Saturday, August 03, 2013

Patrick Leahy is an idiot

Senator Patrick Leahy needs to leave the Senate.  Wednesday, he was ridiculous in the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing and now Free Speech Radio News reports:

Today Vice President Joe Biden swore in Samantha Power as the US Ambassador to the United Nations. The Senate overwhelmingly approved her nomination yesterday. Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy offered praise of Power’s experience, calling her an “internationalist”
“I know at the National Security Council, she brought much-needed attention to human trafficking, protection of refugees, gay rights, [and] gender based violence.”
Power, who was born and raised in Ireland, is a former journalist and Pulitzer Prize winning author. She’ll take over Susan Rice’s position at the UN. 

Quit you're whoring, Patrick Leahy.

I can't believe what a piece of trash Leahy has become.

Which "gay rights" did she bring attention to?

She was among those arguing (and winning the argument) that the US government should do nothing regarding Nouri al-Maliki's assault on Iraq's LGBT community.

Samantha Power is and always has been a fraud.

C.I.'s always called that trash out.  Others who have include Edward S. Herman and Keith Harmon Snow.  But too many idiots have promoted false rumors glorifying the War Hawk.

Samantha is a war mongerer.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Friday, August 2, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the Garden of Eden pops up in Iraqi coverage, Nouri blames Moqtada al-Sadr for violence, the US Embassy in Baghdad closes Sunday as does the US Consulate in Erbil, Ed Snowden remains in the news, and more.

Today that State Dept Tweeted:

  1. is issuing immigrant visas to same-sex couples. Answers to FAQs is available at .
  2. MT : "We are tearing down the unjust & unfair barrier that stood in the way of same-sex families traveling"

Good for the State Dept and good for John Kerry.  That said, the above does not erase The Drone War, the illegal war on Libya and assorted other actions of the US government in the last few years.  Nor does it erase Kerry's problem with regards to taking his oral promises regarding women's rights and failing to follow them (see Ava's "Secretary Kerry doesn't really support women's rights").  I know John Kerry, I like him (I like Tereasa as well and have strong admiration for her).  In 2003, there was no question that John would get my support and I have no regrets for that.  I also happen to agree 100% with what Ava wrote.

My point here is that there are contradictions.  The US government can take needed actions.  It can also do highly destructive things (actions which destroy lives).  NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden is in Russia and that's supposed to be suspect -- especially now that he has temporary asylum -- and supposed to discredit him in some way.

On Democracy Now! today (link is text, video and audio), Amy Goodman spoke with US House Reps John Conyers and Thomas Massie regarding the ongoing spying and the disclosures of the spying that whistle-blower Ed Snowden made.  Excerpt.

AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Massie, what are your thoughts about Russia granting temporary asylum to Edward Snowden, who really started this ball rolling by revealing what—what the intelligence officials of this country, from Keith Alexander to James Clapper, have long denied, but now admitted they weren’t telling the truth about, that the U.S. is spying on American citizens?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: Well, clearly his disclosures have changed the course of human history, really. And I think his initial disclosures were a service to our country, because now we’re having this conversation. And we wouldn’t be having this conversation. I can’t speak for Mr. Snowden’s actions now. He’s basically a person looking out for his own life at this point. But what he did initially was a service to our country. We need to facilitate a way for whistleblowers to do that in a better fashion. And I don’t think our current whistleblower laws would have provided for him to do what he’s done in a better fashion, so I’d like to see some reform there, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: Do you think Russia was right to grant him temporary asylum?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I’m not going to comment on what Russia should have done with Mr. Snowden.

AMY GOODMAN: But do you feel that Mr. Snowden did the right thing?

REP. THOMAS MASSIE: I think initially he did. And now, it would be hard for me to fault his actions at this point. He’s a person who fears for his life, and so, you know, he’s doing what he can, I think, to stay alive at this point.

Those were some strong statements that Massie made -- and good for him for making them at a time when too many in Congress are either silent or else attacking Ed.  He's right that Ed's choices are limited at this point.

But the point I want to make, as elements of the US press repeatedly attempt to churn up outrage, is that the Russian government's record does not make Russia evil.  Whatever country you live in, hopefully you're able to turn your head from one side to the other and see people you are glad to know.  People are not their governments.  Governments frequently lie to the people, mislead them, ignore them.  That's true in the US, that's true in Russia, it's true pretty much everywhere.

The Russian government's actions?  In some ways, the government of Russia is worse than the US.  If you look at the domestic actions of both, Russia's efforts at censorship and targeting its LGBT community are appalling.  But over one million Iraqis have not died in the last ten years as a result of the Russian government.  The State Dept does an annual report and its honest if you think it's fair for the US government to finger point at other countries while failing to examine itself in the same way.

Russia's a wonderful country with many wonderful people.  The government is flawed (as are all governments) and has some outrageous and criminal behaviors -- as does the US government.  Ed Snowden's options are limited -- as a direct result of shameful actions on the part of the US government.  He did not intend to stay in Russia, it was to be a stop on the way to somewhere else.  He now has a one year, temporary asylum.  His taking that fortunate offer does not make him suspect.

Amnesty International made this point very strongly (far better than I have above) in a statement yesterday:

Russia's decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum is a positive development and should allow governments and civil society to focus on the sweeping nature and unlawfulness of the US government’s surveillance programmes.
“The drama of the five weeks since Snowden’s arrival in Russia has distracted attention from the key issue: how the ever-burgeoning security apparatus in the US has used secret courts to undertake massive, sweeping and systematic invasions into the right to privacy of people living in the USA,”said Widney Brown, senior director of International Law and Policy at Amnesty International.
“Let’s not lose sight of why Snowden was forced to seek asylum in Russia.  Once he disclosed the full scope of the US government’s actions, they cancelled his passport and called him a criminal.
“Freedom of expression – a fundamental human right – protects speech that reveals credible evidence of unlawful government action. Under both international law and the 4th Amendment to the US Constitution, the US government’s actions are unlawful.”
With regard to Snowden’s temporary asylum status, the organization is concerned that he has been told that he should not disclose any further information that could harm the USA.
“Everybody has the right to seek asylum. That right can’t be contingent on a promise not to speak out or disclose information on a matter of public concern,” said Widney Brown.
“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure that his rights are respected. He should be allowed to travel freely, including outside of Russia, if he wishes.”
“The US government has been more intent on persecuting Edward Snowden than in addressing or even owning up to its flagrant breaches of international law. It is time that the USA desists from its deplorable attempts to pressure governments to block Snowden’s efforts to seek asylum now or in the future.”

Prensa Latina reports on Snowden's attorney Anatoli Kucherena, "Although at first moment Kucherena announced that Snowden would stay in this country and could apply for temporary residence and then citizenship, he now admits that his client will decide that in the future. He himself will announce it, he said."  With the knowledge that Ed is (at least) temporarily safe, that he has found a place to live, and that he has at least one job offer,  let's turn to his revelations and the US government's response.

Ed Snowden is an American citizen and whistle-blower who had been employed by the CIA and by the NSA before leaving government employment for the more lucrative world of contracting.  At the time he blew the whistle, he was working for Booz Allen Hamilton doing NSA work.  Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) had the first scoop (and many that followed) on Snowden's revelations that the US government was spying on American citizens, keeping the data on every phone call made in the United States (and in Europe as well) while also spying on internet use via PRISM and Tempora.  US Senator Bernie Sanders decried the fact that a "secret court order" had been used to collect information on American citizens "whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing."  Sanders went on to say, "That is not what democracy is about.  That is not what freedom is about. [. . .] While we must aggressively pursue international terrorists and all of those who would do us harm, we must do it in a way that protects the Constitution and civil liberties which make us proud to be Americans."  The immediate response of the White House, as Dan Roberts and Spencer Ackerman (Guardian) reported,  was to insist that there was nothing unusual and to get creaky and compromised Senator Dianne Feinstein to insist, in her best Third Reich voice, "People want to keep the homeland safe."  The spin included statements from Barack himself.   Anita Kumar (McClatchy Newspapers) reports, "Obama described the uproar this week over the programs as “hype” and sought to ensure Americans that Big Brother is not watching their every move."  Josh Richman (San Jose Mercury News) quoted Barack insisting that "we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about."  Apparently not feeling the gratitude, the New York Times editorial board weighed in on the White House efforts at spin, noting that "the Obama administration issued the same platitude it has offered every time President Obama has been caught overreaching in the use of his powers: Terrorists are a real menace and you should just trust us to deal with them because we have internal mechanisms (that we are not going to tell you about) to make sure we do not violate your rights."  Former US President Jimmy Carter told CNN, "I think that the secrecy that has been surrounding this invasion of privacy has been excessive, so I think that the bringing of it to the public notice has probably been, in the long term, beneficial."  Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson explains, "Intelligence officials in the Obama administration and their allies on Capitol Hill paint the fugitive analyst as nothing but a traitor who wants to harm the United States. Many of those same officials grudgingly acknowledge, however, that public debate about the NSA’s domestic snooping is now unavoidable."

The more Barack attempted to defend the spying, the more ridiculous he came off.  Mike Masnick (TechDirt) reviewed Barack's appearance on The Charlie Rose Show and observed of the 'explanations' offered, "None of that actually explains why this program is necessary. If there's a phone number that the NSA or the FBI gets that is of interest, then they should be able to get a warrant or a court order and request information on that number from the telcos. None of that means they should be able to hoover up everything."  As US House Rep John Conyers noted, "But I maintain that the Fourth Amendment to be free from unreasonable search and seizure to mean that this mega data collected in such a super aggregated fashion can amount to a Fourth Amendment violation before you do anything else.  You've already violated the law, as far as I am concerned."  Barack couldn't deal with that reality but did insist, in the middle of June, that this was an opportunity for "a national conversation."  He's always calling for that because, when it doesn't happen, he can blame the nation.  It's so much easier to call for "a national conversation" than for he himself to get honest with the American people. And if Barack really believes this has kicked off "a national conversation" then demonizing Ed Snowden is a really strange way to say "thank you."

The revelations continue.  Wednesday, Glenn Greenwald (Guardian) reported:

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

Amy Goodman covered the report:


AMY GOODMAN:  On Wednesday, The Guardian newspaper revealed details about another secret NSA program called XKeyscore, based on leaked documents provided by Snowden. XKeyscore allows analysts to search, with no prior authorization, through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals. According to a slide presentation provided to The Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden, XKeyscore gives NSA analysts real-time access to, quote, "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet." In its own training materials, the NSA calls XKeyscore its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the Internet. While the program is supposed to target overseas Internet users, The Guardian reports XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even Americans for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant. Edward Snowden first hinted at the program during an interview with The Guardian in June.

EDWARD SNOWDEN: Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything. But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge, to even the president, if I had a personal email.
AMY GOODMAN: The Guardian published its exposé on Wednesday morning just minutes before the Senate Intelligence Committee opened an oversight hearing on the NSA’s surveillance programs.

And Ed was right. Thomas R. Eddlem (New American) points out:

The XKeyscore was discussed on today's first hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR -- link is audio and transcript):

CBS News and Slate's John Dickerson:   The president said he welcomes a conversation. He doesn't welcome a conversation. But this is the conversation that's now taking place. And then the other big development was a new set of documents that were released about another program... 

Diane Rehm:  Called the XKeyscore.

John Dickerson: XKeyscore. And that is a basic scraping of the Internet for overseas or so, the administration claims, that basically captures people's conversations, email, basically everything that you can do online. 

Wall St. Journal's Jerry Seib:  I think what you got a sense of at that Senate hearing and then in the aftermath of it was a feeling that's -- which is a bipartisan feeling, to some extent at least, that the NSA took a program that Congress actually wanted to happen and legally authorize it. It wrote the law that allows the program to happen but then stretched it out of proportion to what the lawmakers intended. And there is now some pushback developing, which is -- but it's difficult because most people in Congress, and this is also bipartisan, actually want the program to continue. They just think the fencing around it ought to be a little sturdier, and that, I think, is something that you're gonna hear discussed. I don't think anybody wants to eliminate it. I think they wanna bring it more under control.  

If Seib's speaking of the ridiculous Senate Judiciary Comittee and it's cowardly members, he's correct, they don't want to eliminate it.  They don't want to protect the Constitution.  As Trina observed early this morning:

It's a good column [Dave Lindorff's]  but what it actually reminded me of was the Wednesday Senate Judiciary Committee hearing that C.I. reported on "Iraq snapshot," Wally's "THIS JUST IN! RUSS FEINGOLD WHERE ARE YOU NOW!" and Cedric's "Punchline: US Senate,Ava's ""Blumenthal disappoints (Ava)," Wally's ""Leahy and Feinstein are disgraces," Ann's ""The Senate Judiciary Committee hearing" and Kat's "The Constitution has been shredded."  Read their reports. The Committee didn't want to address how outrageous it was that spying was going on, they wanted to put a few limits on the spying so it could continue.  It was disgusting.

But they are not the only members of Congress and Seib should damn well know that the Amash - Conyers amendment came very close to passing last week -- an amendment that would have indeed ended it.  Diane would do her listeners a world of good if she'd pay attention to what her guests say and correct them.

I'm about to do the unthinkable again.  When the Bradley Manning story first got attention in 2010, one journalist lied and whored more than any other.  That would be The General's Best Friend, yes, Nancy Youssef.

But Youssef's with McClatchy so we must never call her out.  E-mails could not believe anyone from McClatchy would get called out.  McClathy is a mediocre outlet that doesn't do anything that great.  Their reputation is built around the work of Knight Ridder from right before the Iraq War.  That was Knight Ridder, that was not McClatchy.  Knight Ridder went under and, in a tag sale, McClatchy purchased it.  That's all they did, bought Knight Ridder in 2006.  And since being bought, the chain's become an embarrassment.

Nancy pronounced Bradley guilty from the start.  She's still lying about him.  Here she is from the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show today:

Diane Rehm:  And his father [Ed Snowden's father Lou Snowden] has said he's going to visit him in Russia. He, his father said he doesn't want him to return to the United States, Nancy? 

Nancy Youssef:  That's right and he also made a distinction between his son and Bradley Manning because of the verdict that came against the former private for leaking documents to Wiki leaks. He was sentenced to as many as 136 years in prison and so he's trying to make a distinction between his son and Bradley Manning and he has come out and said that while, as an American, he's retired from the Coast Guard, that he was saddened by this. 

 I'm sorry, what did she just say?

And it's not corrected.

Bradley Manning's sentencing continues.  It has not wrapped up.  Click here for Kevin Gostola's coverage of today's arguments made to Lind in the ongoing sentencing portion.  Arguments being made by the prosecution and the defense and the military judge, Colonel Denis Lind, has yet to sentence Brad to anything.  Nancy Youssef is an embarrassment and her conduct throughout on Brad has been appalling.  Today, she went on live radio and announced that Brad had been sentenced when no such thing has yet to take place.

When journalists can't get their facts right, they need to close their mouths.  And grown ups need to hold them accountable.

If you want to see who's been telling the truth, Thomas R. Eddlem (New American) points out, it's been Ed Snowden and not the government:

With the revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden and reporter Glenn Greenwald, there seem to be only two possibilities regarding claims by House Permanent Intelligence Subcommittee Chairman Mike Rogers: He either boldly lied about the breadth of NSA surveillance of the American people, or he didn't know and was therefore engaged in incompetent oversight of the NSA.
Either possibility has huge implications for American constitutional government: If Rogers didn't know, what does that say about congressional oversight of these shadowy NSA programs? And if he did know, and was willingly lying to the American people, is that any better?
Rogers, a liberal Michigan Republican (51 percent cumulative Freedom Index score, one of the lowest scores among Republicans), claimed in debate on the Amash amendment, which would have forbidden the NSA from spending any of its funding on the bulk collection of Americans' electronic messages, July 24: “We should have time and education on what actually happens in the particular program of which we speak. And I'll pledge each and every one of you today, and give you my word, that this fall, when we do the Intel authorization bill, we will work to find additional privacy protections with this program, that has no emails, no phone calls, no names and no addresses.”

Some of the effects of the reported revelations?  Michael Hirsh (National Journal via Gov.Exec) notes:

A groundswell of congressional support for major new restrictions on the NSA, combined with pressure from the nation's most powerful tech companies, is almost certain to force some of those changes into being.  And the battle lines are already being formed between the judiciary and intelligence committees in both the House and Senate. Firebrand defenders of privacy rights on the judiciary committees are seeking to shut down or fundamentally overhaul surveillance, while Intelligence committee members who tend to stand behind the NSA are trying to preserve as much as they can of what they consider an essential program. 
The ideas range from the extreme, shutting the telecommunication and Internet monitoring programs down altogether—something almost certain not to happen—to more feasible ideas that might preserve the heart of the program but add more transparency to the process. Such ideas include one that is gaining momentum in both the House and Senate—appointing a privacy advocate to take the other side against government requests for surveillance in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court—declassifying portions of the FISA orders, making them available to more members of Congress, and redesigning the phone-records collection program so that the NSA does not take possession of all the data itself.

 Another impact?  BBC News notes, "Germany has cancelled a Cole War-era pact with the US and Britain in response to revelations about electronic surveillance operations.  Details of snooping programmes involving the transatlantic allies have been leaked to the media by former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden."

 Some would argue that Ed Snowden's revelations also exposed Barack Obama but the reality is Barack exposed himself.  Paul Craig Roberts (Global Research) observes:

As Washington loses its grip on the world, defied by Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, and now Russia, the US government resorts to public temper tantrums. The constant demonstration of childishness on the part of the White House and Congress embarrasses every American. 

Washington’s latest outburst of childish behavior is a response to the Russian Immigration Service granting US whistleblower Edward Snowden asylum in Russia for one year while his request for permanent asylum is considered.

Washington, having turned the US into a lawless state, no longer has any conception of legal procedure. Law is whatever serves Washington. As Washington sees it, law is nothing but Washington’s will. Any person or country that interferes with Washington’s will is behaving unlawfully. 

Because Obama, like Bush before him, routinely disobeys US law and the US Constitution, the White House actually thinks that Russian President Putin should disobey Russian and international law, overturn the Russian Immigration Service’s asylum decision, and hand over Snowden to Washington. 

Today, the United Nations announced:

2 August 2013 – Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon today announced the appointment of Nickolay Mladenov of Bulgaria as his Special Representative for Iraq and Head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).
Mr. Mladenov has extensive experience in public service. As former Foreign Affairs Minister of Bulgaria, he led his country’s diplomatic engagement with a large number of partners, including in the Middle East. He also served as Minister of Defence for his country and as a Member of the European Parliament, including its Foreign Affairs Committee and the Delegation for Iraq.
Mr. Mladenov has held several positions in the inter-governmental and non-governmental sectors, including at the World Bank, the National Democratic Institute and the International Republic Institute.
He will replace Martin Kobler of Germany. In a statement issued by Mr. Ban’s spokesperson, the Secretary-General expressed his gratitude for Mr. Kobler’s dedicated service and leadership of UNAMI.
Established in 2003, UNAMI is mandated to advise and assist the Government and people of Iraq on a number of fronts including advancing political dialogue and national reconciliation, assisting in the electoral process, facilitating regional dialogue between Iraq and its neighbours, and promoting the protection of human rights and judicial and legal reform.

The 41-year-old Mladenov has also served (for two years) in the European Parliament.  He was also the subject of a February 2010 State Dept cable from the US Embassy in Sofia.  WikiLeaks posts the cable here and it notes his appointment to Foreign Minister:

Mladenov, 37, is one of the youngest and brightest stars in Borissov's cabinet. A former Member of the European Parliament (MEP), Mladenov was the first person to become Minister of Defense without military experience. Mladenov is modern-thinking and western oriented. He is dynamic, with a famous work ethic and the strategic vision to challenge entrenched interests inside the military and his ministry. While Minister of Defense, Mladenov made deepening the United States-Bulgaria relationship his top priority and worked to expand deployments to Afghanistan and find creative new uses for the joint bases. While he made progress, much of his time and attention was drawn into cleaning up the legal, structural, and budgetary mess left behind by the previous Minister. We can expect Mladenov to take his reformist, transatlanic attitude with him to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA). It is rumored that he will continue to have input into important security decisions, though how this will work in practice is not yet clear. He will undoubtedly represent Bulgaria well in his new role and will put a young, modern face on Bulgaria.

Why were they so high on him?  Because, among other things, he's also worked with the World Bank and the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute.  Those are organizations that the US government loves.  They are not organizations beloved by the people.

He has work cut out for him.  Today,  the State Dept issued the following:


Worldwide Travel Alert
August 2, 2013

The Department of State alerts U.S. citizens to the continued potential for terrorist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and North Africa, and possibly occurring in or emanating from the Arabian Peninsula. Current information suggests that al-Qa’ida and affiliated organizations continue to plan terrorist attacks both in the region and beyond, and that they may focus efforts to conduct attacks in the period between now and the end of August. This Travel Alert expires on August 31, 2013.

Terrorists may elect to use a variety of means and weapons and target both official and private interests. U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Terrorists have targeted and attacked subway and rail systems, as well as aviation and maritime services. U.S. citizens should take every precaution to be aware of their surroundings and to adopt appropriate safety measures to protect themselves when traveling.

We continue to work closely with other nations on the threat from international terrorism, including from al-Qa'ida. Information is routinely shared between the U.S. and our key partners in order to disrupt terrorist plotting, identify and take action against potential operatives, and strengthen our defenses against potential threats.
We recommend U.S. citizens register their travel plans with the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website. We strongly recommend that U.S. citizens Traveling abroad enroll in the Department of State's Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). STEP enrollment gives you the latest security updates, and makes it easier for the U.S. embassy or nearest U.S. consulate to contact you in an emergency. If you don't have Internet access, enroll directly with the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

For the latest security information, U.S. citizens traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department of State's Internet website at where the Worldwide Caution, Country Specific Information, Travel Warnings, and Travel Alerts can be found. Follow us on Twitter and the Bureau of Consular Affairs page on Facebook as well. Download our free Smart Traveler app, available through iTunes or Google Play, to have travel information at your fingertips.

In addition to information on the internet, travelers may obtain up-to-date information on security conditions by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll-free in the United States and Canada or, from other countries, on a regular toll line at 1-202-501-4444. These numbers are available from 8:00 am to 8:00 pm Monday through Friday, Eastern Time (except U.S. federal holidays).

CNN's Elise Labott pointed out (on the second hour of today's Diane Rehm Show), "That's absolutely, I mean, the reason that all of these embassies are being closed not just in the Middle East and North Africa but also in Asia, abundance of caution since Benghazi. The U.S. doesn't want to be liable if, God forbid, something happens.  here was a specific threat to the U.S. embassy in Yemen. That's where the primary concern is coming from but when you take that threat that is also kind of ambiguous and then you take this Ramadan special, days of Ramadan that Nancy just mentioned.  You have Benghazi in everybody's mind. You also have the anniversary of the U.S. embassies, the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania coming up. So all of this just leads to a heightened abundance of caution and the U.S. isn't taking any chances."  Fox News has a list of the closings -- and in edition to the US Embassy in Baghdad being closed Sunday, the US Consulate in Erbil is also being closed Sunday.  Jennifer Jones (Christian Today) observes, "The U.S. Embassies, which would normally be open this Sunday, will be closed and possibly for more days. The U.S. diplomatic offices are usually open on Sunday, where it is the start of the workweek in Muslim countries." State Dept spokesperson Marie Harf explained yesterday that "the Department of State has instructed certain U.S. embassies and consulates to remain closed or to suspend operations on Sunday, August 4th.  The Department has been apprised of information that, out of an abundance of caution and care for our employees and others who may be visiting our installations that indicate we should institute these precautionary steps. The Department, when conditions warrant, takes steps like this to balance our continued operations with security and safety."

On violence, NINA notes 1 security agent was shot dead in Kirkuk, the Iraqi military killed a suspected al Qaeda in Iraq commander, an armed attack in Kirkuk left 3 soldiers dead and three more injured, an attack on a Mosul checkpoint left 2 Iraqi soldiers dead, a Baaj bombing left 2 people dead and three more injured, and a Falluja roadside bombing left two people injuredAlsumaria adds a Kirkuk bombing left 4 Iraqi soldiers dead and two more injured.

World Bulletin reports today that reporters who attempted to cover a protest in Baghdad's Tahrir Square, "A group of journalists wanted to go to Tahrir Square to follow the protests which are to be held for the improvement of security standards in the state, but were detained by Iraqi security officials, sources said. The journalists' cameras and video cameras were also confiscated."  Nouti's back to imprisoning journalists.  Will anyone bother to condemn his latest attack on the press?

This protest was part of the Consolidated Friday theme and included recognition of International Quds Day.  National Iraqi News Agency notes that it featured "hundreds of members of the League of the Righteous, Hezbollah, Badr Organization and other parties" took part in actions which were "called by Iranian Imam Khomeini."   In Baghdad, All Iraq News notes, hundreds turned out.  Looking at the photo with the article, you'll see that it should probably be changed to "thousands."  They explains "International Quds Day is an annual event that began in Iran in 1979 that is commemorated on the last Friday of Ramadan, expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people and opposing Zioneism as well as Israel's control of Jerusalem."  But NINA makes clear, that the Baghdad Tahrir Square demonstration also included those who were "demanding the government to address the security file and the elimination of terrorism as well as the abolition of the use of broken sonar devices in the multiple checkpoints in Baghdad and of other provinces.

Iraqi Spring MC notes that Nouri's SWAT forces cut off roads leading to Tahrir Square.  In addition, the SWAT forces began arresting people in Tahrir Square and downtown Baghdad.  And they turned out in Baghdad's Adhamiya, in Baiji, in Jalawla,  and these protests also took place today in Basra and in Karbala.   The protests have been going on since December 21st (and today's theme was Consolidated Friday which allowed the ongoing protests to also include the Quds focus).

Ali Mamouri (Al-Monitor) reports on how activists and members of the media remain targets in 'free' Iraq:

According to a report by the JFO, Iraq has recorded 259 cases of murder of Iraqi and foreign media activists in the last 10 years. Furthermore, 64 activists were abducted, most of whom were killed, while 14 of them are still missing. The perpetrators of these crimes have still not been revealed, given that the crimes were all committed under mysterious circumstances. These violations were neither legally nor politically pursued.
Civilian activists in Iraq are divided into two main categories: governmental and non-governmental. The second category faces a very serious risk. It is targeted by government forces, militias and terrorist organizations all at once. Moreover, the government does not feel responsible for them and abstains from providing them with a minimum level of protection. The Iraqi government continuously passes laws against civil liberties related to social activists through a number of institutions that are concerned with this matter.
These laws include a law to “protect journalists.” This law was totally taken from the former Iraqi laws that criminalize the publication of information in different cases and allows the imprisonment of journalists for up to seven years when they insult the government, according to a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Meanwhile a national park gets declared and quickly becomes declared sacred ground?  Wednesday, National Geographic's Lara Sorokanich reported:

Iraq decreed its first official national park last week, after years of planning and bargaining within its governmental council. The new title will help protect the central marshes of Iraq, which are currently threatened by the country’s increasing urbanization and development.
One integral part of the legislation’s passing was Nature Iraq, an environmental group whose founder and president Azzam Alwash was awarded the Goldman Environmental Prize earlier this year for his work in Iraq’s marshlands. The group played a key role in developing the park’s management plans—along with the Ministries of Water Resources and Environment and the National Park Committee—and has also worked for several years to reflood the area’s drained marshes.

Environment News Service adds today, "The Mesopotamian Marshlands of southern Iraq were once the third largest wetlands in the world, originally extending between 12,000 and 15,000 square kilometers and partially covering the three southern governorates of Iraq: Missan, Thi Qar and Basrah." Janet Falk (Smart Planet) noted yesterday, "This vast Mesopotamian marshland in the south of the country is widely held to be the location of the Garden of Eden, where Adam and Eve were created (and subsequently cast out)." Fred Pearce (New Scientist) insists, "The 'Garden of Eden' has been saved, even as chaos grows all around.

If it turns out to be sacred ground, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki might want to visit.  He could use a blessing right about now as the security unravels and he's the one responsible.  Aso Fishagy (Rudaw) explains how Nouri's handling his failures:

Iraq’s Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is blaming opponents and allies alike for his government’s failures, accusing a deputy of giving him wrong information about power outages and charging that the Shiite Mahdi Army was behind the recent escape of prisoners from Baghdad jails.
In an interview with Al Iraqiya TV, a semi-official channel in Iraq that gathered Maliki and a number of Iraqi political commentators, the premier said that electricity blackouts across the country were not his fault.
“Hussein Shahristani, Iraqi deputy PM for energy affairs, has given me incorrect information about the level of electricity production in Iraq,” said Maliki, whose Shiite-led government has been adrift as attacks and bombings have risen dramatically, and the country’s large Sunni and Kurdish minorities no longer regard him as the man to lead Iraq.
“Unfortunately these mistakes happen at a time when the Iraqi PM has three deputies. Each deputy prime minister should have acted responsibly towards the problems of social services,” said Maliki, providing a glimpse into the turmoil and disunity inside his own inner circle.
In the same interview, Maliki blamed the fellow-Shiite Sadr Movement’s Mahdi Army for this month’s attacks on teahouses and cafes in Baghdad.  

Nothing's ever Nouri's fault.  An underling (Shahristani) is at fault for having "given me incorrect information."  The violence?  It's Moqtada al-Sadr!  That won't play in Iran where they're tired of Nouri and eager to back Moqtada to be Iraq's new prime minister.   Last week's prison breaks resulted in hundreds of escapees.  Haider Najm (Niqash) reports:

It was like a scene from the 2002 Arnold Schwarzenegger movie, Collateral Damage. During the movie Colombian guerrillas break into a prison to free their fellow members. In Iraq last week, there were similar scenes as armed extremists used mortars, rockets and suicide bombers to break prisoners out of the Abu Ghraib and Taji prisons. A power cut, rioting in the prison by prisoners affiliated with the attackers and prison guards who colluded with the attackers were also part of the real-life incident. 

The attacks on Abu Ghraib were spectacularly successful, lasting ten hours and leading to the escape of around 500 prisoners; that number included senior members of the Sunni Muslim extremist group, Al Qaeda. Over 300 of the escapees have already been recaptured but others remain at large. The attack on Taji prison was not as successful – it resulted in the deaths of over a dozen soldiers and six militants but there were no escapes.  

Responsibility for the attacks was claimed by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, which has connections with Al Qaeda. “The organization announced that hundreds of Muslim detainees, among them some 500 of the best fighters ever born, were freed,” the London-based Middle Eastern news website, Asharq Al-Awsat reported.

Film clips were also posted on the Internet that showed the prison attack underway. The clips were posted on sites known for their affiliation with Al Qaeda and members of the sites wrote messages underneath the clips, congratulating each other on the success of the operation.  

But even as the events were being widely reported on, the recriminations and conspiracy theories had already started in Baghdad. 

Apparently the Iraqi National Intelligence Service actually warned local security forces of the attacks a few hours before they happened. The militants themselves apparently warned locals living nearby to stay away. Word leaked out that Iraq’s secret service had sent a total of seven messages to local security forces over a period of two months, which detailed, among other things, the date on which the attack was planned. According to investigators dispatched by the Iraqi government to find out why the Abu Ghraib jail break succeeded so well, the local security forces did not react quickly enough to the warnings they received nor did they take them seriously enough.

Also in line for criticism was Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. The Prime Minster didn’t comment on the attack until the following day and many said he didn’t treat the matter as seriously as he should have. At a meeting in his office that was organized by his office, to which three media commentators were invited, al-Maliki even sought to put the blame elsewhere, saying that he thought the Shiite Muslim militia, the Mahdi Army, were probably involved.

Turning to veterans issues, Guy Kovner (Santa Rosa Press Democrat) reports, "Three local Iraq veterans are hosting the first annual PTSD Awareness Walk, an event open to the public Saturday at Howarth Park in Santa Rosa. The 1-mile walk around Lake Ralphine, which starts at 10 a.m., is intended to 'increase awareness and raise funds to help break the stigma' around post-traumatic stress disorder in Sonoma County, the organizers said."  Yesterday on Here and Now (NPR -- link is audio and text), host Jeremy Hobson explored veterans suicides with Derk Bennett:

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:  It's HERE AND NOW. A new survey of thousands of men and women who served in Iraq and Afghanistan shows that suicide is the biggest issue they are concerned with. Almost 40 percent say they know a vet who killed themselves. Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America conducted the survey, and its chief of staff is Derek Bennett. He is a former Army captain who served two tours in Iraq. Derek joins us now from NPR in New York. Welcome.

DEREK BENNETT: Thank you very much for having me.

HOBSON: Well, let's start with these suicide numbers, just shocking if you think about it. Thirty percent of respondents to your survey have thought of taking their own lives. Forty-five percent know an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who has attempted suicide.

BENNETT: It's epidemic. Both of those numbers are frightening. It's not new. We've seen similar trends in the previous three years that we've done the survey. And I think it's something that we're not talking enough about in this country. The number of veterans and the number of active-duty individuals who have committed suicide is actually higher than the number of folks we've lost to the enemy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

HOBSON: Well, what's going on? Because the military has upped its suicide prevention programs. These have been an issue that's been around for a while. People have been talking about it. 

BENNETT: It's been around for a while, but like so many things in this space, there's not a lot of reliable good data, which is why this survey, to us, is so important. The Army specifically didn't really start consistently and methodically counting suicides until about 2002. And that only counts active-duty folks. Since they've started counting, now they've implemented some suicide prevention work, and there's still a lot more that needs to be done. They need to better understand the problem itself, who's most at risk.
They have the National Institute of Health and some other folks who have done a lot of research that indicates that deployments actually in Iraq and Afghanistan specifically may not be correlated with the increase in suicide. But that's all the data that's available for active-duty individuals. Once someone transitions and leaves the DOD and they become a veteran, no one counts whether or not a veteran commits suicide. So we actually don't have a reliable number for how many veterans are committing suicide. We believe - some of the best research in this right now indicates it's somewhere around 22 a day, which is unbelievable.

In other veterans news, Chapel Hill News reports that Iraq War veteran Viv Taylor has been named as the new Executive Director of Integrity USA which works "for full LGBT inclusion in the Episcopal Church"  and, "Taylor is among the first transgender women to enter the Episcopal ordination process and will be the first openly trans woman to lead a major mainline Protestant denominational organization in the U.S., according to an Integrity news release. Integrity has been the leading grassroots voice for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people in the Episcopal Church and for equal access to its rites since its founding in rural Georgia in 1974."  In 2013, Senator Patty Murray became the Chair of the Senate Budget Committee and Senator Bernie Sanders replaced her as Senate Veterans Affairs Committee Chair.  Murray continues to serve on the Veterans Affairs Committee and she continues to work on behalf of service members and veterans.  Yesterday, her office issued the following:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                            CONTACT: Murray Press Office
Thursday, August 01, 2013                                                                                    (202) 224-2834
Murray Special Victims Counsels Receive Full Funding
Senate Defense Appropriations bill includes $25 million for trained military lawyers to help victims of sexual assault take action against attackers
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee approved $25 million to fully fund Senator Patty Murray’s (D-WA) Special Victims Counsels (SVCs) program aimed at providing victims of military sexual assault, in all branches, with a trained lawyer to guide them through the legal process. The House of Representatives has also approved full funding for the SVC program in their Department of Defense spending legislation. In May, Senators Murray and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) introduced the bipartisan Combating Military Sexual Assault Act, which has been included in the pending National Defense Authorization Act.
“I’m pleased this bill supports several important initiatives, starting with expanding the highly successful Special Victims’ Counsel program across the whole military,” said Senator Murray.  “The SVC program will provide victims of sexual assault with the legal assistance they need to pursue justice and be protected from retaliation, while getting to the heart of effectively addressing this tragic epidemic. Thank you to Chairman Durbin and Ranking Member Cochran for their leadership in putting forward a strong, bipartisan Defense appropriations bill that puts a priority on tackling this scourge within the ranks.”
“We include $25 million in this bill to implement their great idea of a Special Victims Counsel program across all services to address the issues of sexual harassment,” said Chairman Dick Durbin during the hearing. “The Air Force has good program.  We’re going to incorporate this across the services with the $25 million here. I think this will have a greater positive impact than many of the other issues that are being debated that should make our military more welcoming.”
In a statement endorsing the Murray-Ayotte SVC legislation, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey said, “The Air Force Special Victims’ Counsel (SVC) pilot program, while very new, has shown positive results and provides a robust support program for victims of sexual assault.  Hundreds of victims have availed themselves of SVC services in the Air Force in just the past several months since it was implemented.  Many of those victims who initially filed restricted reports of sexual assault decided to change their report to unrestricted, allowing full investigation of the offenses committed by their assailant.  As the early reports have been so promising, I expressed in my May 20, 2013, letters to Senators Levin and Inhofe that the proposed SVC legislation had merit. I support providing victims of sexual assault this important resource.”
The Senate Defense Appropriations legislation also addresses Senator Murray’s priorities to continue oversight of the struggling integrated electronic health record system, funding for Army National Guard Behavioral Health programs, and includes $10 million for the Office of Suicide Prevention.
Meghan Roh
Press Secretary | New Media Director
Office of U.S. Senator Patty Murray
Mobile: (202) 365-1235
Office: (202) 224-2834





Thursday, August 01, 2013

C.I.'s coverage of the House Judiciary Committee hearing

I'm sorry, I'm not writing at length tonight.  I'm really not writing at all.

What I'm doing instead is asking you to be sure to read the snapshot today.  C.I. opens with the House Judiciary Committee hearing.  This is some powerful reporting.

"Iraq snapshot" (The Common Ills):
Wednesday, July 31, 2013.  Chaos and violence continue, the death toll for the month reaches close to a thousand, one of Nouri's political enemies wins an election, Massoud Barzani is seen as a leadership figure, the unconstitutional spying continues in the US, the Senate Judiciary Committee pretends to care about the spying, the US government releases some minor documents on the spying while Glenn Greenwald files another major scoop, and more.

Senator Patrick Leahy: Today, the, uh, Judiciary Committee will scrutinize government surveillance programs conducted on the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Act or FISA.  In the years since September 11th,  Congress has repeatedly expanded the scope of FISA, has given the government sweeping new powers to collect information on law abiding Americans and we must carefully consider now whether those laws may have gone too far.  Last month, many Americans learned for the first time that one of these authorities, Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act, has for years been secretly interpreted -- secretly interpreted -- to authorize the collection of Americans' phone records on an unprecedented scale.  Information was also leaked about Section 702 of FISA which authorizes the NSA to collect the information of foreigners overseas.

That was Leahy at this morning's Senate Judiciary Committee hearing -- he is the Chair of the Committee.  From there Leahy embarrassed himself by attacking NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden while not naming him. Let's continue with Leahy.

Senator Patrick Leahy:  Let me make clear that I do not condone the way these and other highly classified programs were disclosed, and I am concerned about the potential damage to our intelligence-gathering capabilities and national security. We need to hold people accountable for allowing such a massive leak to occur, and we need to examine how to prevent this type of breach in the future. In the wake of these leaks, the President said that this is an opportunity to have an open and thoughtful debate about these issues. And I welcome that statement, because this is a debate that several of us on this Committee in both parties have been trying to have for years. Like so many others, I'll get the classified briefings but then of course you can't talk about them.  There's a lot of these things that  should be and can be discussed.   And if we are going to have the debate that the President called for, the executive branch must be a full partner. We need straightforward answers.  Now I am concerned that we are not getting them. Just recently, the Director of National Intelligence acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March, and his office had to remove a fact sheet from its website after concerns were raised about its accuracy. I appreciate that it is difficult to talk about classified programs in public settings, but the American people expect and deserve honest answers. It also has been far too difficult to get a straight answer about the effectiveness of the Section 215 phone records program. Whether this program is a critical national security tool is a key question for Congress as we consider possible changes to the law. Some supporters of this program have repeatedly conflated the efficacy of the Section 215 bulk meta data collection program with that of Section 702 of FISA even though they're entirely different. I do not think this is a coincidence, when we have people in government make that comparison but it needs to stop. I think the patience of the American people is beginning to wear thin.  But what has to be of more concern in a democracy is the trust of the American people is wearing thin.

Leahy is part of the problem.  He had to be shamed into holding this hearing and have it thrown in his face repeatedly that the House Judiciary Committee had held a hearing.  Forced into holding a hearing, note the crap Leahy offers.

He doesn't approve of NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden's actions and "we need to hold people accountable" as he worries about "the potential damage to our intelligence-gathering capabilities and national security."

Contrast that with James Clapper.  Leahy says Clapper "acknowledged that he provided false testimony about the NSA surveillance programs during a Senate hearing in March."

I'm sorry, where's your outrage over that?  Where's your statement about the need for accountability for that?

Has Leahy forgotten what perjury and "contempt of Congress" are?

Has he forgotten that is a crime to provide Congress with false testimony?

That's regardless of whether or not the witness is put under oath.

So the way it works is that Leahy is outraged and wants accountability -- done by others.  But Leahy and other members of Congress refuse to exercise their power to punish an official who came before the Congress and lied.

The American people are exhausted, yes.  They are tired of the spying but they're most of all tired of the lazy and useless people they voted into the US Congress who refuse to do their jobs or to honor their oaths to uphold the Constitution.  As Ranking Member Charles Grassley observed, "We have a Constitutional duty to protect American's privacy.  That's a given."

Yes, it is.  And maybe we need Grassley to offer a briefer on that to the Committee?

We should actually thank Leahy because, in his opening remarks, he made it clear that he really didn't give a damn about accountability or Congressional oversight.  He made it clear how useless he and his Committee are.

He did so by fawning over Dianne Feinstein ahead of the meeting, in fact.  The ethically challenged DiFi who has abused her office also heads the Senate Intelligence Committee.  DiFi does a lot.  When not practicing nepotism and worse, she likes to pretend she's governor of California -- an office she's never held.  It's in that delusional capacity that she recently insisted that San Diego Mayor Bob Filner should resign.  That's not her damn business and she needs to take her big nose out of it.  (As noted Monday, that decision is up to the people of San Diego.  I live in District 8, so I offer no opinion on what the 'right' thing to do is.  San Diego needs to be having that conversation with one another and they don't need the rest of us telling them what to do.)

It's amazing that she wants to talk about morals when, had Democrats not controlled the Senate, she would have most likely been censured by the Ethics Committee for her actions in giving her husband -- her War Hawk husband -- government contracts.

I think she a lot of gall even showing up for this hearing.

For those who don't know, Dianne Feinstein is the Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee. So when the NSA spying emerged in May, her tired ass should have been all over this issue with hearings.  How many public hearings has DiFi held on this issue?


She has not called one hearing.  (And she hasn't held a public hearing since March 13, 2013.  Someone needs to ask her what 'sunlight' and an 'informed public' mean to her.)  President Barack Obama claims a national dialogue needs to take place and Dianne Feinstein goes against that.  She's happy to hector and lecture, she just won't due the job required of her and schedule open hearings on this matter.

Today, she fawned over the unconstitutional spying and she also offered a disturbing series of remarks that indicated even she doesn't listen when she speaks.

Senator Dianne Feinstein:  Yesterday, at the Intelligence Committee,  I outlined some changes that we might consider as part of our authorization bill and let me quickly run through them.  Uh, uhm, the number of American phone numbers permitted as queries on a regular basis annually from the data base, the number of referrals  made to the FBI each year based on those queries and how many times the FBI obtains probably cause warrants to collect the content of a call which we now know is very few times relatively, the number of times a company, this is at their request -- from the high tech companies -- that any company is required to provide data pursuant to FISA's business record's provision.  As you know, the companies who provide information are seeking to be able to speak more publicly about this and I think we should.  There's some changes we can make to the business records section.  We're looking at reducing the five year retention period that NSA keeps phone records in its data base down to two or three years.

And Sarah Palin was ridiculed for how she spoke?  Sarah Palin was mocked in a Saturday Night Live skit for how she spoke?  I found that disturbing in real time -- and noted in real time that if you attended Congressional hearings, Palin's manner of speaking wasn't that surprising when compared to other politicians (changing topics -- or subjects or verbs -- mid-sentence, for example).  From those remarks above, let's highlight Dianne Feinstein saying this:

Uh, uhm, the number of American phone numbers permitted as queries on a regular basis annually from the data base, the number of referrals  made to the FBI each year based on those queries and how many times the FBI obtains probably cause warrants to collect the content of a call which we now know is very few times relatively, the number of times a company, this is at their request -- from the high tech companies -- that any company is required to provide data pursuant to FISA's business record's provision. 

Those aren't "changes."  They might be 'topics,' but what the hell she's saying who knows?

What's really disturbing is that those remarks weren't made in response to a question from Katie Couric.  DiFi made them herself, reading from a list, and never grasped that they didn't make sense.  Behavior like that, in our state of California (Dianne and mine), would mean she wouldn't get her driver's license renewed.

Along with her not making sense in the middle of a Senate hearing, there's also the reality that, if she wanted a debate on these topics yesterday, she should have chaired an open hearing and not the closed one Tuesday afternoon

Do we need to speak more slowly for Dianne? 

Above you have Dianne Feinstein making ridiculous statement's.  It's not until the last sentence quoted that she finally does what she said she was going to do share "outlined" changes.
 At the age of 80, would you honestly let her drive the family car on a road trip or even a trip to the grocery store?

No, you probably wouldn't.

So why do we let her remain in the Senate, let alone give her the position of Chair.  This dying -- of old age -- in office really needs to be addressed by the Senate.  It's time for either term limits or age limits.  I do not trust the 80-year-old Dianne Feinstein to chair a Committee on anything.

"I think they will come after us," the dottering and aged fool insisted -- never defining who "they" were but making the case for putting her into assisted-living facilities.  We don't need the shut-in CBS viewers in charge of our rights?  We don't the need reactionary, elderly -- already spooked by societal changes -- determining what will keep us safe. Repeating: It's time for term limits or its time for age limits.  At 80, her fears falling out like busted sofa, Dianne Feinstein is too old to be a Chair of anything and should not be in the US Senate.

Dianne's way of fixing things is to insist that the actions continue but -- embrace this consolation -- the records from the spying will be held "two or three years" and not five.

"I read intelligence regularly, she insisted "and I believe we would place this country in jeopardy if we eliminated these two programs."

Though this morning's hearing served as a setting for various senators to make spectacles of themselves, there were actual witnesses offering testimony.  Appearing before the Committee were two panels.  The first was made up of Dept of Justice's James Cole, NSA's John Inglis, Office of the Director of National Intelligence's Robert S. Lift and the FBI's Sean Joyce.  The second panel was Judge James G. Carr, the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer and the woefully ignorant Stewart Baker.

Meta data, James Cole wanted to insist, is not classified information.  It is private information.  Many of us are aware, for example, that in the early hours of Marilyn Monroe's death, the Secret Service grabbed the meta data (then known as "toll slips") from the phone company.  So JFK deserves privacy but the American people don't?

Did anyone on the Committee not self-disgrace, is there any member of the Committee do anything worthy of applause?  Al Franken.

Senator Al Franken:  I want to be clear at the outset, I think that these programs protect our country and have saved lives.  But I do think there is a critical problem at the center of this debate and that's the lack of transparency around these programs.  The government has to give proper weight to both keeping America safe from terrorism and protecting American's privacy.  But when almost everything about these programs is secret and when the companies involved are under strict gag orders, the American public has no way of knowing whether we're getting that balance right.  I think that's bad for privacy and bad for democracy.  Tomorrow, I'm introducing a bill to address this, to fix this.  It will force the government to disclose how many Americans have had their information collected under key authorities in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and it will give force -- it will also force the government to disclose how many Americans have had their information actually reviewed by federal  agents.  My bill would also allow private companies to disclose aggregate figures about the number of FISA orders they're receiving and the number of their users that these orders have effected.

That may not be enough for you.  Sitting through the hearing -- the awful hearing -- you can argue lowered my expectations.  But I don't think so.

I've held Al accountable here and at Third.  I've known Al since the 70s.  I don't dislike him.  You wouldn't get that impression here.  That's because Al cheerleaded the Iraq War and that's reality that can't be avoided at a site that covers Iraq.  He shut out voices against the war on his own Air America program.  That's reality.  It's not surprising reality to me.  Again, I've known him since the 70s.  He is not of The Great Left.  He can relate to issues like farming and low income workers.  He can lead on those issues.  But I found him politically disappointing in the 80s (when he'd justify Reagan, for example).  On the Democratic scale, he falls in the middle.  (I fall on the far left.)  So maybe I'm grading him on a curve?

Could be.  But I haven't felt the need to cut him slack prior.  And I'm fine with going after everyone on the Committee.  But I do think he's the only one who showed common sense and the only one who appeared to not just know the Constitution but also to grasp its meaning.

I would give points to Senator Sheldon Whitehouse for refusing to be bullied or intimidated despite repeated claims from the panel that the hearing itself was harming national security.  Whitehouse wouldn't back down, "My point is that the American people is an important part of this debate and we would probably be better off if there is not such a strong instinct in terms of classifying and keeping things classified and we'd develop information for the American public in a way that minimized that intelligence collection loss and allowed us to have this debate."

Senator Richard Blumenthal had a moment or two on FISA that Ava will cover tonight at Trina's site.  Wally's covering Leahy at Rebecca's site tonight.  Wally's "THIS JUST IN! RUSS FEINGOLD WHERE ARE YOU NOW!" and Cedric's "Punchline: US Senate" already went up earlier today after the hearing ended.   Ann's going to follow Kat's lead and offer general impressions. 

This morning, Ava and I wrote "Tough Talk For The Left (Ava and C.I.)" -- if you don't get how true that is, please note that George Zimmerman is in the news cycle, the top story on Google as I dictate this.

George Zimmerman armed when stopped for speeding in Texas, report says

CBS News - ‎1 hour ago‎
(CBS) FORNEY, Texas - George Zimmerman, the former Florida neighborhood watch leader cleared of all charges in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, was pulled over for speeding in North Texas on Sunday, CBS DFW reports.
An armed George Zimmerman stopped for speeding in Texas, gets warning - by Michael Muskal
George Zimmerman pulled over for speeding in Texas

He's in the news because?  He was pulled over for speeding and given a verbal warning -- three days ago.  And he had a gun on him.  Not a problem in the state of Texas, where he was.  So why is this news?  It's not news.  But there were real issues today -- Bradley Manning, this morning's hearing, the US government's release of documents on the spying right before the hearing started, another major report from Glenn Greenwald, etc.  But instead, Google wants to steer you to a non-story about a person pulled over for speeding.   What?  Google couldn't find a story about someone in America having a flat tire today?

Here's the opening to the latest reporting by Glenn Greenwald (Guardian):

A top secret National Security Agency program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals, according to documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The NSA boasts in training materials that the program, called XKeyscore, is its "widest-reaching" system for developing intelligence from the internet.
The latest revelations will add to the intense public and congressional debate around the extent of NSA surveillance programs. They come as senior intelligence officials testify to the Senate judiciary committee on Wednesday, releasing classified documents in response to the Guardian's earlier stories on bulk collection of phone records and Fisa surveillance court oversight.

Despite claims today in the hearing, including by James Cole, that there is oversight, there isn't.  The report notes that there is no review -- not by the courts, not by the NSA -- of requests to do the above, you just fill in a little form online and, boom, you've got the info.  James Cole insisted this wasn't the case and that there was oversight.  Pressed about accountability for recent lapses in security, Cole couldn't answer -- there's an investigation going on so he needs to wait for the results.

Yes. yet again Glenn Greenwald is providing actual reporting about an actual issue that effects millions of people.  As a result of that news -- actual news -- that Glenn Greenwald reported the ACLU issued the following:

CONTACT: 212-549-2666,

NEW YORK – The government can easily see the content of Americans' Internet communication and web browsing activities, according to a report published today in The Guardian.
"The latest revelations make clear that the government's surveillance activities are far more extensive and intrusive than previously understood, and they underscore that the surveillance laws are in desperate need of reform," said American Civil Liberties Union Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer, who testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee today about NSA surveillance. "These documents also call into question the truth of some of the representations that intelligence officials have made to the public and Congress over the last two months. Intelligence officials have said repeatedly that NSA analysts do not have the ability to sift indiscriminately through Americans' sensitive information, but this new report suggests they do."
The revelations today come at a time when public opinion has begun to shift in favor of strengthening Americans' privacy rights and a growing bipartisan group in Congress works to rein in NSA surveillance of Americans' communications.
"The seemingly never-ending NSA disclosures show the frightening power the government has afforded itself without the knowledge of the American people," said Michelle Richardson, legislative counsel at the ACLU's Washington Legislative Office. "The recent Amash amendment vote shows that the public has had enough with the blanket, warrantless surveillance of its communications. Without significant reforms to these programs, the government is going to lose them."

Amanda Wills (Mashable via CNN) notes Greenwald's report, "The program gives analysts the ability to search through the entire database of your information without any prior authorization --  no warrant, no court clearance, no signature on a dotted line. An analyst must simply complete a simple onscreen form, and seconds later, your online history is no longer private." On why the spying is an issue,  Elizabeth Goitein (Christian Science Monitor) explains:

The most obvious answer is that these programs may be illegal. The government admits it obtains Americans’ telephone records in bulk, but claims officials do not examine them unless there is reason to suspect a terrorist link. Section 215 of the Patriot Act, however, requires the government to establish a record’s investigative relevance before obtaining it – not after. The PRISM program, which collects information from Internet service providers, is ostensibly legal because it “targets” foreigners. But the program tolerates extensive “inadvertent” and “incidental” collection of Americans’ information – including information the government needs a warrant to obtain under the Fourth Amendment.
Yes, a secret court approved these programs. That should not start and end the discussion about their legality. Judges make mistakes, and – as recent reporting on the secret Foreign Intelligence Service Act (FISA) Court has underscored – they are far more likely to do so when they hear only the facts and arguments that one side chooses to present. When citizens have gone to the regular courts to challenge government surveillance, the government has successfully argued that the courts cannot even consider their claims.
The programs also threaten Americans’ privacy. It is disingenuous for officials to characterize the “metadata” being collected as mere phone numbers. Sophisticated computer programs can glean volumes of sensitive information from this metadata about people’s relationships, activities, and even beliefs. The government knows very well how revealing call records can be; that is why it considers the program so valuable.

Alina Selyukh, Patricia Zengerle, Deborah Charles, Alistair Bell, Christopher Wilson and Paul Simao (Reuters) report on the documents the US government released right before the hearing started:

The documents released on Wednesday included 2009 and 2011 reports on the NSA's "Bulk Collection Program," carried out under the U.S. Patriot Act, the anti-terrorism legislation passed shortly after the September 11, 2001 attacks.
They also included an April 2013 order from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which directed communications company Verizon to hand over data from millions of Americans' telephone calls and described how that data should be stored and accessed.
The declassified documents said the telephone and email data would only be used when needed for authorized searches.
"Although the programs collect a large amount of information, the vast majority of that information is never reviewed by anyone in the government, because the information is not responsive to the limited queries that are authorized for intelligence purposes," the 2009 report said.
But the top secret NSA slideshow from 2008, posted by the Guardian on its website, showed that XKeyscore program allowed analysts to access databases that collect and index online activity around the world, including searching for email addresses, extracted files, phone numbers or chat activity.

Again, these documents were released right before the start of the hearing.  Why?  Senator Al Franken attempted to get answers to that but was stonewalled.  NSA whistle-blower Ed Snowden came up in today's State Dept press briefing moderated by spokesperson Marie Harf.

QUESTION: Have you seen the comments made by Mr. Snowden’s father thanking President Putin for protecting his son?

MS. HARF: I have not seen those comments.

QUESTION: You’re not aware of them at all?

MS. HARF: I am not. No, I have not seen them.

QUESTION: Well, let me make you aware of them right now.

MS. HARF: Okay. Thank you, Matt.

QUESTION: Can we stay with that, please?

MS. HARF: We – he’s still --

QUESTION: Yeah. I’m not done yet. (Laughter.)

QUESTION: Okay. Sorry about that.

QUESTION: It’s okay.

MS. HARF: Go ahead.

QUESTION: So Mr. Snowden’s father thanked President Putin for protecting his son. What does the Administration make of the fact that the father, a U.S. citizen, the father of a U.S. citizen, is thanking a leader that you’ve routinely criticized for human rights abuses for protecting his son?

MS. HARF: Well, again, I haven’t seen those specific comments and I wouldn’t want to characterize a response to those one way or the other. I would reiterate what we’ve said repeatedly, that Mr. Snowden is not a human rights activist, he’s not a dissident, he’s been accused of leaking classified information, has been charged with three very serious felony counts, and must be, should be, returned to the United States to face a free and fair trial as soon as possible.

QUESTION: Go ahead.

MS. HARF: Yes.

QUESTION: Can we stay with --

MS. HARF: On Snowden? Yes.

QUESTION: I have a follow-up too after he’s done.

MS. HARF: Okay.

QUESTION: The article in the Post also says, among other things, that the U.S. Government, the FBI to be precise, tried to arrange – asked Lon Snowden to fly to Moscow. It doesn’t specify for what reasons. I assume – and it’s only my assumption – to speak to his son and maybe to convince him to come back.
I wanted to ask if you ran this idea with your Russian counterparts at least as a goodwill gesture, that guys, we have these plans, we would like to give you a heads-up on that, would it be fine if we send Snowden, Sr., to Sheremetyevo to meet Snowden, J r.; or this was some kind of a semi-cloak and dagger stuff?

MS. HARF: Again, I haven’t seen that specific report. I would say what we’ve said repeatedly, that we are working through law enforcement channels with the Russian Government to make the point that Mr. Snowden is wanted on serious felony charges and needs to be returned to the United States. We’ve also made the point that we don’t want this issue to have a hugely negative impact on our bilateral relationship. President Putin, I think, has said the same thing. So again, I’m not going to comment on that specific report other than to say that we’ll continue working through law enforcement channels to discuss this with the Russians.

QUESTION: May I ask you to specify if the U.S. Government is still trying to arrange for Lon Snowden to travel to Moscow?

MS. HARF: Well, I don’t believe that I actually confirmed that report because I haven’t seen it, so I don’t have anything additional for you on that.

QUESTION: A follow-up?

QUESTION: Can I just ask more broadly on this and the protection issue? Do you believe that anyone – President Putin or anyone else – let me start again. Do you believe that Mr. Snowden needs protection from President Putin or anyone else for that matter?

MS. HARF: I wouldn’t want to venture to make a comment on that one way or the other.

QUESTION: Well, do you – I mean, he has said that he fears persecution, not prosecution. Do you think that he is justified in fearing persecution at the hands of the judicial branch of this government?

MS. HARF: Of the United States Government?

QUESTION: Or the – sorry. Yes, of the Justice Department.

MS. HARF: Well, we’ve made --

QUESTION: The people who have charged him.

MS. HARF: We’ve made it clear --

QUESTION: Do you think that he is – has – do you think that his fears of persecution are grounded?

MS. HARF: Well, no. I think the Attorney General made clear in his letter last week that Mr. Snowden needs to be returned to the United States, that he would be treated to a free and fair trial, he would be able to make his case in a court of law, as all – as he is due under due process. So I would disagree with that characterization and again point to the clear comments the Attorney General made last week speaking to this.

QUESTION: Sorry. You would disagree with which characterization? I’m just asking you --

MS. HARF: That he’s going to be persecuted --

QUESTION: Persecuted. Right.

MS. HARF: -- if he returns to the United States.

QUESTION: So you would – so you do not believe then, based on that comment, that he needs protection from anybody?

MS. HARF: We have been clear that if he is returned to the United States, which we believe is the only appropriate course of action, he will be afforded a free and fair trial where he can make his case.

QUESTION: So you don’t believe that he needs the protection of anybody?

MS. HARF: That’s a broadly – I don’t know exactly what you’re referring to. It’s a broadly sweeping statement. Again, we’ve made clear --

QUESTION: It’s really not.

MS. HARF: It is. Well, we’ve made clear there is one appropriate course of action, and that’s being returned to the United States, and that when he is, he will face a free and fair trial, as he’s accorded under the law.

QUESTION: So the only – I mean, the reason that I ask is because his father, in his comment, Mr. Snowden’s father in his comments, seems to think that his son needs protection from the United States Government. And I’m – all I’m asking you is whether or not you agree or disagree with that.

MS. HARF: I do not agree with that statement.

QUESTION: Okay, thank you.

MS. HARF: Strongly disagree with that statement.


MS. HARF: Thank you for being clear.

Ed's father Lon Snowden has been in the news this week.  Dana Ford (CNN) notes Ed's father Lon Snowden appeared on Anderson Cooper 360 Monday and declared, "He loves his country.  I know my son.  I know he loves his country.  What he believed is that . . . the American people needed to be aware of what their government was doing to them, spying upon them."  From a video at Anderson Cooper 360:

Lon Snowden:  Well, I think that probably the large minority of Americans, first of all, have not seen his 12 minute video.

Anderson Cooper:  Mmm-hmm.

Lon Snowden: I've spoken to close friends who know this is my son and we talk and I realize they haven't listened to the video.  They don't really understand what the Fourth Amendment is.  So I-I think that there's much that's unknown.  The American people -- the media to be quite honest -- has not done a very good job of laying out the facts in digestible form. There has been a clear effort by those who have been threatened politically and/or embarrassed by these revelations to focus on the so to speak 'sinner,' my son, who's revealed these instead of the 'sins,' the actual revelations.

Anderson Cooper: In a letter to the Justice Dept, to the Obama administration, you describe what your son did as civil disobedience.  There are those who say, "Look, is accepting the ramifications of your -- of your actions, of your decision, taking your punishment.'  Uhm, why do you see this as civil disobedience?

Lon Snowden:  Well-well, first of all, I think he is accepting the consequences.  Again, if you look at his 12 minute video and what he said, he's not living a very comfortable life at this point. He's said he's American, he loves his country.  I know my son.  I know he loves his country.   What he believed is that this information, the American people needed to be aware of what their government was doing to them.

[jump cut in the clip of the interview]

Anderson Cooper:  Do you believe him [Attorney General Eric Holder] when he says no death penalty and the United States does not torture?

Lon Snowden:  Well at this point, I believe it would be in the best interest of the Justice Dept -- and we've attempted to work with the Justice Dept and both the people investigating this -- and I just do not believe that that collaboration -- the good faith exists anymore.  So I'm very, very disappointed.  And we've attempted to get assurances that Ed would receive a fair trial.  I have absolutely no faith in Eric Holder, the Attorney General of the United States.

The 12 minute video refers to the Guardian's interview with Ed Snowden that Glenn Greenwald did (here for part one, the 12 minute video and here for part two).  Thomas Gaist (WSWS) reports on Lon Snowden's open letter to Barack Obama:

The letter, dated July 26, 2013, was written together with Lon Snowden’s lawyer, Bruce Fein.
In the letter, Snowden compares the NSA surveillance programs to the Fugitive Slave Act and the Jim Crow laws in the American South and writes that the United States has lessons to learn from “the dynamics of the Third Reich.” The letter further compares the present situation to the post-World War II Nuremburg trials “in which ‘following orders’ was rejected as a defense.”
It comes amid new revelations concerning the expansive scope of the programs. In an interview on ABC News’ “This Week” program on Sunday, Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald commented: “The NSA has trillions of telephone calls and emails in their databases that they’ve collected over the last several years.”

Barack's witch hunt of Ed Snowden is part of his war on whistle-blowers -- a war he carries out despite earlier claims to support whistle-blowers.   The Sunlight Foundation reports: that Barack's has suddenly disappeared:

Why the change?
Here's one possibility, from the administration's ethics agenda:

Protect Whistleblowers: Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government is an existing government employee committed to public integrity and willing to speak out. Such acts of courage and patriotism, which can sometimes save lives and often save taxpayer dollars, should be encouraged rather than stifled. We need to empower federal employees as watchdogs of wrongdoing and partners in performance. Barack Obama will strengthen whistleblower laws to protect federal workers who expose waste, fraud, and abuse of authority in government. Obama will ensure that federal agencies expedite the process for reviewing whistleblower claims and whistleblowers have full access to courts and due process.
It may be that Obama's description of the importance of whistleblowers went from being an artifact of his campaign to a political liability. It wouldn't be the first time administration positions disappear from the internet when they become inconvenient descriptions of their assurances.

Part of the war includes going after whistle-blower Bradley Manning.  Michael Collins (OpEd News) observes:

Snowden, like Manning, had a main target for their whistleblowing -- the citizens of the United States.
We are the enemy Manning and Snowden aided.
We are the people with the absolute right to know what our government is doing in our name and what it is doing to us.
We are the people the leaders who caused and supported the Iraq invasion and Afghanistan quagmire have to fear.
The Iraq invasion was the most disastrous foreign policy decision in our history.  The deaths, destruction and cost are devastating.  Over $3.0 trillion of our national debt is directly due to the Iraq invasion.  Every domestic policy short of funds is short because of this invasion.
We are the people the leaders who authorized PRISM should fear.  These programs were never announced, debated, or approved.  They were created in secret for God knows what reason.  The leaders and politicians who let this happen created the enabling acts for a national security state that can intrude in any life for any reason in secret and without accountability.
Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden released information that forms the foundation for a realistic, fact based critique of the ruling class.

Alexa O'Brien (Daily Beast) observes, "Manning's trial has extended the unmatched streak of prosecutions by the Obama administration of unauthorized disclosures to the press using a 1917 statute that was originally intended for spies."  Yesterday, Bradley was convicted of 20 out of 22 charges -- over two years after Barack declared (April 21, 2011) -- in his position as commander in chief of the military -- that Barack was guiltyJames Nye (Daily Mail) notes, "As the first day of his sentencing hearing began in earnest today, Bradley Manning's defense team and the prosecution agreed with the judge that he will face a maximum jail term of 136 years behind bars. Already reduced in rank from private first class to enlisted private, Manning's team had attempted to file two motions that would have potentially merged several of his 20 convictions and reduced his maximum sentence to 116 years."

Barry Grey (WSWS) offers, "Manning’s court-martial, in the final analysis, arises from Washington’s launching of an illegal war of aggression against Iraq and the attempt of the government to conceal all of the crimes—torture at Abu Ghraib and other US prisons, the destruction of Fallujah and other Iraqi cities, the incitement of a sectarian civil war—that arose from that war."   Betty observed last night, "Brad is a hero.  This life does not always treat heroes well." Trina shared:

This is appalling.  This is not a victory and don't let anyone feed you a s**t sandwich while swearing to you that it's bologna.  Brad did a brave and wonderful thing and he did it because he cared.  It's no surprise to me that in Barack Obama's world, caring is the greatest of crimes.  Ed Snowden is a whistle-blower and he cared as well.  He thought the American people had a right to know that they were being spied upon.  He thought the American people had a right to know that the Constitution was being shredded.  For caring about his country, the Constitution and his fellow citizens, Ed is now the target in an ongoing witch-hunt that Barack leads.  Yet again, the greatest crime in the world to Barack is not fleecing the American public (under his watch, the Justice Department advocated for an Enron crook to be released from prison early) and the greatest crime is not lying to Congress (James Clapper has not been called out for lying about the spying -- not called out by Barack).  The greatest crime to Barack is the 'crime' of caring.

Elaine was also bothered by the verdict Colonel Denise Lind rendered yesterday, "Brad did the right thing when he leaked the truth on Iraq, Afghanistan and more.  The failure of Colonel Denise Lind to see that is her failing."  Mike pointed out that "Brad's facing the potential of spending over 100 years in prison.  That's not a victory."  Noting Matthew Rothschild's cry of "victory," Ruth wondered about Rothschild's sanity.

Turning to Iraq where the Nineveh Provincial Council has elected Atheel al-Nujaifi to another term as governor, All Iraq News reports.  Atheel has frequently been asked to resign by Nouri al-Maliki (Nouri being a man who refused to leave office even when he lost an election).  al-Nujaifi has blown off Nouri repeatedly not only because Nouri has no pull in Nineveh but also because the two come from different coalitions.  Nouri created State of Law which came in second in the 2010 parliamentary elections.  al-Nujaifi belongs to the Iraqiya coalition -- headed by Ayad Allawi -- which came in first in the 2010 elections.  In addition, Atheel al-Nujaiifi is the brother of Osama al-Nujaifi who is the Speaker of Parliament.

On diplomacy, Omer Aziz (Globe and Mail) notes the Canadian government has left itself out of the KRG for whatever reason:

Twenty seven nations have established a consulate in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), and Canada is about to join them. Unfortunately, Ottawa has been focusing its efforts – rather belatedly – at charming the Baghdad government of Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, just as relations between Mr. al-Maliki and the KRG have deteriorated. The time has now come for Canada to establish a fully fledged partnership with Iraqi Kurdistan, a nation that shares our values and interests. A shift in policy would anger Baghdad and rankle Washington, but would give Canada a friendly, pro-Western, prospering ally in a region beset with instability.
Unfortunately, Canada has decided to double-down on ties with Iraq. Then-immigration minister Jason Kenney’s surprise visit to Baghdad in March marked the first time a Canadian cabinet minister visited Iraq in 37 years, and Foreign Minister John Baird’s announcement of a diplomatic office in Baghdad came a full decade after Saddam’s overthrow. Not only is Canada far behind the competition, it is wooing the wrong players.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the Anfal Campaign. Saddam Hussein’s genocidal answer to the Kurdish Question took nearly 200,000 lives and forced the Kurds to retreat to their mountains, from which they fought a guerilla war against Saddam led by their secular leaders,
Massoud Barzani, the current President of the KRG, and Jalal Talabani, the first democratically elected president of Iraq. In 1991, exactly two decades before the Arab Spring enraptured a generation of Arabs, the Kurds rose up again, only to be crushed once more.

Barzani and Talabani each head the two major political parties in the Kurdistan Regional Government.   On the issue of politics and offices, Miran Hussein (Niqash) reports on KRG President Massoud Barzani:

The current President of Iraq is another Iraqi Kurdish politician, Jalal Talabani. The government of Iraqi Kurdistan is dominated by two major parties, Barzani’s Kurdistan Democratic Party, the KDP, and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan, or PUK, which Talabani heads. The two parties have agreed to share power in the semi-autonomous region, which has its own parliament, military and legislation- and this includes splitting important political positions.

But Talabani, generally considered the elder statesman of Iraqi Kurdish politics, has not been well for some time and locals suggest that Barzani may like to take his place soon.

Having made a big effort to remain in power until Iraq’s next parliamentary elections – slated for 2014 – he will then be able to swap the presidency of Iraqi Kurdistan for that of Iraq. In this way Barzani will retain a senior post for the Iraqi Kurdish people.

“That’s why Barzani was kept in the current job: it’s to keep the position of the Iraqi presidency open for the Iraqi Kurdish,” a senior politician and strategist with the PUK, Fareed Asrad, told NIQASH. “It is also meant to help solve the current political crisis around the region’s presidency.”

After all if Barzani is nominated for the job and has to go to Baghdad, then his old job will open up and this would resolve the conflict around the Iraqi Kurdish presidency: many believe Barzani should not be allowed to keep this job for another two years.

The only problem would be the long standing agreement between the PUK and KDP that says that if one party holds the regional presidency then the other should have the national one. This may need to be renegotiated, Asrad notes.

Out in federal Iraq itself, some Iraqi MPs have already said they’d support the idea of Barzani becoming Iraq’s president.

Last December,  Iraqi President Jalal Talabani suffered a stroke.   The incident took place late on December 17th (see the December 18th snapshot) and resulted in Jalal being admitted to Baghdad's Medical Center Hospital.    Thursday, December 20th, he was moved to Germany.  He remains in Germany currently despite repeated claims of improvement and repeated claims that he's about to return. 

As Niqash notes, Jalal's health is part of the reason Barzani got a two-year extension as president this month.  He had to agree not to run for a third term as president.  But with Talabani sidelined by the stroke -- still sidelined by the stroke -- there was a sense that continuity was needed.  Barzani has also increased an already strong global profile in the last years which was another reason he got a two-year extension.  (The KRG's Constitution features a limit on the presidency.  You're limited to two terms.  The justification for increasing Barzani's current term by two years is that the limiting law was passed half-way into Barzani's first term.  Again, he had to agree not to seek a third term for the two years to be tacked on.)  As a global representative of the KRG, Barzani is also a leader to many Kurds across the world.  Arabic News Digest notes, "Mr Barzani called Kurdish political parties in Syria, Turkey and Iran to a "nationalist convention" to be held in Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, in order to discuss the Kurdish situation in these countries and examine the possibility of establishing autonomous rule there, as a prelude to a future territorial unification."  Dr. Kemal Kirkuki (Rudaw) notes, "The idea of a National Conference was first initiated years ago by President Barzani, who also heads the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), Abdullah Ocalan, head of the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), the late Idris Barzani, and Jalal Talabani, secretary general of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and Iraq’s president. But political turmoil and different regional and international factors always posed a barrier to making this goal a reality. What is happening now is the revival of the ideas of those four leaders."

Through yesterday, Iraq Body Count counts 941 violent deaths so far this month and today is the last day in the month.  How bad has the violence been in July?  So bad that the Iraqi ministries -- at least for now -- have given up the pattern of undercounting deaths, realizing how it makes them look like liars possibly.  AFP reports the ministries have announced their figures for the month: 989 deaths.  AFP states that makes it the most violent month since April 2008 when 1,428 people were killed.

National Iraqi News Agency reports a Baghdad shooting has left two people dead and three more injured, a Tuz Khurmato car bombing left 1 person dead and eleven injured3 Sahwa members were shot dead in Hawija, an Abu Ghraib suicide bomber claimed the life of 1 Iraqi soldiers and left three more injured, a shooting in Baghdad's al-Amil district left 1 person dead and another injured, an armed attack "northwest of Hilla" by an unknown armed group left 1 Ministry of Defense employee dead, and, dropping back to last night, a Baquba bombing left 8 people dead and twenty more injured.

Dropping back to the July 16th snapshot:

Hence the return of the proposed 'moats.'  This time the 'protective trench' would be around dispute Kirkuk.  Yerevan Saeed (Rudaw) reports:

Two months ago Kirkuk’s Provincial Council decided in a majority vote to dig a 58-kilometer security trench around the city, in a controversial decision to control entrance into the oil-rich and violence-wracked area which is at the center of a dispute between Iraq’s different ethnic and religious groups.
This plan would leave the city with four main entrances, which are to be monitored by surveillance cameras. The trench itself is to be reinforced with barbed wire and regular police patrols.
Hassan Turhan, a Turkmen official in Kirkuk’s provincial council, first proposed a security trench in 2012. But Kirkuk officials only put the plan into action this year, particularly after a series of deadly bombings that killed dozens and wounded hundreds.

Nouri began proposing the idea of a moat around Baghdad to protect the city.  That idea never took off.  Whether or not it will take off this time remains to be seen. 

At Niqash, Shalaw Moahmmed offers "kirkuk builds a moat: taking a medieval tack against terrorists:"

It seems that the authorities in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk have run out of ideas when it comes to bringing security and peace to the troubled city. So they’ve decided to build a moat around the city.

Kirkuk is one of Iraq’s “disputed territories” – which means that, despite the fact that Kirkuk is outside the semi-autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan, the Iraqi Kurdish say they have historic rights to the city. But the national government in Baghdad disputes this, saying that Kirkuk is part of Iraq proper. In reality though, it is unclear who is in charge with Iraqi Kurdish armed forces controlling some areas while Iraq’s federal troops control others. The mixture of political disputes, militias and different ethnicities in the city make it one of Iraq’s most dangerous places.

So around three months ago the Kirkuk council decided to dig a trench around the city as another form of defence against extremist attacks.

“The decision was a majority decision and it was done in order to protect Kirkuk against violence and to end the ongoing insecurity here,” says Ahmed al-Askari, a Kurdish member of the provincial council and head of the security committee.

The decision was not without controversy. Kirkuk’s council has both Arab and Iraqi Kurdish politicians on it and Arab members, who hold six out of 41 seats on the council, didn’t like the idea at all.

This is because the moat, located in the south of Kirkuk, effectively isolates certain Arab districts like Hawija, Zab and Yayji, from the rest of the city. The Arab council members say this forced isolation is the main motive behind the trench and that it is yet another attempt by the Iraqi Kurdish to change the area’s demography – to make the city more Kurdish than Arab, if you like.