The United States and Cuba may be opening embassies in Havana and DC by end of July

The United States and Cuba are going to open embassies in Havana and Washington D.C., possibly before the end of July, as they seek to normalize relations after a 60 year trade embargo by the United States failed to topple Fidel Castro’s regime. His brother Raul has been running the country since 2008 when Fidel stepped aside due to an illness.

This is wonderful news. I lived in Havana for six years when I was a kid and have many fond memories. I learned English and Spanish at the same time and do not recall not being able to speak Spanish. My father was a Foreign Service Officer stationed in Havana. We left Cuba as Fidel Castro’s revolution against Batista was getting started. He was a horrible dictator in thrall to the United States, many of its corporations, and the Mafia. He exploited his people ruthlessly suppressing dissent.

I never agreed with the embargo or breaking diplomatic relations. I think such steps are always counterproductive and usually only hurt the poor, the mentally ill and the marginalized. Children often suffer the worst as was the case in Iraq during the embargo imposed by the Clinton administration. Approximately one million children died in Iraq. I believe countries should always maintain diplomatic relations, especially during troubled times. Peaceful resolutions to conflict are impossible without communication.

Go here for a summary of the players and the issues by NBC News.

I can hardly wait to touch down on Cuban soil.

WikiLeaks Reveals List of German Officials Spied Upon by NSA, Confirms Merkel Had Calls Intercepted

WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials
WikiLeaks designed this graphic for its release of documents showing US spying on German officials

WikiLeaks has revealed more details of political and economic espionage against German government officials by the National Security Agency.

The media organization published a list of 69 telephone numbers in the German government that were “high-priority” targets for the NSA. The targets include people who were officials when President Bill Clinton was still in office and confirm the NSA intercepted communications Chancellor Angela Merkel had with German government officials.

On June 12, German prosecutors closed an investigation into the NSA’s spying on Merkel’s cellphone, which was spurred by disclosures made by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. Prosecutors claimed the documents from Snowden did not contain “evidence of surveillance of the cellphone used by the chancellor” that would be “solid enough for the court.”

On October 11, 2011, a document classified two levels above “Top Secret” indicates the United States closely monitored Merkel’s conversation with her personal assistant about how to address the Greek financial crisis:

Merkel - Personal Assistant Intercept

 

The intercepted communication was shared with the “Five Eyes” alliance—Great Britain, Australia, New Zealand, and Canada.

Another summary of an intercepted communication came from the British spy agency, GCHQ, and was shared with the NSA. It described how the German government planned to negotiate a European Union bailout plan for Greece. German Chancellery Director-General for EU Affairs Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut argued that it would take an increased level of involvement from the private sector to resolve the crisis.

The “high-priority” list of German targets published shows the US government’s focus on information related to economic affairs. Oskar Lafontaine, who was German Finance Minister from 1998 to 1999, had his communications targeted.

Other officials spied upon include: Werner Müller, German Federal Minister for Economics 1998–2002, Barbara Hendricks, former Secretary of State at the Federal Ministry of Finance and current Federal Minister for the Environment and Ida-Maria Aschenbrenner, Head of Office of Minister of Finance Theo Waigel from 1989 to 1998.

The NSA targeted ministers, staff members and groups working on G7 and World Trade Organization meetings. The phone number of the European Central Bank was listed.

“Today’s publication further demonstrates that the United States’ economic espionage campaign extends to Germany and to key European institutions and issues such as the EU Central Bank and the crisis in Greece,” WikiLeaks editor-in-chief Julian Assange declared.

“Our publication today also shows how the UK is assisting the US to spy on issues central to Europe. Would France and Germany have proceeded with the BRICS bailout plan for Greece if this intelligence was not collected and passed to the United States – who must have been horrified at the geopolitical implications?”

The revelations related to US spying on German officials come after two releases highlighting US spying on French officials. (more…)

Drug Money Laundered by Two Florida Police Agencies, And Stark Corruption at All Levels of Government

Screen shot of Miami Herald's page for "License to Launder" series
Screen shot of Miami Herald’s page for “License to Launder” series

Nearly two weeks ago, the Miami Herald published a major investigative journalism series on two small Florida police agencies, which engaged in undercover money laundering operations with criminal organizations involved in drug trafficking so officers and the police departments themselves could claim millions of dollars as their own.

The series, “License to Launder: Cash, Cops & the Cartels,” has not received much media attention at all. Whether that is because the essence of the corruption was already known is unclear, however, the corruption detailed at all levels of government is staggering—from the money laundering itself to the coverup by federal investigators seemingly unwilling to investigate anyone in the task force who committed crimes.

It is a stark example of how the War on Drugs is more about how police departments and officers can profit than stopping the flow of drug money. Indeed, officers in this case needed money to keep flowing in order to continue living as high rollers.

Bal Harbour is a small community of around 2,500 people with “oceanfront condominiums” and “elegant boutiques.” It had one reported violent crime in 2012 – an aggravated assault. But, beginning in 2010, the department partnered with the police department in Glades County, one of the poorest counties in Florida.

The police agencies formed the Tri-County Task Force, a state task force, to conduct undercover operations. They took place all over the United States but it would be difficult to believe they were carried out by officers interested in bringing drug traffickers to justice.

The task force made no arrests and engaged in no effort to have the Florida State’s Attorney prosecute any cases. What the officers wanted was money, plain and simple, and they took advantage of the federal government’s Equitable Sharing program to claim drug cash as their own.

When it comes to the War on Drugs, agencies operate under the presumption that undercover units have to typically “seize far more money from criminal groups than what a task force launders and returns to the streets.” That is why one of the most shocking details is that the task force “passed tips that led to federal agents seizing nearly $30 million.” Yet, during the same period, the task force laundered $50 million.

Based on “confidential records of the undercover investigation” and “thousands of records including cash pickup reports, emails, DEA reports, bank statements, and wire transfers for millions of dollars,” the Miami Herald uncovered the following:

—The Justice Department Officer of Inspector General found the task force had laundered over $56 million dollars “without adequate written policies or procedures, prosecutorial oversight, or audits of the undercover bank accounts.” The amount, however, was actually closer to $83 million.

—Officers made cash deposits at a SunTrust Bank about a block from the Bal Harbour police station, which totaled $28 million. None of the deposits appear in records created by the police.

—At least 30 times, police deposited funds into banks and storefront businesses to “conceal drug cash for criminal groups,” but they never documented their actions. The total amount of money distributed was around $20 million. (more…)

The Roundup for July 1st, 2015

A new month!

Greece and the Giant Grexit, Day 2

– Greece missed its June 30 payment to the International Monetary Fund

– Mark Weisbrot: “Are the European authorities trying to get rid of the Greek government?“; Good question

In general, this crisis was expected and European officials are seriously considering a Grexit

– President Barack Obama: While Greek crisis will not affect U.S. financial system, it will affect Europe’s

– Some Greeks marched in the capital for a “Yes” vote, who may reflect the conservative side of Greece

Part one of two with professors William Black and Michael Hudson on why the troika insists on getting Greece to a deal, which would help out foreign banks 

– It is right to say the Greek referendum holds significant consequences for the future of the euro

– Dean Baker: “The NYT Is Wrong: Greece Shouldn’t Accept Endless Depression Because Default Might Be Painful(more…)

Over Easy: Is the Governor of Maine Mentally Ill?

Governor LePage
Governor LePage
According to the necn news station, calls for Maine Governor Paul LePage to be impeached are increasing. More than 100 people rallied outside the Statehouse in Augusta, Maine on Tuesday, following allegations that the bombastic governor blackmailed a school, threatening to withdraw funding if it did not fire a political opponent:

Last week, Democrat Speaker of the House Mark Eves announced he lost his job as President at Good Will-Hinckley School. He said Governor LePage threatened to withdraw state funding from the school if it did not fire Eves.

LePage admits making the threat, but said he was looking out for the school’s best interest.

Several legislators have requested the government oversight committee launch an ethics investigation into LePage.

As the governor becomes increasingly isolated, with his speech in public becoming more and more out of control, inappropriate and hateful, perhaps impeachment would actually benefit him- so that he can get some help. His vile comments include remarks about blowing things up (see video) and shooting people: Bangor Daily News reports that LePage also said that some lawmakers should be “rounded up and executed” in public:

A day after Gov. Paul LePage told a group of high school students that he would “like to shoot” a Bangor Daily News cartoonist, a top advocate for expanding passenger rail to Lewiston-Auburn said that LePage earlier this month said state lawmakers from Lewiston should be “rounded up and executed in the public square.”

In addition, Governor LePage has apparently demonstrated that he cannot, or will not, work with the legislature in Maine. He has vetoed more than 100 bills and line-item vetoed 79 so far this session. When he does this, the legislature must spend time and resources in an override process.

For everyone’s sake, including himself, it’s time for Governor LePage to go. Perhaps he can find a job where he is not so miserable that he constantly spews vitriol in public.



Creative Commons photo/image by DonkeyHotey on flickr.

Late, Late Night FDL: Five Long Years

Buddy Guy, Jonny Lang, and Ron Wood – Five Long Years

Jonny has a busy Summer ahead of him…

Guitarist Jonny Lang says that playing the blues now that most of the greats are gone is like classical musicians still playing music written centuries ago.

He tells the Columbus Dispatch: “Classical musicians weren’t around when Beethoven was going through whatever he was going through to make him write that music; they’re standing on his shoulders when they perform.“

Lang also reveals that while he can’t experience what greats such as B.B. King went through in their early days, he can still appreciate it.

The North Dakota native adds: “Culturally, I couldn’t be further away from the fellows that this music was born from. I don’t have that life experience, but I can imagine what it was like to the best of my ability.”

Lang released his most recent work Fight For My Soul in 2013 and believes pigeonholing music is growing increasingly pointless.

He says: “I can’t keep tabs on what style of music I’m supposed to fit into. A lot of the songs I’ve done over the years, if you played a Muddy Waters record and then played mine, you’d go: ‘No, those aren’t in the same genre.’

“People’s perception of the blues has evolved.”

What’s on your mind tonite…?

Fear Alert: US Press Unquestioningly Spread Predictions of ISIS Attacks on July 4th Holiday

CNN July 4th Attacks
Screen shot of CNN broadcast spreading fear of imminent July 4th terrorism attacks with no caveats whatsoever

(update below)

A number of US media organizations are spreading fear based on a “bulletin” shared by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Homeland Security Department that reportedly warns of possible attacks by ISIS supporters on the July 4th holiday.

ABC News reported on the bulletin, which was issued on June 26, and titled, “Holiday Celebrations Remain Attractive Target.” It was sent to 18,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States and warned Independence Day celebrations and activities that “appear to defame the prophet Mohammed” would “likely result in threats or plans to conduct violent extremist acts.”

Despite the entire global security apparatus built and vastly expanded since the September 11th attacks over a decade ago, it apparently indicated that FBI, Homeland Security and National Counterterrorism Center officials “remain concerned about the difficulty in detecting violent extremists—especially lone offenders given the individualized nature of radicalization to violence.”

CNN aired a report acknowledging the violent attacks that took place in France, Kuwait and Tunisia on June 26. Terrorism correspondent and propaganda maestro Paul Cruickshank declared, “The worry is the United States is next.”

Unnamed US officials were said to fear the “symbolic July 4th celebrations coinciding with the Islamic holy month of Ramadan will further embolden ISIS supporters in the US to unleash attacks, a threat taken so seriously the Department of Homeland Security and FBI sent out a warning to law enforcement officials a week in advance of the holiday.”

Cruickshank ominously opined, “Terrorist groups have historically been interested in targeting the United States on the July 4th holiday because they see that holiday as being very important to Americans, and if that were to happen, then this would inflict psychological trauma.”

Another report from CNN claims the “Islamist terrorist threat is the highest in years,” and “officials have raised concern about possible domestic attacks tied to the July 4 holiday and the upcoming visit of Pope Francis.”

On CBS News’ “This Morning,” former CIA director Mike Morell, in his new position as CBS News senior security contributor or chief fearmonger, declared warnings like Friday’s advisory of potential terrorist attacks in the US during the Fourth of July are routine, but “there’s nothing routine about this particular one to me.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we’re sitting here a week from today talking about an attack over the weekend in the United States. That’s how serious this is,” Morell stated.

Morell is correct. Bulletins about potential terrorism attacks in the US on the Fourth of July are routine. One was reported in 2013, 2011, 2004, and 2002.

In 2011, the fear spread by law enforcement officials was that al Qaeda and others were “eager to avenge the killing of Osama bin Laden.”

John Solomon and Tara McKelvey unquestionably reported for The Daily Beast that the “threat matrix” had “ticked up in recent weeks.” There was no specific threat, however, “evidence” in bin Laden’s possession had shown an interest in attacking “major holiday gatherings, including Independence Day celebrations.”

Nothing happened. No matter how much individuals like former Bush Homeland Security adviser Frances Townsend hyped the threat, no one was attacked by terrorists in America on the Fourth of July in 2011.

That might be because these terrorism bulletins or alerts to law enforcement agencies are just agencies being “prudent.”

“I don’t want to overhype it, but I think what was passed out yesterday is just a prudent–prudent a–alert to law enforcement agencies,” Secretary of State Colin Powell said prior to the July 4th holiday in 2002. “And in the course of the next couple of days, we’ll be meeting on a regular basis to make an assessment of–of any additional threats that might be coming our way.”

What happened in 2002 less than a year after the September 11th attacks? Nothing. (more…)

Too bad so sad that the sky is falling for Christian hypocrites

Rod Dreher, a senior editor and blogger at The American Conservative penned a piece in TIME titled, Orthodox Christians Must Now Learn To Live as Exiles in Our Own Country. He’s upset by the SCOTUS decision in Obergefell. He said,

It is hard to overstate the significance of the Obergefell decision — and the seriousness of the challenges it presents to orthodox Christians and other social conservatives. Voting Republican and other failed culture war strategies are not going to save us now.

Discerning the meaning of the present moment requires sobriety, precisely because its radicalism requires of conservatives a realistic sense of how weak our position is in post-Christian America.

He recommends,

It is time for what I call the Benedict Option. In his 1982 book After Virtue, the eminent philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre likened the current age to the fall of ancient Rome. He pointed to Benedict of Nursia, a pious young Christian who left the chaos of Rome to go to the woods to pray, as an example for us. We who want to live by the traditional virtues, MacIntyre said, have to pioneer new ways of doing so in community. We await, he said “a new — and doubtless very different — St. Benedict.”

Throughout the early Middle Ages, Benedict’s communities formed monasteries, and kept the light of faith burning through the surrounding cultural darkness. Eventually, the Benedictine monks helped refound civilization.

I believe that orthodox Christians today are called to be those new and very different St. Benedicts. How do we take the Benedict Option, and build resilient communities within our condition of internal exile, and under increasingly hostile conditions? I don’t know. But we had better figure this out together, and soon, while there is time.

I thought this was a piece by the Onion when I read it, but it isn’t.

The people he calls Orthodox Christians, I call Christian hypocrites.

Jesus preached equality. He ministered to the poor, the mentally ill and the marginalized. He welcomed everyone, but warned that a rich man had about as much chance of getting into heaven as a camel getting through the eye of a needle. He would have had no patience for the Christian hypocrites.

I don’t either.

Boston Bombing News: Tsarnaev Sentencing

Editor’s Note: The following is a recounting of how the sentencing of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev unfolded last week in a federal court in Boston.

Formal sentencing in the case of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now convicted on some thirty counts in relation to the 2013 bombing of the Boston Marathon, took place on Wednesday, June 24, at the John Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse in Boston, MA. Despite the sentence being well known prior to this hearing, the proceedings nonetheless provided some surprises for observers.

Court convened a few minutes late at 9.45 am. with William Weinreb, Aloke Chakravarty, Steve Mellin and Nadine Pelligrini representing the government. David Bruck, William Fick, Timothy Watkins, Judy Clarke and Miriam Conrad were present for the defense. Prior to this the defense and prosecution teams could be observed in the courtroom. The prosecution, for the most part, remained at their table and were shortly joined by Judy Clarke for the defense, whereupon she spoke at length with members of the prosecution. Clarke’s demeanor appeared upbeat as she smiled frequently throughout her conversation with the prosecution.

While Clarke conversed with the prosecution, Miriam Conrad, also for the defense, appeared to await the arrival of her client, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, in the courtroom. Upon Tsarnaev’s entrance Conrad greeted him and both client and attorney engaged in dialogue with their chairs inclined towards each other and often leaning close. Although many had predicted that Dzhokhar Tsarnaev would not speak at his sentencing hearing due to the upcoming appeals process, I personally became convinced, at this point, that he would in fact speak. My perception was that Conrad, her hand frequently at her client’s back, was preparing him for something .

Judy Clarke made her way back to the defense table just a couple of minutes prior to Judge O’Toole’s entrance. Clarke took her seat, to the left of her client before greeting him.Tsarnaev turned slowly and briefly from his conversation with Miriam Conrad, who sat at his right, and spoke no more than a couple of words to Clarke before returning his attention to Conrad. (Despite one incidence when whatever Clarke said to her client appeared to amuse, my overall impression was that this attorney/client relationship had cooled somewhat since the trial.) Judge O’Toole began by speaking briefly on his review of sentencing guidelines and pre-sentencing reports.

Victim Impact Statements:

It was mentioned that some had provided impact statements in writing, but those who spoke were:

Patricia & Bill Campbell: (Parents of Krystle Campbell who died from her injuries at the first bomb site.)

Karen McWaters: (Friend of Kryslte Campbell and who lost a leg as a result of the bombing.)

Jennifer Rogers: (Sister of Officer Sean Collier who was slain on the night of 04/18/13.)

Bill and Denise Richard: (Who we are told lost their youngest son, Martin, at the site of the second bomb, and whom, along with their daughter, Jane, sustained injuries as a result of the bombing.)

Richard Donahue. (A Transit Police Sergeant who came close to losing his life after being shot by “friendly fire” at the Watertown shoot-out on the night of 04/18/13.)

Michael Chase. (A spectator at the 2013 marathon who states he provided aid to the Richard family and who suffered ruptured eardrums and also a concussion.)

Joseph Craven. (Suffered injuries as a result of the bombing.)

Stephanie Benz. (Suffered shrapnel wounds as a result of the bombing.)

Henry Bogard. (A passer-by who sustained PCS and suffers from PTSD.)

Elizabeth Bourgault. (A runner who was injured.) (more…)

The Roundup for June 30th, 2015

Goodbye June!

Greece And The Giant Grexit

– Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras: Greece will not be kicked out of the euro

– Meanwhile, leaders throughout Europe say otherwise if the referendum comes back as “no”; Vote no anyway

– European Council President Donald Tusk: No EU member state is willing to bailout Greece

A new poll found 57 percent of Greeks favor what the creditors are proposing

Part one of two with attorney Dimitri Lascaris and professor Leo Panitch about the Greek referendum

– International Monetary Fund head Christina Laguarde: If Greece does not give our payment on June 30, then there will be no more lending

– The White House, in regards to Greece, said the Greek government must “keep their commitments”

– What does China think about Greece? They want it to stay in the euro (more…)