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Field of sunflowers. September, 2013. Photo by: joanneleon.



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This forum at Georgetown Law yesterday was covered by C-SPAN but is not embeddable.  You can watch it by using the link to go to C-SPAN.  Also on surveillance topic, there is a summit today where Keith Alexander is scheduled to begin speaking at 8am. The web site is here (http://www.billingtoncybersecurity.com/...) and the event is being covered by C-SPAN.

Surveillance and Foreign Intelligence Gathering

Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Patrick Leahy (D-VT) talked about U.S. surveillance and intelligence gathering. The event also featured former Vice President Walter Mondale and former Senator Gary Hart, who were both part of the Senate Church Committee investigation in the mid-1970s, which revealed government surveillance programs.

Tonight, South Park's 17th season opener.
South Park Season 17 Premiere The Government Won't Respect My Privacy

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff's Full UN Address (2013)

Speaking out against the NSA-led international spy ring, the President of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, addressed the United Nations General Assembly in New York City.

This speech was really a piece of work that should be read and reread and analyzed.  
United Nations General Assembly Speech by President Obama


I'll excerpt a few things, but you really should read and watch this speech.  As I listened to it in real time, at the beginning of the speech I was thinking about how profoundly dishonest the speech was.  I am increasingly convinced that one of Obama's goals is to make speeches that are entirely untrue, and in real time, everyone knows they are untrue, but he's counting on those speeches being clipped and excerpted in the future when people don't know how dishonest the statements are in order to build a legacy that never happened.  I think that all or almost all politicians and world leaders lie, but his speeches have gotten so far from reality that it can't be just about him working public opinion by relying on the fact that many people will take what he says at face value and will believe the fictional state of affairs that he speaks about.  With these big speeches, and the increasing level of dishonesty, I think it's got to be about the future.  And all presidents start worrying about their legacy in their second term.

But as he continued, I was more impressed by the middle and especially the latter part of the speech.  Not that I agreed with what he was saying, but it was one of the most revealing speeches on foreign policy that I've ever heard.  If you take both Obama's and Rouhani's speeches, a picture of the state of the Middle East today, imperialism, and the changes that are happening are laid out in a more frank and honest way than we ever normally hear.  There was less of the terra terra terra and more of the core reasons why things are the way they are.   I'll need to read and listen several more times before my thoughts on all of it will solidify but I think that the UN speeches, while always significant, were particularly important this year.  Obama has another epic opportunity.  He, as president, has had perhaps more epic opportunities than any other president in my lifetime, in my view.  In the past, he has squandered those opportunities. Will he do it this time?  I'm not saying it's going to be easy.  But he really does have an opportunity to change the course right now.  

Transcript of Pres. Obama's UN speech, Sept. 24, 2013.

President Obama delivered the following address at the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Sept. 24, 2013.

[...]
Now, five years after the global economy collapsed, and thanks to coordinated efforts by the countries here today, jobs are being created, global financial systems have stabilized and people are once again being lifted out of poverty.
[...]
Together we’ve also worked to end a decade of war. Five years ago nearly 180,000 Americans were serving in harms way, and the war in Iraq was the dominant issue in our relationship with the rest of the world. Today, all of our troops have left Iraq. Next year, an international coalition will end its war in Afghanistan, having achieved its mission of dismantling the core of Al Qaida that attacked us on 9/11.

The United States -- these new circumstances have also meant shifting away from a perpetual war footing. Beyond bringing our troops home we have limited the use of drones so they target only those who pose a continuing imminent threat to the United States where capture is not feasible and there’s a near certainty of no civilian casualties.
[...]
We’re transferring detainees to other countries and trying terrorists in courts of law while working diligently to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay. And just as we reviewed how we deploy our extraordinary military capabilities in a way that lives up to our ideals, we’ve begun to review the way that we gather intelligence so that we properly balance the legitimate security concerns of our citizens and allies with the privacy concerns that all people share.

As a result of this work and cooperation with allies and partners, the world is more stable than it was five years ago. But even a glance at today’s headlines indicates that dangers remain. In Kenya, we’ve seen terrorists target innocent civilians in a crowded shopping mall. And our hearts go out to the families of those who’ve been affected.

[...]

The ban against the use of chemical weapons, even in war, has been agreed to by 98 percent of humanity. It is strengthened by the searing memories of soldiers suffocated in the trenches, Jews slaughtered in gas chambers, Iranians poisoned in the many tens of thousands.

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.

It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

[...]

However, as I’ve discussed with President Putin for over a year, most recently in St. Petersburg, my preference has always been a diplomatic resolution to this issue. And in the past several weeks, the United States, Russia and our allies have reached an agreement to place Syria’s chemical weapons under international control and then to destroy them.

[...]

I do not believe that military action by those within Syria or by external powers can achieve a lasting peace. Nor do I believe that America or any nation should determine who will lead Syria. That is for the Syrian people to decide.

Nevertheless, a leader who slaughtered his citizens and gassed children to death cannot regain the legitimacy to lead a badly fractured country. The notion that Syria can somehow return to a pre- war status quo is a fantasy. It’s time for Russia and Iran to realize that insisting on Assad’s rule will lead directly to the outcome that they fear: An increasingly violent space for extremists to operate.

[...]

In this way, the situation in Syria mirrors the contradiction that has persisted in the region for decades. The United States is chastised for meddling in the region, accused of having a hand in all manner of conspiracy, at the same time the United States is blamed for failing to do enough to solve the region’s problems and for showing indifference towards suffering Muslim populations.

[...]
The United States of America is prepared to use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region. We will confront external aggression against our allies and partners, as we did in the Gulf War.

We will ensure the free flow of energy from the region to the world. Although America is steadily reducing our own dependence on imported oil, the world still depends on the region’s energy supply and a severe disruption could destabilize the entire global economy.

We will dismantle terrorist networks that threaten our people. Wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when it’s necessary, defend the United States against terrorist attack, we will take direct action.

[...]
Now, to say that these are America’s core interests is not to say that they are our only interests. We deeply believe it is in our interests to see a Middle East and North Africa that is peaceful and prosperous. And we’ll continue to promote democracy and human rights and open markets because we believe these practices achieve peace and prosperity.
[...]
In the near term, America’s diplomatic efforts will focus on two particular issues: Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons and the Arab- Israeli conflict. While these issues are not the cause of all the region’s problems, they have been a major source of instability for far too long, and resolving them can help serve as a foundation for a broader peace.

The United States and Iran have been isolated from one another since the Islamic revolution of 1979. This mistrust has deep roots. Iranians have long complained of a history of U.S. interference in their affairs and of America’s role in overthrowing the Iranian government during the Cold War. On the other hand, Americans see an Iranian government that has declared the United States an enemy and directly or through proxies taken American hostages, killed U.S. troops and civilians, and threatened our ally Israel with destruction.
[...]
We are not seeking regime change, and we respect the right of the Iranian people to access peaceful nuclear energy.

Instead, we insist that the Iranian government meet its responsibilities under the Nuclear Non-proliferation treaty and U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Meanwhile, the supreme leader has issued a fatwah against the development of nuclear weapons. And President Rouhani has just recently reiterated that the Islamic republic will never develop a nuclear weapon.

So these statements made by our respective governments should offer the basis for a meaningful agreement. We should be able to achieve a resolution that respects the rights of the Iranian people while giving the world confidence that the Iranian program is peaceful.

[...]
The roadblocks may prove to be too great, but I firmly believe the diplomatic path must be tested. That while the status quo will only deepen Iran’s isolation, Iran’s genuine commitment to go down a different path will be good for the region and for the world, and will help the Iranian people meet their extraordinary potential in commerce and culture, in science and education.

We are also determined the resolve a conflict that goes back even further than our differences with Iran, and that is the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis.

I’ve made it clear that the United States will never compromise our commitment to Israel’s security, nor our support for its existence as a Jewish state.

[...]
They are understandably cynical that real progress will ever be made, and they’re frustrated by their families enduring the daily indignity of occupation. But they, too, recognize that two states is the only real path to peace. Because just as the Palestinian people must not be displaced, the state of Israel is here to stay.

[...]
And while we recognize that our influence will, at times, be limited, although we will be wary of efforts to impose democracy through military force, and although we will, at times, be accused of hypocrisy and inconsistency, we will be engaged in the region for the long haul, for the hard work of forging freedom and democracy is the task of a generation. And this includes efforts to resolve sectarian tensions that continue to surface in places like Iraq, Bahrain and Syria.
[...]
To summarize, the United States has a hard-earned humility when it comes to our ability to determine events inside other countries. Now, the notion of American empire may be useful propaganda, but it isn’t borne out by America’s current policy or by public opinion. Indeed, as recent debates within the United States over Syria clearly show.

The danger for the world is not an America that is too eager to immerse itself in the affairs of other countries, or to take on every problem in the region as its own. The danger for the world is, that the United States after a decade of war, rightly concerned about issues aback home, aware of the hostility that our engagement in the region has engendered throughout the Muslim world, may disengage creating a vacuum of leadership that no other nation is ready to fill.

I believe such disengagement would be a mistake. I believe America must remain engaged for our own security, but I also believe the world is better for it. Some may disagree. But I believe America is exceptional. In part because we have shown a willingness through the sacrifice of blood and treasure to stand up not only for our own narrow self interest, but for the interest of all.

[...]
I know that some now criticize the action in Libya as an object lesson, that point to the problem that the country now confronts, a democratically elected government struggling to provide security, armed groups in some places, extremists ruling parts of the fractured land. And so these critics argue that any intervention to protect civilians is doomed to fail. Look at Libya.
[...]
But does anyone truly believe that the situation in Libya would be better, if Gadhafi had been allowed to kill, imprison or brutalize his people into submission?

It’s far more likely that without international action, Libya would now be engulfed in civil war and bloodshed.
[...]
But sovereignty cannot be a shield for tyrants to commit one murder. Or an excuse for the international community to turn a blind eye.

While we need to be modest in our belief that we can remedy every evil, while we need to be mindful that the world is full of unintended consequences, should we really accept the notion that the world is powerless in the face of a Rwanda, or Srebrenica?

If that’s the world that people want to live in, they should say so, and reckon with the cold logic of mass graves.
[...]
Ultimately, this is the international community that America seeks: one where nations do not covet the land or resources of other nations, but one in which we carry out the founding purpose of this institution and where we all take responsibility. A world in which the rules established out of the horrors of war can help us resolve conflicts peacefully and prevent the kind of wars that our forefathers fought. A world where human beings can live with dignity and meet their basic needs whether they live in New York or Nairobi, in Peshawar or Damascus.

Obama Tells World: US Is 'Exceptional' But (Don't Worry) Not 'Imperial'

In a display of what critics were quick to interpret as the rhetorical equivalent of U.S. military imperialism and its hubris in foreign policy matters, President Obama defended the idea of "American exceptionalism" and its outsized role in international affairs during his address at the UN General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

Dismissing the notion of "an American empire" as mere "propaganda" by some, Obama defended the dominance of U.S. military power as a necessary good in the world. He argued that despite more than a decade of war, which included the illegal invasion and subsequent occupation and destruction of Iraq, the U.S. should continue to use its military strength to defend its interests around the globe.


Speaking at UN, Obama Tries to Claim He Was Always For Diplomacy in Syria

I had seen several indications this morning that Obama planned to call for a diplomatic approach to the ongoing conflict in Syria despite the earlier indications that he intended to pursue a military strike even if the UK did not join and the UN did not provide a resolution authorizing force. I was hopeful that this new-found reliance on diplomacy would go all the way to calling for a ceasefire to provide safe conditions for the gathering and destruction of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons.

Alas, my hopes were once again dashed as Obama fell far short of proposing a ceasefire and he wound up delivering very convoluted remarks as he tried to maintain the fiction that Bashar al-Assad’s forces have been proven to have carried out the August 21 chemical weapons attack and that he favors diplomacy over military action. ...

In a move that approaches Colin Powell’s historic spinning of lies before the invasion of Iraq, Obama stated that there is no dispute that Syrian forces are responsible for the August 21 attack:

The evidence is overwhelming that the Assad regime used such weapons on August 21st. U.N. inspectors gave a clear accounting that advanced rockets fired large quantities of sarin gas at civilians. These rockets were fired from a regime-controlled neighborhood and landed in opposition neighborhoods.

It’s an insult to human reason and to the legitimacy of this institution to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.

the report did not show that the rockets for which they determined trajectories carried sarin. That argument is strengthened further by the subsequent realization by others that not one of the environmental samples from the Moadamiyah site came back as positive for sarin. So now one of the famous lines that cross at a Syrian military installation has to be disregarded entirely because there is no evidence of sarin at the point of rocket impact.
This was another profound speech.  There is so much to talk about today, that I'd like to push this one off until tomorrow.  
United Nations General Assembly Speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani

Just a side note. While these profound speeches were happening at the UN, and all the side meetings, at such a critical time in history, here's what Christine Pelosi, an up and comer in the Democratic party with a leadership position in California, was doing to represent the Democratic party -- taunting the Iranians.

In case you missed it last night in joe shikspack's Evening Blues, I'm republishing here his superb, must see, special feature "Under the Big Top".   If you've never been to the Evening Blues, it's our sister (brother? sibling? :) series and just a top notch place for music, news and fellowship and you should stop by at 8pm Eastern on weeknights.  Joe is an expert on the blues and, in a former life, had a blues radio show.  Among his regular readers are others who are musicians and afficionados, and you'll see a number of familiar faces from What's Happenin' too, and in general you'll find a lot of well informed people with an eyes wide open approach toward the issues of the day and who speak freely about it.

Under The Big Top



The Circus Is Open

Hey looky, the circus is back in town - and here come the two lead clowns, one red clown and one blue clown - specially chosen by the Ringmaster:

Like harbingers of a hard winter, anti-entitlement spokesmen Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles have returned to the nation’s capital. These constituentless advocates for a widely disliked set of policies were given their usual unwarranted level of press coverage. Somewhat messianically, Simpson told Politico that “we have to be in reserve” in case politicians “put their country at risk” – by failing to impose the destructive austerity policies favored by Bowles and Simpson’s backers.

“But don’t use our names,” adds Simpson, “because that might be too volatile. We’re both on the witness protection program now.” ...

It’s all part of a wider Washington offensive. As another recent Politico news item reported, “Fix the Debt is ramping back up its lobbying efforts as government funding fights become the topic du jour on Capitol Hill.” Politico listed a group of Republican and Democratic politicians who “met Monday with Maya MacGuineas, head of the campaign, and members of the group’s CEO council and small business members.”

The Ringmaster is busy as hell trying to pack all of the clowns into the car.  The red clowns and the blue clowns keep complaining about each others flatulence while in the car and continuously stream in and out of it.  The clowns all agree that they want to get into the car and get on with the show, but the Ringmaster needs to come up with the correct enticement.  The Ringmaster proposes to rob the audience and distribute the proceeds amongst the clowns and their cronies; the clowns don't trust the Ringmaster to take enough from the audience to make it worth their while.
GOP-White House 'Grand Bargain' Talks Collapse

Senior Republican US senators say talks with the White House about a sequester-addressing fiscal deal have broken down, and they say any future talks must include Democratic members.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., was the first among a group of GOP senators with whom senior White House officials had been talking all summer about a “grand bargain” fiscal deal to reveal those talks had stalled. Corker told reporters the White House has lost credibility with Republican senators on several issues, including pursuit of a big fiscal deal. ...

Several participants confirmed efforts with the White House to strike a deal that lessens or voids sequestration have been scuttled, and signs of hope for a Pentagon and defense sector eager to avoid more cuts to planned military spending began to recede. ...

Democrats from states with a large defense-sector presence are eager to find a way to turn off the next round of cuts to planned defense spending.

The clowns all agree that the audience hasn't brought enough stuff with them into the tent to make it worth their while.  The Ringmaster has proposed to steal their retirement securities.  Will he now agree to drop his demand for taxes on the clowns and their cronies to sweeten the deal?  Stay tuned...
"All the cuts they need are there to avoid a possible shutdown"

It's impossible to know what will happen in a fluid situation like this, of course. But it pays to be a bit paranoid. When you find yourself in a position of counting on your enemies to be so stupid as to keep saving you from your friends, you are in a precarious position. ...

[I]t's important to remember that the earlier deals didn't fail to materialize because the two sides disagreed on cutting Social Security. They didn't. It failed because the president refused to give up on some sort of tax hike in exchange. ... Republicans have added another demand: defund Obamacare. If they want to come up with some sort of agreement in which the GOP saves face, to me the logical way to do that would be for the Democrats to agree to drop their demand for tax hikes if the Republicans drop their demand for defunding Obamacare. What's left of the deal? You guessed it.


Special Bonus - What Happened Last Time The Circus Was In Town


Remember the last time the circus was here?  Yes, that's right, you got fleeced by a bunch of carnies!  One of the big clowns, Pete Peterson, paid a couple of academic con-persons to shill for austerity and the Ringmaster got away with the con.  Take a look at what it cost you last time.  Are you ready to let the Ringmaster do it again?

Once again, the Beltway fell for cherry-picked data—and you paid the price.

So what has austerity cost us in the United States? The full price is hard to calculate, but the Congressional Budget Office figures that sequestration alone has cut GDP growth by about 0.8 percentage points. Since sequestration accounts for less than half of total belt-tightening over the past couple of years, a rough guess suggests that our austerity binge has cut economic growth by something like 2 percentage points—about half the total growth we might normally expect following a recession. Ironically, this means that we have indeed suffered the halving of economic growth that Reinhart and Rogoff estimated we'd get from running up the national debt above 90 percent. But we got it from not running up the debt. ...

The obvious question at this point is: Why? It's not as if we needed the skills of Nostradamus to predict the consequences of austerity. It's pretty much textbook economics.  ... Reinhart and Rogoff were pushing on an open door. There were lots of powerful actors—Pete Peterson, Grover Norquist, the Washington Post editorial page—ready to leap at the chance to pretend that their pursuit of austerity was motivated not by politics or self-interest, but merely by a virtuous desire for economic growth. The 90 percent paper provided them that cover.

So have we learned our lesson from all this? Of course not. No further stimulus is even remotely on the table, either in the United States or in Europe, and Republicans are already promising another debt ceiling crisis unless Obama agrees to yet more spending cuts. The inmates took over the asylum three years ago, and they show no sign of leaving.

Austerity is working out fine for the 1 percent: Their jobs are safe, their investments are growing, and their taxes are low. But the rest of us are paying a high price in the form of slow growth, high unemployment, and stagnant wages for years to come. All things considered, we've been remarkably tolerant of our fate. The folks who run the world might do well to ponder how long that's going to last.

Regulator sues 13 banks in Libor rate-fixing case for selling nearly $2.4 billion in ‘faulty securities’ to credit unions

The US credit union regulator has filed an anti-trust lawsuit against 13 major international banks as part of the global crackdown in the Libor rate-rigging scandal.

The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) said it aims to recover some of the funds lost by five corporate credit unions it supervised and which have since failed, according to a statement posted on the NCUA website Monday.

“We have a responsibility to pursue recoveries through every available avenue against those who caused billions of dollars in losses to credit unions,” NCUA Board Chairman Debbie Matz said.

“Some firms were manipulating international interest rates in a way that cost the five corporates to lose millions of dollars. Just as we are doing in our other suits, we are seeking to hold responsible parties accountable for their actions,” she added.

The complaint — that the banks violated both federal and regional anti-trust laws — was filed in a Kansas court, the agency said.

CODEPINK Crashes Congressional Drone Party, 9-19-13

On September 19th, 2013, the Congressional Drone Caucus had a joint party and exhibit with the drone lobby AUVSI. Horrified by the smug relationship between our elected officials and the merchants of robotic death, CODEPINK decided to remind party goers about all the innocent people killed by their drones.



Action



Stop Watching Us.

The revelations about the National Security Agency's surveillance apparatus, if true, represent a stunning abuse of our basic rights. We demand the U.S. Congress reveal the full extent of the NSA's spying programs.



Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest


The Evening Blues





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