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TBR News August 17, 2013

Aug 17 2013

 

The Voice of the White House

 

            Washington, D.C. August 16, 2013: “It is not unexpected to observe the growth of anti-Obama sentiment, expressed as a racial issue.

 

            It was certainly a positive action on the part os the American electorate to elect a black President but there have always been undercurrents of racism moving just under the surface of the American political scene.

 

            Initially appplauded as an intellectual reformer, Obama is now seen as a petty dictator who persecutes whistleblowers, intends on keeping the sweeping official spying on the public in place, giving only mild and obviously token disapproval.

 

            One of the unpleasant results of all this is an increase in racial remarks and attitudes throughout the country. Someone in Memphis, Tenn founded a ‘Tar Baby Club’ in late July and this has spread across the country and even into Canada and, at the last report, into Germany and England.

 

            This is not illegal per se but I have no doubt that AG Holder is searching the Federal law books to find some kind of punishment.”

 

 

Rodeo clown draws criticism for Obama mask

 

August 11, 2013

AP

 

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — A clown wearing a President Obama mask appeared at a Missouri State Fair rodeo this weekend and the announcer asked the enthusiastic spectators if they wanted to see “Obama run down by a bull.”

 

The antics led the state’s second highest-ranking official, Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, to denounce the performance in a tweet Sunday. He said it was “disrespectful” to the president.

 

“We are better than this,” the Republican tweeted.

 

State Fair officials said the show was “inappropriate” and “does not reflect the opinions or standards” of the fair. “We strive to be a family friendly event and regret that Saturday’s rodeo badly missed that mark,” they said in a statement Sunday.

 

It wasn’t clear if any action will be taken against the performers.

 

Perry Beam was among the spectators Saturday in Sedalia. He said “everybody screamed” and “just went wild” as the announcer talked about having the bull run down the clown with the Obama mask.

 

“It was at that point I began to feel a sense of fear. It was that level of enthusiasm,” Beam, a 48-year-old musician from Higginsville, said Sunday, referring to the reaction from the crowd that filled the fair’s grandstand.

 

He said another clown ran up to the one wearing the Obama mask, pretended to tickle him and played with the lips on the mask. After about 15 minutes into the performance, the masked clown had to leave after a bull got too close, Beam said.

 

Beam was at the rodeo with his wife and a student they were hosting from Taiwan. He said they were having a good time until the end of the rodeo.

 

“It was the usual until the very end at bull riding,” he said. “As they were bringing the bulls into the chute and prepping them … they bring out what looks like a dummy. The announcer says ‘Here’s our Obama dummy, or our dummy of Obama.

 

“They mentioned the president’s name, I don’t know, 100 times. It was sickening,” Beam said. “It was feeling like some kind of Klan rally you’d see on TV.”

 

Officials with the Missouri Rodeo Cowboy Association, the organization that coordinated the rodeo, did not return phone calls seeking comment Sunday.

 

After Beam and his family returned home, he posted a photo of the clown in the Obama mask on his Facebook page. The photo and the posting were then promoted online by a blog, Showmeprogress.com, which elicited a huge response Sunday on Twitter.

 

Scott Holste, spokesman for Missouri’s Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon, said Sunday in an e-mail that Nixon “agrees that the performance was disrespectful and offensive, and does not reflect the values of Missourians or the State Fair.”

 

Beam, who grew up attending the State Fair and attends the fair just about every year, said he has never seen anything like the Obama mask display, which he felt was inappropriate for a state-sanctioned event that receives state funding.

 

“This isn’t the Republican Missouri State Fair,” Beam said. “It was cruel. It was disturbing. I’m still sick to my stomach over it. … I’m standing here with a mixed-race family. My wife’s from Taiwan, and so was the student (his family was hosting). I’ve never seen anything so blatantly racist in my life.

 

“If an old country boy picks up on something like that, imagine what a person of color would think.”

 

Growing racism in American is manifested in “Tar Baby” clubs

August 14, 2013

News from Canada

 

            Obama on tõrva Baby (Obama is the Tar Baby) is a headling seen yesterday on a blog for Ukrainians in Canada.

 

Although not reported in the American media, there is a growing wave of racism in America today, mostly aimed at American president Obama. Obama, America’s first black president, is viewed as the man behind the blanket surveillance of the American public by the NSA, the CIA, the DHS and the FBI.

 

His refusal to either criticize or halt the massive domestic spying programs and his perceived persecutions of any government employee who attempts to expose illegal governmental activities is causing his popularity polls to plummet downwards.

 

This growing dissatisfaction has resulted in such racially motivated activity as the formation of “Tar Baby” clubs in various American centers of population. These clubs, which are of a specific racial nature, have now spread to Canada according to domestic intelligence sources here.

Rumor that Obama is not an American citizen have always found fertile soil in America and now these rumors, and also the rumor that Obama and his lawyer wife had been disbarred in the state of Illinois for fradulent practices.

 

It appears that there might be some fire in the smoke of both allegations but such matters are not ever discussed in the American media.

 

One of the slogans of the Tar Baby organizations is:

 

‘What is positive about sob-Saharan Africa? HIV’.

 

The NSA is turning the internet into a total surveillance system

Now we know all Americans’ international email is searched and saved, we can see how far the ‘collect it all’ mission has gone

 

August 11, 2013

by Alexander Abdo and Patrick Toomey

theguardian.com  

            Another burst of sunlight permeated the National Security Agency’s black box of domestic surveillance last week.

According to the New York Times, the NSA is searching the content of virtually every email that comes into or goes out of the United States without a warrant. To accomplish this astonishing invasion of Americans’ privacy, the NSA reportedly is making a copy of nearly every international email. It then searches that cloned data, keeping all of the emails containing certain keywords and deleting the rest – all in a matter of seconds.

If you emailed a friend, family member or colleague overseas today (or if, from abroad, you emailed someone in the US), chances are that the NSA made a copy of that email and searched it for suspicious information.

The NSA appears to believe this general monitoring of our electronic communications is justified because the entire process takes, in one official’s words, “a small number of seconds”. Translation: the NSA thinks it can intercept and then read Americans’ emails so long as the intrusion is swift, efficient and silent.

That is not how the fourth amendment works.

Whether the NSA inspects and retains these messages for years, or only searches through them once before moving on, the invasion of Americans’ privacy is real and immediate. There is no “five-second rule” for fourth amendment violations: the US constitution does not excuse these bulk searches simply because they happen in the blink of an eye.

The government claims that this program is authorized by a surveillance statute passed in 2008 that allows the government to target foreigners for surveillance. Although the government has frequently defended that law as a necessary tool in gathering foreign intelligence, the government has repeatedly misled the public about the extent to which the statute implicates Americans’ communications.

There should no longer be any doubt: the US government has for years relied upon its authority to collect foreigners’ communications as a useful cover for its sweeping surveillance of Americans’ communications. The surveillance program revealed last week confirms that the interception of American communications under this law is neither “targeted” at foreigners (in any ordinary sense of that word) nor “inadvertent”, as officials have repeatedly claimed.

Last week’s revelations are a disturbing harbinger of future surveillance. Two months ago, this newspaper reported that the US government has been forcing American telecommunications companies to turn over the call records of every one of their customers “on an ongoing daily basis”, to allow the NSA to later search those records when it has a reason to do so. The government has since defended the program, in part on the theory that Americans’ right to privacy is not implicated by the initial acquisition of their phone records, only by their later searching.

That legal theory is extraordinarily dangerous because it would allow the NSA to acquire virtually all digital information today simply because it might possibly become relevant tomorrow. The surveillance program revealed by the New York Times report goes one step further still. No longer is the government simply collecting information now so that the data is available to search, should a reasonable suspicion arise at some point in the future; the NSA is searching everything now – in real time and without suspicion – merely on the chance that it finds something of interest.

That principle of pre-emptive surveillance threatens to subvert the most basic protections of the fourth amendment, which generally prohibit the government from conducting suspicion-less fishing expeditions through our private affairs. If the government is correct that it can search our every communication in case we say or type something suspicious, there is little to prevent the NSA from converting the internet into a tool of pervasive surveillance.

Because of this very real possibility, these programs should be brought out of the twilight zone of the national security state and into the daylight, so that the public can decide for itself what privacy means in a digital age.

NSA Violated Privacy Rules ‘Thousands of Times’ – Report

 

August 15, 2013

RIA Novosti

WASHINGTON, August 16 (RIA Novosti) – The US National Security Agency (NSA) violated laws and regulations thousands of times annually in recent years in capturing and storing surveillance data on US and foreign citizens, the Washington Post reported Friday.

In an article based on classified documents provided by fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, the Post said the incidents of illicit NSA snooping ranged from “significant violations of law” to typographical errors that resulted in unintentional interception of private emails and telephone calls.

The report detailed how secret bodies such as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) that were created to provide some measure of oversight and control of NSA operations either failed to function as intended or were intentionally bypassed entirely by NSA managers.

An NSA audit obtained by the Post and dated May 2012 reported 2,776 “incidents” in the preceding 12 months of “unauthorized collection, storage, access to or distribution of legally protected communications,” the report said.

It noted that a single illicit episode classified by the NSA as an “incident” in February 2012 actually “involved the unlawful retention of 3,032 files that the surveillance court had ordered the NSA to destroy.” Each of those files contained “an undisclosed number” of telephone call records.

The Post said in one instance of illicit surveillance in 2008 a “large number” of phone calls placed from Washington were intercepted after a computer programming error confused the telephone dialing code for the US capital – 202 – with the international country code for Egypt, which is 20.

A senior NSA official quoted by the Post, authorized by the White House to speak to the newspaper on condition of anonymity, admitted that the agency made mistakes but suggested their number was relatively small in comparison with the huge number of routine NSA communications intercepts.

“We’re a human-run agency operating in a complex environment with a number of different regulatory regimes, so at times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the line,” the senior NSA official was quoted as saying.

“You look at a number in absolute terms that looks big, and when you look at it in relative terms, it looks a little different.”

The Associated Press news agency quoted one civil liberties expert as saying that at least some of the reported NSA violations directly affected the privacy of “thousands or millions of innocent people.”

“It makes no sense at all to let the intelligence community police itself,” Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, was quoted by the Post as saying.

Snowden, a former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and the US strategic consulting firm Booze Allen Hamilton who worked under contract for the NSA, formally entered Russia on Aug. 1 after he was granted political asylum there for one year.

California court upholds gay marriage

Judges turn down latest attempt by Proposition 8 supporters to enforce ballot measure banning same-sex unions

 

August 14, 2013

Associated Press

 

San Francisco- The California supreme court has refused to halt gay marriages in the state, leaving opponents of same-sex weddings few if any legal options to stop the unions.

 

The unanimous ruling on Wednesday tossed out a legal challenge by ban supporters without addressing their legal arguments in support of Proposition 8, a ballot measure passed by voters in 2008 that banned gay marriage.

 

Proposition 8 representatives did not immediately return phone calls by the Associated Press seeking comment and it was unclear if they might try to take their legal challenge back to federal court.

 

Supporters of gay marriage said they were prepared for a continued fight. “By now I suppose we know better than to predict that Prop 8 proponents will actually give up their fight,” San Francisco city attorney Dennis Herrera said. “But it’s certainly fair to say that their remaining legal options are increasingly absurd.”

 

The state high court ruling comes about two months after the US supreme court refused to consider the issue, leaving in place a lower-court ruling that struck down the ballot measure as unconstitutional.

 

On 28 June Governor Jerry Brown ordered county clerks to begin issuing marriage licences to same-sex couples.

 

Opponents filed an emergency petition with the state supreme court arguing that the federal lawsuit at issue applied only to the two couples who filed it and to Alameda and Los Angeles, where they live. They claimed the marriage ban remained law in 56 counties since the federal lawsuit at issue was not a class action lawsuit on behalf of all California gay couples wishing to marry.

 

US District Judge Vaughn Walker had previously issued a sweeping opinion saying Proposition 8 violated equal protection guarantees in the US constitution by denying the two California couples a chance to marry in the state.

 

Proposition 8 backers were briefly joined by the San Diego county clerk, Ernest Dronenburg Jr, who filed a nearly identical legal challenge with the state supreme court in July urging an immediate halt to gay weddings.

 

Dronenburg withdrew his lawsuit last week, saying his challenge was too similar to that of Proposition 8 backers to merit a separate legal bid.

 

Google: Gmail users shouldn’t expect email privacy

 

Critics call revelation ‘a stunning admission’ as Google makes claim in court filing in attempt to head off class action lawsuit

 

August 14, 2013

by Dominic Rushe in New York

theguardian.com

 

Gmail users have no “reasonable expectation” that their emails are confidential, Google has said in a court filing.

 

Consumer Watchdog, the advocacy group that uncovered the filing, called the revelation a “stunning admission.” It comes as Google and its peers are under pressure to explain their role in the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mass surveillance of US citizens and foreign nationals.

 

“Google has finally admitted they don’t respect privacy,” said John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s privacy project director. “People should take them at their word; if you care about your email correspondents’ privacy, don’t use Gmail.”

 

Google set out its case last month in an attempt to dismiss a class action lawsuit that accuses the tech giant of breaking wire tap laws when it scans emails in order to target ads to Gmail users.

 

That suit, filed in May, claims Google “unlawfully opens up, reads, and acquires the content of people’s private email messages.” It quotes Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman: “Google policy is to get right up to the creepy line and not cross it.”

 

“Unbeknown to millions of people, on a daily basis and for years, Google has systematically and intentionally crossed the ‘creepy line’ to read private email messages containing information you don’t want anyone to know, and to acquire, collect, or mine valuable information from that mail,” the suit claims.

 

In its motion to dismiss the case, Google said the plaintiffs were making “an attempt to criminalize ordinary business practices” that have been part of Gmail’s service since its introduction. Google said “all users of email must necessarily expect that their emails will be subject to automated processing.”

 

According to Google: “Just as a sender of a letter to a business colleague cannot be surprised that the recipient’s assistant opens the letter, people who use web-based email today cannot be surprised if their communications are processed by the recipient’s ECS [electronic communications service] provider in the course of delivery.”

 

Citing another privacy case, Google’s lawyers said “too little is asserted in the complaint about the particular relationship between the parties, and the particular circumstances of the [communications at issue], to lead to the plausible conclusion that an objectively reasonable expectation of confidentiality would have attended such a communication.”

 

Simpson, a long-term Google critic, said: “Google’s brief uses a wrong-headed analogy; sending an email is like giving a letter to the Post Office. I expect the Post Office to deliver the letter based on the address written on the envelope. I don’t expect the mail carrier to open my letter and read it.

 

“Similarly, when I send an email, I expect it to be delivered to the intended recipient with a Gmail account based on the email address; why would I expect its content will be intercepted by Google and read?”

 

“Let’s Put The Whole Elephant Out There”: President Obama’s Speech and Bulk Searches of Americans’ Emails

August 12,2013

by Patrick C. Toomey, Fellow, ACLU National Security Project

            In his news conference last Friday, President Obama acknowledged the need for critical reforms to the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs. Yet despite his nod toward greater transparency — what he called an effort to “put the whole elephant out there” for the public to see — his statements included some glaring omissions.

 

For starters, the president made no mention of Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act (FAA), a provision used by the government to conduct warrantless searches of Americans’ communications. The need to reform the FAA has been made all the more urgent following a front-page story last week in The New York Times reporting that the NSA is searching the content of virtually all internet communications that enter or leave the United States. That is an astonishing revelation. While the surveillance program described in the article is in some ways complex, the grave implications for Americans’ privacy are clear. These are the most troubling elements of what we have learned:

 

1.The NSA Is Copying And Searching Nearly Every Email That Enters Or Leaves The Country

The newly disclosed NSA surveillance program entails the bulk collection and searching of Americans’ international email and text communications. Rather than simply collecting communications to or from NSA targets, as officials have repeatedly led the public to believe, the government is also collecting communications “about” NSA targets — a possibility the ACLU first raised in June. The problem is that in order to find emails that are “about” a target, the NSA claims the authority to open up each message that enters or leaves the country to see what’s inside.

 

To accomplish this, the NSA makes a “clone” of every international communication and then searches those copies for keywords or terms associated with NSA targets. When it gets a hit, the NSA stores the communication for further analysis; the remaining communications are saved only temporarily — “a small number of seconds,” in the words of one official — before being deleted. In other words, the NSA thinks it’s okay to intercept and then read Americans’ emails, so long as it does so really quickly. But that is not how the Fourth Amendment works. Whether the NSA inspects and retains these messages for years, or only searches them once before moving on, the invasion of Americans’ privacy is real and immediate. Put differently, there is no “five-second rule” for Fourth Amendment violations.

 

2.The NSA Appears To Decide For Itself What Targets and Search Terms To Use When Searching Americans’ Emails

When the NSA goes hunting through our international communications, it uses a set of “selectors,” or identifying information, tied to its targets. Some of these keywords may be narrow, as officials have suggested in their comments — for instance, a person’s name, email address, phone number, or other identifying information. But even if true, that constraint appears to be self-imposed. The NSA’s search terms are not controlled by the statute that purportedly authorizes this surveillance. Nor, as far as we know, are these selectors individually approved by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. As things stand, we have only the NSA’s assurances that its selectors are narrow and closely tied to its targets. Moreover, even if the current selectors are narrowly drawn, there appears to be little to prevent the NSA from adopting more expansive and invasive search criteria in the future.

 

3.The NSA’s Searches Are Not Limited To Terrorist Activity

Intelligence officials routinely use the specter of terrorist plots to justify their sweeping surveillance powers, but the email searches revealed today go far beyond terrorist activity. Under this program, the government may monitor people who aren’t even suspected of any wrongdoing, simply because they might have said something “about” someone of foreign-intelligence interest to the NSA. As we have pointed out in the past, “foreign intelligence” is a category with few limits; it is defined exceptionally broadly to include not only information about terrorism but also information about intelligence activities, the national defense, and even “the foreign affairs of the United States.”

 

4.Nothing About The Bulk Collection Of Americans’ Emails Is Inadvertent

Government officials have repeatedly assured the public that the NSA is permitted to target only foreigners abroad for surveillance, not-so-subtly intimating any collection of Americans’ data was accidental. We have long argued that such claims were deeply misleading and mischaracterize a surveillance program that overcollects Americans’ communications by design. The surveillance program revealed last week confirms this and more: It shows that the interception of American communications under the FAA is neither “targeted” at foreigners nor “inadvertent” in any meaningful sense.

 

5.Officials Concede That This Program Has Not Been Critical In Preventing Terrorist Plots

Over the past two months, officials have frequently struggled to identify instances where sweeping surveillance programs have proven critical to thwarting terrorist attacks—and this case is no different. When asked whether bulk searching of internet communications for information “about” NSA targets had proven valuable, a senior intelligence official said that it was difficult to identify any particular terrorist plot that would have been carried out if the surveillance had not taken place. Over the coming weeks and months, the government will undoubtedly declassify details about purported success stories of its dragnet surveillance. The critical question to ask for each example is whether indiscriminate searching of Americans’ communications was necessary, or whether the NSA could have accomplished its mission with the targeted surveillance the Constitution requires.

 

 

U.S. defense lawyers to seek access to DEA hidden intelligence evidence

 

August 8, 2013

by David Ingram and John Shiffman

Reuters

 

 

WASHINGTON – Criminal defense lawyers are challenging a U.S. government practice of hiding the tips that led to some drug investigations, information that the lawyers say is essential to fair trials in U.S. courts.

 

The practice of creating an alternate investigative trail to hide how a case began – what federal agents call “parallel construction” – has never been thoroughly tested in court, lawyers and law professors said in interviews this week.

 

Internal training documents reported by Reuters this week instruct agents not to reveal information they get from a unit of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, but instead to recreate the same information by other means. A similar set of instructions was included in an IRS manual in 2005 and 2006, Reuters reported.

 

The DEA unit, known as the Special Operations Division, or SOD, receives intelligence from intercepts, wiretaps, informants and phone records, and funnels tips to other law enforcement agencies, the documents said. Some but not all of the information is classified.

 

In interviews, at least a dozen current or former agents said they used “parallel construction,” often by pretending that an investigation began with what appeared to be a routine traffic stop, when the true origin was actually a tip from SOD.

 

Defense lawyers said that by hiding the existence of the information, the government is violating a defendant’s constitutional right to view potentially exculpatory evidence that suggests witness bias, entrapment or innocence.

 

“It certainly can’t be that the agents can make up a ‘parallel construction,’ a made-up tale, in court documents, testimony before the grand jury or a judge, without disclosure to a court,” said Jim Wyda, the federal public defender in Maryland, in an email.

 

“This is going to result in a lot of litigation, for a long time.”

 

LEGAL ACTION AHEAD

 

Kenneth Bailey, who defends drug cases in Sandusky, Ohio, said his firm was drafting new motions in light of the documents made public by Reuters.

 

“Evidence which could prove my clients’ innocence is being intentionally concealed,” Bailey said. “This is why criminal defense lawyers are working so hard to protect the (U.S.) Constitution, because the government is working so hard to destroy it.”

 

The Justice Department is reviewing the practice of parallel construction, and two high-profile Republican congressmen have raised questions about it.

 

DEA officials who defended the program on condition of anonymity said the practice was legal – and necessary to protect confidential sources and investigative methods. The Special Operations Division has used it virtually every day since the 1990s, they said.

 

Court decisions going back decades hold that prosecutors in the United States have a responsibility to turn over to a defendant any information that they or police have that is material to establishing the defendant’s guilt or innocence. The responsibility is known as the government’s Brady obligations, after the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1963 ruling in the case of Brady v. Maryland.

 

The process of sharing evidence before trial or a guilty plea is known as discovery.

 

“This probably is a good wake-up call for us that we need to be more aggressive in our discovery requests, in digging a lot deeper and in not accepting that we’ve been told everything,” said David Patton, executive director of the Federal Defenders of New York. Like similar offices nationwide, his represents mostly the indigent.

 

Patton said information about how an investigation began may be highly relevant in certain cases because it bears on the credibility of government witnesses.

 

“Informants lie. They lie a lot,” he said. “You can’t competently or fully challenge the basis for a stop or search if the government’s hiding information about the real reason for the stop and search.”

 

HARD TO KNOW

 

One possible difficulty for defense lawyers is that they do not know which cases the DEA’s Special Operations Division had a hand in, so they do not have a list of cases in which to bring fresh challenges.

 

“Because they hid everything, you don’t know about it, and because you don’t know about it, you can’t make a specific allegation,” said A.J. Kramer, the federal public defender in Washington.

 

Investigative agencies, he said, ought to notify defense lawyers of the relevant cases, similar to a process the FBI is following to notify defendants in possibly thousands of cases in which hair samples might have been misused as evidence.

 

Defense lawyers will have to proceed without clear guidance from legal precedent, because there are no known cases in which judges ruled on whether defendants had a constitutional right to know about the tactic of parallel construction, according to lawyers, law professors and a search of electronic databases in Westlaw.

 

The term “parallel construction” was itself previously unheard of, these sources said, although there is voluminous discussion of related legal ideas.

 

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled, for example, that police may stop a vehicle for any traffic offense, even if the offense was minor and police had a different motive for detaining the motorist, such as a tip. The 1996 ruling did not, however, address what rights a defendant would have if that original tip were kept secret.

 

Stephanos Bibas, a law professor at the University of Pennsylvania who writes about criminal evidence, said the U.S. system would benefit from judges getting more involved in reviewing such evidence.

 

“The pressure is all on the prosecutors and police to identify what’s relevant,” he said. “I don’t think that they are maliciously or deliberately hiding it very often. It’s more a tunnel vision problem that police and prosecutors can’t always see the way that the defense would use certain information.”

 

MEJIA CASE

 

When asked for the legal authority by which they shielded potential evidence from the defense, DEA officials cited the 2001 trial of Rafael Mejia, a Costa Rican citizen convicted in federal court in Washington.

 

The DEA declined to say whether parallel construction was used in the case, but records show that at trial neither Mejia, nor his lawyer, nor even the trial prosecutor knew the investigation had involved classified information.

 

They learned this only four years later as Mejia appealed his conviction, and a federal appeals court sent a notice that surprised lawyers on both sides. The court informed the lawyers that just days before the trial had begun in 2001, someone from a Justice Department narcotics office secretly approached the judge in his chambers to present him with classified evidence. The judge then made a secret ruling that Mejia was not entitled to this evidence because it was neither helpful nor relevant.

 

Such so-called ex parte decisions by judges on classified pretrial discovery issues are not unusual in terrorism cases, but prosecutors routinely file a related public notice to the defense about the existence of the secret filings. That did not happen in Mejia’s case.

 

The notice the appeals court sent the Mejia trial lawyers asked them each to address whether the information would have been relevant at trial. The court asked the lawyers to do this without disclosing what the classified information actually was. Defense lawyer H. Heather Shaner said the request felt Kafka-esque.

 

“I didn’t know about the information at trial and on appeal I couldn’t access it,” she recalled. “It made me irrelevant as a lawyer.”

 

The trial prosecutor, Robert Feitel, said he was as surprised as anyone to learn about the secret evidence. Now a defense lawyer in large drug cases, Feitel said he routinely tries to frame his requests for government evidence to include potential classified information whenever he believes intelligence intercepts or foreign wiretaps might have been used.

 

“I know that 99 percent of the time that happens there will be something relevant,” he said, “and I know that any good defense attorney would want to know about evidence that came through SOD.”

(Editing by Howard Goller and Doina Chiacu)

World from Berlin: Old Egypt Makes a Comeback

August 15, 2013

Der Spiegel

 

 

With violence escalating in Egypt, top Western diplomats are calling for calm and for national unity talks in the deeply divided country. Editorialists at leading German papers fear a vicious cycle of violence is returning to one of the Middle East’s most important countries.

 

            The Muslim Brotherhood called for new protests across Egypt against the interim government on Thursday, simultaneously announcing it would organize a march through Cairo in the afternoon. The announcement has prompted fears of a new wave of violence following the bloodbath that consumed parts of the Egyptian capital on Wednesday, when security forces resorted to violence to clear two sit-in protest camps.

 

Officials in Egypt are saying that around 300 people were killed in the melee, but the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood is stating a far higher figure of 2,000 dead. Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi have been protesting in Egypt for weeks now after the military takeover at the beginning of July that removed the country’s first democratically elected leader following mass public demonstrations.

 

On Thursday, members of international community intensified diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis. In Germany, Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle summoned the Egyptian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry in Berlin. Westerwelle said he wanted to send a strong message to the Egyptian government that the bloodbath must be stopped. Speaking during a visit to Tunisia, Westerwelle said, “We cannot allow a vicious cycle of violence to begin now.”

 

French President François Hollande also ordered in the Egyptian ambassador to France for a meeting. Hinting at the seriousness of the meeting, it is usually the foreign minister and not the French president who orders such talks. Hollande’s office said the scope of bloodshed made the meeting necessary.

 

In Germany, the deadly actions by Egyptian security forces lead the front pages of daily papers and the editorial pages. Most argue that both sides — the Muslim Brotherhood and the interim government — need to come to the negotiating table in order to prevent the bloodshed from developing into a full-fledged civil war.

 

The leftist Die Tageszeitung writes:

 

“The Muslim Brotherhood described the eviction of pro-Morsi supporters from protest camps as a ‘massacre.’ This appears to be a fair assessment of what has happened. What else is it when peaceful demonstrators are attacked and shot at by armed tanks, and many are left dead or injured? It’s not only people who have died in Cairo. So too have hopes that security forces will be willing to return Egypt to democracy. If they crack down with such brutality on the opposition, they will at best tolerate a puppet government, but not an independent one.”

 

“The Egyptian armed forces have been pulling the strings of civilian politicians for decades. It intially looked as though the Arab Spring had put an end to that. But a return to old structures appears to be underway. It seems fair to say that what is currently happening in Egypt amounts to a counter-revolution.”

 

The conservative Die Welt writes:

 

“When it comes to stating the number of victims, the Muslim Brotherhood has a tendency to exaggerate. In fact, this kind of exaggeration is typical of protest movements around the world. But Egypt has its own peculiarities. Right up to today, the Muslim Brotherhood has been driven by the myth of martyrdom, that they are fighting on earth for just things and that they will be rewarded with paradise if they die for the cause. In other words, the current Muslim Brotherhood leadership has little regard for talks and peaceful protests. Instead they focus on battle and provocation that can easily turn to violence.”

 

“But you can’t blame them. The Islamists see no basis for negotiations after the toppling of Mohammed Morsi, the president of their choosing who was freely elected. In addition, it’s none other than the language of the underground that drives these old fighters. They were the victims of constant persecution under one Egyptian leader after the other — from Mubarak and Sadat to Nasser.”

 

“That doesn’t mean that this tendency is smart. Under the rule of the military, the fight against current conditions can only end in defeat. It would be wiser for the Muslim Brotherhood to seek a dialogue. Both the military and the interim government are prepared to engage in such talks. By participating in a ‘national dialogue,’ the Islamists could prevent a civil war and also push through some of their interests.”

 

The left-leaning Berliner Zeitung newspaper writes:

 

“The brute force employed by the Egyptian police and supported by the military in their attempts to quash protests by supporters of ousted President Morsi seems to be a confirmation of peoples’ worst fears: Morsi’s removal from office by the country’s military leadership under General Abdel Fattah al-Sisis is not an attempt to encourage a new democratic beginning for Egypt. For Al-Sisi, it is about helping the authoritarian forces of the old regime back into power. Not only the violent clearance of protest camps and the arbitrary pursuit of Muslim Brothers, but also the rising number of attacks on churches and police stations are an indication of this.”

 

The conservative Frankfurter Allegemeine Zeitung writes:

 

“The supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood know only too well that they won’t play a political role for quite some time if the order created by the July 3 coup is sustained. Accordingly, many are willing to die as martyrs. With each victim, they will feel even more righteous. The military solution is bloody, but a political solution is still distant. The situation is beyond the scope of international mediators — they all departed empty-handed. Without movement between the two irreconcilably opposed camps, Egypt will be threatened with persistent instability and a long period of uncertainty. But stability is a prerequisite for economic development.”

 

“At stake here, above all, is the cohesion of Egyptian society. Despite all idealogical disagreements, Egyptians were always proud to belong to the same people. But the tensions of the recent past have driven a wedge into this society. The three most important institutions that ensured the country’s cohesion and stayed out of politics — the military, the Islamic Al Azhar University and the Coptic Church — were parties in the putsch this time. Morsi’s supporters are now disputing their integrity and view these institutions as political enemies. The basis for possible consensus in Egypt has collapsed.”

 

 

The business daily Handelsblatt writes:

 

“The bloodbath on the Nile … is a scandal. A scandal for the country, but also a scandal for international diplomacy. Neither US diplomats nor German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, who last week rushed to Egypt, have been able to help negotiate a peaceful solution.”

 

“It appears the Egyptian military won’t listen, either. At the same time, not a single leading Western diplomat has been in Cairo during the last few days. Aside from Westerwelle, they were last seen a few weeks back for an opportune photo op. That’s not what sincere efforts look like. As the European Union’s top diplomat and the sole person who has access to all sides, Catherine Ashton should have made yet another effort to try everything she could, flanked, of course by the other EU foreign ministers. Unfortunately, like Westerwelle, they are all too often only willing to practice fair-weather diplomacy. But warnings or expressions of concern are insufficient because what is beginning in Egypt is a serious drama — a vicious cycle of lasting violence.”

 

 — SPIEGEL ONLINE Staff

 

Snowden’s Dad Talked to Son Despite Danger – Attorney

 

MOSCOW, August 15 (RIA Novosti) – Lon Snowden, the father of fugitive US intelligence leaker Edward Snowden, has gotten in touch with his son via the Internet because his fatherly feelings proved stronger than security considerations, his son’s attorney told RIA Novosti Thursday.

Previous media reports said Lon Snowden had communicated with his son via a protected Internet channel using encrypted messages. Prior to that he had only communicated with his son through his Russian attorney Anatoly Kucherena.

“His fatherly feelings proved stronger than security awareness but nevertheless we don’t recommend using the Internet for communication, not even via an encrypted channel, even though we understand that Edward is an IT expert,” Kucherena told RIA Novosti.

Edward Snowden is currently in a safe place, undertaking an adaptation course, and is OK, he said.

“Needless to say, he is missing his family,” Kucherena added.

His location has not been disclosed, though the Moscow migration authorities said last week he was not in the city.

Edward Snowden, 30, a former US intelligence contractor, is wanted by the United States on espionage and theft charges after leaking classified information about the US National Security Agency’s (NSA) sweeping telephone and electronic surveillance programs.

He received temporary asylum from Russia earlier this month, a move that has further strained US-Russian relations and prompted an outcry from the administration of US President Barack Obama and members of Congress.

Lon Snowden, who has received a visa from Russian authorities, plans to travel to Moscow to meet with his son soon after setting the date Wednesday with his attorney Bruce Fein.

Kucherena said the date of the visit will not be disclosed, primary for security reasons.

“That is also the will the family. I think that when his father comes here together with his lawyer… he will talk to reporters and reply to questions,” he said.

Washington has strongly condemned Russia’s decision to give Snowden temporary asylum, and has urged Moscow to send him back to the United States. Last week Obama called off a Moscow summit with Putin scheduled for September, citing lack of progress in bilateral ties as well as the Snowden case.

One in 10 Americans have taken drugs prescribed for others: poll

by Lindsay Dunsmuir

 

NEW YORK August 15, 2013

 

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Kurt is a 32-year-old IT systems administrator from Des Moines, Iowa. He has a colleague who had been prescribed “ridiculous amounts” of Vicodin for a chronic back problem.

 

His colleague offered him some of the pills. Soon Kurt was taking them three to four times a week to get high and relax.

 

“I had been prescribed Vicodin before so I knew the effects,” he said. “I would come home, take a couple and pour myself a drink, to help me unwind.”

 

He is not alone. One in 10 Americans admit taking a prescription drug they have not been prescribed, and a quarter of those people have used them just to get high, according to an ongoing Reuters/Ipsos poll. (link.reuters.com/ban42v)

 

While about six in ten Americans who used another person’s prescriptions did so for pain relief, a fifth took them to sleep or to manage stress and anxiety, the poll showed.

 

Kurt said his colleague would give him between thirty and forty pills at a time. Usually he would take the Vicodin while alone, but he occasionally shared the pills with friends during an evening out.

 

After eighteen months he finally kicked the habit. “I just felt like I was using too frequently,” he said.

 

Prescription drug misuse has reached epidemic levels and it is now the second most abused category of drugs in the United States, after marijuana, according to a survey conducted for the U.S. government.

 

Pharmacies in the United States dispensed more than 4 billion prescriptions in 2012, according to IMS Health, a healthcare research firm.

 

The poll indicated it is not difficult to get hold of such drugs even without a prescription. About two thirds of those who used other people’s prescribed drugs were given them by a family member, friend or acquaintance, the poll showed. Only about 14 percent were either taken without permission or purchased.

 

For some, using other people’s prescription drugs is a way to save on healthcare costs.

 

For the last two years Megan, 28, has had no health insurance after losing a job working in a hotel in Eugene, Oregon.

 

When she began having muscle pain around her hip last year, she sought help from her mother, not her doctor.

 

Her mother had recently been involved in a car accident and had been prescribed Flexeril and Vicodin for neck pain, some of which lay unused. Megan took one of each.

 

“Had I had insurance, I would just have gone to the doctor, but I didn’t and if you go into the emergency room they just look at you like you are a drug addict looking for your next fix,” she said.

 

Dr. Wilson Compton, a division director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse, says dosage levels of prescription drugs are particular to an individual’s specific needs and warns against taking a medicine that has not been prescribed.

 

“Simply because it’s a medicine that comes from a pharmacy does not mean it is without risk,” he said. “There’s a reason they require a prescription.”

 

These results were taken from the ongoing Reuters/Ipsos online poll and include the responses of 6,438 adult Americans between July 24th and August 12th. The credibility interval, a measure of precision, for these results is plus or minus about 1.4 percentage points.

 

The prescription drug use questions in this story are part a polling project that began in January 2012, surveying about 11,000 people a month since. More information on these questions and hundreds of others asked since the poll started can be found at polling.reuters.com/

 

(Reporting By Lindsay Dunsmuir and Maurice Tamman)

The US-Russian cold-shoulder war

by Robert E Hunter

 

“[W]e have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a US-Russia Summit in early September … Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor … – White House Office of the Press Secretary, August 7, 2013.

 

… Having in mind the great importance of this conference and the hopes that the peoples of all the world have reposed in this meeting … I see no reason to use this [U-2] incident to disrupt the conference … – President Dwight D Eisenhower, Paris, May 16, 1960.

 

The canceling of a projected summit meeting next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin by President Barack Obama has probably attracted more attention than anything substantive likely to have occurred in that meeting. Or at least anything thatcould not have been achieved through ordinary diplomatic means. In other words, the significance of this meeting was overrated from the beginning, like most other summits in modern history.

 

Summits involving the Russians have featured in world politics since Napoleon met Czar Alexander I in 1807 on a raft in the middle of the Neman River in the town of Tilsit. Notable were the three World War II summits wherein Marshall Stalin met with the US president in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam – with the British prime minister tagging along – that dealt with wartime strategy and the future of Europe. Not so much was at stake this time around.

 

Admittedly, Obama is not canceling his attendance at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in St Petersburg, also in Putin’s Russia. But even the G-8 summits are not worth much in terms of substance compared with what could be achieved, again, through so-called ordinary diplomatic means.

 

This is not the place to review the full history of modern summitry. In the main, they are held because publics (and politics) expect them and demand “results”. The invention of the airplane and global television, not the seriousness of the agenda, is the causative agent. Almost always, summit agreements, enshrined in official communiques, are worked out in advance by lower-level officials, with perhaps an item or two – a “sticking point” or “window dressing” – to be dealt with at the top.

 

To be sure, a forthcoming summit, like “the prospect of hanging” in Samuel Johnson’s phrase, “concentrates the mind wonderfully” or, in this case, provides a spur to bureaucratic and diplomatic activity. Issues that have been sitting on the shelf or in the too-hard inbox may get dusted off and resolved because top leaders are getting together with media attention, pageantry, ruffles and flourishes, state dinners and expectations. This is not something to be left to chance nor to risk a potential blunder by the US president or his opposite number, whether friend or foe.

 

This is not cynicism, it is reality. Yours truly speaks from experience, having been involved with more than 20 meetings of US presidents with other heads of state and government. I witnessed only two where what the president and his interlocutor worked out at the table made a significant difference: president Jimmy Carter’s 1980 White House meetings with Israeli prime minister Meacham Begin and (two weeks later) with Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat. Serious decisions were taken because the US president was the American action officer for Arab-Israeli peacemaking; he “rolled his own”.

 

Summits can also cause damage, as did the 2008 Bucharest North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, where European heads of state and government balked at the US president’s desire to move Ukraine and Georgia a tiny step toward NATO membership. Instead, they made the meaningless pledge that, in time, it would happen. Both the Georgian and Russian presidents read this as a strategic commitment. The upshot was the short Russia-Georgia war that set back Western and Russian efforts to deal with more important matters on their agenda.

 

Most notorious was the summit president John Kennedy hastily sought in 1961 with Nikita Khrushchev. Their Vienna meeting was represented as having set back the untested president’s efforts to establish himself with the bullying Soviet leader. Some historians believe this encounter encouraged Khrushchev to take actions that produced the Cuban Missile Crisis.

 

Even worse than the expectations of success that summits generate is the notion that good chemistry between leaders can have a decisive influence. Nonsense. Of course it is better for there to be positive relations, the ability to “do business” as Margaret Thatcher once said about Mikhael Gorbachev – provided, of course, there is “business” to be “done”. Indeed, assessments of chemistry or the lack thereof just get in the way when they obscure realities of power, the interests of nations and leaders’ domestic politics, which are the real stuff of relations between and among states. Many of history’s worst villains have been charming in person.

 

Cancelling the Obama-Putin summit has taken place over developments that in the course of history are relatively trivial, confirming that it was unlikely to have been significant. If something of importance was to be settled, ways would have been found to finesse the distractions.

 

Russian misbehavior included not handing over Edward Snowden, the master leaker of sensitive US information, and the Duma’s passing a law against gays and lesbians. US misbehavior included congress’ condemnation of the Russian trial of a dead man, Sergei Magnitsky, who had been a thorn in Putin’s side. Notably, the reasons for canceling this summit lean heavily on domestic politics, not matters of state.

 

What happened with Eisenhower in 1960, referred to above, was much more consequential. The leaders of the four major powers (the US, Soviet Union, Britain and France) were to meet in Paris, for the first time in years, to reduce misunderstandings between East and West that were making inherent dangers even worse.

 

Ironically, the triggering event then was also about intelligence; this time it is Snowden, that time it was Francis Gary Powers, the hapless pilot of a US U-2 Reconnaissance aircraft shot down over the Soviet Union less than two weeks before the summit. What then transpired – Obama canceling in 2013 and Khrushchev displaying his patented histrionics in 1960 – fed into the domestic politics of each side.

 

Just as Obama and Putin must both be wishing that Snowden had gone to Venezuela instead of Hong Kong and then Moscow, Khrushchev may well have cursed the Soviet Air Defense Forces for their untimely shooting down of an American spy plane that both sides knew reduced fears of an accidental nuclear war. Ike probably also cursed himself for letting the CIA launch a U-2 flight so soon before the Paris summit.

 

The comparison of 1960 and 2013 can be taken a step further. Then, at a particularly dangerous moment for the world, the Soviet Union was one of the two most powerful countries. Now Russia is a second-rate power whose greatest importance to the US lies in what it could well become in the future and its current impact, by facts of size and propinquity, on places and problems the US at the moment cares more about.

 

But a new Cold War? Again, nonsense. Rather, as political analyst William Lanouette has jibed, a “Cold-Shoulder War”.

 

To begin with, “Cold War” needs to be defined with precision. It refers to the period when the US and Soviet Union were psychologically unable to distinguish between issues on which they could negotiate in their mutual self-interest and those on which neither could compromise. They were so locked into their perceptions and rhetoric that they could not even fathom possible common interests. That is clearly not true, now, and will not be.

 

The US-Soviet Cold War began to end in the 1960s, when the two countries developed the weapons and doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which in practice meant that each side accepted responsibility for the others’ ultimate security against nuclear annihilation. This spawned detente, the eventual end of the Cold War, and the sinking of the Soviet Union and European communism through their internal contractions.

 

Do US-Russian relations matter? Certainly, but not like US-Soviet relations before 1989. The difference is visible in today’s elevation of US concerns over internal developments in Russia, although, for Russia to be fully accepted, respected and trusted on the world stage, it must conform to growing civilizing tendencies in international relations and state behavior within at least a fair amount of the globe. Far more importantly, there are US-Russian differences, both in view and national interests, which make relations difficult at times but must be sorted out in one way or another.

 

A key focal point of today’s differences exists in the Middle East. The US objects to Russia’s unwillingness to assist efforts to depose the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which the US president called for before thinking through the means or implications. It is also not confident that Russia truly supports the US-led confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program.

 

But both US positions beg big questions: on Syria, what the consequences would be there and in the broader region if the US got its way with Moscow, given the unlikelihood of a good outcome in Syria, the slow-rolling Sunni-Shi’ite civil war underway in the heart of the Middle East, Washington’s lack of clarity over what it is prepared to do militarily and even what outcome would best serve US interests. Russia might thus be cut some slack over its temporizing.

 

Regarding Iran, the US wants Russia, China and Western powers to hold firm on sanctions (while congress wants to ratchet them up, despite the inauguration of a new Iranian president who could be better for the US than his predecessor). But Washington has yet to demonstrate that it will negotiate seriously with Iran, and, as states do when there is a vacuum, Moscow is taking advantage.

 

In addition to dismantling some remaining Cold War relics, notably the excessive level of nuclear weapons both countries still deploy (some absurdly kept on alert), is the issue of when and how much Russia will regain a prominent role in international politics, how and how much the US will try to oppose that inevitable “rebalancing” while its own capacity to affect global events has diminished significantly and if Washington and Moscow can work out sensible rules of the road with one another in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and elsewhere. Russia needs us as partner in some areas; in others it will inevitably be our rival and vice versa.

 

As two great hydrocarbon producers with interests and engagements that touch or overlap – such as concerns about terrorism, desires that the Afghan curse not cause both of them further troubles in Southwest Asia and the need to influence the rise of new kids on the block (China and India) – the US and Russia have lots to talk about.

 

But Obama and Putin wining and dining one another has little to do with it.

 

 “[W]e have reached the conclusion that there is not enough recent progress in our bilateral agenda with Russia to hold a US-Russia Summit in early September … Russia’s disappointing decision to grant Edward Snowden temporary asylum was also a factor … – White House Office of the Press Secretary, August 7, 2013.

 

… Having in mind the great importance of this conference and the hopes that the peoples of all the world have reposed in this meeting … I see no reason to use this [U-2] incident to disrupt the conference … – President Dwight D Eisenhower, Paris, May 16, 1960.

 

The canceling of a projected summit meeting next month with Russian President Vladimir Putin by President Barack Obama has probably attracted more attention than anything substantive likely to have occurred in that meeting. Or at least anything that

 

could not have been achieved through ordinary diplomatic means. In other words, the significance of this meeting was overrated from the beginning, like most other summits in modern history.

 

Summits involving the Russians have featured in world politics since Napoleon met Czar Alexander I in 1807 on a raft in the middle of the Neman River in the town of Tilsit. Notable were the three World War II summits wherein Marshall Stalin met with the US president in Tehran, Yalta and Potsdam – with the British prime minister tagging along – that dealt with wartime strategy and the future of Europe. Not so much was at stake this time around.

 

Admittedly, Obama is not canceling his attendance at the Group of Eight (G-8) summit in St Petersburg, also in Putin’s Russia. But even the G-8 summits are not worth much in terms of substance compared with what could be achieved, again, through so-called ordinary diplomatic means.

 

This is not the place to review the full history of modern summitry. In the main, they are held because publics (and politics) expect them and demand “results”. The invention of the airplane and global television, not the seriousness of the agenda, is the causative agent. Almost always, summit agreements, enshrined in official communiques, are worked out in advance by lower-level officials, with perhaps an item or two – a “sticking point” or “window dressing” – to be dealt with at the top.

 

To be sure, a forthcoming summit, like “the prospect of hanging” in Samuel Johnson’s phrase, “concentrates the mind wonderfully” or, in this case, provides a spur to bureaucratic and diplomatic activity. Issues that have been sitting on the shelf or in the too-hard inbox may get dusted off and resolved because top leaders are getting together with media attention, pageantry, ruffles and flourishes, state dinners and expectations. This is not something to be left to chance nor to risk a potential blunder by the US president or his opposite number, whether friend or foe.

 

This is not cynicism, it is reality. Yours truly speaks from experience, having been involved with more than 20 meetings of US presidents with other heads of state and government. I witnessed only two where what the president and his interlocutor worked out at the table made a significant difference: president Jimmy Carter’s 1980 White House meetings with Israeli prime minister Meacham Begin and (two weeks later) with Egypt’s president Anwar Sadat. Serious decisions were taken because the US president was the American action officer for Arab-Israeli peacemaking; he “rolled his own”.

 

Summits can also cause damage, as did the 2008 Bucharest North Atlantic Treaty Organization summit, where European heads of state and government balked at the US president’s desire to move Ukraine and Georgia a tiny step toward NATO membership. Instead, they made the meaningless pledge that, in time, it would happen. Both the Georgian and Russian presidents read this as a strategic commitment. The upshot was the short Russia-Georgia war that set back Western and Russian efforts to deal with more important matters on their agenda.

 

Most notorious was the summit president John Kennedy hastily sought in 1961 with Nikita Khrushchev. Their Vienna meeting was represented as having set back the untested president’s efforts to establish himself with the bullying Soviet leader. Some historians believe this encounter encouraged Khrushchev to take actions that produced the Cuban Missile Crisis.

 

Even worse than the expectations of success that summits generate is the notion that good chemistry between leaders can have a decisive influence. Nonsense. Of course it is better for there to be positive relations, the ability to “do business” as Margaret Thatcher once said about Mikhael Gorbachev – provided, of course, there is “business” to be “done”. Indeed, assessments of chemistry or the lack thereof just get in the way when they obscure realities of power, the interests of nations and leaders’ domestic politics, which are the real stuff of relations between and among states. Many of history’s worst villains have been charming in person.

 

Cancelling the Obama-Putin summit has taken place over developments that in the course of history are relatively trivial, confirming that it was unlikely to have been significant. If something of importance was to be settled, ways would have been found to finesse the distractions.

 

Russian misbehavior included not handing over Edward Snowden, the master leaker of sensitive US information, and the Duma’s passing a law against gays and lesbians. US misbehavior included congress’ condemnation of the Russian trial of a dead man, Sergei Magnitsky, who had been a thorn in Putin’s side. Notably, the reasons for canceling this summit lean heavily on domestic politics, not matters of state.

 

What happened with Eisenhower in 1960, referred to above, was much more consequential. The leaders of the four major powers (the US, Soviet Union, Britain and France) were to meet in Paris, for the first time in years, to reduce misunderstandings between East and West that were making inherent dangers even worse.

 

Ironically, the triggering event then was also about intelligence; this time it is Snowden, that time it was Francis Gary Powers, the hapless pilot of a US U-2 Reconnaissance aircraft shot down over the Soviet Union less than two weeks before the summit. What then transpired – Obama canceling in 2013 and Khrushchev displaying his patented histrionics in 1960 – fed into the domestic politics of each side.

 

Just as Obama and Putin must both be wishing that Snowden had gone to Venezuela instead of Hong Kong and then Moscow, Khrushchev may well have cursed the Soviet Air Defense Forces for their untimely shooting down of an American spy plane that both sides knew reduced fears of an accidental nuclear war. Ike probably also cursed himself for letting the CIA launch a U-2 flight so soon before the Paris summit.

 

The comparison of 1960 and 2013 can be taken a step further. Then, at a particularly dangerous moment for the world, the Soviet Union was one of the two most powerful countries. Now Russia is a second-rate power whose greatest importance to the US lies in what it could well become in the future and its current impact, by facts of size and propinquity, on places and problems the US at the moment cares more about.

 

But a new Cold War? Again, nonsense. Rather, as political analyst William Lanouette has jibed, a “Cold-Shoulder War”.

 

To begin with, “Cold War” needs to be defined with precision. It refers to the period when the US and Soviet Union were psychologically unable to distinguish between issues on which they could negotiate in their mutual self-interest and those on which neither could compromise. They were so locked into their perceptions and rhetoric that they could not even fathom possible common interests. That is clearly not true, now, and will not be.

 

The US-Soviet Cold War began to end in the 1960s, when the two countries developed the weapons and doctrine of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), which in practice meant that each side accepted responsibility for the others’ ultimate security against nuclear annihilation. This spawned detente, the eventual end of the Cold War, and the sinking of the Soviet Union and European communism through their internal contractions.

 

Do US-Russian relations matter? Certainly, but not like US-Soviet relations before 1989. The difference is visible in today’s elevation of US concerns over internal developments in Russia, although, for Russia to be fully accepted, respected and trusted on the world stage, it must conform to growing civilizing tendencies in international relations and state behavior within at least a fair amount of the globe. Far more importantly, there are US-Russian differences, both in view and national interests, which make relations difficult at times but must be sorted out in one way or another.

 

A key focal point of today’s differences exists in the Middle East. The US objects to Russia’s unwillingness to assist efforts to depose the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, which the US president called for before thinking through the means or implications. It is also not confident that Russia truly supports the US-led confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program.

 

But both US positions beg big questions: on Syria, what the consequences would be there and in the broader region if the US got its way with Moscow, given the unlikelihood of a good outcome in Syria, the slow-rolling Sunni-Shi’ite civil war underway in the heart of the Middle East, Washington’s lack of clarity over what it is prepared to do militarily and even what outcome would best serve US interests. Russia might thus be cut some slack over its temporizing.

 

Regarding Iran, the US wants Russia, China and Western powers to hold firm on sanctions (while congress wants to ratchet them up, despite the inauguration of a new Iranian president who could be better for the US than his predecessor). But Washington has yet to demonstrate that it will negotiate seriously with Iran, and, as states do when there is a vacuum, Moscow is taking advantage.

 

In addition to dismantling some remaining Cold War relics, notably the excessive level of nuclear weapons both countries still deploy (some absurdly kept on alert), is the issue of when and how much Russia will regain a prominent role in international politics, how and how much the US will try to oppose that inevitable “rebalancing” while its own capacity to affect global events has diminished significantly and if Washington and Moscow can work out sensible rules of the road with one another in the Middle East, Southwest Asia and elsewhere. Russia needs us as partner in some areas; in others it will inevitably be our rival and vice versa.

 

As two great hydrocarbon producers with interests and engagements that touch or overlap – such as concerns about terrorism, desires that the Afghan curse not cause both of them further troubles in Southwest Asia and the need to influence the rise of new kids on the block (China and India) – the US and Russia have lots to talk about.

 

But Obama and Putin wining and dining one another has little to do with it.

 

Robert E Hunter served as US ambassador to NATO (1993-98) and on the National Security Council staff throughout the Carter administration, first as Director of West European Affairs and then as Director of Middle East Affairs. In the last-named role, he was the White House representative at the Autonomy Talks for the West Bank and Gaza and developer of the Carter Doctrine for the Persian Gulf. He was Senior Advisor to the RAND Corporation from 1998 to 2011, and Director of the Center for Transatlantic Security Studies at the National Defense University, 2011-2012. He has been Chairman of the Council for a Community of Democracies since 2002 and is a member of the American Academy of Diplomacy.

   

 

 

 

The Rise Of The Bear: 18 Signs That Russia Is Rapidly Catching Up To The United States
 

August 8th, 2013
by Michael Snyder

http://investmentwatch

            The Russian Bear is stronger and more powerful than it has ever been before. Sadly, most Americans don’t understand this. They still think of Russia as an “ex-superpower” that was rendered almost irrelevant when the Cold War ended. And yes, when the Cold War ended Russia was in rough shape. I got the chance to go over there in the early nineties, and at the time Russia was an economic disaster zone. Russian currency was so worthless that I joked that I could go exchange a 20 dollar bill and buy the Kremlin. But since that time Russia has roared back to life. Once Vladimir Putin became president, the Russian economy started to grow very rapidly. Today, Russia is an economic powerhouse that is blessed with an abundance of natural resources. Their debt to GDP ratio is extremely small, they actually run a trade surplus every year, and they have the second most powerful military on the entire planet. Anyone that underestimates Russia at this point is making a huge mistake. The Russian Bear is back, and today it is a more formidable adversary than it ever was at any point during the Cold War.
           

            Just check out the following statistics. The following are 18 signs that Russia is rapidly catching up to the United States…

1.       Russia produces more oil than anyone else on the planet. The United States is in third place.

2.       Russia is the number two oil exporter in the world. The United States is forced to import more oil than anyone else in the world.

3.       Russia produces more natural gas than anyone else on the planet. The United States is in second place.

4.       Today, Russia supplies 34 percent of Europe’s natural gas needs.

5.       The United States has a debt to GDP ratio of 101 percent. Russia has a debt to GDP ratio of about 8 percent.

6.      The United States had a trade deficit of more than half a trillion dollars last year. Russia consistently runs a large trade surplus.

7.       The United States has an unemployment rate of 7.4 percent. Russia has an unemployment rate of 5.4 percent.

8.       Since Vladimir Putin first became president of Russia, the Russian economy has grown at a very rapid pace. The following is fromWikipedia…

            Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin Russia’s economy saw the nominal Gross Domestic Product (GDP) double, climbing from 22nd to 11th largest in the world. The economy made real gains of an average 7% per year (1999: 6.5%, 2000: 10%, 2001: 5.7%, 2002: 4.9%, 2003: 7.3%, 2004: 7.2%, 2005: 6.4%, 2006: 8.2%, 2007: 8.5%, 2008: 5.2%), making it the 6th largest economy in the world in GDP(PPP). In 2007, Russia’s GDP exceeded that of 1990, meaning it has overcome the devastating consequences of the recession in the 1990s.

            During Putin’s eight years in office, the industry grew by 75%, investments increased by 125%, and agricultural production and construction increased as well. Real incomes more than doubled and the average salary increased eightfold from $80 to $640. The volume of consumer credit between 2000–2006 increased 45 times, and during that same time period, the middle class grew from 8 million to 55 million, an increase of 7 times. The number of people living below the poverty line also decreased from 30% in 2000 to 14% in 2008.

            9 According to Bloomberg, Russia has added 570 metric tons of gold to their reserves over the past decade. In the United States, nobody seems to be quite sure how much gold the Federal Reserve actually has left.

            10 Moscow is the second most expensive city in the world. Meanwhile, the United States actually has the unfriendliest city in the world (Newark, New Jersey).

            11 More billionaires live in Moscow than in any other city on the globe.

            12 The Moscow metro system completely outclasses the subway systems in Washington D.C. and New York City.

            13 The United States has the most powerful military on the planet, but Russia is in second place.

            14 Russia has introduced a new “near silent” nuclear submarine which is far more quiet than anything the U.S. has…

            The Borey Class submarine, dubbed Vladimir Monomakh, has a next generation nuclear reactor, can dive deeper than 1,200 feet, and carries up to 20 nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
            Each of these “Bulava” ICBM’s can carry ten detachable MIRV warheads, what they call “re-entry vehicles,” capable of delivering 150 kiloton yields per warhead

            15 While Barack Obama is neutering the U.S. strategic nuclear arsenal, Vladimir Putin is working hard to modernize Russian nuclear forces.

            16 Russian missile forces will hold more than 200 drills during the second half of 2013.

            17 Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made headlines all over the world when he climbed into the cockpit of Russia’s new “fifth generation” fighter jet and announced that it was far superior to the F-22 Raptor.

            18 It is estimated that Russia has more spies inside the United States today than it did at any point during the Cold War

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