Saturday, January 04, 2014

Rise of the Oligarchs: Who You Gonna Call?

The One Percent Solution: Oligarchs to the Rescue! 

by Chris Floyd - Empire Burlesque

Last month, 500 famous authors signed a petition protesting the encroachments of the all-pervasive, techno-surveillance culture that is covering the earth with hidden eyes and ears, like a metastasized Stasi run amok. We’re talking heavy literary lumber here: Nobel Prize-winners, critic list-toppers, best-sellers – big names calling on the UN to create “an international bill of digital rights.”

  [Below is my most recent column for CounterPunch Magazine.]

The authors state the indisputable truth: the "fundamental human right" of personal privacy "has been rendered null and void through abuse of technological developments by states and corporations.” They rightly declare that “a person under surveillance is no longer free; a society under surveillance is no longer a democracy. To maintain any validity, our democratic rights must apply in virtual as in real space."

Of course, one might like to see those “democratic rights in real space” applied a bit more vigorously in these days of airport x-rays, mandatory drug tests, “indefinite detention,” “extrajudicial execution,” “free speech zones,” etc. The accelerating degradation of “real space” liberties hardly inspires hope for preserving freedom in the virtual realm. Still, no sensible person would dispute the very worthy goals espoused in the petition.

And yet, a cankerous old worm of skepticism keeps creeping in. Especially when the petitioners declare that this assemblage of Tolstoyan speakers of truth to power is not actually “against government.” Good gracious no! As Danish writer Janne Teller told the Guardian: "This initiative must be seen as helping governments, who like to preserve democracy in the western world."

Now, you rubes out there probably think that “governments” are actually prime culprits in the mass evisceration of privacy. But no; it seems our good-hearted, democracy-preserving leaders are victims: helpless babes manipulated by their sinister intelligence services, who, Teller tells us, "abuse power.” (Power that has been given to them by, er, governments.) Not to worry, though: a nice UN resolution -- and the stinging moral censure of petitioners like Iraq War supporter Ian McEwan, ethnic profiling enthusiast Martin Amis, and William Boyd, author of the latest “literary” sequel to the saga of James Bond, state assassin extraordinaire -- will doubtless bring these rogue services to heel. Then our noble rulers will be free at last to pursue their tragically frustrated dreams of peace, prosperity, equality and justice.

But wait; what about the literary luminaries' warning against "technological developments … by corporations" which suck up private data for profit? Oddly enough, the petition was coupled, as part of a one-two punch, with an "open letter" written by civic-minded corporate citizens such as Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, demanding "sweeping changes in surveillance laws" to "restore confidence" in companies like, well, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Facebook, whose sole reason for existence is to mine private data for corporate profit.

Here our earnest authors come up against a very 21st-century conundrum: the ever-widening notion that the fate of our liberties should be taken out of the hands of governments and given to … corporations and oligarchs. This is the logic behind the move by Glenn Greenwald and other dissident superstars to “partner” with hi-tech oligarch Pierre Omidyar, “leveraging” Greenwald’s control of Edward Snowden’s NSA documents to create a profitable new media venture. This would be the same Omidyar whose PayPal cut Wikileaks off at the financial knees in its hour of greatest peril, whose “microfinancing initiatives” have led to mass suicides among the debt-ridden poor in India and who now appears driven to monetize dissent in the same way he’s monetized poverty relief. It’s unlikely that hard-hitting exposes of hi-tech corporate chicanery will feature overmuch at Pierre’s new plaything.

But even the exposure of government misdeeds is to be kept within discreet limits by our new-style, media-savvy dissidents, who, like Greenwald, constantly assert they would never publish secrets that might “harm national security” or interfere with the “legitimate operations” of our neo-Stasis. Guardian editor and dissident hero Alan Rusbridger made that clear in his recent appearance before a Parliamentary committee investigating the Snowden revelations. As Arthur Silber, one of the most insightful political writers of our day, notes, the many press plaudits for Rusbridger's “bold” testimony overlooked the editor’s shocking admission that the Guardian has only published "one percent" of the Snowden material, while dutifully consulting "the FBI, the GCHQ, the White House and the Cabinet Office on more than 100 occasions before the publication of stories." Rusbridger also assured MPs that his paper will soon stop publishing stories from the Snowden cache.

Greenwald promises that his upcoming book on Snowden will provide a few more all-important revelations that the public absolutely must know (but which he must unfortunately withhold from us until the sale date). Yet as Silber points out, even with a few extra dollops of data here and there, it’s now obvious that only a tiny percentage of the massive Snowden archive of spy-state malfeasance will ever be revealed.

As always, our betters – in this case, not government apparatchiks but knee-capping oligarchs and government-consulting journalists – will let us know whatever modicum of truth they deem fit for our limited understanding. Or as another, long-dead literary luminary once said: four legs good, two legs better.

Discussing Reality: What Western NGO's Get Out of Africa

Discussing the Western NGO's and Africa

by Keith Harmon Snow

Human rights investigator and award-winning journalist Keith Harmon Snow, detailing the corrupt NGOs and their portrayal of Africa in order to illicit funds. Snow must be considered one of our finest Western reporters for obtaining true independent grassroots news from the continent of Africa.

Within the lecture, Snow discusses the psyops/propaganda strategically orchestrated behind the "Save Darfur" campaigns/movements which, in 2004, began to saturate the populace. At the helm of this "movement" was "The Center for American Progress".

The Center for American Progress, is closely connected with the same players that founded and financed Avaaz. Today, with Avaaz at the forefront, the non-profit industrial complex has been appointed trusted messenger of a grotesque and disturbing ideology; nothing less than a complete reflection and validation of the U.S. administration's rhetoric intended to justify the annihilation and occupation of sovereign states under the false pretense of "humanitarian intervention" and "responsibility to protect".

December 29, 2004: "Over two days in early December approximately three-dozen religious activists met at the Washington office of the Center for American Progress, a recently formed think tank headed by former Clinton chief of staff John Podesta. The Res Publica-driven agenda for the closed-door gathering included sessions on "building the movement infrastructure" and "objectives, strategies and core issues."

Res Publica was founded by Tom Perriello, Ricken Patel and Tom Pravda.

Avaaz was founded by Res Publica,, Executive Director Ricken Patel, Tom Perriello, Tom Pravda, Eli Pariser (MoveOn Executive Director), Andrea Woodhouse (consultant to the World Bank) Jeremy Heimans (co-founder of GetUp! and Purpose), and Australian entrepreneur David Madden (co-founder of GetUp and Purpose).

Avaaz co-founder Tom Perriello is now President and CEO of Center for American Progress.

Perriello and Patel also co-founded and co-directed which officially launched in 2004. " is a project of Res Publica, a group of public sector professionals dedicated to promoting good governance and virtuous civic cultures." Today, this organization is now known as "Darfurian Voices": "Darfurian Voices is a project of 24 Hours for Darfur." The U.S. Department of State and the Open Society Institute were just two of the organizations funders and collaborating partners. Other Darfurian Voices partners include Avaaz, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), International Centre for Transitional Justice, Darfur Rehabilitation Project, Humanity United, Darfur People's Association of New York, Genocide Intervention, Witness, Yale Law School, The Sigrid Rausing Trust and the Bridgeway Foundation.

Despite the carefully crafted language and images that tug at your emotions, such NGOs were created for and exist for one primary purpose -- to protect and further American policy and interests, under the guise of philanthropy and humanitarianism. Of all the listed partners of, with exception of one located in London England, all of the entities involved are American and based on US soil.

Vultures and Vote Rustlers Teaming Up for 2016 Ballot Rip-Off

Give me 95 seconds

by Greg Palast

This is the best 95 seconds you can have with your clothes on. Watch this now! And pass it on:

Now, get yourself a copy of this film, Vultures and Vote Rustlers — an hour-long real-life detective story. Get the DVD – signed.

For a $40 donation, I’ll sign and send you the DVD Vultures and Vote Rustlers — and you’ll get another hour an a half of me and Amy Goodman, me and Eskimo leader Etok and his whale (and whale meat) and more.

(Order by Wednesday 2pm ET and get it well in time for Christmas.)

- Or download it now ($20 minimum donation).

It’s a one hour chase scene – hunting the bad guys from the Congo to Bosnia to darkest Brooklyn. Inside the secret files of the State Department, MI6, BP, Chevron, Larry Summers (!), the WTO, the IMF, the Koch Brothers (no kidding) and more.

You liked Billionaires & Ballot Bandits? Vultures’ Picnic? Best Democracy Money Can Buy? Here are the films of the reports in those bestsellers.

Then get one of these film and book combos – both signed, in time for Christmas:

-The Vultures Combo: Vultures & Vote Rustlers, the film PLUS Vultures’ Picnic, hardbound, both signed, for a minimum donation of $80.

 - Or Vultures & Vote Rustlers DVD and my book Billionaires & Ballot Bandits for a minimum donation of $70.

Or get the Double Trouble deal: Donate at least $70 and I’ll send you TWO Vultures & Vote Rustlers DVDs, one signed to you — plus another to give to your dumb brother-in-law who calls you a conspiracy nut. (Give me a name, and I’ll personalize it to your frenemy — or loved one.)

And please, please: if you are thinking of deserving charitable groups for a year-end donation, the Palast Investigative Fund, a 501c3 foundation project, will make lots of trouble for your tax-deductible donation.

Truly, we appreciate your support — and please pass the word — and the information.

And just to annoy Bill O’Reilly, I would like to wish you Happy Holidays!

Greg Palast's new film Vultures and Vote Rustlers was released this week.

Greg Palast is the author of the New York Times bestsellers Billionaires & Ballot Bandits,The Best Democracy Money Can Buy, Armed Madhouse and the highly acclaimed Vultures' Picnic.

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A Sunni Civil War Smoldering Within Remnant Iraq

Iraq's Sunni Civil War

by Juan Cole - Informed Comment

The attempt launched earlier this week by the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS or ISIL) to take and hold city quarters in Falluja, Ramadi and Khalidiya in al-Anbar province has provoked an enormous political crisis in Iraq.

The insurgents and supporters chased police and soldiers away from their stations, burned police stations and freed prisoners from jail in al-Anbar cities.

ISIS years ago announced itself an affiliate of al-Qaeda, though the designation is largely symbolic, since the organization clearly does not take orders from Ayman al-Zawahiri, the al-Qaeda leader probably hiding out in Pakistan.

While the old Islamic State of Iraq was powerful in some areas at some times, it was a guerrilla organization that faded away when conventional troops came at it. ISIS had not actually held any part of Iraq on a day to day basis. It is likely that the idea of taking over al-Anbar cities was inspired by the ISIS operation in northern Syria, where it has taken territory away from the Baath government. ISIS fights for Sunni extremism on both sides of the border.

 Related video: Euronews reports on the al-Anbar campaign

The organization took advantage of al-Anbar anger at the al-Maliki government. Last weekend al-Maliki sent a swat team to arrest a prominent Sunni parliamentarian, accusing him of “terrorism.” It also took advantage of the Iraqi Army busying itself last Monday with dispersing a peaceful civilian protest outside Ramadi, which had closed the highway to Jordan to truck traffic. In the aftermath, some Sunni tribesman attacked Iraqi troops, and some of them may have thrown in with ISIS. Popular anger chased many police from their stations, leaving the cities open to occupation by the insurgents. By Thursday ISIS had taken over big swathes of some al-Anbar cities and its guerrillas had taken over the empty police stations. Allegedly half of Falluja had fallen to the al-Qaeda affiliate.

On Thursday, the Shiite government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki conducted negotiations with Ahmad Abu Risha and his anti-al-Qaeda tribesmen (the Dulaim). By late Thursday, a deal had been struck, and Sunni tribal forces agreed to fight the ISIS units alongside Iraqi police and army.

On Friday, Iraqi troops and police launched a joint operation in Ramadi and Khalidiya to its south with Abu Risha’s tribal levies, pushing back ISIS in those cities. Abu Risha estimated that 60 ISIS fighters were killed during the operation and that ISIS leader Abu Abdel Rahman al-Baghdadi was among the dead. He said 46 were killed in Ramadi and 16 in nearby Khalidiya. He maintained that 80 percent of al-Anbar had been cleared of ISIS by late Friday.

A spokesman for Grand Ayatollah Ali Sistani, the Shiite clerical leader followed by most Iraqis of that branch of Islam, praised Abu Risha’s tribesmen for fighting alongside government troops against the al-Qaeda affiliate. He also seems to me to have implicitly criticized al-Maliki’s recent actions, saying that no one’s constitutional rights should be infringed because of the person’s sectarian allegiance. He also said the 2014 parliamentary elections offered hope to the country and demanded that voters be provided the security they needed to vote their consciences freely and without undue pressure.

Abu Risha called his campaign tribal “revenge” on al-Baghdadi. The Dulaim tribe of al-Anbar was first organized to fight al-Qaeda in western and northern Iraq by American generals, including David Petraeus, as “Awakening Councils” or “Sons of Iraq.” Al-Maliki never liked this project, seeing the Awakening Councils as Sunni militias that might easily turn on his government. But it appears that he suddenly rethought this position on Thursday. He likely promised Abu Risha substantial resources. There had been 100,000 Sunni fighters in the old Awakening Councils, but after the US withdrew it was alleged that only about 17,000 got government jobs and many of the others complained that they were left defenseless, without arms or funds from the government, and liable to reprisals from al-Qaeda.

Al-Arabiya is reporting that fighting also took place, with casualties in Falluja.

Iraqi military officers announced that they saw signs of ISIS reinforcements being assembled in Falluja and elsewhere, and said that the al-Qaeda affiliate still controlled parts of al-Anbar cities.

Heavy fighting was reported in east Falluja between tribal levies and ISIS, which continued to have a position in some neighborhoods.

The ability of ISIS to take over government buildings and police stations suggests a serious deterioration of capacity on the part of al-Maliki’s police and army in the Sunni regions west of Baghdad. That his government needed the help of Abu Risha’s Dulaim tribesmen suggests that his largely Shiite troops had been ineffective in this area.

Blame needs to be apportioned to ISIS, which is a horrible terrorist group full of hatred and intent on oppression of people, for its overweening ambition. Iraq is not Syria, that territory can be liberated in the medium to long term from government control.

But some of the blame attaches to al-Maliki, who helped provoke this uprising by driving so many al-Anbar Sunnis into the arms of ISIS by his brutal crackdown and his policy of almost completely ignoring Sunni complaints. Al-Maliki needs to decide if he is prime minister of Iraq or prime minister of the Shiite South. If he is the head of state for the whole country, he needs to find a way to make the Sunnis his constituency, as well. That quest is impeded by his being head of the Shiite fundamentalist Islamic Mission Party (al-Da`wa), which is unlikely to get many Sunni votes. Iraq needs a bigger, cross-sectarian framework for its politics if it is to avoid Syria’s fate.

A Guardian's Lament for Sharon

The Guardian Laments Sharon

by Gilad Atzmon

In a uniquely dishonest piece, The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland paid a tribute today to Israel’s veteran PM Ariel Sharon.

According to Freedland, Sharon, “as one of Israel's founders… had the credibility to give up occupied territory – and even to face the demons of 1948”. Freedland speculates also that “Sharon's final mission might well have been peace.” This is indeed a big statement, but how does Freedland support his creative historical account?

“Sharon's final act” says Freedland, “was to dismantle some of the very settlements he had sponsored. In 2005 he ordered Israel's disengagement from Gaza, seized in the 1967 war in which Sharon had been a crucial, if maverick, commander.”

Let alone the fact that Freedland comes short of reminding his readers about Sharon’s colossal war crimes, he actually completely distorts the political narrative that led Sharon to the 2005 unilateral disengagement.

Did Sharon have a plan to reconcile with the Palestinians and to address their plight or their right to return to their land? Not at all, we do not have any evidence of Sharon’s remorse. The logic behind Sharon’s disengagement is simple on the verge of banal. Sharon knew very well that if Israel insisted to maintain itself as the ‘Jewish State’, it would have to rid itself immediately of Arabs. Late Sharon was becoming aware of the possible implications of the ‘Palestinian demographic bomb’. The Palestinians were becoming a majority in areas controlled by Israel.

Ridding Israel of the highly populated Gaza strip was a perfect start. In a single political and territorial move, Sharon freed Israel of 1.5 million Palestinians and liberated Israel of growing complex security issues. Sharon was a pragmatist politician, he’s always been one and his disengagement wasn’t at all an attempt to “face the demons of 1948” as Freedland suggests: It was a Judeo-centric attempt to maintain the Jewishness of the Jewish State.

Freedland’s biased inclinations continue till the end of today’s piece: “an intriguing habit of Sharon's was to refer to places in Israel by their original, Arabic names – thereby acknowledging the truth that usually lies buried beneath the soil.” Is this right? Did Sharon really pay tribute to the eradicated Palestinian civilisation by uttering some words in Arabic?

Not at all: Sharon was born in the British Mandate of Palestine. He was raised in a country scattered with Palestinian villages and cities. Sharon and Israelis of his generation tended to pepper their Hebrew with a few Arabic words because such an act filled their existence with an authentic sense of belonging and a bond to an imaginary soil. I hope in that context, the laughable Freedland doesn’t also think when Israelis eat Falafel they try to express empathy towards 6 million Palestinian refugees: After all, Falafel also belongs to Palestine.

Freedland probably waited for Ariel Sharon to die in order to spread his laughable reading of history, just to make sure that the ‘immortal Sharon’ would not bounce back and dismiss this gross interpretation as complete nonsense.

The only question that is still left open is why The Guardian, once a respected paper, is publishing such low quality Hasbara drivel? Is it really The Guardian of the truth or has it become The Guardian of Zion?

Friday, January 03, 2014

Previewing Iraq's Next War

Iraq Slides Toward Civil War

by Bill Van Auken - WSWS 

Heavy fighting erupted Thursday between Iraqi government troops and Sunni militants who seized large parts of Fallujah and Ramadi, two cities in Iraq’s western Anbar province that were at the center of the armed resistance to the US occupation a decade ago.

The renewed fighting came as figures released by the United Nations and other agencies indicated that the 2013 death toll in Iraq has risen to its highest level since the US military “surge” of 2007-2008.

The United Nations put the number of Iraqi civilian lives lost to violence last year at 7,818, with another 1,050 members of the security forces killed over the same period. Another estimate by the British-based group Iraq Body Count (IBC) put the civilian death toll at 9,475.

In releasing the UN’s estimate, the head of the UN mission in Iraq, Nickolay Mladenov, said: “This is a sad and terrible record which confirms once again the urgent need for the Iraqi authorities to address the roots of violence to curb this infernal circle.”

Noting that last year’s death toll was roughly equivalent to that of 2008, Iraq Body Count pointed out that the 2008 figure “represented a decline in violent deaths (down from 25,800), whereas now it represents an increase; it has more than doubled since last year, when the recorded civilians deaths were 4,500.”

IBC added that:
 “If current violence levels continue unabated throughout the coming year, then 2014 threatens to be as deadly as 2004, which saw the two sieges of Fallujah [by the US military] and Iraq’s insurgency take hold.”

The violence and fatalities have soared since last April, when the Shia-based government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered a violent crackdown on a Sunni protest camp erected in the northern town of Hawija, resulting in the deaths of roughly 50 civilians.

A similar crackdown on Monday against a protest encampment in Ramadi touched off the upheavals that left that city, Fallujah and several smaller towns largely in the hands of antigovernment insurgents.

In a crude attempt to defuse popular opposition, Maliki followed Monday’s dispersal of the protest camp, in which at least 10 people were killed, with an apparent concession to one of the protesters’ demands, announcing Tuesday that he was removing army troops from Sunni population centers in Anbar and leaving security to the regular police.

By Wednesday, however, heavily armed militants laid siege to police stations in Ramadi and Fallujah, releasing at least 100 prisoners, grabbing weapons stocks and burning a number of buildings. For the most part, the police abandoned their positions without putting up a fight.

Maliki then reversed his earlier decree and ordered the reinforcement of army units in the area, which prepared to lay siege to the towns, with artillery shelling parts of Fallujah by Thursday and air strikes reportedly carried out against both that city and Ramadi.

“Half of Fallujah is in the hands of ISIL [the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant] and the other half is in the control” of armed tribesmen, an Interior Ministry official told the AFP news agency. He said that in Ramadi there was a similar situation, with some areas controlled by ISIL and others controlled by tribesmen.

AFP quoted one of its correspondents in Ramadi as saying he witnessed “dozens of trucks carrying heavily armed men driving in the city’s east, playing songs praising ISIL” and carrying “black flags of a type frequently flown by ISIL.”

ISIL, a Sunni Islamist militia movement linked to Al Qaeda, has become one of the main components of the “rebels” fighting in the Western-backed war for regime-change in neighboring Syria. Having seized control of territory in northern Syria, it has proven capable of moving forces back and forth across the Syrian-Iraqi border to stage car bombings, assaults on military and police units, and sectarian attacks. Its stated aim is the establishment of a Sunni Muslim caliphate spanning both countries.

Maliki had seized upon the actions of the ISIL forces as a pretext for violently suppressing the wider Sunni protest movement that has been provoked by the Baghdad government’s sectarian bias, which has resulted in political marginalization and repression against the Sunni population.

This has included the persecution of Sunni politicians and their aides as “terrorists.” On the eve of the latest crackdown, security forces raided the home of parliament member Ahmed al-Alwani in Ramadi, arresting him and killing his brother and five guards. The move prompted the resignation of 44 members of parliament, most of them Sunni.

Issuing an ultimatum last month for the dispersal of the protest camp, Maliki described it as “the headquarters for the leadership of Al Qaeda.”

This self-serving government narrative seeks to obscure the fact that Maliki’s own sectarian policies have fueled bitter resentment within the Sunni population, driven by lack of services, indiscriminate “terror” raids, imprisonment of thousands without charges, and a de-Baathification program that has been used to expel public workers from their jobs.

The pretense that the government is simply engaged in a war on Al Qaeda terrorism has been utilized to secure backing from both Iran and Washington. The latter recently ordered shipments of Hellfire missiles and other advanced weaponry to the Iraqi security forces. Some of these missiles were reportedly used Thursday in the government assault on Fallujah.

New acts of violence were recorded elsewhere in Iraq as the military confrontation shaped up in Anbar. A suicide bomber detonated a pickup truck filled with explosives on a crowded commercial street Thursday night in Balad Ruz, about 45 miles northeast of Baghdad. At least 19 people were killed in the blast and 37 were wounded. Such attacks have become a daily occurrence, targeting both Shia and Sunni populations.

The Iraqi people are paying the terrible price for more than a decade of US imperialism’s predatory wars and colonial-style aggression. The eight-year American occupation claimed the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, while imposing a political system that utilized sectarianism as a means of dividing and conquering the country’s population. The Maliki regime is the product of that system.

Now, the US-instigated sectarian civil war in neighboring Syria has provided a new and powerful impulse for civil war in Iraq itself, with Washington’s allies, Saudi Arabia and the other Persian Gulf monarchies, providing material aid to Sunni Islamist fighters on both sides of the border, even as Washington itself continues to prop up the Maliki regime with military aid.

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Can Lebanon Survive?

Will Lebanon survive 2014? Should it?

by Franklin Lamb

Beirut  - Another week, another terrorist bombing. It’s beginning to look a lot like that here in Lebanon these days. Another apparent suicide bomber detonated a car rigged with explosives in the southern suburbs yesterday killing at least five people and injuring at least 77. The health ministry released a statement just a short while ago reporting that an additional 67 people were treated in hospitals for wounds and released, while 10 people remained hospitalized with more severe injuries.

Many who thought their team and its local and international supporters were invincible appear to be rethinking recent events. More are realizing that their enemies are also skilled and fearless fighters and not at all afraid to die for their religion, or related causes, and may well be growing in number as they view the results of their handiwork.

Yesterday’s explosion is the fourth bombing since last July in Beirut's southern suburbs known as Dahiyeh. It targeted al-Arid Street two blocks almost directly behind the office of the Sabra-Shatila Scholarship Program (SSSP) near the old Al Manar building which re-located after being repeatedly bombed by US funded Israel forces in 2006. Some preliminary reports indicate that a 20 kilogram bomb was used in the explosion hidden and then detonated inside an olive green Jeep Grand Cherokee.

The latest information this morning comes from Hezbollah security guys who guard our building (and my motorcycle—bless them for both favors!) and who have been visibly present throughout Dahiyeh for the past six months, ever since the spate of neighborhood bombings began. People in South Beirut tend to believe that al-Qaeda-linked groups are responsible for this latest in a series of attacks and some point to the recent reports from UPI and other media that Al-Nusra leader Abu Mohammad al-Golani and Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi have ordered their fighters specifically into Lebanon for the sole purpose of fighting and destroying Hezbollah.

There are reports, whose accuracy is difficult to verify that scores of jihadists are arriving here from Syria, Iraq and other countries. The last half of 2013 has seen a dramatic rise in the number of young male fighters from North Africa and the Levant. Many are joining Al Nusra and ISIS rather than choosing more “moderate” groups. The six-week training camps are attracting a majority of the wannabe jihadists who come for a number of religious and non-religious reasons and who want to join the better established and most widely admired ‘winning teams.’ Additionally, the Golani and Baghdadi groups reportedly offer the best food, the most “inspiring” jihadist ideology, newer and more powerful weapons, heavy winter clothing including gloves, and salaries of up to $ 450-500 per month depending on potential exhibited during the 45 days training camp with credit given to applicants with vetted previous experience.

Reports suggest that the current “slow war” will intensely in Lebanon following the assassination of a rumored candidate for Lebanese Prime Minister, when and if a new government is formed around here, the former Lebanese Finance Minister Mohammad Chatah. That murder came at a very critical time in Lebanon. It is difficult to identify a period during the past three decades during which divisions and tensions among the Lebanese have previously reached such dangerous levels. Verbal attacks and thinly veiled threats from the pro-Western alliance known as March 14 against the National Lebanese Resistance lead by Hezbollah (March 8) have intensified. Common now are open calls to confront Hezbollah “by all means in order to save Lebanon.” The anti-Assad groups blame the pro-Assad March 8 coalition for last month’s assassination of Mohammad Chatah which occurred near the spot in central Beirut where Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and 25 others were killed by a massive car bomb on Valentine’s Day 2005. The Hague based Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is due to start trying that case last this month.

People in the street, from the depressed expressions on the faces of even apparently well to do women these days trudging along fashionable Hamra street--to the young from across the confessions who seek to depart Lebanon and the sooner the better, often cite a laundry list or reasons they think Lebanon never has been a real country, is not and likely never will be.

Indeed, to some foreigners living in Lebanon, it often seems that locals habitually blame outsiders for most, if not all, of their current problems. The Sykes-Picot secret process of creating nations, the French, the USA, Saudi Arabia, “the West”, Iran, Syria, the Gulf countries are among others being identified as the main culprits.

Others are quite sure, for a long list of commonly elaborated reasons that it’s the Lebanese themselves who created the current mess of this claimed ‘non-country.’ The reasons are many but a short list would include that there is no functioning government, no Armed Forces worthy of the name, corrupt politicians who regularly sell out their constituents who for some unfathomable reason keep voting them back into power. In addition, the poisonous sects and confessions that even give rising ethno-nationalism a bad name, defective character that is exhibited daily among the general population from cheating others at the slightest opportunity, insane, selfish, aggressive driving creating the highest auto accident rates per capital in the world, and considering it their birth-right to disparage others religions while threatening death to those who dares to criticize theirs. This, just for starters.

The gifted writer Michael Young of Beirut’s Daily Star wrote recently that:
 “Everywhere, it seems, the Lebanese are swindled, and feel it. Restaurants charge European-standard prices, but the vast majority serves mediocre food. Many contractors will demand the highest fees for their work, but take no pride in it. They will bring in cheap laborers to save money, so that one must pay nearly double to repair the myriad errors.” 

Young continues:
“Every day, it seems, Lebanon has become a vast con game, an unprincipled country where violence is given free rein, where charlatanism is rewarded, where incompetence is generalized and where legalized theft is widespread – a country which it is easy to leave and from which the young understandably seek escape.”

On a related subject some of these observers’ friends in Syria articulate a solution to the problem that Lebanon has become and that they claim “would be best for all concerned!” They sometimes insist that whatever the outcome of the “current situation” at a minimum and for sure stolen Syrian territory, now referred to generally but not exclusively as “Lebanon” that was unnaturally and wrongfully ripped away and patched into a country by the French and British colonists must be returned to “Mother Syria”. It is true than whenever this observer crosses over into Syria from Lebanon and arrives in Damascus and engages with people, that despite the current tragic situation there, one feels that Syria in a “real country” with laws and standards and well, civilization. Not only have I never felt that to be the case when in Lebanon I do not recall discussing the subject with any foreigner who does feel that Lebanon is a ‘real country’ or even with many locals in Lebanon who do.

Well, it not this observers business and not only does my own country appear to have more problems than few in this whole region would want to face, the Lebanese do have some good qualities—one imagines.

And for sure this damaged goods observer has no will at all to challenge the Almighty’s creation wisdom these days as there is way too much now on my soggy paper plate without entering the new year with her or him scowling at me too.

For New Years a cherished Lebanese friend, a sweet complainant of what her life has become, sent me this thoughtful message and insight about her personal dilemma and what went wrong with her life:

“When God created Lebanon he said to the angels nearby that it will be a land of terrific natural beauty with tall majestic mountains full of snow, beautifully sparkling rivers cutting through forests filled with many types of trees and high cliffs over-looking sandy beaches and waters with an abundance of sea life. I shall make the land rich and make the people prosper!”

One angel intervened and said, “Lord, isn’t that unfair to the rest of the world?”

“Actually no” God replied, “Just wait and see the neighbors I shall give them.”

Hopefully God will review and amend his work so Lebanon survives 2014. It is not apparent that the Lebanese are capable of doing so.

Franklin Lamb is doing research in Lebanon and Syria and is reachable c/o

NAFTA at Twenty: Mexican "Prosperity" Deal's First Lie

20 Years on, Mexico is NAFTA's Biggest Lie


Tim Wise: The numbers expose the official distortions around NAFTA's failed promises.

Timothy A. Wise directs the Policy Research Program at the Global Development and Environment Institute at Tufts University. Currently on an Open Society Institute fellowship, his current research priorities include: the global food crisis; trade and agricultural development; food security and climate change; biofuels and hunger; financial speculation in agricultural commodities markets. He is the former executive director of Grassroots International, a Boston-based international aid organization. He holds a Masters in Public Policy from Tufts’ Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning Department.

Thursday, January 02, 2014

One Cheer for the Times: Names Snowden Hero, but Who's the Villain?

Nation’s Major Paper Concedes Snowden’s a Hero, but Won’t Say Obama’s a Criminal: One cheer for the New York Times (three for the Guardian)

by Dave Lindorff - This Can't Be Happening

Let’s start here by conceding that today’s New York Times editorial [1] saying that President Obama should “find a way to end (Edward) Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home” was pretty remarkable.

It shouldn’t be, though.

Former National Security Agency employee and contractor Edward Snowden, currently living in exile in Russia under a temporary grant of amnesty, but facing charges of espionage and theft of government property here at home for his copying of thousands of pages of NSA files and for releasing them to US and foreign journalists, is a hero of democratic freedom. He has raised the bar for whistleblowers everywhere, putting his own life at risk to let Americans and citizens of the world know just how pervasively the NSA is spying on us all.

The Times, as well as the rest of the news media in the US, should have joined in a campaign to have him nominated for a Nobel Prize. Instead the nation’s leading newspaper, long an ardent supporter of the national security state, simply says he should be offered some kind of a “plea bargain” or presidential clemency, so that he doesn’t have to face the prospect of “spending the rest of his life looking over his shoulder,” or of facing a life sentence in prison.

I’m glad the Times is finally calling for at least some kind of justice or leniency for Snowden. Back on June 11, the paper’s same editorial board was pontificating that Snowden should accept the price of civil disobedience, which the board wrote means “accepting the consequences of one’s actions to make a larger point.” The same editorial writers (none of whom has ever shown that kind of courage), stated that Snowden had “broken the agreement he made" to keep NSA documents secret,” and that he would likely be charged with violating the Espionage Act, a hoary 1917 law that the Obama administration has already dusted off and started using to keep its activities secret, and they said he could face 10 year sentences for each count of document theft -- enough to keep him in jail for life.

That earlier editorial view wasn’t quite as bad as some political hacks like House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Diane Feinstein, who have been ignorantly calling Snowden a traitor (a crime that carries the death penalty), or journalistic hacks like CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, who called Snowden a “grandiose narcissist who deserves to be in prison.”

The Times is now admitting Snowden did the whole country and the world a favor by exposing the “crimes” of the NSA, but in its latest cautious editorial, the editors are still saying that Snowden “may have committed a crime” in copying and disclosing NSA files, and they are still okay with the idea that he might end up having to face some “substantially reduced punishment.”

If I were advising Snowden, I would say don’t trust your life to the thugs now running the US government. They might cut you a deal offering you some reduced charge and a short prison term, but first of all, you’d still be a convicted felon at the end of your shortened stay. And that’s if you survived it. Prison in the US is a violent place, and the prison authorities have ways of turning a short stay into a death sentence if their bosses have it in for somebody on the inside.

Who's the real criminal in the NSA scandal, Edward Snowden or President Obama?

The Times itself in this latest editorial made note at one point of President Obama’s own lack of honesty. It reported that the president, last August, had argued at a news conference that instead of rushing off to Hong Kong and then Russia, Snowden could have gone public in the US with his information about NSA spying abuses, because “I signed an executive order well before Mr. Snowden leaked this information that provided whistle-blower protection to the intelligence community.” Well yes, the president did sign such a law, but this supposedly brilliant former Constitutional Law scholar and licensed attorney failed to mention that as a private contractor, Snowden is not covered by that law.

Is this a guy you would want to entrust your life to, based upon his word, or the word of the president’s lackey prosecutors in the US Department of Justice?

As the British newspaper the Guardian, which also ran an editorial today defending Snowden [2], noted,

"For all his background in constitutional law and human rights, Mr Obama has shown little patience for whistleblowers: his administration has used the Espionage Act against leakers of classified information far more than any of his predecessors. It is difficult to imagine Mr Obama giving Mr Snowden the pardon he deserves." 

Note too that the Guardian, unlike the Times, is calling for the president to pardon Snowden, which would mean any crime had been forgiven. The Times is only calling for either clemency, which could potentially leave Snowden open to future punishment, or worse, a plea bargain, which would presumably require him to admit and even be punished on some lesser charge.

The Guardian, also unlike the Times, pointed out that the Espionage Act which Snowden is charged with violating is actually "a clumsy and crude law to use against government officials communicating with journalists on matters where there is a clear public interest – if only because it does not allow a defendant to argue such a public interest in court." In simpler language, the law is rigged against genuine whistleblowers.

The really interesting thing about this latest New York Times editorial is what is it saying, between the lines, about government criminality. In enumerating some of the NSA’s crimes, all exposed by Snowden, the editors mention breaking privacy laws “thousands of times,” the lying to Congress by Director of National Intelligence James Clapper Jr. (a felony and insult that nobody in Congress is seeking to prosecute), NSA lying to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court responsible for supervising the agency, and “probably” violations of the Fourth Amendment of the US Constitution.

What the editors should have said is that these and other crimes committed by the NSA, many on the basis of secret executive orders issued by the President, who as commander in chief in any event has final responsibility for the NSA, a military organization, are impeachable offenses.

That is, whether or not Edward Snowden may have committed the relatively minor crime of “theft of government property” (the espionage charge against him is ludicrous), the president is guilty multiple times over of what the Constitution calls “High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” If we had a functioning Congress filled with elected officials who took their oaths of office seriously, President Obama would today be facing an Impeachment Panel.

The New York Times did not and will not say that, but the implication is clear.

So I will say it.

The actions of the NSA, at the direction of the President of the United States, are a clear threat to the Constitutionally protected freedoms of the American people, and the only way to defend those freedoms at this point is to prosecute those who are threatening them. A good start would be jailing the felonious liar Clapper and his cohorts in the NSA, followed by submission of articles of impeachment in the House against President Obama.

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Guantánamo Now: Andy Worthington’s US Tour

lose Guantánamo Now: Andy Worthington’s US Tour on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, January 2014 - See more at:

Close Guantánamo Now: Andy Worthington’s US Tour on the 12th Anniversary of the Prison’s Opening, January 2014

by Andy Worthington

January 11, 2014 is the 12th anniversary of the opening of the “war on terror” prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, an experiment in extraordinary rendition, torture and indefinite detention without charge or trial that should never have opened. Since 2011, I have been visiting the US on the anniversary, to take part in events to raise awareness of the ongoing injustice of Guantánamo, and to call for the prison’s closure (see here, here and here), and this year is the fourth occasion on which I have braved the sometimes inhospitable weather of America in January to add my voice to those of others calling for Guantánamo to be closed, and the third year in which I have done so as the co-founder, with the attorney Tom Wilner, of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, which we established on the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison in January 2012.

This year, I will be visiting from January 8 to 21, and taking part in events in New York, Washington D.C., San Francisco and Los Angeles (my first ever visit!) from January 9 to 17, mostly with Debra Sweet, the National Director of the campaigning group the World Can’t Wait, who has organized my trip. Debra has been organizing my visits to the US since 2009, and it will be wonderful to spend time with her and with the other participants in the various events we have planned — who include the investigative journalist Jason Leopold, psychologist and anti-torture writer and activist Jeffrey Kaye, the former SERE instructor and anti-torture campaigner Michael Kearns, and Todd Pierce, a former military defense attorney, who represented men at Guantánamo who were put forward for trials by military commission. We will, at some events, be showing the excellent documentary film “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis, and the full itinerary is below (also see the Facebook page here, and see here for Debra’s post about the tour).

For the last five years, of course, the ownership of Guantánamo has been in the hands not of George W. Bush and the Republican Party, but of Barack Obama and the Democrats, and it has, for the most part, been a dispiriting experience watching as fine words turned to inaction. After promising to close the prison by January 2010, President Obama failed to keep that promise, and although he released 64 prisoners from February 2009 to September 2010, those releases almost ground to a halt for the next three years, after Congress imposed onerous restrictions on the release of prisoners, and the president didn’t think it was worthwhile spending political capital overriding lawmakers, even though he had the power to do so.

This year, this inertia was finally challenged by the prisoners themselves, who, in desperation, embarked on a prison-wide hunger strike that succeeded in waking up the world’s media to the message that those dedicate dot the prison’s closure — myself included — had been emphasizing since the inertia began; namely, that over half of the remaining prisoners had been cleared for release by a high-level, inter-agency task force that President Obama established shortly after first taking office in 2009, and that continuing to hold men cleared for release was profoundly unjust and cruel; and, more generally, that the continued existence of the prison, and its default purpose of enshrining indefinite detention without charge or trial as something normal and not dangerously unacceptable, was intolerable.

As a result of the outrage generated by the hunger strike, President Obama was finally obliged to act, which he did in May by promising to appoint new envoys in the Pentagon and the State Department to assist with the release of prisoners and the eventual closure of Guantánamo, and to resume the release of prisoners.

Progress was initially slow, but envoys have now been appointed (Paul Lewis at the Pentagon and Cliff Sloan in the State Department), and prisoner releases have resumed — two men in August, and six more in December — bringing the prison’s population down to 158 men, exactly half of whom (79 men in total) were cleared for release by the Guantánamo Review Task Force, whose final report, after nearly a year of deliberations, was published four years ago, in January 2010.

More releases need to follow, as soon as possible — and, in particular, the deadlock regarding the Yemenis, who make up two-thirds of the 79 men cleared for release but still held, needs to be addressed — but this is undoubtedly progress, and it means that, for the first time on the anniversary of the opening of Guantánamo, the message that campaigners calling for the closure of the prison will be sending to President Obama will be both to encourage him to continue with what he has started, as well as reminding him that further inertia is not acceptable.

Andy Worthington’s “Close Guantánamo” US tour, January 2014

Thursday January 9, 2014, 7 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington, Todd Pierce and Debra Sweet

All Souls Church, 1157 Lexington Avenue, New York, NY 10075.

After arriving in New York City on January 8, this will be Andy Worthington’s first public event as part of the January 2014 “Close Guantánamo” US tour, featuring a screening of the powerful documentary film, “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis, followed by a Q&A session with Andy, Todd Pierce, a former military defense attorney, who represented men at Guantánamo who were put forward for trials by military commission, and Debra Sweet.

Co-sponsored by All Souls Church, No More Guantánamos, Psychologists for Social Responsibility and Revolution Books.

See the event page here.

Friday January 10, 2014, 5.30 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington, Todd Pierce and Debra Sweet

Festival Center, 1640 Columbia Road NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.

On January 10, Andy Worthington, Debra Sweet and Todd Pierce travel from New York to Washington D.C. for a protest on January 11, the 12th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo Bay. The evening before, they will take part in a Q&A session following a screening of the powerful documentary film, “Doctors of the Dark Side,” directed by Martha Davis.

See the event page here.

Saturday January 11, 2014, 12 noon: Close Guantánamo Protest, White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20500.

“12 Years Too Many, No More Excuses, Close Guantánamo” is the tagline for the January 11 Day of Action to close Guantánamo. At 12 noon, there will be speakers outside the White House, followed by a procession to the Capitol and the Supreme Court beginning at 1 pm. The event ends at 2:30 pm.

Organized by groups including Amnesty International, Center for Constitutional Rights, Close Guantánamo, Code Pink, National Religious Coalition Against Torture, Witness Against Torture and World Can’t Wait.

As the organizers state, “This January 11, 2014 marks the unacceptable 12th anniversary of indefinite detention without charge or trial at Guantánamo. Join us in Washington, D.C. to witness this anniversary together, and to call on President Obama to finally fulfill his broken promise to shut it down. Obama has the power to close Guantánamo, and the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA 2014) just approved by Congress makes it even easier for him to do so. 158 men remain detained at Guantánamo; most should never have been detained in the first place and are entering their 13th year of being deprived of their liberty without any charge or trial. They must be tried in a fair court or released; Guantánamo must be shut down.”

See the Facebook page here.

Monday January 13, 2014, 5.30 pm: Guantánamo, Torture and the “War on Terror”: A discussion with Andy Worthington, Jeffrey Kaye, Michael Kearns and Debra Sweet

Stanford University, 3rd Floor Common Room, Old Union, 520 Lasuen Mall, Palo Alto, CA.

On January 12, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet fly to San Francisco for five days of “Close Guantánamo” events, beginning on January 13 with this special discussion at Stanford University with Andy, Jeffrey Kaye and Michael Kearns. Jeffrey Kaye is a psychologist active in the anti-torture movement, who works clinically with torture victims at Survivors International in San Francisco. His blog is Invictus. Michael Kearns is a retired Air Force Captain, and a former instructor on the SERE program, which teaches US military personnel to resist torture if captured by enemy forces. He is a former colleague of Bruce Jessen, who, with James Mitchell, reverse-engineered SERE techniques for use in the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” to Capt. Kearns’ horror.

See the event page here.

Tuesday January 14, 2014, 12 noon: Close Guantánamo event, with Andy Worthington & Debra Sweet

Hastings Law School, 200 McAllister Street, San Francisco, CA 94102.

On January 14, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet discuss the situation at Guantánamo, as the prison begins its 13th year of operations. Andy will have the opportunity to discuss at length the problems that have led to the prison remaining open.

See the event page here.

Tuesday January 14, 2014, 7 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet

Revolution Books, 2425 Channing Way, near Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704.

On the evening of January 14, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet will be speaking about Guantánamo and torture in a Q&A session following a screening of “Doctors of the Dark Side.”

See the Revolution Books website here. For further information, call 510-848-1196.

Wednesday January 15, 2014, 11.30 am: Martin Luther King Luncheon with Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace, featuring keynote speaker Andy Worthington

Holman United Methodist Church, 3320 W. Adams, Los Angeles, CA 90018.

Andy Griggs has been working to get Andy Worthington to LA as a speaker on Guantánamo for many years, and this event will provide an opportunity for Andy to speak in detail about the reasons that Guantánamo is still open.

Suggested donation $20, but no one turned away. For further information, contact Andy Griggs by email or call 310-704-3217. See the event page here.

Wednesday January 15, 2014, 7 pm: Screening of ”Doctors of the Dark Side,” followed by Q&A with Andy Worthington, Jason Leopold and Debra Sweet
Revolution Books, 5726 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90028.

On the evening of January 15, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet will be joined by investigative journalist Jason Leopold for a Q&A session following a screening of “Doctors of the Dark Side.” Jason Leopold, who writes for Al-Jazeera, is an investigative reporter covering Guantánamo, counterterrorism, national security, human rights, open government and civil liberties issues. This will be Jason and Andy’s first appearance together since Andy’s last West Coast visit in January 2012.

See the event page here. For further information, call Nicole Lee on 323-463-3500.

Thursday January 16, 2014, time tba: Orange County Peace Coalition “Close Guantánamo” event, with Andy Worthington, Jason Leopold and Debra Sweet

Location tba.

Friday January 17, 2014, 7 am: Breakfast with Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace, featuring keynote speaker Andy Worthington

Immanuel Presbyterian Church, 3300 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90010.

Following the lunch event on January 15, this event will provide another opportunity for Interfaith Communities United for Justice & Peace and anyone else interested in the closure of Guantánamo to hear Andy Worthington talk about the prison as it begins its 13th year of operations.

For further information, contact Andy Griggs by email or call 310-704-3217.

Friday January 17, 2014, 7 pm: Close Guantánamo event, with Andy Worthington, Dennis Loo and Debra Sweet

Cal Poly Pomona, Bronco Student Center, Orion Room, 3801 W. Temple Avenue, Pomona, CA 91768.

For the last public event of the “Close Guantánamo” US tour, Andy Worthington and Debra Sweet will be joined by Dennis Loo, Professor of Sociology at Cal Poly Pomona, who is on the Steering Committee of World Can’t Wait. See his website here.

See the event page here.

On January 18, Andy returns to New York, and flies back to the UK on January 20.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To interview Andy Worthington or Debra Sweet, or to arrange further events, please contact Andy or Debra.

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

Please also consider joining the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and, if you appreciate Andy’s work, feel free to make a donation.

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For Whom the Bell Tolls: What Your Phone is Telling About You

When Your Phone Is Not Your Friend: Gadzooks! They've cracked the iPhone!?

by Peter Lee - China Hand

Newly leaked documents from the National Security Agency highlight Dropout Jeep, a piece of software that could target one of the country's most popular devices -- the iPhone.

According to documents published by the German news website Spiegel Online and dated Oct. 1, 2008, Dropout Jeep would give the NSA the ability to retrieve contact information, read through text messages, listen to voicemails and even turn on the iPhone camera and microphone.

The document goes on to say that while Drop Jeep was currently limited to installation through "close access methods," the NSA would research ways to install the program remotely in future versions.

If you're wondering how the NSA developed this fiendish capability, fingers are being pointed at Apple, but a trip through the Wayback machine suggests another possible culprit:

From a 2011 article by Mark Elgan at Computerworld:

 Cellphone users say they want more privacy, and app makers are listening.

No, they're not listening to user requests. They're literally listening to the sounds in your office, kitchen, living room and bedroom.

A new class of smartphone app has emerged that uses the microphone built into your phone as a covert listening device -- a "bug," in common parlance.
The issue was brought to the world's attention recently on a podcast called This Week in Tech. Host Leo Laporte and his panel shocked listeners by unmasking three popular apps that activate your phone's microphone to collect sound patterns from inside your home, meeting, office or wherever you are.
The new apps are often sneakier about it [than older apps, which were activated by users in order to identify a song that was playing, etc.--CH]. The vast majority of people who use the Color app, for example, have no idea that their microphones are being activated to gather sounds.

Welcome to the future.
[M]arketers love cellphones, which are viewed as universal sensors for conducting highly granular, real-time market research.

Of course, lots of apps transmit all kinds of private data back to the app maker. Some send back each phone's Unique Device Identification (UDI), the number assigned to each mobile phone, which can be used to positively identify it. Other apps tell the servers the phone's location. Many apps actually snoop around on your phone, gathering up personal information, such as gender, age and ZIP code, and zapping it back to the company over your phone's data connection.
Methinks it would behoove consumers wondering how the NSA might get into their iPhones to hie themselves to their local App Store.

A little further back in the Wayback machine brings us to the analog era, my favorite, when all that was needed to turn your home phone into a microphone was some fiddling at the telco switch. From Bloomberg in 1999:

It's hardly a secret that phone taps are a favorite ploy of industrial spies as well as law-enforcement agencies. What isn't well-known is that the phone doesn't even have to be off the hook to be tapped. It's possible to activate a hung-up phone remotely and use it to eavesdrop. This techno-trick recently came to light as a result of a drug dealer's court case in the Netherlands--but it is said that the technique will work on virtually any phone anywhere.

I remember reading somewhere that this was a much-cherished technology for various British intelligence outfits working through British Telecom and its previous incarnation, Post Office Telecommunications.

And from Mark Bowden's book on the US-assisted manhunt for Pablo Escobar in the early 1990s, Killing Pablo, here is a nugget from the analog cell phone era which, I expect, still applies today:

There was another nifty secret feature to Centra Spike's capability [a US Army sigint outfit that, unlike the NSA, was tasked with providing tactical intelligence to special operations--CH]. So long as their target left the battery in his cell phone, Centra Spike could remotely turn it on whenever they wished. Without triggering the phone's lights or beeper, the phone could be activated so that it emitted a low-intensity signal, enough for the unit to get a fix on its general location... 

With this background, the extravagant cybercaution of Brookings China wonk Kenneth Lieberthal is understandable:

When Kenneth G. Lieberthal, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, travels to that country, he follows a routine that seems straight from a spy film.

He leaves his cellphone and laptop at home and instead brings "loaner" devices, which he erases before he leaves the United States and wipes clean the minute he returns. In China, he disables Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, never lets his phone out of his sight and, in meetings, not only turns off his phone but also removes the battery, for fear his microphone could be turned on remotely. He connects to the Internet only through an encrypted, password-protected channel, and copies and pastes his password from a USB thumb drive. He never types in a password directly, because, he said, "the Chinese are very good at installing key-logging software on your laptop." 

I have a feeling that Mr. Lieberthal's countermeasures are informed both by awareness of PRC perfidy, and knowledge of the immense penetration and surveillance capabilities the industrial-security partnership has brought to the telecom and networking game around the world.

If you're in China--or anywhere else--that phone in your pocket: it's not your friend.

Terminal Politcal Prisoner Stewart Receives Compassion at Last

Dying Lawyer Lynne Stewart’s Jubilant Return Home After Winning Compassionate Release

by DemocracyNow!

The civil rights attorney Lynne Stewart has returned home from prison after a federal judge ordered her compassionate release. Stewart is 74 years old and dying from late-stage breast cancer. Viewed by supporters as a political prisoner, she had served almost four years of a 10-year sentence for distributing press releases on behalf of her client, Omar Abdel Rahman, an Egyptian cleric known as the "blind Sheikh.

 Stewart arrived to a group of cheering supporters in New York City on Wednesday. Democracy Now!'s Amy Goodman and Renée Feltz were at the airport to cover the homecoming and speak with Stewart about her time behind bars

Wednesday, January 01, 2014

A New Year for an Old Land: BDS and the Failure of Peace in Palestine

2014: Failure of Palestinian Authority, BDS Success to Continue

by Ramzy Baroud -

2013 was a year in which the so-called peace process charade was allowed to continue, leading Palestinians on yet another futile journey of broken promises. Meanwhile, the Israeli colonial project in the West Bank and East Jerusalem carried on unabated. But it was not entirely a year of doom and gloom either, for the global boycott campaign (BDS) has taken off like never before, surpassing the capricious Palestinian leadership and its confined political platforms.

Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is an unsuccessful leader, to say the least. But a much harsher judgment can arguably be made. When he out rightly rejected the boycott of Israel in an interview while attending the service of South Africa’s iconic leader Nelson Mandela, many Palestinians went on to describe his words as an act of treason. “We don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel,” he was quoted.

The irony is that an international boycott movement was another facet of the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa. For Abbas to reject boycotting in the Palestinian context - of the very country that is responsible for military occupation, countless war crimes, the siege on Gaza, violation of numerous international laws, the Apartheid Wall and for much more - while attending Mandela’s funeral is a testament to Abbas’ own political and moral bankruptcy.

Yet merely two weeks after Abbas’ statement, his chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, was once more threatening to take Israel to the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it carried on another settlement expansion scheme in occupied East Jerusalem and the West Bank.

Erekat is understandably angry that the rightwing government of Benjamin Netanyahu plans to build another 1,400 homes for illegal settlers in several colonies, including 600 in Ramat Shlomo, which is located in the West Bank but was illegally annexed into occupied East Jerusalem. 800 other homes will be built in various settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Israel plans to keep in any future agreement.

“We strongly condemn this and consider it damaging for the peace process”, said Erekat. He described Netanyahu’s move as “a war crime”. Even by the ever tolerant standards of the PA, its officials have invoked the term ‘war crimes’ on so many occasions, and threatened to resort to the ICC, a threat that, of course, was never carried out.

Yet, there is no serious drive championed by the Palestinian leadership calling for punitive measures against Israel, only a halfhearted step that was taken in November 2012, when Palestine exacted international recognition in the UN, becoming a non-member state. Faced by Israeli obstinacy and a growing resentment among Palestinians of Abbas and his authority’s mounting corruption and failures, the Palestinian leader had no option but to seek anything that could be promoted by his jubilant supporters in the occupied territories as a ‘victory’. Abbas returned home to be greeted as a liberation hero by his loyalists in Ramallah, a stunt that didn’t fool many.

But in theory, the recognition also meant that if the PA agreed to sign up to the ICC’s Rome Statute, it could finally take Israel to the criminal court. Other practical steps could have also been taken, whereby Palestine could join dozens of international organizations, and hold Israel accountable for its continued crimes to whichever capacity possible. None of that took place to the dismay of Palestinians and their supporters.

What did happen is that last July, Abbas and his negotiators were dragged back to yet another round of useless and unconditional negotiations. And as they negotiated, the Israeli government had in fact sped up construction in its colonies in the West Bank and tightened the siege on Gaza. It was such a mockery that on Nov 13, the entire Palestinian negotiation team had resigned in protest.

But since “the man in charge” – according to a senior US administration official, quoted in CNN – is Saeb Erekat, then, such resignation meant very little. “We've seen Saeb Erakat do this before where he'd threaten to resign because he's not happy with the way talks are going but ... he ends up taking it back and continuing with the negotiations.”

It is an embarrassing spectacle, really, and the PA doesn’t seem to notice, or perhaps care. Instead of marching to The Hague with utter resolve, and putting Israel on the defensive for once, Erekat continues to use the same worn out tactic, used by Abbas himself in the past, of empty threats, which don’t seem to even register on the Israeli or US radar.

There is no question that the PA is in a much weaker position than Israel. The latter, aside from its military strength and total domination over every aspect of Palestinian life, is unconditionally supported by the US administration. While the Obama administration did dare choose a course of action regarding Iran that is not consistent with the wishes of the Zionist lobby in Washington, and its ever enthusiastic supporters in Congress, it remains beholden to the wishes of the lobby regarding Palestine.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has proved once again that it is not individuals, but established policies that control US behavior in the Middle East. His latest proposal, based on the work of 160 US officials, including retired US Marine Corps Gen. John Allen, went as far as Netanyahu had hoped for to ensure Israel’s ‘security’, should a Palestinian state be established. According to the rightwing Israeli daily, the Jerusalem Post, Kerry’s ‘ideas’ in the proposal include Israeli control over Palestine’s borders with Jordan, and continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley.

The Americans are bending over backwards for Israel as they have no reason not to: the lobby still has the upper hand in shaping US foreign policy regarding Israel and Palestine, and the PA is proving to be as accommodating as both Israel and the US expect of it. Disappointingly, the few available outlets that could in fact empower the Palestinian leadership such as supporting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, and resorting to such international bodies as the ICC, are either shunned out completely or simply used as a tactic of empty threats.

There is no evidence that the PA plans to change course in 2014. The sorry legacy of Oslo will continue, as well as Israeli’s illegal colonial projects, the American peace process charade, and all the rest. But what will continue to change is that the BDS movement is moving ahead with or without Abbas and Erekat, whose claims to leadership are merely that of titles and hollow prestige.

- Ramzy Baroud is an internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant and the editor of His latest book is “My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza’s Untold Story” (Pluto Press, London).

Digging Up the Past: South American Exhumation Reveal Dirty Dealings in Leaders' Deaths

Looking for clues, not 'sacred' relics in South America: NY Times admits Exhumation Proves Ex-Brazilian President Murdered

by Dave Lindorff  - WhoWhatWhy

A few weeks ago, WhoWhatWhy ran a piece I wrote criticizing a subtly deceptive article in the New York Times that made light of a wave of exhumations of popular leftist figures in Latin America. Quoting unnamed “scholars,” the paper’s Latin American correspondent Simon Romero suggested the forensic digs may be the secularized continuation of customs from the time of early Christianity, when a vibrant trade involved the body parts of saints.

That, in fact, is nonsense. The purportedly “natural”, “accidental”, or “suicide-related” deaths of such important left-leaning figures as Nobel Laureate Pablo Neruda, Brazil’s President Joao Goulart and Chile’s President Salvador Allende all occurred during the rule of various rightist dictators.

The re-examination of evidence in these cases is based therefore on strong skepticism about the “official” narratives of their deaths. This skepticism, in turn, is based on a well-documented history of thousands of cases of political murder in the region.

Far from looking for relics to sell, investigators are looking for evidence that these deaths were actually assassinations, the work of fearful tyrants anxious to prevent the victims’ return to power. Now one result is in, and it’s explosive.

Truth Commission: Juscelino Kubitschek Assassinated

Investigators from Brazil’s Truth Commission, looking into the 1976 car crash of former leftist Brazilian president Juscelino Kubitschek and his limo driver, have discovered a bullet fragment lodged in the driver’s skull. This finding, the Commission ruled, along with other evidence, suggests that Kubitschek was murdered—most likely at the behest of the leaders of the CIA-backed military coup that also ousted his successor Joao Goulart.

What Romero Did Not Report: U.S. Involvement

Romero himself reported this new inquest finding on December 10 in a short article datelined Santiago (“Brazilian Panel Says Ex-Leader Was Murdered”). Romero noted that at the time of Kubitschek’s death, Brazil was ruled by a junta, but as in the case of his earlier article on exhumations, he very significantly chose not to mention the role of the CIA in bringing Brazil’s junta to power.

In his newer, more soberly reported article, Romero nonetheless still failed to mention Operation Condor. That was a coordinated effort by dictatorships in Latin American countries to track down and kill political opponents in their various countries—an effort that was deliberately aided, particularly during the mid-to-late ‘70s, by the CIA...

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A Not So Happy News Year: The Decline and Fall of American "Mainstream" Journalism

Happy 'News Year': Decline of the 'News'

by Danny Schechter  - Consortium News

At year end, the news agenda fills up with stories about top stories, a chance for networks to repackage footage or highlight favorite newsmakers. These stories rarely look at the news system that picks them or why.

There are two news systems in America. The more prominent one is the official parody of journalism that represents most of what the mainstream – or what some call the “lame stream” – media offers. These are the “products” of an “official” news business, an industry under growing pressure from within and without to maintain a semblance of credibility with a global audience that now has many other divergent sources to rely on.

A part of a global entertainment combine, the advertising-sponsored “news biz” also spends inordinate amounts of money marketing itself and referencing its own output. It is that system that has become one of the major pillars of established power, like the institutions of government and the office holders that the mainstream media covers to a fault. Official news tells us what politicians say.

Some of the stars from the news world move into politics, just as ex-politicians become pundits who define for us what the news is supposed to mean. The system is interconnected and symbiotic. It looks diverse but U.S. mainstream news operates in an ideological framework as surely as Chinese news does. No wonder critics now speak of a military-industrial-media complex.

News has become a publicity machine for those in power but also a shaper of the narratives and myths we live by. It is not surprising that two-thirds of the graduates of journalism schools find jobs not in news but in PR and lobbying firms. And many of the mainstream journalists function increasingly like stenographers, offering up only the news that they and their news executives consider fit to print while the audience increasingly turns away, or migrates to visual media and social media, abandoning most “serious” newspapers and magazines all together.

One of the reasons is a sense – well documented by many media critics – that news is almost processed to leave out as much as it includes. Investigative journalist Russ Baker of the website puts it this way:

“It’s not so much a challenge to identify important stories the media missed. They are to be found everywhere. What’s hard is to find transformative or substantial stories the media actually got right — really right, by being bold and going wide and deep. Truth be told, the media misses most of the real stories — or at least the stories behind the facile, thin inquiries that prop up wobbly headlines.”

This may be one reason traditional news in the center of the media system is losing its appeal with more critical consumers turning to specialized or even international outlets that have entered the U.S. media space, by offering what we used to call “hard news” and analysis that most U.S. news outlets underplay or abandon.

Welcome Al Jazeera America, RT, and Sahara Reporters as well as Arise TV to tell us the stories that are often conspicuous by their absence. Some U.S. alternative media outlets are looking for market share, too, like Link TV, Democracy Now, The Real News Network, and individuals like Laura Flanders and Bill Moyers.

Free Speech TV tells us:

“Over the last six months, conservatives have begun to direct vast resources into new right-wing media outlets to supplement the conservative programming of Fox News Channel. For example, Glenn Beck’s The Blaze Television Network is now available in more than 15 million homes. Then there was the launch of One America’s News Network, a new conservative broadcast news network whose stated mission is to provide a platform ‘for a broader spectrum of voices on the right than Fox now offers.’ Meanwhile, progressive media outlets are closing their doors…”

While that may be true, non-news platforms like Facebook and Twitter (and their many competitors), as well as an array of news websites are pumping out more stories than ever across the spectrum. The “leaks” of whistleblowers like Julian Assange, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden have had more impact than media investigations. News consumers are becoming their own editors, selecting the stories they want to read from sources that didn’t exist years ago. Add in the aggregators, the Diggs and Reddits; there’s just not enough time in the day to take it all in.

Increasingly the news that has the most impact is the news satirizing the news. In many ways the Comedy Channel has become the most respected news channel, offering a hard-hitting take or a parody of a parody. Saturday Night Live’s take-offs get as much attention as the events and personalities they satirize. Attitude seems to trump information in a culture with a “context of no context.” No wonder so many young people laugh at the news. Mockumentaries may be making more money than documentaries.

And now, even big-budget movies compete with characters that make fun of a news media that many feel deserves it. Hilarious and punchy films like Anchorman and Anchorman 2 lampoon news practices in a way that resonates with audiences. In the end of his latest send-up on the news, fictional news anchor. “Ron Burgundy” – played by Will Farrell – gets his highest ratings when he denounces his own newscast on the air and then walks off the set.

At the same time, reality-based programming seems more popular than newsy shows about reality. The more serious TV series on cable channels or distributors like Netflix are “edgy” dramas that, in the words of the New York Times, only offer “hints of reality.” Those “hints” feature political scandals and the terror wars. They may be more attractive to people in power than the real thing.

The Times reports that President Obama is drawn to programs that showcase, “wars, terrorism, economic struggles and mass shootings.” Obama, whose own speechwriter once wrote fiction for a living, seems to prefer these “dark” character–based shows. He was especially drawn to program like The Wire, set in Baltimore, that pitted the police against drug dealers and urban gangsters.

The author, former newspaperman David Simon, became a TV producer to popularize what he learned about the world. I am sure he is pleased that Obama likes his work, but his evolving underlying ideas have few outlets outside the world of entertainment and none in the White House.

A recent essay by Simon appeared in The Guardian with an indictment of inequality and American capitalism. He calls his country “a horror show,” arguing in terms that his fan Obama would publicly have to reject. He even calls for a rereading of Karl Marx.

Simon wrote,

“Right now capital has effectively purchased the government, and you witnessed it again with the healthcare debacle in terms of the $450m that was heaved into Congress, the most broken part of my government, in order that the popular will never actually emerged in any of that legislative process. So I don’t know what we do if we can’t actually control the representative government that we claim will manifest the popular will.”

Simon has given up on the press and may soon be giving up on the media. That’s not an optimistic note with which to begin a new “news year.”

News Dissector Danny Schechter has worked in network news and written about his experience critically. He edits the media watchdog site,, and blogs at newsdissector,net. His latest book is Madiba AtoZ: The Many Faces of Nelson Mandela. Comments to

Crisis and Democracy: Hogtown Getting the Politics It Deserves

Crisis and Democracy: Hogtown Getting the Politics It Deserves

by C. L. Cook -

One of the biggest stories in Canada this year is one continuing even now. The effects of the massive ice storm in Ontario are still being felt in Toronto and environs. The Greater Toronto Area is what we hear most about; but the true extent of the pre-Christmas arctic blast is being felt much farther afield than the GTA. Across eastern Ontario, Quebec, the Maritimes, Michigan and Maine millions are discovering what life without electricity is like; and how miserable and dangerous life without electricity can be in the winter.

In Toronto, the disgraced Mayor Ford, whose fall is a prominent story on other year just past round-up shows itself, has seen his office by-passed for the response to the disaster; a prescient move made by city council just weeks before the storm. Instead, Deputy Mayor, Norm Kelly and the city's emergency management program committee are in charge. It is for Mayor Ford to be the media face for the GTA, and to issue a 'state of emergency' where necessary, something he has so far failed to do.

Ford's nemesis, the Toronto Star newspaper has been busy despite the darkness, asking questions benighted citizens want answered. An article by Star staffers addresses five of those questions; such as: Why were so many people - more than 750,000 estimated in the GTA alone - left in the dark after the storm? And: Why are so many people still without power? Readers also question whether Ice Storm 2013 qualifies as an official "disaster"; and when, if ever, was the last time Toronto was blacked out like this; and who's going to pick up the mounting piles of garbage - especially organic garbage, like spoiled food?

The answers in short are: This is the largest, longest power outage in the city's history; why so many were effected is due to the architecture of the power grid and the increased numbers of people and households in the region, many requiring time-intensive single line repair service, since the last great incident in 1965; and yes, extra crews will be deployed for garbage pick-up, and special provisions will be made for organic household waste.

But is it a disaster?

The Star reports Public Safety Canada's Canadian Disaster Database saying, the disaster designation criterion are: "10 or more people killed; 100 or more people affected/injured/infected/evacuated or homeless; an appeal for national/international assistance; [and] historical significance and significant damage/interruption of normal processes such that the community affected cannot recover on its own." According to these criteria, only the 1999 snowstorm, and a deadly 1944 blizzard that killed 21 people have merited the disaster designation in Toronto's history.

Every year Torontonians freeze to death on the streets of the city. The Star reported the storm's supposed first homeless person killed Friday. Five days previous, a man identified as 'Richard' was found dead outside the doors of the Carlton and Church street Loblaw's. According to the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty, Richard lay on the sidewalk frozen dead even as holiday shoppers walked past him, eager to get the last minute trimmings for Christmas celebrations. OCAP held services for Richard Monday, December 30th in Toronto, and they provide some sobering statistics for the citizens of this northern country, Canada to mull over. OCAP says;

“The average life expectancy of a person who is homeless in Canada is a shocking 39 years old for women, and 46 years old for men. Homeless men are 8 times more likely to die than men of the same age in the general population. These deaths of people well before their time are preventable. The chronic lack of affordable, accessible and safe housing, the lack of an adequate income, the lack of sufficient programs and services, all contribute to the high mortality rates among homeless and underhoused people. As a result of these government decisions to prioritize profit over human lives, our communities experience loss at a rapid rate.”

City councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam believes the city has failed in its response to homelessness, saying;

“We have had so many opportunities to respond, and I don’t think that we have done a good job.”

“We know that the homeless population in Toronto is getting larger and older, so there is a social tsunami coming our way and we need to be much more proactive as we try to address it.” Adding;
“We have a very wealthy city, and yet we have people who are living on our streets. It’s tough, [and] obviously, we can’t look the other way, and yet, thousands of people do. (This man) is our responsibility.”

Toronto averages 2 homeless deaths per week, and the wall of The Homeless Memorial at Church of the Holy Trinity chronicles more than 700 names of those who have died on the city's streets. Certainly enough of these Canadians have been "affected/injured/infected and necessarily evacuated," and many more than 100 have died. And yet, there's no emergency declared here, no disaster designation appeal made nationally or internationally by the powers that be. Meanwhile, Mayor Ford remains adamant in his refusal to declare a state of emergency, saying;

“This is not a state of emergency.” “State of emergency is basically when the whole city is paralyzed, business can’t open, people can’t get out of their houses. We’re not in that situation. We’ve discussed this numerous times and we’re not even close to a state of emergency.”

Clearly, Toronto's crisis goes beyond an ice storm, or a mayor lacking the necessary empathic skills to perform public service; its failing is a citizenry who remain on the sidelines while demagogues play the system like a cheap violin.