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The question is: Will Sen. Udall (D-CO) step up and read the report of the Senate investigation into the record

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We have a lot of craven politicians, but I suspect no more a higher percentage than in the general population—except that craven politicians can think up more excuses for not acting. But time is running out for Sen. Udall: will he step up to the task, or turn tail and head home?

Read this for context: the argument between the White House and the Senators on whether the American public should be informed about what their government is doing. (The White House thinks not, and is doing everything in its power to hide the facts.)

Obama really is a piece of work. It’s too bad he’ll probably never realize the extent to which he has let the country down.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2014 at 6:02 pm

The GOP has at least completed its Benghazi investigation: Nothing there

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As Kevin Drum notes, the GOP Congressional committee that investigated Benghazi for two years released its report late on a Friday afternoon—the traditional time for releasing bad news—because, apparently, in their view the report was bad news: no wrong-doing of any sort; no conspiracy; no hiding of terrible secrets. I wonder if Lara Logan will note this.

Kevin Drum:

For two years, ever since Mitt Romney screwed up his response to the Benghazi attacks in order to score campaign points, Republicans have been on an endless search for a grand conspiracy theory that explains how it all happened. Intelligence was ignored because it would have been inconvenient to the White House to acknowledge it. Hillary Clinton’s State Department bungled the response to the initial protests in Cairo. Both State and CIA bungled the military response to the attacks themselves. Even so, rescue was still possible, but it was derailed by a stand down order—possibly from President Obama himself. The talking points after the attack were deliberately twisted for political reasons. Dissenters who tried to tell us what really happened were harshly punished.

Is any of this true? The House Select Intelligence Committee—controlled by Republicans—has been investigating the Benghazi attacks in minute detail for two years. Today, with the midterm elections safely past, they issued their findings. Their exoneration of the White House was sweeping and nearly absolute. So sweeping that I want to quote directly from the report’s summary, rather than paraphrasing it. Here it is:

  • The Committee first concludes that the CIA ensured sufficient security for CIA facilities in Benghazi….Appropriate U.S. personnel made reasonable tactical decisions that night, and the Committee found no evidence that there was either a stand down order or a denial of available air support….
  • Second, the Committee finds that there was no intelligence failure prior to the attacks. In the months prior, the IC provided intelligence about previous attacks and the increased threat environment in Benghazi, but the IC did not have specific, tactical warning of the September 11 attacks.
  • Third, the Committee finds that a mixed group of individuals, including those affiliated with Al Qa’ida, participated in the attacks….
  • Fourth, the Committee concludes that after the attacks, the early intelligence assessments and the Administration’s initial public narrative on the causes and motivations for the attacks were not fully accurate….There was no protest.The CIA only changed its initial assessment about a protest on September 24, 2012, when closed caption television footage became available on September 18, 2012 (two days after Ambassador Susan Rice spoke)….
  • Fifth, . . .

Continue reading.

And William Douglas of McClatchy has a report as well:

The Obama administration didn’t issue ‘stand down’ orders to security forces at the deadly 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya or knowingly give erroneous details about the incident to the public, a quietly-released report by the House Intelligence Committee concluded Friday.

The two-year investigation by the bipartisan panel shoots down a series of conspiracy theories and cover-up claims. It’s the fourth congressional committee to reach similar conclusions.

‘The report has endeavored to make the facts and conclusions within this report widely and publicly available so that the American public can separate the actual facts from the swirl of rumors and unsupported allegations,’ the report stated in its findings.

It debunks talk that the administration ordered CIA and security forces at the compound to ‘stand down’ during that attacks that led to the death of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three others. . .

Continue reading.

UPDATE: And ThinkProgress has a good report on the findings of the committee:

Two years ago, Republicans in the House of Representatives commissioned a House Intelligence Committee investigation into the 2012 attack on an American consulate in Benghazi. While failures of security were acknowledged by the administration, the investigation was one of many formed with the intent to prove some conspiracy theories about the incident, including a supposed high-ranking order for the CIA tostand down in the midst of the attack.

But the latest report, released Friday, does little to back up Republicans’ suspicion of negligence, and it finds no intelligence failure on the part of the CIA.

The investigative report is authored on the right by Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI) and the left by Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD). Rogers previewed the report during a Fox News this September when he smacked down one of the leading right-wing theories, that the State Department issued a stand-down order before the attack. “It was the commander on the ground making the decision,” Rogers explained at the time. “I think it took 23 minutes before they all, including that commander, by the way, got in a car and went over and rescued those individuals.”

The report also disproves other conspiracy theories about that tragic night, including . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 November 2014 at 10:10 am

Excellent review of Citizenfour in the NY Review of Books

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What Snowden has revealed is crucial to our understanding: he shows how the currents of the country are shaped and channeled by the underwater rocks, as it were, of the security apparatus, and reveals those forces to us. David Bromwich writes in the NY Review of Books:

Citizenfour
a film directed by Laura Poitras

At some point in the chase that led the documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras from America to Berlin and finally to the hotel room in Hong Kong where she would meet the whistle-blower who identified himself as “Citizenfour,” her unnamed informant sent this warning: “I will likely immediately be implicated. This must not deter you.”

What did he offer in return for the risk he hoped she would take? The answer was compelling. He knew things that the American public ought to know. The director of the National Security Agency, General Keith Alexander, had “lied to Congress, which I can prove.” Alexander denied under oath that the NSA had ever engaged in the mass surveillance of Americans that was then going forward under the codenames PRISMand XKeyscore. Citizenfour could also demonstrate that General James Clapper, the director of national intelligence, came no closer than General Alexander to telling the truth. When asked, under oath, by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon whether the NSAcollects data on “millions or hundreds of millions of Americans,” Clapper had answered: “Not wittingly.”

Clapper’s statement was false in every possible sense of the words “not” and “wittingly.” [And yet Obama leaves him in office, while doing everything a president can to stifle the Senate’s report on the US program of kidnapping and torture—either Obama is in the grip of the security apparatus, or he is a part of it. His constant appointment of Wall Street insiders to regulatory agencies is a clue: this is not the president we were promised. – LG] The agency was indeed collecting data, it was doing so in accordance with a plan, and the director had ordered no halt to the mass collection. The extraction of private information about Americans without our consent seems to have troubled Edward Snowden far back in his employment by the NSA. But there were other things that gave him pause: the astonishing license for ad hoc spying, for example, that was granted to those NSA data workers who had been awarded the relevant “authorities”—a bureaucratic synonym for permissions. “We could watch drone videos [of the private doings of families in Yemen, Afghanistan, and Pakistan] from desktops.” This, Snowden has said, was one of those things “that really hardened me.

Citizenfour, a documentary about the rise of mass, suspicionless surveillance and about the dissidents who have worked to expose it, naturally centers on Snowden; and most of the film concentrates on eight days in Hong Kong, during which Poitras filmed while the Guardian reporters Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill introduced themselves, conducted searching interviews and conversations with Snowden, and came to know something of his character. The focus on a single person is consistent with the design of all three of the extraordinary films in the trilogy that Poitras has devoted to the war on terror.

The first, My Country, My Country (2006), covered a short stretch in the life of an Iraqi doctor, Riyadh al-Adhadh, during the American occupation of Baghdad. In the months before the election of January 2005, al-Adhadh was beset by a family in bad straits and by patients whose physical and emotional state had suffered terribly in the war. He resolved at that exigent moment to help his country by standing as a candidate for the assembly. When his Sunni party withdrew from participation, he was left disappointed and uncertain, his commitment invalidated by the very people he hoped to serve.

The Oath (2010) offered a portrait of Abu Jandal, a taxi driver in Yemen, initially famous only by association as the brother-in-law of Osama bin Laden’s driver Salim Ahmed Hamdan. It was Hamdan who suffered five years of imprisonment in Guantánamo before being tried on charges of conspiracy and “material support” of al-Qaeda. A deeply religious man, he was cleared by a military tribunal of the charge of conspiracy and transferred to Yemen, where he secluded himself and maintained an ascetic silence. (On October 16, 2012, the D.C. Circuit Court threw out Hamdan’s conviction on the remaining count, “material support” for terrorism, on the ground that it violated the constitutional ban on ex post facto prosecutions: the acts for which he was charged and convicted were not yet crimes when he performed them.)

As if between the lines of the film, it emerges that Abu Jandal himself—charismatic, masculine, a hero to the intellectual Muslim radicals who seek him out, yet touchingly gentle in the work of raising his five-year-old son—had been closer to bin Laden than the relative who was sent to Guantánamo. And even that is not the end: the protagonist is not what he seems at second glance any more than at first. He was once a committed jihadist, yet he was also full of doubts and capable of acting on his doubts. The film leaves him, as the earlier film had left the Iraqi doctor, uncertain and in suspense.

In the same way, we are left without a finished story at the end of Citizenfour. Snowden departs Hong Kong for Moscow, under the protection of human rights lawyers, hoping to fly from there to a Latin American country that will offer him refuge (probably Ecuador). But as we now know and the film reminds us, the US State Department revoked his passport and Snowden in Moscow is still in limbo. Though the film, in a kind of denouement, shows him reunited with his American girlfriend, visited by a political ally, Glenn Greenwald, and encouraged to hear that another whistle-blower has cropped up and disclosed the exorbitant scale of the American “watch list,” it is hard to know where his story will end.

Citizenfour gives a setting for Snowden’s action through its portrait of several other vivid personalities. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

Snowden is often called a “fanatic” or a “zealot,” a “techie” or a “geek,” by persons who want to cut him down to size. Usually these people have not listened to him beyond snippets lasting a few seconds on network news. But the chance to listen has been there for many months, in two short videos by Poitras on the website of The Guardian, and more recently in a full-length interview by the NBC anchorman Brian Williams. The temper and penetration of mind that one can discern in these interviews scarcely matches the description of fanatic or zealot, techie or geek.

An incidental strength of Citizenfour is that it will make such casual slanders harder to repeat. Nevertheless, they are likely to be repeated or anyway muttered in semiprivate by otherwise judicious persons who want to go on with their business head-down and not be bothered. It must be added that our past politics give no help in arriving at an apt description of Snowden and his action. The reason is that the world in which he worked is new. Perhaps one should think of him as a conscientious objector to the war on privacy—a respectful dissident who, having observed the repressive treatment endured by William Binney, Thomas Drake, and other recent whistle-blowers, does not recognize the constitutional right of the government to put him in prison indefinitely and bring him to trial for treason. His action constitutes a reproach to the many good citizens who have learned what is happening and done nothing about it. That, too, is surely a cause of the resentment that has a hard time finding the appropriate adjectives for Snowden.

“The right of privacy,” wrote the great scholar of constitutional law Herbert Packer inThe Limits of the Criminal Sanction (1968),

as implied by the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, cannot be forced to give way to the asserted exigencies of law enforcement. The use of electronic surveillance constitutes just the kind of indiscriminate general search that helped to bring on the American Revolution and that the framers of the Constitution were alert to guard against. In the name of necessity this grant of power would permit an unscrupulous policeman or prosecutor to pry into the private lives of people almost at will. Knowledge that this was so would certainly inhibit the free expression of thoughts and feelings that makes life in our society worth living.

Packer’s understanding of the internalized character of free expression is close to Snowden’s language about the freedom of the Internet before it was watched. But as the film illustrates in detail, Snowden does not in fact oppose police work or the arrest of people dangerous to the country. The trouble, he says, is that the NSA has overseen the almost immeasurable expansion of “a system whose reach is unlimited but whose safeguards are not.” At the same time, Snowden goes further than many who call themselves libertarians. He believes that the American government has no more right to spy on private individuals in other countries than it does to spy on citizens of the United States.

Later still:

In watching her films, one is always aware of the impact of the large institution on the person, but the person stands at the center of the portrayal. And in her trilogy about the war on terror, that institution is the state, the state, and the state: American power, with its long reach, its credulous belief in its own good intentions, its quenchless thirst for control, its devotion to expertise and system, and its heavy consequent burden of incompetence.

Definitely read this review. Its concluding paragraph:

The strangest revelation of Citizenfour may therefore be this: Snowden, in his hotel room with his journalistic confidants Greenwald and Poitras and MacAskill, affords a picture of a free man. It shows in his posture, and in a sense of humor touched by self-irony. He is not haunted by any fretful concern with what comes next. He is sure he has done something he chose, and sure that someone had to do it. He acted in obedience to a principle; and it was right that the actor should disappear in the action. Citizenfour, by simply using the real-life actor as a way to consider the nature of freedom, honors the premise that moved Snowden to take his unique and drastic step. “The final value of action,” wrote Emerson, “is, that it is a resource.” It is up to other Americans now, the uncertain end of Citizenfour says, to rouse ourselves and find the value of Snowden’s action as a resource.

Written by LeisureGuy

21 November 2014 at 4:35 pm

The media in the US is moving toward the position Pravda had in the Soviet Union: A partisan mouthpiece

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Note that I say “partisan” rather than “government.” Some of the media do speak for the government (whoever’s in power), but other media speak for a particular party (Fox News, for example). True journalism, driven by facts, is becoming uncommon, partly because the primary mission is no longer reporting the truth (comforting the afflicted, afflicting the comfortable), but turning a profit. Once the focus moves to money, less attention is paid to what was once the main purpose. The previous post is one good example of how frequently reporting just follows the government line, and Democracy Now! has another under the title “Antiwar Voices Absent from Corporate TV News Ahead of U.S. Attacks on Iraq & Syria.” Their blurb:

A new analysis of corporate TV news has found there was almost no debate about whether the United States should go to war in Iraq and Syria. The group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that of the more than 200 guests who appeared on network shows to discuss the issue, just six voiced opposition to military action. The report, titled “Debating How — Not Whether — to Launch a New War,” examines a two-week period in September when U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria dominated the airwaves. The report also finds that on the high-profile Sunday talk shows, out of 89 guests, there was just one antiwar voice — Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor of The Nation. We speak to Peter Hart, activism director at FAIR.

Video and transcript at the link.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 12:09 pm

Most media still equate “killed by a drone strike” and “militant,” even when victims are unknown

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The government exercises considerable control over the media, even beyond the sort of direct intervention that kept the NY Times from publishing what they had learned about a massive and highly illegal warrantless wiretapping program inaugurated by the Bush Administration (and, of course, expanded by the Obama Administration). The Obama Administration stated point blank that anyone killed by a drone strike would be considered a “militant” unless and until proved otherwise. Since the strikes are often in remote and hostile areas, such proof is generally unavailable—but our lapdog media follows along, doing whatever is asked.

Glenn Greenwald reports on the practice in The Intercept:

It has been more than two years since The New York Times revealed that “Mr. Obama embraced a disputed method for counting civilian casualties” of his drone strikes which “in effect counts all military-age males in a strike zone as combatants . . . . unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” The paper noted that “this counting method may partly explain the official claims of extraordinarily low collateral deaths,” and even quoted CIA officials as deeply “troubled” by this decision: “One called it ‘guilt by association’ that has led to ‘deceptive’ estimates of civilian casualties. ‘It bothers me when they say there were seven guys, so they must all be militants. They count the corpses and they’re not really sure who they are.’”

But what bothered even some intelligence officials with the agency carrying out the strikes seemed of no concern whatsoever to most major media outlets. As I documented days after the Times article, most large western media outlets continued to describe completely unknown victims of U.S. drone attacks as “militants” – even though they (a) had no idea who those victims were or what they had done and (b) were well-aware by that point that the term had been “re-defined” by the Obama administration intoAlice in Wonderland-level nonsense.

Like the U.S. drone program itself, this deceitful media practice continues unabated. “Drone strike kills at least four suspected militants in northwest Pakistan,” a Reuters headline asserted last week. The headline chosen by ABC News, publishing an AP report, was even more definitive: “US Drone in Northwest Pakistan Kills 6 Militants.” In July, The Wall Street Journal‘sheadline claimed: “U.S. Drone Strike Kills Five Militants in Pakistan’s North Waziristan.” Sometimes they will turn over their headlines to “officials,” asthis AP report from July did: “Officials: US drone kills 7 militants in Pakistan.”

Since its 2012 report, the Times itself has tended to avoid the “militant” language in its headlines, but often lends credence to dubious official claims, as when it said this about a horrific U.S. drone strike last December on a Yemeni wedding party, killing the bride: “Most of the dead appeared to be people suspected of being militants linked to Al Qaeda, according to tribal leaders in the area, but there were also reports that several civilians had been killed.” Other U.S. media accounts of that strike were just as bad, if not worse. The controversies over the definition of “militant” are almost never mentioned in any of these reports.

A new article in The New Yorker by Steve Coll underscores how deceptive this journalistic practice is. Among other things, he notes that

the U.S. government itself – let alone the media outlets calling them “militants” – often has no idea who the people are who are killed by drone strikes in Pakistan. That’s because, in 2008, George Bush and his CIA chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, implemented “signature strikes,” whereby “the new rules allowed drone operators to fire at armed military-aged males engaged in or associated with suspicious activity even if their identities were unknown.” The Intercept previously reported that targeting decisions can even be made by nothing more than metadata analysis and SIM card use.

The journalist Daniel Klaidman has noted that within the CIA, they “sometimes call it crowd killing. . . .  If you don’t have positive ID on the people you’re targeting with these drone strikes.” The tactic of drone-killing first responders and rescuers who come to the scene of drone attacks or even mourners at funerals of drone victims – used by the Obama administration and designated “terror groups” alike - are classic examples. Nobody has any real idea who the dead are, but they are nonetheless routinely called “militants” by the American government and media. As international law professor Kevin Jon Heller documented in 2012, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 11:33 am

John Hodgman: ‘The government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates’

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Exactly: the same sort of investment in infrastructure that benefits the common welfare. Eisenhower (a Republican) pushed the Interstate highway system—well supported by the automotive and trucking industries, to be sure—and I would say it has paid off: Interstate highways show the value of a socialized approach in certain areas.

The same clearly goes for (true) broadband networks, which our telecoms don’t want to spend money on—though they will go to considerable lengths to stop municipalities from offering broadband services to their communities. I.e., the telecoms don’t want to do it, but they don’t want anyone else to do it, either.

Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

Long before John Oliver called for an end to “cable company f**kery,” another comedian also named John was beating the net neutrality drum. As far back as 2006, author and actor John Hodgman was using postal envelopes to explain how Internet service providers might let content from Google and Amazon through to consumers very easily while discriminating against content from other companies.

Now Hodgman is back at it. In an essay on Tumblr posted Monday night, Hodgman takes aim at large telecom companies who can “control what is increasingly a mandatory purchase” for many Americans: access to high-speed broadband that connects them to information, entertainment and economic opportunity.

Hodgman has some personal stake in the issue as a performer. Arguing that the Internet helps promote artists and small businesses that drive the U.S. economy, Hodgman added that many of the country’s dominant telecom providers would not be in their successful position today had they not benefited from public resources such as land and wireless airwaves.

The issue has clearly been on Hodgman’s mind for some time. At the end of a lengthy response to a separate BuzzFeed article, Hodgman told his readers he’d be holding an impromptu Q&A session on Tumblr for an hour to discuss Obamacare, net neutrality as well as any other issue his followers thought important. Amid queries on his favorite vegetable (brussels sprouts) and whether to see the movie “Interstellar,” (…yes?) Hodgman saved his longest response for last.

“I believe in capitalism but not monopolies,” Hodgman wrote. “I believe in entrepreneurship and I am not against government efforts to foster it. I believe more communities should invest in their own broadband to break regional telecom monopolies. Personally I believe that the federal government should be laying down broadband like Eisenhower laid down interstates. And I believe preferential fast-laning for big companies will decrease competition and quality and ultimately hamper what is poised to be the most important area of economic, cultural, and technological innovation of our time.”

This isn’t far off from . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 11:23 am

The DoJ and Congress are begging each other to reform marijuana laws. So why hasn’t either budged?

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Good question. Eric Holder, as Attorney General, could move marijuana out of the Schedule I category (more dangerous than cocaine!!) today, but he doesn’t. Why not? Or, perhaps more important, why does Holder give a pass to the banks that break the law? He knows that JP Morgan committed fraud, but he lets them off the hook with a fine (a large portion of which will be paid by taxpayers and victims) and keeps secret the damning evidence that JP Morgan knew quite well that it was committing fraud and in fact had been informed of that by one of its own lawyers/analysts (who was quickly fired).

That actually provides a clue: Eric Holder really doesn’t seem to care much about the law, but he’s very concerned about getting a cushy job when he leaves the government, so he doesn’t want to annoy the fat cats. But regular people? He doesn’t care.

Christopher Ingraham asks the question of the title in the Washington Post:

The crowning inconsistency of the federal drug control system has always been the classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance under federal law, which makes it among the Worst of the Worst drugs as far as the DEA is concerned — literally as bad as heroin, and worse than cocaine! Drug reform advocates have pushed the DEA to change its position for years, citing decades of research on the relative harmlessness of weed compared to other drugs — including alcohol — but the agency hasn’t budged, even as public opinion has rapidly evolved.

The Controlled Substances Act, which set up the drug schedules in the early 1970s, explicitly places drug scheduling authority in the hands of the attorney general, and even instructs him or her to “remove any drug or other substance from the schedules if he finds that the drug or other substance does not meet the requirements for inclusion in any schedule.”

Much to the chagrin and outright befuddlement of drug law reformers, however, outgoing attorney general Eric Holder has repeatedly stated that any changes to the scheduling status of marijuana should be made by Congress.

In an interview with the just-launched Marshall Project, a non-profit news outfit covering criminal justice issues, he said, “I think the question of how these drugs get scheduled and how they are ultimately treated is something for Congress to work on.” This echoes remarks he made in a September interview with Katie Couric, when he said that federal marijuana decriminalization was something for Congress to decide.

As Firedoglake’s Jon Walker noted yesterday, it’s strange that Holder is trying to punt this issue to Congress while the Obama administration is testing the limits of executive authority elsewhere: “It is just mind boggling that while the Obama administration is looking at ways to stretch their legal authority to use executive actions to get around Congress on issues, like the environment and immigration, they would still refuse to move forward on the one issue where they are so explicitly given the power to act under current law,” Walker writes.

The DEA had no problem acting unilaterally to move hydrocodone products up from Schedule III to Schedule II earlier this year. It alsoadded the previously-unscheduled synthetic opiate tramadol to the drug schedule. So Holder’s conspicuous deference to Congress on marijuana is puzzling. . .

Continue reading.

It’s hard to develop much respect for Eric Holder.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 November 2014 at 10:48 am

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