• Excerpt from Ghosts of Tom Joad

    November 28, 2014 // 1 Comment

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    Posted in: Economy

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    My current book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percentis a complex novel telling the story of America from the end of World War II through the present day.

    You’ll travel through the economic boom years and the rise of a robust middle class, fueled by union wages and industrialization, peaking in the mid-1970s. The decline of all those factors is the second half of the book, the story of how we became a nation defined by the working poor, the 99 percent.

    Here’s what one reviewer said:

    I wasn’t ready for this one. I guess I was expecting something a little more MSNBC. You know, the kind of book that contains nothing but glowing praise for the Occupy movement and endless tirades about how shopping at Wal-Mart makes you an evil person. The kind of book that you can almost tell was written on an iMac computer over three weeks in a Starbucks café by a dude wearing those thick hipster glasses.

    Man, I wasn’t even close. “Ghosts of Tom Joad” is a heartbreaking tale of one man against the world, or rather the world against one man. I don’t think you can call it an epic since it takes place almost entirely within a small town in rust-belt Ohio, but it’s definitely raw, gritty, and painful. The narrator pulls no punches when it comes to describing his downward spiral into underemployment and homelessness, and the novel that results is heartbreakingly authentic.

    The beginning of the book shows a simpler time for the main character, Earl. His boyhood is not idyllic, however, and the scene excerpted below foreshadows the problems he will experience in the New Economy.

    Excerpt from Ghosts of Tom Joad

    Jeff’s old man kept a small boat. It had seen better days, floating as much out of stubbornness any more than anything else. Seats two safely. Rides low in the water. We’d take it out on the river from time to time, drinking beer when we could, horsing around.

    It was a heavy, humid Ohio night, still then soft around us. Car sounds far off. The current was light and the river half dry in summer, so we figured loading the four of us into a boat made for two wouldn’t be a problem. Then we met Pam, this girl Tim sort of liked and Tim made us take her along. Tim had it on good authority she had lost her virginity already and was willing to lose it some more. She had a Farrah ’do, as this was the late 1970s.

    We got the boat into the water and climbed in well enough. Pam devoted herself to worrying about five people in a boat that might safely hold two. Pam was right, like girls then usually were about those kind of things. The boat drifted along with the current, ending up in the center of the river two beers later. We could see a few lights reflecting off the water, pretty, and I guess that’s what inspired Tim to try and put his arm around Pam, who was less inspired by the romantic scene and shrugged him off a bit too hard. The boat rocked and water came over the shallow sides. I was laughing, and so was Jeff, when the whole thing flipped over, dumping the five of us into the river. I couldn’t touch the bottom, but it was easy enough to doggy paddle over to the far bank. I looked over, laughing, at Tim, Rich and a really unhappy Pam. Her Farrah ’do was ruined. The boat was gone.

    So was Jeff.

    Tim and Pam went off looking for him down the river bank, thinking maybe he swam off that way. Rich heard him first – Jeff, in the water, shouting for us. I figured he was kidding around like always, pretending to drown in eight feet of warm water, when I saw Rich dive back in. I went right after him, and we reached Jeff in a few wet splashes. Rich grabbed him first, and we pulled him over to the bank. He was crying, snot all down his face, white as Wonder Bread. He had been wearing his heavy work boots, lace-ups, and they’d filled with water, pulling him under. Jeff was a strong kid back then, and was able to claw his way up to the surface and shout, but if Rich had not gone in after him, he’d have drowned that night while we watched.

    It was either Jeff’s earlier laughing or Jeff’s recent shouting that brought out the cops. One fat one came up to me and said, “Son, how many kids were in that boat?” And I said, truthfully, “Sir, there were five of us.” Me, Jeff and Rich were right there. Tim and Pam hadn’t come back, likely seeing the cop car lights and running. Five of us, just like I said.

    “Don’t worry son, we’ll find your friends.” The cop put me in the back of his car with a blanket, right before that fire truck came and all those men waded into the shallow part of the river. Flashlights were swinging criss-cross over the water and the men would yell for a bit, then tell each other to “Be quiet and just listen for a minute dammit, there’s two kids out there somewhere. We ain’t gonna let them die for no reason –”

    I figured out the reason. When the now tomato-faced fat cop came over to see how I was doing, I told him that Tim and Pam probably weren’t coming back. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Not if I can help it, son.” I told him Tim and Pam weren’t in the river. Nobody drowned. Nobody was missing. Tim and Pam had just run away. When he asked me how many in the boat a first, I didn’t want to lie and so I said, “Five officer, honest.”

    We heard Tim never got to make out with Pam that night, but he walked her home and she said maybe she’d think about it. It was the first time I realized you could die without getting old first, and that stuck with me.


    You can buy Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent from Amazon now, in hardcover, paperback and Kindle formats.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Walmart Again Holds Food Drive for Own Underpaid Workers

    November 26, 2014 // 3 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy, Minimum Wage

    walmart-food


    Happy Thanksgiving!

    Walmart, who pays its workers so little and/or gives them so few hours, that they cannot feed themselves while the Walton family rakes in billions, does have its sense of humor. Either that or they could just care so little about what anyone thinks that they are just like, whatever, what are you going to do about it anyway except buy more junk you don’t need from us on Black Friday?


    As it did to national scorn last Thanksgiving, Walmart raised a smiley-faced middle finger to its own “associates” by asking some of them to dig deep into their low-wage pockets to give to each other. An Oklahoma City Walmart is asking employees to donate food to help their coworkers make ends meet during the holiday season, according to a photo posted by the labor-backed coalition Making Change At Walmart. A sign on the collection bin reads, “Let’s succeed by donating to associates in need!!!” In 2013, the same thing happened at a Walmart store in Canton, Ohio.

    Technically,the food drives are not Walmart corporate policy, so hey, all is forgiven, amiright? Though hey, a Walmart spokesperson did characterize the Ohio effort as “part of the company’s culture to rally around associates and take care of them when they face extreme hardships.” And Walmart checked, ’cause it cares you know, and the Oklahoma food drive is just for two associates who don’t have health insurance because Walmart doesn’t provide any to its hourly workers, so it is not like the whole freaking store is starving or anything. You can have it both ways apparently at Walmart.


    And who wants to subsidize freeloaders with our hard-earned tax dollars anyway? Oh, wait. Actually Walmart hauls in a monster truck load of public assistance for itself. Those low, low daily wages are subsidized by your taxes. The company’s low wages leave huge numbers of its employees on public assistance programs such as food stamps and Medicaid. By one estimate, a single Walmart superstore requires up to $1.7 million in public assistance spending every year. The company eats up a total public assistance cost of $6.2 billion per year. That’s how Walmart can “afford” to pay its associates so little and yet they don’t pass out from hunger in the aisles during your Black Friday orgy of consumerism. Neat!


    But Walmart loves its food stamps as more than just fodder to feed the work animals. Walmart loves selling to stuff to the food stamp people of America. A lot of stuff.

    How much profit does Walmart make from public assistance? In one year, nine Walmart Supercenters in Massachusetts received more than $33 million in SNAP dollars. In two years, Walmart received about half of the one billion dollars in SNAP expenditures in Oklahoma. Overall, 18 percent of all food benefits money is spent at Walmart. That’s about $14 billion.


    But maybe all is not lost. Protesters left a huge food bin outside of Walmart heiress Alice Walton’s $25 million Manhattan condo. Alice has a net worth of $35 billion dollars. Alice made $100 million this past year, so at least she is doing OK this Thanksgiving.




    It can’t get any plainer than this friends: Walmart’s owners make profits on an amazing scale by giving workers as little as possible while scooping up as much government money as possible.

    Do your soul a favor and stay out of Walmart this holiday season.



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  • Questions from Ferguson

    November 25, 2014 // 7 Comments

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    Posted in: Democracy, Police State

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    I woke up this morning with the worst kind of hangover: anger, confusion, wondering what happened last night. Without a drop of alcohol to explain how I felt. So here are some of the questions I have about Michael Brown, Darren Wilson and Ferguson.


    Why was the Announcement Made as it Was?

    The grand jury made its decision no later than early afternoon on Monday. Why was the announcement held until 9pm EST? That put the announcement at the end of hours of tension allowed to build, after dark, and suspiciously smack in TV prime time. There was nothing more to “get ready” on the streets except to allow crowds to gather and frustration to ramp up. Why not make the announcement as soon as a decision was rendered? Why not hold it until say 7am Tuesday morning when people were asleep and not yet gathered? In daytime? Wouldn’t those actions have reduced somewhat the potential for violence?


    Why was the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, Seemingly Smirking?

    Why was the prosecutor, Robert McCulloch, whose very title implies his task before a grand jury, seemingly so pleased with the result? Throughout his press conference, he went out of his way to chastise the media and mock discrepancies among the witnesses to Brown’s shooting. This was unprofessional at the very minimum, and did nothing to calm tensions or create the impression of a fair process.

    Every attorney knows that in any situation witnesses will disagree with one another. The shooting occurred within seconds, and each witness saw it from a different location, so of course statements will vary. And indeed it is possible in any criminal situation that some witnesses may lie. McCulloch essentially treated this as some sort of unique facet of the Brown case. He kept referring to the significant gaps between the physical evidence and witness statements, yet the key thing, what initially happened between Michael Brown and Darren Wilson at the window of the police car, was by its nature not able to be supported or refuted by any physical evidence (What was said? Who acted first? At what point did Wilson shoot?)


    Why was the Physical Evidence of Wilson’s Injury Not Seen as More Significant?

    A key element of showing Darren Wilson was justified in his use of deadly force was the claim that Michael Brown punched/attacked him in his police cruiser, causing Wilson to fear for his life and fire his weapon. The law governing this states “An officer may use lethal force only when the officer reasonably believes that the action is in defense of human life, including the officer’s own life.” To a casual observer, the injuries Wilson sustained, which appear to be minor bruises, do not support the criteria necessary to have fired the first shots or Wilson’s statements that his life was in danger. It was the action at the door of the police car precipitated everything that followed.

    Wilson’s injuries were testified to on page 25 of the transcript. The questions appear only to describe for the record what was evident in the hospital photos, nothing more.


    Given McCulloch’s Personal History, Which Creates the Appearance of Bias, Why did He Handle the Case?

    Everyone knew the Brown killing was among the most controversial and sensitive cases Missouri had seen for a long time. Given the racial tensions and violence that both happened and were worried to happen, avoiding even the appearance of bias seemed a key element in helping tamp down concerns that the issue was treated unjustly. So why was McCulloch allowed to shepherd the case?

    McCulloch has a tragic, close, familial connection to violence. In 1964 his father, a police officer, was shot and killed by an African-American man in a public housing complex. In 2000 McCulloch controversially declined to bring charges against two detectives accused of excessive force in the killing of two unarmed black men, who died after 20 shots were fired into their car by police.

    McCulloch made questionable statements in August as protests unfolded in Ferguson. He criticized Missouri Governor Nixon for replacing St. Louis County police control of the Ferguson protests with officers and leadership from the Missouri State Highway Patrol. “It’s shameful what he did today, he had no legal authority to do that,” McCulloch said at the time. “To denigrate the men and women of the county police department is shameful.” He also praised police: “The abuse that they took on that line was incredible,” he said, in reference to the SWAT and riot teams on call in Ferguson in the early days of the protests. “The use of force, while they were doing it under the circumstances, I don’t think was excessive,” he said.

    A formal accusation of bias towards the police on the part of McCulloch is impossible to demonstrate. The appearance of bias is impossible to ignore. Given the controversy and sensitivity of the Brown killing, was there not anyone else in the state of Missouri who could have prosecuted the case? Why didn’t the governor appoint a special prosecutor as he was able to do?


    Why Did the Grand Jury Take it Upon Themselves to Sort Out the Witnesses Conclusively?

    The point of a grand jury is only to determine if probable cause of a crime, a very low legal hurdle, exists. If it does, they return an indictment and the case goes to trial for resolution. There, in open court with all sides publicly testifying, a jury selected for the specific case goes through all the evidence, and decides which witnesses to believe and which to discard. Cross-examination occurs, particularly of critical witnesses such as Darren Wilson.

    The most significant elements of the case could only be accounted for by Wilson, or Brown. One is dead, and one is fighting for his life. The latter point is often a critical one in a criminal trial and a defendant’s statements exonerating themselves are often looked at very closely. One of the key points of even having a trial is for the trial jury to sort out conflicting evidence; absent a confession, every criminal case has some sort of conflicting evidence.

    It appears that the grand jury took it upon itself not just to decide if probable cause existed, but to try Darren Wilson in secret, without the checks and balances of an open trial.


    What was Said by Prosecutors in Front of the Grand Jury?

    Did prosecutors actually ask for the grand jury to indict? If they did not believe the evidence supported an indictment, why did they take the case to the grand jury instead of dismissing the charges themselves as if normal procedure? It is clear that prosecutors went to great efforts to challenge the credibility of outside witnesses, going as far as labeling some as making up their stories to match publicly-available details.

    Were the same standards applied to the ultimate witness, Darren Wilson? Were his conclusive statements, which some could consider to be self-serving, aggressively challenged? If they were, exposing that would help to calm tensions.

    Wilson’s grand jury testimony is here; it does not appear to contain challenging questioning, but have a look yourself.

    The key element in determining whether Wilson was justified in shooting was the the question of whether Wilson thought his own life was in mortal danger. Wilson made the following statements to the grand jury; were they seen by the jury as unbiased or self-serving, or simply truthful?

    Brown had the “crazy” look of a “demon… It looked like he was almost bulking up to run through the shots, like it was making him mad that I’m shooting at him,” Wilson told the grand jury

    Wilson described Brown as “very aggressive” and was convinced the teen was “gonna kill me.” “It was just like intense,” the officer said. “I’ve never seen anybody look that, for lack of a better word, crazy.”

    Wilson also stated: “He turned, looked at me, made like a grunting noise and had the most intense aggressive face I’ve ever seen on a person.”

    Wilson was a veteran cop. Did anyone challenge his assertion, after years on the streets, that 18-year-old Michael Brown did indeed display the “most intense aggressive face I’ve ever seen on a person.”

    By the way, Brown, according to Wilson on page 225 of the transcript, only made that aggressive face after Wilson shot him the first time.


    So is This Over?

    This one we pretty much know the answer to. With the grand jury’s decision, Darren Wilson will not be criminally charged for killing Michael Brown by the state of Missouri.

    The Federal Department of Justice can charge Wilson with violating Brown’s civil rights, under the Fifth Amendment of the Bill of Rights, for “depriving him of his life.” Civil rights investigations can drag on for years. The Justice Department’s civil rights investigation into George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot unarmed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, is still active after two years with no results expected, well, for a long time.



    More to Come

    I am not a lawyer, and in the short time since the grand jury’s announcement have obviously not yet waded through all 70 hours of testimony and thousands of pages of written documentation, so it is possible that answers to some of these questions may already exist. I hope so, but I worry they don’t.

    What happened in Ferguson matters to us all as Americans. Are we doomed to remain a nation hopelessly, violently adrift in a swamp of racism? Do we have a justice system that is indeed just? Can everyone expect to receive fair treatment in our system, from the moment police confront an alleged criminal to the moment some sort of final decision is reached? Do our police forces exist to “protect and serve,” or does that only apply to some groups of Americans, while for others the police are deadly enemies?

    Without any disrespect, Michael Browns’ come and go. There have been young black men killed under dubious circumstances by the police before Brown, and God help us, there will be more killed under dubious circumstances by the police after Brown.

    Until the real questions of Ferguson are answered, we will do this over and over and over again.



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  • Indict? Just Try It Amerika

    November 25, 2014 // 1 Comment

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    Posted in: Police State

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  • Next Steps in the Naples Saga?

    November 24, 2014 // 4 Comments

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    Posted in: Embassy/State




    The American Consulate in Naples, Italy, has been the scene of much alleged nooky, naughtiness and nasty bureaucracy.

    Following allegations that then-Consul General Donald Moore (pictured) had a sexual relationship with a subordinate at the U.S. Consulate in Naples, Italy on taxpayer time, in his office, submitted false expense claims, served out-of-date food to official guests and saw long-time employees fired in what some claim are retaliatory acts when they tried to expose his shenanigans, the State Department followed its standard procedure of promising to investigate, not investigating, firing or transferring all involved and then hoping it would all go away.

    The New York Post dubbed the whole thing as the “Neapolitan Nookie Campaign.” Il Mattino (a Naples newspaper) has a headline “Bunga-Bunga Consulato Americano.” Bunga-Bunga is apparently an Italian term for the horizontal mambo. One Italian paper, Corriere Del Mezzogiorno, ran with the headline “Sexygate al Consolato USA.” The influential Times of London headlined “Prostitution ‘rampant’ at US Consulate in Naples.” The FBI even appears to have been involved.

    The campaign moves to its next step, but one that might see State Department bureaucracy triumph over all else.


    Quick Recap

    One of Donald Moore’s employees filed a lawsuit against Secretary of State John Kerry (Case 2:14-cv-00194-ADS-AKT). The plaintiff, Kerry Howard, tried to get someone at the U.S. Consulate in Naples to care about what was going on around her, or at the State Department in Washington. She got fired. Her lawsuit alleges that her alleged civil rights were violated by Moore’s alleged sexual harassment, his alleged bullying of staff and overall alleged slime-coated daily antics. Allegedly.


    The End?

    Attorney Lawrence Kelly, who represents Ms. Howard in her lawsuit against the Department of State, sends this update:

    The Assistant United States Attorney (AUSA) at the Department of Justice (DOJ) in Washington, DC made a motion to dismiss “for failure timely to contact an EEO Counselor.” As opposed to New York (300 days) or civilian EEOC [Equal Employment Opportunity Complaint] (180 days), the State Department claims a 45 day notice period in order to “investigate” effectively.

    I sent copies of emails to the AUSA indicating a six month effort by Kerry Howard to have an EEO counselor designated. These emails covered the period of time the AUSA and State were describing as the time lapse which barred her claim.

    I received an email response from the AUSA and a “cc” to his State Department point of contact indicating he did not know about this email stream, but “we” (State and the Department of Justice) feel we are still correct.

    I sent a supplemental note to the AUSA indicating he is the attorney on the file, it is his motion to dismiss, and his application arguing the lack of EEO contact is now, officially, frivolous, and should be withdrawn.

    Attorney Kelly goes on to say:

    Every employee at the Department of State should be aware that they should file their EEO complaint within 45 days of an incident separate and apart from any grievance they file. No if, ands or buts. The Department of Justice argues in their brief in the Howard case that the Department of State Foreign Affairs Manual demand that employees discuss the matter before filing a formal complaint is irrelevant to the 45 day filing requirement. State employees should know that at the end of day, no one at State is there for them. “Defendant’s grievance procedures are separate and distinct from the EEO process, as stated in Defendant’s Foreign Affairs Manual (“FAM”)… Compare 3 FAM 4400… with 3 FAM 1500″ states the AUSA brief in Howard v Kerry.

    I have uncovered Ms. Howard’s multiple attempts to have an EEO counselor appointed in a timely manner. All of these emails were suppressed by the Department of State throughout the process. Even now, when I have disclosed them to DOJ and to State, they have not discontinued the motion to dismiss based on the disinformation provided the federal court by DOJ and State.



    Comment

    The Department of Justice, supposedly representing the People and using taxpayer funds to do so, is seeking to use one of the State Department’s internal regulations, not a law or legal precedent, to block any further action on what appears to be serious allegations against an American diplomat and the Department of State itself. If DOJ is successful in getting the case dismissed, that will close off any further attempt to learn what really happened at the American Consulate in Naples.

    Also under question is the State Department’s core interest. Aware of both Ms. Howard’s and others allegations against Donald Moore in Naples, it is unclear that State proactively advised her of the 45 day deadline, itself arbitrary and at variance with other organizations’ deadlines. If State did not advise Ms. Howard, and instead quietly allowed the deadline to pass, that may suggest its interest was never with its own employee, or with investigating fully what happened. Its interest was in covering things up.


    Attorney Kelly opines: You understand the institutions are corrupt. But you start with hope for the individual.



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  • Ferguson Tourist Board Admits Bad Timing (Satire)

    November 22, 2014 // 19 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State

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    “Yep, we blew it,” said a sheepish spokesperson for the Ferguson, Missouri tourist promotion board. “We really, really picked a bad week to go all in on our ‘urban young people’ tourism promotion campaign– Ferguson, It’ll Be Cray-Cray Ya’ll!

    With a grand jury decision on the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson expected Sunday, and with many predicting violence to follow that decision in the racially divided city, the tourism board admitted they had egg on their faces.

    “At first we were kind of excited. The hashtag we had been promoting, #Ferguson, really blew up on Twitter, and we were hearing that media from all over the world were block-booking hotel rooms. We mistakenly took all that as signs that our social media campaign had really caught on, until we read about the whole grand jury thing and Michael Brown. I guess we should get a news app on our phones or something. Really, we checked Instagram three or four times and there was nothing. Awkward!”

    In its own defense, the tourism board did emphasize that the campaign had been in the works for months, and that many of the contracts for advertising, billboards and fake friends on social media had to be lined up quite a while ago. “And besides,” said one anonymous staffer, “nobody at city hall returned a phone call or responded to even one of our emails for like, four months, so we just said to ourselves, better ‘go for it!'”

    “And yes, we have already heard that saying we were specifically ‘targeting’ the African-American community with our promotional campaign is really awkward in so many ways. It’s just that our market research showed that so few African-Americans wanted to come to Ferguson for some reason that we figured they were an underserved demographic for us. Then we heard from two different restaurants in town that they actually don’t serve African-Americans, which we obviously misunderstood the meaning of. And who doesn’t make mistakes? That’s why pencils come with erasers. We feel really bad.”

    “But the saddest part of all is that so many people are going to miss some of the great attractions we have here in Ferguson. We have a movie theatre, which we now hope will not be burned down, and the Rite Aid is still open despite the plywood they now have up. For military buffs, the National Guard is going to hold some sort of parade soon. And we heard the state is considering legalized casino gambling, so keep us on your vacation radar.”

    “But maybe wait a week or so.”



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  • U.S. Garrisoning Chad

    November 21, 2014 // 2 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Military

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    Here’s a guest post from Nick Turse, first published on TomDispatch. All opinions are those of the author, though he is damn spot on with this update on America’s continuing efforts to militarize Africa.

    Admit it. You don’t know where Chad is. You know it’s in Africa, of course. But beyond that? Maybe with a map of the continent and by some process of elimination you could come close. But you’d probably pick Sudan or maybe the Central African Republic. Here’s a tip. In the future, choose that vast, arid swath of land just below Libya.

    Who does know where Chad is? That answer is simpler: the U.S. military. Recent contracting documents indicate that it’s building something there. Not a huge facility, not a mini-American town, but a small camp.

    That the U.S. military is expanding its efforts in Africa shouldn’t be a shock anymore. For years now, the Pentagon has been increasing its missions there and promoting a mini-basing boom that has left it with a growing collection of outposts sprouting across the northern tier of the continent. This string of camps is meant to do what more than a decade of counterterrorism efforts, including the training and equipping of local military forces and a variety of humanitarian hearts-and-minds missions, has failed to accomplish: transform the Trans-Sahara region in the northern and western parts of the continent into a bulwark of stability.

    That the U.S. is doing more in Chad specifically isn’t particularly astonishing either. Earlier this year, TomDispatch and the Washington Post both reported on separate recent deployments of U.S. troops to that north-central African nation. Nor is it shocking that the new American compound is to be located near the capital, N’Djamena. The U.S. has previously employed N’Djamena as a hub for its air operations. What’s striking is the terminology used in the official documents. After years of adamant claims that the U.S. military has just one lonely base in all of Africa — Camp Lemonnier in the tiny Horn of Africa nation of Djibouti — Army documents state that it will now have “base camp facilities” in Chad.

    U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) still insists that there is no Chadian base, that the camp serves only as temporary lodgings to support a Special Operations training exercise to be held next year. It also refused to comment about another troop deployment to Chad uncovered by TomDispatch. When it comes to American military activities in Africa, much remains murky.

    Nonetheless, one fact is crystal clear: the U.S. is ever more tied to Chad. This remains true despite a decade-long effort to train its military forces only to see them bolt from one mission in the face of casualties, leave another in a huff after gunning down unarmed civilians, and engage in human rights abuses at home with utter impunity. All of this suggests yet another potential source of blowback from America’s efforts in Africa which have backfired, gone bust, and sown strife from Libya to South Sudan, the Gulf Guinea to Mali, and beyond.


    A Checkered History with Chad

    Following 9/11, the U.S. launched a counterterrorism program, known as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, to bolster the militaries of Mali, Niger, Mauritania, and Chad. Three years later, in 2005, the program expanded to include Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia and was renamed the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP). The idea was to turn a huge swath of Africa into a terror-resistant bulwark of stability. Twelve years and hundreds of millions of dollars later, the region is anything but stable, which means that it fits perfectly, like a missing puzzle piece, with the rest of the under-the-radar U.S. “pivot” to that continent.

    Coups by the U.S.-backed militaries of Mauritania in 2005 and again in 2008, Niger in 2010, and Mali in 2012, as well as a 2011 revolution that overthrew Tunisia’s U.S.-backed government (after the U.S.-supported army stood aside); the establishment of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb in 2006; and the rise of Boko Haram from an obscure radical sect to a raging insurgent movement in northern Nigeria are only some of the most notable recent failures in TSCTP nations. Chad came close to making the list, too, but attempted military coups in 2006 and 2013 were thwarted, and in 2008, the government, which had itself come to power in a 1990 coup, managed to hold off against a rebel assault on the capital.

    Through it all, the U.S. has continued to mentor Chad’s military, and in return, that nation has lent its muscle to support Washington’s interests in the region. Chad, for instance, joined the 2013 U.S.-backed French military intervention to retake Mali after Islamists began routing the forces of the American-trained officer who had launched a coup that overthrew that country’s democratically elected government. According to military briefing slides obtained by TomDispatch, an Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) liaison team was deployed to Chad to aid operations in Mali and the U.S. also conducted pre-deployment training for its Chadian proxies. After initial success, the French effort became bogged down and has now become a seemingly interminable, smoldering counterinsurgency campaign. Chad, for its part, quickly withdrew its forces from the fight after sustaining modest casualties. “Chad’s army has no ability to face the kind of guerrilla fighting that is emerging in northern Mali. Our soldiers are going to return to Chad,” said that country’s president, Idriss Deby.


    Still, U.S. support continued.

    In September of 2013, the U.S. military organized meetings with Chad’s senior-most military leaders, including Army chief General Brahim Seid Mahamat, Minister of Defense General Bénaïndo Tatola, and counterterror tsar Brigadier General Abderaman Youssouf Merry, to build solid relationships and support efforts at “countering violent extremist operations objectives and theater security cooperation programs.” This comes from a separate set of documents concerning “IO,” or Information Operations, obtained from the military through the Freedom of Information Act. French officials also attended these meetings and the agenda included the former colonial power’s support of “security cooperation with Chad in the areas of basic and officer training and staff procedures” as well as “French support [for] U.S. security cooperation efforts with the Chadian military.” Official briefing slides also mention ongoing “train and equip” activities with Chadian troops.

    All of this followed on the heels of a murky coup plot by elements of the armed forces last May to which the Chadian military reacted with a crescendo of violence. According to a State Department report, Chad’s “security forces shot and killed unarmed civilians and arrested and detained members of parliament, military officers, former rebels, and others.”

    After Chad reportedly helped overthrow the Central African Republic’s president in early 2013 and later aided in the 2014 ouster of the rebel leader who deposed him, it sent its forces into that civil-war-torn land as part of an African Union mission bolstered by U.S.-backed French troops. Soon, Chad’s peacekeeping forces were accused of stoking sectarian strife by supporting Muslim militias against Christian fighters. Then, on March 29th, a Chadian military convoy arrived in a crowded marketplace in the capital, Bangui. There, according to a United Nations report, the troops “reportedly opened fire on the population without any provocation. At the time, the market was full of people, including many girls and women buying and selling produce. As panic-stricken people fled in all directions, the soldiers allegedly continued firing indiscriminately.”

    In all, 30 civilians were reportedly killed and more than 300 were wounded. Amid criticism, Chad angrily announced it was withdrawing its troops. “Despite the sacrifices we have made, Chad and Chadians have been targeted in a gratuitous and malicious campaign that blamed them for all the suffering” in the Central African Republic, declared Chad’s foreign ministry.

    In May, despite this, the U.S. sent 80 military personnel to Chad to operate drones and conduct surveillance in an effort to locate hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped by Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. “These personnel will support the operation of intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance aircraft for missions over northern Nigeria and the surrounding area,” President Obama told Congress. The force, he said, will remain in Chad “until its support in resolving the kidnapping situation is no longer required.”

    In July, AFRICOM admitted that it had reduced surveillance flights searching for the girls to focus on other missions. Now AFRICOM tells TomDispatch that, while “the U.S. continues to help Nigeria address the threat posed by Boko Haram, the previously announced ISR support deployment to Chad has departed.” Yet more than seven months after their abduction, the girls still have not been located, let alone rescued.

    In June, according to the State Department, the deputy commander of U.S. Army Africa (USARAF), Brigadier General Kenneth H. Moore, Jr., visited Chad to “celebrat[e] the successful conclusion of a partnership between USARAF and the Chadian Armed Forces.” Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus arrived in that landlocked country at the same time to meet with “top Chadian officials.” His visit, according to an embassy press release, “underscore[d] the importance of bilateral relations between the two countries, as well as military cooperation.” And that cooperation has been ample.

    Earlier this year, Chadian troops joined those of the United States, Burkina Faso, Canada, France, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal, the United Kingdom, and host nation Niger for three weeks of military drills as part of Flintlock 2014, an annual Special Ops counterterrorism exercise for TSCTP nations. At about the time Flintlock was concluding, soldiers from Chad, Cameroon, Burundi, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, the Netherlands, and the United States took part in another annual training exercise, Central Accord 2014. The Army also sent medical personnel to mentor Chadian counterparts in “tactical combat casualty care,” while Marines and Navy personnel traveled to Chad to train that country’s militarized anti-poaching park rangers in small unit tactics and patrolling.

    A separate contingent of Marines conducted military intelligence training with Chadian officers and non-commissioned officers. The scenario for the final exercise, also involving personnel from Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Mauritania, Senegal, and Tunisia, had a ripped-from-the-headlines quality: “preparing for an unconventional war against an insurgent threat in Mali.”

    As for U.S. Army Africa, it sent trainers as part of a separate effort to provide Chadian troops with instruction on patrolling and fixed-site defense as well as live-fire training. “We are ready to begin training in Chad for about 1,300 soldiers — an 850 man battalion, plus another 450 man battalion,” said Colonel John Ruffing, the Security Cooperation director of U.S. Army Africa, noting that the U.S. was working in tandem with a French private security firm.

    In September, AFRICOM reaffirmed its close ties with Chad by renewing an Acquisition Cross Servicing Agreement, which allows both militaries to purchase from each other or trade for basic supplies. The open-ended pact, said Brigadier General James Vechery, AFRICOM’s director for logistics, “will continue to strengthen our bilateral cooperation on international security issues… as well as the interoperability of the armed forces of both nations.”


    The Base That Wasn’t and the Deployment That Might Be

    In the months since the Chadian armed forces’ massacre in Bangui, various U.S. military contract solicitations and related documents have pointed toward an even more substantive American presence in Chad. In late September, the Army put out a call for bids to sustain American personnel for six months at those “base camp facilities” located near N’Djamena. Supporting documents specifically mention 35 U.S. personnel and detail the services necessary to run an austere outpost: field sanitation, bulk water supply, sewage services, and trash removal. The materials indicate that “local security policy and procedures” are to be provided by the Chadian armed forces and allude to the use of more than one location, saying “none of the sites in Chad are considered U.S.-federally controlled facilities.” The documents state that such support for those facilities is to run until July 2015.

    After AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated email requests for further information, I called up Chief of Media Operations Benjamin Benson and asked about the base camp. He was even more tight-lipped than usual. “I personally don’t know anything,” he told me. “That’s not saying AFRICOM doesn’t have any information on that.”

    In follow-up emails, Benson eventually told me that the “base camp” is strictly a temporary facility to be used by U.S. forces only for the duration of the upcoming Flintlock 2015 exercise. He stated in no uncertain terms: “We are not establishing a base/forward presence/contingency location, building a U.S. facility, or stationing troops in Chad.”

    Benson would not, however, let me speak with an expert on U.S. military activities in Chad. Nor would he confirm or deny the continued presence of the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance liaison team deployed to Chad in 2013 to support the French mission in Mali, first reported on by TomDispatch this March. “[W]e cannot discuss ISR activities or the locations and durations of operational deployments,” he wrote. If an ISR team is still present in Chad, this would represent a substantive long-term deployment despite the lack of a formal U.S. base.

    The N’Djamena “base camp” is just one of a series of Chadian projects mentioned in recent contracting documents. An Army solicitation from September sought “building materials for use in Chad,” while supporting documents specifically mention an “operations center/multi-use facility.” That same month, the Army awarded a contract for the transport of equipment from Niamey, Niger, the home of another of the growing network of U.S. outposts in Africa, to N’Djamena. The Army also began seeking out contractors capable of supplying close to 600 bunk beds that could support an American-sized weight of 200 to 225 pounds for a facility “in and around the N’Djamena region.” And just last month, the military put out a call for a contractor to supply construction equipment — a bulldozer, dump truck, excavator, and the like — for a project in, you guessed it, N’Djamena.

    This increased U.S. interest in Chad follows on the heels of a push by France, the nation’s former colonial overlord and America’s current premier proxy in Africa, to beef up its military footprint on the continent. In July, following U.S.-backed French military interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic, French President François Hollande announced a new mission, Operation Barkhane (a term for a crescent-shaped sand dune found in the Sahara). Its purpose: a long-term counterterrorism operation involving 3,000 French troops deployed to a special forces outpost in Burkina Faso and forward operating bases in Mali, Niger, and not surprisingly, Chad.

    “There are plenty of threats in all directions,” Hollande told French soldiers in Chad, citing militants in Mali and Libya as well as Boko Haram in Nigeria. “Rather than having large bases that are difficult to manage in moments of crisis, we prefer installations that can be used quickly and efficiently.” Shortly afterward, President Obama approved millions in emergency military aid for French operations in Mali, Niger, and Chad, while the United Kingdom, another former colonial power in the region, dispatched combat aircraft to the French base in N’Djamena to contribute to the battle against Boko Haram.


    From Setback to Blowback?

    In recent years, the U.S. military has been involved in a continual process of expanding its presence in Africa. Out of public earshot, officials have talked about setting up a string of small bases across the northern tier of the continent. Indeed, over the last years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and outposts have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and, skipping Chad, in the Central African Republic, followed by South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. A staunch American ally with a frequent and perhaps enduring American troop presence, Chad seems like the natural spot for still another military compound — the only missing link in a long chain of countries stretching from west to east, from one edge of the continent to the other — even if AFRICOM continues to insist that there’s no American “base” in the works.

    Even without a base, the United States has for more than a decade poured copious amounts of money, time, and effort into making Chad a stable regional counterterrorism partner, sending troops there, training and equipping its army, counseling its military leaders, providing tens of millions of dollars in aid, funding its military expeditions, supplying its army with equipment ranging from tents to trucks, donating additional equipment for its domestic security forces, providing a surveillance and security system for its border security agents, and looking the other way when its military employed child soldiers.

    The results? A flight from the fight in Mali, a massacre in the Central African Republic, hundreds of schoolgirls still in the clutches of Boko Haram, and a U.S. alliance with a regime whose “most significant human rights problems,” according to the most recent country report by the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “were security force abuse, including torture; harsh prison conditions; and discrimination and violence against women and children,” not to mention the restriction of freedom of speech, press, assembly, and movement, as well as arbitrary arrest and detention, denial of fair public trial, executive influence on the judiciary, property seizures, child labor and forced labor (that also includes children), among other abuses. Amnesty International further found that human rights violations “are committed with almost total impunity by members of the Chadian military, the Presidential Guard, and the state intelligence bureau, the Agence Nationale de Securité.”

    With Chad, the United States finds itself more deeply involved with yet another authoritarian government and another atrocity-prone proxy force. In this, it continues a long series of mistakes, missteps, and mishaps across Africa. These include an intervention in Libya that transformed the country from an autocracy into a near-failed state, training efforts that produced coup leaders in Mali and Burkina Faso, American nation-building that led to a failed state in South Sudan, anti-piracy measures that flopped in the Gulf of Guinea, the many fiascos of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, the training of an elite Congolese unit that committed mass rapes and other atrocities, problem-plagued humanitarian efforts in Djibouti and Ethiopia, and the steady rise of terror groups in U.S.-backed countries like Nigeria and Tunisia.

    In other words, in its shadowy “pivot” to Africa, the U.S. military has compiled a record remarkably low on successes and high on blowback. Is it time to add Chad to this growing list?



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • ISIS has Enough Weapons for Up to Two Years

    November 20, 2014 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    Team-America


    And guess where the weapons came from?


    A new report prepared for the United Nations Security Council warns ISIS possesses sufficient reserves of small arms, ammunition and vehicles to wage its war in Syria and Iraq for up to two years. And that is assuming they do not capture more weapons, including heavy weapons, from the Iraqi Army, their accidental, primary supplier to date.

    The UN report has even more bad news to share: the size and breadth of the ISIS arsenal provides the group with durable mobility, range and even a limited defense against low-flying aircraft (ISIS has already shot down Iraqi helicopters.) Even if the U.S. bombing campaign continues to destroy the group’s vehicles and heavier weapons, the UN report states, it “cannot mitigate the effect of the significant volume of light weapons” ISIS possesses.


    Where to Begin

    So maybe someone should cut off the flow of weapons to ISIS? Here’s where to start: Almost 20 percent of the small arms ammunition used by ISIS could be traced to U.S. manufacturers. Additionally, the Islamic State appears to use “significant quantities” of ammunition manufactured in Russia under the Wolf brand and distributed by the U.S. to its own allied states in the Middle East. Hmmm.

    Meanwhile, ISIS seems to be getting weapons supplied by air, possibly from Russia, but who really can say.

    Anti-tank weapons that were likely once owned by moderate Syrian rebels have also landed in ISIS hands. In addition to U.S.-supplied arms, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been funneling weaponry to various rebel factions in the conflict.


    Who’s Number 1?

    The ISIS arsenal, according to the UN, includes older T-55 and modern, front-line T-72 tanks, anti-aircraft artillery, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft rockets captured from Iraqi and Syrian military stocks, and “extensive supplies of ammunition,” as well as some 250 light vehicles.

    The UN report does have a sense of humor embedded, noting that much of the ISIS weapons stock stolen from the U.S.-backed Iraqi military was “unused” before ISIS seized it.

    The weapons as a whole, the UN report finds, make ISIS not only the world’s best-funded terrorist group but among its best armed. ISIS is sufficiently armed to threaten the region “even without holding territory”, the report concludes.


    Money Matters

    The report recommends the UN adopt new sanctions designed to disrupt the well-financed ISIS’ economic health. Significant among them is a call for states bordering ISIS-controlled territory (a diplomatic way of saying mostly Turkey) to “promptly seize all oil tanker trucks and their loads” coming in or going out. While the report warns ISIS has alternate revenue sources, primarily ransom payments, and does not predict that truck seizures can eliminate ISIS’ oil smuggling money, it holds out hope that raising the costs to smuggling networks and trucking companies will deter them from bringing ISIS oil to market.

    The report comes on the heels of an October report to the Security Council assessing that 15,000 fighters from 80 countries have flooded into Syria and Iraq to fight alongside ISIS.


    So yeah, things seem to be going well for ISIS now, four months into the U.S. bombing campaign.



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  • I’ll Be at the Army Heritage Center at the War College

    November 19, 2014 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq

    USAHEC_Seal


    The Army has a renewed interest in Iraq, to include what went wrong in Iraq War 2.0 as Iraq War 3.0 metastasizes. Who knew, right?


    Unlike many other parts of government involved in the Iraq swamp, the Army is a learning institution. Unlike my former employer, the Department of State, who prefers to stay warmly inside the bubble of agreeing with itself, I have found the Army is very interested in a range of opinions, and open to hearing a side of the story that some may disagree with. Indeed, they often seek out sides of the story they may disagree with.

    To this end, I’ll be speaking on November 19, 7:15 pm, at the Army Heritage Center, Carlisle Barracks, at the Army War College outside Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The event is free and open to the public. There will be a Q&A and a book signing as well.

    Any possibility of any definition of “success” in the current war in Iraq demands an understanding of how we lost the last time. The myth that “we won” only to have the victory messed up by the Iraqis because we left is very dangerous, and of course fully untrue. This uber myth plays out specifically in the belief, still a favorite among 2.0 apologists, that the Anbar Awakening/Surge was a strategic success.

    The two apparent pillars of America’s current strategy — that a unity government can be formed and that indigenous Sunnis can be split from ISIS — are exactly the two pillars that failed the last time (ISIS was al Qaeda then.) Repeating the strategy will result in repeating the mistakes. And that does little but sacrifice more at great cost in every definition of that word.

    It also sets up the inevitability of Iraq War 4.0, same as the failure in 2.0 begat 3.0. See the pattern?

    If you are in the Harrisburg, Pennsylvania area, please come out and see what I have to say!




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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Voiceprints: Time to be Afraid Again

    November 18, 2014 // 12 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

    brazil


    The end of privacy in the United States was brought about as much by technology as intention. Those who claim there is little new here — the government read the mail of and wiretapped the calls and conversations of Americans under COINTELPRO from 1956 to at least 1971, for example – do not fully understand the impact of technology.


    Size Matters

    The spying and compiling of information on innocent Americans by J. Edgar Hoover’s low-tech FBI is well-known; files, recordings and photos secretly obtained exposed the lives of civil rights leaders, popular musicians and antiwar protesters. You will likely think of additional examples, or they’ll be in the next batch of Snowden documents.

    Technology now being employed by the NSA and others inside the U.S. has never before existed, in scale, scope or sheer efficiency. Size matters. We are the first people in history to deal with this kind of threat to privacy. Avoiding even the majority of encroaching digitalization essentially means withdrawing from society.



    Voiceprints

    The financial services company where I maintain my meager investments recently added a new feature. When I access my account via smartphone, instead of typing in a password that can be guessed, or stolen, I have the option of creating a voiceprint ID. I speak a specific phrase, which is broken down digitally and stored by the company. When I want to access my account, I simply repeat the phrase, as the parameters of one’s voice are as unique as a fingerprint. The company compares my speech to the stored example and if they match, I’m in.

    “We’ve done a lot of testing, and looked at siblings, even twins,” said one voiceprint analyst. “Even people with colds, we looked at that.” The results are clear: Your voice is another biometric, the same as DNA, finger and hand prints, iris patterns, facial recognition and the like. Voiceprinting is the technology employed when the media reports that the CIA has “authenticated” the latest pronouncement from the latest celebrity terrorist.

    But unlike those metrics, which require some level of contact, presence or connection between you and the collector of the data, voices can be accessed remotely from anywhere in the world, fully without your knowledge. Make a phone call, have a conversation with someone, use Skype or shout out the window and you can be collected. Your identity can be stored and compared to other instances when you make a phone call, have a conversation with someone, use Skype or shout out the window.

    It doesn’t matter at that point whether you use a stranger’s throw-away burner phone purchased with cash from a street corner in Istanbul to leave an anonymous tip on a fraud hotline. Or blowing the whistle on government malfeasance to a journalist. Compares the speech to the stored example and if they match, you’re in. Or maybe out.


    Here, Now

    The use of voiceprint technology is in regular use worldwide. The Associated Press reports the single largest known implementation is in Turkey, where a cell phone service provider has collected voiceprint data from 10 million customers. Never far behind on these matters, U.S. law enforcement officials use the technology to monitor inmates calling from inside prisons and to track offenders on the outside who have been paroled. In New Zealand, the Internal Revenue Department claims one million voiceprints on file, what its revenue minister says is “the highest level of voice biometric enrollments per capita in the world.” In South Africa, seven million voiceprints have been collected by the country’s Social Security Agency, in part to verify that those claiming pensions are still alive. Worldwide it is estimated that some 65 million voiceprints are on file in corporate hands.

    One can speculate further. In the United States, where the NSA boasts of “collecting it all,” it seems unlikely that “all” does not include voiceprints. Allow your inner conspiracy theorist a little room, and circuitry designed to collect and pass on voiceprints might be surreptitiously built into nearly every audio device out there, from Bluetooth to Mr. Microphone.


    Off the Shelf

    The technology of voiceprints is available off the shelf. You likely know one provider already, Nuance Communications. Among other things, they make the popular Dragon Speaking software that allows home computer users to convert the spoken words into text in a document.

    The company is quite proud of its voiceprint technology; have a look at their web page. And hey, small world — Nuance also sells its own line of microphones and Bluetooth headsets.

    There are many more companies selling voiceprint technology over-the-counter; here’s just one other as an example.


    The New World Order

    What can be accessed can be collected. What can be collected can be stored. What can be stored can be leaked, hacked, shared and used. What can be used, well, can be used. Now, next Sunday, be a nice son or daughter and call your mom to say hello. Just be sure to speak slowly and clearly.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Cop Slaps Man Exercising Rights

    November 17, 2014 // 8 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    cop


    The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution guarantees your right against an illegal search by the police. Basically, you can only be searched under two conditions: a “lawful” search as defined by decades of Supreme Court decisions and with a warrant.

    (Of course none of this is legal advice and I am not a lawyer. Never make decisions without the advice of a lawyer.)

    Lawful vs. Warranted Search

    What is and is not a “lawful” search can get complicated, and has been the subject of much case law. A really basic example is after you have been properly arrested and are on the way to jail, the cops can search you for weapons without your permission. A warranted search is everything else; the police need to go to court and get permission from a judge to search you. The latter especially applies to enclosed spaces such as your home and car.

    If the cop thinks he has a clear lawful search that will stand up in court, he’ll just go ahead and do it. He does not need your permission. If the cop thinks he would otherwise need a warrant, he will ask your consent to search. If you grant such permission, the search automatically becomes “lawful.” You do not have to consent, and many lawyers will tell you never to do so without legal advice. The cops can be tricky, saying things like “Hey, you don’t mind if I just take a look?” or “So it’s cool if I just check inside, right?” If you nod, shrug or in some cases say nothing in response, that is often seen as granting permission. Some courts have held if you even open a door, or leave one unlocked, or allow the cops into your home “just to talk out of the rain,” that is “permission.” The clearest thing is to say “NO, I do not consent to a search” if that is your intent.

    But the cops don’t always play by the rules. The video shows what happens when they don’t, and now, in America, what happens when you simply exercise your Constitutional rights.





    What Really Happens

    In yet another example of how police officers act today if they don’t know there’s a camera on, a New York sheriff’s deputy was suspended without pay after a video that appears to show him slapping a young man went online. The cop is seen quickly losing patience with a man who did not want his car searched, as is his right under the Fourth Amendment. The cop was suspicious of the two men when he saw a .22-caliber rifle on the back seat of the car. Note that the right to lawfully possess a firearm is also protected by the Second Amendment to the Constitution. The men involved stated they had parked their car at a local business and were walking to a nearby party when confronted by the cop. The man stated his friend had purchased the .22-caliber rifle earlier that day, had a receipt for the weapon.

    “We’ll get a f*cking search warrant,” the cop says, apparently as a response to the man’s insistence that he did not consent to a search. “I wasn’t in my car when all this was happening,” the man says. “Why don’t you want to search my house or something?” The cops then replies “Let me see your f*cking keys.” When the man asks why, the cop is direct: “I’m going to search your f*cking car, that’s why… You wanna f*cking resist?” And that’s when the slap can be heard, although not seen.

    The second man, who was filming, tells the officer what just happened was “intense,” and the cop answers: “You like that, huh? I can get a lot more intense, believe me.” The man replies “Slap me around?” The cop’s answer: “Yeah, I’ll rip your f*cking head off and sh*t down your neck.”

    The cop was unapologetic when contacted by the media. He insisted he “was concerned [about] a public safety issue” and that if he “had to it all over again… I’d probably do the same thing.”


    So there you go, simply another story of what life is like for citizens in Post-Constitutional America. Your rights? You’ll get them when the cops are darn well ready to let you have them.


    Learn more about your right to video the police at Photography is Not a Crime.



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • How to Communicate Securely with the Media

    November 15, 2014 // 5 Comments

    Tags: , , , , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America




    Glenn Greenwald almost missed the story of his career because he didn’t understand how to communicate securely.

    The person Greenwald now knows as Edward Snowden began contacting him via open email, urging Greenwald to learn how to use encryption and other web tools to receive sensitive information. When Greenwald was slow to act, Snowden even made a video tutorial to baby-step him through the necessary procedures. Absent these extraordinary efforts by Snowden, who knows when or even if his game-changing NSA information would have come to light.

    You don’t have to wait for some future Snowden to teach you how to communicate securely, thanks to Trevor Timm, co-founder and the executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

    SecureDrop

    Freedom of the Press Foundation has helped news organizations install SecureDrop, an open-source whistleblower submission system that helps sources get documents to journalists in a much more anonymous and secure way than email. Currently, journalists at five major news organizations in the United States use SecureDrop. Here’s how to use it:

    — Find a public wifi internet connection that is not connected to your work or home, such as a coffee shop. Take the bus to a new place you’ll not visit again.

    Download and install the Tor Browser Bundle. For more security, also install and use the Tails operating system. For maximum security, run all this off a flash drive you bought with cash, and throw away the drive after one use.

    –Using the Tor Browser, enter in your news organization’s Onion URL (below). Only load this URL inside the Tor Browser.

    — Follow the instructions on the SecureDrop screen.


    Onion URLs

    Here are Onion URLs for the five groups of journalists currently operating SecureDrop:

    The Intercept: y6xjgkgwj47us5ca.onion

    ProPublica: pubdrop4dw6rk3aq.onion

    New Yorker: strngbxhwyuu37a3.onion

    Forbes: bczjr6ciiblco5ti.onion

    Wired’s Kevin Poulsen: poulsensqiv6ocq4.onion


    A Plea to Computer People

    I have heard from many journalists their concern that sources are unaware or incapable of communicating securely. Many times the journalist, who may or may not really understand this stuff, ends up trying to explain it to an already-nervous source whose computer skills may be basic at best. Every one of the writers say the same thing: someone please create a secure system for dummies.

    So, computer people of the web, please consider this. Create a one-button click piece of software that installs all the software needed on a flash drive. The users need only plug in the flash drive and click one button. Create the necessary front ends so that the software can be used by anyone. Please don’t write in and say “But it is already so easy to use.” Experience is that it is not. Think software that your grandma could make work. For better or worse, many people who are or who might communicate important information to responsible journalists need your help. Without your help, many will either not communicate at all, or put themselves at increased risk by communicating insecurely.

    Disclaimer

    Anyone takes great personal risk, including financial ruin and potential jail time, by transmitting to journalists, so all the warnings and caveats apply. Do not leak or transmit classified information. Courts are attacking journalists’ abilities to protect their sources. Though Snowden and others have endorsed the use of systems such as described here, there is no information now available on if/how the NSA can monitor such communications, now or in the future. The FBI has successfully, on a known, limited scale, monitored some parts of the Tor Network. Everything else. This is America, 2014. We’re on our own to fix our country.




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  • Jihadis Using Cruise Ships to Reach Middle East (Not Satire)

    November 14, 2014 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    LoveBoatHo ho, this is just hilarious. But serious.

    You know what cruises are, right? A couple of days at sea, a day or two in some cheesy port, mostly time spent eating madly at buffets, sucking down booze, laying in the sun in between turns at the buffet and the bar, that kind of thing. Other than regular occurrences of alcohol poisoning, heart attacks on the massage tables and the occasional passenger overboard, cruises are pretty laid back vacations.

    (Cue ominous music) Until. Now.


    The Threat

    Proving overreaction to terrorism is not merely an American hobby anymore, Interpol has said some of those jihadis trying to join militant groups in Iraq and Syria are using cruise lines now to get to countries like Turkey to infiltrate in. The answer? More invasive security with more secret watch lists of course, this time in the form of new name checks on passenger lists extended from airlines to cruise operators before, Interpol warns, “the issue became more of a problem.” This is not satire and is actually true. The BBC reported it.

    Unfortunately, Interpol could provide no figures on how many militants have travelled in this way.

    Interpol’s director of counterterrorism, Pierre St. Hilaire, a Bond-villain name if there ever was one, said Turkish authorities said they have deported hundreds of “suspected” jihadists in recent months after detaining them at airports and bus stations. This has led prospective fighters to make alternative travel arrangements in an effort to avoid detection. Regular stops at ports in the region would allow fighters to disembark undetected and make their onward journey to Syria or Iraq untracked by security agencies.

    Interpol officials said the militants’ use of cruise ships had emerged only in the “past three months or so.”

    Those cruise ships are big, but may need to add more capacity for the jihadi surge. A recent United Nations report estimated there were 15,000 foreign jihadists from more than 80 countries already fighting with Islamic State and other extremist groups in Syria and Iraq.

    Leaving aside the fact that you can walk or take a taxi into Turkey, let’s examine this cruise ship idea. For it to work, jihadis would of course first need to pay the hefty fares. But they seem well-funded, in large part via black market oil smuggled onto international markets via Turkey, so the money’s covered. But the jihadis would also have to blend in with the rest of the Love Boat passengers. So with that in mind, we now segue into the See Something, Say Something advice of this article.


    Recognizing A Jihadi Aboard a Cruise Ship

    – Look for skinny people among your fellow cruisers. The vast majority of cruise passengers are obscenely obese Americans, Germans or rich Russians. A skinny jihadi is going to stand out like a McRib sandwich at a vegetarian restaurant.

    — Be very suspicious of sober people. Most cruisers are drunk off their butts even before boarding the ship, and maintain a state of constant drunkenness throughout. Bloodies at breakfast, buckets of beer by the pool, wine and champagne in the evenings, IV drips of vodka overnight, are all the norm. That flinty-eyed sneak nursing a Diet Coke is trouble.

    — Dress aboard a cruise ship is casual. Wear-your-bathrobe-without-underwear to dinner kind of casual. Keep a sharp eye out for passengers wearing head coverings and those checked scarves over their bathrobes. Exception: Hipsters and Russell Brand, who also wear those scarves but if either are thrown into Guantanamo by accident, no great loss.

    — Conversation aboard a cruise ship is largely about when to drink next and crude attempts to pick up men/women. Some passengers also chat about sexually harassing the staff or how much they ate at the all-you-can-eat lard bar. If someone keeps switching the topic to how many infidels can fit into the hot tub, be wary.


    Eternal vigilance is the price of cruising freedom. Don’t leave home without it!



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    Copyright © 2014. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity. Follow me on Twitter!

  • Shakeup or Shakedown in Iraqi Army?

    November 13, 2014 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military

    obama and abadi


    Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, as Commander-in-Chief of the belittled Iraqi Army, fired 26 military commanders on November 12 for corruption and incompetence.

    “The military leadership should have competence, and this is an important thing, as it is not possible for someone who is not efficient to do his work properly,” Abadi said in comments to army officers broadcast on state television. “The second thing is integrity, as efficiency without integrity produces a vacuum. The third is courage, so that the soldier will fight in a proper way when he sees his commander has such qualifications.”

    Abadi did not elaborate on his timing or the decision itself, and officials in his office did specify which commanders were removed.


    Timing is Everything

    The timing is however interesting. Iraq’s most influential Shia cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said during Friday prayers that it was corruption in the armed forces which enabled ISIS to seize large amounts of Iraqi territory. Sistani has become increasingly critical of Iraqi leaders since ISIS’ advances spiraled the country into a crisis in general, and in particular how that crisis reinserted American troops into Iraq. Shia militias, with whom Sistani maintains links, have increasingly replaced the remnants of the Iraqi Army in the fight against ISIS. The militias have also, however, also continued the persecution and outright murder of Iraq’s indigenous Sunnis under the guise of fighting ISIS.


    Who Got the Axe?

    The other issues regarding the firing of those 26 military commanders are also of great importance.

    Until the affiliations of all 26 are known, Sunni or Shia, Abadi’s real intent is unknown. If a significant number of Sunni commanders were sacked, the action will be seen inside Iraq as more of a purge than any sort of reform. Same for the location of the commanders; if many are in Sunni-held areas to the west of Baghdad, suspicions that Abadi is looking to install more of his own adherents into power will arise. Another issue to watch is rank. If many of the commanders are senior leaders, that bodes well for reform. However, if the firings come from the lower ranks, most inside Iraq will see them simply as a show-event to please the Americans calling for reform. Finally, the disposition of the fired commanders will need to be watched closely. If some resurface in the near future in other jobs or locations, or remain attached to the government, Abadi’s reforms will need to be taken with a grain of salt.

    Keep in mind firing commanders is nothing new in Iraq. As recently as June, former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki fired four senior officers after the collapse of Army north of Baghdad. He also fired the commander of the Third Infantry Division after he “fled the battle scene.”


    But It’s Progress, Right?

    The U.S. spent $25 billion and several years training the Iraqi Army prior to its near-total collapse at first-blood when ISIS moved into northern Iraq. The weapons abandoned by the Iraqi Army have also supplied ISIS with some of its heaviest artillery and armor. There most certainly is room for improvement.

    But whatever the ground truth of the firings in Iraq really turns out to be, expect Abadi’s actions to be much-praised by an Obama Administration obsessed with “doing something” as another sign of “progress.”



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  • Iraq and ISIS: What Could Possibly Go Right?

    November 12, 2014 // 2 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Military, Syria

    soldier1_QVga

    Karl von Clausewitz, the famed Prussian military thinker, is best known for his aphorism “War is the continuation of state policy by other means.” But what happens to a war in the absence of coherent state policy?

    Actually, we now know. Washington’s Iraq War 3.0, Operation Inherent Resolve, is what happens. In its early stages, I asked sarcastically, “What could possibly go wrong?” As the mission enters its fourth month, the answer to that question is already grimly clear: just about everything. It may be time to ask, in all seriousness: What could possibly go right?

    Knowing Right from Wrong

    The latest American war was launched as a humanitarian mission. The goal of its first bombing runs was to save the Yazidis, a group few Americans had heard of until then, from genocide at the hands of the Islamic State (IS). Within weeks, however, a full-scale bombing campaign was underway against IS across Iraq and Syria with its own “coalition of the willing” and 1,600 U.S. military personnel on the ground. Slippery slope? It was Teflon-coated. Think of what transpired as several years of early Vietnam-era escalation compressed into a semester.

    And in that time, what’s gone right? Short answer: Almost nothing. Squint really, really hard and maybe the “good news” is that IS has not yet taken control of much of the rest of Iraq and Syria, and that Baghdad hasn’t been lost. These possibilities, however, were unlikely even without U.S. intervention.

    And there might just possibly be one “victory” on the horizon, though the outcome still remains unclear. Washington might “win” in the IS-besieged Kurdish town of Kobane, right on the Turkish border. If so, it will be a faux victory guaranteed to accomplish nothing of substance. After all, amid the bombing and the fighting, the town has nearly been destroyed. What comes to mind is a Vietnam War-era remark by an anonymous American officer about the bombed provincial capital of Ben Tre: “It became necessary to destroy the town to save it.”

    More than 200,000 refugees have already fled Kobane, many with doubts that they will ever be able to return, given the devastation. The U.S. has gone to great pains to point out just how many IS fighters its air strikes have killed there. Exactly 464, according to a U.K.-based human rights group, a number so specific as to be suspect, but no matter. As history suggests, body counts in this kind of war mean little.

    And that, folks, is the “good news.” Now, hold on, because here’s the bad news.

    That Coalition

    The U.S. Department of State lists 60 participants in the coalition of nations behind the U.S. efforts against the Islamic State. Many of those countries (Somalia, Iceland, Croatia, and Taiwan, among them) have never been heard from again outside the halls of Foggy Bottom. There is no evidence that America’s Arab “allies” like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates, whose funding had long-helped extreme Syrian rebel groups, including IS, and whose early participation in a handful of air strikes was trumpeted as a triumph, are still flying.

    Absent the few nations that often make an appearance at America’s geopolitical parties (Canada, the Brits, the Aussies, and increasingly these days, the French), this international mess has quickly morphed into Washington’s mess. Worse yet, nations like Turkey that might actually have taken on an important role in defeating the Islamic State seem to be largely sitting this one out. Despite the way it’s being reported in the U.S., the new war in the Middle East looks, to most of the world, like another case of American unilateralism, which plays right into the radical Islamic narrative.

    Iraqi Unity

    The ultimate political solution to fighting the war in Iraq, a much-ballyhooed “inclusive” Iraqi government uniting Shias, Sunnis, and Kurds, has taken no time at all to fizzle out. Though Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi chose a Sunni to head the country’s Defense Ministry and direct a collapsed Iraqi army, his far more-telling choice was for Interior Minister. He picked Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shia politician who just happens to be allied with the Badr Organization.

    Even if few in the U.S. remember the Badr folks, every Sunni in Iraq does. During the American occupation, the Badr militia ran notorious death squads, after infiltrating the same Interior Ministry they basically now head. The elevation of a Badr leader to — for Sunnis — perhaps the most significant cabinet position of all represents several nails in the coffin of Iraqi unity. It is also in line with the increasing influence of the Shia militias the Baghdad government has called on to defend the capital at a time when the Iraqi Army is incapable of doing the job.

    Those militias have used the situation as an excuse to ramp up a campaign of atrocities against Sunnis whom they tag as “IS,” much as in Iraq War 2.0 most Sunnis killed were quickly labeled “al-Qaeda.” In addition, the Iraqi military has refused to stop shelling and carrying out air strikes on civilian Sunni areas despite a prime ministerial promise that they would do so. That makes al-Abadi look both ineffectual and disingenuous. An example? This week, Iraq renamed a town on the banks of the Euphrates River to reflect a triumph over IS. Jurf al-Sakhar, or “rocky bank,” became Jurf al-Nasr, or “victory bank.” However, the once-Sunni town is now emptied of its 80,000 residents, and building after building has been flattened by air strikes, bombings, and artillery fire coordinated by the Badr militia.

    Meanwhile, Washington clings to the most deceptive trope of Iraq War 2.0: the claim that the Anbar Awakening — the U.S. military’s strategy to arm Sunni tribes and bring them into the new Iraq while chasing out al-Qaeda-in-Iraq (the “old” IS) — really worked on the ground. By now, this is a bedrock truth of American politics. The failure that followed was, of course, the fault of those darned Iraqis, specifically a Shia government in Baghdad that messed up all the good the U.S. military had done. Having deluded itself into believing this myth, Washington now hopes to recreate the Anbar Awakening and bring the same old Sunnis into the new, new Iraq while chasing out IS (the “new” al-Qaeda).

    To convince yourself that this will work, you have to ignore the nature of the government in Baghdad and believe that Iraqi Sunnis have no memory of being abandoned by the U.S. the first time around. What comes to mind is one commentator’s view of the present war: if at first we don’t succeed, do the same thing harder, with better technology, and at greater expense.

    Understanding that Sunnis may not be fooled twice by the same con, the State Department is now playing up the idea of creating a whole new military force, a Sunni “national guard.” Think of this as the backup plan from hell. These units would, after all, be nothing more than renamed Sunni militias and would in no way be integrated into the Iraqi Army. Instead, they would remain in Sunni territory under the command of local leaders. So much for unity.

    And therein lies another can’t-possibly-go-right aspect of U.S. strategy.

    Strategic Incoherence

    The forces in Iraq potentially aligned against the Islamic State include the Iraqi army, Shia militias, some Sunni tribal militias, the Kurdish peshmerga, and the Iranians. These groups are, at best, only in intermittent contact with each other, and often have no contact at all. Each has its own goals, in conflict with those of the other groups. And yet they represent coherence when compared to the mix of fighters in Syria, regularly as ready to slaughter each other as to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad and/or IS.

    Washington generally acts as if these various chaotically conflicting outfits can be coordinated across borders like so many chess pieces. President Obama, however, is no Dwight Eisenhower on D-Day at Normandy pointing the British to one objective, the Canadians to another, ultimately linking up with the French resistance en route to the liberation of Paris. For example, the Iranians and the Shia militias won’t even pretend to follow American orders, while domestic U.S. politics puts a crimp in any Obama administration attempts to coordinate with the Iranians. If you had to pick just one reason why, in the end, the U.S. will either have to withdraw from Iraq yet again, or cede the western part of the country to IS, or place many, many boots on the ground, you need look no further than the strategic incoherence of its various fractious “coalitions” in Iraq, Syria, and globally.

    The Islamic State

    Unlike the U.S., the Islamic State has a coherent strategy and it has the initiative. Its militants have successfully held and administered territory over time. When faced with air power they can’t counter, as at Iraq’s giant Mosul Dam in August, its fighters have, in classic insurgent fashion, retreated and regrouped. The movement is conducting a truly brutal and bloody hearts and minds-type campaign, massacring Sunnis who oppose them and Shias they capture. In one particularly horrific incident, IS killed over 300 Sunnis and threw their bodies down a well. It has also recently made significant advances toward the Kurdish capital, Erbil, reversing earlier gains by the peshmerga. IS leaders are effectively deploying their own version of air strikes — suicide bombers — into the heart of Baghdad and have already loosed the first mortars into the capital’s Green Zone, home of the Iraqi government and the American Embassy, to gnaw away at morale.

    IS’s chief sources of funding, smuggled oil and ransom payments, remain reasonably secure, though the U.S. bombing campaign and a drop in global oil prices have noticeably cut into its oil revenues. The movement continues to recruit remarkably effectively both in and outside the Middle East. Every American attack, every escalatory act, every inflated statement about terrorist threats validates IS to its core radical Islamic audience.

    Things are trending poorly in Syria as well. The Islamic State profits from the power vacuum created by the Assad regime’s long-term attempt to suppress a native Sunni “moderate” uprising. Al-Qaeda-linked fighters have just recently overrun key northern bastions previously controlled by U.S.-backed Syrian rebel groups and once again, as in Iraq, captured U.S. weapons have landed in the hands of extremists. Nothing has gone right for American hopes that moderate Syrian factions will provide significant aid in any imaginable future in the broader battle against IS.

    Trouble on the Potomac 

    While American strategy may be lacking on the battlefield, it’s alive and well at the Pentagon. A report in the Daily Beast, quoting a generous spurt of leaks, has recently made it all too clear that the Pentagon brass “are getting fed up with the short leash the White House put them on.” Senior leaders criticize the war’s decision-making process, overseen by National Security Adviser Susan Rice, as “manic and obsessed.” Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel wrote a quickly leaked memo to Rice warning that the president’s Syria strategy was already unraveling thanks to its fogginess about the nature of its opposition to Assad and because it has no “endgame.” Meanwhile, the military’s “intellectual” supporters are already beginning to talk — shades of Vietnam — about “Obama’s quagmire.”

    Joint Chiefs Chairman General Martin Dempsey has twice made public statements revealing his dissatisfaction with White House policy. In September, he said it would take 12,000 to 15,000 ground troops to effectively go after the Islamic State. Last month, he suggested that American ground troops might, in the future, be necessary to fight IS. Those statements contrast sharply with Obama’s insistence that there will never be U.S. combat troops in this war.

    In another direct challenge, this time to the plan to create those Sunni National Guard units, Dempsey laid down his own conditions: no training and advising the tribes will begin until the Iraqi government agrees to arm the units themselves — an unlikely outcome. Meanwhile, despite the White House’s priority on training a new Syrian moderate force of 5,000 fighters, senior military leaders have yet to even select an officer to head up the vetting process that’s supposed to weed out less than moderate insurgents.

    Taken as a whole, the military’s near-mutinous posture is eerily reminiscent of MacArthur’s refusal to submit to President Harry Truman’s political will during the Korean War. But don’t hold your breath for a Trumanesque dismissal of Dempsey any time soon. In the meantime, the Pentagon’s sights seem set on a fall guy, likely Susan Rice, who is particularly close to the president.

    The Pentagon has laid down its cards and they are clear enough: the White House is mismanaging the war. And its message is even clearer: given the refusal to consider sending in those ground-touching boots, Operation Inherent Resolve will fail. And when that happens, don’t blame us; we warned you.

    Never Again 

    The U.S. military came out of the Vietnam War vowing one thing: when Washington went looking for someone to blame, it would never again be left holding the bag. According to a prominent school of historical thinking inside the Pentagon, the military successfully did what it was asked to do in Vietnam, only to find that a lack of global strategy and an over-abundance of micromanagement from America’s political leaders made it seem like the military had failed. This grew from wartime mythology into bedrock Pentagon strategic thinking and was reflected in both the Powell Doctrine and the Weinberger Doctrine. The short version of that thinking demands politicians make thoughtful decisions on when, where, and why the military needs to fight. When a fight is chosen, they should then allow the military to go all in with overwhelming force, win, and come home.

    The idea worked almost too well, reaching its peak in Iraq War 1.0, Operation Desert Storm. In the minds of politicians from president George H.W. Bush on down, that “victory” wiped the slate clean of Vietnam, only to set up every disaster that would follow from the Bush 43 wars to Obama’s air strikes today. You don’t have to have a crystal ball to see the writing in the sand in Iraq and Syria. The military can already sense the coming failure that hangs like a miasma over Washington.

    In or out, boots or not, whatever its own mistakes and follies, those who run the Pentagon and the U.S. military are already campaigning strategically to win at least one battle: when Iraq 3.0 collapses, as it most surely will, they will not be the ones hung out to dry. Of the very short list of what could go right, the smart money is on the Pentagon emerging victorious — but only in Washington, not the Middle East.

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  • Happy Veterans Day

    November 11, 2014 // 8 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Iraq

    VeteranSignWe should all take a moment today, Veterans Day, to thank people in the military for their service.

    They are decent and sincere men and women who joined believing they would serve their nation, or were looking for a job, an education, college money or some adventure, or all of the above. They then get sucked into America’s political wars. Civilians start wars, not soldiers.


    That said, because of the emphasis our society places on military service, sadly, many people who were never in the military now pretend that they did serve. This has come to be called “stolen valor.”

    But on this Veteran’s Day, it is worth not just scorning those pretenders, but trying to see what they are really after. They claim a right to things that they did not earn via service.

    While a few want to score airline upgrades and the like, many of the stolen valor-ilk are hoping to displace legitimate homeless veterans seeking your spare change. The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates there are 50,000 veterans homeless on any given night. The Veterans Administration cites much higher numbers: VA’s specialized homelessness programs provide health care to almost 150,000 homeless vets. Additionally, more than 40,000 homeless veterans receive compensation or pension benefits each month.

    In addition to looking to lap up all that spare change real vets are entitled to, many fake veterans also want to not be able to access decent health care in a timely fashion. Military veterans are dying needlessly because of long waits and delayed care at U.S. veterans hospitals, a CNN investigation found, and many of the “stolen valor” vets are pretending they served so they too cannot access life saving care.

    Another thing many pretend servicemembers want to take away is Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). About 460,000 veterans of the Iraq and Afghan wars have PTSD; another 260,000 have Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI). Statistics are hard to come by from America’s other wars, particularly from Vietnam, but since the working figure from Iraq and Afghanistan is about 20 percent, that would leave millions of Vietnam vets suffering. Lousy stolen valor people want a piece of that too they’re not entitled to.

    Vets of our modern wars suffer alcohol-related problems stolen valor thieves can’t legitimately claim either. A sample of Iraq and Afghan veterans showed drinking problems in some 40 percent.

    Finally, stolen valor losers have no claim to the horrific suicide rates among veterans. Having been in the military doubles the risk of suicide. An estimated 5,000 veterans die by suicide each year. That number sadly outpaces combat deaths in even the worst of modern times.

    So maybe at this point the semi-satire of this article is clear. We will hear a lot this Veterans Day about supporting the troops and thanking them for their service. Please do those things; they deserve it.

    But don’t accept any bullsh*t this Veterans Day either. For all the talk by politicians and actors and musicians and media heads about how much we owe, not one will demand that it is time to pay up. If our nation insists on being so quick to send men and women into harm’s way, then it damn well better face up to its obligation to take care of them when they get home. They don’t need yellow ribbons and speeches. Food, shelter, health care, counseling– that’s how you support the troops on Veterans Day and every other day.

    Put up or shut up America.



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  • Excerpt from Ghosts of Tom Joad

    November 10, 2014 // 1 Comment

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: #99Percent, Minimum Wage

    0100025-R1-E009


    My current book, Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percentis a complex novel telling the story of America from the end of World War II through the present day.

    You’ll travel through the economic boom years and the rise of a robust middle class, fueled by union wages and industrialization, peaking in the mid-1970s. The decline of all those factors is the second half of the book, the story of how we became a nation defined by the working poor, the 99 percent.

    Here’s what one reviewer said:

    I wasn’t ready for this one. I guess I was expecting something a little more MSNBC. You know, the kind of book that contains nothing but glowing praise for the Occupy movement and endless tirades about how shopping at Wal-Mart makes you an evil person. The kind of book that you can almost tell was written on an iMac computer over three weeks in a Starbucks café by a dude wearing those thick hipster glasses.

    Man, I wasn’t even close. “Ghosts of Tom Joad” is a heartbreaking tale of one man against the world, or rather the world against one man. I don’t think you can call it an epic since it takes place almost entirely within a small town in rust-belt Ohio, but it’s definitely raw, gritty, and painful. The narrator pulls no punches when it comes to describing his downward spiral into underemployment and homelessness, and the novel that results is heartbreakingly authentic.

    The beginning of the book shows a simpler time for the main character, Earl. His boyhood is not idyllic, however, and the scene excerpted below foreshadows the problems he will experience in the New Economy.

    Excerpt from Ghosts of Tom Joad

    Jeff’s old man kept a small boat. It had seen better days, floating as much out of stubbornness any more than anything else. Seats two safely. Rides low in the water. We’d take it out on the river from time to time, drinking beer when we could, horsing around.

    It was a heavy, humid Ohio night, still then soft around us. Car sounds far off. The current was light and the river half dry in summer, so we figured loading the four of us into a boat made for two wouldn’t be a problem. Then we met Pam, this girl Tim sort of liked and Tim made us take her along. Tim had it on good authority she had lost her virginity already and was willing to lose it some more. She had a Farrah ’do, as this was the late 1970s.

    We got the boat into the water and climbed in well enough. Pam devoted herself to worrying about five people in a boat that might safely hold two. Pam was right, like girls then usually were about those kind of things. The boat drifted along with the current, ending up in the center of the river two beers later. We could see a few lights reflecting off the water, pretty, and I guess that’s what inspired Tim to try and put his arm around Pam, who was less inspired by the romantic scene and shrugged him off a bit too hard. The boat rocked and water came over the shallow sides. I was laughing, and so was Jeff, when the whole thing flipped over, dumping the five of us into the river. I couldn’t touch the bottom, but it was easy enough to doggy paddle over to the far bank. I looked over, laughing, at Tim, Rich and a really unhappy Pam. Her Farrah ’do was ruined. The boat was gone.

    So was Jeff.

    Tim and Pam went off looking for him down the river bank, thinking maybe he swam off that way. Rich heard him first – Jeff, in the water, shouting for us. I figured he was kidding around like always, pretending to drown in eight feet of warm water, when I saw Rich dive back in. I went right after him, and we reached Jeff in a few wet splashes. Rich grabbed him first, and we pulled him over to the bank. He was crying, snot all down his face, white as Wonder Bread. He had been wearing his heavy work boots, lace-ups, and they’d filled with water, pulling him under. Jeff was a strong kid back then, and was able to claw his way up to the surface and shout, but if Rich had not gone in after him, he’d have drowned that night while we watched.

    It was either Jeff’s earlier laughing or Jeff’s recent shouting that brought out the cops. One fat one came up to me and said, “Son, how many kids were in that boat?” And I said, truthfully, “Sir, there were five of us.” Me, Jeff and Rich were right there. Tim and Pam hadn’t come back, likely seeing the cop car lights and running. Five of us, just like I said.

    “Don’t worry son, we’ll find your friends.” The cop put me in the back of his car with a blanket, right before that fire truck came and all those men waded into the shallow part of the river. Flashlights were swinging criss-cross over the water and the men would yell for a bit, then tell each other to “Be quiet and just listen for a minute dammit, there’s two kids out there somewhere. We ain’t gonna let them die for no reason –”

    I figured out the reason. When the now tomato-faced fat cop came over to see how I was doing, I told him that Tim and Pam probably weren’t coming back. He put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Not if I can help it, son.” I told him Tim and Pam weren’t in the river. Nobody drowned. Nobody was missing. Tim and Pam had just run away. When he asked me how many in the boat a first, I didn’t want to lie and so I said, “Five officer, honest.”

    We heard Tim never got to make out with Pam that night, but he walked her home and she said maybe she’d think about it. It was the first time I realized you could die without getting old first, and that stuck with me.


    You can buy Ghosts of Tom Joad: A Story of the #99 Percent from Amazon now, in hardcover, paperback and Kindle formats.



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  • Photos of the Ghosts

    November 8, 2014 // 0 Comments

    Posted in: #99Percent, Economy

    On a recent trip to Oklahoma, I ran into some of the Ghosts of Tom Joad, and the places they live. Have a look.














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  • ISIS vs. Imperial Japan Propaganda Showdown

    November 7, 2014 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy

    beheading


    There are basically only two messages in propaganda: our side is good, strong and will win, and their side is evil, weak and will lose. Everything else is just music and narration.


    So to demonstrate how little propaganda statements towards whomever happens to be America’s enemy of the time change, let’s have a look at the 1943 propaganda film here, made to help stir up Americans for the long fight ahead to defeat Imperial Japan during World War II. Everybody likes Japan now, but remember the country that now makes our anime, manga and weird porn used to want to conquer us, even going as far as beheading hostages (sound familiar?)

    The Video



    What We Learn

    In the video we learn many things about the evil Japanese (and ISIS):

    – They are fighting a “Holy War” against the West (no change with ISIS);

    — They are trying to establish a world government with everyone living their austere, Emperor-worshipping lifestyle, with their harsh laws (substitute Caliphate);

    — They fight “fanatically,” and are willing to give their lives for the Emperor, believing Shinto paradise awaits them (substitute Allah and the same Paradise, less virgins on the Japanese side);

    — You “cannot measure the way Japanese think by any Western standard. While their weapons are modern, their thinking and beliefs are 2000 years out of date” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese believe they have a “sacred duty” to fight for the Emperor against all others (ISIS, infidels, Allah, you get it)

    — They are “fanatics, and we must kill them before they destroy our way of life” (no change with ISIS);

    — The Japanese are not nice to their women (no change with ISIS);

    — They hate us (no change with ISIS);

    — They behead hostages (no change with ISIS)



    The Long Con

    Now, this all begs the question: if the core propaganda messages the U.S. government promoted during World War II are nearly identical to those pushed out today via the mass media about ISIS, does that tell us something? Is it that our enemies, as varied as Imperial Japan and ISIS across some sixty-five years of conflicts, are just so much alike, or is it that when America needs a villain, it goes to the same playbook? After all, what works, works.


    Why reinvent the scam?



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  • U.S. Anti-ISIS Recruitment Videos: Why They Don’t Work

    November 6, 2014 // 9 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    The U.S., via the State Department, is spending considerable effort and money producing anti-ISIS videos and other media (actual example, left), the goal of which is to convince American and other would-be jihadis not to join ISIS. The efforts won’t work, almost can’t work. They fail to understand the way ISIS recruits and as such, can’t counter it.


    Alcoholics Anonymous

    The starting point is oddly Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA does not recruit per se; instead, they rely on attraction, not promotion. The difference is subtle but crucial. Long experience suggests people lured in any spur-of-the-moment, impulse decisions that actually require long-term commitment will almost certainly fail. AA won’t create a commitment, but rather relies on you to make a commitment. Ads for the organization never try to seduce or seek out members. Instead, the focus is on what AA is, and what it does for you if you participate. If you want what we have, sobriety, they say, then join us. Otherwise, thanks for listening.


    ISIS

    And so ISIS. ISIS propaganda (and FYI, this is not an endorsement of anything ISIS does, just an explanation) pulls no punches. Beheading videos (NSFW), boasts about enslaving women, promises of extremely austere Sharia-led lives, there it is. You want what we have? Come along, because ISIS knows they want people with commitment, people who make a positive choice to join, not a negative one to stay away. The presentation is professional and serious, particularly in its Al Hayat Media Center (there is an unaffiliated Egyptian TV channel with a similar name), aimed specifically at non-Arabic speakers via videos and a weekly magazine.

    The strategy seems to be working; recruitment from both inside and outside of the Arab world is strong. Some even claim that ISIS has been so successful they are drawing away foreign recruits from the Taliban. And in the duality of everything the American government says about terrorism, between 12 (we’ve got this, you’re safe) and 300 (panic! run now!) Americans have also left Walmartland for ISIS.


    The State Department

    And so the U.S. State Department. State Department propaganda (and FYI, this is not an endorsement of anything State does, just an explanation) is designed to counter the attraction of ISIS media with the promotion of a negative message. The theme of State’s efforts is “Think Again, Turn Away” and features anti-ISIS accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even on the sides of buses in New York. The YouTube products are graphic and sarcastic; one includes subtitles such as “learn useful skills, such as blowing up mosques” and “crucifying Muslims.” One also features an odd shot of oil being poured on the ground framed as “squandering public resources.”

    The quality of much of the interaction is poor, seemingly written more to appeal to Washington bosses than would-be jihadis. Have a look at one example. A lot mocks potential recruits, claiming for example that they read “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria.

    The anti-ISIS messaging campaign is keeping disaffected youth from joining the extremist group, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel told CNN. “We have evidence that there are young people who are not joining because we have somehow interceded. They’re reading the messages, they’re hearing the messages, not just from us but from the hundreds of Islamic clerics who have said that this is a perversion of Islam.” State’s description of its work is that they are “contesting the space,” fighting back on social media against the ISIS message. State’s coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which runs the program, has called it “participating in the marketplace of ideas.”

    Richard Stengel and the State Department have not provided any evidence or metrics that they have in fact dissuaded anyone from joining ISIS, nor will they discuss the budget for their work. A request to State for comment has gone unanswered.


    We’re Not All That Different, You and I(SIS)

    The odd thing is that State’s messaging and ISIS’ messaging are not all that different in content, per se. Both stress that recruits are unlikely to survive. State paints that as a terrible choice, while ISIS categorizes it as martyrdom, a chance to help save Islam and achieve Paradise.

    Both show photos of Christian churches ISIS destroyed, with obviously different views of the act. Both talk about Western life, State showing its good side, ISIS claiming it is empty and vapid; one ISIS piece features a recruit saying “We don’t need any democracy, we don’t need any communism or anything like that, all we need is Sharia.”

    Both sides agree that Muslims are killing Muslims; State takes the one-size-fits-all approach, with one Muslim being the same as any other. ISIS says some (i.e., Shias and other pretenders to the faith that abandoned Sharia) are not sincere and pious and it is not a violation of the Koranic imperative against internecine violence to kill them (one report says 92 percent of Saudi Sunnis see the ISIS activities as religiously legal.) “It’s a message frequently posted by ISIS on social media: “You have to join. It’s your religious duty,” said one terrorism analyst.


    Who is Winning?

    To be fair, State’s messaging is hard to quantify, requiring one to prove a negative. On the other hand, while ISIS seems to be chock-a-block with foreign recruits, one can never tell how many were driven to jihad by ISIS propaganda, or how many shyed away.

    But looking at the U.S.’ messaging, one is reminded of the anti-drug “Just Say No” campaign, which quickly morphed into fodder for comedians. As with AA, offering people already committed a positive message– you can have what we have– seems to work. To a disgruntled young person already looking askance at a western society he perceives as hollow, what ISIS offers seems more attractive in many ways than the crude, negative message of the State Department. It appears that many ISIS recruits wan to give their lives for jihad.

    At the end of the day, State says you’re going to hell, ISIS says you’re headed to heaven. Which strategy seems to offer more?



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  • Shooting Ourselves in the Foot in Afghanistan

    November 5, 2014 // 11 Comments

    Tags: ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan, Embassy/State, Iraq, Military, PRT Life

    Poppy


    Did you know the U.S. war in Afghanistan is still going on?

    While the American war(s) in Iraq and Syria are the Kardashian’s of geopolitics– can’t get them out of the news, don’t want to look but you do anyway– America’s longest war trudges on. We have been fighting in Afghanistan for over thirteen years now. The young soldiers currently deployed there were barely in elementary school when their dad’s and mom’s kicked off the fighting.

    And we still haven’t won anything. The Taliban are still there and very potent and dangerous, a corrupt government still runs the country as a kleptocracy, “ally” Pakistan is still playing all sides against one another and the Afghan economy still relies heavily on opium production that finds its way back home here to America. Al Qaeda may have departed Afghanistan, but the franchise is still strong in its new home(s). Defeated? No, just relocated.


    SIGAR and Reconstruction

    A lot of the factors of mediocre results are America’s own doing, and many are chronicled by the Special Inspector General for Afghan Reconstruction (SIGAR).

    “Reconstruction” is a strategy to win the war in Afghanistan that now has all the cache of last year’s high fashion outfits, though unlike those old clothes, reconstruction– and the insane cost of it– is still around. The once-fashionable idea of reconstruction was that military force alone could not win the fight against the Taliban. The U.S. needed to win over the people, that hearts and mind thing that also failed in Iraq and long ago in Vietnam.

    The idea was that America would build the Afghans schools and bridges at the local level, and dams and hydroelectric power plants at the national level. They’d love us, abandon the Taliban, and replace their poppy-based economy with a modern, sustainable one. Pundits and academics may argue whether the theory of all that makes sense, but no one outside of Washington still believes it is working on the ground in Afghanistan.


    Latest SIGAR Report

    So along comes SIGAR with their latest report on how things are going in Afghanistan. Here’s what they have to say:

    — SIGAR is “deeply troubled” by the U.S. decision to classify the summary of the report that assesses the capability of the Afghan National Security Forces. The summaries have before all been unclassified prior to this quarter. The classification of the report summary deprives the American people of an essential tool to measure the success or failure of the single most costly feature of the Afghanistan reconstruction effort.

    — The U.S. Army’s refusal to suspend or debar supporters of the insurgency (the bad guys we are fighting) from receiving government contracts is not only legally wrong, but contrary to sound policy and national-security goals.

    — Approximately $104.1 billion of your tax money has been appropriated for Afghanistan reconstruction so far, with about $14.5 billion still remaining to be spent. It will likely be spent.

    — Afghanistan’s opium economy directly provides up to 411,000 full-time-equivalent jobs, more than the entire Afghan military.

    — Irrigation projects paid for by the American taxpayer in Afghanistan may have facilitated increased opium-poppy cultivation after periods of significant reductions. Irrigation improvements funded by the American Good Performer’s Initiative were definitely used to cultivate opium poppy in both 2013 and 2014.

    Previous SIGAR reports chronicle similar actions and results.


    Other Examples of Waste

    Not in the SIGAR report but worth mentioning are a few other prominent examples of American waste of our taxpayer dollars:

    — A five-year-old State Department effort to upgrade Afghanistan’s largest prison has been halted with only half the contracted work performed. Some $18 million was wasted on a project that will never be finished and will never serve any need.

    — For unclear reasons, the U.S. Air Force destroyed $468 million of aircraft purchased for the Afghan military by America’s taxpayers, and sold off the scrapped metal for all of $32,000.

    — The U.S. spent $34 million on a “Regional Command and Control Facility” that will never be used. The Marines this week forever abandoned/withdrew from the base that houses that facility.

    — The U.S. spent another $771.8 million on aircraft the Afghans cannot operate or maintain.

    — Some 285 buildings, including barracks, medical clinics and even fire stations built by the Army are lined with substandard spray insulation so prone to ignition that they don’t meet international building codes.

    — A USAID program designed to promote stability in Afghanistan spent its entire $47 million budget on conferences and none on grants to accomplish its aim.



    The Biggest Waste of All

    The list of financial failures could go on and on such that it might take you thirteen years to read through it all. But here is the biggest waste of resources of all: 2,350 Americans have lost their lives in the Afghan war, with untold tens of thousands wounded, disabled or wracked by the mental scars of war. What shall we tell them and their loved ones about why they suffered?



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  • Caught with Prostitute, Investigator in Secret Service Prostitution Scandal Resigns

    November 4, 2014 // 11 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Police State

    secret service


    Stay with me here, there may be more to this one than just naughty fun.


    The Secret Service and its Prostitutes

    In 2012, prior to the arrival of President Obama for an official visit to Colombia, 13 Secret Service agents had “personal encounters with female Colombian nationals” at their hotel. Prostitution is legal in Columbia, and mostly for their own safety working women register their presence with the hotel’s front desk. The actions of the Secret Service came to light only because one of the agents failed to pay his companion, and things turned ugly. The woman reported that she had agreed on a price the night before. However, when she asked for the money the next morning, the agent told her “Let’s go, b*tch, I’m not going to pay you.” He then pushed her out of his room and into the hallway.


    White House Staffer Involved?

    There may have been another person using a prostitute that night in Colombia. The investigator who led the Department of Homeland Security’s internal review of the Secret Service’s 2012 prostitution scandal, David Nieland, claimed hotel records showed a member of the White House advance team signed a prostitute into his room the same night. The White House denied one of its people was involved and a formal report of the scandal by Nieland did not mention the White House staffer.

    The staffer alleged to have been involved is now a policy adviser at the State Department. His father also works in the Obama administration.

    After the report became public, Nieland said he was asked to delete information about the White House staffer because it was potentially damaging to the administration during an election year. A Senate report challenged that, and said the changes were part of the editing process. The White House also denied that it had intervened in the report.

    The whole thing was dropped, until now.


    Nieland and His Crimes

    Things started to turn weird when in 2013, according to Homeland Security officials, Nieland accused the inspector general’s office of retaliating against him when it suspended him for two weeks without pay after he circulated photographs that he had taken of a female intern’s feet. Nieland said he had circulated the images as a joke. The whole thing was dropped. Until…

    Sheriff’s deputies in Broward County, Florida happened to have a no-tell motel under surveillance as part of a prostitution investigation. They noticed a man who turned out to be David Nieland entering and leaving the building. When the cops stopped Nieland, he told them he was part of an undercover human trafficking operation run by the Department of Homeland Security. The cops checked with Homeland Security, who said they were not running any such operation. The Florida cops then checked with the prostitute Nieland had visited, and she confirmed he paid her for sex.

    Back at work, Nieland for his part told his own inspector general’s office that he was stopped by police in Florida because of a broken tail light. Homeland Security called the Florida cops to learn that was a lie, Nieland refused to answer any questions, and then resigned, citing health problems. He denies the allegations.


    The Coincidence Factor

    Assuming the allegations against Nieland are true, he may be a guy with some issues. Circulating photos of an intern’s feet is way outside the boundaries, and the story that the guy investigating a prostitution scandal is himself caught up in a prostitution scandal makes for juicy headlines.

    But it is worth considering the coincidence factor. It may be the cops in Florida stumbled into a headline-grabbing bust just by staking out the right motel or they had some idea which motel to stake out. Nieland did everything he could to make it all worse, lying to cover a lie, but still, the coincidence of calling out the White House and challenging a Senate report’s conclusion followed by a career-ending bust, well, anyway, something to think about, right? Probably all just a coincidence.



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  • Bowe Bergdahl Swapped for that Marine in Mexico (Satire)

    November 3, 2014 // 3 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Afghanistan

    marinemexico


    Just ahead of the highly-contested midterm elections, Obama administration officials are denying rumors that they swapped Bowe Bergdahl, the soldier himself freed from Taliban captivity through a swap for five Guantanamo prisoners, for Marine Sergeant Andrew Tahmooressi.

    Tahmooressi was released by coincidence just before the election after several months in a Mexican jail.

    “It was a good ride,” said Bowe Bergdahl, “but like I told the Taliban guys on my last day with them, hey, nothing lasts forever.”

    Background: Bergdahl

    Bowe Bergdahl, serving with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, ended up in Taliban custody. Some soldiers in his former unit straight-out called him a deserter who aided the enemy and put American lives in danger.

    The Army report on what happened is classified, so we’ll never really know. What is known is that to free Bergdahl, the Obama administration made a controversial decision to swap five Taliban prisoners at Gitmo (the U.S. government previously called one of them “among of the most significant former Taliban leaders detained”) for Bergdahl.

    Background: Tahmooressi

    Tahmooressi’s case is much less dramatic. He was no longer even an active-duty Marine when he drove his truck across the Mexican border “by accident” with three firearms and hundreds of rounds of ammunition inside. He did not declare the weapons and was arrested. He denied accusations he intended to sell the weapons in Mexico. His case became a right-wing tool used against Obama.

    Very-briefly-Obama-UN-ambassador Bill Richardson was sent to Mexico last week and by some coincidence, just days before the contested midterm elections in the U.S., Mexico dropped all charges against Tahmooressi and he was returned to America for “humanitarian reasons,” ostensibly for treatment for PTSD from his Afghan service.

    Or Is It…

    Tahmooressi’s release was attributed by the Obama administration to successful diplomacy and advocacy on the part of the Obama administration. But speaking far off the record, sources inside the White House gave a different version of events.

    “Ahead of the midterms, we needed to remove this tool from the Republican toolbox, so Tahmooressi had to come home,” said someone who looked like National Security Advisor Susan Rice but really, really was not. “But of course this had nothing to do with politics, whatever, you people are the dumbest country on earth anyway. Bergdahl was just a political tool for us and always knew his deal wasn’t for keeps, and so it was time to call in that debt. Nobody rides for free.”

    “We offered Mexico six Taliban from Guantanamo as a first try,” said Bill Richardson, just back from south of the border, knocking back a quart of black market tequila with a Cuban cigar. “Hell, in Afghanistan we got Bowe, who was a lousy Army guy, for only five out of Gitmo. I figured since Tahmooressi was a Marine we’d up the ante, and eventually we were ready to give the Mexicans as many Taliban as they wanted for him. We even had JSOC on short-call to go get us some more fresh meat Taliban if necessary. But no go. Mexico wanted an American for an American.”

    “At that point,” chimed in not-Rice, “the option set started to close down. We offered Justin Bieber, but a) he turns out to be Canadian and b) the Mexicans said ‘hell no.’ I think it was Joe Biden who first suggested we trade Bergdahl, but as soon as he said it we all knew it was the way to go. Barack called Hillary, who signed off on the deal, and we executed.”

    Bergdahl Responds

    “Like they said, my release from the Taliban was always subject to change,” said a friendly Bowe Bergdahl from his Mexican jail cell. “I knew from the beginning if the Army report on my ‘going over’ to the Taliban leaked out I was headed back to Kandahar, so I’d kept a bag packed anyway. Then this Mexican thing came up and since it included free food and all, I figured why not. You gotta give back.”

    “And who knows, right? The day may come when I can get swapped a third time for someone else, and thus continue to serve my country and its short-term election needs. I still get the occasional Facebook poke from the Taliban, so that door is always open.”

    Mexico

    Refusing to speak on the record, Mexican authorities confirmed that all Americans are insane. Despite taking Bergdahl in what they term as a face-saving move, new directives now require Mexican police to conduct field mental illness tests on any Americans prior to arresting them.

    “Can’t they just stay on their side of the border?” asked the Mexican official in exasperation.




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  • What Happens When Innocence is No Longer a Defense? SWAT Happens

    November 1, 2014 // 14 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Police State, Post-Constitution America

    It all started when dad, planning to help his son with a science fair project, bought a few items at a hydroponics store. The next suspicious act was that his wife liked tea. The result: A SWAT team kicked down their door and held them and their two children for hours while ransacking their home. SWAT left, nothing was found or seized, and it cost the family over $25,000 just to learn why this ever happened. They were presumed very guilty. Welcome to our police state, were even being innocent of a crime is no defense.

    Legal Purchase = Criminal Suspicion

    Eight months before the raid, a Missouri State Trooper watched Bob Hartes make a few purchases in a hydroponics store. Though the store is legal, and many people use its products for legal purposes to grow houseplants or start seedlings indoors, the products can also be used to grow marijuana (or any other plant.) Bob Hartes, in fact, planned on growing tomatoes and squash with his son. The trooper recorded Hartes’ license plate and vehicle information as suspicious.

    Seven months after that (the reason is unknown), the information was sent to Kansas law enforcement, who ran the plate number and identified Hartes address. He was immediately tagged as suspected drug grower, and an investigation kicked off.



    Wet, Discarded Marijuana?

    Investigators first visited the Harte’s home surreptitiously one morning at 5 am, going through the trash and finding wet plant material. Despite there being no real reason why someone involved in the drug business would throw wet weed out in the garbage, police believed it was evidence of a crime. They thus returned to the scene, and, finding more wet plant material, allegedly performed a field test which indicated the substance was marijuana. The cops made a third visit, found more wet plant material, which again supposedly tested positive.

    Field tests can be unreliable; in experiments using the cop-popular NarcoPouch KN Reagent kit, 33 of 42 substances, including vanilla, anise, chicory, and peppermint, tested positive for cannabis. In Kansas the cops never sent any of the samples to the crime lab for formal confirmation. Instead, plans were made and the SWAT-led raid was executed. No drugs were found in the house, of course, because there never were drugs in the house. The police were uninterested in being told about the science fair project and brewing tea with loose leaves. The cops simply departed, after tearing apart the Hartes’ home and terrorizing them and their children. No apologies, apparently as far as the police were concerned, were necessary.



    Aftermath

    The Hartes found themselves ostracized by their neighbors as “criminals,” and took to showing around the search warrant stating “nothing removed from the house” to try and convince them of their innocence. When those attempts failed, the family sought the police records behind the unnecessary search.

    It was only in response to the Hartes inquiries that the police sent the first samples of the wet plant material gathered from the Hartes’ trash to the lab for a formal test. Results: it was tea, not marijuana, just as the innocent family had maintained from the beginning.

    The problem was that Kansas law enforcement, likely to hide their own mistakes, refused to release the lab results– evidence of their innocence– to the Hartes. The family was forced to sue the police, at a personal cost of $25,000, to finally gain access to what had erroneously sent SWAT crashing through their door one morning.

    “This not what justice in the United States is supposed to be. You shouldn’t have to have $25,000, even $5,000. You shouldn’t have to have that kind of money to find out why people came raiding your house like some sort of police state,” Harte said.



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  • Top Ten Govt Things to Be Afraid of for Halloween

    October 31, 2014 // 1 Comment

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    pumpkin


    The government’s main function these days is to promote fear among Americans.

    Fear is good for our current way of life, allowing your opinion and votes to be manipulated, and to make sure you’ll go along with any terrible things the government wishes to do to you (surveillance, wars, detentions, quarantines, shredding of the bill of rights…)

    So, in honor of Halloween, our scariest holiday other than election day, here is the Official Government-Approved List of Fears:

    1) ISIS (they’re everywhere!)

    2) Ebola (it’s everywhere!)

    3) Al Qaeda (still around)

    4) People who tell you not to be afraid (they’re working for the terrorists)

    5) Something (as in “If you see SOMETHING, say something…”)

    6) For Kids: Your hippie parents and Occupy-creepy older siblings (be sure and report them to the nearest friendly Homeland Security personnel, they’ll give you tasty candies!)

    7) That Leatherface guy with the chainsaw and Twisty clown from the TV (they may be ISIS)

    8) The thing under your bed (could be an ISIS thing, and you’re not imagining it, we believe you)

    9) The Boogie-man as you choose to believe in him/her as a higher power (he has ebola and is a Muslim)

    10) People who are not like you based on skin color, preferences, religion, politics and everything else all the time everywhere forever, just to be on the safe side!

    Citizens remember, fear is your only protection against the forces of whatever, evil, so just stay afraid and you’ll be safe!



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  • Iraq’s Sunnis Won’t Fight ISIS for U.S.

    October 31, 2014 // 6 Comments

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq, PRT Life, Syria

    iraq women1


    Iraq’s Sunnis won’t fight ISIS for the U.S. says NIQASH, a non-profit media organization operating out of Berlin. Without Sunni support, America’s war in Iraq cannot succeed. Here’s why.


    Negotiations Fail

    According to NIQASH, a source at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad said there have been secret negotiations between various Sunni Muslim armed factions, via Arab and Iraqi Kurdish intermediaries, for the past three months. At the request of U.S. diplomats and military personnel, Shia officials from the Iraqi government have also been meeting with the leaders of these groups in Erbil, Kurdistan and Amman, Jordan.

    At the same time General John Allen, the Obama’s appointed coordinator of U.S. efforts in Iraq, has been trying to contact the Sunni tribal leaders he worked with in Anbar during the previous war’s “Awakening.” “But it was surprising,” a NIQASH source reported, “Most of General Allen’s former allies refused to cooperate with us. And some of them are actually now living outside of Iraq because of the Iraqi government’s policies.”

    Oops. With some irony, America’s failure to secure the 2006 Awakening caused those Sunnis sympathetic to America’s aims to flee Shia persecution. Those “good guys” are thus not available in 2014 to help out America in the current war.


    ISIS and the Sunnis

    When ISIS first took control of Sunni areas in western Iraq, anger towards the Shia government in Baghdad caused many to see them as liberators from the Iraqi army. The army, along with paramilitary police from the Interior Ministry, had engaged in a multi-year campaign of beating, imprisoning and arresting Sunnis, to the point where many felt that Baghdad was occupying, not governing, the Sunni majority areas. For the Sunnis and ISIS, the Baghdad government was a common enemy, and a marriage of convenience formed.

    Recent events in Baghdad do little to assuage Sunni fears. A recent report suggests the new Iraqi Prime Minister may nominate a Shia Badr Militia leader as Interior Minister. Since the Shias took control of Iraq following the American invasion of 2003, the Interior Ministry, which controls the police and the prisons, has been a prime tool of repression and punishment.

    Still, cracks in the ISIS-Sunni relationship have started to form. Many of the Sunni groups, especially those led by former Baathists, are largely secular in nature, seeing their Sunni ties more as broadly cultural than strictly religious. ISIS’ requests to pledge allegiance to its cause, coupled with demands to implement Sharia law, have created friction. Some internecine fighting has taken place. The U.S. has sought to exploit these issues to break the indigenous Sunnis away from ISIS, and ultimately to turn the Sunnis into American proxy boots on the ground as was done with the Kurds.

    America’s problem is that most Sunnis are fearful about cooperating via America with the Shia government in Baghdad. They fear history will repeat itself and the Americans and the Shia government will betray them, exactly as they betrayed them only a few years ago when the Awakening movement collapsed. Quite a pickle.


    Sorry America

    The Sunnis seem to be choosing a middle ground, one which does not serve America’s interests.

    According to a 1920s Revolution Brigades (Sunni militia) leader, various militias came to the decision “not to support the international coalition against ISIS. They also decided not to cooperate with ISIS either. If the [Iraqi] army or the [Shia] militias attack [Sunni] areas they control though, they will fight both groups.”

    “We are against the acts of the hardline Islamic State. And we are also against bombed cars exploding randomly in Baghdad,” Abu Samir al-Jumaili, one of the Sunni Mujahideen Army’s leaders in the Anbar province, told NIQASH. “However we are also opposed to the government’s sectarian policies against Sunnis… In 2006 we cooperated with the government to expel al Qaeda from Sunni cities but the government did not keep its end of the bargain. They chased our leaders and arrested us… The ISIS group are terrorists but so are the Shia militias.”


    History is a Witch

    There is no way America can succeed in its goals in Iraq– repel ISIS and keep the country together– without the active participation of the Sunnis. It is very unlikely that that will happen. American strategy rests on the assumption that the Sunnis can be bribed and coerced into breaking with ISIS, no matter the shape of things in Baghdad. That’s hard to imagine. As with al Qaeda in Iraq during the American occupation years, the Islamic State is Sunni muscle against a Shia government that, left to its own devices, would continue to marginalize, if not simply slaughter, them. Starting in 2006, U.S. officials did indeed bribe and coerce some Sunni tribal leaders into accepting arms and payments in return for fighting insurgent outfits, including al-Qaeda. That deal, then called the Anbar Awakening, came with assurances that the United States would always stand by them.

    America didn’t stand. Instead, it turned the program over to the Shia government and headed for the door marked exit. The Shias promptly reneged on the deal.

    Once bitten, twice shy, so why, only a few years later, would the Sunnis go for what seems to be essentially the same bad deal? It appears they will not, and that by itself suggests the current Iraq war will end much the same as the previous one. It is foolish for America to expect otherwise.



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  • U.S. Post Office Spying on Americans Without Oversight

    October 30, 2014 // 4 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America

    Dicktracy


    The United States Postal Service disclosed it approved nearly 50,000 requests, called “mail covers,” last year alone from law enforcement to secretly monitor the snail mail of Americans.

    An audit shows the surveillance program is more extensive than widely known and that oversight protecting Americans is lax: 21 percent of the covers examined were approved without even the minimal required written authorization and 13 percent that did have authorization “were not adequately justified.” The Post Office has no standing review procedures.

    Mail Cover is Nothing New, But…

    The Post Office helping spy on Americans per se is nothing new; its program to record your mail’s “metadata,” who sent what to whom, complete with addresses and date/time stamps, has existed in the form of an overt program detailed in federal law called “mail cover” since well before the term metadata was even invented. As mail cover does not involve reading the mail’s contents, only information on the outside of the envelope or package that could be read by anyone seeing the item, it is not considered by precedent a violation of the Fourth Amendment’s protections against unwarranted searches.

    Official versions of mail cover are acknowledged as far back as World War I. But like many such things– wiretapping, border detentions, searches and seizures, old Executive Orders, signing statements– its former existence, restrained in theory and often in practice in Constitutional America, is largely irrelevant now to all but historians. What has happened post-9/11 to mail covers is what has happened to America.

    How Did Mail Cover Use to Work?

    A mail cover has to be requested by a state or federal law enforcement agency. Following internal approval, postal workers intercept the target’s mail before delivery, and record the names, return addresses and any other information from the outside of letters and packages before they are delivered to a person’s home. The Post Office does not notify the recipient or the sender that the cover is in place.

    Prior to 9/11, the process had an old-timey feel to it, almost quaint. In a 2006 leaked instruction manual, agencies seeking a mail cover were told to first fill out a paper form, the External Law Enforcement Request for Mail Cover Template. Law enforcement was reminded to include the Zip +4 for all subjects. An electronic version of the form was supposedly available, but you had to telephone the Post Office personally to get one.

    The template required a paper cover letter requesting the action on agency letterhead, signed by the requesting agent’s supervisor. The form would then need to be put into an envelope marked Restricted Information, with that sealed inside a second envelope, and then snail-mailed via the regular first class, unclassified, mail system, to the appropriate section of the Post Office. Information obtained by the Post Office would be sent back on a Form 2009.

    Implementation was largely also a paper process. One subject learned his mail was being covered after he received a handwritten card, apparently delivered by mistake, with instructions for postal workers to pay special attention to the letters and packages sent to his home. “Show all mail to supv for copying prior to going out on the street,” read the card. The word “confidential” was highlighted in green. Another subject was told he was being covered by his regular mail delivery person.

    The standards for law enforcement to request a mail cover were low; “reasonable grounds that demonstrate the information from the mail cover is necessary to develop evidence in a criminal investigation.” Covers were not to be used as the first step in an investigation (on an honor system) and could not include attorney-client mail if the attorney of record is known (on an honor system.)

    The key point is that absent a specific request to monitor a specific person, the mail was simply delivered as it had been since the time of the pony express.

    Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT)

    Sometime after the anthrax attacks of 2001, when the mail was used to send the poison letters, and its public acknowledgement is 2013, the Post Office created the Mail Isolation Control and Tracking (MICT) system.

    Under the new MICT system, an imaging tool is used to photograph of the exterior of every piece of paper mail processed in the United States. The images are kept, the Post Office says, for 30 days, allowing them to retroactively track mail at the request of law enforcement. There are no stated limits on how long law enforcement may store any information they receive from the Post Office. In addition, mail covers can be extended indefinitely, meaning a flow of data-in for years can be done if desired. MICT is the companion program to the NSA’s efforts: collect everything, store it, and then dig in retroactively. As has been said of the NSA , why look for the needle now, when you can collect the whole haystack? Collect it all, tag it, store it and later, whatever it is you want, search for it.

    Like the metadata obtained from cell phone records, mail covers are “a treasure trove of information,” James Wedick, a former FBI agent, told the New York Times. “Looking at just the outside of letters and other mail, I can see who you bank with, who you communicate with, all kinds of useful information that gives investigators leads that they can then follow up on with a subpoena.”

    As for those subpoenas, and any warrants thought to be needed to actually open and read mail of interest, George W. Bush asserted in a 2007 signing statement that the federal government had the authority to open mail without warrants in emergencies or in foreign intelligence cases. Others have argued such authority has existed since 1978 as part of the original FISA legislation.

    Abuse

    It should be blindingly obvious how the mail cover system, particularly with the broad, digital sweep of MICT available, stands ready to be abused (examples of past abuses are the alternate, secret, mail cover program [HTLINGUAL] run for twenty some years by the CIA, and the FBI’s COUNTERINTELPRO work against Vietnam War opponents.) The current mail cover system operates under no judicial or outside oversight. It relies on numerous assertions, an honor system if you will, by law enforcement that the Post Office cannot verify. The system touches the mail of every American.

    How many Americans have their mail subjected to this scrutiny? In 2013 alone, the Postal Office processed about 50,000 mail covers.

    Abuse? A sample examined by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG) “found some controls lacking.” For example, 21 percent of the covers examined were approved without even the minimal required written authorization and 13 percent that did have paper requests “were not adequately justified.” The audit also found hundreds of mail covers in active status even though their cover periods had ended. Part of the problem is that the Post Office has no standing review procedures for its own program.

    Other than the referenced OIG report, the Post Office refuses to disclose how many requests for mail covers it has received, nor will it break down the requests by local law enforcement versus federal law enforcement, nor will it specify how many requests are related to criminal investigations and how many deal with national security investigations. In fact, the Post Office has provided false information to some of those questions to the media.


    Conclusion

    On a oddly positive note, the Postal Service Office of Inspector General’s report did find handling of mail cover requests tended to be sloppy and slow, and the case management software ineffective. Such are the things that stand now between Americans and the Post-Constitutional Dark State.

    While small in size compared to the global operations of the NSA, the Post Office mail cover program shares many of the same hallmarks. It grew in size, complexity and technology post-9/11 without adequate safeguards built in, and has operated without those safeguards ever since. It is a secret program affecting all Americans, only disclosed by accident, Freedom of Information Act requests and a few journalists willing to look into the government’s actions. The program moved very quickly from targeting a select few Americans to covering every one of us. Like the actions of the NSA against Americans, the mail cover program at the very least rubs rough against the edges of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantees against unlawful searches, relying on legal precedents created in another era while using secrecy to thwart new legal challenges.

    There are the “it’s just metadata” faux arguments. Can’t someone look over my shoulder at the Post Office anyway? Big deal. Actually, it is a big deal. What is significant about the many disparate elements of a global surveillance system is not pieces of data in isolation (I got a letter today) but how those small elements can be combined to create a comprehensive picture of someone. Location data from phones + credit card transactions + license plate trackers + text messages sent and received + pharmacy purchases + Facebook posts + mail sent and delivered… well, you get it.

    And on perhaps a more personal note, one is left thinking, aw c’mon, now the Post Office too? The Post Office used to be one of the good guys, bringing packages and Christmas cards, creating a kind of a miracle that for about half a buck, a letter with details of Aunt Tillie’s surgery could journey from Ohio to Montana in just a few days. At some level, a lot of Americans were long-suspicious of the NSA, CIA. Sadly, post-9/11, the Post Office now too is just another tool of the surveillance state.



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  • Appointment of Shia Militiaman to Iraqi Cabinet

    October 29, 2014 // 23 Comments

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iran, Iraq



    A key part of America’s strategy in Iraq is the creation of an “inclusive” government in Baghdad, one that will pull together the Shias, Sunnis and Kurds. This has been a persistent American myth since the 2003 invasion, one that is impossible realize and thus a single point of failure for Obama’s war.

    History of the Myth

    First, in 2003, as symbol of the democracy the U.S. sought to create in Iraq, then again in 2006 (remember the purple finger photos?) that the war was not actually already lost, and then forever after as the solution to the internecine fighting that America’s Occupation unleashed, the myth has had a long run. As you can see from Embassy Baghdad’s Tweet above, America again imagines it has achieved its interim goal of a balanced government; peace and prosperity is just around the corner.

    A big part of the problem is that the United States thinks creating an Iraqi government is like picking players for a sports team. If things don’t work out, try again in next season’s draft. That was the thought behind America’s 180 on former Prime Minister Maliki. In power since 2006 with strong U.S. support, Maliki stayed in office from January to August 2014, even as ISIS had its first successes in Iraq. But as Obama launched the newest Iraq war, Maliki was out and a new player moved up the roster.

    But since Haider al-Abadi, the latest prime minister and thus the great inclusivist hope, is a Shia and a former colleague of the once-anointed, now disappointed former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as well as a member of the same political party, little changed at the top. So hopes for “inclusiveness” fell to the choices to lead the key ministries of defense and the interior. Both have been tools of repression against the country’s Sunnis for years.

    And now we know the winners of that odd contest.

    Anti-Inclusionary Choice for Interior Ministry

    A Sunni was chosen to lead Defense, a ministry currently in charge of a decrepit Iraqi Army best known for running away at first contact, leaving behind American-supplied weapons for ISIS to repurpose. Not so much joy in that job for now.

    More significant choice is Abadi’s new Interior Minister, Mohammed Ghabban, a little-known Shiite politician with the Badr Organization. You remember the Badr folks, or should, because every Sunni in Iraq does. During the American Occupation, the Badr militia ran the notorious Shiite death squads, after infiltrating the same Interior Ministry it basically now heads to ensure the government would not interfere in their grim work.

    Human Rights Watch quoted a doctor in the Health Ministry: “Sunnis are a minority in Baghdad, but they’re the majority in our morgue.”

    Back in 2009, a SECRET Wikileaked State Department cable had this to say about the Badr militia’s leader, and the man Ghabban still answers to, Hadi al-Amiri:

    Amiri is widely known to have played a leading role in organizing attacks by the Badr Corps militia (the strongest, most disciplined Shia militia at the time and precursor to the current Badr Organization) against Sunnis during the sectarian violence of 2004-2006. Sources indicate that he may have personally ordered attacks on up to 2000 Sunnis. One of his preferred methods of killing allegedly involved using a power drill to pierce the skulls of his adversaries.

    Amiri was also previously rejected by Sunnis as a negotiating partner. Again, from the State Department:

    Given his role in sectarian violence and prominent position in the dominant Shia coalition, it is understandable that Sunni leaders were hesitant to view him as a viable negotiating partner when he proposed a compromise parliamentary seat distribution after the November 23 Shia-Kurd backed electoral amendment was adopted.


    Anti-Inclusionary Rise of the Shia Militias

    The elevation of a Badr organization leader to perhaps the most significant cabinet position vis-vis the Sunnis is in line with the broader increasing influence of the Shia militias.

    As much out of necessity given the limp Iraqi Army as sectarian politics, the Baghdad government has increasingly called upon Shia militias to defend the city. While they currently seem to be holding off ISIS advances past the already-Sunni controlled territory west of Baghdad Airport, Shia militias have also abducted and killed scores of Sunni civilians in recent months and enjoy total impunity for these crimes, according to Amnesty International. These attacks, as an anti-inclusionary act as can be, are apparently in revenge for Sunni support of ISIS. Scores of unidentified bodies have been discovered across the country handcuffed and with gunshot wounds to the head, deliberate execution-style killings that send a message.

    “By granting its blessing to militias who routinely commit such abhorrent abuses, the Iraqi government is sanctioning war crimes and fuelling a dangerous cycle of sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart,” concluded Amnesty.

    Two more points about the Badr group: They were responsible for the deaths of many American military personnel during the Occupation and they remain closely allied with Iran. There is no good news with this one.

    Inclusionary Fail

    “To give the Interior Ministry to a direct Iranian proxy is huge,” said one researcher specializing in Shiite groups. “It shows who the Iraqis are throwing their lot in with.”

    The inclusionary government America’s strategy for Iraq rests on is an illusion, a governmental fantasy in 2014 as it was 2003-2011. Everyone with eyes– except the U.S. government– can see where this one ends.




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  • Movie Review: CitizenFour, Snowden for Lovers and Haters

    October 28, 2014 // 7 Comments

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Post-Constitution America

    citizenfour_poster


    Two kinds of people are interested in Laura Pointras’ new documentary, CitizenFour, about Edward Snowden’s early contacts with journalists Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and herself. Let’s have a review of the film for each group, the Haters and the Everyone Else.

    But First, a Quick Recap

    Snowden worked deep inside America’s national security state. His last job was as a contract systems administrator for the NSA. Through this job he obtained a massive trove of documents which, when made public, demonstrated to the world U.S. government electronic surveillance and espionage on a scale even its worst critics had not fully described. The documents also validated the information provided by earlier NSA whistleblowers. Snowden left the U.S. for Hong Kong, where he met the journalists above, and where most of CitizenFour was filmed. Following U.S. government efforts to bring Snowden back to the U.S., he left for Moscow, likely enroute to some other place, possibly Ecuador. He instead spent weeks in suspended status at the Moscow Airport before being granted long-term residency.

    With few exceptions, pretty much everyone can agree with that basic outline of the Snowden story to date, and CitizenFour does a very good job recounting most of it. It is there, however, where agreement ends. CitizenFour (the title comes from the codename Snowden choose for himself when first contacting filmmaker Pointras) cannot be understood independently from the greater Snowden story, and separate from the strong opinions of Snowden’s decisions.


    Review for Real Haters

    If you thought traitors like Chelsea Manning have their hate groups, they aren’t jack compared to what those on the right side (oh yes, pun intended) of the house will think of this film. To them, Pointras has created an evil-genius piece of propaganda, with the give-away starting point that she was a huge part of the Snowden story herself, throwing out any hint of objectivity. Her success at humanizing Snowden, portraying him as the amiable geek-nerd-manchild you could have a Lite beer with, is Riefenstahl-level work.

    This is a celebrity “authorized biography” with all the integrity those have. Apart from making a traitor look good, they’ll say, Pointras also crudely tells only the tidy parts of the story. Snowden’s believed-espionage relationships with Russia and China are glossed over. Many details of his time in Hong Kong and sneaky flights in and out are absent. Nothing is said about why Snowden won’t return to the U.S. to defend his so-called honorable acts in court like a real man would do. Nothing is said about how the NSA keeps America safe from Americans. Snowden is a starry-eyed savior of the left who’d likely smirk from his cozy Russian lair as America is attacked again.

    Review for Everyone Else

    CitizenFour is impressive filmmaking. Pointras starts with the problem of telling a story most people already know, in an engaging way, trying to reach a broad audience in many cases polarized as to her subject, and her Subject. She succeeds brilliantly, and if CitizenFour is not awarded the Academy Award for Best Documentary then that award no longer is relevant.

    To be fair to other films in award contention, Pointras starts from, and makes the most of, some very significant advantages. She is indeed part of the story (a fact she never hides nor diminishes) and thus enjoys a level of trust and access with her subjects almost unavailable to other documentarians. The viewer is in the room as the journalists with Snowden struggle to understand the story he is trying to tell them, working to interpret the documents he shows them and creating on the fly the most effective way to bring this information to the public. It is heady stuff.

    The interplay between Snowden and the journalists is dramatic, but in the sense that it is real human stuff. When Snowden claims he does not care if he is exposed as the whistleblower– he encourages the journalists to name him– they back him off a step, and try to make sure Snowden truly knows the impact such a decision will have on him and people he cares about. Funny things happen, particularly when Snowden realizes he is explaining some technical point to people who are nowhere near his level of expertise (an exchange about password security between Snowden and Greenwald is laugh-out-loud funny.)

    Pointras skillfully weaves her story, presenting it sometimes as if it was a thriller (it is), other times as a classic movie brave journalist saga (it is) and often times as a profile of a man everyone thinks they know but does not (it is that too.)

    Parts of Snowden’s journey from Hawaii to Moscow are omitted. Most sentient members of the audience will understand they have to be, given the global efforts underway to nab Snowden, and the need to protect the many people who played a role who choose to or need to remain anonymous. None of that is new in a documentary– turn on the evening news and witnesses speak in shadowy profile, while most docs about the CIA or the NSA alter voices and employ false names for the same reasons. Anyone expecting Pointras’ film to be a How to Catch Edward Snowden for Dummies will indeed be disappointed.

    Perhaps most powerfully, Pointras’ portrait of Snowden is of a whistleblower for a new generation. He is passionate, but in a laid-back way, confident in his actions such that his passion comes from within, maybe call it a kind of intellectual hipster patriotism. He is political, but in a small “p” way, moving through classic Left and Right into a place where many people feel more comfortable today, with a focus on issues such as privacy and authoritarianism above two sides shouting “Facist!” and “Hippie!” at each other in some news show’s clumsy attempt at their parents’ version of balance. When dealing with the older journalists in that hotel room, Snowden at times sounds like many young people do explaining how the DVR works to moms and dads dully mystified by but stuck being dependent on new technologies.

    And there (partisan now, no shame) lies CitizenFour’s most long-lasting contribution. There are millions of young men and women working inside the Dark State, often times with impressive levels of access to information. Like Snowden, they have seen evidence of government wrongdoing, obscenities directed at the Constitution, harm done to ordinary citizens. Almost every one of those people will remain silent, partners to the crimes. But maybe– just maybe– one out of a million will see a role model, an example, that rings true in CitizenFour, and stand to speak.

    If it was up to me, I’d have this movie play in every theatre in the Washington DC area 24/7, because s/he is out there.



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  • Is Forced Quarantine for Ebola Legal?

    October 27, 2014 // 1 Comment

    Tags: , , ,
    Posted in: Democracy, Police State, Post-Constitution America




    New York and New Jersey this week instituted mandatory confinement for certain people exposed to ebola. Illinois announced its own mandatory quarantine, and Florida has instituted a home-quarantine version.

    Is it legal for a state (or the federal) government to detain and quarantine you against your will for health reasons? Yes. Has this sort of thing been done before? Yes. Will it be effective? No. Is it just a political ploy to garner votes from a panicked public? Oh my yes.



    Is it legal for a state (or the federal) government to detain and quarantine you against your will for health reasons?

    Yes. The federal government derives its authority for isolation and quarantine from the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. Under the Public Health Service Act, the Secretary of Health and Human Services is authorized to take measures to prevent the entry and spread of communicable diseases.

    The authority for carrying out these measures is been delegated to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Under 42 Code of Federal Regulations parts 70 and 71, CDC is authorized to apprehend, detain, and examine people arriving to the United States and traveling between states who are suspected of carrying communicable diseases.

    Though the paranoid-a-sphere rediscovers these provisions on a regular basis and makes much of them, the basic idea of the government forcibly quarantining people for the sake of public health goes back into the 19th century.

    That said, the power to detain and quarantine often is left to the states, and both New York and New Jersey law provide for it. New York allows the decision to be challenged in a magistrate court; New Jersey does not have a similar law, though technically any form of detention can be broadly challenged under habeas corpus. But good luck with that– the Florida Supreme Court laid down the precedent in saying “The constitutional guarantees of life, liberty and property, of which a person cannot be deprived without due process of law, do not limit the exercise of the police power of the State to preserve the public health so long as that power is reasonably and fairly exercised and not abused.”



    Has this sort of thing been done before?

    Yes. The Florida precedent case cited above dealt with forced quarantine of a tuberculous patient in 1952.

    Just recently in Dallas, Texas, after her boyfriend was diagnosed as the first ebola case in the United States, Louise Troh and her family were asked not to leave their home. When Troh tried to leave anyway, a Dallas judge issued a confinement order, forcing a quarantine on Troh and her family. Police stationed outside of the family’s home enforced the order.

    In 2007, a 27-year-old man was forcibly placed in a Phoenix hospital ward reserved for sick prisoners. The man suffered from a deadly strain of tuberculosis known as XDR-TB. Doctors say he is virtually untreatable. He has been forced to live in a hospital cell in complete isolation.

    Though never implemented, in 1985 at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, a majority of Americans favored quarantine of patients, with 48 percent approving of identity cards for those who tested HIV-positive, and 15 percent of Americans even supporting tattooing those with AIDS to mark them as “dangerous.”

    Further back in America’s history are multiple examples of forced quarantine, including Hawaiian leper colonies, and the isolated TB wards and Ellis Island medical isolations of the 19th century.

    The record is not pretty, but the record exists.



    Will it be effective for ebola?

    No. The New York and New Jersey quarantine laws at present only apply to a) health care workers b) returning from African “hot zone” countries through c) only two airports, JFK and Newark who d) had contact with ebola. That’s a very select group, chosen largely because New York’s sole ebola patient fit that exact profile. Persons such as regular travelers who fit the same profile,or persons who just flew internationally with the profiled individuals, are not included.

    In addition, the New York and New Jersey plans seem to rely 100 percent on individuals who fit the profile self-identifying themselves for the mandatory quarantine. Anyone who wished to avoid it, especially a health professional who knew s/he was not an active carrier based on clearly identifiable and well-known symptoms such as a high fever, could just dummy up at the airport. Alternately, s/he could route flights to land somewhere else and take the bus home to Manhattan.

    What does happen when a healthcare worker enters this quarantine system? There is only one example in New Jersey so far, and it is not a pretty one. Kaci Hickox, returning from volunteer work in Sierra Leone, was detained against her will for seven hours at Newark Liberty International Airport on Friday before being forcibly transferred to a local hospital, escorted by eight police cars, where she will be held for an unspecified period of time. Hickox did not have a fever when brought to the hospital and has tested negative for ebola, yet is inside the system now and those things do not appear to matter.

    Quarantining actually infectious people, who may indeed be a danger to public health is one thing. But like taking off our shoes and other security theatre that followed 9/11, the quarantine plan seems designed more for show than any hint of practicality.



    Is it just a political ploy to garner votes from a panicked public?

    Oh my yes. All of the state governors who pushed the plan through without the endorsement of the CDC or New York’s mayor are in election battles. The governors of New York, Illinois and Florida are up for reelection in about a week, and New Jersey governor Chris Christie is famously testing the waters for a possible 2016 presidential run. New York’s mayor is not up for reelection for years.

    Fear-mongering works; ask any politician who has beaten the drum of “9/11, 9/11, 9/11″ since, well, 9/11. People are scared, mostly based on ignorance fanned by media who themselves seek to profit from fear.

    That sort of disease seems more dangerous in the long run than a handful of ebola patients.




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