Iraq last summer, the U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Yemen has all but collapsed as the country has all but collapsed. Yemen has no government now, and joins a growing list of places where American handiwork has midwifed a new failed state.

    In Yemen, where al-Qaeda vies for supremacy with the home-grown Shiite Houthi rebels supported by Iran, the Pentagon cannot $500 million worth of military equipment the U.S. donated to Yemen since 2007. U.S. officials said instability in Yemen has made it impossible to keep tabs on donated equipment.

    It. Is. Just. Gone.

    “We have to assume it’s completely compromised and gone,” a legislative aide on Capitol Hill, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told The Washington Post.


    Missing in Action

    Here’s a taste of the equipment no one can find:

    1,250,000 rounds of ammunition
    200 Glock 9 mm pistols
    200 M-4 rifles
    4 Huey II helicopters
    2 Cessna 208 transport and surveillance aircraft
    2 coastal patrol boats
    1 CN-235 transport and surveillance aircraft
    4 hand-launched Raven drones
    160 Humvees

    Take another look. Over a million rounds of ammunition? How can one misplace coastal patrol boats, never mind airplanes and helicopters?

    Lebanon, Iraq, and…

    Not that it is related to the mess in Yemen in any way, but the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon recently announced a new shipment of weapons and ammunition have arrived in Beirut. The Ambassador said the equipment includes more than 70 M198 howitzers and over 26 million rounds of ammunition and artillery “of all shapes and sizes, including heavy artillery… I know that in a matter of days it’s going to be what your brave soldiers are using in the battle to defeat terrorism and extremism.” Lebanon has become the fifth-largest recipient of U.S. foreign military assistance. Weapons worth more than $100 million were given to Lebanon last year and over a $1 billion worth in the last eight years.

    And also not that it is related to the mess in Yemen in any way, but here’s part of what is on the way into Iraq from the U.S.: 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, 15 Hercules tank recovery vehicles, and 55,000 rounds of main gun ammunition for the tanks, about $3 billion worth. In July, 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. With the collapse of the Iraqi army and the abandonment of piles of its American weaponry, including at least 40 M1s, to IS militants.



    Looking Down the Barrell of a Gun

    And so, one must ask the snarky question “So how’s that working out for you?” The current U.S. war “against IS” has spread around like spilled paint around the Middle East, and along with it, the weapons America supplies to one side that often end up in the hands of the other side. Like that spilled paint, once you let go of the guns and bullets, you cannot control where they end up. Whether they go “missing,” are outright sold on the black market for non-sectarian, good old fashioned profit, left on the battlefield for whoever to pick up, or carried over as groups switch side, they can easily end up pointed the wrong way: back at America.


    BONUS: Thanks to American aid, Yemen is estimated to have the second-highest per capita gun ownership rate in the world, ranking behind only the United States.




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  • Is the U.S. Paying Off Iran to Keep the Nuke Negotiations Alive?

    March 23, 2015 // 12 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iran

    nuke

    Negotiations require some back and forth, demonstrations of good will and good intent, and massive pay offs.

    Wait, what?

    The Obama administration in January handed over $490 million in cash to Iran, and will have released a total of $11.9 billion to the Islamic Republic by the time nuclear talks are scheduled to end in June, according to the State Department. The January release is the third such payment. The release of funds was agreed to by the Obama administration in November as part of another extension in negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear program.

    Iran will receive an additional ten payments from the United States through June 22, when talks are currently scheduled to end.

    Iran received $4.2 billion in similar payments under the 2013 interim agreement with the United States, and was then given another $2.8 billion by the Obama administration last year in a bid to keep Iran committed to the talks through November, when negotiators parted ways without reaching an agreement. The deal also gives Iran access to $4.2 billion from oil sales, with approximately $1.5 billion more from imports of gold and other precious metals, as well as easier access to “humanitarian transactions.”

    The money does not come from taxpayers’ pockets, but rather represents Iranian assets frozen in the U.S. as part of various sanctions imposed on Tehran. Most of the money was frozen in the wake of the 1979 Islamic Revolution that saw Iranians storm the U.S. Embassy and capture 52 American hostages.

    Not everyone outside of Tehran is happy about the arrangement. Some Republican lawmakers tried, but failed, to pass legislation last year to prevent the release of cash due to a lack of restrictions on how Iran can spend the money. They were concerned Iran could use the funds to finance terror or purchase weapons. Several Senators unsuccessfully asked the White House to certify Iran was not using the money to support terrorism.

    Republican statements aside, in negotiations the rule of thumb is to get something for everything you give. As best we can tell, what the U.S. has gotten for all that money so far is not much more than Iran’s willingness to keep sitting at the table. After all, there are ten payments left to be handed out before the negotiating process is considered a failure. The old adage may be worth remembering: if you’re not sure who the sucker at the table is, it’s you.




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  • State Department Diplomatic Security Employee Arrested on Child Porn Charge

    March 21, 2015 // 20 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State

    peter-meyers-300x194

    A State Department Diplomatic Security employee with high-level access to government IT and security resources was arrested in Broward County, Florida on a federal charges of possessing child pornography.


    FBI agents took Peter Meyers, 53, pictured, into custody. Law enforcement officials stated they found 50 video files and eight image files depicting child pornography on Meyers’ computers and laptops. Meyers was making the videos and images available to pedophiles worldwide via file-sharing networks.

    Some of the files were named “Bedtime Rape” and “Camping Tent Incest” and showed girls and boys, including toddlers and children as young six and nine years old, being sexually abused. Meyers said the computers were for personal use, agents said.

    Investigators said he came to their attention in February when they identified an Internet address in Broward County that was sharing computer files depicting the sexual abuse and exploitation of underage children.

    According to his Facebook and LinkedIn pages, Meyers has worked as a security technical specialist for the U.S. Department of State since 2003. His work duties included testing security systems, assisting in the technical aspects of criminal investigations and traveling to overseas embassies and consulates, according to his online resume.

    A State Department spokesperson said “The employee’s security clearance will be suspended and he will be put on administrative leave while this proceeds through any judicial process.

    Want more State Department sleaze? Here you go.



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  • Not Quite Ludacris: Rapper Nelly Gets $650,000 to Perform in Erbil

    March 20, 2015 // 8 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq

    nelly

    Rap star Nelly became the first American artist to perform live in Erbil, Kurdistan Iraq in the city’s 8,000 year history.

    Nelly and Motocross Rock Erbil

    Nelly’s March 13 performance occurred during Erbil’s annual Xoli Raperin soccer tournament. Although the stands weren’t jam-packed, the crowd of 15,000 seemed, according to reports, to enjoy the show as they waved their country’s the unofficial Kurdish flag in the air. The show was billed as an effort to raise funds for the peshmerga. Nelly sang all the hits, including “Dilemma”, “Hey Porsche”, and “Just A Dream.”

    Following Nelly’s encore, there was also a motocross show.



    Follow the Money

    That said, questions remain. It is unclear how any money could have been raised. One source claims Nelly received $650,000 for the show. An online booking agent says Nelly’s fee for an international concert ranges $500,000 and up.

    At $650k, each Kurdish spectator would have had to pay $44 to have the event break even.

    Given that the Kurds have not paid most government salaries since December, that seems unlikely. In addition, oil money promised by the central Iraqi government to the Kurds has been long delayed. A Baghdad spokesperson told Reuters the delay in what is meant to be a monthly transfer of over $1 billion in exchange for oil was due to a fiscal crisis rather than political factors. Cited were factors of poor fiscal management, the costly battle against Islamic State, and the sharp fall in oil prices, as reasons for the federal government’s cash shortfall. The Kurds have been battling a financial crisis of their own since Baghdad authorities cut budget payments in January 2014 as punishment for their attempts to export oil independently.



    Who Paid?

    So with that said, how did the Kurds raise the lucre for Nelly?

    Nelly’s visit was sponsored by the Rwanga Foundation, a non-profit whose stated mission is “to assist the most vulnerable people residing in Kurdistan.” The group’s website lists no sources of funding, and Internet resources could turn up no sources of funding.

    Wonder who paid? And why?





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