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This is pretty shocking, that Israel's ambassador admits they would rather risk extremist groups taking power than to have Assad remain in power. So we've got Israel and Saudi Arabia deliberately backing Al Qaeda groups.  We've invaded countries for things like that and we blow up AQ leaders and members in other countries.  But in this case, somehow this is okay.  And there is also the situation where Israel refuses to ratify the chemical weapons convention.  At the end of this discussion, Parry reiterates that all along, the impediment to negotiations and peace talks has been the rebels who refuse, who demand pre-conditions like more weapons, Assad stepping down, waiting until they gain the upper hand, etc.  The Assad regime, as bad as they are, are willing and have been willing for a long time to go to Geneva. The rebels are not, and even if they were, who would represent them? They are diverse, many are foreigners, and they are fighting with the native rebel groups.  As long as the US, Saudis, Gulf states, Turkey and perhaps Israel keeps arming and backing these extremists, there will be no peace. Do these proxy counties want peace? It sure doesn't look like it.  So where should the pressure be applied?  On the proxy countries, IMHO.

Oh, and for all those who have been making conspiracy theory accusations?  Add these statements by the Israeli ambassador to the Wes Clark statements and all the other evidence -- you don't have a leg to stand on.

Israel's Ambassador Admits Toppling Assad a Longtime Goal

Robert Parry: Israeli Ambassador's omission points to Israel backing Syrian jihadist, making Saudi Arabia and Israel strange bedfellows in the Syrian conflict

How f'ing ridiculous is this?  Defense contracting is completely off the rails.  Now why do sequester cuts always seem to hurt the troops and active duty and federal employees?  Why aren't the cuts going straight to the billions that flow to contractors?
Gunman's employer sought Navy consulting work

WASHINGTON (AP) - A little more than 24 hours after an IT contractor gunned down a dozen workers at the Washington Navy Yard, the CEO of the company he worked for sent an email to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus saying he has the experience to help the military improve its security.
[...]
In the email, which was obtained by The Associated Press, Hoshko said he was "dramatically" affected by the incident and "my heart and prayers go out to the families and friends of those innocent victims." But the email quickly moves on, as Hoshko lays out his work experience and offers his services, saying he is "confident that I can provide valuable input and solutions to the process that will provide better security for the military, contractors and civilians."

Navy officials confirmed that email was sent to Mabus, but they declined to characterize its contents.

Have you read this letter?  I don't even know what to say. Alexander is repeating the same lies he's been making since day one.  emptywheel wonders about the timing of this letter which seems to be an attempt to rally support from the families of NSA/CSS.
NSA Caught Illegally Spying on Americans and Keith Alexander’s Answer Is a Group Hug

Kevin Gosztola had a superb post yesterday on a letter NSA Deputy Director John Inglis and DIRNSA Keith Alexander sent to family members of NSA employees to make them feel better about the dragnet. It’s a two page letter attempting to convince the family members of our SIGINT spies that their mission is noble and their actions within the scope of the law.

I’m particularly interested in the timing of it. As Kevin notes, the letter cites a typically obsequious post from Ben Wittes on how the Administration should have responded to WaPo’s disclosure of an internal review (just as one example, Ben claims to have read the report closely but somehow misses that 9 to 20% of violations consist of analysts breaking rules they know).


Belgacom Attack: Britain's GCHQ Hacked Belgian Telecoms Firm

Documents from the archive of whistleblower Edward Snowden indicate that Britain's GCHQ intelligence service was behind a cyber attack against Belgacom, a partly state-owned Belgian telecoms company. A "top secret" Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) presentation seen by SPIEGEL indicate that the goal of project, conducted under the codename "Operation Socialist," was "to enable better exploitation of Belgacom" and to improve understanding of the provider's infrastructure.

The presentation is undated, but another document indicates that access has been possible since 2010. The document shows that the Belgacom subsidiary Bics, a joint venture between Swisscom and South Africa's MTN, was on the radar of the British spies.

Belgacom, whose major customers include institutions like the European Commission, the European Council and the European Parliament, ordered an internal investigation following the recent revelations about spying by the United States' National Security Agency (NSA) and determined it had been the subject of an attack. The company then referred the incident to Belgian prosecutors. Last week, Belgian Prime Minister Elio di Rupo spoke of a "violation of the public firm's integrity."

Justice Dept. watchdog never probed judges' NSA concerns

In response to a FOIA request from USA TODAY, the Justice Department said its ethics office never looked into complaints from two federal judges that they had been misled about NSA surveillance.

The Justice Department's internal ethics watchdog says it never investigated repeated complaints by federal judges that the government had misled them about the NSA's secret surveillance of Americans' phone calls and Internet communications.

Two judges on the court that oversees the spying programs separately rebuked federal officials in top-secret court orders for misrepresenting how the NSA was harvesting and analyzing communication records. In a sharply worded 2009 order, one of the judges, Reggie Walton, went so far as to suggest that he could hold national security officials in contempt or refer their conduct to outside investigators.

The Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility routinely probes judges' allegations that the department's lawyers may have violated ethics rules that prohibit attorneys from misleading courts. Still, OPR said in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by USA TODAY that it had no record of ever having investigated — or even being made aware of — the scathing and, at the time, classified, critiques from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court between 2009 and 2011.

Group Says Domestic Spying Goes Too Far

Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the federal government created a multibillion-dollar information-sharing program meant to put local, state and federal officials together to analyze intelligence at sites called fusion centers.

Instead, according to a Senate report the Government Accountability Office and now the ACLU, the program has duplicated the work of other agencies, has appeared rudderless and hasn't directly been responsible for any terror-related prosecutions. According to the GAO, the government maintains 77 fusion centers throughout the country and their operations are funded by federal and local sources.

The ACLU obtained about 1,700 suspicious activity reports filed with the Sacramento office through a California Public Record Acts request. Another 100 were submitted as part of a court case in Los Angeles filed by the ACLU on behalf of photographers who say they are being harassed by Southern California law officials.

The documents do not appear to show valuable counterterrorism intelligence.

"We want the administration to stop targeting racial and religious minorities," ACLU lawyer Linda Lye said.

WTF is going on here?
How Facebook May Secretly Foil Your Activist Plans

 In recent years, Facebook has become an unexpectedly crucial tool for activism. The social media platform allows activists to efficiently connect and communicate with one another in order to arrange meetings, protests and boycotts. Unfortunately, activists who once found that Facebook helped make organizing easier are now encountering obstacles – and the resistance is coming from Facebook itself.

With little explanation, Facebook has been disabling pages related to activism. In some cases, administrators who set up the pages are no longer able to add updates. In others, the pages are being deleted entirely. Understandably, activists are frustrated when a network of 10,000 like-minded individuals is suddenly erased, leaving no way to reconnect with the group. ...

For example, this year’s March Against Monsanto events have been popular with people across the globe, but not Facebook. An upcoming invitation for a rally in St. Louis, Missouri where Monsanto is headquartered was wiped clean from the social networking site. ... When the “Boycott Target Until They Cease Funding Anti-Gay Politics” group became extremely popular, employees at Facebook didn’t erase the page, but effectively shut it down anyway by putting severe restrictions on it. Not only was the page’s creator unable to edit or update the page, followers of the page could no longer start new discussions or post links and videos. A similar page that called for a boycott on BP was also rendered similarly useless after receiving the same posting constraints. ...

Perhaps we’ve been naïve to believe that using a platform created by a corporate entity would help activists to break free from corporate oppression. [DUH!!!]

Christian village Maaloula falls into jihadists' hands as Al-Qaeda grows in Syria

Syrian government says war has reached stalemate

The Syrian conflict has reached a stalemate and President Bashar al-Assad's government will call for a ceasefire at a long-delayed conference in Geneva on the state's future, the country's deputy prime minister has said in an interview with the Guardian.

Qadri Jamil said that neither side was strong enough to win the conflict, which has lasted two years and caused the death of more than 100,000 people. Jamil, who is in charge of country's finances, also said that the Syrian economy had suffered catastrophic losses. ...

If accepted by the armed opposition, a ceasefire would have to be kept "under international observation", which could be provided by monitors or UN peace-keepers – as long as they came from neutral or friendly countries, he said. ...

Asked what proposals his government would make at Geneva, he said: "An end to external intervention, a ceasefire and the launching of a peaceful political process in a way that the Syrian people can enjoy self-determination without outside intervention and in a democratic way."

Rebels v. Radicals: Infighting erupts as US intervention in Syria halts

The final hurdle for the Judiciary Committee was defining who is a journalist in the digital era.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) insisted on limiting the legal protection to "real reporters" and not, she said, a 17-year-old with his own website.

"I can't support it if everyone who has a blog has a special privilege … or if Edward Snowden were to sit down and write this stuff, he would have a privilege. I'm not going to go there," she said.

Feinstein introduced an amendment that defines a "covered journalist" as someone who gathers and reports news for "an entity or service that disseminates news and information." The definition includes freelancers, part-timers and student journalists, and it permits a judge to go further and extend the protections to any "legitimate news-gathering activities."

But the bill also makes it clear that the legal protection is not absolute. Federal officials still may "compel disclosure" from a journalist who has information that could stop or prevent crimes such as murder, kidnapping or child abduction or prevent "acts of terrorism" or significant harm to national security.

...

This is a law to protect secrets. This is a law that redefines the exercise of a constitutional right as a privilege "protected" by the government. This is a law that allows the government to define what "the press" is under the First Amendment, and, my god, if that's not the primary consitutional heresy in that regard, I don't know what is. And I don't care that a judge can "extend" that privilege. That's not a judge's job, either. ...

Which part of "Congress shall make no law..." do you not understand?

Feinstein: First Amendment is a Special Privilege, Not a Right!

Senator Diane Feinstein’s Husband Selling Post Offices to Cronies on the Cheap

EastBayExpress, via publishing a section from a new e-book by Peter Byrne called Going Postal (um, sadly the same as used by Mark Ames for his important book on workplace shootings), tells us how the husband of powerful Senator Diane Feinstein, Richard Blum, is feeding at the Postal Service privatization trough. Blum is the chairman of C.B. Richard Ellis (CBRE) which has the exclusive contract to handle sales for the Post Office’s $85 billion of property. Bryne summarizes the finding of his investigation:

    • CBRE appears to have repeatedly violated its contractual duty to sell postal properties at or above fair market values.

    • CBRE has sold valuable postal properties to developers at prices that appear to have been steeply discounted from fair market values, resulting in the loss of tens of millions of dollars in public revenue.

    • In a series of apparently non-arm’s-length transactions, CBRE negotiated the sale of postal properties all around the country to its own clients and business partners, including to one of its corporate owners, Goldman Sachs Group.

    • CBRE has been paid commissions as high as 6 percent by the Postal Service for representing both the seller and the buyer in many of the negotiations, thereby raising serious questions as to whether CBRE was doing its best to obtain the highest price possible for the Postal Service.

    • Senator Feinstein has lobbied the Postmaster General on behalf of a redevelopment project in which her husband’s company was involved.

... CBRE is tasked with selling properties at market value or higher. But who determines what market value is? CBRE. So the fox is officially running the henhouse.

Bryne filed a FOIA to try to obtain the appraisals. The Post Office refused, with the intelligence-insulting excuse that the appraisals were commercially sensitive and were comparable to national security secrets! Um, they are property specific and at a certain point in time, so their value after a sale is consummated is nil…except for audit purposes. But it appears that anything that might embarrass DiFi, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, by definition is a national security issue.

This makes me sick to my stomach.
Private prisons demand states maintain maximum capacity or pay fees

Falling crime rates are bad for business at privately run prisons, and a new report shows the companies that own them require them to be filled near capacity to maintain their profit margin.

A new report from the advocacy group In the Public Interest shows private prison companies mandate high inmate occupancy rates through their contracts with states – in some cases, up to 100 percent.

The report, “Criminal: How Lockup Quotas and ‘Low-Crime Taxes’ Guarantee Profits for Private Prison Corporations,” finds three Arizona prisons must be filled to capacity under terms of its contract with Management and Training Corporation.

Is privatization driven by corruption? The Chicago parking meter debacle

Given the immensely favorable deals that governments — federal, state and local — give to their private “partners,” how can crony corruption and kickbacks not be a part of it.

For example, consider just this via Rich Perlstein, on the sale of revenues from Chicago parking meters to a consortium led by Morgan Stanley and including the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Abu Dhabi.

… Everyone, I suppose, dislikes parking meters. Chicagoans hate them even more. That’s because Mayor Richard M. Daley in 2008 struck a deal with the investment consortium Chicago Parking Meters LLC, or CPM, that included Morgan Stanley, Allianz Capital Partners and, yes, the Sovereign Wealth Fund of Abu Dhabi, to privatize our meters.

The price of parking—and the intensity of enforcement—skyrocketed. The terms were negotiated in secret. City Council members got two days to study the billion-dollar, seventy-five-year contract before signing off on it. An early estimate from the Chicago inspector general was that the city had sold off its property for about half of what it was worth. Then an alderman said it was worth about four times what the city had been paid. Finally, in 2010, Forbes reported that in fact the city had been underpaid by a factor of ten.

The deal, you see, is structured like this. Not only does CPM get the money its meters hoover up from the fine upstanding citizens of Chicago. It gets money even if the meters are not used. Each meter has been assigned a “fair market valuation.”If the City takes what is called a “reserve power adverse action”—that can mean anything from removing a meter because it impedes traffic flow, shutting down a street for a block party or discouraging traffic from coming into the city during rush hour—“CPM has the right to trigger an immediate payment for the entire loss of the meter’s fair market value over the entire life of the seventy-five-year agreement.”

Who would negotiate such a contract, except someone in bed with cronies, or benefiting from kickback?
Progressive Movement Finally Coming Together?



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