Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Do we really need Captain Phillips?

NPR has a nice article on the blossoming of Winona Ryder (I don't see it as a comeback). If you're a Winona fan, read the article.  I am and plan to discuss it later this week.

I would do so now but I have another topic.  I'm reading the latest "Entertainment Weekly" today and it's the fall movie preview.

Summer is almost over.

So I flip pages and there's the awful Tom Hanks for "Captain Phillips."

Do we really need another Tom Hanks movie?  Aren't we all tired?

Maybe not.

Now that Tom's stroking his inner racist, maybe not.

That really is the reason for the film. The topic is tired (pirates) and not that interesting.  "Captain Phillips" has a trailer that makes it look like "Dead Calm" slowed down with massive does of Geritol.

So what's really the point of the film?

Ah, yes, lefty Tom Hanks gets to defeat Black people.

We really haven't come that far, have we?

Thing is, if this starred Kelsey Grammer or some other right-winger, it would have been called out while it was being made.

But it stars 'good' Tom Hanks.

Please.  His type is the worst and usually the quickest to embrace racist portrayals.

His kind?  The actor who busies himself whoring.

Sean Penn has real convictions.  People like Tom Hanks?  Just whores for the Democratic Party.

He's not our James Stewart.  Jimmy didn't whore for presidents, not even his friend Ronald Reagan.

But Tom will.  You probably would too if you're best acting was on a sitcom called "Bossom Buddies" several decades ago.

Remember folks, this October, buy your ticket to see Tom Hanks kick some Black ass.

Going out with C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot:"

Tuesday, August 20, 2013. Chaos and violence continue, Human Rights Watch calls for Iraqi officials to respect the rights to demonstrate, Syrian refugees continue to flood into the KRG, Michael Ware notes insurgents, Ned Parker and Raheem Salem examine Nouri, US illegal spying continues to have repercussions, the smearing of  the late journalist Michael Hastings continues, and more.

Yesterday came the horrible news that yet another person in Iraq's ongoing protest movement had been assassinated.   Haitham al-Abadi was assassinated in his Rifai home.  The assassination came after Haitham received threats from government forces.

Today Human Rights Watch issued another in their ongoing reports about the assault on basic freedoms and protesters in Iraq:

Baghdad’s new governor, Ali al-Tamimi, should immediately declare that he will support Iraqis’ right to exercise free assembly, Human Rights Watch said today. He should revoke regulations that allow police to prevent peaceful protest. On August 2, 2013, security forces invoked the regulations, which breach safeguards contained in Iraq’s constitution, to detain 13 people who attempted to protest against corruption and Iraq’s continuing slide into violence. Al-Tamimi became governor of Baghdad a month ago.
Soldiers detained three protesters, held them for 36 hours and then released them. The police arrested 10 more as they gathered in a central Baghdad square, then charged them with “disobeying police orders,” a criminal offense based on the 2011 regulations, because they had failed to obtain official permission to demonstrate. On August 4, al-Rusafa criminal court threw out the charges, declaring them “fabricated.”
“These latest arrests show just how far Iraqi authorities will go to prevent peaceful protests despite the major problems engulfing the country,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The new governor should start fresh, revoking these unfair regulations to show that he supports the right of people to express their grievances peacefully. It would go a long way to restoring trust in the government.”
The regulations effectively give authorities unfettered power to determine who may hold a demonstration.
Human Rights Watch spoke separately to five of the 13 detained protesters, all of whom said that federal police and soldiers arrested them when they and others tried to gather in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square at around 7 a.m. on August 2. The soldiers detained Ahmed Suhail, his cousin Hussein Abbas, and a third man, took them to the headquarters of the 11th division, and held them there until their release late the following day. By then, the men’s families had “started to ask powerful people to intervene,” Suhail told Human Rights Watch.
Police arrested the other 10 after initially warning demonstrators who were making their way to the square that “the army will arrest you and maybe hurt you” and then telling them that they could not enter the square because they did not have an official permit to demonstrate. A federal police general offered to help the demonstrators get a permit, but instead took four protesters who agreed to accompany him to seek the permit to Bab al-Muatham police station, where police arrested them. Police then brought in six others they had arrested, including two news cameramen who had been among the demonstrators.
Three of these six told Human Rights Watch that soldiers from the army’s 11th division assaulted them before police arrested them. One said soldiers forced them to the ground, beating two of them, after first tying an Iraqi flag around his head to prevent him from seeing. The soldier “beat and kicked us, and called us ‘traitors,’’’ he told Human Rights Watch, and “asked us, ‘Who paid you to come demonstrate?’”

This wave of protests has been going on since December 21st.  This week is the eighth month of these ongoing protests.   Layla Anwar (An Arab Woman Blues) has summed up the primary demands as follows:

- End of Sectarian Shia rule
- the re-writing of the Iraqi constitution (drafted by the Americans and Iranians)
- the end to arbitrary killings and detention, rape and torture of all detainees on basis of sect alone and their release
- the end of discriminatory policies in employment, education, etc based on sect
- the provision of government services to all
- the end of corruption
- no division between Shias and Sunnis, a one Islam for all Iraqi Muslims and a one Iraq for all Iraqis.

Early on, Ross Caputi (Guardian) observed, "These recent protests, however, are unique in their size and character. They focus on the prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, accusing him of corruption, brutal repression, and sectarianism. Maliki's regime has military support from the US, and thus the protesters consider it the 'second face' of the occupation." In May, Tim Arango (New York Times) explained of the protesters' demands:

It has also highlighted an uncomfortable reality for American diplomats here who are scrambling to contain the crisis: at the core of Sunni grievances is a set of laws and practices imposed by the United States in the earliest days of the occupation.
The results of those policies, particularly a set of antiterrorism measures, are visible today throughout the country. Informants who once helped the American military now do the same work for the Iraqi government, sometimes putting innocent people in prison. Thousands of detainees, rounded up in terrorism sweeps, languish in prisons for years without being charged.
And former officers of Saddam Hussein’s military, banished by the Americans under their “de-Baathification” policy and later promised by the Iraqis the chance to return and regain their salaries and social status, remain on the outside looking in. 

Protesters have been targeted throughout.  From the March 8th snapshot:

 And they continue to be targeted by prime minister and thug Nouri al-Maliki.   Kitabat reports Nouri's forces killed two more protesters.  The two protesters killed were in Mosul with four more left injured.   Sameer N. Yacoub (AP) counts only one dead but the article has other counting problems we'll get to it in a moment.  All Iraq News reports, "Two demonstrators were killed and three others injured" but notes a security source states the number may rise.  Dar Addustour also reports two dead and they note it was the federal police -- a point that AP seems unclear on -- that did the firing.  This was not local police, this was the federal police -- under Nouri's command because they're under the direct command of the Ministry of the Interior and, in a power grab, Nouri's refused to nominate anyone to be Minister of the Interior.

Attacks like that have happened repeatedly.  The most infamous assault on the Iraqi people by Nouri's thugs?  The Tuesday, April 23rd massacre of the sit-in in Hawija by Nouri's federal forces.  Alsumaria noted Kirkuk's Department of Health (Hawija is in Kirkuk)  announced 50 activists have died and 110 were injured in the assault.  UNICEF informed the world that 8 of the dead were children and twelve more children were left injured.

Despite that and so much more, Iraqis have continued their protests.  Stephen Wicken (Institute for the Study of War) observed last month:

Protests against the Maliki government continue in Iraq’s Sunni Arab-majority provinces despite the underwhelming electoral performance of politicians close to the protest movement. Protesters continue to face raids from the Iraqi Security Forces (ISF), who have arrested protest organizers in Anbar and Kirkuk. At the same time, protest sites have become targets for attacks bearing the signature of Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). These attacks are likely to increase during Ramadan, historically a time of increased AQI activity. The growing violence will pose a stern test to the commitment of the protesters, even as they are galvanized by the religious holiday. Caught between AQI and the ISF, and with Sunni Arab political leaders closest to the protests focused on provincial government formation, it remains unlikely that the protests will return to their early-2013 peak.

Recent weeks have seen renewed attendance at anti-government protests in Iraq’s Sunni Arab-majority provinces, now in their seventh month. Visual evidence from social media shows crowds at Friday protests larger than in May and early June, although still significantly smaller than during the protests’ apex in early 2013. Protest spokespersons have renewed their calls for the release of Sunni Arab detainees and the implementation of a general amnesty law, while continuing to distance themselves from the efforts of politicians seeking to represent them and their demands.

 The protests have been so strong that even Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari had to mention them Friday in a speech to the DC  The Center for Strategic and International Studies (which has posted video and audio of the event.

Minister Hoshyar Zebari:  There has been demonstrations and sit-ins in Iraq in many provinces, in western part of Iraq and some Sunni provinces in Iraq for the last eight months and they have kept [can't make out the word], they have sit-ins, they have obstructions, but the government have not resorted to the same methods the Egyptians recently used or deployed to disperse the demonstrators.

As we noted that day, he lied about them, but he had to mention them.

Nothing has stopped them.  Not the holy month of Ramadan, not threats, not being followed from the protests to their own homes, not being harassed, not being arrested, not being wounded or seeing other protesters killed.

For eight months this protest movement has gone on and done so with very little attention from the non-Iraqi press.  There is CNN, there is the New York Times, there is Al Jazeera, Reuters, AFP, Global Research,  PRI, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, the Associated Press, the Guardian and Workers World.  That's about it for the media.   (As always, The BRussels Tribunal has done great work but I consider them a human rights organization and not the media.)  NPR?  In 2011, Kelley McEvers filed one of the most important reports on the protests (Liz Sly filed the other).  Today?  McEvers 'reports' on kebabs in Iraq.  How very sad.

Friday, is the eight month marker.  Iraqi journalists have and will report on the protests.  They will do this despite Nouri's thugs trying to keep them from the protests.  But the rest of the world will remain largely ignorant of these ongoing protests because they have received so little attention from the world's press.

We'll note the following Twitter exchange today between AFP's Prashant Rao and the Los Angeles Times' Ned Parker.

    1. Tahrir Sq open to traffic again. With police trucks and few armored vehicles parked around, all of it a testament to 's dark days.
    2. Very true.Cairo is taking on a Baghdad je ne sais quoi of scorched buildings, violence in the air and things generally in ruin

Parker and Raheem Salman (World Policy) have an essay on Nouri which opens:

 It was December 2010, and Nouri Kamal al-Maliki sat in a faux palace, erected by Saddam Hussein, on the Feast of Sacrifice, one of the most sacred days in the Muslim Calendar. The politician, who had just secured his second term as prime minister of Iraq after an eight-month stalemate, sat in a gilded, thronelike chair, surrounded by members of his Shiite religious Dawa Party. Former enemies walked into the hall to congratulate him, and Maliki rose to embrace them. To his left was a founder of his party, the oldest surviving Dawa member, who had been tortured under Hussein and was now spending his golden years in quiet retirement near the Shiite shrine of Imam Khadim in western Baghdad. There were others like him, who basked in the pageantry like a balm for the jail, death, and humiliating exile they endured. Their grip on power, a feverish dream during decades abroad putting out tracts and plotting, now seemed permanent.
Hussein had once presented himself on television receiving obsequious visitors and inspecting his forces, and now Maliki did the same. The irony of the moment was not lost. But after years in the wilderness, the prime minister understood, as did his opponents who wished to replace him, the importance of strength and ruthlessness. Without it, you would perish.
There had been moments when Maliki recoiled from such displays, uncomfortable with the parallels. Once, he shuddered in anger when a Western official commented on the photos of him meeting dignitaries lining his walls. Maliki was disgusted. This was Hussein’s behavior, and the pictures were removed. But in the winter of 2010, in the sunset of the American presence in Iraq, Maliki was comfortable projecting power, and his aides deferred to him as they would a great man. He was confident he would dictate the makeup of the government and how power would be apportioned to his rivals. Those in the Shiite ranks who had conspired against him greeted him now as a conquering hero. If their smiles were false, their scheming was dead for the moment. The methods he had used to consolidate power were as cruel as those inflicted upon him and Dawa members under Hussein—arresting and torturing political enemies and turning a blind eye to his allies’ corruption and criminal acts.
But this was the price of his victory in Iraq. Maliki, disparaged by others as a Nixonian paranoid, given to rages and delusional displays of grandiosity, had persevered, tacking left and right on the touchstones of nationalism and his Shiite character—both coming naturally to him—in the name of survival.
At his moment of triumph, celebrated by friends and rivals, he could hardly imagine that he would soon be tested as never before. Despite his iron-fisted rule, Sunni areas harbored a resilient insurgency that would endure after the Americans’ departure. In contested lands in the north, the Kurds answered him with their own hard-headedness, wooing Turkey as a protector and landing large foreign oil corporations to drill for oil in disputed northern territories. Each step promised to bring the Kurds closer to a declaration of independence from Baghdad.

It's an important article and hopefully we'll note it again this week but that's the intro and for any late to the party,  Nouri and his State of Law came in second in the 2010 elections.  He got his 'second term' via the US-brokered Erbil Agreement -- a legal contract which went around the country's Constitution and its voters to gift second placed Nouri with a second term he did not win via the ballot box.

On the issue of the insurgency, journalist Michael Ware (Lowy Institute for International Policy) had some important points earlier this year:

  • Woolner asserts that 'Sunni insurgents had destroyed the UN headquarters in Baghdad'. Perhaps we differ on semantics alone, but insurgents had nothing to do with the UN bombing (inside the security perimeter, I witnessed the moment rescuers realised UN chief Sergio Vieira de Mello, a man I knew from Timor, had died of his wounds while still trapped). Rather than insurgents, it was actually the work of Abu Mousab al-Zarqawi's Tawhid wal Jihad, later called Al Qaeda in Iraq, an organisation I would designate as ultra-militant Islamist in intent and terrorist in method. In the end this distinction between insurgent and terrorist would prove to be key to ending to the Sunni fight against the occupiers. So I don't think it's a small point.
  • 'The Bush Administration...and their allies believed, almost with a passion, that the secularism of Saddam's Ba'ath Party would continue to guide Iraqi politics...' I'm not too sure about that one either. Yes, war planners had been deluded into thinking there was a secular democrat waiting to get out of every Iraqi. But to think it was a Ba'ath tradition of secularism strikes me as odd, particularly given, from the day I saw him arrive back in Iraq prior to the invasion, false US ally Ahmed Chalabi was pushing for de-Baathification by having a paper on the subject widely circulated among the press corps, a policy soon after enacted by proconsul Paul Bremer to disastrous effect.
  • 'Contrary to Ware's illustration of the power of the Sunni insurgency, it instead demonstrated its irrelevance, for the UIA and KA again won control in the December 2005 elections, with al Fadhila returning the largest single bloc.' Given the country's Sunni comprise about 40% of the population – so never to rule in their own right – and that they in essence voted in disciplined blocs, I'm not certain how a UIA and KA combined majority illustrates anything other than maths. Coincidentally, that same irrelevant political potency among insurgent leaders is what helped so mightily to propel longtime CIA asset and true secularist (and my personal friend) Ayad Allawi to a by-the-numbers victory in the last national election.
  • And 'in the Shi'ite south and Kurdish north sectarian control was established' is absolutely half-right. Having paid the IRGC 'administration fees' to cross illegally from Iran into Kurdistan months before the invasion, I came to know and love the Kurdish community in the north well. In both Kurdish domains – PUK and KDP – there's a feel of a one-party state. Purely secular. Anything but sectarian.

As many outlets -- well as many of the outlets which still cover Iraq -- lump al Qaeda and insurgents together, it's worth registering Ware's points.

More deaths in Iraq, more people left injured today.   NINA reports a Nasiriyah car bombing left 1 person dead and five injured, a roadside bombing to the south of Tikrit claimed 1 life and left four people injured, a Falluja shooting left 1 man dead and his wife and their two sons injured, 2 police officers were shot dead in Mosul, the military shot dead 2 suspects in Mosul,  a Falluja armed attack left  a police officer and a civilian injured, Nouri's Tigris Operation Command boasts they killed 7 suspects,  and a Falljua roadside bombing left three people injured.   Xinhua adds 2 car bombings in Asrea village left 4 people dead and seven injured, 2 car bombings in Amara left 1 person dead and forty-five more injured, and an Abara cafe bombing claimed 3 lives and left twelve more injured.  AFP notes, "And sixteen militants were killed north of the capital.  Nine died and four were wounded in an apparent dispute between militant groups, when a bomb targeting a vehicle exploded south of the ethnically divided northern oil hub of Kirkuk."  The other 7 killed are the ones noted earlier that the Tigris Operation Command boasted of killing.  Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 495 violent deaths so far this month.

The UNHCR Tweeted today:

  1. We estimate that some 5,100 entered N. at the Sahela crossing point today, bringing the total to 35,000 since Thursday

From yesterday's NewsHour (PBS -- link is text, audio and video):

KWAME HOLMAN: The number of Syrians streaming into Iraq has grown dramatically in the last five days. The U.N. reported some 30,000 refugees have entered the Kurdish region of Iraq. They mostly are Syrian Kurds believed to be fleeing attacks by al-Qaida fighters involved in the Syrian civil war. The U.N. set up an emergency transit camp in the Iraqi town of Irbil to house the new arrivals. They bring the overall number of Syrian refugees in Iraq to nearly 200,000.

SUHA SHAMO, Syrian refugee (through interpreter): We left Syria because the situation is getting worse, and my young brothers who are here had sent after us, telling us to come to the Kurdish region. We came three or four times before, but we couldn't cross because each time, they told us the borders were closed. I only just made it.

KWAME HOLMAN: The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has requested thousands of tents and other supplies from Jordan that are due to arrive by the end of the week.

The British Labour Party issued the following statement yesterday:

Ivan Lewis MP, Shadow International Development Secretary, responding to the growing refugee crisis in Northern Iraq, said: 
"The shocking scale of the movement of Syrian refugees into Northern Iraq is another reminder that this catastrophic humanitarian crisis is far from over. The international community must fulfil their pledges of support for refugees and their host countries and ensure that humanitarian access remains unfettered within Syria.      
"On World Humanitarian Day, we must also acknowledge the brave aid workers who every day face danger and adversity to help people desperately in need. We urge the international community to ensure that the lives of these people are protected and that they are assisted in their heroic work."

Nouri's refused most of the refugees.  They've had to instead seek shelter in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq.  Armando Cordoba (Rudaw) reports:

Syrian refugees continue to arrive in Iraq’s Kurdistan Region by the thousands, but the autonomous enclave has received little aid or attention by the international community to help cope with the massive influx, local authorities complain.

Around 160,000 refugees have crossed into the Kurdistan Region, and 50 to 60 more cross daily, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Just recently, after the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) opened a pontoon bridge at Peshkhabour some 750 Syrians came over the Tigris river crossing before noon Thursday, UNHCR officers reported, with a much larger group of 5,000 to 7,000 following in the afternoon.

Falah Mustafa Bakir, KRG's Minister of Foreign Relations, said the enclave has received very little support compared to countries such as Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey and others that have accepted the refugees.
“We in Kurdistan have received too little attention from the international community. We have been providing support as the KRG, but also through the people of Kurdistan,” Minister Bakir complained, noting that local charities also had helped.

To date there has been a total of $1.12 in total funding for the Syrian refugee crisis, out of which  Iraq has received only $67 million, while Jordan and Lebanon have gotten more than $420 million each, Turkey has been given nearly $94 million and Egypt has received $14.6 million.

Xinhua notes, "Iraq already has a problem of its own in terms of humanitarian crisis. The UN mission in the country warned on Monday that some 1. 1 million internally displaced Iraqis are facing a tough future."  They quote UN Deputy Special Envoy to Iraq Jacqueline Badcock stating, "In makeshift dwellings and temporary accommodation, they struggle to buy food and get access to health care and education."

Overheard  passing through Cafe Zoetrope inside Columbus Tower today.

Man leafing through San Francisco Chronicle: Boy, Obama sure likes 'em ugly.

Woman: Hey, that's the mother of his children!

Yes, the White House has added canine Sunny to 'the family' and that's about all that nonsense deserves -- but  hasn't the press treated it as though it's actual news and given it more play and coverage than they have the illegal spying.  How fortunate -- and merely by chance, we're sure -- this fluff and garbage comes out as Barack is facing real pressure and has reached an all time low in Gallup's polling of his approval rating.

Sunday, David Miranda was held at a London airport.  Miranda is the partner of journalist and attorney Glenn Greenwald who broke many of the explosive stories this year on the US government's illegal spying on American citizens.  The legendary Heathrow airport is known for spying and racism, most famously in their 1999 treatment of Diana Ross who, despite being one of probably 20 singers known the worldwide over,  in every country, was subjected to groping and sexual harassment in the name of 'security.'   In 2011, Kevin Maxwell sued his employers and testified to the racism at Heathrow.

Lisa O'Carroll (Guardian) reports on the harassment and intimidation of Miranda noting his attorneys "said that David Miranda, whose native language is Portuguese, was not given an interpreter and that they refused his request for a pen to enable him take notes of the questions he was asked.  Miranda said he had been questioned by seven agents about his 'entire life' and treated as if he were a criminal." Nell Abrams (Free Speech Radio News) added Monday, "All of Miranda's electronics were confiscated and he was released after eight hours and 55 minutes."

Dave Lindorff (CounterPunch) observes today:

It is becoming perfectly clear that the outrageous detention of American journalist Glenn Greenwald’s Brazilian partner David Miranda by British police during a flight transfer at London’s Heathrow Airport was, behind the scenes, the work of US intelligence authorities.
British police and the British Home Office (the equivalent of America’s Department of Homeland Security) are claiming that the action was taken by them on the basis of an anti-terrorist statute, passed in 2000, with the Orwellian name “Schedule 7.” The give-away that this was not something that the British dreamed up on their own, however, is their admission that they had “notified Washington” of their intention to detain Miranda, a Brazilian national, before the detention actually occurred.
Note that they did not notify Brazilian authorities. It was the Americans who got the call.
And why was that?  Because, clearly, Miranda was on one of America’s “watch lists” and the British police needed instructions from their superiors in the US regarding what do do with him.

Zeke J. Miller (Time magazine) points out:

Elements of the U.S. government were given a “heads-up” before the British government detained David Miranda, the Brazilian partner of Glenn Greenwald, for nine hours over the weekend, White House Deputy Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday. He also declined to condemn the action.
Why would they condemn the desired results from their earlier actions?  They wouldn't. While Barack Obama (falsely) claims to want a conversation, columnist Kirsten Powers kicked off one on her Twitter feed.

    1. Un-freaking-believable: U.S. had advance notice of Britain’s plan to detain reporter Glenn Greenwald’s partner
    2. Obama owns reporters. Not surprised : Unbelievable: US had advance notice of plan to detain Glenn Greenwald’s partner
    3. : U.S. had advance notice of Britain’s plan to detain Glenn Greenwald’s partner ”. Cc
    4. Very believable, I'm afraid. Not sure why you think otherwise, given US record.
    5. they still could change their 'war in the gulf'-banners for 'war on (real) journalists'-ones
    6. The UK government is just another department of the US government.

Reporters Without Borders condemned the actions against David Miranda and notes, "Julian Assange is confined to the Ecuadorean embassy in London, [NSA whistle-blower Ed] Snowden was blocked for weeks at Moscow airport’s transit area, and US filmmaker Laura Poitras has encountered repeated obstacles in her movements and work. These freedom of movement violations highlight the urgency of the need to protect whistleblowers and the journalists who publish their revelations."

Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! -- link is text, audio and video) informed today:

The detention of Glenn Greenwald’s partner led his newspaper, The Guardian, to reveal another explosive revelation of media intimidation by the British government. On Monday, The Guardian editor, Alan Rusbridger, revealed the British government threatened legal action against the newspaper unless it either destroyed Snowden’s classified documents or handed them to British authorities. Rusbridger says that after The Guardian published several stories based on Snowden’s material, a British official advised him, quote, "You’ve had your fun. Now we want the stuff back." Two officials from the GCHQ, the NSA’s British counterpart, then visited The Guardian's London offices and looked on as computers containing Snowden's material were physically destroyed. Rusbridger said The Guardian agreed to destroy the hard drives knowing the paper’s reporters can continue their work abroad. He wrote, quote, "We will continue to do patient, painstaking reporting on the Snowden documents, we just won’t do it in London."

All of this is due to the revelations of illegal spying.  Barack lies, granted. He's a serial liar.  But publicly he insists he wants to have a conversation.  He slams Ed Snowden and attacks Ed's patriotism.  But Barack is the unpatriotic one.  I don't toss around the "T" word (which comes with the possibility of the death penalty).  But I will note a US president is required to take an oath to the Constitution.  Barack has broken that oath.

He continues to break it and he continues to lie about what's going on.

This is very clear by last week's major scoop by Barton Gellman (Washington Post) broke the news:

The National Security Agency has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008, according to an internal audit and other top-secret documents.Most of the infractions involve unauthorized surveillance of Americans or foreign intelligence targets in the United States, both of which are restricted by statute and executive order. They range from significant violations of law to typographical errors that resulted in unintended interception of U.S. e-mails and telephone calls.

And it's very clear by the joint-statement from US Senators Ron Wyden and Mark Udall that Wyden's office issued last week:

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Mark Udall (D-Colo.) issued the following statement regarding reports that the NSA has violated rules intended to protect Americans' privacy thousands of times each year. Wyden and Udall are both members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
“The executive branch has now confirmed that the 'rules, regulations and court-imposed standards for protecting the privacy of Americans' have been violated thousands of times each year.  We have previously said that the violations of these laws and rules were more serious than had been acknowledged, and we believe Americans should know that this confirmation is just the tip of a larger iceberg.  

While Senate rules prohibit us from confirming or denying some of the details in today's press reports, the American people have a right to know more details about of these violations. We hope that the executive branch will take steps to publicly provide more information as part of the honest, public debate of surveillance authorities that the Administration has said it is interested in having.

In particular, we believe the public deserves to know more about the violations of the secret court orders that have authorized the bulk collection of Americans' phone and email records under the USA PATRIOT Act.  The public should also be told more about why the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court has said that the executive branch's implementation of section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has circumvented the spirit of the law, particularly since the executive branch has declined to address this concern.  
We appreciate the candor of the Chief Judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court regarding the Court's inability to independently verify statements made by the executive branch.  We believe that the Court is not currently structured in a way that makes it an effective check on the power of the executive branch.  This highlights the need for a robust and well-staffed public advocate who could participate in significant cases before the Court and evaluate and counter government assertions.  Without such an advocate on the court, and without greater transparency regarding the Court's rulings, the checks and balances on executive branch authority enshrined in the Constitution cannot be adequately upheld.”

If Barack really wanted a conversation, not only would he drop the witch hunt against Ed Snowden, he'd also declare that Wyden and Udall could speak openly about their concerns without fear of legal repercussions.  He hasn't done that.  He won't do that.

He wants to tell you that you know everything -- he who refuses to discipline James Clapper, Director of so-called Intelligence, for lying to Congress.  He wants to insist that an informed discussion can take place.

But he's a liar and the fact that two US senators are, for all intents and purposes, gagged on this issue demonstrates he's lying.  Barack has failed his oath to the Constitution, he has failed democracy and open government.

His purchasing a dog doesn't make up for his actions or make him a better person.  The German Shepherd Blondi didn't make Adolf Hitler a better person or absolve Hitler of his actions.  But, you know what?  In 1941, a sycophant media fussed over Blondi (and Hitler) while ignoring the crimes and corruption of the German government.

Barack's actions have effects. Norman Solomon observes:

In Oslo, the world’s most important peace prize has been hijacked for war.

In London, government authority has just fired a new shot at freedom of the press.

And in Washington, the Obama administration continues to escalate its attacks on whistleblowers, journalism and civil liberties.

As a nation at peace becomes a fading memory, so does privacy. Commitments to idealism -- seeking real alternatives to war and upholding democratic values -- are under constant assault from the peaks of power.
Normalizing endless war and shameless surveillance, Uncle Sam and Big Brother are no longer just close. They’re the same, with a vast global reach.

And the spying has forced another closure.  Cory Doctorow (Boing Boing) reports, "Groklaw, an award-winning campaigning website that played a pivotal role in the SCO case (a proxy war in which Microsoft tried to kill GNU/Linux) and others, is shutting down, over the revelation of widespread, deep email surveillance. In an open letter, Pamela Jones, the site's owner, cites the open letter posted by Lavabit founder Ladar Levison when he shut down rather than cooperating in surveillance of his users. Specifically, he said that he'd stopped using email, and if we knew what he knew, we'd stop too."   August 9th, Shannon Young (Free Speech Radio News) explained:

Texas-based encrypted email service provider Lavabit abruptly closed down Thursday afternoon. In a carefully worded statement, the company's owner and operator Ladar Levison wrote that the decision was between shutting down Lavabit or becoming "complicit in crimes against the American people." Levison added that, despite the constitutional right to free speech and making two separate requests, he has been legally prevented from sharing the experiences which led to the drastic decision. The wording of the statement suggests Levison is under a gag order which can accompany National Security Letters or sealed court orders.
Hours after Lavabit made its announcement, Silent Circle chose to shut down its encrypted email service, stating the company could not guarantee the privacy of data sent over email. In its statement, Silent Circle said it has not received subpoenas, warrants, or security letters, but chose to act in a preemptive manner. Silent Circle will continue to offer its real-time voice and encrypted instant messaging services, which use different protocols than email.

Lavabit founder Ladar Levison told Amy Goodman (Democracy Now! -- link is video, audio and text), "I don’t think I can continue to run Lavabit abroad as an American citizen. I would have to move abroad, effectively, to administer the service. As an American citizen, I’m still subject to the laws and jurisdiction of the United States, particularly as long as I continue to live here. You know, that’s why I have a lot of respect for [NSA whistler Ed] Snowden, because he gave up his entire life, the life that he’s known his entire life, so that he could speak out. I haven’t gotten to that point. I still hope that it’s possible to run a private service, private cloud data service, here in the United States without necessarily being forced to conduct surveillance on your users by the American government."  Groklaw's slogan was "When you want to know more but don't know where to look."  Wikipedia notes ten of the awards Groklaw was honored with.  Rob O'Neill (ZDNet) adds, "Groklaw rose to fame for its coverage of the SCO intellectual property lawsuits against the likes of IBM and Novell. It went on to cover a host of other cases, often defining the interface between open source and proprietary software."  Jones writes in the last post:

Harvard's Berkman Center had an online class on cybersecurity and internet privacy some years ago, and the resources of the class are still online. It was about how to enhance privacy in an online world, speaking of quaint, with titles of articles like, "Is Big Brother Listening?"
And how.
You'll find all the laws in the US related to privacy and surveillance there. Not that anyone seems to follow any laws that get in their way these days. Or if they find they need a law to make conduct lawful, they just write a new law or reinterpret an old one and keep on going. That's not the rule of law as I understood the term.
Anyway, one resource was excerpts from a book by Janna Malamud Smith,"Private Matters: In Defense of the Personal Life", and I encourage you to read it. I encourage the President and the NSA to read it too. I know. They aren't listening to me. Not that way, anyhow. But it's important, because the point of the book is that privacy is vital to being human, which is why one of the worst punishments there is is total surveillance:
One way of beginning to understand privacy is by looking at what happens to people in extreme situations where it is absent. Recalling his time in Auschwitz, Primo Levi observed that "solitude in a Camp is more precious and rare than bread." Solitude is one state of privacy, and even amidst the overwhelming death, starvation, and horror of the camps, Levi knew he missed it.... Levi spent much of his life finding words for his camp experience. How, he wonders aloud in Survival in Auschwitz, do you describe "the demolition of a man," an offense for which "our language lacks words."... Our function of privacy is to provide a safe space away from terror or other assaultive experiences. When you remove a person's ability to sequester herself, or intimate information about herself, you make her extremely vulnerable....
The totalitarian state watches everyone, but keeps its own plans secret. Privacy is seen as dangerous because it enhances resistance. Constantly spying and then confronting people with what are often petty transgressions is a way of maintaining social control and unnerving and disempowering opposition....
And even when one shakes real pursuers, it is often hard to rid oneself of the feeling of being watched -- which is why surveillance is an extremely powerful way to control people. The mind's tendency to still feel observed when alone... can be inhibiting. ... Feeling watched, but not knowing for sure, nor knowing if, when, or how the hostile surveyor may strike, people often become fearful, constricted, and distracted.
I've quoted from that book before, back when the CNET reporters' emails were read by HP. We thought that was awful. And it was. HP ended up giving them money to try to make it up to them. Little did we know.

In the face of her honesty, Gregory Ferenstein (TechCrunch) attacks Jones while pretending not to.  Jones is not Glenn Greenwald.  She doesn't have to respond as he did.  She's also in a higher place than Greenwald in terms of chain.  Greenwald is a reporter -- a very good one -- and he pursues a story as reporters should.  Jones feels she is responsible for every reader who offers a tip or a leak.  She is looking at this as a publisher might -- especially a publisher who greatly valued her readers.  Jones can walk away if that's what she feels is the best thing to do.  That doesn't make her less 'brave' or less of a journalist.  It has been her life.  She tried to walk away once and could not (mainly because of the value she placed on her readers).  She has serious concerns for her readers and she should be applauded for that even if, like Ferenstein, you disagree with her decision.  As a feminist, I really don't have a great deal of respect for a man who fails to consider what a woman has written as he rushes in to condemn her decision.  Pamela Jones did what felt right to her, she obviously considered all the options and ramifications.  Instead of columns about how she's 'wrong,' maybe that time could be better spent addressing the real problems of government abuse?  Mike Masnick (TechDirt) observes:

The fallout from all of this NSA surveillance will take a very, very long time to measure, but it will be profound. The government, again, has put so much emphasis on the "benefit" of preventing an exceptionally low probability event, that it barely even considers the massive costs on everyone else. PJ is shutting down Groklaw because of the same reasons as Lavabit shut down. But it is the same root cause. The power of a surveillance state to spin out of control has wide-reaching consequences. It's difficult to see how anyone can claim it's worth the costs.

Michael Hastings was a real journalist in a land of pretenders.  It's really sad that the press is choosing to smear him -- but many attacked him while he was alive, so why should we be surprised now?  This is one of the kinder examples of the current attack.  Let's be really clear, if you have a card for medical marijuana, it showing up in your blood work is neither surprising nor scandalous.  Journalist Michael Ware experienced Post-Traumatic Stress as a result of his reporting from Iraq, it's no surprise that Hastings also had PTS.  It's rather sad that something like PTS, which so many Iraq War veterans, is yet again being used to smear.  PTS is a condition, it's basically hyper-vigilance created and caused by being in an area where your life is in constant danger and your body and mind have to remain alert.  It's a great tool in that situation, your body's way of coping.  When you leave that situation, many have found difficulty turning that hyper-vigilance off.  That's not surprising.  Neither is it surprising that there are many ways to address it and no single treatment that works for all.  Some are helped by medical prescriptions.  Medical prescriptions do include marijuana.  If the press could be a little less tawdry, a little less gossipy and a lot less insulting about PTS, it would be greatly appreciated and help those with PTS who certainly don't need to be saddled with lies and myths that they're 'out of control' because of PTS. As for the other claims in the article?  Michael Hastings has a widow.  If Elise Jordan wants to raise  issues, that's up to her.



 kwame holman
the newshour



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