July 8 2013
Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua have opened the door to granting asylum to National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden in a standoff with the United States. The offers came after a plane carrying Bolivian President Evo Morales was forced to land in Austria after France and Portugal barred it from their airspace over false suspicions that Snowden was on board. The United States has refused to confirm or deny whether it was responsible. We discuss the latest with Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who broke the NSA surveillance story based on Snowden’s leaks last month. In his latest scoop, Greenwald has revealed the NSA has systematically tapped into Brazil’s telecommunication network and indiscriminately intercepted, collected and stored the email and telephone records of millions of Brazilians for years. “The U.S. government has been its own worst enemy in this entire episode,” Greenwald says. “The idea they would pressure their European allies to block the plane carrying a president of a sovereign state is a really radical and extreme act. It smacks of rogue nation status and the kind of imperialism and colonialism that Latin America has long chafed at. I think that’s the reason you’re seeing so much support for Snowden in Latin American governments and among the populations as well.”
"With ‘Gangster Squad,’ we get a pulpy endorsement of extrajudicial killing, made all the more palatable by Ryan Gosling’s roguish charms. Meanwhile, ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ delivers a history lesson in how America conquered Bin Laden through the sheer force of torture and feminist overtones."
Essential Reading: “With Liberty and Justice for Some” by Glenn Greenwald
“As a litigator who practiced for more than a decade in federal and state courts across the country, I’ve long been aware of the inequities that pervade the American justice system,” journalist and forthright civil liberties advocate Glenn Greenwald begins his candid quest through the maze of government and elite impunity. As a former pawn in the injustice system, Greenwald provides an insider’s view on the racist, classist legal process that all too often leaves the country’s most vulnerable in the punitive shadows as the political class enjoys the luxuries of complete exemption.
The tour of the nepotistic system begins with a Bush-era focus on the privileges of the government officials. From torture practices to warrantless domestic spying, the Bush administration has yet to face any legal prosecution for its crimes dating back to the early 2000s. Violations of peace treaties, such as the Geneva Conventions and the Conventions Against Torture, have not even been investigated although legal action against the administration’s illegal practices was a 2008 campaign promise from President Barack Obama.
But the immunity dates even further back. Nixon’s felonies of authorizing the Watergate break-in and obstructing an investigation were pardoned by his handpicked vice president, Gerald Ford. Ford’s pardon would later be applauded by none other than another criminal: Ford’s former chief of staff and former vice president Dick Cheney, who had already crafted an international web of torture prisons and organized warrantless spying of Americans. Both hailed the pardon as an act of heroism, rather than an act of justifying elite immunity. The pardon would go on to set a dangerous precedent that shielded the Reagan administration from prosecution after the Iran-Contra scandal in 1986 in which officials had sold arms to the Ayatollah Khomeini regime, violating the Boland Amendment Reagan himself had signed into law four years earlier.
An important point Greenwald hits right on target is how each succeeding president campaign promises to prosecute former administrations for legal wrongdoings. Clinton vowed to investigate H. W. Bush crimes and Obama campaigned on prosecuting Bush administration felonies. But once they settled comfortably in the White House, the promises dissipated for one selfish reason: so that they themselves could eventually be protected for future crimes.
But government cronies also enjoy such invincibility. Greenwald illustrates private sector immunity, specifically with the telecomm industry and its assistance in warrantless wiretapping. Post-9/11 scare tactics justified the Bush administration’s illegal eavesdropping prohibited by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, a policy the president justified as anti-terrorism precautions. With help from private sector entities, such as AT&T, BellSouth and Verizon, hundreds of thousands of Americans were illegally spied on in the marriage of private and public sectors. As Greenwald notes, “Such melding of the public and private forces now characterizes most areas of government, and has resulted in the creation of a single large, self-protecting entity.” Through retroactive immunity, private sector companies conspired with government administrations to make a complete mockery of the rule of law, creating an illegal armor of defense for themselves while other Americans are prosecuted without question.
There is no better illustration of the powerful protected from the law than the too big to jail banks that brought on the financial crisis of 2008. Not only did the offenders receive the generous $700 billion taxpayer bailout, they escaped without a scratch while millions of Americans sunk into financial ruin. The crisis spiraled into a long-term unemployment crisis, millions of home foreclosures and a swelling student loan bubble ready to burst. But as ordinary Americans suffered, Wall Street tycoons prospered at alarming rates. “America’s financial elites have not only stockpiled vast amounts of material wealth but also acquired control over all the government and legal institutions that might stand in the way of their corruption and stealing,” Greenwald writes.
Of course, just as the elite revel in puppeteering the injustice system, most Americans, especially the poor and people of color, are destroyed by the heavy hand of the law. The United States prison state has expanded virally with the country having 5 percent of the world’s population and 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. “What it represents is a deliberate choice by the political class to lock up more and more people for longer periods and for ever more trivial offenses,” Greenwald notes. Between the failed War on Drugs and an exploding private prison industry, the American injustice system continues to claim more lives than the crimes being committed do.
By the book’s epilogue, Greenwald has sufficiently crafted the argument of elite impunity. The rule of law in the United States only exists for those who are not able to manipulate it: the working class, the poor and people of color. Through retroactive immunity, the absence of watchdog media and reciprocated pardons, liberty and justice have become a privilege for the wealthy and governmental elite, completely dismissing on the rule of law.
‘Smart grid’ goes live for the Pacific Northwest
Smart grids allow consumers to monitor how much energy they are consuming and give utilities ability to forecast how much energy to use and when.
Glenn Greenwald: Iraqi-American is imprisoned by US for saving his family from US sanctions
September 29, 2012
I’m currently traveling around the US on a speaking tour, and as I’vewritten before, one of the prime benefits of doing that is being able to meet people and their families whose lives have been severely harmed by the post-9/11 assault on basic liberties. Doing that prevents one from regarding these injustices as abstractions, and ensures that the very real human costs from these government abuses remain vivid.
Such is the case with the treatment of Dr. Shakir Hamoodi, an Iraqi-American nuclear engineer who just began a three-year prison sentence at the Fort Leavenworth, Kansas penitentiary for the “crime” of sending sustenance money to his impoverished, sick, and suffering relatives inIraq - including his blind mother - during the years when US sanctions (which is what caused his family’s suffering) barred the sending of any money to Iraq.
Yesterday in Columbia, Missouri, I met with Hamoodi’s son, Owais, a medical student at the University of Missouri (MU) School of Medicine, and Hamoodi’s son-in-law, Amir Yehia, a Master’s student in MU’s School of Journalism. The travesty of this case - and the havoc it has wreaked on the entire family - is repellent and genuinely infuriating. But it is sadly common in post-9/11 America, especially for American Muslim communities.
Hamoodi came with his wife to the US in 1985 to work toward his PhD in nuclear engineering from MU and, not wanting to return to the oppression of Saddam’s regime, stayed in the US. He was offered a research professor position at the university, proceeded to have five American-born children, all of whom he and his wife raised in the Columbia community, and then himself became a US citizen in 2002.
But US-imposed sanctions after the First Gulf War had decimated the value of Iraqi currency and were causing extreme hardship for his large family who remained in Iraq. That sanctions regime caused the death ofat least hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, including 500,000 Iraqi children. In 1991, the writer Chuck Sudetic visited Iraq, wrote in Mother Jonesabout the pervasive suffering, starvation and mass death he witnessed first-hand, and noted that the US-led sanctions regime “killed more civilians than all the chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons used in human history”.
The sanctions regime decimated Hamoodi’s family. His elderly blind mother was unable to buy basic medication. His sister, one of 11 siblings back in Iraq, suffered a miscarriage because she was unable to buy $10 antibiotics. His brother, a surgeon, was earning the equivalent of $2 per month and literally unable to feed his family.
Hamoodi was earning a very modest salary at the time of roughly $35,000 per year from the university, but - as would be true for any decent person of conscience - could not ignore the extreme and growing suffering of his family back in Iraq. Because sending money into Iraq from the US was physically impossible, he set up a bank account in Jordan and proceeded to make small deposits into it. From that account, small amounts of money - between $20 and $100 - were dispersed each month to his family members.
When other Iraqi nationals in his Missouri community heard of his helping his family, they wanted to help theirs as well. So Hamoodi began accepting similar amounts of money from a small group of Iraqis and ensured those were disbursed to their family members suffering under the sanctions regime. From 1993 until 2003, when the sanctions regime was lifted after the US invasion, Hamoodi sent an average of $25,000 each year back to Iraq, totaling roughly $250,000 over the decade: an amount that fed and sustained the Iraqi relatives of 14 families in Columbia, Missouri, including his wife’s five siblings.
Nobody, including the US government, claims that these amounts were intended for anything other than humanitarian assistance for his family and those of others in his community. Everyone, including the US government, acknowledges that these funds were sent to and received only by the intended recipients - suffering Iraqi family members - and never got anywhere near Saddam’s regime, terrorist groups, or anything illicit. As a Newsweek article on the Hamoodi case made clear:
“The cash … was doled out mostly in dribs and drabs, even the authorities concede; $40 a month to the son of a friend trying to eat while attending medical school, $80 to Hamoodi’s blind mother. There was no suggestion that Hamoodi … aided terrorists, or that the money wound up in Saddam Hussein’s hands; his elaborate email trail served as receipts, as tidy as his bookkeeping at the store.
“‘I would get messages from my sisters, I have 11 siblings,’ he says, as he shares a somber meal - piquant red peppers from South Africa, French cheeses, crusty baklava - with his wife and sons at the long dining room table. ‘They would be starving. Starving. So I did what anyone, any American, would do.’”
But in 2002 and 2003, Hamoodi was not just a nuclear engineer. He was also a very outspoken critic of the Bush administration’s plan to attack Iraq. And his position as a nuclear engineer made him a particularly potent threat to the case for that invasion, as he continuously insisted that Saddam did not have an active nuclear weapons program and that the case for the war was grounded in lies. In his antiwar activism, he emphasized how much already-suffering Iraqi civilians would suffer more, and how the invasion would lead to mass instability.
Glenn Greenwald on how the US media angrily marvels at the lack of Muslim gratitude
September 15, 2012
One prominent strain shaping American reaction to the protests in the Muslim world is bafflement, and even anger, that those Muslims are not more grateful to the US. After all, goes this thinking, the US bestowed them with the gifts of freedom and democracy – the very rights they are now exercising – so how could they possibly be anything other than thankful? Under this worldview, it is especially confounding that the US, their savior and freedom-provider, would be the target of their rage.
On Wednesday, USA Today published an article with the headline “After attacks in Egypt and Libya, USA Today asks: Why?” The paper appeared to tell its readers that it was the US that freed the Egyptian people from tyranny:
“Attacks in Libya that left four US diplomats dead – including Ambassador Christopher Stevens – and a mob invasion of the US Embassy in Cairo, in which the US flag was torn to shreds, have left many to wonder: How can people the USA helped free from murderous dictators treat it in such a way?”
Did you know that the “USA helped free” Egyptians from their murderous dictator? On Thursday night, NBC News published a nine-minute reporton Brian Williams’ “Rock Center” program featuring its foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, reporting on the demonstrations in Cairo, which sounded exactly the same theme. Standing in front of protesting Egyptians in Tahrir Square, Engel informed viewers that this was all so very baffling because it was taking place “in Cairo, where the US turned its back on its old friend Hosni Mubarak”, and then added:
“It is somewhat ironic with American diplomats inside the embassy who helped to give these demonstrators, these protesters, a voice, and allowed them to actually carry out these anti-American clashes that we’re seeing right now.
That it was the US who freed Egyptians and “allowed them” the right toprotest would undoubtedly come as a great surprise to many Egyptians. That is the case even beyond the decades of arming, funding and general support from the US for their hated dictator (to his credit, Engel including a snippet of an interview with Tariq Ramadan pointing out that the US long supported the region’s dictators).
Beyond the long-term US support for Mubarak, Egyptians would likely find it difficult to reconcile Engel’s claim that the US freed them with the”made in USA” logos on the tear gas cannisters used against them by Mubarak’s security forces; or with Hillary Clinton’s touching 2009 declaration that “I really consider President and Mrs Mubarak to be friends of my family”; or with Obama’s support for Mubarak up until the very last minute when his downfall became inevitable; or with the fact that the Obama administration plan was to engineer the ascension of the loathed, US-loyal torturer Omar Suleiman as Mubarak’s replacement in the name of “stability”.
Given the history of the US in Egypt, both long-term and very recent, it takes an extraordinary degree of self-delusion and propaganda to depict Egyptian anger toward the US as “ironic” on the ground that it was the US who freed them and “allowed” them the right to protest. But that is precisely the theme being propagated by most US media outlets.
"That’s about as vivid an expression of the President’s agenda, and his sense of justice, and the state of the Rule of Law in America, as one can imagine. The same person who directed the DOJ to shield torturers and illegal government eavesdroppers from criminal investigation, and who voted to retroactively immunize the nation’s largest telecom giants when they got caught enabling criminal spying on Americans, and whose DOJ has failed to indict a single Wall Street executive in connection with the 2008 financial crisis or mortgage fraud scandal, suddenly discovers the imperatives of The Rule of Law when it comes to those, in accordance with state law, providing medical marijuana to sick people with a prescription."
“Progressives love to point out the hypocrisy of social conservatives who righteously rail against (and demand legal sanction for) the very same sexually sinful behavior in which they enthusiastically engage — and rightly so. But what about a society that continues to imprison millions of human beings for using substances that vast numbers of people in the nation have secretly used and enjoyed, or which empowers people with the Oval Office, or reveres people like Steve Jobs, who have done the same? The DOJ claims dispensaries are now masking non-medical marijuana sales, leading to this question: even leaving aside the rather significant (and shameful) fact that drug laws are enforced with overwhelming disproportionality against racial minorites, what possible justification is there for putting someone in a cage for using a substance they choose to use without any evidence that they’ve harmed anyone else or even risked harm to anyone else?
All of this becomes even more incomprehensible when one considers the never-ending preaching about the need for “austerity,” which means: depriving poor and middle class citizens of services and financial security. In this environment, how can it possibly be justified to expend substantial sums of money investigating, arresting, prosecuting and then imprisoning large numbers of people for doing nothing more than consuming marijuana or selling it in states where it is legal to sell it to other consenting adults? That makes about as much sense as deploying a State Department army of 16,000 for a permanent presence in Iraq at the same time political and financial elites plot cuts to Social Security and Medicare. I genuinely don’t understand why a policy that single-handedly sustains America’s status as World’s Largest Jailer — and that consigns huge numbers of minorities and America’s poor to prison and permanent criminal status for no good reason, in the process breaking up families at astonishing rates (to say nothing of the inexorable erosion of civil liberties) — isn’t a higher priority for progressives.
But just like the senseless and monumentally wasteful Endless military War, America’s Drug War feeds the pockets of a powerful private industry: the growing privatized prison industry, which needs more and more prisoners for profits, gets many from drug convictions, and thus vehemently opposes and lobbies against any reform to the nation’s drug laws as well as reform of harsh criminal sentencing. That, combined with self-righteous, deeply hypocritical anti-drug moralizing and complete obliviousness to evidence, has ensured not only that the Drug War and its prison obsession endures, but that it remains outside the scope of what can even be discussed in mainstream political circles. And as the Obama DOJ’s newly intensified attacks on marijuana demonstrate, the problem is, in many respects, getting worse, even as most of the world moves toward a much more restrained and health-based (rather than crime-based) approach to dealing with drug usage.”
— Glenn Greenwald - Steve Jobs and drug policy | Salon
Ever since Manning was accused of being the source for the WikiLeaks disclosures, those condemning these leaks have sought to distinguish them from Ellsberg’s leak of the Pentagon Papers. With virtual unanimity, Manning’s harshest critics have contended that while Ellsberg’s leak was justifiable and noble, Manning’s alleged leaks were not; that’s because, they claim, Ellsberg’s leak was narrowly focused and devoted to exposing specific government lies, while Manning’s was indiscriminate and a far more serious breach of secrecy. When President Obama declared Manning guilty, he made the same claim: “No it wasn’t the same thing. Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way.”
One problem for those wishing to make this claim is that Ellsberg himself has been one of Manning’s most vocal defenders, repeatedly insisting that the two leaks are largely indistinguishable. But the bigger problem for this claim is how blatantly irrational it is. As Ellsberg clearly details in this Al Jazeera debate, he — Ellsberg — dumped 7,000 pages of Top Secret documents: the highest known level of classification; by contrast, not a single page of what Manning is alleged to have leaked was Top Secret, but rather all bore a much lower-level secrecy designation. In that sense, Obama was right: “Ellsberg’s material wasn’t classified in the same way” — the secrets Ellsberg leaked were classified as being far more sensitive.
To the extent one wants to distinguish the two leaks, Ellsberg’s was the far more serious breach of secrecy. The U.S. Government’s own pre-leak assessment of the sensitivities of these documents proves that. How can someone — in the name of government secrecy and national security — praise the release of thousands of pages of Top Secret documents while vehemently condemning the release of documents bearing a much lower secrecy classification?"
Glenn Greenwald on Iran and the media: please spare me the claim that the Egyptian-military-backing, Bahrain-regime-supporting, Saudi-monarchy-loving Obama administration is concerned about Iranían domestic oppression
I genuinely don’t know what the Obama administration’s ultimate aim with this Iran-bashing is. Although I obviously could be wrong, I doubt that President Obama desires a military attack. Just on economic grounds — the likely disruption to the oil market — it seems contrary to his political interests; it’s even possible that all this Iran-is-Hitler propaganda is designed to discourage an Israeli attack by showing the Israelis that aggressive action is being taken to undermine the regime. On the other hand, some combination of the U.S. and Israel is clearly responsible for serious covert acts of war against Iran — from murdering their nuclear scientists to bombarding them with cyber warfare to supporting domestic Terrorist attacks – and it’s not always possible, once one goes down that dangerous road of aggression, to control the outcome. And I do think the Obama administration craves regime change and is working hard to bring that about.
But what I do know is that there is a concerted campaign underway in Washington to demonize the Iranians and to blame them for almost every world evil, real and imagined (and please spare me the claim that the Egyptian-military-backing, Bahrain-regime-supporting, Saudi-monarchy-loving Obama administration is concerned about Iranían domestic oppression). The laughable, melodramatic accusation that the Quds Forces dispatched a failed used car salesman in Texas to hire Mexican drug cartels to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador on U.S. soil left absolutely no doubt about that. Just yesterday, Secretary of State Clinton and Treasury Secretary Geithner unveiled a slew of new sanctions against that country, with the always-threatening Clinton warning: “We continue actively to consider a range of increasingly aggressive measures … until Iran’s leaders live up to their international obligations, they will face increasing consequences.”
What is just as clear is that America’s vaunted Watchdog Media is no impediment to this continuous chest-beating, fear-mongering and demonization effort. Quite the opposite: just as they did in the run-up to the attack on Iraq, they are (with some rare exceptions) eagerly assuming their actual role as subservient, uncritical amplifiers of government messaging, and will dutifully serve that function wherever this road leads.
Glenn nails it again and puts what I’ve been trying to explain over the last few weeks more eloquently than I am capable of.