Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Wolverine

"The Wolverine" is a great summer movie.  Hugh Jackman returns in the role that only he can play. 

He's alone in the woods trying to find some peace and the world pulls him back in, taking him to Japan where he feels, at first, like he's found the home he was looking for but quickly discovers the nightmare continues.

If you're a Wolverine fan or if you're a fan of a solid action, you'll love this film.

I went with friends and, when it was over, three of us decided to watch it again.  And did.

Famke Janssen shines in her brief moment (which we should have all seen in the trailer now).  After her and Jackman, I think I liked Svetlana Khodchenkova as Viper the most.

She's got a creepy edge to her that really makes her character pop.

But what I love most is the adult aspect of the film.  Wolverine lives forever.  The people he loves do not.  This causes a haunting in Logan (Wolverine).  And emphasizing this gives the film a grown up quality that the Iron Man films never aspire to.  They're capers with little but snark to offer.  Then there's Thor which is good in so many ways but childish in others.

"The Wolverine" is true to the comic book nature of X-Men and that's saying a lot. 

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills): 

Friday, July 26, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, protests continue in Iraq, Nouri prepares to spend more money on weapons (while protesters demand basic public services like drinkable water and electricity), one of the prison escapees is caught in a Baghdad mosque, Bradley Manning's defense offers closing arguments, the US government insists that they have no desire to kill Ed Snowden, and more.

Today, protesters gathered across Iraq.  Iraqi Spring MC reports protesters gathered in Baghdad, in Basra, in Shirqat,  in Tikrit, in Samarra,  Protesters noted the increased violence and the lack of public services, the government's budget (and wondered what it was actually spent on).  National Iraqi News Agency notes Ramadi and Falluja saw "thousands" turn out.  In Ramadi, Imam Sheikh Saad Fayyad declared the government had an obligation to protect Sunnis from the militiasIn Diyala, there was a call to curb the militias and for "the federal government to release detainees."  In Samarra, Sheikh Samir Fouad called for the "government to stop the killing crimes against sons of Sunnis component by militias."   Alsumaria notes Shirqat protesters demanded improved security and improved living conditions. And Alsumaria reports that "hundreds" camped out in Baghdad's Firdous Square calling for an end to corruption.  In addition, protesters in Basra continue protesting.  Kitabat reports  that the Basra protests continue and that Shi'ites there are calling for a new government to be formed.  Al Mada notes that demonstrators in Anbar, Salahuddin, Kirkuk and Diyala Province all demanded that the government stop the targeting of Sunnis and, in Kirkuk, called on the Arab League and the United Nations to end the genocide of Iraq's Sunnis.

Since December 21st protests have been ongoing in Iraq. It has been seven months.  Many, possibly basing their conclusions on 2011 events, wrongly thought that the holy month of Ramadan would stop the protests.  While Ramada continues through August 7th, the fact is that Ramadan did not stop the protests or greatly reduce the turnout.  There's one Friday left. 

As for demands regarding public services, Wael Grace (Al Mada) reports that members of Parliament's Energy Committee state that the failure of the ministries to corrodinate and the mismanagement of government have left Iraq worse off in terms of power and that Nouri al-Maliki's two years of foot dragging with regards to a contract with Shell has left Iraq no where near able to provide the needed electricity to the citizens.  Nouri's government can't provide the basic public services.  The Iraq Times reports that Nouri is gearing up to purchase 12 helicopters and assorted other items from the United States.  Kitabat adds that Nouri's prepping to spend 2 billion.  Paul McLeary (Defense News) notes, "The Defense Department notified Congress on Thursday that it is working on three deals with the government of Iraq to sell $1.9 billion worth of military equipment and logistical support to the country, including Stryker infantry vehicles, helicopters and maintenance and logistical support for its fleet of American-made ground vehicles."

Yesterday, the Defense Security Cooperation Agency issued the following notice:

WASHINGTON, July 25 , 2013 – The Defense Security Cooperation Agency notified Congress today of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq of Multi - Platform Maintenance a nd associated equipment, parts, training and logistical support for an estimated cost of $ 750 million . 
The Government of Iraq has requested a possible sale to provide for a five year follow - on maintenance support for the M88A1 Recovery Vehicle, M88A2 Hercules, M113 Family of Vehicles, M109A5 Howitzers, M198 Howitzers, M1070 Heavy Equipment Trailer and Truck (HETT), M977 Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck (HEMTT ), High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV), and the Tactical Floating River Bridge System (TFRBS) Including, spare and repair parts, support equipment, publications and technical data, personnel training and training equipment, site surveys, Quality Assurance Teams, U.S. Government and contractor technical assistance, and other related elements of program and logistics support. The estimated cost is $750 million. 
This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a strategic partner . This proposed sale directly supports the Iraqi government and serves the interests of the Iraqi people and the United States. 
Helping Iraq maintain, sustain, and effectively utilize the equipment it has purchased or received from the United States over the past decade is a U.S. priority. This proposed sale is essential to provide Iraq with the support, spares, services, and equipment necessary to continue its effective use of its ground - based vehicle fleet. 
The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region. 
The principal contractor involved in this program is unknown at this time . There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale. 
Implementation of this proposed sale will require multiple U.S. Government or contractor representatives to travel to Iraq over period of (5) years to establish maintenance support, on - the - job (OJT) maintenance training and maintenance advice for program and technical support and training. 
There will be no adverse impact on United States defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale. 
This notice of a potential sale is required by law and does not mean the sale has been concluded.

Meanwhile Mustafa al-Kadhimi (Al-Monitor) argues that Iraqi politicians have grown estranged from the people that they are supposed to represent:

In the local elections, talk of a 50-70% boycott of the voting process was a real wake-up call. The politicians should have felt and handled the reasons for this boycott, so that it does not turn into a growing phenomenon challenging the legitimacy of the whole democratic system.
Today — less than eight months before the general elections are to be held — politicians should take to the street, share the street’s ideas, feel the suffering of the population and initiate launching social campaigns that prove the candidates are rooted in their communities.
Simply relying on pictures and slogans launched a few days prior to the elections does not show that Iraq is a serious political society. Yet, it repeatedly demonstrates that Iraq is controlled by the experiments of amateurs who don't possess the keys to the future.

The protests continue, the violence continues. Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 807 violent deaths so far this month.  July 2013 is on track to be the most violent month in Iraq since at least 2007.   NINA reports Nouri's SWAT forces raided Badush Prison and the raid resulted in the deaths of 2 prisoners, am armed attack in Balad left one police officer dead, a missile attack in Tikrit left two Iraqi soldiers injured, and police in Diyala killed 1 suicide bomber.  Alsumaria reports an armed attack to the south of Mosul has left Colonel Saad Khalil Saleh deadAl-Shorfa quotes the Ministry of the Interior's Colonel Hikmat Mahmoud al-Masari, "A bomb targeted a wedding ceremony in al-Ameriya neighbourhood, western Baghdad, on Thursday night, killing four civilians and wounding 11 others."

RT spoke with Stop the War's John Rees about the increase in violence.  Excerpt.

RT: It's a really alarming death toll we're talking about here. Does this mean Iraq's incapable of maintaining security on its own?

John Rees: I think what we are seeing is a long-term effect of the war and occupation. In order to occupy Iraq the Western forces, British and American, adopted a policy of divided rule. They made a sectarian conflict where there wasn’t one before. They created Al Qaeda in Iraq where there was no Al Qaeda before. So I think that the country is suffering under the most enormous strains as the result of that war and occupation. And those strains are being reinforced by the conflict in Syria where actually all sides are now attempting to gain leverage in that conflict through Iraq as well as in Syria.

RT:  But does Iraq really have enough resources to contain the violence?

JR: We must hope that they do so but truth of the matter is a terrifically weak government. It’s apparently divided in the middle between the people who are sympathetic to Iran’s position in the region and those who feel dependent on Washington. The government only last year made a contract with Russia, as you probably know, to become the second largest arm supplier after US to Iraq. Turkey is constantly impinging on Iraqi air space in order to pursue Kurds in the Iraqi Kurdish region. So it’s the state that’s been left in a catastrophically weak position by  the occupation and which economic positions in the Middle East are weakening still more.

Geoffrey Ingersoll (Business Insider) offers his take on the problems:

As the American presence dissipated, the Shi'ite majority, led by Maliki, quickly sought to consolidate power and mete out retribution on their former Sunni rulers.
Maliki's aggressive consolidation of power immediately aggravated domestic tensions. Rising to power in mid-2006, by 2007 he had staffed the higher positions of government with Shia loyalists. Then he began distancing his government from Sunni and Kurdish leaders, despite Petraeus' reassurances to Sunni leaders.
In 2009, he accused the Sunni security forces, known as the Sons of Iraq, of being infiltrated by Al Qaeda and Saddam-loyal Ba'athists — and analysts expressed worry that Maliki would actually declare war on the Sons of Iraq the moment the U.S. exited the country. This was rough treatment for the group that was largely responsible for taming Al Qaeda in Iraq and bringing peace to the restive western Anbar province.
Maliki could have reached out an olive branch to his rival, former Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, whose Sunni-backed, secular-Shiite coalition — called Iraqiya — represented a marginalized but relevant political body in Iraq. Instead, he turned to Iran, seeking monetary backing from the orthodox Shi'ite government.

Alsumaria reports that one escapee from Abu Ghraib prison was arrested today in an eastern Baghdad mosque.  The Sunday prison attacks and breaks only became news outside of Iraq when the number of prisoners who escaped (between 500 and one thousand) was announced on Monday.   Since then, the attacks on two prisons and the escape of prisoners earlier this week have prompted a great deal of the commentary on Iraq.  Today, Jon Lee Anderson (New Yorker)  weighs in:

The latest prison breakout includes, it is said, many senior terrorists, including a number who had been sentenced to death. It took place this past Sunday night, after a complex and bloody attack that included mortars and suicide bombers, as well as an assault by commandos. Several guards and inmates were killed. It comes a year to the day after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Iraq’s Al Qaeda chief, promised to free men from Iraq’s prisons. In the meantime, the Iraqi and Syrian affiliates of Al Qaeda have merged into what is called, with typical grandiloquence, “The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.”
That Baghdadi has been able to fulfill his promise so blatantly and violently, under the noses of the U.S.-trained Iraqi security forces, is extremely alarming. Al Qaeda in Iraq has been surging back, with almost daily suicide attacks or car bombings, in a sectarian campaign against Shiites, as well as with attacks on the Iraqi security forces. Nearly three thousand people have died since April, and over seven hundred have died in July alone. On Thursday, more than forty people were killed in attacks that included the bombing of a café and the execution, by Al Qaeda commandos who, posing as security officers, set up a false checkpoint, of Shiite drivers and passengers.

While the prison news has gotten attention from outside Iraq,  to Iraqis another event this week has resonance as well.  Marwan Ibrahim (Middle East Online) observes:

Sunni militants summarily executed at least 14 Shiites on Thursday after setting up a roadblock north of Baghdad, stopping trucks and checking the IDs of drivers, Iraqi officials said.
The nighttime attack was reminiscent of the darkest days of the Sunni-Shiite sectarian bloodshed in Iraq in 2006-2007, when thousands of people were killed because of their religious affiliation or forced to abandon their homes under threat of death.

Kitabat notes that Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani has termed the prison breaks to be a major scandal and one that puts many Iraqis at risk.  All Iraq News quotes Sadr bloc MP Suzan al-Saad calls the prison breaks "the most dangerous threat to national security" and calls for the investigation to be sent "to Maliki's office because the intelligence system is unable to settle this issue."   On political issues, we drop back to yesterday's snapshot:

Shocking news was reported in Iraq today but there was no effort by the US press to pick it up nor was there any effort to ask a single question about Iraq in today's State Dept press briefing. Dar Addustour reported that certain elements of the Iraqi government (these would be Nouri and pro-Nouri elements -- that goes unstated in the article) are considering a six-point plan that these elements state will address the rising violence and curtail it.  The plan will do no such thing.  What it will actually do, if implemented, is inflame tensions even further and cause the slow building civil war to erupt in raging flames.  So what's Nouri's plan?

Dissolve the Parliament, abolish the Constitution, declare martial law, allow only Iraqi military forces (central Iraq -- this would eject the Peshmerga from all non-KRG areas -- and it would overrule provincial forces -- to the outrage of many), continue executions under emergency law (this would bypass the approval currently required from the presidency) and cut off all telecommunications and internet.
This is not a plan for stability.  It is a plan to carry out mass killings and to do so as far away from the world's eye as possible.  And the most shocking thing may be that the western press hasn't even noted this report.
In this already tense climate, Mohammad Sabah (Al Mada) reports that Parliament is contemplating what is being termed a government of salvation which would call for the resignation of Nouri al-Maliki as prime minister in an effort to reduce violence and to address the political crises.  The plan is said to be discussed by members of Iraqiya, Moqtada al-Sadr's bloc and the Turkmen Front. All Iraq News reports that Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi is stating that a salvation government is not possible and that, "The current government will not resign because the remaining time of its term is very short.  We need a national agreement and to nominate the security ministers and to have a transparent revelation of what is going on in the country."

Earlier this week National Iraqi News Agency reported that Nouri had declared that the Constitution was a failure "not fit to build a state."  Nouri's disrespect for the Constitution is also evident in his refusal to appear before the Parliament.  NINA also notes Speaker of Parliament Osama al-Nujaifi declared yesterday that Nouri continues ro refuse to appear despite ongoing requests.  (The Constitution gives Parliament the power to question Nouri in a public session.)  All Iraq News quotes Iraqiya MP Waleed al-Muhamadi talking about the ongoing political crises in Iraq and noting, "Maliki talked about the situation in Iraq as if it is advanced and progressed and blamed all other sides excluding himself over the deterioration in Iraq.  If we want to overcome crises, we have to admit mistakes and failures."  Iraqiya is the political slate that beat Nouri's State of Law in the 2010 parliamentary elections. The head of Iraqiya is Ayad Allawi.  All Iraq News quotes Allawi stating that Nouri refuses to follow the Constitution, "Despite our repeated and honest calls for Maliki to adhere to the constitution, he did not respond to our calls."

Also on the Parliament, All Iraq News notes, "MP, Etab al-Dori, of the Iraqiya Slate called to adhere to the Open-slate system during the next parliamentary elections to avoid involving the corrupted in the formation of the next government and to increase the representation of women in about third of the seats of the next parliament. "

Iraq was briefly raised in today's US State Dept press briefing:

QUESTION: Can you confirm, or have you seen the reports that Iran has expressed the desire for direct talks with the U.S. regarding its nuclear program? And if so, what kind of role will Iraq play in that, if any?

MS. PSAKI: Well, we’ve seen reports. Of course, Iraq is a partner of the United States, and we’re in regular conversations with Iraqi officials about a full range of issues of mutual interest, including Iran. As we’ve said many times, we’re open to direct talks with Iran in order to resolve the international community’s concerns about Iran’s nuclear program. And we work through, as you all know, the P-5+1 and Under Secretary Sherman just had a meeting, I believe a couple of weeks ago, with her counterparts. But it is – the ball is in Iran’s court to take the necessary steps to abide by their international obligations. And that has not changed.

QUESTION: Do you know --

QUESTION: What about --

QUESTION: Do you know if Prime Minister Maliki has offered himself up, or offered his services as an intermediary?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything on that for you.

QUESTION: So you don’t know it’s that’s the case.

MS. PSAKI: I just don’t have anything on it for you. I don’t have any more information on that.

QUESTION: So, the – you’re saying --

MS. PSAKI: It would also be – I would point you to the Government of Iraq and Iran on that specific –

QUESTION: Did you ask people in this building if that was the case?

MS. PSAKI: Of course we discuss these issues frequently. I don’t have anything more to tell you.

QUESTION: And they wouldn’t – and so they wouldn’t answer you. You got no answer?

MS. PSAKI: That – Matt – (Laughter.)

QUESTION: I’m sorry, I don’t understand. The whole point of the story that she was caught talking, that the question is based on --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- is that according to notes taken from a meeting with the U.S. – with U.S. diplomats in Iraq, the Prime Minister made this offer. That’s the whole --

MS. PSAKI: I don’t have anything more to tell you, Matt. That’s all – I’m going to leave it at that.

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

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

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

 The Voice of Russia reports on the defense's closing argument:

"You have to see it through the eyes of someone who cares about everybody," said Coombs, referring to the 25-year-old Manning. "It is naive to feel a duty to everybody, but what a beautiful feeling."
He said it wasn't anti-American to have such feelings, arguing that it was one of the principles the United States was founded on.
Coombs replayed a video recording that Manning released to Wikileaks of an helicopter attack that killed civilians and Reuters journalists in Iraq.
He asked Judge Denise Lind how she would have felt seeing that as a 21-year-old, as Manning was at the time.
"What do you do when you can't disengage, when these pictures are burnt into your mind?" Coombs asked.

Ed Pilkington (Guardian) adds:

Over four hours of intense closing arguments at Fort Meade in Maryland, David Coombs set up a moral and legal clash of characterisations, between the Manning that he laid out for the court, and the callous and fame-obsessed Manning sketched on Thursday by the US government. "What is the truth?" the lawyer asked Colonel Denise Lind, the presiding judge who must now decide between the two accounts to reach her verdict.
"Is Manning somebody who is a traitor with no loyalty to this country or the flag, who wanted to download as much information as possible for his employer WikiLeaks? Or is he a young, naive, well-intentioned soldier who has his humanist belief central to his decisions and whose sole purpose was to make a difference."
Coombs answered his own rhetorical question by arguing that all the evidence presented to the trial over the past seven weeks pointed in one direction. "All the forensics prove that he had a good motive: to spark reforms, to spark change, to make a difference. He did not have a general evil intent."

Why would Coombs do that?  By refusing to go before a jury, a defense is left with making the case that laws are in conflict (we pointed that out some time ago, June 3rd) because then you're appealing to the judge's inherent vanity.  You present various conflicts and appeal to the judge's vanity to navigate through it, to make a ruling that only s/he can do because this law conflicts with that law and that law with this . . .  Inviting the judge into the maze is the defense's only hope at this point.  And the defense should have done that throughout the trial (but didn't) and the defense should have questioned (and didn't) every superior on how they were punished.  None were.  If Brad's actions were so outrageous, punishment should have gone up the chain of command.  It didn't.  Stressing that with each witness could have made that point clear.

And the prosecution?  They finished closing arguments yesterday.  While the defense took four hours today, the prosecution took five hours yesterday. Adam Klasfeld (Courthouse News) notes:

 Both the defense and prosecution quoted Pfc. Manning telling an online confidant at the age of 22, "If you had unprecedented access to classified networks 14 hours a day 7 days a week for 8+ months what would you do?"
     Defense attorney David Coombs began his opening arguments with the second half of the quote, in which Manning says he saw "incredible things, awful things, things that belonged on the public domain."
     "That is a whistle-blower," Coombs said. "That is somebody that wants to inform the American public."

On the prosecution's closing,  Jason Ditz ( reported:

The government’s prosecution of Pfc Bradley Manning has always tried to stretch the law to its breaking point to tack on as many charges as possible, and has often played fast and loose with the facts, creating growing signs of an unprofessional witch hunt attitude.
But today lead prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein sought to kick it up another notch, and with closing arguments nearing appears to have thrown any semblance of reality out the window in favor of furious rhetoric and ad hominem attacks.

Last night, Marcia wondered, "How do they live with themselves.  They are supposed to be following a moral/ethical code, after all.  They are supposed to care more about honor than the civilian prosecutors.  So exactly how do the military prosecutors lying about Bradley live with themselves? In the months and years after the verdict, will they be haunted by their actions?  Will they be sickened by their actions?"  The DoD does have standards of conduct so Marcia's question is one worth asking.

Today, FAIR's Jim Naureckas Tweeted:

  1. Journalists who decline to cover the Bradley Manning trial are missing a chance to attend their own funeral.

Explains Gloria Goodale (Christian Science Monitor):

The decision this past week by the presiding military judge, Army Col. Denise Lind, to refuse to dismiss charges of "aiding the enemy," which carry a potential death sentence (though prosecutors have said they will not pursue it), is particularly important. Colonel Lind said Private Manning's military training would have given him knowledge that the information he divulged could be seen by America’s foes.
"He was knowingly providing intelligence to the enemy," she said, according to Reuters.
But that standard is an almost impossible one in the Internet era, when anything published is instantly available worldwide, Manning's supporters say. The result is that anyone who wants to inform fellow Americans about secret government actions – as Manning’s defense lawyers claim he was trying to do – is in danger of life in prison, or perhaps even death.

Barack's not just attempting to go after whistle-blower Bradley Manning, he's gone after anyone who threatens to tell the truth.  Let's turn to the NSA and this is from the Center for Constitutional Rights:

July 26, 2013, New York – Last night, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed a request that the entire Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reconsider the dismissal of its lawsuit against President Barack Obama, the head of the National Security Agency (NSA), and the heads of the other major national security agencies, challenging warrantless government surveillance of international telephone calls and emails under the program first disclosed in December 2005 by The New York Times. The dismissal came just five days after the publication of the first of Edward Snowden’s revelations of broad NSA surveillance and the PRISM program.  The filing highlights the importance of judicial review of secret NSA surveillance given the intense public debate about the legality of the NSA’s tactics.  
Said Center for Constitutional Rights Attorney Shayana Kadidal, “Today’s filing challenges a catch-22 set up by the court: if members of the public find proof they were subject to surveillance, the proof is kicked out of the case as a state secret, but without such proof, even the most rational fears of surveillance will be rejected as ‘too speculative’ to support standing. Given recent revelations about the breadth of NSA surveillance, the plaintiffs’ fears are far from speculative.”
The suit, CCR v. Obama, was filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of itself and its legal staff working on national security cases whose communications fit the criteria used by the NSA for targeting calls and emails under its surveillance program. CCR attorneys argued the program flouted existing surveillance statutes and had forced them to take costly and burdensome countermeasures to minimize the risk of having their privileged communications intercepted by the NSA.
The case, initially filed in 2006 against President George W. Bush, sought an injunction that would prohibit the NSA from conducting warrantless surveillance within the United States. When, in response, the government claimed it had shut down the program in January 2007, the CCR asked the court to order the government to destroy any records of surveillance that it still retains from the illegal NSA program. The lower court refused to do so, holding that a plaintiff challenging a secret surveillance program must be able to prove they were actually eavesdropped upon by the program in order to be able to challenge it in court, and the case moved to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit affirmed that decision, relying on the Supreme Court’s February 2013 dismissal of a similar challenge to the 2008 FISA Amendments Act, Clapper v. Amnesty International.
To date the Obama administration has refused to take a position on whether or not the original NSA program was legal. 
The Center for Constitutional Rights is dedicated to advancing and protecting the rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Founded in 1966 by attorneys who represented civil rights movements in the South, CCR is a non-profit legal and educational organization committed to the creative use of law as a positive force for social change.

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

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

 Today RT reports, "U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has reassured his Russian counterpart that whistleblower Edward Snowden will not be tortured or given the death penalty if Moscow extradites him. The information emerged after the US Department of Justice disclosed the contents of a July 23 letter, which had generated fevered speculation on both sides of the Atlantic."

At the US State Dept today, the issue of the mistreatment of LGBTs in Russia was raised and State Dept spokesperson Jen Psaki said it was an issue that would be raised but that was about it which led to the following exchange.

QUESTION: Can I – recalling – if you’ll recall that you just agreed with my statement that sometimes you do comment on pending legislation or draft legislation, I’d like to ask a Russia-related question.

MS. PSAKI: Sure.

QUESTION: And this has – it’s not really Russia, but it’s Snowden and Senator Graham’s proposal from yesterday --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that would require sanctions against any country that takes him in or helps him out. What does the Administration think of that?

MS. PSAKI: I believe – let me – I have something on this, I believe, Matt. Let me just check. And if not, I’ll get you something right after the briefing. Well, in this case, we have not seen the text of the proposed bill, but we feel that in general legislation imposing sanctions under these circumstances would not be helpful.

QUESTION: And is that because that you believe that it should be the executive branch’s prerogative to do this if and – to do it if and when you see fit?

MS. PSAKI: Sanctions?


MS. PSAKI: Well, I’m not going to make a prediction about any --

QUESTION: Well, I mean, you said --

MS. PSAKI: -- step we may or may not take.

QUESTION: I understand that.

MS. PSAKI: We just don’t think this particularly helpful.



QUESTION: Well, I understand that, but – I understand what you’re saying.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: I would echo the why do you not think it’s helpful. But also, I mean, is it just – is it a general objection that you don’t want Congress legislating foreign policy?

MS. PSAKI: I don’t believe so. I’m not sure where you’re going with this.

QUESTION: I’m just asking. I mean, is the – if the objective is only that this is unhelpful, this specific thing is unhelpful, can you explain why you think it’s unhelpful? But in general, the Administration and past administrations have resisted attempts by Congress –

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- to legislate foreign policy.

MS. PSAKI: Well --

QUESTION: And so I’m wondering if your objection to this is related to that.

MS. PSAKI: Our focus in this specific case, as you know, is having Mr. Snowden returned to the United States, and we still feel Russia has the opportunity to do that and to take the right steps.


MS. PSAKI: Beyond that, I just don’t have any more evaluation or analysis for you.

QUESTION: No, but I’m talking about Senator Graham’s proposal.

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm. I just don’t – I don’t have anything more on that for you.

QUESTION: Because it’s – but you are – but it says you think that – you’ve said that you think it’s unhelpful, right?

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Okay. So why is it unhelpful? Or is it just more broadly there’s an objection because it would be Congress legislating the executive branch’s ability to conduct foreign policy?

MS. PSAKI: I’d have to talk more to our legislative team, Matt. I just don’t have any more specifics than what I offered.

QUESTION: Because it seems to me that these days or nowadays, after yesterday at least --

MS. PSAKI: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: -- that it doesn’t really matter what Congress enacts into law, because you can just choose to ignore it if you feel like you want to.

MS. PSAKI: It certainly does matter. That’s why we’re continuing to work closely with them on Egypt. I knew you were going somewhere with this.

QUESTION: No, I wasn’t. That just occurred to me at the very end.

Meanwhile, the Belarusian Telegraph Agency reports:

It is high time Russia granted political asylum to Snowden, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko told media on 26 July, BelTA has learned.
 “The matter has been spun out of control and it is likely that today Russia’s leadership may not know what to do with Snowden. In their place I would not stress myself too much but would go ahead and grant political asylum to him,” said the Belarus President.
Alexander Lukashenko explained his view by saying that America has given shelter to hundreds of Russian traitors. “They have given shelter to so many people, have stolen so many secrets from us, they have sheltered so many terrorists, whose extradition Russia demands,” the Belarusian leader said.



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