05/13/2014 archive

“No Place to Hide”

Journalist, author and constitutional lawyer Glenn Greenwald’s new book “No Place To Hide” was released this week and Glenn has been on the interview circuit discussing the book, Edward Snowden and the next set of revelations about the NSA spying. In an interview with GQ magazine, he talks about what a whirlwind this last year has been as the hottest story in the world has unfolded:

Glenn Greenwald is trying to lose fifteen pounds. “Um, it’s been a little crazy these past nine months,” he says. “And I will eat French fries or potato chips if they’re in front of me.” On his porch, perched on a jungle mountaintop in Rio, the morning is fresh. Greenwald, in board shorts and a collared short-sleeve shirt, has done his daily hour’s worth of yoga and attached himself to one of his five laptops as his dozen dogs yap and wag to begin the day’s circus in his monkey-and-macaw paradise.

To put it simply, Greenwald has had one hell of a dizzying run. The Bourne plotline is familiar now: In late 2012, a shady contact calling himself Cincinnatus reached out via e-mail with the urgent desire to reveal some top-secret documents. As a blogger, author, and relentless commentator on all things related to the NSA, Greenwald had been here before. He figured it was a setup, or nut job, and disregarded the message. The source then contacted Greenwald’s friend Laura Poitras, an Academy Award-nominated documentary filmmaker, and sent along a sample of encrypted documents. Poitras got in touch with Greenwald immediately: Not only did this seem like a potential jackpot, she said, but Cincinnatus wouldn’t go ahead until Greenwald had been looped in.

Soon, per the source’s instructions, they were on a plane to Hong Kong. Greenwald and Poitras did exactly as they were told, showing up at the Mira hotel at 10:20 a.m. on June 3, in front of a giant plastic alligator, looking for a man holding a Rubik’s Cube. “I thought he would be a 60-year-old senior NSA guy,” says Greenwald. And then here’s this pale, stringbeany kid with glasses, “looking all of twentysomething.” This, of course, was the 29-year-old NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Once they retired to his hotel room, he turned over an estimated tens of thousands of documents, the vast majority of them classified “Top Secret,” comprising arguably the biggest leak of classified material in U.S. history. After days of intensive work with Greenwald and Poitras, Snowden fled-just minutes ahead of the press-only to reappear in Moscow.

This left Greenwald with the most exhilarating and daunting task of his career: to figure out how to curate and publish the vast Snowden archive in his Brazilian self-exile. Once he began, his work triggered an avalanche of articles that branded him a hero, a traitor, a collaborator. In one fell swoop, he had piqued and scandalized and provoked the world into a deeper debate about not just surveillance and privacy but power and truth. The odyssey eventually led him from The Guardian, where the first articles appeared revealing the NSA’s secret surveillance of Verizon records, to his central position in Pierre Omidyar’s $250 million muckraking gambit known as First Look Media and The Intercept, where Greenwald is figurehead, main attraction, and blogitor-in-chief.

The Guardian has a excerpt from the book describing the first hectic days following the first meeting with Mr.Snowden in Hong Kong:

On Thursday 6 June 2013, our fifth day in Hong Kong, I went to Edward Snowden’s hotel room and he immediately said he had news that was “a bit alarming”. An internet-connected security device at the home he shared with his longtime girlfriend in Hawaii had detected that two people from the NSA – a human-resources person and an NSA “police officer” – had come to their house searching for him.

Snowden was almost certain this meant that the NSA had identified him as the likely source of the leaks, but I was sceptical. “If they thought you did this, they’d send hordes of FBI agents with a search warrant and probably Swat teams, not a single NSA officer and a human-resources person.” I figured this was just an automatic and routine inquiry, triggered when an NSA employee goes absent for a few weeks without explanation. But Snowden suggested that perhaps they were being purposely low-key to avoid drawing media attention or setting off an effort to suppress evidence.

Whatever the news meant, it underscored the need for Laura Poitras – the film-maker who was collaborating with me on the story – and I to quickly prepare our article and video unveiling Snowden as the source of the disclosures. We were determined that the world would first hear about Snowden, his actions and his motives, from Snowden himself, not through a demonisation campaign spread by the US government while he was in hiding or in custody and unable to speak for himself.

Our plan was to publish two more articles on the NSA files in the Guardian and then release a long piece on Snowden himself, accompanied by a videotaped interview, and a printed Q&A with him.

Poitras had spent the previous 48 hours editing the footage from my first interview with Snowden, but she said it was too detailed, lengthy, and fragmented to use. She wanted to film a new interview right away; one that was more concise and focused, and wrote a list of 20 or so specific questions for me to ask him. I added several of my own as Poitras set up her camera and directed us where to sit.

Along with the release of the book, Glenn has also released more documents which Kevin Gosztola summarizes at FDL’s Dissenter.

Glenn joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to discuss the book in the first part of a two day interview.

Transcript can be read here

Transcript can be read here

Benghazi: The GOP’s Political Football

“Distasteful opportunism”, is how political analyst and author Richard Wolff describes the latest investigation by the Republican led House of Representatives into the attack in the US consulate in Behgazi, Libya that led to the death of Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three others. All of the questions that this new special committee will ask have been answered in numerous other hearings over the last two years. During an interview on MSNBC’s “Last Word,” former Bush national security adviser Richard Clarke noted that the independent report (pdf) on Benghazi by former Ambassador Thomas Pickering and the former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Michael McMullen should have been the final word. It wasn’t because, as Mr. Clarke states, “people want to make partisan hay out of a national security issue in which Americans died.”

This is also costing American tax payers a bundle of money at a time when Republicans are screaming for budget cuts to undermine social safety nets. Make no mistake, this is politics at its most disgusting no matter who is doing it.  

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

Andrew Brown: The only truth about torture is in our own morally bankrupt stance

Amnesty International report highlights how torture seldom works as a way to gain information, rather it leads to twisted testimony

Amnesty International has polled the British people and discovered that nearly a third of us think torture can sometimes be justified. Across the world, the figure is generally higher – except in a couple of countries, most notably Spain and Argentina, which have within living memory passed from being military dictatorships which used torture routinely to democracies which don’t.

Yet there are also large majorities in almost all countries polled for bans on torture. It seems that it is one of those crimes which we believe should only be committed when we are certain to profit from it; that we believe works but should only be resorted to when all other means have failed. So it is worth examining why and when it works.

Torture seeks to make people do what they would rather not – we all know that, from the playground onwards. If what someone wants to do is to keep a secret, torture may make them spill it.

Robert Reich: How the Right Wing Is Killing Women

According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.

To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.

A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.

You might say international comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt because of difficulties of getting accurate measurements across nations. Maybe China hides the true extent of its maternal deaths. But Canada and Britain?

Wendall Potter: [Health Insurers Using Playbook Again to Protect Profits at Expense of Consumers Health Insurers Using Playbook Again to Protect Profits at Expense of Consumers]

Health care reform advocates in California, led by Consumer Watchdog, are supporting a November ballot initiative to give the state insurance department authority to reject proposed rate increases that are deemed to be excessive.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, about 35 states have given their insurance departments the legal power of prior approval — or disapproval — of proposed health insurance rate changes.

California is not among them, and advocates believe the state’s residents are paying more for their health insurance coverage than necessary. While the Golden State did establish a rate review process in 2011 requiring public disclosure of proposed rate hikes — which the California Public Interest Research Group says has saved residents almost $350 million — lawmakers would not go further and grant the insurance commissioner authority to say “no” to rate hikes. As a result, says CalPIRG, about a million Californians paid higher premiums due to rate hikes state state officials deemed “unreasonable” but couldn’t do anything about.

Dan Gillmor: In the future, the robots may control you, and Silicon Valley will control them

Welcome to the horror show that is the ‘internet of things’ – hyper-intelligent software, vulnerable hardware … and a whole new level of privacy invasion

The “internet of things” is turning into Silicon Valley’s latest mania. At first glance, it is a trend with great appeal, enough to become something more than a trend and a true revolution: a world in which everything we touch and use has an embedded intelligence and memory of its own, and all of it is connected by way of digital networks.

What’s missing from this rosy scenario? Plenty – because security and privacy seem to be mostly an afterthought as we embed and use technology in our physical devices. Which means the internet of things could easily turn into a horror show.

Philip Pilkington: How rising asset prices increase inequality

The release of French economist Thomas Piketty’s best-seller “Capital in the Twenty-First Century” has posed once more the question of what causes inequality. One key culprit from Piketty’s findings is the changing valuation of financial assets.

Imagine that you hold a financial asset, a company share worth $1,000. And suppose I believe the market is going to rise and I offer you $2,000 for that share. The market price for this share will now have increased from $1,000 to $2,000. This transaction will also increase the net worth of those who hold these shares by the amount that the share has increased in value – in our example, $1,000 – multiplied by the number of these shares in existence.

If we imagine that there are 5,000 of these shares in existence, this will increase the net worth of the holders of these shares by $5 million. Since rich people hold a disproportionate number of shares, my bid will have increased inequality in the economy because the net worth of the rich will rise in relation to the net worth of the poor.

Tom Engelhardt: The Year of Edward Snowden

Make no mistake: it’s been the year of Edward Snowden.  Not since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War has a trove of documents revealing the inner workings and thinking of the U.S. government so changed the conversation.  In Ellsberg’s case, that conversation was transformed only in the United States.  Snowden has changed it worldwide.  From six-year-olds to Angela Merkel, who hasn’t been thinking about the staggering ambitions of the National Security Agency, about its urge to create the first global security state in history and so step beyond even the most fervid dreams of the totalitarian regimes of the last century?  And who hasn’t been struck by how close the agency has actually come to sweeping up the communications of the whole planet?  Technologically speaking, what Snowden revealed to the world — thanks to journalist Glenn Greenwald and filmmaker Laura Poitras — was a remarkable accomplishment, as well as a nightmare directly out of some dystopian novel. [..]

And of course, there was also a determined journalist, who proved capable of keeping his focus on what mattered while under fierce attack, who never took his eyes off the prize.  I’m talking, of course, about Glenn Greenwald.  Without him (and the Guardian, Laura Poitras, and Barton Gellman of the Washington Post), “they” would be observing us, 24/7, but we would not be observing them.  This small group has shaken the world.

It’s Melting Faster Than Predicted

The news about the climate is keeps getting worse. This week a report from NASA and scientists at the University of California revealed that some of the glaciers in West Antarctic “have passed the point of no return,” threatening greater sea level rise impacts than previously thought

The findings, which focus on the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica, were published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

The glaciers’ grounding lines – the points at least one thousand feet below ice where they first lose contact with land – are moving further inland, and as that happens, the glaciers’ flow speeds accelerate. And the faster they flow, the more they thin- that means their days are likely numbered.

Only one of the six glaciers they studied, the Haynes Glacier, had an obstruction upstream to slow down these changes, but even its retreat is moving as quickly as the others, the scientists found.

Given these changes, glaciologist and lead author Eric Rignot, of UC Irvine and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, stated, “The collapse of this sector of West Antarctica appears to be unstoppable.”

The effects of this meltdown is already being seen in cities like Miami, Florida

The sunny-day flooding was happening again. During high tide one recent afternoon, Eliseo Toussaint looked out the window of his Alton Road laundromat and watched bottle-green saltwater seep from the gutters, fill the street and block the entrance to his front door. [..]

Down the block at an electronics store it is even worse. Jankel Aleman, a salesman, keeps plastic bags and rubber bands handy to wrap around his feet when he trudges from his car to the store through ever-rising waters.

A new scientific report on global warming released this week, the National Climate Assessment, named Miami as one of the cities most vulnerable to severe damage as a result of rising sea levels. Alton Road, a commercial thoroughfare in the heart of stylish South Beach, is getting early ripples of sea level rise caused by global warming – even as Florida’s politicians, including two possible contenders for the presidency in 2016, are starkly at odds over what to do about it and whether the problem is even real.

The fact that the earth is warming even faster than expected and the cause is an increased level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and humans are adding to it with our reliance on fossil fuels, there are still those in seats of power who are denying that this is happening. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who is one of those possible presidential candidates, is one of them. Sen. Rubio, when was asked about climate change in an interview for ABC’s “This Week,” stated that he didn’t think there was anything that could be done to slow climate change that wouldn’t destroy the economy.

Rubio – who expressed deep skepticism about whether man-made activity has played a role in the Earth’s changing climate – told Karl he doesn’t believe there is action that could be taken right now that would have an impact on what’s occurring with our climate.

“I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it … and I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy,” he said.

Rubio said he didn’t know of an era when the climate was stable.

“The fact is that these events that we’re talking about are impacting us, because we built very expensive structures in Florida and other parts of the country near areas that are prone to hurricanes. We’ve had hurricanes in Florida forever. and the question is, what do we do about the fact that we have built expensive structures, real estate and population centers, near those vulnerable areas?” he asked. “I have no problem with taking mitigation activity.”

When asked by John Amato of Crooks and Liars what he thought of Sen. Rubio’s remarks, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) said, “It’s insane, but that’s what passes for political discourse these days. It’s a complete rejection of facts, evidence and logic – the ‘Endarkenment‘.”

On HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” host John Oliver pointed out just how out of touch with reality these denialists are.

What Sen Rubio and others with this attitude, don’t want to admit is that by 2060 if most of the eastern shore of Florida is under water there won’t be an economy there at all.

The Breakfast Club: 5-13-2014

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Everyone’s welcome here, no special handshake required. Just check your meta at the door.

Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

On This Day In History May 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.

Click on images to enlarge

May 13 is the 133rd day of the year (134th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 232 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1846, the United States declared war on Mexico in a dispute over Texas. The U.S. Congress overwhelmingly votes in favor of President James K. Polk‘s request.

The Mexican-American War (or Mexican War) was an armed conflict between the United States and Mexico from 1846 to 1848 in the wake of the 1845 U.S. annexation of Texas, which Mexico considered part of its territory despite the 1836 Texas Revolution.

Origins of the war

The Mexican government had long warned the United States that annexation would mean war. Because the Mexican congress had refused to recognize Texan independence, Mexico saw Texas as a rebellious territory that would be retaken. Britain and France, which recognized the independence of Texas, repeatedly tried to dissuade Mexico from declaring war. When Texas joined the U.S. as a state in 1845, the Mexican government broke diplomatic relations with the U.S.

The Texan claim to the Rio Grande boundary had been omitted from the annexation resolution to help secure passage after the annexation treaty failed in the Senate. President Polk claimed the Rio Grande boundary, and this provoked a dispute with Mexico. In June 1845, Polk sent General Zachary Taylor to Texas, and by October 3,500 Americans were on the Nueces River, prepared to defend Texas from a Mexican invasion. Polk wanted to protect the border and also coveted the continent clear to the Pacific Ocean. Polk had instructed the Pacific naval squadron to seize the California ports if Mexico declared war while staying on good terms with the inhabitants. At the same time he wrote to Thomas Larkin, the American consul in Monterey, disclaiming American ambitions but offering to support independence from Mexico or voluntary accession to the U.S., and warning that a British or French takeover would be opposed.

To end another war-scare (Fifty-Four Forty or Fight) with Britain over Oregon Country, Polk signed the Oregon Treaty dividing the territory, angering northern Democrats who felt he was prioritizing Southern expansion over Northern expansion.

In the winter of 1845-46, the federally commissioned explorer John C. Fremont and a group of armed men appeared in California. After telling the Mexican governor and Larkin he was merely buying supplies on the way to Oregon, he instead entered the populated area of California and visited Santa Cruz and the Salinas Valley, explaining he had been looking for a seaside home for his mother. The Mexican authorities became alarmed and ordered him to leave. Fremont responded by building a fort on Gavilan Peak and raising the American flag. Larkin sent word that his actions were counterproductive. Fremont left California in March but returned to California and assisted the Bear Flag Revolt in Sonoma, where many American immigrants stated that they were playing “the Texas game” and declared California’s independence from Mexico.

On November 10, 1845, Polk sent John Slidell, a secret representative, to Mexico City with an offer of $25 million ($632,500,000 today) for the Rio Grande border in Texas and Mexico’s provinces of Alta California and Santa Fe de Nuevo Mexico. U.S. expansionists wanted California to thwart British ambitions in the area and to gain a port on the Pacific Ocean. Polk authorized Slidell to forgive the $3 million ($76 million today) owed to U.S. citizens for damages caused by the Mexican War of Independence and pay another $25 to $30 million ($633 million to $759 million today) in exchange for the two territories.

Mexico was not inclined nor able to negotiate. In 1846 alone, the presidency changed hands four times, the war ministry six times, and the finance ministry sixteen times. However, Mexican public opinion and all political factions agreed that selling the territories to the United States would tarnish the national honor. Mexicans who opposed direct conflict with the United States, including President José Joaquin de Herrera, were viewed as traitors. Military opponents of de Herrera, supported by populist newspapers, considered Slidell’s presence in Mexico City an insult. When de Herrera considered receiving Slidell to settle the problem of Texas annexation peacefully, he was accused of treason and deposed. After a more nationalistic government under General Mariano Paredes y Arrillaga came to power, it publicly reaffirmed Mexico’s claim to Texas; Slidell, convinced that Mexico should be “chastised”, returned to the U.S.

TDS/TCR (Greenwald)


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