Thursday Reads: Human Evolution, Snowden Leaks, and Other News

cat-fetches-newspaper

Good Morning!!

I seem to have caught a little cold, nothing serious; but I’m a little slow this morning. Anyway, I have a few interesting stories for you, beginning with an amazing discovery that has stunned scientists and forced them to adjust their assumptions about human evolution. From the NYT: Baffling 400,000-Year-Old Clue to Human Origins.

In a paper in the journal Nature, scientists reported Wednesday that they had retrieved ancient human DNA from a fossil dating back about 400,000 years, shattering the previous record of 100,000 years.

The fossil, a thigh bone found in Spain, had previously seemed to many experts to belong to a forerunner of Neanderthals. But its DNA tells a very different story. It most closely resembles DNA from an enigmatic lineage of humans known as Denisovans. Until now, Denisovans were known only from DNA retrieved from 80,000-year-old remains in Siberia, 4,000 miles east of where the new DNA was found.

The mismatch between the anatomical and genetic evidence surprised the scientists, who are now rethinking human evolution over the past few hundred thousand years. It is possible, for example, that there are many extinct human populations that scientists have yet to discover. They might have interbred, swapping DNA. Scientists hope that further studies of extremely ancient human DNA will clarify the mystery.

Now the experts are going to have to find a way to incorporate these new discoveries into their understanding of human history. The story offers several different possibilities from different scientists.

Hints at new hidden complexities in the human story came from a 400,000-year-old femur found in a cave in Spain called Sima de los Huesos (“the pit of bones” in Spanish). The scientific team used new methods to extract the ancient DNA from the fossil….

Since the 1970s, Spanish scientists have brought out a wealth of fossils from the cave dating back hundreds of thousands of years. “The place is very special,” said Dr. Arsuaga, who has found 28 nearly complete skeletons of humans during three decades of excavations.

Based on the anatomy of the fossils, Dr. Arsuaga has argued that they belonged to ancestors of Neanderthals, which lived in western Asia and Europe from about 200,000 to 30,000 years ago.

But based on newly discovered methods for extracting DNA, researchers learned something very different. Read the rest of this fascination story at the NYT link above.

Yesterday the Washington Post published a new story by Barton Gellman, based on the data stolen from the NSA by Edward Snowden:  NSA tracking cellphone locations worldwide, Snowden documents show. Except if you read the whole story you’ll learn that this is being done only to collect foreign intelligence; it’s not being done in the U.S. Data from Americans who are overseas could get caught up in the data collection, but the point is to track the locations of suspected terrorists.

The NSA does not target Americans’ location data by design, but the agency acquires a substantial amount of information on the whereabouts of domestic cellphones “incidentally,” a legal term that connotes a foreseeable but not deliberate result.

One senior collection manager, speaking on the condition of anonymity but with permission from the NSA, said “we are getting vast volumes” of location data from around the world by tapping into the cables that connect mobile networks globally and that serve U.S. cellphones as well as foreign ones. Additionally, data are often collected from the tens of millions of Americans who travel abroad with their cellphones every year.

In scale, scope and potential impact on privacy, the efforts to collect and analyze location data may be unsurpassed among the NSA surveillance programs that have been disclosed since June. Analysts can find cellphones anywhere in the world, retrace their movements and expose hidden relationships among the people using them.

Honestly, is anyone really surprised by this? I’m not saying it’s a wonderful thing, but, as I recall, tracing cell phone locations was the method used to catch Osama bin Laden. Not only that, but local police in the U.S. routinely use cell phone tracking to investigate crimes–and like the Feds, they have to get warrants to do so.

Anyone who didn’t know that you have no expectation of privacy when using a cell phone must have been living in a cave for a very long time. But if you really think the NSA is listening in on all of your personal phone calls and reading your text messages, you’re–quite frankly–nuts. The NSA would have to have millions of employees in order to sift through everyone’s data.

Robert Litt, general counsel for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which oversees the NSA, said “there is no element of the intelligence community that under any authority is intentionally collecting bulk cellphone location information about cellphones in the United States.”

The NSA has no reason to suspect that the movements of the overwhelming majority of cellphone users would be relevant to national security. Rather, it collects locations in bulk because its most powerful analytic tools — known collectively as CO-TRAVELER — allow it to look for unknown associates of known intelligence targets by tracking people whose movements intersect.

As noted in the article, data collected from Americans overseas isn’t protected by the Fourth Amendment; and the Supreme Court decided long ago that telephone call data is owned by the phone companies and that Americans have no expectation of privacy when talking on the phone. If we want to increase privacy protections, it will have to be done through legislation–not by whining about the NSA doing it’s job, which is to collect foreign intelligence. (A side note: a short time ago, former NSA analyst John Schindler offered some suggestions for “Reforming NSA from the Top.”) I wish journalists would devote as much energy to investigating why millions of Americans can’t get jobs and why so many of the ones who do have jobs can’t get paid a living wage as they do to telling us things we already knew or strongly suspected about NSA data collection.

Meanwhile, there are some troubling questions and revelations about some of the journalists who have been involved in releasing the Snowden files. As everyone knows by now, Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras now have control of all of the data that Snowden stole. This data includes the names of all British and American intelligence agents. Greenwald and Poitras are currently working on developing a new news website, a project backed by libertarian Ebay billionaire Pierre Omidyar. Here’s an extensive profile of Omidyar by renegade investigative journalist MarkAmes.

Recently, Ames wrote another piece at Pando Daily questioning the ethics of Snowden’s cache of NSA data being controlled by two individuals who are beholden to one wealthy backer headlined Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks.

Who “owns” the NSA secrets leaked by Edward Snowden to reporters Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras?

Given that eBay founder Pierre Omidyar just invested a quarter of a billion dollars to
personally hire Greenwald and Poitras for his new for-profit media venture, it’s a question worth asking.

It’s especially worth asking since it became clear that Greenwald and Poitras are now the only two people with full access to the complete cache of NSA files, which are said to number anywhere from 50,000 to as many as 200,000 files. That’s right: Snowden doesn’t have the files any more, the Guardian doesn’t have them, the Washington Post doesn’t have them… just Glenn and Laura at the for-profit journalism company created by the founder of eBay.

Edward Snowden has popularly been compared to major whistleblowers such as Daniel Ellsberg,Chelsea Manning and Jeffrey Wigand. However, there is an important difference in the Snowden files that has so far gone largely unnoticed. Whistleblowing has traditionally served the public interest. In this case, it is about to serve the interests of a billionaire starting a for-profit media business venture. This is truly unprecedented. Never before has such a vast trove of public secrets been sold wholesale to a single billionaire as the foundation of a for-profit company.

I didn’t realize this until yesterday, but apparently Greenwald did not have the data on British intelligence originally; but he somehow forced the Guardian to turn it over to him before he resign from the newspaper. This may be the data that Greenwald’s husband David Miranda was caught with at Heathrow airport when he was detained there awhile back. The British Parliament is currently investigating the behavior of the Guardian and its editor Alan Rusberger. From the blog of BBC journalist Louise Mensch: Rusbridger admits shipping agents’ names – what now?

MPs today got Alan Rusbridger to admit a number of things he, and his paper had previously denied.

Firstly, that he shipped the names of GCHQ agents abroad to newspapers and bloggers. Mr. Rusbridger was reminded that this was a criminal offence, and said he had a public interest defence. He also, however, kept arguing that he hadn’t published any names, which rather blows up his public interest defence – it’s self-evident that you don’t need the names of intelligence agents to report on GCHQ spying, so why not redact them?

The fact is, Rusbridger did acknowledge that it put GCHQ agents at risk when he first shipped files to ProPublica. He redacted the names of GCHQ agents from those files, and he promised the government he had done so….

In Parliament today when asked why he didn’t redact the names he said there were 58,000 documents – essentially, he could be bothered to go through the <100 files he FedExed to ProPublica, but could not be bothered to go through the entire batch he sent to the NYT.

Really? He couldn’t take a week, and black out agents’ names? There were copies of the docs in the Guardian offices in New York, so time was not an issue for Rusbridger – instead, he exposed the names.

Perhaps worst of all, Rusbridger confirmed my very worst suspicions, which were that he hadn’t even read through the top secret files before shipping them. He redacted no names; he redacted no operational details; he didn’t even read them. And by “he” I mean any employee of the Guardian. Nobody at that paper read the 58,000 documents through, not even once, before sharing them in bulk.

Mensch updated that post with more information yesterday: HAS Rusbridger exposed thousands of GCHQ personnel? A commenter on the original post explained that in revealing the names of intelligence personnel to multiple people, Rusberger and the Guardian essentially destroyed their careers and seriously damaged British intelligence efforts. Here’s the comment:

A comment was left on that last blog that I have to reproduce. It shows that every agent exposed by Rusbridger has had their career ruined for the duration of it; none of them can ever work in the field again. Furthermore, the writer makes the compelling case that the NSA-GCHQ wiki, which the New York Times published extracts from, and the directories of staff interests like gay and lesbian clubs, ghost hunting clubs etc, mean that Rusbridger has actually sent abroad not just a handful of names, as he claimed to Parliament “there were names on power points” but actually thousands of GCHQ names.

Read the whole explanation at the link. I apologize for writing this before I nail down every detail, but I think this is important and it’s highly unlikely the corporate media will look into it since they could also culpable.

I’m afraid I rambled on too long on the NSA story, so I’ll just add a few more links that you might like to check out.

Raw Story: Debbie Wasserman Schultz schools Newt Gingrich over ‘war on women’ crack about Joe Biden

Bloomberg: That’s Gonna Hurt: Bankers Brace for the Volcker Rule

AP via Business Insider: A Period Of Bitterly Cold Temperatures Not Seen In A Decade Is About To Hit Parts Of The US

JM Ashby at The Daily Banter: Their Kind of Individual Mandate

Politicus USA: CNN Throws In the Towel as it Schedules Hour-Long Glenn Beck Interview

Now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on this morning? Please share your links in the comment thread.


Sunday Reads: Updates and Comebacks

DCF 1.0Good Morning

Can you believe it is December 1st? Honestly, I can’t.

What an exhausting year this has been, to think it is almost over.

Anyway, here are your reads for this morning, Israeli Arabs, Palestinians protest plan to relocate Bedouins.

Thousands of Arab citizens of Israel and Palestinians in East Jerusalem and the West Bank demonstrated Saturday against an Israeli government plan that in some cases would relocate Bedouins from traditional lands in the Negev desert to urban communities.

Some of the gatherings turned violent, with 28 protesters arrested and at least 15 police officers injured, one of them stabbed. Police fired stun grenades, tear gas and skunk water to disperse demonstrators.

The “Day of Rage” was called as the Israeli parliament was preparing to give final approval to what has become known as the Prawer Plan, named after an Israeli government official who wrote it.

Israeli officials say the plan was reached after extensive consultation with Bedouin leaders. It would provide recognition and previously denied services for some Bedouin communities that have been viewed by the Israelis as squatters on state land and relocate others while providing some compensation.

The controversial plan faces strong opposition from many Bedouins, who say it would in effect expropriate 200,000 acres of Arab land and forcibly relocate more than 40,000 Bedouins.

The protest have even spread to the UK: Day of Rage Rocks Israel, Spreads to UK.

Meanwhile, U.S. airlines complying with China’s new airspace demands.

U.S. airline officials say they are complying with new State Department guidance urging carriers to alert China before any flights pass through that country’s new self-declared air-defense zone.

Airline officials said Saturday that compliance would not disrupt travel to Asia, since they already communicate with any government when crossing through or over foreign territory.

In US politics: N. Georgia key battleground in Senate GOP primary

At the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains sits one of the most Republican congressional districts in the country that is home to Georgia’s governor, lieutenant governor and speaker of the House.

The 9th Congressional District and the nearby 14th district are considered the heart of the GOP in Georgia and will be key battlegrounds in a fiercely contested Republican primary next year for an open U.S. Senate seat, a race that will be watched nationally as Democrats look to thwart efforts by Republicans to take control of the Senate.

While not as populous or packed with deep-pocket donors as metro Atlanta, the two districts in north Georgia offer a strong and reliable base of fiscal and social conservatives and are largely up for grabs considering no major candidate has a direct link to the area.

Yeah this is my district, the Saxby Chambliss district….according to that article, 20 percent of the state’s Republican voters are in these districts.

All the top candidates have already made trips and are expected to keep visiting ahead of the May 20 primary. The voters are used to seeing their elected officials and are known for asking tough questions.

“They are a lot like Iowa caucus voters. They expect to see their candidates in the flesh,” said Lake, who recently left the Senate campaign of Rep. Phil Gingrey of Marietta, citing differences in opinion, and is no longer aligned with a candidate in the race.

A number of voters who attended a recent congressional hearing in the 9th district said they remain undecided. Besides Gingrey, the other major candidates are tea party favorite Rep. Paul Broun of Athens; Karen Handel, who has a statewide grassroots organization from her previous campaigns; fundraising leader Rep. Jack Kingston of Savannah; and David Perdue, cousin of former Gov. Sonny Perdue and past CEO of Dollar General and Reebok.

Ugh. More disgust at the link, with no possible chance of getting a decent representative in Washington D.C.

Another link on an asshole of another kind: Seattle Asshole Demands Employee Firing Over Bar’s Google Glass Policy

The most absolute awful thing about the story of Nick Starr is not that he exists, but that there are surely more people like him: the Seattle IT drone threw a Facebook fit when he was asked to take off his face-camera at a cafe. “I would love an explanation, apology, clarification…or her termination.”

Read the rant at the link above.

Here’s the logic: the ability to covertly take pictures of people and perhaps post them to Twitter—as Starr has done in the past—shall not be infringed upon. Any attempts to subvert this divine right will be attacked in kind. This is an ostensibly carbon-based life form arguing for garnished wages or a lost job because he couldn’t wear a face computer into a watering hole.

Those Google Glass things are over the top and cross the line…and that this asshole has taken pictures of people in the bathroom and put them online…geez what a dickhead.

Okay, two links about JFK:

PBS show on JFK assassination ‘rigged’ and ‘biased,’ author says

In Wednesday’s Nova special on the JFK assassination, private investigator Josiah Thompson is an avuncular presence, repeatedly explaining what happened on Nov. 22, 50 years ago in Dallas.

But Thursday the author of Six Seconds in Dallas said he was “outraged,” calling the program “rigged.”

He wasn’t accusing “Cold Case: JFK” of faking or staging any tests, but said the program failed to fully examine acoustic evidence that suggests four shots were fired that day, because doing so might have derailed the show’s conclusion, that Lee Harvey Oswald was probably the only gunman.

Another View: Seven reasons to reject the Warren Report – California Forum – The Sacramento Bee

Jack Ohman suggested “we see what we want to see” regarding the JFK assassination (“Kennedy slaying answers elude us”; Forum, Nov. 17). Marcos Breton blamed our skepticism on advancing age: “It’s the ultimate baby boomer fetish,” he scoffed (“Count me out of the JFK club”; Our Region, Nov. 17).

If you still think the Warren Report is an example of a trustworthy, paternal federal government here to help you, listen up.

Remember the auction of Classic Movie Memorabilia? If you are curious as to how much some of those items ended up going for, check it out here: Classic Movie Memorabilia

ICONIC MALTESE FALCON LEAD STATUETTE FROM THE 1941 FILM  Sold for $4,085,000  At the TCM / Bonham's Auction Nov 23,2013

ICONIC MALTESE FALCON LEAD STATUETTE FROM THE 1941 FILM Sold for $4,085,000 At the TCM / Bonham’s Auction Nov 23,2013

Angela Lansbury is making a comeback. No, she is not dead. Hold Up–Angela Lansbury Is Returning To The Stage

Hold Up--Angela Lansbury Is Returning To The Stage

In breaking entertainment news that is sure to get me 500 billion clicks today alone, Angela Lansbury is set to make her triumphant, beautiful return to the stage. After a more than 40 year absence from the London stage, Jessica Fletcher Lansbury will star in a West End revival of Noel Coward’s play Blithe Spirit.

TCM has been showing some crappy movies lately, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang? Please. Hopefully they get back to the good stuff soon.

Anyway, this next article is interesting too, from BBC News – A visit to a hidden coca plantation

The Peruvian government says it is committed to eradicating the coca leaf, from which cocaine is made – but a walk in the jungle suggests that for cash-strapped farmers, it is not an easy choice.

I should probably have listened just a little more carefully when the farmer answered my question.

I had asked if she would show me where her hidden coca plantation was – and what she said was: “Yes, of course, but it will mean a bit of walking.”

Now, I like walking, I walk for pleasure. But what a Peruvian farmer means by a “bit of walking” turned out to be rather different from what I mean.

We were in the region known as the High Amazon. It is breathtakingly beautiful. Green, lush hillsides and steep wooded valleys, where the foothills of the Andes meet the Amazon jungle. Traditionally it has been one of the main production centres for Peruvian cocaine.

And from coke production to art history: Vermeer’s Secret Tool: Testing Whether The Artist Used Mirrors and Lenses to Create His Realistic Images | Vanity Fair

David Hockney and others have speculated—controversially—that a camera obscura could have helped the Dutch painter Vermeer achieve his photo-realistic effects in the 1600s. But no one understood exactly how such a device might actually have been used to paint masterpieces. An inventor in Texas—the subject of a new documentary by the magicians Penn & Teller—may have solved the riddle.

In the history of art, Johannes Vermeer is almost as mysterious and unfathomable as Shakespeare in literature, like a character in a novel. Accepted into his local Dutch painters’ guild in 1653, at age 21, with no recorded training as an apprentice, he promptly begins painting masterful, singular, uncannily realistic pictures of light-filled rooms and ethereal young women. After his death, at 43, he and his minuscule oeuvre slip into obscurity for two centuries. Then, just as photography is making highly realistic painting seem pointless, the photorealistic “Sphinx of Delft” is rediscovered and his pictures are suddenly deemed valuable. By the time of the first big American show of Vermeer paintings—at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, in 1909—their value has increased another hundred times, by the 1920s ten times that.

Despite occasional speculation over the years that an optical device somehow enabled Vermeer to paint his pictures, the art-history establishment has remained adamant in its romantic conviction: maybe he was inspired somehow by lens-projected images, but his only exceptional tool for making art was his astounding eye, his otherworldly genius.

That is a long read…complete with videos.

Have a good day, and think of this as an open thread.


Saturday Reads

reading the news

Good Morning!!

There’s a little breaking news this morning. The Guardian reports: China scrambles fighter jets towards US and Japan planes in disputed air zone.

China scrambled fighter jets to investigate US and Japanese aircraft flying through its new air defence zone over the East China Sea on Friday as the regional clamour over the disputed airspace escalated.

The ministry of defence announced the move, which is the first time China is known to have sent military aircraft into the zone alongside foreign flights, stepping up its response to the challenge after its unilateral establishment of the zone. It previously said it had monitored US, Japanese and South Korean aircraft and had flown routine patrols in the area on Thursday.

The ministry’s statement said two US reconnaissance aircraft and 10 Japanese early warning, reconnaissance and fighter planes had entered the zone.

The airforce “monitored throughout the entire flights, made timely identification and ascertained the types”, defence ministry spokesman Shen Jinke told the official China News Service.

Meanwhile, according to The New York Times,

Even as China scrambled fighter jets to enforce its newly declared air defense zone, the Obama administration said on Friday that it was advising American commercial airlines to comply with China’s demands to be notified in advance of flights through the area.

While the United States continued to defy China by sending military planes into the zone unannounced, administration officials said they had made the decision to urge civilian planes to adhere to Beijing’s new rules in part because they worried about an unintended confrontation.

Although the officials made clear that the administration rejects China’s unilateral declaration of control of the airspace over a large area of the East China Sea, the guidance to the airlines could be interpreted in the region as a concession in the battle of wills with China.

“The U.S. government generally expects that U.S. carriers operating internationally will operate consistent with” notice requirements “issued by foreign countries,” the State Department said in a statement, adding that that “does not indicate U.S. government acceptance of China’s requirements.”

Just what we need, a fight with China….

We may shoot first

Meanwhile North Korea is still holding Merrill Newman an 85-year old American who fought in Korea as a young man and had arranged a trip to visit the places he remembered. From Reuters, via the Times of India:

SEOUL: North Korea said on Saturday it had arrested US citizen Merrill E Newman for “hostile acts” against the state and accused him of being “a criminal” who was involved in the killing of civilians during the 1950-53 Korean War.

Newman “masterminded espionage and subversive activities against the DPRK and in this course he was involved in killings of service personnel of the Korean People’s Army and innocent civilians,” the North’s official KCNA news agency said.

North Korea apparently forced the elderly man to make a confession and apologize on video.

In a separate dispatch, KCNA carried what it said was a statement of apology by Newman, made after being detained.

“During the Korean War, I have been guilty of a long list of indelible crimes against DPRK government and Korean people as advisor of the Kuwol Unit of the U.N. Korea 6th Partisan Regiment part of the Intelligence Bureau of the Far East Command,” it said.

The unit appears to refer to one of the special operations units of partisan, or irregular, fighters acting against the North.

Newman, who had been visiting North Korea as a tourist, has been held in Pyongyang since officials took him off an Air Koryo plane that was scheduled to leave the country on October 26.

I really feel for Newman and his family. His wife must be frantic. The Daily Mail has photos and more details on the “apology.”

A video has been released by the North Korean government showing detained American veteran Merrill Newman, 85, admitting to being ‘guilty’ of crimes including killing innocent civilians when he was a soldier in the Korean War.

Newman, who has not been heard from since he was detained on October 26, is seen reading a four-page hand-scribbled letter on camera in an undisclosed location in the video released on Saturday.

The veteran from California looks uneasy in the video, and with shaking hands apologizes for what he supposedly did 60 years ago.

‘I realize that I cannot be forgiven for my offensives but I beg for pardon on my knees by apologizing for my offensives sincerely toward the DPRK government and the Korean people and I want not punish me,’ he reads.

There’s much much more on the public humiliation of this poor man. I hope he wasn’t tortured. Watch the video at the link if you want. I couldn’t bring myself to watch it. I just kept thinking of my Dad who was a WWII veteran. I would really like to know what the U.S. is doing to get Newman out of North Korea. It could be time for another rescue trip by Bill Clinton. 

woman-reading-newspaper

CNN is out with a new poll that found lots of Americans are unhappy with the way things are going in the U.S. these days.

[A] CNN/ORC International survey released Friday also indicates that less than a quarter of the public says that economic conditions are improving, while nearly four in ten say the nation’s economy is getting worse.

Forty-one percent of those questioned in the poll say things are going well in the country today, down nine percentage points from April, and the lowest that number has been in CNN polling since February 2012. Fifty-nine percent say things are going badly, up nine points from April.

Well, that isn’t too surprising, since the economy has been just awful for the vast majority of Americans for a very long time now. Good to know that more than half of the people polled have noticed something is off.

Besides an obvious partisan divide, which contributes to a urban-rural gap, the survey also indicates a difference of opinion between younger and older Americans.

“There’s a slight generational divide, with 46% of those under age 50 saying things are going well. That number drops to 36% for those 50 and older,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland.

So either older people are paying closer attention, or they can remember the pre-Reagan days when there was less income inequality; while younger people can’t recall a time when the economy was doing well.

It’s likely some of the negativity Americans are feeling is a reaction to the media’s constant trashing of the Affordable Care Act AKA “Obamacare.” This morning Reuters is reporting the the federal health care website–which was supposed to be fixed by today–is still experiencing problems and has been temporarily shut down.

Just hours before the Obama administration’s self-imposed deadline to get the insurance shopping website working for the “vast majority” of its users by Saturday, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) announced that it was taking down the website for an 11-hour period that would end at 8 a.m. EST on Saturday.

It was unclear whether the extended shutdown of the website – about seven hours longer than on typical day – represented a major setback to the Obama administration’s high-stakes scramble to fix the portal that it hopes eventually will enroll about 7 million uninsured and under-insured Americans under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

At the very least, the shutdown suggested that nine weeks after the website’s disastrous launch on October 1 prevented most applicants from enrolling in coverage and ignited one of the biggest crises of Obama’s administration, U.S. officials are nervous over whether Americans will see enough progress in the website to be satisfied….

After weeks of round-the-clock upgrades of software and hardware, Obama officials said they were poised to successfully double its capacity by this weekend, to be able to handle 50,000 insurance shoppers at one time.

Paul Krugman defends the program based on a “dramatic” reduction in health-care costs that no one else in the media can be bothered to report.

Much of the Beltway establishment scoffed at the promise of cost savings. The prevalent attitude in Washington is that reform isn’t real unless the little people suffer; serious savings are supposed to come from things like raising the Medicare age (which the Congressional Budget Office recently concluded would, in fact, hardly save any money) and throwing millions of Americans off Medicaid. True, a 2011 letter signed by hundreds of health and labor economists pointed out that “the Affordable Care Act contains essentially every cost-containment provision policy analysts have considered effective in reducing the rate of medical spending.” But such expert views were largely ignored.

So, how’s it going? The health exchanges are off to a famously rocky start, but many, though by no means all, of the cost-control measures have already kicked in. Has the curve been bent?

The answer, amazingly, is yes. In fact, the slowdown in health costs has been dramatic….

Since 2010, when the act was passed, real health spending per capita — that is, total spending adjusted for overall inflation and population growth — has risen less than a third as rapidly as its long-term average. Real spending per Medicare recipient hasn’t risen at all; real spending per Medicaid beneficiary has actually fallen slightly.

Read the rest at the link.

debbie harry reads

Edward Snowden is still in the news, and there’s talk of making him “person of the year.”  That would mean lots more money and attention for Glenn Greenwald. The latest link doesn’t seem that exciting to me–but what do I know? From The National Post: NSA tracked online sex activities of suspected terrorists, latest Edward Snowden leaked documents reveal.

LONDON — The American spy agency NSA tracked the online sexual habits of suspected terrorists in an attempt to expose them as hypocrites.

Details of the exercise emerged Wednesday in the latest leak of classified documents by the leaker Edward Snowden.

The spy agency identified six targets, all of whom were Muslim, as examples of how electronic surveillance could be used to gather potentially embarrassing information on individuals, such as evidence of visits to pornography sites.

One of the six “globally resonating foreign radicalizers” is believed to be a U.S. resident while the others live outside America. None of the targets, whose names have been redacted, is accused of being involved in terrorist plots.

I guess I should be all upset about this, but for some reason I’m a lot more freaked out by breadlines in NYC, the ongoing war against women, and the possibility of Republicans taking over the Senate and/or the White House.

A little more worrying is the possibility that the Greenwald/Snowden cult might decide to release the names of U.S. and U.K. intelligence agents. The Daily Telegraph: NSA terror over ‘doomsday’ cache of secrets stashed in online cloud by Edward Snowden 

U.S. intelligence officials say they are worried about a ‘doomsday’ cache of highly classified, heavily encrypted material they believe former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden has stored on a data cloud.

The cache contains documents generated by the NSA and other agencies and includes names of U.S. and allied intelligence personnel, seven current and former U.S. officials and other sources briefed on the matter said.

The data is protected with sophisticated encryption, and multiple passwords are needed to open it, said two of the sources, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence matters….

One source described the cache of still unpublished material as Snowden’s ‘insurance policy’ against arrest or physical harm.

U.S. officials and other sources said only a small proportion of the classified material Snowden downloaded during stints as a contract systems administrator for NSA has been made public.

Some Obama Administration officials have said privately that Snowden downloaded enough material to fuel two more years of news stories.

Ironically, Snowden himself is living under the thumb of Russian security services, according to a recent story at al Jazeera. 

After a dramatic arrival and a prolonged confinement at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport, former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who is wanted by the United States government on espionage charges, has quietly vanished into a life of seclusion.

Nobody seems to know exactly where one of the most wanted and famous men in the world lives, who protects him or how he spends his days — beyond learning Russian and reading Dostoyevsky. Such glimpses into his life have been offered to the public by his Russian lawyer and de facto spokesman, Anatoly Kucherena.

Kucherena is a on the board of the FSB, Russia’s powerful intelligence agency.

“We know at this point that he’s not free,” said Yuri Felshtinsky, a Russian scholar who has written extensively about the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). Felshtinsky, who believes the FSB controls Snowden, called the American exile a “Christmas gift” for President Vladimir Putin’s “public relations war” with the United States….

“He’s always going to be monitored and watched,” said Peter Savodnik, a journalist and author of a recently published book about another famous American defector who grew tired of his Soviet exile: Lee Harvey Oswald. “If he doesn’t already want to leave, he’s going to want to leave very soon.”

Good luck with that.

Those are my offerings for today. What stories are you following? Even if you’re just lazing around enjoying the final hours of the long weekend, please leave a comment or two and let us know what’s happening where you are.


Saturday Reads

desire-dehau-reading-a-newspaper-in-the-garden-Toulouse Lautrec

Good Morning!!

Amid all the bad news, there’s apparently progress in the negotiations with Iran. The LA Times reported yesterday that a “nuclear deal appears imminent.” Secretary of State John Kerry headed to Geneva, Switzerland yesterday to help out.

After a rocky day Thursday, negotiators appeared for now to have overcome their differences on Iran’s entitlement to enrich uranium and on how to curb progress on a partially built nuclear research reactor that Western powers view as a particular threat.

U.S. Secretary of State John F. Kerry left late Friday for Geneva to help “narrow the differences and move closer to an agreement,” the State Department said. Sergei Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, arrived from Moscow early Friday evening, making him the first of the six nations’ ministers to show up for a possible signing ceremony that would end a decade of usually stalemated negotiations….

A deal would be a first-stage agreement that would give Iran temporary relief from the crushing Western sanctions on its economy in exchange for temporary limits on its nuclear program. Many nations fear that Iran, despite its insistence that its program is for peaceful purposes only, is seeking weapons capability with its huge nuclear infrastructure.

This deal would open the way for tough bargaining on a final, comprehensive agreement that would take six months or longer to be reached.

Isn’t it amazing what you can accomplish with a little carrot and stick diplomacy? Too bad Bush and Cheney never tried it.

From USA Today:

U.S. negotiators and their counterparts from the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia and China have been meeting with the Iranians since Wednesday in an effort to strike an interim deal to delay Iran’s nuclear program while a larger deal is worked out that would prevent the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague spoke of “very difficult negotiations, saying “narrow gaps” remain on the same issues that blocked agreement at the last round earlier this month.

“We’re not here because things are necessarily finished,” Hague told reporters. “We’re here because they’re difficult, and they remain difficult.”

Still, the fact that they are talking is definitely encouraging. In another sign that something is actually happening, the Chinese foreign minister arrived in Geneva today. “Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said Saturday the talks…have reached the final moment.”

For those of you who still use air travel, the FCC is on the verge of making a decision that could make flying infinitely more annoying that it is already. From The Washington Post: FCC sees backlash after proposing to allow in-flight cellphone calls on planes.

The Federal Communications Commission said Thursday that it will consider rules that would allow air travelers to make calls and use their cellular data plans once a plane reaches 10,000 feet. Restrictions would remain for takeoffs and landings.

The proposal, which will be raised at the commission’s meeting next month, has the backing of the agency’s newly appointed chairman. But the idea is bound to be controversial. Within hours of the announcement, consumers flooded the agency with protests.

One FCC commissioner received hundreds of e-mails complaining that the move would lead to unbearable noise pollution, an aide said. Passengers are already crammed into smaller seats and tighter rows, and being forced to listen to one another’s calls would be yet another indignity, they wrote.

petition quickly went up on the White House Web site Thursday, asking the Obama administration to stop the effort. “This would make an already cranky, uncomfortable travel experience exponentially worse, and as a frequent flier and concerned citizen, I think the administration needs to nip this in the bud,” a resident from Richmond wrote.

Something tells me if this plan goes through, there are going be a lot more air rage incidents in the not-so-friendly skies. But after the uproar, USA Today is reporting that the new FCC commissioner–only three weeks into the job–is backpedaling rapidly.

NEW YORK (AP) — A day after setting off an uproar among travelers opposed to in-flight phone calls, the chairman of the Federal Communications Commission Chairman backtracked, saying he personally isn’t in favor of calls on planes.

The role of the FCC, he added, is to advise if there is a safety issue with using phones on planes. He said there is “no technical reason to prohibit” the use of mobile devices on planes.

“We understand that many passengers would prefer that voice calls not be made on airplanes. I feel that way myself,” chairman Tom Wheeler said in a Friday statement.

The decision to allow calls will ultimately rest with the airlines, Wheeler emphasized.

The Wall Street Journal reports that U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III “Appears Receptive to Critics of NSA’s Collection of Phone Data.” Back in 1979, the Supreme Court decided that phone records are not private, because we willingly give the information to our telephone company. But now Judge Pauley is questioning that decision based on recent revelations about NSA data collection.

“Doesn’t the information collected here reveal far more?” U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III asked during a hearing in Manhattan federal court on Friday.

Judge Pauley also questioned whether Congress could authorize the collection when the NSA program’s existence wasn’t widely known among lawmakers.

The hearing stemmed from a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and its New York affiliate days after the program was revealed in news reports that were based on documents provided by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. The groups argue the bulk collection of records called metadata—which includes the phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from—violates Americans’ privacy rights, as well as federal law.

The judge issued no immediate ruling and left open the possibility that he could dismiss part of the case, because federal law designates the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court as the proper venue for certain national-security issues.

Pauley is a Clinton appointee.

In Pakistan, a protest by about 10,000 people against U.S. drone strikes succeeded in blocking a supply route to and from Afghanistan.

The protest, led by Pakistani politician and cricket star Imran Khan, had more symbolic value than practical impact as there is normally little NATO supply traffic on the road on Saturdays. The blocked route in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province leads to one of two border crossings used to send supplies overland from Pakistan to neighboring Afghanistan.

Khan, whose Tehreek-e-Insaf party runs the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government, called on federal officials to take a firmer stance to force the U.S. to end drone attacks and block NATO supplies across the country.

“We will put pressure on America, and our protest will continue if drone attacks are not stopped,” Khan told the protesters.

The demonstrators dispersed after Khan’s speech, but his party put out a statement saying they will begin stopping trucks from carrying NATO supplies through Khyber Pakhtunkhwa indefinitely beginning Sunday night. That could spark a clash with the federal government.

Raw Story has an update in the case of Kendrick Johnson, the 17-year-old whose body was found inside a gym mat in a Valdosta, GA high school.

At least an hour of footage is missing from each of the four surveillance cameras at Kendrick Johnson’s high school, and the original footage showing how the Georgia teenager died might be gone, CNN reported on Thursday.

“Those files are not original files,” forensics video analyst Grant Fredericks told CNN. “They’re not something investigators should rely on for the truth of the video.”

CNN enlisted Fredericks in order to analyze more than 290 hours of video it acquired from Lowndes County High School, where the 17-year-old was found dead in the gym in January. Local officials initially determined that he died from asphyxiation after getting trapped inside a gym mat, an argument his family has rejected. An independent autopsy ordered by the victim’s family found the cause of death to be “unexplained, apparent non-accidental, blunt force trauma.”

But while the Lowndes Public Schools district told CNN the video it provided was “a raw feed with no edits,” Fredericks disagreed, saying it was “altered in a number of ways, primarily in image quality and likely in dropped information, information loss. There are also a number of files that are corrupted because they’ve not been processed correctly and they’re not playable. I can’t say why they were done that way, but they were not done correctly, and they were not done thoroughly. So we’re missing information.”

Specifically, two of the cameras are missing 65 minutes of footage each, while the other two are missing 130 minutes apiece. Another camera outside of the gymnasium has a time stamp 10 minutes behind the ones inside.

It sounds like the cover had to involve someone in the school administration, doesn’t it?

So . . . it’s kind of a slow news day, but I found a few stories for you to talk about. What are you hearing? Did I miss any big news? Please post your links in the comment thread.


Tuesday Reads: Liberals, Libertarians, and Concern Trolls

Matisse-Woman-Reading-with-Tea1

Good Morning!!

Between the Red Sox being in the World Series and having to have a root canal on Saturday, I’ve been a little bit disconnected from politics. The Sox won again last night in St. Louis, and they’ll be coming back home to Fenway Park leading the series 3 games to 2; so they could end it tomorrow night. If this post is a little late, my aching jaw and baseball are the reasons why.

We’ve been talking a lot about libertarians lately, because so-called progressives have been aligning with those Ayn Rand fans since libertarian Edward Snowden began leaking top secret documents about the NSA and libertarian Glenn Greenwald began lecturing the world about what a great hero Snowden is for defecting to Russia and revealing the most secret counterintelligence methods of the U.S. and U.K.

The latest shameful episode was Saturday’s “Stop Watching Us” rally in Washington, at which supposedly “progressive” groups joined with anti-woman right-wingers like Justin Amash and neo-confederates like Ron and Rand Paul to protest the NSA doing its job of collecting foreign intelligence.

Before the rally took place, Tom Watson wrote a heartfelt column warning “progressives” that libertarians don’t make good bedfellows. Watson wrote that while he dislikes mass surveillance,

I cannot support this coalition or the rally. It is fatally compromised by the prominent leadership and participation of the Libertarian Party and other libertarian student groups; their hardcore ideology stands in direct opposition to almost everything I believe in as a social democrat.

The Libertarian Party itself — inaccurately described by Stop Watching Us as a “public advocacy organization” — is a right-wing political party that opposes all gun control lawsand public healthcaresupported the government shutdowndismisses public education,opposes organized labor, favors the end of Social Security as we know it, and argues in its formal political manifesto that “we should eliminate the entire social welfare system” while supporting “unrestricted competition among banks and depository institutions of all types.”

Yet my progressive friends would take the stage with the representatives of this political movement? Why? The loss is much greater than the gain. Organizers trade their own good names and reputations to stand alongside — and convey legitimacy to — a party that opposes communitarian participation in liberal society, and rejects the very role of government itself. And their own argument for privacy is weakened by the pollution of an ideology that uses its few positive civil liberties positions as a predator uses candy with a child.

This is an abandonment of core principles, in my view, out of anger over Edward Snowden’s still-recent revelations about the National Security Agency and its spying activity, particularly domestic access to telephone and online networks and metadata. It represents trading long-held beliefs in social and economic justice for a current hot-button issue that — while clearly of concern to all Americans — doesn’t come close to trumping a host of other issues areas that require “the long game” of electoral politics and organizing. Going “all in” with the libertarian purists is a fatal and unnecessary compromise; reform is clearly needed, but the presence of anti-government laissez-faire wingers at the beating heart of the privacy movement will surely sour the very political actors that movement desperately needs to make actual — and not symbolic, link bait — progress in its fight.

But it was to no avail. Watson was attacked for his argument that the anti-surveillance fever is distracting from other important issues. People like Greenwald and Snowden couldn’t possibly care less about alleviating poverty, protecting women’s rights or the right to vote. They’d have no problem with Social Security and Medicare being eliminated, and as for voting, they’re anti-government anyway. Glenn Greenwald–whom some uninformed people believe is a “progressive,” saves his worst attacks for Democrats and in the past has supported Ron Paul and Gary Johnson for president. To Greenwald, sacrificing the entire legacy of FDR and the civil rights and women’s movements is no big deal. Here’s how he characterized the values of liberals who reject Ron Paul in 2011:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

Of course, Greenwald is admitting that he’d sacrifice the social safety net and the rights of millions of Americans in a hopeless effort to defeat the military-industrial complex and its technologies. If you can stand to read the whole piece, you’ll also learn that Greenwald thinks Matt Stoller is a “brilliant” writer. Greenwald is a libertarian purist, with no understanding of how politics actually works. This is the pied piper that many “progressives” are following these days.

I guess I’m getting a little carried away here, so I’ll stop ranting and offer some pertinent links.

Read the rest of this entry »


Tuesday Reads: U.S. Spies on Foreign Countries and Other “Blockbuster” News

woman-by-a-window.matisse

Good Morning!!

In the weeks since Edward Snowden absconded with thousands of top secret National Security Agency (NSA) files and traveled to Hong Kong and then Moscow and handed over the documents to Guardian columnist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras, we’ve learned that the U.S. spies on lots of other countries. Snowden has revealed that NSA has spied on China, Russia, Germany, FranceBrazil, MexicoIsrael, Iran, and the UN. Oddly, we haven’t gotten much new information from Snowden about illegal or abusive NSA spying on Americans, which Snowden initially suggested was his reason for stealing the secret documents.

To most nominally intelligent and informed people, the fact that NSA spies on foreign countires is not particularly surprising; since collecting foreign signals intelligence (SIGINT) is the primary purpose of NSA as stated publicly on their website. Here is NSA’s statement of their “core mission”:

The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) leads the U.S. Government in cryptology that encompasses both Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) and Information Assurance (IA) products and services, and enables Computer Network Operations (CNO) in order to gain a decision advantage for the Nation and our allies under all circumstances.

The Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. The Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

Spying on foreign countries is what NSA does. Why that is perceived as somehow illegal and/or shocking by Greenwald, Poitras, Snowden, and their cult followers, I have no clue. But the fact that a spy agency collects foreign signals intelligence really should not be considered breaking news; and the countries that are complaining about it are well known for spying on the US in return–and in some cases (e.g., China, Russia, and Israel) for famously stealing U.S. secrets and technology.

Today the Washington Post has a new “blockbuster” article that reveals that the U.S. is particularly focused on spying on Pakistan. Now I wonder why that would be? Anyone want to speculate? It couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that Pakistan concealed the location of Osama bin Laden for years, could it? Or the fact that Taliban and al Quaeda operatives regularly hide in Pakistan? Just a couple of wild guesses…

Here’s an excerpt from the WaPo article:

A 178-page summary of the U.S. intelligence community’s “black budget” shows that the United States has ramped up its surveillance of Pakistan’s nuclear arms, cites previously undisclosed concerns about biological and chemical sites there, and details efforts to assess the loyalties of counter­terrorism sources recruited by the CIA.

Pakistan appears at the top of charts listing critical U.S. intelligence gaps. It is named as a target of newly formed analytic cells. And fears about the security of its nuclear program are so pervasive that a budget section on containing the spread of illicit weapons divides the world into two categories: Pakistan and everybody else.

The disclosures — based on documents provided to The Washington Post by former intelligence contractor Edward Snowden — expose broad new levels of U.S. distrust in an already unsteady security partnership with Pakistan, a politically unstable country that faces rising Islamist militancy. They also reveal a more expansive effort to gather intelligence on Pakistan than U.S. officials have disclosed.

The United States has delivered nearly $26 billion in aid to Pakistan over the past 12 years, aimed at stabilizing the country and ensuring its cooperation in counterterrorism efforts. But with Osama bin Laden dead and al-Qaeda degraded, U.S. spy agencies appear to be shifting their attention to dangers that have emerged beyond the patch of Pakistani territory patrolled by CIA drones.

“If the Americans are expanding their surveillance capabilities, it can only mean one thing,” said Husain Haqqani, who until 2011 served as Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States. “The mistrust now exceeds the trust.”

The stolen files also reveal serious human rights issues in Pakistan and fears about the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons. Raise your hand if you’re shocked by any this. I can certainly see why these revelations would be harmful to U.S. national security and foreign relations, however.

Via The Jerusalem Post, another Snowden leak revealed by the Washington Post showed that members of terrorist organizations have tried to join the CIA.

…individuals with past connections to known terrorist entities such as al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas, have repeatedly attempted to obtain employment within the CIA, The Washington Post reported on Monday.

Among job-seekers that seemed suspicious to the CIA, approximately 20% of that grouping reportedly had “significant terrorist and/or hostile intelligence connections.” The nature of the connections was not described in the document.

“Over the last several years, a small subset of CIA’s total job applicants were flagged due to various problems or issues,” an anonymous CIA official was reported as saying. “During this period, one in five of that small subset were found to have significant connections to hostile intelligence services and or terrorist groups.” [....]

The document also allegedly stated that the CIA re-investigates thousands of employees each year to reduce the possibility that an individual with these connections may compromise sensitive information.

Can anyone explain to me why this should be considered criminal or why the person who revealed it should be called a “whistle-blower?” It seems to me, the only reason for revealing the methods the U.S. uses to collect foreign SIGINT is a desire to harm U.S. Government and damage its foreign policy. Here’s Bob Cesca, who has consistently critiqued libertarians Snowden and Greenwald and their anti-government motives from a liberal, rational point of view: Greenwald Reports NSA Spied on Presidents of Brazil andMexico.

We’re not sure exactly which section of the U.S. Constitution protects the privacy rights of foreign leaders, but Glenn Greenwald and Edward Snowden appear to believe it’s in there somewhere. The tandem crusaders for the Fourth Amendment have once again extended their reach beyond what was intended to be their mutual goal of igniting a debate in the United States about the constitutionality of the National Security Agency’s surveillance operations, and, instead, opted to reveal that, yes, the U.S. spies on foreign leaders. Shocking, I know.

Specifically, on the Globo television show “Fantasico” in Brazil, Greenwald described a July, 2012 document stolen from NSA by Snowden, which describes how NSA had intercepted communications made by the president of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto, as well as Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff. (Incidentally, the Globo article contains 13 corporate trackers or “web bugs.”)

The goal of revealing this information is clear. Greenwald and Snowden have successfully exploited the “sparking a debate” motive as a Trojan Horse for injecting unrelated information into public view as a means of vindictively damaging the operations of U.S. and U.K. intelligence communities, not to mention the reputation of the United States as a whole, while also pushing the unrealistic message that surveillance is generally impermissible. Yes, we already knew that nations spy on other nations, but to publicly disclose specific instances of international spying — while on the soil of one of the nations being surveilled — confirms these suspicions and sorely embarrasses everyone involved.

But guess what? Both Mexico and Brazil have powerful spy agencies that conduct “active surveillance” on the U.S.

In Brazil, it’s called the Agência Brasileira de Inteligência (ABIN or the Brazilian Intelligence Agency). It deals with external and domestic intelligence gathering: collection and analysis of information that’s intercepted via both signals (SIGINT collects email, phone calls and so forth) and human resources.

In Mexico, it’s called S-2. Like ABIN or NSA, S-2 also collects SIGINT on foreign targets, with a special focus on the military operations of foreign governments. Along with its counterpart, the Centro de Información de Seguridad Nacional (Center for Research on National Security or CISIN), S-2 is tasked with counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism operations.

Has anyone overheard Greenwald mention, even in passing, either of these agencies? Likely not, and don’t hold your breath waiting for Greenwald to attack Brazil’s intelligence community, even knowing that it wiretapped its own Senate and Supreme Court several years ago. Along those lines, we don’t know exactly whether these agencies have attempted to spy on any of our presidents or government officials, but wouldn’t Greenwald, as a U.S. citizen and resident of Brazil, want to find out using the same “Glennzilla” tenacity he’s employed while exposing U.S. spying? If his crusade now involves universal privacy, wouldn’t that include violations by the Brazilian government, especially knowing that Greenwald lives in Rio de Janeiro?

Read more at the link.

In other news….

The civil war in Syria continues to be the top international story, and The New York Times has a couple of helpful articles. The first is an explainer that deals with Key Questions on the Conflict in Syria. I won’t excerpt from it–read it at the NYT if you’re interested. Next, an article that explains how American policy on Syria may affect possible negotiations with Iran: Drawing a Line on Syria, U.S. Eyes Iran Talks.

As the Obama administration makes a case for punitive airstrikes on the Syrian government, its strongest card in the view of some supporters of a military response may be the need to send a message to another country: Iran. If the United States does not enforce its self-imposed “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical weapons, this thinking goes, Iran will smell weakness and press ahead more boldly in its quest for nuclear weapons.

But that message may be clashing with a simultaneous effort by American officials to explore dialogue with Iran’s moderate new president, Hassan Rouhani, in the latest expression of Washington’s long struggle to balance toughness with diplomacy in its relations with a longtime adversary.

Two recent diplomatic ventures have raised speculation about a possible back channel between Washington and Tehran. Last week, Jeffrey Feltman, a high State Department official in President Obama’s first term who is now a senior envoy at the United Nations, visited Iran to meet with the new foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, and discussed possible reactions to an American airstrike in Syria.

kerry assad

In line with the international beating up on the U.S. that has followed the Snowden-Greenwald-Poitras “revelations” that NSA spies on foreign countries, The Daily Mail has a snarky article with numerous photos about a dinner that John Kerry had with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad in 2009.

An astonishing photograph of John Kerry having a cozy and intimate dinner with Bashar al-Assad has emerged at the moment the U.S Secretary of State is making the case to bomb the Syrian dictator’s country and remove him from power.

Kerry, who compared Assad to Adolf Hitler and Saddam Hussein yesterday, is pictured around a small table with his wife Teresa Heinz and the Assads in 2009.

Assad and Kerry, then a Massachusetts senator, lean in towards each other and appear deep in conversation as their spouses look on.

A waiter is pictured at their side with a tray of green drinks, believed to be lemon and crushed mint.

Now, why would Kerry be having dinner with Syria’s president? The Daily Mail tells us:

The picture was likely taken in February 2009 in the Naranj restaurant in Damascus, when Kerry led a delegation to Syria to discuss finding a way forward for peace in the region.

At the time, Kerry was Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and what he was doing is called “diplomacy.” But looking back in the age of Snowden, it seems that instead of having a polite dinner, Kerry should have punched Assad in the nose and screamed at him at the top of his lungs to get with the program–or something…

From the Wall Street Journal: Syrian Electronic Army Hacks Marines Website

A collection of pro-Syrian government hackers apparently defaced a Marine Corps recruitment website Monday.

The Syrian Electronic Army, which has hacked a series of websites, posted a letter on the Marines.com website arguing the Syrian government is “fighting a vile common enemy.”

“The Syrian army should be your ally not your enemy,” the letter read. “Refuse your orders and concentrate on the real reason every soldier joins their military, to defend their homeland. You’re more than welcome to fight alongside our army rather than against it.”

See a screen shot at the link. The site is now back up and running normally.

I’ll end there and post my remaining links in the thread below. As always, please post links to the stories you’re following in the comments as well.


Tuesday Reads: The Agony of Glenn Greenwald, The Ickiness of Ted Cruz, & Other News

Dog_getting_the_newspaper

Good Morning!!

As of yesterday, we’ve reached the point with the NSA leaks story that the entire focus is on Glenn Greenwald and his martyrdom. Even Edward Snowden has now faded into the background.

On Sunday, Greenwald’s domestic partner David Miranda was detained for nine hours by UK authorities as he passed through Heathrow Airport on his way from Berlin to Rio de Janeiro where he and Greenwald live. Miranda was finally released, but his laptop, an external hard drive, a number of memory sticks and other electronic devices were confiscated. Greenwald reacted by threatening the UK government with harmful revelations from the Snowden stash.

As with previous Greenwald stories, this one quickly evolved from a tale of horrendous government repression as reported by the Guardian to a more complex story reported by other news outlets–forcing the Guardian to walk back or provide more details on aspects of its original reporting. Bob Cesca does a good job of summarizing the process.

Like most people, Cesca was at first shocked by the news of Miranda’s detention. Then he began reading the stories under the headlines.

When I read The Guardian‘s article about the incident, however, more questions popped up — as with much of The Guardian‘s reporting on this topic, the publication’s tendency for coy, smoke-and-mirrors reporting invariably raises more questions than it answers. The article was credited to “Guardian staff,” for one, there weren’t any quotes from Miranda himself and the only source for the article appeared to be Greenwald, who, from my experience covering this story, tends to be incendiary and misleading.

The wailing and garment rending was underway — the predictable group freakout we’re forced to endure every time a new article is published. Greenwald himself wrote that the U.K. authorities were actually worse than the Mafia because the Mafia doesn’t target family members. (Clearly, Greenwald knows less about the Mafia than he does about political realities or history.)

An aside: Cesca coined the term “the 24 hour rule” after a the first few Greenwald NSA “bombshells.”

The 24 Hour Rule: 1) A wild claim is made via a news article, most often The Guardian, about the U.S. government or related entities. 2) The article sparks wild fits of outrage. 3) Then, within 24 hours, a mitigating detail is added, undermining or totally debunking one or more of the central claims contained with the article. Related quote: “A lie can travel half-way around the world before the truth gets its pants on.”

Back to Cesca’s take on the Miranda story:

As the hours rolled by, Charlie Savage, reporting for The New York Timesbegan to revealmore details about the trip — details which The Guardian mysteriously didn’t include in either of its articles….

First, we learned from The New York Times that The Guardian financed Miranda’s trip to Germany and back. This means Miranda was conducting some sort of official business for the publication. Around the same time, Amnesty International referred to Miranda as “a Guardian newspaper employee.” Combined with the Laura Poitras detail, it’s obvious that Miranda was commissioned to do some serious leg-work on the Snowden/NSA reporting, the extent of which was unknown at the time.

And then, late in the evening east coast time, The New York Times revealed the purpose of Miranda’s trip to Berlin:

Mr. Miranda was in Berlin to deliver documents related to Mr. Greenwald’s investigation into government surveillance to Ms. Poitras, Mr. Greenwald said. Ms. Poitras, in turn, gave Mr. Miranda different documents to pass to Mr. Greenwald. Those documents, which were stored on encrypted thumb drives, were confiscated by airport security, Mr. Greenwald said. All of the documents came from the trove of materials provided to the two journalists by Mr. Snowden.

So Miranda, Greenwald’s spouse, served as a paid courier to transfer stolen, top secret national security documents from Greenwald to Poitras, and from Poitras back to Greenwald.

While I’m not defending UK authorities for their ham-handed treatment of Miranda–and neither is Cesca–it’s really not surprising that Miranda was stopped and questioned. It also later came out that Miranda had been offered an attorney, but he refused the offer (Greenwald had originally said his partner was refused access to legal advice). From The Guardian on Monday:

He was offered a lawyer and a cup of water, but he refused both because he did not trust the authorities. The questions, he said, were relentless – about Greenwald, Snowden, Poitras and a host of other apparently random subjects.

“They even asked me about the protests in Brazil, why people were unhappy and who I knew in the government,” said Miranda.

He got his first drink – from a Coke machine in the corridor – after eight hours and was eventually released almost an hour later. Police records show he had been held from 08.05 to 17.00.

The questions about the Brazilian government weren’t actually that outrageous, since Glenn Greenwald had contacted high level officials there and they had tried to intervene.

So the “24-hour rule” still holds. This entire story turned around in 24 hours, but many news outlets are still reporting information that is either wholly or partially untrue. After it became clear that their original reporting on the Miranda detention was problematic, the Guardian released another bombshell article written by Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusberger in which he claims that two months ago GCHQ (Britain’s version of NSA) agents forced the Guardian to destroy their hard drives and computers unless they turned over their NSA materials. Again Bob Cesca has a good summary. Please read the whole thing if you can–it’s not long.

We’ll have to wait another day to see if this story also morphs into something different. Cesca has a list of questions for Rusberger. My big question is why wasn’t this reported immediately after it happened, and why didn’t the Guardian go to court over it?

And so Glenn Greenwald and his victimization remain the center of international attention. I have to wonder why Greenwald arranged for his partner to travel through Heathrow in the first place. Was he deliberately inviting something like this? He couldn’t have asked for better free publicity that he and the Guardian are getting right now.

Meanwhile, any discussion of NSA spying is hindered by so much inaccurate information; yet the NSA story is distracting Americans from focusing on equally important and even more pressing issues like jobs, the economy, voting rights, the war on women’s autonomy, the environment, and the upheavals in the Middle East. So now I’ll move on to some other news–I’ll add more links on the Miranda story in the comments.

In other news,

The Atlantic has a good story on economic inequality: Are the Rich Getting Too Much of the Economic Pie?

When one of you asked, “Are the rich getting too much of the economic pie?” the team behindEconomics in Plain English got pretty excited. Because you said “pie.” So we headed toDangerously Delicious Pies in northeast Washington, D.C., with business editor Derek Thompson to explain income inequality over dessert. We ordered three pies — peanut butter, blueberry, and something amazing called the “Baltimore Bomb” — to make three charts that illustrate the income and wealth gap in the U.S. We’re not the first to mix math and pastry, as we discovered recently, but we hope this video offers a tasty perspective on a complex economic question.

Watch the video–and others by the same group–at the link.

In Pakistan, Pervez Musharraf has been indicted in the 2007 murder of Benazir Bhutto

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — A Pakistani court indicted Pervez Musharraf on Tuesday in connection with the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, the first time that a former military leader has faced criminal proceedings in Pakistan.

The court in Rawalpindi, near the capital, Islamabad, filed three charges against Mr. Musharraf, including murder and conspiracy to murder, said a prosecutor, Chaudhry Muhammed Azhar.

Mr. Musharraf, who has maintained that the charges against him are politically motivated, pleaded not guilty, his lawyers said. Reporters were excluded from the hearing. Afterward, police commandos and paramilitary rangers escorted Mr. Musharraf back to his villa on the edge of Islamabad, where he has been under house arrest since April in connection with other cases stemming from his rule from 1999 to 2008.

The sight of a once untouchable general being called to account by a court had a potent symbolism in a country that has been ruled by the military for about half of its 66-year history. While the military remains deeply powerful, the prosecution has sent the message that Pakistan’s top generals are subject to the rule of law — at least after they have retired.

In Egypt, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood has been arrested. The LA Times reports:

CAIRO — Egyptian authorities early Tuesday arrested the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, another demoralizing blow to the Islamist organization amid a crackdown by the military to silence dissent and build support for its control of the nation.

Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie was arrested in a Cairo apartment. Dressed in a gray tunic, the 70-year-old spiritual leader looked shaken, sitting next to a bottle of water in police custody. The image distilled the desperation the world’s most influential Islamist organization faces against an army that appears determined to crush it.

Most of the Brotherhood’s top leaders, including Khairat Shater, its chief strategist and financier, and former Egyptian president Mohamed Morsi, who was overthrown in a coup last month, are in detention or have gone underground. Much of the group’s strategy appears to have shifted to the Anti-Coup Alliance, an umbrella group the Brotherhood organized to protest Morsi’s downfall.

The army’s crackdown on the Brotherhood has been ferocious. Police raids on two Brotherhood sit-ins last week and the protests and violence that ensured killed more than 900 Morsi supporters, many of them shot by live ammunition fired by security forces that have shown little restraint.

“When the hand of oppression extends to arrest this important symbol,” the Brotherhood said in a statement regarding Badie, “that means the military coup has used up everything in its pocket and is readying to depart.”

I’ll be honest–I’m really clueless about what’s going on in Egypt right now. I just hope the situation doesn’t descend into a Syria-like civil war.

Texas Tea Party Senator Ted Cruz is back in the news. The Dallas Morning News revealed yesterday that Cruz holds dual citizenship in the US and Canada.

Born in Canada to an American mother, Ted Cruz became an instant U.S. citizen. But under Canadian law, he also became a citizen of that country the moment he was born.

Unless the Texas Republican senator formally renounces that citizenship, he will remain a citizen of both countries, legal experts say.

That means he could assert the right to vote in Canada or even run for Parliament. On a lunch break from the U.S. Senate, he could head to the nearby embassy — the one flying a bright red maple leaf flag — pull out his Calgary, Alberta, birth certificate and obtain a passport.

“He’s a Canadian,” said Toronto lawyer Stephen Green, past chairman of the Canadian Bar Association’s Citizenship and Immigration Section.

The circumstances of Cruz’s birth have fueled a simmering debate over his eligibility to run for president. Knowingly or not, dual citizenship is an apparent if inconvenient truth for the tea party firebrand, who shows every sign he’s angling for the White House.

Cruz has decided to renounce his Canadian citizenship, according to CNN:

“Because I was a U.S. citizen at birth, because I left Calgary when I was 4 and have lived my entire life since then in the U.S., and because I have never taken affirmative steps to claim Canadian citizenship, I assumed that was the end of the matter,” Cruz wrote in his statement.

“Now the Dallas Morning News says that I may technically have dual citizenship. Assuming that is true, then sure, I will renounce any Canadian citizenship,” he continued. “Nothing against Canada, but I’m an American by birth, and as a U.S. Senator, I believe I should be only an American.”

Too bad he didn’t decide to run for office in Canada. I guess we’re stuck with him now.

I’ll end with this Daily Beast story about what Ted Cruz Princeton roommates recall about him. Some excerpts:

When Craig Mazin first met his freshman roommate, Rafael Edward Cruz, he knew the 17-year-old Texan was not like other students at Princeton, or probably anywhere else for that matter.

“I remember very specifically that he had a book in Spanish and the title was Was Karl Marx a Satanist? And I thought, who is this person?” Mazin says of Ted Cruz. “Even in 1988, he was politically extreme in a way that was surprising to me.” [....]

“It was my distinct impression that Ted had nothing to learn from anyone else,” said Erik Leitch, who lived in Butler College with Cruz. Leitch said he remembers Cruz as someone who wanted to argue over anything or nothing, just for the exercise of arguing. “The only point of Ted talking to you was to convince you of the rightness of his views.”

In addition to Mazin and Leitch, several fellow classmates who asked that their names not be used described the young Cruz with words like “abrasive,” “intense,” “strident,” “crank,” and “arrogant.” Four independently offered the word “creepy,” with some pointing to Cruz’s habit of donning a paisley bathrobe and walking to the opposite end of their dorm’s hallway where the female students lived.

“I would end up fielding the [girls’] complaints: ‘Could you please keep your roommate out of our hallway?’” Mazin says.

Eeeeeeeeek!!

OK, now it’s your turn. What stories are you focusing on today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.