Don’t blame Dakinikat for the lateness of this post. I volunteered to fill in for her today and then I ended up oversleeping.
I stayed up too late watching the New England Patriots come from behind to beat the Denver Broncos on Sunday Night Football. I had pretty much given up on the Pats at halftime when they were down 24-0. But once again Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rallied his team and once again showed Peyton Manning who’s boss.
Cindy Boren sums up what happened at The Washington Post:
For most of the country, Sunday night was cold. It’s the gateway to a big holiday week and, with the Denver Broncos blowing out the hapless New England Patriots on Sunday night, why not just turn in early?
Here’s the abbreviated version of what happened while you were sleeping: Trailing 24-0 at halftime, Tom Brady and the Patriots scored 31 points in the second half, the Broncos scored to tie it and, with Bill Belichick making another of his unusual coaching decisions, the Patriots won 34-31 on a field goal that came off a turnover on a muffed punt with time running out in overtime. But it was a decision by Belichick that set up the Patriots. After winning the OT coin toss, he chose to take the wind — a stiff, brutally cutting wind — in a move that even his captains questioned.
There was a fierce wind blowing in the Boston area all day yesterday. It was coach Bill Belichick’s decision to give the ball to the Broncos, forcing Manning to either throw into the wind or and the ball off. It worked, and the Pats ended up winning on a field goal. It was incredible–only the fifth time in history a team has come back from 24 down at the half to win a game.
So, that’s my excuse for being late with the morning post. I know you’re probably not impressed . . .
Of course the weather here in New England is just a minor annoyance compared to much of the rest of the country. CNN reports: Nasty weather wallops much of U.S. just before Thanksgiving.
The wicked wintry weather that pummeled the West Coast is now barreling across the country, threatening to wreck millions of holiday travel plans just before Thanksgiving.
The storm has already contributed to at least 10 traffic fatalities.
Nearly 400 flights have been canceled in the Dallas-Fort Worth area — not exactly a bastion for snowstorms. Sleet and freezing rain will keep blanketing parts of the Southern Plains and Southern Rockies on Monday.
New Mexico may be hit with 8 inches of snow!
And it’s headed our way next:
And after the storm deluges parts of the South with rain Monday evening, it’ll start zeroing in on the Northeast, the National Weather Service said. And that could spell more travel nightmares….
An Arctic air mass will probably keep temperatures 15 to 20 degrees below normal along the East Coast through Thursday. But even if the system fails to deliver heavy snow, fierce winds could still hamper air travel, forecasters said….
Heavy rain is expected to fall from Texas to Georgia on Monday and over the Carolinas on Monday night, with some sleet and snow mixed in for northern parts of that swath. The heaviest rain is expected across parts of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina.
So be careful out there–especially you Sky Dancers in the southern half of the country.
In political news, the big story is the deal that the Obama administration has struck with Iran. Israel doesn’t like it one bit, and that means there will be objections in Congress. From Bloomberg via the SF Chronicle:
Israel’s rejection of the accord reached in Geneva by Iran and six leading nations over the weekend was swift. The agreement is a “historic mistake” that leaves the world “a much more dangerous place, because the most dangerous regime in the world has taken a significant step toward attaining the most dangerous weapon,” Netanyahu said.
The first accord since the Iranian nuclear program came under international scrutiny in 2003 eases sanctions on Iran in return for concessions on its atomic work. Its six-month timetable is meant to give negotiators time to seek a comprehensive deal to halt Iranian nuclear work that they, like Israel, think is a cover to build weapons.
Israel will now focus on influencing the final deal as much as they possibly can.
“What Israel can do during this period is push the international community toward making the final deal as tough as it can, though it should do so far more quietly than it has in the past,” said Eilam, a retired brigadier-general.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told CBS News in Geneva that the agreement doesn’t take the threat of force off the table and rejected Israel’s position, articulated yesterday by Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon, that the U.S. capitulated to Iranian deceit.
The agreement is “not based on trust. It’s based on verification,” with mechanisms in place to confirm whether Iran is in compliance, he said.
Kerry actually used many Congresspeople’s opposition to loosening sanctions on Iran to push the Iranians to make a deal. From Bloomberg Businessweek:
When Secretary of State John Kerry joined the nuclear negotiations at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva last Saturday, he employed the oldest negotiating trick in the book, evoking Congress as the bad cop to the Obama administration’s good cop. Kerry told Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif that if they failed to reach an agreement that day, the Obama administration would be unable to prevent Congress from passing additional sanctions against Iran. Less than 24 hours later, Kerry and Zarif walked into the hotel lobby to announce that they had struck a deal to temporarily freeze Iran’s nuclear program.
In the face of criticism from members of Congress and the U.S.’s allies in the Middle East, Administration officials have insisted that the Geneva agreement is just the first step toward a more far-reaching disarmament deal. But such a deal will require that the Obama administration promise not just to forestall the imposition of new sanctions, but to dramatically reduce the sanctions already in place. And that depends on the cooperation of a Congress that has been singularly uninterested in assuming the role of good cop in the showdown with Iran.
The White House has some discretion to rescind the Iran sanctions without Congress’s approval. The method for removing any given set of sanctions depends on how those sanctions were passed in the first place. If they’re the product of an executive order, as many of the existing sanctions against Iran are, removing them requires only that the White House decide to stop enforcing them. That’s exactly how Obama will be making good on its promise to Iran, as part of last week’s interim agreement, to restore access to $7 billion held in foreign bank accounts….Removing sanctions that have been passed into law by Congress, however, is a much more difficult challenge. Despite the partisan gridlock in gridlock in Washington over the last several years, bipartisan majorities have managed to cooperate on three separate rounds of sanctions since 2010, including measures targeting Iran’s central bank, which Iran will undoubtedly want rescinded. Removing those laws from the books will force the White House to go through Congress all over again. That will require overcoming the partisanship and procedural hurdles that have consumed Congress in recent years.
I have to say, Obama is once again showing he has guts. If only he would use some of that to stand firm on domestic policies. The BBC reports that the Obama administration has been working toward this agreement for months through secret negotiations that SOS John Kerry was involved in while he was still chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
I’m really curious to know what role Hillary Clinton played in these negotiations and whether she supports the deal, but I can’t find any information about that so far. Meanwhile, here’s a positive review from Mark Fitzpatrick of the International Institute for strategic studies (IISS): The surprisingly good Geneva deal.
The deal reached in the early hours of the morning in Geneva on 24 November was better than I had expected, and better than would have been the case without France’s last-day intervention at the previous round two weeks earlier. I spent much of Sunday making the rounds of TV studios and fielding print-media interviews, explaining why opponents in Israel, the Gulf and US Congress should overcome their scepticism. The more I studied the deal, the more apparent it became to me that those who knock it probably did not want any agreement at all – at least not any deal that was within the realm of possibility.
The Geneva agreement is a good deal because Iran’s capabilities in every part of the nuclear programme of concern are capped, with strong verification measures. The terms require that for the next six months, no more centrifuges can be added, none of the advanced models that were previously installed can be turned on, the stockpiles of enriched uranium cannot increase, and work cannot progress on the research reactor at Arak, which is of concern because of the weapons-grade plutonium that would be produced there. Going well beyond normal verification rules, inspectors will be able to visit the key facilities on a daily basis and even have access to centrifuge production and assembly sites.
Moreover, the most worrisome part of the programme is being rolled back. Iran is suspending 20% enrichment, which is on the cusp of being weapons-usable, and neutralising the existing stockpile of 20% product, half through conversion to oxide form and half through blending down. Although the P5+1 had earlier asked for the stockpile to be exported, these measures will virtually accomplish the same purpose by eliminating the stockpile. Reversing these measures would take time.
Time is the essential variable of this deal. The net effect of the limits Iran has accepted is to double the time it would take for it to make a dash to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons. Without a deal, the break-out time might instead soon be halved.
Read the rest at the link.
Paul Krugman has a column up about some positives on the rollout of Obamacare and California as a “test case” for the program.
Now, California isn’t the only place where Obamacare is looking pretty good. A number of states that are running their own online health exchanges instead of relying on HealthCare.gov are doing well. Kentucky’s Kynect is a huge success; so is Access Health CT in Connecticut. New York is doing O.K. And we shouldn’t forget that Massachusetts has had an Obamacare-like program since 2006, put into effect by a guy named Mitt Romney.
California is, however, an especially useful test case. First of all, it’s huge: if a system can work for 38 million people, it can work for America as a whole. Also, it’s hard to argue that California has had any special advantages other than that of having a government that actually wants to help the uninsured. When Massachusetts put Romneycare into effect, it already had a relatively low number of uninsured residents. California, however, came into health reform with 22 percent of its nonelderly population uninsured, compared with a national average of 18 percent.
Finally, the California authorities have been especially forthcoming with data tracking the progress of enrollment. And the numbers are increasingly encouraging.
Krugman says that about 10,000 people are signing up per day, and the enrollment numbers show a balance between younger, healthier enrollees and those who are older and more likely to need health care.
So . . . it’s a somewhat slow news day as we head into the holiday season, but the Iran deal will give us something to talk about while the folks in Washington take their extra long vacations. I don’t even want to think about what will happen when they get back and start clashing over the debt ceiling again.
What interesting stories are you finding out there today? Please post your links in the comment thread and have a good day despite the weather!
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.
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.
A 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.
The first half of this post is bad, just a warning there…so as you drink your coffee, tea, chai, beer or Bourbon…we’ll just get through this tough stuff as quickly as possible.
As expected, the death toll from the Super Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda is in the thousands, from Voice of America: 10,000 Feared Dead in Philippines
Local officials say the death toll in a central province that took the brunt of Typhoon Haiyan could reach as high as 10,000.
Police and provincial officials provided the estimate on Sunday after assessing damage in Leyte province, where they say the destruction was overwhelming. The regional police chief said most of the deaths resulted from drowning and collapsed buildings
Philippine Interior Secretary Mar Roxas says it is difficult to describe the extent of damage in Leyte’s capital, Tacloban.
“The devastation is – I do not have the words for it. It is really horrific. It is a great human tragedy. There is no power. There is no light.”
AP is reporting 400 bodies have been recovered so far.
Reuters has a few images of the devastation at their link, however, there are very few pictures available as of now. Philippine super typhoon kills at least 10,000, official says | Reuters
Haiyan, a category 5 typhoon that churned through the Philippine archipelago in a straight line from east to west, packing wind gusts of around 275 kph (170 mph), weakened significantly before hitting northern Vietnam on Sunday.
Leyte province’s capital of Tacloban, with a population of 220,000, bore the brunt of Haiyan, which was possibly the strongest storm ever to make landfall.
The city and nearby villages as far as one kilometer from shore were flooded by the storm surge, leaving floating bodies and roads choked with debris from fallen trees, tangled power lines and flattened homes. TV footage showed children clinging to rooftops for their lives.
A man stands atop debris as residents salvage belongings from the ruins of their houses after Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 10, 2013.
“From a helicopter, you can see the extent of devastation. From the shore and moving a kilometer inland, there are no structures standing. It was like a tsunami,” said Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas, who had been in Tacloban since before the typhoon struck the city, about 580 km (360 miles) southeast of Manila.
Debris litter a damaged airport after super Typhoon Haiyan battered Tacloban city in central Philippines November 9, 2013.
City officials said they were struggling to retrieve bodies and send relief supplies to survivors. They also reported widespread looting as authorities struggled to restore order and repair shattered communications.
“There is looting in the malls and large supermarkets. They are taking everything even appliances like TV sets, these will be traded later on for food,” said Tecson John Lim, the Tacloban city administrator.
“We don’t have enough manpower. We have 2,000 employees but only about 100 are reporting for work. Everyone is attending to their families.”
“The dead are on the streets, they are in their houses, they are under the debris, they are everywhere,” he said.
International aid agencies said relief efforts in the Philippines are stretched thin after a 7.2 magnitude quake in central Bohol province last month and displacement caused by a conflict with Muslim rebels in southern Zamboanga province.
The World Food Programme said it was airlifting 40 tons of high energy biscuits, enough to feed 120,000 people for a day, as well as emergency supplies and telecommunications equipment.
Tacloban city airport was all but destroyed as seawaters swept through the city, shattering the glass of the airport tower, leveling the terminal and overturning nearby vehicles.
Huffington Post has a picture on the main page of their website that shows a single dead man, face down. He is blue. His skin is blue.
I saw that picture last night just before going to sleep and it haunted me…it really is an upsetting image.
More pictures here: AP PHOTOS: High death toll feared in typhoon
Meanwhile, the US has offered some aid: U.S. aid on the way to devastated areas of Philippines
Help is on the way to areas of the Philippines devastated by Typhoon Haiyan, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development and humanitarian relief groups.
The Obama administration made an initial $100,000 available Saturday to provide basic health care, clean water and sanitation following the Philippines government’s request for international assistance. That figure is likely to grow as damage and humanitarian needs are assessed.
And according to the BBC: UK commits aid for 500,000 in Philippines
Britain has committed £5m to help up to 500,000 people affected by the typhoon that swept through the Philippines.
The Department for International Development (DfID) said the money would be given to pre-approved organisations to provide “crucial humanitarian aid”.
That 5 million pounds is like 8 million US dollars. Makes that 100,000 bucks seem like a mere single ply, scratchy…dingleberry producing roll of toilet paper.
The organizations listed below are deploying urgent relief efforts on the islands. See how you can help:
The Philippine Red Cross said it has mobilized teams on the ground to help with rescue and relief operations. Click the link to learn more.
The American Red Cross has launched a family tracing service among other aid operations. If you are unable to reach a family member in the Philippines, you can contact your local chapter of the American Red Cross to initiate a tracing case. Click on the link for more.
UNICEF is taking donations to help provide children with shelter, clean water, nutrition and vaccines.
World Food Programme, a United Nations organization, said it will be sending meals to those affected and working with local authorities on restoring communications. Click the link to donate or, if you are in the United States, text the word AID to 27722 to donate $10.
Save the Children is also mounting disaster relief efforts to help children and families in the region with emergency assistance.
World Vision said it will provide food and water to those in evacuation shelters. Click the link to make a donation.
Habitat for Humanity plans to offer shelter repair kits for families who need to re-build their damaged houses.
Operation USA said it will allocate donations directly to relief and recovery efforts.
Google has also launched a person finder.
The storm is now on its way to Vietnam:
More photos at that CNN link.
In other world news: Talks With Iran Fail to Produce a Nuclear Agreement
Marathon talks between major powers and Iran failed on Sunday to produce a deal to freeze its nuclear program, puncturing days of feverish anticipation and underscoring how hard it will be to forge a lasting solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Emerging from a last-ditch bargaining session that began Saturday and stretched past midnight, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, and Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, said they had failed to overcome differences. They insisted they had made progress, however, and pledged to return to the table in 10 days to try again, albeit at a lower level.
“A lot of concrete progress has been made, but some differences remain,” Ms. Ashton said at a news conference early Sunday. She appeared alongside Mr. Zarif, who added, “I think it was natural that when we started dealing with the details, there would be differences.”
They agreed to meet in Geneva again in 10 days to try to make a deal happen.
Talks on a deal to temporarily curb Iran’s nuclear program ran into trouble Saturday when France questioned whether the proposal went far enough, casting doubt an agreement could be reached during the current round of negotiations.
Chances of bridging all differences diminished as the day went on.
A Western diplomat in Geneva said that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by the U.S. and France’s other negotiating partners, diminishing hopes of a done deal Saturday.
It really seems like the French are the ones voicing the most concern and skepticism.
Meeting without Iran
The foreign ministers of the seven delegations discussing Iran convened a meeting late Saturday night, and the Iranian officials were not included.
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius spoke of “several points that…we’re not satisfied with compared to the initial text,” telling France-InterRadio his nation does not want to be part of a “con game.”
He did not specify, but his comments suggested France thought a final draft of any first-step deal was too favorable to Iran, echoing concerns raised by Israel and several prominent U.S. legislators.
The French position was confirmed by another Western diplomat. Both gave no specifics and demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the diplomatic maneuvering.
Iranian state TV strongly criticized the French position, calling France “Israel’s representatives at the talks.”
Iran’s IRNA news agency cited Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as urging world powers to reach a deal.
“I hope the parties negotiating with Iran in the 5+1 group use the exceptional opportunity that the Iranian nation has provided to the West and the international community so that we achieve a positive result in a reasonable time,” IRNA quoted Rouhani as telling a Japanese foreign minister visiting Tehran Saturday evening.
Rouhani said sanctions and threats don’t benefit anyone.
Iran “has insisted that threats and sanctions have not resolved any problem and further complicate the path forward, and believes that the only solution is talks on the basis of respect and mutual confidence,” IRNA quoted him as saying.
Optimism about an interim agreement had been high when the talks were extended for a third day on Saturday and raised to a ministerial level.
There is a lot more at both the New York Times link above, and this Raw Story link…which goes on a bit more to say:
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal pointed to “rather large cohesion” among the negotiators and said France wanted “the international community to see a serious change in the climate” of talks with Iran.
“There have been years of talks that have led to nothing,” Nadal said, alluding to the need for tough terms on Iran.
Years of talks, yes…but this is the first time that the US is involved face to face with Iran in these talks. I think that gives this round of discussions a sense of urgency and more pressure on the matter with the international community coming together on one page. But then, it is late…and I am a little overwhelmed by the story out in the Philippines. I will just put a link to an update on Syria’s chemical weapons stash: Katrina vanden Heuvel: A surprising silence on success in Syria – The Washington Post
Last week, buried beneath banner headlines blaring about Obamacare hearings, National Security Agency surveillance revelations and the Boston Red Sox’ World Series win, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) quietly reported that Syria “has completed the functional destruction of critical equipment for all of its declared chemical weapons production facilities and mixing/filling plants, rendering them inoperable.”
On the heels of winning the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize, the unglamorous but undeniably effective OPCW, using saws, sledgehammers and cutting torches in the middle of a war zone, defied predictions by meeting the Nov. 1 deadline to disable Syria’s chemical weapons program. The bombshell was that there was no bombshell — at least, not of the unconscionable chemical kind.
But the manner in which we arrived at this moment seems to obscure the legitimate success we ought to celebrate. There remains, of course, difficult work ahead. The OPCW must meet a Nov. 15 deadline to destroy more than 1,000 metric tons of weapons stockpiles, even as fierce fighting continues in many of the parts of Syria where the weapons are located. Syria’s foreign minister requested that some weapons factories be spared , calling into question the country’s genuine commitment to disarmament. And the country’s deadly civil war continues unabated.
Still, even with these caveats, what the OPCW accomplished is no small victory. It’s a meaningful step toward meeting what has long been a major U.S. foreign policy goal – eliminating weapons of mass destruction.
Yes, it’s an op/ed, so go ahead and take it for what it is….read the rest at the link.
Another updated news story for you this morning: Schools chief: Nothing in records indicates Nevada middle school shooter was bullied – The Washington Post
A northwestern Nevada superintendent said there’s no evidence a seventh-grader was bullied before he fatally shot a teacher and wounded two classmates at Sparks Middle School last month.
Jose Reyes, 12, killed math teacher Michael Landsberry with a semi-automatic handgun outside the school on Oct. 21 before taking his own life.
Washoe County School District Superintendent Pedro Martinez told KTVN-TV (http://bit.ly/1eqRcfw) that “there was nothing in our official records about bullying for this child, whether at the elementary school or the middle school. Even the parents recently said there was no indication from what they saw.”
The parents, Jose and Liliana Reyes, earlier this week used the word “teased” to describe what their son faced about a speech problem but said he never showed signs of harboring anger or resentment that could help explain the schoolyard shooting.
Their attorney, Kent Robison, told KTVN that Reyes was teased at school and even saw a counselor.
Some students have said bullying played a role in the shooting, but police said they have no evidence of that and have refused to comment about anything that might have provoked the attack.
The parents of the two 12-year-olds recovering successfully from gunshot wounds have said they don’t believe their children were targeted in the attack on the asphalt basketball court 15 minutes before the morning bell.
I wonder if we will ever know why Reyes did what he did that day.
Remember that nugget of news outta Sanford Florida? Where the police chief was making all neighborhood watch volunteers “gun free” while on “duty.” Well, Sanford police backtrack on neighborhood watch gun restriction | Al Jazeera America
Police in the Florida city where George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin have backed off a plan to explicitly ban neighborhood watch volunteers from carrying guns while on duty.
Earlier this month, police in Sanford, Florida, announced new rules on how civilian patrols can operate in an attempt to revive the program’s reputation, and was expected to announce Tuesday that neighborhood watch volunteers shouldn’t carry guns or follow suspects.
But now the police department has backtracked on those rules, saying that while it recommends that neighborhood watch volunteers not carry weapons, it won’t formally prevent volunteers from doing so.
In a phone interview on Wednesday, Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith refused repeated requests to explain the reversal.
“That was the choice of the chief. That was my decision,” Smith said. “What my thought is unimportant.”
Smith introduced the new rules and a new handbook for the town’s neighborhood watch program at a community meeting on Tuesday.
He said anyone who carries a gun can still participate in the neighborhood watch program, and no one will be asked if they have a concealed weapons permit. But block captains will be required to sign a waiver saying the city will relinquish liability if they decide to carry a weapon.
Last week, his spokesman told Reuters the new rules would explicitly state that residents acting under the authority of neighborhood watch may not carry a firearm or pursue someone they deem suspicious.
Smith says his change of rules was not influenced by the gun rights advocacy groups who were pissed off about his earlier decision to ban guns on neighborhood watch. (Bullshit.)
Want some more bullshit? Tom Cruise — My Job’s As Hard As Fighting in Afghanistan | TMZ.com
Tom Cruise not only thinks he trains harder than Olympic athletes, he believes his job as a professional actor is as grueling as fighting the war in Afghanistan — this according to legal docs obtained by TMZ.
As we reported, Cruise recently sat for a deposition in his $50 million libel suit against a magazine publisher that claimed he abandoned daughter Suri — and his quotes are GOLD.
First, the Middle East — Tom says his location shoots are just like serving a tour in Afghanistan, “That’s what it feels like. And certainly on this last movie, it was brutal. It was brutal.”
Oh, I see another South Park episode in Tom’s future.
BTW, if you missed this past weeks episode, you need to see it…Ginger Cow (Season 17, Episode 6) – Full Episode Player – South Park Studios
Okay, since I’ve segued into the Hollywood/movie section of the post, here is another movie oriented link for you: Hans Zimmer on the Classic Films He’s Scored Zimmer is one of those composers who has scored so many films…that it really boggles your mind when you see his list of credits: Hans Zimmer – IMDb The two films that really feature amazing soundtracks and original scores by Hans Zimmer are Thelma and Louise, Rain Man. I think the scores of those films really fit the mood of the story, especially the one he did for Thelma and Louise. But he also was part of the group that started the whole video revolution on MTV:
Hey, I thought this was kind of funny…at least thinking about the logistics of this thing: Obama’s Portable Zone of Secrecy (Some Assembly Required)
Pete Souza/White House
President Obama discussing Libya inside his security tent during a trip to Rio de Janeiro in 2011.
When President Obama travels abroad, his staff packs briefing books, gifts for foreign leaders and something more closely associated with camping than diplomacy: a tent.
Even when Mr. Obama travels to allied nations, aides quickly set up the security tent — which has opaque sides and noise-making devices inside — in a room near his hotel suite. When the president needs to read a classified document or have a sensitive conversation, he ducks into the tent to shield himself from secret video cameras and listening devices.
American security officials demand that their bosses — not just the president, but members of Congress, diplomats, policy makers and military officers — take such precautions when traveling abroad because it is widely acknowledged that their hosts often have no qualms about snooping on their guests.
Yeah, no shit…which makes that whole Merkel spy thing a, “duh?” realization doesn’t it?
The United States has come under withering criticism in recent weeks about revelations that the National Security Agency listened in on allied leaders like Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany. A panel created by Mr. Obama in August to review that practice, among other things, is scheduled to submit a preliminary report this week and a final report by the middle of next month. But American officials assume — and can cite evidence — that they get the same treatment when they travel abroad, even from European Union allies.
“No matter where you are, we are a target these days,” said R. James Woolsey Jr., the director of central intelligence during the Clinton administration. “No matter where we go, countries like China, Russia and much of the Arab world have assets and are trying to spy on us so you have to think about that and take as many precautions as possible.”
On a trip to Latin America in 2011, for example, a White House photo showed Mr. Obama talking from a security tent in a Rio de Janeiro hotel suite with Hillary Rodham Clinton, then the secretary of state, and Robert M. Gates, the defense secretary at the time, about the air war against Libya that had been launched the previous day. Another photo, taken three days later in San Salvador, showed him conferring from the tent with advisers about the attack.
I don’t think any of this matters. I am so sick of the media right now. I just want to see what 60 Minutes does tonight, and if there is any big news follow-up on that Benghazi story.
The rest of today’s links in dump fashion:
The Mormon church stands to own nearly 2 percent of Florida by completing a deal to buy most of the real estate of the St. Joe Co. for more than a half-billion dollars.
That is more than Disney! But seriously:
According to the announcement, a church entity, AgReserves Inc., will buy 382,834 acres – the majority of St. Joe’s timberlands – in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties for $565 million.
Completion of the deal will leave the Utah-based church with 678,000 acres, an area larger than any other private holding in Florida, according to widely shared but unconfirmed rankings of top landowners.
Kidney damage in first responders linked to 9/11- Science Daily
For the first time, researchers have linked high levels of inhaled particulate matter by first responders at Ground Zero to kidney damage. Researchers from the WTC-CHEST Program, a subset of the World Trade Center Health Program Clinical Center for Excellence at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, presented their new findings at the 2013 American Society of Nephrology meeting on Nov. 9 during National Kidney Week.
Imagine listening to a foreign language you are not familiar with all day. It would be tiring and confusing. You would miss important information and you’d have to work very hard to understand what people were saying.
That’s what it’s like to have a specific language impairment in your own language, says Gina Conti-Ramsden, professor of child language and learning from the University of Manchester.
“These children aren’t mute. They can talk – but it’s a hidden disability,” she says.
“They can’t understand what is said all the time and they find it difficult to put words together, and to express themselves.”
Tutankhamun’s body may have spontaneously combusted due to a botched mummification, British scientists claim in a new programme to be broadcast Sunday.
Egyptologist Chris Naunton and a team of forensic scientists performed a “virtual autopsy” on the young pharaoh in the Channel 4 television documentary “Tutankhamun: The Mystery of The Burnt Mummy”.
I wish I could get to see that documentary.
Photos Of Victorian London Show Difficulties Of Life On The Streets -Huffpo Some wonderful pictures to look at…very sad to see.
Nazi anatomy history: The origins of conservatives’ anti-abortion claims that rape can’t cause pregnancy.- Slate That is one interesting article, its a long read but you will find it fascinating and disturbing.
Not all of us can stand and stare at artwork and pretend to be impressed and then stare again and then focus in on how the brushstrokes add up to the emotion of what the artist was feeling during his struggle when his father did not approve of his calling. Some of us want more fun when it comes to art. This hilarious animation of famous paintings are that fun.
Cartoon Brew spotted this video made by animators Doug Bayne, Ben Baker and Trudy Cooper and it’s a good one. The short animations were featured in Austrlian sketch comedy show The Elegant Gentleman’s Guide to Knife Fighting. You can watch them all below, make sure you stay to the end for the epic finish.
Video is at the link above.
It is real late, and at this point I am not sure this post is making much sense. So I will leave it at that and ask you all, what’s up in your neck of the woods. What are you thinking about today?
Saturday Reads: Obama Talks to Rouhani, Pakistan and Kenyan Disasters, Republican Terrorism, and MorePosted: September 28, 2013
It’s a beautiful Fall day in New England, the Red Sox have taken the American League East with the best record in baseball after winning 97 games with one game left to play. On top of that, the Yankees are pitiful. The playoffs start next Friday. It just doesn’t get better than this.
There is quite a bit of news for a Saturday. First up, President Obama spoke on the telephone to Iranian President President Hassan Rouhani yesterday–the first time leaders of the U.S. and Iran have spoken directly since 1979. The AP reports:
The United States and Iran took a historic step toward ending more than three decades of estrangement on Friday when President Barack Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spoke by phone and agreed to work on resolving global suspicions that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear weapon.
The 15-minute call capped a week of seismic shifts in the relationship that revolved around Rouhani’s participation in the annual U.N. meeting of world leaders. The night before the two leaders spoke, U.S. and European diplomats hailed a “very significant shift” in Iran’s attitude and tone in the first talks on the nuclear standoff since April.
The diplomatic warming began shortly after Rouhani’s election in June. But it is rooted in both presidents’ stated campaign desires — Obama in 2008 and Rouhani this year — to break through 34-year-old barriers and move toward diplomacy.
Iran is also seeking quick relief from blistering economic sanctions that the U.S. and its Western allies have imposed on Tehran to punish it for refusing to scale back its nuclear activities. Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but years of stonewalling inspections and secrecy about its activities have fueled fears it is seeking to build warheads.
Rouhani and Obama spoke while the Iranian president was in his car and headed to the airport to fly back to Tehran, with Obama at his desk in the Oval Office. Rouhani’s aides initially reached out to arrange the conversation, and the White House placed the call.
I’m not sure what it means to “work on resolving global suspicions that Tehran is trying to build a nuclear weapon,”–do they want to calm suspicions or tamp down the nuclear efforts? But at least it’s a step in the right direction. The New York Times has more:
“Resolving this issue, obviously, could also serve as a major step forward in a new relationship between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran, one based on mutual interests and mutual respect,” Mr. Obama, referring to Tehran’s nuclear program, told reporters at the White House after the 15-minute phone call. “It would also help facilitate a better relationship between Iran and the international community, as well as others in the region.”
A Twitter account in Mr. Rouhani’s name later stated, “In regards to nuclear issue, with political will, there is a way to rapidly solve the matter.” The account added that Mr. Rouhani had told Mr. Obama, “We’re hopeful about what we will see from” the United States and other major powers “in coming weeks and months.”
More detail about the call itself:
Mr. Obama placed the call from the Oval Office around 2:30 p.m., joined by aides and a translator.
He opened by congratulating Mr. Rouhani on his election in June and noted the history of mistrust between the two nations, but also what he called the constructive statements Mr. Rouhani had made during his stay in New York, according to the official. The bulk of the call focused on the nuclear dispute, and Mr. Obama repeated that he respected Iran’s right to develop civilian nuclear energy, but insisted on concessions to prevent development of weapons.
Mr. Obama also raised the cases of three Americans in Iran, one missing and two others detained. In a lighter moment, he apologized for New York traffic.
The call ended on a polite note, according to the official and Mr. Rouhani’s Twitter account.
“Have a nice day,” Mr. Rouhani said in English.
“Thank you,” Mr. Obama replied, and then tried a Persian farewell. “Khodahafez.”
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal reports that: U.S. Says Iran Hacked Navy Computers.
U.S. officials said Iran hacked unclassified Navy computers in recent weeks in an escalation of Iranian cyberintrusions targeting the U.S. military.
The allegations, coming as the Obama administration ramps up talks with Iran over its nuclear program, show the depth and complexity of long-standing tensions between Washington and Tehran.
The U.S. officials said the attacks were carried out by hackers working for Iran’s government or by a group acting with the approval of Iranian leaders.
The most recent incident came in the week starting Sept. 15, before a security upgrade, the officials said. Iranian officials didn’t respond to requests to comment.
The allegations would mark one of the most serious infiltrations of U.S. government computer systems by Iran. Previously, Iranian-backed infiltration and surveillance efforts have targeted U.S. banks and computer networks running energy companies, current and former U.S. officials have said.
I’m sure Glenn Greenwald will have a highly disapproving story about this in the Guardian today. Oh wait, he’s probably more outraged that the NSA was able to discover the Iranian spying . . . Never mind.
When Rouhani got home, he was “met by hardline protesters chanting ‘Death to America,’” according to BBC News.
Hundreds of people gathered at Tehran airport, with supporters hailing the trip and opponents throwing shoes.
An Agence France-Presse journalist said some 200-300 supporters gathered outside the airport to thank Mr Rouhani for his efforts.
But opposite them were about 60 people shouting “Death to America” and “Death to Israel”.
Mr Rouhani raised his hand to the crowds as he was driven off.
A New York Times reporter described the scene as chaotic, with dozens of hardliners hurling eggs and shoes at the president’s convoy.
There was another powerful earthquake today in Pakistan, according to CNN.
The 6.8 magnitude earthquake struck in Balochistan province Saturday about 96 kilometers (60 miles) northeast of Awaran, the United States Geological Survey said.
Rasheed Baloch, the Deputy Commissioner Awaran told CNN seven people died when a house collapsed in Mashkay Tehsil as result of new earthquake on Saturday.
Just Tuesday, a 7.7 magnitude earthquake struck the same area of Pakistan. The death toll in that quake has risen to 366 people and another 765 are injured….
Baloch said a rescue operation was under way in Awaran district to retrieve the dead bodies and shift the injured to hospitals.
The remoteness of the affected area and damaged communications networks are hindering the rescue operation, officials said.
The Atlantic has a good article following up on “Tragic and Heroic Stories from Survivors of the Kenyan Mall Attack.”
Witness accounts and survivor stories from the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi continue to emerge, telling a freighting [sic] story of violence and terror. Yet, as the investigation continues, there are still some disturbing questions about the attack that have yet to be fully explained.
Now that more access has been granted to the ruined mall, images confirm that three floors of the building collapsed, presumably because of a large explosion. The Associated Press reported today that the collapse was actually caused by the Kenyan military, supporting a claim made by the terrorists themselves. It’s still not clear how or why they managed to set off the explosion, but it may have killed some (perhaps most?) of the hostages still inside the building.
The official death toll is still listed at 67, but it’s likely that unrecovered bodies will be found in the rubble. As many as 60 people are still missing.
CNN is also reporting today that the terrorists did not just plant weapons inside the mall in the days before the attack, as had been previously reported, but that members of al-Shabab had rented out a storeand were actually running it as functional business for nearly a year.
While investigators, including the FBI, continue their work, we’re learning more about what happened inside the mall during the attack, and what those who lived through it endured.
Check out some of the survivor stories at The Atlantic link.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a shocking report yesterday, according to BBC News. IPCC climate report: humans ‘dominant cause’ of warming.
A landmark report says scientists are 95% certain that humans are the “dominant cause” of global warming since the 1950s.
The report by the UN’s climate panel details the physical evidence behind climate change.
On the ground, in the air, in the oceans, global warming is “unequivocal”, it explained.
It adds that a pause in warming over the past 15 years is too short to reflect long-term trends.
The panel warns that continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all aspects of the climate system.
To contain these changes will require “substantial and sustained reductions of greenhouse gas emissions”.
Too bad no humans in powerful positions are likely to do anything about it.
Back in the USA . . .
Congress is still battling over whether or not to crash the global economy because Republicans don’t want ordinary Americans to have health care, Ted Cruz is still getting headlines for making an ass of himself, and the media is still trying to blame Democrats and Republicans equally for the mess we’re in.
From the Washington Post: Obama chides Republicans as shutdown looms.
With Washington barreling toward a government shutdown, a deadlocked Congress entered the final weekend of the fiscal year with no clear ideas of how to avoid furloughs for more than 800,000 federal workers. Millions more could be left without paychecks.
The Senate on Friday approved a stopgap government funding bill and promptly departed, leaving all of the pressure to find a solution on House Republican leaders.
President Obama weighed in, sternly lecturing GOP leaders that the easiest path forward would be to approve the Senate’s bill, which includes money for the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, the president’s prized legislation achievement, which he signed into law in 2010. But a far-right bloc of House and Senate Republicans banded together to leave House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) virtually powerless to act.
“My message to Congress is this: Do not shut down the government. Do not shut down the economy. Pass a budget on time,” Obama said in the White House press briefing room.
Boehner’s leadership team offered no public comment and remained out of sight most of Friday, hunkering down for another weekend on the brink. For Boehner, this is the latest in a series of unstable moments that have become the hallmark of his three-year run as speaker.
Al Gore uncharacteristically joined the fray, according to The Hill. Gore to GOP: ‘How dare you?’
Former Vice President Al Gore accused Republicans Friday of engaging in “political terrorism” by using a government shutdown as leverage to defund ObamaCare.
“The only phrase that describes it is political terrorism,” Gore said at the Brookings Institution, according to ABC News. “Why does partisanship have anything to do with such a despicable and dishonorable threat to the integrity of the United States of America?”
The former vice president also criticized Republicans for threats to link defunding ObamaCare to the debt ceiling, which is set to expire Oct. 17.
“Now you want to threaten to not only shut down our government but to blow up the world economy unless we go back and undo what we did according to the processes of this democracy?” Gore said. “How dare you?”
But the media is still pushing their “both sides do it” narrative. At The Atlantic, James Fallows offers Your False-Equivalence Guide to the Days Ahead. Here’s just a taste:
As a matter of journalism, any story that presents the disagreements as a “standoff,” a “showdown,” a “failure of leadership,” a sign of “partisan gridlock,” or any of the other usual terms for political disagreement,represents a failure of journalism*** and an inability to see or describe what is going on. For instance: the “dig in their heels” headline you see below, which is from a proprietary newsletter I read this morning, and about which I am leaving off the identifying details.
This isn’t “gridlock.” It is a ferocious struggle within one party, between its traditionalists and its radical factions, with results that unfortunately can harm all the rest of us — and, should there be a debt default, could harm the rest of the world too.
Now please click the link and go over to The Atlantic–it’s a must read.
I’m running out of space, so I’ll go with a link dump on Ted Cruz–if you have the stomach for the details you can go to the sources.
John Dickerson at Slate: Why Senate Republicans Hate Ted Cruz
Jonathan Chait: Ted Cruz Now Ruining John Boehner’s Life, Too
Those are my recommendations for today. What are you reading and blogging about? See you in the comment thread!
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, France, Brazil, Mexico, Israel, 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.
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.