Evening Blues Preview 5-21-15
This evening's music features Chicago blues guitarist and singer Andrew Brown.
Here are some stories from tonight's posting:
A district court judge on Wednesday blocked an effort by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to force the CIA to turn over classified records about brutal interrogation programs the agency used to run.
While a 500-page declassified version of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s “torture report” was released last December, the full, 6,900-page version remains classified. So does a controversial set of CIA documents created as part of an internal review started by former Director Leon Panetta.
They will stay secret, a judge on the U.S. District Court of the District of Columbia declared Wednesday.
The full version of the Senate Committee report is a document of Congress and exempt from the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), Judge James Boasberg wrote. ...
Meanwhile, the set of CIA documents — known as the “Panetta Review” — are similarly exempt from the law, since they are covered by FOIA exceptions for documents that might harm national security, are internal “deliberative” discussions and are protected by other laws.
The news that the NSA is preparing to begin winding down their bulk surveillance program against Americans would be welcome to the general public, but it’s probably not true, and the claim is certainly not directed at us.
Rather, the Justice Department has issued a memo in which they claim the program will begin winding down over the weekend, carefully released to surveillance-friendly Congressmen.
China’s navy has issued multiple warnings to a US surveillance aircraft to leave the airspace over artificial islands Beijing is building to strengthen its claims over disputed territory in the South China Sea.
The messages, witnessed by a US TV crew aboard the P8-A Poseidon surveillance aircraft, came soon after the Pentagon said it was considering military patrols in the region and amid concerns that Chinese activity was raising the risk of a confrontation between Washington and Beijing.
CNN reported that a Chinese naval vessel issued eight warnings to the US plane on Wednesday, in an apparent effort to establish a no-fly zone near the artificial islands. When US pilots pointed out that they were flying through international airspace, an exasperated Chinese radio operator responded: “This is the Chinese navy … you go!”
The exchange is an indication of what could lie ahead if the US decides to send military aircraft and ships to the area, where China is locked in a battle of wills over ownership of reefs with the Philippines and several other countries. ...
Beijing says it will not stop reclamation work, with China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, describing its sovereignty claims as “hard as a rock”.
Islamic State is thought to be holding sway over half of Syria’s landmass after its seizure of Palmyra, where it has reportedly begun massacring a rebellious tribe and faces no opposition to sacking the city’s ancient ruins.
“There are no forces to stop them [entering the ruins],” Rami Abdurrahman, director of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, said. “But the important thing also is they now control 50% of Syria.”
Isis seized Palmyra on Wednesday night after a week-long siege that led to the collapse of forces loyal to Bashar al-Assad. The militants are drawing closer to his strongholds of Homs and Damascus and are severing supply lines to Deir Ezzor in the east, which faces an overpowering Isis crackdown. ...
The fall of the city raises questions about the fighting capability and cohesion of Assad’s remaining troops and allied militias, whose rapid collapse surprised observers, given their close proximity to supply lines and the strategic importance of Palmyra. ...
Palmyra is the second city to be seized by Isis in less than a week, after the militants routed Iraqi security forces in Ramadi, the provincial capital of Anbar province, highlighting the group’s resilience in the face of a US-led air campaign and the limits of its strategy.
Israeli media are quoting officials familiar with the situation as saying there are quiet talks going on between the Obama Administration and Israel’s new far-right government on a “massive compensation” boost in military aid for Israel’s acquiescence on the civilian nuclear deal with Iran.
The deal is expected to be spun in the US and Israel as a huge boost in military aid to keep Israel’s “competitive advantage” over Saudi Arabia after that nation buys new US weapons, though Israel of course isn’t on particularly bad terms with the Saudis to begin with.
In return, Israel would be allowed to keep publicly complaining about the Iran deal, but would privately tone down their efforts to undermine the deal.
Former US official has epiphany and discovers the glaringly obvious:
Former administration official predicts Washington’s favourite foreign policy tool will eventually be turned against the US
Richard Nephew, a former senior US official who was instrumental in constructing the global sanctions wall around Iran, is now warning that Washington’s fondness for sanctions as a foreign policy tool could have serious repercussions for the US.
Nephew is now at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs where he has produced a paper on The Future of International Sanctions in a Global Economy. It argues that the US, as the world’s sole superpower, has been able to exploit an asymmetric advantage in imposing economic sanctions, but that advantage is fast eroding and it is time to rethink:
As with the use of cyber warfare and drone strikes, the United States may find in the future that, having created a precedent that targeted sanctions are an appropriate response for all circumstances determined by the United States unilaterally, it is facing similar measures against its own companies, banks, and citizens. ...
Asymmetric tools work really well while they’re asymmetric and your power is greater than everyone else’s, but not so much in twenty, thirty, forty years time.
This is so meta my head is exploding. Bin Laden was reading 9/11-was-an-inside-job conspiracy book: http://t.co/PQyUUL7Myp
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) May 20, 2015
The U.S. government this week is releasing the list of English-language texts that were recovered from Osama bin Laden’s Pakistan compound after the U.S. raid that killed the al-Qaeda leader in 2011. ...
The list, embargoed until Wednesday morning and provided in advance to BuzzFeed News, includes volumes by Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguist Noam Chomsky, former intelligence official and antiwar activist Michael Scheuer, conspiracy texts about 9/11 and the Illuminati, and a book by Bob Woodward. Bin Laden had these materials in digital files. The list also includes numerous materials about France, including information on France’s economy and defense, as well as materials that analysts think were probably used by other residents of the compound — including a suicide prevention manual. ...
“In terms of the materials that are there, some of the things that we’ve found to be of note were that bin Laden was probably an avid conspiracy theorist,” the senior intelligence official said in a phone call. “Of the 38 full-length English-language books he had in his possession, about half of them were conspiracy theory books” about the Illuminati, Freemasons, and other conspiracy topics. Texts listed on the “bookshelf” include Bloodlines of the Illuminati by the American conspiracy theorist Fritz Springmeier; The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 by the 9/11 conspiracy theorist David Ray Griffin; and The Secrets of the Federal Reserve, a book by the Holocaust denier and anti-Semite Eustace Mullins.
The list also includes materials from congressional hearings about Project MKUltra, the so-called “mind control” program conducted by the CIA in the 1950s and 1960s. Also on the list: maps of Iranian nuclear sites.
The government has long claimed that the Bin Laden raid was an intelligence windfall. Now it's playing defense.
About 10 days ago, Seymour Hersh wrote a story claiming much of what the government has told us about the Osama bin Laden raid was false. Among other claims, Hersh said the government had exaggerated the “trove” of intelligence seized from bin Laden’s compound. “We were told at first,” Hersh quoted the primary source for his story, “that the Seals produced garbage bags of stuff and that the community is generating daily intelligence reports out of this stuff….But nothing has come of it.”
Wednesday morning, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released what it calls a “sizable tranche” of documents it explains were seized from the compound. That “sizable tranche” consists of just 409 documents, of which only 103 were previously considered classified. (That ODNI calls this to be “sizable” may support Hersh’s claim there was less information than claimed.)
Buzzfeed, which got advance release of the materials, emphasized the “conspiracy” texts bin Laden had. It quoted someone to whom they bizarrely gave anonymity, saying, “‘Of the 38 full-length English-language books he had in his possession, about half of them were conspiracy theory books’ about the Illuminati, Freemasons, and other conspiracy topics.” ...
ODNI had to invent 8 different categories, all of which consist partly of “English language books,” to be able to make the claim that half the “English language books” classified as “English language books” were conspiracy theories. ...
So America’s spooks have released a bizarrely-organized group of bin Laden materials, using a pre-embargo release to over-emphasize how much OBL wallowed in conspiracy theories (though he did do some of that), but they insist this is not an attempt to spin Seymour Hersh as a conspiracy theorist.
In the wake of Wednesday's announcement that five global financial institutions have agreed to plead guilty to multiple crimes and pay about $5.6 billion in penalties for manipulating foreign currencies and interest rates, corporate watchdogs are reiterating the call to 'break up the banks' in light of their ongoing malfeasance.
As with other recent settlements, Wednesday's news provides further evidence to those who say certain megabanks are still considered "too big to fail"—or criminal bankers to jail.
"There are two messages in today’s plea deal," said Public Citizen president Robert Weissman in a statement on Wednesday. "First, criminality is rampant on Wall Street. Second, the era of too-big-to-jail is alive and well. Even as they beat their chests announcing how tough they are, government regulators refuse to apply to the giant banks the same rules that apply to everyone else."
In announcing the settlement, Attorney General Loretta Lynch called the megabanks' crimes "a brazen display of collusion" that caused "pervasive harm."
Lynch declared: "Today’s historic resolutions are the latest in our ongoing efforts to investigate and prosecute financial crimes, and they serve as a stark reminder that this Department of Justice intends to vigorously prosecute all those who tilt the economic system in their favor; who subvert our marketplaces; and who enrich themselves at the expense of American consumers."
But as Weissman noted, "important questions remain about this plea deal," including:
Will individual executives be prosecuted? And did the DOJ charge the parent companies in this case to avoid triggering potential sanctions with real and significant business consequences for the banks, including charter revocation hearings? The public deserves answers to these questions. In that information is some insight into whether the government continues to protect the megabanks—those colloquially labeled “too big to jail.”
President Obama announced his decision Monday to limit the flow of military-style weaponry to local police departments via the federal government. While the plan is receiving understandable praise, his comments were all too presidential. Meaning: he talked about optics.
“Law enforcement agencies should create policies and procedures for policing mass demonstrations…to minimize the appearance of a military operation,” said Obama.
In a short address, no word is extraneous, so let’s not let his use of “appearance” slide. The president was clearly referring to scenes from Ferguson and Baltimore that saw warrior cops, guns raised, projecting great clouds of tear gas at unarmed crowds. He’s not wrong that optics were critical here: these militarized images set Twitter ablaze. ...
The president’s comments, unwittingly or not, echo the words of James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling–the social scientists we can curse for introducing “broken windows” policing to the U.S. with an essay in The Atlantic in 1982. The idea, exuberantly embraced by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton throughout his career, saw the intensive criminalization of vandalism and petty crime under the pretext that this would foreclose escalations to violent crime. In practicality, it meant treating poor, black communities as always-already criminal. Wilson and Kelling noted that patrolling in broken windows policing was more about creating the feeling of security, rather than actually lowering crime. Obama’s similar focus on the “feeling” of safety around police shows a troubling disregard to the racist and violent recent history of a law enforcement ideology focused on producing affect, rather than addressing underlying problems. ...
But, of course, mitigating the optics of warrior cops does not eliminate the fury undergirding revolt; the violence was already there before the tear gas canisters flew and the tanks rolled up. The violence is the background context in which young black people get shot with impunity. Mike Brown was not killed by a grenade launcher, Darren Wilson had a handgun; it didn’t take a BearCat armored vehicle to snap Freddie Gray’s spine; Eric Garner was choked to death on a street corner by NYPD officers, no military-grade weaponry needed.
During Martin O’Malley’s time as mayor (1999 to 2006), the crime rate in Baltimore dropped 16 percent while arrests rose dramatically, something his critics say was a result of heavy-handed “zero tolerance” policing tactics. In 2005, 108,447 people were arrested, or about one-sixth of the city’s population, according to the Washington Post. About two-thirds of those arrested were jailed for nonviolent offenses.
Critics of O’Malley, who has said he would run to the left of Hillary Clinton, say he helped create the police culture that has culminated in Freddie Gray’s death, and the unrest that followed.
“We still have men who are suffering from it today,” Marvin ‘Doc’ Cheathem, a past president of the Baltimore branch of the NAACP, which won a court settlement stemming from the city’s policing policies, told the Post. “The guy is good at talking, but a lot of us know the real story of the harm he brought to our city.”
Bishop Douglas Miles, a community leader, told the Post that O’Malley’s police department “set the tone for how the police department in Baltimore has reacted to poor and African American communities since then.”
“None of us are in favor of crime,” Miles said. “But we also recognized that you couldn’t correct the problem through wholesale arrests.”
To be fair, police brutality in Baltimore wasn’t created during O’Malley’s time in office. Back in 1942, 2,000 black residents marched from Baltimore to Annapolis to protest the fatal shooting of a black soldier by a white city cop.