03/13/2015 archive

The Mountain Finally Comes to Mohammed

It’s been nearly 5 years since two women in Sweden lodged charges of rape against Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The Swedish prosecutors have been seeking his extradition from England to question him regarding the allegations but Mr. Assange fearing that this was a ploy to have him extradited to the United States where he would be arrested and prosecuted for leaking secret documents that exposed US covering up war crimes. Lawyers for Mr. Assange said that the Swedish prosecutors could question him in England and they believe that would end the matter. However the prosecutors, claiming it would be inadequate to question him in England, went to British court seeking extradition. Mr. Assange then sought asylum at the Ecuadoran embassy. Now, after over four years and time running out on the statute of limitations on charging him, the Swedish prosecutor has agreed to question Mr. Assange in England. Frustrated and tired, Mr. Assange’s response was “They could have done this long ago. What took them so long?” The answer is probably the salivating US justice and state departments who would love nothing more that to get him to a country that would extradite him to the US over the espionage charges.

Julian Assange to be questioned by Swedish prosecutors in London

By David Crouch, The Guardian

Lawyers for Wikileaks founder welcome prosecutor’s decision to interview Assange at Ecuadorian embassy in bid to break deadlock

Marianne Ny, who heads the investigation into accusations of rape, coercion and sexual molestation against Assange, made a formal request to interrogate him in the Ecuadorian embassy – the first sign of movement in a case that has been frozen since August 2012.

The prosecutor will also ask the UK government and Ecuador for permission to carry out the interviews at the embassy in London, where Assange has been staying for more than two-and-a-half years to avoid extradition to Sweden, from where he fears being handed over to the US to face espionage charges.

Ny said she had changed her mind because the statute of limitations on several of the crimes of which Assange is suspected runs out in August 2015. [..]

The British Foreign Office said in November it would welcome a request by the Swedish prosecutor to question Assange inside the Ecuadorian embassy. Ecuador’s government has also repeatedly stated that it approves of such a step. Assange has been wanted in Sweden since the accusations were made against him in August 2010.

His lawyers, who are currently appealing against his arrest warrant in Sweden’s highest court, have complained bitterly about the prosecutor’s refusal to travel to London to speak to him – an essential step under Swedish jurisprudence to establish whether Assange can be formally charged. [..]

The prosecutor’s apparent U-turn on Friday came just days after a supreme court judge in Stockholm wrote to the prosecutor general, directing him to give his opinion concerning Assange’s appeal, “especially regarding the investigatory procedure and the principle of proportionality”.

Further pressure on the prosecutor came in November when the appeal court, while rejecting Assange’s arguments, nonetheless directed sharp criticism at Ny for failing in her obligation to move the case forward.

It remains to be seen whether the charges of rape, that were brought by two women who were in a consensual relationship with Mr. Assange at the time, will result in an arrest warrant. There are a lot of questions about the women’s backgrounds and alleged connections with the CIA that would love to get their hands on Mr. Assange.  

Asterix? The Gall!

UK Parliament Committee, Calling For Reform, Shows Its “Evidence” to Justify Mass Surveillance

By Glenn Greenwald, The Intercept


The Intelligence and Security Committee of the UK Parliament (ISC) issued a lengthy report today on the surveillance practices of GCHQ. Invoking the now-standard Orwellian tactic of claiming that “bulk collection” is not “mass surveillance,” the Committee predictably cleared GCHQ of illegality, but it did announce that it has “serious concerns” over the agency’s lack of transparency and oversight. Citing the Snowden disclosures, it called for a significant overhaul of the legal framework governing electronic surveillance.

The report follows a British court decision last month finding that GCHQ did act illegally in spying without the transparency required by human rights laws. In light of the numerous official findings in the U.S., U.K. and the EU of illegality and the need for reform when it comes to electronic surveillance, it is hard to imagine how anyone could say that we’d have been better off if Edward Snowden had not blown the whistle on all of this and instead allowed us to remain ignorant of what these governments were doing in the dark. Given all these findings even from these governments, is there anyone who still thinks that way?

One of the most contested questions in the surveillance debate is whether mass collection stops terror attacks, as these agencies claim. A U.S. federal court, Obama’s own commission, an independent privacy board of the U.S. Government, and members of the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee have all categorically said no convincing evidence exists to show this is true.

But the 8 members of the UK Parliamentary Committee – one of whom is The Most Hon. The Marquess of Lothian – have concluded otherwise, claiming “that GCHQ’s bulk interception capability is used primarily to find patterns in, or characteristics of, online communications which indicate involvement in threats to national security.” The alleged basis for this conclusion is that “GCHQ have provided case studies to the Committee demonstrating the effectiveness of their bulk interception capabilities.” Here is the entirety of the discussion in this report of those successful “case studies”:

* * * * *

You’re just going to have to take their word for it: these mass surveillance programs were crucial in stopping these extremely dangerous terrorist plots. “Unfortunately,” you can’t know about any of this, but if those official asterisks don’t convince you, what will?

GCHQ literally collects billions of emails and other electronic communications events every day. But don’t worry: they don’t read every single one of them. They only read “***%” of what they collect, or “fewer than *** of *** per cent of the items that transit the internet in one day.” So what’s the big concern?

The great irony of this is that the Committee here is marching under the banner of greater transparency, even as their principal arguments rest on asterisks of concealment. But this is how the largest western democracies generally function: they make highly dubious (often disproven) claims to justify radical powers, and then demand that you accept them on faith, because allowing you to see the evidence for yourself would endanger your life. That tactic, as much as anything, is a very compelling explanation for why Edward Snowden and other whistleblowers decide to do what they do.

(Ok, maybe you are somewhat unfamiliar with popular French comic strips.  I admit it’s an acquired taste.)

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

Glenn Greenwald: Maybe Obama’s Sanctions on Venezuela are Not Really About His “Deep Concern” Over Suppression of Political Rights

The White House on Monday announced the imposition of new sanctions on various Venezuelan officials, pronouncing itself “deeply concerned by the Venezuelan government’s efforts to escalate intimidation of its political opponents”: deeply concerned. President Obama also, reportedly with a straight face, officially declared that Venezuela poses “an extraordinary threat to the national security” of the U.S. – a declaration necessary to legally justify the sanctions.

Today, one of the Obama administration’s closest allies on the planet, Saudi Arabia, sentenced one of that country’s few independent human rights activists, Mohammed al-Bajad, to 10 years in prison on “terrorism” charges. That is completely consistent with that regime’s systematic and extreme repression, which includes gruesome state beheadings at a record-setting rate, floggings and long prison terms for anti-regime bloggers, executions of those with minority religious views, and exploitation of terror laws to imprison even the mildest regime critics.

Absolutely nobody expects the “deeply concerned” President Obama to impose sanctions on the Saudis – nor on any of the other loyal U.S. allies from Egypt to the UAE whose repression is far worse than Venezuela’s. Perhaps those who actually believe U.S. proclamations about imposing sanctions on Venezuela in objection to suppression of political opposition might spend some time thinking about what accounts for that disparity.

Paul Krugman: Strength Is Weakness

We’ve been warned over and over that the Federal Reserve, in its effort to improve the economy, is “debasing” the dollar. The archaic word itself tells you a lot about where the people issuing such warnings are coming from. It’s an allusion to the ancient practice of replacing pure gold or silver coins with “debased” coins in which the precious-metal content was adulterated with cheaper stuff. Message to the gold bugs and Ayn Rand disciples who dominate the Republican Party: That’s not how modern money works. Still, the Fed’s critics keep insisting that easy-money policies will lead to a plunging dollar.

Reality, however, keeps declining to oblige. Far from heading downstairs to debasement, the dollar has soared through the roof. (Sorry.) Over the past year, it has risen 20 percent, on average, against other major currencies; it’s up 27 percent against the euro. Hooray for the strong dollar! [..]

Or not. Actually, the strong dollar is bad for America. In an immediate sense, it will weaken our long-delayed economic recovery by widening the trade deficit. In a deeper sense, the message from the dollar’s surge is that we’re less insulated than many thought from problems overseas. In particular, you should think of the strong dollar/weak euro combination as the way Europe exports its troubles to the rest of the world, America very much included.

New York Times Editorial Board: The Problem Is Bigger Than Ferguson

The Justice Department’s exposé of the bigoted law enforcement practices at play in Ferguson, Mo., has rightly led to an exodus of officials from the town government. In the week since the report was made public, the police chief, the city manager and the municipal court judge have all stepped down, and the city’s court has been placed under state supervision. [..]

The housecleaning among the political leadership in Ferguson is a necessary step. But the illegal and discriminatory measures uncovered by the Justice Department are not limited to that troubled municipality. Indeed, the evidence strongly suggests that Ferguson is not even the worst civil rights offender in St. Louis County and that adjacent towns are also systematically targeting poor and minority citizens for street and traffic stops to rake in fines, criminalizing entire communities in the process.

Dave Johnson: Will Media Continue Its Blackout Of Progressive Budget?

Next week, progressives in Congress will release their annual budget proposal. They do this every year, and every year the national news media largely ignores it. Will the elite media report on it this year? Make some noise, and maybe they will.

There are alternative ways to run a government budget, but they are just excluded from the national debate. The elite position creates a “conventional wisdom” that there are no alternatives. But America’s top income tax rate used to be more than 90 percent, to combat inequality and the threat inequality poses to democracy – and the rich still got richer. At the same time, the corporation tax rate was 50 percent, and corporations paid 32 percent of all taxes. That has dropped to just 8.9 percent now, and Congress and the president are now proposing to reduce the corporate tax rate dramatically – again. As a result of these cuts, inequality has soared, budgets have been thrown out of balance, schools have declined, we no longer even maintain – never mind modernize – our crucial infrastructure.

We can have a budget that serves “We, the People.” It’s about priorities. Frankly, in the richest country in history, it is possible to make sure that everyone has a job, good medical care, a good retirement, a good free education, and keep our infrastructure modernized and up-to-date – and all while making sure that the budget is balanced. It really is just a matter of priorities – choices about how we distribute the country’s resources. Unfortunately for 99 percent of us, “we” choose intense inequality and a vast military machine.

David Swanson: Which Party Do You View Iran Through?

Most people in the United States have little contact with Iran or its culture. Iran comes up as a scary threat in the speeches of demagogues. A range of debate is offered between obliterate it and pressure it into compliance with our civilized norms, or at least the civilized norms of some other country that doesn’t obliterate or pressure people.

So how do Americans view Iran? Many view it, like all governmental matters, through the lens of either the Democratic or the Republican Party. The Democratic President has come to be seen as on the side of preventing a war with Iran. The Republican Congress has come to be seen as pushing for that war. In this framework, something remarkable happens. Democrats begin recognizing all of the arguments against war that ought to be applied to every war.

The Breakfast Club (Come Ye To The Fair!)

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. 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

Uncle Sam cartoon debuts; Brigadoon opens on Broadway; Deadly rampage at Scottish elementary school.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

Grifters Gonna Grift

And media organizations like Politico make it so damn easy because it’s their grift too.


On This Day In History March 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.

March 13 is the 72nd day of the year (73rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 293 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1881. Czar Alexander II, the ruler of Russia since 1855, is killed in the streets of St. Petersburg by a bomb thrown by a member of the revolutionary “People’s Will” group. The People’s Will, organized in 1879, employed terrorism and assassination in their attempt to overthrow Russia’s czarist autocracy. They murdered officials and made several attempts on the czar’s life before finally assassinating him on March 13, 1881.

Alexander II succeeded to the throne upon the death of his father in 1855. The first year of his reign was devoted to the prosecution of the Crimean War and, after the fall of Sevastopol, to negotiations for peace, led by his trusted counsellor Prince Gorchakov. The country had been exhausted and humiliated by the war. Bribe-taking, theft and corruption were everywhere. Encouraged by public opinion he began a period of radical reforms, including an attempt to not to depend on a landed aristocracy controlling the poor, a move to developing Russia’s natural resources and to thoroughly reform all branches of the administration.

Emancipation of the serfs

In spite of his obstinacy in playing the Russian autocrat, Alexander II acted willfully for several years, somewhat like a constitutional sovereign of the continental type. Soon after the conclusion of peace, important changes were made in legislation concerning industry and commerce, and the new freedom thus afforded produced a large number of limited liability companies. Plans were formed for building a great network of railways-partly for the purpose of developing the natural resources of the country, and partly for the purpose of increasing its power for defence and attack.

The existence of serfdom was tackled boldly, taking advantage of a petition presented by the Polish landed proprietors of the Lithuanian provinces and, hoping that their relations with the serfs might be regulated in a more satisfactory way (meaning in a way more satisfactory for the proprietors), he authorised the formation of committees “for ameliorating the condition of the peasants”, and laid down the principles on which the amelioration was to be effected.

This step was followed by one still more significant. Without consulting his ordinary advisers, Alexander ordered the Minister of the Interior to send a circular to the provincial governors of European Russia, containing a copy of the instructions forwarded to the governor-general of Lithuania, praising the supposed generous, patriotic intentions of the Lithuanian landed proprietors, and suggesting that perhaps the landed proprietors of other provinces might express a similar desire. The hint was taken: in all provinces where serfdom existed, emancipation committees were formed.

But the emancipation was not merely a humanitarian question capable of being solved instantaneously by imperial ukase. It contained very complicated problems, deeply affecting the economic, social and political future of the nation.

Alexander had to choose between the different measures recommended to him. Should the serfs become agricultural labourers dependent economically and administratively on the landlords, or should they be transformed into a class of independent communal proprietors?

The emperor gave his support to the latter project, and the Russian peasantry became one of the last groups of peasants in Europe to shake off serfdom.

The architects of the emancipation manifesto were Alexander’s brother Konstantin, Yakov Rostovtsev, and Nikolay Milyutin.

On 3 March 1861, 6 years after his accession, the emancipation law was signed and published.

The Daily/Nightly Show (Drain Bamage)

Training Games

This is a variation on a pretty common Leadership Training game (been at many, moderated more than a few) that I also saw a takeoff of today on Girl Meets World.  In the game I played you broke into problem solving groups where you were treated according to your label.

These were not randomly assigned and I knew my moderator and later worked with him as State Membership Recruiting Co-ordinator.  It was a job I thought I’d loathe because I hate selling and I only took it to keep an eye on this guy and keep him 100 because at the time my Rebel Alliance thought the primary problem with the Club was fake growth and cooking the Memberships books.  I had no reason to trust him nor he me.

As it turns out we made quite a team.  Flushed the paper, organized 10 new locals, added 300+ members.  I worked hard, but no harder than he did.  Capped 5 consecutive years of growth.  I thought I’d hate selling but I didn’t understand what it was that we sold-

Opportunity, success, and leadership to people who might otherwise go through their whole lives thinking that they were hopeless and inferior.  As I look back it’s perhaps the best work I’ve ever done.

You may ask what this moderator labeled me on my team.

Expert.  Listen to him.

Tonightly we’ll be talking about Boxing and Brain Damage.  I’d have more thoughts about this if I hadn’t been pounding a deeper dent in my desk today.  Was that a bell?  I’m sure I heard a bell.


Why is it NEVER about racism?

Next Week’s Guests-

Rob Corddry will be on to pitch Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (some people say it’s funny, I’ll probably never know) and most definitely NOT to remind Jon that he’s getting old and quitting.


Just a gentle reminder. We’re coming up on Silly Season (me for doing it) with March Madness looming and Melbourne Sunday.  Expect more incoherence and distraction.

Common’s web exclusive extended interview and the real news below.