25 May 2015
25 May 2015
The last few weeks have been particularly hectic and now I’m playing catchup with my backlog of stories. Because I don’t want these to be buried, I’m going to temporarily back-link to the pieces as I post them beginning with:
25 April—MY COMMENT TO THE GUARDIAN…
25 May 2015
I have to wonder how much blowback Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) faces for his grandstanding on the floor of the Senate in opposition to legislation continuing one of the worst, and most grossly misinterpreted, sections of the
U.S. Patriot Unpatriotic Act. Edward Snowden had this to say about Paul’s filibuster.
It represents a sea change from a few years ago, when intrusive new surveillance laws were passed without any kind of meaningful opposition or debate. Whatever you think about Rand Paul or his politics, it’s important to remember that when he took the floor to say “No” to any length of reauthorization of the Patriot Act, he was speaking for the majority of Americans—more than 60% of whom want to see this kind of mass surveillance reformed or ended.
I have to wonder, however, if this is a sea change or simply an ebbing tide.
Edward Snowden has hailed landmark shifts in Congress and the US courts on NSA surveillance but cautioned that much more needs to be done to restore the balance in favour of privacy.
He also warned this was only the beginning of reform of the NSA, saying there are still many bulk collection programmes which are “even more intrusive”, but expressed hope that the Senate would act to curb the NSA, saying retention of the status quo is untenable.
In an hour-long interview with the Guardian in Moscow, the NSA whistleblower said the moves by the federal court and the House of Representatives marked the first time since the 1970s there had been a reduction rather than expansion in the powers of the surveillance agencies.
“In our modern era, that is without precedent,” he said.
“The idea that they can lock us out and there will be no change is no longer tenable. Everyone accepts these programmes were not effective, did not keep us safe and, even if they did, represent an unacceptable degradation of our rights.”
I certainly hope that on his wish list for presidential pardons he will sign on his final day in office, President Barack Hussein Obama has Edward Snowden on the head of the list.
Yeah, right, as if…
24 May 2015
For the better part of twenty years, I was a regular coffeehouse denizen in and around Cleveland Heights’ various caffeine shoting galleries. When I would find a table at Arabica, Caribou, Phoenix, Stone Oven or Brews Brothers and get to work I was often amazed at the conversations—both in person and over cell phones—that I easily eavesdropped on. (Eavesdropping in public spaces was actually a skill taught and cultivated in one of my journalism courses at Ohio University.) At one point I thought I might give people a clue by printing out the self-promotional laptop sign above. A few people took notice and asked what I meant, but most remained oblivious or uncaring as they discussed political deals, infidelities and garden-variety doucheries.
In the wake of Edward Snowden’s courageous revelations concerning government surveillance and routine gathering of the most mundane of conversations, people are occasionally more conscious of their exposure, but a group in New York has taken my laptop sign to a higher level by ostensibly placing mini-recorders in public spaces to record, and publish not-so-private conversations.
Eavesdropping on the population has revealed many saying “I’m not doing anything wrong so who cares if the NSA tracks what I say and do?”
Citizens don’t seem to mind this monitoring, so we’re hiding recorders in public places in hopes of gathering information to help win the war on terror. We’ve started with NYC as a pilot program, but hope to roll the initiative out all across The Homeland.
For greater transparency we’re declassifying excerpts from the recordings and highlighting where some devices are located. If you have any questions, ask them somewhere in public and eventually we’ll hear you, or email us for a quicker response.
Congress should let Section 215 (at least) of the Patriot Act die. (The whole fucking program should be trashed, but we have to start somewhere curb and bring down the Bush-Obama Security Scheme.)
23 May 2015
22 May 2015
In an action of such inconceivable chutzpah that I swear would have made Richard Nixon think twice, Saudi Arabia, already a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council (how the fuck did that ever happen) seeks the presidency of that body.
In a move that will definitely drill the “final nail in the coffin for credibility” for the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, Saudi Arabia is set to make a bid to head the HRC.
The news surfaced after the United Nations Watch that overlooks the HRC pushed the United States to prevent the nation that recently advertised for eight new executioners to not be awarded the title.
“We urge US Ambassador Samantha Power and EU foreign minister Federica Mogherini to denounce this despicable act of cynicism by a regime that beheads people in the town square, systematically oppresses women, Christians, and gays, and jails innocent bloggers like Raif Badawi for the crime of challenging the rulers’ radical brand of Wahabbist Islam,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, reported The Independent.
I hope that the other members of the council fell to the floor, incapacitated by laughter, at the suggestion.
21 May 2015
20 May 2015
[Update at 1000 on 21 May: So, Paul spoke for 630 minutes and only managed to waste a day of the senate’s time.
Two years after rising to national prominence with a 13-hour talking filibuster against drones, Rand Paul has made another marathon speech on the floor of the US Senate – only this time in a bid to halt the federal government’s mass surveillance of Americans’ phone records and to derail an extension of the Patriot Act.
Paul spent a total of 10 hours and 30 minutes on Wednesday calling for an end to the National Security Agency’s dragnet surveillance tactics, eating up one of just three legislative days remaining before lawmakers go on recess till 1 June – the same day that key provisions of the Patriot Act are due to expire.
But by stepping aside just before the clock struck midnight, Paul, at least for now, did not meaningfully affect the Senate schedule or block the Patriot Act from moving forward. Emphasis mine, JH
Why would anyone expect any better from a Republican?]
Senator Rand Paul launched and completed an 11-hour filibuster today. At the finish of his filibuster, Paul sent out the following email under the subject line: Filibuster, it’s on.
This is it.
As you read this, I will be on the Senate floor to launch my filibuster to stop ANY extension or reauthorization of the “PATRIOT Act’s” unconstitutional and illegal domestic spying programs.
I will not rest. I will not back down. I will not yield one inch in this fight so long as my legs can stand.
But I need you. I need you to please take just one minute to show you “Stand With Rand”.
Fellow Conservative, liberty cannot long last without privacy from government intrusion.
Yet, it seems many of my colleagues here in the Senate care more about getting out of town for the Memorial Day break than protecting the Constitution so many American patriots have fought and died for.
I have news for them. They are going NOWHERE.
I will not simply stand down and allow them to ram through another “last-minute” deal to shred our Constitution — all while they think the American people aren’t looking.
Our Founders would have rolled over in their graves to learn our American government was collecting and storing billions of personal records on its citizens every day.
Billions of phone calls, texts, emails, Internet searches, social media posts and all the rest.
The NSA tells us we must give up all of our privacy for “security.”
Just like President Obama promised us better healthcare with ObamaCare.
Just like gun control activists say gun control would make us all safer.
As Benjamin Franklin stated, “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
We can abide by the Constitution, defend against terrorism and keep our freedoms.
It’s that belief in liberty that lies at the heart of the American ideal.
We can’t lose that belief.
What’s to become of our great nation if we simply throw up our hands, admit defeat and decide freedom no longer works?
Fellow Conservative, we can’t simply stand by and watch while Big Government spy state apologists try to gut our freedoms.
I’m not going to back down.
Here I stand, so help me.
If you stand with me, I need to know right now.
Please don’t ignore this email.
Please agree to chip in your most generous gift right away to help me turn up the heat on my colleagues in the Senate.
Paid for by Rand Paul for President
So, is this just a fund raising stunt from the floor of the Senate for Paul, or Does this mean that he now sees Edward Snowden for the hero (and patriot) that he is?
20 May 2015
If you read the sketchy New York Times article on the Delta Force raid into Syria a few days ago—how an ISIS leader was killed when he “tried to engage” American commandos while his fighters used women and children as shields, and an 18-year-old slave was freed with no civilian casualties thanks to “very precise fire” — you can be forgiven for thinking, “Haven’t I seen this movie before?”
You probably have, and it was called Zero Dark Thirty, the film directed by Kathryn Bigelow, written by Mark Boal and backed with gusto by the Central Intelligence Agency. The CIA provided Bigelow and Boal with privileged access to officials and operators behind the hunt for Osama bin Laden—and not coincidentally, their movie portrayed the CIA’s torture program as essential to the effort to find and kill the leader of al Qaeda. It grossed more than $132 million worldwide.
Zero Dark Thirty was criticized by a number of writers (including me) when it came out in 2012, and now it is being treated as a political farce in a new Frontline documentary scheduled to be broadcast by PBS on Tuesday, May 19. Titled Secrets, Politics and Torture, the show explores the CIA’s effort to persuade Congress, the White House and the American public that its “enhanced interrogation methods” were responsible for extracting from unwilling prisoners the clues that led to bin Laden and other enemy targets.
Jane Mayer, the New Yorker writer whose work on CIA torture has been exemplary, explains that the team behind Zero Dark Thirty was conned by the CIA.
20 May 2015
Pretty fucking evil.
Public health experts involved in the response to the Ebola crisis have condemned what they described as a ludicrous, insulting and opportunistic attempt to exploit the disease for corporate gain by the world’s largest privately-held coal company.
As part of a PR offensive to rebrand coal as a “21st-century fuel” that can help solve global poverty, it has emerged that at the height of Ebola’s impact in Africa, Peabody Energy promoted its product as an answer to Africa’s devastating public health crisis.
Greg Boyce, the chief executive of Peabody, a US-based multinational with mining interests around the world, included a slide on Ebola and energy in a presentation to a coal industry conference in September last year. The slide suggested that more energy would have spurred the distribution of a hypothetical Ebola vaccine—citing as supporting evidence a University of Pennsylvania infectious disease expert.
The World Health Organisation believes nearly 27,000 people contracted Ebola in an outbreak of the virus in West Africa last year, and more than 11,000 died – although the international agency believes that is probably an underestimate.
Public health experts who were involved in fighting the spread of Ebola were outraged at Peabody’s suggestion that expanding energy access with coal generation could have hindered the spread of Ebola and helped with the distribution of a vaccine—especially as there is no approved vaccine against the disease.
Meanwhile, the medical expert cited by Peabody to support its claims told the Guardian he had never heard of the company – and that it had got his name wrong.
“There is no apparent merit or evidence to support such a thesis,” said Irwin Redlener, director of Columbia University’s National Centre for Disaster Preparedness, and an advisor to the White House on the US response to Ebola. “Peabody has very specific and explicit corporate goals. I think this is a pretty far fetched leap from a global crisis to try to justify the existence of a company that is interested in producing and selling coal.”
Those of us who grew up along the Ohio River have a very long history with Peabody.
20 May 2015
Over the years, in addition to practicing meditation, I have taught a number of courses on meditation. My starting point has always been a discussion of monkey mind, that incessant cacophony of thoughts that fill our heads when we are not intensely focused on what we are doing in the moment. I have used analogies about being in the zone or losing track of time, but this morning I came across an even better example from Jon Kabat-Zinn.
[N]ow that you have decided to cultivate greater mindfulness in your life, your mind is at risk for filling up with a host of new ideas and opinions—about meditation, about mindfulness, about how well you’re doing or not doing, about whether you are doing it right—in addition to all the other ideas and opinions swirling around in the mind. It is a bit like television sports commentary. There is what is actually going on in the game, and then there is the endless commentary. When you begin a formal meditation practice, it is almost inevitable that you will now be subject to meditation commentary to one degree or another. It can fill the space of the mind. Yet it is not the meditation any more than the play-by-play is the game itself.
Sometimes shutting off the sound on the television can allow you to actually watch the game and take it in in an entirely different and more direct way—a first-order, first-person experience—rather than filtered through the mind of another. In the case of meditation it is the same, except your own thoughts are doing the broadcast commentary, turning a first-order direct experience of the moment into a second-order story about it: how hard it is, how great it is, and on and on and on.
Commentary (or annotation in books) has always bothered me except in those instances when I’m deliberately analyzing a repeated experience. This is the primary reason why people who talk during movies irritate me. (Because I can hit a pause button while watching a DVD or reading a book, I’m less irritated by such interruptions, but the distraction from the immersion into the experience remains—like being yanked to the surface while snorkeling to report what you see down there.)
Oliver Burkeman directed me to Kabat-Zinn’s piece from his own thoughts on procrastination and how to adjust your defaults.
This notion of adjusting your defaults turns out to be a surprisingly useful way to think about other kinds of habit change. It becomes easier to resist the siren call of the web and social media, for example, if you come to see “not being online” as the default state, and “being online” as the active, chosen one – something you sporadically choose to do, then stop doing. It’s also the spirit behind the idea the productivity blogger Thanh Pham calls clearing to neutral: the habit, after any activity, of clearing up the equipment involved—dirty pans, work files – so they’re ready for next time. Gradually, tidiness becomes the default, mess the anomaly, and the good habit happens without thinking or effort
19 May 2015
A brood of Blue Birds fledged two or three days ago. Today the hawk has a new perch.
19 May 2015
We need the best-educated workforce in the world if we’re going to compete effectively in the global economy. To do that, we must make certain that every person in this country who has the ability and desire can get all the education they need—regardless of the income of their family.
That is why today I will be introducing a revolutionary bill in the Senate which will end tuition at all public colleges and universities in the United States. This legislation will also significantly reduce the interest rate on student loans.
If you support my idea to make tuition free at public colleges and universities and agree that we must lower interest rates on student loans, please add your name as a citizen co-sponsor to my bill. Together, we can win this fight.
It is a tragedy that hundreds of thousands of young people are giving up their dream of going to college because it is too expensive. That’s not what America is supposed to be about.
We must also end the absurdity of millions of people leaving college and graduate school drowning in debt, a debt that often hangs around their necks for years.
In my opinion, the U.S. needs to learn from countries like Germany, Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Scotland and Sweden that investing in the education of our young people is smart public policy. We must understand that a well-educated population is not only good for the individual student, but for our entire economy.
At a time of massive wealth and income inequality we must demand that all of our people, regardless of their economic status, have the opportunity to pursue their educational dreams while making our economy more productive.
Sign on to say you support my bill to make tuition free at public colleges and universities.
Together, we can revolutionize how higher education is funded, and lower the oppressive burden of debt that so many carry. Thank you for your support.
Senator Bernie Sanders
P.S. After you sign my petition, I would like to hear from you about how your life would change if college tuition were free. Would you be able to go to school? What about your kids or grandkids? Or if you could refinance your loans?
19 May 2015
Cleveland Arts want to be like Cleveland Sports.
And who can blame them. Free money. No strings attached. Easy to get. No spending monitors. And the biggies get Big Bucks.
Dollars that is. By the millions!
Since the cigarette tax started in Feb. 2007 they have access to more than $144 million as of the end of April. They want 10-years more. The County Council—unreformed when it comes to taxes—favors the theft.
An accounting of the tax subsidy shows that major institutions—mostly downtown and in University Circle naturally—get healthy grabs of the millions of dollars.
This isn’t money for your starving or striving artists. So don’t be fooled.
Here are some of the big takers:
Cleveland Orchestra, $15,373,965.* Playhouse Square, $12,773,534. Cleveland Museum of Art, $11,895,381. Ideastream, $7,941,564. Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, $7,778,583. Cleveland Institute of Art, $6,421,811. Cleveland Institute of Music, $6,339,578.
*(Also received more than $10 million from the Ohio Arts Council and the State of Ohio.)
One may say that these are all contributors to the arts and Continue Reading »
19 May 2015
The main theme of the [The Senate Intelligence Committee’s long-delayed] 499-page executive summary [on CIA torture] is that the CIA lied systematically about the effectiveness of its torture programme in gaining intelligence that would stop future terrorist attacks in the US. The lies included some vital details about the uncovering of an al-Qaida operative called Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, who was said to be the key al-Qaida courier, and the subsequent tracking of him to Abbottabad in early 2011. The agency’s alleged intelligence, patience and skill in finding al-Kuwaiti became legend after it was dramatised in Zero Dark Thirty.
The Senate report repeatedly raised questions about the quality and reliability of the CIA’s intelligence about al-Kuwaiti. In 2005 an internal CIA report on the hunt for bin Laden noted that ‘detainees provide few actionable leads, and we have to consider the possibility that they are creating fictitious characters to distract us or to absolve themselves of direct knowledge about bin Ladin [sic].’ A CIA cable a year later stated that ‘we have had no success in eliciting actionable intelligence on bin Laden’s location from any detainees.’ The report also highlighted several instances of CIA officers, including Panetta, making false statements to Congress and the public about the value of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ in the search for bin Laden’s couriers.
Obama today is not facing re-election as he was in the spring of 2011. His principled stand on behalf of the proposed nuclear agreement with Iran says much, as does his decision to operate without the support of the conservative Republicans in Congress. High-level lying nevertheless remains the modus operandi of US policy, along with secret prisons, drone attacks, Special Forces night raids, bypassing the chain of command, and cutting out those who might say no.
19 May 2015
A friend here in Cleveland once shared a story about the glory days of the city when wealth abounded and power pulsated in the from offices high above Lake Erie. Cleveland’s railway giants, the Van Sweringen brothers, were convinced to hire a new kind of employee, a public relations consultant. After several months of unsuccessful, from the flack’s point of view, work, the brothers called a meeting. The man expected to be fired and prepared a long list of reasons why his work had not yet produced the desired outcome. Instead of a sacking, the brothers proffered a bonus. They were well pleased, they said, that they had not read a single word about them or their business anywhere, and that was exactly what they wanted.
Power often wants to stay in the shadows.
Somalia could be one of the great untapped sources of offshore oil, if someone can secure a deal to find and extract it, and if anyone can, it’s the company these men work for.
The African nation is one of the most politically unstable, unsafe, and corrupt countries in the world, one of the toughest places for any business to think of operating.
But that is what Schlumberger—the biggest company you’ve never heard of – do, if the rewards are great enough.
Light does not penetrate brick walls. Only when the brick is replaced with glass, when transparency is the rule, does light fill the dark corners where cockroaches and power dwell.
18 May 2015
Seymour Hersh, by shining light on lazy journalism of what passes for a Free Press in America has earned the wrath of the bought and paid for media.
Seymour Hersh has done the public a great service by breathing life into questions surrounding the official narrative of the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Yet instead of trying to build off the details of his story, or to disprove his assertions with additional reporting, journalists have largely attempted to tear down the messenger.
Barrels of ink have been spilled ripping apart Hersh’s character, while barely any follow-up reporting has been done to corroborate or refute his claims—even though there’s no doubt that the Obama administration has repeatedly misinformed and misled the public about the incident. Even less attention has been paid to the little follow-up reporting that we did get, which revealed that the CIA likely lied about its role in finding bin Laden, which it used to justify torture to the public.
Hersh has attempted to force the media to ask questions about its role in covering a world-shaping event—but it’s clear the media has trouble asking such questions if the answers are not the ones they want to hear.
Hersh’s many critics, almost word-for-word, gave the same perfunctory two-sentence nod to his best-known achievements—breaking the My Lai massacre in 1969 (for which he won the Pulitzer) and exposing the Abu Ghraib torture scandal 35 years later—before going on to call him every name in the book: “conspiracy theorist,” “off the rails,” “crank.” Yet most of this criticism, over the thousands of words written about Hersh’s piece in the last week, has amounted to “That doesn’t make sense to me,” or “That’s not what government officials told me before,” or “How are we to believe his anonymous sources?”
More to the point, how are we to believe the corporate media?
18 May 2015
That the United States has employed assassins in covert operations comes as no surprise to anyone. That our military personnel are employed in such targeted assassinations, however, is different.
‘Of course the guys knew the target was bin Laden and he was there under Pakistani control,’ the retired official said. ‘Otherwise, they would not have done the mission without air cover. It was clearly and absolutely a premeditated murder.’ A former Seal commander, who has led and participated in dozens of similar missions over the past decade, assured me that ‘we were not going to keep bin Laden alive—to allow the terrorist to live. By law, we know what we’re doing inside Pakistan is a homicide. We’ve come to grips with that. Each one of us, when we do these missions, say to ourselves, “Let’s face it. We’re going to commit a murder.”’ The White House’s initial account claimed that bin Laden had been brandishing a weapon; the story was aimed at deflecting those who questioned the legality of the US administration’s targeted assassination programme. The US has consistently maintained, despite widely reported remarks by people involved with the mission, that bin Laden would have been taken alive if he had immediately surrendered.
Becoming a murderer, regardless of the cause or rationale or orders from on high, changes the person who pulls the trigger. This is not war. That there are consequences to blurring the difference has increasingly become plain.
18 May 2015
I never gained entrance to the Order of The Blue Nose, but some of my shipmates on board the USS Bainbridge did after I was discharged. The arctic is hostile place and sailors venture there at their peril. Drilling for oil that we cannot use without risking environmental collapse is madness. Corporations, like Royal Dutch Shell, think madness in the pursuit of profits is a positive job description.
Royal Dutch Shell has been accused of pursuing a strategy that would lead to potentially catastrophic climate change after an internal document acknowledged a global temperature rise of 4C, twice the level considered safe for the planet.
A paper used for guiding future business planning at the Anglo-Dutch multinational assumes that carbon dioxide emissions will fail to limit temperature increases to 2C, the internationally agreed threshold to prevent widespread flooding, famine and desertification.
Instead, the New Lens Scenarios document refers to a forecast by the independent International Energy Agency (IEA) that points to a temperature rise of up to 4C in the short term, rising later to 6C.
The revelations come ahead of the annual general meeting of Shell shareholders in the Netherlands on Tuesday, where the group has accepted a shareholder resolution demanding more transparency about the group’s impact on climate change.
Shell is far from unique in this story. All of the petrochemical pirates are setting sail for arctic waters, but what they want to rape, pillage and plunder is not just gold and jewels, but our very lifeboat in space. They must be stopped.