Posted: November 14, 2017 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Bill Clinton, Bob Corker, Department of Justice, Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, George Papadopoulos, Hillary Clinton, Jeff Sessions, Juanita Broaddrick, Julian Assange, nuclear weapons, Roy Moore, Vladimir Putin
Morning News, by Francis Luis Mora, 1912
Once again, there is so much news breaking that it’s difficult to decide what to focus on. So I’ll begin with what’s happening right now, and take it from there.
Right now Attorney General Jeff Sessions is testifying before the House Judiciary Committee. Guess what? He doesn’t remember the meeting where he is pictured with George Papadopoulos and at which Papadopoulos discussed setting up a meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. That’s really strange, because just a short time ago, he claimed to remember objecting to the proposal.
Vanity Fair on Nov. 2: Sessions Suddenly Remembers Russia Conversation He Said Didn’t Happen.
Back in June, there was some cause for concern that Attorney General Jeff Sessions was having memory problems. When questioned from multiple angles during multiple appearances before Congressional investigators about the Trump campaign‘s relationship to Russia, Sessions‘s consistent refrain was: “I don’t recall.”
He gave an equally evasive response when Minnesota Senator Al Franken specifically asked whether surrogates from the Trump campaign had communicated with Russians during the 2016 election in October. “I did not, and I’m not aware of anyone else that did, and I don’t believe it happened,” Sessions told the Senate Intelligence Committee under oath. (He made similar statements to the Senate Judiciary Committee.)
Now, however, Sessions has reportedly changed his tune. Citing a source familiar with Sessions’s thinking, NBC News reported on Thursday that the attorney general—who served as a top Trump surrogate and headed the then-presidential hopeful’s national security team—does in fact recall rejecting George Papadopoulos’s offer to arrange a meeting between Trump and Putin, after the Republican candidate stopped short of ruling out the idea.
“The March 31 comments by this Papadopoulos person did not leave a lasting impression,” the source told NBC News. “As far as Sessions seemed to be concerned, when he shut down this idea of Papadopoulos engaging with Russia, that was the end of it and he moved the meeting along to other issues.” The source added that Papadopoulos was viewed by those in attendance “as someone who didn’t have a lot of credibility.”
The Washington Post, among other news outlets is reporting that Jeff Sessions is thinking about appointing a second special counsel to investigate Hillary Clinton.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions is entertaining the idea of appointing a second special counsel to investigate a host of Republican concerns — including alleged wrongdoing by the Clinton Foundation and the controversial sale of a uranium company to Russia — and has directed senior federal prosecutors to explore at least some of the matters and report back to him and his top deputy, according to a letter obtained by The Washington Post.
The revelation came in a response by the Justice Department to an inquiry from House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte (R-Va.), who in July and again in September called for Sessions to appoint a second special counsel to investigate concerns he had related to the 2016 election and its aftermath.
The list of matters he wanted probed was wide ranging but included the FBI’s handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state, various dealings of the Clinton Foundation and several matters connected to the purchase of the Canadian mining company Uranium One by Russia’s nuclear energy agency. Goodlatte took particular aim at former FBI director James B. Comey, asking for the second special counsel to evaluate the leaks he directed about his conversations with President Trump, among other things.
In response, Assistant Attorney General Stephen E. Boyd wrote that Sessions had “directed senior federal prosecutors to evaluate certain issues raised in your letters,” and that those prosecutors would “report directly to the Attorney General and Deputy Attorney General, as appropriate, and will make recommendations as to whether any matters not currently under investigation should be opened, whether any matters currently under investigation require further resources, or whether any matters merit the appointment of a Special Counsel.”
In today’s hearing, Sessions said he can’t confirm or deny any investigation involving the DOJ. It’s important to note that during his confirmation hearing, Sessions pledged to recuse himself from any matters involving Hillary Clinton.
The New York Times has published some direct quotes from Sessions’ testimony this morning: Jeff Sessions Displays Unsteady Recall on Trump-Russia Matters.
Mr. Sessions denied that he lied in October when he testified that he knew of nobody in the Trump campaign who had contacts with Russians during the presidential campaign. “And I don’t believe it happened,” he said.
Court records later revealed that Mr. Sessions led a March 2016 meeting in which George Papadopoulos, a campaign aide, discussed his Russian ties and suggested setting up a meeting between Mr. Trump. and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president.
“I had no recollection of this meeting until I saw these news reports,” Mr. Sessions said.
Mr. Sessions testified Tuesday that was still hazy on the details about what Mr. Papadopoulos had proposed.
But on one matter, he said his memory is clear: he said he shot down Mr. Papadopoulos’ idea of a Trump-Putin meet-up. And he said he told Mr. Papadopoulos that he was not authorized to represent the campaign in such discussions.
To sum up: Mr. Sessions said he could not remember much about Russian influence on the Trump campaign, except when he could block such influence.
In other news, Don Jr. is in more trouble. You’ve probably read the article by Julia Ioffe in The Atlantic: The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks.
Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year’s presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee’s oldest son and campaign surrogate. “A PAC run anti-Trump site putintrump.org is about to launch,” WikiLeaks wrote. “The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is ‘putintrump.’ See ‘About’ for who is behind it. Any comments?” (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)
The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. “Off the record I don’t know who that is, but I’ll ask around,” he wrote on September 21, 2016. “Thanks.”
The messages, obtained by The Atlantic, were also turned over by Trump Jr.’s lawyers to congressional investigators. They are part of a long—and largely one-sided—correspondence between WikiLeaks and the president’s son that continued until at least July 2017.
Read the rest at the link if you haven’t already. Julian Assange, who controls the Wikileaks Twitter account has responded by claiming he was just “Trying to ‘Beguile’ Donald Trump Jr. Into Leaking.”
There’s another hearing going on simultaneously with the Sessions hearing on Trump’s ability to use nuclear weapons. Quartz: Watch live: Should Trump have control of US nuclear weapons?
For the first time since 1976, US lawmakers are re-evaluating who should control America’s nuclear weapons.
Today (Nov. 14), expert witnesses will testify before senators on US national “authority and process” over its nuclear arsenal. The hearing follows a tense few months, in which North Korea has continued nuclear testing, and Donald Trump has responded with belligerent improvisational statements, threatening “fire and fury” and warning that a military response was “locked and loaded.”
Could the US president start a nuclear war with North Korea? That’s what the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing aims to figure out. The hearing will be broadcast on public-service network C-SPAN at 10am US Eastern Time. You can watch it online here.
There’s also the ongoing Roy Moore scandal. Some links to check out if you haven’t already:
CBS News: New accuser steps forward in Roy Moore case.
AL.com: Gadsden locals say Moore’s predatory behavior at mall, restaurants not a secret.
The New Yorker: Locals Were Troubled by Roy Moore’s Interactions with Teen Girls at the Gadsden Mall.
TPM: Alabama GOP Moves Toward Deciding Roy Moore’s Fate Later This Week.
AL.com also posted an editorial yesterday: Our view: Roy Moore grossly unfit for office.
Roy Moore simply cannot be a U.S. Senator. Even if his party and many of its adherents still think it possible, it is unthinkable — for his state, and his country.
Last week, four women described Moore’s unseemly taste for dating high school girls when he was a single man in his 30s. Another described what can only be seen as a sexual assault on her when she was 14. In a radio interview last week, Moore himself suggested that he may have dated teenage women during his 30s, though he vehemently denied the claims made by these women.
Today, even as those women face disgusting attacks on their motives and credibility, a fifth brave Alabama woman stepped forward and described how when she was 16, Moore violently sexually assaulted her in his car. She said she felt it to be an attempted rape, and that it ended with her bruised from either falling from or being pushed from the car, with Moore warning her he was a powerful man and that no one would believe her if she told anyone.
The seriousness of these incidents cannot be overstated. They should not be parsed with talk of statutes of limitations or whether proof exists. Proof beyond a reasonable doubt is a consideration for the courtroom, not the ballot box. When choosing our representative before the rest of the world, character matters….
We believe these women.
As a news organization, we have independently investigated as many of these claims as possible and have found no reason to doubt the accounts outlined in the Washington Post. If anything, the stories we’ve heard in Etowah County have only further corroborated them.
In our view, Moore has already revealed himself as grossly unfit to be a U.S. Senator before these revelations.
At The New York Times, Michelle Goldberg suggests that past accusations against Bill Clinton should be reevaluated in the light of recent revelations about powerful men harassing and assaulting women: I Believe Juanita. The title is explosive, but Goldberg’s only reason for believing Juanita Broaddrick’s accusations is that they are similar to recent allegations against Harvey Weinstein.
Of the Clinton accusers, the one who haunts me is Broaddrick. The story she tells about Clinton recalls those we’ve heard about Weinstein. She claimed they had plans to meet in a hotel coffee shop, but at the last minute he asked to come up to her hotel room instead, where he raped her. Five witnesses said she confided in them about the assault right after it happened. It’s true that she denied the rape in an affidavit to Paula Jones’s lawyers, before changing her story when talking to federal investigators. But her explanation, that she didn’t want to go public but couldn’t lie to the F.B.I., makes sense. Put simply, I believe her.
What to do with that belief? Contemplating this history is excruciating in part because of the way it has been weaponized against Hillary Clinton. Broaddrick sees her as complicit, interpreting something Hillary once said to her at a political event — “I want you to know that we appreciate everything you do for Bill” — as a veiled threat instead of a rote greeting. This seems wildly unlikely; Broaddrick was decades away from going public, and most reporting about the Clinton marriage shows Bill going to great lengths to hide his betrayals. Nevertheless, one of the sick ironies of the 2016 campaign was that it was Hillary who had to pay the political price for Bill’s misdeeds, as they were trotted out to deflect attention from Trump’s well-documented transgressions.
And now they’re being trotted out again. It’s fair to conclude that because of Broaddrick’s allegations, Bill Clinton no longer has a place in decent society. But we should remember that it’s not simply partisan tribalism that led liberals to doubt her. Discerning what might be true in a blizzard of lies isn’t easy, and the people who spread those lies don’t get to claim the moral high ground. We should err on the side of believing women, but sometimes, that belief will be used against us.
To say that Bill Clinton “no longer has a place in decent society” is a bit much at this point, IMHO. I don’t know much about Broaddrick’s claims; but apparently these old accusations are going to be recycled. Will Jeff Sessions appoint another special prosecutor?
So much news happening–what will today bring? What stories are you following?
Posted: September 1, 2015 Filed under: 2016 elections, morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Iran deal, Kim Davis, Matt Salmon, nuclear weapons, Oliver Sacks, same-sex marriage, suicide bombers
Today is September 1, and Summer is almost over. How did it go by so quickly? Pretty soon the 2016 campaign will begin to heat up; but for now we are still in the silly season and Donald Trump is still grabbing all the headlines.
The Hill: Trump pledges to reverse Obama’s mountain renaming
Donald Trump promised Monday that he would return the name of North America’s largest mountain to Mount McKinley, undoing President Obama’s decision to call it Denali.
Calling Obama’s act a “great insult to Ohio,” Trump, who is running for president next year,tweeted late Monday that Obama reversed the name the peak had for more than 100 years, in honor of President William McKinley, an Ohio native.
Does Donald Trump even know anything about William McKinley? I doubt it. Why won’t this disgusting creep go away and leave us alone? John Kasich is upset too.
“You just don’t go and do something like that,” Kasich said, according to the Associated Press. “In Ohio, we felt it was appropriate. A guy saw that mountain when he was one of the first up there … named it after the president. No reason to change it.”
Um . . . no.
The mountain, in fact, got McKinley’s name before he was elected, and he never set foot inside Alaska.
Why Ohioans should have any say in the naming of a mountain in Alaska is a mystery. But the GOP candidates latch onto anything Obama does in order to get some media attention.
These days, when you see a crazy headline, you can be at least 99% sure that it involves a Republican politician.
This headline from Local CBS5 in Arizona, for example: Matt Salmon facing parents’ anger over civics presentation to young kids.
GILBERT, AZ (KPHO/KTVK) – Several parents are demanding answers from Congressman Matt Salmon, saying they cannot believe what the lawmaker said to young school children during a visit to a Gilbert school.
“It should have probably just been a good civics lesson for kids who initially were excited to meet their congressman,” parent Scott Campbell said.
That excitement, however, turned into fear.
That fear, according to Campbell, was spawned by something Salmon said during a presentation he made Thursday about how bills become laws. The audience? Second- and third-graders at San Tan Charter School.
Campbell said the lesson took a dark turn when it came time to talk about vetoes.
“The congressman chose to give an example of the current situation in Iran, and made some inappropriate comments about ‘Do you know what a nuclear weapon is? Do you know that there are schools that train children your age to be suicide bombers?'” Campbell said.
He and other parents were shocked. He said he had to console his young daughter.
“After school my daughter was very concerned and said to me she actually didn’t even know what suicide was and was very afraid,” he explained.
WTF?!! Where do the Republicans dig these people up?
Meanwhile most Americans want their Congresspeople to approve the Obama administration’s Iran deal, according to The Hill:
According to the survey from the University of Maryland, 55 percent of respondents said that Congress should get behind the agreement, despite some concerns.
Twenty-three percent, meanwhile, said that lawmakers should instead ratchet up sanctions, and 14 percent wanted U.S. officials to go back to the negotiating table.
In a key stat for Democratic backers of the agreement, 61 percent of independents recommended that Congress approve the deal, along with 72 percent of Democrats.
Just 33 percent of Republicans expressed support, highlighting the partisan divide that has erupted over the agreement, which sets limits on Iran’s nuclear ability in exchange for the lifting of sanctions.
The poll was conducted online, and the participants went through an in-depth process of listening to arguments from both sides. People were subjected to a detailed list of critiques of the agreement, followed by rebuttals to those arguments with reasons to get behind the deal.
Even the fact that 33 percent of GOP voters support the agreement is significant, considering their likely exposure to Fox News and talk radio.
Speaking of wacko Republicans, even after the Supreme Court told weirdo Kim Davis she can’t refuse to issue marriage license to gay couples, she’s still doing it. NBC News reports:
Defying the Supreme Court and invoking “God’s authority,” a Kentucky county clerk on Tuesday turned away two same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses — touching off dueling protests until sheriff’s deputies cleared the room.
The clerk, Kim Davis of Rowan County, outside Lexington, has said that her personal religious objections preclude her from issuing the licenses.
The standoff came one day after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to intervene in the case. That left in place a lower court ruling ordering Davis to issue marriage licenses.
Davis declined marriage licenses to two same-sex couples — two men and two women — who sought them at her office, in the small city of Morehead.
When is Kentucky going to get rid of this nutcase? She’s an embarrassment to her state and to all rational Americans.
RIP Oliver Sacks
Following the death of Oliver Sacks last week, I found myself browsing around looking for some of his writings on line. Sacks was a wonderful writer, and I’ve always enjoyed reading him. I haven’t read his book on hallucinations yet, and I think I’m going to get a copy and check it out. I have always been fascinated by altered states. Here are some links to essays by Sacks that you might want to check out if you haven’t read (or listened to) them already.
In July, I wrote about my reaction to an NPR interview about face blindness, which Sacks suffered from. It was fascinating and led to my experiencing a very positive altered state–one of those “peak experiences” that Abraham Maslow wrote about. Check if out if you haven’t already.
Yesterday I read this piece on mystical experiences at the Atlantic: Seeing God in the Third Millennium. Sacks writes that when people have near death experiences, out of body experiences, and other altered states such as the auras that preceded epileptic seizures and migraines, the brain reflects the perceptions as if they are real. These often life-changing experiences have natural–not supernatural–causes, but they can have profound effects.
In 2012, Sacks wrote in The New Yorker about the history of mind altering drugs and his own experiments with them: Altered States: Self-experiments in chemistry.
From 1987, here’s an interview with Sacks on NPR’s Fresh Air: ‘Fresh Air’ at 20: Neurologist Oliver Sacks.
From Science of Us, a summary of a fascinating case study from The Lancet on which Sacks was one of the authors: The Strange Case of the Woman Haunted by Dragons. It’s about a woman who had altered perceptions of people’s faces–they looked “dragon-like.”
Two recent NYT articles by Sacks:
From February 2015, My Own Life: Oliver Sacks on Learning He Has Terminal Cancer.
From August 2015: Oliver Sacks: Sabbath.
One of my favorite Sacks stories appeared in the book The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. It was reprinted in the New York Review of Books in 1985: The President’s Speech. It’s about a group of aphasia patients and their reaction to seeing a Ronald Reagan speech on TV. Here’s the introduction:
What was going on? A roar of laughter from the aphasia ward, just as the President’s speech was starting, and the patients had all been so eager to hear the President speak.
There he was, the old charmer, the actor with his practiced rhetoric, his histrionics, his emotional appeal—and all the patients were convulsed with laughter. Well, not all: some looked bewildered, some looked outraged, one or two looked apprehensive, but most looked amused. The President is generally thought to be a moving speaker—but he was moving them, apparently, mainly to laughter. What could they be thinking? Were they failing to understand him? Or did they, perhaps, understand him all too well?
Read the rest at the link.
Finally, from today’s Washington Post: The tragic story of Oliver Sacks’s celibacy.
When Oliver Sacks was 18, he faced a prospect most young people dread: a belated talk about the birds and the bees with his dad.
“You don’t seem to have many girlfriends,” Sacks wrote his father said in his memoir, “On the Move,” released earlier this year. “Don’t you like girls? … Perhaps you prefer boys?”
Sacks didn’t try to hide.
“Yes I do – but it’s just a feeling – I have never ‘done’ anything,” Sacks told his father.
He pleaded with his father not to tell his mother – but his father did. The news did not go over well — to say the least.
“You are an abomination,” she said. “I wish you had never been born.”
How heartbreaking. Read more at the WaPo.
In The News, Links Only
The Guardian: Barack Obama in Alaska: global fight against climate change starts here.
Talking Points Memo: Trump’s Latino Bashing Risks GOP Senate Hopes In 3 Key States.
Pope Francis says priests can give absolution for “the sin of abortion.” From Time: What Pope Francis’ Abortion Announcement Really Means.
Jeb Bush tells the Pope how to do his job: Jeb Bush tells pope to focus on ‘mercy for the unborn’: Women should be ‘repentant’ for choosing abortion (Raw Story)
Jonathan Chait: Jeb Bush Responds to Insanely Racist Trump Ad by Calling Trump Liberal
The Nation: The Trailer for ‘Concussion’ Should Give Roger Goodell Night Sweats.
The National Memo: Hillary Clinton Supports Ban On ‘Revolving Door’ Corporate Bonuses
US News: Clinton, aides stressed need to protect sensitive State Department information in email.
AP via Seacoast online: NH Sen Jeanne Shaheen will endorse Hillary Clinton.
Raw Story: Texas man walks free after alleged rape leaves 2-year-old girl in pool of blood.
AP via ABC News: Investigators: Georgia Officer Likely Shot by Other Officers.
What stories are you following today? Please share in the comment thread.
Posted: April 3, 2015 Filed under: Barack Obama, Foreign Affairs, Iran, morning reads, open thread, U.S. Military, U.S. Politics | Tags: iran, israel, nuclear weapons, US Foreign Policy
I’m running late again! My schedule is just upside down now and DST just double whammed me on the same weekend I started my late night work. Still getting used to the weird hours. I also wanted to spend some time on the negotiations with Iran over its nuke program so I had to catch up with the news. I’m glad BB’s post was so good because I can see you’ve spent a lot of time commenting on what’s going on in Indiana with its so-called “religious freedom” bill.
Obviously, there are going to be several sides to the “deal” depending on your views and their connections to US/Israel policy. So, I thought I’d highlight a few. Max Fisher–writing for VOX–says the deal is “astonishingly good.”
When Aaron Stein was studying nuclear non-proliferation at Middlebury College’s Monterey graduate program, the students would sometimes construct what they thought would be the best possible nuclear inspection and monitoring regimes.
Years later, Stein is now a Middle East and nuclear proliferation expert with the Royal United Services Institute. And he says the Iran nuclear framework agreement, announced on Thursday, look an awful lot like those ideal hypotheticals he’d put together in grad school.
“When I was doing my non-proliferation training at Monterey, this is the type of inspection regime that we would dream up in our heads,” he said. “We would hope that this would be the way to actually verify all enrichment programs, but thought that would never be feasible.
“If these are the parameters by which the [final agreement] will be signed, then this is an excellent deal,” Stein concluded.
The framework nuclear deal establishes only the very basics; negotiators will continue to meet to try to turn them into a complete, detailed agreement by the end of June. Still, the terms in the framework, unveiled to the world after a series of late- and all-night sessions, are remarkably detailed and almost astoundingly favorable to the United States.
Like many observers, I doubted in recent months that Iran and world powers would ever reach this stage; the setbacks and delays had simply been too many. Now, here we are, and the terms are far better than expected. There are a number of details still to be worked out, including one very big unresolved issue that could potentially sink everything. This is not over. But if this framework does indeed become a full nuclear deal in July, it would be a huge success and a great deal.
The NYT editorial board calls the deal “promising.”
Iran would shut down roughly two-thirds of the 19,000 centrifuges producing uranium that could be used to fuel a bomb and agree not to enrich uranium over 3.67 percent (a much lower level than is required for a bomb) for at least 15 years. The core of the reactor at Arak, which officials feared could produce plutonium, another key ingredient for making a weapon, would be dismantled and replaced, with the spent fuel shipped out of Iran.
Mr. Obama, speaking at the White House, insisted he was not relying on trust to ensure Iran’s compliance but on “the most robust and intrusive inspections and transparency regime ever negotiated for any nuclear program.”
There is good reason for skepticism about Iran’s intentions. Although it pledged not to acquire nuclear weapons when it ratified the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1970, it pursued a secret uranium enrichment program for two decades. By November 2013, when serious negotiations with the major powers began, Iran was enriching uranium at a level close to bomb-grade.
However, Iran has honored an interim agreement with the major powers, in place since January 2014, by curbing enrichment and other major activities.
By opening a dialogue between Iran and America, the negotiations have begun to ease more than 30 years of enmity. Over the long run, an agreement could make the Middle East safer and offer a path for Iran, the leading Shiite country, to rejoin the international community.
According to Reuters, Iranians were celebrating in the street as the deal was announced yesterday. The country has been living under harsh embargoes which have obviously hurt ordinary people.
Iranians celebrated in the streets after negotiators reached a framework for a nuclear accord and U.S. President Barack Obama hailed an “historic understanding”, but senior global diplomats cautioned that hard work lies ahead to strike a final deal.
The tentative agreement, struck on Thursday after eight days of talks in Switzerland, clears the way for a settlement to allay Western fears that Iran could build an atomic bomb, with economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted in return.
It marks the most significant step toward rapprochement between Washington and Tehran since the 1979 Iranian revolution and could bring an end to decades of Iran’s international isolation.
But the deal still requires experts to work out difficult details before a self-imposed June deadline and diplomats said it could collapse at any time before then.
We have reaction to the deal from the GOP and from former SOS Hillary Clinton as reported by CNN.
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said the deal — aimed at reining in Iran’s nuclear capabilities — “will only legitimize those activities.”
“Nothing in the deal described by the administration this afternoon would justify lifting U.S. and international sanctions, which were the product of many years of bipartisan effort,” Bush said. “I cannot stand behind such a flawed agreement.”
Clinton, meanwhile, held up the tentative agreement as an “important step” in preventing a nuclear Iran.
“Getting the rest of the way to a final deal by June won’t be easy, but it is absolutely crucial. I know well that the devil is always in the details in this kind of negotiation,” Clinton said in a statement. “The onus is on Iran and the bar must be set high. It can never be permitted to acquire a nuclear weapon.”
But the former secretary of state allowed leeway for herself in case things go awry in the coming months, stating, “There is much to do and much more to say in the months ahead, but for now diplomacy deserves a chance to succeed.”
The rest of the Republican field, however, coalesced around rejecting the deal.
Making his first trek to Iowa as an announced presidential candidate, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz contended the President must bring Congress into the process.
“The very first step for any deal, good or bad, should be submitting it to Congress, and the President making the case both to Congress and to the American people why this advances the national security interests of the United States,” Cruz told reporters after a town hall in Cedar Rapids. “Now everything President Obama has said up to this date has suggested that he is going to do everything he can to circumvent Congress.”
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, described the early details of the agreement as “very troubling” and said “this attempt to spin diplomatic failure as a success is just the latest example of this administration’s farcical approach to Iran.”
Obama pushed to quiet skeptics of the framework during his remarks in the White House Rose Garden Thursday, asking, “Do you really think that this verifiable deal, if fully implemented, backed by the world’s major powers, is a worse option than the risk of another war in the Middle East?”
Peter Baker–writing for the NYT–calls the deal a “foreign policy gamble”.
As Mr. Obama stepped into the Rose Garden to announce what he called a historic understanding, he seemed both relieved that it had come together and combative with those in Congress who would tear it apart. While its provisions must be translated into writing by June 30, he presented it as a breakthrough that would, if made final, make the world a safer place, the kind of legacy any president would like to leave. “This has been a long time coming,” he said.
Mr. Obama cited the same John F. Kennedy quote he referenced earlier in the week when visiting a new institute dedicated to the former president’s brother, Senator Edward M. Kennedy: “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.” The sense of celebration was captured by aides standing nearby in the Colonnade who exchanged fist bumps at the end of the president’s remarks.
But Mr. Obama will have a hard time convincing a skeptical Congress, where Republicans and many Democrats are deeply concerned that he has grown so desperate to reach a deal that he is trading away American and Israeli security. As he tries to reach finality with Iran, he will have to fend off legislative efforts, joined even by some of his friends, to force a tougher posture.
The WAPO Editorial Board was critical of the deal.
THE “KEY parameters” for an agreement on Iran’s nuclear program released Thursday fall well short of the goals originally set by the Obama administration. None of Iran’s nuclear facilities — including the Fordow center buried under a mountain — will be closed. Not one of the country’s 19,000 centrifuges will be dismantled. Tehran’s existing stockpile of enriched uranium will be “reduced” but not necessarily shipped out of the country. In effect, Iran’s nuclear infrastructure will remain intact, though some of it will be mothballed for 10 years. When the accord lapses, the Islamic republic will instantly become a threshold nuclear state.
That’s a long way from the standard set by President Obama in 2012 when he declared that “the deal we’ll accept” with Iran “is that they end their nuclear program” and “abide by the U.N. resolutions that have been in place.” Those resolutions call for Iran to suspend the enrichment of uranium. Instead, under the agreement announced Thursday, enrichment will continue with 5,000 centrifuges for a decade, and all restraints on it will end in 15 years.
Mr. Obama argued forcefully — and sometimes combatively — Thursday that the United States and its partners had obtained “a good deal” and that it was preferable to the alternatives, which he described as a nearly inevitable slide toward war. He also said he welcomed a “robust debate.” We hope that, as that debate goes forward, the president and his aides will respond substantively to legitimate questions, rather than claim, as Mr. Obama did, that the “inevitable critics” who “sound off” prefer “the risk of another war in the Middle East.”
The proposed accord will provide Iran a huge economic boost that will allow it to wage more aggressively the wars it is already fighting or sponsoring across the region. Whether that concession is worthwhile will depend in part on details that have yet to be agreed upon, or at least publicly explained. For example, the guidance released by the White House is vague in saying that U.S. and European Union sanctions “will be suspended after” international inspectors have “verified that Iran has taken all of its key nuclear related steps.”
Obviously, Bibi is beside himself.
“I just came from a meeting of the Israeli cabinet. We discussed the proposed framework for a deal with Iran.
The cabinet is united in strongly opposing the proposed deal.
This deal would pose a grave danger to the region and to the world and would threaten the very survival of the State of Israel.
The deal would not shut down a single nuclear facility in Iran, would not destroy a single centrifuge in Iran and will not stop R&D on Iran’s advanced centrifuges.
On the contrary. The deal would legitimize Iran’s illegal nuclear program. It would leave Iran with a vast nuclear infrastructure. A vast nuclear infrastructure remains in place.
The deal would lift sanctions almost immediately and this at the very time that Iran is stepping up its aggression and terror in the region and beyond the region.
In a few years, the deal would remove the restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program, enabling Iran to have a massive enrichment capacity that it could use to produce many nuclear bombs within a matter of months.
The deal would greatly bolster Iran’s economy. It would give Iran thereby tremendous means to propel its aggression and terrorism throughout the Middle East.
Such a deal does not block Iran’s path to the bomb.
Is he the little boy that has cried wolf too often?
Anyway, I hope you’ll read up on the situation since it stands to be one of the biggest foreign policy agreements for quite some time.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?
Posted: April 5, 2014 Filed under: morning reads, U.S. Politics | Tags: Affordable Care Act, Air Force cheating scandal, billionaires, bison stampede, CIA enhanced interrogation program, David and Charles Koch, earthquakes, Gerald L. Chan, Harvard Square, health insurance, Jose A. Rodriguez Jr., nuclear weapons, Obamacare, Senate Intelligence Committee, Torture, torture report, Yellowstone supervolcanoes
Panoramic view of Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA
Recently Dakinikat wrote about how gentrification has affected her adopted hometown, New Orleans, since Katrina. Well this morning I read some surprising news about Harvard Square–a place I’m very attached to because I either lived nearby, worked, or hung out there for so many years. I’ve written about it before of course. I moved here from Indiana in 1967. It was the “Summer of Love,” and Harvard Square was the center of local hippie-dom, plus there were endless bookstores to feed my addiction to reading and possessing books.
So this morning I read in the The Boston Globe that Chinese billionaire Gerald L. Chan has been quietly buying up prime real estate in Harvard Square, and he now has “enough clout to influence the square’s look and character for years to come.” Harvard Square has already changed a great deal since the late 1960s, of course, so I don’t know why this should shock me. But the Square is still unique–a special place, with a traditional look and feel. What will happen to it now? From the Globe article:
First he grabbed an apartment and retail building in the heart of Harvard Square. Months later, he bought another apartment and retail complex on the other side of John F. Kennedy Street. Then came the deal for a building known as the American Express travel office, quickly followed by the purchase of apartments behind the Harvard Lampoon office.
Over the course of 18 months — and without calling attention to himself — billionaire businessman Gerald L. Chan spent about $120 million to amass an impressive portfolio of Harvard Square real estate that includes nearly a dozen properties….
“Take Harvard University out of the equation, and I don’t know of anyone who owns more real estate in Harvard Square than he does,” said Peter Bekarian, executive vice president at Jones Lang LaSalle, a commercial real estate firm in Boston.
Chan and his brother, Ronald, control the Hang Lung Group, a leading Hong Kong real estate development and management company that has made them billionaires. Forbes pegs their combined wealth at nearly $3 billion.
Chan is a Harvard graduate who now lives in Newton, MA. He says he loves the place and he’s just investing in “properties that have the potential to generate a good return.” He says he doesn’t have a plan to remake the Harvard Square area according to his own vision, but some local business people have expressed concern–and some have abruptly been put out of business. In their places, Chan has installed business owned by his children.
Some tenants in Chan’s newly acquired buildings, including local landmarks such as UpStairs on the Square and nearby Leo’s Place diner, did not have leases renewed and shut down earlier this year.
Chan paid $6.8 million for 93 Winthrop St., where he is replacing UpStairs on the Square with another restaurant, Parsnip. His daughter, Ashley Chan, is listed in corporate documents as one of the managers of the Morningside-controlled entity that operates the restaurant. UpStairs co-owner Mary-Catherine Deibel said, “It was time to wind down the business after 31 years.”
New restaurants — the Noodle Project and Night Market, a Japanese eatery — will replace Leo’s Place, a haunt of movie actor Ben Affleck, and Indian bistro Tamarind Bay, on JFK Street. Ash Chan, Gerald’s son, is operating both. He’s a West Coast restaurateur known here for Churn2, a Harvard Square stand that services liquid-nitrogen-chilled ice cream.
I guess we local peons will just have to wait and see what happens…
Speaking of billionaires, Brian Beutler has written a response to the views on the Affordable Care Act expressed by Charles Koch in his truly strange op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that I wrote about on Thursday. From Salon, Greediest family on earth: Proof Koch brothers have just one political principle.
David and Charles Koch
Beutler argues that the Kochs opposition to “Obamacare” is less about ideology than selfishness, greed, and desire for power.
Would you believe me if I told you that the Koch brothers actively participate in, and benefit from, a healthcare system in which the government subsidizes private insurance; carriers are prohibited from discriminating against the sick; the young cross-subsidize the old; and qualified beneficiaries who opt out suffer a big financial hit?
Well, they do. Not Obamacare, of course — they want to repeal that. But as employers, they can and do compensate their employees with tax-exempt health insurance benefits, their employees are all part of one risk pool, and everyone contributes the same amount for equal coverage….
despite the fact that employer-sponsored health insurance resembles Obamacare in many ways, the Koch network is not actively trying to repeal ERISA — the law that regulates employer-sponsored health plans — or to repeal the tax expenditure that allows them to advantageously provide the benefits they claim they’re working so hard to maintain.
So why do they so vehemently oppose the Obama health care plan?
To the Koch brothers, there’s apparently a big difference between government subsidizing and regulating health insurance for their employees and government subsidizing and regulating insurance for the self-employed, individuals whose employers don’t provide health benefits, and the unemployed.
This might seem strangely contradictory, unless you stop and consider what the existence of a universal right to health insurance coverage means for employers and the people who work for them. When the Congressional Budget Office updated its analysis of the Affordable Care Act’s labor market effects, it concluded that the existence of a coverage guarantee for all, and subsidies for many, would reduce employment by more than 2 million people over the coming decade. Opponents of the law pounced on this as proof that Obamacare would be a job killer, but for the most part what CBO actually meant was that Obamacare would shift the center of power between workers and employers a bit closer to the workers.
For some of those workers, that shift will mean the freedom to quit — hence the “job killing” canard. But for other workers — current and prospective — it will mean the freedom to ask for more money. All thanks to a program that’s financed largely by taxing people like Charles and David Koch. And I think therein lies the key to understanding why they’re devoting so much time and so many resources to destroying Obamacare.
That’s a very interesting argument, one I never thought about. Read the rest at the link.
At The Washington Post, the former head of the CIA interrogation program Jose A. Rodriguez Jr. defends the Bush policy on torture. I ran the CIA interrogation program. No matter what the Senate report says, I know it worked.
On Thursday, the Senate Intelligence Committee voted to declassify and release hundreds of pages of its report on U.S. terrorist interrogation practices. Certain senators have proclaimed how devastating the findings are, saying the CIA’s program was unproductive, badly managed and misleadingly sold. Unlike the committee’s staff, I don’t have to examine the program through a rearview mirror. I was responsible for administering it, and I know that it produced critical intelligence that helped decimate al-Qaeda and save American lives.
Rodriguez says the committee never questioned him or other CIA leaders and they were not permitted to review the report. He says the committee began with conclusions about the program and simply looked for evidence to support those conclusions. On the “harsh” interrogation methods the CIA used, he writes that they were approved “the highest levels of the government,” were declared legal by the Justice Department, and were subject to Congressional oversight, and most of all they were effective.
When we captured high-ranking al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida in 2002, we knew he could help us track down other terrorists and might provide information to allow us to stop another attack. Those who suggest we should have questioned him more gently have never felt the burden of protecting innocent lives.
Second is effectiveness. I don’t know what the committee thinks it found in the files, but I know what I saw in real time: a program that provided critical information about the operations and leadership of al-Qaeda. Intelligence work is like doing a thousand-piece jigsaw puzzle without the picture on the box top and with millions of extra pieces. The committee staff started with the box top, the pieces in place, and pronounced the puzzle a snap.
Perhaps so, but Rodrigues seems to be ignoring the primary point about torture: it is immoral. Sometimes a civilized people must choose to accept some risks to safety in order to remain civilized. As for the government officials, Congressional committees, and the Bush Justice Department, they too should be subject to criticism and even prosecution. Unfortunately the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress took those options off the table.
There’s a new AP report (via the Christian Science Monitor) on the Air Force nuke team cheating scandal: Did report on nuclear Air Force overlook signs of trouble?
Service leaders took an assessment last year of the nuclear Air Force as an encouraging thumbs-up. Yet, in the months that followed, signs emerged that the nuclear missile corps was suffering from breakdowns in discipline, morale, training and leadership.
The former Air Force chief of staff who signed off on the 2013 report is now being asked to dig for root causes of problems that Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel says threaten to undermine public trust in the nation’s nuclear arsenal.
The Air Force may have taken an overly rosy view of the report — it was not uniformly positive — by a Pentagon advisory group headed by retired Gen. Larry Welch. The study described the nuclear Air Force as “thoroughly professional, disciplined” and performing effectively.
Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Welsh, right, and Tech. Sgt. Justin Richie riding in a work cage at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont.
It sure sounds like it.
The inquiry itself may have missed signs of the kinds of trouble documented in recent months in a series ofAssociated Press reports. In April 2013, the month the Welch report came out, an Air Force officer wrote that the nuclear missile unit at Minot Air Force Base, N.D., was suffering from “rot,” including lax attitudes and a poor performance by launch officers on a March 2013 inspection.
An exam-cheating scandal at a nuclear missile base prompted the Air Force to remove nine midlevel commanders and accept the resignation of the base’s top commander. Dozens of officers implicated in the cheating face disciplinary action, and some might be kicked out, the Air Force said last week.
Welch began the new Hagel-directed review in early March, teaming with retired Navy Adm. John C. Harvey, who was not involved in the earlier reviews but has extensive nuclear experience. Much rides on what they find, not least because Hagel and the White House want to remove any doubt about the safety and security of the U.S. arsenal and the men and women entrusted with it.
Lots more to read at the link.
A little science news . . .
Apparently, there have been some videos floating around of terrified bison stampeding out of Yellowstone Park. Since there was a small earthquake there recently, some people have been asking if these are signs the “supervolcano” is coming soon? From Discovery News:
Recent videos of animals fleeing Yellowstone Park have many tourists and local residents concerned that a volcanic eruption may be imminent.
After earthquakes and tsunamis, stories often circulate of animals acting strangely or seeming to know of the disaster long before humans. Animals that detect impending earthquakes don’t have more senses than humans; they just have much higher sensitivity. Dogs have a remarkable sense of smell, birds can migrate using celestial cues, and bats can locate food with echoes. Elephants can detect faint vibrations and tremors from fantastic distances.
It’s not some unexplainable gift: Animals may sense unusual vibrations or changes in air pressure coming from one direction that suggest they should move in the opposite direction.
If a herd of animals are seen fleeing before an earthquake, all that is needed is for one or two of them to skittishly sense danger; the rest will follow — not necessarily due to some supernatural earthquake-detecting sense, but simple herd instinct.
Bison on the road in Yellowstone
Scientists pooh pooh these paranoid fantasies. From The Week: Don’t Sweat the Supervolcanoes:
Scientists estimate that another mega-eruption — which would send billions of cubic meters of choking ash up to 15 miles in the air, blackening the skies and drastically changing the climate — could possibly occur in the next 100,000 years. Such an event would present a huge danger to human civilization — killing millions in the initial blast, and then disrupting agriculture, infrastructure, and the global economy for many years to come.
But although the recent earthquake was the strongest in the area since 1980, experts say there’s nothing to fear. So what signs would indicate the supervolcano is imminent? And what could be do about it anyway?
If we were moving toward a massive geological event, then we should see massive geological signs of change. We could expect large earthquakes as opposed to the small rumble we saw last week, which registered a humble 4.9 on the Richter scale. We should also see the earth around the volcano swelling by tens or hundreds of meters, as opposed to the centimeters of uplift we see regularly.
But for the sake of it, let’s assume Yellowstone will erupt tomorrow. Could we do anything about it? Although some scientists are experimenting with the idea, to date there have been no successful efforts to stop or reduce a volcanic eruption. These kinds of geological events remain stubbornly outside human control even on the smallest scale — and Yellowstone is absolutely the largest scale.
If Yellowstone blows in 10,000 or 50,000 years, maybe technology will have been developed to mitigate or contain its effects. But if it unexpectedly blows tomorrow, we can do nothing whatever to stop it. At best, with warning signs, we could conduct an evacuation from the surrounding area.
Read more at the link.
Those are the stories that caught my eye today? What’s on your mind? Please share your thoughts and links in the comments
Posted: September 28, 2013 Filed under: Affordable Care Act (ACA), Barack Obama, Climate Change, Diplomacy Nightmares, Environment, Foreign Affairs, Iran, Journalism, Kenya, morning reads, NSA, National Security Agency, Pakistan, Republican politics, The Media SUCKS, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics | Tags: baseball playoffs, Boston Red Sox, Congress, diplomacy, Hassan Rouhani, IPCC, Kenyan Mall massacre, Nuclear Power, nuclear weapons, Pakistan earthquake, Ted Cruz
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.
Huffington Post: Student Cited By Ted Cruz As Proof Of Obama’s Failure Is Actually Grateful For Obamacare
John Dickerson at Slate: Why Senate Republicans Hate Ted Cruz
Jonathan Chait: Ted Cruz Now Ruining John Boehner’s Life, Too
Politico: Ted Cruz again refuses to back John Cornyn
Those are my recommendations for today. What are you reading and blogging about? See you in the comment thread!
Posted: September 3, 2013 Filed under: Central Intelligence Agency, China, Crime, cyber security, Diplomacy Nightmares, Foreign Affairs, France, Germany, Great Britain, Iran, Israel, morning reads, Pakistan, Russia, Syria, U.S. Politics | Tags: Agência Brasileira de Inteligência, al Qaeda, Bashar al-Assad, black budget, Bob Cesca, Edward Snowden, espionage, Glenn Greenwald, Information Assurance, John Kerry, Laura Poitras, Marines website, National Security Agency (NSA), nuclear weapons, Osama bin Laden, S-2 (Mexico spy agency), SIGINT, signals intelligence, Syrian Electronic Army, Taliban
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.
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.
Posted: June 20, 2013 Filed under: Barack Obama, FBI, Foreign Affairs, Germany, misogyny, morning reads, religion, Russia, U.S. Economy, U.S. Politics, War on Women, Women's Rights | Tags: Angela Merkel, austerity, Cristina Torre, Dillin Miller, domestic violence, gender stereotypes, Ibragim Todashev, John F. Kennedy, nuclear weapons, Rep. Phil Gingrey, Richard DesLauriers, Spanking for Jesus movement, Vladimir Putin
I haven’t really been paying much attention, but I guess President Obama’s trip to Europe didn’t go that well. I accidentally heard part of his Berlin speech, because I fell asleep with the radio on and woke up listening to a rebroadcast of it. I didn’t get much out of it, but it seemed as if Obama was lecturing Angela Merkel about her austerity obsession. The trouble is that Obama has pushed and/or allowed a milder version of austerity here, and he is doing much to lead us out of our own economic doldrums. Here are a couple of reports of the trip.
The National Journal’s Michael Hirsch: Obama’s Turbulent European Vacation
What was it, exactly, about Obama’s controversy-marred trip to Germany and the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland that fell so flat? Ummm, how about … everything?
There were the snarky words from Vladimir Putin, who expressed an almost Soviet-esque distance from Washington in his views about Syria. “Of course our opinions do not coincide,” the Russian leader said bluntly. There was the coded warning from Chancellor Angela Merkel about spying on friends, and her and Obama’s continuing frostiness over the issue of economic stimulus versus austerity. Above all, there was Obama’s vague attempt at the Brandenburg Gate to capture some wisp of his past glory by pledging vague plans to cut nuclear arms and an even vaguer concept of “peace with justice.”
The “peace with justice” line was a quote from John F. Kennedy, Obama’s attempt to steal just a little of JFK’s thunder from 50 years before. He didn’t come away with much, winning just a smattering of applause from a crowd that was one one-hundredth the size of JFK’s. A crowd that, at about 4,500, was also much, much smaller than Obama drew as a candidate in 2008.
Not only is the honeymoon long over, folks. The marriage is becoming deeply troubled and, increasingly, loveless.
The contrast with President John F. Kennedy’s famous “Ich bin ein Berliner” couldn’t have been more stark.
And from Jim Kuhnhenn of the AP: Obama prods, gets share of pushback
In Berlin on Wednesday, Obama warned that the European Union could “lose a generation” if it doesn’t adjust its economic policies to tackle high youth unemployment. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has argued for debt-ridden eurozone countries to first deal with their fiscal problems, insisted her government was committed to helping its European partners in the crisis-hit nations. “If we were conducting policies that would harm other countries,” she argued, “we would harm ourselves.”
Wow. Is she in denial or what? All her austerity policies have done his harm other European countries. In any case, she wasn’t thrilled with Obama’s critique.
She countered with her own words of caution over the Obama administration’s secret collection of phone records and surveillance of foreign Internet traffic. “People have concerns, precisely concerns that there may be some kind of blanket, across-the-board gathering of information,” she said. “There needs to be proportionality” between security and freedom, she added, and made clear that her private talks about it with Obama were not the end of the subject.
It was a polite punch-counterpunch between vital allies — an exchange that won’t damage a strong relationship. But it illustrated how in a 21st century world order, Western powers are not beholden to the United States as they once were and Obama’s ability to find agreement or build consensus is often limited and regularly tested.
And there was the talk of peace and reducing nuclear weapons.
The centerpiece of Obama’s visit to Berlin was a speech at the historic Brandenburg Gate, once a symbol of the Cold War, where he called for negotiations with the Russians to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons by one-third and called for cutting the number of tactical warheads in Europe. “Peace with justice means pursuing the security of a world without nuclear weapons, no matter how distant that dream may be,” he said.
The words were barely out of his mouth when a Republican member of the House Armed Services Committee, Ohio Rep. Michael Turner, accused him of appeasement, and Russian officials were playing down Obama’s proposal. A foreign policy aide to President Vladimir Putin said any further arms reduction would have to involve countries other than just Russia and the United States.
All in all, not a very successful trip.
To be honest, I get the feeling that Obama is already a lame duck. He doesn’t seem to be able to focus his attention on an issue long enough to get anything accomplished. I understand that Congress is really the biggest problem, but looking back to past Democratic presidents, Obama seems so passive in comparison. It’s very discouraging. I have to wonder why he worked so hard to get reelected. He seems to enjoy the ceremonial aspects of the job, but not the nuts and bolts.
Please someone, convince me I’m wrong. I do not want to end up with a Republican president and Republican majorities in Congress in 2016. I do not want the government led by troglodytes like Georgia Rep. Phil Gingrey, who wants children to learn stereotypical gender roles “at a very early age.” From Think Progress:
Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA) wants American youths to be taught gender stereotypes in grade school classes, so they understand the roles of mothers and fathers — and the importance of allowing only opposite-sex couples to marry.
In a speech Monday on the House floor, Gingrey stressed his continued support for the Defense of Marriage Act — which defines marriage as only union between a man and a woman — and suggested that children need to be carefully taught about the traditional roles of their genders:
GINGREY: You know, maybe part of the problem is we need to go back into the schools at a very early age, maybe at the grade school level, and have a class for the young girls and have a class for the young boys and say, you know, this is what’s important. This is what a father does that is maybe a little different, maybe a little bit better than the talents that a mom has in a certain area. And the same thing for the young girls, that, you know, this is what a mom does, and this is what is important from the standpoint of that union which we call marriage.”
Watch if you dare.
And then there’s the “Spanking for Jesus movement.” Yes, you read that right. From The Daily Beast:
You don’t have to be a Christian to practice domestic discipline, although many of its practitioners say they believe that domestic discipline goes hand in hand with their faith. Specifics of the practice vary by couple, though CDDers all seem to follow a few basic principles. Foremost, that the Bible commands a husband to be the head of the household, and the wife must submit to him, in every way, or face painful chastisement.
When a wife breaks her husband’s rules—rolling her eyes, maybe, or just feeling “meh,” as one blogger put it—that can equal punishments which are often corporal but can also be “corner time”; writing lines (think “I will not disobey my master” 1,000 times); losing a privilege like internet access; or being “humbled” by some sort of nude humiliation. Some practice “maintenance spanking,” wherein good girls are slapped on a schedule to remind them who’s boss; some don’t. Some couples keep the lifestyle from their children; others, like CDD blogger Stormy, don’t. “Not only does he spank me with no questions asked for disrespect or attitude in front of them, but I am also required to make an apology to each of them,” she writes.
Now that should teach those kids some useful gender stereotypes. There’s much more sickening detail at the The Daily Beast link and at Jezebel.
Oh well, here’s a story from the NY Daily News about something a little more cheerful: Joe Torre’s daughter Cristina saves falling baby with perfect catch.
Cristina Torre, 44, said she was sipping coffee outside Little Cupcake Bake Shop on Third Ave. in Bay Ridge when several bystanders spotted little Dillin Miller dangling from the awning of a frozen yogurt shop next door at about 10 a.m.
“He looked like he was balancing on one of the railings,” Torre told the Daily News. “I didn’t really know what was going to happen. . . . You just move into action — you don’t really think about it.”
Torre said she tried to tell the baby, dressed in a white onesie, not to move as another bystander called 911.
“I’m talking to him saying, ‘Don’t come down, stay there.’ . . . He helped himself with his arms. He was dangling. I knew he would be flipping very soon,” she said.
The baby dropped — and Torre made the life-saving grab.
“He literally landed in my arms,” she said. “It was a relief. I’m just glad he was safe.”
Sadly, the child’s parents were discovered asleep in their apartment while their 1-year-old Dillin and his three siblings ages 2, 3, and 5 were on their own. The children were removed from the home and the parents were charged with reckless endangerment. At least those kid are safe for the moment.
There hasn’t been much new on the aftermath of the Boston bombing lately. Every day I check to see if there is any news on the FBI shooting of Ibragim Todashev in Florida. The resignation of Richard DesLauriers, the director of the Boston office of the FBI was probably related to the series of f&ck-ups by the FBI in not informing local officials of the previous investigation of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and then the shooting of Todashev, but other than that, the FBI has been mum.
But on Tuesday, The New York Times published an article on the FBI’s “faultless” history–not a single misstep found in 150 FBI internal investigations over 20 years!
After contradictory stories emerged about an F.B.I. agent’s killing last month of a Chechen man in Orlando, Fla., who was being questioned over ties to the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, the bureau reassured the public that it would clear up the murky episode.
But if such internal investigations are time-tested, their outcomes are also predictable: from 1993 to early 2011, F.B.I. agents fatally shot about 70 “subjects” and wounded about 80 others — and every one of those episodes was deemed justified, according to interviews and internal F.B.I. records obtained by The New York Times through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit.
The last two years have followed the same pattern: an F.B.I. spokesman said that since 2011, there had been no findings of improper intentional shootings.
In most of the shootings, the F.B.I.’s internal investigation was the only official inquiry. In the Orlando case, for example, there have been conflicting accounts about basic facts like whether the Chechen man, Ibragim Todashev, attacked an agent with a knife, was unarmed or was brandishing a metal pole. But Orlando homicide detectives are not independently investigating what happened.
“We had nothing to do with it,” said Sgt. Jim Young, an Orlando police spokesman. “It’s a federal matter, and we’re deferring everything to the F.B.I.”
Why doesn’t the Justice Department’s civil rights division investigate? Here is something President Obama could lead on without Congress blocking him. He could easily tell Attorney General Holder to appoint an independent investigation. But he probably won’t.
Okay, that’s my contribution for today. Now it’s your turn. What stories have captured your interest today? Please share your links in the comment thread.