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Longwood Gardens. May, 2013.  Photo by: joanneleon

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Longwood Gardens. May, 2013.  Photo by: joanneleon




Phoebe Snow Teach Me Tonight



News & Opinion


Published on Moyers' site, originally from TomDispatch.com.  It's packed with good writing and this excerpt does it no justice.

Homeland Insecurity

What do words mean in a post-9/11 world? Apart from the now clichéd Orwellian twists that turn brutal torture into mere enhanced interrogation, the devil is in the details. Robert MacLean is a former air marshal fired for an act of whistleblowing. He has continued to fight over seven long years for what once would have passed as simple justice: getting his job back. His is an all-too-twenty-first-century story of the extraordinary lengths to which the U.S. government is willing to go to thwart whistleblowers.

First, the government retroactively classified a previously unclassified text message to justify firing MacLean. Then it invoked arcane civil service procedures, including an “interlocutory appeal” to thwart him and, in the process, enjoyed the approval of various courts and bureaucratic boards apparently willing to stamp as “legal” anything the government could make up in its own interest.

And yet here’s the miracle at the heart of this tale: MacLean refused to quit, when ordinary mortals would have thrown in the towel. Now, with a recent semi-victory, he may not only have given himself a shot at getting his old job back, but also create a precedent for future federal whistleblowers. In the post-9/11 world, people like Robert MacLean show us how deep the Washington rabbit hole really goes.

This is a really, really strange article.  The author is Paul Abrams.  Who is Paul Abrams and who is the "us" he is talking about and whose rules are these?  Not that I don't agree that Cheney should have to testify. I've thought that for more than a decade now.  But the reasoning about why he should now have to testify?  This reeks of something like 'if you don't keep your mouth shut, we're not going to keep our mouths shut' kind of climate. But who the heck is this author to make proclamations like this anyway?  He's got a bunch of degrees from Yale and he's an oncologist. "He has been contributor to several journals on issues facing the biotechnology industry and entrepreneurs, an invited speaker at trade and financial conferences, and has testified before Congress on these matters.  He serves as a Board member of the Washington Progress Alliance, the Women's Bioethics Project, the Apollo Alliance (Washington State) and the Economic Opportunity Institute."
Game Change: Cheney Opens Himself to Subpoena Regarding 9/11, Iraq, Torture and Valerie Plame

When a former member of the Executive calls for Congress to subpoena another former member of the Executive, it is a game-changer. No longer can he rely on "Executive Privilege" to block his own testimony.
[...]
Indeed, Congress never really investigated 9/11. It appointed a commission more than a year later to determine what changes needed to be made in U.S. security, not to assign accountability. One might ask Cheney who is accountable for 9/11, who lost their jobs over it. That is what Senator John McCain (R-AZ) keeps asking about Benghazi, yet I have never heard the official answers to those questions regarding 9/11/2001.
[...]
So, here's the deal. Hillary Clinton has already testified on Benghazi once. When Dick Cheney appears before Congress to answer questions about his actions that caused the death and maiming of hundreds of thousands of people, some from incompetence, some as a result of outright lying- -- then he can come talk to us about Hillary Clinton testifying again.

This is a must read by Farea Al Muslimi, who recently testified about the drones in Yemen.  He is amazed by the reaction to his testimony and is just now realizing that his story and the truth about living under drones is brand new to most Americans who still think our government is carefully targeting terrorists who are plotting an imminent attack on the U.S., and that very few civilians get killed, etc. and who have no idea what it's like to live under drones.  You only have to read all the stories about the mysterious  small planes flying over Quincy, Massachusetts that the FAA will not answer citizens' questions to get a feel for how Americans would like drones flying over their homes all the time, and that plane is not even armed with hellfire missiles and blowing up cars, homes and people.  The residents of Quincy are not worried about that with this harmless plane, but they are highly annoyed and curious about it. Imagine if they understood what it was really like in Yemen and Afghanistan and the tribal areas of Pakistan.
Drones policy in Yemen flies blind without making the US safe

In virtually all my conversations with the media and policymakers, I had to challenge common American assumptions and misconceptions about the drones programme and Yemen. My perspective was a sharp contrast to what they were used to hearing from foreign commentators, who mainly stay in five-star hotels in Sanaa, and trumpet the "success" of the programme.

What became abundantly clear from the discussions was the extent to which Yemen is misunderstood, even among those who claim to be knowledgeable about the country. A variety of assumptions seem to have been forged from misleading statistics and inaccurate or downright false information on the drones programme. I was shocked not merely at the ill-conceived notion of "seeing" Yemen from three kilometres above the ground from a camera on a drone, but more crucially in the apparent disinformation campaign circulating about the programme.

The most remarkable claim I encountered was that "targeted killing" was a necessity due to the inability to capture suspects. Such claims are patently false, certainly in my village, Wessab, but also almost anywhere else in Abyan province.
An even more misleading argument often thrown at me was that, "your government approves 'target killings'" - and that therefore there is no problem with the drones programme.

The main choice I faced with such a statement was whether to laugh or scream. I had to explain that the government in Yemen is not "my" government, but rather the world's government, including the US's, in the sense that it is a transitional government put in place by the international community.

The media is changing because of technology, but that's not the reason why corporate media is dying, IMHO. It's dying because it is fundamentally corrupt and full of propaganda.
CBS Anchor Pelley: 'We Are Getting Big Stories Wrong, Over and Over Again'

While Pelley is to be commended for his candor, he missed the boat. The primary factor contributing to the continual decline in viewership of the major media has less to do with getting an occasional story wrong – and more to do with an overall lack of trust. (A Sept. 2012 Gallup poll found that Americans’ distrust in the media was at an all time high, with 60% saying they have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately and fairly.)

Pelley says “Our principles and out standards haven’t changed.” Of course they have. How else can it be explained that the mainstream media has all but blacked out the Gosnell murder trial? How else can it be explained that for eight months, Fox News was the only major network questioning the Administration’s version of Benghazi, while many in the media chastised and ridiculed Fox for doing so? It was only this week that the media showed up in force and began to behave as real journalists behave – but only after it became abundantly clear that the Benghazi scandal was not only not going to go away; it was growing larger and larger by the hour.

Pelley said that democracies are only as good as their journalism. If we’ve learned anything, it’s that journalism is only as good as the people living in those democracies demand that it be.

Can we ever get a reasonably concise and clean bill for anything?
Biometric Database of All Adult Americans Hidden in Immigration Reform

The immigration reform measure the Senate began debating yesterday would create a national biometric database of virtually every adult in the U.S., in what privacy groups fear could be the first step to a ubiquitous national identification system.

Buried in the more than 800 pages of the bipartisan legislation (.pdf)  is language mandating the creation of the innocuously-named “photo tool,” a massive federal database administered by the Department of Homeland Security and containing names, ages, Social Security numbers and photographs of everyone in the country with a driver’s license or other state-issued photo ID.

Employers would be obliged to look up every new hire in the database to verify that they match their photo.

This piece of the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is aimed at curbing employment of undocumented immigrants. But privacy advocates fear the inevitable mission creep, ending with the proof of self being required at polling places, to rent a house, buy a gun, open a bank account, acquire credit, board a plane or even attend a sporting event or log on the internet. Think of it as a government version of Foursquare, with Big Brother cataloging every check-in.

I've been hearing all of this fuss from the so called leading voices on the left about the recent Benghazi hearing.  The goal of all of the fuss seems to be: "don't pay attention to this nonsense it's just more political maneuvering by crazy Republicans and they are just targeting Obama and Hillary".  I already know a lot about the Benghazi story, having followed it pretty closely since the beginning and because I was strongly against the Libyan war and because I am particularly interested in our new war strategies for global war and our covert wars and also whistleblowers, and this Benghazi story has layers and layers of all of that.  I had not intended to invest the time to listen to the whole hearing but over the weekend, I did listen to it, mostly while doing other things.  I'd just like to say that it's true, the Republicans are politicizing it, obviously, but there's more to it than that, and the story has legs because... the story really does have legs.  There are, as I said, layers of important things in this story and they have not even gotten into some of the most important issues yet that are related to why the attack occurred in the first place and who kicked the Libyan militias hornets nest and why some of them, who were allies of Ambassador Stevens, allowed it to happen and did not defend. And that's just the beginning of it.  The focus of the politicians right now is on the cover up, but the most important aspects of the story are in the root causes of the attack.  

The Benghazi story touches on and shines a light on so many critical issues, and that's why it has legs.  I don't see the comparison to Watergate. That's silly.  But I do understand the comparison to Iran Contra, for a few reasons that would take too long to explain right now, and you probably already see a lot of them yourself.  And after watching that hearing and seeing the reactions of the A-list bloggers and journalists on the left, I think it's embarrassing the way it's being handled now.  Some are beginning to do a reset on this, and are repositioning themselves now, though still poo pooing the whole thing, largely.  Democratic congressfolk like Carolyn Malone should do a reset too, since she spent her entire time in the hearing grandstanding and asking phoney questions in order to use her allotted time to launch a defense of Hillary.  Elijah Cummings, one of our best congressmen IMHO, did a little better and seemed conflicted, and while he protested that he is dedicated to defending whistleblowers it seemed clear to me that his job was to defend Democrats too more than to ask questions to get to the truth of the matter.  I found it to be embarrassing to watch, just as I find the almost desperate mocking and jeering from the supposed leading voices on the left to be embarrassing.  There is no apparent desire to get to the truth of the matter at all, just a lot of "hooray for my side". I expect that from the right-wing. I don't expect it from the progressive movement.

While considering this story, I recommend cutting through the political jousting and the focus on the cover up and instead, focus on the testimony about the actual events themselves and the causes of the attack.  What is really needed is an independent commission, though I don't know if those kinds of things exist anymore and somebody with an agenda would be deciding who was on the commission, so much for that.

Here is one example of a left leaning journalist beginning to reposition himself.  Here is David Corn and it's an improvement but he's still missing or avoiding some of the biggest issues.  He still makes it too much about the cover up, the talking points.  Still, it's an improvement over most of his colleagues.  The new propaganda position seems to be something like 'yes, well the White House didn't tell the whole story and this is all about two agencies (State and CIA) trying to cover their asses and dueling about it and blah blah they shouldn't have done that, typical Washington, but all in all it's still a tempest in a teapot".  That's a little different from the previous position which was "crazy vindictive Republicans just want to impeach, nothing to see here, don't bother paying attention to the men behind the curtain".

Benghazi Isn't Watergate. But the White House Didn't Tell the Full Story

The latest revelations about the Benghazi talking points—as opposed to what actually happened at the US diplomatic facility at Benghazi, where four Americans died—do not back up Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham's hyperbolic and absurd claim that the Benghazi controversy is Obama's Watergate. But neither are they nothing.
[...]
This is not much of cover-up. There is no evidence the White House is hiding the truth about what occurred in Benghazi. My colleague Kevin Drum dismisses this recent Benghazi news ("on a scale of 1 to 10, this is about a 1.5"). But the White House has indeed been caught not telling the full story. Despite Carney's statement, there was politically minded handling of the talking points. Yet in today's hyperpartisan environment, such a matter cannot be evaluated with a sense of proportion. Obama antagonists decry it as a deed most foul, and White House defenders denounce the the critics. The talking points dispute is not a scandal; it's a mess—a small mess—and not as significant as the actions (and non-actions) that led to Benghazi. Yet no mess is too tiny for scandalmongers in need of material.

If you want to know more about the meat of the story.  I don't completely agree with the way she frames it with regard to the Benghazi ebook by Brandon Webb and Jack Murphy but she does a really good job of laying out the essentials of this story.  One really good thing that she does is to tie Gen. Petraeus and his whole mess to this, because it is related.  And she brings John Brennan into it by way of the Benghazi ebook too, which is good, because that is a big part of it too.  Detainees and potentially torture/interrogation might also have something to do with it too.   This story doesn't just have legs, it has a lot of legs.  There is, potentially, a virtual herd of elephants in the middle of this room and that's why, IMHO, there is such a big effort make it risky to even talk about it if you are on the left.  You'll need to read this whole post to get the picture, and even if the details are not familiar to you, I recommend sticking with it through the weeds ("weeds" meant in a complimentary way).
What Are the Secrets that Will Remain Hidden in Benghazi?

I lay all this out because, even as State and CIA continue to bicker over who is responsible for the bureaucratic failures that led to Ambassador Stevens’ death in Benghazi, there seems to be larger underlying issues that remain unspoken.

That’s a claim made explicitly in the ebook by two former Special Operations fighters that purports to present the “Definitive Report” on Benghazi (and described here). The book has its limitations: it presents a very CIA-friendly view (in part because it’s written to champion the two CIA contractors who were killed in the attack), and as such obscures many of the actions and inactions from militia and contractors leading up to the attack.

It suggests the attack on Benghazi was largely blowback from JSOC operations run out of the White House.
[...]
[...] the reported presence of prisoners at the CIA mission affected militias’ willingness to help defend the State and CIA compounds. Fox suggests that CIA’s hand-picked militia, February 17 brigade, used the attack to free captives, rather than defend Americans.
[...]
CIA’s response to Broadwell’s blabbing was to issue the same kind of non-denial denial they issued after Jeremy Scahill revealed CIA surrogates were operating a prison for the Agency in Somalia.

The CIA has not had detention authority since January 2009, when Executive Order 13491 was issued. Any suggestion that the Agency is still in the detention business is uninformed and baseless.
If you've read emptywheel's article above, you can see that my excerpt doesn't do it justice.  My only disagreement with her is the implication that the authors of the Benghazi ebook were slanted toward defense of the CIA.  Or rather, I should say that if it was slanted in their favor, it was because of sources not because of any special affection for them, IMHO.  Their stated motive was to get to the bottom of the story because their friend, a former special ops guy like themselves, was killed.  It was published around the same time that Brennan's confirmation process started, and even if the authors claim that the timing was coincidental, that will always seem suspicious because there is no love lost for Brennan there.  Anyway, the important thing is that this is not just about some talking points. There is a lot more to this story and it's all tangled up with our new way of waging war, which seems a lot like one of our old ways of waging war during the Iran Contra era, and ironically, the hearings are not getting to some core issues, despite all the fuss, which is what happened with the Iran Contra hearings too. And I haven't even touched on some of the other legs. Marcy touches on the issue of former detainees who have been "flipped" and work as double or triple agents.  Another possible "leg" is the training and arming of so called rebels for the war in Syria.

You can see the whole recent hearing on C-SPAN, and WaPo excerpts some of the hearing into two long videos.  In the first video: Mark Thompson opening statement starts at the 56 minute mark.  Gregory Hicks' statement starts at the 1:01 minute mark.  Issa's questions to Hicks start at 1:09, where he asks Hicks to tell the first hand story of what happened in Libya on 9/11/12.

House Oversight committee hearing on Benghazi attacks

Washington Post attempts to boil this down to two minutes, which is of course not possible. It looks like they gathered some of the most contentious exchanges.
Benghazi hearing in 2 minutes


Action





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Never Letting Go - Phoebe Snow

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