Photo credit: Reuters

Sunday, September 29, 2013

The NSA and the Undermining of Democracy

Dear Mr. President,
Yet another revelation of the NSA’s illegal activities in today’s NYT (“N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens” p. A1). The latest Snowden documents reveal that since November 2010, the NSA has been analyzing all Americans’ phone call and email logs without checking for a foreign connection. This shift from requiring a foreign connection “was made in secret, without review by the nation’s intelligence court or any public debate.” The documents also reveal that the agency uses “enrichment” data—bank, insurance and Facebook information, passenger manifests, voter registration rolls, tax data, property records and GPS locations from cellphones to “develop a portrait of an individual, one that is perhaps more complete and predictive of behavior than could be obtained by listening to phone conversations or reading e-mails, experts say.” On Thursday during a congressional hearing by the NSA protectors and defenders—the Senate Intelligence Committee—Gen. Keith Alexander, asked if “the agency ever collected or planned to collect bulk records about Americans’ locations based on cellphone tower data,” replied they were “not doing so as part of the call log program authorized by the Patriot Act, but… a fuller response would be classified.” More deception and misleading testimony we’ve come to expect from Clapper and Alexander. In spite of their bald-faced lies and contempt of Congress, they remain in their positions, leaders of an outlaw agency, their budgets, empire and influence continuing to grow, eating up more and more taxpayer dollars that should be used to better American lives. Feinstein is a true believer, the NSA’s main apologist in Congress. She has abused her position as Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, enabling this agency to run amok, just as you have fostered it and defended it, calling it legal, transparent and necessary for national security, You are both guilty of undermining the Constitution and democracy. You have both broken your oaths of office and should be impeached. I keep thinking of what Dilma Rousseff said at the UN last week: “In the absence of privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore, no effective democracy. In the absence of respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for a relationship among nations.” Dilma Rousseff could teach you a thing or two about constitutional law. She could also teach people like Sen. Feinstein a thing or two about democracy.

Friday, September 27, 2013

How to Turn Ploughshares Into Swords

Dear Mr. President,
What’s wrong with this picture? The Pentagon plans to spend more than $1 billion to upgrade Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti (Washington Post, “U.S. moves drone fleet from Camp Lemonnier to ease Djibouti’s safety concerns,” September 24) but Detroit has to go begging to charities and scrounging for government grants to scrape up $300 million to pay firefighters and cops, keep the streetlights on and the buses running (today’s NYT, “$300 Million in Detroit Aid, But No Bailout” p. A1). The NYT characterizes the $300 million as “the fiscal equivalent of looking under sofa cushions for spare change.” Meanwhile, Camp Lemonnier will be upgraded to serve as a regional hub for Special Forces in Africa, the Arabian Peninsula and the Indian Ocean. The base is in the capital, Djibouti (pop. 567,000) next to the single-runway international airport which is jammed with military fighter jets, cargo planes and commercial flights. (Putting military installations in populated areas has always been decried when countries like Syria, Libya and Iraq do it.) Until this month, Lemonnier also housed drones which flew over Yemen, Somalia and elsewhere in the region but after the fifth crash in the past 2½ years, the latest near a neighborhood in the capital, their government asked the U.S. to move the drones to Chabelley Airfield in the desert, so the Pentagon asked Congress for an emergency $13 million to build temporary facilities there. $13 million for a drone base in Djibouti? No problem. $1 billion for Special Forces in Djibouti? No problem. Detroit needs help? Sorry, Charley. Detroit’s not part of the Global War on Terror. Go look under the couch cushions. Bailouts for Wall Street? No problem. Bailouts for Banksters and corporate moguls? No problem. But Americans whose pensions have been gutted or children whose health programs have been cut or families who depend on food stamps or underwater homeowners and those whose homes have been foreclosed on—legally or illegally by the very banks the government bailed out—sorry, not part of the War on Terror. These days the business of America is War and nothing but war. This is insane, Mr. President, self-destructive, soul-destroying national insanity and you’ve fostered it. The hawks in Congress—including my own representatives, Pelosi, Feinstein and Boxer—are complicit for going along with it, but it’s your legacy: the Nobel Peace Prize winning president who turned ploughshares into swords and humanity suffers for it.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Obama's State of the World Address to the UN

Dear Mr. President,
I listened to your speech at the UN yesterday. No question you’re a good speechifier. They always sound so good, make so much sense—and you’re so sincere. Until one ponders what you said—phrases, sentences, words that shift meaning to paint a different interpretation of reality, the distortions, critical omissions, outright lies. Like the part about the UN’s successful humanitarian mission in Libya—no mention of its descent into chaos and the regional instability that followed. Or the military coup in Egypt which “shows movement toward democratic reforms”—no mention that the coup overthrew a democratically elected government and has reverted to the Mubarak era’s repression and brutality. But what really caught my attention were a few lines about the Middle East and North Africa. You are prepared to “use all elements of our power, including military force, to secure our core interests in the region,” you said. Our core interests, it turns out, is “the free flow of energy from the region to the world.” Can’t get clearer than that. It’s all about the oil. Always has been, always will be. (You also said that a nation “cannot covet resources of other nations.” Maybe “free flow” differs from taking by force like we tried to do in Iraq, but it’s a subtle distinction.) It was an aggressive militant, threatening speech that promises more war: we’ll keep using drones, you said, targeting only known imminent threats where capture is not possible and civilian casualties will be minimal; you threatened to use military force in Syria if Assad does not cooperate, declared he must step down, and challenged the UN to “mean what it says” and use force to ensure compliance with international law. Our global surveillance program that has so enraged the world was only mentioned briefly; we are reviewing it, no acknowledgement of the scathing denunciation by Brazil’s Roussaff who said. “Tampering in such a manner in the affairs of other countries is a breach of international law and an affront to the principles that must guide relations among them… The right to safety of citizens of one country can never be guaranteed by violating fundamental human rights of citizens of another… In the absence of privacy, there can be no true freedom of expression and opinion, and therefore, no effective democracy. In the absence of respect for sovereignty, there is no basis for a relationship among nations.” Dilma Rousseff understands democracy, Mr. President. Listen to her.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Daniel Somers: A Casualty of War

Dear Mr. President,
On June 10 Daniel Somers put a gun to his head and killed himself. He was one of 22 veterans who committed suicide that day. He was 30 and suffered from PTSD and traumatic brain injury, a result of his 2004 deployment to Iraq. He wrote that he was unable to even approximate “the number of civilian deaths in which I may be complicit” ( After returning from Iraq, he studied Arabic and volunteered to deploy again to make amends; to save lives. Assigned to a military intelligence unit as a senior analyst, he interviewed Iraqi civilians, insurgents, politicians and suspected terrorists, but it was futile: “new lives saved do not replace those who were murdered,” he wrote in a farewell letter to his family ( In 2008, still tormented by the war, he applied to the VA for help, an exercise in frustration, incompetence and indifference and his final letter is a glimpse into a morally injured mind and soul. He was “Too trapped in a war to be at peace, too damaged to be at war,” he wrote. “There are some things that a person can simply not come back from.” Most of the stories about Daniel Somers focus on the inadequacy of the VA and the tragedy of his death but I think his note was not just about that; it went much deeper, to the heart of what war is, the insanity and immorality of it and the hypocrisy of politicians who send people off to kill and die for no reason other than their “religious lunacy” or their “ever growing fortune.” It goes to why we war, the lies and propaganda that make it possible, the myths we are raised on—to follow one’s leaders right or wrong, the necessity of loyalty, the necessity of war, that war is honorable and just, that warriors are heroes and that the noblest sacrifice of all is to die for one’s country. How is it that “we” always fight for freedom and liberty while “they” always fight for tyranny and oppression? I have never known peace; my life has spanned constant war from WW II to the Cold War to Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf War, the War on Terror, Iraq, Afghanistan… we have never stopped warring and we have never made an attempt to understand why or to understand who our real enemies are. It’s time to change that, Mr. President. Stop making war and start making peace. In honor of Daniel Somers and all the other casualties of war.
Daniel Somers: A Casualty of War

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Dear Mr. President Shares His Views on Iran With Me

Dear Mr. President,
Your September 18 letter about Iran arrived yesterday, a masterpiece of spin and hypocrisy. I’ve never written a letter on Iran—maybe mentioned it in passing—but here’s your response to my “perspective” on Iran anyway. Right off, you talk about how Iran “failed to live up to its obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.” The next paragraph is devoted to your “comprehensive action to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, including…the strongest sanctions against Iran in history.” No outrage or concern over Israel’s nuclear weapons or Pakistan’s or India’s, none of whom signed the treaty. But they’re allies, not part of the Axis of Evil and none have the 4th largest reserves of oil on the planet. No mention either of Iran’s new president, Rouhani, reaching out to you, offering to talk, a chance for diplomacy. Do you have to be forced and shamed into diplomacy here too? As for sanctions forcing Iran to give up its nuclear program, another political fantasy. Sanctions impose misery on the people, not their leaders. More than half a million children died as a result of our sanctions on Iraq which did nothing to topple Hussein. It’s always the children who suffer most from sanctions. And then there’s the blatant hypocrisy: “My administration is also pressuring Iran to end its policies of supporting terrorist groups abroad, pursuing destabilitzing activities throughout the region, propping up a dictator in Damascus, and suppressing the rights of its own people.” We support terrorist groups too, Mr. President—from the jihadists fighting Russians in Afghanistan to rebels fighting Qaddafi in Libya, and now rebels in Syria associated with Al Qaeda. (I contend that U.S. Special Forces and the CIA are also terrorist groups.) As for supporting dictators, we have a long history, from the Shah of Iran to Pinochet in Chile, Suharto in Indonesia, Hussein in Iraq and Mubarak (and now Gen., el-Sisi) in Egypt. And how can you accuse Iran of destabilizing the region when everywhere we go, chaos, mayhem and instability follows in our wake from Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan to Libya, Pakistan and Yemen? But my main question is this: Why is U.S. foreign policy based on violence and force rather than negotiation and diplomacy? Why must we always beat the drums of war rather than practice peace? Why can’t we see others as fellow human beings and respect the differences rather than try to obliterate them? Only that will bring us real security.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Gen. Keith Alexander: The Banality of Evil

Dear Mr. President,
Until this week, Gen. Keith Alexander was a blank to me. I knew he headed the NSA and that he lied to Congress but little more. Bland and nondescript, he’d go unnoticed in a crowd. Then I read a post by Glenn Greenwald ( about an article in the journal, Foreign Policy, that described Alexander’s “all-out, barely-legal drive to build the ultimate spy machine…willing to play fast and loose with legal limits.” What caught my eye, however, was that he hired a Hollywood set designer to redesign his “Information Dominance Center” as an exact replica of the bridge of the starship Enterprise complete with whooshing doors and the captain’s chair commanding the room. I thought, this guy’s a clown, but a few days later I ran across an article in the July Wired magazine called “The Silent War” by James Bamford which went into detail about Gen. Alexander and I changed my mind: this guy may be a clown but he’s a scary clown. His obsession with “information dominance”—the collection and analysis of all data, the constant search for plots—reminded me of Ahab’s megalomania in pursuit of the White Whale. Alexander’s organizing skills and ability to fund his ever-expanding empire—despite sequestration—are amazing. (An NSA official said, “We jokingly refer to him as Emperor Alexander, because whatever Keith wants, Keith gets.”) The article documents his work with the CIA on Stuxnet, the computer worm designed to destroy Iran’s centrifuges; his warrantless wiretapping under Bush and deceptions to Congress; his persecution of Thomas Drake, an NSA whistle blower; his command of military intelligence teams responsible for abuses at Abu Ghraib; and his relentless push to “get it all”—every electronic click and call by everyone everywhere. What came to mind now was Hannah Arendt’s “the banality of evil” from her book, Eichmann in Jerusalem. She characterized Eichmann as “a mediocre bureaucrat…‘not a monster’ but ‘a clown.’” Today, in the September 23 New Yorker (“Unholy Alliances,” Pankaj Mishra) I read another Arendt observation, this time of the U.S. in 1971. In her introduction to the Pentagon Papers, she asserted that “American machismo had weirdly supplanted all strategic and military aims and interests. The U.S. had to behave like the greatest power on earth for no other reason than to convince the world of it.” The past is present and evil remains banal even in America.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The War on Terror is a War on Ourselves

Dear Mr. President,
You must be really frustrated. Your call to punish Assad never got off the ground—the coalition of the willing was one—our friends are wary, our enemies laughing up their sleeves (in a Surveillance State there are no real friends; just frenemies). And hard as you tried you couldn’t get your mitts on Snowden or his documents so the leaks keep coming like Chinese water torture. How can it be that a “29-year-old hacker” (your words) foiled the great Caesars of Surveillance? How could we go from America the Omniscient to America the Despised so quickly? Guess what, Mr. President, people don’t like to be spied on; not in Europe or Asia or the Americas, Today’s NYT reports that Dilma Rouseff of Brazil canceled a state visit because of it (“Brazil’s Leader Postpones Visit to Washington Over Spying” p. A4). According to the article, Biden called her, Kerry visited her and you spent 20 minutes on the phone with her Monday, but no luck, still a firm no. It’s called blowback, Mr. President, and here’s some more: the European Parliament just nominated Edward Snowden for the top human rights award, the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought (NYT “Snowden Among Nominees for a European Human Rights Prize” p. A4). The image of America as the beacon of freedom and justice no longer works. We are a nation of snoops, spies, assassins and terrorists, our double standards and blatant hypocrisy as exposed as the NSA’s secrets. We have given up freedom for a false sense of security; we are ruled by secret laws and secret courts; our police deal their own brand of street justice and our president calls for punishing Assad for the slaughter of innocent civilians in Syria but ignores our own slaughter of innocent civilians in Pakistan, Yemen and Afghanistan. The War on Terror is a war against phantoms and it has become a war not just on perceived enemies but on friends as well, a war against ourselves really, and a war we are clearly losing. It is a war that cannot be won no matter how much we spend, no matter how much we spy, no matter how many we kill, no matter how many we lock up. The Dream of Empire is a fantasy, Pax Americana an illusion. The neocons thought it within their grasp in 2001 and 2003 but the dream was a nightmare that continues under you. Either you too, were a true believer from the beginning or you were seduced by it—the seduction of power—but either way, it has been a disaster for America, a disaster for the world and there’s no end in sight.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Pelosi Spins for Obama

Dear Representative Pelosi,
I received your letter this morning in response to my views on Syria. You point to “strong, clear, and compelling evidence that President Bashar Assad’s regime was responsible for chemical weapons attacks against innocent Syrian civilians.” That is not the issue; my objection was to the use of force rather than diplomacy. That a Nobel Peace Prize winning American president was so hell-bent to “punish Assad” that he had to be shamed and coerced into negotiations that actually address the core problem—and by the Russians no less!—is astounding and disheartening. Your implication of international support for a military strike—“the Assad regime crossed a red line – not President Obama’s red line – but the line the international community drew nearly a century ago”—is pure political spin; except for France, there was and is zero international support, including our own citizens—70% are opposed. As for the president’s demonstration of the “strength of his leadership and his willingness to exhaust every remedy before the use of force,” that too, is political fiction. While the world was calling for diplomacy rather than bombs, Obama and his faithful servants, including you, Representative Pelosi, were pounding the war drums; there was no talk either in Congress nor from the White House of negotiations or trying to get rid of Syria’s chemical weapons until the Russians proposed a reasonable deal. Shame on all of you. Use this opportunity not just to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons but to negotiate a cease-fire. And instead of beating war drums, try beating peace drums for a change; begin working to outlaw not just chemical weapons but all weapons. As horrific and indiscriminate as chemical weapons are, Hellfire missiles, bombs, artillery shells and bullets are no less horrific and indiscriminate. Yes, perhaps 1,000 civilians were killed in the Aug. 21 attack, but what of the other 120,000 killed by conventional weapons? Yes, hundreds of children were killed but how many have we killed in Yemen, Pakistan and Somalia with Hellfire missiles? How many thousands have our bombs and bullets killed in Iraq and Afghanistan? You were quoted in an article in the September 10 NYT (“Sharp Test Among Democrats of Loyalty to Obama,” p. A9): “I think war should be obsolete. I don’t think it is a reasonable way to resolve conflict. I think we should eliminate it as a possibility.” Why not work toward that end instead of rounding up votes for violence?
cc: President Barack Obama

Friday, September 13, 2013

9/11: Twelve Years Later

Dear Mr. President,
I’ve thought this week about how 9/11 altered history, what we’ve learned and how it changed us. Some things are obvious: in 12 years we’ve learned nothing and it’s changed us profoundly. Through ignorance, hubris and a blind lust for revenge, we invaded two countries without justification, wreaked violence and mayhem on their people, terrorized other countries with drones and Hellfire missiles, created new enemies, legalized torture, indefinite detention and targeted assassination, done away with habeas corpus and instituted the most pervasive surveillance state in human history. In our barbarity, we kill with impunity, ignore the rule of law and trample the Constitution. We’ve substituted force for foreign policy, traded freedom for the illusion of security, bankrupt our nation financially, spiritually and morally and become the main terrorist nation on the planet. The recent events in Syria have shown how automatic it is now to attack rather than negotiate or find a peaceful solution to problems. And we have yet to examine the causes of 9/11, to answer the rhetorical question “Why do they hate us?” that Bush posed and answered so flippantly and so incorrectly, a question that, considered seriously, might avert future 9/11s. We have spent trillions on war but barely begun to pay the price. More than 2 million Americans have cycled through war in Iraq and Afghanistan and 30% return from those wars suffering from PTSD. In the September 9 issue of the New Yorker, “The Return,” by David Finkel is an account of one of those soldiers who went to Iraq, lost his humanity, went numb to death, blind to brutality and now suffers from severe “moral injury.” The article follows him into a VA rehab unit, one of the few available to treat traumatized vets, where he and others try to grapple with their rage, their nightmares and their self-loathing. These men cannot escape the wars that politicians sent them to or what the military trained and ordered them to do. The article is a glimpse of what war really is, the violence, brutality and randomness of it, the unspeakable ugliness and barbarity of war that politicians call noble and honorable and heroic. There are half a million vets with PTSD. How do we bring them home? Or rather, how do we not send them in the first place? How do we outlaw not just chemical weapons, but all weapons? How do we outlaw war itself? If we never look at the roots of 9/11 how can we ever expect to end the cycle of violence?

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Putin vs. Obama: Friend or Foe?

Dear Mr. President,
Either Vladimir saved your butt or pulled the rug out from under you. While you were making plans for war he was making plans for peace. I never thought I’d see the day when a Russkie president was more diplomat and peacemaker than a Nobel Peace Prize winning U.S. president. The NYT published an op-ed by him in today’s paper: “A Plea for Caution From Russia.” It made Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) “want to vomit” ( but along with self-serving bullshit, Putin speaks some serious truths that need to be heard. That international law will be undermined if “influential countries…take military action without Security Council authorization.” That there are “few champions of democracy in Syria…but more than enough Qaeda fighters and extremists.” That attacking another country for any reason except self-defense is a violation of international law and an act of aggression. That “military intervention in foreign countries has become commonplace for the U.S.” And that “We must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.” Putin is a ruthless, wily autocrat but he has stopped a military attack on Syria, a clear act of aggression by the U.S. and a violation of fundamental international law, and for that I applaud him. As a counterweight to Putin’s op-ed, the Times ran a page 1article (”As Obama Pauses Action, Putin Takes Center Stage”) to discredit his newfound diplomacy, pointing out his aggressive moves to “stamp out a growing protest movement and silence competing and independent voices…locked up illegal immigrants in a city camp, kept providing arms to the Syrian government…and gave refuge to Mr. Snowden.” How does this differ from crushing the Occupy movement, arresting Jill Stein so she would not appear at the presidential debates, prosecuting and harassing journalists, locking up whistle-blowers and arming rebel fighters in Syria? (Giving refuge to Snowden was a humanitarian act.) Finally, he hits at the root of our hubris and ignorance in his criticism of your speech Tuesday night: “I…disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the U.S.’s policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’ It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation….We are all different, but… we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Obomber Club: Armageddon for Oil

Dear Mr. President,
Back from the G20 and nobody signed up. Even the Pope has come out against bombing Syria. Still just you and your French poodle, Hollande. I’m certainly no expert, but it seems to me that you just blew an opportunity to avoid more bloodshed and earn that ill-gotten Nobel Peace Prize. There you were in St. Petersburg with heads of state and all you lobbied for was to join the Obomber club. No attempt at diplomacy or peace. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), got it right the other day when he said, “We need some options out there that does something about the chemical weapons.” He proposed giving Assad 45 days to sign the Chemical Weapons Convention and start destroying his stockpiles. (NYT, September 6, “Pentagon Ordered to Expand Potential Target With a Focus on Forces” p. A7) Seems more rational than punishment-bombing which is clearly a lose-lose proposition all around. It won’t change Assad’s mind (or “punish” him), will only create more chaos and misery, possibly widen the Syrian civil war into a region-wide secular war and give the extremist militants an opportunity to gain more power. Contrary to Kerry’s assurances that only 15-20% of the rebels are “bad guys,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-TX) said the briefings he attended estimated that half the rebel fighters were extremists. (NYT, September 5, “Rebel Brutality In Syria Posing Dilemma In West” p.A1) If you’re hell-bent on bombing something, why not bomb the factories in Czechoslovakia, Holland, Russia, China and the U.S. that made and sold the chemicals to Syria that allowed them to make sarin, VX and mustard gas? (today’s NYT, “With the World Watching, Syria Amassed Nerve Gas” p.A1) None of your arguments hold water and your obsessive jihad to “punish” Assad has puzzled me. There’s a lot of theories out there but the one that makes sense to me is one by Nafeez Ahmed in an obscure environmental blog on the Guardian web site posted on August 30 ( It’s complicated but he pulls together interviews by Gen. Wesley Clark and former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, a New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh, a 2008 RAND report and leaked diplomatic cables (thank you Chelsea Manning) to very clearly and succinctly lay out the case that it all boils down to the control and sale of oil and natural gas in the Middle East. Doesn’t it always come back to this? Armageddon for oil?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Feinstein Meets Bullrun

Dear Senator Feinstein,
Received your three responses last night to my views on Manning, Syria and my continuing concerns about the NSA. As usual, we disagree on everything but I want to address your letter assuring me that the collection of phone call records is perfectly legal, and that the oversight provided by the FISA court and, presumably, the Senate Intelligence Committee, is adequate. You reiterate that you are proposing legislation that will “enhance transparency and privacy protections.” I read your attached July 30 Washington Post op-ed which outlines your proposals; they merely tweak around the edges and do nothing to rein in an out-of-control agency. The latest revelations about the NSA appear in the lead article on page 1 of today’s New York Times (“N.S.A. Able to Foil Basic Safeguards of Privacy on Web”) and documents yet another program called “Bullrun” which violates privacy and the 4th Amendment. Bullrun enabled them to dictate worldwide encryption standards through stealth and subterfuge and guarantee the ability to read any encrypted message by either stealing encryption keys or coercing/forcing companies through court orders to hand them over. They have also guaranteed that both software and hardware have a back door that gives them access to networks before encryption or after de-encryption. I realize that the NSA’s primary mission is to break encrypted messages in order to protect the U.S., but when the agency was created in 1952, the intent was to spy on our perceived enemies, not on U.S. citizens. There is no longer such a thing as privacy. Every email, phone call and internet click, encrypted or not, can be read and analyzed by the NSA; the scope and capability of their spying makes the East German Stasi look lackadaisical by comparison. When will you stop defending the NSA and start defending We the People and the Constitution? One final note. Our views on Snowden are diametrically opposed but consider this from today’s article: “Intelligence officials asked The Times and ProPublica not to publish this article…. The news organizations removed some specific facts but decided to publish the article because of the value of a public debate about government actions that weaken the most powerful privacy tools.” [italics mine] The Times is no fan of Edward Snowden but this is an implicit admission that his leaks are not acts of a traitor. Without Snowdens there would be no transparency, no information, no accountability and no democracy.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

KerryHagelDempsey Convince the Gullibles

Dear Mr. President,
The Gullibles are falling in line. After private briefings and yesterday’s KerryHagelDempsey sideshow they’re convinced. But Gullibles are easily convinced. I listened to some of the hearing. Assurances that the intel is solid, “proof beyond a shadow of a doubt,” to do nothing is morally indefensible and will endanger NATIONAL SECURITY! So the Gullibles will go along to get along and approve an Authorization to Use Military Force in Syria just as they did in Afghanistan and Iraq. As I listened, I kept thinking this was a slightly altered rerun of a show that played in 2003, that one better done on the stage of the UN with Colin Powell presenting evidence that Saddam had WMDs and if we didn’t act now he’d use them on us. Powell showed us satellite imagery, documents, diagrams, photos, even played audio, conversations proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that Iraq had a robust nuclear program and stockpiles of WMDs. Powell had facts and he showed them. They were wrong, of course; there were no WMDs but the hawks got their war and here we are again, 10 years later, the same shell game only shabbier, less convincing and without proof, just speculation, assumptions and circumstantial evidence. Trust Me is the heart of the argument but there’s all those nagging contradictions. Like Kerry’s claim that the rebels are becoming more moderate when the opposite is true. Or that MSF verified that the Syrian government used Sarin in the attack while the group says they have no first-hand evidence. Or that opposition forces haven’t used chemical weapons when the UN has concluded they have. Or the numbers killed in the attack: the U.S. claims 1,429; Britain says “at least 350”; the French “at least” 281” and the rebels “up to 1,300.” Maybe Assad’s forces did everything you accuse them of but we’ve been lied to for so long by our government that trust no longer exists and truth is scarce as hens’ teeth. And what about the UN prohibition of military force without Security Council authorization except in self-defense? It takes precedence over all other international laws, even the prohibition against the use of chemical weapons. If you ignore the UN’s most fundamental rule, you undermine the UN and open the way for others to do the same. And for what? There is no win in this for anyone, least of all the Syrian people. The Law of Unintended Consequences is always the rule in war, so get those boots ready to put on the ground, Mr. President. Here we go again.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Congress Sings "Obombem" in Two-Party Harmony

Dear Mr. President,
The choreographers and speechwriters are hard at work polishing talking points and lining up politicians. The play is about to begin. McCain and Graham first. Deference to old warhawks, recalcitrant Republicans vowing a Nay vote on a limited strike; demanding regime change. You meet, assure them that “limited” is flexible, expansive, includes air strikes, rockets, missiles, who knows what. They fall in line, they’re good to go. Now Boehner, Cantor and Pelosi, House leaders sing in two-party harmony—they’re good to go, too. Faithful party hack Pelosi adds that she doesn’t think Congressional approval is necessary. Shredding the Constitution is a bipartisan sport. She also declares the August 21attack “outside the circle of civilized behavior.” Is raining 216 cruise missiles on a country that poses no threat to America within the circle of civilized behavior? All day, Hagel and Kerry work Congress and one legislator after another is “satisfied,” “reassured,” “comfortable.” You found the one issue with bipartisan support—war. An unclassified report, “Government Assessment of the Syrian Government’s Use of Chemical Weapons on August 21, 2013” released Friday is on the White House web site. “We assess with high confidence” and “U.S. government assessment” dominate the report but there are no details, no proof and no evidence. It’s clear the intelligence came from those old reliable assessors, the CIA and the ever-truthful NSA. The more I read the less convinced I was and then I came to this: “We assess that the opposition has not used chemical weapons.” But UN inspectors reported they have and I think maybe Putin et al, is right, that the chemical attack was not from the military but an accident by rebel fighters who received chemical weapons from Saudi Arabia and didn’t know how to handle them. Of course, “national security” prohibits revealing details: no names, no maps, no photos or videos, no transcripts of calls, nothing that might convince a reasonable person. And then there’s the moral issue. You’re right to be outraged at the photos of dead children, victims of the attack. But your outrage is selective, Mr. President, absent when the children killed are victims of American drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen or Afghanistan. Is it okay to kill children with Hellfire missiles or cruise missiles or 50-caliber machine guns from helicopters and C-130 gunships but not okay to kill them with chemical weapons? Is there really a moral difference?