Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Cruising the Web

So WikiLeaks is now the good guys? It's all so confusing. So now leaking national security secrets that led to the Taliban killing people is now worth a presidential commutation? I guess that the Obama administration doesn't care so much anymore. about leaking.
The act of clemency could be seen as a reversal, at least in part, of the Obama administration’s unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaking: The administration has brought charges in about nine cases, about twice as many as under all previous presidents combined.

At the same time that Mr. Obama commuted the sentence of Ms. Manning, a low-ranking enlisted soldier at the time of her leaks, he also granted a pardon to Gen. James E. Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the highest-ranking officials ensnared in the leak crackdown.

General Cartwright had pleaded guilty to lying about his conversations with reporters when questioned by F.B.I. agents in an investigation into leaks of classified information about cyberattacks on Iran’s nuclear program.
Thomas Joscelyn linked back in 2013 to this AP report on how al-Qaeda reacted to the leaks that Manning released.
l-Qaeda leaders reveled in WikiLeaks’ publication of reams of classified U.S. documents, urging members to study them before devising ways to attack the United States, according to evidence presented by the prosecution Monday in the court-martial of an Army private who leaked the material.

“By the grace of God the enemy’s interests are today spread all over the place,” Adam Gadahn, an American member of the terrorist group, said in a 2011 al-Qaeda propaganda video. The video specifically referred to material published by WikiLeaks, according to a written description of the propaganda piece submitted at the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning. The evidence, which both sides agreed was factual, was read into record by lead prosecutor Maj. Ashden Fein.

Prosecutors also submitted excerpts from the winter 2010 issue of al-Qaeda’s online magazine “Inspire,” which said “anything useful from WikiLeaks is useful for archiving.”

The government presented another uncontested written statement that former al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden asked for and received from an associate the Afghanistan battlefield reports that WikiLeaks published. The material was found on digital media seized in the May 2011 raid on bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Fein said. Bin Laden was killed in the raid.
What sort of message is Obama sending to our troops that are fighting now in the field: that leaks that endanger national security and lives of our troops and those who help us in the field are not that bad, but that leaks that make the DNC and Hillary's campaign manager are true threats to our country? I wonder what the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Staff thought about this. What about the CIA chief?

Jake Tapper summarized how contradictory Manning's commutation is to Obama's previous stands on the dangers of the documents that Manning leaked.
Tapper pointed out that Obama has used the Espionage Act to go after leakers a great deal more so than presidents past, and now for him to commute the sentence of “one of the most notorious leakers… certainly contradicts the last eight years of policy in terms of leaking.”

He recalled that when the WikiLeaks dump happened a few years ago, the Obama administration was “so outraged” and angry and they were worried about U.S. personnel being endangered as a result.

And then following in the pattern of Bill Clinton who pardoned 16 Puerto Rican terrorists from FALN who set off bombs that killed six Americans, Obama commuted the sentence of another Puerto Rican terrorist.
In addition, Mr. Obama commuted the sentence of Oscar López Rivera, who was part of a Puerto Rican nationalist group that carried out a string of bombings in the late 1970s and early 1980s; the other members of that group had long since been freed.
Matthew Hennessey writes in the New York Daily News about why Obama shouldn't have commuted Rivera's sentence.
During the 1970s and 80s, López Rivera's FALN placed more than 130 bombs in American cities. Their goal was to destabilize what they called the "Yanki capitalist monopoly" and achieve Puerto Rican independence. Their method was terrorism.

In 1974, the FALN began planting booby-trap bombs around New York. While most of these early explosions caused only property damage, the group's clear intention was to kill and maim. In December 1974, an NYPD officer responding to a report of a dead body in an abandoned building on 110th St. was seriously injured by an FALN incendiary device.

In January 1975, a 10-pound dynamite bomb killed four people and injured dozens at Fraunces Tavern. The powerful blast was felt blocks away. In an eerie foreshadowing of 9/11, dust-covered victims staggered through downtown streets. The FALN quickly took responsibility for the deadly deed.

When a Chicago apartment serving as the FALN's bomb-making factory was raided in November 1976, authorities learned the names of the group's leadership. López Rivera and several associates became fugitives.
There were several other attempts to kill people in the U.S. by FALN that ended up killing one young man.
When López Rivera was arrested in 1981, the FBI found six pounds of dynamite and four blasting caps in his Chicago apartment along with numerous fake IDs. He was convicted in federal court of seditious conspiracy, violation of the Hobbs Act, illegal weapons possession, and interstate transportation of stolen motor vehicles.

In 1988, his original sentence was extended 15 years after authorities disrupted an escape plot that included a plan to murder prison guards.

In 1999, President Bill Clinton offered to commute the sentences of 16 imprisoned FALN members. Most accepted, but López Rivera choked on the condition that he renounce his terrorist past. In 1998, he'd told a reporter, "The whole thing of contrition, atonement, I have problems with that."

López Rivera's supporters claim he is a political prisoner, in jail for his beliefs rather than his actions. They say there is no evidence that he personally killed anyone — which could also be plausibly said of Osama bin Laden and Al Capone.
So why is Obama commuting the sentence of an unrepentant terrorist?

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Another person whose sentence was commuted was the four-star general who is alleged to have leaked to the media the story of how the Stuxnet virus was used against Iranian nuclear facilities. Certain leaks to the press are not equal to others. The administration went hammer and tongs after the media for other leaks. As Jake Tapper said three years ago, the Obama administration used the 1917 Espionage Act to go after more whistleblowers who leaked to the media "than all previous administrations combined." The administration seized phone records for AP reporters and gone after the phone records and email exchanges of other journalists. Here is a report from 2013.
Even before the FBI conducted 550 interviews of officials and seized the phone records of Associated Press reporters in a leak investigation connected to a 2012 article about a Yemen bomb plot, agents had sought the same reporters’ sources for two other articles about terrorism.

In a separate case last year, FBI agents asked the White House, the Defense Department and intelligence agencies for phone and email logs showing exchanges with a New York Times reporter writing about computer attacks on Iran. Agents grilled officials about their contacts with him, two people familiar with the investigation said.

And agents tracing the leak of a highly classified CIA report on North Korea to a Fox News reporter pulled electronic archives showing which officials had gained access to the report and had contact with the reporter on the day of the leak.

They studied one official’s entrances and exits from the State Department, obtained his Yahoo email information and searched his hard drive for deleted files, documents unsealed this month showed.

The emerging details of these and other cases show how wide a net the Obama administration has cast in its investigations into disclosures of government secrets, querying hundreds of officials across the federal government and some of their foreign counterparts.
Do the media have any memory from just a few years ago about the administration's efforts to root out leaks and the methods they used to access the records of journalists? And now two of the most prominent leakers - Chelsea Manning and General Cartwright have their sentences commuted. Of course, this nonchalance toward certain leakers is of a part with the entire administration. Remember how they briefed the media on the supposedly secret mission to kill Osama bin Laden. And then there was their attitude toward Hillary Clinton and how her private server endangered classified information. When it was in their interest, they weren't so concerned about keeping secret information secret. And now Obama has waited until the last days of his presidency to demonstrate his real attitude.

One irritating, if inconsequential, aspect of Obama's presidency was his constant appearances on sports and entertainment events. I particularly disliked turning on to sports events or ESPN and seeing Obama - I just want a politics-free zone for sports. Alas, no. And now it seems that Trump plans to continue this annoying precedent from Obama.Ugh! Who wants to see either of them during the Super Bowl?

The Washington Examiner explains
why Trump's tweets and approach to NATO are so wrong. Trump seems to be concerned that our allies aren't paying their full share. He's right that the U.S. does carry about 70% of the cost of the alliance. But the importance of the alliance goes beyond the costs.
But what of its strategic interest? Eastern Europe is increasingly threatened by the dirigiste ambitions of Putin, who has rolled his tanks into Georgia, annexed Crimea, occupied eastern Ukraine and daily threatens Russia's "near abroad," rattling his sabre at Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.

These countries' sovereignty depend on NATO, and Trump is fooling himself if he believes America could watch disinterestedly from the vastness of the western hemisphere while Russia engulfed Eastern Europe. Signaling to Putin that Washington is backing away from NATO increases rather than decreases the chances of further hostilities in Eastern Europe that would suck this country in.

NATO's central premise, that an attack on one member is an attack on all, worked from 1945 onwards to check Moscow's imperial ambitions. NATO demonstrated peace through strength, and it needs to continue to do so, for although the Soviet Union is no more, Putin is acting to reconstitute it to the extent that he can. The former KGB officer lamented the fall of the communist empire as "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe" of the 20th century.
Instead of calling the alliance obsolete, Trump should be concerned about shoring up the alliance as Putin threatens the Baltic countries and works to reconstitute as much of the Soviet empire as he can.

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Ian Tuttle offers the evidence to demonstrate
how flimsy are the conflict-of-interest charges alleged against HHS nominee Tom Price. When I first heard the allegation that he'd bought shares in a biotech company, Zimmer Biomet, days before introducing a law that would have delayed the implementation of legislation that would have hurt that company's business, I thought it sounded bad, but I needed to know more details. Now we have the story. First of all, the stocks were purchased by an investment adviser who handles his portfolio without Price's input. They informed him and he filed the report that members of the House have to file.
There is no suggestion that Price’s legislation would significantly benefit Zimmer Biomet even if it passed (which it hasn’t), so there is no likelihood that the stock will accrue to Price’s benefit anytime soon. Has he really staked his congressional career on $3,000 in biotech stock? Or the $1,000 campaign contribution Zimmer Biomet gave him? And, of course, Price’s investment has been a matter of public record for eight months. Yet it’s only become a dire matter now?

Nor is the legislation itself particularly suspicious. In mid 2015, CMS proposed the Comprehensive Care for Joint Replacement Model, a new payment model for lower-extremity joint replacement procedures. In response, Price co-authored a letter with 60 other members of Congress requesting that the proposed January 1, 2016, effective date be postponed, on the grounds that “the CMS proposal represents a significant change to our healthcare delivery system which could have a negative impact on patient choice, access and quality.” That letter was delivered September 1, 2015. Consequently, implementation was delayed until April 1, 2016. The HIP Act was introduced on March 23, 2016. Predictably, the language of the bill introduced after the stock purchase closely reflects the language of the letter penned long before it, which stands to reason: Preserving “patient choice” in the face of attempts by the federal government to institute various health-care mandates has been a central plank of Price’s decade in Congress.
If you pay attention to the dates, Price was informed Morgan Stanley had bought the stock on April 4, 2016. There is no evidence that he was informed earlier. He signed on to the letter on September 1, 2015 and introduced the HIP Act on March 23, 2016, almost a week and a half before he knew about the stock purchase. That's the story, but, of course, it's not the facts that matter, just the allegation. Throw the mud out there and see if it sticks.

As Tuttle points out, there are more serious allegations of conflicts-of-interest against prominent Democrats.
Compare this to potential conflict-of-interest cases across the aisle, and it becomes clear just how flimsy is the charge against Price. In 2008, then-House speaker Nancy Pelosi purchased 5,000 shares of Visa stock at $44 a share, just as legislation targeting credit-card companies was introduced in the House. Two days later, the shares were trading at $64 apiece, a $100,000 gain. (Pelosi’s conflict of interest was so blatant, and her disavowal on CBS’s 60 Minutes so transparent, that it is commonly cited as an inspiration for the 2012 Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge, or STOCK, Act.) In 2010, while supervising the congressional panel overseeing the $700 billion bank bailout, Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren took $90,000 to testify in a class-action lawsuit brought by retailers against several of the banks being bailed out. And, unsurprisingly, it turns out Schumer himself has profited from convenient holdings — such as the bonds he purchased from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2002 and redeemed in 2008 and 2009. All together, the bonds netted Schumer at least $46,000. (Links in original)

If the Democrats are so upset about Russian interference in our election, Nick Gillespie wonders how they have felt about the U.S. interference in other countries' elections.
There's at least one more reason why John Lewis' comments about Russian meddling or "hacking" is problematic, though this time in a good way. It should force all Americans to ask whether our nation (well, our government, which is not the same thing) similarly "participates" in foreign elections and whether that's legitimate or not. The plain fact of the matter is that the United States absolutely involves itself in elections all over the world, and on a regular basis. According to research done Carnegie-Mellon's Dov Levin, between 1946 and 2000, U.S. government actors tried to influence foreign elections at least 81 times in 45 countries. This doesn't include covert and overt military actions or even U.S.-supported coups (such as the one in Honduras abetted by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2009). Here's how Vocativ's Shane Dixon Kavanaugh summarizes Levin's work:
He defines an electoral intervention as "a costly act which is designed to determine the election results [in favor of] one of the two sides." According to Levin's research, that includes: peddling misinformation or propaganda; creating campaign material for preferred candidates or parties; providing or withdrawing foreign aid, and; making public announcements that threaten or favor certain candidates. Often, it also includes the U.S. covertly delivering large sums of cash, as was the case in elections in Japan, Lebanon, Italy, and other countries....
Much of this activity took place during the Cold War and Levin also documents that the Soviets did similar things, though because they had more direct control of satellite nations, they actually had less work to do. But even with the collapse of the Cold War and the start of a new century, the United States is still working to influence elections abroad (indeed, Clinton's actions in Ukraine are supposedly the cause of Putin's deep-seated hatred of her, despite the "reset" with Russia she attempted as secretary of state).
Even after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the U.S. continued its interventions abroad, including elections in Isral, former Czechoslovakia, and even Russia in 1996, Levin found. Since 2000, the U.S. has attempted to sway elections in Ukraine, Kenya, Lebanon, and Afghanistan, among others.

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So who knew? Emojis, especially the yellow smiley face, are signs of white privilege. Ask Ashley Judd. She's figured it all out.

Now we can see why Putin and Trump like each other - they sound alike. Putin came out to deny that Russians have a file on Trump's supposed scandalous behavior while in Moscow.
Trump is “a grown man, and secondly he’s someone who has been involved with beauty contests for many years and has met the most beautiful women in the world,” Putin said. “I find it hard to believe that he rushed to some hotel to meet girls of loose morals, although ours are undoubtedly the best in the world.”
Putin's bragging that Russia's prostitutes "are undoubtedly the best in the world" has to be the Trumpiest statement ever made by a non-Trump world leader. Will Trump soon tweet out that American prostitutes are better than Russian ones? It sounds like something from the Onion.

Yesterday was the 100-year anniversary of the Zimmermann Telegram and the BBC reports on how Britain came to intercept the message and used it to help bring the U.S. into WWI. It's a fascinating story.