“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Friday, May 31, 2013

The increasingly embarrassing McCain was eager to immerse himself in Syria to endorse the rebels and rushed headlong into the country to give his imprimatur to the civil war, but he showed little interest in finding out who the rebels he was posing with were, or what they stood for.

Spokesman Says Incident 'Regrettable,' McCain Didn't Know

by Jason Ditz, May 30, 2013

Sen. John McCain’s Monday decision to sneak into Syria for a photo-op with rebel commanders is quickly going from publicity stunt to embarrassment, with the revelation that one of the “commanders” in question is the head of a kidnapping ring.
According to freed kidnap victims, the photo shows Abu Ibrahim, the leader of the rebel Northern Storm brigade, which has been fighting in Aleppo and whose strategy has centered around kidnapping foreigners and Shi’ites and holding them for ransom.
McCain’s spokesmen have issued statements terming the incident “regrettable,” but insisting that McCain had no way of knowing who the rebel commanders he took pictures with were, adding that none introduced themselves as Abu Ibrahim.
Which of course underscores the problem with McCain’s visit. He was eager to endorse the rebels and rushed headlong into the country to give his imprimatur to the civil war, but he showed little interest in finding out who the rebels he was posing with were, or what they stood for. That they were on the side of a war that McCain is hoping to suck the US into was simply good enough for him.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hezbollah in large-scale confrontation with Sunni Muslim fighters from the al-Nusra front, many of whose fighters have come from other Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

Ferocious Battle Underway Over Syrian Border City

May 29, 2013
A ferocious battle is underway in the Syrian city of Qusair near the border with Lebanon between government forces bolstered by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas and anti-government rebels led by militiamen linked to al-Qaida, according to anti-government activists.

Government warplanes carried out several bombing raids on Qusair throughout Wednesday and Hezbollah rushed in reinforcements in an attempt to dislodge the rebels from Qusair, a strategic city on the main highway into central Lebanon, through the Bekaa Valley and on to Beirut.

Members of Hezbollah have become key battleground allies of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Both follow the Shiite sect of Islam and both are closely allied with Shiite Iran. Most of the rebels are Sunnis.

Clashes between Hezbollah and rebel forces led by Al Qaeda-linked fighters belonging to the Jabhat al-Nusra raged in many districts of Qusair. The bloodiest battles were centered in the northern districts of the city, where Hezbollah militiamen have been unable to dislodge Syrian rebels. Anti-government activists said the rebels had made headway in pushing back Hezbollah on the west side of the city.

Hezbollah spokesman Ibrahim Moussawi conceded that the north of Qusair was proving the hardest to subdue. “It is very hard and difficult to take. There are snipers everywhere. This will cost us but well take it,” Moussawi said.

Reports of chemical attacks
The see-saw battle over Qusair came as claims mounted of Syrian government forces using chemical weapons in the outskirts of Damascus, this time in the suburb of Jobar about two kilometers northeast of the old city walls. Reporters from the French newspaper Le Monde witnessed the after-effects of what they and rebels with the Tahrir al-Sham ('Liberation of Syria') brigade believe were gas attacks launched by government troops over several days this week.

“We thought it was a mortar that didn't explode, and no one really paid attention to it,” Omar Haidar, the brigade’s chief of operations, told the newspaper. “No odor, no smoke, not even a whistle to indicate the release of a toxic gas. And then the symptoms appear. The men cough violently. Their eyes burn, their pupils shrink, their vision blurs. Soon they experience difficulty breathing.”

The Assad government has denied using any chemical weapons. A few weeks ago, the government traded accusations over reports of the use of a chemical weapon in the northwest of the city of Aleppo that killed more than 20 people and wounded another 80, with each side blaming the other for the attack.
In December, U.S. President Barack Obama warned that any use of chemical weapons would be “totally unacceptable” and a “red line” that could trigger Western intervention.

US red line on chemical weapons

The Obama administration told Congress last month that U.S. intelligence agencies had assessed “with varying degrees of confidence” that Syria has used small amounts of chemical weapons in the conflict. But the U.S. president said he needed more conclusive evidence.

The British Foreign Office released a statement Wednesday saying, “The U.K. is extremely concerned about the ongoing allegations of chemical weapons use in Syria.” British officials confirmed they have provided more information to a United Nations inquiry team that the Assad government has prevented from entering Syria to investigate on the ground.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius reacted to the Le Monde report even more sharply. In a radio interview, Fabius warned of a “severe reaction” if chemical weapons had been used by Syrian government forces. Asked what “severe” meant, Fabius said: “It’s the final stage before a strike.”

Tests on samples brought from Syria by French reporters will take nearly a month to analyze, according to French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot.

The ferocity of the fighting in Qusair reflected the strategic significance of the city. Analysts believe Qusair would be crucial for Assad if he and his allies were forced to try to form an enclave near the coast north and east of Lebanon.
But Syrian rebel sources and their overseas supporters say the timing of the attacks on Qusair may have more to do with the Assad government maneuvering ahead of proposed peace talks next month that have been endorsed by both the U.S. and Russia.

Maneuvering for peace talks

“He’s determined to grab back as much lost ground as he can,” says Brian Sayers of the Syrian Support Group, a U.S.-based group that supports the rebellion and advocates for a democratic Syria.

The fight involving artillery bombardments and air strikes has for the first time brought Hezbollah in large-scale confrontation with Sunni Muslim fighters from the al-Nusra front, many of whose fighters have come from other Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries.

Rebel sources told VOA that al-Nusra fighters are taking the lead for the rebels on many fronts in Syria. Likewise, they claim that there are few Syrian government forces now in the fight. “We are fighting Hezbollah,” one of the sources said in a Skype call.
But the battle in Qusair is taking its toll on Hezbollah. The last few days have seen an increasing number of “martyrdom announcements” for fallen Hezbollah fighters from the Lebanese Shia movement.

A military analyst at the U.S. Department of Defense told VOA that Hezbollah leaders may have been surprised by the stiff resistance they have faced.
“I think only now are they appreciating what effective and experienced fighters they are facing,” the U.S. analyst said. “Many of the Hezbollah fighters have been trained for defensive actions against Israel and are not so used to offensive tactics.”

Trained in defense or not, Hezbollah is sending in more fighters into Qusair and further afield, according to Syrian opposition sources. Khaled Saleh, a spokesman for the Syrian National Coalition, said Hezbollah operations are now stretching to the outskirts of Damascus.
“Something very dangerous is happening: the Hezbollah militia has begun to move into the outskirts of Damascus. This is a new development that we did not expect,” Saleh said.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

President Obama is to be commended for resisting neocon and liberal interventionist clamors to get us into yet another open-ended war. For we have no vital interest in Assad’s overthrow.

We have lived with Assad and his father for 40 years. And what did our intervention in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi produce but a failed state, the Benghazi atrocity, and the spread of al-Qaida into Mali and Niger?

Why should Americans die for a Sunni triumph in Syria? At best, we might bring about a new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Damascus, as in Cairo. At worst, we could get a privileged sanctuary for that al-Qaida affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front.



By: Patrick J. Buchanan
5/28/2013 01:03 PM
The thrice-promised land it has been called.
It is that land north of Mecca and Medina and south of Anatolia, between the Mediterranean Sea and the Persian Gulf.
In 1915 — that year of Gallipoli, which forced the resignation of First Lord of the Admiralty Winston Churchill — Britain, to win Arab support for its war against the Ottoman Turks, committed, in the McMahon Agreement, to the independence of these lands under Arab rule.
It was for this that Lawrence of Arabia and the Arabs fought.
In November 1917, however, one month before Gen. Allenby led his army into Jerusalem, Lord Balfour, in a letter to Baron Rothschild, declared that His Majesty’s government now looked with favor upon the creation on these same lands of a national homeland for the Jewish people.
Between these clashing commitments there had been struck in 1916 a secret deal between Britain’s Mark Sykes and France’s Francois Georges-Picot. With the silent approval of czarist Russia, which had been promised Istanbul, these lands were subdivided and placed under British and French rule.
France got Syria and Lebanon. Britain took Transjordan, Palestine and Iraq, and carved out Kuwait.
Vladimir Lenin discovered the Sykes-Picot treaty in the czar’s archives and published it, so the world might see what the Great War was truly all about. Sykes-Picot proved impossible to reconcile with Woodrow Wilson’s declaration that he and the allies — the British, French, Italian, Russian and Japanese empires — were all fighting “to make the world safe for democracy.”
Imperial hypocrisy stood naked and exposed.
Wilson’s idealistic Fourteen Points, announced early in 1918, were crafted to recapture the moral high ground. Yet it was out of the implementation of Sykes-Picot that so much Arab hostility and hatred would come — and from which today’s Middle East emerged.
Nine decades on, the Sykes-Picot map of the Middle East seems about to undergo revision, and a new map, its borders drawn in blood, emerge, along the lines of what H.G. Wells called the “natural borders” of mankind.
“There is a natural and necessary political map of the world,” Wells wrote, “which transcends” these artificial states, and this natural map of mankind would see nations established on the basis of language, culture, creed, race and tribe. The natural map of the Middle East has begun to assert itself.
Syria is disintegrating, with Alawite Shia fighting Sunni, Christians siding with Damascus, Druze divided, and Kurds looking to break free and unite with their kinfolk in Turkey, Iraq and Iran. Their dream: a Kurdistani nation rooted in a common ethnic identity.
Shia Hezbollah controls the south of Lebanon, and with Shia Iran is supporting the Shia-led army and regime of Bashar Assad.
Together, they are carving out a sub-nation from Damascus to Homs to the Mediterranean. The east and north of Syria could be lost to the Sunni rebels and the Al-Nusra Front, an ally of al-Qaida.
Sectarian war is now spilling over into Lebanon.
Iraq, too, seems to be disintegrating. The Kurdish enclave in the north is acting like an independent nation, cutting oil deals with Ankara.
Sunni Anbar in the west is supporting Sunni rebels across the border in Syria. And the Shia regime in Baghdad is being scourged by Sunni terror that could reignite the civil-sectarian war of 2006-2007, this time without Gen. Petraeus’ U.S. troops to negotiate a truce or tamp it down.
Sunni Turkey is home to 15 million Kurds and 15 million Shia. And its prime minister’s role as middle man between Qatari and Saudi arms shipments and Syria’s Sunni rebels is unappreciated by his own people.
Seeing the Shia crescent — Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad’s Syria, Nuri al-Maliki’s Iraq, the Ayatollah’s Iran — imperiled by the potential loss of its Syrian linchpin, Tehran and Hezbollah seem willing to risk far more in this Syrian war than does the Sunni coalition of Saudis, Qataris and Turks.
Who dares, wins.
Though the Turks have a 400,000-man, NATO-equipped army, a population three times that of Syria and an economy 12 times as large, and they are, with the Israelis, the strongest nations in the region, they appear to want the Americans to deal with their problem.
President Obama is to be commended for resisting neocon and liberal interventionist clamors to get us into yet another open-ended war. For we have no vital interest in Assad’s overthrow.
We have lived with him and his father for 40 years. And what did our intervention in Libya to oust Moammar Gadhafi produce but a failed state, the Benghazi atrocity, and the spread of al-Qaida into Mali and Niger?
Why should Americans die for a Sunni triumph in Syria? At best, we might bring about a new Muslim Brotherhood regime in Damascus, as in Cairo. At worst, we could get a privileged sanctuary for that al-Qaida affiliate, the Al-Nusra Front.
As the Sykes-Picot borders disappear and the nations created by the mapmakers of Paris in 1919-1920 disintegrate, a Muslim Thirty Years’ War may be breaking out in the thrice-promised land
It is not, and it should not become, America’s war.
Patrick J. Buchanan is the author of “Suicide of a Superpower: Will America Survive to 2025?”

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov accused the European Union of “throwing fuel on the fire” by letting its own arms embargo on Syria’s rebels expire. Furthermore, Russia reserves the right to provide Syria with state-of-the art air defense missiles, seeing it as a key deterrent against foreign intervention in the country, a top Russian official said Tuesday.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Let’s hear it from a Neocon or two and a first class Israeli Firster and get a clear picture of one of the usual suspects that wants the US involved in another Middle East war.

Worldview: Syria's Assad shows disdain for U.S. efforts

POSTED: Sunday, May 26, 2013, 3:01 Am

Last week, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad demonstrated his utter disdain for U.S. efforts to launch Syrian peace talks next month in Geneva.
Even as Secretary of State John Kerry was roaming the region seeking Arab backing for talks, the Syrian regime reportedly launched a chemical weapon against civilians in a northeastern Damascus suburb. The fourth such episode, this one sent at least 50 victims to the hospital with bronchial and muscle spasms.
Assad once more thumbed his nose at President Obama's "red lines" with impunity, while insisting he will run in "elections" in 2014. Could the message possibly be clearer? Armed by Moscow and Tehran, buoyed by Iranian and Hezbollah fighters helping him regain lost ground, Assad thinks he is winning.
No wonder. The White House still refuses to do what is necessary to force him to take talks seriously, thus ensuring that any Geneva meeting will fail.
The administration is correct to argue that a negotiated peace would be the best way to stop the Syrian carnage. It would also be the best way to stop the fighting from spilling over further into Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, or even Israel, and to prevent a new al-Qaeda base in the heart of the Middle East.
Yet, at present, Washington has little or no leverage with which to squeeze Assad into accepting the principles underlying the Geneva talks: that both sides would agree to a transitional government (minus Assad), which would take control of the country and prepare for elections.

Assad rejects that premise. Moscow (the cosponsor of the talks, on whose good offices Kerry is relying) backs Assad. The dictators stonewalling "reflects his belief that the Iranians and Russians will pull his chestnuts out of the fire," says Fred Hof, a former special adviser on Syria at the State Department.

So, even if Syrian opposition leaders agree to attend talks, what's the point?
True, Kerry warned last week that, if Assad won't negotiate in good faith, the United States might increase its support for the opposition. But U.S. officials still insist that any new support will only be "nonlethal," meaning no weapons. This has convinced Assad he can ignore U.S. threats.

The dictator knows it took two months for Washington to deliver promised food rations and medical kits to Syrian opposition militias that were CIA-vetted to ensure they are not linked to jihadis. The administration still has not delivered communications equipment promised in April.

Meantime, non-jihadi rebels whom Washington supposedly backs are losing ground to Assad's forces because the rebels don't have enough bullets. (Jihadi fighters, on the other hand, seem to have no trouble getting guns and cash from rich Gulf Arabs.) No wonder Assad feels free to take a hard line on Geneva talks.

The talks might have a chance, however, if Obama were willing to play hardball with Assad. The dictator and his allies ignore rhetoric, but respect strength.
Playing hardball would require two essential steps.

First, Assad would have to be convinced he could lose the military battle. The administration would have to listen to Gen. Salim Idriss, commander of the rebels' Supreme Military Council (SMC), who wrote to Kerry: "For the negotiations to be of any substance, we must reach a strategic military balance, without which the regime will feel empowered to dictate, or at least stall for precious time to achieve gains on the ground under the cover of diplomacy, while fully sustained logistically and militarily by Russia and Iran."
To achieve a strategic balance, Idriss wrote, the United States should provide rebel forces under the command of the SMC with sufficient advanced weapons "to sustain defensive military capabilities in the face of the Assad forces."
In other words, for diplomacy to work, vetted rebel groups first need more, and better, arms.

Which brings us to the second step. Those weapons don't necessarily have to come from the United States, although failing to provide them severely undercuts U.S. leverage with its enemies and its allies. The weapons can come from Gulf states - or from Britain and France if the European Union drops its arms embargo on Syria. But Washington must play the lead role in ensuring that the aid is coordinated in a way that strengthens responsible rebel groups.
The administration claims to support the SMC and Idriss, but does little to prove it. It has outsourced the job of arming the rebels to Qatar and Saudi Arabia, but failed to persuade them to coordinate their aid through the military council. Instead, they arm their favorite militias (often salafi militants). This undercuts Idriss efforts to create a coherent rebel army that could marginalize jihadi groups.

The Qataris and Saudis have felt free to ignore Washington because, despite Kerry's efforts, they see no sign the White House is fully invested on the Syria issue. If these talks are to have any chance of success, that perception must change.

Obama must unite the Gulf states, Turkey, and involved European nations around a coherent policy for arming the rebels. He must persuade the Russians and Iranians that, so long as their arms flow to Assad, he will ensure that vetted rebel groups get equal weapons.

Such tough tactics are required to convince Assad that there is no alternative but to make way for a transitional government via diplomacy. Otherwise, the Geneva talks are doomed before they start.

Lebanese security officials say two rockets have hit a Beirut neighborhood that is a stronghold of Hezbollah militants. Reports say the rockets landed in the southern part of the Lebanese capital Sunday, wounding at least three people. It was not clear who was responsible for firing them. The rocket attacks came a day after Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah vowed his group will not stand by while the neighboring government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is attacked. Nasrallah said in a speech Saturday that Hezbollah is fighting in Syria to protect Lebanon from the threat of radical Islamists. It was the first time Nasrallah has publicly confirmed Hezbollah's fighting presence in Syria.

At least three people have been wounded by a rocket strike on the southern part of the Lebanese capital Beirut.
Two rockets hit a district controlled by the Hezbollah organisation, officials and residents were quoted as saying by news agencies.
Tension has been high over the conflict in neighbouring Syria.
On Saturday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah promised his supporters they would prevail in Syria, where they are backing President Bashar al-Assad.
There was no immediate indication who had fired the rockets or from where.
Dozens of militants from Hezbollah, a Shia Muslim organisation, are said to have been killed in recent fighting alongside Syrian troops, who face a mainly Sunni Muslim opposition.
'Failed to explode'
Mr Assad is fighting to end a revolt against his rule which began just over two years ago and has left at least 80,000 people dead and made refugees of some 1.5 million.
An unnamed Lebanese security source told AFP news agency the missiles were Grad rockets, a Soviet-made weapon.

One rocket struck a car showroom, causing injuries and damaging vehicles, the source said.
The second rocket hit a residential building. An unconfirmed report said the rocket had not exploded.
A Reuters news agency photo showed the face of a building pockmarked by what appeared to be shrapnel, while video showed shattered windows blown across a living-room.
Another photo showed dazed men with cuts to their legs being treated in the street by friends.
The Syrian conflict has heightened Lebanon's own sectarian divisions, at times spilling into open conflict.
Fighting in Lebanon's northern town of Tripoli between factions supporting the opposing sides in Syria has left at least 25 people dead in the past week.
Inside Syria itself, opposition activists said many Hezbollah militants were killed on Saturday during fighting for the western town of Qusair.
In the previous thread we were treated to one of the usual canards justifying the US  involvement in Syria:

  1. What is "Occupation"Sat May 25, 06:59:00 PM EDT
    Let's not forget the numbers of Americans that Hezbollah has killed (marine barracks), kidnapped (william buckley) and more.

    hezbollah has murdered American in America, in LA.. but they were Jews so they might not count

  2. DeuceSat May 25, 05:54:00 PM EDT
    The Shiite Hezbollah are fighting alongside regime troops in Syria. if Assad’s regime falls, Hezbollah will be weakened in Lebanon.

    According to Syrian human rights activists, the Lebanese group lost more than 100 fighters since getting involved in the Syrian civil war.

    The surge in the number of Hezbollah fatalities is mainly due to fighting alongside Syrian army troops in Qusayr near the Lebanese border.

    Israel attacked Syria to keep weapons out of the hands of Hezbollah. In doing so, Israel set itself up to be seen on the side of the rebels against Assad or worse yet, the rebels appeared to be on the side of Israel against Assad.

    If we have any business in the Middle East, it is against Saudi Arabia.

DeuceSat May 25, 09:10:00 PM EDT
You like to bring up the fact that Hezbollah killed Americans in (marine barracks). Where were these marine barracks? Camp Pendleton, in California, Jacksonville NC, Norfolk, Virginia? No, they were in Lebanon. US marines in Lebanon, sort of like Lebanese troops in Pennsylvania.

What business did US marines have in Lebanon? What happened before they went  there? What was the neighborhood where the US marine’s barracks were located? 

The Multinational Force (MNF) US and French troops) were among Lebanese Muslims, Shi’ites living in the slums of West Beirut and around the airport. The Shi’ites saw the MNF siding with the Maronite Catholics in their domination of Lebanon. Prior to that the US Sixth Fleet lobbed missiles at the Druze-dominated Shuf mountains killing innocent civilians. The US also backed Israel in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon and other pro-Israeli factions within Lebanon. These US and Israeli backed factions had been responsible for multiple attacks committed against the Muslim and Druze Lebanese population.

Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, the commander of the marines in Beirut during the incident, said that the marine and the French headquarters were targeted primarily because of "who we were and what we represented;" and that,
It is noteworthy that the United States provided direct naval gunfire support -- which I strongly opposed -- for a week to the Lebanese Army at a mountain village called Suq-al-Garb on September 19 and that the French conducted an air strike on September 23 in the Bekaa Valley. American support removed any lingering doubts of our neutrality and I stated to my staff at the time that we were going to pay in blood for this decision.”

Some authors, including Thomas Friedman point to the use of this naval gunfire as the beginning point of the U.S. forces being seen as participants in the civil war rather than peace keepers and opening them up to retaliation.

Some analysts believe the newly formed Islamic Republic of Iran was heavily involved and that a major factor leading it to participate in the attacks on the barracks was America's support for Iraq in the Iran–Iraq War and its extending of $2.5 billion in trade credit to Iraq while halting the shipments of arms to Iran. A few weeks before the bombing, Iran warned that providing armaments to Iran’s enemies would provoke retaliatory punishment.

This is reported in Wikipedia and is essentially as I understood it to be at the time. We had no business in Lebanon. Which American state would not attack foreign troops that bombed Americans and set up camp on American soil?


DeuceSat May 25, 09:14:00 PM EDT
It is called blowback. The marines were killed because of US unquestioning support of Israel attacking Lebanon and the US Navy killing Lebanese. What should their response have been to a foreign invasion? You argue continuously that any missile attack on Israel justifies an Israeli response. Why should a US attack on Lebanon not result in a Lebanese response based on the same reasoning?

A US citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by an agency than by an actual court. In a given year, federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings, including trials, while federal agencies complete more than 939,000.

The rise of the fourth branch of government
By Jonathan Turley, Published: May 24 
Jonathan Turley is the Shapiro professor of public interest law at George Washington University.
There were times this past week when it seemed like the 19th-century Know-Nothing Party had returned to Washington. President Obama insisted he knew nothing about major decisions in the State Department, or the Justice Department, or the Internal Revenue Service. The heads of those agencies, in turn, insisted they knew nothing about major decisions by their subordinates. It was as if the government functioned by some hidden hand.
Clearly, there was a degree of willful blindness in these claims. However, the suggestion that someone, even the president, is in control of today’s government may be an illusion.
The growing dominance of the federal government over the states has obscured more fundamental changes within the federal government itself: It is not just bigger, it is dangerously off kilter. Our carefully constructed system of checks and balances is being negated by the rise of a fourth branch, an administrative state of sprawling departments and agencies that govern with increasing autonomy and decreasing transparency.
For much of our nation’s history, the federal government was quite small. In 1790, it had just 1,000 nonmilitary workers. In 1962, there were 2,515,000 federal employees. Today, we have 2,840,000 federal workers in 15 departments, 69 agencies and 383 nonmilitary sub-agencies.
This exponential growth has led to increasing power and independence for agencies. The shift of authority has been staggering. The fourth branch now has a larger practical impact on the lives of citizens than all the other branches combined.
The rise of the fourth branch has been at the expense of Congress’s lawmaking authority. In fact, the vast majority of “laws” governing the United States are not passed by Congress but are issued as regulations, crafted largely by thousands of unnamed, unreachable bureaucrats. One study found that in 2007, Congress enacted 138 public laws, while federal agencies finalized 2,926 rules, including 61 major regulations.
This rulemaking comes with little accountability. It’s often impossible to know, absent a major scandal, whom to blame for rules that are abusive or nonsensical. Of course, agencies owe their creation and underlying legal authority to Congress, and Congress holds the purse strings. But Capitol Hill’s relatively small staff is incapable of exerting oversight on more than a small percentage of agency actions. And the threat of cutting funds is a blunt instrument to control a massive administrative state — like running a locomotive with an on/off switch.
The autonomy was magnified when the Supreme Court ruled in 1984 that agencies are entitled to heavy deference in their interpretations of laws. The court went even further this past week, ruling that agencies should get the same heavy deference in determining their own jurisdictions — a power that was previously believed to rest with Congress. In his dissent in Arlington v. FCC, Chief Justice John Roberts warned: “It would be a bit much to describe the result as ‘the very definition of tyranny,’ but the danger posed by the growing power of the administrative state cannot be dismissed.”
The judiciary, too, has seen its authority diminished by the rise of the fourth branch. Under Article III of the Constitution, citizens facing charges and fines are entitled to due process in our court system. As the number of federal regulations increased, however, Congress decided to relieve the judiciary of most regulatory cases and create administrative courts tied to individual agencies. The result is that a citizen is 10 times more likely to be tried by an agency than by an actual court. In a given year, federal judges conduct roughly 95,000 adjudicatory proceedings, including trials, while federal agencies complete more than 939,000.
These agency proceedings are often mockeries of due process, with one-sided presumptions and procedural rules favoring the agency. And agencies increasingly seem to chafe at being denied their judicial authority. Just ask John E. Brennan. Brennan, a 50-year-old technology consultant, was charged with disorderly conduct and indecent exposure when he stripped at Portland International Airport last year in protest of invasive security measures by the Transportation Security Administration. He was cleared by a federal judge, who ruled that his stripping was a form of free speech. The TSA was undeterred. After the ruling, it pulled Brennan into its own agency courts under administrative charges.
The rise of the fourth branch has occurred alongside an unprecedented increase in presidential powers — from the power to determine when to go to war to the power to decide when it’s reasonable to vaporize a U.S. citizen in a drone strike. In this new order, information is jealously guarded and transparency has declined sharply. That trend, in turn, has given the fourth branch even greater insularity and independence. When Congress tries to respond to cases of agency abuse, it often finds officials walled off by claims of expanding executive privilege.
Of course, federal agencies officially report to the White House under the umbrella of the executive branch. But in practice, the agencies have evolved into largely independent entities over which the president has very limited control. Only 1 percent of federal positions are filled by political appointees, as opposed to career officials, and on average appointees serve only two years. At an individual level, career officials are insulated from political pressure by civil service rules. There are also entire agencies — including the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission — that are protected from White House interference.
Some agencies have gone so far as to refuse to comply with presidential orders. For example, in 1992 President George H.W. Bush ordered the U.S. Postal Service to withdraw a lawsuit against the Postal Rate Commission, and he threatened to sack members of the Postal Service’s Board of Governors who denied him. The courts ruled in favor of the independence of the agency.
It’s a small percentage of agency matters that rise to the level of presidential notice. The rest remain the sole concern of agency
As the power of the fourth branch has grown, conflicts between the other branches have become more acute. There is no better example than the fights over presidential appointments.
Wielding its power to confirm, block or deny nominees is one of the few remaining ways Congress can influence agency policy and get a window into agency activity. Nominations now commonly trigger congressional demands for explanations of agencies’ decisions and disclosures of their documents. And that commonly leads to standoffs with the White House.
Take the fight over Richard Cordray, nominated to serve as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Cordray is highly qualified, but Republican senators oppose the independence of the new bureau and have questions about its jurisdiction and funding. After those senators repeatedly blocked the nomination, Obama used a congressional break in January to make a recess appointment. Since then, two federal appeals courts have ruled that Obama’s recess appointments violated the Constitution and usurped congressional authority. While the fight continues in the Senate, the Obama administration has appealed to the Supreme Court.
It would be a mistake to dismiss such conflicts as products of our dysfunctional, partisan times. Today’s political divisions are mild compared with those in the early republic, as when President Thomas Jefferson described his predecessor’s tenure as “the reign of the witches.” Rather, today’s confrontations reflect the serious imbalance in the system.
The marginalization Congress feels is magnified for citizens, who are routinely pulled into the vortex of an administrative state that allows little challenge or appeal. The IRS scandal is the rare case in which internal agency priorities are forced into the public eye. Most of the time, such internal policies are hidden from public view and congressional oversight. While public participation in the promulgation of new regulations is allowed, and often required, the process is generally perfunctory and dismissive.
In the new regulatory age, presidents and Congress can still change the government’s priorities, but the agencies effectively run the show based on their interpretations and discretion. The rise of this fourth branch represents perhaps the single greatest change in our system of government since the founding.
We cannot long protect liberty if our leaders continue to act like mere bystanders to the work of government.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

So the president says "journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," even though journalists are at legal risk—from his administration—for doing their jobs.

Matt Welch| REASON May. 23, 2013 3:27 pm
Like the "War on Drugs," a rhetorical phrase that the Obama administration has rejected even while continuing to wage the policy it describes, many ongoing activities of the government he presides over came under verbal attack from President Barack Obama this afternoon.
So the president says "journalists should not be at legal risk for doing their jobs," even though journalists are at legal risk—from his administration—for doing their jobs. "History will cast a harsh judgment" on the U.S. military prison in Guantanamo Bay, the president warned, even though (in the words of Human Rights Watch's Laura Pitter) "there are still a number of steps the Obama administration could have taken -- and can still take now -- to begin closing the facility and ending indefinite detention without trial."
Obama worries, rightly, that "in the absence of a strategy that reduces the well-spring of extremism, a perpetual war – through drones or Special Forces or troop deployments – will prove self-defeating, and alter our country in troubling ways." And yet at perpetual war we remain, altering our way of life by the day. "The very precision of drones strikes, and the necessary secrecy involved in such actions can end up shielding our government from the public scrutiny that a troop deployment invites." And yet we drone on, boats against the current of international opinion, borne ceaselessly back to the awesome responsibility of wielding lethal power.
There was much to like in Obama's speech today if you like words, and share the broad worries he outlined above. And it is surely true that changing policy becomes easier after you make public arguments about changing policy. But the fact is Barack Obama is the president of the United States, and according to both the Constitution and especially the way executive power has accrued over the past century, Obama actually has quite a bit of latitude to impose his values on the waging of American war. After 52 months in office, its long since past time to stop judging the man by his words alone.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

We are in the middle of a news tsunami. It is coming at us from every direction. There is no common thread. It is the world of events worthy of the tangled mind and talents of Hieronymus Bosch .

A man has been killed in a machete attack and his two assailants shot by police in Woolwich, south-east London. The government is reported to be treating the assault as a suspected terrorist incident and the prime minister said it was "truly shocking".


Man dead in suspected Woolwich terror attack

Local resident Graham Wilders describes seeing a man pulling out a handgun
Continue reading the main story
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A man has been killed in a machete attack and his two assailants shot by police in Woolwich, south-east London.
The government is reported to be treating the assault as a suspected terrorist incident and the prime minister said it was "truly shocking".
Footage has emerged showing a man wielding a bloodied meat cleaver and making political statements.
Local MP Nick Raynsford said the dead man was a soldier at Woolwich barracks but this has not been confirmed.
The ITV film shows a black man, dressed in a grey hooded jacket, saying: "We must fight them as they fight us. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth."
He added: "I apologise that women have had to witness this today, but in our land our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your government, they don't care about you."
Home Secretary Theresa May has summoned a meeting of the government's emergency response committee Cobra.
It is too soon to know exactly what happened.
But what makes this completely different to any other violent attack is the fact that the prime minister asked the home secretary to convene a meeting of Whitehall's emergency response committee.
Those meetings are not convened lightly.
The fact is that all available accounts point towards this being a terrorist incident carried out by someone inspired by al-Qaeda's jihadist ideology.
If that's the case it would be the first such incident leading to a death of someone other than the perpetrator since the London suicide bombings of 2005.
So the first task for ministers will be to consider what implications the situation has for the public and national security.
The official terrorism threat level is currently "substantial" - the third highest level - which means that an attack is "a strong possibility".
If officials raise the level to "severe", that would mean they fear that another attack is highly likely.
  1. Read more from Dominic
Mrs May said she had been briefed by the director general of Security Service MI5, Andrew Parker, and Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe on the "sickening and barbaric" attack.
"It has been confirmed to me that a man has been brutally murdered," she said. "Two other men were shot by armed police and they are currently receiving treatment for their injuries."
Speaking in Paris, Prime Minister David Cameron said there were "strong indications that this is a terrorist incident".
He said Britain had faced terror attacks such as the one in Woolwich before, before adding: "We will never buckle in the face of it."
Downing Street said Mr Cameron, who had been planning to stay in Paris overnight after meeting the French president, would be returning to the UK tonight.
One witness, identified only as James, said two men had attacked another man, aged about 20, who was wearing a T-shirt of military charity Help for Heroes.
"These two guys were crazed. They were just animals. They dragged him from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road and left his body there," he told LBC radio.
He said after the "horrendous" attack, the two men, who were also in their 20s, stood around, waving knives and a gun, and asked people to take pictures of them "as if they wanted to be on TV or something".
"They were oblivious to anything, they were more worried about having their photo taken, running up and down the road," he said.
Thomas, a witness who contacted the BBC, said: "I got there minutes after it happened because you could hear gunshots from Woolwich High Street.
"Basically two men carried out an axe attack on a young army cadet walking along the street, by the looks of things the police responded and then shot them in front of the public, at the same time I couldn't really tell if the cadet was fatally or not hurt as police were crowded around him."
Whitehall sources have told the BBC it is "a fair supposition" that the incident was a terrorist incident but police have not commented publicly on the suggestion.
BBC political editor Nick Robinson said the police view is that the attack may have been filmed and footage may exist.
According to senior Whitehall sources the people carrying out the attack were heard to say Allahu Akbar [God is Great], said our political editor.
On Twitter, the Mayor of London Boris Johnson described the attack as a "sickening deluded and unforgivable act of violence".
Buckingham Palace say the Queen is concerned at the news of the attack in Woolwich and is being kept informed.
School lock-down
Mr Raynsford, the Woolwich and Greenwich MP, said he had spoken to local police and understood a number of weapons had been seized at the scene including a gun, knives, and a machete.
Scotland Yard said the initial attack happened in John Wilson Street, the A205, at 14:20 BST.
Metropolitan Police Commander Simon Letchford said the two attackers were then shot by armed officers.
He said: "Police were called to reports of an assault... where one man was being assaulted by two other men. A number of weapons were reportedly being used in the attack, and this included reports of a firearm.

Head teacher David Dixon describes seeing a body in the street and hearing gunshots
"Officers including local Greenwich officers arrived at the scene, and shortly after firearms officers arrived on the scene.
"On their arrival at the scene they found a man, who was later pronounced dead....
"Two men, who we believe from early reports to have been carrying weapons, were shot by police. They have both been taken to separate London hospitals. They are receiving treatment for their injuries.
"I can understand that this incident will cause community concerns and I would like to reiterate that we are investigating the circumstances."
Meanwhile, the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) confirmed it had been informed.
London Ambulance Service confirmed one man had been found dead at the scene.
It said two men had been taken to hospital - one by air ambulance - and one of them was a serious condition.
David Dixon, a local head teacher, told the BBC News Channel he walked out of the school gates and saw a body lying in the road a short distance away.
He then heard gunshots and instructed staff to lock all the gates of his school.
The air ambulance landed in the playground and most of the children have now gone home, he said.

Do you believe the latest version on the controversy over the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attack last year began at a meeting over coffee on Capitol Hill three days after the assault?

Petraeus’s role in drafting Benghazi talking points raises questions
By Scott Wilson and Karen DeYoung, Published: May 21
The controversy over the Obama administration’s response to the Benghazi attack last year began at a meeting over coffee on Capitol Hill three days after the assault.
It was at this informal session with the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that the ranking Democrat asked David H. Petraeus, who was CIA director at the time, to ensure that committee members did not inadvertently disclose classified information when talking to the news media about the attack.
“We had some new members on the committee, and we knew the press would be very aggressive on this, so we didn’t want any of them to make mistakes,” Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (Md.) said last week of his request in an account supported by Republican participants. “We didn’t want to jeopardize sources and methods, and we didn’t want to tip off the bad guys. That’s all.”
What Petraeus decided to do with that request is the pivotal moment in the controversy over the administration’s Benghazi talking points. It was from his initial input that all else flowed, resulting in 48 hours of intensive editing that congressional Republicans cite as evidence of a White House coverup.
A close reading of recently released government e-mails that were sent during the editing process, and interviews with senior officials from several government agencies, reveal Petraeus’s early role and ambitions in going well beyond the committee’s request, apparently to produce a set of talking points favorable to his image and his agency.
The information Petraeus ordered up when he returned to his Langley office that morning included far more than the minimalist version that Ruppersberger had requested. It included early classified intelligence assessments of who might be responsible for the attack and an account of prior CIA warnings — information that put Petraeus at odds with the State Department, the FBI and senior officials within his own agency.
The only government entity that did not object to the detailed talking points produced with Petraeus’s input was the White House, which played the role of mediator in the bureaucratic fight that at various points included the CIA’s top lawyer and the agency’s deputy director expressing opposition to what the director wanted.
“What [committee members] were looking for was the lowest common denominator,” said a senior administration official, one of several who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the editing process. “That’s not what the agency originally produced.”
Petraeus did not respond to e-mailed requests to clarify questions surrounding his role in drafting and reviewing the talking points. He resigned as CIA director in November after details of an extramarital affair became public.
The attack
At 9:42 p.m. Sept. 11, 2012, as violent anti-American demonstrations unfolded across the Middle East and North Africa over an anti-Islam video made in the United States, a group of armed men attacked the U.S. diplomatic compound in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi, killing Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three other Americans.
Recriminations in Washington began within hours. But it was not until a month later that it became clear that the CIA, rather than the State Department, maintained the most significant presence in Benghazi.
Near the diplomatic outpost was a CIA installation where about two dozen intelligence and security personnel were based. Their mission was to track weapons shipments out of the country and to identify the numerous militias operating in Benghazi.
Security at this annex was the responsibility of the CIA, not the State Department. But because the annex operated under diplomatic cover, its existence as an intelligence facility was classified.
The State Department and the White House became the primary focus of the public criticism.
The debate within the CIA
After Petraeus’s morning coffee on Sept. 14, the CIA’s Office of Terrorism Analysis sent an internal agency e-mail with the subject line: “FLASH coordination — white paper for HPSCI,” referring to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.
The committee “has asked for unclassified points immediately that they can use in talking to the media,” the e-mail said.
Then, shifting into the first person, the office’s director, who had accompanied Petraeus to the coffee, wrote, “I have been asked to provide a bit on responsibility,” including “warnings we gave to Cairo prior to the demonstration, as well as material on warnings we issued prior to 9/11 anniversary.”
Included was a six-point draft that began, “We believe based on currently available information that the attacks in Benghazi were spontaneously inspired” by anti-American demonstrations elsewhere “and evolved” into assaults against “the U.S. consulate and subsequently its annex.”
It followed with a reference to previous attacks against foreign interests in Benghazi and a mention of Ansar al-Sharia, a terrorist organization with links to al-Qaeda. That information, put in at Petraeus’s request, would become the chief source of tension between the agency, the State Department and the FBI.
Fifteen minutes after that
e-mail, the CIA’s Office of Congressional Affairs sent its own internal message, with the subject line: “Due-Outs from HPSCI coffee.”
The first item for the committee was a “white paper” on media guidance — the talking points that would emerge a few hours later.
In addition, the e-mail listed two items “For DCIA,” a reference to Petraeus. That request included “Cable(s) to [redacted] warning of protests linked to the film and response” and “cable(s) to stations on 9/11 security.”
Republicans would later contend that the CIA had wanted to tell the truth about what unfolded that day but that the State Department, with White House support, removed the information for political reasons amid a heated presidential campaign.
But the e-mails reveal that the initial talking points also generated tension and confusion within the CIA, as officials sought to understand how Petraeus’s requests squared with what the committee had asked for.
Stephen W. Preston, the CIA’s general counsel, was among those most concerned with the first draft.
In an internal agency e-mail at 4:24 p.m. that Friday, he acknowledged that “there is a hurry to get this out.” The talking points should not “conflict with express instructions” from the National Security Council, the FBI and the Justice Department, he wrote, and that “in light of the criminal investigation, we are not to generate statements with assessments as to who did this.”
Although Ansar al-Sharia had quickly backed off an initial assertion of responsibility for the Benghazi attack, the group did not deny that some of its members were involved.
But its likely involvement was a classified matter, senior administration officials said, and the FBI had objected to including the information in the talking points on the grounds that doing so would undermine its investigation of the attack.
“I am copying the CIA front office,” Preston wrote, referring to Petraeus’s department, “who may be more familiar with those instructions and the tasking arising from the HPSCI coffee.”
Less than an hour later, the agency sent the talking points, which had been strengthened to include repeated CIA security warnings, to the White House and other agencies for review. The reference to Ansar remained in the draft, as did a line particularly beneficial to the CIA.
“The Agency has produced numerous pieces on the threat of extremists linked to al-Qaeda in Benghazi and eastern Libya,” the fifth talking point began.
At 6:21 p.m., then-National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor e-mailed the CIA Office of Public Affairs saying that Principal Deputy National Security Adviser Denis McDonough, who has since become the White House chief of staff, had asked that “highlighted portions” of the draft be “coordinated with the State Department in the event that they get inquiries.”
The highlights indicated that McDonough’s main concern was the information about the prior CIA warnings to U.S. diplomatic missions in North Africa — information that was included at Petraeus’s request.
State Department balks
At 7:39 p.m. Friday, Victoria Nuland, then the State Department’s chief spokesperson,
e-mailed deputy national security adviser Benjamin J. Rhodes; Jake Sullivan, director of policy planning at State; Shawn Turner, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence; and others. She expressed “serious concerns” about including Ansar and mentioning “warnings” in the talking points.
Nuland said the mention of the warnings “could be abused by members to beat the State Department for not paying attention to Agency warnings.”
Rhodes responded, “We need to resolve this in a way that respects all of the relevant equities, particularly the investigation,” and suggested that the issue be resolved the next morning during a previously scheduled meeting of the national security deputies.
“We’ve tried to work the draft talking points for HPSCI through the coordination process but have run into major problems,” the CIA’s Office of Public Affairs wrote to Petraeus at 9:52 p.m. Sept. 14. “The White House cleared quickly, but State has major concerns.”
Early the next morning, CIA Deputy Director Mike Morell, informed of the State Department’s concerns, took his own editing pencil to the talking points.
He agreed with Nuland that the warnings about other protests in the region were irrelevant to the committee request, senior administration officials said, and that any mention of Ansar could expose classified information.
At 9:45 a.m. Saturday, Morell sent out his edited version of the talking points, pared down to three bullet points. A few minutes later, the terrorism analysis director, who had written the original version after attending the coffee with Petraeus, responded.
“They are fine with me. But, pretty sure HPSCI won’t like them,” the official wrote, signing off with a smiley-face emoticon.
A little more than two hours later, an e-mail to Morell from Petraeus’s front office staff expressed concern about what was happening to the talking points.
“Before going to the committee, may I please ask you to send these to the Director?” the front office wrote. “He needs to know in advance what is going to the Hill in his name, even if it is going with the force of the full interagency coordination.”
Morell responded with concern about whether Petraeus would approve the document, even after other agencies had signed off.
“Please run the points by the Director, then get them to
HPSCI,” he wrote soon after. “I spoke to the Director earlier about State’s deep concerns about mentioning the warnings and the other work done on this, but you will want to reemphasize in your note to DCIA.”
Morell was right to be worried.
In an e-mail sent two hours later to Morell and others inside the agency, Petraeus wrote, “No mention of the cable to Cairo, either? Frankly, I’d just as soon not use this, then. . . [National Security Council] call, to be sure; however, this is certainly not what Vice Chairman Ruppersberger was hoping to get for unclas use.”
Asked about Petraeus’s warning, Ruppersberger said, “I’m not sure what he meant. I had no expectations.”

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