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.


Thursday Reads: A Little Bit Of This, A Little Bit Of That

Boris Karloff reads with friend

Boris Karloff reads with friend

Good Morning!!

Now that Congressional Republicans have successfully shot down President Obama’s rumored first choice for Secretary of State–Susan Rice–they are working on nixing the president’s possible pick for Secretary of Defense, Republican Chuck Hagel. Aaron Blake at The Fix:

Former senator Chuck Hagel’s (R-Neb.) potential/likely nomination as Secretary of Defense looms this week amid a growing chorus of criticism over his past comments about Israel and his policy positions on issues including the defense budget.

It seems some are bent on defeating Hagel’s nomination before it can even become official — much as Republican senators did with potential Secretary of State pick Susan Rice just last week. In fact, the same GOP senators who scuttled the Rice pick are now expressing doubts about Hagel.

A battle over Hagel would be highly unusual — both because we just had one over Rice and because both senators nominated to Cabinet posts and Secretary of Defense nominees generally sail to confirmation.

Obama should have stuck with Rice and fought it out. Senate Republicans smell blood now. The only reason John Kerry may be approved for State is that Republicans fantasize that Massachusetts voters will repeat their past mistake of electing Scott Brown to fill an open Senate seat. This president is the worst negotiator ever. He really needs to get someone else to make deals for him. He just can’t accept the reality that Republicans hate his guts and will never give him a break, ever.

Meanwhile Rep. Darrell Issa must be drooling over the “scathing report” on the Benghazi attacks

Four State Department officials were removed from their posts on Wednesday after an independent panel criticized the “grossly inadequate” security at a diplomatic compound in Benghazi that was attacked on Sept. 11, leading to the deaths of Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.

Eric Boswell, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, resigned. Charlene Lamb, the deputy assistant secretary responsible for embassy security, and another official in the diplomatic security office whom officials would not identify were relieved of their duties. So was Raymond Maxwell, a deputy assistant secretary who had responsibility for the North Africa region. The four officials, a State Department spokeswoman said, “have been placed on administrative leave pending further action.”

The report by the independent panel has criticized officials in State’s bureau for Diplomatic Security displaying a “lack of proactive leadership.” It also said that some in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs “showed a lack of ownership of Benghazi’s security issues.”

The report did not criticize more senior officials, including Patrick F. Kennedy, the under secretary for management, who has vigorously defended the State Department’s decision-making on Benghazi to the Congress and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.

At a news conference at the State Department on Wednesday, Thomas R. Pickering, a former ambassador who led the independent review, said that most of the blame should fall on officials in the two bureaus.

But that isn’t going to stop Republicans from trying to hang the blame around Hillary Clinton’s neck.

Sen. Bob Corker, R- Tenn., slated to be the senior Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee in 2013, told NBC’s Andrea Mitchell Wednesday that Clinton “has to come before us. I think it’s imperative.” ‘

Corker and other members of Congress were given a classified briefing on the report and afterwards he insisted that Clinton must testify before she leaves her post and the Senate votes on confirmation of her successor.

The secretary was slated to attend briefings on the Hill this week but has been recovering from the flu and a concussion she suffered in a recent fainting episode.

Of course the right wing conspiracy nuts are accusing Clinton of faking her illness. And in the House:

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said the unclassified version of the report “omits important information the public has a right to know. This includes details about the perpetrators of the attack in Libya as well as the less-than-noble reasons contributing to State Department decisions to deny security resources.”

He also said, “In light of the report, I am concerned that the carefully vetted testimony of senior State Department officials at the October hearing was part of an intentional effort to mislead the American people.”

Hey Darrell, have you hot-wired any cars or burned down any businesses lately?

While Pentagon officials struggle to figure out how to protect foreign outposts without using Blackwater-type hired guns, they are dealing with a worldwide Military day care abuse scandal.

The Defense Department has launched a worldwide investigation into hiring practices at military child-care centers after a criminal probe of employees at an Army base near the Pentagon sparked a review that found more than 30 staffers who officials say should have been barred from contact with children.

Two civilian employees at the Child Development Center at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall appeared in federal court Wednesday in Alexandria to face charges of assaulting 2-year-olds in their care.

The president immediately urged a thorough investigation and a “zero tolerance policy when it comes to protecting the children of service members from abuse.”

Two workers at the day-care center at the base known as Fort Myer were recorded by surveillance cameras dragging, pinching, kneeing and taunting toddlers, according to federal court records. The center is the military’s largest day-care center, with more than 400 children ranging from 6 weeks to 12 years old. It is used by Pentagon employees and other service members in the Washington area.

A personnel review at Fort Myer began in the fall after a parent complained about an allegedly abusive caregiver.

The inquiry turned up evidence that at least 31 staffers had potentially disqualifying factors in their records, including history of drug use and past allegations of assault, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation said. The staffers have been suspended.

“This is not just one or two or three people,” the official said Wednesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss details of an ongoing inquiry. “This is a severe lapse in the background checks system.”

In police state news, two women in Texas are suing the Texas State Police for subjecting them to an “illegal roadside cavity search.”

A federal lawsuit filed by two Irving women claims that Texas State Troopers humiliated them by performing illegal cavity searches on the side of the road after a cigarette butt was thrown out of their car window.

State Trooper David Farrell called in a female trooper to perform cavity searches of Angel Dobbs, 38, and her 24-year-old niece, Ashley Dobbs, because he said that he smelled marijuana and the women were “acting weird,” attorney Scott Palmer told KTVT on Tuesday.

Angel Dobbs recalled that the female trooper, Kelley Helleson, asked for her permission to perform the search and then told her to “shut up and just listen.”

Unbelievable.

Dashcam video shows Helleson searching the anuses and vaginas of both women with the same latex gloves in full view of other passing cars.

“At this point, I’m in clear shock. I can’t even believe this is happening,” Angel Dobbs explained. Turns me around goes down into the front of my pants into my inner thigh and at which point she goes up with two fingers. I just look at her and say ‘oh my God, I’ve just been violated.’”

And then the trooper performed the same procedure on Ashley Dobbs without changing her gloves.

“She went down, then turned me around, and went down my front and then she actually dug,” Ashley Dobbs said. “I didn’t know what I could say, what I could do. I felt hopeless.”

Is it time for Texas to secede from the union and become part of Mexico (except for Austin, Ralph)? Nah, Mexico probably wouldn’t want to get involved.

The TSA is “Finally Investigating Cancer Risk of X-Ray Body Scanners” now that millions of Americans have been used as guinea pigs in the nation’s airports.

Following months of congressional pressure, the Transportation Security Administration has agreed to contract with the National Academy of Sciences to study the health effects of the agency’s X-ray body scanners. But it is unclear if the academy will conduct its own tests of the scanners or merely review previous studies.

The machines, known as backscatters, were installed in airports nationwide after the failed underwear bombing on Christmas Day 2009 to screen passengers for explosives and other nonmetallic weapons. But they have been criticized by some prominent scientists because they expose the public to a small amount of ionizing radiation, a form of energy that can cause cancer.

The scanners were the subject of a 2011 ProPublica series, which found that the TSA had glossed over the small cancer risk posed by even low doses of radiation. The stories also showed that the United States was almost alone in the world in X-raying passengers and that the Food and Drug Administration had gone against its own advisory panel, which recommended the agency set a federal safety standard for security X-rays.

The TSA maintains that the backscatters are safe and that they emit a low dose of X-rays equivalent to the radiation a passenger would receive in two minutes of flying at typical cruising altitude.

Winter has arrived in the Midwest: Outages in Iowa as season’s first blizzard starts journey in the Plains.

(CNN) — Tens of thousands of people lost power in Iowa on Thursday as the first major storm of the season swept in, bringing blizzards, high winds and severe thunderstorms to the central United States.

The storm prompted the National Weather Service to issue a blizzard warning for a huge swath of the Midwest stretching from eastern Colorado to Wisconsin’s Lake Michigan shoreline, including virtually all of Iowa.

The declaration warned of snow accumulations of up to 12 inches, complemented by 25- to 35-mph winds that will occasionally gust to 45 to 50 mph.

Oh goody.

The storm will race into western Illinois, the weather service said. Rain will quickly change to snow as the storm advances northeast, with the heaviest snow occurring overnight.

“Snow drifts several feet deep will be possible given the strong winds,” the blizzard warning states.
Wrapping around the blizzard warning on the north, south and east is a winter storm warning, which will be no picnic either. The winds won’t be quite as strong, but residents should expect a strong dose of rain, sleet and snow, with a few hail-packing thunderstorms thrown in for good measure.

Hmmm…what about my neck of the woods?

The “intense cyclone” will crawl across the Great Lakes region Thursday and slog into northern New England by Friday evening, the National Weather Service predicted.

Ugh…just what I needed.

I have three longer reads for you on the possible motivations behind mass shootings. I haven’t read any of these carefully yet, so I’m not sure if I’ll agree with the conclusions.

Scientific American is highlighting an article from 2007: Deadly Dreams: What Motivates School Shootings? The article focuses on the revenge fantasies of young shooters.

A Time article from July (written after the Aurora theater shootings) asks about “The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide.”

At Alternet: “What Is it About Men That They’re Committing These Horrible Massacres?”

I’ll be reading these articles after I publish this post. Let me know what you think.

Finally, Senators Diane Feinstein and John McCain are “condemning” the new movie about the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty for falsely suggesting that torture led investigators to bin Laden’s hideout.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Election Day Reads: Four More Years!

Good Morning!!

The big day is finally here. I voted In Massachusetts by absentee ballot shortly after I got to Indiana. I voted for Barack Obama and Joe Biden for President and Vice President, and for Elizabeth Warren for Senator. I voted for my long-time Representative Ed Markey. I also voted in favor of ballot questions on legalizing physician assisted suicide and medical marijuana in Massachusetts.

In 2008, I didn’t care much for Barack Obama, because I didn’t think he had any real ideology and I didn’t trust him to stand up to the Republicans. But I have to admit that he accomplished some good things in his first term.

I still have plenty of problems with President Obama’s policies. I think he should have fought harder for a bigger stimulus and for a public health care option. I think the President should have made a much more serious effort to deal with the foreclosure crisis, prosecute the banksters who brought down our economy, and create jobs through government investment.

I strongly disapprove of Obama’s support for the Patriot Act and for his use of drones to assassinate suspected “terrorists”–along with many innocent civilians–in several foreign countries. I’m glad he found Osama bin Laden, but I think he should have been arrested and put on trial instead of being summarily executed.

On the other hand, the stimulus–though not large enough–did help state and local governments save and create jobs. I think the auto bailout was absolutely necessary and it seems to have saved and created jobs for many U.S. workers. I appreciate that President Obama reversed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and came out in support of same-sex marriage. I believe that this president has grown in office and that he now recognizes that the Republicans in Congress are never going to compromise with him.

I also think President Obama did a very smart thing in appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and giving full control over the State Department. Many of Obama’s advisers didn’t want him to appoint Hillary, but he did it anyway. I respect that Obama has asked for Bill Clinton’s help during the past couple of years and has wholeheartedly thanked him for his efforts.

We now face a choice between a President who kept us out of another Great Depression, managed to pass a health care law that is at least a step in the right direction, and appears to have grown in office, and a man who is a pathological liar and race baiter who represents the top 1%–the people who got us into the financial crisis in the first place; who conceals his highly suspect finances and potential conflicts of interest; who refuses to spell out what he would do if elected, who treats the electorate with utter disrespect, and who clearly has no understanding of or interest in what it is like to be poor, or even middle class. We do know that, if elected, Mitt Romney would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would very likely overturn Roe v. Wade, the Voting Rights Act, and other important progressive court decisions.

Obama must be reelected or our country will be be in deep deep trouble.

If Obama wins reelection, I think we must continue to be eternally vigilant. I strongly suspect that he will push for what he calls a “grand bargain,” which is really a “great betrayal.” We cannot let his desire to “reach across the aisle” lead him to accede to the Republicans’ austerity agenda and trade away the social safety net that allows so many elderly, disabled, and poor people to live with some kind of dignity.

Just in my lifetime, the American people have lived through many difficult times politically. Our rights were threatened and curtailed in the McCarthy era, we faced the murder of President John F. Kennedy, and later the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. We dealt with Watergate, Iran Contra, and 9/11. For the past thirty years we’ve faced increasing income inequality and reduced opportunities for upward mobility. Our rights have been threatened anew by fundamentalist crazies and by Bush’s “war on terror.”

Democracy isn’t easy. It’s very hard, as we have seen in the past week watching people in Ohio and Florida struggling to exercise their rights to vote and over the past couple of years as we watched Republican legislatures try restrict voting rights and take away women’s control over their own bodies and their health care choices.

But we can’t quit. We must fight on to make this country a place we can be proud of and a place where our children and grandchildren can have decent lives. We have to try. If Obama is reelected, we have a chance. If Romney wins, we go back to the Bush years–on steroids.

I’ve gone on a rant now and taken up a lot of space in this post, but I wanted to express how I feel about this election. Over the past four years, I’ve realized that we really can’t have perfection–only progress, if we work at it. President Obama has made some progress, and in a second term, he can be pushed to make more. I’m glad I decided to vote for him.

I do have some news items for you.

Unfortunately, the areas that were hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy last week are facing a nor’easter this week.

Storm-savaged New Yorkers still drying out and rebuilding their lives after the fury of Hurricane Sandy face another nightmare barreling up the East Coast — an angry nor’easter packing winds of 55 mph hour that’s expected to pummel the area on Wednesday.

Forecasters say the latest assault from Mother Nature — while not nearly as ferocious or crippling as the Oct. 29 superstorm — is expected to bring renewed coastal flooding to parts of the city and the New Jersey shore, where Sandy obliterated protective sand dunes and age-old natural beach defenses.

New power outages could strike still-ravaged swaths of Staten Island, the Bronx and Westchester — and possibly “undo” some of the repairs Con Ed has made to its battered system, said John Miksad, the utility’s senior vice president of electric operations….

Meteorologists expect howling winds whipping up to 3 inches of rain along the Northeastern shoreline late Wednesday afternoon. Then it may get worse: Forecasters also fear a bone-chilling cold by Thursday morning that could bring several inches of snow to New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

Dana Millbank says that a new Romney has suddenly emerged in the final days of the campaign. What number incarnation is this?

As he made his closing appeal to voters on the final day before the election, Mitt Romney sounded as though, at any moment, he might burst into a song from the musical “Annie.”

“Tomorrow’s a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we get to work rebuilding our country, restoring our confidence and renewing our conviction.”

“Tomorrow, on November 6th, we come together for a better future.”

“Tomorrow is a new beginning. Tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow.”

As usual, Romney is talking ragtime–making no sense whatsoever. Either he really believes he’ll win the election, or he’s just blabbering aimlessly waiting for his dream to die. The death stench must be unbearable for anyone who gets close to him.

Still, despite Millbank’s claims, the mean Romney still lives on. His campaign is making robocalls calling President Obama a ‘Threat To Our Religious Freedom.’ Here’s the transcript of the call:

Christians who are thinking about voting for Obama should remember what he said about people of faith: “They … cling to guns or religion.” And remember when Obama forced Christian organizations to provide insurance coverage that was contrary to their religious beliefs?
That’s the real Barack Obama. That’s the real threat to our religious freedom. Mitt Romney understands the importance of faith and family. That’s why so many leaders of the Christian community are supporting Romney.

They know we can’t underestimate the threat Barack Obama poses to our faith, our values, our freedom.

So once again, Romney is playing the race card, suggesting that Obama is not a real American and that he’s lying about his religious beliefs.

Paul Ryan expressed something similar on a conference call with members of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition:

Representative Paul D. Ryan accused President Obama on Sunday of taking the country down a path that compromised Judeo-Christian values and the traditions of Western civilization….

“It’s a dangerous path,” Mr. Ryan said, describing Mr. Obama’s policies. “It’s a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.”’

A spokesman for Mr. Ryan, Michael Steel, said, “He was talking about issues like religious liberty and Obamacare – topics he has mentioned frequently during the campaign.”

Sigh… if only we could be rid of Ryan tomorrow, but I suppose he’ll be back in Congress if Romney loses.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to appear at a campaign event with Mitt Romney on Sunday.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was effusive in his praise of President Barack Obama when the two leaders toured damage from Hurricane Sandy last week, turned down a request by Mitt Romney to appear with him at a rally on Sunday night in Pennsylvania, The Huffington Post has learned.

Christie’s decision will only add to questions among Republicans about what the governor — who is up for reelection a year from now — is thinking, and why he went out of his way to heap praise on the president, and then refused to appear with Romney.

The Romney rally was held at a farm in Morrisville, Pa., not more than 20 minutes from Trenton, the New Jersey capital. The physical proximity of the event to New Jersey only added to questions in the Romney campaign about why Christie chose not to come.

“You can’t tell me he couldn’t have gone over there for a night rally,” a Romney campaign source told HuffPost.

Meanwhile Christie’s new BFF Barack Obama made Christie’s dream come true: Chris Christie moved to tears by hug from Bruce Springsteen.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Monday that he was moved to tears by recent interactions with singer Bruce Springsteen, who hugged the governor at a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy on Friday and spoke with Christie by phone on Monday while flying aboard Air Force One with President Obama.

Christie, a Republican, is an ardent fan of Springsteen, a noted liberal who was traveling with the president to Columbus, Ohio, after playing at an Obama rally in Madison, Wis. Christie said during a press briefing that Obama called during the flight to discuss New Jersey’s recovery from Sandy and then handed the phone to Springsteen.

“[Obama] told me in times of real difficulty, he thought that the only thing better than one Jersey guy were two Jersey guys, and he put Bruce Springsteen on the phone,” Christie said.

“Bruce said to me how proud he was of his state and how proud he was of the people of this state and how tough they are,” Christie added. “And he’ll be back to the Jersey Shore soon.”

I can’t help but be happy for the guy. Will he be running against Hillary Clinton in 2016? Who knows? I just hope that sometime tonight we’ll know whether we’ll have an Obama second term or two pathological liars running the country back into the ditch.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


The bin Laden “Narrative”: Obama Campaign Needs to Get on this Stat!

Taylor Marsh has some very good advice for the Obama Campaign, and I hope they’re paying attention.

The partisan back and forth on the bin Laden raid began a few days ago when the Obama campaign released a video of Bill Clinton praising President Obama for his decision to order a raid on the bin Laden compound in Pakistan one year ago tomorrow.

Romney has been hammering Obama, with the help of the media, with fake outrage over the “politicization” of the raid. That seems like a pretty ridiculous considering the way the Bush administration–and the Republican Party as a whole–politicized 9/11 again and again and again for seven straight years.

But today, there’s a new threat. Michael Hastings, the Rolling Stone Reporter who brought down General Stanley McChrysal, has a piece at Buzzflash headlined “Will the Navy Seals Swift Boat Obama?”

The question arose based on a piece by Toby Harden in the Daily Mail. Harnden claims that “serving and former Seals” are angry that Obama is “using [them] as ammunition” in his reelection campaign.

According to Hastings,

The frustration—or, even anger—within the SEAL community is real, and has been brewing for months, particularly among a politically conservative core of operators. It started immediately after the raid, with questions among the Special Forces and intelligence community of whether the president should have waited to announce the kill to exploit the intelligence cache at Osama’s compound. It simmered after a Chinook helicopter was shot down, killing 30 Americans, 22 of them Navy SEALs from Team Six.

Was it a coincidence, SEALs asked themselves, catastrophe hit Team Six so soon after being named as the team responsible for the killing?

As Taylor Marsh points out, this is a serious issue and one the White House and the Obama Campaign need to get out ahead of unless they want to end up like John Kerry, who didn’t believe that anyone would take attacks on his heroic military record seriously. Marsh writes:

Coming from Hastings, whose reporting has been golden since the career ending interview with Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, continuing in his book, which has been widely lauded, this should send shock waves through Obama reelect, with someone in the “war room” investigating it immediately, if only to be prepared.

John Kerry wasn’t prepared.

May the gods help Obama reelect if the right-wing rabble of Rush and Sean decide to take hold of this one, because they’ll never let go. Jerome Corsi is likely investigating it as you read this column. Having been burned on his birther book, he’s got to be chomping at the bit to find another angle to try to take down Obama….

Everyone’s still writing about the political gamesmanship going on, missing the potential news in Hastings’ Buzzfeed piece.

In addition, Hastings indicates that White House insiders are talking out of school:

But as the stagey outrage over the politicization of foreign policy from Mitt Romney and his Republican allies gained momentum over this past weekend, White House officials started to have their doubts. Was spiking the football, again, and again, and again, in a public such a good idea? Was it necessary? Was the campaign in Chicago, White House officials wondered, going too far?

I agree with Marsh that:

One can only imagine who these unnamed “White House officials” are, but someone at 1600 better get a grip on these leaks, because in a tough election cycle they can be a politician’s undoing, especially when it revolves a story so potentially explosive.


Tuesday Reads

Good Morning!! Let’s take a look at what’s happening in the news today.

The Daily Mail has some excerpts from a new book about the Osama bin Laden assassination mission. Apparently President Obama was out on the golf course until about 20 minutes before it all went down.

The claims are from Chuck Pfarrer, a former SEAL team commander, in a book called SEAL Target Geronimo.

He has spoken to several of the men who carried out the operation at Bin Laden’s mansion hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, on May 2.

Mr Pfarrer paints a very different picture to the official photo released at the time which shows Mr Obama and advisers huddled round a table in the White House situation room as footage was beamed from a drone 15,000ft above the al-Qaeda leader’s mansion.

Mr Pfarrer says the President’s role was largely inflated and suggests he stayed out on the golf course for so long so he could distance himself in case it went wrong. Mr Pfarrer writes: ‘If this had completely gone south, he was in a position to disavow.’

Pfarrer also claims that “when they burst into Bin Laden’s room, his wife screamed: ‘No, no, don’t do this… it’s not him!'”

More horrible details keep coming out about the child sexual abuse scandal at Penn State. Here’s a timeline of events published by CNN. The reports of assistant coach Jerry Sandusky go back as far as 1994, and it’s clear that head coach Joe Paterno was aware of Sandusky’s behavior. In 1998, there was an investigation by Penn State Police and Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare of Sandusky showering naked with an 11-year-old boy. The incident was reported by the boy’s mother. Are we supposed to believe that Paterno wasn’t informed of this investigation? Give me a break!

Then, in 2002,

According to the grand jury report, a graduate assistant allegedly tells Coach Joe Paterno that he saw Sandusky in the locker room shower the night before, performing anal sex on a young boy he estimated to be 10 years old….

Paterno reports the incident to Athletic Director Tim Curley, saying the graduate assistant had seen Sandusky “fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy,” according to the grand jury. Later, the assistant is summoned to a meeting with Athletic Director Tim Curley and Senior Vice President for Finance and Business Gary Schultz.

So first, Paterno minimizes the incident in his report and then nothing is done and Paterno just lets it slide. But apparently Paterno isn’t a target in the case.

Quite a few writers are calling for Paterno to resign, however. From the LA Times:

In 46 seasons as the football coach at Penn State University, Joe Paterno appeared to create a culture of winning and decency he called “Success with Honor.”

Now that the culture has been exposed as a haven for an alleged child molester, Paterno needs to do the honorable thing and resign before he coaches another game.

It’s sad that the winningest coach in major college football history will end his career with a giant “L” in the human-being department, but not nearly so sad as the idea that boys may have been abused because football’s most controlling boss did nothing.

From Lawyers, Guns, and Money:

There can be little doubt that Paterno has known since at least 1998 that Sandusky had a “problem” with “inappropriate behavior” toward children, i.e., he was a child molester. That’s when the campus police did a six-week investigation after a mother reported to them that her 11-year-old son had showered with Sandusky. From the grand jury report:

The mother of Victim 6 confronted Sandusky about showering with her son, the effect it had had on her son, whether Sandusky had sexual feelings when he hugged her naked son in the shower, and where Victim 6′s buttocks were when Sandusky hugged him in the shower. Sandusky said he had showered with other boys and Victim 6′s mother tried to make him promise never to shower with a boy again but he would not. She asked him if his “private parts” had touched Victim 6 when he bear-hugged him. Sandusky replied, “I don’t know . . . maybe.” At the conclusion of the second conversation, after Sandusky was told he could not see Victim 6 any more, Sandusky said, “I understand. I was wrong. I wish I could get forgiveness. I know I won’t get it from you. I wish I were dead.”

To put it mildly, it’s extremely unlikely that in a little town like State College, PA, word of this investigation didn’t get back to Paterno. This supposition is bolstered by Sandusky’s otherwise strange “retirement” the following year.

Paterno should be prosecuted, but because of his reputation, he won’t. At the very least, he should lose his job.

According to the National Journal, President Obama is considering issuing an executive order that would deal with an “earmark workaround” that members of Congress have been using.

In a move that could escalate hostilities with Congress, President Obama may be planning to use his executive authority to publicize special funding requests that lawmakers make for pet projects.

A memo that the White House has floated on Capitol Hill would require executive branch agencies to make public any letter from a member of Congress seeking special consideration for any project or organization vying for government funding….

The threat to name and shame would potentially cut off another avenue members of Congress have for influencing government spending in their own back yards. It comes at a time that Obama is ratcheting up his campaign rhetoric against Congress, which he blames for blocking his efforts to stimulate the economy, on the eve of his 2012 reelection effort.

Sounds like a good idea to me.

Some senior citizen protesters blocked traffic in Chicago yesterday.

Chicago police on Monday issued citations to 43 senior citizens and their supporters who linked arms to block an intersection near the city’s financial district.

The action was part of a protest against proposed cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other benefits.

The Jane Addams Senior Caucus (JASC), their supporters and “Occupy Chicago” began the demonstration with a rally outside the office of Illinois Sens. Mark Kirk (R) and Dick Durbin (D). The group, which organizers claimed was nearly 1,500-strong, then marched to the Federal Plaza.

Traffic at the intersection of Jackson Boulevard and Clark Street was blocked for about an hour, according to the Chicago Tribune.

“At every level of society, Americans are under attack,” said Karen Bocker, an “Occupy Chicago” participant and grandmother of four.

Matt Yglesias learned yesterday that Noam Chomsky had mentioned him unfavorably in a speech on receiving a Peace Prize in Sydney, Australia. Be sure to read Yglesias’ convoluted explanation of International Law as it relates to the state murder of Osama bin Laden. One commenter wrote that Yglesias had achieved a

Fantastic career milestone. Every pundit needs a personalized bitchfest with someone more famous. Next, Matt should try getting into a fistfight with Norman Mailer, or get into a William F. Buckley/Gore Vidal-esque television spat with Andrew Sullivan.

The fistfight with Norman Mailer would certainly be entertaining, since Mailer died in 2007. How about a beer drinking contest with the ghost of Jack Kerouac?

Politico reports that Herman Cain will hold a press conference in response to the allegations by Sharon Bialek.

CNN and ABC News’ Michael Falcone are reporting that Herman Cain, who has said he’s not commenting and it’s the “end of story” several times in the past week, will hold a press conference in Arizona tomorrow to address the latest allegations today, made by Chicago single mom Sharon Bialek.

In a series of tweets, Falcone also said the Cain campaign is questioning Bialek’s motives.

I guess he’ll also have to answer questione about a fifth woman.

A former USAID worker claims Herman Cain asked her to set up dinner with a woman who attended a speech he gave in 2002, the Washington Examiner is reporting tonight.

The worker – 40-year-old Donna Donella, of Arlington – told the paper that the moment came after Cain gave a paid speech in Egypt that year. A woman in the crowd posed a query to Cain during the speech, the Examiner said.

Donella told them “And after the seminar was over, Cain came over to me and a colleague and said, ‘Could you put me in touch with that lovely young lady who asked the question, so I can give her a more thorough answer over dinner?’”

She was “suspicious of Cain’s motives and delined to set up the date,” the Examiner reporter wrote.

That’s what I’ve got for today. What are you reading and blogging about.