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Wednesday, June 19, 2013
Echoing similar mobilizations in Turkey, Greece and other parts of the globe, Brazil protesters keep up pressure on government
Above: A protester receives assistance after being shot in the leg in Rio de Janeiro on June 17. Below: A riot police officer receives help after clashing with protesters on June 17. Both photos: Getty images via CNN International
Protesters blocked roads in Sao Paulo and marched toward a stadium hosting a major international soccer game in Brazil's northeast on Wednesday in a growing wave of nationwide demonstrations against poor public services, inflation and other woes in Latin America's biggest country. After more than a week, the biggest series of protests to sweep Brazil in more than two decades continued in major capitals and moved into smaller cities. Focused at first in cities like Sao Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and the capital, Brasilia, demonstrations in more than 70 smaller cities were expected across the country on Thursday. - Asher Levine and Tatiana Ramil reporting, Brazil protests proceed as smaller cities join the fray, June 19, 2013
A cyber-attack knocked the government's official World Cup site offline, and the Twitter feed for Brazil's Anonymous hackers group posted links to a host of other government websites whose content had been replaced by a screen calling on citizens to come out to the streets.
Brazilians have long tolerated pervasive corruption, which is widely seen as the cost of doing business, or simply living in Brazil. But the billions of dollars in public funds being spent on the coming sporting events have many people questioning the government's priorities. - Associated Press reporting. Jim comment: A mirror of many British Columbians in the years leading up to our 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
The June 17 protests were not directed by political parties. Instant polling suggested that nearly 80% of those in the street had never before protested nor belonged to a political movement. If true, the statistics show the body politic in Brazil to be extremely weak as a crowd of 80,000 peaceful protestors was able to upend not only the political agenda but also the infrastructure of a city of 19 million people. - Jonathan Franklin reporting
Brazil protesters keep up pressure on government
Associated Press/CBC News USA/Canada June 18, 2013
Thousands of demonstrators flooded into a square in Brazil's economic hub, Sao Paulo, on Tuesday for the latest in a historic wave of protests against the shoddy state of public transit, schools and other public services in this booming South American giant.
Sparked earlier this month by a 10-cent hike in bus and subway fares and organized via social media, the nationwide protests are giving voice to growing discontent over the gap between Brazil's high tax burden and the low quality of public infrastructure, echoing similar mobilizations in Turkey, Greece and other parts of the globe where weariness with governments has exploded in the streets.
On Tuesday, thousands of people marched on Sao Paulo's City Hall building, where a small group fought police in an attempt to force their way in. Another protest sprang up in the working class Rio de Janeiro suburb of Sao Goncalo.
After an estimated turnout of 240,000 people in 10 cities Monday, the protests are turning into the most significant in Brazil since the end of the country's 1964-85 military dictatorship, when crowds rallied to demand the return of democracy.
Bruno Barp, a 23-year-old law student at Tuesday's demonstration in Sao Paulo, said he had high hopes for the growing movement.
"The protests are gaining force each day, there is a tremendous energy that cannot be ignored," Barp said as demonstrators poured into the central plaza, which was aflutter with banners and echoing with chanted slogans. "All Brazilians are fed up with the government and the poor services we receive, everyone is ready to fight for a change."
Although demonstrations in recent years generally have tended to attract small numbers of politicized participants, the latest mobilizations have united huge crowds around a central lament: The Brazilian government provides woeful public sector even as the economy is modernizing and growing. ...
Dispatch from Rio
Jonathan Franklin CounterPunch USA June 19, 2013
Rio de Janeiro
For anyone fortunate to be in Brazil Sunday night, the raucous and peaceful outpouring of an estimated 250,000 street protestors was indeed historic. What began as disgust with shoddy public transportation exploded to include issues ranging from government corruption to flamboyant and seemingly unlimited state spending on next year’s World Cup. “Japan take our football, we want your education” was one popular sign at last night’s protests.
I watched in awe as street after street in Rio de Janeiro filled with the young, the restless and the until-now passive Brazilian citizenry. Not anymore. In dozens of cities in Brazil and around the world, Brazilians flocked together to shine a light on their discontent. “It’s not just about 20 cents” was a common sign, referring to the hike in bus tickets that set off the first round of protests. Protestors in Turkey waved signs “Brazil You Are Not Alone.”
The massive street protests in Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and cities across Brazil stunned the Brazilian body politic. For nearly a generation the Brazilian populace kept quiet despite rising signs of corruption, inefficiency and overall financial mismanagement. But the international hype about Brazil – which is always off the charts – went haywire with the awarding of both the FIFA World Cup and the Olympics. (Though both competitions are notoriously corrupt and shady, somehow the winning of both rounds was supposedly a sign that Brazil had graduated to the big leagues.) Few analysts took the time to contemplate really what it would take to negotiate the smoky back rooms of the IOC and FIFA and come out winners in both rounds. Bribery allegations aside, Brazil was an emerging power, a BRIC with samba hips.
The first cracks began showing earlier in the year. ...
When they bamboozled the Brazilian government into sponsoring next year’s World Cup, FIFA and their sponsors including VISA and Coca Cola imagined huge sweaty, surging crowds of Brazilians in the streets – even their worst case scenarios would be hard pressed to match the crowds and scenes that unfolded in Brasilia as a surging crowd of 10,000 stormed the national government offices, occupying the sweeping curves of modernist architect Oscar Niemeyer’s futurist city.
The stylish lighting of the photogenic Brazilian capital was instantly converted into what looked like a mad rave scene, as crazy 10-meter shadows of dancing teenagers bounced off the curved swaths of concrete. Niemeyer, a devout communist, must have been laughing in his grave to see the Brazilian youth occupy his buildings in such overwhelming sense of joy.
The “reflection pools” build around the government ministries have long served as the foreground to photographers as they shoot the world famous Niemeyer buildings. Last night, those same pools became a swimming pool and then a weapon.
When police began spraying blasts of pepper spray in the protestor’s face, the crowd responded by splashing the police until they were sopping wet and apparently less eager to continue with the pepper-spray-to-the-face routine. As the sun rose on Brasilia this morning, few doubt it is a new dawn in Brazil. The reflection pools suddenly seem necessary as Brazil struggles to understand the depths of a long festering and now world famous discontent.
Sepp Blatter urges Brazil protesters not to link grievances to football
Jonathan Watts in Rio de Janeiro Guardian UK June 19, 2013
Fifa president Sepp Blatter has called on Brazil's protesters to stop linking their demonstrations to football, as police stepped up reinforcements ahead of expected clashes at Confederations Cup matches taking place in Rio de Janeiro and Fortaleza.
After protests on the fringes of earlier games, boos during official speeches in the stadiums and placards on the streets condemning Fifa, the head of the world football body said the tournament – a dry run for next year's World Cup – was being wrongly targeted.
"I can understand that people are not happy, but they should not use football to make their demands heard," Blatter said on Globo TV, a domestic station.
His appeal looks likely to fall on deaf ears. Protesters on Wednesday blocked the road to the stadium in Fortaleza, where Brazil were due to play against Mexico. Police turned back hundreds of cars.
There is also a Twitter and Facebook campaign for spectators inside the ground to turn their backs when the national anthem is played.
Several of Brazil's national team players have also expressed their support for the demonstrators.
"I see these demonstrators and I know that they are right," the midfielder Hulk told a press conference in Fortaleza.
"We know that Brazil needs to improve in many areas and must let the demonstrators express themselves."
Brazil is in the midst of its biggest wave of protests in 20 years. Initially sparked by police violence against small demonstrations against bus price rises, the protests have rapidly expanded in size, range and motivations. ...
Protesters out again in Brazilian cities
Canadian Press/CBC News Canada June 19, 2013
Scattered street demonstrations popped up around Brazil Wednesday as protesters continued their collective cry against the low-quality public services they receive in exchange for high taxes and rising prices. ...
Such mass protests are rare in this 190 million-person country, with demonstrations generally attracting small numbers of politicized participants.
Many now protesting in Brazil's streets hail from the country's growing middle class, which government figures show has ballooned by some 40 million people over the past decade amid a commodities-driven economic boom.
The protesters say they've lost patience with endemic problems such as government corruption and inefficiency. They're also slamming Brazil's government for spending billions of dollars to host the World Cup and Olympics while leaving other needs unmet.
A November government report raised to $13.3 billion the projected cost of stadiums, airport renovations and other projects for the World Cup. City, state and other local governments are spending more than $12 billion on projects for the Olympics in Rio.
Bold journalist dies in a single-vehicle car accident in Los Angeles. Michael Hastings dead at 33
Bold journalist died in a car accident in Los AngelesPosted at: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 03:27 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Tim Dickinson Rolling Stone USA June 18, 2013
Photo: Michael Hastings. Hastings died in a single-vehicle automobile crash in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles in the early morning of June 18, 2013. Visit this page for its embedded links.
Michael Hastings, the fearless journalist whose reporting brought down the career of General Stanley McChrystal, has died in a car accident in Los Angeles, Rolling Stone has learned. He was 33.
Hastings' unvarnished 2010 profile of McChrystal in the pages of Rolling Stone, "The Runaway General," captured the then-supreme commander of the U.S.-led war effort in Afghanistan openly mocking his civilian commanders in the White House. The maelstrom sparked by its publication concluded with President Obama recalling McChrystal to Washington and the general resigning his post. "The conduct represented in the recently published article does not meet the standard that should be met by – set by a commanding general," Obama said, announcing McChrystal's departure. "It undermines the civilian control of the military that is at the core of our democratic system."
Hastings' hallmark as reporter was his refusal to cozy up to power. While other embedded reporters were charmed by McChrystal's bad-boy bravado and might have excused his insubordination as a joke, Hastings was determined to expose the recklessness of a man leading what Hastings believed to be a reckless war. "Runaway General" was a finalist for a National Magazine Award, won the 2010 Polk award for magazine reporting, and was the basis for Hastings' book, The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan.
For Hastings, there was no romance to America's misbegotten wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He had felt the horror of war first-hand: While covering the Iraq war for Newsweek in early 2007, his then-fianceé, an aide worker, was killed in a Baghdad car bombing. Hastings memorialized that relationship in his first book, I Lost My Love in Baghdad: A Modern War Story.
A contributing editor to Rolling Stone, Hastings leaves behind a remarkable legacy of reporting, including an exposé of America's drone war, an exclusive interview with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange at his hideout in the English countryside, an investigation into the Army's illicit use of "psychological operations" to influence sitting Senators and a profile of Taliban captive Bowe Bergdahl, "America's Last Prisoner of War." ...
He always sought out the hard stories, pushed for the truth, let it all hang out on the page. Looking back on the past ten years is tough for anyone, but looking back on Michael's past ten years and you begin to understand how passionate and dedicated to this work he was, a passion that was only equaled by his dedication to his family and friends, and how much more he lived in thirty-three years than most people live in a lifetime. That's part of what makes this all so tough: exiting, he leaves us all with little more than questions and a blank sheet of paper. Maybe that's challenge to continue to use it to write the truth. I hope we can live up to that. ...
Journalist Michael Hastings dies at 33
Andrew Rafferty NBC News USA June 18, 2013
Includes three brief video clips featuring Hastings.
... "We are shocked and devastated by the news that Michael Hastings is gone," BuzzFeed editor-in-chief Ben Smith said in a statement Tuesday evening. "Michael was a great, fearless journalist with an incredible instinct for the story, and a gift for finding ways to make his readers care about anything he covered from wars to politicians."
Fellow reporters and others Hastings came across throughout his career took to Twitter to pay respects and remember the man known for his confident and fearless style.
Award-winning journalist Michael Hastings dies
Shaya Tayefe Mohajer Associated Press USA June 19, 2013
LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Michael Hastings, the war correspondent whose unflinching reporting from Afghanistan led to the resignation of a top U.S. army general, has died in a car accident in Los Angeles, according to his employer and family.
Hastings, who was 33, was described by many of his colleagues as an unfailingly bright and hard-charging reporter who wrote stories that mattered. Most recently, he wrote about politics for the news website BuzzFeed, where the top editor said colleagues were devastated by the loss.
"Michael was a great, fearless journalist with an incredible instinct for the story, and a gift for finding ways to make his readers care about anything he covered from wars to politicians," said Ben Smith, BuzzFeed's editor-in-chief.
Smith said he learned of the death from a family member.
Authorities said there was a car crash early Tuesday in the Hancock Park neighborhood of Los Angeles that killed a man, but coroner's officials could not confirm whether Hastings was the victim.
Hastings won a 2010 George Polk Award for magazine reporting for his Rolling Stone cover story "The Runaway General."
His story was credited with ending Gen. Stanley McChrystal's career after it revealed the military's candid criticisms of the Obama administration.
Hastings quoted McChrystal and his aides mocking Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden, over their war policies.
At a Pentagon ceremony for his subsequent retirement in 2010, McChrystal made light of the episode in his farewell address. The four-star general warned his comrades in arms, "I have stories on all of you, photos of many, and I know a Rolling Stone reporter."
When he died, Hastings was a contributing editor at Rolling Stone, where Managing Editor Will Dana was quoted Tuesday saying Hastings exuded "a certain kind of electricity" that exists in great reporters whose stories burn to be told. ...
Hastings was also an author of books about the wars. The Operators: The Wild and Terrifying Inside Story of America's War in Afghanistan was published late last year and details shocking exploits of the military overseas. ...
"Michael Hastings' death cuts short a life dedicated to speaking truth to power. He believed that journalists must be more than bystanders; he was a truthteller, a charming provocateur and a relentless seeker of decency in a nasty world," said David Rosenthal, president of The Blue Rider Press, which published The Operators. ...
Chinese hail Edward Snowden as a hero but, living in their own glass house, they are being careful what charges they hurl
Chinese hail Edward Snowden as a heroPosted at: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 02:40 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Helen Gao guardian.co.uk UK June 17, 2013
After initially muted responses to the NSA spying controversy, the Chinese media and public are beginning to take stronger stances as it has emerged that Edward Snowden is taking refuge in Hong Kong, where he divulged classified data about US government-sponsored hacking activities directed toward China.
Editorials published by state newspapers argue, in a concerted voice, that the US owes China "an explanation of Prism" given its earlier high-profile accusation of Chinese government's hacking of US companies. "We can see … that when American politicians and businessmen make accusatory remarks, their eyes are firmly fixed on foreign countries and they turn a blind eye to their own misdeeds," read an editorial in People's Daily, the Communist party mouthpiece. "The information Snowden has revealed concerns China, and we need to understand our situation well," another editorial on Global Times, a popular nationalistic tabloid, maintained. "We have the right to ask the US government to issue explanations on, for example, whether Prism is being applied to the US's business negotiation with the Chinese government and corporations."
While the state media seizes the case as evidence of US double standards in its dealing with the world, it is also careful to steer the story away from aspects that may evoke domestic associations deemed too sensitive by the Chinese government. Snowden's choice of Hong Kong as his temporary haven, for example, was only glossed over, perhaps because it brings too quickly to mind the two epic US consulate runs committed last year, by the Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun, and of human rights advocate Cheng Guangcheng, both of which put the Chinese government in an embarrassing light domestically and internationally. It would also serve as yet another reminder to the mainland Chinese of the greater social freedom and judicial independence in Hong Kong, a depressing contrast to what they have at home.
Compared to its lambasting of NSA's spying on other countries, the Chinese media pours significantly less ink over the organisation's surveillance of American citizens. The practice of government secretly collecting mobile data of its citizens, after all, wouldn't sound too out of place in China, where the state keeps a watchful eye on practically all virtual activities conducted by the public, from text messages to social media. It has even played a role in the country's most shocking political scandal in recent memory, in which Bo Xilai, the charismatic contender of one of government's top posts, was felled partly for his wiretapping schemes directed at other high-ranking leaders.
Across social media, the platform most akin to a civil sphere in China, the discussion on the case is more animated, and seems to have confronted little censorship.
There is some predictable umbrage at the US government's espionage attempt against China, as well as at the hypocrisy of the US internet companies that ostensibly emphasised privacy protection and information integrity. "It turns out that Google cannot accept being censored in China, but can tolerate being raped by America," Wu Fatian, a professor at China University of Political Science and Law, wrote on Weibo, China's Twitter.
The majority of the commentators, however, seem to feel more impressed by Snowden's audacity and idealism than angered by his revelations. Many call him a "hero" and "just what this world needs", while urging the Chinese government to ensure his safety. Others draw from the controversy insights on American society, sometimes making implicit comparisons to their own. ...
Related: In a surveillance state, is resistance is futile? Even Winston, after all, learns to love Big Brother in the end
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada June 12, 2013
Eleven links. Links seven, eight and nine all address the issue of why Edward Snowden chose to seek refuge in Hong Kong. Here from one of those three links:
... Much has also been made of the John Le Carre-esque plot twist of Snowden leaving his tranquil life in Hawaii and flying to Hong Kong on May 20, because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent". Hong Kong-based blogger Wen Yunchao memorably described it as Snowden having "left the tiger's den and entered the wolf's lair". Yet Snowden's visa stamp at Chek Lap Kok airport lasts for 90 days - plenty of time to ponder the next move.
Since 1996, before the British handover to China, an extradition treaty applies between the tiger and the wolf.  The US Department of Justice is already surveying its options. It's important to remember that the Hong Kong judicial system is independent from China's - according to the Deng Xiaoping-conceptualized "one country, two systems". As much as Washington may go for extraditing Snowden, he may also apply for political asylum. In both cases he may stay in Hong Kong for months, in fact years.
The Hong Kong government cannot extradite anyone claiming he will be persecuted in his country of origin. And crucially, article 6 of the treaty stipulates, "a fugitive offender shall not be surrendered if the offence of which that person is accused or was convicted is an offence of a political character." Another clause stipulates that a fugitive shall not be surrendered if that implicates "the defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy" of - guess who - the People's Republic of China.
So then we may have a case of Hong Kong and Beijing having to reach an agreement. Yet even if they decided to extradite Snowden, he could argue in court this was "an offence of a political character". The bottom line - this could drag on for years. And it's too early to tell how Beijing would play it for maximum leverage. A "win-win" situation from a Chinese point of view would be to balance its commitment to absolute non-interference in foreign domestic affairs, its desire not to rock the fragile bilateral relation boat, but also what non-pivoting move the US government would offer in return. ...
The North American surveillance state: Surveillance has moved far beyond Canadian safeguards & NSA, CiA veterans speak out: Leakers and whistleblowers are the last check on abuses of power
Yesterday we posted North American Union update: Canada being assimilated into a U.S. dominated North American security perimeter. We introduced the item thus:Posted at: Wednesday, June 19, 2013 - 02:34 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Germany's Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said about the US surveillance state, "These reports are extremely unsettling." German Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich said: "That's not how you treat friends." Friedrich's quote from this weekend is particularly quaint: "I have no reason to doubt that the US respects rights and the law." Yet in a way, he is right. The problem is not the violation of certain laws. Rather, in the US the laws themselves are the problem.
Der Spiegal opined: Is Barack Obama a friend? Revelations about his government's vast spying program call that assumption into doubt. The European Union must protect the Continent from America's reach for omnipotence. We say so should Canada. Tragically, it ain't going to happen as long as the Harperites enjoy being buggered by Americans. Will future Canadians suffer the cruelty suggested in Thomas Wolfe's title, "You Can't Go Home Again"?
Canadian laws can't handle modern snooping tech
Michael Geist TheTyee.ca British Columbia Canada June 18, 2013
Revelations about secret surveillance in the United States involving both Internet-based communications and the collection of metadata from all cellphone calls immediately raised questions about the possibility of Canadian involvement or the inclusion of Canadian data. Given the common communication infrastructure and similarities between Canadian and U.S. laws, it seemed likely that Canada was engaged in much of the same activities. Within days, it was reported that Canada has its own metadata surveillance program, with the ministerial approval coming in 2011 from Defence Minister Peter MacKay.
The government has tried to downplay the public concern by focusing on two safeguards. First, it argues that its secret metadata surveillance program only targets foreign communications. Second, it notes that the data captured is metadata rather than content and therefore does not raise significant privacy issues.
Neither response should provide Canadians concerned for their privacy with much comfort. Indeed, the emphasis on these two issues highlights how Canadian surveillance laws have failed to keep pace with current surveillance technologies.
The suggestion that Canadians are not affected by surveillance targeting foreign communications does not stand up to even mild scrutiny. The same claims are made by other intelligence agencies, with each claiming that they limit surveillance to foreign targets. However, information sharing between intelligence services is common, providing a backdoor mechanism to access information.
The prospect that U.S. surveillance becomes a key source for Canadian agencies, while Canadian surveillance supports U.S. agencies, does not strike anyone as particularly far-fetched. Wayne Easter, a former government minister with responsibility for CSIS, has said that such sharing is common. In other words, relying on the domestic-foreign distinction is necessary for legal compliance, but does not provide much assurance to Canadians that they are not being tracked.
Moreover, given the commingling of data through integrated communications networks and "borderless" Internet services residing on servers around the world, distinguishing between Canadian and foreign data seems like an outdated and increasingly impossible task. In fact, the reported decision to stop the Canadian surveillance program several years ago arose in part due to fears of overbroad surveillance. In the current communications environment, tracking Canadians seems inevitable and makes claims that such domestic surveillance is "inadvertent" increasingly implausible. ...
Canada’s eavesdropping agency helped spy on G20, documents suggest
Alex Ballingall Toronto Star Onario Canada June 18, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Leaked documents that detail a scheme to spy on visiting diplomats at G20 meetings in London four years ago suggest Canada’s signals intelligence agency was complicit in the monitoring effort.
The documents, published by the Guardian newspaper, show the Communications Security Establishment Canada logo beside those of Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters, the U.S. National Security Agency and an icon labelled Joint Apps.
A spokesman for the CSEC said Tuesday evening the organization “does not comment on operational matters, nor those of our allies.”
The Guardian reported Monday that diplomats had their computer activity, phone calls and emails monitored during G20 meetings in London in 2009.
The paper said Internet cafés were rigged with special capabilities to intercept diplomats’ communiqués, and that officials from Russia, Turkey and South Africa were specifically targeted. The report cited PowerPoint slides labelled “top secret” and provided by controversial former American NSA contractor, Edward Snowden.
The news comes as world leaders wrapped up their talks at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland.
Wesley Wark, a University of Ottawa intelligence expert, said the presence of the CSEC logo doesn’t mean the Canadian agency had a direct hand in spying on diplomats at the summit. It’s more likely CSEC was a “potential recipient” of gathered information, he said.
“It’s not surprising,” said Wark, describing how CSEC is part of a “burden-sharing” group of eavesdropping agencies from the U.S., Britain, New Zealand and Australia, which routinely share information and technology.
“They would have been in the loop on the program,” Wark said. ...
Related: 3 NSA veterans speak out on whistle-blower: We told you so
Peter Eisler and Susan Page USA TODAY USA June 16, 2013
In a roundtable discussion, a trio of former National Security Agency whistle-blowers tell USA TODAY that Edward Snowden succeeded where they failed. Includes a video of the roundtable (9:11).
When a National Security Agency contractor revealed top-secret details this month on the government's collection of Americans' phone and Internet records, one select group of intelligence veterans breathed a sigh of relief.
Thomas Drake, William Binney and J. Kirk Wiebe belong to a select fraternity: the NSA officials who paved the way.
For years, the three whistle-blowers had told anyone who would listen that the NSA collects huge swaths of communications data from U.S. citizens. They had spent decades in the top ranks of the agency, designing and managing the very data-collection systems they say have been turned against Americans. When they became convinced that fundamental constitutional rights were being violated, they complained first to their superiors, then to federal investigators, congressional oversight committees and, finally, to the news media.
To the intelligence community, the trio are villains who compromised what the government classifies as some of its most secret, crucial and successful initiatives. They have been investigated as criminals and forced to give up careers, reputations and friendships built over a lifetime.
Today, they feel vindicated.
They say the documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the 29-year-old former NSA contractor who worked as a systems administrator, proves their claims of sweeping government surveillance of millions of Americans not suspected of any wrongdoing. They say those revelations only hint at the programs' reach.
On Friday, USA TODAY brought Drake, Binney and Wiebe together for the first time since the story broke to discuss the NSA revelations. With their lawyer, Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, they weighed their implications and their repercussions. They disputed the administration's claim of the impact of the disclosures on national security — and President Obama's argument that Congress and the courts are providing effective oversight.
And they have warnings for Snowden on what he should expect next. ...
Below: Melvin A. Goodman is a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He is the author of the recently published National Insecurity: The Cost of American Militarism (City Lights Publishers)and the forthcoming The Path to Dissent: The Story of a CIA Whistleblower (City Lights Publisher). Goodman is a former CIA analyst and a professor of international relations at the National War College. He argues that leakers and whistleblowers are the last check on abuses of power.
The national security state and the whistleblower
Melvin A. Goodman CounterPunch USA June 19, 2013
A major problem in the United States is not there are too many whistleblowers…there are too few. Where were the whistleblowers when the Central Intelligence Agency was operating secret prisons; conducting torture and abuse; and kidnapping individuals off the streets in Europe and the Middle East and turning them over to foreign intelligence agencies that conducted torture and abuse? Where were the whistleblowers when the National Security Agency violated the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution against “unreasonable searches and seizures” and conducted widespread warrantless eavesdropping? Where were the whistleblowers when the State Department permitted the use of a consulate to serve as a cover for an inadequately protected intelligence platform in Benghazi? Where were the whistleblowers when the Pentagon was building secret facilities in North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula in order to conduct military strikes in countries where the United States was not at war?
President Barack Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer and former professor of constitutional law, has made it particularly difficult for whistleblowers and has displayed a stunning disregard for the balance of power and the need for oversight of foreign policy decision making. He has pursued more leak investigations than all previous presidents combined since the passage of the Espionage Act in 1919. Several press disclosures have been referred to the Justice Department for investigation, and in May 2013 the department subpoenaed two months of records for twenty telephone lines used by Associated Post reporters and editors. This was the most aggressive federal seizure of media records since the Nixon administration. Attorney General Eric Holder even departed from First Amendment norms by approving an affidavit for a search warrant that named a Fox News reporter as a possible co-conspirator in violations of the Espionage Act, because the reporter might have received classified information while doing his job.
President Obama has also inexplicably contributed to the need for whistleblowers by weakening the traditional institutions for oversight in the national security process, the Office of the Inspector General. Inspectors General are not popular institutions within the federal government, but they are essential for keeping the government honest by unearthing fraud, abuse, and other illegal activities. The Obama administration from the outset focussed on weakening the OIG at the CIA by taking more than a year and a half to replace an outstanding IG, John Helgerson, whose staff had exposed the improprieties linked to extraordinary renditions as well as torture and abuse. ...
As a result of the imbalance in the process of foreign policy decision making, we have come full circle from President Woodrow Wilson, who wanted to make the “world safe for democracy,” to Presidents George W. Bush and Obama, who find the world too dangerous to honoring constitutional democracy. The excesses of the Vietnam War; Watergate; Iran-Contra; and the Global War on Terror have contributed to the creation of a dangerous national security state and a culture of secrecy. Whistleblowers can help all of us decide whether the ends justify the means regarding these excesses.
Meanwhile, secrecy itself has fostered dangerous ignorance in the United States. The overuse of secrecy limits necessary debate and dialogue on foreign policy and deprives citizens of information on which to make policy and political judgments. Only a counter-culture of openness and a respect for the balance of power in the conduct of foreign policy can reverse the damage of the past decade. ...
Tuesday, June 18, 2013
North American Union update: Canada being assimilated into a U.S. dominated North American security perimeter
Germany's Justice Minister Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger said about the US surveillance state, "These reports are extremely unsettling." German Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich said: "That's not how you treat friends." Friedrich's quote from this weekend is particularly quaint: "I have no reason to doubt that the US respects rights and the law." Yet in a way, he is right. The problem is not the violation of certain laws. Rather, in the US the laws themselves are the problem.Posted at: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 07:52 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Der Spiegal opined: Is Barack Obama a friend? Revelations about his government's vast spying program call that assumption into doubt. The European Union must protect the Continent from America's reach for omnipotence. We say so should Canada. Tragically, it ain't going to happen as long as the Harperites enjoy being buggered by Americans.. Will future Canadians suffer the cruelty suggested in Thomas Wolfe's title, "You Can't Go Home Again"?
Canada being assimilated into a U.S. dominated North American security perimeter
Dana Gabriel Be Your Own Leader Canada June 17, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Canada’s prime minister recently addressed the CFR, a globalist think tank who have been a driving force behind the push towards deeper North American integration. The U.S. and Canada are now further advancing this agenda through the Beyond the Border agreement. Both countries are increasing bilateral border transportation and infrastructure coordination. This includes a common approach to border management, security and control. They are also integrating an information sharing system that would be used to track everyone crossing the U.S.-Canada border and entering or leaving the continent. Without much fanfare and seemingly little resistance, Canada is being assimilated into a U.S. dominated North American security perimeter.
In May, the Conservative government highlighted the benefits of the U.S.-Canada Beyond the Border action plan which was announced back in 2011. The deal, “focuses on addressing security threats at the earliest point possible and facilitating the lawful movement of people, goods, and services into Canada and the United States, and creates a long-term partnership to improve the management of our shared border.” The goal is to further increase, “security, economic competitiveness and prosperity through numerous measures, including reducing border wait times and improving infrastructure at key crossings to speed up legitimate trade and travel.” The Beyond the Border Executive Steering Committee recently met to discuss the objectives that have already been achieved and the work that still needs to be done. Another important facet of the economic and security perimeter agreement is the Regulatory Cooperation Council action plan. A stakeholder dialogue session is planned for June 20, which will review its implementation progress and will seek further input regarding the next stage of U.S.-Canada regulatory integration.
Last month, the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a joint report on the findings of Phase I of the Entry/Exit Information System. The program included collecting and exchanging biographic information at four selected land border ports of entry. In a news release, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Acting Commissioner Thomas Winkowski stated that, “The results of Phase I demonstrate the capacity of the United States and Canada to increase information sharing capabilities.” He added, “This kind of cooperation epitomizes the Beyond the Border Action Plan.” The next phase of the entry/exit initiative is set to begin at the end of this month. It will involve exchanging the biographic data collected from third-country nationals and permanent residents of Canada and the U. S. at all common ports of entry. Both countries are further merging databases and are expanding surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. In 2014, they will also start sharing biometric information at the border. This will further advance the creation of a North America security perimeter where all travellers will be tracked and traced in real time. ...
The Beyond the Border action plan is the most significant step forward in U.S.-Canada cooperation since NAFTA. It provides the framework for future North American integration. When fully implemented, the agreement can be expanded and updated. So far, the agenda has quietly slipped under the radar. By incrementally incorporating various pilot projects and excluding Mexico from the process, it has managed to avoid the controversy of past initiatives. The perimeter security deal is being sold as vital to improving the flow of trade and travel across the border. In order to appease U.S. fears, Canada has made numerous concessions with no guarantees that it will lessen border restrictions. As part of a North American security perimeter, Canada will always be at the mercy of any new U.S. security measures, regardless of the dangers they may pose to privacy and civil liberties.
On the USA's soft totalitarianism: Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism & Edward Snowden and his father speak out
Intro: Just as the Assange saga consumes too much of Alex Gibney’s new film, so today’s Snowden obsession deflects attention away from America's sprawling surveillance state.Posted at: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 07:28 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
We Steal Secrets misses the leak for the leakers
Peter Maass The Nation USA June 17, 2013
Here’s a recipe for diluting the debate about our surveillance state: start talking about the foibles of the leakers and whistleblowers.
Consider the case of Edward Snowden, who worked as a contractor for the National Security Agency and leaked secret documents revealing that the NSA has a vast surveillance operation that collects phone and e-mail data on Americans as well as foreigners. The NSA dragnet is far more extensive than has been proven before. The documents raise a major question: Is the NSA undermining our democracy and violating our right to privacy? The character question—who is Edward Snowden, hero or traitor?—serves as a distraction from this urgent discussion. The legislators and journalists who focus on Snowden’s background (high school dropout? narcissistic millennial? pole-dancing girlfriend?) are either missing the point or trying to make us miss it.
Enter Alex Gibney’s new documentary, We Steal Secrets: The Story of WikiLeaks, which could not have come at a better moment—it opened in America just as the NSA scandal opened worldwide. The film focuses on two men: Julian Assange, who founded WikiLeaks, and Pfc. Bradley Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of government documents to it. Amid a torrent of stories, tweets and video clips about Snowden’s revelations, we need an intellectual frame to understand the morality and legality of our sprawling surveillance state and the secrecy on which it depends. Gibney would seem to be the man for the job. He is the Academy Award–winning director of two of the best political documentaries of recent time: Taxi to the Dark Side, about the torture and murder of Afghans and Iraqis in US custody, and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, about the scandalous collapse of a house-of-cards energy company.
Unfortunately, just as today’s debate is already being diluted by focusing on Snowden’s psychology and motives, We Steal Secrets gets sidetracked by character issues. Although We Steal Secrets criticizes the Obama administration for excessive secrecy and its crackdown on leakers, a fair amount of the film’s fury is directed at Assange, who currently resides in a small room in the Ecuadorean embassy in London, where he is trying to avoid extradition to Sweden to answer sexual assault allegations. The debate that the film has stirred up consists mainly of an exchange of invective between Gibney and Assange, in which Gibney and his allies compare the WikiLeaks creator to a cult leader, while Assange and his allies accuse the director of mounting a smear campaign that benefits the US government. The upshot is that we have gotten neither the film nor the debate we need.
We Steal Secrets includes extensive footage of Assange shot by other filmmakers; Gibney met him for six hours to negotiate an interview, but they could not agree on the terms. What happened in that session is a bombshell. “Julian wanted money,” Gibney says in the film. “He said the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million. When I declined, he offered an alternative: perhaps I would spy in my other interviews and report back to him, but I couldn’t do that either.” WikiLeaks, which of course leaked an extensively annotated transcript of the film, replied that “Julian Assange did not say the market rate for an interview with him was $1 million”; as for the spying charge, the organization claims Assange suggested only that he would be interested in hearing whatever Gibney learned about government investigations against WikiLeaks.
Cue the character debate. ...
Let’s think about our era. President Obama, a constitutional law professor who vowed to preside over the most transparent government ever, has overseen an unprecedented crackdown on leakers, whistleblowers, hackers and journalists. Manning is at Fort Meade on trial for his life—the rest of which could be spent in prison if he is found guilty. John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who criticized the agency’s torture program, is serving a jail sentence. Aaron Swartz, a hacker who downloaded a trove of academic papers that were behind a private sector paywall, committed suicide after prosecutors filed charges that could have put him in prison for thirty-five years. Journalists for the Associated Press, The New York Times and Fox News have been subjected to startling levels of government surveillance, including the seizure of their phone records. And we have just learned that government surveillance of our phone and Internet activities is far broader than most of us suspected or had been led to believe. President Obama offers no apologies or regrets; it is all legal, he says. ...
While Assange and Manning have colorful backstories, who they are and what they have done (or not done) in their private lives is not the most important thing. The system of secrecy that necessitates and criminalizes their actions should be the star and the villain of a film about these issues. Gibney has not made that film, but the good news is that we might not have to wait long to see it: documentarian Laura Poitras, one of the journalists Snowden confided in, is working on a film about the American surveillance state.
Item: Obama's soft totalitarianism: Europe must protect itself from America
Jakob Augstein Spiegal Online Germany June 17, 2013
People around the world were shocked to learn of the extent of US snooping. This anti-Obama poster comes from Hong Kong.
On Tuesday, Barack Obama is coming to Germany. But who, really, will be visiting? He is the 44th president of the United States. He is the first African American to hold the office. He is an intelligent lawyer. And he is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
But is he a friend? The revelations brought to us by IT expert Edward Snowden have made certain what paranoid computer geeks and left-wing conspiracy theorists have long claimed: that we are being watched. All the time and everywhere. And it is the Americans who are doing the watching.
On Tuesday, the head of the largest and most all-encompassing surveillance system ever invented is coming for a visit. If Barack Obama is our friend, then we really don't need to be terribly worried about our enemies.
It is embarrassing: Barack Obama will be arriving in Berlin for only the second time, but his visit is coming just as we are learning that the US president is a snoop on a colossal scale. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she will speak to the president about the surveillance program run by the National Security Agency, and the Berlin Interior Ministry has sent a set of 16 questions to the US Embassy. But Obama need not be afraid. German Interior Minister Hans Peter Friedrich, to be sure, did say: "That's not how you treat friends." But he wasn't referring to the fact that our trans-Atlantic friends were spying on us. Rather, he meant the criticism of that spying.
Friedrich's reaction is only paradoxical on the surface and can be explained by looking at geopolitical realities. The US is, for the time being, the only global power -- and as such it is the only truly sovereign state in existence. All others are dependent -- either as enemies or allies. And because most prefer to be allies, politicians -- Germany's included -- prefer to grin and bear it. ...
What, exactly, is the purpose of the National Security Agency? Security, as its name might suggest? No matter in what system or to what purpose: A monitored human being is not a free human being. And every state that systematically contravenes human rights, even in the alleged service of security, is acting criminally.
Those who believed that drone attacks in Pakistan or the camp at Guantanamo were merely regrettable events at the end of the world should stop to reflect. Those who still believed that the torture at Abu Ghraib or that the waterboarding in CIA prisons had nothing to do with them, are now changing their views. Those who thought that we are on the good side and that it is others who are stomping all over human rights are now opening their eyes. A regime is ruling in the United States today that acts in totalitarian ways when it comes to its claim to total control. Soft totalitarianism is still totalitarianism. ...
[The EU should] force American firms to respect European laws. The European Commission has the ability to do that. The draft for a new data privacy directive has already been presented. It just has to be implemented. Once that happens, American secret services might still be able to walk all over European law, but if US Internet giants like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Facebook want to continue making money off of a half-billion Europeans, then they will have to abide by our laws. Under the new law, companies caught passing on data in ways not permitted are forced to pay fines. You can be sure that these companies would in turn apply pressure to their own government. The proposal envisions setting that fine at 2 percent of a company's worldwide revenues.
That's a lot of money -- and also a language that America understands.
Related: Below: The man behind the biggest intelligence leak in NSA history answered questions about the NSA surveillance revelations.
Edward Snowden: NSA whistleblower answers reader questions
guardian.co.uk UK June 17, 2013
The NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, pictured in a Hong Kong hotel. Photo: The Guardian
Edward Snowden Q&A
It is the interview the world's media organisations have been chasing for more than a week, but instead Edward Snowden is giving Guardian readers the exclusive.
The 29-year-old former NSA contractor and source of the Guardian's NSA files coverage will – with the help of Glenn Greenwald – take your questions today on why he revealed the NSA's top-secret surveillance of US citizens, the international storm that has ensued, and the uncertain future he now faces. Ask him anything.
Snowden, who has fled the US, told the Guardian he "does not expect to see home again", but where he'll end up has yet to be determined.
He will be online today from 11am ET/4pm BST today. An important caveat: the live chat is subject to Snowden's security concerns and also his access to a secure internet connection. It is possible that he will appear and disappear intermittently, so if it takes him a while to get through the questions, please be patient.
To participate, post your question below and recommend your favorites. As he makes his way through the thread, we'll embed his replies as posts in the live blog. You can also follow along on Twitter using the hashtag #AskSnowden.
We expect the site to experience high demand so we'll re-publish the Q&A in full after the live chat has finished.
Let's begin with these:
1) Why did you choose Hong Kong to go to and then tell them about US hacking on their research facilities and universities?
2) How many sets of the documents you disclosed did you make, and how many different people have them? If anything happens to you, do they still exist?
1) First, the US Government, just as they did with other whistleblowers, immediately and predictably destroyed any possibility of a fair trial at home, openly declaring me guilty of treason and that the disclosure of secret, criminal, and even unconstitutional acts is an unforgivable crime. That's not justice, and it would be foolish to volunteer yourself to it if you can do more good outside of prison than in it.
Second, let's be clear: I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target. Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash. Congress hasn't declared war on the countries - the majority of them are our allies - but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the "consent of the governed" is meaningless.
2) All I can say right now is the US Government is not going to be able to cover this up by jailing or murdering me. Truth is coming, and it cannot be stopped.
On Monday the whistleblower Edward Snowden gave an exclusive live Q&A to the Guardian to answer questions about the biggest intelligence leak in NSA history and revelations about government surveillance. Here are some key things: Eight things to be learned from Snowden's Q&A: Key points from the whistleblower's responses to questions about the NSA leak.
Edward Snowden's father asks him to stop leaking
Helen Davidson guardian.co.uk UK June 18, 2013
Lonnie Snowden holding up a picture of Edward Snowden. Photo: Fox News. Visit this page for its embedded links.
The father of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden has pleaded with his son to stop leaking information and to return home to the US, even if he faces a jail sentence.
Snowden, a 29-year-old former NSA contractor, is in hiding in Hong Kong after admitting to the most significant leak of classified US information in decades.
Lonnie Snowden sought to dispel rumours such as his son being a “high school dropout” during an interview with Fox News, which he also used to send a message to his son:
“We want you to be safe, we want you to be happy, but I know you’re your own man and you’re going to do what you feel that you have to do,” he said.
“I believe firmly that you are a man of principle. I believe in your character. I don’t know what you’ve seen, but I just ask that you measure what you’re going to do and not release any more information.”
Snowden also spoke of his concerns for his son and the way he was being talked about in the media.
“I'm here because I'm really concerned about the misinformation in the media. He is a sensitive, caring young man. This is the Ed that I know,” said Snowden.
“He just is a deep thinker.”
The interview with Fox journalist Eric Bolling has not aired in full, but several clips have been released.
Speaking on the TV show Fox & Friends, Bolling said Snowden was concerned for his other children, and wanted to preserve their privacy.
Snowden also said he disagreed with the surveillance actions of the US government and security agencies, which his son revealed by leaking classified NSA documents to the Guardian.
"I don't want them reading my email," said Snowden.
"I don't want them reading my text. In my opinion they have no right. Not even under the guise of ‘Oh we need to keep you safe’.
"If we say, ‘Oh my gosh we're going to have to sacrifice our freedom because of the threat of terrorism,’ well then the terrorists have already won because it's our freedoms that make us Americans." ...
Iran election: Will the Obama administration defy the Israeli Lobby and take a rational and fresh look at Rouhani's Iran?
The Iranian electorate has in effect said to the United States and its Western partners, “We've done all we can. Among the options that the Guardian Council gave us, we have chosen the one that offers to get us closest to accommodation, agreement and understanding with the West. Your move, America.” - Paul Pillar, a CIA veteran who served as the National Intelligence Officer for the Near East from 2000 to 2005, the period of Rouhani’s greatest influence over Iran’s nuclear policy.Posted at: Tuesday, June 18, 2013 - 02:10 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
... the Iranian people have elected in a fair election with a big turnout exceeding 70% in the first round itself, with an absolute majority of 50.7%, a candidate who hails from the religious establishment, with impeccable revolutionary pedigree, who enjoys the trust and confidence of the Supreme Leader and could claim to straddle the various factions within the regime. ... The issue today, therefore, narrows down to effecting change within Iran's Islamic system. In a manner of speaking, it is possible to say Iranian politics is taking a look back in order to move forward. Ahmadinejad's legacy turns out to be characterized as the highly divisive presidency, and Iran's voters have reached a consensus that the country cannot move forward without an agreed past. - M K Bhadrakumar
Most Iran experts believe Rouhani’s victory offers a major opportunity for progress in those negotiations [the P5+1 (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China plus Germany)]. ... In 2006, in his capacity as Khamenei’s representative on the regime’s Supreme National Security Council, he published a detailed offer in TIME magazine that included accepting strict limits on Iran’s uranium enrichment and enhanced International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) oversight of Iran’s nuclear-related facilities – only to be rejected by the administration of former President George W. Bush. - Jim Lobe reporting
A 'victory for moderation' says new President of Iran, as supporters rejoice
Alistair Dawber The Independent UK June 16, 2013
JERUSALEM - Hassan Rouhani, the new President of Iran, described his unexpected election win as a “victory [for] moderation over extremism” and claimed that “a new opportunity has been created for those who truly respect democracy, interaction and free dialogue”.
Thousands of Mr Rouhani’s supporters took to the streets in the early hours of this morning to celebrate his success, calling on their new leader to deliver on his promises to repair relations with the world and support greater civil liberties at home. Mr Rouhani, Iran’s former chief nuclear negotiator who beat his hardline rivals by securing more than 50 per cent of the votes in Friday’s polls told state TV today: “With their celebrations, the Iranian people showed they are hopeful about the future, and, God willing, morals and moderation will govern the country.”
The result received a cautious welcome in Washington, where President Obama’s Chief of Staff, Denis McDonough, told CBS’s "Face the Nation" today that it represented a “potentially hopeful sign” – with the caveat that, should Mr Rouhani “come clean on [Iran’s} illicit nuclear programme, he will find a partner in us”. “If he is interested in mending Iran’s relations with the rest of the world, there is an opportunity to do that,” Mr McDonough said.
Earlier, the White House spokesman Jay Carney stopped short of congratulating Mr Rouhani, urging him instead to “heed the will of the Iranian people. We respect the vote of the Iranian people and congratulate them for their participation in the political process,” he added.
In Israel, the Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was sceptical that Mr Rouhani’s success would bring change. “Let us not delude ourselves,” he said. “The international community must not be tempted to relax the pressure on Iran to stop its nuclear [programme]. [Rouhani] still defines the state of Israel as ‘the great Zionist Satan’.”
The minister with responsibility for Iranian issues, Yuval Steinitz, echoed Mr Netanyahu’s statement, saying that, despite the departure of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the real power in Iran –the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – would continue to dictate foreign policy.
“I doubt ... Khamenei will change his tune on military and nuclear affairs without being strongly motivated to do so by increased international economic sanctions,” he told Israeli Army Radio. ...
On the left in Israel there was hope that the almost certain arrival into office of Mr Rouhani will augur a change in relations. Writing in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, Yigal Sarna, a founder of the Peace Now group, said the Israeli government would have to reassess its position on Iran: “What will [Israel] do without the Persian Hitler? At whom will we fire our smart bombs and how will Bibi [Netanyahu] divert attention from the looting going on here?”
Elsewhere, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, a long-time ally of Iran, said the election result would “further strengthen” ties between the two countries, and urged the West to engage more closely with Tehran. ...
The Iranian people challenge the West
Paul Pillar The National Interest USA June 16, 2013
Hassan Rouhani's stunning and sweeping victory in the Iranian presidential election is already generating much debate among expert Iran-watchers about how to interpret this outcome. There are different views, for example, on what inference should be drawn regarding the posture of Supreme Leader Khamenei toward the election. Was this outcome one that the leader might have anticipated and is part of a skillful management of contending factions, or does the election result instead indicate that the leader's control of Iranian politics is less than was often surmised? There also are different views on what role sanctions-induced economic strain may have had on the election. These are genuine questions on which objective and well-informed observers can disagree. Not genuine is the spin from some other fast-off-the-mark commentators who are endeavoring to deny any significance to Rouhani's victory and to portray the Iranian regime as nothing but the same old recalcitrant adversary—a spin motivated by opposition to reaching agreements with Iran and the favoring of confrontation and even war with it.
Useful implications for policy toward Iran can be drawn without resolving all these analytical questions, even the genuine ones. Sometimes a particular course of action is the best course under any of several different interpretations of exactly what is going on in another nation's capital. ...
Rouhani's election presents the United States and its partners with a test—of our intentions and seriousness about reaching an agreement. Failure of the test will confirm suspicions in Tehran that we do not want a deal and instead are stringing along negotiations while waiting for the sanctions to wreak more damage. Passage of the test will require placing on the table a proposal that, in return for the desired restrictions on Iran's nuclear activities, incorporates significant relief from economic sanctions and at least tacit acceptance of a continued peaceful Iranian nuclear program, to include low-level enrichment of uranium. ...
Below: Iranian voters have taken a look back with the election of Hassan Rouhani, a favorite disciple of revolutionary leader Imam Khomeini, as the country's next president. Their choice is also forward-looking in that it consigns to the past the reformist-conservative split in Iranian politics. As far as the world outside is concerned, the big question is whether Rouhani's ascendance will bring a wind of change in Iran's foreign policy. M K Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
Rouhani: A consensus on the past
M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online Hong Kong June 17, 2013
There is going to be some confusion, given the week of insistent brand naming of Iran's president-elect Hassan Rouhani as a "reformist". Is Rouhani a "reformist"? Why else did Iran's former reformist president Mohamed Khatami endorse his candidacy? So, then, he is a protege of Khatami?
That, however, will be stretching things. Rouhani has the honorific title of Hojatoleslam, meaning "authority on Islam". He belongs to the Iranian political and religious establishment, having been for decades a member of the two high-powered bodies which are stacked with the creme de la creme of the regime - the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council. He also headed the Supreme National Security Council from 1989 to 2005.
Rouhani's stellar political career began in the pre-revolutionary era. He was an ardent follower of Imam Khomeini - in fact, he is credited with first using the title "Imam" for Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's first Supreme Leader.
Rouhani's revolutionary ardor as a young cleric caught Khomeini's attention. He was a member of the Iranian Majlis (parliament) from its inception in 1980 till 2000. In the Majlis, he served as deputy to the then speaker Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. When Rafsanjani became president in 1989, he brought Rouhani into the Security Council. Rafsanjani also got Rouhani into the Expediency Council in 1991 at a time when the president was at the peak of his political power.
Concurrently, Rafsanjani got Rouhani in 1992 to head the Center for Strategic Research, a think tank that plays a seminal role in the making of foreign and security policies and services the Expediency Council.
Rouhani got elected to the Assembly of Experts in 2000 - along with Rafsanjani who had demitted office as president by then. (Rafsanjani became the deputy head of the Assembly of Experts and went on to head it from 2007 to 2011).
By the way, Rouhani continues to be a member of the Assembly of Experts and the Expediency Council as well as the Security Council.
Thus, what emerges is that the Iranian people have elected in a fair election with a big turnout exceeding 70% in the first round itself, with an absolute majority of 50.7%, a candidate who hails from the religious establishment, with impeccable revolutionary pedigree, who enjoys the trust and confidence of the Supreme Leader and could claim to straddle the various factions within the regime. ...
What explains Rouhani's handsome mandate? First, it is a composite mandate from all sections of Iranian society - urban and rural, middle class and intelligentsia, clerics, bazaar and so on. It is a mandate for national solidarity when the country is passing through acute internal and external dangers, and disunity or fragmentation and polarization could spell danger. ...
Below: Hassan Rouhani's surprise election as Iranian president leaves US analysts cautiously optimistic about a possible Tehran-Washington detente, while pro-Israel forces reject any idea his presidency will produce substantive change. Some suspect Rouhani will push for a nuclear deal, and say Washington must be prepared to make concessions that convince Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei to go along.
Washington mulls surprise Rouhani victory in Iran vote
Jim Lobe Inter Press Service International June 18, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
WASHINGTON, Jun 18 2013 (IPS) - The surprise victory of Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s Jun. 14 election has provoked a range of reactions here, ranging from cautious optimism about possible détente between Tehran and Washington to outright rejection of the notion that his presidency will produce any substantive change in policy, foreign or domestic.
While most Iran specialists fall into the former category, neo-conservatives and other pro-Israel forces insist that even if the president-elect wanted to be more forthcoming on western demands to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme and other concerns, he would still be overruled by the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, and other powerful hard-line interests.
Echoing concerns voiced by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, the latter also expressed worry that Rouhani’s more “moderate” image – especially in contrast to the belligerence of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad – may lull western governments into making undesirable concessions.
“The search for a ‘moderate’ Iranian leader has beguiled every American president since the revolution of 1979,” according to the Wall Street Journal’s neo-conservative editorial board. “But the hunt for the unicorn seems destined to begin again with the breathless reporting that Iranians have elected 64-year-old cleric Hassan Rohani as their next president.”
President Barack Obama himself no doubt added to those concerns Monday when, after a bilateral meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-8 Summit in Northern Ireland, he told reporters that the two leaders “expressed cautious optimism that with a new election [in Iran], we may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran’s nuclear program”.
Rouhani’s first-round victory, with just under 51 percent of the vote in a field of six candidates, came as a surprise to all but a few analysts here. ...
Obama feels his way around Iran’s Rouhani
M K Bhadrakumar Indian Punchline India June 18, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Following a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on Monday on the sidelines of the G8 summit in Belfast, President Barack Obama briefly commented on the victory of Hoj. Hassan Rouhani in Iran’s presidential election. Earlier, within hours of the media reports signifying Rouhani’s victory, the White House swiftly reacted in manifestly positive terms reiterating the US’ interest in “direct” talks with Iran.
Obama expressed “cautious optimism” that “we may be able to move forward on a dialogue that allows us to resolve the problems with Iran’s nuclear program.”
Meanwhile, Obama spoke at some length on the subject in his Charlie Rose interview with the CBS recorded in the weekend in Washington (which was aired last night) even as reports of Rouhani’s victory were coming in.
From an unofficial transcript of the interview, Obama underscored that there is a paradigm shift in the Iranian public mood which resulted in Rouhani’s victory. He said:
“The Iranian people want to go in a different direction and if you contrast this [election] with the violence that happened in the last presidential election, obviously, we have a much more positive atmosphere this time. The Iranian people rebuffed the hardliners and the clerics in this election who were counselling no compromise on anything, anytime, anywhere. Clearly, you have a hunger within Iran to engage the international community in a more positive way.”
Indirectly, though, Obama estimates that Ruhani does not belong to the hardline camp. Interestingly, Obama acknowledges the representative character of the Iranian political system well as the legitimacy of Rohani’s election.
So, where does Rouhani fit in? Obama said: “Now, Mr. Rouhani, who won the election, I think indicated his interest in shifting how Iran approaches many of the international issues, but I think we understand that under their system, the Supreme Leader would be making a lot of decisions.”
Put differently, the US expects changes or shifts in the Iranian policies but Rouhani will be working within the Iranian political system with its checks and balances and the presidential powers are not absolute
Given this state of play, what is going to be the US’s approach to the new political alignment in Iran?
To quote Obama,
“So, we’re going to have to continue to see how this develops and how this evolves over the next several weeks, months, years. I do think there’s a possibility that they decide — the Iranians decide — to take us up on our offer to engage in a more serious substantive way.” ...
“Our bottom line has been [for them] to show the international community that they are abiding by the international treaties and obligations, that they do not develop a nuclear program. Based on that, there are whole range of measures that can be taken to try to normalize the relationship between Iran and the world. But we don’t know that they are going to take up that offer. They have not in my entire first term when we showed ourselves open to these discussions.” ...
Jim comment: Half truths, lies and another twisting of history. Once again, Obama reveals himself to be merely a more glib, more slick Bush/Cheney.
Related: The hope for a judicious outcome in Syria has passed. The country has degenerated into two opposite extremist camps, with little say for moderates; and its recovery would be a long process of work in progress. Yet, it's American resolve and a well-informed and organized supply of weapons to the opposition that will help bring a negotiated settlement. In hindsight, rarely has a historical power been able to impose and maintain its authority throughout the Middle East. Iran is no exception. - Robert G. Rabil, associate professor of political science and the LLS Distinguished Professor of Current Events at Florida Atlantic University. He is the author of Syria, United States and the War on Terror in the Middle East and most recently Religion, National Identity and Confessional Politics in Lebanon: The Challenge of Islamism. Rabil is a member of the Middle East Forum, a Philadelphia-based think tank, which "works to define and promote American interests in the Middle East and protect Western values from Middle Eastern threats." Back in March 2010, Rabil wrote a screed entitled Hizbollah vs Israel: The coming clash. The final two paragraphs read:
What Iran and Hizbollah - and, again, Syria - are excluding is a pre-emptive devastating Israeli strike on all three of them. After all, if Iran is using Hizbollah as a deterrent-force against Israel, then - against a backdrop of failed peace negotiations and frustrated talks with Tehran to resolve the nuclear standoff - Israel would have more incentive to strike at Iran (see Paul Rogers, “Israel’s shadow over Iran”, 14 January 2010).
More specifically, the Iranian strategy - as embodied in Hizbollah's deterrence-by-terror - is a recipe for a regional conflagration. In this respect, it would be foolish to think that Israel would either commit suicide by using force or relinquish its defence strategy and appear weak. That is why a clash between Israel and Hizbollah is inevitable.
Syria part of aggressive Iranian strategy
Robert G. Rabil The National Interest USA June 18, 2013
... Nevertheless, barring a Western invasion, the prospects for removing the regime are now dim. Probably, this partly explains the reluctance with which the administration has approached Syria, and partly vindicates the administration's desire to bring about a negotiated settlement. Whatever may be the case, the administration needs to sharpen its view of the region in which the Syrian conflict plays out. In fact, the West has been far behind reading the political map of the region and the swift changes reshaping it since the removal of the Iraqi Baath regime. At the heart of these changes are popular uprisings and attempts at shaping a new regional order, in which an assertive, Shia Iran is counteracted by conservative Sunni powers backed by the West.
The latest manifestation of this jockeying for power has been the strategic battle for Qusayr in Syria. Iran and Hezbollah's heavy intervention in this battle not only shifted the tide of the battle in favor of the regime, but also derailed the plan of the Syrian opposition to constrict the Assad regime and cut it off from Lebanese Shi'a border areas and the heartlands of Homs and Damascus. It was no easy feat for Hezbollah to overtly intervene in the Syrian conflict and make itself a target of the Sunni world.
Hezbollah's decision to intervene revealed Iran's regional strategy. Hezbollah, at the behest of its patron, entered the battle for three interrelated reasons: 1) to maintain the viability of the Iranian-led rejectionist axis by securing and expanding the territorial connection of Tehran and West Beirut, particularly the area connecting Qusayr with Lebanon's Baalbek-Hermel region; 2) to deny Israel the capacity to undermine Hezbollah as an Iranian proxy/deterrent force by depriving it of its Syrian strategic depth before defanging it in a future war; and 3) to step up to the challenge, as dictated by regional developments, to transform itself into a political and military regional power shaping the new order in the Middle East.
It is no coincidence that Hezbollah secretary general Hassan Nasrallah declared in May "that the Syrian opposition and its supporters can neither topple Damascus nor overthrow the regime." And he added, "the battle is long." Then, on June 15, he asserted that "the party will not change its position...we will be where we should, for what we began in taking responsibility for we shall continue doing until the end." Put simply, Hezbollah will partake in the forthcoming decisive battles over Damascus, Homs, Aleppo and their countryside to help the Syrian regime reclaim and impose its authority over a wide geostrategic territory. Writing in al-Akhbar, Ibrahim al-Amin observed that Hezbollah's intervention in Syria was neither a reactionary response nor a favor for the regime that helped it; rather it was integral to its awareness of its new role in the region.
This overly ambitious, though dangerous, involvement by Hezbollah will no doubt cost the party, the antagonists and the Syrian people a staggering number of casualties, with a potential for deadly spillovers, especially in Lebanon. This attests to the high strategic value Hezbollah and Iran attach to creating a sphere of influence in the region. Whether by accident or design, the Shia Islamists are asserting their power in the historical Sunni capitals of Umayyad Damascus and Abbasid Baghdad. Only in this way can they, as they believe, set their imprint on the politics of the region, for they consider the Arab Gulf a spineless body sheltering itself in the cloak of U.S. power. This underlines the strategic link Russia maintains with Syria and Iran, which Moscow uses as a means to have a foothold in the Middle East and to contest Western military and political strategies. ...
Monday, June 17, 2013
A day away
"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Sunday, June 16, 2013
Redemption by perception: Our ways of seeing are what shape all else
Redemption by perception. Everyday objects may not hold our interest, but – in art as well as in life – our ways of seeing are what shape all else.Posted at: Sunday, June 16, 2013 - 03:13 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Das große Rasenstück (The Large Piece of Turf), a watercolor by Albrecht Dürer, 1503
Idealism and Blindness: Of flaking paint and blemishes
Leon Wieseltier The New Republic USA June 10, 2013
Many years ago, as I was leafing through a book in which I had no interest, I found one of the saddest stories in the world. It was a new edition of a textbook on visual perception, the psychology and physiology of the eye, and there I discovered “the case of S.B.” S.B. was an Englishman who was blind from infancy to middle age, when, at the age of 52, he received a successful corneal transplant. “All his life he tried to picture the world of sight,” Richard L. Gregory wrote. “He longed for the day when he might see. ... But though the operation was a success his story ended tragically.” With his sight recovered, S. B. managed to identify animals and objects correctly on the basis of the prior knowledge that he had gained from touch and the reports of sighted people, “but he found the world drab, and was upset by flaking paint and blemishes.” I will let Gregory complete the tale: “[He] said that he noted more and more the imperfections in things, and would examine small irregularities and marks in paintwork or wood, which he found upsetting, evidently expecting a more perfect world. He liked bright colours, but became depressed when the light faded. His depression became marked and general. He gradually gave up active living, and three years later he died.”
I never forgot S.B., the man whose heart was broken by the ugliness of the world. In my unceasing and unsuccessful attempt to work out the relations between idealism and realism, he exemplified most purely the disappointed idealist, and also the chronic connection between idealism and blindness. How much can an idealist know about the world and still not be defeated by it? Consider love: blind love is surely an inferior sort of love—the expression of the fear that the object of love may not be sufficient to justify it; but hope, too, must face the problem of ignorance. With too little knowledge, hope may be a delusion; with too much knowledge, hope may be destroyed. To some extent, idealism is always a defiance of the facts—but defy too many of the facts and you court disaster. People who wish to change the world have a special responsibility to acquaint themselves with the world, in the manner of scouts or spies. The realist, by contrast, has no conscience about being complicit with the world. For the realist, the world is all there is to work with. He sees no virtue and no glamour in adopting a standpoint outside reality: it would only diminish his efficacy, which is his highest wish. He does not promote his goals into ideals. Aspiring to less, the realist may accomplish more. Aspiring to more, the idealist may accomplish less.
And yet even the failed idealist adds to the store of the world’s sense of possibility. Idealism is futural: it is never completely defeated because it is never completely satisfied. The aspirations of the realist nourish only his own time: they are premised on the actualities of the present, and so they bequeath nothing to those who will live in a different present with different actualities. But idealism is an activity of the imagination, which is less than vision but more than blindness. It is visionary, in that it beholds what is not yet there. The facts surpass only the poor imaginations. The world may thwart our efforts to improve it, but it cannot thwart our conceptions of it improved; and that is our advantage over it. We can always resume the struggle. ...
George Orwell, meet Dr. Strangelove
George Orwell, meet Dr. StrangelovePosted at: Sunday, June 16, 2013 - 03:05 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Michael Enright "The Sunday Edition", CBC Radio One Canada June 16, 2013
You can listen to Michael deliver his essay from a pop-up link on this page.
The comic irony in the whole Prism/NSA spy surveillance disclosures is Barack Obama's call this week for an open, public debate on the issue.
Except there can't be an open public debate about the disclosure of secrets because, well, they're, um, secret.
This is not Orwellian. This is Strangelovian.
President Obama, who has strangled more avenues of information and prosecuted more whistleblowers than any other president ever, with a vigor that would make Richard Nixon salivate, called for this so-called public debate, without cracking a smile.
He sounded very presidential and constitutional and full of sweet reason. That's because he knows there will be no public debate on the issue of data mining for two reasons: the aforementioned secrecy and the lack of interest in the subject by most Americans.
A poll this week showed that Americans by and large don't care about the surveillance as long as they are safe from another nine-eleven.
Gleanings from purely anecdotal observations in this country seem to suggest that Canadians are not all that concerned about intrusions into their privacy either. We live in a gossip-saturated celebrity culture where we want to know everything about everybody. There are whole media industries devoted to finding out things usually kept private. And we don't seem to care.
Ride any bus or subway in the country and you will hear people talking loudly into their cell phones about very serious and very personal matters. I once overheard a young woman telling her friend about her boyfriend who was sleeping with someone else a few days before he was to start serving a jail sentence for robbery. I've heard men in expensive suits talk about important business deals.
Many of us take delight in posting the smallest details of our private lives on Facebook. We tweet about what we are having for dinner, our new car and where we will be spending the summer. We readily give out our phone number to retail stores who want to put us on their mailing list. In short, we tend to treat privacy protection as a pastime, a dalliance, something that sounds important but isn't really.
We have structures to protect our privacy, provincial and federal commissioners and we have legislation in the form of the Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act and the Privacy Act. Not that we pay much attention.
We have been assured that what is going on in the United States is not happening here. We are told that nobody is listening to our phone conversations or reading our e-mails. But we don't know that, do we?
Until this week, I'd bet that most Canadians had never heard of Communications Security Establishment Canada, set up in 1946. In fact until the CBC's "Fifth Estate" did a story on the organization, in 1974, the government never acknowledged its existence.
It has a mere 2,000 employees, not nearly the 20,000 employed by the National Security Agency in the US. It is forbidden by law to monitor Canadians, but a whistle blower said the CSEC once eavesdropped on Margaret Trudeau to find out if she smoked marijuana.
It really doesn't matter how many assurances our politicians provide about how the system will never be turned against ordinary Canadians.
With the power, the combined personnel and the money of the NSA and the CSEC, abuses will undoubtedly occur. It's just that we will never hear about them.
George Orwell, meet Dr. Strangelove.
Related: Canada's metadata surveillance program & U.S. online snooping: What Canadians need to know
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada June 10, 2013
You can't have 100% security and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience. - US President Barack Obama, June 7, 2013. Acknowledging "some trade-offs involved", he said, "We're going to have to make some choices."
Below, from one of the links (Colin Freeze reporting).
In Canada, a regime of ministerial directives – decrees not scrutinized by Parliament – have authorized the broad surveillance programs.
Canadian Defence Minister Peter MacKay approved a secret electronic eavesdropping program that scours global telephone records and Internet data trails – including those of Canadians – for patterns of suspicious activity.
Mr. MacKay signed a ministerial directive formally renewing the government’s “metadata” surveillance program on Nov. 21, 2011, according to records obtained by The Globe and Mail. The program had been placed on a lengthy hiatus, according to the documents, after a federal watchdog agency raised concerns that it could lead to warrantless surveillance of Canadians.
There is little public information about the program, which is the subject of Access to Information requests that have returned hundreds of pages of records, with many passages blacked out on grounds of national security.
It was first explicitly approved in a secret decree signed in 2005 by Bill Graham, defence minister in Paul Martin’s Liberal government. ...
In Canada, a regime of ministerial directives – decrees not scrutinized by Parliament – have authorized the broad surveillance programs. ...
Note: In the world of data sweeps and the collection of phone numbers the questions may be less about who keeps secrets and more about who shares them, especially when cyberspace has no borders. CSEC [Communications Security Establishment Canada] has a longstanding historical relationship with the U.S. National Security Agency. CSEC currently is building a $900 million new complex right next to CSIS [Canadian Security Intelligence Service] headquarters in Ottawa. According to Ronald Deibert (his interview with Mitch Potter of the Toronto Staris also one of the links), CSEC "operated under the Department of Defence until recently, when it became its own federal agency. Oversight of CSEC is really thin, compared to even the oversight that takes place at the [United States'] National Security Agency. ... The budget for CSEC has more than doubled since 9/11. And this has come at a time when the Canadian government is cutting back agencies. CIDA’s been eliminated. DFAIT’s closing embassies. The money is all going to the spooks."
Related audio:Canada: Whose history is it?
"The Sunday Edition" CBC Radio One Canada June 6, 2013
You can listen to this segment of the program (24:47) from a pop-up link on this page.
What Canadian historians normally worry about is the fact that the general population takes such a dim interest in our history. However, many of them are also concerned, or perhaps bemused, by the keen interest the federal government has been showing in Canadian history - particularly in Canada's military history.
While some historians were thrilled by the Conservative government's 28-million dollar program to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, others ridiculed it as an attempt to drum up a more bellicose kind of Canadian patriotism.
The government's latest foray into the historical record is a "thorough and comprehensive review of significant aspects in Canadian history" by the House of Commons Standing Committee on Canadian Heritage.
The government did pull back from the committee's original mandate, which would have investigated how history is being taught in Canadian schools. Instead, the probe is focusing on Canadian military history.
To the opposition NDP and other critics, though, this still smacks of the Orwellian. They claim that the purpose of the Heritage Committee's investigation is to re-write Canadian history from a more militaristic, capital-C conservative perspective.
So what's wrong with a government wanting to ensure that Canadians understand how our history shaped the country we live in today?
Margaret MacMillan is a professor at Oxford University, where she is the Warden of St. Anthony's College. Her books include the Governor-General's Award-winning Paris 1919 and Nixon in China.
Ramsay Cook is a professor emeritus at York University. He's the author of another Governor-General's Award winner, The Regenerators. He's also the former editor of the Canadian Dictionary of Biography.
Of related interest: Military history is a humanities discipline within the scope of general historical recording of armed conflict in the history of humanity, and its impact on the societies, their cultures, economies and changing intra and international relationships. Colonel George Francis Gillman Stanley (July 6, 1907 – September 13, 2002) was a Canadian historian, author, soldier, teacher, public servant, and designer of the current Canadian flag. In 1949, Stanley went to teach at the Royal Military College of Canada (RMC), where he remained for twenty years. At RMC, he served as the first Dean of Arts for seven years and had the rare opportunity to build ab initio an outstanding faculty in the humanities and social sciences. Among his more than a dozen published history books is Canada's Soldiers, 1604-1954: The Military History of An Unmilitary People, Macmillan Company of Canada Limited, Toronto, 1954. Jim comment: Given the bellicose militarist mindset of the Harper government (and its well-funded propagada campaign to inculcate the general population with its ideology), I find Stanley's subtitle painfully ironic. I feel no wry amusement about what is being done to my adopted country.
Last week's produced-water pipeline spill near the Alberta-Northwest Territories border provides a case study of federal and provincial governments' disdain for our nation's environmental heritage
The pipeline that leaked in northern Alberta was only five years old and designed to last for 30, according to top executives with Apache Canada. The entire region doused in 9.5 million litres of toxic waste water by this pipeline spill is an internationally recognized wetlands area.Posted at: Sunday, June 16, 2013 - 03:02 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Toxic waste spill in northern Alberta biggest of recent disasters in North America
Nathan Vanderklippe Globe and Mail Canada June 12, 2013
Calgary - The substance is the inky black colour of oil, and the treetops are brown. Across a broad expanse of northern Alberta muskeg, the landscape is dead. It has been poisoned by a huge spill of 9.5 million litres of toxic waste from an oil and gas operation in northern Alberta, the third major leak in a region whose residents are now questioning whether enough is being done to maintain aging energy infrastructure.
The spill was first spotted on June 1. But not until Wednesday did Houston-based Apache Corp. release estimates of its size, which exceeds all of the major recent spills in North America. It comes amid heightened sensitivity about pipeline safety, as the industry faces broad public opposition to plans for a series of major new oil export pipelines to the U.S., British Columbia and eastern Canada. ...
“Every plant and tree died” in the area touched by the spill, said James Ahnassay, chief of the Dene Tha First Nation, whose members run traplines in an area that has seen oil and gas development since the 1950s.
Apache spokesman Paul Wyke called the spill “salty water,” with “trace amounts” of oil. The Energy Resources Conservation Board, Alberta’s energy regulator, said it contained roughly 200 parts per million of oil, or about 2,000 litres in total. But information compiled by the Dene Tha suggests the toxic substance contains hydrocarbons, high levels of salt, sulphurous compounds, metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials, along with chemical solvents and additives used by the oil industry.
Produced-water leaks are considered easier to clean up than oil spills. But the Dene Tha suspect this is a long-standing spill that may have gone undetected for months, given the widespread damage it has done. Apache and the Alberta government say its duration is under investigation.
The leak follows a pair of other major spills in the region, including 800,000 litres of an oil-water mixture from Pace Oil and Gas Ltd., and nearly 3.5 million litres of oil from a pipeline run by Plains Midstream Canada. ...
Apache spill is one of Alberta's largest pipeline ruptures
Andrew Nikiforuk TheTyee.ca, The Hook blog British Columbia Canada June 12, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Nearly a dozen days after the fact, Alberta's tardy energy regulator has reported that a ruptured pipeline owned by Apache has spilled nearly 60,000 barrels of contaminated water near Zama City, Alberta.
A pipeline carrying "produced water" from an oil field to a waste injection site broke on June 1, contaminating 42 hectares of muskeg.
Produced water can be highly saline and contain a variety of petroleum toxins as well as heavy metals.
Neither Apache nor the regulator, the Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB), has released any information on the toxicity of the produced water or why the pipeline failed. ...
A Global News investigation found that Alberta's pipeline infrastructure has leaked 61,000 times in the last 37 years. Approximately 29,000 spills involved oil, a rate of two crude oil spills a day. The remainder involved everything from salt water to condensate.
Handling of toxic spill in northern Alberta upsets Dene
Darcy Henton Calgary Herald/Regina Leader-Post Canada June 14, 2013
EDMONTON — Northern Alberta Dene are demanding to know why they are only finding out now that one of the largest pipeline spills in Alberta history occurred near their territory nearly two weeks ago.
As a crew of about 120 Apache Canada Ltd. employees work to contain a toxic spill of 9.5 million litres of salt and heavy-metal-laced water on 42 hectares of wetlands near the N.W.T. boundary, Dene Tha’ chief James Ahnassay is drafting a letter to Alberta government officials to find out why his people weren’t immediately notified of the spill when it was reported to the province June 1.
“I believe the people who use the land have a right to know of any spills,” he said. “They seem to want to keep it hush-hush and resolve it before anybody finds out.”
Ahnassay said he learned about the spill, which occurred about 20 kilometres from the internationally acclaimed Hay-Zama Lakes Wildland Park, when local contractors advised him they had been approached by Apache Canada to provide workers to help clean it up.
The company didn’t contact the First Nation to discuss the spill until 11 days after it was discovered, he said.
The Energy Resources Conservation Board (ERCB) is under fire from environmentalists and opposition critics for not initially reporting the spill and for grossly underestimating the scale of the spill.
They have also blasted Energy Minister Ken Hughes for refusing to release a report on pipeline safety that has been on his desk for six months. ...
Related: Three arrested in environmental protests as Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper visits London.
Canada's tar sands companies fail to clean up toxic waste, report finds
Suzanne Goldenberg, US environment correspondent guardian.co.uk UK June 13, 2013
Protesters gathered as Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper addressed Parliament on Thursday. Photo: Peter Marshall/Demotix/Corbis. "Promises of responsible oilsands development ring hollow when the ERCB is not enforcing its own tailings rules."
None of the companies operating in Canada's tar sands have met a commitment to clean up the vast and expanding sprawl of toxic waste ponds, an official report has found.
The report, from Alberta's Energy Resources Conservation Board, further challenges the Canadian government's claims to responsible mining of the tar sands.
Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, spoke to Parliament on Thursday. Three protesters were arrested during the visit.
The report focuses on the provincial government's promise to clean up and eventually eliminate a vast network of open ponds storing mining waste from the tar sands along the Athabasca river.
None of the seven companies operating in the tar sands met the original performance standard, set in 2009, during the last two years, the ECRB said in its report.
Only one of the companies met a revised and weakened standard.
The finding was quietly published last week, without a press release.
"Industry performance over the 2010/2012 reporting period has not met the original expectations," it concluded.
However, the board did not propose any penalties against the companies, suggesting instead that the clean-up targets may have been overly optimistic.
Mining waste from the tar sands, a mix of water, sand, silt, clay, contaminants, and hydrocarbons, is dumped in a system of open lakes, known as tailing ponds. ...
Alberta's government imposed the performance standards in 2009 to try to reduce the growing sprawl of liquid waste dumps. Under the standards, mining operators were to have reduced their waste by 50% by June 2013.
Alberta's premier, Alison Redford, promised during a trip to Washington in April that such waste ponds would disappear entirely by 2016. ...
Saturday, June 15, 2013
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Friday, June 14, 2013
In Mongolia: Colonialism, mining and oil shale. Don't let Genie Energy out of the bottle
The popes have spoken of human ecology, closely linked to environmental ecology. We are living in a time of crisis: We see this in the environment, but above all we see this in mankind ... Man is not in charge today, money is in charge, money rules. God our Father did not give the task of caring for the earth to money, but to us, to men and women: we have this task! Instead, men and women are sacrificed to the idols of profit and consumption: it is the 'culture of waste.' - Pope Francis speaking to the assembled in St. Peter's Square, June 5, 2013 (World Environment Day)Posted at: Friday, June 14, 2013 - 03:33 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Mongolia, Canada, Israel & the United States
Macdonald Stainsby CounterPunch USA June 12 2013
Ulan Bator: When you get out of the plane and enter the Chinngis Khan Airport just outside of Ulan Bator, you quickly realize that Mongolia is a former Soviet Republic. An incredibly drab and oddly out of date international airport, the walls of the customs area have peeling paint and general disorganization as you struggle to figure out where any line up for customs begins and ends. You can see the stone faced bureaucrats and soldiers in seemingly dated uniforms standing around while you’re getting ready to show off the required prearranged visa. After you stumble your way through that mess, you get to the conveyor belt that jams with luggage bags that are apparently much larger now on average than when it was first constructed. The feeling of being in a time warp lasts– right up until you step outside for the first time.
Immediately upon getting outside, in the dark and on a chilly night reminiscent of northern Canada despite the date being in the middle of May, I was confronted by a man from my home province of British Columbia, Canada. Skipping the usual opening conversation about the ongoing hockey playoffs I normally attempt with ex-pats carrying the same passport as I, he told me immediately that he was working for one of the large mining companies.
“Eight weeks on, two weeks off,” he explained. I thought I was talking to a tar sands employee from Newfoundland in a weird shock to my senses. “I don’t care much about being here, it’s all about the money.” This would essentially set the tone of how I would interact with Canadians and Australians who cover the city of UB, many but certainly not all working at the simply giant Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold mine. In the days since I returned from Mongolia, the mine has been given the go-ahead for full operations– on a mine site roughly the size of Manhattan.
What isn’t the size of Manhattan is Ulan Bator, the capital city and home to over half the population of the vast territory of Mongolia. It’s population is officially slightly more than 1.7 million, out of less than 3 million in the entire country. An average sized city, the capital shows the signs of shock brought on by the influx of the mining on the skyline alone. Construction of modern office towers, often next to block concrete cookie cutters from the Soviet era, ring the horizon in a truly imposing fashion. Cranes are everywhere. In all directions one can see the gold rush atmosphere, that– and I cannot believe I’m writing this– makes Fort McMurray, Canada, the home city of the tar sands rush, seem tame by comparison.
The numbers bear it out. With over 2 dozen major mining operations led by Canadian companies, Canada is the second largest trading partner of Mongolia, behind China and ahead of Russia, Australia, Japan and everyone else. This is definitely not because of the tourism sector, nor shared values from winter, hockey and democracy– it’s about the fact Canada hosts more mine headquarters than anyone in the world, and no country is accepting them in faster to operate than Mongolia.
What is dangerous to all mining operations in terms of impacts on the land and life apply more strongly to Mongolia than most locations. Mongolia has a severe problem with water; most traditional herders, despite being nomadic throughout the year, have relied historically on very small surface water levels and heavily off wells to very deep underground aquifers.
In all areas where there is some level of mining activity, which is to say the entire country, water levels have dropped, dramatically. The question becomes one of degree.
If one assumes that mining companies from foreign locations now call the shots in Mongolia, I’d say that was a very safe assumption. If one realizes that Oyu Tolgoi itself commences commercial production basically now, and that the total of GDP for the entire country coming from OT will become a little more than a third of the entire economy, then we can safely posit that Rio Tinto and Ivanhoe are to Mongolia as Saudi Aramco is to Saudi Arabia (If Saudi Aramco was not owned by Saudis). This is the size of OT in a country with over 25 Canadian mining companies, several oil companies and multiple dozen Chinese mining companies, a country where every powerline one sees outside of UB is heading for a mine– hovering over small towns (sums) but not connecting to them.
I did not head to Mongolia on an investigation of mining, however, though it happens to anyone by default by simply being in a city where English is rapidly becoming more common than Russian, despite 70 years in the Soviet orbit.
I headed to Mongolia in order to see what was up with the recently publicized oil shale industry. This is oil shale such as kerogen shale, the stuff that isn’t fracked, but would be mined or extracted in the ground (in-situ) in a manner much like the famous Canadian tar sands. Mongolia apparently has a lot of the kerogen-bearing rock, in the two main types, and in April, 2013 Genie Energy announced a deal they struck with the Petroleum Authority of Mongolia [PAM].
The flashers went off in my mind upon hearing that the proposed experimental, non-commercially operating technology developed in the United States and almost under way in an area some 12 kilometres from Jerusalem on pastoral vineyard lands that religious folks will tell you was where David slew Goliath. Why would Genie– upon whose board sit Rupert Murdoch, Howard Jonas, Dick Cheney, Michael Steinhardt, Lord Jacobs Rothschild and others– want to come to Mongolia? ...
With that being the case, one wonders if Genie has come to Mongolia as a round about way to demonstrate the viability of their Israeli project, which in turn could help their hand in opening up the largest single oil deposit in the world?
The Green River Formation is the most well known of the oil shale basins in Utah, Colorado and Wyoming. Conservative estimates are that if it were given the go-ahead for development then that would be a deposit with over 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil. Almost five times that of Canada’s tar sands. And at a higher environmental and climate cost as well.
When one considers who is leading the company it seems highly probable that Genie’s very existence is ideological, given the public positions of many on the board regarding oil, climate change, Zionism and militarism, never mind American revelationist Christianity tied to tales of Armageddon and Israel. ...
Related: World Environment Day 2013: When basic human rights, like the rights to life, health, food, information, justice, participation and assembly are not respected, the global environmental movement loses a critical ally
Salt Spring News British Columbia Canada June 5, 2013
Eight links. Here from one of those links.
Herdsmen drive cattle through Western Monglia. The government suspended mining licenses to protect the traditional nomadic lifestyle. Photo: Shutterstock. Canada's mining industry dominates exploration and development in Mongolia. The mines, located in the vast Gobi desert, are being developed without sufficient scientific information about the potential environmental and social impact of the operations a series of 2012 international reports determined. Further, when it suspended two mining licences in February, the Mongolian govertment complained the companies hadn't been transparent about their operation and had structured the projects' capital in ways that benefited themselves at the expense of the government. Want to hear a yelp from the profitering capitalists and get a hint of their narrow, twisted logic and worldview?. See this response to Mongolia's changing stance toward the enterprises, a National Post editorial, Mongolia risks killing mining sector. ..."
From our inbox this morning. To read the Friends of Clayoquot Sound (FOCS) Summer 2013 newsletter click here.
May 29th 2013: Concerned citizens from groups like Friends of Clayoquot Sound and the Wilderness Committee gathered with members of affected indigenous communities outside of Imperial Metals’ Annual General Meeting to protest Imperial’s activities in Clayoquot Sound. Thanks to generous support from private donors and the Clayoquot Wilderness Resort we chartered a bus to carry supporters from Tofino to the rally in Vancouver.
Imperial Metals owns two mining claims in Clayoquot Sound, both on unceded First Nations territory. One is on Catface Mountain, in the heart of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, where Imperial is considering an open-pit copper mine. The second claim (Fandora gold) is in Tranquil Valley above a productive salmon-bearing stream. FOCS has been fighting to protect the ecological integrity of Clayoquot Sound since 1979 and we will not allow mining here, in the largest remaining old growth area on Vancouver Island. Mining in the Sound would bring heavy barge traffic, around the clock noise and light pollution, disrupt animal migration patterns, irreparably alter the Sound’s landscape and could introduce heavy metals and acid leachate into surrounding waters.
At the rally FOCS delivered a joint statement with Tla-o-qui-aht First Nations to the Imperial Metals board: Mineral extraction activities will not be tolerated in Clayoquot Sound. FOCS will be expanding our campaign against mining in Clayoquot Sound, targeting the corporations wishing to operate here and asking the government to protect the Sound from unsustainable land use.
Syria: A very dangerous and ominous moment. The moral edifice of Barack Obama's presidency has been exposed as a pack of lies amid desperate war moves to divert attention from the cesspool of the Edward Snowden secrecy leaks
Bill Clinton suggests Obama risks looking like a "wuss" and "total fool" on SyriaPosted at: Friday, June 14, 2013 - 02:45 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Josh Voorhees Slate blogs USA June 13, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Bill Clinton took part Tuesday night in a Q-and-A with Sen. John McCain at a semi-private event in New York City, where the former president offered some notably sharp criticism of President Obama's handling of the ongoing war in Syria, specifically his reluctance to get involved. The event was technically closed to the press but both the Daily Beast and Politico managed to get their hands on a recording of the remarks, as tends to happen with events like this.
Among the more pull-quote ready warnings the former president had for the current man in the White House was that Obama risks looking like a "total fool," a "wuss," and "lame" if he keeps the U.S. largely on the sidelines. ...
Clinton largely avoided talking foreign policy while his wife was secretary of state, but now that she's stepped down he has a more room to speak his mind. It also doesn't hurt that the 2012 election is now firmly in the rear-view mirror. (If these comments would have come last year, they would have no doubt made their way into a GOP attack ad or twelve.) ...
Carney: Obama 'welcomes' advice from Bill Clinton on Syria
Justin Sink The Hill blogs USA June 13, 2013
This item includes a short CBS News video (2:27).
White House press secretary Jay Carney said Thursday that President Obama "welcomes" advice from former President Clinton, who earlier this week warned Obama that he risked looking like a "total fool" if he does not intervene militarily in Syria.
But Carney said that "in the end," the president and his team "have to make the decisions they believe are in the best interests of the United States."
"Obviously, a lot of people who have expertise in the matter, both outside of Congress, in Congress, and inside government have perspective to add and opinions to contribute," Carney said. "The president welcomes all that."
Clinton made the remarks during a closed-press event for the McCain Institute for International Leadership in New York. ...
On Thursday, Carney said that while Syria may be "analogous, but not perfectly so to the past," the president needed to make the best decision for "this particular situation."
"I think that the president is very aware of past precedent in these kinds of situations and in regards with the kind of decisions a president has to make constantly in matters of national security," Carney said. ...
US to give Syria opposition military assistance
China Daily China June 14, 2013
WASHINGTON/BEIRUT -- The United States has concluded that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's forces used chemical weapons against rebel fighters and Washington will supply direct military assistance to the opposition, the White House said on Thursday.
The new assessment and decision came as Assad's surging forces and their Lebanese Hezbollah allies turned their guns on the north, fighting near the northern city of Aleppo and bombarding the central city of Homs after having seized the initiative by winning the open backing of Hezbollah last month and capturing the strategic town of Qusair last week.
With outgunned rebel forces desperate for weapons after their battlefield setbacks, US President Barack Obama's deputy national security adviser, Ben Rhodes, said on Thursday the president had decided to provide "direct military support" to the opposition.
But he would not specify whether the support would include lethal aid, such as weapons, which would mark a reversal of Obama's resistance to arming the rebels.
The announcement followed deliberations between Obama and his national security aides as pressure mounted at home and abroad for more forceful action on the Syria conflict, including a sharp critique from former President Bill Clinton. ...
After months of investigation, the White House laid out its conclusions on chemical weapons use by Assad's forces but stopped short of threatening specific actions in response to what Obama said would be a "game changer" for Washington's handling of the conflict. ...
Rhodes said the US military assistance to the rebels would be different in "both scope and scale" from what had been authorized before, which included non-lethal equipment such as night-vision goggles and body armor.
Pressed on what the United States would do next, Rhodes said the White House would share the information with Congress and US allies but will "make decisions on our own time line." ...
Courage, Mr. President! Don’t be a wuss!
Syria: Pros and Cons
David Swanson CounterPunch USA June 14-16, 2013
Mr. President, if I were a professional con artist paid to give you the pros and cons on engaging in a war in Syria, here’s what they would be:
As you know, former president Clinton, probably understood by many to also be speaking on behalf of his wife, has called you a wuss. Virtually nobody remembers or cares that you said “I want to end the mindset that got us into war in the first place.” The majority of Americans, exercising that mindset, want you to get us into a new war in the first place if the alternative is having a wuss in the White House. I don’t have a poll on that, but trust me.
This is not contradicted by public opposition to U.S. engagement in the war in Syria (as seen in the polls). If U.S. casualties are minimized and if the financial cost can come out of the base DOD budget — at least at first — then the political cost is negligible while the political gain is enormous. Unless you drag this out. The military budget is being increased right now, and in violation of the sequester, and nobody gives a rat’s ass. They think it means jobs and non-wussiness. Unless you drag it out.
With regard to claims of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government, the best approach is to claim certainty, and to insist on the necessity of secrecy for the evidence. You’ve had a great deal of success with this approach on drone kills, NSA programs, etc. Let the conversation focus on a demand for the evidence. This allows you to talk about the scary dangers requiring secrecy, and to question whether your opponents have the appropriate level of patriotic barbarism.
Meanwhile, everyone has completely forgotten that both sides in Syria are using hideous weaponry and committing horrible atrocities, while we’re only aiding one side rather than both. Nobody, in this framework, will be capable of thinking about the internationally condemned weapons we deploy, or wondering whether killing Syrians to prevent Syrians from being killed by the wrong kind of weapons even makes sense in our humanitarian (wink wink) scenario. Much less will the legality or morality of using war to prevent war be questioned or even be questionable. Keep the focus on the extensive evidence of chemical weapons use by Assad, one of the few individuals in the world — we should say constantly — evil enough to do such a thing. Stop mentioning Syria at all. Always refer to Assad.
Key also is swiftness. Get this battle started! Get progress and movement toward victory underway immediately. If possible get a very small number of Americans killed, and killed by Assad. ...
So, what you need is swiftness and overwhelming strength, devastation sufficient to shock and awe the Syrians as it were. And then get the hell out of there and leave those people to their catastrophe. That would be my advice. You don’t need, and the weapons makers and contractors who will show you their gratitude don’t need, a lengthy war in order to profit. You need an example of a successful war that can be held up as potentially needed again. Because, of course — while you must absolutely not say this yet — this is what will get you into Iran. And Iran is where the real men go, Mr. President. ...
In late March one of the conflicting parties in Syria allegedly used a sarin-charged missile near the city of Aleppo. The government and rebels now accuse each other of the attack that killed at least 25 people. While the UK, France and now the United states accuse pro-Assad forces, Turkish media said in early June that the country’s security forces had found sarin gas in the homes of members of the Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Nusra Front – one of the main groups opposing the Syrian government.
A senior Russian MP holds that the recent White House statement of chemical weapons use by the Syrian government is as false as the notorious reports about Iraqi WMDs. “The data about Assad’s use of chemical weapons is fabricated by the same facility that made up the lies about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Obama is walking George W. Bush’s path,” the head of the Duma’s Foreign Affairs Committee Aleksey Pushkov tweeted. In comments to Russian news agencies Pushkov noted that the supplies of arms from the US to the Syrian rebels would hardly lead to the overthrow of President Bashar Assad’s regime. He added that the government in Syria is supported by “a significant, if not the larger, part of the population” and the Syrian military “show a high degree of resistance.” Pushkov also forecast that the United States would now attempt to further escalate the situation.
‘US and Israel aim for Hezbollah in Syria’
RT Russia June 14, 2013
The US’s decision to arm Syrian rebels may be due to Hezbollah’s involvement in the conflict, with Washington and Jerusalem seeing it as a chance to counter anti-Israeli actions, author and historian Gerald Horne has told RT.
US President Barack Obama has given the green light to military support for the Syrian opposition after his administration concluded that Assad’s regime had used chemical weapons against rebels numerous times over the last year.
However, Horne, from the University of Houston, does not believe that the US will be able to produce evidence of the use of chemical agent sarin by regime troops, saying that he doubts such evidence exists.
RT: These claims of the use of poison gas by Assad's forces seem to mean that Obama's “red line” has been crossed and that [Obama] has just pledged to arm the rebels. How far is the White House likely to go?
Gerald Horne: I am afraid that they are re willing to go quite far. They are under enormous pressure. Former US President Bill Clinton has released a statement criticizing the Obama administration for not intervening more deeply into the Syrian morass. Obama’s former election rival, Senator John McCain of Arizona, just took to the floor of the US Senate saying that arming the rebels is not enough. Presumably, he has called for airstrikes to create a so-called no-fly zone. It seems to me that this is a very dangerous and ominous moment. Particularly since the Sunni clerics have just met in Cairo, Egypt and called for a Holy War against the Assad regime and Damascus. Instead of trying to calm things down, it seems to me that the Obama administration is about to throw fuel on the fire.
RT: Two months ago, Carla del Ponte, the chief UN investigator in Syria, said that she was “stupefied” by the testimony of victims of the Syrian conflict claiming that rebels used the nerve agent sarin. She also said that there was no evidence that the government resorted to this measure. How does this sit with Washington's allegations?
GH: It is in contradiction with Washington's allegations, bearing in mind also that, just a few weeks ago, Turkish authorities found that some rebels residing in Turkey had sarin weapons. It is difficult to say whether these weapons were used, and if so, who used them? For example, what was the chain of custody that allowed the Obama administration to conclude that it was Damascus and not the rebels? How did those samples get from the battlefield to Washington? ...
Why Obama is declaring war on Syria
Franklin Lamb CounterPunch USA June 14-16, 2013
Franklin Lamb is presently doing research in Syria and Lebanon.
The short answer is Iran and Hezbollah according to Congressional sources. “The Syrian army’s victory at al-Qusayr was more than the administration could accept given that town’s strategic position in the region. Its capture by the Assad forces has essentially added Syria to Iran’s list of victories starting with Afghanistan, Lebanon, Iraq, as well as its growing influence in the Gulf.”
Other sources are asserting that Obama actually did not want to invoke direct military aid the rebels fighting to topple the Assad government or even to make use of American military power in Syria for several reasons. Among these are the lack of American public support for yet another American war in the Middle East, the fact that there appears to be no acceptable alternative to the Assad government on the horizon, the position of the US intelligence community and the State Department and Pentagon that intervention in Syria would potentially turn out very badly for the US and gut what’s left of its influence in the region. It short, that the US getting involved in Syria could turn out even worse than Iraq, by intensifying a regional sectarian war without any positive outcome in sight.
Obama was apparently serious earlier about a negotiated diplomatic settlement pre-Qusayr and there were even some positives signs coming from Damascus, Moscow, and even Tehran John Kerry claimed. But that has changed partly because Russia and the US have both hardened their demands. Consequently, the Obama administration has now essentially thrown in the towel on the diplomatic track. This observer was advised by more than one Congressional staffer that Obama’s team has concluded that the Assad government was not getting their message or taking them seriously and that Assad’s recent military gains and rising popular support meant that a serious Geneva II initiative was not going to happen.
In addition, Obama has been weakened recently by domestic politics and a number of distractions and potential scandals not least of which is the disclosures regarding the massive NSA privacy invasion. In addition, the war lobby led by Senators McClain and Lindsay Graham is still pounding their drums and claim that Obama would be in violation of his oath of office and by jeopardizing the national security interest of the United States by allowing Iran to essentially own Syria once Assad quells the uprising.” Both Senators welcomed the chemical weapons assessment. For months they have been saying that Obama has not been doing enough to help the rebels. “U.S. credibility is on the line,” they said in a joint statement this week. “Now is not the time to merely take the next incremental step. Now is the time for more decisive actions,” they said, such as using long-range missiles to degrade Assad’s air power and missile capabilities. Another neo-con, Sen. Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-Pa.) said the opposition forces risk defeat without heavier weapons, but he also warned that may not be enough. “The U.S. should move swiftly to shift the balance on the ground in Syria by considering grounding the Syrian air force with stand-off weapons and protecting a safe zone in northern Syria with Patriot missiles in Turkey,” Casey said.
According to some analysts, Obama could alternatively authorize the arming and training of the Syrian opposition in Jordan without a no-fly zone. That appears unlikely according to this observer's Washington interlocutors because the Pentagon wants to end the Syrian crisis by summers end, the observer was advised “rather than working long term with a motley bunch of jihadists who we could never trust or rely on. The administration has come to the conclusion apparently that if they are in for a penny they are in for a pound, meaning would not allow Iran to control Syria and Hezbollah to pocket Lebanon.” ...
In response to a question from this observer about how he thought events might unfold in this region over the coming months, a very insightful long-term congressional aid replied: “Well Franklin, maybe someone will pull a rabbit out of the hat to stop the push for war. But frankly I doubt it. From where I sit I’d wager that Syria as we have known it may soon be no more. And perhaps some other countries in the region also.”
Below: The moral edifice of Barack Obama's presidency has been exposed today as a pack of lies amid desperate war moves to divert attention from the cesspool of the Edward Snowden secrecy leaks. Obama's ploy on military intervention in Syria is the death-knell to the “audacity of hope”, and much like Bill Clinton’s use of Afghanistan as flak for the Monica Lewinsky scandal could have unintended consequences. Author, M K Bhadrakumar, served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India's ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001).
Obama's Monica moment
M K Bhadrakumar Asia Times Online Hong Kong June 14, 2013
The United States may have administered one of the biggest-ever snubs to the Kremlin in the post-Cold War era with the White House announcement on Thursday that it will provide military support to the Syrian rebels.
The announcement in Washington said:
Following a deliberative review, our [US] intelligence community assesses that the [Bashar al-] Assad regime has used chemical weapons ... Following on the credible evidence that the regime has used chemical weapons against the Syrian people, the President has augmented the provision of non-lethal assistance to the civilian opposition, and also authorized the expansion of our assistance to the Supreme Military Council (SMC) ...
The US President Barack Obama is scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit scheduled to begin in Northern Ireland this coming Monday. This was to have been the first meeting for the two presidents after their respective re-election to the high office.
As a token courtesy to Putin at a personal and public level, Obama should have deferred the announcement until after meeting Putin. Syria was expected to figure on top of their agenda and Obama and Putin have been closely in touch over Syria.
Geneva 2, the proposed conference on Syria, is a joint Russian-American initiative. By delaying the announcement to next week, the US wouldn't have "lost" Syria. Quite obviously, Obama has made a cool assessment that Putin's friendship is expendable. After all, the discord over missile defense sticks out like a sore thumb in the US-Russia relations and there is no remedy in view.
A senior state department official, Frank Rose, deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Arms Control, gave the bottom line on Wednesday that Obama has nothing to offer Putin on missile defense. Rose said,
United States and NATO cannot agree to Russian proposals for "sectoral" or "joint" missile defense architectures.
... Russia continues to request legal guarantees that could create limitations on our ability to develop and deploy future missile defense systems. ... We have made clear we cannot and will not accept limitations on our ability to defend ourselves, our allies, and our partners, including where we deploy our BMD [ballistic missile defense] capable Aegis ships. ... the United States must have the flexibility, without legal limitations, to respond to evolving missile threats.
On the other hand, the Syrian opposition's morale has touched rock bottom after the crushing military defeat in Qusayr. The government forces are now preparing for their "liberation" of Aleppo. If the fall of Qusayr meant that the clandestine arms flow from Lebanon would taper off, a defeat in Aleppo could disrupt the opposition's supply lines from Turkey.
Meanwhile, the proposed Geneva 2 is becoming a non-starter, too. ...
But, most important, the White House decision could be a brainwave that occurred to Obama as he travelled back home in Air Force One from the summit meeting in California with Chinese President Xi Jinping, from which he emerged second best amid the shattering disclosures by the secrets whistleblower Edward Snowden, formerly of the CIA.
All in all, Obama's momentous decision on military intervention in Syria, which could well launch a new Cold War, is a desperate diversionary move when his administration is caught up deep in the cesspool over the Snowden controversy. ...
Former US defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld would have said, there is the "unknown unknown". First and foremost, how will Putin react? He is already reeling under the pressure from the US administration pushing for a regime change in Russia. ...
Certainly, throwing in the towel at this point on Syria becomes a ticklish decision for Moscow to take. What are the options? The best minds in the Kremlin will be debating.
In the Middle East itself, the White House decision dramatically impacts the power dynamic. Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan is at loggerheads with the Obama administration over his authoritarian tendencies. Yet, the White House decision catapults Turkey as a "frontline state". On the other hand, Turkish opinion militates against intervention in Syria.
Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iran, Hezbollah, Israel, Iraq, Lebanon - they are all involved in the Syrian question one way or another. Shepherding them, sequestering them, serenading them toward an agreeable end result is going to be virtually impossible. That is, assuming Syria survives as an entity on the Middle Eastern map.
Moscow unconvinced by US evidence of Syrian chemical weapons use
RT Russia June 14, 2013
Photo: Alexander Polyakov/RIA Novosti
Russia is not convinced by the evidence which the US provided alleging that the government of Syria’s President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebel forces.
“The Americans tried to present us with information on the use of chemical weapons by the regime, but frankly we thought that it was not convincing,” said presidential aide Yury Ushakov on Friday.
“We wouldn’t like to invoke references to the famous lab tube that [former US] Secretary of State [Colin] Powell showed, but the facts don’t look convincing in our eyes,” he added.
Powell brought a model vial, which he said looked like Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein’s weaponized anthrax, in a bid to convince members of the UN Security Council that they should agree to invade Iraq. The alleged weapons of mass destruction program proved to be non-existent after the US conquered the country in 2003.
Ushakov was commenting on the US decision to allow military aid to Syrian rebels after coming to the conclusion that Assad’s government had used its chemical weapons stockpile in the conflict.
Ushakov said Moscow sees difficulties with organizing a proper investigation into the alleged cases of chemical weapon attacks in Syrian territory, which would provide more conclusive evidence on the issue.
“We have tried on several occasions to organize it, including those occasions when information arrived that rebels were using chemical weapons. Let’s see how the situation develops,” he said.
The UN probe into the use of chemical weapons in Syria did not travel to the sites of the alleged attacks because Damascus barred the experts from going there. Syrian officials cited concerns for the safety of the experts and voiced doubts about their impartiality, since neither China nor Russia were allowed to participate.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry has warned that additional supplies to Syrian rebels will not contribute to the peace process, but on the contrary will plunge the country into chaos. ...
Syria chemical weapons accusations ‘a means of justifying further military action’
RT Russia June 14, 2013
The ‘red line’ drawn by the US over chemical weapons usage is a standard not applied to Syrian rebels, despite the same ‘red line’ being used for the Syrian government, Abayomi Azikwe, editor of the pan-African news wire, tells RT.
The US is conveniently ignoring accusations that the Syrian rebels themselves might have engaged in crimes against humanity, while throwing blame at Syria for unproven chemical weapon use to justify further military, political and diplomatic pressure against the Syrian government.
RT: American and EU intelligence agencies have reportedly concluded that the Syrian government has used chemical weapons over the last few years. Obama is on record saying that the use of poison gas is a red line that would potentially trigger an intervention in the conflict. Do you think these claims are trustworthy?
Abayomi Azikwe: I think we need to see the evidence – this is a so-called red line that President Obama drew several months ago. He claims that if there’s evidence of the movement of chemical weapons or the usage of chemical weapons, this would require the United States to escalate its military intervention into Syria.
Based upon the developments that have been taking place in Syria over the last two weeks in regard to the removal of rebels from various parts of the country and also the international situation, which is very disadvantageous in relationship to any type of US or NATO intervention in Syria – direct intervention in Syria – I believe that this of course is being utilized to provide a rationale and a justification for the escalation of military, political as well as diplomatic pressure against the Syrian government.
It’s no strange phenomenon that this is taking place right in the aftermath of the routing of the rebels in the Al Kussur just over a week ago. And of course these developments on the ground, inside Syria do not bode well for US interests which are exclusively designed to bring about the downfall of the government of President Bashar al-Assad. I think we really need to find out what concrete evidence they have that they Syrian government is involved in the utilization of chemical weapons – the Syrian government, it would definitely not be in their interests to utilize chemical weapons in a situation where they in fact have the upper hand against these Western-backed rebels.
Related: Hagel, Israeli DM talks to focus on attacking Syria
Jason Ditz Antiwar.com USA June 13, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel is preparing to meet with his Israeli counterpart Moshe Ya’alon, a multi-day meeting at the Pentagon which is expected to focus almost exclusively on Syria and the prospects of Israel attacking them more.
After repeated Israeli attacks, Ya’alon is expected to emphasize a recent assessment by Israeli Air Force Chief Amir Eshel, who declared that Israeli is within “10 minutes” of a full-scale war with Syria.
Beyond that, Ya’alon is expected to press Hagel to do something to prevent Russia from delivering S-300 air defense systems to Syria, which would make it more difficult for Israel to launch air strikes against them.
Israeli officials have repeatedly told Russia and anyone else that will listen that the delivery of the S-300s will mean war, and Ya’alon even made comments suggesting that Israel was open to attacking the Russian Navy to try to sink the S-300s before their delivery.
Austria troops begin pull out of Golan
AFP/Global Times France/China June 12, 2013
Austrian troops, who form the biggest contingent of UN peacekeepers on the Golan Heights, began to withdraw on Wednesday over security concerns after battles between Syrian soldiers and rebels spilled into the cease-fire zone.
The pullout comes despite UN appeals for more time to find a replacement for the departing soldiers, whose absence Israel fears will leave the plateau open to infiltration by Islamic militants.
It represents yet another headache for the international community as it struggles to find a political solution to the Syrian civil war, which has already killed an estimated 94,000 people, uprooted millions and occasionally spread into neighboring countries.
Seventy of Austria's 378-strong contingent in the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) entered the Israeli side of the Golan through the Quneitra crossing, the only direct passage between Syria and Israel, an AFP correspondent said.
They arrived in jeeps accompanied by armored vehicles before going through Syrian and Israeli security checks and setting off for Ben Gurion international airport near Tel Aviv.
Austria has been a cornerstone of the UNDOF, which has monitored the armistice line between Syria and Israel since 1974, and said it was pulling out because of deteriorating security. ...
Thursday, June 13, 2013
'Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems' & A Delhi bill to criminalize opposition to GM food
Rebuilding the foodshed: Fields of ENERGY
Philip Ackerman-Leist Post Carbon Institue Canada/USA April 25, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded and appended links.
Over the coming days, we'll be sharing material from Chapter 4 (Energy) of the latest Resilience guide, Rebuilding the Foodshed: How to Create Local, Sustainable & Secure Food Systems. This is a heck of a chapter, one that takes a look at the complex relationships between food systems, energy and waste. If you eat food, grow food, use energy, create energy, or make waste, you'll find yourself fascinated.
Read Part 2, Read Part 3, Read Part 4, Read Part 5, Read Part 6, Read Part 7
Food is energy. Food provides energy. Food requires energy. Food and energy are virtually synonymous. They even share a common unit of measure. But that doesn’t mean that they are in balance. To the contrary. And nowhere is that imbalance more evident than in the United States. ...
The energy behind human civilizations was once a product of the food supply. But we are at a point in human history in which food is predominately a result of nonhuman energy inputs. The prospect of bringing food and energy closer to a one-to-one ratio of calories invested to calories derived is extraordinarily complex, and it has direct links to the call for creating more sustainable and resilient food systems. Today in the United States, these food and energy questions comprise a quandary that most of us can ponder in relative comfort, without the imminent threat of being unable to feed ourselves due to costs, energy constraints, or shortages. And yet, even as we relish the extraordinarily low cost of food in the United States, certain threats do lurk in the background. The energy supply that feeds our food system is at short-term risk of disruption by natural disasters, international conflict, and economic turmoil. The long-term impacts of worsening climate change, dwindling petroleum supplies, and increasing global population pressures are looming realities that we may try to ignore but ultimately cannot avoid. We have already seen how spikes in food prices can create social unrest with the seeming velocity of the flick of a match.
Such inquiries into food security should not be viewed as mere intellectual exercises or myopic self-preservation interests. Perhaps the most compelling reasons to grapple with our precarious food/energy imbalance are sheer justice and altruism.3 People who are “food insecure”4 are generally far too busy trying to convert their own personal energy into food dollars to spend much time researching and thinking about the national food and energy dilemma. The onus is upon those who are concerned enough to care and are able to do something about it. As actor Alan Alda once said during a graduation speech to a group of medical students, “The head bone is connected to the heart bone—don’t let them come apart.”5
I am an optimist and a good-natured (I hope) skeptic. But from my vantage point as a farmer and an academic, few things worry me more about the human condition than the intertwined fragilities of our food and energy supplies—and our habits that exacerbate the amount of energy consumed between farm and fork.
I struggle to make sense of the food/energy dilemma most every day, although I would by no means characterize those days as gloomy or my attitude as morose. Rather, my days tend to be filled with sunshine, pastoral landscapes, solar panels, healthy livestock, laughing children, and inquisitive students. But the energy-to-food ratio is a constant theme, starting with the morning milking on our off-the-grid farm. Our grass-fed herd of American Milking Devon cattle get either fresh pasture or good-quality hay every morning—no grain, but plenty of gain. The milk pails are washed with solar-heated hot water while the early morning lights in the house are powered by yesterday’s sunshine. (We are almost entirely solar-powered, with fossil-fuel backups providing about 20 percent of the additional energy we need.) We’ll use one of our two Kubota tractors to do the morning’s heavy lifting or towing, but the goal is to use them as little as possible and, when feasible, not at all.
When the chores are completed, by me or often by one of our apprentices, I admittedly leave home in a gas-guzzling four-wheel-drive vehicle and head out sixteen miles to my job at Green Mountain College, where I oversee the college’s Farm & Food Project. ...
Related: Corporatists across the globe rankle at the likes of Philip Ackerman-Leist. Here from India: A Delhi bill to criminalize opposition to GM food. The India government aims to curb opposition to the introduction of genetically modified (GM) food crops with a bill that provides for jail terms and fines for "whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products". The bill does not take into account evidence about the safety risks posed by GM food crops, say critics.
India goes bananas over GM crops
Ranjit Devraj Inter Press Service International June 14, 2013
Banana vendors in Chennai, South India. Photo: McKay Savage/CC-BY-2.0. India is the largest producer of bananas in the world but it doesn’t export any; all of them are consumed locally. "If the new bill is passed...it will only be a matter of time before India becomes a GM banana republic." Visit this page for its embedded links.
NEW DELHI, Jun 14 2013 (IPS) - India’s environmental and food security activists who have so far succeeded in stalling attempts to introduce genetically modified (GM) food crops into this largely farming country now find themselves up against a bill in parliament that could criminalise such opposition.
The Biotechnology Regulatory Authority of India (BRAI) bill, introduced into parliament in April, provides for ‘single window clearance’ for projects by biotechnology and agribusiness companies including those to bring GM food crops into this country, 70 percent of whose 1.1 billion people are involved in agricultural activities.
“Popular opposition to the introduction of GM crops is the result of a campaign launched by civil society groups to create awareness among consumers,” said Devinder Sharma, food security expert and leader of the Forum for Biotechnology and Food Security. “Right now we are opposing a plan to introduce GM bananas from Australia.”
Sharma told IPS that if the BRAI bill becomes law such awareness campaigns will attract stiff penalties. The bill provides for jail terms and fines for “whoever, without any evidence or scientific record misleads the public about the safety of organisms and products…”
Suman Sahai, who leads ‘Gene Campaign’, an organisation dedicated to the conservation of genetic resources and indigenous knowledge, told IPS that “this draconian bill has been introduced in parliament without taking into account evidence constantly streaming in from around the world about the safety risks posed by GM food crops.” ...
“The new bill is not about regulation, but the promotion of the interests of food giants trying to introduce risky technologies into India, ignoring the rights of farmers and consumers,” Sahai said. “It is alarming because it gives administrators the power to quell opposition to GM technology and criminalise those who speak up against it.”
The past month has seen stiff opposition to plans to introduce GM bananas into India by a group of leading NGOs that includes the Initiative for Health & Equity in Society, Guild of Services, Azadi Bachao Andolan, Save Honey Bees Campaign, Navdanya and Gene Ethics in Australia.
These groups are seeking cancellation of a deal between the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and India’s biotechnology department to grow GM bananas here.
Vandana Shiva, who leads the biodiversity conservation organisation Navdanya, and is among India’s top campaigners against GM crops, told IPS that such food crop experiments pose a “direct threat to India’s biodiversity, seed sovereignty, indigenous knowledge and public health by gradually replacing diverse crop varieties with a few patented monocultures.” ...
Jim comment: What kind of pressure did Agribiz place on the Indian government? It was only back in October 2012 that Indian environmental activists were cautiously optimistic that a call by a court-appointed technical committee for a ten-year moratorium on open field trials of genetically modified (GM) crops would shelve plans to introduce bio-engineered foods into the largely agricultural country.
... Based on India being a signatory to the Cartagena Protocol that recognizes biodiversity as a long-term resource, the committee recommended a complete ban on field trials of crops for which India is a center of origin or diversity, “as transgenics can contaminate and adversely affect biodiversity.” ...
In Canada, productivity and incomes, even in the private sector, are increasingly restrained by lousy infrastructure
U.S. says climate change 'high risk' to federal assets, Canada has no infrastructure adaptation planPosted at: Thursday, June 13, 2013 - 10:55 AM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Elizabeth May The Hill Times/rabble.ca Canada June 12, 2013
Canada needs an infrastructure climate change plan, stat: The oil sands in Fort McMurray, Alta. Green Party Leader Elizabeth May says that while the U.S. considers climate change to be a ‘high risk’ to its federal assets, here in Canada, ‘we have no carbon reduction plan and no adaptation plan. Without both we are headed for new and unprecedented threats to our future, our economy, and our infrastructure.’ Photo: Jake Wright/The Hill Time
One of my favourite political satirical works is Terry Fallis's The High Road. It should be assigned reading for policy studies on infrastructure. It does a brilliant job of explaining the perils of transferring a fiscal deficit over to an infrastructure deficit. In Fallis's fictional Ottawa, the Alexandra Bridge collapses, and our hero, MP Angus McLintock, uncovers the truth. The deficit had been moved from the books of Canada to the infrastructure of Canada. Successive governments had "saved" money by reducing the maintenance and investment in infrastructure.
Well, of course, that isn't true in real life. In real life, we have both a fiscal deficit and an infrastructure deficit (not to mention the more pressing ecological deficit), and none of them are subject to a plausible plan leading to elimination.
In Montreal, some of the water pipes that run under the city are so old that they are made of wood. Across Canada, water works are antiquated and designed for a climate we no longer have as increased and more intense deluges lead to raw sewage bypassing treatment to enter rivers and seas, untreated. We have bridges that are shut down for repairs, in Saskatchewan and Quebec.
In six Western Canadian cities alone, (Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg), the Canada West Foundation puts the infrastructure deficit in 2003 at $543 million. That critical weakness in infrastructure is in roads and bridges, water-works, lack of efficient public transit, lighting, waste disposal and on and on.
The most recent figures I could find come from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) in its January 2013 report. According to the CCPA, the extent of gap between safe and modern infrastructure and our current situation is $145-billion worth of missing investment. To address the threat posed by crumbling infrastructure, CCPA says we need an additional $20 billion to $30 billion a year.
We know that kind of money is not going to come from the coffers of municipal governments. Of every dollar paid in taxes, only eight cents goes to municipal governments. Yet it is in municipalities that we experience our closest relationship with any level of government. ...
The U.S. General Accounting Office has determined that the threat to U.S. federal assets qualifies climate change as "high risk" to the health of U.S. government finances. Yet, here in Canada, we have no carbon reduction plan and no adaptation plan. Without both we are headed for new and unprecedented threats to our future, our economy and our infrastructure.
If anyone doubts that profound impacts of the changes brought on by global warming, review the costs of the brief burst of heavy rainfall that caused the collapse of Finch Avenue in Toronto in July 2009. This one event cost Toronto millions of dollars to repair. Warmer atmosphere contains more moisture than colder air and, as a result of global warming, Canada's rainfall patterns have already changed. The impact is severe on infrastructure built for a different climate. This applies to roads, waterworks, and developments in floodplains.
Meanwhile, northern infrastructure is severely impacted by melting permafrost and buildings along tornado alleys requires significant adaptation investment. None of this is currently budgeted within announced funds. ...
The growing support for higher taxes
Jim Stanford Globe and Mail/rabble.ca Canada June 10, 2013
For years, most pundits have concluded that any politician proposing higher taxes must be either brave or suicidal. These days, however, a growing number of leaders, across the spectrum, are willing to do precisely that. And instead of self-destruction, they may just be showing canny foresight.
In Ontario, Premier Kathleen Wynne has sparked a provincial dialogue on how to pay for urban public transit -- including new taxes and fees. Manitoba's governing New Democrats plan to boost the sales tax by a point, with money targeted to new flood-prevention infrastructure. B.C.'s Liberals campaigned on a platform containing not one but two tax hikes: one on corporations and one on individuals earning more than $150,000. They won a surprising victory against the B.C. NDP (which also proposed higher taxes). Quebec's PQ government is boosting income taxes for those who earn more than $100,000.
Suicidal? Polls have put public support for some new taxes -- especially those targeted at corporations and the wealthy -- near 80 per cent.
The federal Conservatives have been the most skeptical of this trend. "I do not believe in tax increases," was Finance Minister Jim Flaherty's blunt assessment. That is surely a rash statement for any finance minister. Even if Canada went to war? Even if we faced a deadly epidemic? Even if it saved us money in the future? Rob Ford, the mayor of Canada's most congested city, believes the same.
Indeed, part of the problem is a political culture that became addicted to promises of pain-free tax cuts, thanks to the budget room generated in the more expansionary 2000s. From the turn of the century until 2011, revenues received by all levels of government in Canada declined by almost 6 percentage points of GDP: from 43.2 per cent to just 37.5 per cent. That represents forgone revenue of more than $100-billion -- enough to pay off all deficits in Canada, and much more. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Canada's tax cuts over this period were far larger than those undertaken by any other major industrial country.
Last year, however, Canada's tax take began to edge back up. And the OECD expects that trend to continue. The key motive is not to pay off the deficit -- for Ottawa and most provinces, current deficits are nothing to lose sleep over. The real pressure is to pay for new things that Canadians want and need from their governments -- like transit, repairs to infrastructure and targeted new programs (such as child care).
And that is as it should be. After all, this is the whole point of taxes: to pay for stuff we need.
Railing against taxes used to score easy political points for conservatives and populists. However, there is now a growing list of reasons to believe that higher taxes -- and the public projects that they fund -- will be highly beneficial for Canada's economy. Here's why: ...
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Patriots' corner: Commentary on Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden & Obama’s dangerous dilemma
Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks' source inside the US Army, has done more to make Americans safer than the Navy SEAL unit that assassinated Osama bin Laden. As his trial proceeds to its foregone conclusion, the greatest threat to the United States is not terrorism but secrecy and the clueless foreign policy that Manning helped expose. Chase Madar is an attorney and the author of The Passion of Bradley Manning: The Story Behind the WikiLeaks Whistleblower. A TomDispatch regular, he writes for the London Review of Books, Le Monde Diplomatique, the American Conservative, and CounterPunch. He is covering the Manning trial daily for The Nation magazine.Posted at: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 06:22 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Tomgram: Chase Madar, Bradley Manning vs. SEAL Team 6
Tom Englehardt, Chase Madar Tom Dispatch USA June 11, 2013
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[Note for TomDispatch Readers: This website received an honor last week. In the Utne Reader’s 2013 media awards, TomDispatch won for “best political coverage” of the year. Here’s the description that went with the category: “Emerging in the early days of the War on Terror, TomDispatch’s fierce devotion to truth has proven essential to navigating our Orwellian post-9/11 planet. Combining some of the most insightful and courageous voices on the web, the site strikes at the very foundations of power and propaganda. As we face down a new decade of drone warfare, counterinsurgency, and climate chaos, Tom Dispatch’s forceful analysis and sharp investigative authority could scarcely be more vital.” Tom]
Okay, give them this much: their bloodlust stops just short of the execution chamber door. The military prosecutors of the case against Bradley Manning, assumedly with the support of the Obama administration, have brought the virulent charge of “aiding the enemy” against the Army private who leaked state secrets. Yet they claim to have magnanimously taken the death penalty off the table. All they want to do is lock Manning up and throw away the key because, so they claim, he did nothing short of personally lend a hand to archfiend Osama bin Laden. This echoes the charge repeatedly made by top U.S. officials that he and WikiLeaks have “blood on their hands” for releasing a trove of military and State Department documents.
We’re talking about the very officials who planned and oversaw Washington’s wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the backlands of the planet and who have searched their own hands in vain for any signs of blood. (None at all, they don’t hesitate to assure us.) Among them are those, military and civilian, who set up our torture prisons at Guantanamo and in Afghanistan, are ultimately responsible for the perversions of Abu Ghraib, and oversaw kidnappings off the streets of global cities. These are the folks whose Air Force blew away at least six wedding parties in Iraq and Afghanistan, whose drones have killed hundreds, if not thousands of civilians, and whose special operations forces recently seem to have been involved in the torture, murder, and secret burial of Afghan civilians. I could go on, but why bother since it was all done “legally,” which means they can retire to corporate boards of their choice, rake in money from speeches, and write their memoirs, while Manning, whose motive (to judge by the online conversations he had) was to end the bloodletting, reveal information about American crimes, and to shut down our wars will have no memoir to write, no life to live. It can’t get worse than that, can it?
Given what we now know about the U.S. military’s unwillingness to pursue prosecutions of rape in its own ranks, its eagerness to pursue Manning to the edge of the grave should be considered striking. We’re talking about a national security state that -- as recent revelations have made clear -- can imagine just about no boundaries when it comes to surveilling its own population and none whatsoever when it comes to protecting its own actions from the eyes of the public. In that sense, Manning truly crossed a red line. Rape? A mere nothing compared to his crime. After all, he was aiding the most dangerous enemy of all: not Osama bin Laden, but Americans who want to breach the ever-expanding secrecy of the National Security Complex.
As TomDispatch regular Chase Madar (covering the Manning trial as a blogger for the Nation) suggests today, right now there seem to be few crimes more dangerous than shining a light on the secret workings of the U.S. government and its military. Admittedly, President Obama entered the Oval Office promising on Day One to let the “sunshine” in on government operations. Manning fulfilled the president’s promise in the only way a 22-year-old who had seen terrible things in Iraq could imagine doing. Maybe it wasn’t elegant by the president’s high standards, but it was effective. He deserves something better than the worst the U.S. military and Washington can throw at him. He deserves a life, and if that life in the end proves as valuable as it’s been so far, a memoir. Tom
How Dystopian Secrecy Contributes to Clueless Wars
Bradley Manning Has Done More for U.S. Security than SEAL Team 6
By Chase Madar
The prosecution of Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks’ source inside the U.S. Army, will be pulling out all the stops when it calls to the stand a member of Navy SEAL Team 6, the unit that assassinated Osama bin Laden. The SEAL (in partial disguise, as his identity is secret) is expected to tell the military judge that classified documents leaked by Manning to WikiLeaks were found on bin Laden’s laptop. That will, in turn, be offered as proof not that bin Laden had internet access like two billion other earthlings, but that Manning has “aided the enemy,” a capital offense.
Think of it as courtroom cartoon theater: the heroic slayer of the jihadi super-villain testifying against the ultimate bad soldier, a five-foot-two-inch gay man facing 22 charges in military court and accused of the biggest security breach in U.S. history.
But let’s be clear on one thing: Manning, the young Army intelligence analyst who leaked thousands of public documents and passed them on to WikiLeaks, has done far more for U.S. national security than SEAL Team 6.
The assassination of Osama bin Laden, the spiritual (but not operational) leader of al-Qaeda, was a fist-pumping moment of triumphalism for a lot of Americans, as the Saudi fanatic had come to incarnate not just al-Qaeda but all national security threats. This was true despite the fact that, since 9/11, al-Qaeda has been able to do remarkably little harm to the United States or to the West in general. (The deadliest attack in a Western nation since 9/11, the 2004 Atocha bombing in Madrid, was not committed by bin Laden’s organization, though white-shoe foreign policy magazines and think tanks routinely get this wrong, “al-Qaeda” being such a handy/sloppy metonym for all terrorism.)
Al-Qaeda remains a simmering menace, but as an organization hardly the greatest threat to the United States. In fact, if you measure national security in blood and money, as many of us still do, by far the greatest threat to the United States over the past dozen years has been our own clueless foreign policy.
Look at the numbers. ...
Why have our strategic choices been so disastrous? In large part because they have been militantly clueless. Starved of important information, both the media and public opinion were putty in the hands the Bush administration and its neocon followers as they dreamt up and then put into action their geopolitical fantasies. It has since become fashion for politicians who supported the war to blame the Iraq debacle on “bad intelligence.” But as former CIA analyst Paul Pillar reminds us, the carefully cherry-picked “Intel” about Saddam Hussein’s WMD program was really never the issue. After all, the CIA’s classified intelligence estimate on Iraq argued that, even if that country’s ruler Saddam Hussein did have weapons of mass destruction (which he didn’t), he would never use them and was therefore not a threat.
Senator Bob Graham, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee in 2003, was one of the few people with access to that CIA report who bothered to take the time to read it. Initially keen on the idea of invading Iraq, he changed his mind and voted against the invasion.
What if the entire nation had had access to that highly classified document? What if bloggers, veterans' groups, clergy, journalists, educators, and other opinion leaders had been able to see the full intelligence estimate, not just the morsels cherry-picked by Cheney and his mates? Even then, of course, there was enough information around to convince millions of people across the globe of the folly of such an invasion, but what if some insider had really laid out the whole truth, not just the cherry-picked pseudofacts in those months and the games being played by other insiders to fool Congress and the American people into a war of choice and design in the Middle East? As we now know, whatever potentially helpful information there was remained conveniently beyond our sight until a military and humanitarian disaster was unleashed.
Any private-sector employee who screwed up this badly would be fired on the spot, or at the very least put under full-scale supervision. And this was the gift of Bradley Manning: thanks to his trove of declassified documents our incompetent foreign policy elites finally have the supervision they manifestly need.
Not surprisingly, foreign policy elites don’t much enjoy being supervised. Like orthopedic surgeons, police departments, and every other professional group under the sun, the military brass and their junior partners in the diplomatic corps feel deeply that they should be exempt from public oversight. Every volley of revealed documents from WikiLeaks has stimulated the same outraged response from that crew: near-total secrecy is essential to the delicate arts of diplomacy and war. ...
Did Manning violate provisions of the Uniform Code of Military Justice? He certainly did, and a crushing sentence of possibly decades in military prison is surely on its way. Military law is marvelously elastic when it comes to rape and sexual assault and perfectly easygoing about the slaughter of foreign civilians, but it puts on a stern face for the unspeakable act of declassifying documents. But the young private’s act of civil defiance was in fact a first step in reversing the pathologies that have made our foreign policy a string of self-inflicted homicidal disasters. By letting us in on more than a half million “secrets,” Bradley Manning has done far more for American national security than SEAL Team 6 ever did.
Bradley Manning and Adolf Eichmann
Elliot Sperber CounterPunch USA June 12, 2013
The year 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Hannah Arendt’s controversial critique of the trial of the Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann, and her work remains unambiguously pertinent. Indeed, not only do the ghosts of the past continue to haunt Eichmann in Jerusalem; another ghost – a ghost from the future – is also detectable among her words. As one reads her text, Eichmann’s polar opposite, Bradley Manning, arises from Arendt’s pages like a photographic negative. Presently on trial for charges that include “communicating national defense information to an unauthorized source,” and “aiding the enemy,” Manning succeeded in accomplishing what Eichmann was tried and executed for failing to do; Manning refused to participate in the commission of crimes against humanity.
The reader must refrain from inferring that an equivalence is being drawn between the atrocities committed by the Nazi regime and those committed by the US. However shocking the genocide perpetrated by the Nazis may be, one must recognize that those crimes are not at all inconsistent with the genocidal aims that that regime repeatedly and explicitly espoused. To be sure, the US – which is also guilty of launching a war of aggression – never professed any genocidal intentions; However much it fell short, and however disingenuous it may have been, the rhetoric invoked by the US was that of the enlightenment ideal of human freedom. In this light, it should not be too contentious to maintain that the US ought to be held to a standard higher than that reserved for Nazis. No war crimes are acceptable, and the systematic denial of procedural justice, as well as outright torture, and crimes against humanity perpetrated by the US in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, Yemen, Pakistan, and other places over the past decade are beyond reasonable dispute.
Acts such as those recorded in the video Collateral Murder (titled and released to the public via Wikileaks), for example, which depict US soldiers killing innocent civilians in clear violation of International Law, not to mention such war crimes as the unabating drone attacks on civilian targets, are among those that Manning intended to stop. That Manning is facing life in prison for his actions is nothing short of a perversion of justice – as perverse as the fact that had Manning meticulously followed the rules, like Eichmann had, Manning would have been more likely to be awarded a medal than a court martial. It is this injustice – the injustice that arises from the collective adherence to unjust laws, acceding to the inertia of injustice – that Arendt referred to as the banality of evil.
Arguably Arendt’s most familiar argument – and that which provides the subtitle for her piece on Eichmann – the banality of evil arose from her observation that Eichmann, rather than being some demonic, terrifying creature, one so instrumental in perpetrating monumental acts of horror, was just, as she put it, a “nobody.” Describing Eichmann as a habitual “follower,” in distinguishing his character from that of the stereotypical evildoer, Arendt wrote that Eichmann “not only obeyed orders, he also obeyed the law.” This was, in fact, Eichmann’s main defense – the same discredited defense invoked by the Nazi war criminals in 1945 at Nuremberg. Among Arendt’s observations regarding Eichmann’s “banal evil” was that, rather than scheming and plotting and intending to commit evil, Eichmann didn’t really think at all. “His inability to speak” she writes, “was closely connected with an inability to think.”
The proverbial cog in the machine, a tool more than a human being, Eichmann did not resist the inertial flow of the Nazi war effort. To the extent that this applies to Eichmann, though, the opposite may be said of Manning. In spite of the claims of the prosecution, Manning consistently demonstrated an ability to act according to clearly articulated reasons. Rather than thoughtlessly obeying unjust laws, as Eichmann did, as Manning put it in his testimony before a military court earlier this year, “I believed that if the general public, especially the American public, had access to the information … this could spark a domestic debate on the role of the military and our foreign policy in general.” Manning may have violated unjust laws. However, as Martin Luther King Jr., citing Augustine of Hippo, put it in his Letter from Birmingham Jail, “an unjust law is no law at all.” To be sure, should a conflict arise between justice and law, justice ought to prevail.
This is not simply rhetoric. The Law itself recognizes that to the degree that it furthers injustice, a law is invalid. The precedents established by the Nuremberg Trials – now firmly entrenched in such pillars of International Law as Article 85 and Article 17 of the Geneva Convention, not to mention the US Army’s very own Field Manual – include the very principle that merely following orders does not exculpate someone from responsibility for war crimes. ...
While some of his supporters proclaim their solidarity with Manning by announcing that “we are all Bradley Manning,” insofar as his supporters are not in prison – and may be unwilling to go to prison for their beliefs – it is not entirely clear what such a proclamation entails. What is patently clear, however, is that, to the degree that we accede and conform to the dominating power of capital and the state (as opposed to the liberating power of resistance), we are all, every one of us, Adolf Eichmann.
Below: NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden explained his decision to leak top-secret documents as a response to America letting a ragtag group of terrorists scare the country into accepting a near-Orwellian surveillance state, a choice that can be challenged, says Norman Solomon.
Choosing against the surveillance state
Normon Solomon Consortiumnews USA June 10, 2013
In Washington, where the state of war and the surveillance state are one and the same, top officials have begun to call for Edward Snowden’s head. His moral action of whistleblowing — a clarion call for democracy — now awaits our responses.
After nearly 12 years of the “war on terror,” the revelations of recent days are a tremendous challenge to the established order: nonstop warfare, intensifying secrecy and dominant power that equate safe governance with Orwellian surveillance.
In the highest places, there is more than a wisp of panic in rarefied air. It’s not just the National Security Agency that stands exposed; it’s the repressive arrogance perched on the pyramid of power.
Back here on the ground, so many people — appalled by Uncle Sam’s continual morph into Big Brother — have been pushing against the walls of anti-democratic secrecy. Those walls rarely budge, and at times they seem to be closing in, even literally for some (as in the case of heroic whistleblower Bradley Manning). But all the collective pushing has cumulative effects.
In recent days, as news exploded about NSA surveillance, a breakthrough came into sight. Current history may not be an immovable wall; it may be on a hinge. And if we push hard enough, together, there’s no telling what might be possible or achieved. The gratitude that so many of us now feel toward Edward Snowden raises the question: How can we truly express our appreciation? ...
The corporate-government warfare state is enraged that Edward Snowden has broken through with conduct and values that are 180 degrees in a different direction. “I’m not going to hide,” he told the Washington Post on Sunday. “Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest.”
When a Post reporter asked whether his revelations would change anything, Snowden replied: “I think they already have. Everyone everywhere now understands how bad things have gotten — and they’re talking about it. They have the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state.”
And, when the Post asked about threats to “national security,” Snowden offered an assessment light-years ahead of mainline media’s conventional wisdom: “We managed to survive greater threats in our history . . . than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue states without resorting to these sorts of programs. It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose . . . omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance. . . . That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs.”
Profoundly, in the early summer of 2013, with his actions and words, Edward Snowden has given aid and comfort to grassroots efforts for democracy. What we do with his brave gift will be our choice.
Another truth-teller steps forward
Ray McGovern Antiwasr.com USA June 12, 2013
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Before the U.S. government and the mainstream media engage in the customary character assassination of truth-teller Edward Snowden – a fate endured by Pfc. Bradley Manning and others – let’s get on the record the motives he gave for releasing the trove of information on intrusive eavesdropping by the National Security Agency.
Why would someone like Snowden, a 29-year-old employee of national-security contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, jeopardize what he calls “a very comfortable life” in order to blow the whistle on the U.S. government’s abuse of power?
If what he did sounds weird, this is only because there are so precious few like him who will stand on principle and risk everything. Snowden explained that if the public does not know about these intrusive programs, there is no room for citizen input regarding how they square with our constitutional rights. ...
In several key respects, the experiences of Snowden resemble those of Bradley Manning. Both took the enlisted person’s oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” As a condition of employment, both signed a promise not to disclose classified information; and both witnessed at close hand flagrant abuses that their consciences told them they needed to expose.
All this required them to go back on their secrecy promise, in order to achieve a greater good. What they were able to understand, and act on, is what ethicists call a “supervening value.” [See Daniel C. Maguire’s "The Manning Trial’s Real Defendant” regarding the moral balancing act between democracy’s need for information and government insistence on secrecy.]
It didn’t require a law degree for Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden to understand how the Bush and Obama administrations were playing fast and loose with key provisions of the Constitution of the United States.
As for the current President, he seems to have been editing the oath he took to “preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Few caught it when he preached on national security on May 23, but Greg Sargent noted in the Washington Post that Obama defined his commander-in-chief role as requiring him to tilt toward national security and away from civil liberties – clearly prioritizing the latter out of a warped zero-sum mindset.
Obama said “constitutional issues” must be “weighed” against “my responsibility to protect the American people.” Got that? He was even more explicit last Friday about how he sees these choices. “You can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience,” Obama said. “We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. … There are trade-offs involved.”
Regarding his priorities, he said: “When I came into this office I made two commitments … Number one, to keep the American people safe; and Number two, to uphold the Constitution. And that includes what I consider to be a constitutional right to privacy and an observance of civil liberties.”
Thanks for tacking on that last sentence, Mr. President, but your defense of the incredibly wide and intrusive programs – alien to Fourth Amendment protections – strain credulity well beyond the breaking point. You lost me when you described the recently revealed eavesdropping programs that suck up data on billions of our communications daily as “very narrowly circumscribed” and “very focused.” ...
Related: Many Americans, particularly the young, are angry over government spying — and are cheering on leakers who release “secret” documents. By taking the “establishment” side of this debate, President Obama risks discrediting government just as it is needed on global warming and other critical issues, writes Robert Parry.
Obama’s dangerous dilemma
Robert Parry Consortiumnews USA June 12, 2013
President Barack Obama, known for preferring thoughtful accommodation to tough-minded confrontation, finds himself caught in a political quandary that could have dire consequences for the world’s future.
His dangerous dilemma is this: the planet is facing a rising tide of existential threats – from widening income inequality to life-threatening global warming – that require coordinated and aggressive responses from nation states and particularly the United States. But, simultaneously, his support for expanded government surveillance and national security secrecy are undermining trust in government.
President Barack Obama tours tornado damage in Moore, Oklahoma, on May 26, 2013. The giant tornado represented the kind of extreme weather that scientists say the world can expect as human activity continues to heat up the planet.
So, just when the people need government the most – to literally save the world – government is giving them more reasons to reject government. It is a moment when Obama’s proclivity for careful political calibrations adds to the danger.
If he doesn’t move quickly and decisively to let American citizens in on as many of the government surveillance secrets as reasonably possible – and dial back the dragnet on people’s personal information – he risks playing into the hands of anti-government extremists like the Tea Party who are now casting themselves as the protectors of America’s constitutional rights.
That is as much a masquerade as the Tea Party’s Revolutionary War costumes, since Tea Partiers voted overwhelmingly for George W. Bush and other Republican officeholders who were instrumental in vastly expanding the surveillance state. ...
Repugnance over lethal drone attacks have merged with anger over the National Security Agency’s data collection of phone records and other personal information. Though President Obama can argue that he has reined in some of the abuses of President Bush – overall reducing the levels of violence abroad and operating with more legal safeguards at home – Obama finds himself viewed more as an avatar of this increasingly despised “Big Brother” apparatus than as a champion of the U.S. Constitution.
That may become a big political problem for Obama and the Democrats as they head into a challenging congressional election in 2014. Indeed, they could be facing a repeat of the “shellacking” they took in 2010 when many progressives sat on their hands to show displeasure with Obama’s failure to enact “single-payer” health insurance and his slow pace in ending Bush’s wars.
But an even greater danger for the world is that Obama’s continuation of violent counterterrorism polices (like drone strikes) and his embrace of surveillance-state secrecy (including harsh prosecution of leakers) make any arguments for a strong government response to such pressing issues as income inequality and global warming a much harder sell with many American voters.
Especially many of the young appear likely to fall prey to the libertarian argument that any expansion of government inevitably deprives you of your freedoms. Thus, the Right may gain the high ground in making the argument that Big Brother surveillance goes hand in hand with, say, environmental regulation to slow or reverse global warming. And that could mean the next Congress will have more climate-change deniers, fewer supporters for government spending on infrastructure, and more advocates for letting powerful corporations regulate themselves.
If President Obama hopes to avert that result, he must go beyond rhetorically welcoming a vibrant debate on the super-secret counterterrorism programs and actually give the public enough information so a viable debate is possible. He also would do well to lighten up on punishing whistleblowers.
In a surveillance state, is resistance is futile? Even Winston, after all, learns to love Big Brother in the end
Intro: The PANOPTICON was proposed as a model prison by Jeremy Bentham (1748-1832), a Utilitarian philosopher and theorist of British legal reform.Posted at: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 - 02:48 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
The Panopticon ("all-seeing") functioned as a round-the-clock surveillance machine. Its design ensured that no prisoner could ever see the 'inspector' who conducted surveillance from the privileged central location within the radial configuration. The prisoner could never know when he was being surveilled -- mental uncertainty that in itself would prove to be a crucial instrument of discipline.
French philosopher Michel Foucault described the implications of 'Panopticism' in his 1975 work Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison:
Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power. So to arrange things that the surveillance is permanent in its effects, even if it is discontinuous in its action; that the perfection of power should tend to render its actual exercise unnecessary; that this architectural apparatus should be a machine for creating and sustaining a power relation independent of the person who exercises it; in short, that the inmates should be caught up in a power situation of which they are themselves the bearers. To achieve this, it is at once too much and too little that the prisoner should be constantly observed by an inspector: too little, for what matters is that he knows himself to be observed; too much, because he has no need in fact of being so. In view of this, Bentham laid down the principle that power should be visible and unverifiable. Visible: the inmate will constantly have before his eyes the tall outline of the central tower from which he is spied upon. Unverifiable: the inmate must never know whether he is being looked at at any one moment; but he must be sure that he may always be so. In order to make the presence or absence of the inspector unverifiable, so that the prisoners, in their cells, cannot even see a shadow, Bentham envisaged not only venetian blinds on the windows of the central observation hall, but, on the inside, partitions that intersected the hall at right angles and, in order to pass from one quarter to the other, not doors but zig-zag openings; for the slightest noise, a gleam of light, a brightness in a half-opened door would betray the presence of the guardian. The Panopticon is a machine for dissociating the see/being seen dyad: in the peripheric ring, one is totally seen, without ever seeing; in the central tower, one sees everything without ever being seen. - Excerpt from 'Panopticism' in Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish: The Birth of the Prison
(NY: Vintage Books 1995) pp. 195-228 (translated from the French by Alan Sheridan)
Whether he went on with the diary, or whether he did not go on with it, made no difference. The Thought Police would get him just the same. He had committed— would still have committed, even if he had never set pen to paper— the essential crime that contained all others in itself. Thoughtcrime, they called it. Thoughtcrime was not a thing that could be concealed forever. You might dodge successfully for a while, even for years, but sooner or later they were bound to get you. - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, lines from Part One, Chapter 1. (In the novel, "Thoughtcrime" is the criminal act of holding unspoken beliefs or doubts that oppose or question the ruling party. The Thought Police use surveillance and psychological monitoring to find and eliminate members of society who challenge the party's authority and ideology.)
But it was all right, everything was all right, the struggle was finished. He had won the victory over himself. He loved Big Brother. - George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four, lines from Part Three, Chapter 6.
Sales of '1984' spike amid NSA spying scandal
Michael Winter USA TODAY USA June 11, 2013
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The revelations about government surveillance have introduced a new generation of readers to Nineteen Eighty-Four, as sales of George Orwell's dystopian classic soar.
Sales of the "centennial edition" on Amazon.com had skyrocketed more than 5,800% as of Tuesday night. The novel that introduced the world to the all-seeing, all-knowing "Big Brother" had climbed from No. 7,397 to No. 125 on Amazon's best-seller list, the fifth-best performance.
Sales of the "Signet Classics" edition had risen 287% -- moving from 810 to 209 and rounding out the top 20.
Barnes & Nobles has also seen a "significant spike in sales" of the book, which is a perennial top seller, a company executive told Bloomberg.
The book was published 64 years ago Saturday.
A book buyer for the Strand Book Store in New York reported a 50% increase in sales (from an average of about 12 copies a week). In addition to the reports of snooping by U.S. intelligence services, he said interest may also be driven by the novel's inclusion on schools' summer reading lists.
Several 1984 newbies on Amazon opined, "This should be required reading in high school." (News flash: "Back in the day" it was ...) ...
So are we living in 1984?
Ian Crouch The New Yorker, Page-Turner blog USA June 11, 2013
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Since last week’s revelations of the scope of the United States’ domestic surveillance operations, George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, which was published sixty-four years ago this past Saturday, has enjoyed a massive spike in sales. The book has been invoked by voices as disparate as Nicholas Kristof and Glenn Beck. Even Edward Snowden, the twenty-nine-year-old former intelligence contractor turned leaker, sounded, in the Guardian interview in which he came forward, like he’d been guided by Orwell’s pen. But what will all the new readers and rereaders of Orwell’s classic find when their copy arrives? Is Obama Big Brother, at once omnipresent and opaque? And are we doomed to either submit to the safety of unthinking orthodoxy or endure re-education and face what horrors lie within the dreaded Room 101? With Orwell once again joining a culture-wide consideration of communication, privacy, and security, it seemed worthwhile to take another look at his most influential novel.
Nineteen Eighty-Four begins on a cold April morning in a deteriorated London, the major city of Airstrip One, a province of Oceania, where, despite advances in technology, the weather is still lousy and residents endure a seemingly endless austerity. The narrator introduces Winston, a thirty-nine-year-old man beset by the fatigue of someone older, who lives in an apartment building that smells of “boiled cabbage” and works as a drone in the Ministry of Truth, which spreads public falsehoods. The first few pages contain all the political realities of this future society: the Police Patrol snoops in people’s windows, and Thought Police, with more insidious power, linger elsewhere. Big Brother, the totalitarian figurehead, stares out from posters plastered throughout the city, and private telescreens broadcast the Party’s platform and its constant stream of infotainment. Everyone simply assumes that they are always being watched, and most no longer know to care. Except for Winston, who is different, compelled as if by muscle memory to court danger by writing longhand in a real paper journal.
Thinking about Edward Snowden on Sunday, it wasn’t much of a leap to imagine him and his colleagues working in some version of Oceania’s Ministry of Truth, gliding through banal office gigs whose veneer of nine-to-five technocratic normality helped to hide their more sinister reality. ...
Audio: Are we living in 1984?
"The Current" CBC Radio One Canada June 14, 2013
You can listen to this segment of the program (27:30) from a pop-up link on the page.
Sales of George Orwell's novel 1984 spiked following revelations of the U.S. domestic surveillance program. Writer Joyce Carol Oates isn't surprised. She believes 2013 is the new 1984 -- with a little Brave New World thrown in. We speak with Joyce Carol Oates and other dystopians and ask if 1984 is really relevant or if Orwell is an oracle.
Items: Meet the contractors analyzing your private data
Tim Shorrock Salon.com USA June 10, 2013
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Amid the torrent of stories about the shocking new revelations about the National Security Agency, few have bothered to ask a central question. Who’s actually doing the work of analyzing all the data, metadata and personal information pouring into the agency from Verizon and nine key Internet service providers for its ever-expanding surveillance of American citizens?
Well, on Sunday we got part of the answer: Booz Allen Hamilton. In a stunning development in the NSA saga, Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald revealed that the source for his blockbuster stories on the NSA is Edward Snowden, “a 29-year-old former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.” Snowden, it turns out, has been working at NSA for the last four years as a contract employee, including stints for Booz and the computer-services firm Dell.
The revelation is not that surprising. With about 70 percent of our national intelligence budgets being spent on the private sector – a discovery I made in 2007 and first reported in Salon – contractors have become essential to the spying and surveillance operations of the NSA.
From Narus, the Israeli-born Boeing subsidiary that makes NSA’s high-speed interception software, to CSC, the “systems integrator” that runs NSA’s internal IT system, defense and intelligence, contractors are making millions of dollars selling technology and services that help the world’s largest surveillance system spy on you. If the 70 percent figure is applied to the NSA’s estimated budget of $8 billion a year (the largest in the intelligence community), NSA contracting could reach as high as $6 billion every year.
But it’s probably much more than that.
“The largest concentration of cyber power on the planet is the intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32,” says Michael V. Hayden, who oversaw the privatization effort as NSA director from 1999 to 2005. He was referring not to the NSA itself but to the business park about a mile down the road from the giant black edifice that houses NSA’s headquarters in Fort Meade, Md. There, all of NSA’s major contractors, from Booz to SAIC to Northrop Grumman, carry out their surveillance and intelligence work for the agency.
With many of these contractors now focused on cyber-security, Hayden has even coined a new term — “Digital Blackwater” – for the industry. “I use that for the concept of the private sector in cyber,” he told a recent conference in Washington, in an odd reference to the notorious mercenary army. “I saw this in government and saw it a lot over the last four years. The private sector has really moved forward in terms of providing security,” he said. Hayden himself has cashed out too: He is now a principal with the Chertoff Group, the intelligence advisory company led by Michael Chertoff, the former secretary of Homeland Security. ...
But how did NSA, long considered the crown jewel of U.S. intelligence, become so privatized in the first place?
In the late 1990s, faced with a telecommunications and technological revolution that threatened to make the NSA’s telephonic and radar-based surveillance skills obsolete, the agency decided to turn to private corporations for many of its technical needs.
The outsourcing plan was finalized in 2000 by a special NSA Advisory Board set up to determine the agency’s future and codified in a secret report written by a then-obscure intelligence officer named James Clapper. “Clapper did a one-man study for the NSA Advisory Board,” recalls Ed Loomis, a 40-year NSA veteran who, along with Binney and two others, blew the whistle on corporate corruption at the NSA.
“His recommendation was that NSA acquire its Internet capabilities from the private sector. The idea was, the private sector had the capability and we at NSA didn’t need to reinvent the wheel.”
Hayden, who was the NSA director at the time, “put a lot of trust in the private sector, and a lot of trust in Clapper, because Clapper was his mentor,” added Loomis. And once he got approval, “he was hell-bent on privatization and nothing was going to derail that.” Clapper is now President Obama’s director of national intelligence, and has denounced the Guardian leaks as “reprehensible.” ...
It's a no-brainer how a young IT wizard came to release ultra-sensitive secrets of the US intelligence-national security complex in the biggest leak in American history. Gung-ho privatization of spying has created a "Digital Blackwater" industry around the National Security Agency headquarters in Maryland. It took only one private contractor to bring the rules of state discipline out of the shadows.
Digital Blackwater rules
Pepe Escobar Asia Times Online Hong Kong June 11, 2013
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The judgment of Daniel "Pentagon Papers" Ellsberg is definitive; "There has not been in American history a more important leak than Edward Snowden's release of NSA material". And that includes the release of the Pentagon Papers themselves. Here is the 12-minute video by The Guardian where Snowden details his motives.
By now, everything swirling around the US National Security Agency (NSA) points to a black box in a black hole. The black box is the NSA headquarters itself in Fort Meade, Maryland. The black hole is an area that would include the suburbs of Virginia's Fairfax County near the CIA but mostly the intersection of the Baltimore Parkway and Maryland Route 32.
There one finds a business park a mile away from the NSA which Michael Hayden, a former NSA director (1999-2005) told Salon's Tim Shorrock is "the largest concentration of cyber power on the planet".  Hayden coined it "Digital Blackwater".
Here is a decent round up of key questions still not answered about the black hole. But when it comes to how a 29-year old IT wizard with little formal education has been able to access a batch of ultra-sensitive secrets of the US intelligence-national security complex, that's a no-brainer; it's all about the gung-ho privatization of spying - referred to by a mountain of euphemisms of the "contractor reliance" kind. In fact the bulk of the hardware and software used by the dizzying network of 16 US intelligence agencies is privatized.
A Washington Post investigation found out that US homeland security, counter-terror and spy agencies do business with over 1,900 companies.  An obvious consequence of this contractor tsunami - hordes of "knowledge" high-tech proletarians in taupe cubicles - is their indiscriminate access to ultra-sensitive security. A systems administrator like Snowden can have access to practically everything.
"Revolving door" does not even begin to explain the system. Snowden was one of 25,000 employees of Booz Allen Hamilton ("We are visionaries") for the past three months.  Over 70% of these employees, according to the company, have a government security clearance; 49% are top secret (as in Snowden's case), or higher. The former director of national intelligence Mike McConnell is now a Booz Allen vice president. The new director of national intelligence, the sinister-looking retired general James Clapper, is a former Booz Allen executive.
At least US - and world - public opinion may now have a clearer idea of how a Pashtun girl in Waziristan is obliterated by a "targeted strike". It's all a matter of this privatized NSA-collected meta-data and matrix multiplication leading to a "signature". The "terrorist" Pashtun girl of course may eventually morph in the near future into a dangerous tree-hugger or a vocal political protester.
True to form, as soon as Snowden revealed his identity US corporate media privileged shooting the messenger instead of poring over the message. That included everything from cheap character assassination to the usual former CIA asset spinning that in Washington many were looking at Snowden as an agent in a potential Chinese espionage plot.
Much has also been made of the John Le Carre-esque plot twist of Snowden leaving his tranquil life in Hawaii and flying to Hong Kong on May 20, because "they have a spirited commitment to free speech and the right of political dissent". Hong Kong-based blogger Wen Yunchao memorably described it as Snowden having "left the tiger's den and entered the wolf's lair". Yet Snowden's visa stamp at Chek Lap Kok airport lasts for 90 days - plenty of time to ponder the next move.
Since 1996, before the British handover to China, an extradition treaty applies between the tiger and the wolf.  The US Department of Justice is already surveying its options. It's important to remember that the Hong Kong judicial system is independent from China's - according to the Deng Xiaoping-conceptualized "one country, two systems". As much as Washington may go for extraditing Snowden, he may also apply for political asylum. In both cases he may stay in Hong Kong for months, in fact years.
The Hong Kong government cannot extradite anyone claiming he will be persecuted in his country of origin. And crucially, article 6 of the treaty stipulates, "a fugitive offender shall not be surrendered if the offence of which that person is accused or was convicted is an offence of a political character." Another clause stipulates that a fugitive shall not be surrendered if that implicates "the defense, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy" of - guess who - the People's Republic of China.
So then we may have a case of Hong Kong and Beijing having to reach an agreement. Yet even if they decided to extradite Snowden, he could argue in court this was "an offence of a political character". The bottom line - this could drag on for years. And it's too early to tell how Beijing would play it for maximum leverage. A "win-win" situation from a Chinese point of view would be to balance its commitment to absolute non-interference in foreign domestic affairs, its desire not to rock the fragile bilateral relation boat, but also what non-pivoting move the US government would offer in return. ...
Why is Edward Snowden in Hong Kong?
Dave Lindorff CounterPunch USA June 12, 2-13
A lot of people in the US media are asking why America’s most famous whistleblower, 29-year old Edward Snowden, hied himself off to the city state of Hong Kong, a wholly owned subsidiary of the People’s Republic of China, to seek at least temporary refuge.
Hong Kong has an extradition treaty with the US, they say. And as for China, which controls the international affairs of its Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, while granting it local autonomy to govern its domestic affairs, its leaders “may not want to irritate the US” at a time when the Chinese economy is stumbling.
These people don’t have much understanding of either Hong Kong or of China.
As someone who has spent almost seven years in China and Hong Kong, let me offer my thoughts about why Snowden, obviously a very savvy guy despite his lack of a college education, went where he did.
First of all, forget about Hong Kong’s extradition treaty. When it comes to deciding whether someone will be extradited, particularly for a political crime, as opposed to a simple murder or bank heist, the decision will be made in Beijing, not in a Hong Kong courtroom. Second, Hong Kong has a long history of providing a haven to dissidents — even to dissidents wanted by the Chinese government. Consider, for example, the Chinese labor movement activist Han Dongfang, who was the subject of a massive dragnet after the Tiananmen protests, but who successfully fled to Hong Kong before the handover of the place from Britain to China, and is continuing to monitor Chinese labor strife and protest from his home on Hong Kong’s Lamma Island. Hong Kong also has a public that is very supportive of democratic values — certainly more so than the majority of American citizens. Hong Kong people may not be paying too much attention to Snowden’s situation right now, but if the US were to actively seek to extradite him, I am confident that the place would erupt in support for him, including the local media.
As for China, while the issue that has Snowden on the run — exposing an Orwellian spying program targeting the American people and run by the super-secret National Security Agency — is certainly not one that the Chinese government likes to discuss in terms of their own locked-down society, you can bet that the folks in the Propaganda Bureau in Beijing, and in the inner circle of the government, are rubbing their hands with glee both at the incredible embarrassment their harboring of Snowden causes the hypocritical US, and at the trove of intelligence information he has, which they may be able ultimately to lure him into disclosing if they treat him well.
Then too, there is the matter of the Confucian concept of gift-giving and mutual obligations. It was, I am sure, no accident that Snowden chose the weekend that President Obama was hosting a summit in California with China’s new president Xi Jinping to disclose his identity as the NSA whistleblower who exposed the national spying program to the Guardian and the Washington Post. In doing that, he gave President Xi an incredible gift — the chance to hold the upper hand in his negotiations with a hugely embarrassed and compromised Obama over issues like Chinese computer hacking of US corporate and government secrets, and theft of intellectual property. For of course it is clear that the NSA is at least as active in hacking Chinese computers and spying on Chinese communications.
Such a gift as that is not easily ignored or forgotten in Chinese culture. President Xi owes Snowden a lot, and I believe he will honor that debt by seeing that Snowden is protected from any threat that might be posed to him by a vindictive or frightened US government.
But Snowden isn’t relying solely on Chinese cultural values to protect himself. ...
It would be a relatively easy matter for the high-tech spooks at the NSA to retrace Snowden’s electronic trail to see if he really did download all that super-secret information and really could blow up the entire US spy machine. If they find out that he really has that information, he’s basically untouchable.
The real question is not what they are going to do to Snowden. It’s what we Americans are going to do now that we know how truly insane and totalitarian our government has become.
Will we go back to watching our sports teams and our reality TV programming, and forget about the fact that we no longer have any privacy in our lives, that our elected leaders and our judges are operating on the assumption that if they get out of line the fascist machine at the NSA that works in service of the corporate elite will blackmail or destroy them with its access to all their communications. Or will we rise up and demand an end to this high-tech tyranny in the name of a fraudulent “War” on Terror?
Snowden exiled himself and gave up a great job in Hawaii in the hope that we would rise up when we learned that our democracy has been hijacked.
Let’s hope he’s right.
Edward Snowden to South China Morning Post: Let Hong Kong 'decide my fate'
Katherine Fung Huffington Post USA/Canada June 12, 2013
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Edward Snowden spoke out for the first time since revealing his identity as the source of information about the National Security Agency's secret surveillance programs, telling the South China Morning Post on Wednesday that he plans to stay in Hong Kong until he is "asked to leave."
The newspaper published its exclusive interview with Snowden on Wednesday night local time. He told Post reporter Lana Lam, "I'm neither traitor nor hero. I'm an American."
The Post did not report how it contacted Snowden or provide information about his current whereabouts. The paper said that Snowden spoke to Lam from a "secret location in Hong Kong." Lam has been a reporter for the Post for nearly three years.
Snowden addressed why he fled to Hong Kong during the interview. “People who think I made a mistake in picking HK as a location misunderstand my intentions," Snowden told the Post. "I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality." He added that he had "faith" in Hong Kong's justice system, and that his "intention is to ask the courts and people of Hong Kong to decide [his] fate."
Snowden has been on the run since the NSA story broke, and fled to Hong Kong from Hawaii on May 20. The revelation set off journalists in Hong Kong scrambling to find him. The Guardian's Ewen MacAskill reported that Snowden checked out of Hong Kong's Mira Hotel on Monday, fearing that he would be found. "It is thought he is now in a safe house," MacAskill said on Tuesday.
Snowden has not made any requests for asylum, though he told the Post that he would fight any attempts by the United States to have him extradited in the Hong Kong court system. Russia's government has also said that it would consider granting Snowden asylum if he requested it. ...
Related: Smear brigade goes after Snowden
Justin Raimondo Antiwar.com USA June 11, 2013
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When whistleblowers expose government wrongdoing and abuses, the procedure is always the same: the regime’s defenders focus on the whistleblower’s alleged personality defects and smear him within an inch of his life. They did it with Dan Ellsberg, they did it with Julian Assange, they did it with Bradley Manning, and that all too familiar modus operandi is unfolding pretty quickly in the case of Edward Snowden, the heroic libertarian who exposed Washington’s massive and unconstitutional spying operation against American citizens. The pundits who take seriously their job as the power elite’s Praetorian Guard are going after Snowden hammer and tongs, and in these dark times their polemics provide a rich source of humor. ...
As we’ve been warning in this space for some time, the past decade or so has witnessed a silent slow-motion coup in the US, in the course of which the apparatus of a police state has been quietly assembled on the rather good chance our wise rulers will soon be needing it. With the Snowden revelations, the veil is lifted on their already well-advanced plans. As the above demonstrates, they’re doing their best to change the subject, or, when that doesn’t work, resorting to hedging by arguing: heck no, we aren’t listening in on your phone conversations, we’re just storing them in a safe place – for later reference. And as far as scooping up your emails, and other internet content, it’s only foreigners we’re collecting dossiers on – anything we collect on Americans is just an “accident.”
They are lying. As Snowden put it:
“Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector. Anywhere. I, sitting at my desk, had the authority to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge to even the president if I had a personal email.”
They lied us into a series of wars in the Middle East: now they are trying to lie us into accepting a police state. Will they get away with it, as they have in the past? While the Smear Brigade and their employers are pretty complacent, and even smug in the face of these revelations, there is an undertone of fear, and even panic, in their voices. As if they know the jig is up, and it’s time to start making plans for a getaway.
Slow to anger, but dangerous once aroused, the American people are stirring. After the long night of the “war on terrorism,” and years of being cowed by an unreasonable fear, they are finally beginning to show signs that they’ve had enough. Brooks, Foxton, and McArdle (sounds like a law firm specializing in bankruptcy proceedings) are the Regime’s last attempt to save face and recover some shred of credibility. We’ve only just seen the beginning of the smear campaign about to be unleashed on Snowden – but I have news for these character assassins: it isn’t going to work.
It isn’t going to work because Snowden isn’t a Washington insider, he’s never held an official position – and, yes, like millions of uncredentialed non-insiders, he never took to college and his high school education was a rocky road, to say the least. Up against the Ivy Leaguers of the Washington-Georgetown cocktail party set, and the denizens of Washington’s royal court where loyalty to the State is assumed, Snowden is “weird,” as McArdle put it. Who else but a weirdo would give up a lucrative career, a gorgeous girlfriend, a wonderful life in paradisaical Hawaii, for the cause of liberty? Why, he’s got to be crazy – a nut, an extremist, a “solitary naked individual” up against “the gigantic and menacing state.”
Which is precisely why Americans – that is, all those Americans who remember what it is to be an American – will rally and are rallying to his cause. As the groundswell demanding his pardon – and also demanding some accountability from our previously unaccountable rulers – continues to rise, it’s going to be fun watching the David Brookses of this world go into panic mode. So sit back, grab some popcorn, and enjoy the show – because it’s going to a long and very enjoyable one. ...
Mika Brzezinski accuses Glenn Greenwald of 'misleading' coverage (VIDEO)
Huffington Post USA/Canada June 12, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links and video (7:09). A glimpse inside the Hive near the top. Mika Brzezinski is the daughter of Polish-born foreign policy expert and former United States National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski, Joe Scarborough is a former Republican member of the US House of Representatives and Richard Haass is the president of the Council on Foreign Relations. Mika's brother Mark served on President Clinton's National Security Council and is currently US ambassador to Sweden. Her brother Ian served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and NATO, 2001-2005, under President George W. Bush and was a principal at Booz Allen Hamilton, Edward Snowden's now former employer. In the parlance of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, Mika and Scarborough are members of the Outer Party while Haass is a member of the Inner Party, composed of less than 2% of the American population.
On Tuesday, Mika Brzezinski accused the media of "misleading" coverage on Edward Snowden and the NSA's surveillance programs.
Her comments came during a discussion about Snowden, the source who leaked information about the NSA's secret programs to the Guardian and the Washington Post, on "Morning Joe." Scarborough remarked that Snowden looked like a "weasel," while contributor Richard Haass cautioned against calling the former NSA contractor a "whistleblower" — a debate that news outlets have been engaged in.
"That's right," Brzezinski agreed. "That I think is an intellectual true analysis of what he is and he's not a whistleblower."
“He's not a whistleblower, okay?” she stressed to Scarborough. "And it’s actually been very misleading the way this story's been covered, even by the reporter himself... who’s super, super close to the story, okay?”
"The government's been misleading us all along," Scarborough responded.
"Okay, but let's also make sure we analyze everyone involved, including the press, which isn't perfect either," Brzezinski said. ...
Tuesday, June 11, 2013
Syria's neighbors: Chaos overtakes Istanbul protests & The Lebanese army fears rise of the Sunni Muslim Salafists
Tear gas, stun grenades, fireworks: Chaos overtakes Istanbul protestsPosted at: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 04:35 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Nick Paton Walsh and Gul Tuysuz CNN USA June 11, 2013
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Istanbul (CNN) -- A central square in Istanbul erupted Tuesday night in an unsettling, chaotic chorus, with tear gas canisters and water cannons from police met by fireworks, metal banging and defiant chanting from protesters.
The authorities' tactics caused an ebb and flow of demonstrators from the Turkish city's Taksim Square, with many of them moving onto the abutting Gezi Park.
Riot police surrounded a statue in the middle of the square starting around 10 p.m., even as fires burned around them, but there was little suggestion that the tension was over.
The protests were a continuation of demonstrations that first focused on the environment -- opposition to a plan to build a mall at the park -- but soon grew into a crusade against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's democratically elected government. They have been going on for days in Istanbul and other cities around the country that bridges Europe and Asia, with the dramatics Tuesday signifying there's no clear end in sight.
"There's a spirit of determination (and) solidarity" inside Gezi Park, CNN's Arwa Damon said Tuesday night from the park. ...
The Lebanese army fears rise of the Sunni Muslim Salafists
Robert Fisk The Independent UK June 10, 2013
The Lebanese army claims there is a “plot” to drag Lebanon into the Syrian war. The ‘plot’ – ‘al-moamarer’ – is a feature of all Arab states. Plots come two-a-penny in the Middle East. What the military authorities really fear is that Sunni Muslim Salafist groups – perhaps paid by the same Gulf backers as the Sunni rebels fighting the Assad regime – have embedded themselves in the Lebanese population. The army suspects they exist deep in the northern Bekaa valley around the village of Arsal and in the northern city of Tripoli, as well as in Beirut and Sidon.
What the Lebanese army is not saying on the record – but which it acknowledges privately – is that large numbers of “Syrian” rebels are in fact Lebanese. They are being brought home to Lebanon to be buried, as are the hundreds of Shia Hezbollah fighters dying alongside Syrian troops in the battle for Qusayr and – soon, perhaps – for the great city of Aleppo.
In the ancient Roman-Crusader city of Tripoli yesterday, Lebanese soldiers were still tearing down sandbag barricades set up along dozens of streets by unidentified Sunni gangs in the dirt-poor Bab el-Tabaneh district, in the desperate hope that they can reclaim the suburb for the central government and prevent these districts turning into Salafist fiefdoms. ...
Privately, the army has learnt a lot about the “silent” creation of Salafist groups. A few Lebanese journalists have tried to convey these details – but largely on the inside pages of their newspapers. A Sunni anti-Assad rebel fighter from Baalbek, Hussein Dergham, for example, was killed in defence of Qusayr and has been brought home for burial. Three other Lebanese Sunni men from Baalbek were killed in a suburb of Qusayr but their remains have still not been recovered – and may never be, now that the town has fallen to Syrian troops and Hezbollah.
For the army, these dead men represent other ghosts. Many Lebanese have now forgotten how Islamists, from both Lebanon and other Arab countries, took over the Palestinian refugee camp of Nahr al-Bared north of Tripoli in 2007. Ironically, these gunmen of Fatah al-Islam were sent into Lebanon from what was then the super-stable Assad regime in Damascus. After a 105-day siege, Lebanese troops captured 215 of the Islamists – some are today still on trial in Beirut, others have fled to Sidon – but at a cost of 168 of their own soldiers’ lives and 226 Islamist dead. Up to 500 soldiers were wounded. In one Sunni village in the hills above Tripoli, residents refused to allow one of the Islamist dead to be buried because their own Sunni sons were among the army’s “martyrs”.
Now the cemetery “tables” are being ghoulishly turned. When a Hezbollah fighter called Saleh Sabbagh – a Sunni who converted to Shiism – was returned to a Sidon Sunni cemetery for burial last month, supporters of a local anti-Assad Sunni sheikh blocked the graveyard entrance with sandbags and burning tires, one of them screaming that the man’s corpse should be thrown into the sea. Sabbagh, who was killed fighting anti-Assad rebels in Syria, was subsequently interred in a Shia cemetery, but stones were thrown between rival groups and gunfire broke out later in the evening.
In the northern Lebanese border village of Wadi Khaled, members of the anti-Assad Jabhat al-Nusra rebels, which the army suspects may have strong links with the original Fatah al-Islam, began chanting outside the village mosque. And other supporters of Jabhat al-Nusra are reported to have emerged on the streets with banners near the Cite Sportive in Beirut, close to the airport highway – the first appearance of the rebel Islamist group in the Lebanese capital.
The Lebanese army and internal security have amassed other details – infinitely more chilling – about the Islamist groups. ...
Syrian war is increasingly being fought by foreigners on both sides & Half-century-old U.S. weapon makes a surprise reappearance in Syria
Foreign fighters play growing roles on both sides of Syria’s warPosted at: Tuesday, June 11, 2013 - 04:11 PM -- Posted by: Jim Scott -- Permalink: (#)
Jason Ditz Antiwar.com News USA June 10, 2013
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Relatively small Syrian opposition faction the National Coordination Body for Democratic Change has called on all foreign fighters, whether fighting for the government or the rebels, to leave the country immediately.
The group’s influence is extremely limited, and is unlikely to lead to any exodus, but it points to the reality of Syria’s Civil War, that the war is increasingly being fought by foreigners on both sides.
The rebellion has included foreign fighters in a big way almost from the beginning. Al-Qaeda’s leadership was quick to endorse the fight, and called on jihadists from around the world to join in. We’ve seen huge influxes of fighters from places like Iraq, Libya and Chechnya, and even smaller numbers from Western nations like Britain and the United States. They have openly talked of spreading the war across the region with the aim of creating a new Salafist Caliphate.
Syria’s government was a little slower to get into the “foreign fighters” game, relying on its military at first. That has changed in a big way though, as Shi’ite fighters from Iran and Iraq flock to the nation to defend Shi’ite holy sites, and Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia is taking a bigger and bigger role on the front lines.
The call for foreign fighters on both sides to leave is certain to be ignored, but if they actually did a large chunk of the war would simply vanish overnight. What is being called a “civil war” is increasingly a regional sectarian war that just happens to be getting fought in Syria.
Iraqi Shiite fighters' Syria role raises tensions
Qassim Abdul-Zahra and Adam Schreck Associated Press/The State USA June 10, 2013
BAGHDAD — The Iraqi Shiite fighter's family is urging him to stop risking his life by traveling to Syria, saying he's done his part defending the holy shrine of Sayida Zeinab outside Damascus. Abu Mohammed al-Moussawi isn't listening.
The 33-year-old father from southern Baghdad, who wears a ring inscribed with a Quranic verse, is preparing for his fourth mission later this month. He says he'll be issued an AK-47 from Syrian military caches once he gets there.
"We are defending our religion," he told The Associated Press in a Baghdad cafe, insisting on a nom de guerre out of concern for his safety. "It's in our blood. It is a religious duty that we not keep silent when we see the Shiite holy shrines being attacked."
Iraqi Shiite fighters like al-Moussawi are playing an increasingly prominent role in neighboring Syria's civil war, fighting alongside President Bashar Assad's forces against rebels.
Their mobilization for Syria is exacerbating Iraq's own fraught sectarian tensions as violence between the country's Sunnis and Shiites spikes to its highest level in years. Shiite militias see the fight in both countries as the same: to protect their sect against Sunni extremists. As more Iraqi Shiites make the journey to Syria, their comrades are becoming more assertive in Iraq, and the broader ideological struggle is heating up an already explosive political atmosphere back home.
"The participation of Shiite militias in Syria under the pretext of protecting holy shrines is a sectarian project that is endangering the whole region," said Iraqi Sunni lawmaker Hamid al-Mutlaq. "The Iraqi government is turning a blind eye toward this."
Iraq's Shiite-led government insists it has nothing to do with the stream of Shiite fighters heading there, and for months it has been warning about the threat posed by Sunni extremists in the fight for Syria. Sunni militants linked to al-Qaida's Iraqi branch have travelled to Syria to fight alongside the rebels, whose ranks include fellow Sunni militants from around the region.
But Iraq's Shiite fighters have grown more open in proclaiming their role in Syria in recent weeks.
In Iraq's southern Shiite heartland, mourners are increasingly gathering at public funerals for fighters who died fighting in Syria. At one held in Maysan province, along the border with Iran, for seven fallen militants, Iraqi soldiers provided protection as camouflage-clad militants carried flower-topped caskets through the streets. ...
Related: Ancient U.S. weapon makes a surprise reappearance in Syria
Brendan McNally Wired, Danger Room blog USA May 31, 2013
Visit this page for its embedded links and a video "106mm Recoilless firing MPG" (2:23).
Watch enough YouTube videos of the fighting in Syria, and you’ll start to notice it: a long-tubed gun, mounted on the back of either a jeep or large, fast pickup. Usually it’s blasting bunkers, blockhouses, fortified positions, or places where snipers are hiding. It even goes after tanks. And whenever it fires, the gun seems to kick up way more hell behind it than what it sends out the barrel’s front end. It’s the M40 106mm recoilless rifle, an American-made, Vietnam-vintage weapon that got dropped from the Army and Marine inventory back during the early 1970s. Until recently, the 106mm hadn’t seen much action in the irregular wars that have swept the globe. Then M40s somehow came into the hands of rebels in Libya and Syria. Suddenly, the 106mm – light, cheap, easily transportable, simple to operate, and packing a punch all out of proportion to its modest size — has emerged as a possible Great Asymmetric Weapon of the Day.
Although the U.S. military no longer officially uses the M40, they still keep some around. A few found their way to Afghanistan where they were put to use by certain Special Forces units. The Danish and Australian armies, which acquired them from the U.S. decades ago under the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program, used them extensively during their ground operations there.
In Libya, the M40 was used primarily in urban warfare, killing tanks and fortified positions. How exactly it found its way into the hands of the rebels there is a bit of a mystery. The M40s showed up in Libya along with thousands of brand new Belgian FN rifles, apparently from Western arsenals. That lead many to suspect they were supplied by Western intelligence. The M40s currently being seen in Syria might be coming either from the same sources that supplied the Libyan rebels or even from the Libyans themselves.
There is also a strong possibility that these weapons might actually be of Iranian origin. Iran’s state-owned weapons arsenal, the Defense Industry Organization, has been manufacturing what was originally a licensed-version of the M40. Now called the “Anti-Tank Gun 106,” it is being offered on the open market, and are probably being supplied to the Syrian Army, which have since lost them to the rebels.
While the M40 makes a big comeback in the Middle East, dozens of other armies all over the world never stopped using it. The Danish and Australian armies have used the 106mm in Afghanistan with excellent results. It turns out that in many instances they have outperformed the expensive, high tech, anti-tank rockets like the TOW, the Javelin and others that were supposed to replace the M40 four decades ago. ...
Photo: An M50 Ontos at the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Jim comment: The Ontos (Rifle, Multiple 106 mm, Self-propelled, M50; M50A1) was employed by US Marines who consistently reported excellent results when used for direct fire support against infantry during the Vietnam War. Its mobility and firepower were proven in numerous battles and operations. The Ontos units were deactivated in May 1969.