Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Major Opinion Shifts, in the US and Congress, on NSA Surveillance and Privacy

Numerous polls taken since our reporting on previously secret NSA activities first began have strongly suggested major public opinion shifts in how NSA surveillance and privacy are viewed. But a new comprehensive poll released over the weekend weekend by Pew Research provides the most compelling evidence yet of how stark the shift is.

Among other things, Pew finds that "a majority of Americans – 56% – say that federal courts fail to provide adequate limits on the telephone and internet data the government is collecting as part of its anti-terrorism efforts." And "an even larger percentage (70%) believes that the government uses this data for purposes other than investigating terrorism." Moreover, "63% think the government is also gathering information about the content of communications." That demonstrates a decisive rejection of the US government's three primary defenses of its secret programs: there is adequate oversight; we're not listening to the content of communication; and the spying is only used to Keep You Safe™.

But the most striking finding is this one:
"Overall, 47% say their greater concern about government anti-terrorism policies is that they have gone too far in restricting the average person's civil liberties, while 35% say they are more concerned that policies have not gone far enough to protect the country. This is the first time in Pew Research polling that more have expressed concern over civil liberties than protection from terrorism since the question was first asked in 2004."
For anyone who spent the post-9/11 years defending core liberties against assaults relentlessly perpetrated in the name of terrorism, polling data like that is nothing short of shocking. This Pew visual underscores what a radical shift has occurred from these recent NSA disclosures:

Read the entire article

Friday, July 26, 2013

Democratic Establishment Unmasked: Prime Defenders of NSA Bulk Spying

One of the worst myths Democratic partisans love to tell themselves - and everyone else - is that the GOP refuses to support President Obama no matter what he does. Like its close cousin - the massively deceitful inside-DC grievance that the two parties refuse to cooperate on anything - it's hard to overstate how false this Democratic myth is. When it comes to foreign policy, war, assassinations, drones, surveillance, secrecy, and civil liberties, President Obama's most stalwart, enthusiastic defenders are often found among the most radical precincts of the Republican Party.

The rabidly pro-war and anti-Muslim GOP former Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, Peter King, has repeatedly lavished Obama with all sorts of praise and support for his policies in those areas. The Obama White House frequently needs, and receives, large amounts of GOP Congressional support to have its measures enacted or bills its dislikes defeated. The Obama DOJ often prevails before the US Supreme Court solely because the Roberts/Scalia/Thomas faction adopts its view while the Ginsburg/Sotomayor/Breyer faction rejects it (as happened in February when the Court, by a 5-4 ruling, dismissed a lawsuit brought by Amnesty and the ACLU which argued that the NSA's domestic warrantless eavesdropping activities violate the Fourth Amendment; the Roberts/Scalia wing accepted the Obama DOJ's argument that the plaintiffs lack standing to sue because the NSA successfully conceals the identity of which Americans are subjected to the surveillance). As Wired put it at the time about that NSA ruling:
The 5-4 decision by Justice Samuel Alito was a clear victory for the President Barack Obama administration, which like its predecessor, argued that government wiretapping laws cannot be challenged in court."
The extraordinary events that took place in the House of Representatives yesterday are perhaps the most vivid illustration yet of this dynamic, and it independently reveals several other important trends. The House voted on an amendment sponsored by Justin Amash, the young Michigan lawyer elected in 2010 as a Tea Party candidate, and co-sponsored by John Conyers, the 24-term senior Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee. The amendment was simple. It would de-fund one single NSA program: the agency's bulk collection of the telephone records of all Americans that we first revealed in this space, back on June 6. It accomplished this "by requiring the FISA court under Sec. 215 [of the Patriot Act] to order the production of records that pertain only to a person under investigation".

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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

The Right’s Civil War

Jack Hunter has resigned from Sen. Rand Paul’s office, in light of criticisms of his “Southern Avenger” background. Although left-wing and mainstream outlets picked up the story and ran with it, the first shots were fired from the right by the Washington Free Beacon, with further fusillades coming from Commentary and Jennifer Rubin. Why would these particular right-wingers take aim at a Republican senator’s staffer?

“What the schism is about,” writes Joan Walsh at Salon, is not a war fought 150 years ago but “Ron Paul’s skepticism about U.S. support for Israel and his broader anti-interventionist foreign policy views, which his son has blunted in the service of mainstream political success.” Which leads Walsh to ask: “What is it about the modern GOP that so many of its leaders are correct on the righteousness of either the Civil War or the Iraq War, but rarely both?”

The answer is to be found in the American right’s own half-century civil war. As often happens in war, this one has created alliances that turn what should be separate questions into a single, packaged ideology. It wasn’t quite true even in 2002 that you could predict a right-winger’s view of the impending Iraq War based on his or her view of the Civil War, but the correlations were strong enough to be remarkable. A series of disputes on the right spanning five decades had fused together criticisms of Lincoln and opposition to neoconservative foreign policy.

When the right’s civil war began is open to interpretation, but a fateful early skirmish was Willmoore Kendall’s scathing 1959 review of Harry Jaffa’s Crisis of the House Divided. The review argued that Lincoln, or at least Jaffa’s Lincoln, substituted an ambitious ideology aiming at universal equality for the down-to-earth virtues of the Constitution. In effect, this was a revolution on the highest plane—that of the values that guide the interpretation of the fundamental law.

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Monday, July 22, 2013

Egyptian coup should trigger broad re-examination of U.S. militarization of Middle East

The Obama administration has engaged in astounding linguistic jiu-jitsu to avoid calling the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi what it most obviously is: a coup. The president refuses to dub Morsi’s overthrow a coup because doing so would automatically trigger a suspension of all U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, according to the Foreign Assistance Act. Cutting off weapons transfers to Egypt, which, at $1.3 billion per year is the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid behind Israel, would, in turn, crimp U.S. efforts to further inundate the Middle East with weapons. To underscore the Obama’s administration’s contempt for this law, the Pentagon delivered four F-16 fighter jets to Egypt just days after its military placed Morsi under house arrest. After the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, President Lyndon Johnson wisely warned that "this last conflict has demonstrated the danger of the Middle Eastern arms race of the last 12 years. Here the responsibility must rest not only on those in the area - but upon the larger states outside the area...We have always opposed this arms race, and our own military shipments to the area have consequently been severely limited." Yet, both he and his successors threw this caution to the wind, giving Israel and Egypt alone more than $100 billion in military grants and loans since then. While most of this money has been appropriated ostensibly to undergird the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, in fact it has directly impeded democracy in Egypt and especially freedom, justice and equality for the Palestinians.

Not only is the Obama administration clearly ignoring the law by keeping open the spigot of weapons to Egypt in the aftermath of the military’s coup; it also turns a blind eye to the law by providing Israel $3.1 billion in military aid per year, despite the fact that Israel clearly violates the Arms Export Control Act by using U.S. weapons not for “internal security” or “legitimate self-defense,” but to perpetuate its 46-year military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip and to commit gross and systematic human rights abuses against Palestinians, such as the injuring and killing of civilians, the demolition of Palestinian homes, and the illegal colonization of Palestinian land.     
The problems, of course, go beyond U.S. military aid and weapons transfers to Israel and Egypt. The Middle East is one of the most heavily armed parts of the planet, which exacerbates the region’s conflicts. The United States is the top arms peddler to the world, and to the region, and thus is in the best position to exert leadership to reduce, or perhaps even establish a moratorium on, weapons transfers to the Middle East as did President Harry Truman in the 1950 Tripartite Declaration.

Instead, the Obama Administration, advancing what it perceives to be U.S. strategic interests (but in reality are the interests of the weapons corporations which pour tens of millions of dollars into lobbying and campaign contributions each year) has sharply increased U.S. weapons transfers the last two years. In 2011 the United States set a record with over $66 billion in arms deals (over three-quarters of the global total), according to the Congressional Research Service, with huge sales of sophisticated armaments to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Oman driving a tripling of U.S. weapons transfers from 2010 figures.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The War on Terror is a War on Freedom

In the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush guided the Patriot Act through Congress, unilaterally expanded surveillance of Americans, amplified executive detention authority and took other dramatic measures that shifted the balance between liberty and government power significantly, in the name of national security.

After the initial Patriot Act was passed, many Democrats perceived the growing threat to civil liberties and started to have misgivings. Now, five years into the Obama presidency enthusiasm for these measures seems to be bipartisan.
As a presidential candidate, Barack Obama in 2007 and 2008 argued that sacrificing liberties in the name of anti-terrorism posed long-term risks. He condemned military commissions and violations of habeas corpus as serious threats to “the great traditions of our legal system and our way of life.” He called the Patriot Act “shoddy” and “dangerous.”
Senator Obama sharply criticized President Bush’s surveillance policies as going beyond the boundaries of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and the Fourth Amendment. He vowed that if elected he would run an administration of unprecedented transparency and vigorously protect whistleblowers.
President Obama’s deeds have not matched Senator Obama’s words. Indeed, he has raised the stakes.
He promised to close Guantanamo by January 2010, but instead slowed down releases from Guantanamo and vastly expanded the prison camp at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

U.S. Repeals Propaganda Ban, Spreads Government-Made News To Americans

For decades, a so-called anti-propaganda law prevented the U.S. government's mammoth broadcasting arm from delivering programming to American audiences. But on July 2, that came silently to an end with the implementation of a new reform passed in January. The result: an unleashing of thousands of hours per week of government-funded radio and TV programs for domestic U.S. consumption in a reform initially criticized as a green light for U.S. domestic propaganda efforts. So what just happened?

Until this month, a vast ocean of U.S. programming produced by the Broadcasting Board of Governors such as Voice of America, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and the Middle East Broadcasting Networks could only be viewed or listened to at broadcast quality in foreign countries. The programming varies in tone and quality, but its breadth is vast: It's viewed in more than 100 countries in 61 languages. The topics covered include human rights abuses in Iran; self-immolation in Tibet; human trafficking across Asia; and on-the-ground reporting in Egypt and Iraq.

The restriction of these broadcasts was due to the Smith-Mundt Act, a long standing piece of legislation that has been amended numerous times over the years, perhaps most consequentially by Arkansas Senator J. William Fulbright. In the 70s, Fulbright was no friend of VOA and Radio Free Europe, and moved to restrict them from domestic distribution, saying they "should be given the opportunity to take their rightful place in the graveyard of Cold War relics." Fulbright's amendment to Smith-Mundt was bolstered in 1985 by Nebraska Senator Edward Zorinsky who argued that such "propaganda" should be kept out of America as to distinguish the U.S. "from the Soviet Union where domestic propaganda is a principal government activity."

Zorinsky and Fulbright sold their amendments on sensible rhetoric: American taxpayers shouldn't be funding propaganda for American audiences. So did Congress just tear down the American public's last defense against domestic propaganda?

BBG spokeswoman Lynne Weil insists BBG is not a propaganda outlet, and its flagship services such as VOA "present fair and accurate news."

Read the entire article

Monday, July 15, 2013

Friday, July 12, 2013

No Military Coups for America? What About November 1963?

An interesting aspect of the military coup in Egypt has been the attitude of American mainstream commentators who suggest that unlike Egypt and other countries, the chances of a military coup in the United States are virtually nil. See, for example, “America the Coupless” by Rosa Brooks and “Could a Military Coup Happen in America?” by Paul Greenberg.

Really? What about November 22, 1963?
“Oh, Jacob, don’t be silly. President Kennedy’s assassination couldn’t have been orchestrated by the U.S. national-security state, notwithstanding the overwhelming amount of evidence pointing in that direction, because it’s just inconceivable that such a thing could happen here in our country. That’s just a conspiracy theory. Such things only happen in places like Egypt … or Chile … or Iran … or Guatemala … or South Vietnam and, yes, oftentimes with the support and participation of the U.S. military and the CIA, but such a thing could never happen here in our country.”
Oh, really? So, what you’re saying, Mr. Statist, is that if the democratically elected president of the United States is engaged in policies and actions that are leading to the nation’s destruction, the U.S. national-security state apparatus — i.e., the Pentagon, the CIA, and the NSA — will simply stand aside and let it happen — despite the fact that the U.S. military and the CIA have supported and even participated in military coups that purportedly save foreign countries from their rulers.
Consider Chile. The Chilean people elect a communist, Salvador Allende, in a democratic election at the height of the Cold War. U.S. officials say that this cannot stand. So, President Nixon orders the CIA to foment a massive economic crisis within the country, much like the economic crisis leading up to the military coup in Egypt. “Make the economy scream” are Nixon’s exact words.  The CIA faithfully obeys his orders notwithstanding the fact that the Constitution does not authorize any such action. The Chilean military, with the support of the U.S. national-security state, ousts Allende in a coup and imposes brutal military rule under Army General Augusto Pinochet.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Egypt’s Coup: Revenge of the NGOs?

The United States government hasn’t decided yet whether to call the overthrow of Egypt’s democratically elected government by the military a coup – they’re still mulling that one over in Washington:

"Though officials did not dispute the fact that Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy, a democratically-elected leader, was ousted by the military in an extrajudicial fashion, they would not say the word ‘coup,’ which has an important legal consequence for the $1.5 billion in aid Congress sends to Egypt every year.

"’[We are] taking the time to determine what happened, what to label it,’ White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. ‘We’re just not taking a position,’ said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki."

In the make-believe world of Washington, where reality is what government officials say it is, there is no objective reality: facts are infinitely malleable, and so is the law. Legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President requires the suspension of military aid to countries where democracy has been as rudely interrupted as it has been in Egypt: yet simply by redefining "coup" to mean something other than what it plainly does mean, the Washington crowd can achieve the required result – the continued yearly extortion of US taxpayers to the tune of $1.5 billion in "aid" to Egypt.

The reason for this linguistic legerdemain is no secret: the Egyptian military is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the Pentagon. Their top officers, including those who now rule the country, were trained in the United States, and there’s no doubt the Americans knew about the coup long before Morsi.

Read the entire article

Monday, July 8, 2013

New Egyptian War: Americans Lose, Again

Looking at the banners in the massive Egyptian protests last week, we saw many anti-American slogans. Likewise, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government that was deposed by the military last week was very critical of what it saw as US support for the coup. Why is it that all sides in this Egyptian civil war seem so angry with the United States? Because the United States has at one point or another supported each side, which means also that at some point the US has also opposed each side. It is the constant meddling in Egyptian affairs that has turned Egyptians against us, as we would resent foreign intervention in our own affairs.

For more than 30 years, since the US-brokered Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, the US supported Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Over that period the US sent more than $60 billion to prop up Mubarak and, importantly, to train and seek control over the Egyptian military. Those who opposed Mubarak’s unelected reign became more and more resentful of the US, which they rightly saw as aiding and abetting a dictator and denying them their political aspirations.

Then the US began providing assistance to groups seeking to overthrow Mubarak, which they did in 2011. The US continued funding the Egyptian military at that time, arguing that US aid was more critical than ever if we are to maintain influence. The US Administration demanded an election in Egypt after Mubarak’s overthrow and an election was held. Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood won a narrow victory. The US supported Morsi but kept funding the Egyptian military.

After a year of Morsi’s rule, Egyptians who did not approve of his government took to the streets to demand his removal from power. The US signaled to the Egyptian military that it would not oppose the removal of Morsi from power, and he was removed on July 3rd. With the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood-led government came the arrest of many politicians and the closure of many media outlets sympathetic to them. Then the US government warned the same Egyptian military that undermined democracy that it needed to restore democracy! Is it any wonder why Egyptians from all walks of life are united in their irritation with the United States?

Despite the Egyptian government being overthrown by a military coup, the Obama Administration will not utter the word “coup” because acknowledging reality would mean an end to US assistance to the Egyptian government and military. That cannot be allowed.

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Thursday, July 4, 2013

What REALLY Caused the Coup Against the Egyptian President

Egypt’s Support for Intervention in Syria Was the Straw that Broke the Camel’s Back

The protests in Egypt against president Mohammed Morsi were – according to the BBC – the largest in history.

The Egyptian military threw Morsi out in a coup today.


Support of Western intervention in Syria was also one of the main causes of the recent enormous protests in Turkey … which came close to toppling the Turkish leadership.

Indeed, the American government has been providing arms, money and logistical support to Al Qaeda in Syria, Libya, Mali, Bosnia and other countries – and related Muslim terrorists in Chechnya, Iran, and many other countries.  So moderate Arabs all over the Middle East and North Africa are becoming furious at U.S. interventionist policies.

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Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Mohammad Mursi’s opponents have won the numbers game, but what next?

June 30, 2013, marking one year of Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi’s presidency, was hyped by the opposition as a game changer. However, even the most optimistic could not have predicted the mass turnout in cities all over the country. Millions of Egyptians took to the streets of 25 of the country’s 27 governorates to vent their discontent, taking liberal local TV anchors, who for months have been calling for people to get off their sofas, by surprise.

Egypt is no stranger to demonstrations, which largely go ignored by the Islamist regime that holds to legitimacy of the ballot box. However, Sunday was different—not only in terms of numbers, which estimates indicate exceed those during the January 25, 2011, revolution. On this occasion, the crowds were an eclectic socio-economic mix of intellectuals, middle class civil servants, factory workers, children perched on their father’s shoulders, people of advanced years and even black-clad women, their faces covered by the niqab.

The one thing they all had in common was their frustration with the Muslim Brotherhood. Those determined souls—who stood sweltering, packed tightly together in temperatures above 30 degrees Celsius, without shade, from mid-morning, chanting slogans and joining in with patriotic songs—were motivated for differing reasons.

Moderates fear the regime is intent on replicating the Iranian Islamic model, political activists object to Mursi’s authoritarianism—his attempts to bring the judiciary to heel and his crackdown on the media. The affluent worry over the failing economy; the struggling poor are angry over rocketing inflation, diminishing job opportunities, electricity outages and shortages of fuel causing hours-long queues outside petrol stations. The fallaheen (peasants), that faction of the Muslim Brotherhood’s core base, complain Mursi has reneged on his promises to better their lives. Devout Muslims—who once championed Mursi, but are now hard-pressed to put bread on the table—feel a sense of betrayal.

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