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‘Gay marriage weakens UK PM’s stand’

British Prime Minister and Tory leader David Cameron has weakened his position within his party by pushing through gay marriage bill, Conservatives MPs warned.

UK lawmakers approved same sex marriage bill in the House of Commons last night, tearing the Conservative party in half with 136 Tory MPs voting against the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill, compared with just 127 backing it, and 35 abstaining.

British MPs warned that Cameron’s defending gay marriage despite oppositions from most of his Tory Party members could jeopardize his position as the party’s leader.

“I think it weakens his position, and given the task that he's got on his hands at the moment... that's not good news,” said Sir Roger Gale, a Conservative MP who opposed the proposed legislation.

“Cameron is not under immediate threat but there is no leadership and no narrative. Kids are running Downing Street,” the quoted an anonymous backbencher as a saying.

Most Conservatives hope they could water down the legislation at later stages the bill has to pass through committee in the Commons and a vote in the House of Lords.

MOS/MOL/HE

Naming the Dead: New Investigation into Victims of US Drone Strikes

dronefiring

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism is launching an ambitious new investigation, which will seek to identify as many as possible of those killed in US covert drone strikes in Pakistan, whether civilian or militant.

The Bureau is raising some of the money for this project through a crowd-funding appeal.

As part of our ongoing monitoring and reporting of CIA and Pentagon drone strikes, the Bureau has already recorded the names of hundreds of people killed in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia.

At the end of January 2013, the Bureau was able to identify by name 213 people killed by drones in Pakistan who were reported to be middle- or senior-ranking militants.

A further 331 civilians have also now been named, 87 of them children.

But this is a small proportion of the minimum 2,629 people who appear to have so far died in CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. The Bureau’s work suggests 475 of them were likely to have been civilians.

‘At the momNaming the Dead new version4ent we know the names of fewer than 20% of those killed in Pakistan’s tribal areas. At least 2,000 deaths still remain publicly anonymous,’ said Chris Woods, who leads the Bureau’s covert drone war team.

‘Our aim will be to identify by name many hundreds more of those killed. A significant number of those identities will be known by local communities, by US and Pakistani officials, and by militant groups. We hope to convince them to share that information.’

Related story – Analysis: Why we must name all drone attack victims

Pakistani tribesmen offer funeral prayer -GettyImages

A February 15 2009 drone strike killed at least 26. Few have so far been named. (Getty Images)

The project has already secured substantial funding from a UK foundation – but it still needs more funds.

Today the US-based Freedom of the Press Foundation, a crowd-funding organisation aimed at raising money for public interest journalism, announced it is backing the Bureau’s Naming the Dead project. The Bureau’s new investigation will be one of four recipients of Freedom of the Press Foundation’s latest campaign.

Crowd-funding is an established way of supporting journalism in the US and it is increasingly being used in the UK as a way of funding projects, which established organisations ignore or will not fund.

Using the reach of the web, many people (the crowd) are able to give small amounts of money to back a cause or project in which they believe.

‘In the face of official secrecy, having the full facts about who is killed is essential  for an informed debate about  the effectiveness and ethics of the drone campaign,’  said Christopher Hird, managing editor of the Bureau. ‘And it is exciting to be able to give all of our supporters worldwide the chance to be part of  our first venture in this democratic form of funding.’

A challenging task

Government officials, media organisations and even militant groups are often quick to identify senior militants such as Yahya al-Libi and Ilyas Kashmiri when they are killed.

Yet little is said of the hundreds more alleged militants and civilians among at least 2,629 deaths in Pakistan drone strikes.

Sth Wana letter Jan 2009Both the US and Pakistani governments are likely to keep detailed records. A recent case at the Peshawar High Court heard that officials in the tribal agencies had prepared a confidential report which ‘included details of each and every drone attack and the number, names and ages of the people killed’.

Anonymous US intelligence officials have also revealed details of CIA video surveillance on particular strikes. And the ‘Terror Tuesday’ process – in which hundreds of named alleged militants have been selected by US agencies for targeted killing – has been widely reported.

Photographs and other documents also occasionally surface. When a civilian family was killed in the first drone strike of Barack Obama’s presidency, local officials issued formal paperwork (see right) that was later obtained by the campaign group Center for Civilians in Conflict.

ID cards, family photographs and eyewitness testimony of attacks can all provide useful corroborating evidence. The graves of militants killed in drone strikes can also name them as ‘martyrs’ and give details of the strikes in which they died.

Drawing on information from a wide array of sources, the Bureau’s team will seek to build a detailed understanding of those killed.

Focus on Pakistan

While the Bureau will seek to extend the project to Yemen and Somalia in the near future, the initial focus will be on the nation where most US covert drone strikes have taken place.

Researchers based in Pakistan and the UK will seek to build up biographical information for all of those killed, whether civilian or militant – their name, age, gender, tribe, and village, for example. Where possible, photographs, witness statements and official documentation will also be published.

The team will seek assistance from the Pakistan and US governments in identifying those killed. And researchers will also call on Taliban factions and other militant groups to release information on the many hundreds of fighters killed in more than 360 US drone strikes since 2004.

Waves of Anti-Greed Movements in the United States

I was doing some research for the ‘origins’ section of the Occupy Wall Street page on Wikipedia which I have had free rein on for a while now. Doing that research gave me an idea.

Chilling legal memo from Obama DOJ justifies assassination of US citizens

The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/ AP)process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki's 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.

Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama's top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president's power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title "disposition matrix".

When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama's hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: "It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing." The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying "he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president". When the existence of Obama's hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post's Dana Priest, she wrote that the "list includes three Americans".

What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch - with no checks or oversight of any kind - but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president's underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president - at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as "Terror Tuesday" - then chooses from "baseball cards" and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.

In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama's first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that "the Bush Administration's excessive reliance on 'secret law' threatens the effective functioning of American democracy" and "the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government."

But when it comes to Obama's assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He's maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.

Last night, NBC News' Michael Isikoff released a 16-page "white paper" prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama's power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama's kill list - that is still concealed - but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.

This new memo is entitled: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa'ida or An Associated Force". It claims its conclusion is "reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen". Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.

I've written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat - see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder's statements before obtaining power - and won't repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:

1. Equating government accusations with guilt

The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to "terrorists" when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.

Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out "against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force."

This ensures that huge numbers of citizens - those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true - will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That's the "reasoning" process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such - with indefinite imprisonment or death.

But of course, when this memo refers to "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida", what it actually means is this: someone whom the President - in total secrecy and with no due process - has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when "an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US".

This is the crucial point: the memo isn't justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo - and those who defend Obama's assassination power - willfully ignore it.

Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a "senior al-Qaida leader" and who is posing an "imminent threat" to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.

(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an "associated force" of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo "authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law".)

The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo - and the entire theory justifying Obama's kill list - centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.

They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That's why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can't be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.

2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor

The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president's power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US" where capture is "infeasible", it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: "This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful." Instead, as the last line of the memo states: "it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation" - not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.

Critically, the rationale of the memo - that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and "associated forces" - can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn't apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.

3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield

The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the "battlefield" is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited "battlefield". That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president's powers are basically omnipotent on a "battlefield". There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.

This "world-is-a-battlefield" theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world".

But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama's assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That's because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can't defend the application of "war powers" in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a "battlefield" and the president's war powers thus exist without geographic limits.

This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, "retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities". In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional "feasibility of capture" element, no geographic limits to the president's authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.

4. Expanding the concept of "imminence" beyond recognition

The memo claims that the president's assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States". That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it's similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the "imminence" of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.

But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of "imminence". Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing "a broader concept of imminence" than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president's assassination power "does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future". The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.

Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of "imminence". The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo "redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning". Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer's objection "an understatement", noting that the memo's understanding of "imminence" is "wildly overbroad" under international law.

Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo's reasoning - that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces - then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an "imminent" threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.

The only reason to add these limitations of "imminence" and "feasibility of capture" is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president's assassination power. As the ACLU's Jaffer says: "This is a chilling document" because "it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen" and the purported limits "are elastic and vaguely defined, and it's easy to see how they could be manipulated."

5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts

This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one's lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.

Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic - getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president's conduct is legal - was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:

"validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble."

Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That's all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party's leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.

That's why courts, not the president's partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn't want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.

That's all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this - secret memos from partisan lackeys - has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president's conduct.

6. Making a mockery of "due process"

The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process. It provides that "no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law". Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.

The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: "Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person's interest in his life." But it nonetheless argues that a "balancing test" is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: "while the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch."

Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president's assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: "due process and judicial process are not one and the same." Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:

"Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what "due process" requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ's core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes "judicial encroachment" on the "judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force". And then it cites the Bush DOJ's mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.

The reason this is so fitting is because, as I've detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.

Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed - and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it's truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.

DOJ White Paper

Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Q... by

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Chilling Legal Memo From Obama DOJ Justifies Assassination of US Citizens

The most extremist power any political leader can assert is the power to target his own citizens for execution without any charges or due (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin/ AP)process, far from any battlefield. The Obama administration has not only asserted exactly that power in theory, but has exercised it in practice. In September 2011, it killed US citizen Anwar Awlaki in a drone strike in Yemen, along with US citizen Samir Khan, and then, in circumstances that are still unexplained, two weeks later killed Awlaki's 16-year-old American son Abdulrahman with a separate drone strike in Yemen.

Since then, senior Obama officials including Attorney General Eric Holder and John Brennan, Obama's top terrorism adviser and his current nominee to lead the CIA, have explicitly argued that the president is and should be vested with this power. Meanwhile, a Washington Post article from October reported that the administration is formally institutionalizing this president's power to decide who dies under the Orwellian title "disposition matrix".

When the New York Times back in April, 2010 first confirmed the existence of Obama's hit list, it made clear just what an extremist power this is, noting: "It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing." The NYT quoted a Bush intelligence official as saying "he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president". When the existence of Obama's hit list was first reported several months earlier by the Washington Post's Dana Priest, she wrote that the "list includes three Americans".

What has made these actions all the more radical is the absolute secrecy with which Obama has draped all of this. Not only is the entire process carried out solely within the Executive branch - with no checks or oversight of any kind - but there is zero transparency and zero accountability. The president's underlings compile their proposed lists of who should be executed, and the president - at a charming weekly event dubbed by White House aides as "Terror Tuesday" - then chooses from "baseball cards" and decrees in total secrecy who should die. The power of accuser, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner are all consolidated in this one man, and those powers are exercised in the dark.

In fact, The Most Transparent Administration Ever™ has been so fixated on secrecy that they have refused even to disclose the legal memoranda prepared by Obama lawyers setting forth their legal rationale for why the president has this power. During the Bush years, when Bush refused to disclose the memoranda from his Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that legally authorized torture, rendition, warrantless eavesdropping and the like, leading Democratic lawyers such as Dawn Johnsen (Obama's first choice to lead the OLC) vehemently denounced this practice as a grave threat, warning that "the Bush Administration's excessive reliance on 'secret law' threatens the effective functioning of American democracy" and "the withholding from Congress and the public of legal interpretations by the [OLC] upsets the system of checks and balances between the executive and legislative branches of government."

But when it comes to Obama's assassination power, this is exactly what his administration has done. It has repeatedly refused to disclose the principal legal memoranda prepared by Obama OLC lawyers that justified his kill list. It is, right now, vigorously resisting lawsuits from the New York Times and the ACLU to obtain that OLC memorandum. In sum, Obama not only claims he has the power to order US citizens killed with no transparency, but that even the documents explaining the legal rationale for this power are to be concealed. He's maintaining secret law on the most extremist power he can assert.

Last night, NBC News' Michael Isikoff released a 16-page "white paper" prepared by the Obama DOJ that purports to justify Obama's power to target even Americans for assassination without due process (the memo is embedded in full below). This is not the primary OLC memo justifying Obama's kill list - that is still concealed - but it appears to track the reasoning of that memo as anonymously described to the New York Times in October 2011.

This new memo is entitled: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al-Qa'ida or An Associated Force". It claims its conclusion is "reached with recognition of the extraordinary seriousness of a lethal operation by the United States against a US citizen". Yet it is every bit as chilling as the Bush OLC torture memos in how its clinical, legalistic tone completely sanitizes the radical and dangerous power it purports to authorize.

I've written many times at length about why the Obama assassination program is such an extreme and radical threat - see here for one of the most comprehensive discussions, with documentation of how completely all of this violates Obama and Holder's statements before obtaining power - and won't repeat those arguments here. Instead, there are numerous points that should be emphasized about the fundamentally misleading nature of this new memo:

1. Equating government accusations with guilt

The core distortion of the War on Terror under both Bush and Obama is the Orwellian practice of equating government accusations of terrorism with proof of guilt. One constantly hears US government defenders referring to "terrorists" when what they actually mean is: those accused by the government of terrorism. This entire memo is grounded in this deceit.

Time and again, it emphasizes that the authorized assassinations are carried out "against a senior operational leader of al-Qaida or its associated forces who poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States." Undoubtedly fearing that this document would one day be public, Obama lawyers made certain to incorporate this deceit into the title itself: "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen Who is a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida or An Associated Force."

This ensures that huge numbers of citizens - those who spend little time thinking about such things and/or authoritarians who assume all government claims are true - will instinctively justify what is being done here on the ground that we must kill the Terrorists or joining al-Qaida means you should be killed. That's the "reasoning" process that has driven the War on Terror since it commenced: if the US government simply asserts without evidence or trial that someone is a terrorist, then they are assumed to be, and they can then be punished as such - with indefinite imprisonment or death.

But of course, when this memo refers to "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida", what it actually means is this: someone whom the President - in total secrecy and with no due process - has accused of being that. Indeed, the memo itself makes this clear, as it baldly states that presidential assassinations are justified when "an informed, high-level official of the US government has determined that the targeted individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US".

This is the crucial point: the memo isn't justifying the due-process-free execution of senior al-Qaida leaders who pose an imminent threat to the US. It is justifying the due-process-free execution of people secretly accused by the president and his underlings, with no due process, of being that. The distinction between (a) government accusations and (b) proof of guilt is central to every free society, by definition, yet this memo - and those who defend Obama's assassination power - willfully ignore it.

Those who justify all of this by arguing that Obama can and should kill al-Qaida leaders who are trying to kill Americans are engaged in supreme question-begging. Without any due process, transparency or oversight, there is no way to know who is a "senior al-Qaida leader" and who is posing an "imminent threat" to Americans. All that can be known is who Obama, in total secrecy, accuses of this.

(Indeed, membership in al-Qaida is not even required to be assassinated, as one can be a member of a group deemed to be an "associated force" of al-Qaida, whatever that might mean: a formulation so broad and ill-defined that, as Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller argues, it means the memo "authorizes the use of lethal force against individuals whose targeting is, without more, prohibited by international law".)

The definition of an extreme authoritarian is one who is willing blindly to assume that government accusations are true without any evidence presented or opportunity to contest those accusations. This memo - and the entire theory justifying Obama's kill list - centrally relies on this authoritarian conflation of government accusations and valid proof of guilt.

They are not the same and never have been. Political leaders who decree guilt in secret and with no oversight inevitably succumb to error and/or abuse of power. Such unchecked accusatory decrees are inherently untrustworthy (indeed, Yemen experts have vehemently contested the claim that Awlaki himself was a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat to the US). That's why due process is guaranteed in the Constitution and why judicial review of government accusations has been a staple of western justice since the Magna Carta: because leaders can't be trusted to decree guilt and punish citizens without evidence and an adversarial process. That is the age-old basic right on which this memo, and the Obama presidency, is waging war.

2. Creating a ceiling, not a floor

The most vital fact to note about this memorandum is that it is not purporting to impose requirements on the president's power to assassinate US citizens. When it concludes that the president has the authority to assassinate "a Senior Operational Leader of al-Qaida" who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the US" where capture is "infeasible", it is not concluding that assassinations are permissible only in those circumstances. To the contrary, the memo expressly makes clear that presidential assassinations may be permitted even when none of those circumstances prevail: "This paper does not attempt to determine the minimum requirements necessary to render such an operation lawful." Instead, as the last line of the memo states: "it concludes only that the stated conditions would be sufficient to make lawful a lethal operation" - not that such conditions are necessary to find these assassinations legal. The memo explicitly leaves open the possibility that presidential assassinations of US citizens may be permissible even when the target is not a senior al-Qaida leader posing an imminent threat and/or when capture is feasible.

Critically, the rationale of the memo - that the US is engaged in a global war against al-Qaida and "associated forces" - can be easily used to justify presidential assassinations of US citizens in circumstances far beyond the ones described in this memo. If you believe the president has the power to execute US citizens based on the accusation that the citizen has joined al-Qaida, what possible limiting principle can you cite as to why that shouldn't apply to a low-level al-Qaida member, including ones found in places where capture may be feasible (including US soil)? The purported limitations on this power set forth in this memo, aside from being incredibly vague, can be easily discarded once the central theory of presidential power is embraced.

3. Relies on the core Bush/Cheney theory of a global battlefield

The primary theory embraced by the Bush administration to justify its War on Terror policies was that the "battlefield" is no longer confined to identifiable geographical areas, but instead, the entire globe is now one big, unlimited "battlefield". That theory is both radical and dangerous because a president's powers are basically omnipotent on a "battlefield". There, state power is shielded from law, from courts, from constitutional guarantees, from all forms of accountability: anyone on a battlefield can be killed or imprisoned without charges. Thus, to posit the world as a battlefield is, by definition, to create an imperial, omnipotent presidency. That is the radical theory that unleashed all the rest of the controversial and lawless Bush/Cheney policies.

This "world-is-a-battlefield" theory was once highly controversial among Democrats. John Kerry famously denounced it when running for president, arguing instead that the effort against terrorism is "primarily an intelligence and law enforcement operation that requires cooperation around the world".

But this global-war theory is exactly what lies at heart of the Obama approach to Terrorism generally and this memo specifically. It is impossible to defend Obama's assassination powers without embracing it (which is why key Obama officials have consistently done so). That's because these assassinations are taking place in countries far from any war zone, such as Yemen and Somalia. You can't defend the application of "war powers" in these countries without embracing the once-very-controversial Bush/Cheney view that the whole is now a "battlefield" and the president's war powers thus exist without geographic limits.

This new memo makes clear that this Bush/Cheney worldview is at the heart of the Obama presidency. The president, it claims, "retains authority to use force against al-Qaida and associated forces outside the area of active hostilities". In other words: there are, subject to the entirely optional "feasibility of capture" element, no geographic limits to the president's authority to kill anyone he wants. This power applies not only to war zones, but everywhere in the world that he claims a member of al-Qaida is found. This memo embraces and institutionalizes the core Bush/Cheney theory that justified the entire panoply of policies Democrats back then pretended to find so objectionable.

4. Expanding the concept of "imminence" beyond recognition

The memo claims that the president's assassination power applies to a senior al-Qaida member who "poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States". That is designed to convince citizens to accept this power by leading them to believe it's similar to common and familiar domestic uses of lethal force on US soil: if, for instance, an armed criminal is in the process of robbing a bank or is about to shoot hostages, then the "imminence" of the threat he poses justifies the use of lethal force against him by the police.

But this rhetorical tactic is totally misleading. The memo is authorizing assassinations against citizens in circumstances far beyond this understanding of "imminence". Indeed, the memo expressly states that it is inventing "a broader concept of imminence" than is typically used in domestic law. Specifically, the president's assassination power "does not require that the US have clear evidence that a specific attack . . . will take place in the immediate future". The US routinely assassinates its targets not when they are engaged in or plotting attacks but when they are at home, with family members, riding in a car, at work, at funerals, rescuing other drone victims, etc.

Many of the early objections to this new memo have focused on this warped and incredibly broad definition of "imminence". The ACLU's Jameel Jaffer told Isikoff that the memo "redefines the word imminence in a way that deprives the word of its ordinary meaning". Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller called Jaffer's objection "an understatement", noting that the memo's understanding of "imminence" is "wildly overbroad" under international law.

Crucially, Heller points out what I noted above: once you accept the memo's reasoning - that the US is engaged in a global war, that the world is a battlefield, and the president has the power to assassinate any member of al-Qaida or associated forces - then there is no way coherent way to limit this power to places where capture is infeasible or to persons posing an "imminent" threat. The legal framework adopted by the memo means the president can kill anyone he claims is a member of al-Qaida regardless of where they are found or what they are doing.

The only reason to add these limitations of "imminence" and "feasibility of capture" is, as Heller said, purely political: to make the theories more politically palatable. But the definitions for these terms are so vague and broad that they provide no real limits on the president's assassination power. As the ACLU's Jaffer says: "This is a chilling document" because "it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen" and the purported limits "are elastic and vaguely defined, and it's easy to see how they could be manipulated."

5. Converting Obama underlings into objective courts

This memo is not a judicial opinion. It was not written by anyone independent of the president. To the contrary, it was written by life-long partisan lackeys: lawyers whose careerist interests depend upon staying in the good graces of Obama and the Democrats, almost certainly Marty Lederman and David Barron. Treating this document as though it confers any authority on Obama is like treating the statements of one's lawyer as a judicial finding or jury verdict.

Indeed, recall the primary excuse used to shield Bush officials from prosecution for their crimes of torture and illegal eavesdropping: namely, they got Bush-appointed lawyers in the DOJ to say that their conduct was legal, and therefore, it should be treated as such. This tactic - getting partisan lawyers and underlings of the president to say that the president's conduct is legal - was appropriately treated with scorn when invoked by Bush officials to justify their radical programs. As Digby wrote about Bush officials who pointed to the OLC memos it got its lawyers to issue about torture and eavesdropping, such a practice amounts to:

"validating the idea that obscure Justice Department officials can be granted the authority to essentially immunize officials at all levels of the government, from the president down to the lowest field officer, by issuing a secret memo. This is a very important new development in western jurisprudence and one that surely requires more study and consideration. If Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan had known about this, they could have saved themselves a lot of trouble."

Life-long Democratic Party lawyers are not going to oppose the terrorism policies of the president who appointed them. A president can always find underlings and political appointees to endorse whatever he wants to do. That's all this memo is: the by-product of obsequious lawyers telling their Party's leader that he is (of course) free to do exactly that which he wants to do, in exactly the same way that Bush got John Yoo to tell him that torture was not torture, and that even it if were, it was legal.

That's why courts, not the president's partisan lawyers, should be making these determinations. But when the ACLU tried to obtain a judicial determination as to whether Obama is actually authorized to assassinate US citizens, the Obama DOJ went to extreme lengths to block the court from ruling on that question. They didn't want independent judges to determine the law. They wanted their own lawyers to do so.

That's all this memo is: Obama-loyal appointees telling their leader that he has the authority to do what he wants. But in the warped world of US politics, this - secret memos from partisan lackeys - has replaced judicial review as the means to determine the legality of the president's conduct.

6. Making a mockery of "due process"

The core freedom most under attack by the War on Terror is the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process. It provides that "no person shall be . . . deprived of life . . . without due process of law". Like putting people in cages for life on island prisons with no trial, claiming that the president has the right to assassinate US citizens far from any battlefield without any charges or trial is the supreme evisceration of this right.

The memo pays lip service to the right it is destroying: "Under the traditional due process balancing analysis . . . . we recognize that there is no private interest more weighty than a person's interest in his life." But it nonetheless argues that a "balancing test" is necessary to determine the extent of the process that is due before the president can deprive someone of their life, and further argues that, as the New York Times put it when this theory was first unveiled: "while the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of due process applied, it could be satisfied by internal deliberations in the executive branch."

Stephen Colbert perfectly mocked this theory when Eric Holder first unveiled it to defend the president's assassination program. At the time, Holder actually said: "due process and judicial process are not one and the same." Colbert interpreted that claim as follows:

"Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do. The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

It is fitting indeed that the memo expressly embraces two core Bush/Cheney theories to justify this view of what "due process" requires. First, it cites the Bush DOJ's core view, as enunciated by John Yoo, that courts have no role to play in what the president does in the War on Terror because judicial review constitutes "judicial encroachment" on the "judgments by the President and his national security advisers as to when and how to use force". And then it cites the Bush DOJ's mostly successful arguments in the 2004 Hamdi case that the president has the authority even to imprison US citizens without trial provided that he accuses them of being a terrorist.

The reason this is so fitting is because, as I've detailed many times, it was these same early Bush/Cheney theories that made me want to begin writing about politics, all driven by my perception that the US government was becoming extremist and dangerous. During the early Bush years, the very idea that the US government asserted the power to imprison US citizens without charges and due process (or to eavesdrop on them) was so radical that, at the time, I could hardly believe they were being asserted out in the open.

Yet here we are almost a full decade later. And we have the current president asserting the power not merely to imprison or eavesdrop on US citizens without charges or trial, but to order them executed - and to do so in total secrecy, with no checks or oversight. If you believe the president has the power to order US citizens executed far from any battlefield with no charges or trial, then it's truly hard to conceive of any asserted power you would find objectionable.

DOJ White Paper

Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Q... by

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Richard III’s Remains Found Six Feet Under British Parking Lot

Richard III’s Remains Found Six Feet Under British Parking Lot

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Posted on Feb 4, 2013
Wikimedia Commons

It’s hardly the kind of vaunted resting place various other British royals have enjoyed after serving their earthly tenures, but the earth beneath a municipal parking lot in Leicester, England, is where the remains of Britain’s legendary King Richard III were recently discovered.

The bones of the contentious 15th century figure, whom William Shakespeare described as a physically “deformed, unfinish’d” and generally nasty piece of work, were discovered in September by a team from the University of Leicester and subsequently identified.

Meanwhile, a mock-up of what the maligned monarch might have looked like has been made since the archeological breakthrough—check it out here.

The New York Times:

The geneticist Turi King told a news conference held by the University of Leicester research team that DNA samples taken from two modern-day descendants of Richard III’s family matched those from the bones found at the site. One of the descendants, Michael Ibsen, is the son of a 16th-generation niece of King Richard’s. The second wished to remain anonymous, the researchers said.

The skeleton, moreover, had a gaping hole in the skull consistent with contemporary accounts of the battlefield blow that killed the monarch more than 500 years ago.

Before the DNA findings came in, Mr. Taylor and other team members said, the university team had assembled a mounting catalog of evidence that pointed conclusively at the remains being those of the king. These included confirmation that the body was that of a man in his late 20s or early 30s, and that his high-protein diet had been rich in meat and fish, characteristic of a privileged life in the 15th century.

Read more

—Posted by Kasia Anderson.

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Suppressing 9/11 Truth in the Mainstream Media, Demonizing the Messenger

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Global Research News Hour Episode 13

 “It’s easy to take an issue like the 9/11 truth movement and demonize it…that happened in the election of 2008. Even though at the time it was a rising tide and growing numbers of people… had actually rejected the official explanation and were actively looking at the evidence hoping to find out what really happened, even though that was happening, the Conservatives in that election chose to demonize those folks, and I guess I appeared to be one of them because I was willing to talk about it with respect.

-Lesley Hughes

During the Canadian federal election of 2008, Lesley Hughes, overnight, went from the Liberal Party’s star candidate to a political liability.

An article Hughes wrote in 2002 entitled “Get the Truth” offered readers a contrarian viewpoint on the war in Afghanistan as retaliation for 9/11.

The anonymous blogger Black Rod, unearthed the article, conflated it into an anti-Semitic 9/11 conspiracy theory, and circulated it throughout the on-line community and the mainstream press.

Liberal leader Stephan Dion, under pressure from B’Nai Brith, the Canadian Jewish Congress, and his political opponents, not to mention uncomfortable media scrutiny, removed the candidacy of Ms. Hughes without ever confronting her about it directly.

Hughes, humiliated, dropped off the media radar screen and spent the subsequent few months licking her wounds. She finally found herself a lawyer and launched a defamation suit against the above-named groups, as well as Conservative candidate Peter Kent, the entities she saw as most responsible for this disastrous blow to her reputation.

In December of last year, at the end of a four year ordeal, Hughes was finally cleared of all charges of anti-Semitism.

Who is Lesley Hughes?

Hughes is much more than the “earnest middle-aged mother and community activist” described by National Post columnist and author Jonathan Kay in his 9/11 Truth hit-piece “Among the Truthers.”

Lesley Hughes is a Winnipeg-based broadcast and print journalist.

In the province of Manitoba, she became a house-hold name as co-host of the popular morning program Information Radio, a CBC show she helmed for more than ten years.

Her prowess as an interviewer earned her the distinction of sitting in briefly for CBC icon Peter Gzowski on the nationally broadcast Morningside, earning her praise from executive producer Patsey Pehleman for being “fresh and different.”

Over the course of a career that has spanned more than three decades, Lesley has interviewed a multitude of global movers and shakers, including former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, humanitarian Mother Theresa, South African President Nelson Mandela, dissident intellectual Noam Chomsky, French President Francois Mitterand, and playwright Tennessee Williams to name just a few.

She has since contributed articles to major newspapers. She covered the 1992 Earth Summit from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil for the Globe and Mail. She reported from the World Poverty Summit in Copenhagen, and the Information Summit in Geneva. She has authored book reviews for the Winnipeg Free Press. She continues to write the back column for the distinguished Canadian organ of progressive political thought known as Canadian Dimension Magazine.

Hughes has had her work carried by Radio Denmark, Radio Antilles and the Grenadian Voice.

Hughes has been a media trainer, instructing students at the University of Winnipeg. She was designated as the University of Manitoba’s Outstanding Alumnus for Distinguished Achievement, named one of Canada’s top three columnists for a weekly community newspaper by the Canadian Community Newspaper Association, and honoured Manitoba’s Woman of the Year in Communications and Best Interviewer (Radio) by Winnipeg ACTRA among other accolades.

The recent court ruling has affirmed what informed people, supporters and detractors alike, know all too well. Lesley Hughes has not an anti-Semitic bone in her body!

Lesley Hughes, regardless of what one might think of her politics, is an inspirational, compassionate, hard-working, brilliant and breath-takingly decent human being. It is a sad commentary on the times we live in that she could be brought down from her well-earned pedestal in Canadian life, simply for…well…doing her job as a journalist.

In this exclusive interview for the Global Research News Hour, Lesley Hughes from the living room of her Winnipeg home explains how she was affected personally and professionally by the allegations, her take on the corrosive effect of anonymous blogging on journalism, and about how attacks on 9/11 skeptics signals a new kind of McCarthyism.

She also introduces her upcoming memoir, “Hit and Run: My Brilliant Life in Canadian Politics.”

Also featured in this one hour programme is an interview with Richard Sanders of the Coalition Opposed to the Arms Trade, (coat.ncf.ca) about how Canadian Pension Plan investments are aiding and abetting Israeli War Crimes. We also hear an assessment of the recent Israeli elections by Chicago based writer and broadcaster Stephen Lendman.

LISTEN TO THE SHOW

Length (59:39)
Click to download the audio (MP3 format)

The Global Research News Hour hosted by Michael Welch airs on CKUW 95.9FM in Winnipeg Thursdays at 10am CDT. The programme is now broadcast weekly by the Progressive Radio Network in the US, and is available for download on the Global Research website.

Obama’s Flip-Flops on Money in Politics: A Brief History

Obama’s Flip-Flops on Money in Politics: A Brief History

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Posted on Feb 4, 2013
The White House/Pete Souza

By Justin Elliott, ProPublica

This piece first appeared on ProPublica.

When President Obama told supporters that he would morph his campaign into a new nonprofit that would accept unlimited corporate donations, the announcement set off a familiar round of griping from campaign finance reformers.

The creation this month of Organizing for Action, which will promote the president’s second-term agenda, appears to be the fourth reversal by Obama on major money-in-politics issues since 2008.

“No big bank or corporation will donate million-dollar checks to OFA without the expectation that it will impact which issues they engage on, and that’s very troubling,” said Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The Washington Post noted that in reorganizing his campaign as a tax-exempt social welfare group, the president is embracing a structure that has been criticized for allowing anonymous money into politics.

Conservatives who’ve been attacked by the Obama camp for their reliance on such “dark money” groups called out the president’s “brazen hypocrisy.” Neither the White House nor Organizing for America responded to requests for comment.

Here’s a brief history of Obama’s other shifts on money-in-politics issues going back to 2008:

In November 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged to take part in the presidential public financing system for the general election, calling himself “a longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns.” Under the system, created in the wake of Watergate, a candidate receives taxpayer money ($84 million in 2008) and cannot accept most private donations or spend beyond the amount of the government grant.

Less than a year later, in June 2008, Obama reversed himself and announced he was opting out of the system. He maintained he still supported the system in principle but said it should be reformed.

Obama became the first candidate to decline general election public financing since the creation of the system and went on to raise a then-record $745 million for the cycle. He outspent John McCain, who did accept public money, by four-to-one. Obama’s 2008 decision generally takes at least some of the blame from campaign finance observers for killing the system.

Neither Obama nor Mitt Romney accepted public financing in the 2012 race. The Obama campaign raised $782 million for the cycle.

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United decision, opening the way for the creation of super PACs financed with unlimited corporate or individual money, Obama became the ruling’s biggest critic.

“Last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said in his State of the Union address a few days after the decision. “I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”

That criticism turned into a pledge not to use the new funding vehicles. In July 2011, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told the Washington Post: “Neither the president nor his campaign staff or aides will fundraise for super PACs. Our campaign will continue to lead the way when it comes to transparency and reform.”

Seven months later, the campaign reversed itself and embraced a super PAC founded by former White House aides called Priorities USA Action. “[O]ur campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands,” wrote campaign manager Jim Messina in a blog post.

With the blessing of the campaign, top Obama aides, such as then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew and confidantes like Rahm Emanuel, were dispatched to solicit super PAC donations from Democratic millionaires and billionaires. Priorities USA ultimately spent more than $60 million to help re-elect the president.

  • Inaugural festivities funding

After Obama’s victory in 2008, his inaugural committee abided by what it called “an unprecedented set of limitations on fundraising as part of President-elect Obama’s pledge to put the country on a new path.” That meant taking no corporate money and no individual contributions in excess of $50,000 to pay for the myriad parties and balls that end up costing tens of millions of dollars.

The second time around, Obama reversed the policy. The inaugural committee organizing this month’s inaugural festivities accepted corporate money and imposed no limits on giving. A spokesperson cited the need to “meet the fund-raising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history.”

  • Unlimited special interest spending

Just a few months ago, the Obama campaign sent me a memo on the president’s campaign finance record, highlighting his repeated denunciations of special interest money in politics.

“That’s one of the reasons I ran for President: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington,” he said in May 2010, decrying the way Citizens United “gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money — literally millions of dollars — to affect elections throughout our country.”

In 2012, the Obama campaign specifically called out social welfare, or 501(c)(4),  groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars of anonymous money on political ads.

That’s why campaign finance reformers are so angry: Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4) that will advocate for the president’s second-term agenda.

The group has said that despite its status, it will voluntarily disclose donors. But it’s not clear whether that will involve full, prompt disclosure of who is giving and how much, or simply providing a list of names at some point.

A spokeswoman for the new group told NBC this week the disclosure issue is “still being worked out.”

Unnamed Democratic officials have told media outlets that the group will take corporate money (though not donations from registered lobbyists). Indeed, at a meeting this month at the Newseum in Washington, Obama campaign aides pitched top Democratic donors, reported Politico, which obtained a ticket to the event.

The meeting was sponsored by a trade association founded by Fortune 100 companies, including UnitedHealthcare, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Duke Energy.

Social welfare groups are formed to promote the common good and may be involved in politics. Under IRS rules, they are not supposed to be primarily engaged in campaigns.

It’s unclear whether Organizing for Action will get involved in electoral politics as other such nonprofits have in recent years. The group’s spokeswoman told NBC it will run “issue” ads to support Obama’s agenda — but that’s a category of political advocacy that has been open to wide interpretation.

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Hacker in chief: Obama given right to launch ‘preemptive’ cyberattacks

A secret review has concluded that US President Obama has the authority to launch a preemptive cyber attack on any country on the basis that they are considered a ‘cyber threat’ – even if there is no concrete evidence of this threat.

It may not be long before the US conducts crippling attacks on foreign soil with little more than a mouse click, thereby sparing itself the effort of sending its military oversees or declaring war.

The Obama administration is currently drawing up a set of rules about how the US military can defend against or conduct cyberattacks, the New York Times reports. The Obama administration is also allowing intelligence agencies to declare potential threats. But even if these threats are nothing more than a suspicion without evidence, the military now has the authority to attack foreign nations, regardless of whether or not the US is involved in a conflict with them.

This would not only spare the US from sending its own troops overseas, but it would also allow the administration to make decisions without the deliberation that usually occurs before sending Americans into a conflict zone. And if the administration conducts an attack based on false premises, it would be saved the embarrassment that occurred when President George W. Bush sent thousands of US troops into a war with Iraq that lasted nearly 9 years, based on the false premise that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and was a security threat.

With no overseas deployments necessary to conduct a cyberattack, the administration would have nothing to lose by anonymously targeting and destroying infrastructure based on its own suspicions of a threat. The administration’s new rules would also allow the military to operate domestically, the thought of which has always made many people uncomfortable.  The White House in October signed a presidential policy directive that aims to “finalize new rules of engagement that would guide commanders when and how the military can go outside government networks to prevent a cyberattack that could cause significant destruction or casualties.”

 A senior administration official told the Times that the US has so far kept its cyber capabilities restrained and that the new rules could allow the administration to exercise its full potential.

“There are levels of cyberwarfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” the official said.

The administration has already used computer worms to cripple other countries’ infrastructure, including a series of attacks against Iran’s nuclear power plants, one of which took out nearly 1,000 of the 5,000 centrifuges of the Natanz plant. The attack was controlled from inside the Pentagon, which now has a new Cyber Command and a growing budget that would allow it to conduct more extensive cyberattacks. 

The Pentagon’s foundation of such an office demonstrates the administration’s preparation for cyberwarfare, in which both the US and terrorists can strike each other by taking down power grids, financial systems and communications networks. The Cyber Command office is experiencing a growing budget, while the Department of Defense is preparing for spending cuts and is slashing budgets for other Pentagon departments, indicating the importance of its work to the administration.

The rules have been in development for nearly two years, but they were leaked to the Times at a convenient moment for the administration: The New York Times, Bloomberg L.P., the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post all claim that their computers have been penetrated by Chinese hackers and had been targeted for years. The computer security company Mandiant also alleged that Chinese hackers had stolen contacts, information and files from more than 30 US newspaper journalists and executives, many of which had written about Chinese leaders and political and legal issues in China.

But the Chinese Ministry of National Defense has denied that its people had anything to do with the suspected attacks, stating that “Chinese laws prohibit any action including hacking that damages Internet security.” The ministry also expressed anger about the accusations, stating that “to accuse the Chinese military of launching cyberattacks without solid proof is unprofessional and baseless.”

We have seen over the last years an increase in not only the hacking attempts on government institutions but also nongovernmental ones,” US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told reporters on Thursday, emphasizing that the Chinese “are not the only people who are hacking us.”

The administration has also recently announced that an unnamed American power station was crippled for weeks by cyberattacks, without releasing details about the location of the plant. With little proof about the alleged cyberattacks and the suspected threats, the White House now reserves the right to make major cyberwarfare decisions, despite Congress’ long-standing disapproval.

“The [National Security Administration’s] cyber security operations have been kept very, very secret, and because of that it has been impossible for the public to react to them,” said Electronic Privacy Information Center attorney Arnie Stepanovich in November. “[That makes it] very difficult, we believe, for Congress to legislate in this area.”

The Obama administration has long pushed for Congress to pass the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act, which would grant the government greater access to the Internet and cybersecurity information from the private sector. US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, claims it is necessary to prevent a “cyber 9/11” attack that would knock out water, electricity and gas, causing destruction similar to that left behind by Hurricane Sandy.

But privacy advocates have long expressed concern that this measure would give the government access to Americans’ personal e-mails, online chat conversations, and other personal information that only private companies and servers might have access too, prompting Congress to reject the measure.

Alongside privacy concerns, the Obama administration’s increasing access to cybersecurity information and cyberwarfare capabilities provides the president with an unknown amount of power to conduct anonymous attacks on foreign infrastructure.

While using this technology to attack military objects, such as anti-aircraft or missile defense radars in war zones, would not surprise anyone, the US now also reserves the right to attack other countries with which it has not declared war.

With the US ranking first in  a 2012 study that drew up a “Cyber Power Index”, other nations whose conduct conflicts with US wishes could become more vulnerable than ever – especially since International Law allows countries to defend themselves against foreign threats, and these “threats” can now be concluded based on vague intelligence analysis of a 'potential' cyber attack.

Obama Granted Sweeping Power in ‘Secret’ Cyber-Wars

U.S. President Barack Obama has been granted sweeping powers to order preemptive cyber-strikes on any given country, anonymous officials involved in a "secret legal review" of U.S. cyber warfare rules, told the New York Times Monday.

(Jim Watson, AFP/Getty Images) Speaking to the Times, the unnamed officials said quickly advancing tactics of cyber-warfare can be unleashed exclusively via the direct orders of the President—should the administration suspect signs of a major digital attack. If the president approves a strike, the government will be able to “attack adversaries by injecting them with destructive code—even if there is no declared war,” the Times reports.

The administration has been working to hash out the nation's first written rules on how and when the military and several government agencies can initiate acts of cyber-warfare; however, the rules will remain classified.

"What we know about the legal questions Obama has grappled with is all secret. The development of 'cyber-security' policy or cyber warfare policies indicate a further expansion of the body of secret law under Obama," Kevin Gosztola writes at FireDogLake.

What we do know, as the anonymous officials told the Times, is that under the new cyber-warfare rules, which utilize an increasingly loose interpretation of preemptive war, President Obama can initiative cyber-warfare on countries that we are not officially at war with—much like the highly controversial drones strikes, or targeted assassinations, that Obama has approved in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia in recent years.

"The rules will be highly classified, just as those governing drone strikes have been closely held," the Times reports. "John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s chief counter-terrorism adviser and his nominee to run the Central Intelligence Agency, played a central role in developing the administration’s policies regarding both drones and cyber-warfare..."

"There is no indication that any group of members in Congress or judicial body will have to approve of a preemptive strike before it is carried out," writes Gosztola. "As has become typical, the president wants to be able to conduct war without needing authorization."

“There are levels of cyber-warfare that are far more aggressive than anything that has been used or recommended to be done,” one official told the Times.

The New York Times writes:

Mr. Obama is known to have approved the use of cyber-weapons only once, early in his presidency, when he ordered an escalating series of cyber-attacks against Iran’s nuclear enrichment facilities. The operation was code-named Olympic Games, and while it began inside the Pentagon under President George W. Bush, it was quickly taken over by the National Security Agency, the largest of the intelligence agencies, under the president’s authority to conduct covert action. [...]

The attacks on Iran illustrated that a nation’s infrastructure can be destroyed without bombing it or sending in saboteurs. [...]

While many potential targets are military, a country’s power grids, financial systems and communications networks can also be crippled. [...]

One senior American official said that officials quickly determined that the cyber-weapons were so powerful that — like nuclear weapons — they should be unleashed only on the direct orders of the commander in chief.

Gosztola adds:

...like with the drone program, President Barack Obama is presiding over the creation and development of a power that previous presidents never imagined having. The national security state is effectively appointing him and all future presidents the proverbial judge, jury and executioner when it comes to cyber warfare. [...]

The policy will expand the imperial presidency and the public and civil society organizations, which have a distinct interest in knowing what the government is doing, will be kept in the dark on what is legal and illegal in cyber operations. The Congress will barely make any effort to defend its right to provide oversight of this new power. And any future details on this power will mostly come from selective leaks provided by officials, who do not think they will face repercussions for talking to the press. The policy itself, the rules for cyber war, will remain concealed.

Breaking the Chains of Debt Peonage

Paying bills(Image: Paying Bills via Shutterstock)Chris Hedges gave this talk Saturday night in Brooklyn at the People’s Recovery Summit.

The corporate state has made it clear there will be no more Occupy encampments. The corporate state is seeking through the persistent harassment of activists and the passage of draconian laws such as Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act—and we will be in court next Wednesday to fight the Obama administration’s appeal of the Southern District Court of New York’s ruling declaring Section 1021 unconstitutional—to shut down all legitimate dissent. The corporate state is counting, most importantly, on its system of debt peonage to keep citizens—especially the 30 million people who make up the working poor—from joining our revolt.

Workers who are unable to meet their debts, who are victimized by constantly rising interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent on credit cards, are far more likely to remain submissive and compliant. Debt peonage is and always has been a form of political control. Native Americans, forced by the U.S. government onto tribal agencies, were required to buy their goods, usually on credit, at agency stores. Coal miners in southern West Virginia and Kentucky were paid in scrip by the coal companies and kept in perpetual debt servitude by the company store. African-Americans in the cotton fields in the South were forced to borrow during the agricultural season from their white landlords for their seed and farm equipment, creating a life of perpetual debt. It soon becomes impossible to escape the mounting interest rates that necessitate new borrowing.

Debt peonage is a familiar form of political control. And today it is used by banks and corporate financiers to enslave not only individuals but also cities, municipalities, states and the federal government. As the economist Michael Hudson points out, the steady rise in interest rates, coupled with declining public revenues, has become a way to extract the last bits of capital from citizens as well as government. Once individuals, or states or federal agencies, cannot pay their bills—and for many Americans this often means medical bills—assets are sold to corporations or seized. Public land, property and infrastructure, along with pension plans, are privatized. Individuals are pushed out of their homes and into financial and personal distress.

Debt peonage is a fundamental tool for control. This debt peonage must be broken if we are going to build a mass movement to paralyze systems of corporate power. And the most effective weapon we have to liberate ourselves as well as the 30 million Americans who make up the working poor is a sustained movement to raise the minimum wage nationally to at least $11 an hour. Most of these 30 million low-wage workers are women and people of color. They and their families struggle at a subsistence level and play one lender off another to survive. By raising their wages we raise not only the quality of their lives but we increase their capacity for personal and political power. We break one of the most important shackles used by the corporate state to prevent organized resistance.

Ralph Nader, whom I spoke with on Thursday, has been pushing activists to mobilize around raising the minimum wage. Nader, who knows more about corporate power and has been fighting it longer than any other American, has singled out, I believe, the key to building a broad-based national movement. There is among these underpaid 30 million workers—and some of them are with us tonight—a mounting despair at being unable to meet even the basic requirements to maintain a family. Nader points out that Walmart’s 1 million workers, like most of the 30 million low-wage workers, are making less per hour, adjusted for inflation, than workers made in 1968, although these Walmart workers do the work required of two Walmart workers 40 years ago.

If the federal minimum wage from 1968 were adjusted for inflation it would be $10.50. Instead, although costs and prices have risen sharply, the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour. It is the lowest of the major industrial countries. Meanwhile, Mike Duke, the CEO of Walmart, makes $11,000 an hour. And he is not alone. These corporate chiefs make this much money because they have been able to keep in place a system by which workers are effectively disempowered, forced to work for substandard wages and denied the possibility through unions or the formal electoral systems of power to defend workers’ rights. This is why corporations lavish these CEOs with obscene salaries. These CEOs are the masters of plantations. And the moment workers rise up and demand justice is the moment the staggering inequality of wealth begins to be reversed.

Being a member of the working poor, as Barbara Ehrenreich chronicles in her important book “Nickel and Dimed,” is “a state of emergency.” It is “acute distress.” It is a daily and weekly lurching from crisis to crisis. The stress, the suffering, the humiliation and the job insecurity means that workers are reduced to doing little more than eating, sleeping—never enough—and working. And, most importantly, they are kept in a constant state of fear. Ehrenreich writes:

When someone works for less pay than she can live on—when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently—then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

It is time to halt the sacrifice of the working poor. It is time to empower the 30 million low-wage workers—two-thirds of which are employed by large corporations such as Walmart and McDonald’s—to fight back.

Joe Sacco and I spent the last two years in the poorest pockets of the United States, our nation’s sacrifice zones, for our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” We saw in Pine Ridge, S.D., Camden, N.J.—the poorest and the most dangerous city in the nation—the coalfields of southern West Virginia and the produce fields of Immokalee, Fla., how this brutal system of corporate exploitation works. In these sacrifice zones no one has legal protection. All institutions, from the press to the political class to the judiciary, are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. And what has been done to those in these sacrifice zones, those places corporations devastated first, is now being done to all of us.

There are no impediments within the electoral process or the formal structures of power to prevent predatory capitalism. We are all being forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace. The human cost, the attendant problems of drug and alcohol abuse, the neglect of children, the early deaths—in Pine Ridge the average life expectancy of a male is 48, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti—is justified by the need to make greater and greater profit. And these costs are now being felt across the nation. The phrase “the consent of the governed” has become a cruel joke. We use a language to describe our systems of governance that no longer correspond to reality. The disconnect between illusion and reality makes us one of the most self-deluded populations on the planet.

The Weimarization of the American working class, and increasingly the middle class, is by design. It is part of a corporate reconfiguration of the national and global economy into a form of neofeudalism. It is about creating a world of masters and serfs, of empowered oligarchic elites and broken disempowered masses. And it is not only our wealth that is taken from us. It is our liberty. The so-called self-regulating market, as the economist Karl Polanyi wrote in “The Great Transformation,” always ends with mafia capitalism and a mafia political system. This system of self-regulation, Polanyi wrote, always leads to “the demolition of society.”

And this is what is happening—the demolition of our society and the demolition of the ecosystem that sustains the human species. In theological terms these corporate forces, driven by the lust for ceaseless expansion and exploitation, are systems of death. They know no limits. They will not stop on their own. And unless we stop them we are as a nation and finally as a species doomed. Polanyi understood the destructive power of unregulated corporate capitalism unleashed upon human society and the ecosystem. He wrote: “In disposing of a man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ attached to the tag.”

Polanyi wrote of a society that surrendered to the dictates of the market. “Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed. Finally, the market administration of purchasing power would periodically liquidate business enterprise, for shortages and surfeits of money would prove as disastrous to business as floods and droughts in primitive society. Undoubtedly, labor, land, and money markets are essential to a market economy. But no society could stand the effects of such a system of crude fictions even for the shortest stretch of time unless its human and natural substance as well as its business organizations was protected against the ravages of this satanic mill.

The global and national economy because of this “satanic mill” continues to deteriorate, and yet, curiously, stock market levels are close to their highs in 2007 before the global financial meltdown. This is because these corporations have been able to suppress wages, slash social programs and bilk the government for staggering sums of money. The Federal Reserve purchases about $85 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bills every month. This means that the Fed is printing endless streams of money to buy up government debt and toxic assets from the banks.  The Federal Reserve now owns assets, much of them worthless, of $3.01 trillion. This is triple what it was in 2008.

And while corporations such as Citibank and General Electric loot the Treasury they exact more pounds of flesh in the name of austerity. General Electric, as Nader points out, is a net job exporter. Over the past decade, as Citizens for Tax Justice has documented, GE’s effective federal income tax rate on its $81.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits has been at most 1.8 percent. Because of the way General Electric’s accountants play with tax liabilities the company actually receives money from the Treasury. They have several billion dollars paid to them from the federal government into company bank accounts—and these are not tax refunds. The company, as Nader argues, is a net drain on the Treasury and a net drain on jobs. It violates a host of environmental and criminal laws. And yet Jeffery Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, was appointed to be the chairman of Obama’s Jobs Council. Immelt’s only major contribution to the jobs initiative was to get rid of 37,000 of his employees since 2001. Jim McNerney, president and CEO of Boeing, who also sat on the Jobs Council, has cut over 14,000 jobs since 2008, according to Public Campaign. The only jobs the CEOs on the Jobs Council were concerned with were the ones these CEOs eradicated. The Jobs Council, which Obama disbanded this week, is a microcosm of what is happening within the corridors of power. Corporations increasingly terminate jobs here to hire grossly underpaid workers in India or China while at the same time stealing as much as fast as they can on the way out the door.

As Michael Hudson has pointed out, financialization has created a new kind of class war. The old class warfare took place between workers and bosses. Workers organized to fight for fair wages, better work hours and safety conditions in the workplace as well as adequate pensions and medical benefits. But with a country of debtors and a government that must also borrow to continue operating, Hudson says, we have changed the way class warfare works. Finance, he points out, controls state and federal policy as well as the lives of ordinary workers. It is able to dictate working conditions. The financiers, who insist that cuts be made so governments can repay loans, impose draconian austerity and long-term unemployment to, as Hudson told a Greek newspaper, “drive down wages to a degree that could not occur in the company-by-company clash between industrial employers and their workers.”

The former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress, was quite open about the role of debt peonage in keeping workers passive. Greenspan pointed out that since 1980 labor productivity has increased by about 83 percent. Yet real wages have stagnated. Greenspan said this was because workers were too burdened with mortgage debts, college loans, auto payments and credit-card debt to risk losing a job. Household debt in the United States is around $13 trillion. This is only $2 trillion less than the country’s total yearly economic output. Greenspan was right. Miss a payment on your credit card and your interest rates jumps to 30 percent. Fail to pay your mortgage and you lose your home. Miss your health insurance payments, which have been spiraling upwards, and if you are seriously ill you go into bankruptcy, as 1 million Americans who get sick do every year. Trash your credit rating and your fragile financial edifice, built on managing debt, collapses. Since most Americans feel, on some level, as Hudson points out, that they are a step or two away from being homeless, they are deeply averse to challenging corporate power. It is not worth the risk. And the corporate state knows it. Absolute power, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, depends on fear and passivity.

The only way to break this fear and passivity is to organize workers to break the cycle of mounting debt. And the first step to achieving independence from debt—the primary form of political control by the corporate state—is to raise the minimum wage. There are other solutions—forgiving mortgage and student debt, instituting universal health care, establishing a nationwide jobs program to rebuild the country’s Third World infrastructure, and green energy—but none of this will happen until we are able to mount a sustained mass movement that discredits the corporate state. This mass movement will arise, as Nader says, when we mobilize around the minimum wage.

The lowest-grade worker at the General Electric plant that makes high-tech health care devices outside Paterson in Totowa [New Jersey]—a pay grade known as the D 04—was just raised to $14,555 a year. That is under $8 an hour. The plant’s highest-paid hourly employee, known as D 16, earns $22,000. Immelt makes over $11 million a year. This vast disparity in income, and this wage abuse, is played out in every corporation in the country. No one in Washington intends to challenge it.

Only 11.3 percent of workers in this country belong to unions. This is the lowest percentage in 80 years. And nearly all these unions, and especially the AFL-CIO, have been emasculated by corporate power.

Nader is right when he warns that we are not going to be assisted in this effort by established unions. Union leaders are bought off. They are comfortable. They are pulling down at least five times what rank-and-file workers make. Nader says we have to mount protests not only outside the doors of Walmarts and General Electric plants, not only outside congressional offices, but outside the doors of the AFL-CIO. There is no established institution inside or outside government that will help us. They are all broken or complicit. But there are the 30 million working poor who, if we organize to break the system of debt peonage that holds them hostage, may be willing to rise up. We are bound with many chains and shackles. We will have to break them one at a time. But once we rise up, once we are able to threaten the corporate systems that keep us supine through fear, we will unleash a torrent of energy and passion that will confirm the worst nightmares of our corporate overlords.

Breaking the Chains of Debt Peonage

Chris Hedges gave this talk Saturday night in Brooklyn at the People’s Recovery Summit.

(Photo: watchingfrogsboil via flickr)The corporate state has made it clear there will be no more Occupy encampments. The corporate state is seeking through the persistent harassment of activists and the passage of draconian laws such as Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act—and we will be in court next Wednesday to fight the Obama administration’s appeal of the Southern District Court of New York’s ruling declaring Section 1021 unconstitutional—to shut down all legitimate dissent. The corporate state is counting, most importantly, on its system of debt peonage to keep citizens—especially the 30 million people who make up the working poor—from joining our revolt.

Workers who are unable to meet their debts, who are victimized by constantly rising interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent on credit cards, are far more likely to remain submissive and compliant. Debt peonage is and always has been a form of political control. Native Americans, forced by the U.S. government onto tribal agencies, were required to buy their goods, usually on credit, at agency stores. Coal miners in southern West Virginia and Kentucky were paid in scrip by the coal companies and kept in perpetual debt servitude by the company store. African-Americans in the cotton fields in the South were forced to borrow during the agricultural season from their white landlords for their seed and farm equipment, creating a life of perpetual debt. It soon becomes impossible to escape the mounting interest rates that necessitate new borrowing.

Debt peonage is a familiar form of political control. And today it is used by banks and corporate financiers to enslave not only individuals but also cities, municipalities, states and the federal government. As the economist Michael Hudson points out, the steady rise in interest rates, coupled with declining public revenues, has become a way to extract the last bits of capital from citizens as well as government. Once individuals, or states or federal agencies, cannot pay their bills—and for many Americans this often means medical bills—assets are sold to corporations or seized. Public land, property and infrastructure, along with pension plans, are privatized. Individuals are pushed out of their homes and into financial and personal distress.

Debt peonage is a fundamental tool for control. This debt peonage must be broken if we are going to build a mass movement to paralyze systems of corporate power. And the most effective weapon we have to liberate ourselves as well as the 30 million Americans who make up the working poor is a sustained movement to raise the minimum wage nationally to at least $11 an hour. Most of these 30 million low-wage workers are women and people of color. They and their families struggle at a subsistence level and play one lender off another to survive. By raising their wages we raise not only the quality of their lives but we increase their capacity for personal and political power. We break one of the most important shackles used by the corporate state to prevent organized resistance.Ralph Nader, whom I spoke with on Thursday, has been pushing activists to mobilize around raising the minimum wage. Nader, who knows more about corporate power and has been fighting it longer than any other American, has singled out, I believe, the key to building a broad-based national movement. There is among these underpaid 30 million workers—and some of them are with us tonight—a mounting despair at being unable to meet even the basic requirements to maintain a family. Nader points out that Walmart’s 1 million workers, like most of the 30 million low-wage workers, are making less per hour, adjusted for inflation, than workers made in 1968, although these Walmart workers do the work required of two Walmart workers 40 years ago.

If the federal minimum wage from 1968 were adjusted for inflation it would be $10.50. Instead, although costs and prices have risen sharply, the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour. It is the lowest of the major industrial countries. Meanwhile, Mike Duke, the CEO of Walmart, makes $11,000 an hour. And he is not alone. These corporate chiefs make this much money because they have been able to keep in place a system by which workers are effectively disempowered, forced to work for substandard wages and denied the possibility through unions or the formal electoral systems of power to defend workers’ rights. This is why corporations lavish these CEOs with obscene salaries. These CEOs are the masters of plantations. And the moment workers rise up and demand justice is the moment the staggering inequality of wealth begins to be reversed.

Being a member of the working poor, as Barbara Ehrenreich chronicles in her important book “Nickel and Dimed,” is “a state of emergency.” It is “acute distress.” It is a daily and weekly lurching from crisis to crisis. The stress, the suffering, the humiliation and the job insecurity means that workers are reduced to doing little more than eating, sleeping—never enough—and working. And, most importantly, they are kept in a constant state of fear. Ehrenreich writes:

When someone works for less pay than she can live on—when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently—then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

It is time to halt the sacrifice of the working poor. It is time to empower the 30 million low-wage workers—two-thirds of which are employed by large corporations such as Walmart and McDonald’s—to fight back.

Joe Sacco and I spent the last two years in the poorest pockets of the United States, our nation’s sacrifice zones, for our book “Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt.” We saw in Pine Ridge, S.D., Camden, N.J.—the poorest and the most dangerous city in the nation—the coalfields of southern West Virginia and the produce fields of Immokalee, Fla., how this brutal system of corporate exploitation works. In these sacrifice zones no one has legal protection. All institutions, from the press to the political class to the judiciary, are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state. And what has been done to those in these sacrifice zones, those places corporations devastated first, is now being done to all of us.

There are no impediments within the electoral process or the formal structures of power to prevent predatory capitalism. We are all being forced to kneel before the dictates of the marketplace. The human cost, the attendant problems of drug and alcohol abuse, the neglect of children, the early deaths—in Pine Ridge the average life expectancy of a male is 48, the lowest in the Western Hemisphere outside of Haiti—is justified by the need to make greater and greater profit. And these costs are now being felt across the nation. The phrase “the consent of the governed” has become a cruel joke. We use a language to describe our systems of governance that no longer correspond to reality. The disconnect between illusion and reality makes us one of the most self-deluded populations on the planet.

The Weimarization of the American working class, and increasingly the middle class, is by design. It is part of a corporate reconfiguration of the national and global economy into a form of neofeudalism. It is about creating a world of masters and serfs, of empowered oligarchic elites and broken disempowered masses. And it is not only our wealth that is taken from us. It is our liberty. The so-called self-regulating market, as the economist Karl Polanyi wrote in “The Great Transformation,” always ends with mafia capitalism and a mafia political system. This system of self-regulation, Polanyi wrote, always leads to “the demolition of society.”

And this is what is happening—the demolition of our society and the demolition of the ecosystem that sustains the human species. In theological terms these corporate forces, driven by the lust for ceaseless expansion and exploitation, are systems of death. They know no limits. They will not stop on their own. And unless we stop them we are as a nation and finally as a species doomed. Polanyi understood the destructive power of unregulated corporate capitalism unleashed upon human society and the ecosystem. He wrote: “In disposing of a man’s labor power the system would, incidentally, dispose of the physical, psychological, and moral entity ‘man’ attached to the tag.”

Polanyi wrote of a society that surrendered to the dictates of the market. “Robbed of the protective covering of cultural institutions, human beings would perish from the effects of social exposure; they would die as victims of acute social dislocation through vice, perversion, crime, and starvation. Nature would be reduced to its elements, neighborhoods and landscapes defiled, rivers polluted, military safety jeopardized, the power to produce food and raw materials destroyed. Finally, the market administration of purchasing power would periodically liquidate business enterprise, for shortages and surfeits of money would prove as disastrous to business as floods and droughts in primitive society. Undoubtedly, labor, land, and money markets are essential to a market economy. But no society could stand the effects of such a system of crude fictions even for the shortest stretch of time unless its human and natural substance as well as its business organizations was protected against the ravages of this satanic mill.

The global and national economy because of this “satanic mill” continues to deteriorate, and yet, curiously, stock market levels are close to their highs in 2007 before the global financial meltdown. This is because these corporations have been able to suppress wages, slash social programs and bilk the government for staggering sums of money. The Federal Reserve purchases about $85 billion worth of mortgage-backed securities and Treasury bills every month. This means that the Fed is printing endless streams of money to buy up government debt and toxic assets from the banks.  The Federal Reserve now owns assets, much of them worthless, of $3.01 trillion. This is triple what it was in 2008.

And while corporations such as Citibank and General Electric loot the Treasury they exact more pounds of flesh in the name of austerity. General Electric, as Nader points out, is a net job exporter. Over the past decade, as Citizens for Tax Justice has documented, GE’s effective federal income tax rate on its $81.2 billion in pretax U.S. profits has been at most 1.8 percent. Because of the way General Electric’s accountants play with tax liabilities the company actually receives money from the Treasury. They have several billion dollars paid to them from the federal government into company bank accounts—and these are not tax refunds. The company, as Nader argues, is a net drain on the Treasury and a net drain on jobs. It violates a host of environmental and criminal laws. And yet Jeffery Immelt, the CEO of General Electric, was appointed to be the chairman of Obama’s Jobs Council. Immelt’s only major contribution to the jobs initiative was to get rid of 37,000 of his employees since 2001. Jim McNerney, president and CEO of Boeing, who also sat on the Jobs Council, has cut over 14,000 jobs since 2008, according to Public Campaign. The only jobs the CEOs on the Jobs Council were concerned with were the ones these CEOs eradicated. The Jobs Council, which Obama disbanded this week, is a microcosm of what is happening within the corridors of power. Corporations increasingly terminate jobs here to hire grossly underpaid workers in India or China while at the same time stealing as much as fast as they can on the way out the door.

As Michael Hudson has pointed out, financialization has created a new kind of class war. The old class warfare took place between workers and bosses. Workers organized to fight for fair wages, better work hours and safety conditions in the workplace as well as adequate pensions and medical benefits. But with a country of debtors and a government that must also borrow to continue operating, Hudson says, we have changed the way class warfare works. Finance, he points out, controls state and federal policy as well as the lives of ordinary workers. It is able to dictate working conditions. The financiers, who insist that cuts be made so governments can repay loans, impose draconian austerity and long-term unemployment to, as Hudson told a Greek newspaper, “drive down wages to a degree that could not occur in the company-by-company clash between industrial employers and their workers.”

The former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan, testifying before Congress, was quite open about the role of debt peonage in keeping workers passive. Greenspan pointed out that since 1980 labor productivity has increased by about 83 percent. Yet real wages have stagnated. Greenspan said this was because workers were too burdened with mortgage debts, college loans, auto payments and credit-card debt to risk losing a job. Household debt in the United States is around $13 trillion. This is only $2 trillion less than the country’s total yearly economic output. Greenspan was right. Miss a payment on your credit card and your interest rates jumps to 30 percent. Fail to pay your mortgage and you lose your home. Miss your health insurance payments, which have been spiraling upwards, and if you are seriously ill you go into bankruptcy, as 1 million Americans who get sick do every year. Trash your credit rating and your fragile financial edifice, built on managing debt, collapses. Since most Americans feel, on some level, as Hudson points out, that they are a step or two away from being homeless, they are deeply averse to challenging corporate power. It is not worth the risk. And the corporate state knows it. Absolute power, the philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote, depends on fear and passivity.

The only way to break this fear and passivity is to organize workers to break the cycle of mounting debt. And the first step to achieving independence from debt—the primary form of political control by the corporate state—is to raise the minimum wage. There are other solutions—forgiving mortgage and student debt, instituting universal health care, establishing a nationwide jobs program to rebuild the country’s Third World infrastructure, and green energy—but none of this will happen until we are able to mount a sustained mass movement that discredits the corporate state. This mass movement will arise, as Nader says, when we mobilize around the minimum wage.

The lowest-grade worker at the General Electric plant that makes high-tech health care devices outside Paterson in Totowa [New Jersey]—a pay grade known as the D 04—was just raised to $14,555 a year. That is under $8 an hour. The plant’s highest-paid hourly employee, known as D 16, earns $22,000. Immelt makes over $11 million a year. This vast disparity in income, and this wage abuse, is played out in every corporation in the country. No one in Washington intends to challenge it.

Only 11.3 percent of workers in this country belong to unions. This is the lowest percentage in 80 years. And nearly all these unions, and especially the AFL-CIO, have been emasculated by corporate power.

Nader is right when he warns that we are not going to be assisted in this effort by established unions. Union leaders are bought off. They are comfortable. They are pulling down at least five times what rank-and-file workers make. Nader says we have to mount protests not only outside the doors of Walmarts and General Electric plants, not only outside congressional offices, but outside the doors of the AFL-CIO. There is no established institution inside or outside government that will help us. They are all broken or complicit. But there are the 30 million working poor who, if we organize to break the system of debt peonage that holds them hostage, may be willing to rise up. We are bound with many chains and shackles. We will have to break them one at a time. But once we rise up, once we are able to threaten the corporate systems that keep us supine through fear, we will unleash a torrent of energy and passion that will confirm the worst nightmares of our corporate overlords.

© 2013 TruthDig

Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges writes a regular column for Truthdig.com. Hedges graduated from Harvard Divinity School and was for nearly two decades a foreign correspondent for The New York Times. He is the author of many books, including: War Is A Force That Gives Us Meaning, What Every Person Should Know About War, and American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.  His most recent book is Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle.

New Database Puts Patients Privacy at Risk

Privacy campaigners and medical groups have warned the confidentiality of NHS patients could be in jeopardy as GPs are forced to hand over patient records to a central database.

Russia’s Pirate Party bans govt officials from new hosting site

Screenshot piratehost.net

Screenshot piratehost.net

Activists from Russia's unregistered Pirate Party said their new hosting site will block visitors from IP addresses belonging to government agencies and other state bodies, and vowed to create a “blacklist” of persons known for pro-copyright stances.

The Pirate Party announced the initiative in a press release; in it, they claimed that there is no such thing as illegal information, but there is information that some state officials or corporate executives want to hide or restrict.

The activists also argued that the deteriorating state of freedom of information in Russia demanded immediate action, and announced a plan to “clean the web of parasites.” This includes the blocking of all IP addresses associated with state agencies and pro-copyright organizations, especially Russia's Safe Internet League.

The main idea behind the project is that if potential opponents of the freedom of information cannot access sites that are hosted by pirates, they will not have the legal justification to demand their closure.

The new hosting will offer services to anyone except those that the Pirate Party considers cyber-criminals – those who use it for spamming, phishing, carding and child pornography. The party vowed to ban such accounts without warning.

The party also asked those who share their views – or simply want to get even with their bosses at work – to report the IP addresses of the abovementioned users, and to identify IPs that are used by civil servants.

The idea is a controversial one, primarily due to the fact that according to new Russian laws, state consumer watchdog Rospotrebnadzor can block websites containing banned information at any level, including the provider’s, allowing site owners to contest the ban in court.

Authorities could therefore completely block the pirate hosting and its owners would be culpable, and required to disclose information on their website in court.

The Pirate Party openly declared that their project was a response to an initiative launched by the Safe Internet League, which requires providers in Central Russia's Kostroma region to allow access only to websites handpicked by the league’s experts. Users who want to browse beyond these limits would have to apply for permission.

The pirate hosting allows its users to get an anonymous server, virtual or dedicated. The service also reportedly includes legal support against copyright claims and if the need arises, protection against DDOS attacks or other hacker activities.

The hosting is a paid service with an as-yet-unannounced price structure. All revenues will be used for Pirate Party fundraising, the statement said.

This is not the first anti-copyright project by Russia's Pirate Party. In November, the group launched the RosKomSvoboda ('Russian Freedom Committee') service, which collects data on various sites blocked by the recently launched state register and suggests ways to bypass the restrictions and access the banned sites.

The Pirate Party has attempted to officially register with the Russian Justice Ministry after party registration rules were eased in 2012, but their application was turned down. Authorities said the name of the organization was the reason for the rejection, explaining that sea piracy is a criminal offense in Russia and therefore cannot be promoted.

Most-wanted foreigners hiding in UK named

A list of the most-wanted high-risk foreign fugitives believed to be hiding in Britain - including three suspected murderers and an accused rapist - has been released. The list of 17 people, who are wanted by authorities in other European countries bu...

Breaking the Chains of Debt Peonage

Breaking the Chains of Debt Peonage

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Posted on Feb 3, 2013
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By Chris Hedges

Chris Hedges gave this talk Saturday night in Brooklyn at the People’s Recovery Summit.

The corporate state has made it clear there will be no more Occupy encampments. The corporate state is seeking through the persistent harassment of activists and the passage of draconian laws such as Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act—and we will be in court next Wednesday to fight the Obama administration’s appeal of the Southern District Court of New York’s ruling declaring Section 1021 unconstitutional—to shut down all legitimate dissent. The corporate state is counting, most importantly, on its system of debt peonage to keep citizens—especially the 30 million people who make up the working poor—from joining our revolt.

Workers who are unable to meet their debts, who are victimized by constantly rising interest rates that can climb to as high as 30 percent on credit cards, are far more likely to remain submissive and compliant. Debt peonage is and always has been a form of political control. Native Americans, forced by the U.S. government onto tribal agencies, were required to buy their goods, usually on credit, at agency stores. Coal miners in southern West Virginia and Kentucky were paid in scrip by the coal companies and kept in perpetual debt servitude by the company store. African-Americans in the cotton fields in the South were forced to borrow during the agricultural season from their white landlords for their seed and farm equipment, creating a life of perpetual debt. It soon becomes impossible to escape the mounting interest rates that necessitate new borrowing.

Debt peonage is a familiar form of political control. And today it is used by banks and corporate financiers to enslave not only individuals but also cities, municipalities, states and the federal government. As the economist Michael Hudson points out, the steady rise in interest rates, coupled with declining public revenues, has become a way to extract the last bits of capital from citizens as well as government. Once individuals, or states or federal agencies, cannot pay their bills—and for many Americans this often means medical bills—assets are sold to corporations or seized. Public land, property and infrastructure, along with pension plans, are privatized. Individuals are pushed out of their homes and into financial and personal distress.

Debt peonage is a fundamental tool for control. This debt peonage must be broken if we are going to build a mass movement to paralyze systems of corporate power. And the most effective weapon we have to liberate ourselves as well as the 30 million Americans who make up the working poor is a sustained movement to raise the minimum wage nationally to at least $11 an hour. Most of these 30 million low-wage workers are women and people of color. They and their families struggle at a subsistence level and play one lender off another to survive. By raising their wages we raise not only the quality of their lives but we increase their capacity for personal and political power. We break one of the most important shackles used by the corporate state to prevent organized resistance.

Ralph Nader, whom I spoke with on Thursday, has been pushing activists to mobilize around raising the minimum wage. Nader, who knows more about corporate power and has been fighting it longer than any other American, has singled out, I believe, the key to building a broad-based national movement. There is among these underpaid 30 million workers—and some of them are with us tonight—a mounting despair at being unable to meet even the basic requirements to maintain a family. Nader points out that Walmart’s 1 million workers, like most of the 30 million low-wage workers, are making less per hour, adjusted for inflation, than workers made in 1968, although these Walmart workers do the work required of two Walmart workers 40 years ago.

If the federal minimum wage from 1968 were adjusted for inflation it would be $10.50. Instead, although costs and prices have risen sharply, the federal minimum wage remains stuck at $7.25 an hour. It is the lowest of the major industrial countries. Meanwhile, Mike Duke, the CEO of Walmart, makes $11,000 an hour. And he is not alone. These corporate chiefs make this much money because they have been able to keep in place a system by which workers are effectively disempowered, forced to work for substandard wages and denied the possibility through unions or the formal electoral systems of power to defend workers’ rights. This is why corporations lavish these CEOs with obscene salaries. These CEOs are the masters of plantations. And the moment workers rise up and demand justice is the moment the staggering inequality of wealth begins to be reversed.

Being a member of the working poor, as Barbara Ehrenreich chronicles in her important book “Nickel and Dimed,” is “a state of emergency.” It is “acute distress.” It is a daily and weekly lurching from crisis to crisis. The stress, the suffering, the humiliation and the job insecurity means that workers are reduced to doing little more than eating, sleeping—never enough—and working. And, most importantly, they are kept in a constant state of fear. Ehrenreich writes:

When someone works for less pay than she can live on—when, for example, she goes hungry so that you can eat more cheaply and conveniently—then she has made a great sacrifice for you, she has made you a gift of some part of her abilities, her health, and her life. The “working poor,” as they are approvingly termed, are in fact the major philanthropists of our society. They neglect their own children so that the children of others will be cared for; they live in substandard housing so that other homes will be shiny and perfect; they endure privation so that inflation will be low and stock prices high. To be a member of the working poor is to be an anonymous donor, a nameless benefactor, to everyone else.

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Obamacare: A Deception

Obamacare was formulated on the concept of health care as a commercial commodity and was cloaked in ideological slogans such as “shared responsibility,” “no free riders” and “ownership society.”

Mehdi’s Morning Memo: Gay Marriage – The Vote

The ten things you need to know on Sunday 3 February 2013...

1) GAY MARRIAGE - THE VOTE

The Sunday Telegraph splashes on the impending Tory 'rebellion' over gay marriage - the paper says it has

"... established that around 180 Conservative MPs, most notably including six whips and up to four members of the Cabinet, are ready to defy the Prime Minister’s plan to legalise gay weddings.

"Meanwhile, 25 chairmen or former chairmen of Conservative party associations across the country have signed a letter to Mr Cameron warning that the policy will cause “significant damage” to the Tories’ 2015 general election campaign.

"One chairman, who has quit over the issue, said 'this is a policy dreamt up in Notting Hill', while a serving chairman said it had angered the grassroots more than Europe."

The four cabinet ministers are believed to be Owen Paterson, David Jones, Philip Hammond and Iain Duncan Smith.

The paper says: "The vote on Tuesday is the first parliamentary vote on the gay marriage legislation and a test for the Prime Minister." Now there's the understatement of the day...

(On a related note, the Sunday Times reports that "the Liberal Democrats want heterosexual couples to be able to have civil partnership ceremonies in the same way as gay men and lesbians... The policy, backed by Nick Clegg, would give unmarried couples legal protection if they split up or one of them dies.")

2) 'THE REAGAN SOLUTION'

More talk of Tory plots and coups on the front of the Sunday Times:

"Tory rebels backing Adam Afriyie's attempt to unseat David Cameron as party leader hope that Boris Johnson will emerge as the ultimate victor.

"Some MPs involved in the multimillionaire's campaign plan to line up the London mayor in the growing expectation that he will return to Westminster in 2015.

"Johnson is not playing an active role in the manoeuvring.

"One friend said he was 'taking a close interest'."

I'm sure he is. The Sunday Times refers to a 'Reagan solution'. (A Reagan what?)

"However, many do not entirely trust him and accept that his reputation for bumbling may make it hard for him to perform well as a conventional prime minister. Some are mulling a 'Reagan solution' in which Johnson is the glitzy public personality of a future Tory government but day-to-day work is done by a protective coterie of ministers with management skills. Afriyie could then be rewarded with a government job."

The paper also claims that Theresa May, the home secretary, is being lined up as a 'Stop Boris' candidate. Hmm. Not sure about that...

3) GRAYLING'S SMACKDOWN

You want know how tough the justice secretary, Chris Grayling, is? It isn't just criminals who face his wrath. Watch out kids! From the Mail on Sunday:

"His disciplinarian views are mirrored by the ‘regime’ he and wife Susan adopted towards their two children, now 20 and 16. He says when they misbehaved they knew they could get a smack from dad.

"‘You chastise children when they are bad, as my parents did me. I’m not opposed to smacking. It is to be used occasionally. Sometimes it sends a message – but I don’t hanker for the days when children were severely beaten at school.’"

Grayling's comments came in an interview with the Mail on Sunday's Simon Walters in which, says the paper, he announced an "end to Britain’s ‘holiday camp’ jails, with a ban on Sky TV, fewer televisions, more prison uniforms, less pocket money for inmates and a ban on gay couples sharing cells is planned by the Government."

Tough, tough, tough. But will it work?

4) TORIES FOR ED?

Ed Mili may be a fan of the Fabians, and the Fabians a fan of Ed Mili, but the organisation has produced a report which won't put a smile on the Labour leader's face (via the Obs):

"Ed Miliband is failing to repeat Tony Blair's success in winning over former Tory voters and will have to rely on people returning to Labour as well as ex-Lib Dem converts to win a majority, a new polling analysis suggests.

"Research by the New Fabian Society finds just 400,000 voters have moved from Conservatives to Labour since the last election which, if unchanged on polling day, would mean Labour had made only tiny inroads into Tory heartlands."

The Fabians' general secretary Andrew Harrop tells the paper: "Ed Miliband is not Tony Blair and he'll need to win power in his own way. Blair's success was based on winning over disillusioned ex-Tories who are so far resisting Miliband's appeal," said Harrop.

"Instead Ed has won the backing of people who had given up on voting as well as former Lib Dems. The Fabian research shows that together there are enough of them for Labour to win a majority. The challenge for Labour is to turn this mid-term support into votes in 2015."

As Tony Blair himself noted, on the Marr show this morning, "What Ed's trying to do is tougher than what I had to do." Indeed...

5) FROM TWITTER SPAT TO DEAD TREE PRESS

The Observer's Toby Helm got into a row with CCHQ Twitter account - and, this morning, the Observer hits back with a splash and a double-page spread:

"Education secretary Michael Gove has been plunged into a potentially toxic row over allegations that members of his department have used the social networking site Twitter to launch highly personal attacks on journalists and political opponents and to conduct a Tory propaganda campaign paid for by the taxpayer.

"... An anonymous Twitter account called @toryeducation is regularly used to attack critical stories about both Gove and his department. It is often abreast of imminent Tory policies, suggesting it is coming from close to the centre of government. However, it is also used to rubbish journalists and Labour politicians while promoting Gove's policies and career. Issuing party political material and indulging in personal attacks are both clear breaches of the special advisers' code and the civil service code."

Don't mess with Toby Helm, eh?

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video of a fox that thinks it's a dog...

6) HE'S BAAAAACK, PART 56

Did Tony Blair ever leave the British political and media scene? As this Memo has noted before, 'TB' never seems to be off our TV screens or comment pages.

Blair was on the Marr show on BBC1 this morning, with Marr stand-in Sian Williams chucking one softball question after another in the former PM's direction. Blair who was in full 'neocon' mode, making repeated references to 'the perversion of Islam', a 'generation'-long struggle against terrorists which he compared to the struggle against "revolutionary communism", and arguing how "David Cameron is essentially right in what he's saying" about a decade or more of conflict against al-Qaeda-inspired violence. There were few, if any, references to the radicalising role of Blair's illegal invasion of Iraq or the failure to secure peace and statehood for the Palestinians in the Middle East (where Tony, lest we forget, is a 'special envoy').

"You've got to shape the events happening in the Middle East," said Blair, as he defended the concept of 'intervention'. Now, I have no problem in 'shaping' things abroad - but Blair's definition of 'shape' normally includes bombing and/or invading.

Meanwhile, the Independent on Sunday's story on the blossing relationship between Blair and and his self-proclaimed (Tory) heir is worth a read - it's headline: "Meet my NBF! David Cameron and Tony Blair become chums."

7) 'STRIVERS' TAX' ANYONE?

Is the coalition starting to lose its PR war on welfare 'scroungers'? From the Independent on Sunday:

"As many as 100,000 children from working families will be forced into poverty as a result of the Government's plans to cut benefits for the poorest, ministers have admitted for the first time.

"Official figures show that a total of 200,000 youngsters from all families will be pushed into child poverty as a result of George Osborne's 1 per cent cap on benefits from April, in effect a real-terms cut in welfare payments. But Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat pensions minister, revealed in a parliamentary written answer last week that 50 per cent of those children come from families where at least one parent is in work."

Good job, Dave...

8) YOU'RE HIRED

Want to know how to be a member of parliament? The Sunday Express reports:

"A Tory MP has taken practical steps to tackle unemployment by setting up his own apprenticeship scheme in the House of Commons.

"Robert Halfon became the first MP to take on a properly accredited apprentice to help him and now, thanks to his Parliamentary Academy, another 20 MPs have also hired young people.

"Mr Halfon, who won his Harlow seat in 2010, is now on his third apprentice. 'It was in 2009 that I was working with these young people who were problem kids and they just couldn't find opportunities,' he said.

"'When I spoke to them they all said that what they wanted was an apprenticeship.'"

9) GET ELECTED, THEN GET DIVORCED

From the Sunday Times:

"A sixth of the 2010 intake of Tory MPs have divorced, formally separated or had long-term relationships break down since the election.

"Charles Walker, the MP for Broxbourne, who is an unofficial counsellor to fellow Tory MPs, said 23 of the 147 newly elected in 2010 had been affected. He estimates this amounts to one in six of those who were in a relationship at the general election.

"Parliamentarians this weekend blamed in part the public vitriol and official scrutiny that followed the expenses scandal for taking a toll on their personal lives."

10) WE'RE SO, SO, SO SORRY

The Sunday Times (instructed by Rupert M?) devotes its second leader to 'an apology' over that cartoon:

"The image we published of Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, which appeared to show him revelling in the blood of Palestinians, crossed a line. The image would have been a mistake on any day but the fact that last Sunday was Holocaust Memorial Day compounded the error.

"We realise that we caused grave offence, however unintended, which detracted from a day that marks one of the greatest evils in human history."

For an alternative view on the Scarfe row and Murdoch's hypocrisy on anti-Semitism, you could do worse than re-read Matthew Norman's Independent column from last week.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 34
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 8

That would give Labour a majority of 86.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@Mike_Fabricant Why r journalists saying the Gay Marriage vote on Tuesday is a "rebellion". This is a free vote and not whipped! Why @edvaizey not say that?

@oliver_wright Would love to know how many Tory MPs who opposed (and voted against) civil partnerships now support them #murnaghan

@paulwaugh Now that's what I call triangulation. Blair says he's as equally available for advice for both 'David' [Cameron] and 'Ed' [Miliband] #marr

900 WORDS OR MORE

Matthew D'Ancona, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, says: "Westminster’s Tory tots must do some growing up."

Andrew Rawnsley, writing in the Observer, says: "The Tory malcontents possess a destructive intensity all their own."

Michael Gove, writing in the Mail on Sunday, says: "Marriage is the greatest joy of my life... Denying it to gay men and women is wrong - and prejudiced."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

Michael Gove Advisers Accused Of Twitter Smears Via @toryeducation

Education secretary Michael Gove could be facing an investigation over allegations that his advisers sent abuse to journalists on Twitter.

The row, which was investigated by the Observer, was sparked after an anonymous twitter account @toryeducation attacked the paper's political editor Toby Helm.

gove

Michael Gove has come under fire for the alleged conduct of two of his special advisers

Labour's Shadow Education Secretary, Stephen Twigg has written to Cabinet Secretary Jeremy Heywood requesting an investigation be launched into the conduct of two of Gove's Special Advisers following the smear allegations contained in the Observer.

The account also apparently attacked the Financial Times' education correspondent, Chris Cook, suggesting he is a "stalker" and accused Helm of being "a Labour stooge" and promoting Britain's entry to the Euro while he worked at the Daily Telegraph, calling him "an activist, not a professional hack".

The Observer alleged that two of Gove's special advisers Dominic Cummings and Henry de Zoete contibuted to the Twitter feed, and had been asked to tone down the feed's output in 2011 by Henry Macrory, then Tory party head of press.

Both advisers, whose salaries are paid by the taxpayer, have denied contributing to the feed.

After Twitter speculation about the Observer story, Ladbrokes reported a rush of money on Gove to be next Cabinet exit, slashing odds from 25/1 to 8/1.


James Chapman (Mail)
. save your money. It appears to be prompted by a spad/hack Twitter row. If it leads to Gove quitting I'll eat my hat

After the story's publication, the Twitter account @toryeducation, retweeted an attack on the Observer's Helm, written a year ago by fellow journalist Sarah Vine, Gove's wife.


Sarah Vine
when does stop pretending to objectivity and admit he's a political activist not a neutral reoprter

Sarah Vine
ah, thank you. Toby helm seems to be quite angry about a lot if things. One fears for his blood pressure.


Ministers are held responsible for the conduct of their advisers, under new rules devised following the Labour party scandal where a spin doctor, Damian McBride was found to be planning to spread flase rumours about high-profile Tories.

According to the code, advisers "should avoid anything which might reasonably lead to the criticism that people paid from public funds are being used for party political purposes… the preparation or dissemination of inappropriate material or personal attacks has no part to play in the job of being a special adviser as it has no part to play in the conduct of public life.

"Any special adviser ever found to be disseminating inappropriate material will automatically be dismissed by their appointing minister."

250,000 Twitter accounts compromised in sophisticated cyber attack

AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

AFP Photo / Lionel Bonaventure

Twitter has become the latest target of a sophisticated cyber attack, with around 250,000 accounts exposed. The breach appears to be the latest in a string of attacks on news content sites that’s being blamed on Chinese hackers.

­In its blog, Twitter has announced that it has detected “unusual access” patterns to user’s data and one live attack, which the company has successfully disabled. However, the company states that quarter of a million users have had their information hacked.

“This attack was not the work of amateurs, and we do not believe it was an isolated incident. The attackers were extremely sophisticated, and we believe other companies and organizations have also been recently similarly attacked,” statement explained.

As a precautionary security measure, Twitter has reset passwords and revoked session tokens for those accounts it believes were compromised. The company also warns of increased cyber-attack activity throughout the internet and encourages strengthening one’s account passwords.

The social media giant, which arguably revolutionized the news world with immediate access to information, concurs with the recent US Department of Homeland Security warning to disable Java on internet browsers. The company is also “helping government and federal law enforcement in their effort to find and prosecute these attackers to make the Internet safer for all users.”

Twitter fell short of accusing anyone of the attack, but indirectly indicated that it followed a pattern previously reported by the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

On Wednesday, the NYT have announced that passwords and accounts of their staff have been infiltrated for four months by hackers from China.

The timing of the attacks coincided with an investigative report into the wealth of Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister. 

The Times hired an expert to determine the source of the attack who concluded that “the attacks started from the same university computers used by the Chinese military to attack United States military contractors in the past.”

China’s Ministry of National Defense responded to the accusations “Chinese laws prohibit any action including hacking that damages Internet security.” It added that “to accuse the Chinese military of launching cyberattacks without solid proof is unprofessional and baseless,” NYT quotes.

On Thursday, the Wall Street Journal made similar accusations, “Chinese hackers believed to have government links have been conducting wide-ranging electronic surveillance of media companies including The Wall Street Journal.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei was quoted by the WSJ as saying “Cyber-attacks are transnational and anonymous. It's very hard to track the source of attack,” he said. “To presume the source of a hacking attack based on speculation is irresponsible and unprofessional.” He added that “Chinese authorities make serious efforts in fighting cyber-attacks.”

Also on Thursday, Bloomberg announced that unsuccessful attempts had been made to access its system.

Blackpool Murder: Burning Body Found In Alley

Two people have been arrested after the body of a 16-year-old girl was found burning in an alley in Blackpool. Police have cordoned off the alley off Kirby Road, South Shore where the body was found and specialist forensic officers are searching a nea...

Judge Furious Over Mysterious Censors at Guantanamo Bay Trials

A military judge presiding over a pretrial hearing at the Guantanamo Bay US Naval Base ordered an end to a secretive U.S. government agency's censorship of what the media can and can't hear in the courtroom, following an unexpected blackout of hearings earlier this week.

Observers watch the Sept. 11 hearings from a viewing gallery at the U.S. Naval Base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. (Janet Hamlin, AFP/Getty Images) On Monday, sound from the courtroom that feeds into a soundproof media booth and through a feed to journalists in closed-circuit viewing sites on the US East Coast, was mysteriously cut during a discussion of a secret CIA prison—where the suspects of the 9/11 case, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and four co-defendants, were held and potentially tortured before transport to Guantánamo—leaving reporters and other observers in the dark for several key minutes of the discussion.

The judge, Army Colonel James Pohl, said the the information that had been blacked out was not officially confidential, and thus should not have been censored.

Pohl said earlier that he did not previously know there was anyone outside of the court that could censor the proceedings.

"The cutting of the feed revealed for the first time that a still unidentified entity outside the courtroom was listening in to proceedings with a finger on the kill switch," Al Jazeera reports.

The mysterious censor, who has had control over what reporters can and can't hear in the courtroom, is said to come from an Original Classification Authority, a term that could refer to a number of government agencies, Democracy Now! reports.

Kevin Gosztola at FireDogLake adds that the OCA, "likely works in cooperation with the CIA and is tasked with ensuring that even the tiniest amount of information on the CIA’s Rendition, Detainee & Interrogation (RDI) program is not heard by the press."

"The episode shows the OCA may censor unclassified language," he added.

In Pohl's angry rebuke of the episode, he insisted that "this is the last time ... any other third party will be permitted to unilaterally decide that the broadcast should be suspended."

However, Pohl added emphatically that he and the court security officer were the only ones with authority to suspend the broadcast coming out of the courtroom, implying censorship in and of itself is not the problem, but who has the power to censor.

Defense lawyer James Connell said many questions still remain:

The judge ordered that the prosecution must disconnect that censorship authority of the OCA. The extent to which monitoring has taken place and will continue, however, is an open question. An emergency motion was filed today which addresses that issue after it came up this week and the judge has said that will be the first issue to take up on February 11. I hope that we will take a preliminary baby step towards finding out the truth of what is going on in the military commission but events so far may say that that hope is unfounded.

Pohl is also considering halting the entire case over allegations from defense lawyers that the same censors have been using technology to eavesdrop on the lawyers' private conversations with defendants in both the courtroom and in other parts of the detainee compound.

Navy Lt. Commander Walter Ruiz, attorney for one of the defendants, criticized the anonymous government monitoring system for curtailing the tribunal process.

"Who is the invisible hand?" Ruiz asked. "Who is pulling the strings? Who is the master of puppets?"

Car Thieves Dump Children By Birmingham Road

Police in Birmingham are searching for two car thieves who drove off with two young children still strapped into the back of the vehicle. The 23-year-old mother of the children was pulled from behind the wheel of her white Vauxhall Astra in Erdington ...

The Extermination of Truth

Today American citizens, once a free people protected by law, can be assassinated and detained in prison indefinitely without any evidence.

“Occupy”: Unity Will Increase Our Power

occupywallstreet

Getting to the Next Level of Constructing a New Society Requires a Common Vision, Strategy and Unity

Once again the corporate mass media got the story wrong. Headlines across the country claimed that occupiers in New York came from households with incomes of over $100,000. The movement writer for The Nation, Allison Kilkenny, interviewed one of the researchers who points out that a lot of these were young people earning under $15,000 per year who were still in school and living with their parents.

The most important takeaway lesson from the researcher’s point of view:

“The takeaway for me is that this is part of an arch of social movement activity that built on previous work, and is building into continuing work.”

That struck us because we are working with political activists and occupiers across the country to develop a strategy to reach a more effective level of advocacy for transformation to a peaceful, just and sustainable society.

An article from Yes! MagazineOccupy 2.0: The Great Turning, resonated with us pointing out that there are thousands of people working in movements around the world and that uniting them would create an unstoppable force. How do we unite in a way where we keep the diversity of multiple movements but still work together in solidarity?  The answer in part is a common vision and strategic framework. The author, Michael Nagler of the Metta Center, puts forward a strategy they have been developing which they call “The Roadmap.” (The article links to a webinar on this approach.)

Their approach recommends a two track strategy similar to one we have emphasized from the beginning, Stop the Machine, Create a New World; or a resistance program of direct action and a constructive program of building what we want. This approach dates back to Gandhi and has been used in many transformative movements.In an article about the hidden history of economic democracy and how it relates to major social transformations throughout U.S. history, we summarized these two tracks by writing:

“History reinforces the idea that to achieve transformational change, we must proceed on twin tracks: protesting and building. Mahatma Gandhi changed his emphasis in the mid-1930s, a dozen years before independence from the British Empire, to work focused on building economically self-reliant communities from below (sardovaya, or social uplift for all). This became an adjunct to the strategy he is most known for, satyagraha (noncooperation and civil disobedience to unjust laws). Gandhian economics meant thousands of self-sufficient small communities with self-rule and the need for economic self-sufficiency at the village level joined together in a cooperative federation of village republics. This is bookended by the Gandhian social ideal of dignity of labor, equitable distribution of wealth, communal self-sufficiency and individual freedom.”

There is incredible work going on throughout the United States on both these tracks.  Economic democracy is gaining a foothold in the U.S. putting in place the kind of economy we want. And resistance continues to grow. In the last ten days we have reported on the following protests:

That is just in the past ten days! And, we have no doubt we are not reporting anywhere near all the protests that are occurring.  As we found out when we were organizing the Occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza, Americans have been in revolt for a long time, the media just does not report it.

For a while Occupy brough a lot of movements together under the broad anti-Wall Street goal of economic fairness and justice; that was one reason the movement was not ignored.  But now greater solidarity is needed, in order to show that there is a mass movement that people should be part of, a movement that can succeed in shifting power from concentrated wealth to the people.

One thing needed to bring the movement for social justice to the next level is unity.  It will take many working together to achieve effective solidarity. At OccupyWashingtonDC/Ocober2011, we are considering what we can do to advance solidarity. We ask for your thoughts, write us at [email protected]. Of course, unity is not all that is needed, but it is one step.

In the meantime, realize that Americans are awakening and taking action. Whether they are helping to build cooperatives, community or public banks, community-supported agriculture and farmers markets or other more democratic economic institutions; or whether they are protesting the mistaken direction of the U.S. economy and government – a lot of good work is being done and we should rejoice that so many are working to create a new world.

Some upcoming events:

  • February 6, 2013: Flood the NY Federal Courthouse on in opposition to the NDAA, see here and here.
  • February 9, 2013: Anti-Drone Protest at the CIA Headquarters, information here

Activities that are asking for support:

  • The Rolling Jubilee continues to eradicate debt, get involved! Click here for information.
  • Occupy Sandy in New York and New Jersey continues to clean up and help people get their lives back. Click here for information and here.
This article is a modified version of a weekly newsletter that covers activities in Occupy and other political movements. You can sign up to receive the newsletter here.
Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers were both organizers of the Occupation of Washington, DC at Freedom Plaza, co-direct It’s Our Economy which works for economic democracy and co-host Clearing the FOG radio and television.

Mark Duggan: Man guilty of supplying gun

A man has been found guilty of supplying a gun to Mark Duggan, whose fatal shooting by police sparked the London riots.

Kevin Hutchinson-Foster, 30, was convicted at the Old Bailey of passing the firearm to Mr Duggan after a retrial.

The court heard Mr Duggan collected the BBM Bruni Model 92 handgun just 15 minutes before he was shot dead on August 4, 2011.

The 29-year-old's death in Tottenham, north London, led to riots that swept across London and other English towns and cities.

Hutchinson-Foster had denied a charge of "selling or transferring a prohibited firearm" to Mr Duggan between July 28 and August 5, 2011.

A jury at Snaresbrook Crown Court failed to reach a verdict after a trial last year. But at the retrial, a jury of seven women and five men convicted him by majority verdict.

Sky's crime correspondent Martin Brunt said Mr Duggan was under surveillance by police who "believed he was intent on exacting revenge on another man for the earlier murder of his cousin".

During both trials armed officers, who gave evidence anonymously, described how they opened fire on Mr Duggan because they saw him get out of a taxi holding a loaded gun.

The officer who shot Mr Duggan twice - once in the chest and once in the arm - said he fired because he thought he was going to shoot him and his colleagues.

Mr Duggan had gone in the minicab to Leyton, east London, where he allegedly collected the gun in a shoebox from Hutchinson-Foster, before continuing to Tottenham.

The taxi was pulled over by armed police in four unmarked cars in a "hard stop", and as Mr Duggan got out apparently clutching the firearm, he was shot.

The gun was found five metres from Mr Duggan's body, on a grass verge behind railings.

The shoebox, found in the minicab, allegedly had both Mr Duggan's and the defendant's fingerprints on it, while mobile phone evidence showed they were in contact with each other in the run up to the shooting.

But Hutchinson-Foster, a cannabis user with convictions for possession of cocaine and heroin with intent to supply, claimed Mr Duggan had wanted his help to sell some cannabis.

The defendant had admitted using the same gun to beat barber Peter Osadebay at a barber's shop in Dalston, east London, just six days before Mr Duggan's death.

Hutchinson-Foster claimed this was why his DNA was found on the gun when it was retrieved from Ferry Lane on August 4, along with traces of Mr Osadebay's blood.

The defendant said he collected the firearm from someone else so he could beat Mr Osadebay on July 29, but had returned it on the same day.

Chief Superintendent Dean Haydon said: "There is an ongoing IPCC investigation into the death of Mark Duggan and the circumstances of his death will be a matter for the coroner at a later date.

"The Kevin Hutchinson-Foster trial has primarily been about the supply of an illegal firearm and I welcome the verdict of the jury in this case today."

The Duggan family, who did not attend Hutchinson-Foster's trial or retrial, have said the question of whether Mr Duggan was holding a gun is something that should only be addressed at his inquest, expected to begin in September.

BREAKING: “Israeli Airstrike intended to Stop Syrian Scientific Military Research”

RT

Though Israel has not yet claimed responsibility for an airstrike targeting a military site near Damascus, experts believe that Tel Aviv aimed to further destabilize Syria and undermine its military capabilities.

Initial reports suggested that Israel conducted an airstrike on a convoy carrying sophisticated weaponry that was preparing to cross the Syria-Lebanon border. Israeli officials said the vehicles may have contained chemical weapons and Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles intended for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

“This episode boils down to a warning by Israel to Syria and Hezbollah not to engage in the transfer of sensitive weapons,”a regional security source told Reuters.

But the latest reports from Syria suggest that the airstrike hit the Jamraya research center in the suburbs of Damascus, far from the Lebanese border. An anonymous diplomatic source told Reuters that chemical weapons may be stored at the center, and that the vehicles in Hezbollah convoy were unlikely to be carrying such arms.

Israeli officials have not commented on the airstrike, but the assault may have revealed Tel Aviv’s plans, experts believe. After months of sustained rebel assaults on Syrian air defense systems and bases, the Israeli airstrike follows a pattern of other recent attempts to undermine Syria’s military capabilities.

Israeli officials have frequently expressed fears that Syrian President Bashar Assad will lose control of the country’s chemical weapons stockpiles. But Dr. Ali Mohamad, editor-in-chief of the Syria Tribune news website, believes the fears of chemical weapons was a pretext to destroy Syria’s military research centers and ensure that Damascus is unable to produce arms for its military or regional allies.

Syrians know that “this is not at all about chemical weapons,” Dr. Mohamad told RT. “It’s about stopping the Syrian scientists’ military research projects.”

“It finally makes sense because the rebels or as they like to call themselves the revolutionaries, they have been attacking air defense bases near Damascus for the past seven months,” Dr. Mohamad said. “They’ve managed to attack the S-200 base and over four other surface-to-air missile bases. Now this followed by an airstrike from Israel. So it all adds up, it makes sense. It only shows that Israel has a great interest in the instability in Syria and that it is being helped by groups of armed rebels in Syria.”

“Military research centers are responsible for developing weapons, in particular land-to-land long range missiles,” and Israel wants to stop this research process, Dr. Mohamed explained. “Of course Israel will claim that this is connected to a chemical weapons arsenal, but this is of course not true because nobody stores chemical weapons in a research center.”

“Let’s remember that the Syrian official who was responsible for all military research projects has been assassinated in Damascus by the rebels,” he said. “Let’s also remember that the person who orchestrated the Syrian long-range missile project colonel Dawoud Rajiha was also assassinated in Damascus. This is about stopping the Syrian scientific military research projects and is about breaking the link that will help [Israel] overcome the Lebanese resistance and the Palestinian resistance.”

Syria will likely retaliate, but not in the form of a direct attack on Israel. Instead, Damascus will seek to arm Hezbollah, the Lebanese resistance, Dr. Mohamed said.

‘Israel opening new front against Syria with tacit approval from US’

Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African news wire, told RT that the Israeli airstrike on Syria is the opening of a new front in the assault on the government of Syrian President Assad.

Western nations have supported the Syrian rebels for the past two years, and are therefore invested in drawing international attention away from the atrocities carried out by some rebel groups on the ground.

“The rebels have been involved in tremendous human right violations inside the country,” Azikiwe said. “We saw what happened just yesterday with the finding of some 80 people who’ve been massacred, with handcuffs behind their backs shot in the head. And of course these actions carried out by the US-backed rebels inside of Syria are tremendously damaging to their image internationally. So in order to deflect attention away from these developments Israel has launched an air raid, alleging that Syria is transporting weapons to Hezbollah in southern Lebanon.”

Azikiwe predicted that both the US and Israel will use the threat of Syrian chemical weapons falling into Hezbollah’s hands as an excuse for this airstrike, as well as similar future military actions in the region.

Israel’s airstrike is also aimed at putting further pressure on Assad’s government: “Part of that strategy of course has been the deployment of Patriot missiles in Turkey,” he said. “And with the airstrikes that took place today this is designed to create a sense of encirclement.”

Azikiwe said that Israel seeks to exploit the situation to escalate another conflict on its borders – throughout its history, Israel has operated in a state of “permanent war” with his neighbors. With financial, political and military support from the US and NATO, Israel can afford to maintain its hegemony throughout the Middle East, he said.

Obama’s Flip-Flops on Money in Politics: A Brief History

When President Obama told supporters that he would morph his campaign into a new nonprofit that would accept unlimited corporate donations, the announcement set off a familiar round of griping from campaign finance reformers.

President Obama at the Inaugural Ball on Jan. 21. In a reversal this year, the inaugural committee accepted corporate donations. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images) The creation this month of Organizing for Action, which will promote the president’s second-term agenda, appears to be the fourth reversal by Obama on major money-in-politics issues since 2008.

“No big bank or corporation will donate million-dollar checks to OFA without the expectation that it will impact which issues they engage on, and that’s very troubling,” said Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

The Washington Post noted that in reorganizing his campaign as a tax-exempt social welfare group, the president is embracing a structure that has been criticized for allowing anonymous money into politics.

Conservatives who’ve been attacked by the Obama camp for their reliance on such “dark money” groups called out the president’s “brazen hypocrisy.” Neither the White House nor Organizing for America responded to requests for comment.

Here’s a brief history of Obama’s other shifts on money-in-politics issues going back to 2008:

Public financing

In November 2007, then-Sen. Barack Obama pledged to take part in the presidential public financing system for the general election, calling himself “a longtime advocate for public financing of campaigns.” Under the system, created in the wake of Watergate, a candidate receives taxpayer money ($84 million in 2008) and cannot accept most private donations or spend beyond the amount of the government grant.

Less than a year later, in June 2008, Obama reversed himself and announced he was opting out of the system. He maintained he still supported the system in principle but said it should be reformed.

Obama became the first candidate to decline general election public financing since the creation of the system and went on to raise a then-record $745 million for the cycle. He outspent John McCain, who did accept public money, by four-to-one. Obama’s 2008 decision generally takes at least some of the blame from campaign finance observers for killing the system.

Neither Obama nor Mitt Romney accepted public financing in the 2012 race. The Obama campaign raised $782 million for the cycle.

Super PACs

When the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 2010 Citizens United decision, opening the way for the creation of super PACs financed with unlimited corporate or individual money, Obama became the ruling’s biggest critic.

“Last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests — including foreign corporations — to spend without limit in our elections,” Obama said in his State of the Union address a few days after the decision. “I don't think American elections should be bankrolled by America's most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.”

That criticism turned into a pledge not to use the new funding vehicles. In July 2011, Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt told the Washington Post: “Neither the president nor his campaign staff or aides will fundraise for super PACs. Our campaign will continue to lead the way when it comes to transparency and reform.”

Seven months later, the campaign reversed itself and embraced a super PAC founded by former White House aides called Priorities USA Action. “[O]ur campaign has to face the reality of the law as it currently stands,” wrote campaign manager Jim Messina in a blog post.

With the blessing of the campaign, top Obama aides, such as then-Chief of Staff Jack Lew and confidantes like Rahm Emanuel, were dispatched to solicit super PAC donations from Democratic millionaires and billionaires. Priorities USA ultimately spent more than $60 million to help re-elect the president.

Inaugural festivities funding

After Obama’s victory in 2008, his inaugural committee abided by what it called “an unprecedented set of limitations on fundraising as part of President-elect Obama’s pledge to put the country on a new path.” That meant taking no corporate money and no individual contributions in excess of $50,000 to pay for the myriad parties and balls that end up costing tens of millions of dollars.

The second time around, Obama reversed the policy. The inaugural committee organizing this month’s inaugural festivities accepted corporate money and imposed no limits on giving. A spokesperson cited the need to “meet the fund-raising requirements for this civic event after the most expensive presidential campaign in history.”

Unlimited special interest spending

Just a few months ago, the Obama campaign sent me a memo on the president’s campaign finance record, highlighting his repeated denunciations of special interest money in politics.

“That’s one of the reasons I ran for President: because I believe so strongly that the voices of ordinary Americans were being drowned out by the clamor of a privileged few in Washington,” he said in May 2010, decrying the way Citizens United “gives corporations and other special interests the power to spend unlimited amounts of money — literally millions of dollars — to affect elections throughout our country.”

In 2012, the Obama campaign specifically called out social welfare, or 501(c)(4),  groups that spent hundreds of millions of dollars of anonymous money on political ads.

That’s why campaign finance reformers are so angry: Organizing for Action is a 501(c)(4) that will advocate for the president’s second-term agenda.

The group has said that despite its status, it will voluntarily disclose donors. But it’s not clear whether that will involve full, prompt disclosure of who is giving and how much, or simply providing a list of names at some point.

A spokeswoman for the new group told NBC this week the disclosure issue is “still being worked out.”

Unnamed Democratic officials have told media outlets that the group will take corporate money (though not donations from registered lobbyists). Indeed, at a meeting this month at the Newseum in Washington, Obama campaign aides pitched top Democratic donors, reported Politico, which obtained a ticket to the event.

The meeting was sponsored by a trade association founded by Fortune 100 companies, including UnitedHealthcare, Microsoft, Wal-Mart, and Duke Energy.

Social welfare groups are formed to promote the common good and may be involved in politics. Under IRS rules, they are not supposed to be primarily engaged in campaigns.

It’s unclear whether Organizing for Action will get involved in electoral politics as other such nonprofits have in recent years. The group’s spokeswoman told NBC it will run “issue” ads to support Obama’s agenda — but that’s a category of political advocacy that has been open to wide interpretation.

Iranian Meddling in Yemen, Says Unnamed Official From Meddling Country

Yemen: Which country is 'meddling' there? (Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)Reuters is reported this week (1/28/13) that a shipment of weapons bound for Yemen was seized on January 23, bound for anti-government insurgents.  Who sent the "large cache of weapons" isn't known, but the United States will tell you... anonymously.

A second official told Reuters the intercepted shipment was believed to have been from Iran and destined for insurgents, likely Houthis.

"This demonstrates the ever pernicious Iranian meddling in other countries in the region," said the second U.S. official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Iran denies any interference in Yemen's affairs.

Well then. The country that has invaded and occupied two countries in the region, and is currently waging a drone war in Yemen–not to mention the occasional cluster bomb attack–is granted anonymity to call out another country's alleged "meddling"?

The mind reels.

(h/t @WideAsleepNima)

© 2012 Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the activism director at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra, and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly" (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

Iranian Meddling in Yemen, Says Unnamed Official From Meddling Country

Yemen: Which country is 'meddling' there? (Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo)Reuters is reporting (1/28/13) that a shipment of weapons bound for Yemen was seized on January 23, bound for anti-government insurgents.  Who sent the "large cache of weapons" isn't known, but the United States will tell you... anonymously.

A second official told Reuters the intercepted shipment was believed to have been from Iran and destined for insurgents, likely Houthis.

"This demonstrates the ever pernicious Iranian meddling in other countries in the region," said the second U.S. official, who also spoke on condition of anonymity.

Iran denies any interference in Yemen's affairs.

Well then. The country that has invaded and occupied two countries in the region, and is currently waging a drone war in Yemen–not to mention the occasional cluster bomb attack–is granted anonymity to call out another country's alleged "meddling"?

The mind reels.

(h/t @WideAsleepNima)

© 2012 Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting

Peter Hart

Peter Hart is the activism director at FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting). He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra, and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly" (Seven Stories Press, 2003).

Revenge Porn: How a Jilted Lover Can Destroy Your Life

What does it say about society that websites where angry men shame their ex-lovers are thriving?

January 29, 2013  |  

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In the centuries-old tradition of human beings looking at images of other human beings naked, the  internet is perhaps the biggest game-changer since the film camera.

Porn sites are some of the most-visited places on the web, and just about anything you could imagine (and lots of things you probably couldn't have come up with on your own) is a mere Google search away. While that's great news for folks who have, say, an unrequited zombie fetish or a deep desire to see old men swaddled in mohair diapers, the almost entirely unregulated buffet of internet  pornography also has a whole host of downsides – one of the most odious being the popular genre of "revenge porn".

On revenge porn sites, users upload x-rated photos of women (often ex girlfriends or lovers) without the women's permission. Send a naughty photo to your boyfriend and when it turns out he's a pig, your image is all over the internet, often with your name, location and links to your social media accounts. The purpose of revenge porn isn't to allow regular guys the opportunity to see some naked girls-next-door; it's explicitly purposed to shame, humiliate and destroy the lives and reputations of young women.

Luckily, some of those women are refusing to be shamed into silence. More than two dozen of them have filed a lawsuit against one of the websites, Texxxan.com, as well as its host, GoDaddy.com. Some of the women have lost their jobs; all of them have been exposed and exploited, first by men they trusted and then by entities simply looking to make a buck off of misogyny.

Gender cyber harassment is nothing new (pdf), and revenge porn sites are part of a widespread, deeply sexist online culture everywhere from blog comment sections to YouTube videos to message boards. Anonymous sexualized harassment of women online has been around since AOL chatrooms, and it seems to be getting more mainstreamed, more organized and more efficient. The internet is not a nice place to be a woman – something  I found out first-hand, and not just through the ongoing threats, harassment and stalking I've received as a feminist blogger.

When I was a law student at NYU, I found myself the subject of hundreds of threads and comments on a website called AutoAdmit. Reading post after anonymous post about how your classmates and future professional peers want to rape you is not a particularly pleasant experience; seeing those posts right next to details of what outfit you wore to school yesterday, how tall you are or what kinds of comments you made in class feels awfully threatening.

It's hard to explain the psychological impact these kind of anonymous posts have, when these people know your name, face and exactly where you are during the day. You can't walk down the hall at school without wondering if that guy who just made eye contact with you is going to go home and write something disgusting about you on the internet, or if anything you say in class is going to be quoted on a message board as evidence that you are a stupid cow, or if any one of these anonymous commenters is going to take their sexually violent urges offline and onto your body.

My reaction was to shut down. I felt like I was in a fishbowl, so I just refused to look outside of the glass. I'm a very social person, but in three years of law school I made only two friends. I skipped a lot of my classes; when I did go, I kept my head down.

The Benghazi Affair: Uncovering the Mystery of the Benghazi CIA Annex

libya_clip_image002

“The U.S. effort in Benghazi was at its heart a CIA operation, according to the officials who briefed on intelligence.” WSJ, Nov 1, 2012

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, finally appeared before the US Senate and House Foreign Relations Committees on Wednesday, January 23, after a long delay. She was asked many questions by the Congress about what had happened in Benghazi on September 11 and how this could happen. The problem with the responses she gave to these questions was that she focused on the narrative presented in the State Department Report that had been released a month earlier, and which is deeply flawed.

In order to understand the nature of what happened on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi, and how the State Department under Hillary Clinton has been an important part of the cover up of what this second September 11 is actually a part of, it is important to understand the problem with the State Department Report being used to carry out the US government cover up of what I call the Benghazi Affair.

On December 18, the US State Department released its report on the September 11, 2012 attacks on two US facilities in Benghazi, Libya. These attacks had resulted in the deaths of the US Ambassador to Libya, Chris Stevens, and three other Americans working for the US government in Libya. The US government had claimed that its report would shed light on what had become a contentious Congressional and media debate over the cause and details of the attack on these two US government compounds in Benghazi.

Soon, however, it became clear that the State Department Report issued by the Accountability Review Board (hereafter ARB Report), offered the public little information to add to what had already been made available by the State Department or the media. Instead, the public version of the ARB Report, referred to as the “unclassified” version, actually functions as part of the cover-up of what happened on September 11, 2012 in Benghazi. Most of this public document carefully refrains from any discussion of the role or activities of the CIA and what bearing this had on the events of September 11-12 2012 in Benghazi. But the role of the CIA in Benghazi and its bearing on what happened there on September 11 is the crucial question that any legitimate investigation into the situation must explore.

The trick of the Accountability Review Board (ARB) was that it issued two different versions of its Report. One version was an “unclassified” report that was available to the press, the public and the US Congress to discuss in public.(1) The other version was a “classified” report that was to be hidden from public or press scrutiny and was only to be available to Congress in a closed Congressional process. The unclassified version of the ARB Report could not mention the CIA activities. It could only discuss the role of the State Department in what happened.

The problem with such a restriction is that one of the US government sites in Benghazi that was attacked was a CIA facility referred to as the ‘Annex’ (hereafter CIA annex compound). The other site was allegedly a State Department administered facility referred to as the ‘Special Mission Benghazi Compound’ (hereafter special mission compound). This second compound, according to the WSJ, was actually created to provide diplomatic cover for the CIA facility.(2)

While some US Congressional Committees have been conducting investigations into what happened in Benghazi, they have agreed to discuss only the activities of the State Department in their open, public sessions, and to reserve any consideration or questions about the activities of the CIA for closed sessions of their committees, away from public view.(3)

Not only is the US Congress restricted from discussing the role of the CIA in Benghazi in open session, some of the mainstream US media have agreed to a request by the US government to withhold details about the CIA operations in Benghazi. The New York Times (NYT) is one such publication. (4) In an article briefly referring to the CIA annex compound, which the NYT says “encompassed four buildings inside a low-walled compound….” The NYT acknowledges that, “From among these buildings, the C.I.A. personnel carried out their secret missions.” But then the article explains that, “The New York Times agreed to withhold locations and details of these operations at the request of Obama administration officials….”

To declare an investigation into or discussion of the activities regarding the role of the CIA and its Annex compound as a forbidden subject during an open committee meeting of Congress, is to prevent the US Congress from fulfilling its oversight obligations over the US Executive branch of government. For the US government to require the US media to restrict coverage is to shroud the needed public discussion and investigation in darkness.

The effort to cover up the role of the CIA in the events resulting in the attack on the two US government facilities in Benghazi, however, demonstrates that something important is at stake and worth investigating.

Despite the US government effort to impose such restrictions, there are media accounts and some Congressional documents that provide a glimpse into the details of hidden CIA activity that the attacks on the US facilities in Benghazi help to reveal.

To understand the nature of this hidden activity, requires a willingness not only to critique the official explanations, but also to examine the events that can help to uncover the actual forces at work in Benghazi and the role they played in CIA activities in Libya.

One Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article is particularly helpful. The article, is titled “CIA Takes Heat for Role in Libya.” It provides a rare window into details of the murky world of the CIA operation in Benghazi and how it came about.(5)

The article notes that former CIA Director David Petraeus did not greet the bodies of the four Americans killed in Benghazi when they were returned to the US, even though two of those killed are acknowledged to have worked for the CIA. “Officials close to Mr. Petraeus,” the WSJ explains, “say he stayed away in an effort to conceal the agency’s role in collecting intelligence and providing security in Benghazi.”

Of the 30 or more American officials evacuated from Benghazi, only seven worked for the State Department. According to the WSJ, “Nearly all the rest worked for the CIA, under diplomatic cover, which was a principle purpose” of the special mission compound.

Soon after the struggle against the government of Libya began in February 2011, the CIA set up a compound in Benghazi for its spy operations. Eventually, the CIA gave its compound a State Department office name, the Annex, to disguise its purpose, the WSJ reveals. According to the US government, the role of the CIA in Benghazi was “focused on countering proliferation and terrorist threats….A main concern was the spread of weapons….”

“At the annex,” the WSJ explains, “many of the analysts and officers had what is referred to in intelligence circles as ‘light cover’ carrying U.S. diplomatic passports.”

Providing a cover for the secret operation of the CIA, however, created problems for State Department officials who felt the CIA was not “forthcoming with information,” even in the midst of the attack on the US facilities. As the WSJ notes, on September 11, 2012, “At 5:41 p.m. Eastern time, Mrs. Clinton called Mr. Petraeus. She wanted to make sure the two agencies were on the same page.”

Even after the attack was over and the analysts and officers had been evacuated, the accounts in the WSJ and McClatchy Newspapers, describe how quickly the CIA acted to clean out documents and equipment from the Annex. By contrast, the US government left the premises of the special mission compound unguarded and open to looters for weeks after the attack.

“The significance of the annex was a well-kept secret in Benghazi,” the WSJ reporters conclude. A McClatchy article documents how a well guarded secret was even the location of the CIA Annex compound. (6)

The implication is that the attackers at the special mission compound intended to flush out the covert location and presence of the CIA Annex compound so as to end its ability to continue its secret activities.(7)

An opinion piece, “The Fog of Benghazi”, appeared in the WSJ on November 3. It discusses what was at stake for the US government as a result of the September 11 attack in Benghazi(8): “America has since closed the Libya diplomatic outpost and pulled a critical intelligence unit out of a hotbed of Islamism, conceding a defeat. U.S. standing in the region and the ability to fight terrorist groups were undermined, with worrying repercussions for a turbulent Middle East and America’s security. This is why it’s so important to learn what happened in Benghazi.”

The effort to learn what happened in the Benghazi Affair, is similarly the subject of a 10 page letter dated October 19 sent by two US Congressmen to President Obama. (9) One of the Congressmen, Darrell Issa, is Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. The other, Jason Chaffetz, is Chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations.

Their letter raises ten questions for President Obama, the answers to which they explain are needed for the US Congressional investigation to determine the significance of the Benghazi affair. Also in their letter they include an attachment of 160 pages of data and photos which document the lawless environment in Libya, and particularly in Benghazi in the months before the Benghazi attack. This data was obtained by the US Congress from the State Department. (10) Though the data is labeled as sensitive, it is not classified material.

This data documents in a way that is now public, the perilous environment existing in Libya, providing a graphic description of the armed militias who carry out bombings, murders and kidnappings of government officials and others who try to challenge the lawlessness.

The data demonstrates the details of what the ARB Report acknowledges as “a general backdrop of political violence, assassinations, targeting former regime officials, lawlessness, and an overarching absence of central government authority in eastern Libya.” (11)

The Internet has made possible the publication of a number of investigative accounts of various aspects of the Benghazi Affair. Several of these propose that the CIA and even Chris Stevens were part of a gun running operation, gathering up weapons from Libya and facilitating their shipment to the insurgents fighting against the government in Syria. Some of the articles also propose that the CIA operation in Benghazi helped to send mercenaries from other countries to fight against the government of Syria. (12)

Fox News and a number of associated websites have featured articles which offer such accounts. Often, however, the articles rely on anonymous sources to support their claims.

Rarely are media offering accounts that portray this reality able to present direct evidence to support the narratives they develop.

An important exception is an article that appeared in the Times of London on September 14, 2012. This was three days after Chris Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

The article documents that a ship, the Al Entisar (also written as Intisaar or The Victory in English), sailing under a Libyan flag with a 400 ton cargo, which included SAM-7 surface-to-air anti-aircraft missiles and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs) and some humanitarian supplies, is said to have arrived September 6 at the Turkish Port of Iskenderun.(13)

The captain of the ship, Omar Mousaeeb, a Libyan from Benghazi, was accompanied by 26 Libyans who were on board to help smuggle the shipment from the Turkish Port across the border into Syria. The plan was then to distribute the weapons to insurgents in Syria who were allied with the Muslim Brotherhood.

This account by the Times of London provides specific details about the mechanisms and problems of this Libyan weapons pipeline to the insurgency in Syria. The article describes the conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and other groups of the Free Syrian Army (FSA) over who would get the weapons from the Al Entisar shipment.

“The scale of the shipment and how it should be disbursed, has sparked a row between the FSA and the Muslim Brotherhood, who took control of the shipment when it arrived in Turkey,” writes Sheera Frenkel, the author of the Times of London article.

Though the ship arrived at the port in Turkey on September 6, not all of the cargo had been transported into Syria by September 14, the article notes, though this is over a week after the ship arrived at the port in Turkey. While “more than 80 percent of the ship’s cargo,” the Times of London explains, “had been moved into Syria, Mr. Mousaeeb and a group of Libyans who had arrived with the ship said they were preparing to travel with the final load into Syria to ensure it was being distributed.” Actually their concern appeared to be to whom it was distributed, not how.

The Times of London refers to two Syrian activists with the FSA who complained that infighting within the insurgent ranks had delayed the arrival of the weapons in Syria, “There was widespread talk of Syrian groups who allied themselves with the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood movement being given a larger share of the ship’s cargo.” One activist quoted objects that, “The Muslim Brotherhood, through its ties with Turkey, was seizing control of this ship and its cargo.”

While the Times of London does not directly link Chris Stevens or the CIA annex compound to the Al Entisar arms shipment to Turkey, the article does provide an important context for how the conflict over which insurgent group would get weapons from the shipment created a source of significant tension at the very time the attack on the two US compounds in Benghazi took place.

Given the question, “Why Chris Stevens would have traveled to Benghazi to be in this perilous environment on September 11,” an answer which points to some urgent matter which needed his attention, would help to provide the rationale for him to ignore the security considerations against his making such a trip.

Keeping in mind the importance of this shipment of weapons from Benghazi to Turkey, the need to work out the details of the weapons distribution process could very well have provided the motive for Stevens to plan a visit in Benghazi during such a perilous period as the 11th anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack on the US.

By September 11, infighting among the Muslim Brotherhood and other insurgent groups, over who would be given the weapons from the Al Entisar shipment, suggests the likelihood that Turkey’s Consul General in Benghazi and the US Ambassador needed to discuss the conflict over the weapons and the problem of how they should be moved into Syria and distributed among the insurgent groups.

In line with this reasoning, it is not surprising that Chris Stevens had a meeting with Turkey’s Consul General to Benghazi, Ali Sait Akin on September 11 at the Benghazi special mission compound.

The description of the infighting over the Al Entisar shipment to a port in Turkey of weapons for the Syrian insurgency, raises the possibility that the Turkish Consul General to Benghazi and Stevens discussed the conflict over the weapons. As of September 11, there were weapons that had yet to be distributed and smuggled into Syria from the Al Entisar shipment.

On September 10, when Stevens arrived in Benghazi, the shipment of arms had only recently been received at the Turkish port of Iskenderun, and the conflict among the insurgent groups who were to receive the weapons was not yet resolved.

According to documents that Congress received from the State Department, soon after Stevens arrived in Benghazi on September 10, he visited the CIA annex compound for a briefing.

On September 11 he stayed at the special mission compound but had meetings scheduled with someone from the Arabian Gulf Oil Co. (AGOCO), and later in the afternoon with someone from the Al Marfa Shipping and Maritime Services Co. (The names of the individuals were blacked out.) Then he had dinner and discussion with Ali Sait Akin, Turkey’s Consul General to Benghazi.(14)

While there has been no specific information made available by the State Department about the content of the meetings Stevens had on September 10 and 11, Turkey’s role in the shipping of weapons and foreign fighters into Syria to assist the fight against the Syrian government is the subject of numerous articles. The Times of London article describes previous difficulty experienced in trying to ship a cargo of weapons to where they could be safely unloaded and moved to insurgents in Syria. Given this previous experience it is not surprising that it was necessary to have the Turkish government intervene to settle problems that arose with the Al Entisar weapons shipment. It had taken several weeks “to arrange the paperwork for the Turkish port authorities to release the cargo.”(15) The Times of London quoted Suleiman Haari, who worked with Captain Mousaeeb. Haari explained that “Everyone wanted a piece of the ship. Certain groups wanted to get involved and claim the cargo for themselves. It took a long time to work through the logistics.”

This could account for the surprise visit by the then head of the CIA, David Petraeus on September 2 to Ankara. (16) Petraeus arrived in Ankara for what appeared to be talks with the President of Turkey and other Turkish government officials. Were Petraeus’s meetings with Turkish government officials needed to help make the arrangements for the Libyan ship to dock at the port in Turkey and unload the weapons that were to be smuggled across the border into Syria? This is a question Petraeus could answer if he were to testify at a US Congressional hearing again.

In light of the WSJ claim that the special mission compound had been set up to provide diplomatic cover for the CIA operation run out of the Annex, the question is raised as to whether the special mission compound was actually a State Department facility or a CIA facility acting under cover as a State Department operation.

According to the unclassified version of the ARB Report, Chris Stevens had arrived in Benghazi on April 5, 2011, “via a Greek cargo ship at the rebel-held city of Benghazi to re-establish a U.S. presence in Libya.” He had been appointed the US government’s “Special Envoy to the Libyan Transitional National Council” (TNC), acting as an official contact between the insurgents fighting to overthrow the government of Libya and the US government that was aiding them to bring about regime change in Libya. (17) Such an activity is contrary to international law and provisions of the UN charter (Article 2 Sections 1, 4, 7) which prohibit interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states. (18)

Stevens’ mission, the Report states, “was to serve as the liaison with the TNC” for a post-Qaddafi government in Libya. The US embassy had been closed in February 2011, and was only reopened on September 22, 2011 with Gene Cretz as the Ambassador.

The ARB Report notes, however, that the CIA had set up the CIA compound in Benghazi in February 2011 soon after the insurgency arose against the Libyan government. This is a confirmation that the US government had put intelligence operatives on the ground in Benghazi just as the insurgency against the Libyan government was getting underway. This is also at least one month before Chris Stevens arrived in Benghazi.

The ARB Report also reveals that Chris Stevens stayed at the CIA Annex from the beginning of June, 2011 until June 21, 2011. Not until June 21 did “he and his security contingent move into what would become the Special Mission Benghazi compound….” According to the ARB Report the special mission compound in Benghazi was set up a few months after the CIA compound. (19)

This puts in perspective why the WSJ article on November 1 says that the special mission compound was established to provide diplomatic cover for the CIA facility, subsequently referred to as “the Annex”. Stevens remained as Special Envoy to the TNC and stayed in Benghazi until November 17, 2011. On May 26, 2012 Stevens arrived in Tripoli to replace Cretz as US Ambassador to Libya.

What was the State Department responsibility for the special mission compound? If its purpose was to provide diplomatic cover for the CIA, then what was the CIA responsibility? These are significant questions. But it is unlikely that such questions will be asked at the public Congressional oversight investigations because questions about the role of the CIA Annex in Benghazi have been declared to be a classified matter.

Though the NYT article, ”U.S. Approved Weapons for Libya Rebels Fell into Jihadis’ Hands,” about the Benghazi affair doesn’t go into detail about what the CIA was doing in Benghazi, it raises a significant issue that is likely to be at the root of why there was an attack on both the special mission compound and the CIA Annex compound.(20) The NYT refers to the concern US government officials involved in the program raise about the problems created by the US government helping to provide weapons to insurgents fighting in Libya and Syria. According to the NYT, what these Islamic militants will do with these weapons worries high level US government national security officials.

While officially, the US government claims it is not providing weapons, the Times of London article about the shipment of weapons from Benghazi to Turkey, provides a striking example of how the US and Turkish governments, both overtly, and covertly, appear to be involved in collecting weapons in Libya and helping to ship them to be used against the Syrian government and people.(21)

The NYT claims that the US government has little control over where these weapons go and the harm they do when used in Libya, Syria, or other conflicts in the region. The NYT reports, “Concerns in Washington soon rose about the groups Qatar was supporting, officials said. A debate over what to do about the weapons shipments dominated at least one meeting of the so-called Deputies Committee, the interagency panel consisting of the second-ranking officials in major agencies involved in national security. ‘There was a lot of concern that Qatar weapons were going to Islamist groups,’ one official recalled.” (22)

These supposed ‘Qatar’ weapons, however, did not originate with Qatar alone. By way of an example, the NYT quotes one US weapons dealer who wanted to sell weapons to the insurgency in Libya during the war against Libya. The NYT describes how he applied to the State Department for a license. “He also sent an e-mail to J. Christopher Stevens, then the special representative to the Libyan rebel Alliance, ” reports the NYT. According to e-mails provided to the NYT by the arms dealer, Marc Turi, Stevens wrote back to Turi that he would “share Mr. Turi’s proposal with colleagues in Washington.” Eventually the weapons dealer was encouraged to communicate with contacts in Qatar.(23)

Such examples help to demonstrate both that there is concern among US government officials in Washington about the US government arming militant Islamists, the very people the US government condemns as “terrorists” in other situations. Also though the weapons pipeline may have on the surface been made to appear unconnected to the US actually supplying the arms that are being distributed by Qatar or Saudi Arabia, in the case of Marc Turi, as one example, the weapons pipeline was arranged for by a license provided by the US government to ship the weapons to Qatar.

Such examples provide the context for how the US government has covertly and overtly been helping to provide the weapons that are then used by those hostile to the US to inflict harm on the Libyan and Syrian people and even on Americans, as those killed in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. This situation, several commentators have noted, is reminiscent to the Iran Contra Affair where the US government entities covertly acted in a way that jeopardized the interests and even the physical well being of US officials and civilians. And it is likely that the actions being taken by US government officials to arm and provide other forms of support for the Libyan and Syrian insurgencies, are contrary to US laws and constitutional obligations.(24)

Such considerations reflect some of the salient concerns raised by a number of online commentators about the Benghazi Affair. One example of many that have been published online in the last few months is the article “Benghazigate: The Cover-up continues” by Bill Shanefeld published at the American Thinker website. The article raises two important questions (25): “(1) The pre-”event” purpose of the compound and its Annex (since these operations probably motivated the perpetrators of the “event”); and (2) Team Obama’s failed policies in North Africa, the Middle East, and Afghanistan.”

The article also refers to some of the many contributions made by other online commentators. These various commentaries help to clarify that the Benghazi affair offers a relatively rare window into the on the ground actions of the US government’s clandestine operations. These actions are the partner to the role the US government is playing in the UN Security Council and the UN in general in its efforts to turn the UN into a partner in its CIA and NATO activities. The Benghazi Affair is an important situation and the question remains as to whether the illegal activities of the US government acting contrary to the obligations of the UN Charter in Libya and more recently Syria will come to light.
Notes

1. U.S. State Department Public Accountability Board Report

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/202446.pdf

2.Margaret Coker, Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, Margaret Coker, ”CIA
Takes Heat for Role in Libya,” WSJ, November 1, 2012.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204712904578092853621061838.html

3. Dana Milbanks, “Letting Us in on a Secret,” Washington Post,
October 10, 2012,

http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/dana-milbank-letting-us-in-on-a-secret/2012/10/10/ba3136ca-132b-11e2-ba83-a7a396e6b2a7_print.html

4.Helene and Eric Schmidt, Michael S Schmidt, “Deadly Attack In Libya
was Major Blow to CIA Efforts,” New York Times, September 23, 2012.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/24/world/africa/attack-in-libya-was-major-blow-to-cia-efforts.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

5. Margaret Coker, Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, Margaret Coker, ”CIA
Takes Heat for Role in Libya,” WSJ, November 1, 2012.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204712904578092853621061838.html

6.Nancy A. Youssef, “Libyans, diplomats: CIA’s Benghazi station a
secret – and quickly repaired,” McClatchy Newspapers, November 12,
2012.

http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2012/11/12/174455/libyans-diplomats-cias-benghazi.html

7. Catherine Herridge, “CIA moved swiftly to scrub, abandon Libya
facility after attack, source says,” Fox News, December 5, 2012.

http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2012/12/05/cia-moved-swiftly-scrub-abandon-libya-facility-after-attack-source-says/#ixzz2IE8icKIQ

8. “The Fog of Benghazi,” Opinion Piece, WSJ, Nov. 3, 2012

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204712904578090612465153472.html

9. Letter from Representative Issa and Representative Chaffetz to
President Obama, October 19, 2012

http://oversight.house.gov/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/10.19.12-Issa-and-Chaffetz-to-President.pdf

10. The Oversight Committee’s letter was accompanied by 166 pages of
documents and photos.

http://oversight.house.gov/release/oversight-committee-asks-president-about-white-house-role-in-misguided-libya-normalization-effort/

documents

http://1.usa.gov/S89qG7

11. U.S. State Department Public Accountability Board Report

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/202446.pdf

12. See for example, ”Interview with Clare M. Lopez”

http://goldandguns.wordpress.com/2012/10/31/former-cia-clare-lopez-on-the-benghazi-gun-running/

13. Sheera Frenkel, “Syrian rebels squabble over weapons as biggest
shipload arrives from Libya; Turkey,” Times (London), September 14,
2012, p. 23

14. Schedule of Chris Stevens activities on September 10 and September 14.

Included in data sent to President Obama by Issa and Chaffetz

15. Sheeran Frenkel, “Syrian rebels squabble over weapons as biggest
shipload arrives from Libya; Turkey,” Times (London), September 14,
2012, p. 23

16. “CIA chief Petraeus pays surprise visit to Turkey,” Hurriyet Daily
News, September 2, 2012

http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/cia-chief-petraeus-pays-surprise-visit-to-turkey.aspx?pageID=238&nid=29175

J. Millard Burr, “The Benghazi Attack: Some Thoughts,” Economic
Warfare Institute Blog, Oct 24, 2012.

http://econwarfare.org/viewarticle.cfm?id=5109

17. U.S. State Department Public Accountability Board Report

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/202446.pdf

18. Dr. Curtis Doebbler, “It is illegal to support rebels fighting a
legitimate government,” Note from Sibialiria.org,
http://syria360.wordpress.com/2012/11/20/supporting-the-doha-coalition-violates-international-law/

19. U.S. State Department Public Accountability Board Report

http://www.state.gov/documents/organization/202446.pdf

Margaret Coker, Adam Entous, Siobhan Gorman, Margaret Coker, ”CIA
Takes Heat for Role in Libya,” WSJ, November 1, 2012.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204712904578092853621061838.html

20. Mark Mazzetti, James Risen, Michael S Schmidt, ”U.S. Approved Arms
for Libya Rebels Fell into Jihadis’ Hands,” NYT, December 5, 2012.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/africa/weapons-sent-to-libyan-rebels-with-us-approval-fell-into-islamist-hands.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

21. Sheera Frenkel, “Syrian rebels squabble over weapons as biggest
shipload arrives from Libya; Turkey,” Times ( London), September 14,
2012, p. 23

Also see other relevant articles such as:

Christina Lamb, “Covert US Plan to Arm Rebels,” The Sunday Times
(London), December 9, 2012, p. 1,2

Franklin Lamb, “Flooding Syria with Foreign Arms: A View from
Damascus”, Foreign Policy Journal, Nov. 5, 2012.

http://www.foreignpolicyjournal.com/2012/11/05/flooding-syria-with-foreign-arms-a-view-from-damascus/

J. Millard Burr, “You Can Kiss Petraeus Goodbye,” End Time News, Nov. 5, 2012

http://endtimesnews.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/benghazi-attack-reveals-split-in-gun-running-factions/

22. Mark Mazzetti, James Risen, Michael S Schmidt, ”U.S. Approved Arms
for Libya Rebels Fell into Jihadis’ Hands,” NYT, December 5, 2012.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/africa/weapons-sent-to-libyan-rebels-with-us-approval-fell-into-islamist-hands.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

23. Mark Mazzetti, James Risen, Michael S Schmidt, ”U.S. Approved Arms
for Libya Rebels Fell into Jihadis’ Hands,” NYT, December 5, 2012.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/06/world/africa/weapons-sent-to-libyan-rebels-with-us-approval-fell-into-islamist-hands.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

24. Michael Kelley, “The CIA’s Benghazi Operation May Have Violated
International Law,” Nov. 5, 2012

http://endtimesnews.wordpress.com/2012/11/07/benghazi-attack-reveals-split-in-gun-running-factions/

Oona A. Hathaway, Elizabeth Nielsen, Chelsea Purvis, Saurabh Sanghvi,
and Sara Solow, “ARMS TRAFFICKING: THE INTERNATIONAL AND DOMESTIC
LEGAL FRAMEWORK.,” Yale Law School Report. Posted Nov. 15, 2011.

http://www.law.yale.edu/documents/pdf/cglc/YLSreport_armsTrafficking.pdf

25. Bill Shanefeld, “Benghazigate the cover-up continues.” American
Thinker, January 9, 2013.

http://www.americanthinker.com/2013/01/benghazigate_the_cover-up_continues.html

A version of this article appears on my netizenblog at
http://blogs.taz.de/netizenblog/2013/01/24/benghazi-affair-cia-annex/

Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan: Three Lousy Options, Pick One

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Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.


In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a formerjihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reusedin 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed andcivilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woefulAfghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan: Three Lousy Options, Pick One

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Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.


In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a formerjihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reusedin 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed andcivilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woefulAfghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

Secret Donors Finance Fight Against Hagel

A brand new conservative group calling itself Americans for a Strong Defense and financed by anonymous donors is running advertisements urging Democratic senators in five states to vote against Chuck Hagel, President Obama's nominee to be secretary of...

Only Three Choices for Afghan Endgame: Compromise, Conflict, or Collapse

KABUL, Afghanistan – Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes 12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.

In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a former jihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reused in 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed and civilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woeful Afghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

© 2013 Ann Jones

Ann Jones

Ann Jones, writer and photographer, is the author of seven previous books, including War Is Not Over When It's Over, Kabul in Winter, Women Who Kill, and Next Time She'll Be Dead. Since 2001, Jones has worked with women in conflict and post-conflict zones, principally Afghanistan, and reported on their concerns. An authority on violence against women, she has served as a gender adviser to the United Nations. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Nation. For more information, visit her website.

Only Three Choices for Afghan Endgame: Compromise, Conflict, or Collapse

KABUL, Afghanistan – Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same.  Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave.  Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.

Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat.  For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war.  And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat.  For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.

The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias.  While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes 12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.

One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader].  Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”

The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat -- the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.

The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country.  The departures aren’t dramatic.  There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe.  That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.

In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead.  At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama.  Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that?  In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.

Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective -- the reason we went to war in the first place -- is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.”  An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”

At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans.  It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think -- as Afghans once did -- that we are fighting for them.

To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white.  The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.

Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them -- exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be.  Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals.

In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a former jihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.

In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys.  Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.

In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw.  Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.

How to Vote Early in Afghanistan

President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reused in 2014.  Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters.  During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices.  So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.

Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes.  (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.

Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country.  If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.

These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares.  After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”

Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014.  Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice.  As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.

Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.

As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear.  Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.

At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.

Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state.  Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.

Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet.  Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) -- and voting early.

Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts -- from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans -- have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines.  And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid.  Left behind are ordinary Afghans -- the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.

The Military Monster

These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire.  Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification.  Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons.  Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.

Asked that crucial question -- do you think American forces should stay or go? -- the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed and civilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.)  Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men.  All of them.  Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.

In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen.  After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.”  Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next.  Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.

Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded.  Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.

Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave?  Afghans have a theory about that, too.  It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves.  Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.

I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country.  “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.

Afghans only laugh at that.  They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around.  They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.

Operation Enduring Presence      

More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people -- and to American troops as well.  Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.

In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan -- and that mainly outside the capital.  Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia.  In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age -- compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.

So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”

Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians.  As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war.  When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”

Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy.  In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.

Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable -- like education and health care.  Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school.  But for how long?   According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls.  What kind of report card is that?  After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.

By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woeful Afghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.”  In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.

Here’s where that final scenario -- collapse -- haunts the Kabuli imagination.  Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets.  Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country.  Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?

And if the state collapses, too?  Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid.  The mujahideen parties -- Islamists all -- agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping -- until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.

Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace.  Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home.  That sounds almost like a plan.

© 2013 Ann Jones

Ann Jones

Ann Jones, writer and photographer, is the author of seven previous books, including War Is Not Over When It's Over, Kabul in Winter, Women Who Kill, and Next Time She'll Be Dead. Since 2001, Jones has worked with women in conflict and post-conflict zones, principally Afghanistan, and reported on their concerns. An authority on violence against women, she has served as a gender adviser to the United Nations. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times and The Nation. For more information, visit her website.

Netanyahu Deploys ‘Syrian’ Iron-Dome As Israeli Minister Claims US Preparing ‘Surgical’ Strikes Against Iran

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu says his nation must prepare for the threat of a chemical attack from Syria, amid concern at enemy efforts to test a post-election coalition Israel, and, as Bloomberg reports, has deployed its new Iron Dome anti-missile system near the border with its northern neighbor. Along with this concern, as many have perhaps suspected, the Israeli Defense Minister confirmed yesterday that the US has prepared plans for a 'surgical' military operation to delay Iran's nuclear program.

As The Jerusalem Post reports, Ehud Barak, speaking in Davos, does not believe any military operation against Iran would devolve into a "full fledged war the size of the Iraqi war" but rather "there should be a readiness and an ability to launch a surgical operation that will delay them by a significant time frame and probably convince them that it won’t work because the world is determined to block them."

Barak added that in the past the US has been heavy-handed but that under Barack Obama, the United States has "prepared quite sophisticated, fine, extremely fine, scalpels," if the worse comes to the worst - even though the Israeli preference would be to end the nuclear threat diplomatically , calling for tougher sanctions (though he expressed doubt that diplomacy would lead to success).

Just another geopolitical hotspot that the world's markets choose to ignore in deference to the one true leader - central bankers.

Via Bloomberg,

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel must prepare for the threat of a chemical attack from Syria as the army deployed its new Iron Dome anti- missile system near the border with its northern neighbor.

Netanyahu told members of the Cabinet during the weekly meeting in Jerusalem today that Israel faces dangers from throughout the Middle East. Top security officials held a special meeting last week to discuss what may happen to Syrian stocks of chemical weapons amid the civil unrest there, Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Army Radio.

“We must look around us, at what is happening in Iran and its proxies and at what is happening in other areas, with the deadly weapons in Syria, which is increasingly coming apart,” Netanyahu told his Cabinet, according to an e-mailed statement.

Syrian rebels, mostly Sunni Muslims, have been fighting to oust President Bashar al-Assad since March 2011 in a conflict that the United Nations says has left at least 60,000 people dead. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

The Iron Dome system, which was used to shoot down hundreds of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip during Israel’s November conflict with Hamas and other militant groups, is being deployed at an unspecified site in the north, according to an Israeli army spokeswoman. She spoke anonymously in accordance with military regulations and said setting up the anti-missile battery was part of routine operations.

Israeli forces must be particularly alert during the period following last week’s election in which Netanyahu is trying to form a new coalition government and enemies are looking for signs of weakness, the prime minister said. Netanyahu’s Likud- Beitenu alliance lost 11 parliamentary seats in the vote and the prime minister said he needs a broad and stable coalition to deal with security threats from the region.

Via The Jerusalem Post,

Defense minister challenges idea that military operation against Iran would develop into a "full fledged war the size of the Iraqi war"; says surgical strikes will delay Tehran's nuclear drive "by a significant time frame."

The United States has prepared plans for a "surgical" military operation to delay Iran's nuclear program in the event that diplomatic efforts to thwart Tehran's drive for nuclear weapons capability fail, Defense Minister Ehud Barak said in an interview with The Daily Beast on Friday.

Speaking from Switzerland, where he is attending the Davos World Economic Forum, Barak challenged the notion that a military operation against Iran would develop into a "full fledged war the size of the Iraqi war or even the war in Afghanistan."

“What we basically say is that if worse comes to worst, there should be a readiness and an ability to launch a surgical operation that will delay them by a significant time frame and probably convince them that it won’t work because the world is determined to block them,” Barak told The Daily Beast.

The defense minister stated that, while the US was once heavy-handed in its attempts to carry out pinpointed military actions, under the leadership of President Barack Obama, the United States has "prepared quite sophisticated, fine, extremely fine, scalpels. So it is not an issue of a major war or a failure to block Iran. You could under a certain situation, if worse comes to worst, end up with a surgical operation."

Barak said that even a small-scale series of surgical strikes was a last resort, and that Israel's preference would be to neutralize the Iranian nuclear threat diplomatically.

Barak called for harsher sanctions against the Islamic Republic, but noted that he did not believe the diplomatic path was likely to succeed in halting Iran's nuclear drive given Russia and China's tendency to thwart harsher measures in the United Nations.

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Mehdi’s Morning Memo: The Great Train Rebellion

The ten things you need to know on Monday 28 January 2013...

THE GREAT TRAIN REBELLION

First, there were the Euro-rebels. Then the gay-marriage rebels. Now, it's the train-spotting rebels. David Cameron, it seems, can't stop picking fights with his backbenchers.

The Times splashes on the Tories' "high speed rebellion":

"David Cameron faces a grassroots Tory rebellion after he unveils plans today to drive the fastest railway in Europe through the party’s heartlands to Manchester and Leeds.

"The Times can reveal that a blueprint for the £33 billion High Speed 2 line, to be published this morning, will" - among other things - "pledge to create 100,00 jobs, including 10,000 during construction". Hmm, they had me at "100,000 jobs".

This could be the moment that former Welsh secretary Cheryl Gillan - leader of parliament's Nimby brigade, whose Amersham and Chesham seat is on the route and has described it as "the wrong railway in the wrong place at the wrong time and for such a high cost" - takes revenge on the PM for sacking her from the cabinet last year. Dave may come to regret giving Cheryl the boot while swilling a glass of red wine...

Note: Apologies for the lack of a Morning Memo yesterday. I was out of the country, at a conference. Normal Sunday service will resume next weekend.

2) DAVE VS ADAM

Perhaps Cheryl Gillan will have to get in line. Yesterday, a new challenger appeared on the scene: (backbench) Conservative MP for Windsor, Adam Afriyie. (Adam who?)

The Independent's Andy McSmith reports:

"The debate began after three Tory-supporting Sunday newspapers reported a 'well-organised' campaign to secure the leadership for Mr Afriyie, who was a frontbench spokesman for the Conservatives in opposition but was excluded from the Government.

"... Mr Afriyie said he almost choked on his breakfast cereal when he read the reports. He told Sky News: 'I will never stand against David Cameron. I am 100 per cent supportive of David Cameron... There is no truth to any of it. We are working very hard to keep David Cameron secure, to make sure there is not a vacancy.'

"However, he also said he and his allies had talked about 'the long-term future of the party,' indicating that he sees himself as a candidate in a post-2015 leadership contest if the Tories lose the general election.

"The promise not to stand against Mr Cameron is actually meaningless, because the rules of the Conservative Party, revised after the fall of Margaret Thatcher, do not permit a direct challenge to a Tory Prime Minister, who must be felled by a vote of no confidence before an election can be held to choose a successor."

The Telegraph reveals, on its front page, that "a handful of former ministers who were sacked by Mr Cameron in the reshuffle have been working for weeks, trying to cement support for Mr Afriyie if the Tories lose the likely May 2015 election".

The paper's leader concludes: "The silly season appears to have started early this year."

Indeed.

3) LIB DEMS FOREVER

"England does not love coalitions," Benjamin Disraeli famously remarked. This morning's Independent has this as one of its front-page headlines: "Prepare for an era of coalitions, say Lib Dems."

The paper's Andrew Grice has interviewed the Tories' favourite Lib Dem minister, David Laws, and reports:

"Liberal Democrat leaders want all three main parties to draw up a slimline manifesto for an era of 'coalition politics' as well as an 'age of austerity' at the 2015 general election.

"In an interview with The Independent, David Laws, who heads the Liberal Democrats' manifesto group, said: 'We have to learn the lesson of tuition fees.'"

The Indy also notes how party leader Clegg told the BBC's Andrew Marr programme yesterday that the Lib Dems would be up for joining a coalition with Labour if the latter beat the Conservatives at the next election.

Is the country ready for its own version of Germany's Free Democrats - i.e. a third party that is permanently in government via ever-changing coalitions?

4) DON'T COME TO BRITAIN. IT SUCKS HERE.

This is my favourite story of the day - from the Guardian's front page:

"Please don't come to Britain – it rains and the jobs are scarce and low-paid. Ministers are considering launching a negative advertising campaign in Bulgaria and Romania to persuade potential immigrants to stay away from the UK.

"The plan, which would focus on the downsides of British life, is one of a range of potential measures to stem immigration to Britain next year when curbs imposed on both country's citizens living and working in the UK will expire.

"A report over the weekend quoted one minister saying that such a negative advert would 'correct the impression that the streets here are paved with gold'."

Well, of course, they're not. We're on the verge of a triple-dip recession, with real wages falling and child poverty on the rise. Thanks, in part, to policies backed by that unnamed, anonymous minister.

But, take a step back, what kind of government is so obsessed with 'cracking down' on immigration that it's willing to consider doing down the country's international image in order to keep migrants out? You could not make it up.

To be fair, the FT reports: "Downing Street played down any such campaign yesterday, with one aide dismissing the idea as 'kite flying'."

5) DON'T FORGET MALI

Hats off to the Indy and the Guardian for keeping news the conflict in Mali on their front pages.

The Independent's splash headline reads: "Revealed: how French raid killed 12 Malian villagers."

The paper reports:

"A father last night described the moment a French attack helicopter bombed his town in Mali, killing his wife and at least three children from another family. Amadou Jallo, 57, lost his wife, Aminata, in the attack on Konna, in which 12 civilians died and 15 more were injured."

Meanwhile, the Guardian's Luke Harding reports:

"Just two weeks after intervening in Mali, French troops, together with the Malian army, have wrested back control of most of the north of the country from Islamist rebels.

But, he adds:

"... despite these swift successes, it is uncertain whether France's giddy military advance will deliver any kind of lasting peace. So far the 'war' in Mali has involved little fighting. Instead Islamist rebels have simply melted back into the civilian population, or disappeared."

Hmm. Sounds like Afghanistan circa late 2001.

BECAUSE YOU'VE READ THIS FAR...

Watch this video: "Six dogs. One Dish. One incredibly cute trick."

6) ERIC PICKLES VS 'CHEATING' COUNCILS

The Telegraph splashes on the "minister at war over 'cheating' councils":

"Councils are treating local residents 'with contempt' and will be cheating taxpayers if they increase local taxes without public backing, the Local Government Secretary warns.

"In an article for The Daily Telegraph, Eric Pickles says he will introduce new laws to stop councils abusing the system by hitting householders with stealth tax rises next year.

"Mr Pickles, who describes some councils as 'cheating their taxpayers', discloses that only about a third have so far signed up for a national council tax freeze, with dozens more threatening to defy government calls for restraint amid the ongoing economic turmoil."

Perhaps, just perhaps, if the coalition hadn't frontloaded their cuts to local government budgets, councils wouldn't need to raise council tax.

7) VOTE TORY, GET NO HOLIDAYS?

From the Guardian:

"David Cameron will use EU reforms to repatriate and weaken workers' rights, Frances O'Grady, the new leader of the Trades Union Congress will warn on Monday.

"Speaking at a conference in Madrid she will say that, if the prime minister gets his way, employees across Europe may no longer receive health and safety protection, equal treatment as part-time workers and women, or paid holidays."

8) NO NEED TO SMELL THE COFFEE

The papers this morning are all ove the so-called 'spat' between the government and Starbucks. The Express reports:

"Conservative party chairman Grant Shapps yesterday denied that the Tories had 'singled out' coffee giant Starbucks over how much tax it paid.

"His comments follow claims that the US firm had threatened to stop investing in Britain after Prime Minister David Cameron urged business last week to 'wake up and smell the coffee' about public anger over tax avoidance.

"It was seen as a dig at Starbucks, which has paid no corporation tax in the last three years and only £8.6million in 14 years in Britain."

9) 'DIVERSITY CRISIS'

The Guardian's splash is a self-professed 'exclusive':

"Police forces should be made to positively discriminate in favour of black and ethnic minority officers in the face of a growing diversity crisis, according to one of the country's leading chief constables.

"The radical proposal – which would mean a change in the law – from Sir Peter Fahy, of Greater Manchester, comes in the face of what he said was an embarrassing paucity of black and minority ethnic officers (BME) at the top of British policing."

I'm all for more diversity, and even - as a last resort - positive discrimination, but Fahy's rather odd comments about more BME officers helping with "undercover surveillance" won't go down that well with BME communities...

10) BARACK AND HILLARY SITTING IN A TREE...

It's not often you see the president of the United States sit down for a joint interview alongside his secretary of state.

From the Guardian:

"Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton coyly batted away questions over any White House succession plan during a mutually appreciative interview on Sunday...

"'You guys in the press are incorrigible. I was literally inaugurated four days ago, and you're talking about the elections four years from now,' offered Obama.

"Clinton likewise gave an answer that could be interpreted any number of ways: 'Obviously the president and I care deeply about what's going to happen for our country in the future. And I don't think, you know, either he or I can make predictions about what's going to happen tomorrow or the next year,' she said."

Obama declared, with Clinton at his side: "I'm going to miss her." Awww - to think it was only five years ago that they were tearing strips out of each other in public as they tried to destroy each other's political careers.

PUBLIC OPINION WATCH

From yesterday's Sunday Times/YouGov poll:

Labour 41
Conservatives 35
Lib Dems 12
Ukip 7

That would give Labour a majority of 78.

140 CHARACTERS OR LESS

@TomHarrisMP If Cameron fails to win a majority in 2015, then obviously *someone* will take over. That doesn't necessarily mean there's a conspiracy.

@BevanJa Is it possible for newspapers to suggest a black politician may be a future party leader without a crude comparison to Obama?

@DanHannanMEP Does Nick Clegg lack all self-awareness? A referendum on AV was critical, but a referendum on the EU is a distraction?

900 WORDS OR MORE

Boris Johnson, writing in the Telegraph, says: "Only a coward would deny the people their voice on Europe."

Gavin Kelly, writing in the Guardian, says: "Could the Tories' plan for re-election in 2015 cost just 10p?"

David Blunkett, writing in the Daily Mail, says: "Coalition's constituency boundary reforms are a complete mess and an insult to voters."


Got something you want to share? Please send any stories/tips/quotes/pix/plugs/gossip to Mehdi Hasan ([email protected]) or Ned Simons ([email protected]). You can also follow us on Twitter: @mehdirhasan, @nedsimons and @huffpostukpol

High Profile Rape Trial Puts Haiti’s Justice System to the Test

Despite the odds, 2012 was a good year for the prosecution of rape in Haiti. The Haitian justice system has historically struggled to effectively prosecute rape cases, but as human rights lawyer Meena Jagannath has noted, rape cases were 28% of all cases for last summer’s criminal trial sessions in Port-au-Prince. Meena describes how grassroots women’s activists and women lawyers used the trials as an opportunity for public education about rape and to effect balance in the typically male-dominated courtroom atmosphere.  Haitian lawyers with the Rape Accountability and Prevention Project (RAPP) at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) brought seven cases to trial in 2012, all resulting in convictions and significant jail time. The prosecution of a Haitian official this week for rape was both troubling and encouraging.

These advances in enforcing the rights of victims of gender-based violence faced a test as 2012 came to a close, when one of Haiti’s most powerful officials–Josué Pierre-Louis—was charged with rape against Marie-Danielle Bernardin. Mr. Pierre-Louis is one of Haiti’s most powerful and experienced officials. He is currently the President of the national Electoral Council, after having served as the Minister of Justice, General Director of the Ministry of Justice, Chief Prosecutor of the Port-au-Prince trial and appeals courts and Academic Director of the Magistrate’s Academy. He is also a high-profile counselor to President Michel Martelly. Ms. Bernardin was, until she made the rape accusations in November, employed by the Ministry of the Interior as assistant to Pierre-Louis at the Electoral Council.

I have collaborated with Josué several times over the past dozen years, on the Raboteau Massacre trial and the case against Jean-Claude Duvalier, among others.  On a personal level, I was sad to see him involved in this incident. But Ms. Bernardin’s accusations are credible, so on a professional level I am eager to see Haiti’s justice system pursue them fairly and aggressively.

Pierre-Louis categorically denies the accusations. People believed to be his supporters have posted nude photos of a woman on the internet. Mr. Pierre-Louis’s lawyer has told the press that the photos depict Ms. Bernardin, and show that she and Pierre-Louis had a relationship that would imply consent. Ms. Bernardin denies the relationship. She is clearly not the person in the photo. Even if she were, under Haitian law, as in the U.S., consent must be established for each and every instance of sexual conduct, and a prior relationship is not insufficient.  Mr. Pierre-Louis has also filed a criminal complaint against her for “espionage.” He claims that he caught Ms. Bernardin looking through files on is computer and phone.

The current Minister of Justice, Jean-Renel Sanon, responded by visiting the Investigating Judge then on the case, Joseph Jeudilien Fanfan, the morning of a pre-trial hearing. We do not know what was discussed, but the visit itself was highly improper. In seventeen years of working on human rights in Haiti, I have never heard of a Minister of Justice visiting a judge in his office for any reason, nor had any of the Haitian lawyers I asked today. Judge Fanfan reported that Pierre-Louis’s half-brother, Ikenson Edume, who is also a judge, threatened him after he prohibited Pierre-Louis from traveling, in front of many other judges in December. Judge Edume was not punished for the threats, and was at work in the courthouse today.

Judge Fanfan lifted the travel prohibition, then excused himself from the case. He was replaced by Judge, Merlan Delabre. Both judges refused calls from Ms. Bernardin’s supporters, including some of the best-known human rights and women’s groups in Haiti, to impose other restrictions on Pierre-Louis’s freedom (most rape defendants in Haiti are held without bail. That practice is also problematic, but demonstrates Mr. Pierre-Louis’ preferential treatment).

Today was supposed to be the day for Pierre-Louis to give his version of the events. Judge Delabre had scheduled a “confrontation”, a pretrial hearing where the accuser repeats her accusation with the defendant present, and the defendant responds.

I went to the courthouse with Ms. Bernardin’s legal team, three human rights lawyers, to observe the confrontation. The lawyers were happy to see several supporters of Ms. Bernardin—from grassroots, women’s and human rights groups—as we approached the gate to the court complex. But the lawyers were also nervous. They were nervous for their client, because of all the political pressure in the case. They were also nervous for themselves. Even before they took the Bernardin case, all three faced enough harassment from the government and anonymous death threats for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to have issued a “Precautionary Measures” order for their protection in November.

The lawyers were planning to start the hearing by requesting Judge Delabre to recuse himself from the case, because they felt that it would be hard for the judge to provide a fair hearing. They noted that Judge Delabre and Mr. Pierre-Antoine were from the same provincial city, that the Judge had been Pierre-Louis’s student at the Judicial Academy, and that they had information that Pierre-Louis had been instrumental in Judge Delabre’s nomination to the bench. Judge Delabre is a respected judge, but those factors, combined with Pierre-Louis’s immense influence from his impressive career in the justice system, his Presidential connections, the Minister of Justice’s visit to the Judge, the system’s failure to punish Pierre-Louis’s brother for his threats, and Judge Delabre’s refusal to impose any restrictions on Josué, seemed to provide a strong case for recusal.

I joined the lawyers huddled in a hallway around the corner from the courtroom, putting the final touches on their strategy. Suddenly, a chant broke out “Jistis pou Josué”, followed by signs of commotion. I followed the noise around the corner, and saw a bunch of agitated men- maybe a dozen- in the hallway outside the open door to a room, clenched fists and signs in the air, supporting Pierre-Louis and angrily denouncing his prosecution. I learned later that the room they were shouting into was the room for our hearing, and that Pierre-Louis and Ms. Bernardin  were inside, with Judge Delabre. At least twenty reporters were present for the hearing, and they quickly filed into the hallway with cameras, recorders and notebooks. The police did not match the reporters’ speed: it took at least fifteen minutes for a handful of officers to arrive, and another ten for the more heavily armed riot police. Haiti’s police response times are justifiably hampered by understaffing and resource constraints, but this was an important hearing at the country’s largest courthouse—there should have been a greater police presence

After a few minutes the human rights groups started a counter chant. They had better signs- my favorite was “Down With Necktied Vagabonds in Government Offices”, but were smaller and less loud. Eventually the police did come, and cleared the hallway gradually, without further incident.

All this was highly unusual. In Haiti, as elsewhere, courts take security and decorum very seriously. I have observed many high-profile, controversial trials there, and have yet to see a single person allowed to wander the halls with a sign, never mind two large groups. Police typically move quickly to nip any disruptive activity in the bud, and set an example.

The lawyers, meanwhile, headed outside, where they and the human rights activists were outraged and shaken (one of the lawyers left his coat with Ms. Bernardin to hide her face from the cameras). They accused Josue of organizing the protest–he was reportedly in the courtroom, and certainly did not try to stop it—in order to intimidate Ms. Bernardin. They accused the police and the courts of letting this disruption go on long enough to send a message- a very chilling one—to Ms. Bernardin, her lawyers and supporters, and anyone who would try to use the justice system against powerful men in Haiti.

The action inside the courthouse was dispiriting, but there was cause for hope outside. After recording the protest and counterprotest in the hallways, the reporters streamed out the building and attended a series of impromptu press conferences by Ms. Bernardin’s supporters and lawyers. From the journalists’ questions, they seemed to understand why Ms. Bernardin’s team was scared (journalists in Haiti complain of their own harassment) and outraged. They also seemed to relish the role of reporting on the abuse of power evident in the courtroom.

There was more cause for hope back at the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux office where one of Ms. Bernardin’s lawyers worked. Other lawyers and paralegals at the office- all women—were providing intake for four rape victims who had come to the office seeking justice. The appearance of more rape victims is disconcerting, but not new for the BAI. What is new is that there is now a solid chance that the justice system, properly pressed, will provide these victims a fair trial, and will give potential perpetrators a reason to fear punishment. The victims, their lawyers and the groups that support them are persistently and courageously building, cases by case, a justice system that can apply the rule of law even against the most powerful, even in favor of the most marginalized.

Kiriakou and Stuxnet: The Danger of the Still-Escalating Obama Whistleblower War

The permanent US national security state has used extreme secrecy to shield its actions from democratic accountability ever since its creation after World War II. But those secrecy powers were dramatically escalated in the name of 9/11 and the War on Terror, such that most of what the US government now does of any significance is completely hidden from public knowledge. Two recent events - the sentencing last week of CIA torture whistleblower John Kirikaou to 30 months in prison and the invasive investigation to find the New York Times' source for its reporting on the US role in launching cyberwarfare at Iran - demonstrate how devoted the Obama administration is not only to maintaining, but increasing, these secrecy powers.Former CIA officer John Kiriakou becomes the only government official convicted in connection with the US torture program: not for having done it, but for having talked about it. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

When WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables in 2010, government defenders were quick to insist that most of those documents were banal and uninteresting. And that's true: most (though by no means all) of those cables contained nothing of significance. That, by itself, should have been a scandal. All of those documents were designated as "secret", making it a crime for government officials to reveal their contents - despite how insignificant most of it was. That revealed how the US government reflexively - really automatically - hides anything and everything it does behind this wall of secrecy: they have made it a felony to reveal even the most inconsequential and pedestrian information about its actions.

This is why whistleblowing - or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information - has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency. Given how subservient the federal judiciary is to government secrecy claims, it is not hyperbole to describe unauthorized leaks as the only real avenue remaining for learning about what the US government does - particularly for discovering the bad acts it commits. That is why the Obama administration is waging an unprecedented war against it - a war that continually escalates - and it is why it is so threatening.

To understand the Obama White House's obsession with punishing leaks - as evidenced by its historically unprecedented war on whistleblowers - just consider how virtually every significant revelation of the bad acts of the US government over the last decade came from this process. Unauthorized leaks are how we learned about the Bush administration's use of torture, the NSA's illegal eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the secret network of CIA "black sites" beyond the reach of law or human rights monitoring, the targeting by Obama of a US citizen for assassination without due process, the re-definition of "militant" to mean "any military age male in a strike zone", the video of a US Apache helicopter gunning down journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, the vastly under-counted civilians deaths caused by the war in Iraq, and the Obama administration's campaign to pressure Germany and Spain to cease criminal investigations of the US torture regime.

In light of this, it should not be difficult to understand why the Obama administration is so fixated on intimidating whistleblowers and going far beyond any prior administration - including those of the secrecy-obsessed Richard Nixon and George W Bush - to plug all leaks. It's because those methods are the only ones preventing the US government from doing whatever it wants in complete secrecy and without any accountability of any kind.

Silencing government sources is the key to disabling investigative journalism and a free press. That is why the New Yorker's Jane Mayer told whistleblowing advocate Jesselyn Radack last April: "when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it's incumbent upon all journalists to speak up."

Indeed, if you talk to leading investigative journalists they will tell you that the Obama war on whistleblowers has succeeded in intimidating not only journalists' sources but also investigative journalists themselves. Just look at the way the DOJ has pursued and threatened with prison one of the most accomplished and institutionally protected investigative journalists in the country - James Risen - and it's easy to see why the small amount of real journalism done in the US, most driven by unauthorized leaks, is being severely impeded. This morning's Washington Post article on the DOJ's email snooping to find the NYT's Stuxnet source included this anonymous quote: "People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations."

For authoritarians who view assertions of government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true, none of this will be bothersome. Under that mentality, if the government decrees that something shall be secret, then it should be secret, and anyone who defies that dictate should be punished as a felon - or even a traitor. That view is typically accompanied by the belief that we can and should trust our leaders to be good and do good even if they exercise power in the dark, so that transparency is not only unnecessary but undesirable.

But the most basic precepts of human nature, political science, and the American founding teach that power exercised in the dark will be inevitably abused. Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. That's why those who wield political power are always driven to destroy methods of transparency. About this fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1804 letter to John Tyler [emphasis added]:

"Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions."

About all that, Yale law professor David A Schultz observed: "For Jefferson, a free press was the tool of public criticism. It held public officials accountable, opening them up to the judgment of people who could decide whether the government was doing good or whether it had anything to hide. . . . A democratic and free society is dependent upon the media to inform."

There should be no doubt that destroying this method of transparency - not protection of legitimate national security secrets- is the primary effect, and almost certainly the intent, of this unprecedented war on whistleblowers. Just consider the revelations that have prompted the Obama DOJ's war on whistleblowers, whereby those who leak are not merely being prosecuted, but threatened with decades or even life in prison for "espionage" or "aiding the enemy".

Does anyone believe it would be better if we remained ignorant about the massive waste, corruption and illegality plaguing the NSA's secret domestic eavesdropping program (Thomas Drake); or the dangerously inept CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program but which ended up assisting that program (Jeffrey Sterling); or the overlooking of torture squads in Iraq, the gunning down of journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, or the pressure campaign to stop torture investigations in Spain and Germany (Bradley Manning); or the decision by Obama to wage cyberwar on Iran, which the Pentagon itself considers an act of war (current DOJ investigation)?

Like all of the Obama leak prosecutions - see here - none of those revelations resulted in any tangible harm, yet all revealed vital information about what our government was doing in secret. As long-time DC lawyer Abbe Lowell, who represents indicted whistleblower Stephen Kim, put it: what makes the Obama DOJ's prosecutions historically unique is that they "don't distinguish between bad people - people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money - and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions". Not only doesn't it draw this distinction, but it is focused almost entirely on those who leak in order to expose wrongdoing and bring about transparency and accountability.

That is the primary impact of all of this. A Bloomberg report last October on this intimidation campaign summarized the objections this way: "the president's crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama's initial promise to 'usher in a new era of open government.'"

The Obama administration does not dislike leaks of classified information. To the contrary, it is a prolific exploiter of exactly those types of leaks - when they can be used to propagandize the citizenry to glorify the president's image as a tough guy, advance his political goals or produce a multi-million-dollar Hollywood film about his greatest conquest. Leaks are only objectionable when they undercut that propaganda by exposing government deceit, corruption and illegality.

Few events have vividly illustrated this actual goal as much as the lengthy prison sentence this week meted out to former CIA officer John Kiriakou. It's true that Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: "The only person to do time for the CIA's torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing."

Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case - the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema - said she "would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could." As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

Exactly the same happened with revelations by the New York Times of the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. None of the officials who eavesdropped on Americans without the warrants required by law were prosecuted. The telecoms that illegally cooperated were retroactively immunized from all legal accountability by the US Congress. The only person to suffer recriminations from that scandal was Thomas Tamm, the mid-level DOJ official who discovered the program and told the New York Times about it, and then had his life ruined with vindictive investigations.

This Obama whistleblower war has nothing to do with national security. It has nothing to do with punishing those who harm the country with espionage or treason.

It has everything to do with destroying those who expose high-level government wrongdoing. It is particularly devoted to preserving the government's ability to abuse its power in secret by intimidating and deterring future acts of whistleblowing and impeding investigative journalism. This Obama whistleblower war continues to escalate because it triggers no objections from Republicans (who always adore government secrecy) or Democrats (who always adore what Obama does), but most of all because it triggers so few objections from media outlets, which - at least in theory - suffer the most from what is being done.

© 2012 The Guardian

Glenn Greenwald

Kiriakou and Stuxnet: The Danger of the Still-Escalating Obama Whistleblower War

The permanent US national security state has used extreme secrecy to shield its actions from democratic accountability ever since its creation after World War II. But those secrecy powers were dramatically escalated in the name of 9/11 and the War on Terror, such that most of what the US government now does of any significance is completely hidden from public knowledge. Two recent events - the sentencing last week of CIA torture whistleblower John Kirikaou to 30 months in prison and the invasive investigation to find the New York Times' source for its reporting on the US role in launching cyberwarfare at Iran - demonstrate how devoted the Obama administration is not only to maintaining, but increasing, these secrecy powers.Former CIA officer John Kiriakou becomes the only government official convicted in connection with the US torture program: not for having done it, but for having talked about it. Photograph: Jacquelyn Martin/AP

When WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of classified diplomatic cables in 2010, government defenders were quick to insist that most of those documents were banal and uninteresting. And that's true: most (though by no means all) of those cables contained nothing of significance. That, by itself, should have been a scandal. All of those documents were designated as "secret", making it a crime for government officials to reveal their contents - despite how insignificant most of it was. That revealed how the US government reflexively - really automatically - hides anything and everything it does behind this wall of secrecy: they have made it a felony to reveal even the most inconsequential and pedestrian information about its actions.

This is why whistleblowing - or, if you prefer, unauthorized leaks of classified information - has become so vital to preserving any residual amounts of transparency. Given how subservient the federal judiciary is to government secrecy claims, it is not hyperbole to describe unauthorized leaks as the only real avenue remaining for learning about what the US government does - particularly for discovering the bad acts it commits. That is why the Obama administration is waging an unprecedented war against it - a war that continually escalates - and it is why it is so threatening.

To understand the Obama White House's obsession with punishing leaks - as evidenced by its historically unprecedented war on whistleblowers - just consider how virtually every significant revelation of the bad acts of the US government over the last decade came from this process. Unauthorized leaks are how we learned about the Bush administration's use of torture, the NSA's illegal eavesdropping on Americans without the warrants required by the criminal law, the abuses at Abu Ghraib, the secret network of CIA "black sites" beyond the reach of law or human rights monitoring, the targeting by Obama of a US citizen for assassination without due process, the re-definition of "militant" to mean "any military age male in a strike zone", the video of a US Apache helicopter gunning down journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, the vastly under-counted civilians deaths caused by the war in Iraq, and the Obama administration's campaign to pressure Germany and Spain to cease criminal investigations of the US torture regime.

In light of this, it should not be difficult to understand why the Obama administration is so fixated on intimidating whistleblowers and going far beyond any prior administration - including those of the secrecy-obsessed Richard Nixon and George W Bush - to plug all leaks. It's because those methods are the only ones preventing the US government from doing whatever it wants in complete secrecy and without any accountability of any kind.

Silencing government sources is the key to disabling investigative journalism and a free press. That is why the New Yorker's Jane Mayer told whistleblowing advocate Jesselyn Radack last April: "when our sources are prosecuted, the news-gathering process is criminalized, so it's incumbent upon all journalists to speak up."

Indeed, if you talk to leading investigative journalists they will tell you that the Obama war on whistleblowers has succeeded in intimidating not only journalists' sources but also investigative journalists themselves. Just look at the way the DOJ has pursued and threatened with prison one of the most accomplished and institutionally protected investigative journalists in the country - James Risen - and it's easy to see why the small amount of real journalism done in the US, most driven by unauthorized leaks, is being severely impeded. This morning's Washington Post article on the DOJ's email snooping to find the NYT's Stuxnet source included this anonymous quote: "People are feeling less open to talking to reporters given this uptick. There is a definite chilling effect in government due to these investigations."

For authoritarians who view assertions of government power as inherently valid and government claims as inherently true, none of this will be bothersome. Under that mentality, if the government decrees that something shall be secret, then it should be secret, and anyone who defies that dictate should be punished as a felon - or even a traitor. That view is typically accompanied by the belief that we can and should trust our leaders to be good and do good even if they exercise power in the dark, so that transparency is not only unnecessary but undesirable.

But the most basic precepts of human nature, political science, and the American founding teach that power exercised in the dark will be inevitably abused. Secrecy is the linchpin of abuse of power. That's why those who wield political power are always driven to destroy methods of transparency. About this fact, Thomas Jefferson wrote in an 1804 letter to John Tyler [emphasis added]:

"Our first object should therefore be, to leave open to him all the avenues of truth. The most effectual hitherto found, is freedom of the press. It is therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions."

About all that, Yale law professor David A Schultz observed: "For Jefferson, a free press was the tool of public criticism. It held public officials accountable, opening them up to the judgment of people who could decide whether the government was doing good or whether it had anything to hide. . . . A democratic and free society is dependent upon the media to inform."

There should be no doubt that destroying this method of transparency - not protection of legitimate national security secrets- is the primary effect, and almost certainly the intent, of this unprecedented war on whistleblowers. Just consider the revelations that have prompted the Obama DOJ's war on whistleblowers, whereby those who leak are not merely being prosecuted, but threatened with decades or even life in prison for "espionage" or "aiding the enemy".

Does anyone believe it would be better if we remained ignorant about the massive waste, corruption and illegality plaguing the NSA's secret domestic eavesdropping program (Thomas Drake); or the dangerously inept CIA effort to infiltrate the Iranian nuclear program but which ended up assisting that program (Jeffrey Sterling); or the overlooking of torture squads in Iraq, the gunning down of journalists and rescuers in Baghdad, or the pressure campaign to stop torture investigations in Spain and Germany (Bradley Manning); or the decision by Obama to wage cyberwar on Iran, which the Pentagon itself considers an act of war (current DOJ investigation)?

Like all of the Obama leak prosecutions - see here - none of those revelations resulted in any tangible harm, yet all revealed vital information about what our government was doing in secret. As long-time DC lawyer Abbe Lowell, who represents indicted whistleblower Stephen Kim, put it: what makes the Obama DOJ's prosecutions historically unique is that they "don't distinguish between bad people - people who spy for other governments, people who sell secrets for money - and people who are accused of having conversations and discussions". Not only doesn't it draw this distinction, but it is focused almost entirely on those who leak in order to expose wrongdoing and bring about transparency and accountability.

That is the primary impact of all of this. A Bloomberg report last October on this intimidation campaign summarized the objections this way: "the president's crackdown chills dissent, curtails a free press and betrays Obama's initial promise to 'usher in a new era of open government.'"

The Obama administration does not dislike leaks of classified information. To the contrary, it is a prolific exploiter of exactly those types of leaks - when they can be used to propagandize the citizenry to glorify the president's image as a tough guy, advance his political goals or produce a multi-million-dollar Hollywood film about his greatest conquest. Leaks are only objectionable when they undercut that propaganda by exposing government deceit, corruption and illegality.

Few events have vividly illustrated this actual goal as much as the lengthy prison sentence this week meted out to former CIA officer John Kiriakou. It's true that Kiriakou is not a pure anti-torture hero given that, in his first public disclosures, he made inaccurate claims about the efficacy of waterboarding. But he did also unequivocally condemn waterboarding and other methods as torture. And, as FAIR put it this week, whatever else is true: "The only person to do time for the CIA's torture policies appears to be a guy who spoke publicly about them, not any of the people who did the actual torturing."

Despite zero evidence of any harm from his disclosures, the federal judge presiding over his case - the reliably government-subservient US District Judge Leonie Brinkema - said she "would have given Kiriakou much more time if she could." As usual, the only real criminals in the government are those who expose or condemn its wrongdoing.

Exactly the same happened with revelations by the New York Times of the illegal Bush NSA warrantless eavesdropping program. None of the officials who eavesdropped on Americans without the warrants required by law were prosecuted. The telecoms that illegally cooperated were retroactively immunized from all legal accountability by the US Congress. The only person to suffer recriminations from that scandal was Thomas Tamm, the mid-level DOJ official who discovered the program and told the New York Times about it, and then had his life ruined with vindictive investigations.

This Obama whistleblower war has nothing to do with national security. It has nothing to do with punishing those who harm the country with espionage or treason.

It has everything to do with destroying those who expose high-level government wrongdoing. It is particularly devoted to preserving the government's ability to abuse its power in secret by intimidating and deterring future acts of whistleblowing and impeding investigative journalism. This Obama whistleblower war continues to escalate because it triggers no objections from Republicans (who always adore government secrecy) or Democrats (who always adore what Obama does), but most of all because it triggers so few objections from media outlets, which - at least in theory - suffer the most from what is being done.

© 2012 The Guardian

Glenn Greenwald

New Report Shows Extent of ‘Kochtopus’ Empire of Climate Denial

Charles and David Koch, a.k.a. the Koch Bros.—who have come to represent the face (or faces) of the US conservative movement and its primary, though certainly not only, source of private funding—have continued, and perhaps deepened, according to new reporting, their involvement with the ongoing masquerade of climate change denial politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

The two men symbolize, for many at least, the best example of the worst kind of people: billionaire titans of industry who use their outrageous wealth to push libertarian policies that thwart the hopes and possibilities of a better and more sustainable world for all.

Between the reams of investigative work (most notably by the folks at Center for Media & Democracy and other progressive media outlets) and their own exploits and public comments, the goals of the Koch's, and their network of allies—monikered as a singular and tyrannical 'Kochtopus'—have been made impeccably clear.

Still, a new report by journalist Steve Connor, at the UK-based Independent, has uncovered new information about the depth and manner of the Koch's secretive and ongoing funding of the international effort to undermine climate science.

As Connor shows, the 'Kochtopus' annually delivers millions to a cabal of front groups, think tanks, and non-profits—both in the US and abroad—whose sole purpose is to shield the public from the reality that the fossil fuel-driven economey of modern society is driving the capacity of Earth's biosphere to its breaking point.

Anonymous private funding of global warming sceptics, who have criticised climate scientists for their lack of transparency, is becoming increasingly common. The Kochs, for instance, have overtaken the corporate funding of climate denialism by oil companies such as ExxonMobil. One such organisation, Americans for Prosperity, which was established by David Koch, claimed that the "Climategate" emails illegally hacked from the University of East Anglia in 2009 proved that global warming was the "biggest hoax the world has ever seen".

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has estimated that over the past decade about $500m has been given to organisations devoted to undermining the science of climate change, with much of the money donated anonymously through third parties.

Read the full report here.

______________________________________

New Report Shows Extent of ‘Kochtopus’ Empire of Climate Denial

Charles and David Koch, a.k.a. the Koch Bros.—who have come to represent the face (or faces) of the US conservative movement and its primary, though certainly not only, source of private funding—have continued, and perhaps deepened, according to new reporting, their involvement with the ongoing masquerade of climate change denial politics on both sides of the Atlantic.

The two men symbolize, for many at least, the best example of the worst kind of people: billionaire titans of industry who use their outrageous wealth to push libertarian policies that thwart the hopes and possibilities of a better and more sustainable world for all.

Between the reams of investigative work (most notably by the folks at Center for Media & Democracy and other progressive media outlets) and their own exploits and public comments, the goals of the Koch's, and their network of allies—monikered as a singular and tyrannical 'Kochtopus'—have been made impeccably clear.

Still, a new report by journalist Steve Connor, at the UK-based Independent, has uncovered new information about the depth and manner of the Koch's secretive and ongoing funding of the international effort to undermine climate science.

As Connor shows, the 'Kochtopus' annually delivers millions to a cabal of front groups, think tanks, and non-profits—both in the US and abroad—whose sole purpose is to shield the public from the reality that the fossil fuel-driven economey of modern society is driving the capacity of Earth's biosphere to its breaking point.

Anonymous private funding of global warming sceptics, who have criticised climate scientists for their lack of transparency, is becoming increasingly common. The Kochs, for instance, have overtaken the corporate funding of climate denialism by oil companies such as ExxonMobil. One such organisation, Americans for Prosperity, which was established by David Koch, claimed that the "Climategate" emails illegally hacked from the University of East Anglia in 2009 proved that global warming was the "biggest hoax the world has ever seen".

Robert Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University in Philadelphia, has estimated that over the past decade about $500m has been given to organisations devoted to undermining the science of climate change, with much of the money donated anonymously through third parties.

Read the full report here.

______________________________________

Frontline Gets Its Man: Lanny Breuer Leaves DOJ After Exposé

In a testament to the power of independent media, the award-winning public television show Frontline this week helped push a top Department of Justice (DOJ) official out the door.

On Tuesday, Frontline aired a report called "The Untouchables" detailing the DOJ's failure to prosecute the big banks for the 2008 financial meltdown and zeroing in on Lanny Breuer, the former White House legal counsel for Clinton who headed the DOJ's criminal division under Obama.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Breuer was stepping down.

Many had criticized Attorney General Eric Holder and Breuer for failing to take action against the mega banks on Wall Street, and watched with disbelief last December as the DOJ decided to pass on criminal penalties against HSBC for laundering drug money and helping to finance terrorists. The behemoth bank was ordered to pay a record civil fine, but no criminal charges were lodged against any HSBC official. A New York Times editorial called the decision a "dark day for the rule of law."

But this time around, the Frontline crew had unparalleled access to Breuer which generated a number of key revelations:

Frontline documented that Breuer/Holder failed to use the tools available to them to really dig.

FRONTLINE: We spoke to a couple of sources from within the Criminal Division, and they reported that when it came to Wall Street, there were no investigations going on. There were no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.

LANNY BREUER: Well, I don't know who you spoke with because we have looked hard at the very types of matters that you're talking about.

Frontline documented that Breuer/Holder failed to reach out to key whistle blowers.

FRONTLINE: Another criticism that has been thrown at you is that you've not done enough to go looking for the whistle-blowers that are out there. We have been able to contact a number of people who were inside the banks, doing due diligence work as contractors, who all told us that they were never contacted by the Justice Department.

BREUER: I can't talk in general about nondescript, anonymous whistle-blowers. But here's what I can tell you. Whenever I personally have been in any public setting, I've invited whistle-blowers to come forward.

Frontline documented that Breuer/Holder worried more about the fragility of the banks than cleaning up corruption on Wall Street.

FRONTLINE: You gave a speech before the New York Bar Association. You talked about your use of nonprosecution and deferred prosecution agreements. And in that speech, you made a reference to "losing sleep at night over worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution." Is that really the job of a prosecutor, to worry about anything other than simply pursuing justice?

BREUER: I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case there's some huge economic effect, it affects the economy so that employees who had nothing to do with the wrongdoing of the company... If it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly, it's a factor we need to know and understand.

Just this week Pro Publica put out another blockbuster report about the corruption at Morgan Stanley before the financial meltdown, unveiling documents where employees dubbed the securities they were peddling: "Subprime Meltdown," "Nuclear Holocaust," "Shitbag." This information was garnered not from the federal government prosecutions, but from a private lawsuit against the bank.

Before his appointment at the DOJ, Breuer had worked at the Washington office of Covington & Burling LLP alongside Holder. The firm specializes in helping big name corporations, including tobacco firms, evade taxes and get off the hook for crimes and malfeasance. Breuer is likely to return to that natural perch, unfortunately he will be leaving Holder behind to continue business as usual at the DOJ.

© 2012 Center for Media & Democracy

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy's Real Economy Project and editor of their www.BanksterUSA.org site.

Frontline Gets Its Man: Lanny Breuer Leaves DOJ After Exposé

In a testament to the power of independent media, the award-winning public television show Frontline this week helped push a top Department of Justice (DOJ) official out the door.

On Tuesday, Frontline aired a report called "The Untouchables" detailing the DOJ's failure to prosecute the big banks for the 2008 financial meltdown and zeroing in on Lanny Breuer, the former White House legal counsel for Clinton who headed the DOJ's criminal division under Obama.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that Breuer was stepping down.

Many had criticized Attorney General Eric Holder and Breuer for failing to take action against the mega banks on Wall Street, and watched with disbelief last December as the DOJ decided to pass on criminal penalties against HSBC for laundering drug money and helping to finance terrorists. The behemoth bank was ordered to pay a record civil fine, but no criminal charges were lodged against any HSBC official. A New York Times editorial called the decision a "dark day for the rule of law."

But this time around, the Frontline crew had unparalleled access to Breuer which generated a number of key revelations:

Frontline documented that Breuer/Holder failed to use the tools available to them to really dig.

FRONTLINE: We spoke to a couple of sources from within the Criminal Division, and they reported that when it came to Wall Street, there were no investigations going on. There were no subpoenas, no document reviews, no wiretaps.

LANNY BREUER: Well, I don't know who you spoke with because we have looked hard at the very types of matters that you're talking about.

Frontline documented that Breuer/Holder failed to reach out to key whistle blowers.

FRONTLINE: Another criticism that has been thrown at you is that you've not done enough to go looking for the whistle-blowers that are out there. We have been able to contact a number of people who were inside the banks, doing due diligence work as contractors, who all told us that they were never contacted by the Justice Department.

BREUER: I can't talk in general about nondescript, anonymous whistle-blowers. But here's what I can tell you. Whenever I personally have been in any public setting, I've invited whistle-blowers to come forward.

Frontline documented that Breuer/Holder worried more about the fragility of the banks than cleaning up corruption on Wall Street.

FRONTLINE: You gave a speech before the New York Bar Association. You talked about your use of nonprosecution and deferred prosecution agreements. And in that speech, you made a reference to "losing sleep at night over worrying about what a lawsuit might result in at a large financial institution." Is that really the job of a prosecutor, to worry about anything other than simply pursuing justice?

BREUER: I think I and prosecutors around the country, being responsible, should speak to regulators, should speak to experts, because if I bring a case against institution A, and as a result of bringing that case there's some huge economic effect, it affects the economy so that employees who had nothing to do with the wrongdoing of the company... If it creates a ripple effect so that suddenly counterparties and other financial institutions or other companies that had nothing to do with this are affected badly, it's a factor we need to know and understand.

Just this week Pro Publica put out another blockbuster report about the corruption at Morgan Stanley before the financial meltdown, unveiling documents where employees dubbed the securities they were peddling: "Subprime Meltdown," "Nuclear Holocaust," "Shitbag." This information was garnered not from the federal government prosecutions, but from a private lawsuit against the bank.

Before his appointment at the DOJ, Breuer had worked at the Washington office of Covington & Burling LLP alongside Holder. The firm specializes in helping big name corporations, including tobacco firms, evade taxes and get off the hook for crimes and malfeasance. Breuer is likely to return to that natural perch, unfortunately he will be leaving Holder behind to continue business as usual at the DOJ.

© 2012 Center for Media & Democracy

Mary Bottari

Mary Bottari is the Director of the Center for Media and Democracy's Real Economy Project and editor of their www.BanksterUSA.org site.

Royal torture ring: Bahraini princess on trial

A Bahraini princess is in court for the torture of three pro-democracy activists in detention. The princess’s case is the latest in a string of cases of torture and violence has seen the light in a report issued by Bahraini opposition.

Princess Nora Bint Ebrahim al-Khalifa who serves in Bahrain’s Drugs Control Unit, allegedly collaborated with another officer to torture three activists held in detention following a pro-democracy rally against the island kingdom’s monarchy.

The princess categorically denies the charges of torture set against her.

Two of the princess’s alleged victims were Doctors Ghassan Daif and Bassem Daif, who went to help the hundreds wounded when police opened fire with teargas and birdshot during protests in 2011. They were taken into custody in March of that year when it is thought that al-Khalifa tortured them.

Ayat al-Qurmazi
Ayat al-Qurmazi

The third victim, 21-year-old Ayat al-Qurmazi, was arrested for public reading of inflammatory poetry criticizing the royal family. She claims her blindfold slipped while she was being tortured and she caught a glimpse of al-Khalifa.

As Muslim women have never before been known to take part in interrogations and tortures, Nora Al-Khalifa stands out as the grossest character in the human rights activists’ report, RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova said.

Princess Nora’s case is the latest in a series of torture scandals highlighted in a report by the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights.

A 55-pages report titled ‘Citizens in the Grip of Torture’ is based on the nine interviews with named and anonymous witnesses. It was published both in English and Arabic.

The report states that two of the Bahraini King’s sons Nasser Bin Hammad Al-Khalifa and Khalid Bin Hammad Al-Khalifa, as well as two other members of the royal family, Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa and Nora Bint Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, directly took part in torturing the activists.

Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (L), Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa (M), Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa (R). (Photos from Report: Citizens in the Grip of Torturers)
Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (L), Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa (M), Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa (R). (Photos from Report: Citizens in the Grip of Torturers)

Torture stories include rare details that Muslims usually prefer to shun for ethical reasons, Bahraini opposition activists told Kevorkova.

After getting numerous letters from torture victims who mentioned the four members of the royal family among the arresters and torturers, the report’s authors decided it was vital to get an investigation going, RT’s Kevorkova said.

Included in the report are short CVs of those four members of the Bahrain’s royal family accused of human rights violations.

Nasser Bin Hamad, the fourth son of the King Hamad, is a colonel and commander of Bahrain’s royal guard. Bin Hamad, his 23-year-old brother, has also held a number of senior positions despite his young age and is married to Saudi Arabian King’s daughter.

The other two Al-Khalifas directly responsible for cases of torture and violence as stated in the report are Colonel Khalifa Bin Ahmed, a high-ranking police officer dismissed from his post in September 2011, and Lieutenant Nora Bint Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

Tortured for reading verses

Poet Ayat Al-Qurmozy was arrested in March 2011 after reciting a poem against the Bahraini regime during a peaceful demonstration in Pearl Roundabout. She was detained by masked men dressed in civilian clothing. On her release, al-Qurmozy told of tortures used on her by both men and women. One of the women involved was identified as Nora al-Khalifa.

The report states that Nora spat on al-Qurmozy and into her mouth, slapped her in the face repeatedly, administered electric shocks and shouted anti-Shia slurs.

On the eighth day of her arrest, al-Qurmozy was brought blindfolded into a room full of men, documents the report. They shouted abuse at her and demanded she tell them by whom she was given the verses and how much she was paid for reading them.

“I was surprised by a woman grabbing me and slapping me hard in the face… When she was screaming, cursing and slapping me hard on my face, the blindfold came down off my eyes and I saw her face a bit but they rushed to lift it,” al-Qurmozy later said, as cited in the report.

Al-Qurmozy was then brutally beaten, and Nora gave her electric shocks every time she lost consciousness, the report says. After that Nora allegedly went on torturing the young poet every night, beating her on the face and spitting on her every time she found her without a blindfold.

Threatened by rape, the poet girl was forced to confess to her ‘guilt’ in front of a camera. But her torture continued after al-Qurmozy was thrown into a car, the report says, elaborating on how Nora slapped her on the head, threatened to cut out her tongue, spat and put a wooden bathroom broom into her mouth and beat her continually. All these abuses were witnessed by another arrested woman, Jalila Salman, who was put in the same car.

Tortured for taking part in demonstration

Sheikh Mohammad Habib al-Mekdad, president of Zahraa Association for Orphans, was arrested at home in April 2011 by a group of 50-60 people wearing civilian clothes and masks. He was still in detention at the time of the report.

Mohammed Habib Al Mekdad
Mohammed Habib Al Mekdad

Al-Mekdad was stripped naked and beaten, and then put in pitch-dark prison cell, where he was continually tortured, the report says. According to al-Mekdad, he was hung head down, beaten for hours, and had sensitive body parts exposed to electric shock.

Prince Nasser Bin Hamad came to interrogate al-Mekdad and other detainees, making sure they recognized him before their questioning, the report says. On learning that al-Mekdad took part in a Safriya protest march in front of the Bahraini king’s palace, where some people shouted “Down with King Hamad,” the prince began beating him.

Prince Nasser then supervised the torture in person, Al-Mekdad said at the February 2012 court trial according to the report. There he showed more than 50 electric shock traces on his body and told the judge he was tortured by a drill piercing his leg and humiliated by spitting in his mouth. Prince Nasser forced al-Mekdad to kiss pictures of the royal family in between the torture sessions.

None of these words were taken down in the court, and the judge asked al-Mekdad to remain silent, saying that “this court has its respect,” the report states.

Tortured for SMS

This is what happens in Bahrain if the king’s son finds a suspicious SMS in your phone, RT’s Kevorkova said, citing the story of the man speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to the report, the man was stopped at a checkpoint near Safriya Palace in May 2011 while driving in a car with his wife and children. He recognized one of the patrolmen as Prince Khalid Bin Hamad. Unsatisfied with the fact that nothing was found in the car, the prince started searching through text messages on the man’s phone, and found an old SMS on the Pearl Roundabout demonstration.

The prince then ordered the man’s brother be called to take the woman and children home, but on his arrival both were arrested, the report says. They were thrown to the ground, beaten and forced “to repeat the royal greeting,” with Khalid Bin Hamad ordering to beat them again for every royal family member’s name they didn’t know.

The men were also forced to eat hot chili peppers and insult some opposition figures. The reports states that the police has also started beating the men on coming to the scene.

Both were sentenced to 60 days in prison and dismissed from their jobs.

Another man cited in the report was also arrested at a checkpoint after policemen noticed his car was parked near Pearl Roundabout and took the car’s number down.

For that he was put in al-Qalaa prison and tortured daily with the use of special devices and techniques, including chaining, limb piercing and beating with clubs, the report claims. He was also deprived of sleep and his religious practices, the report adds.

Prince Nasser Bin Hamad allegedly supervised the man’s torture, which was carried out by foreigners.

“This is not Iran, we came to you from Iraq, and we are Saddamists,” they shouted as they tortured him, according to the report.

The man was cited as saying that his friend Karim Fakhrawi, who was also detained, died during one such torture session.

RT sent a letter to Bahraini Information Affairs Authority last week asking for the comment on the report, but has so far not received an answer.

­RT's Nadezhda Kevorkova contributed to this report

Royal torture ring: Bahraini princess on trial

A Bahraini princess is in court for the torture of three pro-democracy activists in detention. The princess’s case is the latest in a string of cases of torture and violence has seen the light in a report issued by Bahraini opposition.

Princess Nora Bint Ebrahim al-Khalifa who serves in Bahrain’s Drugs Control Unit, allegedly collaborated with another officer to torture three activists held in detention following a pro-democracy rally against the island kingdom’s monarchy.

The princess categorically denies the charges of torture set against her.

Two of the princess’s alleged victims were Doctors Ghassan Daif and Bassem Daif, who went to help the hundreds wounded when police opened fire with teargas and birdshot during protests in 2011. They were taken into custody in March of that year when it is thought that al-Khalifa tortured them.

Ayat al-Qurmazi
Ayat al-Qurmazi

The third victim, 21-year-old Ayat al-Qurmazi, was arrested for public reading of inflammatory poetry criticizing the royal family. She claims her blindfold slipped while she was being tortured and she caught a glimpse of al-Khalifa.

As Muslim women have never before been known to take part in interrogations and tortures, Nora Al-Khalifa stands out as the grossest character in the human rights activists’ report, RT’s Nadezhda Kevorkova said.

Princess Nora’s case is the latest in a series of torture scandals highlighted in a report by the Bahrain Forum for Human Rights.

A 55-pages report titled ‘Citizens in the Grip of Torture’ is based on the nine interviews with named and anonymous witnesses. It was published both in English and Arabic.

The report states that two of the Bahraini King’s sons Nasser Bin Hammad Al-Khalifa and Khalid Bin Hammad Al-Khalifa, as well as two other members of the royal family, Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa and Nora Bint Ebrahim Al-Khalifa, directly took part in torturing the activists.

Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (L), Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa (M), Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa (R). (Photos from Report: Citizens in the Grip of Torturers)
Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa (L), Khalid bin Hamad Al Khalifa (M), Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa (R). (Photos from Report: Citizens in the Grip of Torturers)

Torture stories include rare details that Muslims usually prefer to shun for ethical reasons, Bahraini opposition activists told Kevorkova.

After getting numerous letters from torture victims who mentioned the four members of the royal family among the arresters and torturers, the report’s authors decided it was vital to get an investigation going, RT’s Kevorkova said.

Included in the report are short CVs of those four members of the Bahrain’s royal family accused of human rights violations.

Nasser Bin Hamad, the fourth son of the King Hamad, is a colonel and commander of Bahrain’s royal guard. Bin Hamad, his 23-year-old brother, has also held a number of senior positions despite his young age and is married to Saudi Arabian King’s daughter.

The other two Al-Khalifas directly responsible for cases of torture and violence as stated in the report are Colonel Khalifa Bin Ahmed, a high-ranking police officer dismissed from his post in September 2011, and Lieutenant Nora Bint Ebrahim Al-Khalifa of Bahrain’s Drug Enforcement Administration.

Tortured for reading verses

Poet Ayat Al-Qurmozy was arrested in March 2011 after reciting a poem against the Bahraini regime during a peaceful demonstration in Pearl Roundabout. She was detained by masked men dressed in civilian clothing. On her release, al-Qurmozy told of tortures used on her by both men and women. One of the women involved was identified as Nora al-Khalifa.

The report states that Nora spat on al-Qurmozy and into her mouth, slapped her in the face repeatedly, administered electric shocks and shouted anti-Shia slurs.

On the eighth day of her arrest, al-Qurmozy was brought blindfolded into a room full of men, documents the report. They shouted abuse at her and demanded she tell them by whom she was given the verses and how much she was paid for reading them.

“I was surprised by a woman grabbing me and slapping me hard in the face… When she was screaming, cursing and slapping me hard on my face, the blindfold came down off my eyes and I saw her face a bit but they rushed to lift it,” al-Qurmozy later said, as cited in the report.

Al-Qurmozy was then brutally beaten, and Nora gave her electric shocks every time she lost consciousness, the report says. After that Nora allegedly went on torturing the young poet every night, beating her on the face and spitting on her every time she found her without a blindfold.

Threatened by rape, the poet girl was forced to confess to her ‘guilt’ in front of a camera. But her torture continued after al-Qurmozy was thrown into a car, the report says, elaborating on how Nora slapped her on the head, threatened to cut out her tongue, spat and put a wooden bathroom broom into her mouth and beat her continually. All these abuses were witnessed by another arrested woman, Jalila Salman, who was put in the same car.

Tortured for taking part in demonstration

Sheikh Mohammad Habib al-Mekdad, president of Zahraa Association for Orphans, was arrested at home in April 2011 by a group of 50-60 people wearing civilian clothes and masks. He was still in detention at the time of the report.

Mohammed Habib Al Mekdad
Mohammed Habib Al Mekdad

Al-Mekdad was stripped naked and beaten, and then put in pitch-dark prison cell, where he was continually tortured, the report says. According to al-Mekdad, he was hung head down, beaten for hours, and had sensitive body parts exposed to electric shock.

Prince Nasser Bin Hamad came to interrogate al-Mekdad and other detainees, making sure they recognized him before their questioning, the report says. On learning that al-Mekdad took part in a Safriya protest march in front of the Bahraini king’s palace, where some people shouted “Down with King Hamad,” the prince began beating him.

Prince Nasser then supervised the torture in person, Al-Mekdad said at the February 2012 court trial according to the report. There he showed more than 50 electric shock traces on his body and told the judge he was tortured by a drill piercing his leg and humiliated by spitting in his mouth. Prince Nasser forced al-Mekdad to kiss pictures of the royal family in between the torture sessions.

None of these words were taken down in the court, and the judge asked al-Mekdad to remain silent, saying that “this court has its respect,” the report states.

Tortured for SMS

This is what happens in Bahrain if the king’s son finds a suspicious SMS in your phone, RT’s Kevorkova said, citing the story of the man speaking on condition of anonymity.

According to the report, the man was stopped at a checkpoint near Safriya Palace in May 2011 while driving in a car with his wife and children. He recognized one of the patrolmen as Prince Khalid Bin Hamad. Unsatisfied with the fact that nothing was found in the car, the prince started searching through text messages on the man’s phone, and found an old SMS on the Pearl Roundabout demonstration.

The prince then ordered the man’s brother be called to take the woman and children home, but on his arrival both were arrested, the report says. They were thrown to the ground, beaten and forced “to repeat the royal greeting,” with Khalid Bin Hamad ordering to beat them again for every royal family member’s name they didn’t know.

The men were also forced to eat hot chili peppers and insult some opposition figures. The reports states that the police has also started beating the men on coming to the scene.

Both were sentenced to 60 days in prison and dismissed from their jobs.

Another man cited in the report was also arrested at a checkpoint after policemen noticed his car was parked near Pearl Roundabout and took the car’s number down.

For that he was put in al-Qalaa prison and tortured daily with the use of special devices and techniques, including chaining, limb piercing and beating with clubs, the report claims. He was also deprived of sleep and his religious practices, the report adds.

Prince Nasser Bin Hamad allegedly supervised the man’s torture, which was carried out by foreigners.

“This is not Iran, we came to you from Iraq, and we are Saddamists,” they shouted as they tortured him, according to the report.

The man was cited as saying that his friend Karim Fakhrawi, who was also detained, died during one such torture session.

RT sent a letter to Bahraini Information Affairs Authority last week asking for the comment on the report, but has so far not received an answer.

­RT's Nadezhda Kevorkova contributed to this report

Gun Control and Climate Change Arguments Taking Same Tack As 2009 Health Care Fight

If we want any part of President Obama's initiatives described in his inaugural speech to become reality in the next four years, we'd better gear up and get ready to fight, because they're dog-whistling the troops, particularly on the topics of climate change and gun control, just like they did in 2009 with health care reform.

In 2009, we were caught unawares. That can't happen this time, at least not if we hold any hope of getting things done this time around. Conservatives are already launching the time-honored strategies of lies, inflammatory speech, and exaggeration to push back on any effort whatsoever to make progress on climate change and gun control.

Fox News led the parade Tuesday morning with the theme that climate change isn't real, beginning with Fox and Friends Tuesday morning, and continuing on with Rush Limbaugh pompously pronouncing it a "hoax."

Meanwhile, there's a rising anti-chorus over mild gun control measures which are long overdue, in which the same overarching themes employed in 2009 over health care reform are beginning to emerge. Some examples:

  • In Ohio, state school board president Debe Terhar is defending her decision to share a Facebook photo of Hitler along with a message criticizing Obama's gun control proposals.
  • NRA President Wayne LaPierre gave a fiery speech on Monday night (video above), where he claimed the only reason to maintain a national registry of gun owners is to "tax them or take them," and further claiming that the REAL motive was to leave guns in the hands of the wealthy and criminals.
  • Anonymous has gotten in on the debate, using the Obama to Hitler comparison as well.
  • Juan Williams, writing for Fox News, claims that gun control is now "central to Obama's legacy." That's a clear-cut call for conservatives to mobilize.
  • Sheriffs in right-wing states are vowing to resist any efforts to implement gun control measures passed by Congress or tightened enforcement required by executive order.
  • Now the far right wingers have declared 2/23/2013 a "Day of Resistance" over the proposed gun measures. Anyone remember the call for the "tea party" which supposedly arose from the grassroots? Yeah.

These should raise the hackles on everyone's neck as we're thrust back into the days of death panels and socialism, resplendent with Obama as Hitler images, cries of armed resistance, and more. Indeed, some conservatives have figured out a way to resurrect death panels in the context of gun control, by inventing the myth that Obamacare will require doctors to inquire about guns in the home.

There will be protests at town halls, there will be more astroturf organizations with names like Americans for Constitutional Solutions and the like, and there will be a steady drumbeat on the part of the right wing to systematically tear apart every effort to actually move America toward some semblance of civilization.

Not this time. We won the health care battle and lost the war in 2010. They don't give a damn about climate change and guns as much as they do about firing up their dispirited base in order to win some elections in 2014. The sooner we recognize it and push back, not by dignifying their accusations, but bringing our own arguments forth into the public square, the better.

To that end, the answer to the nonsense about climate change should be strong economic arguments for making the changes that will slow our contribution to climate change while building the economy. President Obama made that argument in his speech, when he said, "We cannot cede to other nations the technology that will power new jobs and new industries. We must claim its promise. That’s how we will maintain our economic vitality and our national treasure, our forests and waterways, our crop lands and snow capped peaks."

With regard to gun control, everyone seems very concerned with the rights of gun owners, and seems to think they trump everyone else's rights. How can the right wing, who claims to stand for the rights of innocents to life, tolerate dead children in a classroom? For those so devoted to the constitution, how can a right to life and liberty be trumped by one person's right to use a gun to take those?

Take the message back and make this an argument about the rights of every American to live in relative safety without the fear that their children and loved ones will be taken from them because there was no balance between the rights of gun owners and the rights of innocents.

Wayne LaPierre speaks for gun manufacturers, not gun owners. When he speaks of rights, he is speaking for the corporate persons who profit from the death and mayhem their products wreak on our society.

The bottom line here is that progressives have to take the offensive on these questions and get the public on our side before the wingers erode the support we've built up for both of these initiatives. In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and Sandy Hook, more Americans are open to reasonable gun control measures and climate change initiatives than ever before. The right wing knows it, and they're going to use it. It's up to us to stop it before it starts.

Kim Dotcom wants to encrypt half of the Internet to end government surveillance (FULL...

In an in-depth interview, Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom discusses the investigation against his now-defunct file-storage site, his possible extradition to the US, the future of Internet freedoms and his latest project Mega with RT’s Andrew Blake.

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (C) launches his new file sharing site "Mega", surrounded by dancers, in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (C) launches his new file sharing site "Mega", surrounded by dancers, in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)

The United States government says that Dotcom, a German millionaire formerly known as Kim Schmitz, masterminded a vast criminal conspiracy by operating the file-storage site Megaupload. Dotcom, on the other hand, begs to differ. One year after the high-profile raid of his home and the shut-down and seizure of one of the most popular sites on the Web, Dotcom hosted a launch party for his latest endeavor, simply called Mega. On the anniversary of the end of Megaupload, Dotcom discusses the year since his arrest and what the future holds in regards to both his court case and the Internet alike. Speaking with RT’s Andrew Blake from his Coatesville, New Zealand mansion, Dotcom weighs in on the US justice system, the death of Aaron Swartz, the growing surveillance state, his own cooperation with the feds and much more.

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (2nd R) poseswith actors dessed as police after the launch of his new website at a press conference held inside his home in Auckland on January 20, 2013. (AFP Photo/Michael Bradley)
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (2nd R) poseswith actors dessed as police after the launch of his new website at a press conference held inside his home in Auckland on January 20, 2013. (AFP Photo/Michael Bradley)

'­Hollywood is a very important contributor to Obama'

RT: You’ve blamed President Obama and the Obama administration for colluding with movie companies in order to orchestrate this giant arrest here in New Zealand. Is this kind of give-and-take relationship between Washington and Hollywood all that you say it is? Or are you just the exception? Does this really exist?

Kim Dotcom: You have to look at the players behind this case, okay? The driving force, of course, is Chris Dodd, the chairman of the MPAA [Motion Picture Association of America]. And he was senator for a long time and he is — according to [US Vice President] Joe Biden — Joe Biden’s best friend. And the state attorney that is in charge of this case has been Joe Biden’s personal counsel, Neil MacBride, and [he] also worked as an anti-piracy manager for the BSA, the Business Software Association, which is basically like the MPAA but for software companies.

And also, the timing is very interesting, you know? Election time. The fundraisers in Hollywood set for February, March [and] April. There had to have some sort of Plan B, an alternative for SOPA [the Stop Online Piracy Act], because the president certainly was aware — and his team at the White House was aware — that if they don’t have anything to give at those fundraisers, to those guys in Hollywood who are eager to have more control over the Internet, they wouldn’t have probably raised too much. And Hollywood is a very important contributor to Obama’s campaign. Not just with money, but also with media support. They control a lot of media: celebrity endorsements and all that.

So I’m sure the election plays an important role. The relationships of the people that are in charge of this case play an important role and, of course, we have facts that we want to present at our extradition hearing that will show some more detail about this and that this is not just some conspiracy theory but that this actually happened.

Local Maori arrive as Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (unseen) launches his new file sharing site "Mega" in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)
Local Maori arrive as Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (unseen) launches his new file sharing site "Mega" in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)

'Operation Takedown'

RT: The US Justice Department wants to extradite you, a German citizen living in New Zealand operating a business in Hong Kong. They want to extradite you to the US. Is that even possible?

KD: That is a very interesting question because the extradition law, the extradition treaty in New Zealand, doesn’t really allow extradition for copyright. So what they did, they threw some extra charges on top and one of them is racketeering, where they basically say we are a mafia organization and we set up our Internet business to basically be an organized crime network that was set up and structured the way it was just to do criminal copyright infringement. And anyone who has every used Megaupload and has any idea about how that website worked knows immediately that it was total nonsense. But they needed to chop that on in order to have even a chance for extradition. But in our opinion, you see, all of that was secondary. The primary goal was to take down Megaupload and destroy it completely. That was their mission and that’s why the whole thing in Hong Kong, for example, they called it Operation Takedown. And I think everything that’s happening now, they are trying on the fly to doctor it around, and found a way to find a case. They probably came here and thought, “We will find something; that these guys have done something wrong.” In the indictment, if you actually read that, it’s more like a press release. There’s nothing in there that has any merits.

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom speaks during the launch of his new website at a press conference at his mansion in Auckland on January 20, 2013. (AFP Photo/Michael Bradley)
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom speaks during the launch of his new website at a press conference at his mansion in Auckland on January 20, 2013. (AFP Photo/Michael Bradley)

RT: When the raid happened one year ago today, it got a lot of people talking both about the Internet and about this character, Kim Dotcom. But it was a lot of talking and not so much action, because here it is one year later and this case is still happening. Back up earlier this month, and we saw Aaron Swartz — an online information activist — pass away, and only in his mid-20s. And it got a lot of people talking, so much so that members of Congress have actually asked for changes to federal computer laws so that this doesn’t happen again. What is it actually going to take to get people to stop just talking and to actually start acting?

KD: Our case is going to be the one that will have much more attention down the road because it is a crucial case for Internet freedom. And I think more and more people realize that and the government is quite exposed here because they really went in with completely prosecutorial abuse and overreach and ignoring due process, ignoring our rights, spying on us, illegal search warrants, illegal restraining orders, illegal spying. The whole picture, when you look at it, shows that this was an urgent mission, done on a rush. “Take them down, I want them to go.” And it was a political decision to do that. And the execution was extremely poor, and the case is extremely poor, because that is something they thought that they could worry about later. It was all about the takedown. “Let’s send a strong message to Hollywood that we are on their side.”

RT:And now it’s been a year and nothing has progressed. At least for them. It seems like the case is falling apart day by day.

KD: Let me give you one example of how crazy this is. We have a judge here who said, “Please show us your evidence about your racketeering allegations. Show us that these guys were setting up some sort of organized crime network,” because that’s what the extradition will focus on primarily. They are using the organized crime treaty to get us extradited. So the US appealed that and said, “We don’t want to show you what we have.” And then they appealed to the high court and the high court then said, “We want to see it.” And they just keep appealing it, all the way to the court of appeals and to the Supreme Court. And what does that tell you? If you don’t even want to show us your cards — show us what you have! If you have such a strong case and are seriously interested about getting someone extradited, why waste all this time? Just show your hand. And they don’t have anything because we haven’t done anything wrong. We were law abiding. We were a good corporate citizen. And they knew that the time they came here to do this. They just wanted to take us down.

Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (C) launches his new file sharing site "Mega", with dancers, in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)
Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (C) launches his new file sharing site "Mega", with dancers, in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)

'I want to reestablish a balance between a person and the state'

RT :The new program, Mega, is fully encrypted, and you’re touting it as an encrypted program so that people will want to use it. Do you think this is even necessary, right now, that people need encryption on the Internet?

KD: I think it’s important for the Internet that there is more encryption. Because what I have learned since I got dragged into this case is a lot about privacy abuses, about the government spying on people. You know, the US government invests a lot of money in spy clouds: massive data centers with hundreds of thousands of hard drives storing data. And what they are storing is basically any communication that traverses through US networks. And what that means they are not spying on individuals based on a warrant anymore. They just spy on everybody, permanently, all the time. And what that means for you and for anybody is that if you are ever a target of any kind of investigation, or someone has a political agenda against you, or a prosecutor doesn’t like you, or the police wants to interpret something in a way to get you in trouble — they can use all that data, go through it with a comb and find things even though we think we have nothing to hide and have done nothing wrong. They will find something that they can nail you with and that’s why it’s wrong to have these kinds of privacy abuses, and I decided to create a solution that overtime will encrypt more and more of the internet. So we start with files, we will then move to emails, and then move to Voice-Over-IP communication. And our API [Application Programming Interface] is available to any third-party developer to also create their own tools. And my goal is, within the next five years, I want to encrypt half of the Internet. Just reestablish a balance between a person — an individual — and the state. Because right now, we are living very close to this vision of George Orwell and I think it’s not the right way. It’s the wrong path that the government is on, thinking that they can spy on everybody.

Actors in police costume mock-arrest Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (C), as he launches his new file sharing site "Mega" in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)
Actors in police costume mock-arrest Megaupload founder Kim Dotcom (C), as he launches his new file sharing site "Mega" in Auckland January 20, 2013. (Reuters/Nigel Marple)

RT: Long before Megaupload was ever taken down, the Justice Department was looking into Ninja Video and you actually cooperated with them. People want to know: how is Kim Dotcom, this guy who is incredibly against Washington and hates everything that they’ve done to him, how is this same guy also helping out the Justice Department?

KD: Let me explain to you how this worked, okay? I was a good corporate citizen. My company was abiding to the laws. If we get a search warrant or we get a request by the government to assist in an investigation, we will comply and we have always complied. And that is the right thing to do, because if someone uploads child pornography or someone uploads terrorist stuff or anything that is a serious crime, of course we are there to help. This is our obligation. And I am not for copyright infringement. People need to understand that. I’m against copyright infringement. But I’m also against copyright extremism. And I’m against a business model: the one from Hollywood that encourages piracy. Megaupload is not responsible for the piracy problem, you see? It’s the Hollywood studios that release a movie in the US, and then six months later in other parts of the world. And everyone knows that the movie is out there and fans of a particular actress want to have it right now, but they are not giving them any opportunity to get access to that content even though they are willing to pay. And they are looking for alternatives on the Internet, and then they find them. They are trying to make me responsible for their lack of ability to adapt to a new reality, which is the Internet, where everything happens now. It doesn’t happen three months later. Imagine you go to Wikipedia. You want to find something, research an article, and they tell you to come back in three months, ‘We’ll give it to you then.’ If you find another site where you can get it right now, that’s where you go, right? So it’s really their business model that is responsible for this issue. And if they don’t adopt, they will be left behind on this side of the road of history like many others who haven’t adopted in the past.

Photo by Andrew Blake
Photo by Andrew Blake

'I’m not Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz is my hero. He was selfless'

RT: What about your skeptics who point out this big playboy lifestyle and this giant, elaborate house and say ‘He’s not worried about Internet freedoms, he’s just worried about protecting his profits’?

KD: Let me be clear: I am a businessman, okay? I started Megaupload as a business to make money. I wanted to list the company. I am an entrepreneur, alright? I’m not Aaron Swartz. Aaron Swartz is my hero. He was selfless. He is completely the opposite of me, but I’m a businessman. I’m driven by the success of achieving something in the business world. That’s not a crime. There is nothing wrong with that. And if you create something that is popular and that people want to use, you automatically make money. And I’ve always been an innovator. I’ve always created products that people like. And that’s why I’m successful. I’m not successful because people have used Megaupload for copyright infringement. And what everyone needs to understand [is] there have been massive amounts of legitimate users on Megaupload. We don’t believe that 50 million users a day are all just transferring piracy. That’s wrong. A lot of people have used it to back up their data, to send a file quickly to a friend. Young artists have used it to get traction, to get downloads, to get known. There was a lot of legitimate use on Megaupload. It’s a dual-use technology, just like the Internet. You can go to any ISP right now, anyone who connects customers to the Internet. And if they are honest to you and you ask them the question ‘How much of your traffic is peer-to-peer piracy?’ anyone who will tell you less than 50 percent is lying to your face. This is a problem of the Internet and not Megaupload.

RT: If you weren’t doing Mega, or Megaupload, what would you be doing? Here’s this businessman who strives to accomplish success. What would you be doing?

KD: I would probably build spaceships and we would probably already be on Mars.

Photo by Andrew Blake
Photo by Andrew Blake

RT: What happens next, though? What are the chances of Mega being shut down. We already saw that radio stations were pulling ads.

KD: The content industry is still very emotional about us.We bought radio ads with one of the major networks here for eight radio stations. Very funny, very cool ads, promoting our service as a privacy service. And the labels called up the radio station, and one advertiser who is in the movie business called up the radio station, and demanded those adds to be taken down or else they will not buy ads from them anymore. And they were forced because they rely, of course, on that advertisement. My campaign was comparably small to the amount that they are sending. So they used their power to interfere in our right to have a media campaign, an ad campaign. And that just shows you that attitude. It’s against the law. They can’t do that. That’s interfering in our business and they have done that many times in the past. Calling payment processors, calling advertisers, telling them, ‘I don’t want you to work with these guys.’ That’s just wrong. If you have an issue with us, go hire a lawyer, sue us, take us to court and then see if you have anything that will give you a judgment against us. But instead, they use that power and their money to get new laws made for them, to lobby politicians, to get the White House to come here and destroy our lives. Destroy 220 jobs. Hardworking innocent people and they don’t give a damn about that. They had an agenda that is about more control over the Internet. And they made a strategic decision to say ‘Who are we going to take out to send a strong message?’ And I was the one.

Photo by Andrew Blake
Photo by Andrew Blake

"If they come to attack us, it’s just going to backfire"

RT: But what happens if Mega is shut down? You are only on day one right now. How long is it going to take before the government steps up again and what are you going to do if that happens? Are you prepared to just start all over again? It’s been one year and here you are, doing this over again, what happens when Uncle Sam puts his foot down and grinds you into the dirt again? Do you get back up?

KD: Here is the thing. This startup is probably the most scrutinized when it comes to legal advice. Every single aspect of it has been under the looking glass by our legal team. So we are confident that it’s fully compliant with the law, and if they come to attack us it’s just going to backfire. Exactly like the Megaupload case did. The shutdown of our site backfired already, massively. And it’s just going to get worse for them. If they think they can pursue this and get away with this, they are dead wrong. Because the society is not on their side. Everyone who uses the Internet knows what’s going on here. They don’t like what’s going on here. They saw it with SOPA and you will see it with our case. People will come together and fight this kind of aggression against innovation and Internet freedom.

Photo by Andrew Blake
Photo by Andrew Blake

"We are all the little puppets that they think they can kick around"

RT: After Megaupload was shut down by the FBI last year, hacktivist with the movement Anonymous retaliated, so to speak. In response, they went and took down the websites for the FBI, the Motion Picture Association of America, the Department of Justice, the Recording Industry Association of America. All of these organizations were shut down by Anonymous in response to what they did to you. These were people who you never met but were so moved by what happened that they had to stand up and do something. Did you ever thank them, and how did you take it? How did you respond to their reaction?

KD: It’s a kind of virtual protest, you know? I think it’s not a good idea to shut down websites. I’ve been a hacker myself. I understand why they are doing it and how they are doing it, but I think there are better ways to protest. Where you organize yourself in a group and do petitions and actually email congressmen, email your local politicians, let them know about what you don’t like. Organize your movement rather than attacking. I had a sense of understanding for them because everyone had stored so much data on Megaupload, and then all of a sudden a site like that disappears and billions of files are taken offline, the majority of them perfectly legitimate. You need to understand one thing: 50 percent of all files that were ever uploaded to Megaupload have not even been downloaded once. That clearly shows the non-infringing use. People just wanted to store their stuff on our site. And of course they were outraged when that disappeared and the government said, ‘We don’t give a care and we don’t give a damn about you people. We don’t care that you have your personal documents there because we have our agenda and we are going to take over the Internet.’ And you know the White House was supporting SOPA, and only when the masses came together — and Aaron Swartz: he stopped SOPA. With his efforts, he stopped SOPA. And he became a target. A political target, okay? And that’s why all these things happened to him. There is no reasonable cause behind going after a young genius like that in the fashion they did. It’s political. Because the White House wanted SOPA. They promised it to Hollywood and they failed and they couldn’t go ahead because the White House was afraid if they keep pushing hard and they keep pushing it forward, that the people who oppose it are not going to vote for Obama in the reelection campaign. So it’s all a game to them really and we are all the little puppets that they think they can kick around. So we need to organize. There needs to be a movement that identifies these things and fights that. Not with shutting down websites but with real protests. Going out on the streets, writing to politicians and especially, most importantly, don’t vote for the guys that are against Internet freedom. Anyone who voted for SOPA, you should have a close look at that guy. Do I want to give him my vote next time around? Because that’s the only language politicians understand is your vote. And if you can bring all these votes together, somehow pooled for Internet freedom, you will see all these efforts disappear. Because at the end of the day, they represent the public. Politicians represent the public. And when they have enough pressure they can’t move forward. And SOPA was the best example for that.

Car Thief Drives Off With Seven-Week-Old Baby

A mother said she was "shocked" after a car thief drove off with her newborn as the father stood near by talking to a friend. Thomas Moulsdale, 24, suddenly became aware someone had snuck in the driver's side door and was driving off with his seven-we...

White House Petition for Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Cash Clears Threshold

WASHINGTON - January 24 - Today, a petition on the White House website urging President Obama to “use the State of the Union to call for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics” exceeded the 25,000 signatures necessary to guarantee an official White House response. The petition, launched by the groups Free Speech For People, Avaaz, People For the American Way, and Demos on January 8 took less than two weeks to cross the threshold.

The petition can be found here: http://wh.gov/P9j7

Fixing our campaign finance system has long been a cause President Obama supports, though he failed to make progress on it during his first term. During his re-election campaign, President Obama told supporters that: "Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United . . . . Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."

The petition calls on the President to reiterate and strengthen this call in the State of the Union, and comes just two days after President Obama delivered an inaugural address that many believe reflected a renewed willingness on his part to fight for core goals he has long supported even in the face of challenges.

"Americans everywhere are asking President Obama to take the lead on the one issue that unlocks all the others: getting big money out of our political system, to restore our government of, by, and for the people," said Peter Schurman, Campaign Director at Free Speech For People. "'We the people' means all the people, not just the wealthy few, and not the corporations."

Ian Bassin, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said: "We the people have spoken and the message is clear: We're sick of oil industry money setting our energy agenda, the Wall Street dollar determining our economic policy, and gun company cash dictating how we protect our kids. We need elections not auctions and we're counting on President Obama to lead us there, starting with his State of the Union."

The petition may also be the last White House petition to garner a response after receiving 25,000 signatures. It also may be the most serious of the latest round. Last week, after responding to petitions to deport Piers Morgan and to build a Death Star, the White House upped the threshold for guaranteeing a response to 100,000. But petitions like this campaign finance one that were launched before the change were grandfathered at the 25,000 threshold.

“This petition provides more evidence for what we already know – that Americans want a solution to the corrupting influence of big money in our democracy,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “We saw massive amounts of money pour into last year’s elections, much of which was undisclosed. Using the megaphone provided to them by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporate special interests are drowning out the voices of ordinary voters. President Obama calling for a constitutional remedy in the upcoming State of the Union Address would draw attention to this critical situation and mobilize even more Americans into action.”

"This is the moment President Obama should take a strong and decisive step toward ending big money's stranglehold on our politics and our economy, and cement his legacy by leading the effort to finally forge a democracy in which the strength of a citizen's voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet," said Demos Counsel Adam Lioz.

After the coalition involved in launching this petition posted it to the White House website, its growth came from citizens expressing their frustration with the flood of money infecting our political system. Much of this public frustration stems from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections. In the wake of that decision, more than $6 billion was spent in the 2012 elections, much of it by corporations and anonymous billionaires. Congress responded by proposing amendments to reverse that decision and eleven states and nearly 500 cities and towns have joined this call.

This petition tees up for President Obama the key question of what he’ll do next to deliver on a core, unfulfilled promise of his first campaign: to change the way Washington works. The groups behind the petition will continue to campaign until he does.

Avaaz.org is a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want. "Avaaz" means "Voice" in many Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages. Across the world, most people want stronger protections for the environment, greater respect for human rights, and concerted efforts to end poverty, corruption and war. Yet globalization faces a huge democratic deficit as international decisions are shaped by political elites and unaccountable corporations -- not the views and values of the world's people.

White House Petition for Constitutional Amendment on Campaign Cash Clears Threshold

WASHINGTON - January 24 - Today, a petition on the White House website urging President Obama to “use the State of the Union to call for a constitutional amendment to get big money out of politics” exceeded the 25,000 signatures necessary to guarantee an official White House response. The petition, launched by the groups Free Speech For People, Avaaz, People For the American Way, and Demos on January 8 took less than two weeks to cross the threshold.

The petition can be found here: http://wh.gov/P9j7

Fixing our campaign finance system has long been a cause President Obama supports, though he failed to make progress on it during his first term. During his re-election campaign, President Obama told supporters that: "Over the longer term, I think we need to seriously consider mobilizing a constitutional amendment process to overturn Citizens United . . . . Even if the amendment process falls short, it can shine a spotlight of the super-PAC phenomenon and help apply pressure for change."

The petition calls on the President to reiterate and strengthen this call in the State of the Union, and comes just two days after President Obama delivered an inaugural address that many believe reflected a renewed willingness on his part to fight for core goals he has long supported even in the face of challenges.

"Americans everywhere are asking President Obama to take the lead on the one issue that unlocks all the others: getting big money out of our political system, to restore our government of, by, and for the people," said Peter Schurman, Campaign Director at Free Speech For People. "'We the people' means all the people, not just the wealthy few, and not the corporations."

Ian Bassin, Campaign Director at Avaaz, said: "We the people have spoken and the message is clear: We're sick of oil industry money setting our energy agenda, the Wall Street dollar determining our economic policy, and gun company cash dictating how we protect our kids. We need elections not auctions and we're counting on President Obama to lead us there, starting with his State of the Union."

The petition may also be the last White House petition to garner a response after receiving 25,000 signatures. It also may be the most serious of the latest round. Last week, after responding to petitions to deport Piers Morgan and to build a Death Star, the White House upped the threshold for guaranteeing a response to 100,000. But petitions like this campaign finance one that were launched before the change were grandfathered at the 25,000 threshold.

“This petition provides more evidence for what we already know – that Americans want a solution to the corrupting influence of big money in our democracy,” said Marge Baker, Executive Vice President of People For the American Way. “We saw massive amounts of money pour into last year’s elections, much of which was undisclosed. Using the megaphone provided to them by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, corporate special interests are drowning out the voices of ordinary voters. President Obama calling for a constitutional remedy in the upcoming State of the Union Address would draw attention to this critical situation and mobilize even more Americans into action.”

"This is the moment President Obama should take a strong and decisive step toward ending big money's stranglehold on our politics and our economy, and cement his legacy by leading the effort to finally forge a democracy in which the strength of a citizen's voice does not depend upon the size of her wallet," said Demos Counsel Adam Lioz.

After the coalition involved in launching this petition posted it to the White House website, its growth came from citizens expressing their frustration with the flood of money infecting our political system. Much of this public frustration stems from the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. FEC that corporations have a constitutional right to spend unlimited sums to influence elections. In the wake of that decision, more than $6 billion was spent in the 2012 elections, much of it by corporations and anonymous billionaires. Congress responded by proposing amendments to reverse that decision and eleven states and nearly 500 cities and towns have joined this call.

This petition tees up for President Obama the key question of what he’ll do next to deliver on a core, unfulfilled promise of his first campaign: to change the way Washington works. The groups behind the petition will continue to campaign until he does.

Avaaz.org is a new global web movement with a simple democratic mission: to close the gap between the world we have, and the world most people everywhere want. "Avaaz" means "Voice" in many Asian, Middle Eastern and Eastern European languages. Across the world, most people want stronger protections for the environment, greater respect for human rights, and concerted efforts to end poverty, corruption and war. Yet globalization faces a huge democratic deficit as international decisions are shaped by political elites and unaccountable corporations -- not the views and values of the world's people.

Police In ‘Muslim Vigilantes’ Victim Appeal

Officers investigating "Muslim vigilante" attacks are appealing for a victim who was abused by the gang for being "gay" to come forward.

Scotland Yard says the man is crucial to their investigation into a number of incidents where a gang calling themselves Muslim Patrol have harassed members of the public.

Videos of the attacks in east London where the self-styled gang appear to have started to operate have been posted on YouTube.

The police are appealing for the man in the footage, titled Muslim vigilantes in London harass and taunt gay male, to contact them.

In the film, the gang can been seen to abuse and intimidate the man using homophobic language, shouting: "Get out of here you f** …don't stay around here any more."

Investigating officers from the Community Safety Unit on Tower Hamlets borough said they are unsure where and when the video took place.

In a second video, posted online, men from the gang in Whitechapel, east London, tell another man "no drink in this area, it's a Muslim area" before ordering him to pour away his alcohol.

Another video posted on YouTube featured a woman wearing a miniskirt being told not to "expose" herself near a mosque.

Detective Chief Inspector Wendy Morgan from Tower Hamlets borough said: "The Met takes such homophobic behaviour very seriously.

"This man is a crucial witness in the investigation and would encourage him and anyone else with information relating to this incident to make contact in confidence as soon as possible."

Additional police patrols are being mounted across east London to reassure the public.

Two men have been arrested in connection with the investigation.

A 22-year-old man was arrested in Acton, west London on Sunday, and a 19-year-old man was arrested on Wednesday after going to an east London police station.

The pair were arrested on suspicion of causing grievous bodily harm and public order offences and were bailed to return to an east London police station in February and March pending further inquiries.

A police spokesman said: "The Metropolitan Police Service takes these incidents very seriously and is pursuing various lines of inquiry with a view to identifying and prosecuting the individuals concerned."

Islamic leaders in east London condemned the vigilantes.

A spokesman for the East London Mosque said: "These actions are utterly unacceptable and clearly designed to stoke tensions and sow discord. We wholly condemn them.

"The East London Mosque is committed to building co-operation and harmony between all communities in this borough. The actions of this tiny minority have no place in our faith nor on our streets.

"We advise anyone who has been harassed by these individuals to contact the police.

"We will monitor the situation closely and our Imams will be speaking out against such actions."

:: Anyone who feels they may have been a victim or witness is asked to call the incident room on 0207 275 4758, or Crimestoppers, anonymously, on 0800 555 111.

Opposition blogger flees Russia after paedophile charges — report

Popular Russian blogger Rustem Adagamov (Reuters/Anton Golubev)

Popular Russian blogger Rustem Adagamov (Reuters/Anton Golubev)

A top-rated Russian blogger and one of the leaders of the independent opposition, Rustem Adagamov, has fled the country after law enforcers repeatedly summoned him for questioning over allegations of the sexual abuse of a 12-year old girl.

The Russian daily Izvestia reports that Adagamov’s former spouse Tatyana Delsal has used the internet to accuse him of paedophilia, and has passed evidence to the Norwegian police. Delsal and Adagamov are both Norwegian citizens. Delsal also told Izvestia that she had no doubt that Adagamov will be convicted for what he had done. She added that the alleged victim wanted to meet Adagamov in court as she was convinced that he would not be able to lie after looking her in the eye.

The ex-wife first voiced her accusations on Youtube and later repeated it in an interview with RT. According to her, some time ago, when they lived in Norway, Adagamov sexually abused a girl who was just 12 at that time. Delsal said this caused her to seek divorce.

Police in the town of Lillesand in Southern Norway have told Russian journalists that they had received Delsal’s report and had already questioned the alleged victim. The police say the alleged victim will remain anonymous in the Norwegian and Russian court documents, adding that this was the main condition set by the woman before she agreed to talk to investigators.

Agents of Russia’s Federal Investigative Committee told the press that they had repeatedly summoned Adagamov in order to question him after the paedophile story broke, but the activist ignored their summons. Adagamov’s lawyer refused to answer questions about his client’s whereabouts, but a source close to investigators told Izvestia that the blogger had fled Russia.

Adagamov continues to work as a professional blogger for the Russian company SUP Media and published several posts this week, but it was not possible to tell his location from them. The blogger closed his Twitter and Facebook accounts about a week ago and refuses to communicate with journalists.

After Delsal made her first accusations Adagamov denied all the charges and threatened to sue anyone who spread the report in social networks, but said he would not take any action against his ex-wife for moral reasons.

Sources in Russian law enforcement bodies have told Izvestia that they received a written statement from Delsal together with some evidence, including some e-mails in which Adagamov confessed to his crime and begged his former spouse not to disclose it.

The case has resonated in Russia not only because of Adagamov’s popularity in social networks, but also due to the fact that the man is a member of the Coordination Council of the Opposition – a body uniting people who are critical of the authorities but who do not support any of the existing Russian political parties and movements. The election to the council took place in October last year and about 80,000 Russians voted – a tiny fraction of Russia’s 108 million voters.

After the ex-wife voiced the paedophilia charges some members of the coordination council suggested that they could vote Adagamov off the body, but added that they needed more solid proof than simple claims.

Adagamov’s place in the council allowed him to participate in several public projects including the public council affiliated with the Culture Ministry, but earlier this month officials said they wanted to expel the blogger because he had not contributed anything in the council’s work. Adagamov replied by an internet post saying that he had not received any invitations or suggestions from other members of the board.

Iraq: A Twenty-Two Year Genocide

Incredibly it is twenty-two years to the day since the telephone rang in the early hours and a friend said, "They are bombing Baghdad."

Ecstasy deaths: Two drug supply arrests

Police in northwest England are warning drug users that a possible contaminated batch of ecstasy tablets could be on the streets. It comes after two men died in Greater Manchester and another collapsed and died in Liverpool. Up to six other people wer...

How a Government Report Spread a Questionable Claim About Iran

So how did the government researchers come up with the number? They searched the Internet — and ended up citing an obscure, anonymous website that was simply citing another source.

The trail on the 30,000 figure eventually ends with a Swedish terrorism researcher quoted in a 2008 Christian Science Monitor article. But the researcher, Magnus Ranstorp, said he isn’t sure where the number came from. “I think obviously that it would be an inflated number” of formal employees, said Ranstorp.

We inquired with six Iran experts, and none knew of any evidence for the figure. Some said it might be in the ballpark while others questioned its plausibility.

“Whether the figures emanate from Iran or from western reporting, they are generally exaggerated and either meant as self-aggrandizing propaganda, if self-reported by Iran, or just approximations based on usually scant data or evidence,” said Afshon Ostovar, a senior Middle East analyst at the Center for Naval Analyses who writes frequently on Iran. The number “could be more or less accurate, but there's no way to know.”

Gary Sick, a longtime Iran specialist in and out of government, said the entire Federal Research Division study “has all the appearance of a very cheap piece of propaganda and should not be trusted."

Sick pointed to the study’s use of questionable Internet sources as well as flat-out errors. In one section, for example, the study lays out in detail how “Iran’s constitution defines” the intelligence ministry’s official functions. The problem, as Sick notes: Iran’sconstitution doesn’t mention an intelligence ministry, let alone define its functions.

Federal Research Division Chief David Osborne said in an email the report “was leaked to the media without authorization” and declined to comment further “because it is proprietary to the agency for which it was written.”

This is what we know about the 30,000 figure and its provenance:

On the morning of Jan. 3, the conservative Washington Free Beacon ran astory headlined, “Iran Spy Network 30,000 Strong.” The outlet said it had obtained a “64-page unclassified report” on the Ministry of Intelligence and Security, and published it with the story.

The Federal Research Service of the Library of Congress, which produced the study,provides “fee for service” research to other government agencies using the resources of the library. The study’s title page names no author but says it was produced under an agreement with an arm of the Pentagon called the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office. (That office did not respond to requests for comment.)

The study flatly states that Iran’s intelligence ministry has “more than 30,000 officers and support personnel.”

But it also hedges. It notes Iranian intelligence is “a difficult subject to study because so little information about it is publicly available.” The study does not claim to feature any original intelligence or reporting. It says its main sources are news websites and Iranian blogs.

“The reliability of blog-based information may be questionable at times,” says the report. “But it seems prudent to evaluate and present it in the absence of alternatives.”

The evening after the report was first published, CNN ran a segment on what it called “troubling new details on a new report of Iran's intelligence service.” The story compared the 30,000 figure to the roughly 100,000 employees in the 17 U.S. intelligence agencies and offices, and went through various attacks over the years attributed to Iranian intelligence.

A CNN spokeswoman said the network “checked the number with sources that led us to feel comfortable that the report was in line with the national security community's understanding."

As support for the 30,000 claim, the study cites a post on a website, iranchannel.org, which aggregates news critical of Iran’s government.

That post, from 2010, turns out to merely excerpt another study from yet another source.

That study, titled “Shariah: The Threat to America,” was put out by the hawkish Center for Security Policy. As the title suggests, it doesn’t focus on Iran but rather the purported threat of Islamic law.

The study briefly mentions that Iran’s intelligence ministry has “up to some 30,000 officers and support staff.” Its source: the 2008 article in the Christian Science Monitor.

That piece refers to Iran’s intelligence ministry having “some 30,000 on the payroll by one count,” which came from Ranstorp, the Swedish terrorism researcher.

Ranstorp told us that while he did not recall citing the figure to the Monitor, it might have originated with Kenneth Katzman, a Mideast specialist with the Congressional Research Service who often writes on Iran.

Katzman told us that the figure did not come from him. He added that 30,000 did not seem “inordinately unreasonable” but that he does not know of evidence supporting it.

Bill Gertz, the Washington Free Beacon reporter who obtained and published the Federal Research Service study, told ProPublica he stands by his story.

"In my 30-plus years in reporting on national security issues, I have found that such unclassified reports often use press reporting of such numbers to avoid having to use classified information,” Gertz said. “I also know that most of the people who write such reports have access to classified information about the subjects they write about and I doubt they would publish a figure that would be contradicted by classified assessments of the number of personnel in the [intelligence ministry]."

Gertz also pointed to another report on Iran, this one produced in 2010 by private intelligence firm Stratfor. But that report says that, as of 2006, Iran’s intelligence ministry had just 15,000 employees. It does not cite a source for the figure.

Ecstasy: Two Deaths Linked To Tainted Pills

Two people have died in two days and several others are in hospital after possibly taking contaminated ecstasy tablets. Greater Manchester Police said it is investigating whether a batch of the illegal drugs circulating in the area could have led to t...

What Are ‘Peacekeepers’ Doing in a Haitian Industrial Park?


The big industrial park near the international airport north of Port-au-Prince actually does look like a nature park. Thousands of Haitians may be inside the complex’s 47 buildings hurriedly stitching tens of thousands of T-shirts for the North American market, but the wide, tree-lined streets between the factory seem peaceful when you drive along them in mid-morning on a workday. It’s as if you were in a gated community in the United States, a thousand miles from the noisy chaos of the Haitian capital.

As in many gated communities, there’s a security force at the Metropolitan Industrial Park, which is identified in Haiti as SONAPI, the acronym for Société Nationale des Parcs Industriels, the semi-governmental agency that runs the park. Haitian guards check you out before they allow you to enter, and once inside you find the grounds patrolled by a white car with a big “UN” painted in black on the side.

The patrol car is operated by police agents from a Brazilian-led international “peacekeeping force” MINUSTAH, the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti. The mission has been in Haiti since June 2004, with its mandate renewed each year since in mid-October. Under the current mandate, approved by the UN Security Council on October 12, 2012, MINUSTAH deploys up to 6,270 soldiers and up to 2,601 police agents in Haiti. Its cost for this fiscal year, July 2012 through June 2013, is about $677 million.

The mission has 140 police agents occupying two buildings in SONAPI, according to MINUSTAH deputy spokesperson Vincenzo Pugliese.

A “Threat to the Peace”?

The UN Security Council established MINUSTAH in the tense months following the February 2004 forced removal of former Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide from office and the occupation of the country by U.S. troops. The council justified the move by citing Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, which treats “action with respect to threats to the peace, breaches of the peace, and acts of aggression.” Specifically, the council’s Resolution 1542 determined that with the “challenges to the political, social and economic stability of Haiti,” the situation there “continues to constitute a threat to international peace and security in the region.”

Many Haitians have questioned the idea that the instability and violence in parts of Haiti in early 2004 could somehow have spilled over into neighboring countries like Cuba, Jamaica, and the Dominican Republic, but even people who accept the Security Council’s rationale might wonder why an international police force would be guarding factories that mainly produce T-shirts and work uniforms.

“Our presence in SONAPI follows a request from the Government of Haiti (GoH) since the beginning of the Mission in 2004,” MINUSTAH spokesperson Pugliese explained in an email in early December, “considering that a number of industries in the park had been looted prior to the establishment of the mission.” Pugliese added that during elections the UN police presence helps secure the tabulation center and electoral material warehouse, which are located in SONAPI. He admitted that “[n]o incidents of violence or crime have been registered recently” in the park.

Protecting the Big Companies

Organizers for the leftist group Batay Ouvriye, which is active in the capital’s apparel assembly plants, have another explanation.

Wages and working conditions are a major issue for the 29,000 Haitians who work long hours in garment factories for about $5 a day. Anger over the situation erupted in August 2009, when thousands of SONAPI workers shut down their machines and marched into the center of Port-au-Prince to demand an increase in the minimum wage. Batay Ouvriye organizers say MINUSTAH began stepping up its presence in the park after the protests.

MINUSTAH has been criticized both in Haiti and internationally for a series of abuses—for civilian casualties, for rapes and other sexual crimes, for the cholera that has killed 8,000 Haitians to date and has sickened a half million others—but there has been less discussion of the mission’s purpose, and who stands to gain from it.

For decades Haitian leftists have argued that the U.S. government’s goal in Haiti is to provide a supply of cheap labor for the benefit of North American manufacturers and retailers. Maintaining a police force in the country’s industrial zones certainly would seem to fit into this program. And for all the insistence on MINUSTAH’s international composition, the United States clearly has a big role in the UN’s Haiti operations, with former U.S. president Bill Clinton serving as the UN’s special envoy to the country.

Haitian attorney Mario Joseph is a respected human rights advocate whose work on behalf of abuse victims has earned him international awards—and anonymous death threats. He is blunt when asked the purpose of the UN troops. “They do the job for the imperialist countries, like America, France, Canada,” he said during an interview last October at his office in the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux (BAI) in downtown Port-au-Prince. And the UN police in SONAPI? “They are there to protect the internationals, the big companies,” Joseph answered.
“Forty Cameras and iPads”

The U.S. presence in MINUSTAH was evident at a small protest several grassroots organizations held on October 15 outside the UN Logistics Base at the airport, just a few blocks east of SONAPI.

The protest was billed as a “sit-in” against the renewal of MINUSTAH mandate three days earlier. The 20 or so Haitian protesters didn’t actually sit in; instead they stood in the base’s entry road for about 30 minutes, sometimes blocking it completely with a huge Batay Ouvriye banner reading: “Aba Okipasyon” (“Down With the Occupation”). A massive traffic jam developed, and the blare of car horns accompanied the protesters as they chanted: “MINUSTAH, kolera, se marasa” (“MINUSTAH and cholera are twins”) and “Aba MINUSTAH, kolera, kadejakè” (“Down with MINUSTAH, cholera, rapists”).

There was a mix of Haitian and UN police, some from the United States, guarding the entrance. It wasn’t clear whether Jeffrey Aguirre of UN Site Security was the agent in charge, but he was certainly the loudest—and the angriest. With a shaved head and a distinct Southern accent, Aguirre was involved in the only two incidents of violence during the protest. In the first, Aguirre ended up with a reporter’s iPad after a brief scuffle; he denied he’d seized the device, but then eventually he returned it.

In the second incident, the officer grabbed an activist who had been spray-painting “Aba” around the “UN” on one of the white cars stalled in traffic. Other protesters managed to free the activist, but Aguirre held on to the spray-paint canister. “This is our country,” a Haitian protester yelled in English. “You can’t destroy property,” Aguirre lectured. “How about our sovereignty?” the Haitian protester asked.

During a lull in the action, Aguirre was overheard talking on his cell phone. “They’re here at street level blocking a government office, completely blocking everything,” he said. He seemed especially concerned about the presence of reporters and five U.S. solidarity activists. “They’re here with about 40 cameras and iPads,” he complained, with considerable exaggeration. “They talk about the cholera, but they don’t talk about the $8 million a year the UN brings to the economy,” he added when he noticed a reporter listening in.

WikiLeaks reveals association with Aaron Swartz

In a series of tweets, WikiLeaks disclosed that deceased Internet activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz may have contributed to the organization and had even been in contact with Julian Assange.

President Putin orders FSB to protect media sites from cyber attack

RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin

RIA Novosti / Andrey Stenin

The Russian President has told the country’s federal security service to set up a system that would detect, counter and prevent computer attacks on state information resources.

The order defines official resources as information systems and networks that are located in the territory of the Russian Federation and in its diplomatic and consular offices.

The work and control over the system will be run by the FSB. The state security department will also cooperate with other state ministries and agencies to ensure anti-terrorist cyber systems work properly. Putin’s order published on an official web site on Monday states that law enforcers should establish how several recent cyber attacks against government agencies have been allowed to happen.

In recent years there have been a number of attacks but only a few claimed to be successful.The attacks are mostly launched through networks of infected computers belonging to unsuspecting users, which makes the work of FSB specialists difficult.

It has been established that in early May 2012 some internet activists who claimed to belong to the Anonymous hackers’ group promised to launch an attack on Russian government web-sites to support the rally against alleged election violations that took place in early May.

The attacks by Anonymous yielded at least one result – on May 9 the hackers managed to block access to the Russian President’s official web-site kremlin.ru for about four hours.

Before that, hackers who claimed to belong to the Anonymous group, managed to deface the web-sites of some regional offices of Russian parliamentary majority United Russia, posting texts that accused top officials of corruption.

Due to the Anonymous group being very loose and evasive such cases are rarely investigated with success.

However, in mid-January this year, the FSB directorate for the Krasnoyarsk Region in Siberia filed a case in court against a local hacker who is suspected of attacks on the Russian President’s web-site in May. The activist has been charged with spreading malicious software, which is a criminal offence punishable with up to four years in prison.

Football vs. Women: Will They Ever Matter As Much As The Win?

DSC_0357_2.jpg

It doesn't take much to raise the outrage I felt over Jerry Sandusky's abuse of young boys while the Penn State football gang looked the other way, but at least there's comfort in justice. Unfortunately, too many victims become victims twice when the crimes committed against them go ignored and silenced.

Notre Dame: Justice Ignored

In The Nation, Dave Zirin writes about the differences and similarities between Penn State and Notre Dame's football program, and the silence surrounding what appears to be a rape culture inside a cone of silence:

At Penn State, revered assistant coach Jerry Sandusky was raping young boys while being shielded by a conspiracy of silence of those in power at the football powerhouse. At Notre Dame, it’s not young boys being raped by an assistant coach. It’s women being threatened, assaulted, and raped by players on the school’s unbeaten football team. Yet sports media that are overwhelmingly male and ineffably giddy about Fighting Irish football’s return to prominence have enacted their own conspiracy of silence.

As unbeaten Notre Dame prepares to play in tonight’s national championship game against Alabama, the sports media have chosen not to discuss the fact that this football team has two players on its roster suspected of sexual assault and rape; two players whose crimes have been ignored; two players whose accusers felt harassed and intimidated; two players whose presence on the field Monday night should be seen as a national disgrace.

In 2010, Lizzy Seeberg was a freshman at Notre Dame. Lizzy was, among other things, a brand-spanking new member of the College Republicans and a good conservative girl. She also suffered from anxiety attacks.

Only a month after her freshman year began, she was sexually assaulted by a Notre Dame football player. She reported the assault, and submitted to evidence collection. Then she waited. And waited.

NCR Online:

All their lives, women Lizzy's age have been taught to report unwanted touching. But after she did, the same friend of the player who'd left her alone with him sent her a series of text messages that scared her as much as the player himself had. "Don't do anything you would regret," he wrote. "Messing with Notre Dame football is a bad idea." Over the next 10 days, Lizzy became convinced he was right about that. The player wasn't hard to find on the practice field each afternoon, so what were investigators waiting for? It crushed Lizzy, said her therapist in Chicago, Dr. Heather Hale, that reporting a crime somehow made her a traitor to the school she'd grown up revering.

But she also couldn't get past the idea that failing to follow through legally would make her party to any harm that came to other women on campus, either from the same man or others emboldened by her silence. In a Skype session with Lizzy the day before she died, Hale said, "the conflict was, 'Do I do the best I can and get on with my life, versus the fear that if I do that, this could happen to someone else?' "

Remarkably, Lizzy did everything she could to show her loyalty to the team between the time she reported the assault and her suicide. Zirin:

To show that she wouldn’t rock the boat, Lizzy was compelled by her peers to go to the next game, stencil the Notre Dame logos into her face and cheer her assaulter.

Gosh, that sort of reminds me of a case in Texas. The one where a court ordered the rape victim to cheer for her rapist?

Washington Post reporter and Notre Dame alum who has investigated the sexual assaults on campus extensively, wrote, “On Sept. 7, she wrote her therapist, ‘I can’t get out of this f*!#ing hole I’ve started to dig. I’m trying to go to sleep because I’m sick with a cold and need to get rest but I can’t stop thinking about taking all the pills I can find. I’m ready to check out because this sucks.’ She promised [her therapist] she would never follow through. But then, on Sept. 9, she had a panic attack during a mandatory freshman orientation on sexual assault.”

That panic attack preceded her suicide. If in life Lizzy Seeberg suffered at the hands of not only players on the team but the people in power who ignored her pleas, in death these forces have gone further and slandered her to a shocking degree. They have claimed Lizzy was a “troubled girl” who was “all over the boy”, as well as mentally unstable. As Henneberger wrote, “The damage to her memory since then is arguably more of a violation than anything she reported to police — and all the more shocking because it was not done thoughtlessly, by a kid in a moment he can’t take back, but on purpose, by the very adults who heavily market the moral leadership of a Catholic institution. Notre Dame’s mission statement could not be clearer: ‘The university is dedicated to the pursuit and sharing of truth for its own sake.’ But in this case, the university did just the opposite.”

Lizzy Seeberg wasn't the only victim, in death and in life, as Henneberger chronicles. Football supremacy at the cost of a few sexual assaults is part of a long-standing tradition evidently, dating back years and years until it has become a regular part of the school's culture. Not only the school's culture, but South Bend's culture, too. Zirin:

But this conspiracy of silence and slander is bigger than just the school. Deindustrialized South Bend, Indiana, is a company town, and the company is Notre Dame football. The football program in 2012 was valued by Forbes as the third “most valuable” in the country, behind far larger state universities in Texas and Michigan. This is just the formal economy. Informally, every hotel, every bar, every kid at the side of the road selling bottled water depends on Notre Dame football. Home games generate $10 million in local spending for a community of just 100,000 people. It is the beating economic heart of South Bend and women have become, in this sclerotic set up, the collateral damage.

The economic heart and soul of South Bend can't be disturbed because some women are assaulted by testosterone-deranged football players, right?

Why the hell not? When did a sport supersede the rule of law? When did it become acceptable to turn the other way and ignore what is happening, or worse, shame the victims to protect the program?

Steubenville Occupied

Anonymous has been protesting in Steubenville after a sixteen-year old girl was used as two football players' rape toy for a night. Either drunk or drugged or both, the young victim -- an honor student at a private Catholic high school -- woke up the next day with no memory of what happened until she signed onto her social networks and found tweets and pictures of the alleged assault.

Allison Kilkenny:

Occupy Steubenville is a particularly interesting phenomenon given that so much media interest has been devoted to the no-less-horrific gang rape of a young woman named Jyoti Singh Pandey in India. Establishment pundits rushed to condemn the rape, and the rape culture that permitted the attack, when it came to exotic Indian folk in a faraway land, but seem more hesitant to address rape culture within the United States, even though a shining example of women’s second-class status is on display in Ohio.

Men who rape—and rape culture contributors who laugh about it later on Twitter and YouTube—do so precisely because they either don’t think rape is wrong (or, at the very least, raping a drunk girl “doesn’t count”) and/or they know they can rape with impunity. The “justice system” can’t work if there’s a two-tier structure where someone people get punished for raping teenage girls, and others don’t simply because they happen to be football players.

In the case of Steubenville, it seems that everyone has an opinion and some of those opinions fall on the side of the players. Breitbart writer Lee Stranahan has suggested that the New York Times slanted their account with some sort of "agenda", that she asked for it, that even if it was rape, it wasn't necessarily brutal, and that there's a manufactured vendetta against the entire town of Steubenville.

How is what Stranahan and those who deny anything happened any different than the posthumous sliming of Lizzy Seeburg? Is there any time to actually accept that these things do happen, that they are the product of a culture which values how men move a ball down a 100-yard field more than women?

There's a double standard about pointing our fingers at the young lady who committed suicide in India after being raped and how we look at rape victims here. There's always a way to slut-shame the victims. They were drinking, they were there voluntarily, they were throwing themselves at those poor boys, they were just poor judges of character, they were dressed in scanty clothing, and so on.

Rape is brutal, it can cause PTSD, and it can lead to suicide, depression, and self-harm. There is no such thing as gentle rape. They are all brutal, whether or not the rapist uses fists or whatever. Even more brutal is the aftermath, particularly if a victim challenges the establishment as in the revered football programs in Steubenville and South Bend.

A Texas cheerleader. A Notre Dame freshman. A high school honor student. They are all people, they are all worthy of receiving our society's sympathy and justice for the wrongs done them. Yet none of them saw that justice, simply because they were on the wrong side of the football power structure and the culture that defends them.

Obama: I Have a Drone vs MLK: I have a Dream

WASHINGTON - January 18 - While many are drawing parallels between Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama, some activists and analysts state that many of Obama’s policies run totally counter to King’s activism.

The group RootsAction states: “Meticulous researchers have documented that U.S. drones are killing many innocent civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Drones are making the world less stable and creating new enemies. Their remoteness provides those responsible with a sense of immunity.”

The Washington Peace Center has a list of protests and other events around the inauguration.

In King’s 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? he wrote: “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.” That same year In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech [see text and audio], King said: “What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call ‘VC’ or ‘communists’? … Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

“I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. … When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. …

“With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’ It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

“Perhaps his [Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh] sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of ‘aggression’ as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. … True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation.”

LEAH BOLGER, [email]
President of Veterans for Peace, Bolger said today: “King’s legacy is not upheld by increasing troops in Afghanistan and killing in so many other countries as the administration has done — it is violated. Obama put Social Security on the fiscal chopping block instead of the military budget. The main advocate of drone killings, John Brennan, was just nominated by Obama to be head of the CIA. We must clearly judge politicians by the content of their policies, not the effectiveness of their delivery.”

JARED BALL, [email]
Associate professor of journalism and mass communication at Morgan State University and author of I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto, Ball said today: “Not even the Hollywood distortions of Lincoln and Django out-perform the political myths being planned for this week’s inauguration. One hundred and fifty years since the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, Barack Obama will use both the bibles of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of a ceremony that is as much about obscuring or preventing progressive change as were the real politics of Lincoln and those falsely ascribed to King. It is as doubtful that Lincoln meant by colonization [of blacks back to Africa] the eventual return of Africans to sit in this country’s highest offices as it is that King meant to fight for an equality that would allow black people the same right to perform drone strikes. Lincoln and King represent important dialectical, hostile and very unequal political opposites. Obama’s symbolic merging of the two in fact works to impose a false unity to what each represented and disrespectfully aligns King with a political tradition he was killed trying to eradicate.”

Obama: I Have a Drone vs MLK: I have a Dream

WASHINGTON - January 18 - While many are drawing parallels between Martin Luther King Jr. and President Barack Obama, some activists and analysts state that many of Obama’s policies run totally counter to King’s activism.

The group RootsAction states: “Meticulous researchers have documented that U.S. drones are killing many innocent civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. Drones are making the world less stable and creating new enemies. Their remoteness provides those responsible with a sense of immunity.”

The Washington Peace Center has a list of protests and other events around the inauguration.

In King’s 1967 book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community? he wrote: “When scientific power outruns moral power, we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.” That same year In his “Beyond Vietnam” speech [see text and audio], King said: “What of the National Liberation Front, that strangely anonymous group we call ‘VC’ or ‘communists’? … Surely we must understand their feelings, even if we do not condone their actions. Surely we must see that the men we supported pressed them to their violence. Surely we must see that our own computerized plans of destruction simply dwarf their greatest acts.

“I’m convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. … When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, militarism and economic exploitation are incapable of being conquered. A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our present policies. …

“With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, ‘This is not just.’ It will look at our alliance with the landed gentry of South America and say, ‘This is not just.’ The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

“Perhaps his [Vietnamese leader Ho Chi Minh] sense of humor and of irony can save him when he hears the most powerful nation of the world speaking of ‘aggression’ as it drops thousands of bombs on a poor, weak nation more than eight thousand miles away from its shores.

“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. … True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth with righteous indignation.”

LEAH BOLGER, [email]
President of Veterans for Peace, Bolger said today: “King’s legacy is not upheld by increasing troops in Afghanistan and killing in so many other countries as the administration has done — it is violated. Obama put Social Security on the fiscal chopping block instead of the military budget. The main advocate of drone killings, John Brennan, was just nominated by Obama to be head of the CIA. We must clearly judge politicians by the content of their policies, not the effectiveness of their delivery.”

JARED BALL, [email]
Associate professor of journalism and mass communication at Morgan State University and author of I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto, Ball said today: “Not even the Hollywood distortions of Lincoln and Django out-perform the political myths being planned for this week’s inauguration. One hundred and fifty years since the Emancipation Proclamation and 50 years after the March on Washington, Barack Obama will use both the bibles of Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr. as part of a ceremony that is as much about obscuring or preventing progressive change as were the real politics of Lincoln and those falsely ascribed to King. It is as doubtful that Lincoln meant by colonization [of blacks back to Africa] the eventual return of Africans to sit in this country’s highest offices as it is that King meant to fight for an equality that would allow black people the same right to perform drone strikes. Lincoln and King represent important dialectical, hostile and very unequal political opposites. Obama’s symbolic merging of the two in fact works to impose a false unity to what each represented and disrespectfully aligns King with a political tradition he was killed trying to eradicate.”

Maddow on NRA: Trolls Don’t Deserve A Seat At The Table

At last, someone calls the NRA what they are: trolls. Rachel Maddow is absolutely right. They're just playing the "how can I get a reaction" game while the rest of us are actually trying to have an adult discussion. This is characteristic of trolls: ...

Masked Moscow attacker throws acid at face of Bolshoi Theater’s artistic director

Sergey Filin, Bolshoi Theater ballet chief, attending a press conference on the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the International Benois de la Danse Ballet Prize.(RIA Novosti / Ruslan Krivobok)

Sergey Filin, Bolshoi Theater ballet chief, attending a press conference on the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the International Benois de la Danse Ballet Prize.(RIA Novosti / Ruslan Krivobok)

The Bolshoi Theater’s artistic director was attacked by a masked assailant in Moscow who splashed acid onto his face. Sergey Filin is suffering from severe burns, and may lose his sight. Police have linked the attack to his professional work.

­The 42-year-old former dancer, now the Bolshoi Theater’s artistic director, was attacked near midnight on Friday as he left his car outside his home in central Moscow. The masked assailant then fled the scene.

The artistic director of the legendary Russian theater suffered severe burns of multiple degrees to his face and eyes, and is being treated at a hospital in Moscow where doctors are working to save his eyesight.

Filin is “in a satisfactory condition, in our burns center, not intensive care,” a hospital spokesperson said. Medics also suggested that Filin will need plastic surgery, and said the acid had affected his hair, which will start falling out soon, forcing him to wear a wig.

“The most threatening thing is that he has third-degree cornea burns which put his eyesight in danger,” medics explained. However, it will not be known for two weeks whether Filin will be able to keep his vision, Moskovsky Komosomolets newspaper reported citing the doctors.

The theater’s supervisory board said it decided to send Filin to a foreign clinic for treatment, indicating Germany and Israel as the two main options, Interfax news agency reported.

It will take Filin at least six months to recover, Bolshoi spokesperson Ekaterina Novikova said. She added that Sergey Filin had received threats from anonymous callers before. “We never imagined that a war for roles – not for real estate or for oil – could reach this level of crime,” Novikova said to Channel One.

Bolshoi general director Anatoly Iksanov said he believed the attack was linked to Filin's work at the theater. “He is a man of principle and never compromised,” Iksanov said. “If he believed that this or that dancer was not ready or was unable to perform this or that part, he would turn them down.”

Filin’s mother said that the threats began on December 31. The Bolshoi’s artistic director’s Facebook page and his email account were hacked shortly before the attack, and his car tires were reportedly slashed on Friday. Someone also called Filin repeatedly, but kept silent when he picked up the phone.

Police said that Sergey Filin’s professional activity is believed to be the primary reason behind the attack. Security forces are looking into the attack, and said that the assailant, if convicted, could face up to eight years in jail for inflicting willful damage to health.

The former Bolshoi ballet star was appointed as the theater’s artistic director in March 2011 amid fierce rivalry for the position.

The Bolshoi Theater reopened in October 2011 after a massive six-year reconstruction effort.

DNA Anonymity Under Threat

A person donating their DNA sequence anonymously for research purposes may in fact be identified by a few simple web searches, according to a paper published today (January 17) in Science.

How Did the Gates of Hell Open in Vietnam?

For half a century we have been arguing about “the Vietnam War.” Is it possible that we didn’t know what we were talking about? After all that has been written (some 30,000 books and counting), it scarcely seems possible, but such, it turns out, has literally been the case.

Now, in Kill Anything that MovesNick Turse has for the first time put together a comprehensive picture, written with mastery and dignity, of what American forces actually were doing in Vietnam. The findings disclose an almost unspeakable truth.  Meticulously piecing together newly released classified information, court-martial records, Pentagon reports, and firsthand interviews in Vietnam and the United States, as well as contemporaneous press accounts and secondary literature, Turse discovers that episodes of devastation, murder, massacre, rape, and torture once considered isolated atrocities were in fact the norm, adding up to a continuous stream of atrocity, unfolding, year after year, throughout that country.

It has been Turse’s great achievement to see that, thanks to the special character of the war, its prime reality -- an accurate overall picture of what physically was occurring on the ground -- had never been assembled; that with imagination and years of dogged work this could be done; and that even a half-century after the beginning of the war it still should be done. Turse acknowledges that, even now, not enough is known to present this picture in statistical terms. To be sure, he offers plenty of numbers -- for instance the mind-boggling estimates that during the war there were some two million civilians killed and some five million wounded, that the United States flew 3.4 million aircraft sorties, and that it expended 30 billion pounds of munitions, releasing the equivalent in explosive force of 640 Hiroshima bombs.

Yet it would not have been enough to simply accumulate anecdotal evidence of abuses. Therefore, while providing an abundance of firsthand accounts, he has supplemented this approach. Like a fabric, a social reality -- a town, a university, a revolution, a war -- has a pattern and a texture.  No fact is an island. Each one is rich in implications, which, so to speak, reach out toward the wider area of the surrounding facts. When some of these other facts are confirmed, they begin to reveal the pattern and texture in question.

Turse repeatedly invites us to ask what sort of larger picture each story implies. For example, he writes:

“If one man and his tiny team could claim more KIAs [killed in action] than an entire battalion without raising red flags among superiors; if a brigade commander could up the body count by picking off civilians from his helicopter with impunity; if a top general could institutionalize atrocities through the profligate use of heavy firepower in areas packed with civilians -- then what could be expected down the line, especially among heavily armed young infantrymen operating in the field for weeks, angry, tired, and scared, often unable to locate the enemy and yet relentlessly pressed for kills?”

Like a tightening net, the web of stories and reports drawn from myriad sources coalesces into a convincing, inescapable portrait of this war -- a portrait that, as an American, you do not wish to see; that, having seen, you wish you could forget, but that you should not forget; and that the facts force you to see and remember and take into account when you ask yourself what the United States has done and been in the last half century, and what it still is doing and still is.

Scorched Earth in I Corps

My angle of vision on these matters is a highly particular one. In early August 1967, I arrived in I Corps, the northernmost district of American military operations in what was then South Vietnam.  I was there to report for the New Yorker on the “air war.” The phrase was a misnomer.  The Vietnamese foe, of course, had no assets in the air in the South, and so there was no “war” of that description.

There was only the unilateral bombardment of the land and people by the fantastic array of aircraft assembled by the United States in Vietnam.  These ranged from the B-52, which laid down a pattern of destruction a mile long and several football fields wide; to fighter bombers capable of dropping, along with much else, 500-pound bombs and canisters of napalm; to the reconfigured DC-3 equipped with a cannon capable of firing 100 rounds per second; to the ubiquitous fleets of helicopters, large and small, that crowded the skies. All this was abetted by continuous artillery fire into “free-fire” zones and naval bombardment from ships just off the coast.

By the time I arrived, the destruction of the villages in the region and the removal of their people to squalid refugee camps was approaching completion. (However, they often returned to their blasted villages, now subject to indiscriminate artillery fire.) Only a few pockets of villages survived. I witnessed the destruction of many of these in Quang Ngai and Quang Tinh provinces from the back seat of small Cessnas called Forward Air Control planes.

As we floated overhead day after day, I would watch long lines of houses burst into flames one after another as troops moved through the area of operation.  In the meantime, the Forward Air Controllers were calling in air strikes as requested by radio from troops on the ground. In past operations, the villagers had been herded out of the area into the camps.  But this time, no evacuation had been ordered, and the population was being subjected to the full fury of a ground and air assault. A rural society was being torn to pieces before my eyes.

The broad results of American actions in I Corps were thus visible and measurable from the air. No scorched earth policy had been announced but scorched earth had been the result.  Still, a huge piece was missing from the puzzle.  I was not able to witness most of the significant operations on the ground firsthand. I sought to interview some soldiers but they would not talk, though one did hint at dark deeds.  “You wouldn’t believe it so I’m not going to tell you,” he said to me. “No one’s ever going to find out about some things, and after this war is over, and we’ve all gone home, no one is ever going to know.”

In other words, like so many reporters in Vietnam, I saw mainly one aspect of one corner of the war.  What I had seen was ghastly, but it was not enough to serve as a basis for generalizations about the conduct of the war as a whole. Just a few years later, in 1969, thanks to the determined efforts of a courageous soldier, Ron Ridenhour, and the persistence of a reporter, Seymour Hersh, one piece of the hidden truth about ground operations in I Corp came to light.

It was the My Lai massacre, in which more than 500 civilians were murdered in cold blood by Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry, of the Americal Division. In subsequent years, news of other atrocities in the area filtered into the press, often many years after the fact. For example, in 2003 the Toledo Blade disclosed a campaign of torture and murder over a period of months, including the summary execution of two blind men by a “reconnaissance” squad called Tiger Force.  Still, no comprehensive picture of the generality of ground operations in the area emerged.

It has not been until the publication of Turse’s book that the everyday reality of which these atrocities were a part has been brought so fully to light. Almost immediately after the American troops arrived in I Corps, a pattern of savagery was established. My Lai, it turns out, was exceptional only in the numbers killed.

Turse offers a massacre at a village called Trieu Ai in October 1967 as a paradigm.  A marine company suffered the loss of a man to a booby trap near the village, which had in fact had been mostly burned down by other American forces a few days earlier.  Some villagers had, however, returned for their belongings. Now, the Marine company, enraged by its loss but unable to find the enemy, entered the village firing their M-16s, setting fire to any intact houses, and tossing grenades into bomb shelters.

A Marine marched a woman into a field and shot her.  Another reported that there were children in the shelters that were being blown up.  His superior replied, “Tough shit, they grow up to be VC [Vietcong].”  Five or ten people rushed out of a shelter when a grenade was thrown into it.  They were cut down in a hail of fire. Turse comments:

“In the story of Trieu Ai one can see virtually the entire war writ small.  Here was the repeated aerial bombing and artillery fire… Here was the deliberate burning of peasant homes and the relocation of villagers to refugee camps... Angry troops primed to lash out, often following losses within the unit; civilians trapped in their paths; and officers in the field issuing ambiguous or illegal orders to young men conditioned to obey -- that was the basic recipe for many of the mass killings carried out by army soldiers and marines over the years.”

The savagery often extended to the utmost depravity: gratuitous torture, killing for target practice, slaughter of children and babies, gang rape.  Consider the following all-too-typical actions of Company B, 1st Battalion, 35th infantry beginning in October 1967:

“The company stumbled upon an unarmed young boy.  'Someone caught him up on a hill, and they brought him down and the lieutenant asked who wanted to kill him...' medic Jamie Henry later told army investigators. A radioman and another medic volunteered for the job.  The radioman... ’kicked the boy in the stomach and the medic took him around behind a rock and I heard one magazine go off complete on automatic...’

“A few days after this incident, members of that same unit brutalized an elderly man to the point of collapse and then threw him off a cliff without even knowing whether he was dead or alive...

“A couple of days after that, they used an unarmed man for target practice...

“And less than two weeks later, members of Company B reportedly killed five unarmed women...

“Unit members rattled off a litany of other brutal acts committed by the company... [including] a living woman who had an ear cut off while her baby was thrown to the ground and stomped on...”

Pumping Up the Body Count

Turse’s findings completed the picture of the war in I Corps for me.  Whatever the policy might have been in theory, the reality, on the ground as in the air, was the scorched earth I had witnessed from the Forward Air Control planes. Whatever the United States thought it was doing in I Corps, it was actually waging systematic war against the people of the region.

And so it was, as Turse voluminously documents, throughout the country.  Details differed from area to area but the broad picture was the same as the one in I Corps. A case in point is the war in the Mekong Delta, home to some five to six million people in an area of less than 15,000 square miles laced with rivers and canals. In February 1968, General Julian Ewell, soon to be known by Vietnamese and Americans alike as “the Butcher of the Delta,” was placed in charge of the 9th Infantry Division.

In December 1968, he launched Operation Speedy Express. His specialty, amounting to obsession, was increasing “the body count,” ordained by the high command as the key measure of progress in defeating the enemy. Theoretically, only slain soldiers were to be included in that count but -- as anyone, soldier or reporter, who spent a half-hour in the field quickly learned -- virtually all slain Vietnamese, most of them clearly civilians, were included in the total.  The higher an officer’s body count, the more likely his promotion. Privates who turned in high counts were rewarded with mini-vacations. Ewell set out to increase the ratio of supposed enemy soldiers killed to American soldiers killed.  Pressure to do so was ratcheted up at all levels in the 9th Division. One of his chiefs of staff “went berserk,” in the words of a later chief of staff.

The means were simple: immensely increase the already staggering firepower being used and loosen the already highly permissive “rules of engagement” by, for example, ordering more night raids.  In a typical night episode, Cobra gunships strafed a herd of water buffalo and seven children tending them. All died, and the children were reported as enemy soldiers killed in action.

The kill ratios duly rose from an already suspiciously high 24 “Vietcong” for every dead American to a completely surreal 134 Vietcong per American.  The unreality, however, did not simply lie in the inflated kill numbers but in the identities of the corpses.  Overwhelmingly, they were not enemy soldiers but civilians.  A “Concerned Sergeant” who protested the operation in an anonymous letter to the high command at the time described the results as he witnessed them:

“A battalion would kill maybe 15 to 20 a day.  With 4 battalions in the Brigade that would be maybe 40 to 50 a day or 1200 a month 1500, easy. (One battalion claimed almost 1000 body counts one month!)  If I am only 10% right, and believe me its lots more, then I am trying to tell you about 120-150 murders, or a My Lay [My Lai] each month for over a year.”

This range of estimates was confirmed in later analyses. Operations in I Corp perhaps depended more on infantry attacks supported by air strikes, while Speedy Express depended more on helicopter raids and demands for high body counts, but the results were the same: indiscriminate warfare, unrestrained by calculation or humanity, on the population of South Vietnam.

Turse reminds us that off the battlefield, too, casual violence -- such as the use of military trucks to run over Vietnamese on the roads, seemingly for entertainment -- was widespread.  The commonest terms for Vietnamese were the racist epithets “gooks,” “dinks,” and “slopes.”  And the U.S. military machine was supplemented by an equally brutal American-South Vietnamese prison system in which torture was standard procedure and extrajudicial executions common.

How did it happen? How did a country that believes itself to be guided by principles of decency permit such savagery to break out and then allow it to continue for more than a decade?

Why, when the first Marines arrived in I Corps in early 1965, did so many of them almost immediately cast aside the rules of war as well as all ordinary scruples and sink to the lowest levels of barbarism?  What chains of cause and effect linked “the best and the brightest” of America’s top universities and corporations who were running the war with the murder of those buffalo boys in the Mekong Delta?

How did the gates of hell open? This is a different question from the often-asked one of how the United States got into the war. I cannot pretend to begin to do it justice here. The moral and cognitive seasickness that has attended the Vietnam War from the beginning afflicts us still. Yet Kill Anything that Moves permits us, finally, to at least formulate the question in light of the actual facts of the case.

Reflections would certainly seem in order for a country that, since Vietnam, has done its best to unlearn even such lessons as were learned from that debacle in preparation for other misbegotten wars like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. Here, however, are a few thoughts, offered in a spirit of thinking aloud.

The Fictitious War and the Real One

Roughly since the massacre at My Lai was revealed, people have debated whether the atrocities of the war were the product of decisions by troops on the ground or of high policy, of orders issued from above -- whether they were “aberrations” or “operations.” The first school obviously lends itself to bad-apple-in-a-healthy-barrel thinking, blaming individual units for unacceptable behavior while exonerating the higher ups; the second tends to exonerate the troops while pinning the blame on their superiors.

Turse’s book shows that the barrel was rotten through and through.  It discredits the “aberration” school once and for all. Yet it does not exactly offer support for the orders-from-the-top school either. Perhaps the problem always was that these alternatives framed the situation inaccurately.  The relationship between policy and practice in Vietnam was, it turns out, far more peculiar than the two choices suggest.

It’s often said that truth is the first casualty of war. In Vietnam, however, it was not just that the United States was doing one thing while saying another (for example, destroying villages while claiming to protect them), true as that was.  Rather, from its inception the war’s structure was shaped by an attempt to superimpose a false official narrative on a reality of a wholly different character.

In the official war, the people of South Vietnam were resisting the attempts of the North Vietnamese to conquer them in the name of world communism.  The United States was simply assisting them in their patriotic resistance.  In reality, most people in South Vietnam, insofar as they were politically minded, were nationalists who sought to push out foreign conquerors: first, the French, then the Japanese, and next the Americans, along with their client state, the South Vietnamese government which was never able to develop any independent strength in a land supposedly its own.  This fictitious official narrative was not added on later to disguise unpalatable facts; it was baked into the enterprise from the outset.

Accordingly, the collision of policy and reality first took place on the ground in Trieu Ai village and its like. The American forces, including their local commanders, were confronted with a reality that the policymakers had not faced and would not face for many long years. Expecting to be welcomed as saviors, the troops found themselves in a sea of nearly universal hostility.

No manual was handed out in Washington to deal with the unexpected situation. It was left to the soldiers to decide what to do. Throughout the country, they started to improvise. To this extent, policy was indeed being made in the field. Yet it was not within the troops’ power to reverse basic policy; they could not, for instance, have withdrawn themselves from the whole misconceived exercise.  They could only respond to the unexpected circumstances in which they found themselves.

The result would combine an incomprehensible and impossible mission dictated from above (to win the “hearts and minds” of a population already overwhelmingly hostile, while pulverizing their society) and locally conceived illegal but sometimes vague orders that left plenty of room for spontaneous, rage-driven improvisation on the ground. In this gap between the fiction of high policy and the actuality of the real war was born the futile, abhorrent assault on the people of Vietnam.

The improvisatory character of all this, as Turse emphasizes, can be seen in the fact that while the abuses of civilians were pervasive they were not consistent. As he summarizes what a villager in one brutalized area told him decades later, “Sometimes U.S. troops handed out candies.  Sometimes they shot at people.  Sometimes they passed through a village hardly touching a thing.  Sometimes they burned all the homes. ‘We didn’t understand the reasons why the acted in the way they did.’”

Alongside the imaginary official war, then, there grew up the real war on the ground, the one that Turse has, for the first time, adequately described.  It is no defense of what happened to point out that, for the troops, it was not so much their orders from on high as their circumstances -- what Robert J. Lifton has called “atrocity-producing situations” -- that generated their degraded behavior. Neither does such an account provide escape from accountability for the war’s architects without whose blind and misguided policies these infernal situations never would have arisen.

In one further bitter irony, this real war came at a certain point to be partially codified at ever higher levels of command into policies that did translate into orders from the top. In effect, the generals gradually -- if absurdly, in light of the supposed goals of the war -- sanctioned and promoted the de facto war on the population.  Enter General Ewell and his body counts.

In other words, the improvising moved up the chain of command until the soldiers were following orders when they killed civilians, though, as in the case of Ewell, those orders rarely took exactly that form.  Nonetheless, the generals sometimes went quite far in formulating these new rules, even when they flagrantly contradicted official policies.

To give one example supplied by Turse, in 1965, General William Westmoreland, who was made commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam in 1964, implicitly declared war on the peasantry of South Vietnam. He said:

“Until now the war has been characterized by a substantial majority of the population remaining neutral.  In the past year we have seen an escalation to a higher intensity in the war.  This will bring about a moment of decision for the peasant farmer.  He will have to choose if he stays alive.”

Like his underlings, Westmoreland, was improvising. This new policy of, in effect, terrorizing the peasantry into submission was utterly inconsistent with the Washington narrative of winning hearts and minds, but it was fully consistent with everything his forces were actually doing and about to do in I Corps and throughout the country.

A Skyscraper of Lies

One more level of the conflict needs to be mentioned in this context.  Documents show that, as early as the mid-1960s, the key mistaken assumptions of the war -- that the Vietnamese foe was a tentacle of world communism, that the war was a front in the Cold War rather than an episode in the long decolonization movement of the twentieth century, that the South Vietnamese were eager for rescue by the United States -- were widely suspected to be mistaken in official Washington.  But one other assumption was not found to be mistaken: that whichever administration “lost” Vietnam would likely lose the next election.

Rightly or wrongly, presidents lived in terror of losing the war and so being politically destroyed by a movement of the kind Senator Joe McCarthy launched after the American “loss” of China in 1949.  Later, McGeorge Bundy, Lyndon Johnson’s national security advisor, would describe his understanding of the president’s frame of mind at the time this way:

"LBJ isn't deeply concerned about who governs Laos, or who governs South Vietnam -- he's deeply concerned with what the average American voter is going to think about how he did in the ball game of the Cold War. The great Cold War championship gets played in the largest stadium in the United States and he, Lyndon Johnson, is the quarterback, and if he loses, how does he do in the next election? So don't lose. Now that's too simple, but it's where he is. He's living with his own political survival every time he looks at these questions.”

In this context, domestic political considerations trumped the substantive reasoning that, once the futility and horror of the enterprise had been revealed, might have led to an end to the war. More and more it was understood to be a murderous farce, but politics dictated that it must continue. As long as this remained the case, no news from Vietnam could lead to a reversal of the war policies.

This was the top floor of the skyscraper of lies that was the Vietnam War. Domestic politics was the largest and most fact-proof of the atrocity-producing situations.  Do we imagine that this has changed?

This is a joint TomDispatch/Nation article and appears in print in the Nation magazine.

Aaron Swartz: Suicide or Murder?

Advocates of online openness and freedom lost a committed champion. The Economist said to call him "gifted would be to miss the point. As far as the internet was concerned, he was the gift."

Imposing Real Consequences for Prosecutorial Abuse in Case of Aaron Swartz

Whenever an avoidable tragedy occurs, it's common for there to be an intense spate of anger in its immediate aftermath which quickly dissipates as people move on to the next outrage. That's a key dynamic that enables people in positions of authority to evade consequences for their bad acts. But as more facts emerge regarding the conduct of the federal prosecutors in the case of Aaron Swartz - Massachusetts' US attorney Carmen Ortiz and assistant US attorney Stephen Heymann - the opposite seems to be taking place: there is greater and greater momentum for real investigations, accountability and reform. It is urgent that this opportunity not be squandered, that this interest be sustained.US Attorney Carmen Ortiz is under fire for her office's conduct in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. (Photograph: US Department of Justice)

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that - two days before the 26-year-old activist killed himself on Friday - federal prosecutors again rejected a plea bargain offer from Swartz's lawyers that would have kept him out of prison. They instead demanded that he "would need to plead guilty to every count" and made clear that "the government would insist on prison time". That made a trial on all 15 felony counts - with the threat of a lengthy prison sentence if convicted - a virtual inevitability.

Just three months ago, Ortiz's office, as TechDirt reported, severely escalated the already-excessive four-felony-count indictment by adding nine new felony counts, each of which "carrie[d] the possibility of a fine and imprisonment of up to 10-20 years per felony", meaning "the sentence could conceivably total 50+ years and [a] fine in the area of $4 million." That meant, as Think Progress documented, that Swartz faced "a more severe prison term than killers, slave dealers and bank robbers".

Swartz's girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the WSJ that the case had drained all of his money and he could not afford to pay for a trial. At Swartz's funeral in Chicago on Tuesday, his father flatly stated that his son "was killed by the government".

Ortiz and Heymann continue to refuse to speak publicly about what they did in this case - at least officially. Yesterday, Ortiz's husband, IBM Corp executive Thomas J. Dolan, took to Twitter and - without identifying himself as the US Attorney's husband - defended the prosecutors' actions in response to prominent critics, and even harshly criticized the Swartz family for assigning blame to prosecutors: "Truly incredible in their own son's obit they blame others for his death", Ortiz's husband wrote. Once Dolan's identity was discovered, he received assertive criticism and then sheepishly deleted his Twitter account.

Clearly, the politically ambitious Ortiz - who was touted just last month by the Boston Globe as a possible Democratic candidate for governor - is feeling serious heat as a result of rising fury over her office's wildly overzealous pursuit of Swartz. The same is true of Heymman, whose father was Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration and who has tried to forge his own reputation as a tough-guy prosecutor who takes particular aim at hackers.

Yesterday, the GOP's House Oversight Committee Chairman, Darrell Issa, announced a formal investigation into the Justice Department's conduct in this case. Separately, two Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee issued stinging denunciations, with Democratic Rep. Jared Polis proclaiming that "the charges were ridiculous and trumped-up" and labeling Swartz a "martyr" for the evils of minimum sentencing guidelines, while Rep. Zoe Lofgren denounced the prosecutors' behavior as "pretty outrageous" and "way out of line".

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless - or especially, as in Swartz's case, those who challenge power - are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions.

A petition on the White House's website to fire Ortiz quickly exceeded the 25,000 signatures needed to compel a reply, and a similar petition aimed at Heymann has also attracted thousands of signatures, and is likely to gather steam in the wake of revelations that another young hacker committed suicide in 2008 in response to Heymann's pursuit of him (You can [and I hope will] sign both petitions by clicking on those links; the Heymann petition in particular needs more signatures).

In sum, as CNET's Declan McCullagh detailed in a comprehensive article this morning, it is Ortiz who "has now found herself in an unusual - and uncomfortable - position: as the target of an investigation instead of the initiator of one." And that's exactly as it should be given that, as he documents, there is little question that her office sought to make an example out of Swartz for improper and careerist benefits. Swartz "was enhancing the careers of a group of career prosecutors and a very ambitious - politically-ambitious - U.S. attorney who loves to have her name in lights," the Cambridge criminal lawyer Harvey Silverglate told McCullagh. Swartz's lawyer said that Heymann "was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper." Writes McCullagh:

"If Swartz had stolen a $100 hard drive with the JSTOR articles, it would have been a misdemeanor offense that would have yielded probation or community service. But the sweeping nature of federal computer crime laws allowed Ortiz and [] Heymann, who wanted a high-profile computer crime conviction, to pursue felony charges. Heymann threatened the diminutive free culture activist with over 30 years in prison as recently as last week."

For numerous reasons, it is imperative that there be serious investigations about what took place here and meaningful consequences for this prosecutorial abuse, at least including firing. It is equally crucial that there be reform of the criminal laws and practices that enable this to take place in so many other cases and contexts.

To begin with, there has been a serious injustice in the Swartz case, and that alone compels accountability. Prosecutors are vested with the extraordinary power to investigate, prosecute, bankrupt, and use the power of the state to imprison people for decades. They have the corresponding obligation to exercise judgment and restraint in how that power is used. When they fail to do so, lives are ruined - or ended.

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless - or especially, as in Swartz's case, those who challenge power - are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions. All one has to do to see that this is true is to contrast the incredible leniency given by Ortiz's office to large companies and executives accused of serious crimes with the indescribably excessive pursuit of Swartz.

This immunity for people with power needs to stop. The power of prosecutors is particularly potent, and abuse of that power is consequently devastating. Prosecutorial abuse is widespread in the US, and it's vital that a strong message be sent that it is not acceptable. Swartz's family strongly believes - with convincing rationale - that the abuse of this power by Ortiz and Heymann played a key role in the death of their 26-year-old son. It would be unconscionable to decide that this should be simply forgotten.

Beyond this specific case, the US government - as part of its war to vest control over the internet in itself and in corporate factions - has been wildly excessive, almost hysterical, in punishing even trivial and harmless activists who are perceived as "hackers". The 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) - enacted in the midst of that decade's hysteria over hackers - is so broad and extreme that it permits federal prosecutors to treat minor, victimless computer pranks - or even violations of a website's "terms of service" - as major felonies, which is why Rep. Lofgren just announced her proposed "Aaron's Law" to curb some of its abuses.

But the abuses here extend far beyond the statutes in question. There is, as I wrote about on Saturday when news of Swartz's suicide spread, a general effort to punish with particular harshness anyone who challenges the authority of government and corporations to maintain strict control over the internet and the information that flows on it. Swartz's persecution was clearly waged by the government as a battle in the broader war for control over the internet. As Swartz's friend, the NYU professor and Harvard researcher Danah Boyd, described in her superb analysis:

"When the federal government went after him – and MIT sheepishly played along – they weren't treating him as a person who may or may not have done something stupid. He was an example. And the reason they threw the book at him wasn't to teach him a lesson, but to make a point to the entire Cambridge hacker community that they were p0wned. It was a threat that had nothing to do with justice and everything to do with a broader battle over systemic power.

"In recent years, hackers have challenged the status quo and called into question the legitimacy of countless political actions. Their means may have been questionable, but their intentions have been valiant. The whole point of a functioning democracy is to always question the uses and abuses of power in order to prevent tyranny from emerging. Over the last few years, we've seen hackers demonized as anti-democratic even though so many of them see themselves as contemporary freedom fighters. And those in power used Aaron, reframing his information liberation project as a story of vicious hackers whose terroristic acts are meant to destroy democracy . . . .

"So much public effort has been put into controlling and harmonizing geek resistance, squashing the rebellion, and punishing whoever authorities can get their hands on. But most geeks operate in gray zones, making it hard for them to be pinned down and charged. It's in this context that Aaron's stunt gave federal agents enough evidence to bring him to trial to use him as an example. They used their power to silence him and publicly condemn him even before the trial even began."

The grotesque abuse of Bradley Manning. The dangerous efforts to criminalize WikiLeaks' journalism. The severe overkill that drives the effort to apprehend and punish minor protests by Anonymous teenagers while ignoring far more serious cyber-threats aimed at government critics. The Obama administration's unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers. And now the obscene abuse of power applied to Swartz.

This is not just prosecutorial abuse. It's broader than that. It's all part and parcel of the exploitation of law and the justice system to entrench those in power and shield themselves from meaningful dissent and challenge by making everyone petrified of the consequences of doing anything other than meekly submitting to the status quo. As another of Swartz's friends, Matt Stoller, wrote in an equally compelling essay:

"What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn't just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It's also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There's a reason whistleblowers get fired. There's a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There's a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriakou - who told the world it was going on. There's a reason those who destroyed the financial system 'dine at the White House', as Lawrence Lessig put it.

"There's a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There's a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There's a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq.

"This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice."

In most of what I've written and spoken about over the past several years, this is probably the overarching point: the abuse of state power, the systematic violation of civil liberties, is about creating a Climate of Fear, one that is geared toward entrenching the power and position of elites by intimidating the rest of society from meaningful challenges and dissent. There is a particular overzealousness when it comes to internet activism because the internet is one of the few weapons - perhaps the only one - that can be effectively harnessed to galvanize movements and challenge the prevailing order. That's why so much effort is devoted to destroying the ability to use it anonymously - the Surveillance State - and why there is so much effort to punishing as virtual Terrorists anyone like Swartz who uses it for political activism or dissent.

The law and prosecutorial power should not be abused to crush and destroy those who commit the "crime" of engaging in activism and dissent against the acts of elites. Nobody contests the propriety of charging Swartz with some crime for what he did. Civil disobedience is supposed to have consequences. The issue is that he was punished completely out of proportion to what he did, for ends that have nothing to do with the proper administration of justice. That has consequences far beyond his case, and simply cannot be tolerated.

Finally, there is the general disgrace of the US justice system: the wildly excessive emphasis on merciless punishment even for small transgressions. Numerous people have written extensively about the evils of America's penal state, including me in my last book and when the DOJ announced that HSBC would not be prosecuted for money laundering because, in essence, it was too big to jail.

All the statistics are well known at this point. The US imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world, both in absolute numbers and proportionally. Despite having only roughly 5% of the world's population, the US has close to 25% of the world's prisoners in its cages. This is the result of decades of a warped, now-bipartisan obsession with proving "law and order" bona fides by advocating for ever harsher and less forgiving prison terms even for victimless "crimes".

The "drug war" is the leading but by no means only culprit. The result of this punishment-obsessed justice approach is not only that millions of Americans are branded as felons and locked away, but that the nation's racial minorities are disproportionately harmed. As the conservative writer Michael Moynihan detailed this morning in the Daily Beast, there is growing bipartisan recognition "the American criminal justice system, in its relentlessness and inflexibility, its unduly harsh sentencing guidelines, requires serious reexamination." As he documents, prosecutors have virtually unchallengeable power at this point to convict anyone they want.

In sum, as Sen Jim Webb courageously put it when he introduced a bill aimed at fundamentally reforming America's penal state, a bill that predictably went nowhere: "America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace" and "we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail." The tragedy of Aaron Swartz's mistreatment can and should be used as a trigger to challenge these oppressive penal policies. As Moynihan wrote: "those outraged by Swartz's suicide and looking to convert their anger into action would be best served by focusing their attention on the brutishness and stupidity of America's criminal justice system."

But none of this reform will be possible without holding accountable the prime culprits in this case: Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann [MIT officials have their own reckoning to do]. Their status as federal prosecutors does not and must not vest them with immunity; the opposite is true: the vast power that has been vested in them requires consequences when it is abused. It is up to the rest of us to ensure that this happens, not to forget the anger and injustice from this case in a week or a month or a year. A sustained public campaign is necessary to bring real accountability to Ortiz and Heymann, and only then can further urgently needed reforms flow from the tragedy of Swartz's suicide.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Imposing Real Consequences for Prosecutorial Abuse in Case of Aaron Swartz

Whenever an avoidable tragedy occurs, it's common for there to be an intense spate of anger in its immediate aftermath which quickly dissipates as people move on to the next outrage. That's a key dynamic that enables people in positions of authority to evade consequences for their bad acts. But as more facts emerge regarding the conduct of the federal prosecutors in the case of Aaron Swartz - Massachusetts' US attorney Carmen Ortiz and assistant US attorney Stephen Heymann - the opposite seems to be taking place: there is greater and greater momentum for real investigations, accountability and reform. It is urgent that this opportunity not be squandered, that this interest be sustained.US Attorney Carmen Ortiz is under fire for her office's conduct in the prosecution of Aaron Swartz. (Photograph: US Department of Justice)

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that - two days before the 26-year-old activist killed himself on Friday - federal prosecutors again rejected a plea bargain offer from Swartz's lawyers that would have kept him out of prison. They instead demanded that he "would need to plead guilty to every count" and made clear that "the government would insist on prison time". That made a trial on all 15 felony counts - with the threat of a lengthy prison sentence if convicted - a virtual inevitability.

Just three months ago, Ortiz's office, as TechDirt reported, severely escalated the already-excessive four-felony-count indictment by adding nine new felony counts, each of which "carrie[d] the possibility of a fine and imprisonment of up to 10-20 years per felony", meaning "the sentence could conceivably total 50+ years and [a] fine in the area of $4 million." That meant, as Think Progress documented, that Swartz faced "a more severe prison term than killers, slave dealers and bank robbers".

Swartz's girlfriend, Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, told the WSJ that the case had drained all of his money and he could not afford to pay for a trial. At Swartz's funeral in Chicago on Tuesday, his father flatly stated that his son "was killed by the government".

Ortiz and Heymann continue to refuse to speak publicly about what they did in this case - at least officially. Yesterday, Ortiz's husband, IBM Corp executive Thomas J. Dolan, took to Twitter and - without identifying himself as the US Attorney's husband - defended the prosecutors' actions in response to prominent critics, and even harshly criticized the Swartz family for assigning blame to prosecutors: "Truly incredible in their own son's obit they blame others for his death", Ortiz's husband wrote. Once Dolan's identity was discovered, he received assertive criticism and then sheepishly deleted his Twitter account.

Clearly, the politically ambitious Ortiz - who was touted just last month by the Boston Globe as a possible Democratic candidate for governor - is feeling serious heat as a result of rising fury over her office's wildly overzealous pursuit of Swartz. The same is true of Heymman, whose father was Deputy Attorney General in the Clinton administration and who has tried to forge his own reputation as a tough-guy prosecutor who takes particular aim at hackers.

Yesterday, the GOP's House Oversight Committee Chairman, Darrell Issa, announced a formal investigation into the Justice Department's conduct in this case. Separately, two Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee issued stinging denunciations, with Democratic Rep. Jared Polis proclaiming that "the charges were ridiculous and trumped-up" and labeling Swartz a "martyr" for the evils of minimum sentencing guidelines, while Rep. Zoe Lofgren denounced the prosecutors' behavior as "pretty outrageous" and "way out of line".

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless - or especially, as in Swartz's case, those who challenge power - are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions.

A petition on the White House's website to fire Ortiz quickly exceeded the 25,000 signatures needed to compel a reply, and a similar petition aimed at Heymann has also attracted thousands of signatures, and is likely to gather steam in the wake of revelations that another young hacker committed suicide in 2008 in response to Heymann's pursuit of him (You can [and I hope will] sign both petitions by clicking on those links; the Heymann petition in particular needs more signatures).

In sum, as CNET's Declan McCullagh detailed in a comprehensive article this morning, it is Ortiz who "has now found herself in an unusual - and uncomfortable - position: as the target of an investigation instead of the initiator of one." And that's exactly as it should be given that, as he documents, there is little question that her office sought to make an example out of Swartz for improper and careerist benefits. Swartz "was enhancing the careers of a group of career prosecutors and a very ambitious - politically-ambitious - U.S. attorney who loves to have her name in lights," the Cambridge criminal lawyer Harvey Silverglate told McCullagh. Swartz's lawyer said that Heymann "was going to receive press and he was going to be a tough guy and read his name in the newspaper." Writes McCullagh:

"If Swartz had stolen a $100 hard drive with the JSTOR articles, it would have been a misdemeanor offense that would have yielded probation or community service. But the sweeping nature of federal computer crime laws allowed Ortiz and [] Heymann, who wanted a high-profile computer crime conviction, to pursue felony charges. Heymann threatened the diminutive free culture activist with over 30 years in prison as recently as last week."

For numerous reasons, it is imperative that there be serious investigations about what took place here and meaningful consequences for this prosecutorial abuse, at least including firing. It is equally crucial that there be reform of the criminal laws and practices that enable this to take place in so many other cases and contexts.

To begin with, there has been a serious injustice in the Swartz case, and that alone compels accountability. Prosecutors are vested with the extraordinary power to investigate, prosecute, bankrupt, and use the power of the state to imprison people for decades. They have the corresponding obligation to exercise judgment and restraint in how that power is used. When they fail to do so, lives are ruined - or ended.

The US has become a society in which political and financial elites systematically evade accountability for their bad acts, no matter how destructive. Those who torture, illegally eavesdrop, commit systemic financial fraud, even launder money for designated terrorists and drug dealers are all protected from criminal liability, while those who are powerless - or especially, as in Swartz's case, those who challenge power - are mercilessly punished for trivial transgressions. All one has to do to see that this is true is to contrast the incredible leniency given by Ortiz's office to large companies and executives accused of serious crimes with the indescribably excessive pursuit of Swartz.

This immunity for people with power needs to stop. The power of prosecutors is particularly potent, and abuse of that power is consequently devastating. Prosecutorial abuse is widespread in the US, and it's vital that a strong message be sent that it is not acceptable. Swartz's family strongly believes - with convincing rationale - that the abuse of this power by Ortiz and Heymann played a key role in the death of their 26-year-old son. It would be unconscionable to decide that this should be simply forgotten.

Beyond this specific case, the US government - as part of its war to vest control over the internet in itself and in corporate factions - has been wildly excessive, almost hysterical, in punishing even trivial and harmless activists who are perceived as "hackers". The 1984 Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) - enacted in the midst of that decade's hysteria over hackers - is so broad and extreme that it permits federal prosecutors to treat minor, victimless computer pranks - or even violations of a website's "terms of service" - as major felonies, which is why Rep. Lofgren just announced her proposed "Aaron's Law" to curb some of its abuses.

But the abuses here extend far beyond the statutes in question. There is, as I wrote about on Saturday when news of Swartz's suicide spread, a general effort to punish with particular harshness anyone who challenges the authority of government and corporations to maintain strict control over the internet and the information that flows on it. Swartz's persecution was clearly waged by the government as a battle in the broader war for control over the internet. As Swartz's friend, the NYU professor and Harvard researcher Danah Boyd, described in her superb analysis:

"When the federal government went after him – and MIT sheepishly played along – they weren't treating him as a person who may or may not have done something stupid. He was an example. And the reason they threw the book at him wasn't to teach him a lesson, but to make a point to the entire Cambridge hacker community that they were p0wned. It was a threat that had nothing to do with justice and everything to do with a broader battle over systemic power.

"In recent years, hackers have challenged the status quo and called into question the legitimacy of countless political actions. Their means may have been questionable, but their intentions have been valiant. The whole point of a functioning democracy is to always question the uses and abuses of power in order to prevent tyranny from emerging. Over the last few years, we've seen hackers demonized as anti-democratic even though so many of them see themselves as contemporary freedom fighters. And those in power used Aaron, reframing his information liberation project as a story of vicious hackers whose terroristic acts are meant to destroy democracy . . . .

"So much public effort has been put into controlling and harmonizing geek resistance, squashing the rebellion, and punishing whoever authorities can get their hands on. But most geeks operate in gray zones, making it hard for them to be pinned down and charged. It's in this context that Aaron's stunt gave federal agents enough evidence to bring him to trial to use him as an example. They used their power to silence him and publicly condemn him even before the trial even began."

The grotesque abuse of Bradley Manning. The dangerous efforts to criminalize WikiLeaks' journalism. The severe overkill that drives the effort to apprehend and punish minor protests by Anonymous teenagers while ignoring far more serious cyber-threats aimed at government critics. The Obama administration's unprecedented persecution of whistleblowers. And now the obscene abuse of power applied to Swartz.

This is not just prosecutorial abuse. It's broader than that. It's all part and parcel of the exploitation of law and the justice system to entrench those in power and shield themselves from meaningful dissent and challenge by making everyone petrified of the consequences of doing anything other than meekly submitting to the status quo. As another of Swartz's friends, Matt Stoller, wrote in an equally compelling essay:

"What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn't just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It's also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There's a reason whistleblowers get fired. There's a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There's a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriakou - who told the world it was going on. There's a reason those who destroyed the financial system 'dine at the White House', as Lawrence Lessig put it.

"There's a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There's a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There's a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq.

"This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice."

In most of what I've written and spoken about over the past several years, this is probably the overarching point: the abuse of state power, the systematic violation of civil liberties, is about creating a Climate of Fear, one that is geared toward entrenching the power and position of elites by intimidating the rest of society from meaningful challenges and dissent. There is a particular overzealousness when it comes to internet activism because the internet is one of the few weapons - perhaps the only one - that can be effectively harnessed to galvanize movements and challenge the prevailing order. That's why so much effort is devoted to destroying the ability to use it anonymously - the Surveillance State - and why there is so much effort to punishing as virtual Terrorists anyone like Swartz who uses it for political activism or dissent.

The law and prosecutorial power should not be abused to crush and destroy those who commit the "crime" of engaging in activism and dissent against the acts of elites. Nobody contests the propriety of charging Swartz with some crime for what he did. Civil disobedience is supposed to have consequences. The issue is that he was punished completely out of proportion to what he did, for ends that have nothing to do with the proper administration of justice. That has consequences far beyond his case, and simply cannot be tolerated.

Finally, there is the general disgrace of the US justice system: the wildly excessive emphasis on merciless punishment even for small transgressions. Numerous people have written extensively about the evils of America's penal state, including me in my last book and when the DOJ announced that HSBC would not be prosecuted for money laundering because, in essence, it was too big to jail.

All the statistics are well known at this point. The US imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation in the world, both in absolute numbers and proportionally. Despite having only roughly 5% of the world's population, the US has close to 25% of the world's prisoners in its cages. This is the result of decades of a warped, now-bipartisan obsession with proving "law and order" bona fides by advocating for ever harsher and less forgiving prison terms even for victimless "crimes".

The "drug war" is the leading but by no means only culprit. The result of this punishment-obsessed justice approach is not only that millions of Americans are branded as felons and locked away, but that the nation's racial minorities are disproportionately harmed. As the conservative writer Michael Moynihan detailed this morning in the Daily Beast, there is growing bipartisan recognition "the American criminal justice system, in its relentlessness and inflexibility, its unduly harsh sentencing guidelines, requires serious reexamination." As he documents, prosecutors have virtually unchallengeable power at this point to convict anyone they want.

In sum, as Sen Jim Webb courageously put it when he introduced a bill aimed at fundamentally reforming America's penal state, a bill that predictably went nowhere: "America's criminal justice system has deteriorated to the point that it is a national disgrace" and "we are locking up too many people who do not belong in jail." The tragedy of Aaron Swartz's mistreatment can and should be used as a trigger to challenge these oppressive penal policies. As Moynihan wrote: "those outraged by Swartz's suicide and looking to convert their anger into action would be best served by focusing their attention on the brutishness and stupidity of America's criminal justice system."

But none of this reform will be possible without holding accountable the prime culprits in this case: Carmen Ortiz and Stephen Heymann [MIT officials have their own reckoning to do]. Their status as federal prosecutors does not and must not vest them with immunity; the opposite is true: the vast power that has been vested in them requires consequences when it is abused. It is up to the rest of us to ensure that this happens, not to forget the anger and injustice from this case in a week or a month or a year. A sustained public campaign is necessary to bring real accountability to Ortiz and Heymann, and only then can further urgently needed reforms flow from the tragedy of Swartz's suicide.

© 2012 Guardian News and Media Limited

Glenn Greenwald

Neocons, War Hawks Call for ‘Overt Preparations’ for Attack on Iran

Four U.S. non-proliferation specialists are urging the Obama administration to impose tougher economic sanctions against Iran and issue more explicit threats to destroy its nuclear programme by military means.

Obama re-election ‘not objective’ – Russian monitors

AFP Photo / Mehdi Taamallah

AFP Photo / Mehdi Taamallah

Russia's Central Election Commission (CEC) claims the US presidential election failed to meet democratic standards and international obligations and therefore its results cannot be considered objective.

The Russian election watchdog published a report based on a distant monitoring of the American poll by several Russian NGOs. The document will be officially presented on the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration scheduled for January 21.

The November 6 vote – which secured Obama four more years in the White House – fell short of international election principles. It was neither fair, nor transparent, states the report.

The periodicity of the vote was only international obligation relevant for democratic elections that was fully observed, according to Igor Borisov, the head of the Russian Institute of Electoral Law (one of the organizations behind the report).

“There are quite a few criticisms. American election is like a hamburger: it looks nice but the cutlet inside of it is artificial,” Borisov, a former CEC official observed.

Among the shortcomings of the report draws attention to the fact that over 50 million of Americans are denied the right to vote for one reason or another.

“Racial minorities” suffer from such violations of rights more often than any other group, experts claim. In particular, only 62 per cent of African-Americans and only about a half of Latino Americans – all citizens of the US – were included in voting lists throughout the country.

Commenting on the principle of freedom of election, the authors of the document stated that bosses in American companies often “help” their employees to make their choice through threat of dismissal.

As for a secret ballot – yet another fundamental international obligation for democratic elections – it was far from ideal as well, since voters in America are allowed to have their say via e-mail or fax.

The US system of election campaign sponsoring also came under fire as it permits anonymous donations to candidates, while funds have no upper limits.

“American reality is completely different from American propaganda. Perhaps, it’s the only country that pretends to be democratic but has neither direct nor national elections,” the head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Lower House, Aleksey Pushkov told Izvestia.

However, Russian monitors also gave a positive assessment to some novelties introduced during the November elections. For instance, they praised the decision by Washington authorities to allow voter registration via Facebook social networking service.

The Russian CEC plans to prepare reports – similar to that on the US vote – on elections in other countries.

‘Aaron was killed by the government’ – Robert Swartz on his son’s death

The father of information activist Aaron Swartz blames US prosecutors for his son’s death, RT’s Andrew Blake reports from an emotional Tuesday morning funeral outside of Chicago.

Aaron Swartz, 26, was found dead on Friday of a reported suicide. Swartz had been instrumental in designing software that aimed to make the Internet easy and open for everyone, and also co-founded both Reddit.com and Demand Progress — one of the most visited sites on the Web and an highly touted activism organization, respectively.

But while friends, family and loved ones recalled Swartz’ compassion for technology and his utter selflessness during Tuesday’s service, those in attendance did not shy away from acknowledging the tremendous legal trouble that plagued the activist in recent years.

In 2011, federal prosecutors charged Swartz with a series of counts under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, crimes that could have sent him away to prison for upwards of 35 years if convicted. Swartz, said the government, entered a building at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and downloaded millions of academic and scholarly papers from the service JSTOR with presumably the intent of distributing them for free.

“Aaron did not commit suicide but was killed by the government,” Robert Swartz said during Tuesday’s service at the Central Avenue Synagogue in Highland Park, Illinois. “Someone who made the world a better place was pushed to his death by the government.”

During the funeral, which lasted little less than 90 minutes, phrases such as “Googled,” “Anonymous,” “hackers” and “the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act” were spoken so nonchalantly it was as if including them in the service was simply to be expected. Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman, Swartz’s partner, said amidst laughter and tears that one of her fondest memories of Aaron as of late was an early-morning moment from only weeks earlier when he insisted she help him spend hours analyzing an advanced algebraic math equation he was determined to solve.

In her eulogy as well as those offered by others, the take-away by and large was that Swartz, to the ones closest to the computer genius, was adamant on social change.

“Aaron meant more to our people than I think anyone else we know,” said Stinebrickner-Kauffman, who met Swartz through a tight-knit circle of activists from New England.

“Aaron wanted so badly to change the world,” she said, more so than acquiring wealth or fame.

Despite those intentions though, loved ones said the looming possibility of a felony conviction complicated matters for Swartz since his indictment in 2011.

“He was so tired” in recent weeks, Stinebrickner-Kauffman recalled. “He said to me, ‘Am I always going to feel that way?’”

With Swartz’ passing, though, his partner said it was now up to his colleagues and peers to push forward with the advocacy that Aaron was so incredibly passionate about.

“There’s nothing Aaron would want more than for us to take this moment and change the world,” she said, calling for the community Swartz was a part of to continue rallying for justice without him. If the community can combine forces and further his advocacy, she said, “prosecutors can stop going after innocent young people” like Aaron.

Elsewhere during her eulogy, Stinebrickner-Kauffman spoke harshly of the Massachusetts attorney general that filed charges against Swartz, as well as the institution that some say could have stopped the federal government from following up with the hacking case but did not.

That “false characterization” spearheaded by the Massachusetts Attorney General’s office, said Swartz’ dad, was likely the cause of his son’s death. Whereas the public applauds computer icons like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs as visionaries, Robert Swartz said his son was much more innocent in the eyes of the world at large, just not the federal government.

Before his days with Apple, recalled Mr. Swartz, Jobs and his business partner Steve Wozniak “used to criminally defraud the phone company” by selling small “blue box” devices that allowed anyone in the country to conduct long-distance calls for free. Gates’ development of Microsoft’s BASIC, Swartz said, was “sketchy” at best.

“These are people who are lionized,” he said, and “treated like idols in our culture.”

“How is that Aaron did something that legally wasn’t illegal — and he was destroyed by it,” he asked.

Mr. Swartz also had harsh words for MIT, who, unlike JSTOR, was relentless in their pursuit of the alleged criminal hacker.

“We tried and tried to get MIT to help and show compassion,” he said, but “their institutional concerns were more important than compassion.”

Following Swartz’ passing, members of the hacktivist group Anonymous gained unauthorized access to MIT’s servers and posted a tribute that was cited during Tuesday’s service, which also included eulogies from some of the most respected figures of Internet culture.

Tim Berners-Lee, a British scientist responsible for developing the World Wide Web, called Aaron Swartz “an elder” of the computer and information community during the funeral. When Berners-Lee first met Swartz, the young prodigy was all of 14 years old.

“I have no met anyone else so ethical,” Berners-Lee said. “He knew by writing code . . . he could change the world.”

“Up until the end, he was fighting for right,” he said.

Lawrence Lessig, an academic and political activist who knew Aaron Swartz for over a decade, called the government’s attempt to prosecute his friend pointless and an example of “idiocy” during the service. Elliot Peters, Swartz’ attorney in the JSTOR case, said his client’s peers are now without someone whose “passion for freedom and fairness” and a “mistrust for power” was unmatched. Peters echoed that same mistrust in his eulogy, which condemned the federal prosecutors that he suggested were at least partially responsible in his client’s death.

“Aaron, sadly, provided them the opportunity to make a case,” he said. “Something they could brag about.”

“They didn’t care who Aaron really was, or what he was doing,” Peters said. Meanwhile, he considered Swartz a “young, diminutive and oh so brilliant client” and compared his advocacy against the government to that of the American patriots during the US revolution.

“Aaron still lives as a voice for good,” his father said as the ceremony neared ending. “He spent his short life selflessly trying to make the world a better place for everyone.”

“Selfless” was an adjective used countless time during the funeral by several persons who cited Swartz’ insistence on putting himself first perhaps his most powerful trait.

“Your grief should not be equal to his work, because then your sorrow will never end,” Peters said at one point to quote Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

“As much as we despair, and we all do, we must know that we do all change the world. And we must never stop,” Mr. Swartz said before the ceremony concluded.

Memorial services for Swartz across the country are currently being planned. Hundreds are expected to gather in New York City later this week for a tribute planned in Times Square.

Aaron Swartz – a Fighter Against the Privatization of Knowledge

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Transcript

PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

Aaron Swartz was a brilliant 26-year-old software developer who most recently worked at a company called Thoughtworks, a global software developer, but before that, was well known as a developer of Reddit, the inventor of RSS, and one of the designers of Creative Commons. Well, Aaron committed suicide on Friday, January 11. At the time of his death, Aaron Swartz was under indictment for using MIT access to log into JSTOR, a database of scholarly articles, and downloading those articles with the intent to make them public. If Swartz had been convicted of these charges, he faced more than 30 years in prison.Now joining us to talk about Aaron the man and the significance of this case: first of all, Roy Singham. He's the founder and chairman of Thoughtworks Inc., the company that Aaron most recently worked for. And Brian Guthrie. Brian was a coworker with Aaron, and he's also a software developer and internet activist. Thank you both for joining us. BRIAN GUTHRIE, SOFTWARE DEVELOPER AND INTERNET ACTIVIST: Thank you.JAY: So, Roy, first of all, talk quickly about the basic case, but really what was at stake. I mean, the question I suppose everybody's asking is: why was the prosecutor going after Aaron with such fervor? Nothing actually was ever released. He took these documents perhaps with the intention of making them public, but he never did. But yet they were making a major case out of this.ROY SINGHAM, FOUNDER AND CHAIRMAN, THOUGHTWORKS: Yeah, no, no. The family issued a very, I think, poignant statement about this when they were defining this as prosecutorial overreach, and, unfortunately, in this case, also the complicity of MIT in letting this happen. I mean, understanding that these documents were downloaded, he had the right to access them, they were sitting on a server, nobody else received them, there was no victim in this alleged crime, none, why would you take—because you would have to allege intent to distribute.By the way, these documents are academic documents. These are not, you know, corporate secrets, they're not state secrets. These are often—most of these documents were created over, you know, centuries of human knowledge. And so the idea that there was an economic benefit to be gained is not true. So there was no economic motivation. There was no damage done to any of the institutions. JSTOR, which was the actual company from—organization from which the documents were downloaded, was quite frankly aghast at the end that this would—'cause they would have said, we'd settle, we don't believe in any charges.So here you have a government going after somebody where there are no damages and no victim, and at the same time the people who might have been the victim have said, please stop. Very unusual.JAY: So, clearly the objective has to be to send a message that anyone that has the kind of specialized know-how or talent that Aaron had, you stay away from privately owned or state-owned documents, period. This has to be about, you know, making—sending the message to this community.SINGHAM: Yeah. I mean, again, you know, different people have different views on this. Glen Greenwald, in his, I think, brilliant piece in The Guardian, looks at all the potential theories of why would this overreach have occurred. You know, was it because, you know, they wanted to make him a sample case? Was it because he had made some powerful enemies in the United States?As you probably know, he was the guy who led or certainly that he helped the movement against the defeat of the piracy act. You know, so he led that. He had already entangled with the government in showing then that the things [incompr.] that they had already produced for the courts ought to be free. He downloaded them. He had embarrassed them in this way. So he clearly had already reached the attention point of the FBI and the government. So we know that he was a target.What this individual prosecutor did, however, in Boston, in addition to whatever political issues are undoubtedly underlying his case—this was a vindictive, mean office of—and remember, this is the federal prosecutor's office. It is the—you know, this was not a state issue. The state prosecutors in Massachusetts was not going after him. This was a federal prosecutor, you know, of Massachusetts, Carmin Ortiz. And the particular prosecutor, they were vicious over a two-year period in attempting to drive this young, beautiful boy, man, into jail. So, now, what is the political case versus what were the individual motives of these two prosecutors at a minimum? And we called for this in our press statement today [incompr.] Today I'm speaking as an individual to you. But in our press statement, this idea that, you know, you can have prosecutors who use the plea bargaining system to drive people into admission of guilt [incompr.] defend this stuff is millions of dollars, bankruptcy, 35 years in prison. This is terrifying to any person. And so a number of issues have to be called into play, in our opinion, and certainly in my opinion and Brian's opinion, who also worked closely, you know, with Aaron. If this is allowed unchallenged, we will lose the next generation of Aarons, the next generation of the most important intellectual leaders of the planet. That's what's at stake. I have some personal views, which I would agree, you know, in terms of what was the underlying political motive. But I think first that the family really, you know, would want us to say this. You know, why was nobody in the federal government blocking the federal prosecution from taking on this [incompr.]JAY: Brian, you worked alongside Aaron. Tell us a little bit about the man. What motivated him, first of all, do you think, to take these documents in the first place? I don't think he ever denied doing it. But it was part of a broader vision he had about the world. What was that?GUTHRIE: Aaron is most often known for his technical contributions, but he really had the soul of a philosopher and activist. He was extremely widely read. He reached out early and often in his life to his heroes and people he admired, asking how he could get involved and how he could help out. And he used those technical skills to improve things all over the internet. I mean, one thing that you see people talking about everywhere is how often Aaron would reach out, out of the blue, with offers to help, to get involved, to support their website in some way. He really had a prodigious intellect and genuinely wanted to use that intellect and his skills and energy to do good in the world.He was also a tremendous writer, very, very thoughtful. And his personality really comes out, I think, in his online writings. When you met Aaron in person, face to face, he was a little quiet, he was very humble. He didn't come across as being this incredible activist. But really, when you follow what he had to say online and read the online archive of his thoughts and his opinions, you see this unbelievably thoughtful individual with a wealth of knowledge who really had done the research and worked his way through the issues.JAY: You must have discussed this specific case with him. How did he explain to you why he had done it and what his expectations were?SINGHAM: Aaron had a pretty disciplined approach to the way he worked and how he wanted to do good in the world in the issue of copyright specifically. He was targeting databases of documents that really had a public-good aspect and should have been opened by virtue of either government funding or content that was otherwise public domain as the property of the United States people. For example, the PACER database is a database of court documents that he helped to bring out into the open internet that PACER was charging money for. Those documents are public domain. They are funded and produced by the United States people. There's no reason why they should be behind a paywall. And that was the sort of thing that Aaron did. He was looking for the disconnect between the laws that we have about our information and the way in which regular people have access to that information. And that's what he was doing here. He was trying to bring an important database of documents that should have been opened out into the world.SINGHAM: And there's all kinds of even [incompr.] nuances. For example, most academics who write these journals, they're not getting paid for these materials. They're often funded by state institutions. And so—and/or the copyright has expired and these kind of things. In fact, JSTOR just last week released millions of documents, because—.GUTHRIE: Twenty percent of their archive.SINGHAM: Twenty percent. One of the things that he said in his speech, I think, in 2011 was, you know, here we have the last hundreds of years of human knowledge. I as a student in a wealthy country, in a wealthy institution, I have access to this, but, you know, a young girl in India, she has no access to the world's scientific and literary culture. I mean, this is a really dramatic change in how we think of knowledge. I mean, there was a library, and you can go read this. Now we're saying that a poor, you know, child in some country, in Brazil, has no access to the world's intellectual legacy. This really morally offended him. And he also understood, you know, the damage that it was going to do to society. GUTHRIE: [incompr.] JSTOR has a mission to do public good, and they were certainly founded with good intentions. And I think that we've been a lot happier with the way they've comported themselves here than with some of the other institutions that were involved. But Aaron's point was that academics share access to that knowledge already. JSTOR started to charge a prescription fee to institutions to gain access to their databases. And academics already share access to that. They invite people into their networks. They'll share passwords in order to give other people access. Academics form a community around sharing with the intent to bring that knowledge out into the world. They're not, most of them, reflexively protective people of their research. They want more people to go out and read their research.But people growing up and living in places without access to those expensive subscriptions don't have the same wherewithal to gain access to that knowledge. And he wanted to change that in a really big way.JAY: So, Roy, why does this prosecutor—and as you said, it's not likely just one prosecutor here. There's got to be other people in the justice department that are aware of all this. Why do they go after him (same question again) so strongly? Why do they consider this so threatening?SINGHAM: So, I mean, you know, obviously we don't have the chance—I mean, Heymann, who is the particularly egregious prosecutor, he worked for Ortiz. He was the head of the office. The two of them have, in my opinion, a 100 percent culpability for the overreach and for what happened here. Whether or not, you know, Holder or other people discussed this case, it's highly implausible to me that they didn't. And if you look at the timing of when these charges were filed against Aaron, it was exactly at the time of, you know, Assange and Manning, and there was just this paranoia, you know, in the Justice Department, in Homeland Security, that [incompr.] There's a generation of hackers out there that if we do not suppress and grab these people, our national security is in threat. And so the mood at the time was really, let us go out and guarantee [incompr.] even says this, not only Aaron, I mean, Jeremy Hammond, the Anonymous, a lot of these guys who—and [incompr.] who have been very active in internet freedom, they are being hunted down globally. I mean, this is—so if you ask me as a social—an historic thing, I had an internal debate with some of our colleagues last night about the press statement that we issued, because, you know, there is this question of why would Thoughtworks care as the company, 'cause we are very much calling for an investigation of prosecutorial overreach, and we're calling also for an apology by MIT to the family and for changes in policy. Why is that important? Isn't internet access important? Yes. If we allow the 12-year-old—and if you look at Aaron's site, for example, there's a 14-year-old who posted about how Aaron is their hero. Imagine if that 14-year-old who could be the next Aaron reads this thing about, you know, his—you know, the threats of imprisonment and what happened to Aaron. That young, you know, future humanist internet, you know, revolutionary is crushed.We have been forced into a defensive position to fight the suppression of civil resistance and disobedience. And unfortunately we, some of us—that's why it was just amazing, the last two days, some of the most creative and intelligent responses of the community towards these egregious acts.JAY: Is part of this that, you know, the United States has military superiority over just about everybody, they have financial superiority over just about everybody? But is it—and when it comes to computer technology—and they are so vulnerable on that front—that maybe they don't have intellectual superiority, and that leaves them feeling open?GUTHRIE: We have a narrative that we've constructed because technology is new and because it seems scary of the rogue hacker who can gain access to any system and do what they want with it at will, which simply isn't true. I mean, our understanding of technology is certainly still evolving. But I think Aaron got sucked into that narrative that prosecutors can use to their advantage if they're trying to bring home a prosecution, if they can paint Aaron in a particular way that makes him part of this unnoble, vast conspiracy of hackers. And Aaron—.JAY: Yeah. You explained something to me off-camera which is important, which is that Aaron actually didn't hack anything. I mean, he had a password. What Aaron did is akin to somebody going into a library with their library card and photocopying books and then, you know, planning to hand out the copies, isn't it?SINGHAM: But remember, he didn't even make the copies. In that case, he didn't even make the copies.GUTHRIE: Right. It's equivalent to checking out a lot of books very quickly, right? Unfortunately, it impacted the system for other people because he was downloading the papers very quickly. But he didn't do anything that any reasonable person would characterize as hacking. He didn't break into any systems. He didn't change any passwords. He didn't do anything that the website he was accessing didn't already allow people to access. He didn't so much as change the URL, which is an extremely—SINGHAM: Obvious.GUTHRIE: —an extremely obvious—it's something that increasingly has come to be used as a tool to accuse people of hacking. If you ever changed the URL of a YouTube video, there are people who would claim that under the wrong circumstances that's hacking. And Aaron didn't even go that far. He simply wasn't that person.JAY: So doesn't this mean—I mean, if an ordinary student that had no history of internet activism, of having had such high-level skills, if an ordinary student had done the same thing, it seems like it's not likely to have had the same kind of prosecutorial effort here. Were they not going after him because he's Aaron Swartz and because they're afraid of what people like Aaron are capable of?SINGHAM: I mean, that's my opinion, that this is a calculated move be the authorities to suppress the next generation. And, by the way, these civil disobedience are the same as Dr. King, the same as Gandhi, right? The argument that, you know, Gandhi broke the law because he called for the salt tax or, you know, Dr. King violated the law by, you know, breaking segregation, if a small transgression of an unjust law—. I mean, Aaron, you know, was a risk-taker. He believed—you know, and whether or not he could have possibly foreseen this [incompr.] absurd response is probably unlikely. But he understood that the laws that were no longer keeping up with the changes of technology, that laws that had passed 30 or 40 years ago had no relevance in this new area, were being used by a small group of very large corporations to privatize and monetize what was the human legacy of intellectual capital. That's why even The Economist, not known for its progressive views, called him the "commons man" and not [incompr.] in the sense of the defender or one of the great defenders of the concept of the commons [incompr.] and, as we know, that complete erosion. So Aaron in that sense was taking on directly the economic interests of the people who are trying to privatize human knowledge.But he also knew that there was a relationship between that and the state, which was actually why most of what you worked with him on was activism around legislation for this, because he then began to realize that the broader context was a political context. Even as passionate as he was about the Creative Commons, he was also passionate about the next generation of fighters.JAY: Yeah. Brian, talk a little bit about the other areas that Aaron worked in, 'cause you told me off-camera this actually was really a very small piece of Aaron's activism.GUTHRIE: Yeah. I mean, Aaron—again, we know him as a technologist, but technology to him was a tool. It's something that he wanted to leverage to really make change in the world. The work we were doing with him at Thoughtworks involved building a piece of software using the same tools and techniques that your startups in Silicon Valley are using to get people to post more on Facebook, applying that same level of analytical detail to encourage people to do good in the world and bring their voice out into the collective of people who are trying to change things.And so to that end, they're working on a piece of software that he intended to bring out and make—it's available for free now. You can download it yourself. It's released under an open-source license. He wanted to use that to bring the most advanced tools for social activism on the internet in the world to people who might not otherwise have access to them without a subscription fee.SINGHAM: Yeah. I mean, [incompr.] people think of him in some ways as a global Western hero. He was deeply an internationalist. I mean, in this particular [incompr.] he realized that the knowledge about campaigning and structuring right now is a wealthy-country phenomenon, and that even the progressives, there's a risk that the agendas are set not by the people themselves, but by an elite, even an elite that's pretending to speaking on behalf of the people. And so he was fiercely a democrat in the small-D sense of saying, what happens if I'm a villager in Burundi and I want to have my campaign around whatever my issues are, and I don't want that agenda to be [incompr.] by somebody in Washington, or even [incompr.] person in New York, how do they use that [incompr.] cell phones and all these things. He was an incredibly advanced thinker about the nature of political power, how to democratize access, how the internet ought to have been used to disempower wealth accumulation and power accumulation. He was really one of the last standing, you know, in that sense, humanists who fought aggregated power and totalitarian states.JAY: Brian, people like Aaron usually are able to make a lot of money, and that's what they focus on. But he never seemed all that interested in it, if that's what—if I understand correctly. GUTHRIE: Yeah. It—to his enormous credit, you know, I think he could have gone almost anywhere and done almost anything. I think he fell into money rather than seeking it. And, you know, it's to his enormous credit that he continued to pursue opportunities, wherever he could find them, to do good rather than make money. And he actively pursued that, rather than staying with the company helped found, Reddit.com, after it sailed to Condé Nast, he parted ways with them and used that money the same way we'd use oxygen, not to help propel him into the ranks of the wealthy, but to keep him going and give him the freedom to do what he needed to do to improve the world.SINGHAM: Yeah, I mean, just—you know, I mean, I think people—I mean, Larry said it in his pieces. It wasn't a lot of money. It wasn't as much money as people think. GUTHRIE: Yeah.SINGHAM: And he was only one of the owners. And he pretty much decimated that in the cause of all these things, PACER, living—you know, he wasn't a man of means.GUTHRIE: Yeah.SINGHAM: Right? And so there's a little bit of a misleading thing that—to believe that he sat there. So, therefore, here is this guy. And I—as a technologist, I'm very worried that young technical people are given the beautiful pictures of Steve Jobs as an icon. The human race needs Aaron Swartz as an icon, not Steve Jobs, because we are lucky, I mean, in our industry, because we get to do things we like for a living [inaud.] What do you use that for? And Aaron, in that sense, [incompr.] in my mind, the most important role model of your generation, certainly in the United States, and, I would argue, for somebody of privilege in the world, that there cannot be—.And, you know, it's hard for me. And I think Aaron—and, I mean, you know, you and I are in this incredibly fortunate thing, 'cause we spent a lot of time with Aaron in the last, you know, six or eight months. And I have cried for two days straight, as you have. And it's only today, in day three, that we can sort of begin to rebuild Aaron's legacy in the way that we know he would want us to. The thing that really disturbs me in all this kind of stuff is that they want to pigeonhole Aaron into too many narrow sets, right? It's the hacker or the internet guy. I have met—you and I have met lots of people. Can you imagine a deeper-caring person? I mean, it's just incredible. I mean, I still cry. I mean, he would touch anybody and do anything. I—we had a meeting, you know, recently about how could we change American views towards Muslims. Here's this young, beautiful Jewish kid. He walks into a room with a bunch of, you know, Muslim activists saying, we have to do something to change American opinion. He gets up on a white board and he says, listen, what we need to do is have a war against the merchants of hate. [incompr.] He walked in there for—what, you guys were in there for an hour or two.GUTHRIE: Right.SINGHAM: He would do those kind of things. His breadth of the issues that he would concern with were truly astounding. And a lot of the people, because he was in that sense quite a radical—I mean, he read Chomsky when he was 15. And those kind of things, again, people don't want to talk about. He was deeply unsatisfied. In fact, one of his speeches on SOPA, you know, when he first called about it, he says, listen, I'm not interested in copyright law; I want to deal with health care access, you know, I want to deal with this financial crisis, I want to understand how we don't have the Congress in the pay of these military contractors. I mean, he was thinking about every issue.JAY: Roy, a lot of people watching are going to ask—you know, are going to be asking the question, you know, why didn't he want to fight this case. Now, we know that Aaron suffered from depression. And so—I mean, it's not one and one equals two that he was facing a jail sentence and this was his choice; he wasn't—you know, I mean, the depression obviously played a major role here.GUTHRIE: One of the things that's come out into the internet after his passing is that—one of the things I've learned—I had no the problem was this big—is that the minimum amount of money to fight a federal grand jury case, even if you're completely innocent, even if you do, I guess, one day of trial and then walk away, you're looking at $1.5 million. I can't imagine the kind of [crosstalk]SINGHAM: Money he didn't have.GUTHRIE: Yeah. Yeah. And in order to do that, he would have had to go out and, I think, ask for that money, right? And that—.SINGHAM: And we were trying to help raise that money for him. I kept on personally saying, Aaron, the community will come to your defense. But he was such a polite, private person, that was just inconceivable to him. Yeah. And I think, you know, one never knows what happened to somebody's—in their brain. And, you know, I've had to deal with it in my personal life, people who I know are depressed. And I've thought a lot about this question of depression. So I'm aware that depression is a complex thing. And he was very open about it. I mean, very few people of his stature would have been as open and honest as he was about this thing. You know.And I feel that, you know, I can say safely that he was loved. I mean, you know, his partner and his parents are just amazing people. You know, he knew that he was loved. But it is difficult, no matter what anybody says, to have somebody who's thinking about the most deepest future of the human race to have this distraction, to be embarrassed about himself, to know there's a possibility of going to jail. I have—none of us in the family or in the company allege a direct correlation. But, you know, we did care for him. [incompr.] loved him.And, of course, any time you have a tragic thing, we all had to go through a self-realization—did we do enough, could we have done more. I mean, there's no way around that as a grieving process. But that misses the point. What if he hadn't? Would that change the outcome of going after prosecutorial reach? Would that excuse what MIT did? Would not the same terror to a young person fearing a jail sentence have occurred? It doesn't in the end matter, really, about the thing. It's personally a tragedy for Aaron and personally a tragedy for all of us who loved him. And that's a horrible thing, and we want accountability for that. But the broader is much deeper: intimidate the next generation of intellectual fighters, and we have created the world's greatest totalitarian state that dwarfs 1984.JAY: Alright. Thank you both for joining us.GUTHRIE: Thank you.JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.~~~ADAM SWARTZ: The internet really is out of control. But if we forget that, if we let Hollywood rewrite the story so it was just big company Google who stopped the bill, if we let them persuade us we didn't actually make a difference, if we start seeing it as someone else's responsibility to do this work and it's our job just to go home and pop some popcorn and curl up on the couch to watch Transformers, well, then next time they might just win. Let's not let that happen.TEXT ON SCREEN: Aaron Swartz 1986-2013.

End

DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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Armstrong confesses to doping on Oprah show — report

Lance Armstrong.(AFP Photo / Joel Saget)

Lance Armstrong.(AFP Photo / Joel Saget)

US cyclist Lance Armstrong, who was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles by anti-doping authorities, has finally admitted that he took performance-enhancing drugs.

­Armstrong made his confession during an interview Monday with Oprah Winfrey recorded in his home town of Austin, Texas, the AP reported, quoting an anonymous source familiar with the situation.

The episode of the ‘Oprah Winfrey Show’ is set to air on Thursday, January 17.

''Just wrapped with @lancearmstrong More than 2 1/2 hours. He came READY!''
Winfrey wrote on Twitter after her interview with the cyclist.

The confession came just several hours after he visited the Livestrong Foundation. Armstrong, a cancer survivor, founded the charity in 1997 to help others battling cancer.

The 41-year-old, who was forced to leave the charity after the doping scandal emerged last year, said “I’m sorry” to the organization’s staff, and expressed regret for the damaged caused by the controversy.

Armstrong had been accused of using banned performance-enhancing drugs throughout his whole career. The athlete previously denied all allegations, and even went to court to defend his name.

He was stripped of all his titles, including seven Tour de France wins, as a result of an investigation by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). All of Armstrong’s results after 1998 were annulled, and the American was banned for life from cycling.

At the time, the athlete did not confess to the doping, and claimed he was tired of fighting with the anti-doping authorities.

At least 19 dead, scores injured in Egypt train crash

At least 19 dead, scores injured in Egypt train crash

At least 19 dead, scores injured in Egypt train crash

Egyptian state media say 19 people have been killed and 107 more wounded as two cars of a passenger train derailed outside Cairo.

­Health Ministry officials said the injured were already in hospitals near the accident site, in the Badrasheen neighborhood of Giza.

A security official speaking anonymously told Ahram Online that many of the wounded were in critical condition.

The train is said to have been carrying army recruits when it crashed.

President Mohamed Morsi named a new transportation minister just this month after the post was vacated following a November train accident that killed 49 kindergarteners.

On the News With Thom Hartmann: White House Supports Immigration Reform With Pathway to...

In today's On the News segment: Seattle teachers boycott new standardized test, and more.

Thom Hartmann here – on the news...

You need to know this. Internet trailblazer and activist Aaron Swartz is dead at age 26. Aaron, who often appeared on this show, was found dead in his apartment after an apparent suicide over the weekend. He had long battled depression. But friends, family, and supporters of Aaron are placing the blame for his death on the Department of Justice, which was currently prosecuting Aaron for an incident that happened back in 2011 on the campus of MIT. Aaron, an advocate for freedom of information on the Internet, was busted for tapping into MIT's network, and downloading millions of scholarly journals from the online database JSTOR. Despite it being a victimless crime, and JSTOR itself settling the matter with Aaron, the Department of Justice stepped in to make an example out of Aaron – charging him with multiple crimes and the possibility of serving more than 30 years in prison – which is more than killers, bank robbers, child pornographers, and terrorist sympathizers receive. The Secret Service even got involved in the matter. According to a statement – Aaron's family blamed his death on, "an exceptionally harsh array of charges." Our justice system is clearly broken. How is that banksters who steal billions, or corporate executives who are responsible for the deaths of workers on oil rigs and mines, never see a day in jail. But whistleblowers and freedom of information activists have the book thrown at them, and suffer the full might of the United States Justice Department? Over the weekend – online activists affiliated with Anonymous claimed responsibility for taking down the websites of MIT and the Department of Justice. One thing is for sure, the online community, which had joined together in the past for significant achievements, like the defeat of SOPA and PIPA, will not let Aaron die in vain. Like the suicide of the Tunisian street vendor, which kicked off the Arab Spring, Aaron's death just may be a spark to wake Americans up to this cancer in our justice system, this abuse of copyright laws, and this corporate domination of the internet, and our society. Let's hope.

In screwed news...gun-crazy America is arming up. While Vice President Biden and his gun taskforce think of ways to stem horrific gun violence in America – the shootings and the gun purchases keep piling up. According to the Children's Defense Fund, nearly 450 children and teenagers have been shot by a gun just since the 113th Congress was sworn in earlier this month. But the NRA is refusing to contribute anything meaningful to the debate, with the head of the NRA saying on Sunday that he opposes any sort of measure that will require background checks for ALL gun purchases. Currently, about 40% of gun purchases do not come with any sort of background check at all. And thanks to the fear mongering going on in the gun community, assault rifles are fling off the shelves around the nation. According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, there were 2.2 million gun background checks performed in December, which is more than a 58% increase over the same period in 2011. The longer our lawmakers wait to pass common sense gun safety measures, the more weapons of war will find their way onto our street corners, our shopping malls, and our schools. It's a dangerous game that the gun lobby is playing.

In the best of the rest of the news...

Teachers in Seattle are fed up with the corporate school reform agenda – and they are standing up against standardized testing. Nearly the entire teaching faculty at Garfield High School announced they will not teach, or administer, a new standardized test for 9th graders known as the MAP – the Measures of Academic Progress. The teachers say such standardized testing is a waste of time and money. A second school is even expected to join the boycott. In a statement about their decision, the teachers said, "After this thorough review, we have all come to the conclusion that we cannot in good conscience subject our students to this test again." Under George W. Bush, the use of standardized testing to judge progress in our schools exploded – despite little evidence that these tests are actually good measures of how well a student is learning. In reality – all these tests do is enrich corporate executives – like George W's brother Neil Bush – who sell these standardized tests to schools. Good on the Seattle teachers for fighting back against this education scam – and let's hope other teachers around the nation join this movement.

According to the White House – comprehensive immigration reform must include a pathway to citizenship. As the New York Times reports – the White House will soon tackle immigration reform head-on, with a call to allow undocumented immigrants currently in the United States an opportunity to be citizens one day. This is certain to draw the ire of Republicans, who call any sort of pathway to citizenship, "amnesty." But expect party elders on the Right – who understand the changing demographics in America – to sign on to immigration reform, in a desperate attempt to not become an irrelevant party in a rapidly changing United States.

And finally...take the trillion-dollar platinum coin off the table. Just like the 14th Amendment solution, the Obama administration ruled out using a platinum coin to raise the debt ceiling, should Republicans in the House not act. A statement from the Treasury released on Saturday read, "Neither the Treasury Department nor the Federal Reserve believes that the law can or should be used to facilitate the production of platinum coins for the purpose of avoiding an increase in the debt limit." And with that, the best chance Ronald Reagan had to put his face on a U.S. coin was lost. White House spokesman Jay Carney said there is no back-up plan, and it's up to Congress to raise the debt-limit. In other words – the fate of the entire global economy is in the hands of House Republicans. Be concerned. Be very concerned.

And that's the way it is today – Monday, January 14, 2013. I'm Thom Hartmann – on the news.

We Are All Aaron Swartz! Fighting Back Against the “Intellectual Property” Racket

Aaron Swartz’ passing becomes even more tragic if we do not recognize what he spent his life fighting for, and realize that no matter where we think we stand on the issue of Internet freedom, the interests driving the debate from Wall Street and Washington, do not have any of our best interests in mind.

In your standard dictatorship, activists are brought out back and shot.

In the United States’ crypto-dictatorship, activists are bullied by the state until they go bankrupt, are buried under a mountain of legal woes, are publicly discredited or humiliated, or as in the case of activist and Reddit co-founder Aaron Swartz, made to crack under the constant pressure, and commit suicide.

While superficially the United States may seem more progressive, a dead activist bullied to death for his political views, is a dead activist – whether it was a bullet in the back of the head by SS officers, or a mountain of litigation dumped upon someone by the US Department of Justice.

We are All Aaron Swartz.

Aaron Swartz protesting SOPA (image right)

Swartz was an active opponent of the media industry’s various assaults on Internet freedom and sharing, including the scandalous SOPA/PIPA and ACTA bills. He was the director of Demand Progress, which pursued the following campaigns:

The big business lobbyists who are behind the Internet Blacklist Bill are already making the sequel. The “Ten Strikes” bill would make it a felony to stream copyrighted content — like music in the background of a Youtube video, movies and TV shows — more than ten times.

Click here to read the text of the bill and voice your opposition.

2. Oppose Protect-IP We knew that members of Congress and their business allies were gearing up to pass a revised Internet Blacklist Bill — which more than 325,000 Demand Progress members helped block last winter — but we never expected it to be this atrocious. Last year’s bill has been renamed the “PROTECT IP” Act and it is far worse than its predecessor.

The new PROTECT-IP Act retains the censorship components from COICA, but adds a new one: It bans people from having serious conversations about the blacklisted sites. Under the new bill, anyone “referring or linking” to a blacklisted site is prohibited from doing so and can be served with a blacklist order forcing them to stop.

3. Bin Laden Is Dead. Will The Patriot Act Live On?The Patriot Act was enacted as a supposedly temporary measure in the wake of 9-11. With Bin Laden’s passing, the era of the Patriot Act, of spying on Americans who aren’t suspected of crimes, of heavy-handed abuse of our dearly held civil liberties, must come to an end.We need to act now to make sure we win this fight. Tens of thousands of Demand Progress members have already urged Congress to fix the Patriot Act. Will you ask Congress and the President to return us to the legal norms that existed before 9-11 and start respecting our civil liberties?
4. Tell Facebook: Stop Censoring Political SpeechA range of Facebook users, from political dissidents to technology bloggers, are reporting the sudden blocking of their pages. Facebook provided no prior warning, nor was there a clear process established to restore access to the blocked pages.

Will you fight back?

5. Tell The DOJ: Investigate Goldman Sachs

Investigators discovered that Goldman traders bragged about selling “shitty” deals to clients and the mega-bank bet against the same financial products it was selling to investors. And they’ve lied about it all the way to the bank.

Millions of Americans have lost their jobs, and small-time homeowners are in jail for mortgage fraud, but no CEOs have been prosecuted for their roles in the financial crisis. It’s time to change that.

6. Tell Your Lawmakers: Shut Down The New Debtors’ Prisons

Americans are in more debt than ever before, and the banks are going to new extremes to squeeze us for every last penny: If you can’t pay up, they’ll try to get you locked up.

7. Could the Government Really Shut Down Facebook?

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.

8. Fight Internet ‘Kill Switch’

Are our leaders better than Egypt’s? Across the globe, governments know that the Internet is increasingly the lifeblood of democracy — that’s why Egypt’s oppressive regime just shut down the Internet there.

But even as American politicians condemn Egypt for doing so, they’re pushing legislation to give our government the power to do the exact same thing here at home! The so-called ‘Kill Switch’ would let the president turn off our Internet — without a court even having to approve the decision.

Join over 40,000 in fighting it. Add your name!

9. Let the PATRIOT Act Expire

The most noxious parts of the USA PATRIOT Act are about to expire — but Congress wants to extend them again. These provisions let the government spy on people without naming them in a warrant, and secretly access your library and bank records under a gag order prohibiting anyone from letting you know.

Join over 60,000 in opposing extension. Add your name!

10. No Mandatory Internet IDs!

Commerce Secretary Gary Locke just announced that he’s developing virtual ID cards for Internet users — and they could pose a severe threat to our privacy! The program’s called the “National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace” and the draft proposal indicates that we’d be forced to use the IDs for any online transactions with the government, and for online interactions with businesses that use them.

Over 30,000 have told Gary Locke to back off. Add your name!

11. Protect Whistleblowers at Big Banks

Crimes committed by the big banks helped crash our economy — and WikiLeaks is saying that a whistle-blower has sent them enough evidence to take down Bank of America. So now the big banks are fighting back by trying to get the government to muzzle future whistle-blowers.

Tell the SEC not to listen to them. Add your name!

12. Don’t Let them Outlaw WikiLeaks!

Politicians are leading the charge to outlaw WikiLeaks and undermine freedom of the press. First Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) successfully pressured Amazon.com to stop hosting the WikiLeaks website and now, as Julian Assange has been arrested in the UK, he’s introduced a new bill changing the law to make WikiLeaks illegal.

More than 30,000 have signed our petition to stop him. Add your name!

13. Stop the TSA’s Nude Scanners!

Across the country, TSA is replacing airport metal detectors with scanners that take nude photos of you — violating your rights, zapping you with X-rays that could cause cancer, and slowing down the lines. And if you opt-out, they feel up your “sensitive regions.”

Lawmakers in New Jersey and Idaho are trying to stop them. Let’s get a similar bill introduced in every state! Contact your lawmaker!

14. Stop the Internet Blacklist!

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are out of control. They’ve been seizing domain names without due process: they shut down 84,000 sites by accident last month, arrested a man for linking to other websites, and government officials think ICE and DHS are claiming powers that would even threaten sites like Facebook.

Over 300,000 signers! Add your name!

PLUS: Download our new flyer for our Stop The Internet Blacklist campaign and start a grassroots movement in your area!

Clearly, Demand Progress is not just another faux-NGO working in tandem with special interests under the guise of “human rights,” “freedom,” and “democracy” to peddle further exploitation and expansion of the powers that be – but rather identified these special interests by name, and exposed both their agenda and the means by which they attempt to achieve it. Swartz’ death is a tragic one, and compounded by the dismissive, almost celebratory atmosphere across the corporate-media of the passing of a man they labeled a suspected criminal.

Swartz was targeted by the US Department of Justice, MIT, and their corporate-financier sponsors because he was a prominent and particularly effective voice against real creeping oppression. He was a pragmatic, technical individual and proposed solutions that short-circuited the typical and ineffectual political infighting that drives most disingenuous or misguided causes.We all stand the potential of being targeted like Swartz if we allow these monopolies to continue dictating the destiny of human progress. We are all Aaron Swartz – and must realize his targeting and subsequent suicide is the manifestation of the real danger these insidious monopolies pose to us.

Sharing is Not a Crime.

Technologically empowered openness and generosity across the corporate-financier dominated Western World is no more a real offense than was being Jewish inside Nazi Germany. But like Nazi Germany, anything can be “outlawed” if it suits political and economic special interest. Are we truly “criminals” for not respecting laws born of special interests, detached from the will and best interests of the people? No, we most certainly aren’t.

Swartz allegedly downloaded scholarly files from an open and unsecured academic archive (and here). The original files are still very much intact and at the disposal of the organization that maintains the archives. Nothing was stolen, yet Swartz was accused of “theft,” facing 30 years in prison and a 1 million dollar fine – this in a nation where rapists and murders can spend less time in prison, and elected representatives involved in willfully selling wars based on patently false pretenses walk free without even the faintest prospect of facing justice.

Swartz’ crusade against the corporate-financier interests attempting to monopolize and control communication and technology is surely why he was targeted by the federal government, academia, and their corporate-financier sponsors. It is no different than an activist being brought out back of a kangaroo court in a third-world dictatorship, and shot. The silence from so-called “human rights” advocates over the treatment, and now death of Aaron Swartz is deafening – exposing them yet again as another cog in the machine.

It is time to fight back – and time to fight back without the help of these disingenuous NGOs and their purposefully futile tactics of solely protesting and petitioning. Pragmatic, technical solutions must also be explored and deployed at the grassroots to shatter these corporate-financier monopolies at the very source of their power – that is – our daily patronage and dependence on their goods and services.

The Plan.

An alternative to the networks, media, services, and even hardware must be devised and deployed across our local communities. Laws born of special interests and flying in the face of the people’s best interests must be exposed, condemned, and entirely ignored. Taking away a human being’s freedom because they copied and shared a file is unconscionable – as unconscionable as imprisoning a human being because of their political, religious, or racial background. We would ignore laws imposed upon our society singling out blacks or Jews, but not laws criminalizing sharing solely for the benefit of corporate special interests?

In December 2012′s “Decentralizing Telecom,” a plan for establishing a second Internet, locally built and maintained, and connected with neighboring networks to run parallel to the existing Internet – but be free of large telecom monopolies – was proposed.

Also published in December of 2012, was “Sharing is Not a Crime: A Battle Plan to Fight Back,” which illustrated the importance of shifting entirely away from proprietary business models and instead, both using and producing open source hardware, software, news, and entertainment.

Establishing local, and eventually national and even international parallel networks is possible, but will take time. Turning toward open source software can begin today, with a visit to OSalt.com and exploring alternatives that are already being used by millions today.

A bridge between where we are now and a truly free Internet made by the people, for the people, and entirely maintained in a decentralized, local manner, is what are called “Pirate Boxes.” David Darts, an artist, designer, and coder, describes a Pirate Box as:

PirateBox is a self-contained mobile communication and file sharing device. Simply turn it on to transform any space into a free and open communications and file sharing network.

Share (and chat!) Freely Inspired by pirate radio and the free culture movements, PirateBox utilizes Free, Libre and Open Source software (FLOSS) to create mobile wireless communications and file sharing networks where users can anonymously chat and share images, video, audio, documents, and other digital content.

Private and Secure PirateBox is designed to be private and secure. No logins are required and no user data is logged. Users remain completely anonymous – the system is purposely not connected to the Internet in order to subvert tracking and preserve user privacy.

Easy to Use Using the PirateBox is easy. Simply turn it on and transform any space into a free communication and file sharing network. Users within range of the device can join the PirateBox open wireless network from any wifi-enabled device and begin chatting and sharing files immediately.

Under David’s FAQ’s regarding Pirate Boxes, a particularly useful question is answered:

Can I make my own PirateBox?

Absolutely! The PirateBox is registered under the GNU GPLv3. You can run it on an existing device or can be built as a stand-alone device for as little as US$35. For detailed instructions, visit the PirateBox DIY page.

For the media-industry to stop the spread of local hardware solutions like Pirate Boxes, they would have to literally be in every single community, inside every single person’s house, to prevent people from taking legally purchased or freely available media, and sharing it – akin to publishers policing the entire population to prevent readers from lending their friends and family their copy of a particular book.

The basic principles and experience one gets from building and using a Pirate Box can allow them to tackle larger mesh networks and eventually, decentralize telecom. By encouraging local meetings where PirateBoxes are used, the foundation for new local organizations and institutions can be laid.

New Paradigms Require New Institutions – Join or Start a Hackerspace

Not everyone possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to create local networks or develop alternatives to the goods and services we currently depend on corporate-financier monopolies for. Even those that do, cannot, by themselves, effectively research, develop, and deploy such alternatives. By pooling our resources together in common spaces called “hackerspaces,” we can. Hackerspaces are not just for technically talented individuals, but a place where anyone with the inclination to learn can come and participate.

Hackerspaces can be organized under a wide range of templates – including clubs where dues are paid, spaces that earn income through providing courses or services to the community, and many others. It will be in hackerspaces, and local institutions like them, that a truly people-driven paradigm shift takes place – one of pragmatism and progress, not endlessly broken political promises from elected officials.

People can visit Hackerspaces.org to see the closest organization near them where they can join in. Conversely, for those who either don’t have a hackerspace nearby to join, or simply want to start their own, see, “How to Start a Hackerspace,” for more information on where to begin.

Finally…

Aaron Swartz’ passing becomes even more tragic if we do not recognize what he spent his life fighting for, and realize that no matter where we think we stand on the issue of Internet freedom, the interests driving the debate from Wall Street and Washington, do not have any of our best interests in mind.

We are all Aaron Swartz – to reclaim the battle cry abused so flagrantly by the West’s faux-democratic “awakening” in the Arab World and beyond. And we must all become active opponents of this agenda to usurp our ability to determine our own destiny. Aaron Swartz was an exceptional proponent of Internet freedom and openness – but by all of us joining the ranks of this cause, we exponentially complicate the system’s ability to target and destroy any one of us. If your cause is just, and your means constructive and pragmatic, there isn’t just “safety” in numbers, there is invincibility.

Sen. Corker Claims There are Questions Regarding Hagel’s ‘Temperament’

As Sarah Jones at Politicususa rightfully noted, this is pretty rich coming from today's Republican party: The Party of Hotheads Cheney and McCain is Concerned About Hagel’s Temperament:

On ABC’s This Week, Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) concern trolled about the ‘temperament’ of Republican former Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NB), whom Obama has nominated as Secretary of Defense. To back up his concern, Corker referenced possible issues with staffers, “I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them.” [...]

What staffers? Can he name one of them? Does Corker “think” they are coming forth or have they come forth? And since Hagel’s staffers would have most likely been Republican, it’s possible that such a desperate move might stink to high heaven of a Republican Party agenda, if in fact they ever do “come forth.” But really, since when do staffers weigh in on nominations?

Corker is worried about temperament, and he’s proving that by spreading unfounded rumors from alleged anonymous staffers that may or may not be a figament of his imagination. [...]

The real issue Republicans have with Hagel is that not only has he been to war, unlike most in the chicken hawk party, but he is a two-time recipient of the Purple Heart and he is against a war-first strategy. Hagel warned us before invading Iraq that it is very easy to start a war, and not so easy to end one. Republicans were outraged at Hagel for suggesting such a fact.

I never thought I’d see the day when a modern day Republican suggested that temperament should be an issue. After all, this is the party of distemper. This is the party that allegedly can’t control its members from shouting insults during a State of the Union address. This is the party that lied us into war and ran Sarah Palin as a Vice President.

It’s ironic that the party of irascible hotheads Dick Cheney and John McCain is concerned about Hagel’s temperament, because if they had listened to him, we never would have invaded Iraq. Hagel’s temperament is actually an argument for his confirmation.

I'm wondering when Corker has ever expressed any concern for this guy's temperament?


(Bob Schieffer asks McCain why he's opposed to every one of President Obama's cabinet picks on his gazillionth appearance on the Sunday talk shows.)

Transcript via below the fold.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Corker, you had some positive things to say about Senator Hagel last month when his name was first floated. You said you had good relations on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Do you see anything out there now that should disqualify him from the Pentagon post?

CORKER: Well, I think like a lot of people, the hearings are going to have a huge effect on me. I know I talked to Chuck this week. He's coming in to see me next week. But I think the hearings, this is going to be a real hearing process, unlike many of the people who end up being confirmed or not confirmed.

You know, I have a lot of questions about just this whole nuclear posture views. Those are things that haven't really been discussed yet. Obviously people have concerned about his stance towards Iran and Israel.

But I think another thing, George, that's going to come up is just his overall temperament, and is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon, and so look --

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have questions about his temperament?

CORKER: -- forward to sitting down -- I -- what's that?

STEPHANOPOULOS: Do you have questions about his temperament?

CORKER: I think -- I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them. I have certainly questions about a lot of things. I begin all of these confirmation processes with an open mind. I did have a good relationship with him. I had a good conversation with him this week. But I think this is one where people are going to be listening to what he has to say, me in particular about the things I just mentioned, but especially some of the positions he's taken generally speaking about our nuclear posture.

I think you know that I affirmed the new START Treaty. A lot of modernization was supposed to take place as a result of that on our nuclear arsenal. That's not happening at the pace that it should. The Pentagon is going to have a big effect on that, and for me, that is going to be a very big issue.

‘We Do Not Support Blowing Up Planets’: Death Star Petition Rejected

A petition calling on President Obama to build a working Death Star has been rejected by the White House.

The proposal to build an inter-stellar space station with unimaginable destructive power passed the needed 25,000 signatures last month.

The petition was launched in the name of "national security".

stormtroopers

Close but no Death Star

Yet on Friday in a somewhat sarcastic response, Paul Shawcross, chief of the Science and Space Branch of the Office of Management and Budget, pointed out: "The Administration does not support blowing up planets."

In the Star Wars film series, the Death Star was a space station about the size of a small moon that was equipped with laser weapons powerful enough to destroy planets.

Shawcross added: "The construction of the Death Star has been estimated to cost more than $850,000,000,000,000,000. We're working hard to reduce the deficit, not expand it.

"Why would we spend countless taxpayer dollars on a Death Star with a fundamental flaw that can be exploited by a one-man starship?"

Sad face for all those Star Wars fans then...

The official wording of the petition was:

"We petition the Obama administration to:

Secure resources and funding, and begin construction of a Death Star by 2016.

By focusing our defense resources into a space-superiority platform and weapon system such as a Death Star, the government can spur job creation in the fields of construction, engineering, space exploration, and more, and strengthen our national defense."

Several fictional characters added their signatures to the 34,000 long list, including a mysterious Mr Darth V, who listed his location as "Imperial Battlecruiser".

Earlier this year it was calculated that the Death Star would cost more than £541 trillion just for the raw materials - or 13,000 times the gross domestic product of the Earth.

While the very idea of the American government sanctioning the construction of such a thing may sound ridiculous, let's not forget the US once considered blowing up the Moon during the Cold War, hence nothing is off the table.

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  • REBELS NEED A CAUSE

    Princess Leia and the Alliance didn’t just oppose Emperor Palpatine on general principles. Their rebellion aimed to restore the Republic that Palpatine had dismantled a generation earlier. Joan of Arc’s rebellion against the English takeover of France in the early fifteenth century was another uprising seeking to restore the old order. Henry VI’s rule in France wasn’t as despotic as the Emperor’s dark regime: but Frenchmen and women saw the English as foreign occupiers in their kingdom. Joan dreamed of restoring the French monarchy: it was a dream so compelling that an ordinary farmgirl would put aside her quiet life in the country to don a warrior’s armor and fight for France. When she raised the siege at Orléans, her legend grew and England soon was on the defensive. Similarly, Leia’s role in defeating the Death Star both raised her profile and benefited the Alliance. Leaders may come and go but causes last: Joan was captured and executed in 1431. Twenty-two years later, her vision became reality with the final French victory at Castillon. Joan and Leia were both important but, in the end, the causes were bigger than they were.

  • YOU HAVE TO TOUGH IT OUT TO WIN

    Hoth is a harsh and inhospitable hideout for Luke, Leia, Han and the rest of the rebel forces as they struggle against the Empire. History shows us that resistance fighters survive, even thrive, by taking to the hills, the swamps and other hostile terrain that conventional forces avoid. Like Washington’s Continental Army surviving the brutal winter at Valley Forge over 1777 to 1778, the Alliance faces great difficulties operating from Echo Base, and that’s even before Luke encounters a wampa! Hiding out and enduring hardship, even deadly risks, was better than certain capture. History shows us that operating in punishing landscapes allows guerrilla warriors to outlast their better-armed and supplied opponents, just as the American rebels did against their British opponents in the eighteenth century or, conversely, the Viet Cong when faced with the overwhelming might of the Americans two centuries later. Of course, they never enjoyed the Force powers that the Jedi employ to hide in plain sight or cloud the minds of their opponents. Even so, the greatest Jedi, Yoda, retreats to the safety of Dagobah when threatened by the might of the Empire. He understands that a little hardship might just win the war.

  • WHEN MONEY TALKS, IT USUALLY MEANS WAR

    Both the British and the Dutch built their colonial empires on the backs of corporations. The British East India Company, founded in the last years of Queen Elizabeth’s reign, eventually controlled most of India while the Dutch company, founded soon after, claimed a fair bit of Southeast Asia. In both cases, these companies used private armies or local puppet rulers to protect and expand their role in the lucrative trade in spices and luxury goods from these regions. Their historical experiences closely parallel the rise of the Trade Federation and its allies during the Republic’s dying days. Viceroy Nute Gunray, the calculating and ambitious leader of the Trade Federation who directs the occupation of Naboo, would feel right at home with historical wheeler-dealers such as Jan Pieterszoon Coen, governor general in the Dutch East India Company who mercilessly conquered Banda. In history or Star Wars, big business pushes agendas of war and conquest in pursuit of higher profits. In both cases, powerful companies control the entire enterprise, from initial voyage to established settlement, and the armies needed to enforce their ambitions by overthrowing local rulers, if the bottom line demands it.

  • THERE’S PROFIT IN LONG-TERM PLANS

    Palpatine plays a very long game as he rises from senator to chancellor and, finally, emperor. He does so with the eager assistance of the business interests he courts in his political career. Similarly, in history, we see politicians rise and their opponents fall, when they coordinate with the rich and powerful. Queen Elizabeth granted the charter to create and empower the East India Company, and the monarchy profited for centuries from this wise decision until the British government swallowed up the company entirely in 1858. Soon after Queen Victoria was crowned empress. She ruled over a state so large that it was claimed that “the sun never set on the British empire”. Similarly, Palpatine assists the Trade Federation and other corporate groups to rise under his apprentice, Count Dooku. Their ambitions help to spark the very crises he needs to rise in the Senate and seize power. Soon he, too, claims an imperial power: one strengthened immeasurably after his new apprentice, Darth Vader, executes Nute Gunray of the Trade Federation and other former allies.

  • ONE MAN’S PIRATE IS ANOTHER’S PATRIOT

    Whether you’re a scoundrel or a hero depends on perspective. Han Solo and Lando Calrissian start out as disreputable smugglers and pirates but, after aiding the Alliance, become respected generals in the fight against the Empire. So did John Hancock, the first signer of the Declaration of Independence. Long before he set his pen to that document, Hancock made his fortune running circles around the British navy and His Majesty’s customs officers. Hancock’s business thrived through his smuggling of Dutch tea, French molasses and other luxury goods that would have been subjected to a high tax if legally imported. By offloading away from the ports where authorities kept a watchful eye, John Hancock grew rich, powerful and admired. In fact, when he was captured by the authorities in 1768, the people of Boston rose to his defense as Hancock’s smuggling was now vital to the city’s economy. Not a decade later, Hancock led the Boston Tea Party in a public attack on Britain’s imperial might, rather like Lando Calrissian roused the people of Cloud City against the Empire. Both men publicly defied power to rebrand themselves from pirate to patriot.

  • NEVER UNDERESTIMATE THE POWER OF EMOTIONS

    Sometimes great changes start at the personal level. Opposition to the evils of slavery grew one person at a time, as when Harriet Jacobs told the story of the unbearable anguish experienced by a North Carolina enslaved woman who saw her seven children sold before the Civil War. Slaves could be and were freed by some owners. George Washington’s will emancipated his slaves after his wife’s death. He was a rare exception: many slave-owners valued profit and property above the humanity of their slaves. Watto the Toydarian sees his slaves, Anakin and Shmi Skywalker, as assets in his business. He wagers only Anakin’s freedom in the podrace bet with Qui-Gon Jinn. When Watto loses the bet, Anakin is freed but mother and son are painfully divided. That anguish fuels Anakin’s darker emotions and when he returns to Tatooine too late to rescue Shmi, he believes that Palpatine’s absolute power is the only protection he can trust. Heartbreak also scarred the lives of former slaves in the Civil War era but, unlike Anakin, Harriet Jacobs and others used their painful experiences to rally people against slavery in the United States.

  • THAT’S THE LAW, BUT IN REALITY. . . .

    Padmé is shocked to discover that slavery, outlawed in the Republic, nevertheless thrives on the Outer Rim world of Tatooine. History is filled with examples of laws that weren’t always followed or even enforced. If you write your history from the laws and official plans, you miss a lot of what really happened. For example, the Eighteenth Amendment banned the sale and manufacture of alcohol in the United States. From 1920 until the ban was repealed in 1933, the country was officially dry and sober. But a thriving trade in alcohol led to a culture of rum-runners and bootleggers, driving up the crime rate across the nation. Mobsters such as Al Capone profited handsomely from the illicit alcohol their gangs provided to an eager public including a lot of the same lawmakers who had pushed so vigorously to ban booze in the first place: Jabba the Hutt benefited from a lawless environment, too, enslaving women who fell into his trap. Finding out that the world isn’t always as it should be is the start of wisdom. Luke Skywalker’s adventure begins when Ben Kenobi corrects his mistaken personal history. Once he learns that his father wasn’t an anonymous navigator but a renowned Jedi Knight, Luke’s eyes are opened to the differences between the stories he’s been told and real history.

  • STEP INTO A LARGER WORLD

    Winning wars isn’t just about superior firepower. Sometimes the most critical forces in history are the ones that you can’t see. Obi-Wan knows this when he embraces death at Darth Vader’s hand. His connection with the Force will only strengthen when he dies. Samurai culture also trained followers to face death in battle without fear. But the samurai weren’t simply great and fearless warriors. They followed a philosophy of bunbu itchi, meaning “the pen and sword in equal measure.” Like the Jedi, the samurai valued the skills of peace and wisdom along with the way of the warrior. Miyamoto Musashi embodied this in his seventeenth-century text that blended Zen philosophy and sword fighting: The Book of Five Rings. In the samurai tradition which he helped to express, the long sword that was the samurai’s weapon of choice became more than a tool. Like the lightsaber, the samurai’s sword was the life, the symbol and the soul of the samurai and helped them remain an important force into the nineteenth century. When Admiral Motti scorns Vader’s belief in the Force, he, too, is suddenly faced with the power of the intangible.

  • THIS IS ALL YOUR FAULT

    C-3PO unfairly blames R2-D2 for their many predicaments: that’s an amusing habit in droids, but sobering in the real world. History shows us that ambitious people reap great benefits when they make someone else the scapegoat for their problems. When Adolf Hitler sought to rally the German people behind his Nazi party, he suggested that Communists, Jews and traitors were the real problem. This began with the mysterious fire that destroyed the German parliament, the Reichstag, in 1933. Hitler suggested the fire was the work of Communists and arrested all of the Communist politicians, leaving the Nazis with a majority government. In 1934, the SA leader Ernst Röhm and other high-profile politicians were murdered in what became known as the Night of the Long Knives. Hitler’s Gestapo and the SS carried out these executions, claiming the victims were all traitors to Germany. They were hailed by many, including ailing Chancellor Hindenburg, for “nipping treason in the bud”. Rather like Palpatine after Order 66 caused the stormtroopers to mow their Jedi commanders suddenly identified as traitors and enemies, Hitler enjoyed a ‘purified’ Nazi party and widespread public support.

  • LIBERTY DIES TO THUNDEROUS APPLAUSE

    Politics is a popular sport: if you don’t have the people behind you, you won’t last for long. Caesar Augustus knew this: he wooed the Romans with bribes, bread and circuses to win their support. Napoleon was so popular that, when he escaped Elba in 1815, the French army sent to capture him instead defected to his cause. Adolf Hitler also understood how to appeal to the people. He was the first politician to embrace air travel in his campaigns, allowing him to make personal appeals across the country. Hitler mastered the new media of film and television: broadcasting Nazi spectacles that promoted himself as well as his Nazi causes. Palpatine is also a master of manipulation, beginning when he takes over as chancellor and continuing when he creates crises to force the Republican Senate to grant him emergency powers. A few critics, including Bail Organa and Padmé Amidala, see through his pretence. “So this is how liberty dies,” Padmé comments in Revenge of the Sith, “with thunderous applause.” Her ability to see through Palpatine sets her apart from the swell of adoring supporters who celebrate the inauguration of the Galactic Empire.

  • YOU IGNORE HISTORY AT YOUR PERIL

    Historians hate it when people talk about history repeating itself. It doesn’t: new people and new situations mean that everything’s different. You can’t truly equate the rise of the Roman Empire and the rise of the Napoleonic Empire, since first-century Rome was very different from nineteenth-century France. History may not be doomed to repeat itself, but there are patterns in the past that the wise person should heed. Jedi Masters such as Yoda scoff at the idea that the Dark Lords of the Sith were an active threat. Yes, the Sith had been long-ago rivals of the Jedi but that was ages ago. They were history: dead and long gone! Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan discover that comfortable certainty was groundless when they confront the Sith, Darth Maul. The old enemies of the Jedi Order were a living threat, not a historical curiosity. If the Jedi had taken that history seriously and kept a close watch for the Sith, they might have discovered Palpatine’s plot before the galaxy was doomed to suffer under his ruthless rule. The Emperor, in his turn, ignores the history of rebellions to his own cost, and so the cycle continues.

All images from "Star Wars and History," edited by Nancy R. Reagin and Janice Liedl, published by Wiley, November 2012

US to back French military move in Mali

The French Army has begun military operations against militant groups in Mali (file photo).

The US is looking into supporting French military intervention in its former African colony of Mali, by offering to provide “surveillance drones” as it has already declared its backing of moves against Malian militants.

US commanders were further considering other options such as “providing intelligence and aerial refueling tankers” as well as “logistical backup and boosting intelligence sharing,” involving its surveillance drones, AFP reported Friday, quoting an unnamed US official that spoke on condition of anonymity.

The report also quotes its anonymous source as saying that senior American officials held talks with their French counterparts as well as authorities from other European allies in Paris on “an action plan” against militants controlling a northern portion of the Muslim country.


The US military holds a network of major air bases in Italy, Spain and other western European countries and could back the French military intervention by providing it with refueling tankers and other logistical assistance.

Paris-backed Malian government forces, the report says, began a military offensive against militants that have seized control of the north of the West African states with aerial support from French war planes.

French President Francois Hollande has confirmed his country’s military intervention against what he has described as ‘al-Qaeda-linked radicals’ in Mali.

Previously, the US had raised alarms about the militants in Mali, blaming them for involvement in an attack against the American Consulate in Benghazi, Libya that led to the killing of its ambassador and three CIA operatives in the neighboring country.


The US National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor is also cited in the report as vowing support for French objectives in the West African country.

"We have noted that the government of Mali has asked for support, and we share the French goal of denying terrorists a safe haven in the region,” he is quoted as saying in the report.

Hollande, meanwhile, has insisted that France’s military intervention in Mali would continue "for as long as is necessary."

MFB/MFB

Demanding the right to digitally protest: Hacktivists petition the White House to legalize DDoS

Is temporarily slowing down a website a legal form of protest? Current US law says it isn’t, but hacktivists want the White House to make changes that would force the government to reconsider their witch-hunt against alleged computer criminals.

In the latest WhiteHouse.gov petition to go viral, the Obama administration is asked to make a method of momentarily crippling a website comparable to real word demonstrations, essentially allowing for a whole new legal form of online protest.

“With the advance in internet technology comes new grounds for protesting,” writes ‘Dylan K’ of Eagle, Wisconsin.

Dylan’s petition, uploaded this week to the White House’s We the People page, is the most recent of these electronic pleas on the website to generate national headlines. A series of petitions in late 2012 demanding the peaceful secession of certain states from the US garnered nearly one million signatures from across the country, and just this week the Obama administration was prompted to respond to one popular request to depot CNN host Piers Morgan over his outspoken anti-gun views. That call for action, advocated by Second Amendment proponents and firearm owners concerned over a possible rifle ban, eventually accumulated around 110,000 electronic signatures.

When the White House responded to the petition to deport Morgan this week, press secretary Jay Carney said Americans shouldn’t let “arguments over the Constitution’s Second Amendment violate the spirit of its First.”

Those rallying for new computer laws say that current legislation limits those very constitutional rights, though, and that one electronic form of action should be covered under the First Amendment — the provision that provides for the freedom of speech, protest and assembly.

In the latest instance, the White House is asked to evaluate a federal rule that currently makes it unlawful to engage in distributed denial-or-service, or DDoS, attacks — a harmless but effective way of flooding a website’s server with so much traffic that it can’t properly render pages for legitimate users.

Performed by both seasoned hackers and novice computer users alike, DDoS-ing a website essentially makes certain pages completely unavailable for minutes, hours or days. Unlike real world protests, though, demonstrators don’t even have to leave the house to protest. Instead, humongous streams of information can be sent to servers with a single mouse click, only for that data to become so cumbersome that the websites targeted can’t properly function.

Under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, a DDoS assault is highly illegal. For those familiar with the method, though, they say it’s simply a matter of voicing an opinion in an online format and should be allowed.

“Distributed denial-of-service is not any form of hacking in any way,” states the petition. “It is the equivalent of repeatedly hitting the refresh button on a webpage.”

Overloading a targeted website with too much traffic, says Dylan K, is “no different than any ‘occupy’ protest.” According to him and the roughly 1,100 cosigners, there is much common ground between the two. “Instead of a group of people standing outside a building to occupy the area, they are having their computer occupy a website to slow (or deny) service of that particular website for a short time,” he says.

For companies that are hit with DDoS assaults, though, they sing a different song. In 2006, controversial radio host Hal Turner had his website taken offline after members of the then-infant hacktivist movement Anonymous used denial-of-service attacks to shut down his site to visitors. Turner said the bandwidth overflow cost him thousands of dollars in fees from his hosting company.

When Turner tried to sue those he blamed for the DDoS attack, a federal judge for the United States District Court in New Jersey eventually dismissed his claim. Other “hackers,” however, haven’t been so lucky.

When PayPal, Visa and MasterCard announced in 2010 that it would no longer accept funds for the website WikiLeaks, Anonymous and others responded with a DDoS attack on the payment service providers. The following summer, the US Department of Justice filed an indictment against 14 Americans they accused of participating in shutting down PayPal.

That same year, a homeless hacker using the alias “Commander X” was charged with waging a DDoS attack on the official government website of Santa Cruz, California because he opposed the city’s policy that outlawed sleeping in public space. X could have been sentenced to serious time for committing a felony, but he escaped the United States, allegedly seeking refuge in Canada where he is reported to be in hiding today.

“For a 30-minute online protest I’m facing 15 years in a penitentiary,” he told the National Post last year while on the run. According to an interview he gave last month with Ars Technica, he also participated in OpPayBack — the Anonymous-led assault PayPal and others over their WikiLeaks blockage.

California attorney Jay Leiderman has represented X, and has gone on the record to compare DDoS attacks with real life sit-ins.

“A DDoS is a protest, it’s a digital sit it. It is no different than physically occupying a space. It’s not a crime, it’s speech,” he told Talking Points Memo in 2011. “They are the equivalent of occupying the Woolworth's lunch counter during the civil rights movement," The Atlantic quoted him saying last year.

Speaking specifically of the operation against the companies that cut funding to WikiLeaks, the lawyer said online action is equivalent to peaceful protest.

“Take PayPal for example, just like Woolworth's, people went to PayPal and said, I want to give a donation to WikiLeaks. In Woolworth's they said, all I want to do is buy lunch, pay for my lunch, and then I'll leave. People said I want to give a donation to WikiLeaks, I'll take up my bandwidth to do that, then I'll leave, you'll make money, I'll feel fulfilled, everyone's fulfilled,” he said. “PayPal will take donations for the Ku Klux Klan, other racists and questionable organizations, but they won't process donations for WikiLeaks. All the PayPal protesters did was take up some bandwidth. In that sense, DDoS is absolutely speech, it should absolutely be recognized as such, protected as such, and the law should be changed.”

Leiderman added that he considers the use of DDoS not to be an “attack” in some circumstances, but actually legitimate protest.

“[T]he law should be narrowly drawn and what needs to be excised from that are the legitimate protests,” he said. “It's really easy to tell legitimate protests, I think, and we should be broadly defining legitimate protests,” he said.

New York attorney Stanley Cohen, who is representing one of the accused “PayPal 14” hackers responsible for the Anonymous-led operation, agrees.

“When Obama orders supporters to inundate the switchboards of Congress, that’s good politics, when a bunch of kids decide to send a political message with roots going back to the civil rights movement and the revolution, it’s something else,” Cohen told TPM in 2011. “Barack Obama urged people to shutdown the switchboard, he’s not indicted.”

“It’s not identity theft, not money or property, pure and simple case of an electronic sit in, at best,” he said.

So far over 1,100 people agree on WhiteHouse.gov, and hope the Obama administration will get their point. Until then, though, Commander X and others face upwards of a decade in prison apiece for violating a clause in the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act that makes it unlawful to “knowingly cause the transmission of a program, information code or command, and as a result of such conduct, intentionally causes damages without authorization to a protected computer.”

With attorneys like Leiderman and Cohen arguing that the damages in questions aren’t quite criminal, the White House may have to respond to the latest WhiteHouse.gov petition. The Obama administration is mandated to respond if it can garner 25,000 signatures in the next month. Until then, though, proponents of DDoS as free speech can cite what Jay Carney said when petitioners rallied for the deportation of Piers Morgan for his call to ban assault weapons.

“The Constitution not only guarantees an individual right to bear arms, but also enshrines the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press – fundamental principles that are essential to our democracy,” said Carney.

Meanwhile, exercising constitutional rights by way of overloading web servers isn’t being accepted as such by the government. That doesn’t mean that Anonymous or other so-called ‘hacktivists’ will change their ways: just last month, members of the hive-mind computer collective waged a DDoS attack on the website of the Westboro Baptist Church after the religious group announced plans to picket the funerals of mass shooting victims in Newtown, Connecticut. Anonymous waged a similar wave of attacks on the Church of Scientology in 2008, the result of which landed a number of Anons in prison for violating federal law.

Ipsa: MPs back 32% pay increase

MPs have told the watchdog reviewing their pay that they deserve a 32% hike to £86,250.

A survey carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) also found more than a third believe they should keep generous final salary pensions.

The findings emerged as Ipsa published a report on its initial consultation into pay and pensions, which ended last month. The research, which politicians completed anonymously, found that 69% thought they were underpaid on £65,738. The average level suggested for the salary was £86,250.

Ipsa also confirmed that it is not proposing to introduce performance-related pay, regional pay or to take outside earnings into account.

Chairman Sir Ian Kennedy said: "In the past, MPs have agreed their pay and pensions among themselves. So this new approach of independent decision-making marks a real and important change and is another crucial step in helping Parliament to regain the trust of the public.

"The consultation we held over the autumn has been hugely informative and important in directing our thinking. It also serves to show the spread of views and depth of feeling on this issue. We remain committed to listening and I would urge people to get involved in this debate."

YouGov conducted online interviews with 100 MPs on Ipsa's behalf. Conservatives were the most likely to believe they were underpaid, with 47% saying that was the case. Some 39% of Labour members and 9% of Lib Dems held the same view. On average, Tories said their salary should be £96,740, while Lib Dems thought the right amount was £78,361 and Labour £77,322. Other parties put the figure at £75,091.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said: "At a time when millions of workers are getting zero pay rises, the idea that MPs believe they deserve a 32% increase is living in cloud cuckoo land. MPs should get real about pay, this shows they are totally out of touch with working people. How can they think that they deserve a 32% increase when the rest of the country is being told to tighten their belts?"

Asked what David Cameron thought of MPs' demand for more pay, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's view is that MPs' pay is a matter for Ipsa. The 'i' in Ipsa stands for 'independent'."

When asked whether the PM believed that MPs should be subject to the same pay restraint as public sector workers, the spokesman said: "The Government's position on public sector pay is well-known."

Rape in the Age of Social Media

From Steubenville to India, videos and tweets are being turned against perpetrators of sexual violence

January 10, 2013  |  

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A video of a gleeful teenage boy crowing, “She is so raped” and “They raped her quicker than Mike Tyson!” An Instagram image of the same girl of Steubenville, Ohio, limply borne by boys holding wrists and ankles. An 11-year-old girl whose gang rape in Texas last year was discovered by adults via cellphone video, a video she then had to  watch when she took the stand. A teenage boy in Canada who posted photos on Facebook of a 16-year-old girl being gang-raped, sentenced last year to probation and  ordered to write an essay on “the pros and cons of social media.”

They are a loop of retraumatization, these images replaying sexual violence and the culture around it, but they are something else, too: evidence. They are proof not just for a courtroom that formally recognizes the existence of rape and sexual assault, but for a culture prone to denying it or explaining it away. The evidence is made not by concerned bystanders seeking to document crimes but by the victimizers themselves, who chronicle their actions because they see nothing wrong with them or because they think nothing will happen to them. Often the images are made by people who see only spectacle, not reason for intervention. But in all of these cases, the recorders eventually lost control of their own productions — in Steubenville, for example, the kids’ careless tweets were  screen-grabbedby an enterprising blogger. Their own creations were turned against them in the service of justice, if far too late and too often incomplete.

In the crudest journalistic terms, rape is having a moment, from India to Ohio. (Recall how much of last year’s widespread anger at Republican politicians had to do with rape at least as much as reproductive freedom. They’re intimately related, and both concern ownership over bodies that are considered collective property, but not everyone sees the connection.) It’s having a moment on the streets, in both of those places, though even that has had a virtual element, as people all over the world have  watched and live-tweeted the livestream of the Steubenville rallies and passed around stories of the Indian protests. Sexual violence remains something that is rarely openly discussed in daily life, but has become something that is urgently talked about on the Internet — by introverts, the semi-anonymous, those with too much to lose, those who named what happened to them too late, all rendered angry activists and confessors.

Sometimes, the survivors of such reproduced assaults take matters into their own hands. “There you go, lock me up. I’m not protecting anyone that made my life a living Hell,” wrote 16-year-old Savannah Dietrich on Twitter after naming, in defiance of a court order, the boys who had sexually assaulted her — and photographed it — while she was passed out. “I just wanted to stand up for myself,” she told the Daily Beast recently. “I’ll never take those tweets down.” That same story quoted a legal advocate saying that the new technologies are increasingly used “as a weapon to harass and humiliate the victim,” adding up to  “an invasion of privacy beyond what we’ve seen before.” That’s undeniable, but Dietrich chose to use another virtual platform to turn the glare back on the perpetrators.

For survivors of sexual assault for whom there is no public record, creating one by choice — as opposed to your victimizer taking yet another choice away by publicizing it — is a fraught decision. Jaclyn Friedman, co-editor of “Yes Means Yes! Visions of Female Sexual Power and a World Without Rape,” first  wrote about her own experience with rape in 2007, years after it happened, and was immediately subjected to wild claims by people who said they had (totally made-up) information on the case.  “When you talk on the Internet about being a survivor of sexual violence, two things will invariably happen,” she said. “You will be surrounded by support and you will be called hateful names and hear abusive things.” She added,  ”The Internet is an accelerant, of both the bad and the good. It has the potential to make those violations much worse and much more public, and repeat them in ways that go beyond the most physical act. But it also makes it plain so that anyone can see.”

‘Underpaid’ MPs Call For 32% Payrise

MPs have told the watchdog reviewing their pay that they deserve a 32% hike to £86,250, leading to accusations they are living in "cloud cuckoo land".

A survey carried out by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa) also found more than a third believe they should keep generous final salary pensions.

The findings emerged as Ipsa published a report on its initial consultation into pay and pensions, which ended last month.


Owen Jones

MPs' high pay makes them more distant from those they exist to serve. Their pay should be slashed: representatives should be representative


politicshomeuk
Tory MP tells Radio 4's PM show: Without a MP wage rise there's the danger of not attracting the right people to the role

The research, which politicians completed anonymously, found that 69% thought they were underpaid on £65,738.

The average level suggested for the salary was £86,250.

Unison general secretary Dave Prentis said MPs should "get real": "At a time when millions of workers are getting zero pay rises, the idea that MPs believe they deserve a 32% increase is living in cloud cuckoo land.

mps expenses

MPs have told the watchdog reviewing their pay that they deserve a 32% hike to £86,250


"MPs should get real about pay, this shows they are totally out of touch with working people. How can they think that they deserve a 32% increase when the rest of the country is being told to tighten their belts?"

But Tory MP Andrew Bridgen told BBC Radio 4's PM programme he believed MPs deserved more cash.

"Most of my colleagues on the government benches took a large pay cut to be an MP, and I think there’s a real danger, if you need good people, you need the right people, there’s a lot of exclusion," he said.

"A man or a woman who’s very capable, doing very well in their profession, whatever that may be, with a family, are they going to be willing to take that pay cut, look their children in the eye when it’s Christmas say you can’t have what you normally have because Mummy or Daddy wants to be an MP."


Patrick O'Flynn

Economy is 15% smaller than we thought it would be, but MPs think they deserve a 32% pay rise. Cloud Cuckoo Land.

Ipsa watchdog will put firm proposals out for consultation in the spring, with final decisions likely to be taken in the autumn.

YouGov conducted online interviews with 100 MPs on Ipsa's behalf, and weighted the results slightly to represent the Commons by party, gender, year elected, and geography.

Conservatives were the most likely to believe they were underpaid, with 47% saying that was the case. Some 39% of Labour members and 9% of Lib Dems held the same view.

On average, Tories said their salary should be £96,740, while Lib Dems thought the right amount was £78,361 and Labour £77,322. Other parties put the figure at £75,091.

One MP said they should be paid £40,000 or less. Some 5% said £60-65,000 was fair, and 17% went for £65-£70,000.
A fifth of those questioned said they should be paid £95,000 or more.

The research found that 27% of the MPs believed their pay should go up by more than 1% over the next two years - despite public sector rises and most working age benefits being controversially capped at that level.

However, nearly two-thirds said they should be subject to the same restraint.

Some 53% wanted to bring back so-called "golden goodbyes" worth tens of thousands of pounds that were previously handed to members who step down from parliament voluntarily.

Ipsa also confirmed that it is not proposing to introduce performance-related pay, regional pay or to take outside earnings into account.

Chairman Sir Ian Kennedy said: "In the past, MPs have agreed their pay and pensions among themselves. So this new approach of independent decision-making marks a real and important change and is another crucial step in helping Parliament to regain the trust of the public.

"The consultation we held over the autumn has been hugely informative and important in directing our thinking. It also serves to show the spread of views and depth of feeling on this issue.

"We remain committed to listening and I would urge people to get involved in this debate."

Asked what David Cameron thought of MPs' demand for more pay, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "The Prime Minister's view is that MPs' pay is a matter for Ipsa. The 'I' in Ipsa stands for 'independent'."

When asked whether the PM believed that MPs should be subject to the same pay restraint as public sector workers, the spokesman said: "The Government's position on public sector pay is well-known."

The Grilling that Brennan Deserves

As Washington’s pundit class sees it, Defense Secretary-designee Chuck Hagel deserves a tough grilling over his hesitancy to go to war with Iran and his controversial detection of a pro-Israel lobby operating in the U.S. capital, but prospective CIA Director John Brennan should get only a few polite queries about his role helping to create and sustain Dick Cheney’s “dark side.”

During the upcoming confirmation hearings of these two nominees for President Barack Obama’s national security team, we all may get a revealing look into the upside-down world of Washington’s moral and geopolitical priorities, where too much skepticism about rushing to war is disqualifying and complicity in war crimes is okay, maybe even expected.

Still, there is at least a hope that Brennan’s confirmation hearing might provide an opening for the Senate Intelligence Committee to force out the secret legal justifications and the operational procedures for the lethal drone program that has expanded under Obama, including successfully targeting for death U.S. citizen and al-Qaeda operative Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen.

Over the past few years, senior administration officials have praised the rigorous standards applied to these life-or-death decisions by Brennan and his counterterrorism team, but have refused to release the constitutional rationales for the President exerting these extraordinary powers or to explain exactly the methodology of selecting targets.

Presumably, some committee member will ask Brennan about such nitpicky things as constitutional due process and the Bill of Rights even if the panel will have to scurry into a classified session to hear the answers. But there is still a chance that Brennan or one of the senators will blurt something out, shedding light on one of the darkest corners of the ongoing war against al-Qaeda and other Islamic militants.

Yet, what hits closest to home for many of my Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) colleagues and me is Brennan’s earlier role, under President George W. Bush and CIA Director George Tenet, in corrupting the CIA’s analysis directorate into fabricating fraudulent intelligence to “justify” war on Iraq. From the perspective of CIA analysts who worked by a very different ethos, such treachery is truly unacceptable.

Brennan, as Tenet’s chief of staff and then the CIA’s Deputy Executive Director, had a front-row seat for all this. Former CIA colleagues who served with Brennan before and during the war with Iraq assert that there is absolutely no possibility that Brennan could have been unaware of the deliberate corruption of intelligence analysis.

Brennan’s confirmation hearing, with the nominee under oath, might be the best opportunity to hear his explanation of what he did when he faced two conflicting allegiances – his career advancement on one side and his duty to the nation as an intelligence officer on the other.

Phony Intelligence

After a five-year investigation by the Senate Intelligence Committee, the pre-Iraq-war “intelligence” was described by committee chair Jay Rockefeller, D-West Virginia, as “uncorroborated, contradicted, or even non-existent.”

Hagel, then a senator from Nebraska and a member of the committee, was one of two Republicans voting to approve the Senate report, making it bipartisan and presumably annoying some of his more partisan brethren who resisted admitting to the lies that President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney used to take the country to war.

Hagel also has co-chaired Obama’s Intelligence Advisory Board, giving him even more insights into the challenges of rebuilding a professional intelligence service, one that puts a commitment to objective analysis over pleasing the boss. If only Brennan could show such a commitment.

A principal objection to Brennan’s return to the CIA is that he has rarely displayed any rigorous discipline in his approach to the truth. One of his most famous deviations from reality was his gilding-the-lily presentation of Seal Team 6’s killing of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden on May 1, 2011, in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Just hours after Osama bin Laden was killed, Brennan gave the press this rendition of what had happened and how bin Laden had died: “He was engaged in a firefight with those that entered the area of the house he was in. … Just thinking about that from a visual perspective: here is bin Laden … living in this million-dollar-plus compound … in an area that is far removed from the front …  hiding behind women who were put in front of him as a shield. I think it really just speaks to just, to how false his narrative has been over the years.”

Even giving Brennan the benefit of the doubt about the “fog of war” and such, his spin suggested not so much a lack of still-fuzzy details but an assembling of fake details, his own false narrative if you will. Brennan’s account was more agit-prop than an attempt to tell the story straight.

It was not enough to let the facts speak for themselves – Americans were surely not going to be sympathetic to the man they blame for the 9/11 attacks that killed nearly 3,000 innocent people – but Brennan still chose to further belittle bin Laden as a coward hiding behind one of his wives while seeking to save himself.

Later, White House spokesman Jay Carney clarified some of Brennan’s inaccuracies. Bin Laden was not armed; he did not use one of his wives as a shield; and there was no firefight to speak of, only an initial exchange of gunfire between the U.S. commandos and one of bin Laden’s couriers in an adjacent building.

There were other details that came out subsequently, including that bin Laden’s 12-year-old daughter was in the room and watched as he was shot and killed, according to the London Guardian. Pakistani officials said bin Laden’s daughter had been hit in the ankle moments before the American assault team reached the room where they found and killed her father, and she then passed out.

Given the recent sorry history of CIA directors participating in what amount to propaganda and disinformation campaigns aimed as much at the American people as any foreign enemy, a nominee for CIA director should not have a record of making stuff up or misleading the public.

Ducking Hard Truth

Another Brennan example of ducking hard truths was his claim in June 2011 that during the previous year, “there has not been a single collateral death” from CIA drone strikes in Pakistan. Far more credible reporting shows that there have been hundreds of people killed simply for being in the vicinity of an al-Qaeda or Taliban suspect.

Yet, some administration officials are so touchy on this point that they suggest that dissenters might be terrorist sympathizers. On Feb. 5, 2012, the New York Times’ Scott Shane reported the following quote from an anonymous “senior American counterterrorism official”:

“One must wonder why an effort that has so carefully gone after terrorists … has been subjected to so much misinformation. Let’s be under no illusions – there are a number of elements who would like nothing more than to malign these efforts and help Al Qaeda succeed.” So, raising tough questions means you’re with the terrorists.

Brennan had similar problems with forthrightness when he was assigned to explain to a press conference on Jan. 8, 2010, how the infamous “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmuttalab almost downed an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009.

Clearly, Brennan did not expect to be asked a real question, like what motivates an upper-class Muslim youth from Nigeria to do such a thing, but a tenacious 89-year-old Helen Thomas was still in the White House press corps and was one of the very few journalists (as distinct from the stenographers) willing to pose such questions.

Thomas asked why Abdulmuttalab did what he did, a question of human motivation that is rarely part of the Washington conversation.

Thomas: “And what is the motivation? We never hear what you find out on why.”

Brennan: “Al Qaeda is an organization that is dedicated to murder and wanton slaughter of innocents. … They attract individuals like Mr. Abdulmuttalab and use them for these types of attacks. He was motivated by a sense of religious sort of drive. Unfortunately, al Qaeda has perverted Islam, and has corrupted the concept of Islam, so that he’s (sic) able to attract these individuals. But al Qaeda has the agenda of destruction and death.”

Thomas: “And you’re saying it’s because of religion?”

Brennan: “I’m saying it’s because of an al Qaeda organization that used the banner of religion in a very perverse and corrupt way.”

Thomas: “Why?”

Brennan: “I think this is a — long issue, but al Qaeda is just determined to carry out attacks here against the homeland.”

Thomas: “But you haven’t explained why.”

The why would be the sort of question you might wish a CIA director would want answered – and answered honestly – since enemy motivation is a crucial element in winning a war or, more importantly, avoiding one.

Just Boilerplate

But all the American public gets is boilerplate about how al-Qaeda evildoers are perverting a religion and exploiting impressionable young men. Or, as Brennan suggests, some “militants” are just hard-wired for things like knocking down aircraft over Detroit with themselves on board.

There is almost no discussion about why so many people in the Muslim world object to U.S. policies so strongly that they are inclined to resist violently and even resort to suicide attacks. Perhaps, the U.S. and Western proclivity toward intervening in their affairs over many decades – propping up corrupt dictators and favoring Israel over the Palestinians – has left some Muslims looking for any way to strike back, even self-destructive acts of terror.

Maybe today, one of the reasons for the number of “militants” willing to attack Americans might have something to do with drones buzzing over Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen,  Somalia and other locales – and with distant “pilots” getting clearance from Brennan and his associates to push some button and obliterate some unsuspecting target.

Despite the American people’s legitimate right to know what’s being done in their name, Brennan gets thin-skinned when criticized or asked tough questions. Four years ago, when President Obama was first considering Brennan to head the CIA, Brennan faced questions about what he did for the Bush/Cheney “dark side” and promptly withdrew his name. In a bitter letter, he blamed “strong criticism in some quarters, prompted by [his] previous service with the” CIA.

Yet, Brennan’s 25-year career at the CIA would seem to be fair game in evaluating whether he should run the place. His former managers in CIA’s analysis directorate tell me he was a bust as an analyst.

Instead, like former CIA Director (and more recently Defense Secretary) Robert Gates, Brennan’s career zoomed upwards after he caught the attention of key White House officials – in Brennan’s case, George Tenet who held the top intelligence advisory job under President Bill Clinton before he was made CIA deputy director and then director.

Of course, the tradeoff for that kind of advancement often is your integrity, both as an intelligence officer and as a public servant. Indeed, it’s hard to conceive how someone could have flourished in the corrupt world of U.S. intelligence, especially since its descent into the post-9/11 “dark side,” without selling out one’s professionalism and morality.

Those who stood their ground and demonstrated integrity found themselves out on the street or marginalized as “soft on terror” – or maybe they were considered suspiciously finicky when it came to “quaint and obsolete” notions like the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Geneva Conventions and the rule of law.

But don’t worry. Endorsing the nomination of Brennan on Wednesday, the editors of the Washington Post tell usthat, although “the administration’s current strategy of countering al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia with drone strikes is unsustainable … the strikes are certainly legal under U.S. and international law … [even though they] are problematic, given the backlash they have caused in Pakistan.”

Still, it might be nice if the American people could see the secret legal justifications underpinning Brennan’s last four years as keeper of the “kill lists.”

Texas schoolgirl loses case over RFID tag suspension

The Register | A federal court has ruled against the Texan teenager who was challenging her suspension for refusing to wear an RFID tag, despite...

New Boss at the CIA: Brennan’s “Legal Framework” for Drone Killings

cia

As the majority of Washington’s political and media establishments concentrate their firepower on Senator Chuck Hagel’s nomination for U.S. Defense Secretary, John Brennan is doing what he does best and slipping through the shadows. Rumored since President Barack Obama secured his second term in office, Brennan has finally received a formal nomination to replace the scandalized David Petraeus and advance his work at the CIA. Disturbingly but not surprisingly, many American pundits have welcomed Brennan’s promotion as a logical choice for the CIA’s Directorship and expect a smooth confirmation.

They generally avoid real discussions over the areas of operations affected (and afflicted) by U.S. counter-terrorism, instead preferring the glamorous statistics of high-profile kills and Brennan’s alleged construction of a “legal framework” for drones – as recently claimed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (SDNY).

Brennan’s positives are easy to list: “More al Qaeda leaders and commanders have been removed from the battlefield than at any time since 9/11.” He has applied his extensive influence to “literally building” and leading the National Counterterrorism Center, which entailed the coordination of various military, intelligence and civilian departments across the globe. In the process Brennan has become one of Obama’s most trusted advisers, so close that, “I don’t think we’ve had a disagreement.”

“For the last four years,” Obama announced from the East Room, “as my Adviser for Counterterrorism and Homeland Security, John developed and has overseen our comprehensive counterterrorism strategy – a collaborative effort across the government, including intelligence and defense and homeland security, and law enforcement agencies.”

However this fantasy hits a steel wall in Yemen, where Brennan and U.S. Ambassador Gerald Feierstein may be the most despised Americans to touch its soil. The immediate reaction to Brennan’s promotion has been overwhelmingly negative for good reason, as he reinforces the single-mindedness and unaccountability that drives an assortment of U.S. counter-terrorism platforms being constructed around the nation. Brennan now inherits Petraeus’s “secret” agreement with Yemen’s former dictator, Ali Abdullah Saleh, and was even deployed to Sana’a on multiple occasions during the country’s ongoing revolution; he would assist Feierstein in facilitating the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) unpopular power-sharing agreement when a drone strike didn’t require overseeing.

Brennan told the Wilson Center in April 2012, “Yemen was fortunate that they do – did have a degree of political pluralism there, Ali Abdullah Saleh in fact allowed certain political institutions to develop, and we were very fortunate to have a peaceful transition from the previous regime to the government of President Hadi now.”

A known intimate of Saudi Arabia’s royal circle, Brennan’s promotion also corresponds to recent investigative reporting on Saudi bombings in Yemen. Now he’s promoted less than a week later, highlighting the obvious favoritism and imperialism that assisted his rise atop the CIA.

Given that Brennan has been nominated, in part, to embed the CIA deeper into Yemen, his presence is ultimately counterproductive to defeating al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and improving relations with Yemen’s people. “Traveling through the Arabian Peninsula where he camped with tribesmen in the desert” has done little to promote their human rights and dignity, which are trampled on daily by the national government and its foreign partners. Victims of drone strikes have no recourse, and Yemen’s revolution has been blocked by opportunistic relations with the ruling General People’s Congress (GPC) and oppositional Joint Meeting Parties (JMP).

Washington’s Pakistani “model” has been improved by establishing better relations with the transitional government, led by Saleh’s former VP Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, but the same hostility is repeating within those who serve as the real front lines against AQAP.

A “keen understanding of a dynamic world” is noticeably absent from Yemen’s counterterrorism operations. During a prolonged defense of the CIA’s targeted killings, orchestrated throughout 2012 and Yemen’s emerging bombardment, Brennan claimed that drones don’t cause as much resentment as commonly believed. He never acknowledged a revolution amid the Obama administration’s micromanaging of a “political crisis,” and has no relationship with the people that are needed to stop AQAP at its roots.

What Brennan will ensure is that AQAP’s status remains viable, and that Yemen remains under the firm grip of Washington and Riyadh.

To overrule these “results,” as Obama calls them, flattery and hyperbole are piled onto Brennan’s shoulders in an effort to democratize him, so to speak. Instead of a calculated killer that has taken his share of civilian life, Brennan is heralded as a “legendary, tireless patriot” and a model of American “integrity.” Ethics and values are stressed as a counterweight to the perceived constitutional violations that drone warfare entails.

“There’s another reason I value John so much, and that is his integrity and his commitment to the values that define us as Americans. He has worked to embed our efforts in a strong legal framework. He understands we are a nation of laws. In moments of debate and decision, he asks the tough question and he insists on high and rigorous standards. Time and again, he’s spoken to the American people about our counterterrorism policies because he recognizes we have a responsibility to be [as] open and transparent as possible.”

The SDNY recently refused to address the killing of 16-year old U.S. citizen Abdulahman al-Awlaki, son of AQAP cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, on the grounds that the Obama administration never released information on his killing. Unlike his father, whose droned body was held aloft as a trophy by Brennan and company, Abdulrahman’s murder was first denied, then silenced and finally labeled an “outrageous mistake” by an anonymous official more than a year later.

His or her statements were planted within a glowing profile of the CIA veteran.

Brennan was incapable of bringing a shred of peace to Yemen as Obama’s counterterrorism adviser and remains helpless at the CIA – he can only deliver death and destruction. His tireless drone fleet will always kill civilians in between terrorists and the process will stay classified to Americans and Yemenis alike. The Predator and its sole purpose of killing serves as a permanent symbol of U.S. imperialism, and lacks the ability to build relationships at the local level. Mere flyovers cause terror. This policy violates America’s morals, the spirit of the Nobel and the strategic essence of counterinsurgency all at once. A plan that fails to kill more militants than it creates doesn’t qualify for counter-terrorism or counterinsurgency – expedient recklessness is a more accurate definition.

“What scares me about drone strikes is how they are perceived around the world,” retired general Stanley McCrystal told Reuters in a new interview, coincidentally implicating Brennan himself. “The resentment created by American use of unmanned strikes… is much greater than the average American appreciates. They are hated on a visceral level, even by people who’ve never seen one or seen the effects of one.”

Until U.S. policy undergoes a radical shift in fundamentals, a change unlikely to occur under Brennan, America has already lost its small war in Yemen.

James Gundun is a political scientist and counterinsurgency analyst. His blog, The Trench, covers the underreported areas of U.S. foreign policy. Follow him on Twitter @RealistChannel.

Military Judge Refuses to Toss Out Charges Against Bradley Manning: Calls His Pretrial Punishment...

United States Army photograph of Bradley Manning. United States Army photograph of Bradley Manning. (Photo: US Army)The nine months Pfc. Bradley Manning spent in a windowless cell in Quantico, Virginia - at times without any clothing - amounted to illegal pretrial punishment, a military judge ruled Tuesday.

But Col. Denise Lind refused to dismiss charges against the 25-year-old Army Intelligence analyst, and instead decided that any sentence Manning receives if he is convicted should be reduced by a little more than three months.

Manning was arrested in May 2010 and charged with leaking thousands of diplomatic cables and classified documents to WikiLeaks, an online organization that publishes secret information from anonymous sources.

The veteran of the Iraq war is currently being held at Fort Leavenworth, charged with espionage, aiding the enemy and 20 other counts that could, if convicted, land him in prison for life. His trial is scheduled to begin March 6.

Manning's attorney David Coombs notified Lind in November that his client may plead guilty to at least some of the charges. But on Tuesday, he asked for a dismissal of all charges.

"Dismissal of charges is not appropriate," Lind said, except in the case of "outrageous" conduct.

Lind also noted Manning's pretrial detention was "more rigorous than necessary" and the conditions "became excessive in relation to legitimate government interests."

Still, there was "