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Photo by: joanneleon. July, 2013.

Photo by: joanneleon. July, 2013.


Joe Walsh- Rocky Mountain Way

News & Opinion

This is really sad.  Looking for a silver lining in all of this though -- it didn't happen in the peak season.  Typically, some of the shops and attractions on the boardwalk at the shore resorts in NJ stay open for a few weeks after Labor Day but usually only on the weekends, so a lot of these places would have been closed up for the season.  Some of the boardwalk in this area had just been rebuilt, but the buildings were the originals and most of these structures are built in long connected stretches (at the end of each block there are breaks, on ramps to boardwalk and beach, etc) and are very old. So at least they weren't brand new, though almost certainly a lot of them had been repaired and things replaced because of damage from Sandy.  These areas in central NJ were hit really hard, like Long Beach island to the south and the Asbury Park area to the north.  It's been a long, tough haul and to have to start all over again is just devastating, and of course, there are the money issues.  But another upside is that they have the maximum possible time to get ready for next season.  They did get rebuilt in record time after Sandy but still the revenues at the Jersey shore this year were lower than expected and a lot of businesses were hurting to begin with and then did not take in as much as expected.  50 businesses were destroyed.

This is the resort area where you'll see Chris Christie, whenever you see him doing interviews at the boardwalk because the state beach house at the wildlife refuge area, Island Beach Park, on the same barrier island to the south of Seaside Heights and Seaside Park. So he is going to drive through this town every time he goes to that beach house and he is going to have to interact with the locals often.  He's going to make sure it gets rebuilt. And there may be an opportunity to rebuild in a way that's smarter in terms of climate change, ability to weather storms, etc.  Plus, he's got an election in November, so there's that.

I heard a phone interview on CNN with a local in the area who had spoken to local police.  So take this with a grain of salt.  People are wondering how this got out of control. First, there were brisk winds of about 35mph, blowing to the north, so it just spread from one connected building to the next and I guess the wind helped it jump across the street to next group of buildings.  But this person said the police told him that there is a firefighter convention in Wildwood (about 80 miles south) going on and that more than half of the firefighters in the area were there, and they had some of their newest, best equipment with them. So the closest fire departments would have been on skeleton crew and it would have taken more than an hour for the firefighters at the convention in Wildwood to drive up the Garden State Parkway to get there.  I haven't heard this mentioned on all the news reports, only on this one phone interview, so as I said, take it with a grain of salt. And to be fair, given that there were so many firefighters in one place in Wildwood, once they did mobilize, there were probably a huge number who did respond.

Seaside fire delivers 'unthinkable' blow to community barely healed from Sandy

As a town tragedy, it is only semi-epic. The boardwalk has burned before as boardwalks are known to do, most notably here in 1955.

Still, it was the "two" in one-two punch started by Sandy.

"I need a drink," said Michael Carbone, owner of the Beachcomber bar. "I’m gonna find a bar because mine is burned out."

The Beachcomber, which was wrecked during Sandy, is 400 yards north of where the fire started in a boardwalk concession near the destroyed Funtown Pier.

The name itself just adds to the tragic absurdity of a fire eating part of the same boardwalk ripped up by the surging ocean of Sandy.

If you read any news story on the NSA today, read this one.  Note that they separated the groups into two parts for some of it too, and the ACLU and EPIC were sent to a different location.

Obama's NSA surveillance review panel did not discuss changes, attendees say
Pair say meeting was dominated by tech firms' interests and session did not broach the topic of changes to data collection

The panel, which met for the first time this week in the Truman Room of the White House conference center, was touted by Obama in August as a way for the government to consider readjusting its surveillance practices after hearing outsiders' concerns.

But two attendees of the Monday meeting said the discussion was dominated by the interests of major technology firms, and the session did not address making any substantive changes to the controversial mass collection of Americans' phone data and foreigners' internet communications, which can include conversations with Americans.
That was how Obama portrayed the creation of the panel on 9 August, when he announced its creation in a press conference: "They'll consider how we can maintain the trust of the people, how we can make sure that there absolutely is no abuse in terms of how these surveillance technologies are used."
During its first round of meetings, the panel, known as the Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology, separated two groups of outside advisers. One group included civil libertarian organizations such as the ACLU and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. It met in a conference room on K and 20th Streets. Morrell and Clarke did not attend.

Kerry calls Syria chemical weapons talks 'constructive'

The two men began a second day of talks in Geneva by meeting UN-Arab League envoy Lakhdar Brahimi to discuss the wider issue of peace in Syria.

Talks between Mr Kerry and Mr Lavrov on the weapons issue began on Thursday and could continue over the weekend.
President Assad said data on chemical weapons would start to be passed to the UN after 30 days.

But Mr Kerry has rejected this, saying such standard procedures are not relevant when chemical weapons have already been used.

This is a huge story.
Who's a "Moderate" Rebel in Syria? Check the Handwritten Receipts
The government has little oversight over whether US-funded supplies are falling prey to corruption—or into the hands of extremists.

In recent weeks, the Obama administration and hawks favoring a strike on Syria have called for the continued support of supposedly moderate rebels fighting Bashar al-Assad's regime. The United States has been sending millions of dollars in nonlethal aid to the rebels since February, and in June President Obama authorized secretly supplying weapons to opposition fighters. But with hundreds of Syrian rebel groups battling the regime—ranging from the relatively moderate Free Syrian Army (FSA) to the Al Qaeda-affiliated al-Nusra Front—can the administration ensure that US aid is not winding up in the wrong hands? A system designed to monitor the disbursement of nonlethal supplies to the rebels is supposed to make sure assistance goes only to vetted fighters—but, according to government oversight experts, it relies on too much good faith.

The Syrian Support Group, a US-based nonprofit that is the only organization the Obama administration has authorized to hand out nonlethal US-funded supplies to the rebels, insists it keeps track of who's receiving this assistance based on handwritten receipts provided by rebel commanders in the field. According to Dan Layman, a spokesman for the group, this level of oversight is sufficient to guarantee US assistance is going to the right rebels and is being used appropriately. "What we're getting from [FSA commanders] in receipts directly reflects what's been given out and to whom, I'm very confident," he says. "The government regularly asks us for updates and new receipts, often faster than we can produce them." Layman doesn't know if or how the US government verifies these receipts.

[...] Peritz notes that the supplies being handed out by the Syrian Support Group can be sold for cash or traded for weapons and ammunition.

Charles Tiefer, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and a former commissioner for the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, says that in war zones, "it's in a commander's interest to give exaggerated numbers. We often see situations where a commander starts out with, say, three brigades, and then drops to one brigade, and continues to faithfully give receipts for the other two missing units. We call them 'ghost employees.'" He adds, "I think Syria is the Wild, Wild West as far as knowing who is doing what."

In Spencer Ackerman's story in the Guardian he notes that the big tech companies are talking most about how this is going to affect their bottom line. They want our government to make public more information about what information foreign companies turn over to their own governments.  So they really don't want to talk about shutting down the Big Brother, they just want the world to know that they're not the only ones who are helping their government spy on customers.  It's amazing to me that they don't see that they helped create this problem themselves by not fighting harder against the destruction of civil liberties and the Bill of Rights.  The kind of damage that has been done is probably not reparable, IMHO, and it has just created a huge opportunity for other tech companies in a sector that they had pretty well sown up. They were so far ahead of everybody else in the field.  They had it all, basically.
NSA Apparently Undermining Standards, Security, Confidence

To understand fully why the NSA’s actions are harmful, consider this sentence from the article:

Many users assume — or have been assured by Internet companies — that their data is safe from prying eyes, including those of the government, and the N.S.A. wants to keep it that way.
In security, the worst case—the thing you most want to avoid—is thinking you are secure when you’re not. And that’s exactly what the NSA seems to be trying to perpetuate.
Of course, we “have been assured by Internet companies” that we are safe. It’s always wise to be wary of vendors’ security assurances—there’s a lot of snake oil out there—but this news calls for a different variety of skepticism that doubts the assurances of even the most earnest and competent companies. This is going to put U.S. companies at a competitive disadvantage, because people will believe that U.S. companies lack the ability to protect their customers—and people will suspect that U.S. companies may feel compelled to lie to their customers about security.
At the same time, there have been persistent rumors, and some evidence, over the years that the NSA has been working to undermine certain security standards. Now it seems that these rumors are confirmed, and the NSA has been undermining standards, which makes everyone—including every American—less secure.
Nine bases will remain in Afghanistan.
With pullout looming, NATO forces now disassembling larger bases in Afghanistan

Three quarters of the 100 bases that remain are giants like the sprawling Bagram Airfield north of Kabul, or are considered medium-sized, like the adjacent German and American bases at Kunduz, which held a few thousand troops at one point.

Eventually all that would be left in coalition hands are the nine bases that the U.S.-led forces reportedly are seeking to maintain in a bilateral security agreement with the Afghan government. Negotiations over that deal reportedly are stalled.

Several medium-sized bases are being prepared for closing now, and then the coalition will target a larger group in October and November, said Col. Jose Aguilar, chief of basing for the coalition’s operational command.

"We’re getting to that point where the bases we are dealing with are they’re bigger, which means we have to plan them out with a lot more resources and plan them out a lot further ahead in time," Aguilar said.

Pentagon Poised for $13 Billion in Mideast Arms Sales

The Pentagon has notified Congress of US $13 billion in prospective Middle East arms deals over the past 10 weeks, with Saudi Arabia and Iraq leading the administration’s summertime manifest with $10 billion in pre-approved sales of defense equipment and services.

Since mid-June, the Pentagon’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) informed Congress of $6.4 billion in potential defense trade with Saudi Arabia, including a $4 billion National Guard modernization program, new Mark V patrol boats and follow-on support for the Royal Saudi Air Force.

In Iraq, DSCS notified Congress of $4.7 billion in possible sales, including a $2.4 billion integrated air defense system and $900 million worth of Stryker vehicles configured for nonconventional warfare scenarios.

During the same period, it informed Congress of a potential $1.1 billion early warning radar deal to Qatar; a $588 million package of C-130J airlifters to Libya and $200 million to support Kuwait’s fleet of F/A-18 fighters.

On Syria, Putin's Anti-War Case Outshines Obama's Call for Bombs

Though new diplomatic efforts are underway at the United Nations over Syria's civil war, with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set to begin two-day talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva on Thursday—a comparison of Putin's op-ed with Obama's televised address on Tuesday reveals an ironic twist for some observers who note that the former KGB official and noted authoritarian is running circles around the Nobel Peace Prize laureate when it comes to promoting a settlement in the region that doesn't include cruise missile strikes or a bombing campaign. ...

In contrast, many observers took Obama's Tuesday night speech as a continued assault against international law when he indicated that he alone could still order a war against Syria.

Declaring he still "possessed the authority to order military strikes," Obama also said that U.S. forces will remain on standby "if diplomacy fails."

But, regarding his claim to have "authority" to attack Syria without international or Congressional approval, The Progressive's Matthew Rothschild called the president's assertion "ludicrous," writing:

No you don’t, Mr. President. Only Congress has the authority to declare war, and ordering military strikes would be a clear act of war, thus violating the Constitution. It would also violate the War Powers Act, which says that the President can’t engage in hostilities without a declaration of war or specific Congressional authorization unless there is “a national emergency created by attack upon the United States, its territories or possessions, or its armed forces.” And Syria has done no such thing.
U.N. receives document from Syria on joining chemical arms pact

The United Nations said it received a document from Syria on Thursday on joining the global anti-chemical weapons treaty, something the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad promised as part of a deal to avoid U.S. air strikes.

"In the past few hours we have received a document from the government of Syria that is being translated, which is to be an accession document concerning the Chemical Weapons Convention," U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters.

Syria is one of only seven countries not to have joined the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, which commits members to completely destroying their stockpiles.

Israel Rules Out Ratifying Chemical Arms Ban

Syria has promised to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the international community is working on a deal to destroy the nation’s considerable arsenal, meaning one of the world’s last holdouts on the ban is all but on board.

... Israel has today insisted that Syria’s move will not change their opposition to the treaty.

Technically, Israel signed the CWC in 1993 like most of the rest of the world, but it never ratified the treaty, citing Syria’s arsenal. Without Syria as an excuse, Israeli Foreign Ministry officials now say they won’t ratify the deal until everyone else in the world signs a peace treaty with them.

Chemical Weapons Deal Only A Hiccup For Saudi Goals In Syria

[T]he Saudis were unnerved over two and a half years ago when Mubarak fell from power, when the uprising in Bahrain started. They see all of this as a potential threat to a particular kind of geopolitical order that has more or less dominated in the Middle East since the middle of the 20th century. But it's been a club of autocrats that have tightly held onto power and that have used their positions of authority to build up layers of privilege and access to both the West and to various networks in the region.

The Saudis have been committed to seeing that preserved, and they've helped restore a similar kind of order in Egypt. Of course they sent their military resources into Bahrain to make sure the revolution wasn't successful there.

While they would like to see Assad fall in Syria, they don't necessarily want to see a democratic outcome there. They worry about the empowerment of their peoples and the possibility that, you know, sort of the Democratic winds of change might spread more effectively across the region.

Now, in addition to their anxieties about democracy in the Middle East, of course, they also have a more basic kind of geopolitical balance of power concern. They've long been engaged, or at least over the last two generations or so, have been engaged in a regional struggle with Iran for supremacy in the Gulf and for supremacy in parts of the Arab world, because Assad and Syria are a client and have been a client of Iran for quite some time. The Saudis see Syria as a particularly important prize that, if they can win, they might be able to set the table, if you will, or to stack the regional balance of balance of power more in their favor and at the expense of Tehran.

Frontline: Dramatic report as Syria Army battles jihadists in ancient Christian village

Rania Masri and Chris Hedges On Obama's Syria Address

Syrian govt and opposition ‘both guilty of war crimes’ – UN report

Both the Syrian rebels and government forces are guilty of multiple war crimes, including mass killings and torture, a UN report alleges. Investigators say perpetrators have committed crimes against humanity without any fear of accountability.

"The perpetrators of these violations and crimes, on all sides, act in defiance of international law. They do not fear accountability. Referral to justice is imperative," said the report by the UN commission of inquiry, which is led by Paulo Pinheiro of Brazil. The inquiry is based on 258 interviews and other evidence gathered in the month leading up to July 15.

The document says that both parties have carried out indiscriminate killings of civilians and need to be held responsible for their crimes. However, the inspectors state: “There is no military solution to this conflict.”

“Those who supply arms create but an illusion of victory. A political solution founded upon tenets of the Geneva communiqué is the only path to peace,” said the report, calling on international backers to stop sending weapons into Syria as “they will be used to commit serious violations of international law.”

Juan Cole.

President Obama’s Doubtful Grounds for Military Action against Syria

Obama’s case for a US attack on Syria rests on three premises. The first is that a US strike would be relatively risk-free, since the Syrian regime has limited abilities to mount reprisals, and probably wouldn’t dare.

The second premise is that a US strike would deter Syrian military chem units from deploying their deadly weapons again.

The third premise is that the United States is special, or “exceptional,” and has a duty to intervene where it can to uphold humanitarian values.

All three of these premises seem to me deeply flawed. Something like a set of missile strikes on Syria in the midst of a civil war, and at a time of turbulence in the region, can have unexpected consequences. ... If the local military units have access to small warheads filled with sarin, then likely they will deploy it when they feel desperate or panicked. ...

The third idea, that the US is ‘exceptional’ and bears a special responsibility to intervene in Syria after the chemical weapons use seems to me not only incorrect but extremely dangerous. The US is a country like any other, and certainly no more virtuous than most others. It blithely polished off 200,000 Japanese women, children and noncombatant men at Nagasaki and Hiroshima. Some were made into shadows on the wall as their bodies carbonized. Thousands suffered from lingering cancer afterwards. No US official was ever so much as reprimanded for this war crime, which was carried out at a time when Japanese had been dehumanized and demonized with the worst sort of racism. The atomic bombs did not hasten the end of the war; the Russian advance into Manchuria did that. One could go on with US infractions against international law and shameless killing of innocents, from the Philippines to Nicaragua to Vietnam.

We're still pissed at NYPD and their "we own the world" attituded, setting up their racist spying operations wherever they want, ignoring state and local law enforcement.  NJ Senate tells them to GTFO, basically and play by the rules.  You can just imagine the things that could go wrong if the NJ state police, Rutgers campus police, other local law enforcement were involved in some kind of incident where these NYPD infiltrators were also involved but none of the local law enforcement knew about it, etc. NYPD acts like the Domestic CIA and you can see why.  They do have a CIA operation, CIA-on-the-Hudson as they are casually called.  They're out of control. The NYPD as a whole is a huge organization of 35,000.  That's bigger than the law enforcement organizations of all the states they border combined, plus Philadelphia. No, really. If you add up the numbers from the 5th largest city, Philadelphia, plus the state police from Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut, they're still not as big as the NYPD.  I'm pretty sure you could add the numbers from several more states or another city to those numbers too and NYPD would still be bigger.  Yes, it's a huge city.  But not that huge. And they need to stay within their own jurisdiction. We have enough problems with the whole police state thing without the NYPD just conducting operations in New Jersey and Philadelphia (and wherever else they feel like it) without bothering to tell the authorities there.
NYPD Spying On Muslims Leads To N.J. Senate Committee Approving New Regulations

A New Jersey State Senate committee passed a bill Monday that would require law enforcement agencies from elsewhere to give notice when they plan to conduct counterterrorism surveillance in the state — a measure prompted by revelations about NYPD spying on Muslims.

The impetus for the proposal came from a series of articles by The Associated Press that revealed the NYPD operated secretly in New Jersey neighborhoods where Muslims lived and worked. They spied on Muslim organizations, infiltrated Muslim student groups and videotaped mosque-goers. ,,,

The NYPD has said its operations were lawful and necessary to keep the city safe. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has said the NYPD can gather intelligence anywhere in the country it wants and is not required to tell local authorities. ...

Lawmakers want to require out-of-state law enforcement agencies to give the appropriate county prosecutor at least 24 hours’ notice that they intend to conduct surveillance. The prosecutor would then notify the state police, who would notify the state Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness.

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