Thursday Reads: NSA Spying, Philly Building Collapse, MA Senate Debate, and Much More

Dog_needs_his_morning_coffee

Good Morning!!

Glenn Greenwald got a big scoop in the Guardian yesterday, and for once even the corporate media in the U.S. is covering it. Not that any of us is really safe from government spying, but if you’re a Verizon customer you now know that all of your phone records are being handed over to the FBI and the NSA. Here’s the top secret court decision. Greenwald writes:

The National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of US customers of Verizon, one of America’s largest telecoms providers, under a top secret court order issued in April.

The order, a copy of which has been obtained by the Guardian, requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries.

The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) granted the order to the FBI on April 25, giving the government unlimited authority to obtain the data for a specified three-month period ending on July 19.

Under the terms of the blanket order, the numbers of both parties on a call are handed over, as is location data, call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls. The contents of the conversation itself are not covered.

Good thing they’re not recording the content of my calls with Verizon customers; because if the government spies had to listen to what we talk about, they’d probably be bored to tears.

From Charlie Savage and Edward Wyatt at The New York Times:

The four-page order was disclosed Wednesday evening by the newspaper The Guardian.Obama administration officials at the F.B.I. and the White House also declined to comment on it Wednesday evening, but did not deny the report, and a person familiar with the order confirmed its authenticity. “We will respond as soon as we can,” said Marci Green Miller, a National Security Agency spokeswoman, in an e-mail.

The order was sought by the Federal Bureau of Investigation under a section of theForeign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the 1978 law that regulates domestic surveillance for national security purposes, including “tangible things” like a business’s customer records. The provision was expanded by Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which Congress enacted after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

The order was marked “TOP SECRET//SI//NOFORN,” referring to communications-related intelligence information that may not be released to noncitizens. That would make it among the most closely held secrets in the federal government, and its disclosure comes amid a furor over the Obama administration’s aggressive tactics in its investigations of leaks.

The collection of call logs is set to expire in July unless the court extends it.

The collection of communications logs — or calling “metadata” — is believed to be a major component of the Bush administration’s program of surveillance that took place without court orders. The newly disclosed order raised the question of whether the government continued that type of information collection by bringing it under the Patriot Act.

This morning the White House is defending the order for Verizon phone records. From Politico:

The Obama administration is defending itself against charges it secretly obtained records for Verizon phone calls made in the United States, arguing that the policy is a vital tool in monitoring terrorists and has the approval of “all three branches of government,” according to a senior administration official.

“On its face, the order reprinted in the article does not allow the government to listen in on anyone’s telephone calls,” a White House official said. “The information acquired does not include the content of any communications or the name of any subscriber. It relates exclusively to metadata, such as a telephone number or the length of a call.”

Still, the White House official declined to confirm the legitimacy of the classified Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order published Wednesday by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which described a wide sweep of Verizon calls both domestic and international by Americans by the National Security Agency.

“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States,” the official said.

Six people are now reported dead and fourteen injured in the collapse of a building in Philadelphia yesterday, according to Reuters.

Six people were killed and 14 were injured yesterday when a four-story building under demolition collapsed in downtown Philadelphia, burying a neighboring thrift store in concrete and debris, officials said.

Search and rescue efforts continued into the night for more victims of the collapse, which occurred around 10:45 a.m. EDT, and Mayor Michael Nutter suggested at a late night news conference that the number of casualties could rise.

“We still do not know how many people were inside the thrift store or possibly on the sidewalk” at the time of the collapse, Nutter said. “If someone else is in that building, they will find them.”

Shortly after the mayor concluded his press briefing a 61-year-old woman was pulled from the rubble alive, more than 12 hours after the collapse, and taken to a hospital in critical condition….

Dozens of police and firefighters were still sifting through the chunks of concrete and splintered wooden boards past midnight, the scene lit by large spotlights as residents stood by watching. Several streets remained blocked off.

When I first heard about this, I thought it was a controlled demolition and wondered why the area hadn’t been cleared of people first. Apparently, the collapse was completely unexpected.

One witness, 31-year-old Dan Gillis of Cinnaminson, New Jersey, a construction worker on a job across the street, said he saw a crane remove a supporting beam from the front of the building and then the wall next to the thrift store started swaying.

Jeffrey Fehnel, 48, of Philadelphia, said a backhoe hit the rear side of the building at about the same time.

“The building came down. It was like a big blast,” Fehnel told Reuters.

It sounds really scary.

An 84-year-old retired woman from Maine collected the second-biggest Powerball jackpot in history yesterday in Florida.

When Gloria C. MacKenzie went to a Florida supermarket near Tampa last month to buy a Powerball ticket, another person in line did something nice for the 84-year-old widow.

‘‘While in line at Publix, another lottery player was kind enough to let me go ahead of them in line to purchase the winning Quick Pick ticket,’’ she said in a statement Wednesday.

The nice gesture turned out to be a life-changing one for MacKenzie and her family. She came forward Wednesday to claim the biggest undivided lottery jackpot in history, $590 million.

A retiree from Maine and a mother of four who lives in a modest, tin-roof house in Zephyrhills, Fla., where the lone winning ticket in the May 18 drawing was sold, MacKenzie took her prize in a lump sum of just over $370 million. After federal taxes, she is getting about $278 million, lottery officials said….

MacKenzie bought the winning ticket at a Publix supermarket in the town of about 13,300, which is 30 miles northeast of Tampa. It is best known for the bottled spring water that bears its name — and now, for one of the biggest lottery winners of all time.

The family of a dying ten-year-old girl with cystic fibrosis yesterday won the chance to live with an adult lung transplant after HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibilius declined to make a rule exception for her.

(CNN) — The father of a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl who desperately needs new lungs told CNN on Wednesday night the family was “very excited” after a judge’s ruling that could help his daughter get a transplant.

Sarah Murnaghan’s father, Fran, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360” that his daughter, who has cystic fibrosis, has declined slightly in the last two days.

“But we’re very excited with the news today, that she will have the opportunity to be equally judged and have the opportunity to receive lungs,” he said.

On Wednesday, the family asked a federal judge to issue a restraining order to block U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius from having the agency that oversees transplants apply a policy that keeps children younger than 12 from being prioritized for available adult lung transplants.

The judge granted the injunction and ordered Sebelius to direct the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network to waive the rule in Sarah’s case. The injunction is valid for 10 days.

Last night Rep. Ed Markey and his Republican opponent Gabriel Gomez debated for the first time in the important Massachusetts Senate race. With so many Democratic senators retiring, there is a real danger that Republicans could take control of the Senate. From The Boston Globe: Gomez, Markey spar over D.C. gridlock, Benghazi

An aggressive Gabriel E. Gomez wasted no opportunity to mockingly highlight Democrat Edward J. Markey’s nearly four decades in Washington while Markey used the first debate of the US Senate race Wednesday to paint his Republican rival as dangerously out of step with Massachusetts values.

During an hourlong face-off, Gomez repeatedly sought to link his opponent to a Congress mired in dysfunction and deeply unpopular with voters. Markey countered those attacks by arguing that for all his claims of bipartisanship, Gomez would join a GOP that has lurched to the right on issues such as gun control and abortion.

Gomez had difficulty articulating a coherent position on abortion.

Gomez said he could support a mandatory 24-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, saying that “is not asking a lot.” He also said he could vote to confirm a Supreme Court nominee who opposes Roe v. Wade.

“I don’t believe there should be a litmus test,” he said. “If a judge comes in front of me and they follow the Constitution, and they’re ethical, and they’re prochoice, and they’ve done a good job, I’ll vote for them. If they’re prolife, I’ll vote for them.”

At the same time, he sought to defuse the issue, saying that while he was “personally prolife,” he was not planning to go to Washington to make any changes in abortion rights law.

Markey scoffed at that assertion, arguing that the confirmation of a Supreme Court justice who opposes Roe v. Wade could jeopardize legalized abortion. He said he would not vote to confirm Supreme Court nominees who oppose abortion rights, saying that was the same test espoused by senators Edward M. Kennedy, Kerry, and Elizabeth Warren.

The special election to fill John Kerry’s Senate seat will be held on June 25.

I came across this scary article at Truthout yesterday: America’s Secret Fukushima Poisoning the Bread Basket of the World

Early in the morning of July 16, 1979, a 20-foot section of the earthen dam blocking the waste pool for the Church Rock Uranium Mill in New Mexico caved in and released 95 million gallons of highly acidic fluid containing 1,100 tons of radioactive material. The fluid and waste flowed into the nearby Puerco River, traveling 80 miles downstream, leaving toxic puddles and backing up local sewers along the way.

Although this release of radiation, thought to be the largest in US history, occurred less than four months after the Three Mile Island partial nuclear meltdown, the Church Rock spill received little media attention. In contrast, the Three Mile Island accident made the headlines. And when the residents of Church Rock asked their governor to declare their community a disaster area so they could get recovery assistance, he refused.

What was the difference between the Church Rock spill and the Three Mile Island partial meltdown? Church Rock is situated in the Navajo Nation, one of the areas in the US sacrificed to supply uranium for the Cold War and for nuclear power plants. That area and many others in the Navajo Nation are contaminated to this day. Another sacrifice area is the Great Sioux Nation, a region in the western part of the country comprising parts of 5 states, where thousands of open uranium mine pits continue to release radiation and heavy metals into the air, land and water.

This poisoning of the people in the Navajo and Great Sioux Nations has been going on for decades and has had serious effects on their health. Even today, it is unknown what the full effects are and what the impact is on the rest of the nation and world because the contaminated air and water are not limited by borders.

Please go read the whole thing.

Now it’s your turn. What are you reading and blogging about today? Please post your links on any topic in the comment thread.


Saturday Night in Police State Amerika

I know most of you have seen this video or one like it from UC Davis yesterday. This is the most shocking version I’ve seen so far:

For the past couple of months, we’ve been watching Occupy Wall Street grow from a few thousand protesters in New York City to hundreds of thousands of protesters in cities and towns all over this country. One interesting side effect of the Occupy movement is that the militarization of police forces since 9/11 has been put on full display. Police departments have reacted to peaceful protesters as if they were dangerous terrorists. All those billions poured into “homeland security” have created a monster. And now we can see it plainly. We live in a police state.

Earlier this week, Digby wrote an excellent piece on how this happened: Militarizing the Police: How the Drug War and 9/11 Led to Battle-Dressed Cops Cracking Down on Peaceful Protests. Basically, she wrote, if you build it…it will be used.

The US has actually been militarising much of its police agencies for the better part of three decades, mostly in the name of the drug war. But 9/11 put that programme on steroids.

Recall that six short weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks, the US congress passed the PATRIOT Act, a sweeping expansion of domestic and foreign intelligence-gathering capabilities. This

legislation gave the government the ability to easily search all forms of communication, eased restrictions on foreign intelligence-gathering at home, gave itself greater power to monitor financial transactions and created entirely new categories of domestic terrorism to which the PATRIOT Act’s expanded powers to police could be applied.

It was one of the greatest expansions of government police power in history, an expansion which, after some tweaking, has been mostly validated by the congress and reaffirmed by the courts.

I already linked to her article in one of my morning posts, but if you haven’t had a chance to read it yet, please do.

The American ruling class has become more and more powerful and less and less accountable to the rest of us. For a long time I’ve thought that our best hope is that they will become so arrogant and drunk with power that they overreach and reveal the truth–we are no longer free and the goal is to turn us all into cowering serfs.

So far the iron fist has mostly been concealed under a velvet glove, but now we are seeing the price we’ll pay if we demand our rights and freedoms back. I salute the protesters–young, old, and in-between for the courage they are showing in putting their bodies on the line.

As our President blithely gallivants around the world and our “representatives” fight over the spoils in Washington, we are beginning to see clearly the structure that Bush built and Obama has accepted–a domestic military force to protect the elites from the people whose homes and jobs and retirement savings they have stolen. A police state.

I fear if the push for austerity and the inaction on jobs continues, we are going to see riots in the streets that will make 1968 look tame in comparison. There a so many of us in the 99%. They can’t jail or kill all of us. Fortunately they are making the stupid mistake of showing us what is going to happen to anyone who resists. The more violence and cruelty they display, the angrier many Americans will get and the more backlash there will be.

Americans don’t like to be pushed around. Somewhere deep inside of each of us is a burning desire for freedom and the willingness to fight for it. In the end we will win, but it won’t be easy. We need to stick together.


Saturday Reads: Why Should We Trust the FBI?

It has been more than ten years since September 11, 2001. Ever since that day, our elected selected leaders have chosen to trash the U.S. Constitution, attack several other countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Libya, and more), build secret military bases and prisons around the world, and spy on and even assassinate American citizens.

For a concise summary of many of the Constitutional abuses that have taken place since that awful day ten years ago, I highly recommend reading this essay by Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights. Here’s a sample:

In response to the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush shredded the U.S. Constitution, trampled on the Bill of Rights, discarded the Geneva Conventions, and heaped scorn on the domestic torture statute and the U.N. Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

As we mark the 10th anniversary of the terrible events of September 11, 2001, none of us has any desire to play down the horrors of that day, but two wrongs do not make a right, and, in response to the attacks, the Bush administration engineered and presided over the most sustained period of constitutional decay in our history.

Moreover, although George W. Bush entered the first decade of the 21st century by dismantling the rights that are fundamental to the identity of the United States and the security of its people, Barack Obama ended the decade by failing to fully reinstate those rights. Through his own indecision, or through ferocious opposition in Congress, he has been unable to close the infamous prison at Guantánamo Bay, as promised, and has also refused to even contemplate holding anyone in the Bush administration accountable for their crimes.

As a result, the democratic principles which we hold dear have suffered a massive blow in the first ten years of the 21st century, although that is not the main problem. The deep erosion of our civil liberties is to be lamented, and should be resisted, however difficult the political climate, but the most painful truth about the last decade is that it marks an undoing of democracy so severe that without concerted and deliberate action by the people in this country — and, one hopes, by their elected leaders — the values which defined us, before the events of 9/11 allowed the Bush administration to reshape our perception of executive power, may never be regained.

The Bush and Obama administrations and Congress by supporting and passing the Patriot Act and other clearly unconstitutional laws, have also given free rein to the FBI to spy on and persecute American citizens–usually peace activists or Muslim-Americans.

Today I want to focus on the FBI’s “investigations” of “homegrown terrorism.” I use those quotes because I don’t consider sting operations in which the FBI seeks out vuknerable Muslim-Americans and suggests methods by which they could attack the U.S., provides weapons and funds, and then arrests people who haven’t yet taken any action to be real “investigations.”

Rezwan Ferdaus

I’m really getting sick and tired of reading stories like the one that broke on Wednesday about a young Ashland, MA man named Rezwan Ferdaus. Ferdaus is a graduate of Northeastern University in Boston. He was indicted yesterday for

attempting to damage and destroy a federal building by means of an explosive, attempting to damage and destroy national defense premises, receiving firearms and explosive materials, and attempting to provide material support to terrorists and a terrorist organization.

“With the goal of terrorizing the United States, decapitating its ‘military center,’ and killing as many ‘kafirs’ [an Arabic term meaning nonbelievers] as possible, Ferdaus extensively planned and took substantial steps to bomb the United States Pentagon and United State Capitol Building using remote controlled aircraft filled with explosives,”

Read the indictment here (PDF).

Please keep in mind that the “investigation” of Ferdaus was done by the FBI. This is the same FBI that can’t get their 80-year-old definition of rape changed without being pressured for years, after which they finally decide to form a committee to consider proposed changes. This is the same FBI that couldn’t catch Whitey Bulger for 16 years even though he hiding in plain sight. Never mind that, this is the same FBI that tried to use Whitey Bulger as an “informant” while he was murdering people right and left. This is the same FBI whose agents enabled Bulger to go on the lam instead of being prosecuted. By 1994, the FBI was “considered compromised” and so the DEA joined with Massachusetts law enforcement to investigate Bulger, and chose not to inform the FBI of their task force.

This is just a bit of the history of FBI incompetence in the Boston area. Imagine if we looked at the agency’s failures in every major city and state!

I want to begin my recommended reads on the Ferdaus case with a piece by a Boston writer who knows the local background of FBI “investigations” well. Here’s Charlie Pierce, writing at Esquire Magazine. He suggests that the FBI is “busting its own conspiracies.”

Up until now, “homegrown terrorism” has been a phrase reserved for people like Timothy McVeigh, who blew up the Murrah building in Oklahoma City, and Kevin Harpham, who tried to do the same to the Martin Luther King Day parade in Spokane last January. In other words, “homegrown terrorism” meant rightwing violence either in fact, or in actual attempt…Now…what is being called “homegrown terrorism” is being applied to Ferdaus, an America citizen who is a Muslim. And certainly, if the FBI is to be believed — which is always a very big if, especially in Boston, as history has taught us — Ferdaus had it in him to be a very bad actor. If the FBI is to be believed, he had every intention of carrying out his plans. If the FBI is to be believed, he spouted off extensively to FBI agents whom Ferdaus believed were recruiters for Al Qaeda. He bought cellphones to be used as detonators. On Wednesday, he took delivery of what he believed to be weapons and explosives, which is when the FBI busted him. The Justice Department even helpfully supplied a photo of a model of a Sabre jet of the type it says Ferdaus planned to use to deliver his explosives.

If the FBI is to be believed, that is.

But why should we believe them? Look at their history. Just think about what the FBI did back in the ’60s and ’70s–spying on the Jack and Bobby Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Vietnam Veterans who spoke out against the war, and of course peace activists of every stripe. This is their history: enabling criminals and persecuting anyone who questions the government. And since 9/11, they have almost no brakes on their activities. Back to Charlie Pierce:

Ferdaus is only the latest person arrested by the FBI for being part of what they believed to be an enterprise — terrorist or otherwise — in which his “partners” actually were FBI agents themselves. (There is no evidence yet presented that Ferdaus did anything except run his mouth prior to meeting the two counterfeit jihadis who worked for Uncle Sam.) The pattern is now familiar. There is an announcement at maximum volume. The suspect is usually described as being fully dedicated — and fully capable — of carrying out the plans he is charged with making. And, as a bonus, all the psychological alarms that the country has been carrying around since 9/11 begin to rattle to life again. The problems arise when the cases fall part, as several of them have, or when the question arises as to whether or not the FBI is simply busting its own conspiracies. When the cases fall apart, or when they turn out to be rather less serious than the original blare of publicity would have had the nation believe, the news is often buried, but the fear and the political utility of the original announcement remain.

Again, why should we believe them this time? Will Ferdaus get a fair trial? Will he be tortured? Who knows? But I do not trust these people. Anyway, I’ve collected some interesting reads on this subject to share with you today. Please feel free to discuss any other stories you wish in the comments.

First, Mother Jones had a great series awhile back on the FBI, and they have posted an update on the Ferdaus case.

UPDATE: On September 28, Rezwan Ferdaus, a 26-year-old graduate of Northeastern University, was arrested and charged with providing resources to a foreign terrorist organization and attempting to destroy national defense premises. Ferdaus, according to the FBI, planned to blow up both the Pentagon and Capitol Building with a “large remote controlled aircraft filled with C-4 plastic explosives.”

The case was part of a nearly ten-month investigation led by the FBI. Not surprisingly, Ferdaus’ case fits a pattern detailed by Trevor Aaronson in his article below: the FBI provided Ferdaus with the explosives and materials needed to pull off the plot. In this case, two undercover FBI employees, who Ferdaus believed were al Qaeda members, gave Ferdaus $7,500 to purchase an F-86 Sabre model airplane that Ferdaus hoped to fill with explosives. Right before his arrest, the FBI employees gave Ferdaus, who lived at home with his parents, the explosives he requested to pull off his attack. And just how did the FBI come to meet Ferdaus? An informant with a criminal record introduced Ferdaus to the supposed al Qaeda members.

From the Aaronson article on the FBI’s use of informants:

Ever since 9/11, counterterrorism has been the FBI’s No. 1 priority, consuming the lion’s share of its budget—$3.3 billion, compared to $2.6 billion for organized crime—and much of the attention of field agents and a massive, nationwide network of informants. After years of emphasizing informant recruiting as a key task for its agents, the bureau now maintains a roster of 15,000 spies—many of them tasked, as Hussain was, with infiltrating Muslim communities in the United States. In addition, for every informant officially listed in the bureau’s records, there are as many as three unofficial ones, according to one former high-level FBI official, known in bureau parlance as “hip pockets.”

The informants could be doctors, clerks, imams. Some might not even consider themselves informants. But the FBI regularly taps all of them as part of a domestic intelligence apparatus whose only historical peer might be COINTELPRO, the program the bureau ran from the ’50s to the ’70s to discredit and marginalize organizations ranging from the Ku Klux Klan to civil-rights and protest groups.

Throughout the FBI’s history, informant numbers have been closely guarded secrets. Periodically, however, the bureau has released those figures. A Senate oversight committee in 1975 found the FBI had 1,500 informants. In 1980, officials disclosed there were 2,800. Six years later, following the FBI’s push into drugs and organized crime, the number of bureau informants ballooned to 6,000, the Los Angeles Times reported in 1986. And according to the FBI, the number grew significantly after 9/11. In its fiscal year 2008 budget authorization request, the FBI disclosed that it it had been been working under a November 2004 presidential directive demanding an increase in “human source development and management,” and that it needed $12.7 million for a program to keep tabs on its spy network and create software to track and manage informants.

I find that very frightening. Please read the whole article if you can find the time. Talking Points Memo has more information on the supposed “plot,” along with photos provided by the FBI. But check this out: a guy who knows a lot about the model planes in question says the plan wouldn’t work.

As hobbyist Bill DiRenzo warms up the real jet engine of his remote control airplane, he said the alleged plot to use jets like his to blow up the U.S. Capitol or the Pentagon sounds a little far-fetched.

[….]

DiRenzo said the suspect most likely didn’t even have the skills needed to make his alleged plot succeed.

“If you’ve never flown one, there’s no way, especially these turbine powered ones where there are the safety issues. I mean there’s so many things in the sophistication in the electronics in it. You have to be in the hobby to even think about doing what that kid did,” DiRenzo said.

DiRenzo also said from what he’s seen and read, the planes the suspect allegedly tried to use in his plot were simply not large enough to carry the explosives and the guidance system needed to be successful.

“They’re pretty close to their wing load when they take off, so to put 40 pounds of explosives on it, even some of these huge jets I have seen, they wouldn’t fly,” DiRenzo said.

The FBI is clearly targeting young Muslim-American men for their terror sting operations, so I’d like to call your attention to this scary story by Spencer Ackerman at Wired’s Danger Room blog about the FBI’s blatantly bigoted attitudes toward Muslim-Americans.

The FBI is teaching its counterterrorism agents that “main stream” [sic] American Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers; that the Prophet Mohammed was a “cult leader”; and that the Islamic practice of giving charity is no more than a “funding mechanism for combat.”

At the Bureau’s training ground in Quantico, Virginia, agents are shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely he is to be “violent.” Those destructive tendencies cannot be reversed, an FBI instructional presentation adds: “Any war against non-believers is justified” under Muslim law; a “moderating process cannot happen if the Koran continues to be regarded as the unalterable word of Allah.”

These are excerpts from dozens of pages of recent FBI training material on Islam that Danger Room has acquired. In them, the Constitutionally protected religious faith of millions of Americans is portrayed as an indicator of terrorist activity.

“There may not be a ‘radical’ threat as much as it is simply a normal assertion of the orthodox ideology,” one FBI presentation notes. “The strategic themes animating these Islamic values are not fringe; they are main stream.”

The FBI isn’t just treading on thin legal ice by portraying ordinary, observant Americans as terrorists-in-waiting, former counterterrorism agents say. It’s also playing into al-Qaida’s hands.

Read it and weep. This is what we’ve come to as a country. At the UK Guardian, there are some questions being asked: FBI faces entrapment questions over Rezwan Ferdaus bomb plot arrest

The dramatic arrest of a man in Massachusetts accused of plotting to crash explosive-filled miniature airplanes into the US Capitol and the Pentagon has sparked fresh concerns that the FBI might be using entrapment techniques aimed at Muslims in America.

[….]

some legal organisations and Muslim groups have questioned whether Ferdaus, whose activities were carried out with two undercover FBI agents posing as terrorists, would have been able to carry out such a sophisticated plot if left to his own devices. In numerous previous cases in the US, the FBI has been accused of over-zealousness in its investigations and of entrapping people into terror plots who might otherwise not have carried out an attack.

“It deeply concerns us. It is another in a pattern of high-profile cases. Would this person have conceived or executed this plot without the influence of the FBI?” said Heidi Boghosian, president of the National Lawyers Guild.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations also expressed its concern and wondered if more details would later emerge at trial that showed the full scale of the FBI involvement in setting up the sting. “There is a big, big difference between a plot initiated by the FBI and a plot initiated by a suspect, and it seems this might have been initiated by the FBI,” said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR’s director of communications.

There lots more in the article. Finally, here’s an excellent blog post by Stephen Lendman, “Entrapping Muslims in America,” and a scare story in the Christian Science Monitor about how we’re going to be attacked by terrorists with drones. In actuality, it is the U.S. who is attacking other countries (and U.S. citizens abroad) with drones. Talk about projection!

Those are my offerings for today. What are you reading and blogging about?


SDB Evening News Reads for 052711

Minx Midget Fancy...remember that phrase...

Good evening, Its Friday!

I guess you can tell that I have a fondness for midgets.  As the picture to the left shows, I often collect images or stories that strike me as funny and I know, totally unpolitically correct…wait, is that a word?  Hey,  if it isn’t it should be…if Palin can do it…why can’t I?

Anyway, this midget fancy, it is not something new, I have always been fascinated with anything connected to Little People.  So if you ever come across anything (pictures or articles) funny or campy that involves a midget, be sure to send it to me… using my special email address:  MinxMidgetFancy@gmail.com

Ah, it is Friday, so today’s reads will be on the easy side. (My little midget rant might have given you a heads up to my  selection of links I have for you today.)

Actually, I have one link that is very disturbing…I will just sandwich it in between the fluff.

Hey, Obama signed that PARTRIOT Act bill with an electric pen.  Somehow I find this ironic…using this kind of technology to sign the extension of a law to spy on American Citizens.  It has a James Bond kind of flare about it.  Or if not James Bond, perhaps Boris and Natasha would be a better description?  That link goes to an episode of Rocky and Bullwinkle: Goof Gas Attack where…

Boris and Natasha plan a goof gas attack on Washington to take it over.

They took a few days to get there by cab and went to the visitor section of US Congress and they then discovered the US was run by politicians arguing and debating the issues and giving speeches. What the politicians say makes no logical sense and seems to be goofy and so Natasha turns to Boris and asks “Boris is what he said, you think he already have some goof gas?” and Boris says “Natasha what he said, that is goof gas!”

NationalJournal.com – How a Bill Becomes a Law with an Autopen – Friday, May 27, 2011

Pete Souza/The White House

President Obama’s signature on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which he (physically) signed in 2009.

Last night, with President Obama faraway in France and provisions of the Patriot Act set to expire at midnight, the commander-in-chief awakened at 5:45 a.m. and called on his “autopen” to immediately sign the bill into law. The device replicated Obama’s signature and, as a result, the government’s post-9/11 roving wiretap privileges were secured. “It’s an important tool for us to continue dealing with an ongoing terrorist threat,” said Obama, after a meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. So what is this device and how is it legal when constitutionally, the president presumably must sign a bill before it becomes law? Schoolhouse Rock did not cover this.

Jay Wexler, a Boston University law professor who literally wrote a book on the autopen, told ABC News the constitutionality of the autopen was settled in a 2005 Office of Legal Counsel opinion [PDF]

Emptywheel joked about this “robosigning” and offered his own new lyric for Schoolhouse Rock:

“Robo-signing” the PATRIOT Act | Emptywheel

As I joked last night, they’re going to have to add a couple of lines to Schoolhouse Rock to explain to children the magic of the President’s autopen:

I’m just a bill, yes I’m only a bill, thanks to the President using his auto-quill.

I’m off to the White House to wait in a line for the President’s autosign.

As a side note, look at the signature of Obama’s more closely.  There must be some hidden meaning in the way he puts the O so large…it almost encompasses his bama.  I wonder what handwriting experts think of it.

Alright everyone. Take a breath. Here is the disturbing link…we’ll just let it speak for itself.   I decided not to include the image. If you want to see what the Iran Human Rights group is worried about, then click the link to see the picture.

Iran Executions | Iran Hangings | Iran Young Boy Executioner | Mediaite

Reports have been coming in that 11 people were hung in Iran yesterday with five people hung to death in public. However, the group Iran Human Rights has an incredibly disturbing report about the executions. They claim to have a picture that shows a young boy of indeterminate age being used to actually perform one of the public executions.

The picture purports to show the death of Mehdi Faraji, a man convicted of murdering five women. However, in the picture, you can see what appears to be a young boy literally pulling a stool out from underneath Faraji’s feet, sending the man down to his death. An older man seems to be guiding the boys hands.

It seems inappropriate to put this link in a Funny Friday post, but when I saw it in my Google Reader, I had to use it.  I don’t know if this boy is somehow related to one of the five women this man killed…it is definitely an image that stays with you… I will just say take another breath and read on.

Okay…speaking of Moose and Squirrel:

Mooseferatu – NYTimes.com

John Cole has been collecting suggested titles for the Sarah Palin movie. Other entries:

From Within Sight of Russia With Love
John McCain’s a Series of Unfortunate Events

Check it out. That title Krugman uses for his post is hilarious. I also like this one:

Lost in Translation II

Another funny observation from Kevin Drum:  It’s Gonna Be a Long Primary Season | Mother Jones

A recent tweet from Tim Pawlenty:

Seriously? This is the kind of childishness it takes to compete for the tea party vote these days? “Aren’t there any grown-ups left in the GOP?” asks Mark Kleiman.

Well, when your base is glued to the TV watching wrestling and Pawn Stars, what do you expect.

(No offense to those fans of wrestling and Pawn Stars.)

Well, have a fun Friday Evening…and remember my Minx Midget Fancy email…its easy, think of it as a little people version of Cat Fancy or Dog Fancy. (Wink and a smile.)


Wednesday Reads

Coffee Cup (photo by I New Idea)

Morning everyone, it’s Wednesday…only three more days to go till the weekend. So lets dig into this morning’s reads!

Patriot Act extension fails in the House by seven votes

House Republicans suffered an embarrassing setback Tuesday when they fell seven votes short of extending provisions of the Patriot Act, a vote that served as the first small uprising of the party’s tea-party bloc.

The bill to reauthorize key parts of the counter-terrorism surveillance law, which expire at the end of the month, required a super-majority to pass under special rules reserved for non-controversial measures.

It appears that 26 Republicans voted against the extension, 8 of them freshman. The White House put out a statement.

From The Hill:

The Obama administration said Tuesday it wants a three-year extension of Patriot Act surveillance authorities, far longer than the timeline proposed by House Republicans.The White House released a Statement of Administration Policy that says it “would strongly prefer enactment of reauthorizing legislation that would extend these authorities until December 2013.”

[…]

A longer extension, the administration’s statement said, “would ensure appropriate congressional oversight by maintaining a sunset, but the longer duration provides the necessary certainty and predictability that our Nation’s intelligence and law enforcement agencies require as they continue to protect our national security.”

At the same time, the statement said the White House does not object to the Republican proposal.

The Republican proposal will be taken up Tuesday under a suspension of House rules, and would extend the authority that allows U.S. agents to conduct “roving surveillance” of targets, collect business records and other tangible intelligence records, and surveil solo operators who are not tied to a specific terrorist group but may pose a threat to the United States.

For more analysis I will turn to FDL, which brings the irony of the days vote into the big picture.

Sometimes the irony of two news events that happen on the same day is almost surreal. Today, we have news that the Obama administration is pushing the Mubarak government to immediately end the Egypt’s “Emergency Law,” which gives the President sweeping powers to violate the rights of the country’s citizens.

On to other ironies, the recent purchase of Arianna’s Huffpo by AOL is causing a stir among other left-leaning political blogs. FT.com / Media – Huffington deal fires rivals’ hopes

This week’s $315m acquisition by AOL of the Huffington Post has set the blogs chattering not only because a notable peer is changing hands, but because it could also reflect a higher value on them.

There is scepticism the purchase by AOL of the left-leaning blog site will revive the media group’s fortunes, but some analysts think it could have opened the door to a wave of deals. Jeff Zucker, former chief executive of NBC Universal, said on Tuesday that he had tried to acquire the Huffington Post but could not settle on a price.

[…]

Blog networks including Gawker Media, Glam Media and the Business Insider sites are being discussed as potential targets. But it is unclear who might spend so richly on other blogs.

“I don’t know if there is going to be a buying spree,” John Blackledge, of Credit Suisse, said. “AOL has cash and they are trying to transform their business.”

The reason I mention the ironies is this tweet that Dakinikat posted in the comments on Monday:

@keachhagey: Talked to @AriannaHuff about what AOL deal means for ideology: “We don’t think of ourselves as left.” http://is.gd/mfffw4

So as I read about other “left leaning blogs” becoming the target of some larger news/network buying them out, I think…but wait,  Arianna says they don’t think of Huffpo as “left.”

Speaking of the left, this article in Nate Silver’s blog Five Thirty Eight: Are Democrats Better Off Than They Were 25 Years Ago? – NYTimes.com

The Democratic Leadership Council, a proud and sometimes belligerent group that sought to steer Democratic policy toward the right, will reportedly cease its operations.

[…]

The D.L.C.’s influence waned some after Mr. Clinton’s vice president, Al Gore — who was then perceived as more moderate than he is now — failed to win the election of 2000, and then further after the group strongly supported the invasion of Iraq in 2003. In more recent years, the D.L.C. has teetered on the brink of irrelevancy, eclipsed on the one hand by other moderate groups like Third Way and the Blue Dog Democrats, and on the other by the Democratic blogosphere, which has provided an alternative infrastructure by which candidates, especially liberals, can gain money and support. In 2007, all major Democratic presidential candidates — including Mr. Clinton’s spouse, Hillary Rodham Clinton — skipped the D.L.C.’s convention, but participated in a debate sponsored by the blog Daily Kos.

Some very nifty graphs assist those of us who respond to visual aids.

The D.L.C., for instance, often cultivated wealthy and corporate donors, and from 1985 to 2008, the share of income earned by the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers increased to 20 percent from 10 percent at the same time their effective tax rates declined.

Read the entire article, I would like to hear what you think about it. Silver makes some comments about Obama’s liberal voting record while he was in the Senate…

Obama…generally did not run away from that record as a candidate in 2008, although one can debate the extent to which he has done so since.

Silver goes on to question if the D.L.C. in some way cause the rise in Conservative Republicans. Since it seems that since the Republican’s of today have gone way further to the Right then they were previously. He questions whether it was the D.L.C. that got the Big Dawg elected in 1992. His take is that the D.L.C. really was not all that important…that Democrats would have won in 1992 anyway.  I’m not sure, but I think that statement about exactly where the D.L.C. was drumming up support tells part of the tale as to why we are stuck with a Republican in a Democrat suit.

So put some of the pieces together. You got most of the support coming from wealthier contributors, a left blogosphere that did some real work during the 2008 election (as that link to FT discussed) and a President that reads Reagan biographies to gain wisdom, and move more to center. (Cough) What all this says to me, some 40 year old woman living in the center of the Religious Right, is that the Democratic Party has been replaced by what used to be Republicans…and the Republicans have gone way off the deep end toward a more radical religious right. Ugh…I realize this is nothing new to y’all…but those nifty graphs really do paint a sad picture of a declining party that once stood for something real.

Wonk the Vote had a post on Saturday about the a time for prayers. Within this post was a picture of a group of women outside of Tehran University participating in Friday prayer. What came to my mind almost immediately was just how much that picture of women grouped together looked like a weave structure that is very prevalent in the Middle East.

Photo: Iranian women participated in Friday prayer outside Tehran University (Behrouz Mehri/AFP-Getty)… [Link]

Photo: Encyclopædia Iranica

 

Above is an image of the weave structure, called a Warp Faced Weave. Below is a close up of the weave, woven by Bedouin women on ground looms, to make lengths of cloth to sew together for their tents. I am not going to go into the theory of weave structure, or discuss the historic and cultural significance of the amazing weavers that live their lives in the sandy desert, or in small groups of tribal homes where the women weave on the rooftops.

Photo by Picture Journey's

What I wanted to stress was the analogy of the women coming together for prayer, the image of the photograph, the connection to the people in Egypt…as they come together to weave a new government that represents the people.

When you start weaving something, you take an extremely strong yarn, which is made from many single yarns that are plyed together…and proceed to wind your warp, this is the backbone of the woven cloth. It must be able to withstand high tension. It must also be strong enough to bear the weight of the beater as you weave the weft thread between those stretched warp threads. In a warp face weave, those strong warp threads are the main visual representation of that particular weave structure. The weft threads are what give the warp support, so that warp can come forward in the cloth. These weft threads are not necessarily strong, they are mostly individual single threads that are spun rather loose and lofty.

Looking at that picture of those Iranian women at prayer, and watching the last two weeks of protest in Tahrir Square, Cairo, Egypt…makes me think of a woven cloth in the making. The people of Egypt (the weft) are supporting the anti-government protesters in the Square  (the warp) and trying desperately to overcome the regime of Mubarak. They are coming together to try and create a government that represents them as a whole cloth…I know it is a bit of a stretch, and I guess the situation is much more than that. But to make that cloth takes a hell of a lot of work. It is not done alone, it is something  that involves the entire tribe from raising the goats they use as fiber for the yarn, to the time it takes to spin and ready the yarn for weaving, to the hard part of warping the loom, making sure the structure is sound and the warp is consistent…to weaving the soft threads into that warp with care and experience. And then, when all is said and done, the work of all those people create a shelter…a tent to protect them from the elements. A government to represent the people as a Democracy….it all is connected.

So what are you reading today?