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TBR News August 4, 2016

Aug 04 2016

The Voice of the White House

Washington, D.C. August 4, 2016:” “At one point in time, many years ago, the American public read their news in the print media and generally believed what they read. Presently, most Americans get their news from the Internet, for free. And the uselese print media is collapsing.

Of course the good comes with the bad and blogs containing fantasy articles and deliberate lies are cheek by cheek with legitimate news sites. Even the latter are being corrupted by the power elite and so we see bleats of joy at the ascendancy of St. Hillary the Pathological Liar and snide remarks about Donald Trump.

The past performances of the Clinton woman would be enough to jail her but in our society at present, the controlled media is doing everything in its weakened power to convince the American public that Hillary is the only viable candidate.

And note that the recent initial Wikileans release of pungent and often disgusting DNC personal and private emails has vanished from the sight of mortal man.

Wikileaks has only released a few of these and there wil be more to come but, like the Panama offshore banking swindles, nothing more is to be heard or written about. None of this silence is accidental.

Unpleasant subjects that annoy the power elite or their partners in crime are never to be seen where readers might form negative opinions about hand-picked and supported politicians that are known to further the interests of the political pupped masters.

One wonders why Debbie resigned her high post so suddenly. Is there the possibility of steaming personal emails emerging that might damage the Democratic candidate in her frantic scramble for the White House?

If there are such epistles of love, lust and affection, trust it that they will never appear anywhere in the American media.

Once a newspaper publisher, always a whore.”

A Deadly Rivalry: Erdogan’s Hunt Against the Gülen Movement

August 3, 2016

by Onur Burçak Belli, Eren Caylan and Maximilian Popp

Spiegel

For two decades, Lieutenant Colonel Levent Türkkan was entrusted with a special task in the Turkish military: Do not attract attention. He first served in the infantry before becoming an officer and ultimately aide-de-camp to the chief of staff for Turkey’s armed forces. Yet Türkkan’s loyalty didn’t belong to his employer or the Turkish state — he was a follower of Fethullah Gülen, the Muslim cleric accused by Erdogan’s administration of orchestrating the failed coup on July 15, which left at least 270 people dead.

There was a time when Erdogan called Gülen a “friend.” But today, the Turkish president reserves the words “terrorist leader” and “fascist” for his former ally, who has lived in exile in the United States since the 1990s. In recent weeks, Erdogan has arrested thousands of soldiers, teachers, judges and academics, whom he accuses of being the cleric’s accomplices. His administration, however, has so far failed to present clear evidence that Gülen was, in fact, behind the bloody uprising.

Lieutenant Colonel Türkkan is considered a primary witness by the anti-Gülen camp. Last week, he became the first suspected conspirator to tell state prosecutors that a group within the Turkish military loyal to Gülen had given the order for the coup.

Türkkan comes from a family of peasant farmers. As a kid, he dreamed of one day becoming a soldier. According to a transcript of Türkkan’s interrogation, which has been viewed by DER SPIEGEL, Gülen loyalists helped him get into cadet school by sneaking him the answers to aptitude tests ahead of time. After that, Türkkan felt he had a debt to Gülen.

For a long time, Gülen and his people never asked anything of Türkkan. Only after he was chosen to assist the chief of staff did any Gülen supporters approach him, Türkkan said during the interrogation. He was asked to plant bugs in his boss’ office every morning and collect them each night. Türkkan spied on his superior for years without talking to anyone about it. Until the night of the coup attempt, he never even knew who else inside the military was part of Gülen’s Islamist movement. In order to maintain his cover, he drank alcohol and broke his Ramadan fast early.

It is possible that Türkkan’s confession was extracted under torture. Photos from the state news agency Anadolu Ajansi show him with scars on his face and bandages on his hands. But his statements are so detailed that many experts nevertheless consider them to be credible.

How Involved Was Gülen?

The fury with which Erdogan has lashed out against his critics and the speed with which he has turned Turkey into a dictatorship have made the rest of the world anxious.

Yet the accusations against the Gülen community don’t seem to be entirely unfounded. Few in Turkey doubt that Gülen or his supporters were involved in the uprising.

Hulusi Akar, the chief of staff of the Turkish armed forces, who was briefly detained on July 15 by putschists, told a court last Monday that his captors had pressed him to speak to their “leader,” Fethullah Gülen, on the phone. Istanbul’s former chief of police, Hanefi Avci, said Gülen’s supporters were the only ones with the resources, personnel and ruthlessness necessary to carry out such an operation. He believes members of other fractions within the military simply went along with the coup.

Even Turkey’s opposition parties agree with Erdogan’s assessment of Gülen — a unity not often seen in Turkish politics. “We have been warning for years about the anti-democratic nature of the Gülen movement,” said Selahattin Demirtas, co-chairman of the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP). The head of Turkey’s center-left Republican People’s Party (CHP), Kemal Kilicdaroglu, spoke out in favor of Erdogan’s demand that Gülen be tried in a Turkish court.

Gülen denies any blame. “It is absurd, irresponsible and erroneous to claim that I had anything to do with this appalling coup attempt,” he said from the US state of Pennsylvania. His supporters present themselves as modern and tolerant. They have opened schools, universities, hospitals and media organizations in more than 140 countries.

At the same time, the Gülen community has also been involved in a number of illicit machinations in recent years. US diplomats have been warning since 2010 that Gülen supporters have infiltrated the Turkish state. In 2011, Istanbul-based journalist Ahmet Sik described in his book, “The Imam’s Army,” how Gülen’s supporters among the Turkish police, judiciary and media have been waging smear campaigns against the cleric’s opponents. Sik was thrown in jail for a year under murky circumstances.

Erdogan had long supported the Gülen movement, back when its attacks were primarily directed against their common enemies — military personnel, journalists, secularists and leftists. Only after Erdogan and Gülen fell out in 2011 did the then-prime minister start going after the cleric’s followers.

With the botched coup on July 15, the conflict between Erdogan and Gülen reached a preliminary climax. Erdogan used the uprising as a pretext to purge Turkish institutions of Gülen’s supporters once and for all. But the president has also gone after other members of the opposition, lumping them together with the “Gülenists” without any proof. In recent days, his government suspended or arrested tens of thousands of state employees, including teachers, judges, prosecutors, journalists and academics. The president has sparked a witch hunt against suspected Gülen supporters that is reminiscent of the persecution of alleged Communists by Senator Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s. Even the partly state-owned Turkish Airlines fired 211 employees last week whom it suspected of sympathizing with Gülen.

Western governments have thus far treated the conflict between Erdogan and the Gülen movement as a strictly Turkish problem. But officials in Berlin, Brussels and Washington won’t be able to afford this luxury for much longer. There have already been clashes in cities in Germany — home to at almost 3 million people who have a least one Turkish immigrant parent — between proponents and opponents of the failed coup, with supporters of Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) targeting establishments of the Gülen movement. US President Barack Obama will soon have to decide whether or not to acquiesce to Ankara’s request and extradite Gülen to Turkey. The Turkish government is demanding that Germany, too, hand over any Gülen supporters living there.

Faith and Betrayal

The history of the rivalry between Erdogan and Gülen is one of faith and betrayal. It is a history in which two powerful Muslim nationalists turned an entire country inside-out — and then led it into the abyss.

Gülen presents himself as an open-minded scholar of Islam, who lives on an estate in the woods of Pennsylvania and advocates interfaith understanding. People who have fallen out with him, however, describe Gülen as a guru and ideologue who doesn’t tolerate opposing views.

The preacher’s following doesn’t have a membership register or an address. It professes to be a loosely coordinated movement, but in reality it is stringently organized. Gülen himself determines the trajectory and orientation, followed by his most trusted confidants, the so-called “elder brothers.” They control the most important businesses within the community and pass along orders to subordinates.

The journalist Latif Erdogan has known Gülen for decades. He helped build the community and was once an “elder brother” and the No. 2 man in the organization. Five years ago, he broke away. “Many of our followers were no longer interested in spirituality,” Erdogan says. “Only politics and money.”

Latif Erdogan, who is in no way related to the Turkish president, sits in his office on the outskirts of Istanbul. His bookshelves are lined with literature about Islam. “Gülen could have gone down in history as a religious scholar and benefactor,” he says. “But now his name will forever be associated with the shameful coup.” He is convinced that Gülen’s supporters incited the uprising. He also thinks he knows why: “Power corrupted this community.”

Gülen was born in 1941 in eastern Anatolia and began his career in the 1960s as an imam in the Turkish city of Edirne. “He was a fantastic orator,” Latif Erdogan recalls. “People used to break out in tears during his sermons.” Gülen collected money to build schools and rent apartments to pious schoolchildren and university students, who back then were discriminated against by the state.

Within the course of only a few years, the community grew from a group to an international movement. Gülen was no longer satisfied holding sermons and collecting donations. He wanted to transform society.

In a secret sermon given in the 1980s, Gülen called on his students to infiltrate the Turkish state and to act in conspiratorial ways until the time was right to seize power. “You must move in the arteries of the system without anyone noticing your existence. …You must wait until such time as you have got all the state power,” he is alleged to have said. After parts of a recording were leaked to the public in 1999, Gülen fled to the US. He claimed the recording had been manipulated and, years later, a court acquitted him on charges of treason.

Gaining Clout

The rise of the Islamist-conservative AKP finally offered Gülen the opportunity to have a say in Turkish politics. The party’s chairman at the time, Erdogan, viewed the cleric after his election victory in 2002 as an ally in his battle against the secular establishment. As prime minister, Erdogan filled key posts in the government and administration with people from the Gülen community.

For quite some time, both sides profited from the alliance between Erdogan and Gülen. Erdogan awarded government contracts to the community’s businesses, and with his help, Gülen supporters secured positions in government ministries, the judiciary and the police. Gülen’s lobby groups abroad, meanwhile, promoted Erdogan as a Muslim champion of democracy, and the community’s media and the daily Zaman newspaper published blatant pro-Erdogan propaganda. Together, Erdogan and Gülen ousted the military from politics.

During the so-called Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials, hundreds of generals, admirals and officers, along with members of the opposition, journalists and academics were convicted as alleged putschists and, in some cases, given lifelong prison sentences. A majority of the evidence used against them had been fabricated by investigators and public prosecutors aligned with Gülen. It took several years before the charges against many of those convicted were reversed.

The trials tore a hole in the military, thus paving the way for Gülen associates to attain leadership roles in the armed forces. The community had been seeking to gain a foothold in the military since the 1980s. But now, for the first time, the resistance of the secular generals had been broken.

A Declaration of War

With their victory over the old societal elite, Erdogan and Gülen had lost their common enemy. In 2011, after his third election victory, Erdogan no longer felt the need to rely on the community’s support and began removing Gülen’s backers from the state apparatus. In response, Gülen supporters in the police temporarily detained intelligence service chief Hakan Fidan, one of the prime minister’s close confidants. Erdogan viewed the maneuver as a declaration of war. In the autumn of 2013, he announced the closure of Turkey’s Gülen schools, the movement’s most important recruitment tool.

By then, at the latest, it had become clear to everyone in Turkey that the confrontation between Erdogan and Gülen was becoming an annihilation campaign. The Gülen community then put all of its energy into trying to depose the prime minister. They initiated corruption investigations against Erdogan’s son Bilal and other people close to the Turkish leader and published snippets of defamatory telephone conversations.

Erdogan survived the crisis and struck back even harder. In May 2016, it declared the Gülen community as a “terrorist organization” and placed Gülen-aligned media, like the nationally circulated Zaman newspaper, under state supervision. Some observers view the military coup as a last, desperate attempt on the part of the Gülen community to regain lost ground.

By July 15, Erdogan had just taken steps to restructure his relationship with the military. He had distanced himself from the Ergenekon trials, and he had reached out to Israel and Russia, a step welcomed by his generals. “The Gülen movement was the only group within the armed forces that had a motive for the coup,” says former military judge Ahmet Zeki Ücok.

More than two weeks have passed since the failed putsch, but many details surrounding the maneuver remain unclear. It still cannot be determined with certainty how the putschists prepared the coup or why the plan ultimately failed. But one thing has become clear: The events of the night of July 15 will lead to lasting changes in the country.

Erdogan’s purge operations have long targeted more than just Gülen supporters. Last Wednesday night, his government ordered the closure of 45 newspapers and 16 television stations, including the pro-Kurdish channel IMC TV and the leftist daily Taraf. The government also issued arrest warrants against 47 Zaman employees.

Human rights lawyer Orhan Kemal Cengiz was on his way to London when police arrested him at the Istanbul airport. Cengiz is one of Turkey’s most prominent jurists. He has represented Kurds in court, Christians and, most recently, Zaman. Now he is being forced to justify tweets critical of the government that he posted over a year ago.

Cengiz remained in jail for four days, and he has since been prohibited from leaving the country. “I understand that the government is taking steps against putschists,” he says, “but why are they turning the entire country into a prison?”

Israel to US: ‘Give Us More!’

They’re never satisfied

August 3, 2016

by Justin Raimondo

AntiWar

Washington is preparing to increase US aid to Israel by billions of dollars, with a ten-year ironclad agreement that couldn’t be altered by President Obama’s successor. But that isn’t good enough for Bibi Netanyahu. He wants more. Much more.

Unlike the case with other countries, the US engages in protracted and often difficult negotiations with Israel over how much free stuff they’re going to get come budget time. This year, the talks are taking on a particularly urgent tone because of … you guessed it, Donald Trump. While Trump is fervently pro-Israel, he has said that the Israelis, like our NATO allies, are going to have to start paying for their own defense (although with him, you never know what his position is from one day to the next). This uncertainty has the two parties racing to sign an agreement before President Obama’s term is up in January. And it also has inspired the inclusion of a novel clause: a ten-year guarantee that aid will remain at the agreed level, with no possibility that the new President – whoever that may be – will lower it.

The Israelis currently receive over half the foreign aid doled out by Uncle Sam annually, most of it in military assistance with an extra added dollop for “refugee resettlement.” That combined with loan guarantees comes to roughly $3.5 billion per year – with all the money handed to them up front, in the first weeks of the fiscal year, instead of being released over time like other countries.

So how much is this increase going to amount to? With negotiations still ongoing, the US isn’t releasing any solid figures, although Bibi, we are told, is demanding $5 billion annually. The New York Times is reporting the final sum could “top $40 billion.” What we do know is that the administration told Congress in a letter that they are prepared to offer Tel Aviv an aid package “that would constitute the largest pledge of military assistance to any country in US history.” In addition, it would guarantee US aid for Israel’s missile defense, taking it out of the annual appropriations song-and-dance, and immunizing it from any cuts.

Aside from the “haggling” – as the Times put it – over the amount, there is another issue: the Israeli exception to a rule that applies to all other recipients of American aid. Other countries must spend their welfare check in dollars – that is, they must buy American. Not the Israelis. They’re allowed to spend up to 25% of their aid package at home: which means that US taxpayers have been subsidizing the Israeli military-industrial complex to the tune of multi-billions since the 1980s, when this special arrangement was legislated. However, in an era where “America First” is now a popular political slogan – popularized by You Know Who – the Obama administration is trying to end this exception to the rules. Naturally, the Israelis are resisting, but, according to Ha’aretz:

“The Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth said the White House was prepared to let Israel keep the arrangement for the first five years of the new MOU but it would be gradually phased out in the second five years, except for joint U.S.-Israeli military projects.”

If the rabidly pro-Israel Hillary Clinton takes the White House, you can expect that this concession will be re-negotiated: in any case, the Israel lobby will wield its considerable resources to get Congress to pressure the White House.

In their letter to Congress, national security honcho Susan Rice and OMB chief Shaun Donovan evoke the Iran deal as justification for this new and sweeter aid package. Yet this argument undermines the administration’s contention that the agreement with Iran doesn’t endanger Israel – because if it doesn’t, then why do the Israelis need billions more in aid in the first place?

What the letter tiptoes around is the fact that this aid package is extortion, pure and simple. It’s a purely political attempt by the Obama White House to appease the Israelis, and mobilize the Israel lobby behind the Democrats in a crucial election year. It’s important to keep Haim Saban happy.

As Glenn Greenwald points out in The Intercept, the Israelis have cradle-to-grave health care. Their life-expectancy is nearly a decade longer than ours. Their infant mortality rate is lower. By any meaningful measure, their standard of living is higher. They should be sending us aid: instead, the opposite is occurring.

What in the heck is going on here?

We made possible the Israeli Sparta: a state armed to the teeth which thrives on the misery and enslavement of its dispossessed Palestinian helots. Furthermore, our policy of unconditional support for Israel has encouraged the growth and development of a polity that is rapidly going fascist. And I don’t use the “f”-word lightly. I’ve been chronicling Israel’s slide toward a repulsive ethno-nationalism for years, and today – with the rise of ultra-rightist parties that openly call for the expulsion of Arabs and the expansion of the Israeli state to its Biblically-ordained borders – my predictions are coming true.

The “special relationship” is a parasitic relationship: the Israelis have been feeding off US taxpayers since the Reagan era. This in spite of the numerous insults, slights, and outright sabotage they have directed our way. It’s high time to put an end to it. To borrow a phrase from You Know Who: it’s time to put America first.

What this means in practice is: 1) End aid to Israel, 2) Call out the Israelis for their shameful apartheid policies, and 3) end the power of the Israel lobby by enforcing the Foreign Agents Registration Act and compelling AIPAC and its allied organizations to register as foreign agents. Because that’s just what they are.

The Decay of American Politics

An Ode to Ike and Adlai

by Andrew J. Bacevich

TomDispatch

My earliest recollection of national politics dates back exactly 60 years to the moment, in the summer of 1956, when I watched the political conventions in the company of that wondrous new addition to our family, television.  My parents were supporting President Dwight D. Eisenhower for a second term and that was good enough for me.  Even as a youngster, I sensed that Ike, the former supreme commander of allied forces in Europe in World War II, was someone of real stature.  In a troubled time, he exuded authority and self-confidence.  By comparison, Democratic candidate Adlai Stevenson came across as vaguely suspect.  Next to the five-star incumbent, he seemed soft, even foppish, and therefore not up to the job.  So at least it appeared to a nine-year-old living in Chicagoland.

Of the seamy underside of politics I knew nothing, of course.  On the surface, all seemed reassuring.  As if by divine mandate, two parties vied for power.  The views they represented defined the allowable range of opinion.  The outcome of any election expressed the collective will of the people and was to be accepted as such.  That I was growing up in the best democracy the world had ever known — its very existence a daily rebuke to the enemies of freedom — was beyond question.

Naïve?  Embarrassingly so.  Yet how I wish that Election Day in November 2016 might present Americans with something even loosely approximating the alternatives available to them in November 1956.  Oh, to choose once more between an Ike and an Adlai.

Don’t for a second think that this is about nostalgia.  Today, Stevenson doesn’t qualify for anyone’s list of Great Americans.  If remembered at all, it’s for his sterling performance as President John F. Kennedy’s U.N. ambassador during the Cuban Missile Crisis.  Interrogating his Soviet counterpart with cameras rolling, Stevenson barked that he was prepared to wait “until hell freezes over” to get his questions answered about Soviet military activities in Cuba. When the chips were down, Adlai proved anything but soft.  Yet in aspiring to the highest office in the land, he had come up well short.  In 1952, he came nowhere close to winning and in 1956 he proved no more successful.  Stevenson was to the Democratic Party what Thomas Dewey had been to the Republicans: a luckless two-time loser.

As for Eisenhower, although there is much in his presidency to admire, his errors of omission and commission were legion.  During his two terms, from Guatemala to Iran, the CIA overthrew governments, plotted assassinations, and embraced unsavory right-wing dictators — in effect, planting a series of IEDs destined eventually to blow up in the face of Ike’s various successors.  Meanwhile, binging on nuclear weapons, the Pentagon accumulated an arsenal far beyond what even Eisenhower as commander-in-chief considered prudent or necessary.

In addition, during his tenure in office, the military-industrial complex became a rapacious juggernaut, an entity unto itself as Ike himself belatedly acknowledged.  By no means least of all, Eisenhower fecklessly committed the United States to an ill-fated project of nation-building in a country that just about no American had heard of at the time: South Vietnam.  Ike did give the nation eight years of relative peace and prosperity, but at a high price — most of the bills coming due long after he left office.

The Pathology of American Politics

And yet, and yet…

To contrast the virtues and shortcomings of Stevenson and Eisenhower with those of Hillary Rodham Clinton and Donald Trump is both instructive and profoundly depressing.  Comparing the adversaries of 1956 with their 2016 counterparts reveals with startling clarity what the decades-long decay of American politics has wrought.

In 1956, each of the major political parties nominated a grown-up for the highest office in the land.  In 2016, only one has.

In 1956, both parties nominated likeable individuals who conveyed a basic sense of trustworthiness.  In 2016, neither party has done so.

In 1956, Americans could count on the election to render a definitive verdict, the vote count affirming the legitimacy of the system itself and allowing the business of governance to resume.  In 2016, that is unlikely to be the case.  Whether Trump or Clinton ultimately prevails, large numbers of Americans will view the result as further proof of “rigged” and irredeemably corrupt political arrangements.  Rather than inducing some semblance of reconciliation, the outcome is likely to deepen divisions.

How in the name of all that is holy did we get into such a mess?

How did the party of Eisenhower, an architect of victory in World War II, choose as its nominee a narcissistic TV celebrity who, with each successive Tweet and verbal outburst, offers further evidence that he is totally unequipped for high office?  Yes, the establishment media are ganging up on Trump, blatantly displaying the sort of bias normally kept at least nominally under wraps.  Yet never have such expressions of journalistic hostility toward a particular candidate been more justified.  Trump is a bozo of such monumental proportions as to tax the abilities of our most talented satirists.  Were he alive today, Mark Twain at his most scathing would be hard-pressed to do justice to The Donald’s blowhard pomposity.

Similarly, how did the party of Adlai Stevenson, but also of Stevenson’s hero Franklin Roosevelt, select as its candidate someone so widely disliked and mistrusted even by many of her fellow Democrats?  True, antipathy directed toward Hillary Clinton draws some of its energy from incorrigible sexists along with the “vast right wing conspiracy” whose members thoroughly loathe both Clintons.  Yet the antipathy is not without basis in fact.

Even by Washington standards, Secretary Clinton exudes a striking sense of entitlement combined with a nearly complete absence of accountability.  She shrugs off her misguided vote in support of invading Iraq back in 2003, while serving as senator from New York.  She neither explains nor apologizes for pressing to depose Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, her most notable “accomplishment” as secretary of state.  “We came, we saw, he died,” she bragged back then, somewhat prematurely given that Libya has since fallen into anarchy and become a haven for ISIS.

She clings to the demonstrably false claim that her use of a private server for State Department business compromised no classified information.  Now opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) that she once described as the “gold standard in trade agreements,” Clinton rejects charges of political opportunism.  That her change of heart occurred when attacking the TPP was helping Bernie Sanders win one Democratic primary after another is merely coincidental.  Oh, and the big money accepted from banks and Wall Street as well as the tech sector for minimal work and the bigger money still from leading figures in the Israel lobby?  Rest assured that her acceptance of such largesse won’t reduce by one iota her support for “working class families” or her commitment to a just peace settlement in the Middle East.

Let me be clear: none of these offer the slightest reason to vote for Donald Trump.  Yet together they make the point that Hillary Clinton is a deeply flawed candidate, notably so in matters related to national security.  Clinton is surely correct that allowing Trump to make decisions related to war and peace would be the height of folly.  Yet her record in that regard does not exactly inspire confidence.

When it comes to foreign policy, Trump’s preference for off-the-cuff utterances finds him committing astonishing gaffes with metronomic regularity.  Spontaneity serves chiefly to expose his staggering ignorance.

By comparison, the carefully scripted Clinton commits few missteps, as she recites with practiced ease the pabulum that passes for right thinking in establishment circles. But fluency does not necessarily connote soundness.  Clinton, after all, adheres resolutely to the highly militarized “Washington playbook” that President Obama himself has disparaged — a faith-based belief in American global primacy to be pursued regardless of how the world may be changing and heedless of costs.

On the latter point, note that Clinton’s acceptance speech in Philadelphia included not a single mention of Afghanistan.  By Election Day, the war there will have passed its 15th anniversary.  One might think that a prospective commander-in-chief would have something to say about the longest conflict in American history, one that continues with no end in sight.  Yet, with the Washington playbook offering few answers, Mrs. Clinton chooses to remain silent on the subjec

So while a Trump presidency holds the prospect of the United States driving off a cliff, a Clinton presidency promises to be the equivalent of banging one’s head against a brick wall without evident effect, wondering all the while why it hurts so much.

Pseudo-Politics for an Ersatz Era

But let’s not just blame the candidates.  Trump and Clinton are also the product of circumstances that neither created.  As candidates, they are merely exploiting a situation — one relying on intuition and vast stores of brashness, the other putting to work skills gained during a life spent studying how to acquire and employ power.  The success both have achieved in securing the nominations of their parties is evidence of far more fundamental forces at work.

In the pairing of Trump and Clinton, we confront symptoms of something pathological.  Unless Americans identify the sources of this disease, it will inevitably worsen, with dire consequences in the realm of national security.  After all, back in Eisenhower’s day, the IEDs planted thanks to reckless presidential decisions tended to blow up only years — or even decades — later.  For example, between the 1953 U.S.-engineered coup that restored the Shah to his throne and the 1979 revolution that converted Iran overnight from ally to adversary, more than a quarter of a century elapsed.  In our own day, however, detonation occurs so much more quickly — witness the almost instantaneous and explosively unhappy consequences of Washington’s post-9/11 military interventions in the Greater Middle East.

So here’s a matter worth pondering: How is it that all the months of intensive fundraising, the debates and speeches, the caucuses and primaries, the avalanche of TV ads and annoying robocalls have produced two presidential candidates who tend to elicit from a surprisingly large number of rank-and-file citizens disdain, indifference, or at best hold-your-nose-and-pull-the-lever acquiescence?

Here, then, is a preliminary diagnosis of three of the factors contributing to the erosion of American politics, offered from the conviction that, for Americans to have better choices next time around, fundamental change must occur — and soon.

First, and most important, the evil effects of money: Need chapter and verse?  For a tutorial, see this essential 2015 book by Professor Lawrence Lessig of Harvard: Republic Lost, Version 2.0.  Those with no time for books might spare 18 minutes for Lessig’s brilliant and deeply disturbing TED talk.  Professor Lessig argues persuasively that unless the United States radically changes the way it finances political campaigns, we’re pretty much doomed to see our democracy wither and die.

Needless to say, moneyed interests and incumbents who benefit from existing arrangements take a different view and collaborate to maintain the status quo.  As a result, political life has increasingly become a pursuit reserved for those like Trump who possess vast personal wealth or for those like Clinton who display an aptitude for persuading the well to do to open their purses, with all that implies by way of compromise, accommodation, and the subsequent repayment of favors.

Second, the perverse impact of identity politics on policy:  Observers make much of the fact that, in capturing the presidential nomination of a major party, Hillary Clinton has shattered yet another glass ceiling.  They are right to do so.  Yet the novelty of her candidacy starts and ends with gender.  When it comes to fresh thinking, Donald Trump has far more to offer than Clinton — even if his version of “fresh” tends to be synonymous with wacky, off-the-wall, ridiculous, or altogether hair-raising.

The essential point here is that, in the realm of national security, Hillary Clinton is utterly conventional.  She subscribes to a worldview (and view of America’s role in the world) that originated during the Cold War, reached its zenith in the 1990s when the United States proclaimed itself the planet’s “sole superpower,” and persists today remarkably unaffected by actual events.  On the campaign trail, Clinton attests to her bona fides by routinely reaffirming her belief in American exceptionalism, paying fervent tribute to “the world’s greatest military,” swearing that she’ll be “listening to our generals and admirals,” and vowing to get tough on America’s adversaries.  These are, of course, the mandatory rituals of the contemporary Washington stump speech, amplified if anything by the perceived need for the first female candidate for president to emphasize her pugnacity.

A Clinton presidency, therefore, offers the prospect of more of the same — muscle-flexing and armed intervention to demonstrate American global leadership — albeit marketed with a garnish of diversity.  Instead of different policies, Clinton will offer an administration that has a different look, touting this as evidence of positive change.

Yet while diversity may be a good thing, we should not confuse it with effectiveness.  A national security team that “looks like America” (to use the phrase originally coined by Bill Clinton) does not necessarily govern more effectively than one that looks like President Eisenhower’s.  What matters is getting the job done.

Since the 1990s women have found plentiful opportunities to fill positions in the upper echelons of the national security apparatus.  Although we have not yet had a female commander-in-chief, three women have served as secretary of state and two as national security adviser.  Several have filled Adlai Stevenson’s old post at the United Nations.  Undersecretaries, deputy undersecretaries, and assistant secretaries of like gender abound, along with a passel of female admirals and generals.

So the question needs be asked: Has the quality of national security policy improved compared to the bad old days when men exclusively called the shots?  Using as criteria the promotion of stability and the avoidance of armed conflict (along with the successful prosecution of wars deemed unavoidable), the answer would, of course, have to be no.  Although Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Susan Rice, Samantha Power, and Clinton herself might entertain a different view, actually existing conditions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Somalia, Sudan, Yemen, and other countries across the Greater Middle East and significant parts of Africa tell a different story.

The abysmal record of American statecraft in recent years is not remotely the fault of women; yet neither have women made a perceptibly positive difference.  It turns out that identity does not necessarily signify wisdom or assure insight.  Allocating positions of influence in the State Department or the Pentagon based on gender, race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation — as Clinton will assuredly do — may well gratify previously disenfranchised groups.  Little evidence exists to suggest that doing so will produce more enlightened approaches to statecraft, at least not so long as adherence to the Washington playbook figures as a precondition to employment. (Should Clinton win in November, don’t expect the redoubtable ladies of Code Pink to be tapped for jobs at the Pentagon and State Department.)

In the end, it’s not identity that matters but ideas and their implementation.  To contemplate the ideas that might guide a President Trump along with those he will recruit to act on them — Ivanka as national security adviser? — is enough to elicit shudders from any sane person.  Yet the prospect of Madam President surrounding herself with an impeccably diverse team of advisers who share her own outmoded views is hardly cause for celebration.

Putting a woman in charge of national security policy will not in itself amend the defects exhibited in recent years.  For that, the obsolete principles with which Clinton along with the rest of Washington remains enamored will have to be jettisoned.  In his own bizarre way (albeit without a clue as to a plausible alternative), Donald Trump seems to get that; Hillary Clinton does not.

Third, the substitution of “reality” for reality: Back in 1962, a young historian by the name of Daniel Boorstin published The Image: A Guide to Pseudo-Events in America.  In an age in which Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton vie to determine the nation’s destiny, it should be mandatory reading.  The Image remains, as when it first appeared, a fire bell ringing in the night.

According to Boorstin, more than five decades ago the American people were already living in a “thicket of unreality.”  By relentlessly indulging in ever more “extravagant expectations,” they were forfeiting their capacity to distinguish between what was real and what was illusory.  Indeed, Boorstin wrote, “We have become so accustomed to our illusions that we mistake them for reality.”

While ad agencies and PR firms had indeed vigorously promoted a world of illusions, Americans themselves had become willing accomplices in the process.

“The American citizen lives in a world where fantasy is more real than reality, where the image has more dignity than its original.  We hardly dare to face our bewilderment, because our ambiguous experience is so pleasantly iridescent, and the solace of belief in contrived reality is so thoroughly real.  We have become eager accessories to the great hoaxes of the age.  These are the hoaxes we play on ourselves.”

This, of course, was decades before the nation succumbed to the iridescent allure of Facebook, Google, fantasy football, “Real Housewives of _________,” selfies, smartphone apps, Game of Thrones, Pokémon GO — and, yes, the vehicle that vaulted Donald Trump to stardom, The Apprentice.

“The making of the illusions which flood our experience has become the business of America,” wrote Boorstin.  It’s also become the essence of American politics, long since transformed into theater, or rather into some sort of (un)reality show.

Presidential campaigns today are themselves, to use Boorstin’s famous term, “pseudo-events” that stretch from months into years.  By now, most Americans know better than to take at face value anything candidates say or promise along the way.  We’re in on the joke — or at least we think we are.  Reinforcing that perception on a daily basis are media outlets that have abandoned mere reporting in favor of enhancing the spectacle of the moment.  This is especially true of the cable news networks, where talking heads serve up a snide and cynical complement to the smarmy fakery that is the office-seeker’s stock in trade.  And we lap it up.  It matters little that we know it’s all staged and contrived, as long as — a preening Megyn Kelly getting under Trump’s skin, Trump himself denouncing “lyin’ Ted” Cruz, etc., etc. — it’s entertaining.

This emphasis on spectacle has drained national politics of whatever substance it still had back when Ike and Adlai commanded the scene.  It hardly need be said that Donald Trump has demonstrated an extraordinary knack — a sort of post-modern genius — for turning this phenomenon to his advantage.  Yet in her own way Clinton plays the same game.  How else to explain a national convention organized around the idea of “reintroducing to the American people” someone who served eight years as First Lady, was elected to the Senate, failed in a previous high-profile run for the presidency, and completed a term as secretary of state?  The just-ended conclave in Philadelphia was, like the Republican one that preceded it, a pseudo-event par excellence, the object of the exercise being to fashion a new “image” for the Democratic candidate.

The thicket of unreality that is American politics has now become all-enveloping.  The problem is not Trump and Clinton, per se.  It’s an identifiable set of arrangements  — laws, habits, cultural predispositions — that have evolved over time and promoted the rot that now pervades American politics.  As a direct consequence, the very concept of self-government is increasingly a fantasy, even if surprisingly few Americans seem to mind.

At an earlier juncture back in 1956, out of a population of 168 million, we got Ike and Adlai.  Today, with almost double the population, we get — well, we get what we’ve got.  This does not represent progress.  And don’t kid yourself that things really can’t get much worse.  Unless Americans rouse themselves to act, count on it, they will.

ISIS wants ‘loads of attacks in England, Germany & France,’ jailed jihadist says

August 4, 2016

RT

A former Islamic State jihadist, German-born Harry Sarfo, has revealed that the terrorist group is actively seeking volunteers in Germany and the UK to carry out “loads of attacks at the same time in England, Germany and France.”

Members of the far-reaching Islamic State’s (IS, formerly ISIS) intelligence service, called Emni in Arabic, allegedly told Sarfo they were first and foremost interested in waging terrorism across the globe.

In an interview with the New York Times, Sarfo, who is currently serving a three-year term on terrorism charges at a maximum security prison near Bremen, recalled what one masked commander once told him.

“He was speaking openly about the situation, saying that they have loads of people living in European countries and waiting for commands to attack the European people. And that was before the Brussels attacks, before the Paris attacks.”

According to French, Belgian, German and Austrian intelligence and interrogation records cited by the Times, Emni is a fundamental part of IS, made from an “internal police force and an external operations branch.” It is led by IS spokesman and propaganda chief Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, who has a range of operatives authorized to plan attacks worldwide, including a “secret service for European affairs,” a “secret service for Asian affairs” and a “secret service for Arab affairs,” the former jihadist told the Times.

Although Sarfo had initially desired to fight in Syria and Iraq, when he arrived in Syria to join the extremists there, IS operatives said they had a different plan for him.

“They said, ‘Would you mind to go back to Germany, because that’s what we need at the moment,’” Sarfo told the Times. “And they always said they wanted to have something that is occurring in the same time: they want to have loads of attacks at the same time in England and Germany and France.

“They [IS operatives] told me that there aren’t many people in Germany who are willing to do the job,” the newspaper quoted Sarfo as saying shortly after his arrest last year, citing the transcript of his interrogation by German detectives. “They said they had some in the beginning. But one after another, you could say, they chickened out, because they got scared — cold feet. Same in England.”

Apparently, not the same in France.

“My friend asked them about France. And they started laughing,” Sarfo said, recalling a conversation that took place seven months before the coordinated killings in Paris in November last year. “They said, ‘Don’t worry about France.’ ‘Mafi mushkilah’ — in Arabic, it means ‘no problem.’”

According to the accounts of the arrested operatives, Emni’s members played a major role in the Paris attacks and built the suitcase bombs used in a Brussels airport and subway, the Times reported, adding that the secret group’s soldiers have also been sent to Austria, Germany, Spain, Lebanon, Tunisia, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Malaysia.

According to Sarfo, Emni has been burning the midnight oil recruiting terrorists from across the globe.

The group has sent “hundreds of operatives” back to the European Union, a senior US intelligence official and a senior US defense official told the Times on condition of anonymity.

One region where the secret service appears to have not sent its trained jihadists so far is North America, Sarfo said, with intelligence documents reportedly backing his words.

“For America and Canada, it’s much easier for them to get them over the social network, because they say the Americans are dumb — they have open gun policies,” Sarfo said, adding that “they know it’s hard for them to get Americans into America.”

“They say we can radicalize them easily, and if they have no prior record, they can buy guns, so we don’t need to have no contact man who has to provide guns for them.”

Although some details of Sarfo’s account cannot be verified, German prison officials and intelligence agents who debriefed him said they found him credible.

Khizr Khan was tricked into smearing Donald Trump

July 31, 2016

by Charles Hurt

The Hill

Khizr Khan is a fine American and the father of a true American patriot. But now he is also everything that is wrong with American politics today.

It is not entirely his fault, though he has only himself to blame for allowing his dead son to be used for the most hideous of purposes and dragged through the gutter of nasty and dishonest partisan politics.

Khan and his wife took to the stage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia last week to deliver an impassioned rebuke of Donald J.Trump that was universally celebrated by the media. Even Republican politicos swooned at the gambit. The Clinton campaign trotted out the Muslim couple because their son, Captain Humayun Khan, was killed by a car bomb in 2004 while guarding a base in Iraq.

“If it was up to Donald Trump, he never would have been in America,” said Khan, sliding easily into the political tradition of lying and distorting the position of one’s opponent.

“Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims,” he went on. “He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country.”

Despite all efforts by the media to distort Trump’s position about “banning” Muslims, he has made perfectly clear time and again that he does not want to ban all Muslims. He wants to simply perform thorough and complete background checks on all immigrants coming from countries presently in the grips of violent Islamic terrorism.

Yes, that means if you are a Muslim who wants to immigrate from Syria or Afghanistan, you are going to get a lot more scrutiny than if you are a Jew trying to immigrate from Canada. That is most unfortunate, but not nearly as unfortunate as innocents getting slaughtered by 10th Century savages killing in the name of Allah.

Anyway, this higher scrutiny should be no obstacle for the likes of Khizr Khan and his family, except for the additional hassle.

So, why would Khizr Khan choose to insert himself into politics and demean his son’s sacrifice by lying at a political convention on national television?

The answer is simple: He allowed himself to be tricked into it. And the Clinton campaign was all too eager to take advantage of him and his family and Capt. Khan and use them for their own political partisan purposes.

Stop for a moment and ask yourself how exactly the Clinton campaign arrived at the decision to trot out the Khan family in the middle of their highly-choreographed, exhaustively produced convention?

Were they just looking to give voice to the parents of a soldier? That would be a first. Did they want parents of anyone who had died abroad in the defense of their country? Gee, why not pick the parents of one of the fallen warriors who died defending the U.S. consulate in Benghazi? Oh, that’s right. They would have called Hillary Clinton

a liar. Can’t have that.

No. Politicians like Hillary Clinton do not see people like Capt. Humayun Khan as a soldier who made the ultimate sacrifice on a foreign battlefield in defense of his country.

Politicians like Hillary Clinton see him only a demographic, a dispensable political pawn to be scooted around an electoral map, the way generals used to move armies across giant maps of the lands they were invading.

But instead of liberating Europe from evil fascists, politicians like Hillary Clinton use their long, worn croupier rakes to move their pawns about with the singular goal of advancing their own personal political careers.

To her, Capt. Khan is not a just soldier who died defending his country in a foreign land. First and foremost, to her, he is a Muslim of Pakistani heritage and therefore is a perfect political pawn for just the right situation.

For just about every American alive, Capt. Khan is an inspiring and unifying figure. To Hillary Clinton, he is a tool to be used to divide people. In her false promise of unifying America, she creates a national political Babylon. Her avaricious greed for more and more power knows no bounds.

It is an open secret in Washington that politics is the last bastion of rampant racial profiling. Both parties do it, but Democrats have taken it to a whole new scientific level.

Politicians like Hillary Clinton slice and dice people into racial and gender groups. Then they toot on all their little “dog whistles” to send all their little demographic pawns scurrying in various directions. That is how you wind up with Khizr Khan standing on stage beside his head-scarved wife, waving around the U.S. Constitution and distorting Donald Trump’s position on keeping radical Islamic terrorism at bay.

Perhaps a better testimony from Khizr Khan would have been for him to talk about how Hillary Clinton was in the U.S. Senate when she voted to invade Iraq. Years later, after that position became politically unpopular, she changed her mind and joined new political forces to vacate all the land across Iraq that so many great American patriots like Capt. Humayun Khan had died for.

It was her vote that sent Capt. Khan to his death. And then it was her decisions later to render that sacrifice worthless.

Try sticking that into your dog whistle and blowing it.

Lessons From the Deep State

August 4, 2016

by Andrew P. Napolitano

AntiWar

On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks – the courageous international organization dedicated to governmental transparency – exposed hundreds of internal emails circulated among senior staff of the Democratic National Committee during the past 18 months.

At a time when Democratic Party officials were publicly professing neutrality during the party’s presidential primaries, the DNC’s internal emails showed a pattern of distinct bias toward the candidacy of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and a marked prejudice toward the candidacy of Sen. Bernie Sanders. Some of the emails were raw in their tone, and some could fairly be characterized as failing to respect Sanders’ Jewish heritage.

The revelation caused a public uproar during the weekend preceding the opening of the Democratic convention in Philadelphia last week, and it caused the DNC to ask its own chairwoman, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, to resign. When she declined to do so, President Barack Obama personally intervened and implored her to leave. She submitted to the president’s wishes, gave up her public role as chair of the convention and eventually resigned as chair of the DNC late last week.

In order to take everyone’s eyes off this intrusive and uncomfortable bouncing ball, the leadership of the DNC, in conjunction with officials of the Clinton campaign, blamed the release of the DNC emails on hackers employed by Russian intelligence agents. Many in the media picked up this juicy story and repeated it all last week.

Clinton promptly named Wasserman Schultz as a campaign consultant and complained that the Russians are trying to influence the presidential election. She did not complain about the unfairness manifested in the emails, complete with their religious prejudice; she only complained about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s helping Donald Trump.

But the Russians had nothing to do with it.

Last week, William Binney, a 30-year career official at the National Security Agency turned whistleblower, revealed the unthinkable. Binney, who devised the software that the NSA has used to capture the contents of emails and cellphone conversations of all in America but resigned from the NSA because of the unlawful and unconstitutional manner in which the software was used, told a Philadelphia radio audience that the DNC hacking was most likely done by NSA agents.

Why would the NSA hack into DNC computers, and why would the NSA leak what its agents saw?

Here is where the deep state meets the political world. The deep state consists of intelligence, military, law enforcement and administrative agency personnel who aggressively protect their own interests, which transcend elections. Stated differently, many of these folks remain in opaque positions of power, and the governmental departments and agencies for which they work continue to expand, no matter which party wins the White House or controls Congress.

The deep state stays in power by a variety of means, some of which are lawful and not the least of which was visited upon the DNC last week. Binney knows the inside workings of NSA computers because he designed them. He knows how easy it would have been for any of the NSA’s 60,000 agents, many of whom have great antipathy toward Clinton, to employ their skills to frustrate her drive toward the presidency.

The intelligence community’s antipathy toward Clinton has two general sources. One is her misuse of emails containing state secrets. Among the top-secret emails that the FBI discovered on Clinton’s non-secure private servers were some that revealed the names of U.S. intelligence agents operating undercover in the Middle East. Because Clinton emailed secrets to others who the FBI found were hacked by hostile foreign intelligence services and because she used a non-secure mobile email device while inside the territories of hostile governments, her “extremely careless” use of her emails resulted in the termination of the undercover work of those whose cover she caused to be revealed. Many in the intelligence community also suspect that in some cases, U.S. undercover agents lost their lives because Clinton failed to keep their identities secret.

The other source of intelligence community antipathy to Clinton stems from her secret war waged against the late Libyan strongman, Col. Moammar Gadhafi. When she waged that war – using intelligence, not military, personnel – with the approval of the president and a dozen members of Congress, she exercised her authority as secretary of state to grant exemptions to a U.N. arms embargo of Libya. She wanted Libyan militias to have heavy-duty, military-grade arms with which to topple the Libyan government.

But the CIA and others warned her that she was arming terrorist groups, which was potentially lethal for some American intelligence personnel and which is a felony under federal law. One of those groups may have used Clinton-authorized, embargo-free weapons to assassinate Christopher Stevens, the U.S. ambassador to Libya, at Benghazi. Clinton disregarded the CIA’s advice and didn’t worry about anyone’s finding out about it because she thought her emails would remain secret.

Binney’s conclusion that the NSA and not the Russians hacked the DNC is further supported by official White House silence. Last year, when Chinese intelligence agents hacked U.S. government computers and accessed personnel records of millions of federal government employees, the White House lodged long and loud protests with Beijing. This time, there have been no such protests to the Kremlin.

What does all this tell us?

It tells us that Hillary Clinton continues to be the queen of deception. It tells us that some of those in whose hands we repose our freedom for safekeeping do not wish to see her in the White House because of her demonstrated lawlessness and indifference to their work. And it recalls to our attention the danger and power of the deep state and its willingness to break the laws it has sworn to uphold.

Microsoft Pitches Technology That Can Read Facial Expressions at Political Rallies

August 4 2016

by Alex Emmons

The Intercept

On the 21st floor of a high-rise hotel in Cleveland, in a room full of political operatives, Microsoft’s Research Division was advertising a technology that could read each facial expression in a massive crowd, analyze their emotions, and report back in real time. “You could use this at a Trump rally,” a sales representative told me.

At both the Republican and Democratic conventions, Microsoft sponsored event spaces for the news outlet Politico. Politico, in turn, hosted a series of Microsoft-sponsored discussions about the use of data technology in political campaigns. And throughout Politico’s spaces in both Philadelphia and Cleveland, Microsoft advertised an array of products from “Microsoft Cognitive Services,” its artificial intelligence and cloud computing division.

At one exhibit, titled “Realtime Crowd Insights” a small camera scanned the room, while a monitor displayed the captured image. Every five seconds, a new image would appear with data annotated for each face – an assigned serial number, gender, estimated age, and any emotions detected in the facial expression. When I approached, the machine labeled me “b2ff,” and correctly identified me as a 23-year-old male.

It interpreted my facial expression as “neutral,” with a bit of “surprise.”

I asked Christina Pearson, a nearby Microsoft spokesman, to confirm that the technology was meant to be used on a large crowd, like at a Trump rally. “Yes,” she confirmed. “Or it’s meant to be the Super Bowl, whatever you want.”

“Realtime Crowd Insights” is an Application Programming Interface (API), or a software tool that connects web applications to Microsoft’s cloud computing services. Through Microsoft’s emotional analysis API – a component of Realtime Crowd Insights – applications send an image to Microsoft’s servers. Microsoft’s servers then analyze the faces, and return emotional profiles for each.

In a November blog post, Microsoft said that the emotional analysis could detect “anger, contempt, fear, disgust, happiness, neutral, sadness or surprise.”

Microsoft’s sales representatives told me that political campaigns could use the technology to measure the emotional impact of different talking points — and political scientists could use it to study crowd resonse at rallies.

But the use of facial analysis at political events is eerily reminiscent of George Orwell’s 1984, where the government monitors faces for any sign of dissatisfaction, or “facecrime.” In Orwell’s world, “to wear an improper expression on your face (to look incredulous when a victory was announced, for example) was itself a punishable offense.”

Microsoft’s Realtime Crowd Insights could potentially pick out the stern faces of dissenters, or angry faces of future protestors, all in a matter of seconds.

Donald Trump’s security has already tried to preempt protests at rallies by kicking out people they thought likely to protest. At one rally in February, security asked 30 black students to leave before Trump started speaking. According to USA Today, they had planned to sit in silent protest, but 19-year-old student said “We didn’t plan anything.”

In Politico‘s suite in Cleveland, one passerby told me he was “slightly creeped out,” and another asked me why Microsoft was collecting their facial information. The machine also picked up on a small range of negative responses in the room, including “fear, contempt, and disgust:”

When I attended the “Realtime Crowd Insights” display in Philadelphia, I asked to speak with a spokesman, and was introduced to Kathryn Stack, a managing director with the Public Affairs Firm Burson-Marsteller. I asked Stack whether the product could be used to identify protestors or dissidents at rallies or political events.

“I think that would be a question for a futurist, not a technologist,” she responded.

Facial recognition technology – the identification of faces by name – is already widely used in secret by law enforcement, sports stadiums, retail stores, and even churches, despite being of questionable legality. As early as 2002, facial recognition technology was used at the Super Bowl to cross-reference the 100,000 attendees to a database of the faces of known criminals. The technology is controversial enough that in 2013, Google tried to ban the use of facial recognition apps in its Google glass system.

But “Realtime Crowd Insights” is not true facial recognition – it could not identify me by name, only as “b2ff.” It did, however, store enough data on each face that it could continuously identify them with the same serial number, even hours later. The display demonstrated that capability by distinguishing between the number of total faces it had seen, and the number of unique serial numbers.

Instead, “Realtime Crowd Insights” is an example of facial characterization technology – where computers analyze faces without necessarily identifying them. Facial characterization has many positive applications – it has been tested in the classroom, as a tool for spotting struggling students, and Microsoft has boasted that the tool will even help blind people read the faces around them.

But facial characterization can also be used to assemble and store large profiles of information on individuals, even anonymously.

Microsoft has traditionally adopted an “opt in” policy with facial recognition, requiring users’ consent before Microsoft can store an image of their face. The Kinetic Sensor on an Xbox, for example, allows users to sign in through facial recognition technology — but requires users to first give consent, according to Microsoft’s privacy policy.

Microsoft has a similar code of conduct for APIs, that requires developers to “obtain the consent of the people whose data (such as images, voices, video or text) are being processed by your app.”

Alvaro Bedoya, a professor at Georgetown Law School and expert on privacy and facial recognition, has hailed that code of conduct as evidence that Microsoft is trying to do the right thing. But he pointed out that it leaves a number of questions unanswered — as illustrated in Cleveland in Philadelphia.

“It’s interesting that the app being shown at the convention ‘remembered’ the faces of the people who walked by. That would seem to suggest that their faces were being stored and processed without the consent that Microsoft’s policy requires,” Bedoya said. “You have to wonder: what happened to the face templates of the people who walked by that booth? Were they deleted? Or are they still in the system?”

Microsoft officials declined to comment on exactly what information is collected on each face and what data is retained or stored, instead referring me to their privacy policy, which does not address the question.

Bedoya also pointed out that Microsoft’s marketing did not seem to match the consent policy. “It’s difficult to envision how companies will obtain consent from people in large crowds or rallies.”

Rio’s waters are so filthy that 2016 Olympians risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete

July 30, 2015

by Brad Brooks and Jenny Barchfield

Associated Press

Athletes competing in next year’s Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro will be swimming and boating in waters so contaminated with human feces that they risk becoming violently ill and unable to compete in the games, an Associated Press investigation has found.

An AP analysis of water quality revealed dangerously high levels of viruses and bacteria from human sewage in Olympic and Paralympic venues — results that alarmed international experts and dismayed competitors training in Rio, some of whom have already fallen ill with fevers, vomiting, and diarrhea.

It is the first independent comprehensive testing for both viruses and bacteria at the Olympic sites.

Brazilian officials have assured that the water will be safe for the Olympic athletes. But the government does not test for viruses.

Extreme water pollution is common in Brazil, where most sewage is not treated. Raw waste runs through open-air ditches to streams and rivers that feed the Olympic water sites.

As a result, Olympic athletes are almost certain to come into contact with disease-causing viruses that in some tests measured up to 1.7 million times the level of what would be considered hazardous on a Southern California beach.

Despite decades of official pledges to clean up the mess, the stench of raw sewage still greets travelers touching down at Rio’s international airport. Prime beaches are deserted because the surf is thick with putrid sludge, and periodic die-offs leave the Olympic lake, Rodrigo de Freitas, littered with rotting fish.

“What you have there is basically raw sewage,” said John Griffith, a marine biologist at the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project. Griffith examined the protocols, methodology, and results of the AP tests.

“It’s all the water from the toilets and the showers and whatever people put down their sinks, all mixed up, and it’s going out into the beach waters. Those kinds of things would be shut down immediately if found here,” he said, referring to the US.

Vera Oliveira, head of water monitoring for Rio’s municipal environmental secretariat, said officials were not testing viral levels at the Olympic lake, the water quality of which is the city’s responsibility.

The other Olympic water venues are under the control of the Rio state environmental agency.

Leonardo Daemon, coordinator of water quality monitoring for the state’s environmental agency, said officials were strictly following Brazilian regulations on water quality, which are all based on bacteria levels, as are those of almost all nations.

“What would be the standard that should be followed for the quantity of virus? Because the presence or absence of virus in the water … needs to have a standard, a limit,” he said. “You don’t have a standard for the quantity of virus in relation to human health when it comes to contact with water.”

Olympic hopefuls will be diving into Copacabana’s surf this Saturday during a triathlon Olympic qualifier event, while rowers take to the lake’s water beginning Wednesday for the 2015 World Rowing Junior Championships. Test events for sailing and marathon swimming take place later in August.

More than 10,000 athletes from 205 nations are expected to compete in next year’s Olympics. Nearly 1,400 of them will be sailing in the waters near Marina da Gloria in Guanabara Bay, swimming off Copacabana beach, and canoeing and rowing on the brackish waters of the Rodrigo de Freitas Lake.

The AP commissioned four rounds of testing in each of those three Olympic water venues, and also in the surf off Ipanema Beach, which is popular with tourists but where no events will be held. Thirty-seven samples were checked for three types of human adenovirus, as well as rotavirus, enterovirus, and fecal coliforms.

The AP viral testing, which will continue in the coming year, found not one water venue safe for swimming or boating, according to global water experts.

Instead, the test results found high counts of active and infectious human adenoviruses, which multiply in the intestinal and respiratory tracts of people. These are viruses that are known to cause respiratory and digestive illnesses, including explosive diarrhea and vomiting, but can also lead to more serious heart, brain, and other diseases.

The concentrations of the viruses in all tests were roughly equivalent to that seen in raw sewage — even at one of the least-polluted areas tested, the Copacabana Beach, where marathon and triathlon swimming will take place and where many of the expected 350,000 foreign tourists may take a dip.

“Everybody runs the risk of infection in these polluted waters,” said Dr. Carlos Terra, a hepatologist and head of a Rio-based association of doctors specializing in the research and treatment of liver diseases.

Kristina Mena, a US expert in risk assessment for waterborne viruses, examined the AP data and estimated that international athletes at all water venues would have a 99% chance of infection if they ingested just three teaspoons of water — though whether a person will fall ill depends on immunity and other factors.

Besides swimmers, athletes in sailing, canoeing, and to a lesser degree rowing often get drenched when competing and breathe in mist as well. Viruses can enter the body through the mouth, eyes, any orifice, or even a small cut.

By comparison, water-quality experts who monitor beaches in Southern California become alarmed if they see viral counts reaching 1,000 per liter.

“If I were going to be in the Olympics,” said Griffith, the California water expert, “I would probably go early and get exposed and build up my immunity system to these viruses before I had to compete, because I don’t see how they’re going to solve this sewage problem.”

A ‘huge’ risk for athletes

Ivan Bulaja, the Croatian-born coach of Austria’s 49er-class sailing team, has seen it firsthand. His sailors have lost valuable training days after falling ill with vomiting and diarrhea.

“This is by far the worst water quality we’ve ever seen in our sailing careers,” Bulaja said.

Training earlier this month in Guanabara Bay, Austrian sailor David Hussl said he and his teammates took precautions, washing their faces immediately with bottled water when they get splashed by waves and showering the minute they return to shore. And yet Hussl said he had fallen ill several times.

“I’ve had high temperatures and problems with my stomach,” he said. “It’s always one day completely in bed and then usually not sailing for two or three days.”

It is a huge risk for the athletes, the coach said.

“The Olympic medal is something that you live your life for,” Bulaja said, “and it can really happen that just a few days before the competition you get ill and you’re not able to perform at all.”

Dr. Alberto Chebabo, who heads Rio’s Infectious Diseases Society, said the raw sewage had led to “endemic” public-health woes among Brazilians, primarily infectious diarrhea in children.

By adolescence, he said, people in Rio have been so exposed to the viruses they build up antibodies. But foreign athletes and tourists will not have that protection.

“Somebody who hasn’t been exposed to this lack of sanitation and goes to a polluted beach obviously has a much higher risk of getting infected,” Chebabo said.

An estimated 60% of Brazilian adults have been exposed to hepatitis A, said Terra, the Rio hepatologist. Doctors urge foreigners heading to Rio, whether athletes or tourists, to be vaccinated against hepatitis A. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also recommend travelers to Brazil get vaccinated for typhoid.

Under a microscope

Spilki’s testing looked for three different types of human adenovirus that are typical “markers” of human sewage in Brazil. In addition, he tested for enteroviruses, the most common cause of upper-respiratory-tract infections in the young. He also searched for signs of rotavirus, the main cause of gastroenteritis globally.

The tests so far show that Rio’s waters “are chronically contaminated,” he said. “The quantity of fecal matter entering the waterbodies in Brazil is extremely high. Unfortunately, we have levels comparable to some African nations, to India.”

Griffith, the California expert, said the real concern wasn’t for what Spilki actually measured, noting that there was “very likely to be nastier bugs in there that weren’t searched for and that are out there lurking.”

There is no lack of illness in Rio, but there is a severe shortage of health data related to dirty water, medical experts said.

The maladies often hit people hard, but most don’t go see a doctor, so no data is collected.

Globally, however, rotavirus accounts for about 2 million hospitalizations and more than 450,000 deaths of children worldwide each year, according to the World Health Organization.

The AP testing found rotavirus on three separate occasions at Olympic sites — twice at the lake and once at a beach next to the Marina da Gloria, where sailors are expected to launch their boats.

Mena, an associate professor of public health at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston and an expert in water quality, conducted what she called a “conservative” risk assessment for Olympic athletes participating in water sports in Rio, assuming they would ingest 16 milliliters of water, or three teaspoons — far less than athletes themselves say they take in.

She found “an infection risk of 99%,” she said.

“Given those viral concentration levels, do I think somebody should be exposed to those amounts? The answer is no.”

The AP also measured fecal coliform bacteria, single-celled organisms that live in the intestines of humans and animals. Fecal coliforms can suggest the presence of cholera, dysentery, hepatitis A, and typhoid.

In 75% of the samples taken at the Olympic lake, the number of fecal coliforms exceeded Brazil’s legal limit for “secondary contact,” such as boating or rowing — in two samples spiking to over 10 times the accepted level. The Marina da Gloria venue exceeded the limit only once, while at Rio’s most popular tourist beach, Ipanema, fecal coliforms tested at three times the acceptable level in a single sample. At Copacabana, the AP tests found no violations of fecal coliform counts.

Fecal coliforms have long been used by most governments as a marker to determine whether bodies of water are polluted because they are relatively easy and cheap to test and find. Brazil uses only bacterial testing when determining water quality.

In Rio, the fecal coliform levels were not as astronomical as the viral numbers the AP found. That gap is at the heart of a global debate among water experts, many of whom are pushing governments to adopt viral as well as bacterial testing to determine whether recreational waters are safe.

That’s because fecal coliform bacteria from sewage can survive only a short time in water, especially in the salty and sunny conditions around Rio. Human adenoviruses have been shown to last several months, with some studies even indicating they can last years.

That means that even if Rio magically collected and treated all its sewage tomorrow, its waters would stay polluted for a long time.

‘A wasted opportunity’

In its Olympic bid, Rio officials vowed the games would “regenerate Rio’s magnificent waterways” through a $4 billion government expansion of basic sanitation infrastructure.

It was the latest in a long line of promises that have already cost Brazilian taxpayers more than $1 billion — with very little to show for it.

Rio’s historic sewage problem spiraled over the past decades as the population exploded, with many of the metropolitan area’s 12 million residents settling in the vast hillside slums that ring the bay.

Waste flows into more than 50 streams that empty into the once-crystalline Guanabara Bay. An eye-watering stench emanates from much of the bay and its palm-lined beaches, which were popular swimming spots as late as the 1970s but are now perpetually off-limits for swimmers.

Starting in 1993, Japan’s international cooperation agency poured hundreds of millions of dollars into a Guanabara cleanup project. The Inter-American Development Bank issued $452 million in loans for more works.

A culture of mismanagement stymied any progress. For years, none of four sewage-treatment plants built with the Japanese funds operated at full capacity. One of the plants in the gritty Duque de Caxias neighborhood didn’t treat a drop of waste from its construction in 2000 through its inauguration in 2014. For 14 years, it wasn’t connected to the sewage mains.

By then, the Japanese agency rated the project as “unsatisfactory,” with “no significant improvements in the water quality of the bay.”

As part of its Olympic project, Brazil promised to build eight treatment facilities to filter out much of the sewage and prevent tons of household trash from flowing into the Guanabara Bay. Only one has been built.

The fluorescent green lagoons that hug the Olympic Park and which the government’s own data shows are among the most polluted waters in Rio were to be dredged, but the project got hung up in bureaucratic hurdles and has yet to start.

“Brazilian authorities promised the moon in order to win their Olympic bid, and as usual they’re not making good on those promises,” said Mario Moscatelli, a biologist who has spent 20 years lobbying for a cleanup of Rio’s waterways. “I’m sad but not surprised.”

As the clock ticks down, local officials have dialed back their promises. Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao of Rio has acknowledged “there’s not going to be time” to finish the cleanup of the bay ahead of the games.

Mayor Eduardo Paes of Rio has said it is a “shame” the Olympic promises won’t be met, adding the games are proving “a wasted opportunity” as far as the waterways are concerned.

But the Rio Olympic organizing committee’s website still says a key legacy of the games will be “the rehabilitation and protection of the area’s environment, particularly its bays and canals” in areas where water sports will take place.

Associated Press sports writer Stephen Wade and senior producer Yesica Fisch contributed to this report.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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