“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."

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rotten to the Corps

Jessica L. Wright, the acting under secretary of defense for personnel and readiness, said today that the Defense Department must maintain its commitment to diversity and inclusion, which contribute to mission success.
She asserted that diversity helps civilian and military employees perform well because they “represent the nation in our workforce.”
The Defense Department not only talks “about diversity in terms of race and gender, and ethnicity, but it is much more than that in my mind,” Wright said. She declared that diversity included “your thought process, how you grew up, [and] what you can add to the greater good because of your background.”
Wright, the very model of a modern retired major general in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, was speaking Tuesday on best practices for inclusion and diversity at an event hosted by the German Marhsall Fund of the United States.
The webpage for the event, titled “Mission Critical: Transatlantic Security and Diversity,” declared, “it is a security imperative for military leaders to proactively advance diversity and inclusion (D&I) best practices,” because of the “rapid demographic change [and] advances in gender and LGBT equity and a new generation of veterans in NATO countries.”

"The US Armed Forces have become rotten through political correctness. 

5,000 years of recorded military history show that unit cohesion, esprit de corps, combat effectiveness, etc., is not enhanced by increased 'diversity', whatever that means. It is done through people seeing themselves as one single unit, not as a collection of individuals. 

From Gen. Dempsey's worries that the worst possible outcome of the Ft. Hood shooting would be if it harmed the Armys diversity, to this dingy broad, the fact that so many of our so-called military leaders seem to believe 'diversity' is essential to the military's mission makes me wonder exactly what the mission of the military is these days."

 - tanarur

Yes, there is a basic human right to privacy. Thank you Edward Snowden

Can Snowden revert privacy to a social norm?

Byron Acohido, USA TODAY 7:50 p.m. EDT October 30, 2013

SEATTLE – The steady trickle of revelations of government snooping that continues to seep from the Edward Snowden documents is serving to keep attention riveted on how privacy in the digital age ought to be defined.
That' most probably not to the liking of Google and Facebook. In January 2010, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg infamously declared that the expectation of privacy was no longer a social norm, and, in October 2010, then Google chairman Eric Schmidt said "Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it."
By rationing out details of the NSA's bag of tricks on a regular basis, the Guardian and the Washington Post have orchestrated sustained attention on the true cost of using free services from Google and Facebook , whose business models revolve around unfettered access to your online persona.
So far the NSA and White House have taken much of the heat for the varied methodologies we now know, thanks to Snowden, that the NSA uses to tap into the trove of data compiled and packaged by search engines, social websites ad popular apps.
"This totally violates the privacy of US citizens," says Craig Kensek, senior manager at anti-malware supplier Ahnlab. "The NSA is coming across as a rogue operation, splitting technical fine hair, since data could literally reside anywhere in the world, thanks to cloud technology."
It's unlikely Congress will do much to restrict the NSA's ability to deter terrorists.. So the enduring effect of shedding steady light on Snowden's stolen documents may be exactly opposite of what Facebook and Google want.
The slow process of raising awareness about the desirability of privacy as a social norm appears to be gaining traction.
"The on-going persistence of the Snowden story with its continuing revelations appears to be reaching people's consciousness," says C. J. Radford, Vice President of Cloud at data security firm Vormetric. "At the same time, I don't believe that most U.S. consumers have connected the dots.
"The large amount of private information about them exists because it was collected for other purposes, such as advertising, billing, service delivery, etc.," Radford points out. "But they are learning, and the level of awareness is rising."
It's not just consumers who ought to question the level of privacy associated with use of the Web's most popular services, as we've come to know them. Companies are embracing BYOD – the trend of having employees use personal mobile devices for work duties – and are also increasingly relying on services delivered over the Internet cloud.
Pierluigi Stella, chief technical officer at Network Box USA, points to heightened privacy concerns raised for commercial users of Google's popular Web-delivered productivity suite, and would-be Office killer, Google Docs.

"Now we know that whatever they write is being collected and analyzed by the NSA before it is stored in the Google cloud. Do I really want my business emails to go through that? Do I trust that no illegitimate use will come of it?," Stella observes. "Personally, I prefer the good old e-mail server I control, because it is unlikely the NSA will come snooping simply because there is nothing of interest for them."

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

I know nothing, I saw nothing...

Opinion Writer

What did President Obama know and when did he know it?

By Dana Milbank, Monday, October 28, 6:39 PM

For a smart man, President Obama professes to know very little about a great number of things going on in his administration.
On Sunday night, the Wall Street Journal reported that he didn’t learn until this summer that the National Security Agency had been bugging the phones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other world leaders for nearly five years.
That followed by a few days a claim by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that Obama didn’t know about problems with the Web site before the rest of the world learned of them after the Oct. 1 launch.
It stretches credulity to think that the United States was spying on world leaders without the president’s knowledge, or that he was blissfully unaware of huge technical problems that threatened to undermine his main legislative achievement. But on issues including the IRS targeting flap and the Justice Department’s use of subpoenas against reporters, White House officials have frequently given a variation on this theme.
Question: What did Obama know and when did he know it?
Answer: Not much, and about a minute ago.
The Associated Press’s Josh Lederman led off Monday’s White House briefing with an obvious question: “Was the president kept out of the loop about what the NSA was doing?”
“I am not going to get into details of internal discussions,” press secretary Jay Carney replied, repeating previous promises that “we do not and will not monitor the chancellor’s communications.” This formulation conspicuously omits the phrase “did not.”
CNN’s Jim Acosta cited the rollout and the IRS targeting, which Obama said he learned about through news reports. “Is there a concern,” Acosta asked, “that the president is being kept in the dark on some of these issues?”
Carney told Acosta he had “conflated a bunch of very disparate issues.”
“Republican critics,” Acosta said, “are making the case, though, that the president appears to be in the dark about some pretty significant stories that are swirling around this White House.”
“Well, Republican critics say a lot of things, Jim,” Carney replied icily.
That’s true. But in this case, the Republicans understated the number of issues on which the president has claimed to be in the dark. A compilation by the Republican National Committee titled “The Bystander President” cited the NSA spying on Merkel, the Obamacare rollout and an investigation of the IRS’s targeting of political groups (the White House counsel knew of the inquiry but said she didn’t inform Obama). The RNC also mentioned the failure of clean-energy company Solyndra, which had received government funding (Carney had said Obama read about it in “news accounts”), and the attempts to go after reporters’ phone and e-mail records (which the president also found out about from reading the news, Carney said).
The RNC didn’t mention that Obama had allegedly known nothing about an FBI investigation of an affair involving David Petraeus that led him to resign as CIA director. Neither did it mention two other claims that conservatives often question: Obama’s ignorance of a guns-on-the-border sting operation called “Fast and Furious” that went awry, and his unawareness of requests for additional diplomatic security in Libya before a U.S. outpost in Benghazi was attacked.
There’s no reason Obama should have known about Fast and Furious or diplomatic security requests. But how could he not know his spies were bugging the German chancellor?
“Is it believable that the president would not know about surveillance of the head of state of a close American ally?” ABC News’s Jon Karl asked Carney. “Does that sound plausible to you?”
This finally provoked a hint from Carney that Obama did, in fact, know that the NSA was bugging Merkel. “The Wall Street Journal probably doesn’t appreciate the suggestion that their story is wrong,” he said, referring to a report that said Obama learned of the activity in the summer, “but I would say simply that we’re not going to comment on specific activities reported in the press,” he said.
Another hint came from Carney’s assurance that “the president has full confidence in General [Keith] Alexander and the leadership at the NSA.” Obama probably wouldn’t have such confidence if that leadership had kept him in the dark about something as consequential as the bugging of world leaders’ phones.
On one level, it would be reassuring — and much more credible — if the White House admitted that Obama is more in the loop than he has let on. On another level, it would be disconcerting: Is it better that he didn’t know about his administration’s missteps — or that he knew about them and didn’t stop them?

Twitter: @Milbank

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Healthcare .gov - 30 minutes - three attempts - the result:

Important: Your account couldn’t be created at this time. The system is unavailable. (01:15 am on Sunday)

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The agents, including the Coast Guard, now part of homeland Security, arrived at 4:30 a.m. in full body armor, seized personal firearms,and began asking questions about whether she was the same “Audrey Hudson” who had written “the air marshal stories” for The Washington Times.

Federal agents in full body armor? What could possibly go wrong?
Armed agents seize records of reporter, Washington Times prepares legal action

Friday, October 25, 2013

Maryland state police and federal agents used a search warrant in an unrelated criminal investigation to seize the private reporting files of an award-winning former investigative journalist for The Washington Times who had exposed problems in the Homeland Security Department's Federal Air Marshal Service.
Reporter Audrey Hudson said the investigators, who included an agent for Homeland's Coast Guard service, took her private notes and government documents that she had obtained under the Freedom of Information Act during a predawn raid of her family home on Aug. 6.
The documents, some which chronicled her sources and her work at the Times about problems inside the Homeland Security Department, were seized under a warrant to search for unregistered firearms and a "potato gun" suspected of belonging to her husband, Paul Flanagan, a Coast Guard employee. Mr. Flanagan has not been charged with any wrongdoing since the raid.
The warrant, obtained by the Times, offered no specific permission to seize reporting notes or files.
The Washington Times said Friday it is preparing legal action to fight what it called an unwarranted intrusion on the First Amendment.
"While we appreciate law enforcement's right to investigate legitimate concerns, there is no reason for agents to use an unrelated gun case to seize the First Amendment protected materials of a reporter," Times Editor John Solomon said. "This violates the very premise of a free press, and it raises additional concerns when one of the seizing agencies was a frequent target of the reporter's work.
"Homeland's conduct in seizing privileged reporters notes and Freedom of Information Act documents raises serious Fourth Amendment issues, and our lawyers are preparing an appropriate legal response," he said.
Maryland State Police declined comment, except to say that "evidence and information developed during this investigation is currently under review by both the Anne Arundel County State's Attorney's Office and the United State's Attorney's Office," and that a determination has yet to be made on any charges.
The U.S. Coast Guard confirmed it seized and reviewed Ms. Hudson's documents but insisted it did nothing wrong.
Capt. Tony Hahn, a spokesman at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, said the Coast Guard Investigative Service (CGIS) was involved in the case because Mrs. Hudson's husband, Mr. Flanagan, is a Coast Guard employee.
During the search of the home, said Capt. Hahn, "the CGIS agent discovered government documents labeled 'FOUO' — For Official Use Only and 'LES' — Law Enforcement Sensitive."
"The files that contained these documents were cataloged on the search warrant inventory and taken from the premises," he said. "The documents were reviewed with the source agency and determined to be obtained properly through the Freedom of Information Act."
Ms. Hudson described a harrowing ordeal the morning her family home was raided.
The agents, who had arrived a 4:30 a.m. in full body armor, collected several small arms during the raid, although no charges have been filed against Mr. Flanagan, 54, during the nearly three months since.
Mrs. Hudson, 50, says that while the authorities were raiding her house, Coast Guard investigator Miguel Bosch — who formerly worked at the marshal service — began asking questions about whether she was the same "Audrey Hudson" who had written "the air marshal stories" for The Washington Times. Mrs. Hudson says she responded that she was.
It was not until roughly a month later, Mrs. Hudson says, that she realized the agents had quietly seized five files from her private office — including handwritten and typed notes from interviews with numerous confidential sources related to her exclusive reporting on the air marshals service.
The search warrant for the raid, issued to Maryland State Trooper Victor Hodgin by a district court judge, made no reference to the documents. A copy obtained by The Times indicates that the search was to be narrowly focused on the pursuit of "firearms" and their "accessories and/or parts," as well as any communications that that might be found in Mrs. Hudson and Mrs. Flanagan's home related to "the acquisition of firearms or accessories."
David W. Fischer, a private attorney contacted by the couple, says that the raid is a potential violation of Mrs. Hudson's constitutional rights.
"Obviously, the warrant is about a gun, nothing about reporters notes," he said. "It would be a blatant constitutional violation to take that stuff if the search warrant didn't specifically say so."
"This is a situation where they picked very specifically through her stuff and took documents that the Coast Guard, or the Department of Homeland Security, would be very interested in," he added.
The raid could constitute illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment -- and the fact that the materials were related to her work as a reporter could First Amendment freedom of the press protections.
Once the documents had been "cleared," Homeland decided to return the documents to Mr. Flanagan and Mrs. Hudson, Capt. Hahn said.
The Coast Guard, like the Federal Air Marshal Service is an agency within the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
A Reporter's Word
What concerns Mrs. Hudson and The Times is the fact that private reporting documents were seized during the search being conducted on totally unrelated grounds.
While Mr. Flanagan has a police record from the mid-1980s related to the unlawful possession of firearms, including automatic weapons, Mrs. Hudson fears her private documents may have been the real target of the search.
"They tore my office apart more than any other room in my house," she said, adding agents did not take other potentially non-TSA-related documents from the office.
"I had a box full of [Department of Defense] notes," she said. "They didn't touch those."
Some of the files included notes that she had used to expose how the Federal Air Marshal Service had lied to Congress during the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks about the number of airline flights that the service was actually protecting against another terrorist attack.
A story written by Mrs. Hudson for The Times in March 2005, revealed how air marshals were protecting less than 10 percent of domestic and international flights during the month of December 2004, and that the number of flights Homeland Security officials were providing to Congress was higher than the actual number of marshals it employed.
Mrs. Hudson says that the experience of having "a half-dozen armed officers rifle through my personal belongings for the three-hour search was traumatizing."
"But when the files were returned to me and I saw all the notes that had been in their possession for a month, it was gut-wrenching," she said.
That her private files were seized, says Mrs. Hudson, is particularly disturbing because of interactions that she and her husband had during the search of their home, as well as months afterwards, with Coast Guard investigator Miguel Bosch. According to his profile on the networking site LinkedIn, Mr. Bosch worked at the Federal Air Marshal Service from April 2001 through November 2007.
It was Mr. Bosch, Mrs. Hudson says, who asked her during the Aug. 6 search if she was the same Audrey Hudson who had written the air marshal stories. It was also Mr. Bosch, she says, who phoned Mr. Flanagan a month later to say that documents taken during the search had been cleared.
During the call, according Mrs. Hudson, Mr. Bosch said the files had been taken to make sure that they contained only "FOIA-able" information and that he had circulated them to the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees the Federal Air Marshal Service, in order to verify that "it was legitimate" for her to possess such information.
"Essentially, the files that included the identities of numerous government whistleblowers were turned over to the same government agency and officials who they were exposing for wrongdoing," Mrs. Hudson said.
Reached on the telephone by a reporter for The Times, Mr. Bosch refused to comment on whether or not journalist-related documents were seized during the search of Mrs. Hudson's home.
"I got to get on the phone with Coast Guard legal before I talk with you," Mr. Bosch said. "It's still an open investigation."
Asked specifically whether documents related to Mrs. Hudson's reporting activities were taken during the search, he responded: "There was a lot of stuff taken."
Legitimate Case?
The U.S. Coast Guard maintains that it has done nothing wrong in the case and that the investigation into Mrs. Hudson's husband is based on legitimate suspicion that he was illegally in possession of firearms.
The warrant outlines how Mr. Flanagan was found guilty in 1985 — when he was 25 — of resisting arrest in Prince George's County, Maryland.
The charge of carrying a concealed deadly weapon was dropped, but a year later, the U.S. Marshal Service arrested Mr. Flanagan for possession of a machine gun. The warrant also indicates that Mr. Flanagan was also arrested in 1996 by police in Anne Arundel County, Maryland,for possessing a handgun in his vehicle.
The warrant outlines how sometime this year Mr. Flanagan drew the interest of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives after allegedly attempting to purchase "possible machine gun parts from a Swedish national."
The warrant says the information was handed to the Coast Guard's investigative service — since Mr. Flanagan worked at the agency — which conducted an interview during which "Flanagan was evasive but stated he did receive a 'potato gun' but it was defective and it was thrown away."
The term "potato gun" is "slang used during the illegal importation of silencers," according to the warrant.
Mrs. Hudson says the "potato gun" claim is outrageous.
She says that her husband did in fact purchase a "potato launcher" from an online company based in Sweden five years ago as a novelty item, but it was discarded within as few weeks because it did not work.
She noted that the law enforcement agents who raided her home did not take a "golf ball launcher" that also belonged to her husband as a novelty item. They did, however, confiscate small arms belonging to Mrs. Hudson that she had legally registered with the Maryland State Police as far back as 2005.
The search warrant allowed for the weapons to be confiscated, and Mrs. Hudson says the agents told her that because her husband had pled guilty to a resisting arrest charge nearly 30 years ago, she was not allowed to possess the guns under state law. The guns she owned were for recreational shooting, she says, as well as for security concerns resulting from many of her investigations.
"I swear to God, we're not smuggling machine gun parts from Sweden," said Mrs. Hudson, adding that the potato launcher in question "didn't even work."
Mrs. Hudson has been a reporter in Washington, D.C. for nearly 15 years, and covered Homeland Security for the Times after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks through December 2009.
Her investigations have sparked numerous congressional investigations that led to laws signed by former Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. She has won numerous journalism awards for her investigations, including the prestigious Sigma Delta Chi bronze medal for public service, the Society of Professional Journalists Dateline Award in Investigative Reporting, and was nominated twice by The Times for the Pulitzer Prize.
"Protecting confidential sources is a part of my honor and hits me at my ethical core," said Mrs. Hudson. "To have someone steal my source information and know it could impact people's careers, is disgusting, a massive overreach. This kind of conduct is intimidation clearly aimed at silencing a vigorous press."

Guy Taylor rejoined The Washington Times in 2011 as the State Department correspondent.
As a freelance journalist, Taylor’s work was supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting and the Fund For Investigative Journalism, and his stories appeared in a variety publications, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to Salon, Reason, Prospect Magazine of London, the Daily Star of Beirut, the ...
Photos of the Americans murdered  by US federal agents at Waco. All a threat to the Republic. 

Friday, October 25, 2013

Listen up assholes, smoke em if you got emmm, fall out!

Did you ever expect to see the day that civilized nations would be going to the UN to ask for protection from the US?

Posted By Colum Lynch, Shane Harris, John Hudson Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 8:18 PM  Foreign Policy

Brazil and Germany today joined forces to press for the adoption of a U.N. General Resolution that promotes the right of privacy on the internet, marking the first major international effort to restrain the National Security Agency's intrusions into the online communications of foreigners, according to diplomatic sources familiar with the push.
The effort follows a German claim that the American spy agency may have tapped the private telephone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and dozens of other world leaders. It also comes about one month after Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff denounced NSA espionage against her country as "a breach of international law" in a General Assembly speech and proposed that the U.N. establish legal guidelines to prevent "cyberspace from being used as a weapon of war."
Brazilian and German diplomats met in New York today with a small group of Latin American and European governments to consider a draft resolution that calls for expanding privacy rights contained in the International Covenant Civil and Political Rights to the online world. The draft does not refer to a flurry of American spying revelations that have caused a political uproar around the world, particularly in Brazil and Germany. But it was clear that the revelation provided the political momentum to trigger today's move to the United Nations. The blowback from the NSA leaks continues to agonize U.S. diplomats and military officials concerned about America's image abroad.
"This is an example of the very worst aspects of the Snowden disclosures," a former defense official with deep experience in NATO, told The Cable, referring to former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. "It will be very difficult for the US to dig out of this, although we will over time. The short term costs in credibility and trust are enormous."
Although the U.N.'s ability to fundamentally constrain the NSA is nil, the mounting international uproar over U.S. surveillance has security experts fearful for the ramifications.
"The worst case scenario I think would be having our European allies saying they will no longer share signals intelligence because of a concern that our SigInt is being derived from mechanisms that violate their privacy rules," said Ray Kimball, an army strategist with policy experience on European issues. He stressed that he was not speaking for the military.
  1. False Fronts
  2. The U.S. Has Been Spying on France Since Before the NSA Existed
  1. How the NSA Scandal Is Roiling the Heritage Foundation

Although the Germans have not indicated such a move is in the works, they do have a game plan for making their surveillance complaints heard. The International Covenant on Political and Civil Rights was written in 1966 and came into force in 1976, decades before the internet transformed the way people communicate around the world. A provision in the international covenant, Article 17, says "no one shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his honor and reputation." It also states that "everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks."
"The covenant was formulated at a time when the internet didn't exist," said a diplomat familiar with the negotiations. "Everyone has the right to privacy and the goal is to this resolution is to apply those protections to online communications."
Brazil and Germany are hoping to put the resolution to a vote in the U.N. General Assembly human rights committee later this year. The draft resolution, which has not been made public and which is still subject to negotiation among U.N. states, will seek to apply the those protections to online communications. "This is not just about spying," said the diplomat. This is about ensuring that "privacy of citizens in their home states under their own home legislation."
"It calls on countries to put an end to violations of that right," the official said. "People have to be protected offline and online."
Anyone who thinks this issue will only resonate in Brazil, Mexico, France, Italy, and Germany -- where the Snowden leaks recently revealed NSA datamining -- isn't paying attention.
According to the latest internal NSA memo leaked to The Guardian, the list of targeted nations is even longer, which could give this U.N. effort additional momentum.  The NSA monitored the communications of 35 unnamed "world leaders," whose phone numbers were given to the intelligence agency by a U.S. government official, according to the report. The agency has been collecting phone numbers, email addresses, and residential addresses of foreign officials from the people in the U.S. government who are in touch with them. The U.S. official, who is not named, personally handed over 200 phone numbers about the people he or she was in touch with.
It's hardly a secret, or a surprise, that the NSA spies on foreign governments, including those friendly to the United States. Two former intelligence officials told The Cable that contact information like this is a regular source of intelligence for the NSA. And the memo acknowledges that the agency looks for officials' contact information in open sources, such as the Internet.
But the revelation that U.S. officials are facilitating spying on the people they do business with to this extent has created the impetus for U.N. action, a first-of-its kind development.
"There's a mixture of hypocrisy and feigned outrage along with real objections here," said a former senior intelligence official. "I don't know where the line is. The idea that political leaders are out of bounds for foreign intelligence is amusing. But on the other hand this business about trusting allies is a big thing. My guess is there's a real annoyance here" on the part of foreign allies.
Merkel was so outraged by the news that her phone had been monitored that she called President Obama to discuss it. The White House issued a carefully worded statement, assuring that the German leader's phone would not be tapped now or in the future, but not saying whether it had been.
It's not clear whether the NSA is still collecting information from the address books of U.S. officials. The memo was written in 2006. But at least at the time, such collection was a regular occurrence.
"From time to time, SID [the agency's signals intelligence directorate] is offered access to the personal contact databases of U.S. officials," the memo states. It doesn't specify who those officials are, or where in the government they work. But, the memo goes on to say, the information provided by the one U.S. official was sufficiently helpful that the agency decided to go around asking for more such contacts from the NSA's "supported customers," which include the Departments of Defense and State, as well as the White House. (None of them are listed by name in the memo.)
"These numbers have provided lead information to other numbers," the memo states. In the case of the one U.S. officials, the 200 numbers included 43 that previously weren't on the NSA's radar.
"This success leads S2 [part of the signals intelligence directorate] to wonder if there are NSA liaisons whose supported customers may be willing to share" their contacts, as well. "S2 welcomes such information!"
Apparently, though, success was measured not so much in secrets learned but just in having the data itself. The memo acknowledges that analysts "have noted little reported intelligence from these particular numbers, which appear not to be used for sensitive discussions."
From this we might conclude that NSA's targets are not fools. Why would anyone in the senior ranks of a government or military have sensitive conversations or discuss classified information over the phone number or email on his business card? But, the NSA seems to have concluded, what could it hurt to find out?
Time will tell. In a statement, a spokesperson for Merkel said she told Obama that tapping her phone would represent a "grave breach of trust" between the two allies. "She made clear that she views such practices, if proven true, as completely unacceptable and condemns them unequivocally."
With the latest news from the U.N., it appears the U.S. might be in store for more than just a slap on the wrist.

Thursday, October 24, 2013


Marines are decrying a new look President Obama has planned for their uniforms — namely, a unisex-style cap that they say looks more French than American, more “girly” than hard-charging.

Washington Times

Obama starts the race with the goal to affordable health care.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

This story is heart-breaking: We may be losing one of our great Middle Eastern allies

Saudi spy chief warns of ‘major shift’ in ties with US

Saudi Arabia intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan (pictured) has said the Gulf kingdom plans to reduce cooperation with the US in protest over Washington's Syria and Iran policies, according to media reports.

Days after Saudi Arabia surprised the international community with its last-minute decision to reject a rotating UN Security Council seat, there were signs of a growing rift between the oil-rich Gulf monarchy and its key ally, the US.
At a weekend meeting with European diplomats, Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief said the kingdom would make a "major shift" in its relations with the United States in protest over Washington's perceived inaction over the Syria war and its overtures to Iran, according to media reports.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, Prince Bandar bin Sultan invited a Western diplomat to the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah over the weekend to voice Riyadh's frustration with the Obama administration and its regional policies, including the decision not to bomb Syria in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons in August.
It was not immediately clear if Prince Bandar's reported statements had the full backing of King Abdullah.
In an interview with Reuters, a source close to Saudi policy said Prince Bandar had also told European diplomats that Washington had failed to act effectively on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, was growing closer to Tehran, and had failed to back Saudi support for Bahrain when it crushed an anti-government revolt in 2011.
"The shift away from the US is a major one," the Saudi source told Reuters. "Saudi doesn't want to find itself any longer in a situation where it is dependent."
The United States and Saudi Arabia have been allies since the kingdom was declared in 1932, giving Riyadh a powerful military protector and Washington secure oil supplies.
The prince's initiative follows a surprise Saudi decision on Friday to reject a coveted two-year term on the UN Security Council in protest at "double standards" at the United Nations.
Prince Bandar, who was Saudi ambassador to Washington for 22 years, is seen as a foreign policy hawk, especially on Iran. The Sunni Muslim kingdom's rivalry with Shiite Iran, an ally of Syria, has amplified sectarian tensions across the Middle East.
A son of the late defence minister and crown prince, Prince Sultan, and a protégé of the late King Fahd, he fell from favour with King Abdullah after clashing on foreign policy in 2005.
But he was called in from the cold last year with a mandate to bring down President Bashar al-Assad, diplomats in the Gulf say. Over the past year he has led Saudi efforts to bring arms and other aid to Syrian rebels while his cousin, Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, worked the diplomatic corridors.
'All options on the table'

"Prince Bandar told diplomats that he plans to limit interaction with the US," the Saudi source told Reuters. "This happens after the US failed to take any effective action on Syria and Palestine."
The source declined to provide more details of Bandar's talks with the diplomats, which took place in the past few days.
But he suggested that the planned change in ties between the energy superpower and its traditional US ally would have wide-ranging consequences, including on arms purchases and oil sales.
Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter, ploughs much of its earnings back into US assets. Most of the Saudi central bank's net foreign assets of $690 billion are thought to be denominated in dollars, much of them in US Treasury bonds.
"All options are on the table now, and for sure there will be some impact," the Saudi source said.
He said there would be no further coordination with the United States over the war in Syria, where the Saudis have armed and financed rebel groups fighting Assad.
The kingdom has informed the United States of its actions in Syria, and diplomats say it has respected US requests not to supply the groups with advanced weaponry that the West fears could fall into the hands of al Qaeda-aligned groups.
Saudi anger peaked after Washington refrained from military strikes in response to a poison gas attack in Damascus in August. The US decided to hold back after Assad agreed to give up his chemical arsenal.
Saudi Arabia is also concerned about signs of a tentative reconciliation between Washington and Tehran, something Riyadh fears may lead to a "grand bargain" on the Iranian nuclear programme that would leave it at a disadvantage.

U.S. drone strikes break international law, report finds
At least 57 civilians killed in 6 airstrikes in Yemen, Human Rights Watch says
CBC News Posted: Oct 22, 2013 12:08 AM ET Last Updated: Oct 22, 2013 6:20
The United States government has carried out some targeted airstrikes against alleged terrorists in Yemen and violated international law, says a new report released by Human Rights Watch Tuesday.
The organization's 97-page report examines six incidents, most using armed drones, from 2009-13. At least 57 civilians died because of the strikes, which killed 82 people.
"The U.S. says it is taking all possible precautions during targeted killings, but it has unlawfully killed civilians and struck questionable military targets in Yemen," said Letta Tayler, who works for the organization and wrote the Between a Drone and Al-Qaeda: The Civilian Cost of U.S. Targeted Killings in Yemen report.
Human Rights Watch researchers spent six weeks in the country interviewing nearly 100 people, including witnesses and relatives, about the strikes.
"Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula," said Tayler.
All six attacks either killed civilians indiscriminately, targeted illegitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths, according to the report.
"The bodies were charred like coal - I could not recognize the faces," said Ahmad al-Sabooli, a 23-year old farmer whose mother, father and 10-year-old sister died in one of the attacks.
During these operations, the U.S. government may be using "an overly elastic definition of a fighter who may be lawfully attacked during an armed conflict," said Human Rights Watch in a press release.
The American government and Yemeni authorities both declined to comment on the investigation.
Amnesty International released a separate report Tuesday on U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan.
Both organizations are calling for Congress to investigate the cases outlined in the two reports and any other potentially unlawful strikes.
"The US should investigate attacks that kill civilians and hold those responsible for violations to account," Tayler said. "It’s long past time for the US to assess the legality of its targeted killings, as well as the broader impact of these strikes on civilians."
Human Rights Watch admits the applicability of international humanitarian law is sometimes unclear, adding America's battle with Al-Qaeda does "not appear to meet the intensity required under the laws of war to amount to an armed conflict."
However, America should still follow international human rights law, said the organization, which only permits using deadly force "when strictly and directly necessary to save human life."

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lay back, fire up a big ass doobie, dust off the air guitar and chill.

The real lesson of the Morgan settlement isn't that justice has finally been done to the perpetrators of the crisis. That would require arresting Barney Frank and those in Congress who blocked the reform of Fannie and Freddie, plus the Federal Reserve governors who created so much easy credit.

The Morgan Shakedown

A landmark that shows how much politicians now control U.S. finance.

Updated Oct. 20, 2013 10:51 p.m. ET WSJ

The tentative $13 billion settlement that the Justice Department appears to be extracting from J.P. Morgan Chase JPM +0.29% needs to be understood as a watershed moment in American capitalism. Federal law enforcers are confiscating roughly half of a company's annual earnings for no other reason than because they can and because they want to appease their left-wing populist allies.
The settlement isn't final and many details weren't available on the weekend, but we know enough for Americans to be dismayed. The bulk of the settlement is related to mortgage-backed securities issued before the 2008 financial panic. But those securities weren't simply a Morgan product. They were largely issued by Bear Stearns and Washington Mutual, both of which the federal government asked J.P. Morgan to take over to help ease the crisis.
So first the feds asked the bank to do the country a favor without giving it a chance for proper due diligence. The Treasury needed quick decisions, and Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon made them in good faith. But five years later the feds are punishing the bank for having done them the favor. As Richard Parsons notes nearby, this is not going to make another CEO eager to help the Treasury in the next crisis. But more pointedly, where is the justice in such ex post facto punishment?
Then there's the fact that $4 billion of the settlement is earmarked to settle charges against the bank by Fannie Mae FNMA +5.19% and Freddie Mac. We are supposed to believe that the bank misled the two mortgage giants about the quality of the mortgage securities they were issuing. But everyone knows that Fan and Fred had as their explicit policy the purchase of securities for liar loans and subprime mortgages to further their affordable-housing goals. Those goals went far to create the crisis, but now these wards of the state are portraying themselves as victims.
The news reports add that another $4 billion in the settlement will go for consumer relief, and that it is up to the feds how this will be distributed. But remember that most of the charges being settled relate to Morgan's sale of mortgage securities. Even if you believe those charges, which we don't, the victims would be the institutional buyers of those securities.
To make the victims whole, the government would have to distribute the settlement proceeds to those buyers, who aren't mom and pop. If instead the feds pass out the money to consumers or their favorite advocacy groups, the fact that this is a political shakedown and wealth-redistribution scheme becomes even clearer. Perhaps the Administration will have the checks arrive in swing Congressional districts right before the 2014 election.
The tentative settlement doesn't even include the criminal probe the feds are still conducting against the bank or even how much wrongdoing Morgan will admit. You would think $13 billion, the largest such settlement against a U.S. company, would be enough. But the political left isn't satisfied these days with cash, though it will take what it can get.
But like medieval justice, the left wants perp walks, if not heads on pikes. The assumption is that if there aren't indictments, then prosecutors must be going easy on the bankers. Poor Lanny Breuer, the former head of the Justice Department Criminal Division, was vilified for not indicting enough bankers, as if he didn't try.
The truth is that he didn't indict bankers because the 2008 crisis wasn't the result of bank fraud, despite liberal mythologizing. It was a classic credit panic caused by bad government policy coinciding with the rational exuberance of bankers who were responding to the incentives for excessive risk-taking that government created.
We'd like to see Mr. Dimon fight the charges, but the political reality is that he and his bank don't have much choice. His board is eager to move on, and the government will only turn the screws harder if he resists. In a post Dodd-Frank world, banks are public utilities and no CEO can afford to resist the government's demands.
The real lesson of the Morgan settlement isn't that justice has finally been done to the perpetrators of the crisis. That would require arresting Barney Frank and those in Congress who blocked the reform of Fannie and Freddie, plus the Federal Reserve governors who created so much easy credit.
The lesson is how government has used the crisis to exert political control over even the most powerful private financial companies. The real lords of American finance are Attorney General Eric Holder, Treasury chief Jack Lew and their boss in the White House.

The bullshit of counterinsurgency and the idea that the US can take sides in a civil war and accomplish anything: What could possibly go wrong?

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Make Believe Judging and the judicial fix that protects the willingness of judges to accept demonstrably preposterous explanations for government action and to turn a blind eye to what government is really doing in a wide range of cases. - Clark Neily

Here is a two year old interview specifically dealing with “judicial activism”.

Could the Obama legacy be A US-Iranian grand bargain? “We are going to do a terrible thing to you: we are going to deprive you of your enemy”

Israeli and Saudi leaders could lose out if Iran deprives the US of its enemy

Opinion: Previous offer from Tehran was dismissed by Bush’s neocons
Sun, Oct 20, 2013, 00:01
‘The Saudis’ worst nightmare would be the administration striking a grand bargain with Iran. ” Robert Gordon, US ambassador to Riyadh in 2001-2003, so highlights the potential significance of this week’s constructive talks in Geneva between Iran and six world powers, chaired by the European Union.
They are to reconvene in three weeks, encouraging speculation that a larger geopolitical shift might be possible if agreement is reached on Iran’s nuclear programme and economic sanctions are lifted. Relations between the US and Iran, frozen since the 1979 revolution, could be transformed – putting in question fundamental US policies and alignments in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia and Israel would be the main losers in any such realignment, or rather their existing leaderships would be.
Since they take US hostility to Iran so much for granted, it is not surprising that they and their allies in the US Congress are so hostile. These, up to now, highly influential actors have run into a qualitatively new element at play – the strong force of public opinion in Iran and the US in favour of diplomatic rather than military solutions to the conflict.
The Geneva talks recall Iran’s previous offer of just such a grand bargain made to the Bush administration in 2003-2004. They dismissed it in the euphoria of the Iraq invasion and neoconservative enthusiasm for regime change in the “axis of evil” including Iran.
After that the hardline Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president in 2005 and the nuclear programme was accelerated. Iran is entitled to nuclear energy, is a member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and there is no proof it intends to build a nuclear weapon; but threatened with regime change does that option not make sense in a realist calculus of power politics?

Rouhani offer
The 2003-2004 offer came from Hassan Rouhani, then its chief nuclear negotiator and now president of Iran – having defeated hardline candidates decisively in the first round of June’s election on a 73 per cent turnout.
It included a nuclear deal, enhanced security, mutual respect and access to technology in return for Iranian recognition of Israel and a two-state settlement, help in stabilising Iraq, halting aid to Hamas in Gaza and a changed Iranian relationship with Hizbullah in Lebanon.
There is no indication as yet that any similar offer is now in prospect. Events since then cannot simply be rolled back, there is a different balance of power in both states and great scepticism in Washington about Iranian intentions from a commentariat still steeped in neoconservative nostrums about Iran’s dangerous regional role.
Nonetheless the intensity, candour and speed of this week’s talks deeply impressed US officials. All are mindful of how perilous the Middle East now is, and how open the region might be for change. The moment seems right for a realignment and it is not fanciful to sketch out scenarios.

Growing cleavage
The elements of what was on offer 10 years ago are still in fact highly relevant in Syria, for Israel, for Iran’s proxy force in Hizbullah and for the wider Arab region undergoing uprisings, deflected revolutions, frustrated reforms and a growing cleavage between Sunni and Shia Islam.
That should not be obscured by disbelief in Israel and Saudi Arabia, the two states whose leaders have a deep interest in spoiling change. Their disconbobulation recalls the remark Gorbachev’s advisor Georgi Arbatov made in 1989 to the West: “We are going to do a terrible thing to you: we are going to deprive you of your enemy”.
A US-Iranian grand bargain along these lines would force Israel to deal seriously with the Palestinian question and abandon creeping annexation of their land. It would leave the Saudis stranded with the Sunni opposition they have stoked up in Syria, having to rethink their support for the army in Egypt for fear of the Muslim Brotherhood.
They would have to confront a likely future when fracking in the US makes them a less indispensable source of oil, no longer the main arms purchasers and base hosts for the Americans and having, like other Gulf monarchies, to prepare their own societies for political change.
Above all such a bargain could de-escalate the sectarian cleavage in the Muslim world which Iranian-Saudi rivalry has brutally instrumentalised, reinforcing anti-Islamic stereotypes in Europe and elsewhere.
Obama needs a legacy and responded shrewdly by delaying military intervention in Syria, recognising the strong tide of US public opinion against it. Having failed to deliver on his pivot to Asia he will, one hopes, be tempted to pursue this bargain.