The Voice of the White House
Washington, D.C. January 29, 2013: “ It seems that whenever a major disaster occurs, first we have the news media reporting it and then, almost immediately afterwards, we have the conspiracy people creeping out of the woods dressed in fantastic costumes and shrieking their lunatic theories about the Real Reasons for the tragedy or disaster. As a case in point, we have the recent murders of small children at a Connecticut school by an obviously deranged young man. I am appending an article that covers much of this and have left off a long, hysterical article about the motives of the real killers.
No, the killings were done by a special squad of trained assassins, recruited by the Illuminati and landed on the coast from an Israel submarine! Scientists have proven that the “lone killer” was not a young nut who had previously murdered his mother but really a robot constructed in Japan by the Hidden Hand!
The motive was to help establish the One World Order run by members of the Skull and Bones Society assisted by quadruped members of the Mossad and the FBI Special Missions Department.
And the authors of this brilliant expose have left out the recent bus crash in Akron, Ohio that killed twenty two elderly passengers from the Happy Hours Nursing home that were on a outing to a local MacDonalds to take advantage of the Two-For-One offer.
This was a warning to the elderly to prepare for their euthanizing by the New World Order people as being useless and unproductive.
And let us not forget the mysterious flooding and other weather problems in England.
More scientists have proven these are caused by Tesla energy rays emanating from an anchored ship off England’s West Coast and manned by more special squads of the Illuminati.
Will this madness never cease?
January 19, 2013
The shooting that occurred in Newtown, CT took the lives of 27, plus the shooter himself. Most of the victims were young children. For a small town in a small state, the loss and grief is enormous. In time, the event will fade from the headlines, but for the community, the tragedy will linger much longer. It will likely be more than a year before the town even begins to return to normal and the shooting stops dominating the lives of those who live in the area. Of course, for those who lost loved ones, things never really will return to normal. The grief will be life-long and time will only dull, but never remove the sense of loss.
Unfortunately, the process of recovering from the horrible tragic events of December 14 has only been made worse by the rise of conspiracy theories and the invasive and disrespectful actions of conspiracy theorists and self-pointed “investigators.”
The conspiracy theories basically claim one of three things:
Adam Lanza was somehow under the control of the government or that his actions were the result of government influences
Adam Lanza was not the murderer. He was just a scapegoat and the deaths were actually purported by the government. Some claim Adam Lanza was not even a real person or that he had died some time ago and the identity was assumed into the fictional character created to be the perpetrator.
The shooting never happened. It was all staged. The victims may not even be real people at all, but just characters made up for the false story.
The motives put forward for such a conspiracy are predictable: that the massacre would result in an outcry for more school security, more gun control and more law enforcement powers and that this would allow the government to take away rights from the people to a degree that would not otherwise be accepted. Some claim that other recent shootings, such as the one in Aurora Colorado are proof that the government has begun a program of planned or staged massacres with the intention of convincing the public to submit to greater government authority, ultimately leading to all out fascism.
The claims of “evidence” of a conspiracy vary considerably. One of the most common claims is that the reports are conflicting or that the information given does not fit the events. Indeed, early news reports did indicate everything from the possibility of a second shooter to the suspect apparently being apprehended. Recordings of two-way radio traffic demonstrate that police officers may have believed that the suspect had fled or that the circumstances were different. This is very typical for such a chaotic and sudden event. It did indeed take some time to ascertain the actual circumstances. Others are that apparent victims have been seen alive or that some of those killed or involved have some kind of connection to the government.
Latest American conspiracy theory claims Newtown mass shooting a hoax
WASHINGTON – The United States has long been a breeding ground for conspiracy theorists, spurred by an often violent history riddled, in particular, with shadowy political assassinations.
But the latest conspiracy movement seems custom-made to underscore the need for a national debate on mental illness. Some of the Sandy Hook Truthers, as they’ve been dubbed, believe last month’s mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., was a hoax.
The Obama administration perpetrated the hoax, the conspiracy theorists claim, in order to ratchet up support for tougher gun control measures.
They call themselves Operation Terror, and many of the movement’s adherents appear to have ties to the so-called 9-11 truthers who have long held that the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, were an inside job by the George W. Bush administration.
Their theories on the Dec. 14 shooting in Sandy Hook appear to lack any basis in fact, reality or common sense. But Google Trends suggests the movement is gaining momentum with both a Florida college professor and a libertarian Fox News anchor in Cincinnati questioning the official narrative on the events.
On various websites and blogs, some Sandy Hook truthers crow about the “smoking gun” they say proves the shooting was a hoax — a photo of President Barack Obama, backstage at a Newtown vigil two days after the shooting, a young blonde girl sitting on his lap.
They insist the girl is six-year-old Emilie Parker, one of the 20 child victims of the shooting. The Sandy Hook truthers claim her parents slipped up in their participation in the hoax, and allowed their eldest daughter to cuddle up to Obama.
“The story that she was killed at Sandy Hook is not possible, because here she is sitting on the president’s lap after the shooting,” intones the narrator of a YouTube video, one of dozens of its kind, this one the recipient of more than 260,000 web hits.
In fact, it’s the dead girl’s little sister.
Although I doubt my word will count for much, I can assure readers that Emilie Parker was real and died that day. No, I did not know her or her family, but I know people who do, and unless I have several personal friends and acquaintances who are already deeply involved in the conspiracy, she did indeed loose her life.
Many of the conspiracy theorists are of the standard variety: the same group that claims 9/11 was an inside job and spends most of their time listening to Alex Jones and posting on various conspiracy-oriented boards and making poorly edited youtube videos. However, one of them has gained more attention because of his background as a professor. James Tracy, a professor at Florida Atlantic University, has become the most prominent mouthpiece for conspiracy theorists with his accusations that the entire event was staged and his pledge to personally investigate the circumstances. Later, he did concede that some people died, but maintains that the scale and circumstances are false and the shooting was caused by a massive conspiracy.
Conspiracy theory professor who said Sandy Hook tragedy never happened NOW concedes some ‘people undoubtedly died
The so-called ‘Nutty Professor’ who said the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting never happened is now willing to concede some people, indeed, lost their lives in the tragedy.
But James Tracy, a Florida Atlantic University tenured communications professor, is only seemingly willing to meet his many detractors half-way in their demands for outright contrition.
‘There are certainly people that lost their loved ones, there is no doubt of that,’ Tracy tells WLRN in Miami.
‘If a similar tragedy were visited upon me and my family, I would be beside myself,’ he reportedly said.
‘But I think one of my ways of healing would be attempting to find out what went wrong, where was the failure.’
The 47-year-old professor suggested on his blog – memoryholeblog.com – the massacre at the least did not unfold in the way authorities said it did, and may not have happened at all.
‘While it sounds like an outrageous claim, one is left to inquire whether the Sandy Hook shooting ever took place—at least in the way law enforcement authorities and the nation’s news media have described,’ he wrote.
‘As documents relating to the Sandy Hook shooting continue to be assessed and interpreted by independent researchers there is a growing awareness that the media coverage of the massacre of 26 children and adults was intended primarily for public consumption to further larger political ends,’ he wrote on his blog.
Tracy has seemingly based his allegations largely on the flurry of conflicting media reports released during the hectic day.
Tracy is a professor of communications. He has academic tenure, and this puts Florida Atlantic University in a difficult position. Academic tenure prevents schools from terminating or taking action against professors except in specific circumstances, where they have directly violated contractual obligations – such as not showing up for classes or failing to do other basic duties of their job or engaging in directly inappropriate behavior. Tenure exists for a reason: its purpose is to foster a free and open academic environment, where professors do not need to worry about university politics interfering with their ability to freely teach, publish and conduct research.
Unfortunately, in circumstances like that of Tracy, tenure can result in a university being unable to dismiss a faculty member who is an embarrassment to the institution. FAU would just as soon wash its hands of the “nutty professor” and many are outraged by the fact that he is receiving money from a taxpayer-funded institution. An investigation has been opened by the university, but it’s not entirely clear whether they will be able to make a case for his termination. Tracy has been asked to resign and has refused.
With or without Tracy at the head, there is clearly a growing group of “Newtown Shooting Truthers” who will not go away. A youtube search shows hundreds of videos on the subject have already been posted.
So what we have here is a combination of errors made by the news media early on and a few made by officials (for example, the medical examiner who was under the impression that a different gun was used, although at the time the ballistic evidence had not been processed and the investigation was only begining.) We also see images of parents and others reacting to the shock of the events with confused emotions.
In fact, during times of extreme emotional stress, shock and grief, it is quite normal for individuals to show confused and rapidly changing emotions. In such high stress situations, it is quite normal to see people go from completely composed to crying hysterically and back again in a brief period of time. While it may seem highly inappropriate, laughter and apparently being happy is a well known phenomena seen in those who are first dealing with loss. Some of these initial responses are simply the brain trying to deal with a severe emotional overload.
Newtown locals and families of victims being harassed:
Being accused of being part of a conspiracy or having their recent losses and trauma questioned is difficult enough for those close to the shooting.
Many of the conspiracy theorists have targeted 69 year old Gene Rosen, a retired psychologist living in Newtown. Rosen lives a short distance from the Sandy Hook school. On the morning of the shooting, he was coming out of his garage, where he had been feeding his cats, when he saw a group of six young children sitting on his lawn and one adult standing over them, in an apparently frantic state. The six children were students at Sandy Hook Elementary School, who had fled the school when the shooting occurred and the adult was a school bus driver who had ushered the children away from the school to the relative safety of the nearby residential neighborhood. The six children were the only survivors from Victoria Soto’s classroom, where their teacher and other classmates were all shot dead.
Rosen did what any reasonable human would do. He invited the children and the bus driver into his home and attempted to provide them with some comfort, offering them juice and his grandchildrens’ stuffed animals while he called the authorities. The school bus driver contacted the busing company, which was able to provide the cell phone numbers of the student’s parents. The children were sheltered at the home for about an hour and a half before their parents were located and came to pick them up. Shortly after the last child was picked up, the parents of one of the deceased children knocked at Rosen’s door, having heard that some of the children had fled to his home and hoping that their son might be amongst those who had survived.
As one might expect, Rosen has been deeply impacted by the shock and trauma of that day and being thrust into the media spotlight by no choice of his own. He has generally been commended for his actions, although he has been dismissive of being called a hero, instead pointing to the bravery of the children who maintained their composure and stayed together after escaping the school. Unfortunately, Mr. Rosen has also become the target of numerous conspiracy theorists, who have gone so far as to harass him in person.
Gene Rosen sheltered six kids during the Sandy Hook massacre. Now he’s become a target of conspiracy theorists
“I don’t know what to do,” sighed Gene Rosen. “I’m getting hang-up calls, I’m getting some calls, I’m getting emails with, not direct threats, but accusations that I’m lying, that I’m a crisis actor, ‘how much am I being paid?’” Someone posted a photo of his house online. There have been phony Google+ and YouTube accounts created in his name, messages on white supremacist message boards ridiculing the “emotional Jewish guy,” and dozens of blog posts and videos “exposing” him as a fraud. One email purporting to be a business inquiry taunted: “How are all those little students doing? You know, the ones that showed up at your house after the ‘shooting’. What is the going rate for getting involved in a gov’t sponsored hoax anyway?”
“The quantity of the material is overwhelming,” he said. So much so that a friend shields him from most of it by doing daily sweeps of the Web so Rosen doesn’t have to. His wife is worried for their safety. He’s logged every email and every call, and consulted with a retired state police officer, who took the complaint seriously but said police probably can’t do anything at the moment; he plans to do the same with the FBI
The harassment has gotten far worse than just phone calls and e-mails, however. A number of conspiracy theorists have gone out of their way to post his personal information online, including his address, personal telephone number and information about his family. There are some Youtube videos that show his info and how to get to his home. I will not post them, but they are easy enough to find. Mr. Rosen has been harassed so badly he now worries about his own safety, given the fact that his address has been so widely published. After retirement, Rosen had earned extra income by running a pet-sitting business, but his website has been flooded by harassing e-mails disguised as requests for pet sitting services.
While Gene Rosen may be the most visible victim of harassment, he is not the only one. The families of the victims have kept quiet about the extent to which they have been harassed, and the Connecticut State police have worked to shield their privacy and assure their safety, but a few family members have also been targeted. The fact that most of the families were previously low profile, and thus did not make any effort to have unlisted phone numbers and hidden their addresses can make this difficult.
Robbie Parker, who lost his daughter Emilie has been singled out by a number of conspiracy theorists. A video called “Robbie Parker Exposed” has gone viral. (no I won’t link to it) On some websites, extreme conspiracy theorists have called for an “open bounty” on Robbie Parker – an extremely disturbing and directly threatening action. Others who have been the subject of harassment and accusations include Jimmy Greene and Nelba Marquez-Greene, who lost their daughter Ana and Nicole Holkey, who lost her son Dylan. The family and friends of teacher Victoria Soto, who died in the attack have also been accused of being part of a conspiracy. Not surprisingly, Adam Lanza’s father and extended family have kept a very low profile and received protection due to concern over threats.
The fact that so many are facing harassment is deeply disturbing and the possibility that they may be in danger of violence makes it even worse.
It is important to remember that everyone responds to this kind of shock and grief differently, and their reaction cannot be used as evidence of anything. For some, the experience is so shocking that they show little emotion at first or seem to respond with an unexpected lack of sorrow. Others become immediately emotional. For some, the tragic events may make them feel a drive to activism or to speak out for policy changes.
Of course, many will avoid the media spotlight and try to maintain their privacy, but it is also not unusual for those who have experienced loss to actively seek the opportunity to speak publicly about their loved one. This is especially true of parents. Having lost a child who they were so proud of, they may feel a deep desire to let the world know how great they believed their child was and to memorialize their loved ones publicly. Some wish to be completely alone and others want constant support and companionship.
None of these responses are wrong, inappropriate or evidence of deception. Regardless of how they have reacted to the death of loved ones, those involved in the Sandy Hook shooting should have their wishes respected and be left alone unless they indicate a desire to be contacted. These conspiracy theories are especially shameful. Hopefully those who crossed the line to direct harassment and threats will be dealt with severely by law enforcement.
NOTE: There are a few major sites now dedicated to this conspiracy theory. You can easily find them with Google if you wish.
Why the assault weapons ban is (probably) going nowhere
January 29, 2013
by Aaron Blake
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) introduced a new version of the assault weapons ban on Thursday.
And it’s already looking like a lost cause.
Most everyone agrees that the ban is the most ambitious and politically difficult item on President Obama’s and Vice President Biden’s gun control agenda. And there is increasing evidence that it will be cast aside in favor or more doable proposals. Below, we look at four reasons why.
1. Joe Biden is downplaying it
The same day that Feinstein introduced the bill, Biden suggested that magazine sizes were the most important part of a gun control package. ”I’m much less concerned, quite frankly, about what you call an assault weapon than I am about magazines and the number of rounds that can be held in a magazine,” Biden said in a Google Hangout. He added that “more people out there get shot with a Glock that has cartridges in a (high-capacity magazine)” and also suggested that shotguns are more deadly than so-called assault weapons. Biden then again downplayed the ban again during a two-hour roundtable discussion on Friday.
This, we remind you, is all within 24 hours of the assault weapons ban being introduced by a Democratic senator. And Biden is already giving us reasons why it’s not that big a deal.
Biden is the point man on all of this. His words matter, and he’s quite aware of the current politics of his issue. The fact that he’s downplaying the assault weapons ban suggests that it’s not likely to happen and he doesn’t want the whole thing to be viewed as a failure if the ban isn’t passed.
2. The votes aren’t there
As Bloomberg reports, red-state Democratic Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), Jon Tester (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.) have all suggested they won’t support an assault weapons ban, as have independent Sen. Angus King (Maine) and moderate Republican Sen. Susan Collins (Maine).
And that list doesn’t include some other red-state Democrats who are up for reelection in 2014, including Sens. Mary Landrieu (La.), Mark Pryor (Ark.) and Tim Johnson (S.D.).
Quite simply: passing an assault weapons ban in the House is difficult enough. If even a few Senate Democrats bolt, Republicans will suddenly have no incentive to cast risky votes, and there is no hope for the bill. And it’s very hard to believe that all of these red-state Democrats are suddenly going to come together and vote for an assault weapons ban.
Even Feinstein seemed to admit this on Sunday.
3. Time is the enemy
Every day that the country gets further and further away from the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., the Obama Administration’s quest for new gun measures becomes more difficult.
While there was arguably more impetus for gun control after Newtown than there has been in years, it’s clear that the momentum has waned to some extent and people have, as the always do, refocused their attention on other political things, like illegal immigration, the budget and Obama’s Cabinet nominations.
Obama knew this was a possibility, stressing in the days after Newtown that the Administration wouldn’t simply ignore the recommendations of Biden’s new gun control panel, as has happened with other special commissions. Obama made good on his promise, but in the intervening weeks, the immediacy of the issue was lost and senators, predictably, became much less willing to go out on a limb politically.
4. Obama and Biden don’t need the ban
Even if the final result includes universal background checks and some of the other items, with no assault weapons ban, Obama and Biden can still lay claim to the most significant gun legislation in years/decades. They — and the red-state Democrats mentioned above — can still say they did something to avert future massacres and feel good about their efforts.
Whether it will be seen as a victory or not will depend a lot on how they prepare the American public for the outcome. After all, it’s far better to under-promise and over-deliver than vice versa.
When it comes to the assault weapons ban, Biden and Democrats like Feinstein are setting expectations somewhere between “not going to happen” and “unlikely.” And that’s probably about where they should be.
The tea party is losing a few of its revelers
By Dana Milbank,
Jan 30, 2013 01:38 AM EST
The Washington PostPublished: January 29
Is it last call for the tea party?
Consider these recent developments:
Late Thursday: Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a possible presidential candidate in 2016, ridicules fellow Republicans as the “stupid party” and urges Washington Republicans to get over their obsession with cutting budgets.
Friday afternoon: The office of Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, another would-be Republican presidential candidate, declares that he will not go along with a plan, hatched by conservative legislators, to rewrite the state’s election laws in a way that would stack Virginia’s electoral votes against Democrats.
Saturday: Reports emerge that House Speaker John Boehner had given a speech in which he referred to “hard heads” in his Republican caucus.
Monday: Sen. John McCain, who during his 2008 presidential run backed an enforcement-only approach to immigration, declares his support for a plan for undocumented immigrants to become legal. Joining him on the stage is Sen. Marco Rubio, one of the party’s brightest stars for 2016.
This last offense was too much for Rush Limbaugh, who denounced the “amnesty” plan. “Why are we doing this?” he asked Rubio on-air Tuesday.
Rubio was solicitous but firm. “We do have this existing problem that has to be dealt with,” he replied.
It is too early to call a requiem for the tea party. The informal movement still dominates the House Republicans. And the GOP’s puritanical primary process, encouraged by the redrawing of districts to protect Republican seats, guarantees that the far right will remain entrenched in the party for some time. Fresh evidence of the phenomenon can be seen in the decision by Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) to retire rather than face a primary challenge from the right.
But if the tea party isn’t over, some of the more sensible partygoers are heading for the exits, realizing that things are getting rowdy and the neighbors may soon be calling the cops. Republicans with national ambitions — Jindal, McDonnell, New Jersey’s Chris Christie — are moderating their images and views in ways that keep pace with the electorate.
That electorate punished some of the party’s more incendiary elements in November — Missouri’s Todd Akin, Indiana’s Richard Mourdock, Florida’s Allen West — and now many of those same people are voting with their remotes. Fox News apparently decided that it was no longer worth paying Palin to give televised warnings of the catastrophic effects of President Obama’s “socialist” policies.
Demagoguery works well in bad times, but it’s harder to stoke fear and anger when the stock market is at a five-year high and the private sector has been adding jobs for nearly three years.
If anything, anger has turned against tea-party lawmakers. Christie, one of the most popular Republicans in the land, decried GOP leaders’ “disgusting” behavior after they forced a delay in funds for Hurricane Sandy recovery. The leaders relented, allowing the spending bill, like Obama’s tax hike on the wealthy, to pass despite no votes from most House Republicans.
On immigration, likewise, fear of the tea party’s demagoguery has subsided. McCain, for example, fought off a primary challenge in 2010 from an opponent who called him soft on illegal immigration. But on Monday, McCain stood up to those who would call his new plan amnesty. A “de facto amnesty” already exists, he said. “We have been too content for too long to allow individuals to mow our lawn, serve our food, clean our homes and even watch our children, while not affording them any of the benefits that make our country so great.”
The return of the old McCain (in 2010, he endorsed Arizona’s harsh immigration law) is an encouraging sign, as was the retirement of Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), a reflexive critic of anything he could label “amnesty.”
More good news comes from the House, where most declined to join Limbaugh in his “amnesty” rant. And Rubio, though he owes his job to the tea party, wasn’t going to be bullied.
“I know why people are uncomfortable about it,” he told Limbaugh on Tuesday. But he defended compromise. “Anytime I see anything that’s harmful to America, as a policymaker I try to make it better,” he said. “I’m just trying to do the best I can with what’s already a tough situation.”
Palin probably would disagree. But who cares?
ATT Project Greenstar Secretly Spied Millions of Calls
January 28, 2013
What is the NSA domestic spying program?
In October 2001, President Bush issued a secret presidential order authorizing the NSA to conduct a range of surveillance activities inside of the United States without statutory authorization or court approval, including electronic surveillance of Americans’ telephone and Internet communications. This program of surveillance continues through today and works with the cooperation of major telecommunications companies.
In 2005, after the New York Times broke the story of the surveillance program, the President publicly admitted one portion of it—warrantless surveillance of Americans believed to be communicating with people connected with terrorism suspects—Senior Bush Administration officials later confirmed that the President’s authorization went beyond the surveillance of terrorists and conceded that the program did not comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). The President, invoking a theory of limitless executive power to disregard the mandates of Congress, has reauthorized this warrantless surveillance more than thirty times, including after the Department of Justice found the program to violate criminal laws. President Obama has continued the program, but has given no public legal justification for it and, in some situations, appears to be strategically denying certain portions of it. For other portions, including the collection of telecommunications records, the Obama Administration says it can neither confirm nor deny its actions.
Shortly after the initial revelations, a whistleblower named Mark Klein came forward with evidence describing the specific AT&T facilities, including one on Folsom Street in San Francisco, where the handoff of customer communications is occurring. Mr. Klein’s evidence confirmed what was already indicated by numerous newspaper reports and Congressional admissions—that the NSA is intercepting and analyzing millions of ordinary Americans’ communications, with the help of the country’s largest phone and Internet companies. EFF has brought two lawsuits to stop this illegal surveillance. In 2012, three NSA whistleblowers came forward to confirm Mr. Klein’s evidence, as well as other information about the warrantless surveillance.
Click here for a complete overview of the NSA Domestic Spying program.
What do the cases claim about the interception of domestic communications of millions of Americans?
The cases allege that the government, in coordination with AT&T, intercepts communications (like phone calls and emails), and that AT&T illegally discloses communications records to the government. The core component of the surveillance is the government’s nationwide network of sophisticated communications surveillance equipment, attached to the key facilities of telecommunications companies such as AT&T that carry Americans’ Internet and telephone communications.
Through this shadow network of surveillance devices, the government has acquired and continues to acquire the records of communications—who talked to who, when and from where—as well as the content of the phone calls, emails, instant messages, text messages and web communications, both international and domestic, of practically every American who uses the phone system or the Internet in an unprecedented suspicionless general search through the nation’s communications networks.
What do the cases claim about the communications records of millions of ordinary Americans?
The government has unlawfully solicited and obtained from telecommunications companies such as AT&T the complete and ongoing disclosure of the private telephone and Internet transactional records of those companies’ millions of customers, communications records indicating who the customers communicated with, when and for long, among other sensitive information. This transactional information is analyzed by computers in conjunction with the vast quantity of communications content acquired by government’s network of surveillance devices, in what has been described as a vast data-mining operation.
Can’t the Government Dismiss the Jewel Case with the State Secrets Privilege?
We don’t think so. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act expressly requires courts to determine whether challenged electronic surveillance is legal, and provide a means for doing so securely. More about the State Secrets Privilege.
How do the facts in EFF’s Jewel v. NSA case (and its earlier Hepting v. AT&T case) relate to the warrantless spying that the President has admitted?
The cases allege that, in addition to eavesdropping on or reading specific communications that has been admitted, the government has indiscriminately intercepted the communications and obtained the communications records of millions of ordinary Americans. The government has admitted that it is engaging in more warrantless surveillance than it has specifically admitted. While we do not know for sure, one leading theory is that first the government intercepts all communications—including yours—and then targets certain communications for more in-depth analysis.
Is EFF challenging the surveillance of communications with members of Al Qaeda?
No. None of the plaintiffs in either EFF lawsuit, Hepting v. AT&T or Jewel v. NSA, have communicated with members of Al Qaeda. Instead, the lawsuit is about the dragnet surveillance of millions of ordinary Americans, like the plaintiffs, who have the right to go about their daily lives without the government intercepting their communications or rifling through the records of their communications.
Does the domestic spying program produce better results than FISA?
No. Reports have shown that the data from this wholesale surveillance did little more than commit FBI resources to follow up leads, “virtually all of [which], current and former officials say, led to dead ends or innocent Americans.”
“We’d chase a number, find it’s a school-teacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism—case closed,” said one former FBI official, who was aware of the program and the data it generated for the bureau. “After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.”
— Lowell Bergman, et al, Spy Agency Data After Sept. 11 Led F.B.I. to Dead Ends, NY Times, Jan. 17, 2005.
Wasting counter-terrorism resources on innocent school-teachers makes America less free and no safer.
What’s AT&T’s role in the program?
EFF alleges that under the NSA domestic spying program, major telecommunications companies—and AT&T specifically—gave the NSA access to, or information from, their vast databases of communications records. This included information about their customers’ calls and emails in the past, including all of those people who their customers have corresponded with. In addition, EFF alleges that AT&T gave the government unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte “Daytona” database of caller information—one of the largest databases in the world.
Are ordinary American’s domestic communications included in the surveillance?
Yes. The lawsuit alleges that AT&T has provided the government with unfettered access to the communications records of ordinary Americans whose communications go through the AT&T network. This includes AT&T customers, anyone who communicates with an AT&T customer, and individuals whose messages are simply carried over AT&T’s networks. It includes international and purely domestic communications.
Is the fight against warrantless spying on ordinary Americans a partisan issue?
No. EFF is a non-partisan organization and has consistently opposed illegal surveillance efforts, regardless of which party held the presidency. Opposition to the domestic surveillance program has come from both Democrats and Republicans. As David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union said, “This is not a partisan issue; it is an issue of safeguarding the fundamental freedoms of all Americans so that future administrations do not interpret our laws in ways that pose constitutional concerns.”
What is AT&T’s Daytona technology?
Daytona is a database management technology originally developed and maintained by the AT&T Laboratories division of AT&T, and used by AT&T to manage multiple databases. Daytona was designed to handle very large databases and is used to manage “Hawkeye,” AT&T’s call detail record (CDR) database. Daytona is also used to manage AT&T’s huge network-security database, known as “Aurora.” As of September 2005, all of the CDR data managed by Daytona, when uncompressed, totaled more than 312 terabytes.
What is AT&T’s Hawkeye database?
Hawkeye is AT&T’s call detail record (CDR) database, which contains records of nearly every telephone communication carried over its domestic network since approximately 2001. The records include the originating and terminating phone numbers and the time and length for each call.
What is AT&T’s Aurora database?
Aurora is a network-security database that had been used to store Internet traffic data since approximately 2003. The Aurora database contains huge amounts of data acquired by firewalls, routers, honeypots and other devices on AT&T’s global IP (Internet Protocol) network and other networks connected to AT&T’s network.
How many calls go through AT&T?
By the end of 2004, on an average business day, AT&T Corp.’s network handled over 300 million voice calls as well as over 4,000 terabytes (million megabytes) of data. That’s approximately 200 times the amount of data contained in all the books in the Library of Congress.
Families face battle with GSK over dangerous diabetes drug
Exclusive: Pharmaceutical giant resists claims despite settlement with victims in US
Thousands of families in the UK could be deprived of compensation for the death or harm of a relative caused by the diabetes drug Avandia, even though the British maker has agreed to pay billions of dollars to settle similar claims in the US.
The licence for Avandia was revoked in Europe, in September 2010, because of evidence that it could cause heart failure and heart attacks. The drug can still be prescribed in the US, but not to patients at risk of heart problems.
A scientist with the Food and Drug Administration estimated that Avandia could have been responsible for 100,000 heart attacks in the US.
The manufacturer, GlaxoSmithKline, has admitted concealing data about the damaging side-effects of the drug, and there is evidence of the drug’s harmful effects. But, despite this, GSK is not prepared to settle claims in the UK without a court fight.
The history of drug litigation in the UK suggests that families might not easily get compensation.
Daniel Slade, with the Express company of solicitors in Manchester, has 19 cases on his books and has begun proceedings against GSK in four of them.
The pharmaceutical firm has told the solicitors that it will contest the cases. In just one of the cases it has indicated a willingness to spend £600,000 on its defence, which, the solicitor says, would be a fraction of what the claim is worth.
“It is very disappointing,” said Slade. “We anticipate that these claims do have a good prospect of success, but they still have to prove their case in the UK with suitable evidence. They are tasked with having to produce that evidence, including medical expert opinion. It is a burden one would have thought they might not have to go through.”
He expected that, if GSK fought in the courts rather than settled outside, as it had done in the US, it would take years for bereaved relatives, or those who have been harmed, to get any sort of payment.
A spokesman for GSK said: “We have every sympathy for people with complications associated with diabetes and those who care for them, but unfortunately we are unable to comment on individual legal cases. We continue to believe that the company acted appropriately and responsibly in its management of Avandia.”
Liz Thomas, policy manager at the patient safety charity Action against Medical Accidents, said it had “become increasingly difficult in the UK to challenge large corporations such as pharmaceutical companies, an incredibly expensive form of litigation”.
Corporations have a vast amount of money at their disposal to contest legal cases, but legal aid is about to cease for medical negligence cases.
The Avandia cases in Manchester will be fought on a “no win, no fee” basis by Express solicitors.
The cases in the US were settled by GSK extremely quickly, said Thomas. “I would hope they would not take advantage [in Britain] of the inequality of arms.”
Avandia was first introduced in the NHS in July 2000. It was given to people with type 2 diabetes whose glucose levels were no longer being properly controlled by the standard drugs – metformin and a sulphonylurea drug. Avandia could be prescribed with those drugs or on its own.
The drug, which generically is known as rosiglitazone, was designed to lessen the body’s resistance to insulin. It was available as a standalone drug – Avandia – or in a combination with metformin, and known as Avandamet.
When both drugs were withdrawn by the European Medicines Agency, there were about 90,000 people taking them in the UK.
The first warnings of trouble with Avandia came in 2007, when a prominent US scientist, Steve Nissen, published data from a review of 42 clinical trials which had been carried out on the drug. The trials involved 28,000 patients, and showed that Avandia could cause heart attacks. Further trials, the results of which were published in 2010, found people on Avandia were 27% more likely to have a stroke, 25% more likely to have heart failure, and 14% more likely to die, than patients on an alternative diabetes drug.
Potentially yet more damaging for GSK was its guilty plea to federal charges of concealing data about the drug’s side effects. Most of the data on the drug comes from GSK’s own trials. In November 2011 GSK agreed to pay $3bn to the US government over the Avandia issue and to end investigations into its marketing of the antidepressants Paxil (Seroxat in the UK) and Wellbutrin.
“This is a significant step toward resolving difficult, long-standing matters which do not reflect the company that we are today,” Andrew Witty, chief executive of GlaxoSmithKline, said at the time.
GSK is also still defending cases in the UK from people who claim to have been badly affected by Seroxat. A group action, involving people who say they suffered severe withdrawal problems when they tried to stop the drug, has been going on for years though many claims have been settled in the US.
The same is true of Vioxx, made by Merck, the painkiller that was withdrawn after it emerged eight years ago that it doubled the risk of a heart attack.
Dreamliner: No fault found with Boeing 787 battery
January 28, 2013
BBC Business News
Airline safety inspectors have found no faults with the battery used on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner, Japan’s transport ministry has said.
The battery was initially considered the likely source of problems on 787s owned by two Japanese airlines.
It has raised fears that there will be no quick fix to a problem that meant all 50 787s in service were grounded.
Attention has now shifted to the electrical system that monitors battery voltage, charging and temperature.
Transport ministry official Shigeru Takano said “we have found no major quality or technical problem” with the lithium-ion batteries. Shares in GS Yuasa, which makes the batteries, jumped 5% on the news.
“We are looking into affiliated parts makers,” he said. “We are looking into possibilities.”
The safety investigation started after one of the 787s operated by All Nippon Airways made an emergency landing in Japan when its main battery overheated. Earlier, a battery in a Japan Airlines 787 caught fire while parked at Boston’s Logan International Airport.
Zafar Khan, aviation analyst at Societe Generale, said: “The obvious implication is that it may prolong the grounding.
“If it’s not the battery then we are back to the drawing board. We know it’s an electrical – and not a structural – issue and that will be the focus for the inspectors. But there’s a lot of cabling on these aircraft.”
Keith Hayward, head of research at the Royal Aeronautical Society, said that if the issue is no longer about replacing a faulty battery, it raised the prospect of Boeing having to do a major re-design.
“I think people had their fingers crossed that it was a battery fault… it looks more systemic and serious to me. I suspect it could be difficult to identify the cause,” he said.
He added that aviation regulators will have to put the 787 through another airworthiness certification process, which itself could become a complicated and lengthy process depending on the final cause of the problem.
Two weeks ago the US Federal Aviation Administration said both batteries had leaked electrolyte fluid, and there had been smoke damage to parts of the aircraft.
The FAA said airlines must demonstrate battery safety before flights could resume, a statement that effectively meant airlines had to ground their 787s.
Boeing, which competes against Europe’s Airbus, has halted 787 deliveries. Boeing has orders for more than 800 Dreamliners.
The 787 is the first airliner made mostly from lightweight composite materials, which increases an aircrafts fuel efficiency. It also relies on electronic systems rather than hydraulic or mechanical systems to a greater degree than any other airliner.
Mr Khan said that most analysts had forecast that the 787 would be out of service for, perhaps, eight weeks at most. Beyond 10-12 weeks, and it could impact on Boeing’s production line and future deliveries, he said.
“That raises questions of damages (to airlines) for late delivery and the leasing of alternative aircraft,” he said.
Last week, analysts at Bernstein put the cost of fixing the Dreamliner at about $350m (£222m). Meanwhile, Jefferies estimated the likely cost at between $250m to $625m. But that was before the likely primary cause – the battery – was ruled out.
Depending on the cause of the problem, Boeing might be able to recoup any costs from suppliers. But analysts say that the longer the issue continues, the higher the risk for Boeing, suppliers, jobs, and investors.
On Wall Street, Boeing shares opened almost 1% down and are more than 4% lower since the issue came to light. “The amazing thing is that the share price has held up so well,” said Mr Khan.
Who owns Dreamliners?
Air India: 6
All Nippon Airways (Japan): 17
Ethiopian Airlines: 4
Japan Airlines: 7
LAN Airlines (Chile): 3
Lot Polish Airlines: 2
Qatar Airways: 5
United Airlines (US): 6
16 sick in 5 states; linked to ground beef recall
January 28 2013
Mike Stobbe AP Medical Writer
NEW YORK (AP) — Federal health officials say at least 16 people in five states have been sickened by salmonella food poisoning linked to ground beef.
No one has died, but half were hospitalized. Most of the illnesses have been in Michigan, but a few cases were scattered in Arizona, Illinois, Iowa and Wisconsin.
Seven people ate a raw ground beef dish called kibbeh (kib-BEH’) last month at a suburban Detroit restaurant that wasn’t identified. Health officials say consumers should not eat uncooked meat.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the cases have been linked to last week’s recall of more than 1,000 pounds of ground beef from two Michigan businesses, Troy-based Gab Halal Foods and Sterling Heights-based Jouni Meats.
Counting Down to 2014 in Afghanistan: Three Lousy Options: Pick One
by Ann Jones
Kabul, Afghanistan — Compromise, conflict, or collapse: ask an Afghan what to expect in 2014 and you’re likely to get a scenario that falls under one of those three headings. 2014, of course, is the year of the double whammy in Afghanistan: the next presidential election coupled with the departure of most American and other foreign forces. Many Afghans fear a turn for the worse, while others are no less afraid that everything will stay the same. Some even think things will get better when the occupying forces leave. Most predict a more conservative climate, but everyone is quick to say that it’s anybody’s guess.
Only one thing is certain in 2014: it will be a year of American military defeat. For more than a decade, U.S. forces have fought many types of wars in Afghanistan, from a low-footprint invasion, to multiple surges, to a flirtation with Vietnam-style counterinsurgency, to a ramped-up, gloves-off air war. And yet, despite all the experiments in styles of war-making, the American military and its coalition partners have ended up in the same place: stalemate, which in a battle with guerrillas means defeat. For years, a modest-sized, generally unpopular, ragtag set of insurgents has fought the planet’s most heavily armed, technologically advanced military to a standstill, leaving the country shaken and its citizens anxiously imagining the outcome of unpalatable scenarios.
The first, compromise, suggests the possibility of reaching some sort of almost inconceivable power-sharing agreement with multiple insurgent militias. While Washington presses for negotiations with its designated enemy, “the Taliban,” representatives of President Hamid Karzai’s High Peace Council, which includes 12 members of the former Taliban government and many sympathizers, are making the rounds to talk disarmament and reconciliation with all the armed insurgent groups that the Afghan intelligence service has identified across the country. There are 1,500 of them.
One member of the Council told me, “It will take a long time before we get to Mullah Omar [the Taliban’s titular leader]. Some of these militias can’t even remember what they’ve been fighting about.”
The second scenario, open conflict, would mean another dreaded round of civil war like the one in the 1990s, after the Soviet Union withdrew in defeat — the one that destroyed the Afghan capital, Kabul, devastated parts of the country, and gave rise to the Taliban.
The third scenario, collapse, sounds so apocalyptic that it’s seldom brought up by Afghans, but it’s implied in the exodus already underway of those citizens who can afford to leave the country. The departures aren’t dramatic. There are no helicopters lifting off the roof of the U.S. Embassy with desperate Afghans clamoring to get on board; just a record number of asylum applications in 2011, a year in which, according to official figures, almost 36,000 Afghans were openly looking for a safe place to land, preferably in Europe. That figure is likely to be at least matched, if not exceeded, when the U.N. releases the complete data for 2012.
In January, I went to Kabul to learn what old friends and current officials are thinking about the critical months ahead. At the same time, Afghan President Karzai flew to Washington to confer with President Obama. Their talks seem to have differed radically from the conversations I had with ordinary Afghans. In Kabul, where strange rumors fly, an official reassured me that the future looked bright for the country because Karzai was expected to return from Washington with the promise of American radar systems, presumably for the Afghan Air Force, which is not yet “operational.” (He actually returned with the promise of helicopters, cargo planes, fighter jets, and drones.) Who knew that the fate of the nation and its suffering citizens hinged on that? In my conversations with ordinary Afghans, one thing that never came up was radar.
Another term that never seems to enter ordinary Afghan conversation, much as it obsesses Americans, is “al-Qaeda.” President Obama, for instance, announced at a joint press conference with President Karzai: “Our core objective — the reason we went to war in the first place — is now within reach: ensuring that al-Qaeda can never again use Afghanistan to launch attacks against America.” An Afghan journalist asked me, “Why does he worry so much about al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Doesn’t he know they are everywhere else?”
At the same Washington press conference, Obama said, “The nation we need to rebuild is our own.” Afghans long ago gave up waiting for the U.S. to make good on its promises to rebuild theirs. What’s now striking, however, is the vast gulf between the pronouncements of American officialdom and the hopes of ordinary Afghans. It’s a gap so wide you would hardly think — as Afghans once did — that we are fighting for them.
To take just one example: the official American view of events in Afghanistan is wonderfully black and white. The president, for instance, speaks of the way U.S. forces heroically “pushed the Taliban out of their strongholds.” Like other top U.S. officials over the years, he forgets whom we pushed into the Afghan government, our “stronghold” in the years after the 2001 invasion: ex-Taliban and Taliban-like fundamentalists, the most brutal civil warriors, and serial human rights violators.
Afghans, however, haven’t forgotten just whom the U.S. put in place to govern them — exactly the men they feared and hated most in exactly the place where few Afghans wanted them to be. Early on, between 2002 and 2004, 90% of Afghans surveyed nationwide told the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission that such men should not be allowed to hold public office; 76% wanted them tried as war criminals
In my recent conversations, many Afghans still cited the first loya jirga, an assembly convened in 2003 to ratify the newly drafted constitution, or the first presidential election in 2004, or the parliamentary election of 2005, all held under international auspices, as the moments when the aspirations of Afghans and the “international community” parted company. In that first parliament, as in the earlier gatherings, most of the men were affiliated with armed militias; every other member was a former jihadi, and nearly half were affiliated with fundamentalist Islamist parties, including the Taliban.
In this way, Afghans were consigned to live under a government of bloodstained warlords and fundamentalists, who turned out to be Washington’s guys. Many had once battled the Soviets using American money and weapons, and quite a few, like the former warlord, druglord, minister of defense, and current vice-president Muhammad Qasim Fahim, had been very chummy with the CIA.
In the U.S., such details of our Afghan War, now in its 12th year, are long forgotten, but to Afghans who live under the rule of the same old suspects, the memory remains painfully raw. Worse, Afghans know that it is these very men, rearmed and ready, who will once again compete for power in 2014.
How to Vote Early in Afghanistan
President Karzai is barred by term limits from standing for reelection in 2014, but many Kabulis believe he reached a private agreement with the usual suspects at a meeting late last year. In early January, he seemed to seal the deal by announcing that, for the sake of frugality, the voter cards issued for past elections will be reused in 2014. Far too many of those cards were issued for the 2004 election, suspiciously more than the number of eligible voters. During the 2009 campaign, anyone could buy fistfuls of them at bargain basement prices. So this decision seemed to kill off the last faint hope of an election in which Afghans might actually have a say about the leadership of the country.
Fewer than 35% of voters cast ballots in the last presidential contest, when Karzai’s men were caught on video stuffing ballot boxes. (Afterward, President Obama phoned to congratulate Karzai on his “victory.”) Only dedicated or paid henchmen are likely to show up for the next “good enough for Afghans” exercise in democracy. Once again, an “election” may be just the elaborate stage set for announcing to a disillusioned public the names of those who will run the show in Kabul for the next few years.
Kabulis might live with that, as they’ve lived with Karzai all these years, but they fear power-hungry Afghan politicians could “compromise” as well with insurgent leaders like that old American favorite from the war against the Soviets, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who recently told a TV audience that he intends to claim his rightful place in government. Such compromises could stick the Afghan people with a shaky power-sharing deal among the most ultra-conservative, self-interested, sociopathic, and corrupt men in the country. If that deal, in turn, were to fall apart, as most power-sharing agreements worldwide do within a year or two, the big men might well plunge the country back into a 1990s-style civil war, with no regard for the civilians caught in their path.
These worst-case scenarios are everyday Kabuli nightmares. After all, during decades of war, the savvy citizens of the capital have learned to expect the worst from the men currently characterized in a popular local graffiti this way: “Mujahideen=Criminals. Taliban=Dumbheads.”
Ordinary Kabulis express reasonable fears for the future of the country, but impatient free-marketeering businessmen are voting with their feet right now, or laying plans to leave soon. They’ve made Kabul hum (often with foreign aid funds, which are equivalent to about 90% of the country’s economic activity), but they aren’t about to wait around for the results of election 2014. Carpe diem has become their version of financial advice. As a result, they are snatching what they can and packing their bags.
Millions of dollars reportedly take flight from Kabul International Airport every day: officially about $4.6 billion in 2011, or just about the size of Afghanistan’s annual budget. Hordes of businessmen and bankers (like those who, in 2004, set up the Ponzi scheme called the Kabul Bank, from which about a billion dollars went missing) are heading for cushy spots like Dubai, where they have already established residence on prime real estate.
As they take their investments elsewhere and the American effort winds down, the Afghan economy contracts ever more grimly, opportunities dwindle, and jobs disappear. Housing prices in Kabul are falling for the first time since the start of the occupation as rich Afghans and profiteering private American contractors, who guzzled the money that Washington and the “international community” poured into the country, move on.
At the same time, a money-laundering building boom in Kabul appears to have stalled, leaving tall, half-built office blocks like so many skeletons amid the scalloped Pakistani palaces, vertical malls, and grand madrassas erected in the past four or five years by political and business insiders and well-connected conservative clerics.
Most of the Afghan tycoons seeking asylum elsewhere don’t fear for their lives, just their pocketbooks: they’re not political refugees, but free-market rats abandoning the sinking ship of state. Joining in the exodus (but not included in the statistics) are countless illegal émigrés seeking jobs or fleeing for their lives, paying human smugglers money they can’t afford as they head for Europe by circuitous and dangerous routes.
Threatened Afghans have fled from every abrupt change of government in the last century, making them the largest population of refugees from a single country on the planet. Once again, those who can are voting with their feet (or their pocketbooks) — and voting early.
Afghanistan’s historic tragedy is that its violent political shifts — from king to communists to warlords to religious fundamentalists to the Americans — have meant the flight of the very people most capable of rebuilding the country along peaceful and prosperous lines. And their departure only contributes to the economic and political collapse they themselves seek to avoid. Left behind are ordinary Afghans — the illiterate and unskilled, but also a tough core of educated, ambitious citizens, including women’s rights activists, unwilling to surrender their dream of living once again in a free and peaceful Afghanistan.
The Military Monster
These days Kabul resounds with the blasts of suicide bombers, IEDs, and sporadic gunfire. Armed men are everywhere in anonymous uniforms that defy identification. Any man with money can buy a squad of bodyguards, clad in classy camouflage and wraparound shades, and armed with assault weapons. Yet Kabulis, trying to carry on normal lives in the relative safety of the capital, seem to maintain a distance from the war going on in the provinces.
Asked that crucial question — do you think American forces should stay or go? — the Kabulis I talked with tended to answer in a theoretical way, very unlike the visceral response one gets in the countryside, where villages are bombed and civilians killed, or in the makeshift camps for internally displaced people that now crowd the outer fringes of Kabul. (By the time U.S. Marines surged into Taliban-controlled Helmand Province in the south in 2010 to bring counterinsurgency-style protection to the residents there, tens of thousands of them had already moved to those camps in Kabul.) Afghans in the countryside want to be rid of armed men. All of them. Kabulis just want to be secure, and if that means keeping some U.S. troops at Bagram Air Base near the capital, as Afghan and American officials are currently discussing, well, it’s nothing to them.
In fact, most Kabulis I spoke to think that’s what’s going to happen. After all, American officials have been talking for years about keeping permanent bases in Afghanistan (though they avoid the term “permanent” when speaking to the American press), and American military officers now regularly appear on Afghan TV to say, “The United States will never abandon Afghanistan.” Afghans reason: Americans would not have spent nearly 12 years fighting in this country if it were not the most strategic place on the planet and absolutely essential to their plans to “push on” Iran and China next. Everybody knows that pushing on other countries is an American specialty.
Besides, Afghans can see with their own eyes that U.S. command centers, including multiple bases in Kabul, and Bagram Air Base, only 30 miles away, are still being expanded and upgraded. Beyond the high walls of the American Embassy compound, they can also see the tall new apartment blocks going up for an expanding staff, even if Washington now claims that staff will be reduced in the years to come.
Why, then, would President Obama announce the drawdown of U.S. troops to perhaps a few thousand special operations forces and advisors, if Washington didn’t mean to leave? Afghans have a theory about that, too. It’s a ruse, many claim, to encourage all other foreign forces to depart so that the Americans can have everything to themselves. Afghanistan, as they imagine it, is so important that the U.S., which has fought the longest war in its history there, will be satisfied with nothing less.
I was there to listen, but at times I did mention to Afghans that America’s post-9/11 wars and occupations were threatening to break the country. “We just can’t afford this war anymore,” I said.
Afghans only laugh at that. They’ve seen the way Americans throw money around. They’ve seen the way American money corrupted the Afghan government, and many reminded me that American politicians like Afghan ones are bought and sold, and its elections won by money. Americans, they know, are as rich as Croesus and very friendly, though on the whole not very well mannered or honest or smart.
Operation Enduring Presence
More than 11 years later, the tragedy of the American war in Afghanistan is simple enough: it has proven remarkably irrelevant to the lives of the Afghan people — and to American troops as well. Washington has long appeared to be fighting its own war in defense of a form of government and a set of long-discredited government officials that ordinary Afghans would never have chosen for themselves and have no power to replace.
In the early years of the war (2001-2005), George W. Bush’s administration was far too distracted planning and launching another war in Iraq to maintain anything but a minimal military presence in Afghanistan — and that mainly outside the capital. Many journalists (including me) criticized Bush for not finishing the war he started there when he had the chance, but today Kabulis look back on that soldierless period of peace and hope with a certain nostalgia. In some quarters, the Bush years have even acquired something like the sheen of a lost Golden Age — compared, that is, to the thoroughgoing militarization of American policy that followed.
So commanding did the U.S. military become in Kabul and Washington that, over the years, it ate the State Department, gobbled up the incompetent bureaucracy of the U.S. Agency for International Development, and established Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs) in the countryside to carry out maniacal “development” projects and throw bales of cash at all the wrong “leaders.”
Of course, the military also killed a great many people, both “enemies” and civilians. As in Vietnam, it won the battles, but lost the war. When I asked Afghans from Mazar-e-Sharif in the north how they accounted for the relative peacefulness and stability of their area, the answer seemed self-evident: “Americans didn’t come here.”
Other consequences, all deleterious, flowed from the militarization of foreign policy. In Afghanistan and the United States, so intimately ensnarled over all these years, the income gap between the rich and everyone else has grown exponentially, in large part because in both countries the rich have made money off war-making, while ordinary citizens have slipped into poverty for lack of jobs and basic services.
Relying on the military, the U.S. neglected the crucial elements of civil life in Afghanistan that make things bearable — like education and health care. Yes, I’ve heard the repeated claims that, thanks to us, millions of children are now attending school. But for how long? According to UNICEF, in the years 2005-2010, in the whole of Afghanistan only 18% of boys attended high school, and 6% of girls. What kind of report card is that? After 11 years of underfunded work on health care in a country the size of Texas, infant mortality still remains the highest in the world.
By 2014, the defense of Afghanistan will have been handed over to the woeful Afghan National Security Force, also known in military-speak as the “Enduring Presence Force.” In that year, for Washington, the American war will be officially over, whether it’s actually at an end or not, and it will be up to Afghans to do the enduring.
Here’s where that final scenario — collapse — haunts the Kabuli imagination. Economic collapse means joblessness, poverty, hunger, and a great swelling of the ranks of children cadging a living in the streets. Already street children are said to number a million strong in Kabul, and 4 million across the country. Only blocks from the Presidential Palace, they are there in startling numbers selling newspapers, phone cards, toilet paper, or simply begging for small change. Are they the county’s future?
And if the state collapses, too? Afghans of a certain age remember well the last time the country was left on its own, after the Soviets departed in 1989, and the U.S. also terminated its covert aid. The mujahideen parties — Islamists all — agreed to take turns ruling the country, but things soon fell apart and they took turns instead lobbing rockets into Kabul, killing tens of thousands of civilians, reducing entire districts to rubble, raiding and raping — until the Taliban came up from the south and put a stop to everything.
Afghan civilians who remember that era hope that this time Karzai will step down as he promises, and that the usual suspects will find ways to maintain traditional power balances, however undemocratic, in something that passes for peace. Afghan civilians are, however, betting that if a collision comes, one-third of those Afghan Security Forces trained at fabulous expense to protect them will fight for the government (whoever that may be), one-third will fight for the opposition, and one-third will simply desert and go home. That sounds almost like a plan.
Ann Jones is the author of Kabul in Winter: Life without Peace in Afghanistan (Metropolitan 2006) and more recently War Is Not Over When It’s Over (Metropolitan 2010). She wants to acknowledge the courage and determination of all her friends in Afghanistan, especially the women, and the men who stand beside them.