“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, December 31, 2015

Trump Finds His Voice - Clinton’s attack on Trump backfires


This week Donald Trump pulled off yet another remarkable political feat: While several of his rivals have tried and failed to turn Bill Clinton’s decades-old sex scandals into a 2016 campaign issue, Trump is actually making it happen. 

After his complaint about Hillary calling him "ISIS's best recruiter" morphed into a debate about sexism just before Christmas, Trump changed the conversation again, tweeting on Monday "If Hillary thinks she can unleash her husband, with his terrible record of women abuse, while playing the women's card on me, she's wrong!" Tuesday on the Today show, he added, "there certainly were a lot of abuse of women, you look at whether it's Monica Lewinsky or Paula Jones, or any of them, and that certainly will be fair game."
Now with the former president set to begin campaigning for his wife in New Hampshire on Monday, other Republican candidates, including Carly Fiorina and Ben Carson, are joining in the discussion of Clinton's past sexual improprieties. The question now is whether their attacks on Bill Clinton can damage his wife’s campaign, while years ago they only boosted the first lady's popularity.
As the New York Times notes, in some ways Trump is "an imperfect messenger on the issue of fidelity," considering that his marital issues were documented in the tabloids for many years, and he was once accused of marital rape (Ivana Trump subsequently walked back her claim). And aside from his own spotty marital history, Trump has a long history of attempting to curry favor with the Clintons and dismissing the allegations against the former president. Over the years, Trump invited the Clintons to his wedding, donated to their foundation, called Bill his favorite president, and declared Hillary would be a "great president or vice-president."
He also defended the president against the "moralists" and hypocrites pursuing the Lewinsky scandal many times, saying Clinton would have been "everybody's hero" if he'd cheated with a supermodel, and "if the Clinton affair proves anything it is that the American people don’t care about the private lives and personal of our political leaders so long as they are doing the job."
While pulling a 180 on the Clintons might destroy another candidate, Trump is spinning his reversal as more proof of his business acumen. "As a world-class businessman, you have to get along with everybody," Trump told reporters on Tuesday. "I was able to get along with Clinton, I was able to get along with virtually every politician you can imagine ... When I went to Washington and I needed something, I got it." And of course, his willingness to accuse the former president of abusing women even as CNN's Don Lemon shut down a conservative commentator for making that same point reinforces the idea that Trump is willing to speak his mind.
Still, some Clinton supporters insist that Trump's focus on old sexual-misconduct allegations will only hurt Trump. "Why would he even bring Bill up? What good would that do? That’s not what America is really worried about right now," Bob Withington, who came to hear Hillary Clinton speak in New Hampshire on Tuesday, told the Boston Herald. "I don’t think people in this country are going to pay attention to that one bit."
Writing in the Hill, former Democratic congressional aide Brent Budowsky argued that taking on one of the greatest living politicians isn't a very smart move on Trump's part. "My advice to Trump, which he will regret not taking, is don't mess with Bill Clinton, who will bury him with a wink of his eye and a smile on his face," he said.
But this week, Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus said that while it may be hard for Clinton supporters to admit, "in the larger scheme of things, Bill Clinton’s conduct toward women is far worse than any of the offensive things that Trump has said." She continued:
Which leads to the next question: What is the relevance of Bill Clinton’s conduct for Hillary Clinton’s campaign? Ordinarily, I would argue that the sins of the husband should not be visited on the wife. What Bill Clinton did counts against him, not her, and I would include in that her decision to stick with him. What happens inside a marriage is the couple’s business, and no one else’s, even when both halves crave the presidency.
But Hillary Clinton has made two moves that lead me, gulp, to agree with Trump on the “fair game” front. She is (smartly) using her husband as a campaign surrogate, and simultaneously (correctly) calling Trump sexist.
Wall Street Journal opinion piece echoed her point, saying President Clinton "was a genuine sexual harasser in the classic definition of exploiting his power as a workplace superior, and the Clinton entourage worked hard to smear and discredit his many women accusers." It goes on to recount how Clinton adviser Sidney Blumenthal, who remains a friend of the couple, smeared Monica Lewinsky, and says this reflects on the "standards that would prevail in another Clinton Presidency."
So far the Clintons have remained mostly silent on the new round of accusations, but with Trump vowing to keep up his counterattacks, we'll soon see if the Clinton sex scandals are a serious campaign liability, or just a holiday distraction. "She's got a major problem, it happens to be right in her house," Trump said of Hillary's sexism allegations on Tuesday. "If she wants to do that we're going to go right after the president, the ex-president, and we'll see how it all comes out."

America’s First Gay President : Abraham Lincoln

A Family History Provides More Evidence That Lincoln Was Gay

Over 16,000 books have been written about Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president. Many of these books either allude to or specifically report on Lincoln's ambiguous relationships with men. Lincoln lived with and shared a bed with Joshua Speed for four years, and they remained friends years after they no longer lived together. He also had a close relationship with Captain David Derickson, who would stay with Lincoln overnight at the Soldier's Home (a retreat from the White House) when Lincoln's wife Mary left town. There were reports of Captain Derickson wearing Lincoln's nightshirt, and Lincoln has been quoted as saying, with a "twinkle" in his eye, "The captain and I are getting quite thick."
Many historians are quick to say that men shared beds due to a bed shortage and that surely Lincoln, the savior of the Union, could not have been gay. The studied impulse to make Lincoln absolutely heterosexual reflects a discernible societal discomfort with the complexities of human sexuality and sexual orientation, as well as deeply embedded streaks of homophobia.
American history is written not only in books but in the sacred narration of family stories that endure as indelible parchment in our hearts. Thomas Jefferson had an affair with his slave Sally Hemings, fathering many children with her. The family history of Sally Hemings' descendants never wavered from the fact of Jefferson's paternity, though their claims were disputed by many offended historians. Surely, these historians protested, the author of the Declaration of Independence would not have had sexual liaisons with a slave. Genetic testing proved them wrong.
America's founding fathers had sex with slaves. There's no dispute over that fact. This brings us to my own family history. Growing up, my mother told me that we were from Blair House, the White House's official guest house. She stated that her great-grandmother was a servant at Blair House, had an affair with the master of Blair House and also babysat Lincoln's kids. The affair produced a child, Mattie, born Oct. 20, 1860.
When I began to research this family story, I found that the master of the house was none other than Montgomery Blair, Lincoln's Postmaster General (a member of the cabinet) and a lawyer for Dred Scott in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford case. His father was Francis P. Blair, one of the founders of the Republican Party. While I have not yet learned the name of my great-great-grandmother, I found indisputable evidence that the Blairs owned slaves and had set them free before the Civil War. I also found that most of those former slaves remained working for the Blair families.
Because this research also led me to learn more about Abraham Lincoln, it resulted in my falling in love with him. I read about Lincoln's great soul, his better angel genius, his love for his children, his love of animals, his soaring words, his melancholy and his signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. And as I went on this journey, I also read about his apparent male preference in his social life. This led me to find increasing evidence about his sexuality. As a sexologist, I posit that Lincoln was a Kinsey 4 -- homosexual with more than incidental opposite-sex contact. But as I studied Lincoln's magnificent life, I realized that William Herndon, Lincoln's law partner for 20 years and the keeper of Lincoln's legacy, never mentioned anything that would leave one to believe that Lincoln was gay.
One day I was having lunch with Rev. Cindi Love, the executive director of Soulforce. I was telling her about my family history, my burgeoning love affair with Abraham Lincoln and my quest for more information. "I have been researching Lincoln and found a lot about his relationships with men, and I am getting this from a many sources," I told her. "But I am puzzled about one thing: William Herndon has not mentioned or written anything that would indicate that Lincoln was gay."
She gave me a telling look and said, "Well, here is the missing piece of your puzzle. My maiden name is Herndon. William Herndon was my great-great-uncle, and he was gay, and he was Lincoln's lover." She went on to talk about how this information was handed down from generation to generation in the Herndon family.
There are history books, and then there are generational stories that give character and quality to the threads on the loom of history. I believe that Lincoln was gay, and I see that as simply the sweet icing on the cake of the life story of our greatest president.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

"Most Americans Don't Know About it..." (Seymour Hersch on Rift Between Obama and US Military)

"I think many Americans think believe that the United States, Russia, and China eventually will be the main sponsors, if we could ever get our policy straight, (to) work together with Arab boots on the ground, and that would take care of the problem." 

'Game of cards': Seymour Hersh on conflicting interests in Syria
Published time: 29 Dec, 2015 20:12
Edited time: 29 Dec, 2015 20:15 RT

Journalist Seymour Hersh's new report on contradictions between President Obama and the US military regarding rebels in Syria was a bombshell. Hersh spoke with RT about the US military's view of Syria's Bashar Assad and Obama's relationship with Turkey.

Writing for the London Review of Books, Hersh reported that, in a classified document from Summer 2013, the highest echelons of the US military establishment outlined their opposition to the Obama administration’s strategy of arming so-called "moderate" rebels to oust Syrian President Bashar Assad. From 2013 to September 2015, in an effort to truly counter extremists in Syria, US military leaders fed US intelligence to Russia, Germany, and Israel, which then sent it to Assad, he reported.

The removal of Assad from power would be a gift to fundamentalist extremists, the military report said, as US defense officials compared a potential Assad ouster to ill-advised US eliminations of secular leaders Moammar Gaddaffi in Libya and Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Turkey – which the Obama administration has held close as an ally – is "a major impediment to Obama’s Syria policy," Hersh wrote of the 2013 military report. Turkey "co-opted" the US program "to arm and support the moderate rebels fighting Assad," a former senior adviser to the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Hersh. The moderate-arming program "had morphed into an across-the-board technical, arms and logistical program for all of the opposition, including Jabhat al-Nusra and Islamic State," Hersh's source said. The Free Syrian Army – the administration's preferred moderate rebel ally on the ground Syria – was not a "viable 'moderate' opposition to Assad, and the US was arming extremists," Hersh wrote.

"I have no way of explaining why the White House wasn't interested in that intelligence, but that was the perception that the Joint Chiefs of Staff had, that the president wasn't responding to very important intelligence and continuing to carry on with a policy that they saw as disastrous in the long-run,"
Hersh told RT. 

Hersh added in the interview that the Obama administration seems "to be backing away from their hard line about Assad staying in power," even as they say Assad cannot stay in power during any negotiations to settle the ongoing Syrian crisis.

"So it is really just like a game of cards," he told RT.

Obama and the US military's 'moderate' rebels

Hersh told RT that Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria in Damascus, went to demonstrations against Assad in early 2011, amid the Arab Spring, in support of the opposition. Wikileaks reported that the US State Department worked to encourage the opposition. In reality, Hersh said, the stated strategy of the US, in which it arms alleged moderates to fight both Assad forces and extremists like Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS or ISIL), has long been a fiction.

"At least on some level, (US officials) understand that the groups they insist are so moderate have a lot of ties (to jihadist groups)," Hersh said. "You can't exist without being in league with Al-Nusra or the Islamic State."

The Free Syrian Army (FSA), which receives arms from the US, is not considered a serious foes by Islamic State and other militant groups, as the FSA has had to make "an accommodation" with Al-Nusra and Islamic State "in order to survive," Hersh wrote. In his story, he quoted a German journalist who spent ten days with Islamic State militants; those fighters said the FSA are "the best arms sellers we have."

Furthermore, the Obama administrations' close ties with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan "make no sense," and come at the expense of effectively fighting Islamic militants in Syria, Hersh told RT, citing Russian and American sources.

"Without getting Turkey to stop opening its borders and stop supplying arms to the 'bad guys' it is going to be an intractable war, a much harder war," Hersh said is the view of military sources. "If we can get him to stop it would be much easier" to clear the area around Aleppo, the site of fierce fighting in Syria's northwest. 

China's interests in Syria

An ally of Assad, China has "allegedly committed more than $30 billion to postwar reconstruction in Syria," Hersh wrote, and sees Islamic State as a threat, especially given the jihadist group's support for militant Uighurs, who are Muslims from western China. Uighurs are making it to Turkey via Kazakhstan, Hersh told RT, and then "are funneled into Syria to fight."

"What the Chinese are finding particularly offensive … is the fact that Islamic State, which has pretty good expertise in small-unit fighting, and, certainly, they've been training some of the Uighurs in how to make themselves more presentable and work them back into China where they then can do terrorism activities. So China sees this as a huge threat. China is very pro-Bashar, and has made a huge commitment of money for rebuilding," Hersh told RT.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

There is no candidate running less qualified, more dangerous and less deserving to be POTUS than Hillary Rodent Clinton

SATURDAY, DEC 26, 2015 09:30 AM EST

Is Hillary Clinton a neoconservative hawk? What Iraq and Libya decisions tell us about her foreign policy

Hillary got Iraq vote wrong, and Libya and Syria too. If she were setting the policies, what would they look like?


Two election cycles after losing the Democratic Party nomination because of her Iraq War vote, Hillary Clinton finally seems to have put it behind her. In fact, with the latest wave of ISIS hysteria, her hawkishness is seen by some as a plus. At the same time, striking a balance, a good case can be made that, though she did vote to authorize the Iraq War, she would never have started it herself if she had been president.

John Kerry made that very same argument back in 2004, in fact. As Kevin Drum described at the time, the media was echoing the Bush campaign spin, presenting Kerry’s position as confused and ludicrous at best, and as inconsistent flip-flopping at worst. But actually his position was a familiar one to them:

[T]hey know very well that there are lots and lots of liberal hawks and other former war supporters who have exactly the same position: pressuring Saddam was good, inspections were good, and eventually war might have been good too.

But Bush blew it: he failed to rally world opinion, he failed to get the Arab world on our side, he failed to let the inspections process run its course, and he failed to plan properly for the postwar occupation. The result is a loss of American power and prestige, a diminished chance of Iraq becoming a pluralistic democracy, and an al-Qaeda that’s been given a second lease on life thanks to George Bush’s Queeg-like obsession with Saddam Hussein.

You’ll note that there’s nothing new in the idea that invading Iraq benefited the Jihadi cause. Liberal hawks may have been mistaken, but not nearly as much as the neocons, whose trap they fell into. So has the liberal hawk position finally been fully vindicated? Is Hillary Clinton finally in the right place, at the right time?

Electorally, perhaps. But in terms of actually having a working policy? That’s a whole different story. After all, Clinton herself pushed hard for a similarly flawed regime change strategy in Libya—Conor Friedersdorf even compared her role in Libya to Cheney’s in Iraq. Hyperbolic? Yes. But he did have a point. As summarized by Joel Gillin at the New Republic, she did get carried away with questionable intelligence, over-focused on deposing a long-time U.S. bogeyman, and failed to give sufficient consideration to the depths of difficulties that would follow afterwards. All of which allowed the broader jihadi threat increased opportunity to spread.

In particular, the key claim that something genocidal was about to unfold was entirely unfounded, according to a lengthy review of the Libya intervention at the London Review of Books, which noted that “in retaking the towns that the uprising had briefly wrested from the government’s control, Gaddafi’s forces had committed no massacres at all; the fighting had been bitter and bloody, but there had been nothing remotely resembling the slaughter at Srebrenica, let alone in Rwanda.” Given that Libya had normalized relations with the West in 2003/2004, renouncing its former international outlaw role, including an active WMD program, it was strikingly counterproductive to turn on Gaddafi like that, if you want to coax other “rogue states” into the community of nations.

So, more than a dozen years after the Iraq War vote—which she’s finally semi-apologized for—the vote itself is less important than the broader framework in which she cast it, how she explained herself, and how she’s acted since. What really matters about her decision back then is what it tells about how she’d try to shape the future. With Rand Paul all but disappearing from sight, the GOP is now unified in its commitment to war, war, war. They will fight fire with gasoline until the last oil well runs dry. If there’s going to be any learning from past mistakes, any chance at all, it’s entirely up to the Democrats.

So what are the chances with Hillary? Not very good, I’d argue. But they can only improve by better understanding past mistakes. So let’s begin with her Iraq War vote and how she justified it at the time. Here are the main problems that jump out from it:

Clinton’s mind was far removed from the terrorist threat that made the Iraq War even conceivable in the first place. Her Senate speech (video/text) ran almost 2,500 words, but she never mentioned “terrorism” even once, and mentioned “terrorists” just three times:

He [Saddam Hussein] has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

Once the battle is joined, however, with the outcome certain, he [Saddam Hussein] will have maximum incentive to use weapons of mass destruction and to give what he can’t use to terrorists who can torment us with them long after he is gone.

Secondly, I want to insure that Saddam Hussein makes no mistake about our national unity and for our support for the President’s efforts to wage America’s war against terrorists and weapons of mass destruction.

The last quote simply echoes the neocon conflation of rationales. It’s not about actual terrorists at all. The second quote is also primarily about WMDs; the unidentified terrorists are an imagined afterthought. The first quote, therefore, is the only realistically al Qaeda-related reference Clinton made in justifying going to war—albeit as a last resort. She made no attempt whatsoever to talk about the larger context of responding to 9/11. She was essentially silent about what should have been the utmost concern. This was—and remains—her most fundamental mistake.

What should she have been thinking and speaking about? Consider what Gen. Anthony Zinni said just a few months before, in advising strongly against the invasion of Iraq. Zinni began by saying that military leaders see it one way, while those who’ve never been to war are gung-ho to go fight. Then he said, “You need to weigh this: what are your priorities in the region? That’s the first issue in my mind,” and he proceeded to tick off a list:

The Middle East peace process, in my mind, has to be a higher priority. Winning the war on terrorism has to be a higher priority. More directly, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Central Asia needs to be resolved, making sure al Qaeda can’t rise again from the ashes that are destroyed. Taliban cannot come back. That the warlords can’t regain power over Kabul and Karzai, and destroy everything that has happened so far.

That’s pretty much a list of most of the major things we’ve ignored, neglected, or failed to follow through on. If we’d tackled Zinni’s list of problems, how much better off would the world be today? Can we even imagine how different it would be? But then he got really serious:

Our relationships in the region are in major disrepair, not to the point where we can’t fix them, but we need to quit making enemies we don’t need to make enemies out of. And we need to fix those relationships. There’s a deep chasm growing between that part of the world and our part of the world. And it’s strange, about a month after 9/11, they were sympathetic and compassionate toward us. How did it happen over the last year? And we need to look at that — that is a higher priority.

I’ll have more to say about this below, but one has to ask, how could a retired general be so aware of this problem, while a senator like Clinton did not even consider it in the framework of her argument? Finally, there was one other area of concern Zinni highlighted, before turning to the problems that invading Iraq would unleash:

The country that started this, Iran, is about to turn around, 180 degrees. We ought to be focused on that. The father of extremism, the home of the ayatollah — the young people are ready to throw out the mullahs and turn around, become a secular society and throw off these ideas of extremism. That is more important and critical. They’re the ones that funded Hezbollah and other terrorist organizations. That ought to be a focus. And I can give you many, many more before you get down to Saddam and Iraq.

This part of Zinni’s speech is particularly haunting, since it represents the lone area in which we’ve belatedly made some progress in dealing with the wide range of challenges he laid out—and it’s taken an incredibly fierce political fight to make that progress real. It’s also an area where Clinton has clearly done some long-term good.

Instead of taking the broad, multi-faceted view of all the challenges we faced that Zinni laid out, or, alternatively, focusing on fighting al Qaeda and the terrorist threat, Clinton instead argued her case solely in terms of Iraq, and the logic of how to proceed against Saddam Hussein’s regime. She first presented a “factual” account of U.S.-Iraqi history that validated questionable Bush administration claims, and then she argued that her vote was a force for moderation and stability—building bipartisan support for Bush would show strength, and thus save us from war! Let’s look more closely at how that went.

“I believe the facts that have brought us to this fateful vote are not in doubt,” Clinton said, and devoted 411 words to summing up U.S.-Iraq relations through 1998, when the UN inspectors left and the U.S. and Britain responded with a four-day air assault. Her account up to that point was relatively straightforward and “not in doubt.” But then she said this:

In 1998, the United States also changed its underlying policy toward Iraq from containment to regime change and began to examine options to effect such a change, including support for Iraqi opposition leaders within the country and abroad.

However, President Bill Clinton’s signing statement for the 1998 Iraq Liberation Act falls far short of a vigorous commitment to regime change—as the neocons pushing to oust Hussein were sharply aware. From there, Clinton’s account became dramatically less free from doubt:

In the four years since the inspectors left, intelligence reports show that Saddam Hussein has worked to rebuild his chemical and biological weapons stock, his missile delivery capability, and his nuclear program. He has also given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members, though there is apparently no evidence of his involvement in the terrible events of September 11, 2001.

It is clear, however, that if left unchecked, Saddam Hussein will continue to increase his capacity to wage biological and chemical warfare, and will keep trying to develop nuclear weapons. Should he succeed in that endeavor, he could alter the political and security landscape of the Middle East, which as we know all too well affects American security.

Now this much is undisputed.

We now know unequivocally that Iraq did not rebuild its WMD capacities, as Clinton had claimed. There were already ample reasons to doubt it at the time, so she was clearly lying when she said “this much is undisputed.” But she was also expressing a common elite consensus view. And her stress on elite consensus was another troubling aspect of her speech for us to consider—which we’ll return to below. First, however, we need to focus on Clinton’s claim that Saddam had “given aid, comfort, and sanctuary to terrorists, including al Qaeda members.”

Of course, Saddam, as secular dictator, had no reason at all to behave as Clinton described. He and bin Laden were bitter ideological enemies, and the only thing that could bring them together was necessity and a common enemy they hated and feared more than each other. That would be us. And although both Saddam and bin Laden are dead, their followers have joined together to fight us. That is, in fact, the origin story of ISIS—or at least a crucial part of it, as counter-terrorism expert Malcolm Nance has explained, talking to William Arkin, for example. They spoke a week after the death of former Saddam General Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri, and Nance said:

What we didn’t know until 2006 was that Saddam knew he would be defeated and used al-Douri to organize an armed insurgency led by the Saddam Fedayeen to recreate the Great Arab Revolution of 1920, where the British were kicked out of southern Iraq after a multi-year insurgency.

Al-Douri and the Revolutionary Command Council also had deep relations with Hafez al-Assad and the Syrian Baath party. At al-Douri’s urging, Saddam opened oil pipelines to Syria and built a cash relationship with the al-Assad family.

In the run-up to the U.S. invasion in 2003, Saddam and al-Douri “Islamicised” the coming insurgency, allowing foreign terrorists into the country. Syria became the pipeline for al-Qaeda foreign fighters and al-Assad happily let them cross the border, using his intelligence agencies to distribute weapons and facilitate travel.

One key group to arrive was that of Jordanian-born Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his men of Tawhid wal-Jihad (Monotheism and Holy War). They hated the Baathists but could not move freely through Iraq without their assistance. A partnership was formed, and they worked symbiotically. Soon afterwards, Zarqawi’s group became al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI).

AQI, through various twists and turns, eventually became ISIS. The process by which ISIS emerged was long, bloody and messy, but what got it started and kept it going was the U.S. invasion of Iraq (starting as a threat) and its consequences. The marriage of the two forces was created by our own imagining of it—and Hillary Clinton participated in that creation process, along with everyone else in the bipartisan consensus she consciously invoked.

After her misleading presentation of “the facts” about Iraq, combining real ones with Bush-generated speculation, Clinton went on to craft an equally misleading picture of the policy options, and what a responsible, bipartisan approach would look like.

“Some people favor attacking Saddam Hussein now, with any allies we can muster,” she first said. “However, this course is fraught with danger…. If we were to attack Iraq now, alone or with few allies, it would set a precedent that could come back to haunt us,” she argued, citing the possibilities of Russia invading Georgia to attack Chechen rebels, India launching a pre-emptive strike on Pakistan, or China (implicitly) doing the same vs. Taiwan. All of which led her to conclude that “for all its appeal, a unilateral attack, while it cannot be ruled out, on the present facts is not a good option.”

She then turned to the other “extreme position,” as it were: “Others argue that we should work through the United Nations and should only resort to force if and when the United Nations Security Council approves it,” which is, of course, what international law says that we have to do. But we’re the cops of the world, as Phil Ochs put it, so the laws don’t apply to us. And so Clinton argued, in her balanced, bipartisan way:

But there are problems with this approach as well. The United Nations is an organization that is still growing and maturing. It often lacks the cohesion to enforce its own mandates. And when Security Council members use the veto, on occasion, for reasons of narrow-minded interests, it cannot act.

Even worse, she added:

In the case of Iraq, recent comments indicate that one or two Security Council members might never approve force against Saddam Hussein until he has actually used chemical, biological, or God forbid, nuclear weapons.

Meaning that Russia or China might actually stand up for respecting the UN Charter, rather than letting us use it as a fig leaf for attacking Iraq first. (Note, too, Clinton’s cute little Condi Rice impersonation.)

She then outdid herself in recasting the nature of the vote she was about to cast:

[T]he question is how do we do our best to both defuse the real threat that Saddam Hussein poses to his people, to the region, including Israel, to the United States, to the world, and at the same time, work to maximize our international support and strengthen the United Nations?

Again, we see Clinton running together distinctly different things: Saddam’s very real (but hardly unique) threat to his own people with a vague-at-best threat “to the region, including Israel,” and a nonexistent threat “to the United States, to the world.” How any of these are supposed to be related to 9/11 and the threat of international terrorism does not even come close to making it onto Clinton’s radar—although she does claim to want to “maximize our international support and strengthen the United Nations”— both of which would certainly be much more likely if we’d stuck to focusing on al Qaeda and fighting terrorism, rather than settling old scores.

But, Clinton, as much as Bush, was still too fixated on Iraq to even begin thinking clearly about that, even a full 13 months after 9/11. And so she concluded, “I believe the best course is to go to the UN for a strong resolution that scraps the 1998 restrictions on inspections and calls for complete, unlimited inspections with cooperation expected and demanded from Iraq.” She was not completely satisfied with how Bush was proceeding, but hey, close enough for bipartisanship, right?

President Bush’s speech in Cincinnati and the changes in policy that have come forth since the Administration began broaching this issue some weeks ago have made my vote easier. Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.

Clinton apparently thought Bush’s Cincinnati speech was just great. A critical reading by experts leaves a very different impression. Consider Bush’s wild-eyed fear-mongering claim that Iraq might threaten the U.S. with drones (unmanned armed vehicles—UAVs):

We are concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using UAVs for missions targeting the United States.

In response to which, author Rahul Mahajan said, “The claim that these UAVs have ranges that would enable attacking the United States, and that they could reach it undetected, is a startlingly new one, and entirely untenable. No one has ever produced evidence of Iraqi capability or intent to target the United States directly.” Not only should the drone claim been seen as a wild-eyed threat exaggeration, at best, it should have cast all other publicly unsupported threat claims into very serious doubt as well.

Mahajan and other experts critical of Bush had a much better read of what he was up to than Clinton did, and comparing their critical analysis to her uncritical acceptance shows just how much her elite bipartisan insiderism blinded her to what was actually going on. Note, in particular, this part of Bush’s speech, and Mahajan’s critical comment:

[Bush:] Some citizens wonder: After 11 years of living with this problem, why do we need to confront it now?

There is a reason. We have experienced the horror of September 11. We have seen that those who hate America are willing to crash airplanes into buildings full of innocent people. Our enemies would be no less willing — in fact they would be eager — to use a biological, or chemical, or a nuclear weapon.

Mahajan: “Invoking September 11 without showing any kind of link between the government of Iraq and those attacks is just transparent manipulation. What he really means is that after September 11 he thinks he can get away with such a policy.”

Clinton went along with this nonsense, accepting its lack of logic as a form of logic, because it was what elite insiders were doing at the time. As with Kerry, there’s no reason to think she would have pulled the trigger on going to war without WMDs being found—and yet, as the case of Libya (cited above) reminds us, she remains very willing to use force based on questionable intelligence, without fulling thinking through the alternatives, the long-term consequences, or the other problems facing us which ought to rank a good deal higher in our list of concerns.

Make no mistake, there’s no one in the GOP who wouldn’t eagerly make things much much worse when it comes to pursuing a war against terrorism. But that’s a truly terrible yardstick for us to be using. Terrorists want war. War creates more terrorists. That’s what the Iraq War clearly demonstrated. We need to think about going beyond that, finding a different way. In his conversation with William Arkin, Malcolm Nance proposed a multi-faceted approach to combating ISIS, with different strategies in different theaters of struggle, but first and foremost he called for taking on their ideology:

Launch an integrated global counterideology war against ISIS/Al-Qaeda: I call it Counter Ideology Operations and Warfare (CIDOW). We need to confront the belief system head on. The global jihad movement ideology is a destructive religious cult. It is so un-Islamic that it is virtually anti-Islamic. Soon enough, ISIS will do something that enrages the entire Muslim world and it will force them to act. Burning the Jordanian pilot came close, but we shall see what lifts the veil from their eyes.

The last 14 years have seen America completely lose track of what its own core ideological strengths are. If “they hate us for our freedoms,” then fine, we’ll get rid of them. That’s been our response in a nutshell. We’ve been taken so far out of touch with our own values that it might seem like a pipe dream to turn the tables on ISIS and exploit their contradictions. But that’s exactly what we need to do. And nothing in Hillary Clinton’s record shows any capacity for engaging ISIS on those terms.

To the contrary, Clinton’s just like Bush and the neocons in fighting the last century’s wars. She’s much smarter about it, in theory at least. But we’re in a whole different ballgame now, and none of our foreign policy elites seem to have a clue about that, despite a growing chorus of experts trying to point to a different way.

Paul Rosenberg is a California-based writer/activist, senior editor for Random Lengths News, and a columnist for Al Jazeera English. Follow him on Twitter at @PaulHRosenberg.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

The war in Syria and Iraq has turned into a stalemate. Everyone fights for themselves, and neither US airstrikes, nor Assad's army efforts are able to deal with Islamic State. However, the jihadist group itself has lost its former power and cannot carry out massive offensive operations.


Switzerland to hold referendum on banning private banks from creating money



Published time: 25 Dec, 2015 23:12

A radical initiative to strip private banks of their power to “create money” and make it exclusively a central bank privilege has gathered enough support for the Swiss government to announce a referendum on the issue. A vote in favor may result in a return to 100 percent reserve banking.

“Banks won’t be able to create money for themselves anymore, they’ll only be able to lend money that they have from savers or other banks, or even, if necessary, money that the Swiss National Bank has provided them,” the campaign said in a statement on their petition website.

As soon the petition concerning changes to the Swiss banking system had received more than 100,000 valid signatures, the Swiss government confirmed it would hold the referendum, according to the Telegraph. The date when the country will vote to decide whether private banks should be keep their power of creating money has not yet been set.

The move comes as part of the Swiss Sovereign Money Initiative (known as the Vollgeld-Initiative in German) that seeks to put an end to financial speculations. The group is concerned with the current state of affairs in traditional fractional reserve banking, where real coins, banknotes and central bank liabilities account for only a minor part of money in circulation, while most of it exists as electronic cash created by private banks.

“Most people believe that the money they have in their bank accounts is real money... This is wrong! Money in a bank account is… a promise the bank makes to provide money, but it is not itself legal tender,” they group explains in their statement.

The initiative claims that it strives to change the system so that it complies with the Swiss Constitution, guaranteeing safety and avoiding such phenomena as finance bubbles and empty money.

If the change is introduced, Swiss banks would have to look for a workaround to continue providing their clients with the usual set of services.

This won’t be a first referendum on monetary policy in the recent history of Switzerland. The Swiss voted against a law that would increase country’s gold reserves from 7 percent to 20 percent back in 2014, despite early polls showing increasing support for the initiative.


Thursday, December 24, 2015

You Have Never Heard This Christmas Story Before: Peace on Earth and Peace and Health To You All

Would Syrian Refugee Baby Jesus be allowed to immigrate to the US?

By Juan Cole | Dec. 24, 2015 |

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

In this political season in which Syrian refugees have become a political football, it is worthwhile remembering that baby Jesus is depicted by the Bible as being a Syrian political refugee not once but twice.

In ancient times, “Syria” referred not to the area of the modern country but to the entire Levant– Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel. Scholars sometimes call it greater Syria.”
So given that convention, outsiders in places like Alexandria, Egypt, would have considered Joseph, Mary and Jesus to be Syrians. That is, geographical conceptions such as Judah, Galilee, and Roman Judea, would all have been hyponyms or specific places within greater Syria, which was the hypernym. In 135 AD, Roman Judea and Roman Syria were merged administratively into one province called Syria.

The wise men or magi from the East and Jesus in the manger are staples of Christmas celebrations. (Matthew does not say there were three wise men, and early Syrian tradition held that there were 12 of them). Actually, however many there were, the wise men caused baby Jesus a very great deal of trouble.

Magi were the priests of the Zoroastrian or Parsi religion of ancient Iran. Iranian religions like Zoroastrianism and Mithraism were present in the Near East. In fact, the Iranian Parthian Empire (250 BC-220 AD), stretching from Afghanistan to Mesopotamia, had taken the the Near East and greater Syria away from Rome briefly for a couple of years some 33 years before Jesus was born. In that couple of years, the Iranians deposed the Rome-appointed local governor, Herod the Great, who fled to Rome, and the Iranians installed the Hasmonean, Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II, as their governor.

Herod intrigued with Mark Antony, who was planning a counter-offensive, and offered him a bribe, and talked up the Persian threat, so that the Roman senate appointed him king over the territory when Mark Antony took it back. Herod played the same Iran card with the Roman Senate that Binyamin Netanyahu now plays with the US Congress.

But once back in power, Herod also did diplomacy with the Iranians fearing that they might come back.

Iranian religious currents that stayed behind in Greater Syria carried a prophecy of the ancient Iranian prophet Zoroaster in the Zend Avesta, a book of scripture:
“You, my children, shall be the first honored by the manifestation of that divine person who is to appear in the world: a star shall go before you to conduct you to the place of his nativity; and when you shall find him, present to him your oblations and sacrifices; for he is indeed your lord and an everlasting king.”

So Zoroaster predicted that following a star would lead his priests to a nativity scene, where they would find the world-savior, which they would have called Saoshyant.

Oh, no, Iranian religious leaders spreading their religious ideology in Syria! Alert the Republican National Committee!

The delegation of wise men from Iran appear to have met with Herod before they went off wandering around looking for the savior. Herod tried to keep good diplomatic relations with the neighboring Parthian Empire, still strong in what is now Iraq, explaining why he might have given the priests safe passage.

In any case, an Iranian invasion had deposed Herod once, and he would have been very nervous about Iranian priests spreading end-of-days talk about the rise of an everlasting king. You just have to read the Qumran scrolls to see that some Jewish sects would have been primed for this Iranian message. According to Matthew, their millenarianism got back to Herod.

He says that the magi were instructed in a dream not to go back for an audience with Herod after he had been angered by their prophecy, and so they departed directly “to their own country, by another way.” I.e. they sneaked back to Iran, avoiding Herod’s guards.

Herod, having heard the Zoroastrian prophecy that the Saoshyant or eternal monarch had just been born, took it literally and was afraid that on reaching adolescence an Iranian-inspired boy-king would dethrone him, just as the Parthian emperor had in 39 BC at the beginning of his career. So he announced he would kill all boy babies 2 years old or less.

Matthew says that an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and warned him and his family to decamp.

So the flight to Egypt of the holy family was the migration of Syrian refugees from a combination of religious and political persecution. A blanket killing of boy babies is what we would now call a war crime, and Jesus was directly targeted. Like little Aylan Kurdi, who washed up dead on a Turkish beach, he was forced by a violent regime out of his home, to seek refuge in another country. Unlike Aylan, baby Jesus survived the journey to Egypt.

The biggest Jewish community in Roman Egypt at that time was in Alexandria, and I have long felt that was where the holy family were likely given asylum. Jesus was probably born around 6 or 5 BC, so Egypt would have been governed by Gaius Turranius. Jews in Alexandria had been given their own quarter and originally had been made equal to Greeks by the Seleucids, but there were tensions between those two communities, and both had tensions with the native Egyptians.

Greeks considered Jews to be “atheists” because they rejected the pantheon of gods. Just a little over thirty years before Jesus was born, the Alexandrian Jews had been demoted from being citizens of Alexandria to being just Egyptians. The best status was to be a Roman citizen (as Saul/ St. Paul was), but you couldn’t become a Roman citizen without first being an Alexandrian citizen. The Romans thus abruptly took away from Jews the urban citizenship status they had had since the city was founded by Alexander the Great. In 38 BC there was a riot over these issues between the Greeks and the Jews.

(The US Congress has just made Iranian-Americans, Iraqi-Americans and some other ethnicities with dual citizenship second-class citizens by insisting that these citizens of the USA get visas back to the US if they visit Iran or Iraq. Just because you think you are a citizen with full rights doesn’t mean that you will remain that way. Franco took citizenship away from millions of Spanish leftists, and the Bolsheviks took citizenship away from millions of White Russians).

The holy family was probably refugees for just one or two years in Egypt. If they weren’t in Alexandria, they would have been considered “Egyptians” by the Roman authorities, a low status. If they made it to Alexandria, they would have had more rights, but they likely suffered from not having the same religion as the Greek and Roman elite. The Egyptian polytheists, who still worshiped Horus and Anubis, wouldn’t have appreciated foreign “atheists,” either.

Joseph was a tektōn (τέκτων), a builder or some say carpenter. If a builder he would have looked for day work, maybe working with stone. There would have been no work for a carpenter in Egypt at all. Egypt doesn’t have trees suitable for woodworking, just palms. Wood has long been imported from Lebanon for the elite, which had cedars. (To this day I have seen Egyptian newlyweds given big wooden dresser drawers, an extremely expensive imported gift, meant to last a lifetime). So it is possible that the holy family was reduced to penury and living on handouts, far from the trees of the Levant that supplied wood for carpentry. They might have been hungry. As they fled through Sinai to Egypt, they would have been thirsty. If Joseph could get no work for a year or two, their clothes might have gotten threadbare or even fallen off their bodies. They may have had to beg.

In 4 BC, Herod the Great died.

Matthew says, “But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.”

First, the holy family tried to go to Judah in the north, but Herod’s son Archelaus was ruling there as a tyrant, so they had to flee Judah, too.

That was when the three of them went to Nazareth in the Galilee, which wasn’t in the territory of Archelaus but in that of Herod Antipas. (This ruler later executed John the Baptist for denouncing his marriage to his niece as incestuous, so the holy family’s hope they would be safe under him was misplaced).

So the toddler Jesus got to be a Nazarene because of having been a Syrian refugee twice, once from Herod the Great in Egypt, and once from Archelaus in Judah.

The toddler Syrian refugee would later say,
“31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ ”

Maybe when they were refugees in Egypt, Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus were hungry and thirsty, or lacked proper clothing, having had to flee their homeland abruptly. Maybe Jesus grew up hearing those stories about the Syrian refugees.

There are politicians arguing that Syrian refugees should not be admitted to the United States, even though the US has taken in 750,000 refugees since 2001, and only a handful have gotten into security-related trouble.

Jeb Bush said that only Christian Syrian refugees should be let in.

These American, Christian politicians would not have admitted the holy family when they fled Herod the Great. They were Jews and that was before Christianity. So they were non-Christian Syrian refugees. Out of luck.

Here is the rest of what the Syrian refugee said in Matthew 25:

41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Maybe they should chisel it above the Capitol building.

“Corporate Criminal” Hillary Clinton—and the reality of who has power in America.

HINT: Your vote is a joke. Here is Why:

How Google Could Rig the 2016 Election

Google has the ability to drive millions of votes to a candidate with no one the wiser.

By Robert Epstein
August 19, 2015

America’s next president could be eased into office not just by TV ads or speeches, but by Google’s secret decisions, and no one—except for me and perhaps a few other obscure researchers—would know how this was accomplished.

Research I have been directing in recent years suggests that Google, Inc., has amassed far more power to control elections—indeed, to control a wide variety of opinions and beliefs—than any company in history has ever had. Google’s search algorithm can easily shift the voting preferences of undecided voters by 20 percent or more—up to 80 percent in some demographic groups—with virtually no one knowing they are being manipulated, according to experiments I conducted recently with Ronald E. Robertson .

Given that many elections are won by small margins, this gives Google the power, right now, to flip upwards of 25 percent of the national elections worldwide. In the United States, half of our presidential elections have been won by margins under 7.6 percent, and the 2012 election was won by a margin of only 3.9 percent—well within Google’s control.

There are at least three very real scenarios whereby Google—perhaps even without its leaders’ knowledge—could shape or even decide the election next year. Whether or not Google executives see it this way, the employees who constantly adjust the search giant’s algorithms are manipulating people every minute of every day. The adjustments they make increasingly influence our thinking—including, it turns out, our voting preferences.

What we call in our research the Search Engine Manipulation Effect (SEME) turns out to be one of the largest behavioral effects ever discovered. Our comprehensive new study, just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), includes the results of five experiments we conducted with more than 4,500 participants in two countries. Because SEME is virtually invisible as a form of social influence, because the effect is so large and because there are currently no specific regulations anywhere in the world that would prevent Google from using and abusing this technique, we believe SEME is a serious threat to the democratic system of government.

According to Google Trends, at this writing Donald Trump is currently trouncing all other candidates in search activity in 47 of 50 states. Could this activity push him higher in search rankings, and could higher rankings in turn bring him more support? Most definitely—depending, that is, on how Google employees choose to adjust numeric weightings in the search algorithm. Google acknowledges adjusting the algorithm 600 times a year, but the process is secret, so what effect Mr. Trump’s success will have on how he shows up in Google searches is presumably out of his hands.
Our new research leaves little doubt about whether Google has the ability to control voters. In laboratory and online experiments conducted in the United States, we were able to boost the proportion of people who favored any candidate by between 37 and 63 percent after just one search session. The impact of viewing biased rankings repeatedly over a period of weeks or months would undoubtedly be larger.

In our basic experiment, participants were randomly assigned to one of three groups in which search rankings favored either Candidate A, Candidate B or neither candidate. Participants were given brief descriptions of each candidate and then asked how much they liked and trusted each candidate and whom they would vote for. Then they were allowed up to 15 minutes to conduct online research on the candidates using a Google-like search engine we created called Kadoodle.

Each group had access to the same 30 search results—all real search results linking to real web pages from a past election. Only the ordering of the results differed in the three groups. People could click freely on any result or shift between any of five different results pages, just as one can on Google’s search engine.

When our participants were done searching, we asked them those questions again, and, voilà: On all measures, opinions shifted in the direction of the candidate who was favored in the rankings. Trust, liking and voting preferences all shifted predictably.

More alarmingly, we also demonstrated this shift with real voters during an actual electoral campaign—in an experiment conducted with more than 2,000 eligible, undecided voters throughout India during the 2014 Lok Sabha election there—the largest democratic election in history, with more than 800 million eligible voters and 480 million votes ultimately cast. Even here, with real voters who were highly familiar with the candidates and who were being bombarded with campaign rhetoric every day, we showed that search rankings could boost the proportion of people favoring any candidate by more than 20 percent—more than 60 percent in some demographic groups.

Given how powerful this effect is, it’s possible that Google decided the winner of the Indian election.  Google’s own daily data on election-related search activity (subsequently removed from the Internet, but not before my colleagues and I downloaded the pages) showed that Narendra Modi, the ultimate winner, outscored his rivals in search activity by more than 25 percent for sixty-one consecutive days before the final votes were cast. That high volume of search activity could easily have been generated by higher search rankings for Modi.

Google’s official comment on SEME research is always the same: “Providing relevant answers has been the cornerstone of Google’s approach to search from the very beginning. It would undermine the people’s trust in our results and company if we were to change course.”

Could any comment be more meaningless? How does providing “relevant answers” to election-related questions rule out the possibility of favoring one candidate over another in search rankings? Google’s statement seems far short of a blanket denial that it ever puts its finger on the scales.
There are three credible scenarios under which Google could easily be flipping elections worldwide as you read this:
First, there is the Western Union Scenario: Google’s executives decide which candidate is best for us—and for the company, of course—and they fiddle with search rankings accordingly. There is precedent in the United States for this kind of backroom king-making. Rutherford B. Hayes, the 19th president of the United States, was put into office in part because of strong support by Western Union. In the late 1800s, Western Union had a monopoly on communications in America, and just before the election of 1876, the company did its best to assure that only positive news stories about Hayes appeared in newspapers nationwide. It also shared all the telegrams sent by his opponent’s campaign staff with Hayes’s staff. Perhaps the most effective way to wield political influence in today’s high-tech world is to donate money to a candidate and then to use technology to make sure he or she wins. The technology guarantees the win, and the donation guarantees allegiance, which Google has certainly tapped in recent years with the Obama administration.

Read more:

Bandit Cops - Real Brave Americans Will Take Any Load of Shit That Their Government Cares To Dump On Them (Stinking Rotten US Cops)

The Justice Department just shut down a huge asset forfeiture program

By Christopher Ingraham 

December 23 at 5:05 PM  WAPO

The Department of Justice announced this week that it's suspending a controversial program that allows local police departments to keep a large portion of assets seized from citizens under federal law and funnel it into their own coffers.

The "equitable-sharing" program gives police the option of prosecuting asset forfeiture cases under federal instead of state law. Federal forfeiture policies are more permissive than many state policies, allowing police to keep up to 80 percent of assets they seize -- even if the people they took from are never charged with a crime.

The DOJ is suspending payments under this program due to budget cuts included in the recent spending bill.

"While we had hoped to minimize any adverse impact on state, local, and tribal law enforcement partners, the Department is deferring for the time being any equitable sharing payments from the Program," M. Kendall Day, chief of the asset forfeiture and money laundering section, wrote in a letter to state and local law enforcement agencies.

In addition to budget cuts last year, the program has lost $1.2 billion, according to Day's letter. "The Department does not take this step lightly," he wrote. "We explored every conceivable option that would have enabled us to preserve some form of meaningful equitable sharing. ... Unfortunately, the combined effect of the two reductions totaling $1.2 billion made that impossible."

Asset forfeiture has become an increasingly contentious practice in recent years. It lets police seize and keep cash and property from people who are never convicted — and in many cases, never charged — with wrongdoing. Recent reports have found that the use of the practice has exploded in recent years, prompting concern that, in some cases, police are motivated more by profits and less by justice.

Criminal justice reformers are cheering the change. "This is a significant deal," said Lee McGrath, legislative counsel at the Institute for Justice, in an interview. "Local law enforcement responds to incentives. And it's clear that one of the biggest incentives is the relative payout from federal versus state forfeiture. And this announcement by the DOJ changes the playing field for which law state and local [law enforcement] is going to prefer."

Previous research by the Institute for Justice has shown that when states have stricter forfeiture laws, cops are more likely to pursue forfeiture cases under federal law as a means of bypassing those stricter state restrictions.

In California, for instance, police are allowed to keep 66.25 percent of forfeiture proceeds under state law, but 80 percent if they opt for the federal equitable sharing route. And forfeiture figures reflect this: In 2013, California police forfeited $28 million worth of cash and property under state law, but $98 million under federal law, according to the Institute for Justice's research.

It's unclear how much of the total national forfeiture haul will be affected by the DOJ's change, since many states don't make their forfeiture data public. But as the case of California shows, it is potentially significant: In that state in 2013, nearly eight out of every 10 dollars of forfeited property went through federal law. Under this change, that flow of cash would be shut off.

Some law enforcement groups are less than happy with the change. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) said in a statement that "this decision is detrimental to state, local, and tribal law enforcement agencies and the communities they serve."

In a letter sent to President Obama, the leaders of Congress, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch, the heads of six law enforcement groups -- including the IACP and the National District Attorney's Association --  wrote to express "profound concern" over the changes: "This shortsighted decision by Congress will have a significant and immediate impact on the ability of law enforcement agencies throughout the nation to protect their communities and provide their citizens with the services they expect and deserve."

The National Sheriff's Association was even more critical. "While Congress and the President vacation in peace and tranquility, law enforcement knows all too well that the criminals, terrorists, and criminal aliens do not take a holiday," the group wrote in a statement.  "Those seeking to do us harm can rest easier knowing one less tool can be used against them."

But reformers point out that the change doesn't impact law enforcement's ability to seize goods from suspected criminals -- it only changes their legal options for keeping what they take. The change "does not stop police and prosecutors from chasing criminals," McGrath said in a statement. "[Police] are frustrated because Congress put on hold their chasing cash."

Regardless, the change may not be permanent. In its letter, the DOJ hints that it may be able to restart payments later: "By deferring equitable sharing payments now, we preserve our ability to resume equitable sharing payments at a later date should the budget picture improve." The DOJ hopes to "reinstate sharing distributions as soon as practical and financially feasible," the letter concludes.

Update: This story was updated at 7:00 PM with comments from six law enforcement groups and a statement from the National Sheriff's Association.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

GOP Bad Asses and The US Mercenary Foreign Legion - Dump Them Both and Bring Back The Draft

Which war did the Republican candidates serve in? Reflections on GOP War Talk from an Iraq vet
By contributors | Dec. 22, 2015 |

By Ramon Mejia | ( Waging Nonviolence) | – –JUAN COLE

As a U.S. Marine veteran who was deployed to Iraq in 2003, I can’t even begin to describe the disgust I felt while watching the GOP debate [last week]. Presidential candidate after presidential candidate attempted to one-up each other by highlighting how tough they would be as future commanders in chief. Each solution they presented demonstrated what little regard they had for the loss of life, and how quick they would be to resort to acts most often referred to as war crimes.

The debate reached its height of callousness when Ben Carson, once a pediatric neurosurgeon of some repute, was asked if he was “OK with the deaths of thousands of innocent children and civilians.” He responded with “You got it.” The irony of a person who formerly devoted his career to saving children’s lives and is now so willing to commit to actions that would result in the deaths of thousands of children in order to showcase his mettle is hard to ignore.

Let me make something clear: no one on that stage has experienced war. None of those candidates have to relive the memories and traumas of participating in war. And not one shares the intimate loss and grief endured by the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians and service members. And yet, carpet bombing, targeting of civilians, opposing democratic movements, and murdering families as retaliation were all openly suggested as potential strategies in the never-ending wars that began with the Bush administration and have continued throughout Obama’s presidency.

Serving in the invasion and occupation of Iraq has made me question the motivations of any elected leader that casually mentions war as a quick and easy option. My time in Iraq was anything but easy. During the dozens of resupply missions my unit was tasked with, we were exposed to the devastation that the invasion had left inside of Iraq. Trucks, cars, tanks, countless buildings scarred with battle damage.

On each successive resupply run, we watched as the faces of children on the side of the roads changed from open and curious to eventually withdrawn and fearful. I saw children that were so happy and so filled with life, and we were the ones taking that away from them. You won’t hear this from any of the candidates promoting more war. You won’t hear about the impact war has had on the people actually living in Iraq, Syria or Afghanistan.

It is also telling what else was not discussed during the debate. While the candidates all seemed perfectly willing to sacrifice yet another generation to pointless wars all in a shameless attempt to increase their place in the polls, they failed to mention the cost of such belligerence. The term “PTSD” wasn’t uttered once during the debate, nor was “Traumatic Brain Injury,” or “Suicide.” The word veteran? Mentioned only once. The reality is that the impact of the war stays with me, and with countless veterans who are returning home traumatized, with as many as 22 veterans a day resorting to suicide as a solution.

Watching the GOP debate on Tuesday gave me an opportunity to reflect on what I took part in and the journey I’ve traveled to come to a place of dedicating my life to make things right. I wish our country would learn some of the lessons that I did instead of perpetuating the same mistakes repeatedly. The sideshow that many of us watched on Tuesday night was only the most recent egregious example of how irresponsible the national dialogue around our foreign policy has become. We, as people responsible for electing the next commander in chief, need to take a good hard look at who we are bringing into office because, let’s be honest: this isn’t a problem confined to only the Republican Party. This is a bipartisan failure. We need to ask ourselves if the candidate that we choose to elect is going to offer us more of the same or break us out of this deadly cycle.
This article was originally published on Waging Nonviolence and appears here courtesy of a Creative Commons license.
Related video added by Juan Cole:
RT The Big Picture: “The GOP’s Path to the Dark Side”

Monday, December 21, 2015

Iisten Up Assholes - Yes We Are An Empire - Here Is Your Proof

And Yes We Are A Police Security State:

The Logic of the Police State
Matthew Harwood and Tom Engelhardt, December 21, 2015
Originally posted at TomDispatch.

Sometime in late November, after the Paris terror attacks but before the one in San Bernardino, I was walking to New York’s Grand Central Station to catch the subway home. In front of one of its main entrances, the police had set up shop, blocking off part of an avenue. The crew I stumbled upon may, in fact, have been part of the new counterterrorism unit that the New York Police Department had just rolled out. Whatever the case, the cops were up-armored in a purely military fashion (even if their togs were fashionably black and blue) and carrying weaponry the likes of which I had never seen before on the streets of my hometown. Amid flashing lights, they stood there with dogs on leashes looking not like “the police” but figures from some dystopian, futuristic sci-fi flick. Nothing in particular seemed to be happening so, after a few minutes, I entered the vast terminal, passing scattered pistol-packing soldiers in camo, evidently guarding the just-before-rush-hour crowds. It was certainly a spectacle, but also just part of the new American normal.

So consider what I’m about to mention less than newsworthy amid all the reports on the militarization of the country’s police and their brutal behavior. And yet it’s the sort of tiny news story that once upon a time would have been striking. Now, few will even notice. Policing headlines these days, after all, gravitate to graphic videos of cold-blooded police killings in places like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Chicago. (There were 70 fatal shootings by the Chicago Police Department alone between 2010 and 2014. As Margaret Talbot pointed out in the New Yorker, only Phoenix, Philadelphia, and Dallas “had a higher number per capita.”)

When it comes to the arming of the police in a country in which rural sheriffs proudly sport battlefield-grade mine-resistant ambush protected vehicles, or MRAPs, and new militarized urban police units like that one in New York City are being outfitted with Colt M4 semiautomatic assault rifles and machine guns, a report that 20 campus cops at Boston’s Northeastern University are going to be armed with semiautomatic rifles qualifies as distinctly ho-hum news. Or thought of another way, it catches the everyday reality of a country whose police have been up-arming with a kind of passion since 9/11. I can, of course, remember the unarmed campus cops of my own college days and, believe me, we’ve traveled a long road from policing “panty raids” to facing on-campus mass shootings in a country now so over-weaponized that it seems as if both the police and the citizenry are in an undeclared arms race.

In these years, the militarization of the police has taken place amid a striking upsurge of protest over police brutality, abuses, and in particular the endless killing of young black men, as well as a parallel growth in both the powers of and the protections afforded to police officers. As TomDispatch regular Matthew Harwood, who has been covering the militarization of the police for this site, reports today, all of this could easily add up to the building blocks for a developing police-state frame of mind. If you’ve been watching the national news dominated by panic and hysteria over domestic terrorism, including the shutting down of a major urban school system over an outlandish hoax threat of a terror attack, or the recent Republican debate over “national security,” which turned out to mean only “ISIS” and immigration, can there be any question that the way is being paved for institutionalizing a new kind of policing in this country in the name of American security and fear? ~ Tom

Welcome to Cop Land People Are Waking Up to the Darkness in American Policing, and the Police Don’t Like It One Bit By Matthew Harwood

If you’ve been listening to various police agencies and their supporters, then you know what the future holds: anarchy is coming – and it’s all the fault of activists.

In May, a Wall Street Journal op-ed warned of a “new nationwide crime wave” thanks to “intense agitation against American police departments” over the previous year. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie went further. Talking recently with the host of CBS’s Face the Nation, the Republican presidential hopeful asserted that the Black Lives Matter movement wasn’t about reform but something far more sinister. “They’ve been chanting in the streets for the murder of police officers,” he insisted. Even the nation’s top cop, FBI Director James Comey, weighed in at the University of Chicago Law School, speaking of “a chill wind that has blown through American law enforcement over the last year.”

According to these figures and others like them, lawlessness has been sweeping the nation as the so-called Ferguson effect spreads. Criminals have been emboldened as police officers are forced to think twice about doing their jobs for fear of the infamy of starring in the next viral video. The police have supposedly become the targets of assassins intoxicated by “anti-cop rhetoric,” just as departments are being stripped of the kind of high-powered equipment they need to protect officers and communities. Even their funding streams have, it’s claimed, come under attack as anti-cop bias has infected Washington, D.C. Senator Ted Cruz caught the spirit of that critique by convening a Senate subcommittee hearing to which he gave the title, “The War on Police: How the Federal Government Undermines State and Local Law Enforcement.” According to him, the federal government, including the president and attorney general, has been vilifying the police, who are now being treated as if they, not the criminals, were the enemy.

Beyond the storm of commentary and criticism, however, quite a different reality presents itself. In the simplest terms, there is no war on the police. Violent attacks against police officers remain at historic lows, even though approximately 1,000 people have been killed by the police this year nationwide. In just the past few weeks, videos have been released of problematic fatal police shootings in San Francisco and Chicago.

While it’s too soon to tell whether there has been an uptick in violent crime in the post-Ferguson period, no evidence connects any possible increase to the phenomenon of police violence being exposed to the nation. What is taking place and what the police and their supporters are largely reacting to is a modest push for sensible law enforcement reforms from groups as diverse as Campaign Zero, Koch Industries, the Cato Institute, The Leadership Conference, and the ACLU (my employer). Unfortunately, as the rhetoric ratchets up, many police agencies and organizations are increasingly resistant to any reforms, forgetting whom they serve and ignoring constitutional limits on what they can do.

Indeed, a closer look at law enforcement arguments against commonsense reforms like independently investigating police violence, demilitarizing police forces, or ending “for-profit policing” reveals a striking disregard for concerns of just about any sort when it comes to brutality and abuse. What this “debate” has revealed, in fact, is a mainstream policing mindset ready to manufacture fear without evidence and promote the belief that American civil rights and liberties are actually an impediment to public safety. In the end, such law enforcement arguments subvert the very idea that the police are there to serve the community and should be under civilian control.

And that, when you come right down to it, is the logic of the police state. 

Due Process Plus

It’s no mystery why so few police officers are investigated and prosecuted for using excessive force and violating someone’s rights. “Local prosecutors rely on local police departments to gather the evidence and testimony they need to successfully prosecute criminals,” according to Campaign Zero . “This makes it hard for them to investigate and prosecute the same police officers in cases of police violence.”

Since 2005, according to an analysis by the Washington Post and Bowling Green State University, only 54 officers have been prosecuted nationwide, despite the thousands of fatal shootings by police. As Philip M. Stinson, a criminologist at Bowling Green, puts it, “To charge an officer in a fatal shooting, it takes something so egregious, so over the top that it cannot be explained in any rational way. It also has to be a case that prosecutors are willing to hang their reputation on.”

For many in law enforcement, however, none of this should concern any of us. When New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order appointing a special prosecutor to investigate police killings, for instance, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, insisted: “Given the many levels of oversight that already exist, both internally in the NYPD [New York Police Department] and externally in many forms, the appointment of a special prosecutor is unnecessary.” Even before Cuomo’s decision, the chairman of New York’s District Attorneys Association called plans to appoint a special prosecutor for police killings “deeply insulting.”

Such pushback against the very idea of independently investigating police actions has, post-Ferguson, become everyday fare, and some law enforcement leaders have staked out a position significantly beyond that. The police, they clearly believe, should get special treatment.

“By virtue of our dangerous vocation, we should expect to receive the benefit of the doubt in controversial incidents,” wrote Ed Mullins, the president of New York City’s Sergeants Benevolent Association, in the organization’s magazine, Frontline. As if to drive home the point, its cover depicts Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby under the ominous headline “The Wolf That Lurks.” In May, Mosby had announced indictments of six officers in the case of Freddie Gray, who died in Baltimore police custody the previous month. The message being sent to a prosecutor willing to indict cops was hardly subtle: you’re a traitor.

Mullins put forward a legal standard for officers accused of wrongdoing that he would never support for the average citizen – and in a situation in which cops already get what former federal prosecutor Laurie Levenson calls “a super presumption of innocence." In addition, police unions in many states have aggressively pushed for their own bills of rights, which make it nearly impossible for police officers to be fired, much less charged with crimes when they violate an individual’s civil rights and liberties.

In 14 states, versions of a Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR) have already been passed, while in 11 others they are under consideration. These provide an “extra layer of due process” in cases of alleged police misconduct, according to Samuel Walker, an expert on police accountability. In many of the states without a LEOBR, the Marshall Project has discovered, police unions have directly negotiated the same rights and privileges with state governments.
LEOBRs are, in fact, amazingly un-American documents in the protections they afford officers accused of misconduct during internal investigations, rights that those officers are never required to extend to their suspects. Though the specific language of these laws varies from state to state, notes Mike Riggs in Reason, they are remarkably similar in their special considerations for the police.
“Unlike a member of the public, the officer gets a ‘cooling off’ period before he has to respond to any questions. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is privy to the names of his complainants and their testimony against him before he is ever interrogated. Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation is to be interrogated ‘at a reasonable hour,’ with a union member present. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can only be questioned by one person during his interrogation. Unlike a member of the public, the officer can be interrogated only ‘for reasonable periods,’ which ‘shall be timed to allow for such personal necessities and rest periods as are reasonably necessary.’ Unlike a member of the public, the officer under investigation cannot be ‘threatened with disciplinary action’ at any point during his interrogation. If he is threatened with punishment, whatever he says following the threat cannot be used against him.”

The Marshall Project refers to these laws as the “Blue Shield” and “the original Bill of Rights with an upgrade.’’ Police associations, naturally, don’t agree. "All this does is provide a very basic level of constitutional protections for our officers, so that they can make statements that will stand up later in court," says Vince Canales, the president of Maryland’s Fraternal Order of Police.
Put another way, there are two kinds of due process in America – one for cops and another for the rest of us. This is the reason why the Black Lives Matter movement and other civil rights and civil liberties organizations regularly call on states to create a special prosecutor’s office to launch independent investigations when police seriously injure or kill someone.

The Demilitarized Blues

Since Americans first took in those images from Ferguson of police units outfitted like soldiers, riding in military vehicles, and pointing assault rifles at protesters, the militarization of the police and the way the Pentagon has been supplying them with equipment directly off this country’s distant battlefields have been top concerns for police reformers. In May, the Obama administration suggested modest changes to the Pentagon’s 1033 program, which, since 1990, has been redistributing weaponry and equipment to police departments nationwide – urban, suburban, and rural – in the name of fighting the war on drugs and protecting Americans from terrorism. 

Even the idea that the police shouldn’t sport the look of an occupying army in local communities has, however, been met with fierce resistance. Read, for example, the online petition started by the National Sheriffs’ Association and you could be excused for thinking that the Obama administration was aggressively moving to stop the flow of military-grade equipment to local and state police agencies. (It isn’t.) The message that tops the petition is as simple as it is misleading: “Don’t strip law enforcement of the gear they need to keep us safe.”

The Obama administration has done no such thing. In May, the president announced that he was prohibiting certain military-grade equipment from being transferred to state and local law enforcement. “Some equipment made for the battlefield is not appropriate for local police departments,” he said. The list included tracked armored vehicles (essentially tanks), bayonets, grenade launchers, camouflage uniforms, and guns and ammo of .50 caliber or higher. In reality, what use could a local police department have for bayonets, grenade launchers, or the kinds of bullets that resemble small missiles, pierce armor, and can blow people’s limbs off?

Yet the sheriffs’ association has no problem complaining that “the White House announced the government would no longer provide equipment like helicopters and MRAPs [mine-resistant ambush-protected vehicles] to local law enforcement.” And it’s not even true. Police departments can still obtain both helicopters and MRAPs if they establish community policing practices, institute training protocols, and get community approval before the equipment transfer occurs.

“Helicopters rescue runaways and natural disaster victims,” the sheriff’s association adds gravely, “and MRAPs are used to respond to shooters who barricade themselves in neighborhoods and are one of the few vehicles able to navigate hurricane, snowstorm, and tornado-strewn areas to save survivors.”
As with our wars abroad, think mission creep at home. A program started to wage the war on drugs, and strengthened after 9/11, is now being justified on the grounds that certain equipment is useful during disasters or emergencies. In reality, the police have clearly become hooked on a militarized look. Many departments are ever more attached to their weapons of war and evidently don’t mind the appearance of being an occupying force in their communities, which leaves groups like the sheriffs’ association fighting fiercely for a militarized future.

Legal Plunder

In July, the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona sued law enforcement in Pinal County, Arizona, on behalf of Rhonda Cox. Two years before, her son had stolen some truck accessories and, without her knowledge, fitted them on her truck. When the county sheriff’s department arrested him, it also seized the truck.

Arriving on the scene of her son’s arrest, Cox asked a deputy about getting her truck back. No way, he told her. After she protested, explaining that she had nothing to do with her son’s alleged crimes, he responded “too bad.” Under Arizona law, the truck could indeed be taken into custody and kept or sold off by the sheriff’s department even though she was never charged with a crime. It was guilty even if she wasn’t.

Welcome to America’s civil asset forfeiture laws, another product of law enforcement’s failed war on drugs, updated for the twenty-first century. Originally designed to deprive suspected real-life Scarfaces of the spoils of their illicit trade – houses, cars, boats – it now regularly deprives people unconnected to the war on drugs of their property without due process of law and in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Not surprisingly, corruption follows.
Federal and state law enforcement can now often keep property seized or sell it and retain a portion of the revenue generated. Some of this, in turn, can be repurposed and distributed as bonuses in police and other law enforcement departments. The only way the dispossessed stand a chance of getting such “forfeited” property back is if they are willing to take on the government in a process where the deck is stacked against them.

In such cases, for instance, property owners have no right to an attorney to defend them, which means that they must either pony up additional cash for a lawyer or contest the seizure themselves in court. “It is an upside-down world where,” says the libertarian Institute for Justice, “the government holds all the cards and has the financial incentive to play them to the hilt.”
In this century, civil asset forfeiture has mutated into what’s now called “for-profit policing” in which police departments and state and federal law enforcement agencies indiscriminately seize the property of citizens who aren’t drug kingpins. Sometimes, for instance, distinctly ordinary citizens suspected of driving drunk or soliciting prostitutes get their cars confiscated. Sometimes they simply get cash taken from them on suspicion of low-level drug dealing.
Like most criminal justice issues, race matters in civil asset forfeiture. This summer, the ACLU of Pennsylvania issued a report, Guilty Property, documenting how the Philadelphia Police Department and district attorney’s office abused state civil asset forfeiture by taking at least $1 million from innocent people within the city limits. Approximately 70% of the time, those people were black, even though the city’s population is almost evenly divided between whites and African-Americans. 

Currently, only one state, New Mexico, has done away with civil asset forfeiture entirely, while also severely restricting state and local law enforcement from profiting off similar national laws when they work with the feds. (The police in Albuquerque are, however, actively defying the new law, demonstrating yet again the way in which police departments believe the rules don’t apply to them.) That no other state has done so is hardly surprising. Police departments have become so reliant on civil asset forfeiture to pad their budgets and acquire “little goodies” that reforming, much less repealing, such laws are a tough sell.
As with militarization, when police defend such policies, you sense their urgent desire to maintain what many of them now clearly think of as police rights. In August, for instance, Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu sent a fundraising email to his supporters using the imagined peril of the ACLU lawsuit as clickbait. In justifying civil forfeiture, he failed to mention that a huge portion of the money goes to enrich his own department, but praised the program in this fashion:
"[O]ver the past seven years, the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office has donated $1.2 million of seized criminal money to support youth programs like the Boys & Girls Clubs, Boy Scouts, YMCA, high school graduation night lock-in events, youth sports as well as veterans groups, local food banks, victims assistance programs, and Home of Home in Casa Grande."

Under this logic, police officers can steal from people who haven’t even been charged with a crime as long as they share the wealth with community organizations – though, in fact, neither in Pinal County or elsewhere is that where most of the confiscated loot appears to go. Think of this as the development of a culture of thievery masquerading as Robin Hood in blue.

Contempt for Civilian Control 

Post-Ferguson developments in policing are essentially a struggle over whether the police deserve special treatment and exceptions from the rules the rest of us must follow. For too long, they have avoided accountability for brutal misconduct, while in this century arming themselves for war on America’s streets and misusing laws to profit off the public trust, largely in secret. The events of the past two years have offered graphic evidence that police culture is dysfunctional and in need of a democratic reformation.

There are, of course, still examples of law enforcement leaders who see the police as part of American society, not exempt from it. But even then, the reformers face stiff resistance from the law enforcement communities they lead. In Minneapolis, for instance, Police Chief Janeé Harteau attempted to have state investigators look into incidents when her officers seriously hurt or killed someone in the line of duty. Police union opposition killed her plan. In Philadelphia, Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey ordered his department to publicly release the names of officers involved in shootings within 72 hours of any incident. The city’s police union promptly challenged his policy, while the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed a bill in November to stop the release of the names of officers who fire their weapon or use force when on the job unless criminal charges are filed. Not surprisingly, three powerful police unions in the state supported the legislation.

In the present atmosphere, many in the law enforcement community see the Harteaus and Ramseys of their profession as figures who don’t speak for them, and groups or individuals wanting even the most modest of police reforms as so many police haters. As former New York Police Department Commissioner Howard Safir told Fox News in May, “Similar to athletes on the playing field, sometimes it’s difficult to tune out the boos from the no-talents sipping their drinks, sitting comfortably in their seats. It’s demoralizing to read about the misguided anti-cop gibberish spewing from those who take their freedoms for granted.”

The disdain in such imagery, increasingly common in the world of policing, is striking. It smacks of a police-state, bunker mentality that sees democratic values and just about any limits on the power of law enforcement as threats. In other words, the Safirs want the public – particularly in communities of color and poor neighborhoods – to shut up and do as it’s told when a police officer says so. If the cops give the orders, compliance – so this line of thinking goes – isn’t optional, no matter how egregious the misconduct or how sensible the reforms. Obey or else.
The post-Ferguson pub
lic clamor demanding better policing continues to get louder, and yet too many police departments have this to say in response: Welcome to Cop Land. We make the rules around here.

Matthew Harwood is senior writer/editor of the ACLU. His work has appeared at Al Jazeera America, the American Conservative, the Guardian, Guernica, Salon, War is Boring, and the Washington Monthly. He is a TomDispatch regular.
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Copyright 2015 Matthew Harwood