• Archive of "Democracy" Category

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

    March 31, 2015 // 7 Comments »

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

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Hillary Wins by Wiping the Slate, er Server, Clean

    March 30, 2015 // 12 Comments »

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

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Did Spam Filtering Service Have Full Access to Clinton Emails?

    March 19, 2015 // 20 Comments »

    readyclinton

    A researcher says the commercial spam filtering service Hillary Clinton used for her personal email server had full, unfettered access to her messages. A person at the company — or someone who could hack into the company — could read and save any of her messages.

    Marc Perkel tells us that “Hillary Clinton used a spam filtering service MxLogic to filter her spam and viruses. What this means is employees at MxLogic, now owned by McAfee (which has been bought out by Intel), had full access to all her State Department email in unencrypted form.”

    Perkel explains email from the Internet is routed by DNS records called MX records which are used to look up where to deliver email. When someone uses an external spam filtering service they point their MX records to that service and all email for that domain goes to the spam filtering service first. They clean it and forward the good email on to the recipient.”

    So, without such a filtering service, your email goes from You straight to Me. When I sign up for such a service, your email goes from You to the MxLogic Company to Me.

    Setting things up is pretty easy, once you sign up for the filtering service. McAfee says “activation starts with a simple mail exchanger (MX) record redirection.” That redirects emails from you to them, and then them to me.

    Exposing Clinton’s Technical Details

    Did Hillary use the services of MxLogic/McAfee? Perkel says yes, that the MX records for clintonemail.com are:

    clintonemail.com. 7200 IN MX 10 clintonemail.com.inbound10.mxlogicmx.net.
    clintonemail.com. 7200 IN MX 10 clintonemail.com.inbound10.mxlogic.net.

    We know that Clinton’s server was fully unencrypted for her first three months of overseas travel. It is unclear exactly when after that encryption was employed, but it does not matter. McAfee had to be able to read the email messages to filter them. So a message might have been encrypted into McAfee, and it might have left McAfee encrypted, but inside the company it was visible. A company employee could have accessed it. A foreign intelligence service could have planted someone inside the company. Someone could have hacked into McAfee from outside.

    Now one of the ways all this could be quickly checked and parsed through is to examine the header information on Clinton’s emails, the technical stuff you usually don’t see when you open a message (but it is in there.) Oh, wait. You can only see that information if you have the actual electronic email. If someone prints the message out, as Clinton did in delivering 55,000 pages to the State Department, the technical information is lost forever. In that sense, Clinton did not deliver her actual records to State as required by law, just partial copies.

    Now if someone — anyone — who received an actual Clinton email and has it electronically would share that with some responsible technical people, much would be revealed. Someone with access should also look to see if Guccifer leaked full headers with Sidney Blumenthal’s email from the Clinton server.

    Is Clinton Secure?

    So how secure is Clinton’s email server? Well, first of all, the log-in page is still online. Go here and let me know if you get in, please. Keep in mind this may be considered felony hacking and you could go to jail for a long time, so don’t do it.

    But in addition to that, let’s see what security company Qualys’ online server security checker does with Clinton’s rig. Here are the results. Oops! She got only a “B,” with lots of technical stuff marked as “weak.”

    One recalls Clinton in her press conference stating that her server was in a location guarded by the Secret Service. However, researcher Perkel claims to have evidence that the server is at a commercial facility, and not in Clinton’s home or another known location guarded by the Secret Service.

    To be fair, all of the information above pertains to the current state of Clinton’s email server. We do not know much about the state of the server during her four years as Secretary of State. It does seem funny to think, however, that there was any reason to downgrade security at any point. That does not make sense, especially since until recently all of the State Department emails were still on the server.

    Important Note

    Trying to figure out these details is at the edge of my own limited technical knowledge, so I invite readers to clarify, debunk or support all this.

    It also seems that large media companies who can pose questions to Clinton have smart IT personnel. It remains a source of great frustration that these significant issues are being raised exclusively in non-mainstream forums. THE INTERCEPT, WIRED, NEW YORK TIMES — where are you?




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Clinton Team Never Really Reviewed Emails Before Deletion

    March 16, 2015 // 14 Comments »

    clinton


    Oh, this just gets worse.

    The Process as Stated

    Here is how Clinton described the “process” by which her own staff determined which of the 60,000 emails on her personal server were work-related, and thus turned over to the State Department for even further review, and which were not work-related and deleted.

    I am very confident of the process that we conducted and the e-mails that were produced… I have absolute confidence that everything that could be in any way connected to work is now in the possession of the State Department… My direction [was] to conduct the thorough investigation to err on the side of providing anything that could be possibly viewed as work related.

    The image created was one of completeness, and complexity, of interns and lawyers, perhaps Clinton herself for the tough calls, working their way painstakingly through four years worth — 60,000 messages — one-by-one, always erring on the side of caution to ensure a complete record before things were (perhaps) forever deleted.

    But like seemingly everything else connected with the Clinton speech and the email server, it was all a fudge. What she said was not what really happened.

    The Process in Reality

    According to David Von Drehle of Time, the process used was actually as follows:

    She commissioned a review of the 62,320 messages in her account only after the Department — spurred by the congressional investigation — asked her to do so.

    And this review did not involve opening and reading each email; instead, Clinton’s lawyers created a list of names and keywords related to her work and searched for those. Slightly more than half the total cache, 31,830 emails, did not contain any of the search terms, according to Clinton’s staff, so they were deemed to be “private, personal records.”

    And then deleted.


    More Questions

    So instead of answering any questions, Clinton’s actions only create more. Would someone in the media please acquire some brass and ask Clinton:

    — Give us the list of keywords and names.

    — Question why XYZ was not on the list, as appropriate.

    — If someone’s full name was “William Jefferson Clinton,” was a search also run on “Bill,” “William J. Clinton” and the like? Did they run searches for “WH” and “White House,” “ISIS, IS, ISL, Islamic State, Daesh”?

    — Ask if the keyword search process was set up to catch “Obama” as well as “Obbama” like Google, or only exact matches, like Microsoft Word does. Upper and lower case? Names as part of email addresses?

    Other issues with even a decent keyword search done fairly are that people don’t always write emails in complete, referential sentences. Sometimes they write things like “I hope the press never hears about that thing from yesterday” or “As I told you on the phone, time to act” that can be critical when matched against events and other information.

    Jeez, everyone who has ever watched a gangster movie knows they say things like “We’re gonna have to pay a visit to our friend in Yonkers” before they put out a hit.

    Get It?

    You get it. Running a keyword search is not a process that could create “absolute confidence” on a potential world-leader scale. Claiming it does is prevarication of the worst kind, deliberate manipulation of expectations and words. There is no basis on which to trust, not even a decent feint at creating trust. Just smoke and mirrors and misdirection.

    Here it is in a clearer way: No one looked at more than 30,000 emails before they were deleted. No one.

    There is a crushing certainty to Clinton’s supporters, and I hear that from many of them in explicit terms, that eliminates doubt. It troubles me greatly. Because if you people keep dismissing these signs of what is headed our way with silly tropes like “everybody does it” and “it’s a partisan attack,” we are all going to pay for it.




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Clinton Email Server was Not Encrypted for Her First Three Months of Foreign Travel

    March 13, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    Hillary-Clinton

    At her recent press conference, Clinton assured America that her personal email server was secure, that there had never been any security breaches and in fact it was “at a location” guarded by the Secret Service as if Spetsnaz ninjas might attack. Nothing to worry about here folks, time to move on.

    Except that is not true.

    Clinton’s email was extremely vulnerable. This is not a partisan attack; it is technology.



    Clinton’s Email Domain was Accessible Over the Internet and Cell Phones

    Online security company Venafi TrustNet has the world’s largest database of digital certificates and associated metadata, allowing it to go back in time and identify how digital certificates were used in the past, a kind of forensics capability for IT security. Here’s what they found on the now-infamous clintonemail.com server, and it is not good.

    Using non-intrusive Internet scanning tests routinely performed throughout by IT security teams (meaning foreign intelligence agencies have them too), Venafi learned the Clinton server was enabled for logging in via web browser, smartphone, and tablets. That automatically makes it vulnerable to interception, as the information Clinton was sending and receiving abroad was traveling via other nations’ web infrastructure and open-air cellular networks.

    Clinton’s email log-in page was also hung out on the web all pink and naked, meaning anyone who stumbled on it could try and log in, or employ the standard array of password hacking and brute force attacks against it, much like they could with your Gmail account.

    Had Clinton used a legitimate State Department email account, none of this would have been a problem. Unclassified State accounts can be accessed only one of three ways (for security purposes!) A) From inside a State Department facility; B) Using a State Department-issued Blackberry running exclusively on a State Department-owned server or C) Using a one-time code generated by a physical fob device hand-carried by a State employee. No web access. No straight-line cell access. Nope.

    Luckily all her communications were encrypted so someone couldn’t just pluck them from the air like some rube sitting in Starbucks using the public WiFi, right? Wrong.



    No Encryption

    Oops. Clinton’s email traffic was not encrypted for the first three months of her term as Secretary of State.

    But luckily Clinton stayed around Washington for that time, right?



    Travels with Hillary

    Wrong. State Department records show during her first three months in office Clinton had her walking shoes on. Among the 19 locations visited were spying hotspots like China, South Korea, Egypt, Israel, Palestine, a NATO event and a meeting in Switzerland with her Russian counterpart.

    But how could she know she was at risk? Well, her own State Department says this about China:

    Security personnel carefully watch foreign visitors and may place you under surveillance. Hotel rooms (including meeting rooms), offices, cars, taxis, telephones, Internet usage, and fax machines may be monitored onsite or remotely, and personal possessions in hotel rooms, including computers, may be searched without your consent or knowledge. Business travelers should be particularly mindful that trade secrets, negotiating positions, and other business-sensitive information may be taken and shared with local interests.

    Now we’ll grant you that Hillary’s hotel room was closely guarded, but go back and re-read that warning, the part about how electronic communications might be monitored remotely.

    Clinton Unclassified

    Well, heck, Clinton claims none of the 30,000 some work emails were classified, so what?

    Leaving aside exactly what Clinton had to say 30,000 times that somehow never crossed the line into classified, it seems there must have been some sensitive information tucked in there somewhere. For example, the one, single Clinton (unclassified) email that has been released was entirely redacted by the State Department, including Clinton’s personal server email address. The multi-months State Department review process now underway on Clinton’s turned-over emails is designed to redact sensitive information.

    So there is something to hide. Too bad it appears likely that the Chinese government has access to information on Clinton the American people can’t be trusted to see.

    There’s more.


    Spoofing the Secretary

    Without a security certificate and encryption for three months, Clinton’s server would not have been uniquely identified as being clintonemail.com and therefore could have been spoofed, allowing attackers to more easily trick an unsuspecting user of the site to hand over their username and password. She was also running a standalone Microsoft Windows Server, which is very vulnerable to attack, with at least 800 known trojans/spyware in existence that can steal keys and certificates. If the credentials on the server were compromised in those first three months (nah, the Chinese and the Israelis would never try that) then the next four years of encryption might have meant nothing.

    But don’t worry. Clinton’s most recent digital security certificate was issued by GoDaddy. The domain’s blank landing page is hosted by Confluence Networks, a web firm in the British Virgin Islands, which is sorta a foreign country.



    Questions of the Candidate

    So, would some reporter please ask Hillary Clinton these two questions:

    Where was the NSA? Where was the State Department’s Diplomatic Security technical security staff? Did they just miss all this, or did they report it to Clinton’s staff and were ignored?

    What is the price America paid for your personal convenience?

    BONUS: By claiming her server was secure, Clinton threw down the gauntlet to America’s geek and hacker communities, who do not take kindly to their moms pretending to know their business. Big tactical mistake…



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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Bill Clinton Defends Foreign Donations to Clinton Foundation

    March 12, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    bill-clinton-birthday

    See if you can spot what is wrong with this picture!

    Conflicts of Interest?

    We told you earlier about how during her term as Secretary of State, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation did not accept donations from foreign governments. Now, with Hillary as a pseudo-candidate for president, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation has started to accept donations from foreign governments.

    According to The Wall Street Journal, the foundation has already received funding from the United Arab Emirates (somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, the Clinton’s only report ranges), Saudi Arabia (total between $10 million and $25 million), and others.



    Bill Responds

    Some people raised concerns about the Clinton Foundation receiving such generous donations. Was the UAE and Saudi money simply because those nations believe in the good work the Foundation does, or were the donations a conflict of interest, an advance pay off, given that Clinton Foundation principle Hillary intends to be the next president?

    Because those questions can be so hard to parse out, Bill Clinton now explains.

    “My theory about all this is, disclose everything,” Clinton said at an event sponsored by the Clinton Global Initiative University. “And then let people make their judgments.” Clinton did not explain how his “disclose everything” mantra seems in conflict with the foreign donations coming to light only after extensive media reporting, and how the full details still remain hidden because the Foundation refuses to disclose any further details, such as precise numbers.

    “I believe we have done a lot more good than harm,” he added. “And I believe this is a good thing.”

    “For example, the UAE gave us money,” Clinton said. “Do we agree with everything they do? No. But they are helping us fight ISIS and they built a great university with NYU, open to people around the world… Do I agree with all the foreign policy of Saudi Arabia? No.”

    Bill did not mention how the NYU UAE project is mired in accusations of near-slave labor conditions for some of its workers, or how NYU has bowed to the UAE to “scrub” its curriculum and campus policies to match local anti-democractic political beliefs.

    He also forgot to mention how the UAE pulled out of America’s ISIS bombing campaign after that Jordanian pilot was captured in December (the UAE has since re-entered the campaign in a limited way.)



    What is Wrong with This Picture

    But we began with a test: See if you can spot what is wrong with this picture. Got it yet?

    Bill never answered the key question regarding the foreign donations. Is it ethical for the Clinton Foundation to accept such generous foreign donations as Hillary prepares to run for president? Is there a conflict of interest? Why or why not?

    And there is the heart of the matter. When things begin to unfold around a Clinton, the “answers” and explanations do not seem to match the questions. It is almost as if we are meant to be… distracted.

    BONUS: Who was interviewing Bill in the interaction above? Why didn’t the interviewer probe a bit, maybe ask a follow-up question or two? The guy asking Bill about all this was Larry Wilmore, host of Comedy Central’s “The Nightly Show.” Wilmore’s show purports to skewer politicians and pass satirical judgement on the news. Whether anyone likes it or not, a very large number of Americans now get their “news” from Comedy Central’s faux news shows. No conflict of interest evident there, with him pitching softballs at Clinton, right?




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Law and Order SVU: Clinton Email Case

    March 11, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    law

    Police Interrogation Room, 50th Precinct


    “She gonna roll over?” Captain Media said.

    “Don’t know Captain. So far she’s sticking to her story. The whole email server thing for four years as Secretary of State was just for her personal convenience.”

    “And she expects us to buy that and let her walk? In the office she would have used one computer for two accounts, same as the average Joe, so the story doesn’t hold up there. That carrying two pocket-sized devices only outside the office, that’s more convenient that setting up a whole parallel system? C’mon, I’ve been on these streets for 20 years, that doesn’t fly.”

    “I hear you Captain, but she’s lawyered up. Sticking to the story like glue on sticky flypaper.”

    “That’s a load of horse hockey pucks. Everybody else in the State Department deals with it, and so does every other Cabinet secretary we know of, never mind 90 percent of the corporate world. Lemme see her exact quote again.”

    Cop flips open notebook.

    “Here it is, verbatim. ‘First, when I got to work as secretary of state, I opted for convenience to use my personal email account, which was allowed by the State Department, because I thought it would be easier to carry just one device for my work and for my personal emails instead of two.'”

    “OK, time to hit her with the information we have. Show her the video.”




    “Now that was just two weeks ago, at a fluff Q and A. You heard her, right? She flat out said she carries two devices, an iPhone and a Blackberry. Doesn’t that shoot down her case, make her a liar?”

    “I hear you Captain, but her people say ‘That’s now, not when she was Secretary of State.’ Maybe some folks are that gullible.”

    “Hit her with her own quote: ‘Well, I have a quite large purse… So in addition to makeup and all that goes with that, usually my Blackberry and papers of all kinds… And my iPod, just the usual wonderful musical “interluding” diversions that we all need, a wide variety. And on my iPad… ‘”

    “That’s, lemme see, three devices at one time. Blackberry, iPod and iPad. iPad’s can access email just fine. So she was carrying three devices at once, two of which could access email.”

    “Yep.”

    “But is that quote new? Did it come from some Republican attack group?”

    “The quote is from November 2011, while she was Secretary of State.”

    “And the source?”

    “An official State Department transcript. It’s online. Anyone can see it.

    “So she lied. We got her. Bulletproof.”



    Later that Same Day, Captain’s Office

    “Captain, good news. We just heard from Clinton’s lawyer. They want to retract all her statements. They wanna talk. She’ll plead.”

    “Nice work.”

    (Theme music, Ba Bum…)




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Hillary Press Conference About Her Email

    March 10, 2015 // 17 Comments »

    hillary blackberry

    Hillary needed a home run, and she only even tried for a safe infield hit. That, in this case, is the same as a strike-out.

    She needed to do two things in her brief press conference March 10 about her use of personal email to conduct four years of Secretary of State business and the aftermath. Primarily, she needed to lay out an explanation that made enough “sense” that her Democratic supporters could get behind her on this issue, and she needed to explain enough to take the wind out of future press stories, create a “nothing to see here” meme. We all can expect the Republicans to try and work the issue no matter what she says, and we can all expect her strongest supporters did not need convincing.

    Hillary’s task was to hold the center. Let’s look at what she said, and didn’t say, in light of those two themes.


    What She Said

    — Clinton said she “opted out” of using an official email system for her convenience, stating she did not want to use two email devices.

    — She said that the “vast majority” of her official emails were sent to official government addresses and thus archived somewhere no matter what she did.

    — Clinton claimed she turned over any work-related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.”

    — She said she has asked State to review and ultimately release the releasable emails.

    — She said she would not allow any third party review of her server (such as the State Department’s Inspector General) because it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails, and it is a moot point anyway because she has already deleted the 30,000 emails she determined were not work-related.


    Looking at What She Said: Convenience

    The “two devices” would have been inconvenient argument is very weak.

    One does not have “two devices,” one has two accounts. Do you have separate computers for your Gmail and your Yahoo mail? State employees are allowed to access private webmail on their official desktop computers. State employees access web mail on their official Blackberrys, though it is slow. Many State Department employees do carry two devices.

    There is also no prohibition from receiving and sending personal email from an official account as long as one does not misrepresent a personal message as an official State Department document. Indeed, in some overseas posts where decent Internet service does not exist because of limited infrastructure, or because of security concerns, all personal messages travel through USG accounts. It is encouraged.

    And who is ready to believe Clinton as Secretary of State needed to carry her own devices anyway? She has people for that; she doesn’t carry her own luggage, does she?

    And is setting up and maintaining in secret a personal server in some way “convenient?” How do all other Cabinet officials handle this? Do they all have personal servers? Why not? If this Clinton-only technique is so handy, why didn’t she share it with others in government as some sort of best-practice? How does Bill Gates or George Clooney handle such issues? We know Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, for one, had a single device with both a personal email account and a work email account.

    Can Democrats answer Clinton critics with concerns about transparency, mistrust and prevarication simply by saying, “Well, it was convenient for her. Accept that, OK?”

    Looking at What She Said: Archiving

    That the emails were archived “somewhere” because she sent the “vast majority” to someone else’s government accounts is also weak. Many FOIA requesters to the State Department for Clinton’s emails were told no records exist. Any emails archived at the Pentagon, or the UN or the White House would have to be FOIA’ed agency-by-agency — you can’t send a FOIA request to “the government.” Any let’s not forget the term “vast majority.” How many emails are not archived anywhere?

    There also appears to be some questions. Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.” – See more at: http://wemeantwell.com/blog/#sthash.YUWe4QIz.dpuf


    Looking at What She Said: Other Points

    Clinton claimed she turned over her any work related emails when State asked for them, “after I left office.” Left unanswered is why State had to ask in the first place, and of course the way the statement “after I left office” will only beg the question someone else will need to answer of how Clinton can characterize waiting to be asked two years later as “after I left office.”

    Good for Hillary to ask State release all her emails. That is what the law behind the many FOIA requests now pending at State demands anyway. What is missing is a timeframe; no one seems to know when that release might take place, though State has suggested it will be months. Remember too that first Clinton had a cut on which emails were to her mind “work related,” and then the State Department gets to make a second cut and/or redact portions of those emails for sensitive or personal information. The “release them all” line sounds good but does not parse out well.

    Clinton’s final point that it is a Federal employee’s personal responsibility to determine work versus personal emails is sort of true but largely a fudge. State Department regulations make it clear that government email must be used whenever possible for official business. While not explicitly forbidden, there is no section of law, regulation or practice that allows an employee to “opt-out” of the system. Hillary’s assertion that the decision on what is and is not work-related is based on the premise that almost everything work-related is already on a government server, and the culling of personal email for archiving is a minimal task. State Department practice is that a personal email deemed work-related be forwarded to the employee’s official account as soon as possible to create a single archive.


    What She Didn’t Say

    Clinton’s omissions and non-answers are however more troubling.

    — She did not answer a question about whether or not she sought or received guidance from State’s IT, Diplomatic Security or legal staff on her use of a personal email server.

    — She did not answer a question about whether or not she had been briefed on possible security issues regarding her use of personal email.

    — She did not say why she curated her email archive herself and did not involve a neutral third party.

    — She did not demand State commit the resources necessary to get her emails out before the primaries, or before the convention, or even before the election.

    — She did not say why, after holding them for two to six years, she only after the recent notice decided to delete all of her personal, non-work-related emails.

    — She did not say why she did not hand over her emails and/or discuss the issue of a personal server for the two years since leaving office, the seven months since this became known to Congress, the three months since she delivered her email tranche to the State Department, the eight days since the story broke widely in public or two days after members of her own party asked her publicly to do so.

    On another topic, she did not answer a question about the foreign money, particularly from Middle Eastern countries oppressive to women, that has poured into the Clinton Foundation.


    The Biggest Omission

    There was no action statement, no suggestion Clinton would do anything more in regard to all this. She spoke for about 18 minutes, including taking eight questions, and seems to have left us with “that is that.”

    It appears unlikely that “that is that,” with important questions still unanswered. It is unclear that Clinton gave her own centrist supporters enough red meat to get behind her on this issue. It seems instead that Democrats are left wondering what else is out there, and whether a Clinton candidacy, or a Clinton administration, will not look far too much like Bill’s time, herky-jerking from crisis to scandal to crisis, both real and imagined. That will be hard to get behind.




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Hillary at Selma? Not This Year…

    // 10 Comments »

    In the 2007 video below, when Hillary was last overtly running for president, at about the 0:37 mark she slips into a cliched African-American accent, kinda weird, and also weird that what appears to be a largely African-American audience applauds her. But that was 2007 and candidate Clinton shilling for Black votes.




    And in that same year, 2007, here’s both candidate Clinton, hubby Bill and then-candidate Obama marching in Selma:




    And here, in 2015, is Clinton in Selma:







    Oh, wait, she wasn’t there this year. Obama and his family were there. Hell, even George W. Bush and his wife Laura attended. Where was Hillary (and for that matter, Bill) on this very important 50th anniversary?

    In Miami, shilling at a Clinton Foundation Global Initiative event. The Clintons were in Miami, visiting Miami-Dade’s Coral Gables wealthy neighborhood for the weekend. Coral-Gables is 91 percent white and no doubt full of potential campaign donors. The Clintons did have time to drop by crappy Liberty City for a photo-op “community service” thing.

    Like they say, it is all about priorities. Anyone want to wager that the Clintons will march at Selma in 2016?



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Famed Women’s Rights Proponent Accepts Millions from Governments Who Oppress Women

    // 1 Comment »

    clinton1995


    We told you about how the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Foundation accepts donations from foreign governments, including the United Arab Emirates (somewhere between $1 million and $5 million, the Clinton’s only report ranges) and Saudi Arabia (total between $10 million and $25 million). At least $1 million more was donated by the group Friends of Saudi Arabia, co-founded by a Saudi prince.

    The donations raise concerns. Was the UAE and Saudi money simply because those nations believe in the good work the Clinton Foundation does, or were the donations a conflict of interest, an advance pay off, given that Clinton Foundation principle Hillary intends to be the next president?


    Women’s Rights are Human Rights

    Fair question. But here’s another.

    You know, just this week Clinton commemorated her 1995 women’s rights speech in Beijing with back-to-back events in New York. However, no one raised this question: How ethical is it for a candidate who cites her global activism and support for women’s rights to accept huge donations from countries that have some of the most abysmal global records for the treatment of women? It seems almost like a double-standard or something.

    But maybe Clinton didn’t know how things really are in those nasty places that shower her in cash. Let’s turn to the Human Rights Reports from her own former employer, the Department of State, for a quick glimpse into where all that moolah comes from.

    Women’s Rights in Clinton Donor Countries

    So in Saudi, “Rape is a criminal offense under sharia with a wide range of penalties from flogging to execution. The government enforced the law based on its interpretation of sharia, and courts punished victims as well as perpetrators for illegal ‘mixing of genders,’ even when there was no conviction for rape… Most rape cases were unreported because victims faced societal reprisal, diminished marriage opportunities, criminal sanction up to imprisonment, or accusations of adultery.” Also “Women continued to face significant discrimination under law and custom, and many remained uninformed about their unequal rights. Although they may legally own property and are entitled to financial support from their guardian, women have fewer political or social rights than men, and society treats them as unequal members in the political and social spheres.”

    But Clinton has taken hard stands against the Saudis, at least when it wouldn’t put her on the spot. In her memoir, Hard Choices, Clinton tells of intervening when Saudi courts wouldn’t block the marriage of an 8-year-old to a 50-year-old man. “Fix this on your own, and I won’t say a word,” she recalled telling the Saudis.

    But it’s better in the UAE, right? State says “The penal code allows men to use physical means, including violence, at their discretion against female and minor family members. Domestic abuse against women, including spousal abuse, remained a problem. There were reports that employers raped or sexually assaulted foreign domestic workers… female victims of rape or other sexual crimes faced the possibility of prosecution for consensual sex instead of receiving assistance from government authorities.” Also “For a woman to obtain a divorce with a financial settlement, she must prove that her husband had inflicted physical or moral harm upon her, had abandoned her for at least three months, or had not maintained her upkeep or that of their children. Alternatively, women may divorce by paying compensation or surrendering their dowry to their husbands.”

    The Clinton Foundation has also taken in chunky donations from Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Algeria and Brunei, none of whom ever begin to respect the rights of women.


    You get the picture. But does Clinton? Hey, it’s just money right, and what do women know about that stuff anyway?



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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    A Child’s Treasury of Clinton Email Excuses

    March 9, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    hillary-clinton



    Though Madame herself has said nothing out loud (she did send one Tweet) about the bubbling scandal that she used private email to conduct four years’ of official business as Secretary of State, perhaps to help shield her communications from Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests, there has been no shortage of third-party defenders.

    Let’s take a look at their arguments, and see how they sound.



    It’s Not Illegal

    Clinton supporters fired their first shots claiming she did nothing illegal, that current laws on using personal email were enacted only in 2014. And so if you have done nothing illegal, by definition your actions are legal.

    As to the rules/laws/regulations, there are some clear issues.

    Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).” Those regs have been in place since at least 2009, most since 1995. There’s also another section that’s relevant. The State Department through a series of memos and internal interpretations clarified that persons using personal email for government business should forward copies to their official account as soon as practical. There are no provisions for maintaining a private archive at home and turning over a curated selection years later when asked.

    There is also what the official custodian of U.S. government records, the National Archives and Records Administration, in the 2009 National Records Act, has to say, specifically in 44 U.S.C. Chapters 31 and 33 and the regulations issued in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), specifically Subchapter B – Records Management of 36 (CFR) Chapter XII. See Records management by agency heads; general duties (§ 3101), Establishment of program of management (§ 3102), Transfer of records to records centers (§ 3103) and Certifications and determinations on transferred records (§ 3104). Read as much of it as you care to; the requirements are long, specific and mandatory. A personal email server in your home does not fit the bill.

    Here’s the shortest version: In 2009, regulations required that any emails sent or received from personal accounts be preserved as part of the agency’s records.



    Everybody Does It

    The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.

    There also exists an important question of degree. Though Condi Rice denies ever using any personal email for official business, and Colin Powell famously used an AOL account more than ten years ago as part of his attempt to drag State into the late 20th century vis-vis technology, no previous government official in the known history of the United States has set up his/her own personal email server and used that exclusively for four full years. The scale sorta really matters.

    The other side of the “everybody does it” argument is that it is a really poor argument. Anyone who has been a teenager has likely tried it (“But Mom, everybody drinks beer at my age, yeah I know I’m not 18 but everybody does it!”) and seen it fail. Defendants who went on to become convicted felons also know how unconvincing judges find it when people offer as their criminal defense that others have committed the same offenses but just didn’t get caught.

    It seems sad that such an excuse is even thrown out there for a presidential contender, never mind that some are willing to accept it.



    What Does it Matter?

    Absent someone starting an actual courtroom prosecution, this is not about whether an actual crime per se has been committed. It is about what Clinton’s image of open, good government looks like, what her plans for a transparent administration in line with America’s democratic principles might come to be. It is about whether what she says connects tightly to what she does.

    It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the media learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story. It could not have; she still held the emails at that time.

    She still has not spoken about all of this, despite it being one of America’s top news stories.

    Will she tell the electorate why she set up a personal server and did not use government email? For argument’s sake we’ll agree she was allowed, but that does not tell us why, and why matters.

    Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently,and only when asked?

    As president of the United States, will she encourage or condone Cabinet level officials to employ personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?

    How did she weigh out the security risks of using a personal email service? Yes, the emails were said to be unclassified, but if they were indeed not sensitive enough to warrant high levels of security, then one hopes they will all be released now, unredacted.

    Is the way she handled her email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of her approach to public service?

    Those things are in part what people are supposed to be assessing when they vote.


    Suck It People, and Just Trust Me

    Clinton’s people have said they combed through all of the (unknown amount) of emails and pulled out 55,000 pages, delivered literally on paper to the State Department so as to impede electronic searches (sorry to the intern who has to scan them) and of course eliminate the metadata. They all swear cross-their-fingers-hope-to-die that those are all the official emails in the stash. Honest sir, there can’t be even one more we might’ve missed.

    But… Huge gaps exist in the emails Clinton provided to a congressional committee investigating the 2012 attack in Benghazi, the panel’s chairman said. Republican Representative Trey Gowdy said his committee lacked documentation from Clinton’s trip to Libya after the attack despite a popular photo image of her using her famous Blackberry during a flight to that country. “We have no emails from that day. In fact we have no emails from that trip,” said Gowdy. “There are huge gaps.”

    So maybe Clinton’s staff missed just a few?


    It’s All Republican Attack Cheap Shots

    Which brings us to the all-purpose Clinton excuse: whatever bad things have happened to her and/or are being said about her are all a partisan attack, perpetrated by her Republican enemies, just like everything else from Vince Foster/White Water to 2008’s lying about being under fire in Bosnia to everything Benghazi.

    And there is truth in that. It is without question that the Republicans will seize on anything negative about Clinton they can find. It is also without question that the Democrats will seize on anything negative about Bush or whoever they can find. Such is the nature of politics in America.

    But that doesn’t mean what is under discussion is not true and it does not mean it does not matter. The easiest way for Clinton to escape answering questions is to stifle any discussion (“What does it matter anymore anyway?”) There are things that are worth talking about here, questions that need answers, regardless of whether you lean right or left. Don’t get sucked down the tunnel of partisan politics encouraging you to shut your brain off.

    Think about it.



    BONUS THOUGHT EXPERIMENT: Wouldn’t it be great is some mid-level State Department staffer set up her own email server in her apartment next week and sent a message to everyone at work she interacts with saying she was no longer going to use her official email account? Wouldn’t that be a hoot?



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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Clinton Personal Email Problem Deepens

    March 6, 2015 // 24 Comments »

    Hillary-Clinton



    Hillary Clinton announced in a Tweet that she wants her former employer, the Department of State, to review her emails with an eye toward releasing them. Here, she said it herself, on The Official Twitter:



    So accepting the fact that it took Clinton almost three full days’ worth of controversy to get around to saying even that, that’s it, right? Problem solved? Maybe not.


    Who Will End Up Holding the Bag?

    The key part of what Clinton no doubt feels is some pretty slick sleight of hand is that State only has in its possession some fraction of all of her emails sent while Secretary of State. The emails State does have were hand-picked by Clinton, curated by her staff, from the total.

    Clinton, alone in the entire U.S. government, has left herself in the unique position of being the only one to determine what records the American people are entitled to see. Her basis for her decisions? Trust me.

    Even at that, she now throws State under the bus, thinking anytime between now and inauguration day anybody asks about a missing email or ten, Clinton will just “refer them” back to State, who of course decided what to withhold from what Clinton personally chose not to withhold. Clinton no doubt thinks herself clever with this bit of political jujitsu, turning the State Department into her campaign spokesperson. But putting the burden on State is a red herring; this isn’t really the State Department’s dog.

    Her attempt to use the White House this week in the same capacity has only returned mediocre results. The Counsel’s office there claimed it had no knowledge of Clinton’s exclusive use of a personal email system, and quickly mentioned once it found out that it had directed the State Department to make sure all appropriate rules were followed (CYA.) They also made clear that the administration gave “very specific guidance” that employees should use official accounts when conducting government business.

    Obama’s spokesman was careful to note “There was not an Obama administration official that was responsible for reviewing those emails.”

    While trying to avoid doing political damage to Clinton, the White House has put the onus on her aides to explain exactly what happened. If there is gonna be a bag of sh*t to hold at some point, the White House does not want to get stuck with it.


    Slow-Walking FOIA

    State, ever the lap dog to the rich and famous, is ready to do its part in dragging its feet. Secretary of State John Kerry said in Riyadh Thursday that his department “will undertake this task as rapidly as possible in order to make sure that we are dealing with the sheer volume in a responsible way.” State spokeswoman Marie Harf warned that the review could “take some time to complete” while other officials indicated it could take months. And, surprise! State’s current review personnel are already overwhelmed with nearly 11,000 other pending requests, which for complex cases can take an average of more than 18 months to complete.

    Maybe first-come, first-serve will get the Clinton emails reviewed at least in time for her second term.

    Perhaps State will want to turn its attention to previous Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. More than 75 separate requests for her emails were filed with the State Department between 2009 and 2013 by media organizations and other parties. Associated Press requests for Clinton emails and other documents have been delayed for more than a year — and in one case, four years — without any results. All “answered” FOIA requests were told that the State Department did not have any emails from Clinton to consider releasing, sort of true in that State had no Clinton emails on file; they were all held on her private server. The AP says it is considering legal action against the department to compel responses.

    And that all leads deep into another can of worms. FOIA requests are strictly limited to U.S. government documents. You cannot FOIA Michelle Obama’s personal NetFlix viewing list. A very tricky legal question arises about whose emails those are on Clinton’s private mail server. Google and other tech companies have regularly won legal challenges to say that the Gmail you send actually belongs to Google, not you. It resides on their server, after all. Much of the NSA’s quasi-legal ability to gobble up your emails rests on the same premise, as they request “your” email not from you but your internet service provider. Requests for Clinton emails not turned over to State could be refused based on the fact that they are her private property.


    The Trouble with Republicans

    Meanwhile, Clinton’s troubles with the Republicans are just starting.

    The Republican National Committee on Thursday asked the Inspector General of the State Department to investigate Clinton’s use of personal email to conduct government business. RNC Chief Counsel John Phillippe wrote in a letter that the investigation should focus on whether Clinton violated department policies or caused the department to violate the requirement to archive emails. Such inspections can take a long time, but in this case, those delays could easily help keep the email issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, and the Republicans know it.

    The Inspector General should also look into where State Department management and security were sleeping while all this email fun transpired. One can speculate that if a mid level employee proposed to do all his official work off a personal email server they would have had something to say about that. Oh wait, they already did, roundly criticizing one State Department ambassador for bypassing State’s email system.

    The House committee investigating Benghazi also just got a new lease on life. The committee announced Wednesday it has issued a subpoena to Clinton for all of her communications relating to Libya, including emails from her personal server, texts, attachments and pictures. New emails mean new hearings, new questions for Clinton, new demands for in-person testimony and new accusations of information being withheld or scrubbed. This clearly will keep the red-meat-to-the-base Benghazi issue alive well into the 2016 campaign, even if nothing substantive emerges. And if it does…

    Questions

    Clinton, in her own sense of transparency, has issued only the Tweet (above) as her sole public response to all this. Her spokesperson disingenuously claimed Clinton had complied with both the letter and the spirit of the law, a tough one to swallow even for a group of supporters used to swallowing.

    Clinton has announced in advance that she will take no questions at her next scheduled public appearance, somewhat ironically the March 23 ceremony celebrating the winner of the Toner Prize for Excellence in Political Reporting.

    But here are a few very simple questions we’d like Clinton to answer:

    — Why did you alone in the State Department not use official email and only use private email run off a private server?

    — Why didn’t you turn over your full set of emails to State for review?

    — Why did you wait until your private server was disclosed publicly to turn over even the subset of emails you did? Why didn’t you turn them over during your tenure as Secretary?

    — As president of the United States, will you encourage or condone your Cabinet level officials employing personal email servers in lieu of U.S. government systems?

    — Is the way you handled your email at State and now in the aftermath indicative of your approach to public service?



    That’ll be a good start.



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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Hillary Clinton Used Personal Email Account at State Department

    March 4, 2015 // 24 Comments »

    hillary blackberry



    That sound you hear?

    That’s Republicans dancing a merry jig, and Benghazi investigators sharpening their subpoenas, because 2016 just got a lot more interesting with the revelation that as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton conducted all official business using a personal email account on her own web domain.

    Here’s what happened, and why it matters. A lot.

    What Happened

    Hillary Clinton exclusively used a personal email account to conduct government business as secretary of state, violating federal regulations that officials’ correspondence be retained as part of the agency’s record and thus subject to Freedom of Information Act and Congressional requests. Clinton did not have a government email address during her entire four-year tenure, and her aides took no actions to have her personal emails preserved at the time, as required by the Federal Records Act.

    It was only two months ago, in response to a new State Department effort to comply with federal record-keeping practices, that Clinton’s personal advisers reviewed tens of thousands of pages of her emails and decided which ones to turn over to the State Department. All told, 55,000 pages of emails were given to the Department. The contents of the rest are known only to Clinton insiders. The process Clinton’s advisers used to determine which emails related to her work at the State Department were turned over has not been explained.

    Instead, Clinton appears to have used email service through her own domain, clintonemail.com under the name hdr22@clintonemail.com. The domain was created on January 13, 2009, just before Obama was sworn into office, and the same day that Clinton’s confirmation hearings began before the Senate.

    In March 2013, an adviser to Clinton, Sidney Blumenthal, had his e-mail through the clintonemail.com domain hacked.

    The Clinton email domain is officially registered to a Jacksonville, Florida company called PERFECT PRIVACY, LLC. The company advertises itself by saying “By signing up for Perfect Privacy when you register your domain, our information is published in the WHOIS database, instead of yours.” That means Perfect Privacy acts as a cut-out, hiding the actual person or organization that set up the domain by sticking its own information online instead.

    Clinton as Secretary of State held herself to lower standards than the rank and file. According to eight pages of State Department regulations (5 FAM 440, 443.1), “All Government employees and contractors are required by law to make and preserve records containing adequate and proper documentation of the organization, functions, policies, decisions, procedures, and essential transactions of the agency (Federal Records Act, or “FRA,” 44 U.S.C. 3101 et seq).”

    It is also apparent no one at State raised any questions. A large number of IT staff must have been aware that Clinton had no official email address, as must have security staff. Everyone who traded email with Clinton also knew. And no one said anything.

    Why It Matters

    The most basic reason this all matters is because it is the law. As Secretary of State, Clinton was required to maintain her emails as official records. She did not. She choose not to follow the law. Saying “everybody else did it” does not work for teenagers, felons in court or Secretaries of State. Since 2009, said Laura Diachenko, a National Archives and Records spokeswoman, federal regulations have stated that “agencies that allow employees to send and receive official electronic mail messages using a system not operated by the agency must ensure that federal records sent or received on such systems are preserved in the appropriate agency record-keeping system.” The question isn’t whether Clinton was allowed to have a private email account; she was, as secretaries of state before her did. The question is whether she was allowed to be the steward of the archives under the 2009 Federal Records Act. She was not. That’s where the violation occurs.

    It also matters because Clinton’s email actions were deliberate, and included an effort to hide what she was doing. Her email domain was registered in a way to hide its actual ownership (still unknown), and was set up just as she re-entered public life. Clinton never disclosed the email account until the New York Times learned of it. That lack of disclosure continued even as she testified about the tragedy in Benghazi, assuring the public her Department’s internal review represented the full story.

    That review clearly did not represent the full story, in that it did not include any of Clinton’s emails. The review also did not note that the documents it had access to somehow did not include any emails from the Secretary of State. A careful analysis of Clinton’s testimony on Benghazi will need to be made to look for signs of possible perjury. If anything in the Clinton emails is new and relevant to understanding what happened in Benghazi, she should be held to explain why it was not revealed at the time of her testimony.

    The contents of whatever small portion of Clinton emails released to State, and questions about what is in the tens of thousands of pages withheld, will revive hearings into what happened in Benghazi and what role Clinton played. There remain questions about what information was withheld from Congress. Even of the thousands of pages State received from Clinton, only 900 have been turned over to Congress.

    Use of personal email to conduct government business in the age of hacking raises serious security questions, and calls into question Clinton’s commitment to protecting America’s secrets. According to The New York Times, Clinton also used a gmail account, hdr22@gmail.com, to conduct her official business.

    With no oversight, the only check on Clinton not discussing classified information in her emails was Clinton herself. “We have no indication that Secretary Clinton used her personal e-mail account for anything but unclassified purposes,” State Department deputy spokesperson Marie Harf said Tuesday. “While Secretary Clinton did not have a classified e-mail system, she did have multiple other ways of communicating in a classified manner (assistants printing documents for her, secure phone calls, secure video conferences).” Of course, since no one at State has seen the bulk of Clinton’s emails, they indeed may have “no indication.”

    2016 just got much more interesting. Republicans will raise the email issue in great detail, especially since Jeb Bush has already released his own email stash from his time as governor. Clinton does not seem prepared to address the question; her spokesperson said incongruously that her use of a personal email account was in compliance with the “letter and spirit of the rules.”

    Clinton as a leader allowed herself to be held to lower standards than that of her own rank and file. This, along with the decision to hide the emails itself and the violations of law, will raise questions about what type of president she might make.

    Not the First

    As Vox.com, and others, stated:

    [In 2009, as Clinton took office] The Bush administration had just left office weeks earlier under the shadow of, among other things, a major ongoing scandal concerning officials who used personal email addresses to conduct business, and thus avoid scrutiny.

    The scandal began in June 2007, as part of a Congressional oversight committee investigation into allegations that the White House had fired U.S. Attorneys for political reasons. The oversight committee asked for Bush administration officials to turn over relevant emails, but it turned out the administration had conducted millions of emails’ worth of business on private email addresses, the archives of which had been deleted.

    The effect was that investigators couldn’t access millions of internal messages that might have incriminated the White House. The practice, used by White House officials as senior as Karl Rove, certainly seemed designed to avoid federal oversight requirements and make investigation into any shady dealings more difficult. Oversight committee chairman Henry Waxman accused the Bush administration of “using nongovernmental accounts specifically to avoid creating a record of the communications.”

    That scandal unfolded well into the final year of Bush’s presidency, then overlapped with another email secrecy scandal, over official emails that got improperly logged and then deleted, which itself dragged well into Obama’s first year in office. There is simply no way that, when Clinton decided to use her personal email address as Secretary of State, she was unaware of the national scandal that Bush officials had created by doing the same.

    Clinton knew what she was doing, and was aware of the consequences for herself and the White House. She did it anyway. Under such conditions, people will be muttering “Hey, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear.”

    Questions

    One of the main reasons government officials use personal email is because it is not clearly subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), as it is not a government document. Since Clinton now admits at least some of her personal email is indeed part of her official record as Secretary, will does emails become subject to FOIA? One assumes most major new organizations are drafting their FOIA requests as we speak.

    And speaking of FOIA, since many/most of Clinton’s emails were not a part of official State Department records until recently means they would not have been identified in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, subpoenas or other document searches conducted over the past six years. Is anyone planning to reexamine those requests in light of developments?

    There is also the question of how many email accounts where. Republican Trey Gowdy, who chairs the House committee investigating Benghazi stated Clinton had more than one private email account. “The State Department cannot certify that have produced all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails because they do not have all of former Secretary Clinton’s emails nor do they control access to them,” he said.

    Who administered Clinton’s personal email network? S/he was not a government employee but had unfettered, Snowden-like access to government information conveyed at the Cabinet-level. As she also used a Gmail account, an unknown number of Google employees enjoyed a level of access unavailable to Clinton’s own State Department staff. Clinton’s personal email server backed up to a Google drive, wide-open to hackers both foreign and domestic.

    Why didn’t Clinton turn over her personal emails years ago? Why only recently?

    Instead of focusing on the “but was it illegal?” smokescreen, ask the simpler question: why did Clinton alone in her State Department rely 100 percent on a personal email account?

    And what about that famous Clinton Blackberry? Blackberry messages go through a special server run by an organization itself. State maintains such a server for its staff’s required use. Did Hillary’s Blackberry run through a State server or a private one? Let’s ask.




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Getting Off on War Porn

    March 2, 2015 // 11 Comments »

    sniper

    In the age of the all-volunteer military and an endless stream of war zone losses and ties, it can be hard to keep Homeland enthusiasm up for perpetual war. After all, you don’t get a 9/11 every year to refresh those images of the barbarians at the airport departure gates. In the meantime, Americans are clearly finding it difficult to remain emotionally roiled up about our confusing wars in Syria and Iraq, the sputtering one in Afghanistan, and various raids, drone attacks, and minor conflicts elsewhere.

    Fortunately, we have just the ticket, one that has been punched again and again for close to a century: Hollywood war movies (to which the Pentagon is always eager to lend a helping hand).American Sniper, which started out with the celebratory tagline “the most lethal sniper in U.S. history” and now has the tagline “the most successful war movie of all time,” is just the latest in a long line of films that have kept Americans on their war game. Think of them as war porn, meant to leave us perpetually hyped up. Now, grab some popcorn and settle back to enjoy the show.

    There’s Only One War Movie

    Wandering around YouTube recently, I stumbled across some good old government-issue propaganda.  It was a video clearly meant to stir American emotions and prepare us for a long struggle against a determined, brutal, and barbaric enemy whose way of life is a challenge to the most basic American values. Here’s some of what I learned: our enemy is engaged in a crusade against the West; wants to establish a world government and make all of us bow down before it; fights fanatically, beheads prisoners, and is willing to sacrifice the lives of its followers in inhuman suicide attacks.  Though its weapons are modern, its thinking and beliefs are 2,000 years out of date and inscrutable to us.

    Of course, you knew there was a trick coming, right? This little U.S. government-produced film wasn’t about the militants of the Islamic State. Made by the U.S. Navy in 1943, its subject was “Our Enemy the Japanese.” Substitute “radical Islam” for “emperor worship,” though, and it still makes a certain propagandistic sense. While the basics may be largely the same (us versus them, good versus evil), modern times do demand something slicker than the video equivalent of an old newsreel. The age of the Internet, with its short attention spans and heightened expectations of cheap thrills, calls for a higher class of war porn, but as with that 1943 film, it remains remarkable how familiar what’s being produced remains.

    Like propaganda films and sexual pornography, Hollywood movies about America at war have changed remarkably little over the years. Here’s the basic formula, from John Wayne in the World War II-era Sands of Iwo Jima to today’s American Sniper:

    *American soldiers are good, the enemy bad. Nearly every war movie is going to have a scene in which Americans label the enemy as “savages,” “barbarians,” or “bloodthirsty fanatics,” typically following a “sneak attack” or a suicide bombing. Our country’s goal is to liberate; the enemy’s, to conquer. Such a framework prepares us to accept things that wouldn’t otherwise pass muster. Racism naturally gets a bye; as they once were “Japs” (not Japanese), they are now “hajjis” and “ragheads” (not Muslims or Iraqis). It’s beyond question that the ends justify just about any means we might use, from the nuclear obliteration of two cities of almost no military significance to the grimmest sort of torture. In this way, the war film long ago became a moral free-fire zone for its American characters.

    *American soldiers believe in God and Country, in “something bigger than themselves,” in something “worth dying for,” but without ever becoming blindly attached to it. The enemy, on the other hand, is blindly devoted to a religion, political faith, or dictator, and it goes without saying (though it’s said) that his God — whether an emperor, Communism, or Allah — is evil. As one critic put it back in 2007 with just a tad of hyperbole, “In every movie Hollywood makes, every time an Arab utters the word Allah… something blows up.”

    *War films spend no significant time on why those savages might be so intent on going after us. The purpose of American killing, however, is nearly always clearly defined. It’s to “save American lives,” those over there and those who won’t die because we don’t have to fight them over here. Saving such lives explains American war: in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker, for example, the main character defuses roadside bombs to make Iraq safer for other American soldiers. In the recent World War II-themed Fury, Brad Pitt similarly mows down ranks of Germans to save his comrades. Even torture is justified, as in Zero Dark Thirty, in the cause of saving our lives from their nightmarish schemes. In American Sniper, shooter Chris Kyle focuses on the many American lives he’s saved by shooting Iraqis; his PTSD is, in fact, caused by his having “failed” to have saved even more. Hey, when an American kills in war, he’s the one who suffers the most, not that mutilated kid or his grieving mother — I got nightmares, man! I still see their faces!

    *Our soldiers are human beings with emotionally engaging backstories, sweet gals waiting at home, and promising lives ahead of them that might be cut tragically short by an enemy from the gates of hell. The bad guys lack such backstories. They are anonymous fanatics with neither a past worth mentioning nor a future worth imagining. This is usually pretty blunt stuff. Kyle’s nemesis in American Sniper, for instance, wears all black. Thanks to that, you know he’s an insta-villain without the need for further information. And speaking of lack of a backstory, he improbably appears in the film both in the Sunni city of Fallujah and in Sadr City, a Shia neighborhood in Baghdad, apparently so super-bad that his desire to kill Americans overcomes even Iraq’s mad sectarianism.

    *It is fashionable for our soldiers, having a kind of depth the enemy lacks, to express some regrets, a dollop of introspection, before (or after) they kill. In American Sniper, while back in the U.S. on leave, the protagonist expresses doubts about what he calls his “work.” (No such thoughts are in the book on which the film is based.) Of course, he then goes back to Iraq for three more tours and over two more hours of screen time to amass his 160 “confirmed kills.”

    *Another staple of such films is the training montage. Can a young recruit make it? Often he is the Fat Kid who trims down to his killing weight, or the Skinny Kid who muscles up, or the Quiet Kid who emerges bloodthirsty. (This has been a trope of sexual porn films, too: the geeky looking guy, mocked by beautiful women, who turns out to be a superstar in bed.) The link, up front or implied, between sexuality, manhood, and war is a staple of the form. As part of the curious PTSD recovery plan he develops, for example, Kyle volunteers to teach a paraplegic vet in a wheelchair to snipe. After his first decent shot rings home, the man shouts, “I feel like I got my balls back!”

    *Our soldiers, anguished souls that they are, have no responsibility for what they do once they’ve been thrown into our wars.  No baby-killers need apply in support of America’s post-Vietnam, guilt-free mantra, “Hate the war, love the warrior.” In the film First Blood, for example, John Rambo is a Vietnam veteran who returns home a broken man. He finds his war buddy dead from Agent Orange-induced cancer and is persecuted by the very Americans whose freedom he believed he had fought for. Because he was screwed over in The ‘Nam, the film gives him a free pass for his homicidal acts, including a two-hour murderous rampage through a Washington State town. The audience is meant to see Rambo as a noble, sympathetic character. He returns for more personal redemption in later films to rescue American prisoners of war left behind in Southeast Asia.

    *For war films, ambiguity is a dirty word. Americans always win, even when they lose in an era in which, out in the world, the losses are piling up. And a win is a win, even when its essence is one-sided bullying as in Heartbreak Ridge, the only movie to come out of the ludicrous invasion of Grenada. And a loss is still a win in Black Hawk Down, set amid the disaster of Somalia, which ends with scenes of tired warriors who did the right thing. Argo — consider it honorary war porn – reduces the debacle of years of U.S. meddling in Iran to a high-fiving hostage rescue. All it takes these days to turn a loss into a win is to zoom in tight enough to ignore defeat. In American Sniper, the disastrous occupation of Iraq is shoved offstage so that more Iraqis can die in Kyle’s sniper scope. In Lone Survivor, a small American “victory” is somehow dredged out of hopeless Afghanistan because an Afghan man takes a break from being droned to save the life of a SEAL.

    In sum: gritty, brave, selfless men, stoic women waiting at home, noble wounded warriors, just causes, and the necessity of saving American lives. Against such a lineup, the savage enemy is a crew of sitting ducks who deserve to die. Everything else is just music, narration, and special effects. War pornos, like their oversexed cousins, are all the same movie.

    A Fantasy That Can Change Reality

    But it’s just a movie, right? Your favorite shoot-em-up makes no claims to being a documentary. We all know one American can’t gun down 50 bad guys and walk away unscathed, in the same way he can’t bed 50 partners without getting an STD. It’s just entertainment. So what?

    So what do you, or the typical 18-year-old considering military service, actually know about war on entering that movie theater? Don’t underestimate the degree to which such films can help create broad perceptions of what war’s all about and what kind of people fight it. Those lurid on-screen images, updated and reused so repetitively for so many decades, do help create a self-reinforcing, common understanding of what happens “over there,” particularly since what we are shown mirrors what most of us want to believe anyway.

    No form of porn is about reality, of course, but that doesn’t mean it can’t create realities all its own. War films have the ability to bring home emotionally a glorious fantasy of America at war, no matter how grim or gritty any of these films may look. War porn can make a young man willing to die before he’s 20. Take my word for it: as a diplomat in Iraq I met young people in uniform suffering from the effects of all this. Such films also make it easier for politicians to sweet talk the public into supporting conflict after conflict, even as sons and daughters continue to return home damaged or dead and despite the country’s near-complete record of geopolitical failures since September 2001. Funny thing: American Sniper was nominated for an Academy Award for best picture as Washington went back to war in Iraq in what you’d have thought would be an unpopular struggle.

    Learning From the Exceptions

    You can see a lot of war porn and stop with just your toes in the water, thinking you’ve gone swimming. But eventually you should go into the deep water of the “exceptions,” because only there can you confront the real monsters.

    There are indeed exceptions to war porn, but don’t fool yourself, size matters. How many people have seen American Sniper, The Hurt Locker, or Zero Dark Thirty? By comparison, how many saw the anti-war Iraq War film Battle for Haditha, a lightly fictionalized, deeply unsettling drama about an American massacre of innocent men, women, and children in retaliation for a roadside bomb blast?

    Timing matters, too, when it comes to the few mainstream exceptions. John Wayne’s The Green Berets, a pro-Vietnam War film, came out in 1968 as that conflict was nearing its bloody peak and resistance at home was growing. (The Green Berets gets a porn bonus star, as the grizzled Wayne persuades a lefty journalist to alter his negative views on the war.) Platoon, with its message of waste and absurdity, had to wait until 1986, more than a decade after the war ended.

    In propaganda terms, think of this as controlling the narrative. One version of events dominates all others and creates a reality others can only scramble to refute. The exceptions do, however, reveal much about what we don’t normally see of the true nature of American war. They are uncomfortable for any of us to watch, as well as for military recruiters, parents sending a child off to war, and politicians trolling for public support for the next crusade.

    War is not a two-hour-and-12-minute hard-on. War is what happens when the rules break down and, as fear displaces reason, nothing too terrible is a surprise. The real secret of war for those who experience it isn’t the visceral knowledge that people can be filthy and horrible, but that you, too, can be filthy and horrible. You don’t see much of that on the big screen.

    The Long Con

    Of course, there are elements of “nothing new” here. The Romans undoubtedly had their version of war porn that involved mocking the Gauls as sub-humans. Yet in twenty-first-century America, where wars are undeclared and Washington dependent on volunteers for its new foreign legion, the need to keep the public engaged and filled with fear over our enemies is perhaps more acute than ever.

    So here’s a question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today about the Islamic State, and if Hollywood’s war films, themselves a particularly high-class form of propaganda, have promoted the same false images of Americans in conflict from 1941 to the present day, what does that tell us? Is it that our varied enemies across nearly three-quarters of a century of conflict are always unbelievably alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it always goes to the same script?




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    NSA Can Track You Through Your Phone’s Battery Use

    February 26, 2015 // 21 Comments »

    snowden hopex

    I see you out there.

    Sitting in front of your computer. I see what you’re wearing, who you are with. I know where you have been today, and who you interacted with. I know where you were last night.

    Watching You

    We are shocked on a daily basis at the degree our cell phones can be used to monitor our movements. The most basic technique is via the phone’s built-in GPS; heck, that system is actually designed to locate the phone in physical space, and can at least be turned on and off (though it appears the NSA may be able to remotely trigger the system.)

    Next up is the way that cell phones work. Your phone is constantly seeking to connect to three cell towers at once. As you move around, it drops the connection to the weakest signal, holds on to two others, and reconnects to a new third. This happens seamlessly, and so you can keep talking to your girlfriend even as you drive (don’t use your phone while driving.) Your location can be tracked fairly accurately by someone who is measuring your triangulated point among the three towers.

    And when your phone connects to a Wi-Fi signal (how’s that Starbucks latte?), your location is easily determined.

    Lastly, the NSA has access to the SIM chip in your phone, which basically opens up the basic encryption used that might have in olden days offered some modicum of privacy.

    Location via Battery Levels

    Now, here’s another way.

    A team of security researchers from Stanford and the Israeli government (!) just published the details of a technique that lets spies watch as you move around by monitoring tiny changes in your phone’s battery level. It all comes down to how hard your phone has to work to ping those three cell towers. The towers that are further away or obscured by a building or hill cause your phone to use a little bit more power. If the spies know your normal routine, they can track your movements with 90 percent accuracy. If they don’t know your routine, that accuracy drops to about 60 percent. That may still be enough to place you close enough for whatever purpose, or to find you for closer monitoring.

    This is especially concerning because there’s not really any way to protect yourself from this kind of surveillance, aside from taking out your phone’s battery. Most any app can gain access to battery usage data, so a hacker could either build a fake app to monitor that data or pull data from another app.

    Funny thing: in the Edward Snowden documentary, CitizenFour, Snowden tells reporters visiting him to remove the batteries from their phones and place everything inside the metal box of the room fridge.


    And Oh Yes, They’re Watching You

    And oh my does the NSA like tracking your phone.

    The National Security Agency is gathering nearly five billion records a day on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world, enabling the agency to track the movements of individuals — and map their relationships — in ways that would have been previously unimaginable. The records feed a vast database that stores information about the locations of at least hundreds of millions of devices 24/7.

    Sophisticated mathematical tech­niques then enable NSA analysts to map cellphone owners’ relationships by correlating their patterns of movement over time with thousands or millions of other phone users who cross their paths. So let’s also hope you don’t accidentally find yourself nearby anyone the NSA is interested in. Since the ever-hungry NSA cannot know in advance which tiny fraction of the records it may need, it collects and keeps as many as it can — 27 terabytes, by one account, or more than double the text content of the Library of Congress’ print collection.

    And for those last seven or eight people who still cling to “Hey, I’ve got nothing to hide,” good for you. You may not be an ISIS super-villain, but really, nothing to hide from your girlfriend, boyfriend, boss, creditors, stalkers, ex-spouse, creepy guy downstairs, complete strangers, nobody? Because once information is collected, it exists, and once it exists it can be hacked, shared with foreign governments, your local cops, leaked or otherwise made available.


    So smile, and speak up — somebody’s paying attention!




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Book Review: American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity

    February 23, 2015 // 4 Comments »

    Kim Phuc story

    Chris Appy’s American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity is a book-length essay on the Vietnam War and how it changed the way Americans think of ourselves and our foreign policy. This is required reading for anyone interested in foreign policy and America’s place in the world, showing how events influence attitudes, which turn to influence events.



    Vietnam, Vietnam, Vietnam

    Appy’s book is valuable to its readers in showing how Vietnam became the template for every American war since, from novelties like the invasion of Grenada to the seemingly never-ending conflicts post-9/11. But before all that, there was Vietnam, and, larger lessons aside, Appy’s book is a fascinating, insightful, infuriating and thought-provoking study of that conflict, from its earliest days when America bankrolled the French defeat, to the final, frantic evacuation of Saigon. This is a history, yes, but one where events are presented not as isolated factoids but toward building a larger argument. Drawing from movies, songs, and novels, as well as official documents, example after example shows how America was lied to and manipulated.

    We begin with Tom Dooley, a Navy physician who had one of the best-selling books of 1956, Deliver Us from Evil. Presented as fact, the book was wholly a lie, painting a picture of Vietnam as a struggling Catholic nation under attack by Communists, with only America as a possible Saviour. Despite Dooley’s garbage selling millions of copies in its day, few have ever heard of it since. It did however establish a forward-leaning pattern of lies to engage and enrage the American public in support of pointless wars.

    The Dooley line runs through the faux Gulf of Tonkin Incident to fake stories from Gulf War 1.0 of Iraqi troops throwing infants from their incubators to Gulf War 2.0’s non-existent WMDs to Gulf War 3.0’s “Save the Yazidi’s” rationale for America re-entering a war already lost twice. “Saving” things was a common sub-theme, just as Vietnam was to be saved from Communism. It was no surprise that one of the last American acts of the Vietnam War was “Operation Babylift,” where thousands of children were flown to the U.S. to “save” them.

    Vietnam as a Template

    Vietnam set the template in other ways as well.

    — The 1960’s infamous domino theory was raised from the grave not only in the 1980’s to frighten Americans into tacit support for America’s wars in Central America, but then again in regards to the 1991 model of Saddam, never mind the near-constant invocations of tumbling playing pieces as al Qaeda and/or ISIS seeks world domination.

    — Conflicts that could not stand on their own post-WWII would be wrapped in the flag of American Exceptionalism, buttressed by the belief the United States is a force for good/freedom/democracy/self-determination against a communist/dictator/terrorist evil. Indigenous struggles, where the U.S. sides with a non-democratic government (Vietnam, the Contras), can never be seen any other way, truth be damned to hell. Wars for resources become struggles for freedom, or perhaps self-preservation, as we fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them over here.

    — A sidestory to such memes is the invocation of “Munich.” If we don’t stop _____ (Putin?) now, he’ll just go on to demand more. Better to stand and fight than commit the cardinal sin of appeasement. That “appeasement” and “diplomacy” are often confused is no matter. We are not dealing in subtleties here.

    — Killing becomes mechanical, clean, nearly sterile (remember the war porn images of missiles blasting through windows in Gulf War 1.0?) Our atrocities — My Lai in Vietnam is the best known, but there were many more — are the work of a few bad apples (“This is not who we are as Americans.”) Meanwhile, the other side’s atrocities are evil genius, fanaticism or campaigns of horror.


    No More Vietnams

    Appy accurately charts the changes to the American psyche brought on by the war. Never before had such a broad range of Americans come to doubt their government. The faith most citizens had in their leaders coming out of WWII was so near complete that the realization that they had been lied to about Vietnam represents the most significant change in the relationship between a people and their leaders America, perhaps much of history, has ever seen.

    The aftermath — No More Vietnams — is well-covered in Appy’s work. The No More Vietnam mantra is usually presented as avoiding quagmires, focusing on quick, sharp wins. Instead, Appy shows politicians have manipulated No More Vietnams into meaning greater secrecy (think Central America in the 1980’s), more over-the-top justifications (“You don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud”) and an emphasis on keeping American deaths inside the acceptable limits of the day to tamp down any public anti-war sentiment.

    Throw in increasingly clever manipulation of the media (“Pat Tillman was a hero,” “Malaki/Karzai is a democratic leader with wide support”) and indeed there will be no more Vietnams per se, even as conflicts that bear all the hallmarks continue unabated. Americans may have developed an intolerance for Vietnam-like wars, but failed to become intolerant of war.



    Post-9/11

    For readers of the 9/11 era, explaining the changes America underwent because of Vietnam seems near-impossible, though American Reckoning: The Vietnam War and Our National Identity succeeds as well as anything else I have read.

    Before Vietnam, we accepted it all. That was the way of it. You could call it patriotism, or you could call it naivety, or even faith. We hadn’t yet realized our leaders would lie to us about things as important as war. There had been no Watergate, no fake WMDs. American Exceptionalism was not a right-wing trope twirled inside the confection of “Morning in America.” Our education was very expensive in the form of that blood and treasure commentators love to refer to.

    You finish with the feeling that Appy wishes the lesson of Vietnam would be for the American people to rise up and shout “we won’t be fooled again,” but close the book sharing with Appy the thought that we have, and will. “There remains,” concludes Appy, “a profound disconnect between the ideals and priorities of the public and the reality of a permanent war machine that no one in power seems able or willing to challenge or constrain… the institutions that sustain empire destroy democracy.”

    How did we reach such a state? Better read this book to find, in Appy’s words, what our record is, and who we now are.




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Family Settles Suit with City for $3.9m After Cop Walks Free in Shooting

    February 21, 2015 // 5 Comments »

    kid


    In case you’re in a hurry, here’s the express version of this story:

    — African-American teen killed by a white cop;
    — Grand jury won’t indict, cop walks free;
    — Family wins wrongful death lawsuit;
    — Taxpayers lay out $3.9 million to pay for their killer cops on the loose.

    Read, repeat.


    And now, the details.

    The family of slain Bronx teen Ramarley Graham accepted $3.9 million in taxpayer money from the city to settle their wrongful death lawsuit.

    Police had claimed that Graham was suspected of purchasing an amount of marijuana small enough that its possession is now decriminalized in New York.

    Cops chased him into his home without a warrant. The cop who shot the teen, Officer Richard Haste, claimed that he had heard over the police radio that Graham was armed. No gun was found.

    After Graham was gunned down in his own bathroom, the cops threatened to shoot his grieving grandmother, according to the suit.

    “Why did you shoot him? Why you killed him?” the grandmother allegedly asked the officer who had just fired a fatal bullet into her grandson’s chest.

    “Get the f*ck away before I have to shoot you, too,” the suit said Haste shouted after pushing the 58-year-old grandmother backward.

    The elderly woman was detained at the local precinct for seven hours and forced to give a statement against her will.

    Officer Richard Haste, who fired the fatal shot, was initially indicted for manslaughter, but a judge threw out the case on a legal technicality.

    A second grand jury declined to indict the cop.

    “This was a tragic case,” said a spokesman for New York City.

    An ongoing federal investigation into possible civil rights violations by the NYPD moves into the third year since the killing. The lawsuit itself took two years after the teen’s death to reach settlement.


    As best I can tell Officer Haste, below, is still patrolling the streets as I write this.




    Read, repeat.

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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Seattle Police Jail Elderly Military Veteran for Walking with a Golf Club

    February 16, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    seattle

    Examples of police abuse of power are not hard to locate, typically involving deadly force where none is needed.

    Many of these examples appear to involve racism, white cops misusing their authority over African-Americans. Examples are often dismissed by police supporters over some ambiguity or another. What makes the following example so compelling is not the extremes of violence (none take place) but the clarity of the power dynamic, and the clarity of how easy it is for cops to misuse the power granted to them.



    Arrested for Having a Golf Club

    We learn that 70-year-old Air Force veteran (twenty years of service) and retired Seattle bus driver William Wingate had a daily habit of walking and using a golf club like a cane. He typically took a walk to pick a newspaper. Wingate was not unknown in the neighborhood. He had no arrest record. He was not using drugs. He wasn’t even wearing a hoodie. The day was sunny and clear, the video in focus and the audio clear.

    But Seattle Police Department (SPD) officer Cynthia Whitlatch pulled over her patrol car, got out, and yelled at Wingate to drop his golf club. The incident was caught on her vehicle’s dash-cam video recording system. Unlike some recorded incidents, where what happened before the encounter was not recorded, in this case we have a full 1:40 on tape of nothing happening.

    Officer Whitlatch insists that the recording instead would show Wingate swinging his golf club at her and hitting a stop sign with it. According to the Seattle Police Department, there exists no video to back up this claim.

    Nonetheless, Whitlatch, standing behind her car, shouts at Wingate to drop his golf club 17 times, and claims that “it is a weapon.”

    “You just swung that golf club at me,” Whitlatch yells.

    “No, I did not!” exclaims Wingate.

    “Right back there,” Whitlatch says back. “It was on audio and video tape.”


    The Video

    (The action begins at 1:40 on the video, but the fact that nothing happens prior to that is important to understanding how wrong this all is)

    If you don’t see the embedded video, it is also online here.



    Welcome to the Judicial System

    Eventually, she tells him he’s going to be arrested and charged with obstruction. She calls for backup. A second officer arrives and Wingate promptly hands over the golf club. Nonetheless, the officers went on to handcuff him. Police walked him down the street to the East Precinct, where the desk sergeant approved the decision to book Wingate into jail on harassment and obstruction charges.

    While still handcuffed, Wingate had difficulty stepping up and into the back of the paddy wagon. On video, an officer can be seen sliding a stool toward the back of the vehicle, using his foot. Wingate spent the night in jail.

    The next day, city prosecutors filed misdemeanor charges of unlawful use of a weapon against Wingate based solely on the arresting officer’s incident report. In that report, the officer stated she was “fearful of being assaulted by him.”

    Wingate agreed to a plea agreement after being told by a public defender “If you sign this stipulated order of continuance, it will all be over, basically.”

    Finally, a rational head entered the story. Two months after the arrest a municipal judge dismissed the case following public outcry that attracted both social media and a private lawyer.

    Maybe It Was All Just a Mistake?

    So maybe Officer Whitlatch just made a mistake. You know, pressure of the moment. Maybe on a bright sunny day she thought she saw an elderly African-American man swing a golf club at her, when no such thing happened. Maybe. But, as prosecutors say when they bring up a suspect’s past history in court, let’s look at the record.

    Officer Whitlatch was one of 126 police officers who sued the government last year, at both the federal and city level, to block the Department of Justice–ordered use of force policies. The SPD is under a federal consent decree and is being forced to address the DOJ’s concerns over racial bias and its finding that Seattle police routinely and unconstitutionally use excessive force. Officer Whitlatch and the others claimed in their suit that the new policy will result in citizens and officers being “killed.” They said the regulations require cops to “under-react to threats of harm until we have no choice but to overreact.”

    Whitlatch’s ex-girlfriend, who claims she spoke up because both she and her father were police officers, claims Whitlatch made racist comments about black people she’d encountered while on patrol and, in the spring of 2005, stole marijuana from police evidence that the couple then smoked together.

    About one month after she arrested Wingate for his golf club, Officer Whitlatch took to Facebook to share some thoughts. While protests raged in Ferguson, Missouri over the police shooting death of African-American Michael Brown, Whitlatch wrote she was tired of “black peoples paranoia” and wrote of “chronic black racism that far exceeds any white racism in this country.”

    The Next Steps

    The next part is as predictable as day following night.

    — Officer Whitlatch remains employed by the police department, albeit on desk duty. Whitlatch was not disciplined. She received counseling from her supervisor, a course of action that the department believes to be “an appropriate resolution.”

    — The Seattle Police Department insists racial bias played no role in the incident.

    — Wingate is suing the city for $750,000 claiming violations of his civil rights. Should he prevail, the taxpayers will foot the bill for the settlement.




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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!

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Man Held 20 Hours for Asking to File TSA Complaint

    February 13, 2015 // 10 Comments »

    vanderklok_600


    Here’s a flash in the dark peek at justice in America, all in the name of keeping us safe from terrorism by using the tools of law enforcement to terrorize us.

    If that’s not the case, then why is Charles Kieser still employed by the TSA?



    The Terrorist

    Random American Citizen Roger Vanderklok (aka “Josef K.“) had the misfortune of going through TSA Supervisor Charles Kieser’s security-screening area. Vanderklok, 57, pictured with his wife, is a Philadelphia architect who runs half-marathons. He flies around the country for weekend races.

    The TSA said it was concerned about the gear in his carry-on bag, and pulled him out of line. The items of concern turned out to be only a running watch and some Power Bars, wrapped in a small PVC pipe for protection against crushing. Nonetheless, for the next 30 minutes, screeners checked and rechecked the bag. They found nothing dangerous. Vanderklok protested that he was no threat, and that the items were of no danger to anyone, and insisted on making a complaint.

    Electronics and “organic mass” can be used to make bombs, TSA Supervisor Charles Kieser said in response to Vanderlok’s complaint. “The passenger made a bomb threat to me,” Kieser testified later according to a court transcript. “He said ‘I’ll bring a bomb through here any day that I want… and you’ll never find it.'”

    The Stormtroopers

    Kieser did not evacuate the area or follow TSA protocol to contact the FBI, as required in the face of a bomb threat. Instead, he just summoned the Philadelphia Police. Vanderklok was taken to an airport holding cell, and his personal belongings, including his phone, were confiscated while police “investigated” him. Vanderklok was detained for three hours in the holding cell, missing his plane. He was not questioned. Instead, after waiting the three hours, he was handcuffed, taken to a downtown police station and placed in another cell. He says that no one, not the police officers at the airport nor the detectives downtown, told him why he was there. He didn’t find out until he was arraigned at 2 a.m. that he was being charged with “threatening the placement of a bomb” and making “terroristic threats.” Despite all that threat stuff, he was released on bail. His wife, worried about not hearing from her husband, was never notified of his arrest until Vanderklok was allowed to phone her for bail money.

    The Trial

    When Vanderklok finally had his case brought to court, the charges were quickly dismissed. A review of airport surveillance videos showed that TSA Supervisor Kieser simply made everything up. Vanderklok made no threats. The security video shows him standing calmly with his arms in front of him holding a laptop. Prosecutors called no witnesses against Vanderklok except TSA Supervisor Kieser.

    As you may have guessed, Vanderklok has now filed a civil suit against the TSA, the Philadelphia Police Department and the Department of Homeland Security, alleging that he was willfully deprived of his liberty, and his Fifth Amendment rights were violated, by the false statements made against him. Kieser remains employed by the TSA. No charges have been filed against him for what appears to have been outright perjury in his court testimony.

    Homeland Security has made no public comment, citing the pending lawsuit. Taxpayers will of course be on the hook for any settlement coming out of the lawsuit.

    BONUS: Taxpayers, on behalf of Philadelphia Airport TSA, recently paid out a $25,000 settlement over detaining a college student for possessing Arabic language flashcards.




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Oh, It’s Gonna Be a Long Couple of Years

    February 10, 2015 // 16 Comments »

    What stands out for you, young voter? Is it the sense of dynastic ascension? The air of entitlement? The We Will Rock You handclaps near the end? The tired trope of the beautiful blond woman hidden beneath the black motorcycle helmet? The fact that the whole thing looks like a pickup truck commercial? Or the cheesy glass ceiling thing?

    Please, take a moment and share your thoughts below as we all stand with Hillary.

    Jesus would want that.




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Quotable Quotes for $100, Alex…

    February 7, 2015 // 12 Comments »




    Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion?
    (How serious people’s faces have become.)
    Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly,
    everyone going home so lost in thought?


    Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
    And some who have just returned from the border say
    there are no barbarians any longer.

    And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
    They were, those people, a kind of solution.

    C.P. Cavafy, Collected Poems.

    We must remember that the progressive debasement of international law and comity has reached such a stage that all the concepts of internal sovereignty, respect for international boundaries, and even of a formal state of war have well-nigh disappeared from the book of rules. [The situation is] now rapidly approaching comparison with the lawless era of the Thirty Years’ War.

    –Bernard Fall, Two Vietnams.


    Looking at the world as a whole, the drift for many decades has been not towards anarchy but towards the reimposition of slavery. We may be heading not for general breakdown but for an epoch as horribly stable as the slave empires of antiquity. James Burnham’s theory has been much discussed, but few people have yet considered its ideological implications — that is, the kind of world-view, the kind of beliefs, and the social structure that would probably prevail in a state which was at once unconquerable and in a permanent state of “cold war” with its neighbors.

    George Orwell, You and the Atomic Bomb

    The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians — which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side.

    George Orwell, Notes on Nationalism



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Supreme Court Rules in Favor of TSA Whistleblower Robert MacLean

    February 6, 2015 // 9 Comments »

    Robert MacLean


    Whistleblower laws exist because government officials do not always act in the nation’s best interests.

    The Obama administration, in its war on whistleblowers, just lost a major battle. Major in its venue — the Supreme Court — and major in its implications for future whistleblower cases.

    The Court’s decision in Department of Homeland Security v. Robert MacLean curtails the government’s manipulation of pseudo-classified information to punish whistleblowers, and strengthens the Whistleblower Protection Act (WPA).

    The Facts

    In July 2003, TSA alerted all marshals of a possible hijacking plot. Soon after, TSA sent an unclassified, open-air text message to marshals’ cell phones canceling several months of missions to save on hotel costs. Fearing such cancellations in the midst of a hijacking alert created a danger to the flying public, veteran Air Marshal Robert MacLean tried to get TSA to change its decision.

    After hitting a dead end, MacLean spoke anonymously to MSNBC, who published a critical story. Only 24 hours later, and after 11 members of Congress voiced concern, TSA reversed itself, putting marshals back on the flights. A year later, MacLean appeared on TV in disguise to criticize agency policies he felt made it easier for passengers to recognize undercover marshals. The TSA recognized MacLean’s voice and discovered he had also released the unclassified 2003 text message. He was fired in April 2006.

    MacLean discovered that months after firing him, TSA had retroactively classified as “security sensitive information” (SSI) the unclassified text message he had leaked. SSI is a designation created by TSA via administrative memo, and had no basis in law. TSA decided nonetheless that leaking a retroactively SSI-classified document was cause enough to fire a federal worker. MacLean fought back.

    In 2013, after a long series of legal wrangles, a United States Court of Appeals decided that MacLean was entitled to his old marshal job back under the Whistleblower Protection Act of 1989. The act generally limits its protections to “disclosures not specifically prohibited by law.” The court said SSI information was not really “classified” at all, and thus MacLean’s disclosure was not a violation of law.

    The Department of Justice challenged the decision in front of the Supreme Court. The Supremes agreed on January 21 with the lower court’s decision, ruling in favor of MacLean and against the government.


    Significance of the Decision

    The Court made clear TSA’s self-created classification, SSI, did not have the power of law. MacLean’s disclosure of SSI material thus did not violate any actual laws making disclosure of properly classified material a crime. There were no grounds to have fired him.

    While by law the U.S. government recognizes only three basic levels of classification (confidential, secret, top secret), since 9/11 government agencies on their own have created pseudo categories of secrecy like SSI, hybrids that casually seek to incorporate the full weight of formal law. There are currently 107 designations just for “sensitive” information alone, none of which receive any review outside of the agency that created them. Allowing any part of the government to declare this or that classified under their own rules means everything can be classified, and every statement by every official potentially actionable, with no external oversight or redress possible.

    The Court also shot down government claims that a law allowing TSA to “prescribe regulations” means the agency can otherwise control disclosures with the force of law. The statute, the Court said, “does not [itself] prohibit anything; instead, it authorizes” the TSA to make choices. No one prohibited MacLean from disclosing an at-the-time unclassified text, nor would it be reasonable to assume something unclassified couldn’t be disclosed.

    The Court did agree with TSA that actions such as MacLean’s can have legitimate national security repercussions. Dealing with that issue “must be addressed by Congress or the President, rather than by this Court,” and, by extension, not by TSA acting on its own.



    Regulation is Not Law

    And as if the point was not clear enough, the Supreme Court stated “interpreting the word ‘law’ to include rules and regulations could defeat the purpose of the whistleblower statute. That interpretation would allow an agency to insulate itself… simply by promulgating a regulation that ‘specifically prohibited’ all whistleblowing.”

    The Supreme Court’s decision answers a key question regarding the scope of exemptions to federal whistleblower protection law. In a blow to the self-proclaimed “most transparent administration ever,” the Court ruled against the use of pseudo-classification as a tool to hide from the public embarrassing or even criminal information. Had the Court held otherwise, no act of whistleblowing could be considered protected. All the government would have had to do to stop an act by a conscientious employee would be to retroactively slap a self-made category of secrecy on whatever was disclosed, and wash its hands of the miscreant.

    Attorney Tom Devine,of the Government Accountability Project, was part of the team that represented MacLean. “This victory,” Devine said, “means that the cornerstone of whistleblower rights has survived — the supremacy of statutory rights passed by Congress over agency secrecy rules. If Mr. MacLean had lost, agencies could cancel those rights through internal regulations, and the Whistleblower Protection Act would have been an unenforceable honor system. In the aftermath, the WPA is alive, well and stronger than ever.”


    What About that Retroactive Classification?

    Also a part of MacLean’s firing from TSA was the issue of the agency retroactively marking the information he was punished for leaking as SSI, some time after it was sent out to all air marshals in an unclassified open text. The Court let stand this government power to retroactively classify information.

    According to MacLean attorney Tom Devine, retroactively pseudo-classifying information as SSI was not an issue in MacLean’s appeal, and should not inhibit all whistleblowing. Following MacLean’s firing, Executive Order 13556 in 2010 made clear categories such as SSI alone does not affect disclosure laws such as the Whistleblower Protection Act. In addition, the “anti-gag” provision of the later Whistleblower Protection Enhancement Act already outlawed liability for disclosures involving “unmarked but classified” information. That law’s definitions require information to be specifically designated as classified, not just to deserve secret status.


    Whither MacLean?

    That’s the bigger picture. On a more personal level, what’s next for MacLean?

    “I’m a sheepdog, I fight until I’m unconscious or dead,” said MacLean. “The public paid me considerably more than most federal employees. I had the power to arrest people. I was extensively trained and gave an oath that I would risk my life engaging in firefights inside crowded missiles.”

    “I want to resume serving in law enforcement,” said MacLean. “If my country wants me back serving as an air marshal, I will serve to the best of my ability and with honor.”



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Defining Post-Constitutional America

    February 5, 2015 // 6 Comments »

    diary

    As regular readers of this blog know, a central theme of mine is Post-Constitutional America, the third great era of our history.

    The Way It Was

    In the first era, the colonial years, a unitary executive, the King of England, ruled without checks and balances, allowing no freedom of speech, due process, or privacy when it came to protecting his power.

    In the second, the principles of the Enlightenment and an armed rebellion were used to push back the king’s abuses. The result was a new country and a new constitution with a Bill of Rights expressly meant to check the government’s power. As imperfect as all that was, it represented a concept of moving toward the better. Those ideas — enshrined in the Bill of Rights — are disarmingly concise. Think of them as the haiku of a genuine people’s government.


    The Way It Is

    Now, we are wading into the ever-deeper waters of a third era, a time when that government is abandoning the basic ideas that saw our nation through centuries of challenges far more daunting than terrorism.

    America has entered its third great era: the post-constitutional one. Here we have only the rights the government allows us to have. Think of it as a variable totalitarian system. Free speech is not outlawed, but can be restricted at will — a punk cop Tasers a legitimate protester, the Federal government slams a prominent journalist away. Privacy exists, but only as the government doles it out, often as a reward for not being a troublemaker, while retaining the “right” to pull it away. The Stasi and 1984‘s Big Brother sought total control over every aspect of peoples’ lives; today’s power is used as needed, though the mechanisms of broad application exist and grow.

    In a review of the new book Guantánamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi, writer Mark Danner gets it. Here’s what he said:



    Not by Any Recognizable Rules

    On or about Sept. 11, 2001, American character changed. What Americans had proudly flaunted as “our highest values” were now judged to be luxuries that in a new time of peril the country could ill afford. Justice, and its cardinal principle of innocent until proven guilty, became a risk, its indulgence a weakness. Asked recently about an innocent man who had been tortured to death in an American “black site” in Afghanistan, former Vice President Dick Cheney did not hesitate. “I’m more concerned,” he said, “with bad guys who got out and released than I am with a few that, in fact, were innocent.” In this new era in which all would be sacrificed to protect the country, torture and even murder of the innocent must be counted simply “collateral damage.”

    At its root is a maddening ambiguity born of a system governed not by any recognizable rules of evidence or due process but by suspicion, paranoia and violence.


    That sums it up for me about as well as anything else I’ve been allowed by the government to read.




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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Freedumb Update: Texas Lawmaker Says Muslims Should Pledge Allegiance to U.S.

    February 3, 2015 // 14 Comments »

    molly



    …And then there are those days that challenge even a First Amendment/Free Speech absolutist like me.

    Freedom Fighter and uneducated state legislator Molly White (could her last name be any more appropriate?), pictured, couldn’t be in Austin, Texas to celebrate Texas Muslim Capitol Day. But she left instructions (on her Facebook page!) for the staff in her Capitol office on how to handle Muslim visitors, including asking them to declare allegiance to the United States:



    “I did leave an Israeli flag on the reception desk in my office with instructions to staff to ask representatives from the Muslim community to renounce Islamic terrorist groups and publicly announce allegiance to America and our laws,” she posted on Facebook. “We will see how long they stay in my office.”

    Texas Muslim Capitol Day

    Texas Muslim Capitol Day, which began in 2003, is organized by the Texas chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and brings members of Muslim communities in Houston, Dallas and other areas of the state to the Capitol to learn about the political process and meet state lawmakers. It is unclear how many risk their lives to actually attend.

    Oh, wait, we know: about 100 Muslims, mostly children brought on a school trip, showed up. Though as we know Representative Molly White didn’t drop by to hiss at the kids, they were met by 25 alleged adults outside the Capitol holding signs saying “Radical Islam is the New Nazi” and “Go Home and Take Obama With You.”

    As a small group of Muslim group held a press conference on the steps of the Capitol, one of the protesters grabbed the microphone and shouted “Islam will never dominate the United States and by the grace of God, it will never dominate Texas.” As the Muslims sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” protesters yelled “Islam is a lie!” and “No Sharia here!”

    Neither the Texas Governor nor the Lieutenant Governor had any comment on the matter.

    Good Golly Miss Molly!

    But not Molly White. She doubled-down with a follow-up Facebook post: “I do not apologize for my comments. If you love America, obey our laws and condemn Islamic terrorism, then I embrace you as a fellow American. If not, then I do not.” She later released a third statement that did not appear intentionally ironic, saying she welcomes “all of my constituents who would like to come and visit our office in the Texas State Capitol.”

    Molly’s recent statements are at least consistent with her record of hate. She had previously explained “Remember, in the Koran, it is OK to lie for the purpose of advancing Islam. Texans must never allow fringe groups of people to come here so that they can advance their own culture instead of becoming an American and assimilating into the American way of life. That, I can assure is not the intent of most Muslims who move to America.”

    As this article goes online, Texas unfortunately remains part of the United States. And yes, yes, comments people, I know parts of Austin are cool and have great music and chill bars.



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Muslim Woman Sues Police For Forcing Her To Remove Hijab

    January 28, 2015 // 3 Comments »

    kazan

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

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

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


    Today’s American Traffic Stops

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

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

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

    The Fake Excuse

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

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

    Dearborn Out of Sync

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

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



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

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

    January 27, 2015 // 9 Comments »

    george


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

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

    The Madness

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

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

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

    Bin Laden Spoke Arabic

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

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

    First and Fourth Amendments? Never Heard of ‘Em

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

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



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    The Sad Case of a Teen Convicted of Terrorism

    January 26, 2015 // 3 Comments »



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

    Impartial Justice?

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

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

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



    The Threat of Shannon Conley

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

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

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

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



    Seriously?

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

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

    The Price of Freedumb

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

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

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



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    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    Barrett Brown Went to Jail for My Sins

    January 23, 2015 // 18 Comments »



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



    The United States v. Barrett Brown

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

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

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

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



    Who is Barrett Brown?

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

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

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



    Looking for a Test Case

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

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

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



    Before Barrett Brown, Me?

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

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

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

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

    Who’s Next?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    ISIS v. Saudi Arabia, Implementation of Sharia Law

    January 22, 2015 // 7 Comments »

    Sharia-zone-4X3

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

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


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




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



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

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

    I Wonder What Dr. King Would Say

    January 19, 2015 // 9 Comments »

    martin luther king


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

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



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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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



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

    Posted in Democracy, Iraq

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