Daily Archive: 02/13/2014

Feb 13 2014

Obama Administration Abuses National Security, Secrecy Powers

Would the US Government executive branch abuse it’s state secrets privilege, abuse the classification of documents, and use its ability to prevent a foreign national’s entry to the US to bar her access to the court system? Would it spend millions of taxpayer dollars on lawyers improperly?

The answer is unequivocally yes.

Would top Obama administration officials practice deceit  repeatedly in support of efforts to avoid admission of a simple error?

Absolutely.

Here is proof that the Obama administration at the highest levels cannot be trusted to fairly, prudently and honestly wield the powers they have arrogated unto themselves in the name of national security.  Not only are they a pack of liars, they are people that lack the honor and decency to admit when they have made a simple mistake and apologize for it.

How Obama Officials Cried ‘Terrorism’ to Cover Up a Paperwork Error

After seven years of litigation, two trips to a federal appeals court and $3.8 million worth of lawyer time, the public has finally learned why a wheelchair-bound Stanford University scholar was cuffed, detained and denied a flight from San Francisco to Hawaii: FBI human error.

FBI agent Kevin Kelley was investigating Muslims in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2004 when he checked the wrong box on a terrorism form, erroneously placing Rahinah Ibrahim on the no-fly list.

What happened next was the real shame. Instead of admitting to the error, high-ranking President Barack Obama administration officials spent years covering it up. Attorney General Eric Holder, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, and a litany of other government officials claimed repeatedly that disclosing the reason Ibrahim was detained, or even acknowledging that she’d been placed on a watch list, would cause serious damage to the U.S. national security. Again and again they asserted the so-called “state secrets privilege” to block the 48-year-old woman’s lawsuit, which sought only to clear her name.

Eric_Holder perjuryEric Holder declared to the court that the government would not claim national security privileges to conceal administrative errors or prevent embarrassment.

Holder should have been charged with perjury for his mendacity and the administration should be beyond embarrassed.

Due to the clerical error committed by the FBI agent, the plaintiff in this case, having recently had a hysterectomy and wheelchair bound, was handcuffed, detained and denied her pain medications for hours. After she was released and returned to her home country, the administration barred her from returning to the US to attend her trial.

Most normal folks after discovering that they have by error caused someone pain, embarrassment and severe inconvenience would find apologizing for their error to be the right thing to do.  Apparently the Obama administration is not peopled by normal folks.

The administration almost got away with it.  The judge initially dismissed the case basis of the government’s claims.  After a federal appeals court reinstated the suit, the judge learned what the government had been at pains to conceal. In a pretrial conference the judge said, “I feel that I have been had by the government.”  

From the decision:

At long last, the government has conceded that plaintiff poses no threat to air safety or national  security and should never have been placed on the no-fly  list. She got there by human error within the FBI. This too is conceded. This was no minor human error but an error with palpable impact, leading to the humiliation, cuffing, and incarceration of an innocent and incapacitated air traveler. That it was human error may seem hard to accept – the FBI agent filled out the nomination form in a way exactly opposite from the instructions on the form, a bureaucratic analogy to a surgeon amputating the wrong digit – human error, yes, but of considerable consequence. Nonetheless, this order accepts the agent’s testimony.

The judge goes on in the ruling to describe some of the various abuses that the Obama administration engaged in to conceal the information from the public on realization that the petty error they had expended so much effort to conceal would be known to the court:

In stubborn resistance to letting the public and press see the details of this case, the government has made numerous motions to dismiss on various grounds, including an overbroad complete dismissal request based on state secrets. When it could not win an outright dismissal, it tried to close the trial from public view via invocation of a statutory privilege for “sensitive security information” (“SSI”), 49 U.S.C. 114(r) and 49 C.F.R. 1520.5, and the “law enforcement privilege.” Roviaro v. United States, 353 U.S. 53, 59 (1957). At least ten times the trial was interrupted and the public asked to leave so that such evidence could be presented.

Given the lengths that this administration has gone to in order to cover up a petty error made during a previous administration, one can only imagine the abuses of office and the national security and secrecy powers that they have arrogated unto themselves to cover up errors serious enough to be called war crimes.

When the Obama administration wielded the full power of the United States to prevent an international investigation of the Bush administration’s war crimes, perhaps his base which claims to care about these things should have paid more attention:

One of the little reported details from the latest batch of Wikileaks material are cables showing that the Obama Administration worked hard behind the scenes not only to prevent any investigation of torture in the United States but shutdown efforts abroad to enforce the Geneva Conventions and the Convention Against Torture. …

American officials pressured government officials, including prosecutors and judges, not to enforce international law and that this was “a very serious matter for the USG.” It was Obama’s own effort at creating a “Coalition of the Unwilling” – nations unwilling to enforce treaties on torture and war crimes when the alleged culprits are American officials. …

Just as many conservatives abandoned their principles in following George Bush blindly, many liberals have chosen to ignore Obama’s concerted efforts to protect individuals accused of war crimes.

James_R._Clapper tehwahwistsObama’s “most transparent administration ever” is transparently untrustworthy and abuses the powers of office to cover up errors and crimes great and utterly petty. The powers that it has arrogated unto itself are enormous.  Besides the ability to scream 9/11! 9/11! Terrorists are everywhere!, which apparently is all congress and the press need to hear, the president has acquired some of the most extraordinary powers ever granted to the executive:

The administration has no burden of proof whatsoever to overcome before “disposing” of someone, even an American citizen. … When he ordered the murder of Anwar al-Awlaki, an American citizen without charging him with any crime, and without presenting any evidence to anyone, he avoided questions by hiding behind executive privilege. Only weeks later, Obama ordered another drone strike that killed Awlaki’s 16 year old son, and also refused to answer the serious questions surrounding that strike.

And there are further options:

In December 2011, President Obama signed the 2012 NDAA, codifying indefinite military detention without charge or trial into law for the first time in American history. The NDAA’s dangerous detention provisions would authorize the president – and all future presidents – to order the military to pick up and indefinitely imprison people captured anywhere in the world, far from any battlefield.

This is just too much unaccountable power to be vested in any president.  

Would the people who claim to care about justice, civil rights and civil liberties please wake up?

Feb 13 2014

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Norman Solomon: Resisting the Surveillance State of Mind

We must not let the NSA’s snooping define a new era in which privacy is a relic

Eight months after whistle-blower Edward Snowden set off a huge uproar by shedding light on the National Security Agency’s unscrupulous surveillance practices, we are still learning about the vast extent of the snooping. Such revelations are vital to inform the public and enable a democratic process that could hold the government accountable. But they are accompanied by a very real danger: We may come to see privacy as a thing of the past.

The mind-boggling scope of the NSA’s surveillance continues to make front-page news as a political story. But its most pernicious effects are social and psychological. We are getting accustomed to Big Brother. Our daily lives are now accessible to prying eyes and ears no farther away than the nearest computer or cellphone. Unless we directly challenge the system of mass surveillance now, the ruling elites may understand our complacency as consent, with results that extend the reach of surveillance and its damaging consequences. Even as it grows more familiar, this bulk collection of data is corroding civil society.

Mass surveillance amounts to a siege that subtly constrains our freedoms and injures social relations. Freewheeling civic engagement is in the line of fire. The surveillance state generates fearful conformity.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: How a Couple of Austrians Messed Up Washington

One of my favorite moments during the 2012 Republican presidential contest came when Ron Paul, fresh from his strong showing in Iowa, triumphantly told his supporters: “We’re all Austrians now!”

I imagined many Americans scratching their heads and wondering: Why do we want to be Austrians? They live in a nice country with stunning mountains and all that, but aren’t we perfectly happy to be Americans?

Of course those in the know, particularly Paul’s enthusiasts, understood the libertarian presidential candidate’s reference: that Americans were rejecting the economic ideas of John Maynard Keynes that encouraged government intervention and provided intellectual ballast for the New Deal. Instead, they were coming around to the principles of the anti-government economics of Austrians Friedrich A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises. [..]

So let’s give Ron Paul credit for unmasking the true source of gridlock in Washington: Too many conservatives are operating on the basis of theories that history and practice have discredited. And liberals have been more reluctant than they should be to call the ideological right on this, partly because they never fully got over the shell shock of the Reagan years and also because they have a strange aversion to arguing about theory. When it comes to government policy, the Austrian economists paved the road to paralysis.

Amy Goodman: People of Color Are Losing Their Right to Vote

“I found myself standing in front of railroad tracks in South Florida. I was waiting on the train to come so I could jump in front of it and end my life.” So recounted Desmond Meade, describing his life nine years ago. He was homeless, unemployed, recently released from prison and addicted to drugs and alcohol. The train never came. He crossed the tracks and checked himself into a substance-abuse program. He went on to college, and now is just months away from receiving his law degree.

Meade, however, will not be able to practice law in Florida. As a former felon, he cannot join the bar. That is one of his rights that has been stripped, permanently, by Florida’s draconian laws. In a democracy, if one wants to change a law, you vote for lawmakers who will represent your views. Yet, as an ex-felon in Florida, Meade also has lost the right to vote for the rest of his life.

It’s called “felony disenfranchisement,” and is permanent in 11 states: Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming. It’s enforced in differing degrees, like a patchwork, across the U.S. In 13 states and the District of Columbia, you get your rights back upon release from prison. In others, you have to get through your probation or parole. In Maine and Vermont, prisoners retain the right to vote, even while incarcerated.

Alec Luhn: Women Break an Olympic Barrier, Keep Reproductive Organs Intact

Women competed in the ski jump for the first time at a Winter Olympics on Tuesday. So far, their uteruses seem to be intact.

The inclusion of women’s ski jumping ninety years after men first competed in the sport at the inaugural Winter Olympics marks the end of a long struggle against those like International Ski Federation (FIS) president and IOC member Gian Franco Kasper, who said in 2005 that ski jumping “seems not to be appropriate for ladies from a medical point of view.”

He was referring to the pseudo-scientific belief that repeated impacts could dislodge female reproductive organs. “I’ve had people ask me had my uterus fallen out yet,” American ski jumper Lindsey Van, who has been at the forefront of the fight for inclusion, famously said about such claims.

John Nichols: Congressional Republicans Call Obama ‘Lawless’ for Issuing Executive Orders. That’s Just Wrong.

Reasonable people can and should debate the limits of presidential power, particularly when it comes to issues of war and peace, and questions about spying on Americans or politicizing positions of public trust. Any serious discourse on executive overreach would find plenty to criticize in the approaches of all recent presidents-including President Obama.

But “reasonable” and “serious” are not the words that come to mind as the most powerful and prominent Republicans in Congress attack their president’s decision to issue the latest in a long line of executive orders with regard to federal contracts and contractors. [..]

And if by chance, some of the critics might argue that Roosevelt, Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy and Johnson were “lawless,” then how long would those critics have asked the victims of discrimination to wait for reluctant Congresses to act to eliminate Jim Crow laws and barriers to the American promise that outlined in the immortal declaration that “all men [and women] are created equal.”

Robert Parry Is Hillary Clinton a Neocon-Lite?

Most Democratic power-brokers appear settled on Hillary Clinton as their choice for President in 2016 – and she holds lopsided leads over potential party rivals in early opinion polls – but there are some warning flags flying, paradoxically, hoisted by former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in his praise for the former First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State.

On the surface, one might think that Gates’s glowing commendations of Clinton would further burnish her standing as the odds-on next President of the United States, but strip away the fawning endorsements and Gates’s portrait of Clinton in his new memoir, Duty, is of a pedestrian foreign policy thinker who is easily duped and leans toward military solutions.

Indeed, for thoughtful and/or progressive Democrats, the prospect of a President Hillary Clinton could represent a step back from some of President Barack Obama’s more innovative foreign policy strategies, particularly his readiness to cooperate with the Russians and Iranians to defuse Middle East crises and his willingness to face down the Israel Lobby when it is pushing for heightened confrontations and war. [..]

One key question for a Clinton presidential candidacy will be whether she would build on the diplomatic foundation that Obama has laid or dismantle it and return to a more traditional foreign policy focused on military might and catering to the views of Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Feb 13 2014

On This Day In History February 13

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 13 is the 44th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 321 days remaining until the end of the year (322 in leap years).

On this day in 1633, Italian philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Galileo Galilei arrives in Rome to face charges of heresy for advocating Copernican theory, which holds that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Galileo officially faced the Roman Inquisition in April of that same year and agreed to plead guilty in exchange for a lighter sentence. Put under house arrest indefinitely by Pope Urban VIII, Galileo spent the rest of his days at his villa in Arcetri, near Florence, before dying on January 8, 1642.

Galileo Galilei (15 February 1564 – 8 January 1642), commonly known as Galileo, was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. His achievements include improvements to the telescope and consequent astronomical observations, and support for Copernicanism. Galileo has been called the “father of modern observational astronomy”, the “father of modern physics”, the “father of science”, and “the Father of Modern Science”. Stephen Hawking says, “Galileo, perhaps more than any other single person, was responsible for the birth of modern science.”

The motion of uniformly accelerated objects, taught in nearly all high school and introductory college physics courses, was studied by Galileo as the subject of kinematics. His contributions to observational astronomy include the telescopic confirmation of the phases of Venus, the discovery of the four largest satellites of Jupiter (named the Galilean moons in his honour), and the observation and analysis of sunspots. Galileo also worked in applied science and technology, inventing an improved military compass and other instruments.

Galileo’s championing of Copernicanism was controversial within his lifetime, when a large majority of philosophers and astronomers still subscribed to the geocentric view that the Earth is at the centre of the universe. After 1610, when he began publicly supporting the heliocentric view, which placed the Sun at the centre of the universe, he met with bitter opposition from some philosophers and clerics, and two of the latter eventually denounced him to the Roman Inquisition early in 1615. In February 1616, although he had been cleared of any offence, the Catholic Church nevertheless condemned heliocentrism as “false and contrary to Scripture”, and Galileo was warned to abandon his support for it-which he promised to do. When he later defended his views in his most famous work, Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, published in 1632, he was tried by the Inquisition, found “vehemently suspect of heresy”, forced to recant, and spent the rest of his life under house arrest.

Feb 13 2014

The Free Press is Dying in the US

The group that monitors attacks on freedom of information worldwide, Reporters Without Borders, released in 2014 Free Press Index which rates the decline of the free press in countries around the world. Not unsurprisingly, the United States dropped 13 spots from last year, now ranking just 46th among 180 countries, between Romania and Haiti. RWB lays that blame at the feet of President Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder:

In the United States (46th, -13), the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interest need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power.

The group is calling on the United Nations to monitor how member states meet their obligations to protect reporters. See the World Press Freedom Index and the 3-dimensional map “freedom of the press worldwide”

The Obama administration also came under attack by the Committee to Protect Journalists for aggressive leak prosecutions, secret subpoenas, surveillance and its marked lack of transparency and access:

Press freedom in the United States dramatically deteriorated in 2013, a special report by CPJ found.

The Obama administration’s policy of prosecuting officials who leak classified information to the press intensified with the sentencing of Chelsea Manning (then known as Pvt. Bradley Manning) to 35 years in prison and the indictment of NSA consultant Edward Snowden.

As part of its investigations into earlier leaks, the Justice Department revealed it had secretly subpoenaed the phone records of nearly two dozen Associated Press telephone lines and the emails and phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen. The two cases, and language in the Rosen subpoena that suggested the journalist could be criminally charged for receiving the information, provoked widespread criticism. The backlash resulted in the drafting of revised Justice Department guidelines on press subpoenas and a renewed debate in the Senate of a federal shield law that would allow journalists greater protection for their sources.

As the debate moved forward in the Senate, a federal appeals court rejected an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen in his long-term effort to protect a confidential source, setting up a likely Supreme Court showdown.

Snowden’s leak of a still unknown quantity of classified information on secret surveillance programs spurred both a national and international outcry and, after a report that Al-Jazeera’s communications had allegedly been spied on, caused journalists to fear even more for their sources. The secrecy surrounding the surveillance programs echoed a pervasive lack of transparency and openness across government agencies where, despite President Barack Obama’s promise to head the most open government in history, officials routinely refused to talk to the press or approve Freedom of Information Act requests.

Journalists faced limitations covering national security-related trials, in cases of alleged terrorism at Guantánamo Bay and in the court-martial of Manning in Virginia.

Delphine Halgand, U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders, joined [Democracy Now! ]’s Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh to discuss the decline of the free press and the safety of journalists.

Feb 13 2014

XXII Day 6

Men’s Curling 1 – 3.  Women’s Curling 0 – 4.  U-S-A!  U-S-A!  Temperatures still a slushy 60 degrees while it’s 26 in Stars Hollow and we’re expecting another 6 – 8 inches of snow and freezing rain starting at midnight.  Guy who got stuck in the toilet also got stuck in an elevator.  Bob Costas still has pink eye, says you shouldn’t come to work sick (no shit Sherlock, you just spread your disease).

Tonight’s highlights (for me at least) are Women’s Downhill (a surprise finish, but no spoilers), Women’s Half-Pipe, Luge Doubles, Team Relay (never heard of that before), Skeleton (belly flop Flexible Flyers).

    Time     Network Event
5 pm CNBC Curling, men’s: Switzerland vs. Great Britain.
5:30 pm Vs. Hockey, women’s: Canada vs. USA.
8 pm NBC Alpine skiing: women’s downhill gold medal final; speed skating: men’s 1000m gold medal final; figure skating: pairs’ gold medal final; snowboarding: women’s halfpipe gold medal final.
12:05 am NBC Luge: doubles gold medal final runs.
1:05 am NBC Alpine skiing: women’s downhill gold medal final; speed skating: men’s 1000m gold medal final; figure skating: pairs’ gold medal final; snowboarding: women’s halfpipe gold medal final. (repeat)
3 am Vs. Hockey, men’s: Finland vs. Austria.
5 am USA Curling, men’s: USA vs. Great Britain.
5:30 am Vs. Cross-country skiing: women’s 10km classical gold medal final; skeleton: women’s competition.
7:30 am MSNBC Hockey, men’s: Russia vs. Slovenia.
7:30 am Vs. Hockey, men’s: Slovakia vs. USA.
10 am MSNBC Curling, men’s: Canada vs. Denmark.
10 am Vs. Figure skating: men’s short program, part 1.
11:45 am Vs. Figure skating: men’s short program, part 2.
noon MSNBC Hockey, women’s: Sweden vs. Russia.
noon USA Hockey, men’s: Canada vs. Norway.
3 pm NBC Biathlon: men’s 20km individual gold medal final; luge: team relay gold medal final runs.
3 pm Vs. Hockey.
5 pm CNBC Curling, women’s: USA vs. Japan.
5 pm Vs. Hockey: Game of the Day.

Wednesday Medal Results below the fold ~ TMC