Scaremongering About the Patriot Act Sunset

As Section 215 nears its expiration date, the standoff over civil liberties is imminent, writes ACLU’s Jameel Jaffer.

By Jameel Jaffer

In a last-ditch effort to scare lawmakers into preserving unpopular and much-abused surveillance authorities, the Senate Republican leadership and some intelligence officials are warning that allowing Section 215 of the Patriot Act to sunset would compromise national security. (One particularly crass example from Senator Lindsey Graham: “Anyone who neuters this program is going to be partially responsible for the next attack.”) Some media organizations have published these warnings without challenging them, which is unfortunate. The claim that the expiration of Section 215 would deprive the government of necessary investigative tools or compromise national security is entirely without support.

First, there’s no evidence that the call-records program is effective in any meaningful sense of the word. The Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board, which reviewed classified files, “could not identify a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of a counterterrorism investigation.” The President’s Review Group, which also reviewed classified files, determined that the call-records program had “not [been] essential to preventing attacks,” and that, to the extent the program had contributed to terrorism investigations, the records in question “could readily have been obtained in a timely manner” using targeted demands. Although government once made far grander claims to the FISA court, the strongest claim that leaders of the intelligence community now make in support of the call-records program is that it provides “peace of mind.” Whatever this claim means—peace of mind to whom?—it’s not a claim that the program is necessary.

Second, there’s no evidence that other forms of collection under Section 215 have been any more effective. If intelligence officials could cite instances in which collection under Section 215 had been crucial to terrorism investigations, you can be sure they would have cited them by now. They certainly would have cited them to the Justice Department’s Inspector General, but a report by the Inspector General released this past week states that FBI personnel were “unable to identify any major case developments that resulted from use of the records obtained through use of Section 215 orders.” FBI personnel didn’t say that collection under Section 215 had been entirely useless—they said it had been useful in corroborating information already in their possession, for example—but they certainly didn’t say, or even come close to saying, that the expiration of Section 215 would compromise national security.

Third, the sunset of Section 215 wouldn’t affect the government’s ability to conduct targeted investigations of terrorist threats. This is because the government has many other tools that allow it to collect the same kinds of things that it can collect under Section 215. It can use administrative subpoenas or grand jury subpoenas. It can use pen registers. It can use national security letters. It can use orders served under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act. If Section 215 sunsets, it can use the provision that Section 215 amended, which will allow it to collect business records of hotels, motels, car and truck rental agencies, and storage rental facilities.

The sunset of Section 215 would undoubtedly be a significant political loss for the intelligence community, and it would be a sensible first step towards broader reform of the surveillance laws, but there’s no support for the argument that the sunset of Section 215 would compromise national security. Against this background, it’s not surprising the FBI Director reacted the way he did to a question about the possible sunset of Section 215. “I don’t like losing any tool in our toolbox,” Comey said, “but if we do, we press on.”

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© 2015 Just Security

Why do people persist in voting against their self-interest?

If people voted in their own self-interest, the Republican Party would never come close to getting 1% of the vote. It would fade away into an obscure footnote in history. That will be its destiny, if people make it their business to find out what is going on in this country. The simple truth is the rich and the corporations they own, including the thieving Wall Street banks, are looting this country, eliminating the middle class and enslaving everyone in debt.

Trickle-down economics is not working, never has worked, and never will work. Anyone who believes that it will is willfully ignorant, stupid, or both.

The Republican Party represents the best interests of the 1% of the 1% and they do not give a damn about anyone else. They realize that they have to suppress voting, rig outcomes and convince people to vote against their own best interests or they will never win another election.

Greed is their undoing because they are creating a vast lower class made up of everyone who is not rich. Sooner or later all of us will realize we have more in common with each other, regardless of race, color, religion or national origin.

Let’s do everything in our power to make it sooner rather than later.

Here’s are two interesting reads about ‘white fragility,’ ‘white privilege‘ and the need to eliminate them.

What do you think?

Has the west given up on democracy?

Tunisian General Rachid Ammar announces his resignation on TV, June, 2013. Demotix/ Chedly Ben Ibrahim. All rights reserved.

Authoritarians are methodically cracking down on opposition elements, restricting civil society activity, swapping surveillance and censorship tips and technologies to keep domestic dissent at bay.

By Mathew Burrows and Maria Stephan

Authoritarianism is on the march. Aggregate Freedom House scores on political rights and civil liberties have declined each of the past nine years. A third of all democratic regimes since the ‘third wave’ of democratization began forty years ago have failed. Authoritarians are methodically cracking down on opposition elements, restricting civil society activity, swapping surveillance and censorship tips and technologies to keep domestic dissent at bay.

It’s true that democracy comes in ‘waves’ of democratization, ebbing and flowing, as described by the late Samuel Huntington. Political scientists including Jay Ulfelder, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way rightly urge caution when assuming the demise of democracy. We should hardly expect political systems to develop linearly, especially in places like the Middle East, where dictatorships have been rooted for decades usually with strong western support.

Still, growing evidence of democratic backsliding and authoritarian resurgence, chronicled by USIP’s Steven Heydemann is troubling. Russia and Syria are poster children for how authoritarianism has led to international instability. Support for democracy has been a core, bipartisan element of US foreign policy since the time of Woodrow Wilson. While idealism has been a motive; at its core, support for democracy has advanced US national interests. Democracies don’t go to war with each other; they are more reliable partners than tyrannies; they don’t commit mass atrocities; and they are better at reconciling domestic differences peacefully. Systemic corruption and institutionalized discrimination have been key drivers of violent extremism, according to Carnegie scholar-practitioner Sarah Chayes.

Around the world, aggrieved citizens are still standing up to challenge power structures, demanding basic freedoms. The question is. can we avoid citizen challenges leading to bloodbaths and prolonged chaos? How can democratic movements lead to reforms that encourage more durable stability?

Our book, Is Authoritarianism Staging a Comeback? analyzes authoritarian resilience in places like Central Asia, Syria, and the Gulf, highlighting the dilemmas and possible solutions. As Denver scholar Erica Chenoweth demonstrates, mass nonviolent movements, which have historically been major drivers of democratic transitions and twice as successful as armed struggles at overturning dictators, have seen their effectiveness drop in the past few years to levels not seen since the 1950s. According to media expert Zeynep Tufecki, authoritarian regimes are using the internet and state-controlled media to counter challenges to their rule.

What can be done to reverse the tide? First, we should recall that civil society activism, in the form of speech, peaceful assembly, and labor organizing, are protected under international human rights law. Nonviolent activists have a right to receive information and even financial help from external actors, a point underscored by Seton Hall law professor Elizabeth Wilson. Second, the fact that the popular Arab Spring uprisings that toppled four dictators have not produced consolidated democracies doesn’t mean that western powers should give up on democracy in the Middle East – or anywhere else.

It’s hardly surprising that Tunisia, the one Arab Spring country on the best path to democratization, had the most nonviolent and participatory of all the uprisings. Tunisia has a civil society, anchored by strong trade and labor unions, helping to ensure nonviolent discipline during and after the transition. Tunisia’s George Washington, army chief of staff Rachid Ammar, refused regime orders to fire on peaceful demonstrators. This sense of integrity within the ranks of the military, as ex-Director of National Intelligence Admiral Dennis Blair writes about, can be inculcated through contacts with military officers from democratic countries. Military-to-military ties are underappreciated sources of western leverage.

In an era of authoritarian backlash, there is a need for a new breed of diplomacy. Diplomats have a wide range of tools and assets to support pro-democracy movements. Popular uprisings in places like Egypt, which are often led by non-traditional civil society actors took diplomats who are too used to dealing with registered NGOs and CSOs by surprise. Ambassador Jeremy Kinsman and Kurt Basseuner highlight in their Diplomat’s Handbook for Democracy Development Support that everyday diplomatic tools can make a difference. These range from showing solidarity, to physically inter-positioning to deter violence and coordinating allied embassies’ support for democrats. Unfortunately, foreign service officers receive minimal training on how to support democrats.

Helping populations pivot from protests to politics is no simple undertaking. As Stanford’s Larry Diamond emphasizes, the reality is that democratic institutions, strong political parties, and the rule of law take generations to take root. There is plenty of evidence that technocratic tweaking of institutions without such strong civil society engagement doesn’t achieve democratic progress. Successful anti-corruption campaigns around the world, as chronicled by John’s Hopkins fellow Shaazka Beyerle, combine citizen-led action with engagement with government institutions.

Arguably the most important role outside actors can play is helping civic actors pry open space for political engagement. Democracy support foundations and organizations need to develop innovative ways to support civil society, particularly in restrictive spaces. Such support should seek to advance key aspects of successful nonviolent movements, as Peter Ackerman and Hardy Merriman have stressed: unity around goals and leaders, operational planning, nonviolent discipline, diversified participation, movement resilience, and the ability to prompt loyalty shifts in the authoritarian’s key pillars of support. Engaging with broad array of civil society actors, using small, flexible grants to support credible local mobilizers, encouraging sustainable leadership and movement principles and providing convening spaces for activists, traditional civil society and government reformers to mix it up are a few ways to do that.

Acclaimed strategist and Nobel Laureate in Economics Thomas Schelling once said that in the match between repressive regimes and domestic challengers, each side seeks to impose costs on the other side while minimizing the costs to their own side. “It is a contest and it remains to be seen who wins.” As authoritarians around the world seek to consolidate their grip on power, it behooves western actors to get serious about pushing back against the authoritarians, otherwise we risk the current ebb turning into a growing tide against democracy.

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This article is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 licence.

Mathew Burrows is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

Maria J. Stephan is a senior fellow in the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security. Prior to government service, she was Director of Educational Initiatives at the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict in Washington, DC, an independent non-profit foundation that studies and promotes the use of civilian-based, non-military strategies for advancing rights and freedoms around the world.

Camera Work: Light

A photographer can work so long as there is light – Edward Weston

Rhodies

Yesterday, I came home from shopping and was struck by the color of the Rhodies just outside my front door. They had a glow on that I didn’t remember from last year, so, after putting the groceries away, I grabbed the camera and took a look. I had photographed this same bush last year and I knew they were the same flowers, but something was different. The different was the light.

I have an outdoor light on the building, set to go on with a motion sensor. Last year, the sensor didn’t work, so as the days got shorter, I messed with the settings and got it to work reliably. Now, if anything, it’s too sensitive, and seems to ignore the fact that it’s daylight. My walking by the sensor field set it off, and provided enough artificial light to function as a second source, blending well in brightness as an accent light on diffuse daylight.

A gift, in fact. Studio photographers routinely do this mixing, pushing at times the mix of colors using different color gels over the lamps. You see this in theatre as well. I just had to walk up to the bush, wave my hand and there it is.

But even without this fortuitous circumstance, when we photograph outdoors on a sunny day, we see the same effect, namely direct sun on the subject but the shadows get skylight only, and skylight is blue.

Examine the values in both photos. The left is a sunny exposure, the shadowed part is bluer and the green leaves duller in color. The shadow would have been quite a bit bluer, but the magic of digital made that problem go away.

The right side is the version with the fill light from the porch fixture. The daylight is from an overcast sky, which, incidentally is blue, compared to direct sun, but the brain compensates for this and presents us with gray. (The subject of color balance via brain compensation is a subject all to itself).  Again, digital magic mimics the brain.

Tweaking the right photo needs as much consideration as tweaking the left, because raw out of the camera, each photograph would seem off balance, if some sort of realistic presentation is desired.

A final note: both photos are the same size and the same proportion yet the two sides appear different. Optical illusion, due to the fact that the right image is centered, the left is not, giving rise to the perception that the right side is square. Or at least, squarish. In a final spread for a book or magazine, I would not likely run these two together but here, it offers a glimpse into another aspect of working with images.

Here’s a link to a new gallery on my website where you can see these images full size, along with a few others. This gallery is new and I’ll be adding to it significantly. There have been additions to other galleries this week as well.

Enjoy!

Photos ©2015 Lawrence Hudetz All Rights reserved.

Sunday Food: Beef Steak for Memorial Day

Steaks on a grill
Steaks on a grill

(Picture courtesy of Liz Lowley at flickr.com.)

While a lot of the U.S. will have weather that isn’t ideal for outdoor cooking, one of the traditions of Memorial Day celebrations is a barbeque, often featuring steaks on the grill.  We all hear varying tastes for cooking and dining on steaks, but this is a review of ‘common’ knowledge as featured on wikimedia.

A steak is a cut of meat sliced perpendicular to the muscle fibers, potentially including a bone. When the word “steak” is used without qualification, it generally refers to a beef steak. In a larger sense, there are also fish steaks, ground meat steaks, pork steak and many more varieties.

As a “top-quality ingredient”, beef steaks “are perfect if properly grilled“,[1] but they can be pan-fried, orbroiled. Steak is often grilled in an attempt to replicate the flavor of steak cooked over the glowing coals of an open fire.[1] Steak can also be cooked in sauce, such as in steak and kidney pie, or minced and formed into patties, such as hamburgers.

(snip)

The word steak originates from the mid-15th century Scandinavian word steik, or stickna’ in the Middle English dialect, along with the Old Norseword steikja.[5] The Oxford English Dictionary’s first reference is to “a thick slice of meat cut for roasting or grilling or frying, sometimes used in a pie or pudding; especially a piece cut from the hind-quarters of the animal.” Subsequent parts of the entry, however, refer to “steak fish”, which referred to “cod of a size suitable for cutting into steaks”, and also “steak-raid”, which was a custom among Scottish Highlanders of giving some cattle being driven through a gentleman’s land to the owner.[6] An early written usage of the word “stekys” comes from a 15th-century cookbook, and makes reference to both beef or venison steaks.[7]

(snip)

Many types of beefsteak exist. The more tender cuts of beef, from the loin and rib, are cooked quickly, using dry heat, and served whole. Less tender cuts from the chuck or round are cooked with moist heat or are mechanically tenderized (e.g. cube steak). Beef steak can be cooked to a level of very rare (bleu, a cold raw center), rare, medium rare, medium, medium well done, or well done. Pittsburgh rare is charred on the outside. Beef, unlike certain other meats, does not need to be cooked through. Food-borne human illnesses are not normally found within a beef steak, though surfaces can potentially be contaminated from handling, and thus, very rare steak (seared on the outside and raw within) is generally accepted as safe.

Beef steak is graded for quality, with higher prices for higher quality. Generally, the higher the quality, the more tender the beef, the less time is needed for cooking, or the better the flavor. For example, beef fillet is the most tender[41] and wagyu, such as Kobe beef from Japan, is known for its high quality and commands a high price.[42] Steak can be cooked relatively quickly compared to other cuts of meat, particularly when cooked at very high temperatures, such as by broiling or grilling.

The quality and safety of steak as a food product is regulated by law. In Australia, there are National Meat Accreditation standards;[43] in Canada, there is the Canadian Beef Grading Agency;[44] in the United Kingdom, the Food Standards Agency is responsible;[45] in the United States, beef isgraded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as select, choice or prime,[46] where “prime” refers to beef of the highest quality, typically that which has significant marbling.[46] In 1996 in the U.S., only 2.4% of cattle were graded as prime,[47] and most prime beef is sold in restaurants and hotels.[46]

Eating red meat gets a lot of disapproval in some quarters, but I was always one who respects variety.   I will have steaks, burgers, roasts, sometimes but think they’re best with a healthy green salad.

Why Islamic State Is Winning

The Saudi-Israeli alliance and U.S. neocons have pressured President Obama into continuing U.S. hostility toward the secular Syrian government despite major military gains by the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front, leading to an emerging catastrophe in the Mideast.

By Daniel Lazare

President Barack Obama and his foreign policy staff are not having a very merry month of May. The Islamic State’s takeover of Ramadi, Iraq, on May 15 was one of the greatest U.S. military embarrassments since Vietnam, but the fall of Palmyra, Syria, just five days later made it even worse. This is an administration that, until recently, claimed to have turned the corner on Islamic State.

In March, Gen. Lloyd Austin, head of U.S. Central Command, assured the House Armed Services Committee that the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL or Daesh) was in a “defensive crouch” and unable to conduct major operations, while Vice President Joe Biden declared in early April that “ISIL’s momentum in Iraq has halted, and in many places, has been flat-out reversed.”

A couple of weeks later, the President proved equally upbeat following a meeting with Iraqi leader Haider al-Abadi: “We are making serious progress in pushing back ISIL out of Iraqi territory. About a quarter of the territory fallen under Daesh control has been recovered. Thousands of strikes have not only taken ISIL fighters off the war theater, but their infrastructure has been deteriorated and decayed. And under Prime Minister Abadi’s leadership, the Iraqi security forces have been rebuilt and are getting re-equipped, retrained, and strategically deployed across the country.”

But that was so last month. Post-Ramadi, conservatives like Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton, and Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-South Carolina, have lost no time in labeling such views out of touch and “delusional.” And, indeed, Obama sounded strangely detached on Tuesday when he told The Atlantic that ISIS’s advance was not a defeat.

“No, I don’t think we’re losing,” he said, adding: “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time, primarily because these are not Iraqi security forces that we have trained or reinforced.” It was rather like the captain of the Titanic telling passengers that the gash below the waterline was a minor opening that would soon be repaired.

Not that the rightwing view is any less hallucinatory. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, faults Obama for not doing more to topple the Assad regime in Damascus, as if removing the one effective force against ISIS would be greeted with anything less than glee by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his hordes.

“We don’t have a strategy,” House Speaker John Boehner complained on Tuesday. “For over two years now, I’ve been calling on the President to develop an overarching strategy to deal with this growing terrorist threat. We don’t have one, and the fact is that the threat is growing than what we and our allies can do to stop it.” But when asked what a winning strategy might be, the House Speaker could only reply, “It’s the President’s responsibility.” In other words, Boehner is as clueless as anyone else.

In fact, the entire foreign-policy establishment is clueless, just as it was in 2003 when it all but unanimously backed President George W. Bush’s disastrous invasion of Iraq. Both Republicans and Democrats are caught in a disastrous feedback loop in which journalists and aides tell them what they want to hear and resolutely screen out everything to the contrary. But facts have a way of asserting themselves whether Washington wants them to or not.

The Whys of Failure (more…)

Judge bizarrely acquits Cleveland police officer of voluntary manslaughter

In a bizarre miscarriage of justice today, Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Judge John O’Donnell acquitted Officer Michael Brelo of two counts of voluntary manslaughter in the deaths of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, who were chased and gunned down by police after the vehicle in which they were riding accidentally backfired as they were driving past police headquarters. They were unarmed.

62 police vehicles participated in the ensuing 22 mile chase that reached speeds over 100 mph.

Thirteen officers, including Brelo, fired 137 shots into the vehicle. Russell had 23 bullet wounds and Williams had 24. Prosecutors said they only charged Brelo because he jumped up on the hood of the vehicle after it stopped and fired 15 shots through the windscreen into their bodies after they were no longer a threat, but still alive.

NBC reports,

[Judge] O’Donnell said that while he found beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo caused at least one fatal wound to Williams’ chest, he couldn’t determine that the other fatal shots came from his gun.

“One or two other officers inflicted” the others, O’Donnell said, and therefore, he couldn’t find Brelo guilty of Williams’ death.

Judge O’Donnell also found that Brelo acted improperly when he jumped up on the hood of the car

Given these findings, I think he should have convicted Brelo of voluntary manslaughter for the death of Williams. If two or more people fire fatal shots (i.e., that would have caused death), each is guilty of killing the victim even if the ME can’t tell which shot actually killed the victim. That’s basic criminal law.

What do you think?

Here’s the judge’s 35 page decision.

To follow on Twitter: #Brelo

The Roundup for May 22nd, 2015

We end our week in Japan and I end my week as a student for now.

International Politics

Overall

– Rania Khalek: “Obama gives $1.9 billion in weapons as welcome gift to Israel’s racist government

– President Barack Obama: Israel should know “the people of America” will protect them

– A report from the Pentagon found Western officials viewed the Islamic State as a group to counter Syrian President Bashar al-Assad

– Saudi Arabia expressed interest in heading the Human Rights Council of the United Nations

– Who wants the Internal Revenue Service to punish American “eco-terrorists”? Japan

Middle East

– One issue facing Syrians, especially very young Syrians, is the problem of the statelessness

– Unsure about who is who in the new Israeli government? Not to worry with this run down of each particular one you should keep your eye on

– For example, the Israeli deputy foreign minister said the land of Israel is for Israelis only

– U.S. officials say Iran sent soldiers to take a major oil refinery in Iraq from ISIS forces (more…)

Saturday Art: Jean-Baptiste Oudry

Henri, Camille, Chevalier de Berengen by Oudry
Henri Camille, Chevalier de Berenghen by Oudry
Misse and Latine by Oudry
Misse and Latine by Oudry

A painter known best for his portrayal of animals, Oudry studied and showed expertise from an early age and began as a portrait artist.   He showed mastery in art featuring animals and attracted interest from members of the court of Louis XV and support that gave him a solid profession in a comfortable life.

Through his friend, Jean-Baptiste Massé, a portrait-painter and miniaturist, Oudry was introduced to the Marquis de Beringhen, hereditary master of the royal stables,[3] for whom he painted a pair of paintings in 1727,[4] followed by a suite of landscapes in the Flemish manner. Through this connection, he was commissioned to produce the painting that made his reputation, Louis XV hunting a deer in the Forest of Saint-Germain (1730; now at Toulouse). Subsequently he was commissioned to produce numerous works for the King, who was passionate about the hunt and appointed Oudry Painter-in-Ordinary of the Royal Hunt,[5] in which capacity he produced portraits of dead game, the day’s kill. Oudry was granted a workshop in the Tuileries and an apartment in the Louvre.

M. Hultz, an adviser to the Académie de Peinture, commissioned Oudry to produce a buffet, or still-life combining silver plates and ewers, fruit and game; the work was exhibited in the Salon of 1737. Oudry timidly asked for tenpistoles for his work, but Hultz valued it much higher, insisting on paying twenty-five. Oudry was also commissioned to produce a buffet for Louis XV (exhibited in the Salon of 1743), that went to the château de Choisy, the King’s favoured hunting residence.

(snip)

Although Oudry produced excellent scenes of animals and of hunting, he also painted portraits, histories, landscapes, fruits and flowers; he imitated bas reliefs in monotone tints en camaïeu, used pastels, and created etchings. He was often sent examples of rare birds to draw.

An important patron was Christian Ludwig II, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, who commissioned two pairs of paintings from Oudry: Three Does Watching Two Stags Fighting and A Family of Roe Deer; and A Boar Hunt and A Wolf Hunt, both delivered in 1734.[8] He later purchased a series of large paintings of animals from Louis XV’s menagerie at Versailles. Oudry’s initial motive for painting these works is obscure. When exhibited at the Paris Salon, they had been described as having been painted for the French king; however the commission seems to come through the king’s surgeon, François Gigot de la Peyronie, who had engravings made after them,[9] and in a letter to Christian dated March 1750, Oudry wrote that they had become available for sale due to de La Peyronie’s death. In addition to the portraits of the animals from the royal menagerie, Christian also bought Oudry’s life-size painting of “Clara“, an Indian rhinoceros which had been exhibited all around Europe to great public interest.[10] The works are still at Schwerin.

(more…)