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About time!! Major sea change in media discussions of Obama and civil liberties

Image
© Alex Wong/Getty Images
President Barack Obama
Due to the controversies over the IRS and (especially) the DOJ's attack on AP's news gathering process, media outlets have suddenly decided that President Obama has a very poor record on civil liberties, transparency, press freedoms, and a whole variety of other issues on which he based his first campaign. The first two paragraphs of this Washington Post article from yesterday, expressed in tones of recent epiphany, made me laugh audibly:
"President Obama, a former constitutional law lecturer who came to office pledging renewed respect for civil liberties, is today running an administration at odds with his résumé and preelection promises.

"The Justice Department's collection of journalists' phone records and the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservative groups have challenged Obama's credibility as a champion of civil liberties - and as a president who would heal the country from damage done by his predecessor."
You don't say! The Washington Post's breaking news here is only about four years late. Back in mid-2010, ACLU executive director Anthony Romero, speaking about Obama's civil liberties record at a progressive conference, put it this way: "I'm disgusted with this president." In the spirit of optimism, one can adopt a "better-late-than-never" outlook regarding this newfound media awakening.

USA

Ceiling suspended: U.S. takes on $300bn in new debt after hitting $16.7 trillion

US Debt
© AFP Photo/Timothy A. Clary
America's ticking debt bomb has been reset. Washington has suspended the debt ceiling, setting a date, and not a concrete dollar sum as a deadline, an unprecedented first in US history.

Citing 'extraordinary measures', the US Treasury has further delayed tackling America's debt, and will wait until Labor Day, September 2nd, to revisit the burgeoning crisis. The ceiling has been lifted, and the Treasury has promised it will keep cash pumping into government spending programs beyond the debt limit through a series of emergency cash tools.

"It will not be until at least after Labor Day" when Washington will have reached their full borrowing capacity, Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, told CNBC television on May 10th.

Arrow Down

Assad talks, Russia walks

Bashar-al-Assad
© Before It's News
So Bashar al-Assad has spoken - exclusively, to Argentine daily El Clarin (there's a huge Syrian diaspora in Argentina, as well as in neighboring Brazil).

Cutting through the fog of Western hysteria, he made some valuable points. The record shows that, yes, the regime has agreed several times to talk to the opposition; but myriad "rebel" groups with no credible, unified leadership have always refuted. So there's no way a ceasefire, eventually agreed on a summit - such as the upcoming US/Russia Geneva conference - can be implemented. Assad makes some sense when he says, "We can't discuss a timetable with a party if we don't know who they are."

Well, by now everyone following the Syrian tragedy knows who most of them are. One knows that the Un-Free Syrian Cannibals, sorry, Army (FSA) is a ragged collection of warlords, gangsters and opportunists of every possible brand, intersecting with hardcore jihadis of the Jabhat al-Nusra kind (but also other al-Qaeda-linked or inspired outfits).

It took Reuters months to finally admit that jihadis are running the show on the ground.[1] A "rebel" commander even complained to Reuters, "Nusra is now two Nusras. One that is pursuing al Qaeda's agenda of a greater Islamic nation, and another that is Syrian with a national agenda to help us fight Assad." What he didn't say is that the real effective outfit is al-Qaeda-linked.

Syria is now Militia Hell; much like Iraq in the mid-2000s, much like the Western-imposed, "liberated" Libyan failed state. This Afghanization/Somalization is a direct consequence of NATO-GCC-Israel axis interference. [2] So Assad is also right when he says the West is adding fuel to the fire, and is only interested in regime change, whatever the cost.

Arrow Down

"Big Brother" is big business?


The odds are you are not just a face in the crowd any longer. Even if your picture isn't plastered all over social networking and photo-sharing sites, facial recognition technology in public places is making it harder if not impossible to remain anonymous. Lesley Stahl reports on the new ways this technology is being used that even has one of its inventors calling it too intrusive. Her 60 Minutes report will be broadcast Sunday, May 19 at 7 p.m. ET/PT.

Professor Alessandro Acquisti of Carnegie Mellon, who researches how technology impacts privacy, stunned Stahl with an experiment. He photographed random students on the campus and in short order, not only identified several of them, but in a number of cases found their personal information, including social security numbers, just using a facial recognition program he downloaded for free. Acquisti says smart-phones will make "facial searches" as common as Google searches in the future. And nearly everybody can be subject to such prying, even those who are careful about their Internet use.

USA

Washington gets explicit: 'war on terror' is permanent

Senior Obama officials tell the US Senate: the 'war', in limitless form, will continue for 'at least' another decade - or two

Michael Sheehan
© AP/Carolyn Kaster
Assistant Defense Secretary Michael Sheehan, right, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee's May 16, 2013, hearing on the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force.
Last October, senior Obama officials anonymously unveiled to the Washington Post their newly minted "disposition matrix", a complex computer system that will be used to determine how a terrorist suspect will be "disposed of": indefinite detention, prosecution in a real court, assassination-by-CIA-drones, etc. Their rationale for why this was needed now, a full 12 years after the 9/11 attack:
Among senior Obama administration officials, there is a broad consensus that such operations are likely to be extended at least another decade. Given the way al-Qaida continues to metastasize, some officials said no clear end is in sight. . . . That timeline suggests that the United States has reached only the midpoint of what was once known as the global war on terrorism."
On Thursday, the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on whether the statutory basis for this "war" - the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) - should be revised (meaning: expanded). This is how Wired's Spencer Ackerman (soon to be the Guardian US's national security editor) described the most significant exchange:
"Asked at a Senate hearing today how long the war on terrorism will last, Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, answered, 'At least 10 to 20 years.' . . . A spokeswoman, Army Col. Anne Edgecomb, clarified that Sheehan meant the conflict is likely to last 10 to 20 more years from today - atop the 12 years that the conflict has already lasted. Welcome to America's Thirty Years War."
That the Obama administration is now repeatedly declaring that the "war on terror" will last at least another decade (or two) is vastly more significant than all three of this week's big media controversies (Benghazi, IRS, and AP/DOJ) combined. The military historian Andrew Bacevich has spent years warning that US policy planners have adopted an explicit doctrine of "endless war". Obama officials, despite repeatedly boasting that they have delivered permanently crippling blows to al-Qaida, are now, as clearly as the English language permits, openly declaring this to be so.

It is hard to resist the conclusion that this war has no purpose other than its own eternal perpetuation. This war is not a means to any end but rather is the end in itself. Not only is it the end itself, but it is also its own fuel: it is precisely this endless war - justified in the name of stopping the threat of terrorism - that is the single greatest cause of that threat.

Arrow Up

One terrorist, a million psychopaths, eight million sociopaths

TSA Poster
© Wikipedia
TSA explanation poster MMW.
This morning, I found a little green caterpillar crawling on my arm, in bed, as I was waking up. I took it outside so it could become a butterfly or moth. If it had been a mosquito or tick, I would have killed it so it wouldn't hurt me or my family later.

One shoe bomber terrorist inspired the US to invest billions in airport security, required hundreds of millions of shoes to be removed.

That's because there was a risk that was known.

But there are a million psychopaths and over eight million sociopaths who we know are out there, predators, doing damage, hurting people, killing people, bullying, stalking, stealing, corrupting.

A small percentage get caught. Most of the ones who get caught are the low functioning, stupid ones, the violent ones, the ones who have co-morbid problems like drug addiction or alcoholism. The smart ones, the higher functioning ones get jobs at big corporations, in city, state and federal government. They even become judges and certainly become lawyers too.

Some speculate that it takes a sociopath to become a CEO of a major fortune 1000 company.

One commenter on a previous article in the series suggested
... The best defense is not to engage with them. You can't win. If you are forced to work with a psychopath then you either kill him or leave."
Given the current situation, there's no protection from sociopaths who navigate the system avoiding arrest. They break rules but then intimidate or bully or charm people to cut them slack. They turn on their interpersonal intelligence to gain sympathy from those who say we should show them compassion. The best current defense may indeed be to leave. That's not acceptable to me, and of course, killing is not acceptable.

That's why I'm engaging in writing this series. Good people should not have to leave to be safe from sociopaths.

Stormtrooper

American Gulag: Guantanamo hunger strike enters 100th day

Activists protest outside White House calling for immediate closure of controversial jail.


Activists demanding the closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison have marked the 100th day of a hunger strike there by submitting a petition to the White House containing some 370,000 signatures.

A group of activists wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods like those used on detainees at Guantanamo Bay gathered outside the White House on Friday to call for the immediate closure of the controversial jail.

"Immoral, illegal, ineffective," a banner read.

Richard Killmer, executive director of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, said that "years of detention without charge or trial have created a sense of desperation and hopelessness among the men at Guantanamo, which has led over 100 of them to join a hunger strike".

MIB

Russia outs alleged Moscow CIA station chief

Image
© Photo Russian Federal Security Service
Alleged spy Ryan Christopher Fogle's diplomatic ID
A Russian intelligence agency Friday publicly identified an individual it claims was the Moscow station chief of the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as of late 2011 - a move widely seen as a breach of protocol in the intelligence community.

A man identified as an official with Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) named the alleged CIA station chief in an interview with state-run television Friday in which he gave new details about the agency's highly publicized detention of purported US spy Ryan Fogle earlier this week.

In the interview, the FSB official reiterated earlier claims that his agency had explicitly called on the CIA to stop trying to recruit Russian security and intelligence officers.

In late 2011, he added, the FSB formally warned the CIA station chief in Moscow, whom he identified by name, that "in the event that provocative efforts to recruit employees of the Russian special services continue, the FSB ... would take reciprocal measures against American intelligence officers."

MIB

Well, hmm...CIA chief makes unannounced Israel visit

An Israeli defense official says the head of the American CIA spy agency has made an unannounced visit to Israel.

The official says CIA chief John Brennan met Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon. He did not disclose other details.

The official spoke Friday on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the visit with reporters.

Brennan's trip comes amid Israeli concerns about weapons transfers from Syria to the Lebanon's militant Hezbollah.

Israel has carried out airstrikes aimed at halting arms shipments to Hezbollah.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu traveled to Russia this week to persuade Moscow not to sell an advanced air defense system to Syria that could complicate any possible aerial campaign.

Israel is also in close contact with the U.S. over Iran's suspect nuclear program.

Comment: Just for fun: CIA considers Israel one of its biggest spy threats, but the US continues to fund their military adventures


Arrow Down

Catfight - and it's U.S. vs EU

EU & US Flags
© Mtholyoke.edu
Paris - Lovers of turbo-neoliberalism, rejoice - and take your bottles of Moet to a prime ringside seat; there won't be a nastier catfight this summer than the opening rounds opposing two Western giants. Forget about the Pentagon "pivoting" to Asia without ever abandoning the Middle East; nothing compares with this voyage in the entrails of turbo-capitalism, worthy of a neo-Balzac.

We're talking about a new Holy Grail - a free-market deal between the United States and the European Union; the advent of a giant, internal transatlantic market (25% of global exports, 31% of global imports, 57% of foreign investment), where goods and services (but not people) will "freely" circulate, something that in theory will lead Europe out of its current funk.

The problem is that to reach this Brave New World presided by the Market Goddess, Europe will have to renounce some of its quite complex juridical, environmental, cultural and health norms.

In that Kafkaesque/Orwellian bureaucratic paradise also known as Brussels, hordes of faceless equivalents of the bowler hat men in a Magritte painting openly complain about this "adventure"; there's a growing consensus Europe has everything to lose and little to gain out of it, in contrast with the much-derided enemies of the European integration, as in the fanatics of an "pro-American" and "ultra-liberal" Europe.