Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Here's to 2015

As 2014 comes to an end I want to thank you, the readers of The Biased Reporter.  I am just getting started and this is just the beginning with 78 published posts so far and many more on the way, but I have already been thrilled to see more than 5,100 page views since only June, where in more than 3 months have had more than 1,100 page-views, and more than 500 page-views every month since August, with people seeing my blog in more than 15 countries not including the United States.

Happy New Year!

Thank you!
Di ou mèsi!
آپ کا شکریہ
ਤੁਹਾਡਾ ਧੰਨਵਾਦ
teşekkür ederim! 
σας ευχαριστώ 
terima kasih
cảm ơn bạn

Sunday, December 28, 2014

It's not just Ebola

On Monday December 22 after returning from recent trips to West Africa, both Senator Chris Coons and CDC Director Tom Frieden spoke with reporters about their trips. (you can listen here to some of Senator Coons' comments upon returning starting at around 23 minutes in, from the C-SPAN podcast Washington Today, where I first found both briefings with reporters).

Here is the audio and here is the transcript for the CDC Telebriefing: Update on the CDC Response to the Ebola Outbreak in West Africa - December 22, 2014

I'm just making a quick point, just like here flu and Enterovirus (**and car crashes, guns and police) will kill more people than Ebola, Africa is also suffering from Malaria and flu (and violence and civil wars) as well.

(Added emphasis is mine except for original bold identifying speakers)

OPERATOR: The next question is from Tony Pugh from McClatchy Newspapers. 
TONY PUGH: Thank you. I was hoping you could tell us a little bit about the situation in America in terms of how many travelers from West Africa are being monitored for possible Ebola nationwide? Do you have any numbers on that? 
TOM FRIEDEN: We see somewhere between 70 and 100 people come in each day. They are followed for 21 days. I am now one of them. I and around 1700 other people. The number changes on any given day. There have been more than 5,000 people monitored since we began the process and have been through that system. Every one of them receives a care kit, check and report Ebola, that includes a thermometer and is contacted, as I was contacted by my local health department Sunday afternoon, asking what my temperature was, telling me what to do if I have fever or other symptoms and making sure that I was linked up with medical care. That's done all over the country. We have monitored each of those people as they have come into the country and identified 11 people who were referred for medical evaluation. None of them had Ebola. More importantly, for the whole 21 days, each of those people knows who to call, what to do if they get sick. 

We have seen quite a few people as we expect, with illnesses. A lot of Malaria. A lot of Influenza. In those cases, they use the information they are given to call the health department to be safely transported to and cared for in a hospital that is prepared to care for them. 

We worked with hospitals throughout the country to strengthen their ability to assess and if necessary, treat a patient with Ebola. We have established laboratory response networks all over the country to do rapid testing for Ebola and we have trained tens of thousands of health care workers in how to do that safely. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

A Not So Merry Christmas in Ferguson

Another day, another unarmed black man, Antonio Martin, shot by police, again in Ferguson, making this at least 4 since August (Mike Brown, Kajieme Powell, Vonderrit Myers and now Antonio Martin), and as I document here, 10 police shootings before Mike Brown that didn't provoke national outrage.

And as we await the grand jury decision (to not indict the police who killed) Akai Gurley, we see another grand jury in Houston clear a police officer who shot an unarmed black man, Jordan Baker.
A Harris County grand jury today has cleared a Houston police officer in the fatal shooting of an unarmed man in January.
The panel, which has been meeting for months, cleared officer Juventino Castro in the death of 26-year-old Jordan Baker.
We are seeing an ugly trend.  Darren Wilson cleared, Daniel Pantaleo cleared.

I included this article in my post discussing Ferguson before Mike Brown brought national attention to Ferguson and reignited the discussion of police violence.
Two police shootings in Granite City justified, grand jury says
September 05, 2014 11:30 pm • FROM STAFF REPORTS
St. Charles man killed by Granite City officers responding to his 911 call
Officers said they feared for their lives when the man pointed a gun at them. Read more
Police: Man who attacked mother with baseball bat, was shot by Granite City police is charged
He hit mother, another relative with baseball bat. Read more
GRANITE CITY • Two officer-involved shootings here earlier this year — one fatal and one not — were justified, according to Madison County grand jury findings released Friday.
Yes we also mourn NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.  We mourn any and every violent unnatural death.  We condemn vigilantism and murder when it comes from criminals shooting cops, or gang members shooting each other or hitting innocent bystanders, and we condemn police who shoot unarmed civilians the second they arrive on the scene such as with Tamir Rice, Akai Gurley and others.

I was glad to see that NYPD is expanding the use of TASERS, but that is a small step in changing a much larger issue of the current culture.

The murders of Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos cannot be compared to those killed by police, if for no other reason then those who are not police are almost always punished for their actions.

According to a 2010 study by Harvard University on police-on-police shootings
Since 1981, some 26 police officers across the United States have been shot and killed by fellow police officers who have mistaken them for dangerous criminals. These fatal shootings are doubly tragic, first because both the shooters and victims in such situations are risking their lives to enforce the law and protect the public, and second because many of these deaths are preventable. The dangers that give rise to these deaths are inherent in policing, but those dangers can be reduced and more deaths prevented.
Over the last fifteen years, ten of the fourteen officers killed in these mistaken-identity, police-on-police shootings have been people of color.
Kevin Gosztola updates the list from there, and echoes my explanation on the difference between those who kill cops and those who are killed by cops
In 2014, 46 police officers have been killed by gunfire, according to Officer Down Memorial Page which tallies “fallen law enforcement heroes.” Three officers died from being struck by vehicles, five officers died while pursuing vehicles and ten officers died from “vehicular assault.”
By comparison, according to Killed by Police, which keeps track of reports of instances where police shoot and kill suspects, well over 1,000 people have been killed by police this year.
While there are potentially more vigilantes out there who may seek to execute police officers, there is no systemic problem with holding vigilantes who seek revenge against cops accountable for their crimes. There are systemic problems with how the American justice system is setup in ways that make it possible for killer cops to escape justice.
Linda Sarsour wrote very movingly on her blog, saying
We need to move together but before we do that - we need to listen to one another.
I find it ironic how we want to demonize an entire movement that's mantra is‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬, a movement in which the sanctity of life, the value of life including Black life is at its very core. I find it ironic that the very same people will say don't judge an entire political party, or faith community, or group of people by the despicable acts of a few - then are quick to blame hundreds of thousands of peaceful protesters for the acts of a few. This movement has never been about revenge or vendettas, its always been about love. I have never felt more love in social justice movements than I have felt this year.
People will say well why not then say ‪#‎AllLivesMatter‬, and I will say it is not all lives who have to justify their value and why they matter. It is not all life that has to prove why they don't deserve to be treated as sub-human. We as a society have decided who matters and who doesn't and we have proved it in the way the system works or doesn't work, who it oppresses, which countries we choose to wage war with and the increase and nonchalant usage of the word "collateral damage."
As Officers Liu and Ramos are laid to rest, leaving behind loved ones, and how difficult it must be for them that we must also remember there are families who go to bed every night without their loved ones who are also lost to senseless violence, including police violence. Sisters and brothers, we can mourn the death OF police and BY police. They are not mutually exclusive. Whether you are a doctor, lawyer, taxi-cab driver, cashier, street vendor or police officer - ALL lives matter. I will not engage in selective outrage over murders of innocent people. We should be calling each other to a higher moral ground - not engage in a divisive, toxic downward spinning cycle which creates more hate and animosity. This will not help us move closer to a better city, a better country or a better world.
I respect this time, the funerals and families of Ramos and Liu, but asking Black Americans and communities of color to "stop protesting" indefinitely is unreasonable. To engage in requests to elected officials to suppress the constitutional rights of segments of the American population makes you no better then the countries we are quick to criticize for lack of democracy. We have waged wars on countries in the Middle East and forced democracies down their throats meanwhile we are calling for the suppression of free speech and freedom of assembly right here in the United States.
We need to work hard to stop the violence, but it can be done.  The goal is to make this list stop growing.  So far we have not achieved that goal as more have fallen since August.  But it's only been 138 days.  The fight continues.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Haiti welcomes interim Prime Minister

Update From UN News Centre
UN and partners welcome consensus on appointment of interim Prime Minister
23 December - The United Nations and its international partners today welcomed the designation of Florence Guillaume as Haiti’s interim Prime Minister.  Mr. Guillaume, who was previously serving as Minister of Public Health and Population,
was appointed by Haiti’s President in accordance with Article 165 of the country’s Constitution, according to a news release issued by the UN.
Here is my blog post from when former Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe 

Obama takes action on Israel, but it's not sanctions

**Breaking News Update

This update is regarding a law Knesset passed on December 8 about African refugees in Israel, mainly from Sudan and Eritrea.  The bill refers to them as "work infiltrators" much like the American discussion around migrants and refugees from Mexico and Latin America.

From Association for Civil Rights in Israel
Update: On December 18, the High Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction to prevent the implementation of the law. Accordingly, no new asylum seekers can be sent to the Holot detention facility. The state has until December 28 to lodge a formal response.
Statement from Hotline for Refugees and Migrants
Israeli Human Rights Organizations Appeal against the Newest Anti-Infiltration Law: “The Government is Continuing to ignore and mock the High Court of Justice”
A collection of human rights organizations submitted an expedited legal petition to the High Court of Justice calling for the invalidation of the latest amendment to the Anti-Infiltration Law, and for an interim order to delay the implementation of the law with regards to those who are yet to be summoned to the Holot Detention Facility. The petition was submitted to the court this morning (December 18, 2014)
The Guardian posted an article featuring interviews with refugees filmed in April
we heard fresh accounts of many former Holot detainees having decided to return to East Africa out of despair only to be arrested by state authorities upon their arrival. They are then either imprisoned for treason or disloyalty for initially fleeing the country, or simply disappear without trace.
All of the detainees have lived in Israel for at least five years. Many own businesses and speak fluent Hebrew; some are orphans who have just graduated from Israeli high school. Their visible frustration at finding themselves in this situation is understandable. 
Shortly after we visited more than 800 men marched out of Holot and through the desert in the searing heat towards the Egyptian border. They demanded to be recognised as refugees released from the facility, issuing the following statement: “We have made a commitment to keep on struggling for our basic rights and we will never give up, justice and equality will last forever.”

And now back to the main article

Republicans claim that Obama hates Israel, responding angrily to even the possibility that Obama might sanction Israel over more illegal settlement building
The stories prompted an outcry from congressional Republicans.
“Recent reports suggest that your administration has held classified meetings over the past several weeks to discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions against Israel for its decision to construct homes in East Jerusalem,” said a letter sent Friday by 48 members of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Israel is one of our strongest allies, and the mere notion that the administration would unilaterally impose sanctions against Israel is not only unwise, but is extremely worrisome.”
It turns out that Obama is not sanctioning Israel, but Obama did take action on Israel.

On Friday Obama did however sign into law S. 2673, the United States-Israel Strategic Partnership Act of 2014.  The bill started during the summer war in Gaza.  Here is Senator Boxer introducing the bill to the Senate on August 1. (Rep Ros-Lehtinen introduced the original bill in the House in 2012)
We have a bill, Senator BLUNT and I, and it has 81 cosponsors on it. It is the Israeli American strategic partnership act, and it will send a strong signal today that we stand with Israel. We want peace. We want justice. We want a good life for the Israelis and the Palestinian people. But you cannot do it when you have a terrorist organization running, in essence, the Gaza Strip.
this bill authorizes $200 million in the value of U.S. weapons sales in Israel to a total of $1.8 billion. It is a stockpile that is intended to be used by U.S. forces, but in event of emergency, Israel can tap that. And, my God, this is an emergency. It is so critical. In fact, just last week the United States provided Israel with ammunition from the stockpile after Israel requested help to replace its depleted supplies. We shouldn't be waiting another hour to pass this, and here we are as the clock ticks down and we go off on our break and as my friend knows, this bill doesn't cost one slim dime—not one slim dime—not one penny. It is such a signal to Israel that we stand with her. It also has an energy section where we help Israel develop her natural gas supplies to become energy independent.
Keep in mind why this language from Congress is important. We learned in September 2013 from Snowden documents that NSA shares raw data with Israel as outlined in a March 2009 agreement published by the Guardian. (WashingtonBlog wrote that the revelation Implies NSA May Be Putting Israel’s Security Ahead of America’s”)
The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.
Israel is allowed to receive "raw Sigint" – signal intelligence. The memorandum says: "Raw Sigint includes, but is not limited to, unevaluated and unminimized transcripts, gists, facsimiles, telex, voice and Digital Network Intelligence metadata and content."
According to the agreement, the intelligence being shared would not be filtered in advance by NSA analysts to remove US communications. "NSA routinely sends ISNU [the Israeli Sigint National Unit] minimized and unminimized raw collection"
The memorandum of understanding, which the Guardian is publishing in full, allows Israel to retain "any files containing the identities of US persons" for up to a year. The agreement requests only that the Israelis should consult the NSA's special liaison adviser when such data is found.
Notably, a much stricter rule was set for US government communications found in the raw intelligence. The Israelis were required to "destroy upon recognition" any communication "that is either to or from an official of the US government". Such communications included those of "officials of the executive branch (including the White House, cabinet departments, and independent agencies), the US House of Representatives and Senate (member and staff) and the US federal court system (including, but not limited to, the supreme court)".
While Israel is a US strategic partner in military and intelligence matters, Israel is also a target of US intelligence  
Although Israel is one of America's closest allies, it is not one of the inner core of countries involved in surveillance sharing with the US - Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. This group is collectively known as Five Eyes.
The relationship between the US and Israel has been strained at times, both diplomatically and in terms of intelligence. In the top-secret 2013 intelligence community budget request, details of which were disclosed by the Washington Post, Israel is identified alongside Iran and China as a target for US cyberattacks.
And now we can go back to Obama's press release after signing the bill, saying (emphasis mine)
underscores the United States unshakeable [sic] commitment to Israel's security and its future. This bipartisan piece of legislation reflects the importance placed by my Administration on strengthening and deepening U.S.-Israel bilateral cooperation and ties. It reinforces critical defense and security programs, which have reached an unprecedented level under my Administration.  It also lays the groundwork for increased trade and cooperation across a range of cutting-edge fields, including energy, water, agriculture, and technology.  Sections 11(b) and 12(c)(2) of this bill purport to require me to provide to the Congress certain diplomatic communications and direct the Secretary of State to undertake certain diplomatic initiatives.  Consistent with longstanding constitutional practice, my Administration will interpret and implement these sections in a manner that does not interfere with my constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy and to protect the confidentiality of diplomatic communications.
Here are some key sections as summarized by CRS of the most recent version that
Passed House without amendment (12/03/2014)
(This measure has not been amended since it was passed by the Senate on September 18, 2014. The summary of that version is repeated here.)
Section 7
Authorizes the President to:(1) share and exchange with Israel research, technology, intelligence, information, equipment, and personnel that will advance U.S. national security interests; and(2) enhance U.S.-Israel scientific cooperation.
Authorizes the Secretary of Homeland Security (DHS) to enter into cooperative research pilot programs with Israel to enhance Israel's capabilities in: (1) border, maritime, and aviation security; (2) explosives detection; and (3) emergency services.
(Sec. 11) Requires any certification that a sale or export of major defense equipment to a country in the Middle East will not adversely affect Israel's qualitative military edge to include:
  • an explanation of Israel's capacity to address the improved capabilities provided by the sale or export;
  • an evaluation of how the sale or export alters the regional strategic and tactical balance;
  • an identification of any new capacity or training that Israel may require to address the regional or country-specific capabilities provided by such sale or export; and
  • a description of any additional U.S. security assurances to Israel made, or requested to be made, in connection with the sale or export.
Despite Obama administration officials anonymously calling Netanyahu names to Jeffrey Goldberg and shaking their head at illegal settlement building, Obama is silent on even the possibility of sanctions.  (see also Richard Silverstein's post here).

Christian Science Monitor reports that instead of sanctions other actions may be taken.
According to those unnamed officials: "For example, the United States may refrain from vetoing condemnatory resolutions against the settlements in the UN Security Council. Or it could issue clearer instructions to American officials about the ban on cooperating with the settlements or funding activity in them."
just a year ago, Obama's White House was campaigning vigorously against a European Union plan to outlaw funding to Israeli settlement groups.
The US has been a steady funder of Israel since the country's independence. Since 1996 alone, the US has given $50 billion to Israel, most of that military aid. The earmark for this year was over $3 billion.
Reductions and delays in such aid have been rare in modern US history. You have to go back to Ronald Reagan, who halted delivery of cluster munitions to Israel between 1982 and 1988 for the last major step to curtail military aid (Reagan acted over concerns the munitions were being used illegally in the war in Lebanon). The last US financial rebuke to Israel was under President George H. W. Bush, who delayed the provision of loan guarantees to Israel in 1991 contingent on a freeze in settlement expansion. The following year the government of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin agreed to a freeze. The loan guarantees were delivered, though settlement expansion continued.
In spite of Obama's reluctance to impose sanctions against Israel generally, in 2011 the State Department did sanction
a leading Israeli company, Ofer Brothers Group, for activities supporting Iran’s energy sector.
While the State Department’s decision caused Israel considerable embarrassment, it was the timing that created the greatest stir. It came soon after Mr. Netanyahu’s friction with Mr. Obama over using the 1967 borders as a basis for solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
According to the State Department, the Ofer Brothers Group and its Singapore-based subsidiary, Tanker Pacific, are being sanctioned along with Associated Shipbroking of Monaco for their roles in a September 2010 transaction that provided a tanker valued at $8.65 million to the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines.
The shipping company has been cited by the United States and the European Union for its role in supporting Iran’s proliferation activities. Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg told reporters in Washington that “Iran uses revenues from its energy sector to fund its nuclear program, as well as to mask procurement of dual-use items.”
The State Department determined that Tanker Pacific and Ofer Brothers Group “failed to exercise due diligence and did not heed publicly available and easily obtainable information” that would have indicated that they were dealing with the Iranians. As a result, the two companies are barred from security financing from the Export-Import Bank of the United States, from obtaining loans over $10 million from American financial institutions and from receiving United States export licenses, the State Department said.
While sanctioning one business for violating sanctions against Iran is a good step (issues of sanctions against Iran aside), Obama should take a stronger stand against Israel's actions instead of just shaking their heads and calling each other names and diplomatic statements like Obama
remained concerned about the settlement construction and had made that frustration "known very clearly" to the government of Israel.
Obama can take some advice from his Republican predecessors, normally seen by Republicans as great friends of Israel regardless of their actual records, including George W. Bush, who [among other amazing examples pointed out here by NJDC]
made the explicit threat to withhold loan guarantees from the Israelis due to the expansion of their “security fence” deep into Palestinian territory.
as Zaid Jilani pointed out in 2010 when Republicans were again outraged at Obama (because when are they not angry at him) when Obama envoy George Mitchell suggested that loan guarantees could be withheld (sort of the threat of a threat) in order to pressure Israel in the peace process.

Eisenhower threatened sanctions twice against Israel which were effective in changing behavior. 
Finally, it was the threat of sanctions that forced Israel in March 1957 to withdraw. Eisenhower threatened that the US would cut off all private assistance to Israel, which amounted to $40 million in tax-deductible donations and $60 million annually in the purchase of bonds. He would also terminate shipments of agricultural products and all military assistance, including deals already in the pipeline. He canceled export licenses for the shipment of munitions or other military goods. The threat of sanctions in the form of a resolution to the UN requiring the termination of all aid to Israel by UN members if it failed to withdraw was also decisive. Similarly, to force the British to pull out, the US administration withheld financial aid and applied an embargo on American oil.
Not the first time
In January 1952 the Truman administration threatened to withhold economic assistance if Israel did not replace its guards along the Jordan river, who were known to be particularly violent, and Israel complied. In 1953, Israel began to construct a canal near the B’not Yaakov bridge which would divert water from the Jordan river into Israel. The canal was being constructed in a demilitarized zone, and violated the armistice agreements. Israel had done something similar in 1951 when it drained another lake that was part of the Jordan River system, and was also in the demilitarized zone. In October 14-15 of 1953, Israel raided the Jordanian village of Kibya. This seemed to be the last straw for the Eisenhower administration. The UN Security Council strongly condemned Israel for the Kibya raid (with no veto by the US) and the State Department confirmed publicly they had suspended the $26 million of allocated Mutual Security Act funds. Israel then agreed to stop work on the diversion canal, and the US approved payment of the funds that were suspended.
The Institute for Historical Review in 1996 compared Eisenhower's actions towards Israel with Kissinger's later diplomacy  and looks at some of the possible consequences that resulted from Kissinger's leniency towards Israel.
Kissinger's policy was prohibitively costly to the United States. By making Israel the military superpower of the region, the Kissinger policy also led to tragic events. These included Israel's bloody 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an action based on its new arrogance of power stemming from US-supplied weaponry. Even graver, however, was the fact that Israel was allowed by Washington to continue its occupation and settlement of Jordanian and Syrian land. This occurred during the same period that the United States became Israel's major patron and supporter starting in the 1970s under President Richard M. Nixon and Kissinger.
The dramatic increase of US aid while Israel violated official US policy against military occupation was a declaration to the world that where the Jewish state was concerned politics outweighed principle. These events led to the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. Yigal Amir, the murderer, was one of the Jewish fanatics who emerged during the long occupation and were dedicated to retaining the occupied territories. Had Kissinger, like Ike, driven Israel off the occupied land, Amir's motive for the assassination would never have existed. The occupation would not have lasted nearly three decades and the extremist cult devoted to keeping the land that began growing strong in Israel in the 1970s would not have come into being.
Reagan actually followed through on threats as Jim White pointed out during the war in Gaza last summer when he asked if Obama would show the courage that Reagan did
Questions raised regarding the use of U.S.-supplied military equipment by Israel in Lebanon in June and July 1982, led the Reagan Administration to determine on July 15, 1982, that Israel “may” have violated its July 23, 1952, Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement with the United States (TIAS 2675). Concerns centered on whether or not Israel had used U.S.-supplied anti-personnel cluster bombs against civilian targets during its military operations in Lebanon and the siege of Beirut.
On July 19, 1982, the Reagan Administration announced that it would prohibit new exports of cluster bombs to Israel. This prohibition was lifted by the Reagan Administration in November 1988"
Syria recently called for sanctions against Israel after Israel ("allegedly") bombed Damascus Airport and Dimas, a neighborhood near Damascus.  (Richard Silverstein says "This would make at least the sixth Israeli invasion of Syrian territorial sovereignty to attack military-security targets.")
Syria on Monday called for U.N. sanctions against Israel over alleged airstrikes on Syrian soil, including one that struck the Damascus International Airport on Sunday.
Muallem made the comments at a joint press conference with Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, who echoed his sentiments.
Russia, which along with Iran is the Syrian regime’s chief international backer, demanded an explanation from Israel on Monday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said in a statement that Russia was “deeply concerned about this dangerous development, which requires a detailed investigation."

This week saw the beginning of a new relationship with Cuba after the 50-plus year embargo and assassination attempts failed to bring about the changes we wanted to see in Cuba. Maybe it's time we rethink how "successful" our relationship with Israel has been and maybe back up our anonymous name-calling and diplomatic statements such as
"remained concerned about the settlement construction and had made that frustration "known very clearly"
with sanctions against illegal activity, or even threats of sanctions which have also been effective when shown to be real threats of action.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Won't be Home for Christmas

Merry Christmas for some, meanwhile 1,300 more troops heading back to Iraq.

One thousand soldiers from the famed 82nd Airborne Division's 3rd Brigade Combat Team will deploy to Iraq in January to begin training Iraqi and Kurdish brigades, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby announced Friday.
The 1,000 are part of 1,300 service members in total heading for Iraq next month, with the remaining 300 coming from multiple services and serving in counterintelligence, logistics and signals capacities, Kirby said.
Overall, 1,500 US troops are heading for Iraq in early 2015 to serve what are expected to be nine-month tours to train and assist nine Iraqi Army and three Kurdish Peshmerga brigades at several undisclosed sites across Iraq.
While those 1,500 US troops will bring the US contingent in Iraq to about 3,100 troops, they may be joined by as many as 1,500 additional forces from partner nations, according to senior US defense officials.
The State Department has also approved a nearly $3 billion dollar military equipment sale
The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to Iraq for M1A1 Abrams tanks and associated equipment, parts and logistical support for an estimated cost of $2.4 billion,” the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said in a statement on Friday.
Britain is also sending more troops, up to 200 right now, reportedly only in a training capacity (for now).

As Obama praised draw-down in Afghanistan at his end of the year review press conference, I wonder how long it will be before we send troops back there too, never-mind Obama's expanded the mission in Afghanistan as he claims victory for ending the war.

Obama thanks troops and marks milestone in Afghanistan
The President also marked an important milestone: After more than 13 years, we are finally bringing a responsible end to America's war in Afghanistan. When the President took office, we had nearly 180,000 troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. By the end of this month, we'll have fewer than 15,000 in both countries. Over the course of six years, we have brought home 90 percent of our troops.
And this month, Afghans will take full responsibility for their security:
Even as our combat mission ends, our commitment to Afghanistan endures. We’ll continue to have a limited military presence there because we’ve got to keep training and equipping Afghan forces, and we’ve got to conduct counterterrorism missions because there are still remnants of al Qaeda there. After all the sacrifices you've made, we want to preserve the gains that you've made. We want a stable and secure Afghanistan. And we want to make sure that country is never again used to launch attacks against the United States of America.

In November, however, Obama quietly expanded the role of the nearly 10,000 troops that will remain until the end of next year (at least for now)
President Obama decided in recent weeks to authorize a more expansive mission for the military in Afghanistan in 2015 than originally planned, a move that ensures American troops will have a direct role in fighting in the war-ravaged country for at least another year.
Mr. Obama’s order allows American forces to carry out missions against the Taliban and other militant groups threatening American troops or the Afghan government, a broader mission than the president described to the public earlier this year, according to several administration, military and congressional officials with knowledge of the decision. The new authorization also allows American jets, bombers and drones to support Afghan troops on combat missions.
In an announcement in the White House Rose Garden in May, Mr. Obama said that the American military would have no combat role in Afghanistan next year, and that the missions for the 9,800 troops remaining in the country would be limited to training Afghan forces and to hunting the “remnants of Al Qaeda.”

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Meet New NCTC Director Nicholas J. Rasmussen

I just found out that we have a new Director of the National Counterterrorism Center Nicholas J. Rasmussen, who has been Deputy Director since June 2012, beginning his work in government at the State Department in 1991.

As I mentioned the other day, after 17 months we finally have a Surgeon General, but what I wasn't paying much attention to the 34 others who were confirmed at the same time.   

Washington Post With nominations, Harry Reid lands a late punch before bowing out as majority leader
After Reid (D-Nev.) exploited a weekend rebellion on immigration by rogue Republican senators as a $1.1 trillion spending bill was up against the clock, the Senate will move ahead this week on key executive branch nominations submitted by President Obama that appeared to be stalled not long ago.
The conservative uprising that Reid maneuvered to his advantage has also rekindled concerns about rancor among Republicans.
Opening the day’s business Monday morning, Reid said the Senate could complete its work “today,” but left open the possibility that the final tasks could stretch on for days.
“We’re going to have to be here to finish our work, whether that’s Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday,” he said. 

It was interesting to hear incoming Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee Richard Burr ask his questions about real-time oversight of intelligence agencies (at 23 minutes in) and hear Rasmussen talk about data collection at NCTC, and creation of the new OFFICE OF DATA STRATEGY AND INNOVATION in the final months of outgoing Director Matt Olsen's term.

Articles from 2012 discussing NCTC new data mining powers approved by Obama and Holder

Kashmir Hill link

Michael Kelly link

Kim Zetter link

Julia Angwin link

November 7, 2014 White House nomination announcement.

NCTC Biography

Presidential Nominee Questionnaire 

Opening Statement

Additional Prehearing Questions

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

James Risen not off the hook yet

James Risen is still not off the hook yet as the trial of CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling begins next week.
Earlier this week, the US district judge Leonie Brinkema ordered prosecutors to announce at a 16 December hearing whether they plan to call Risen as a witness.
In her one-page order, Brinkema also asked prosecutors to reveal “any conditions or limitations” they have worked out with Risen’s attorneys. She said the Justice Department has had more than six months to decide whether it would subpoena Risen to testify at the trial, which is scheduled to start on 12 January. 
Al Jazeera America
The Justice Department will not try to compel New York Times reporter James Risen to testify about his source at an upcoming trial of a former CIA officer accused of leaking classified information, according to a source familiar with the investigation who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Guardian
The person briefed on the matter, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the decision had not yet been formally announced, said the Justice Department may still subpoena Risen to testify on other topics but would not compel him to divulge the identify of his source.
Or as TechDirt put it,
However, there was a bit of irony in all of this: the DOJ leaked this information to the press. Risen's lawyer told reporter Jana Winter that they hadn't received any official word when the stories started appearing in the press, and there hadn't been any official government filing. The NY Times reports the same thing. Instead, it was just reported in the press as "according to a person familiar with the decision."

In other words, it "leaked" from the DOJ.

Or, more specifically, it leaked from the DOJ that it wouldn't seek to put a reporter in jail for refusing to say who leaked other information to him, as it still looks to put that original leaker in jail.
as Kevin Gosztola explains
Despite comments from anonymous officials, the United States government has issued no formal offer to New York Times reporter James Risen to protect him from having to reveal any information about his confidential sources if he were to be subpoenaed and forced to testify in the trial of former CIA officer Jeffrey Sterling, according to his attorney.
Sterling is alleged to have given information to Risen on a classified program that the government claims was “intended to impede Iran’s efforts to acquire or develop nuclear weapons,” which Risen later published in his book, State of War. A trial is currently scheduled for January.
Risen’s attorney reacted to anonymous officials who leaked on December 12 that Attorney General Eric Holder would no longer force Risen to testify about the identity of his confidential sources:
NBC News Justice Correspondent Pete Williams obtained comment from a “Justice Department official,” who stated if the government subpoenaed Risen to force him to provide testimony, it would not be for testimony “about the identity of his source.” The government would have him “confirm that he had an agreement with a confidential source, and that he did write the book.”
The official added the government would “no longer seek what he’s most concerned about revealing.”
Sterling faces a trial on ten felony counts, seven of which are under the Espionage Act. Much of the evidence in his case suggests he is another whistleblower who has fallen victim to President Barack Obama’s war on whistleblowers (even though his prosecution began before Obama was elected).
Marcy Wheeler and Norman Solomon reported for The Nation:
In early March 2003, Sterling met with two Senate Intelligence Committee staffers to report that Operation Merlin—the CIA’s ill-conceived and bungled effort in 2000 to use a former Russian scientist to pass flawed nuclear-weapons blueprints to Iran—may have helped Iran’s nuclear ambitions. The government concedes that Sterling went through proper channels when he “disclosed classified information” to committee staff. (In court documents, the prosecution has complained that Sterling was unfairly critical of that operation when he spoke to committee staffers.) 
Marcy Wheeler, who writes extensively on the Risen/Sterling case at ExposeFacts wrote that the government may try to ascertain more information about Risen's sources, since as Marcy writes that
Sterling’s lawyers know that — as ExposeFacts noted earlier this month — journalists of Risen’s caliber do not write entire book chapters based on a single source. Sterling’s lawyers would have every incentive to get Risen to testify about the range of sources he used for his book.
Setting Sterling’s lawyers up to ask Risen how many sources he spoke to for the chapter of State of War might be particularly useful for the government, given that Sterling will be able to introduce some information (the scope of which is not yet public, pending the declassification of a Brinkema order on the subject) about how witnesses against him, including his supervisor at the time, have mishandled classified information. That is, the government may well be in the position to ask Risen enough to allow Sterling to ask the journalist about his sources. This would let the government expose Risen’s reporting, but do so at the hands of the defendant and the judge who would then be protecting Sterling’s right to a fair trial.
Read Glenn Greenwald's interview with James Risen, or watch James Risen on Democracy Now! or listen to interview on Fresh Air.  Julianna Forlano also discussed Sterling case with Norman Solomon, and the Torture report with Michael Ratner.

After 17 months we finally have a new Surgeon General

From Democracy Now!
What exactly does the surgeon general do? The position dates back to 1798, when Congress established the country’s first publicly financed health service to care for ailing merchant sailors. Now, the surgeon general commands more than 6,500 healthcare workers in the “Commissioned Corps” who are tasked with protecting U.S. public health.
An equally important role of the surgeon general is to be “the nation’s doctor,” to use the position for public advocacy, to educate and inspire people to take health care seriously.  
While Murthy's nomination was held up by Republicans, in October Obama created an "Ebola Czar" as the epidemic intensified in Africa and there were a few people being treated here.

Here is some fun "breaking news," newly confirmed Surgeon General Vivek Murthy hasn't tweeted since September 2013! 

The vote was 51-43 with Senator Kirk voting for Murthy and
against an amendment that would have expanded legal access to guns at federally controlled water project sites.
Murthy's nomination was controversial among Republicans because
The NRA cited tweets from Murthy’s personal Twitter account that promoted his gun control beliefs, including one on Oct. 16, 2012, that said, “Guns are a health care issue.”
Guns are not even something he will focus on as Murthy saying he will focus on obesity if confirmed.  We also needed an Ebola Czar because there was no Surgeon General.
Such a high-profile public health crisis also highlights the fact that the nation currently finds itself without the "Nation's Doctor," the popular term for the surgeon general.
Mr. Obama's nominee for the post, Dr. Vivek Murthy, has fallen victim to congressional gridlock (he must be confirmed by the Senate) over a lighting-rod political issue: guns.
Here for example is Senator Rand Paul's thoughts, one day after the 2nd anniversary of the Newtown/Sandy Hook shooting.
But as the midterm election campaign ads showed, guns are very popular in Congress.
This year, lots of spots are hitting the air featuring candidates with firearms shooting at things: TVs, drones, thick copies of the Affordable Care Act.
The story about this crop of 2014 campaign ads seems to begin with this ad from the last midterm election season: Sen. Joe Manchin's 2010 ad "Dead Aim"
Even three Democrats voted against the nomination, including the above-mentioned Joe Manchin who after Newtown wrote the Manchin-Toomey Amendment that would strengthen background checks for gun sales. 
Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Donnelly of Indiana and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia.
“I’m opposing Dr. Murthy’s nomination because there are severe gaps in his basic qualifications that we as a country expect from our doctor of the nation – including experience in public health education training and management,” Heitkamp said in an email sent by an aide. “Dr. Murthy is a talented individual who I have no doubt has a promising career ahead of him.”
Donnelly echoed Heitkamp’s concerns.
“After speaking with Dr. Murthy, there is no question he is a talented physician and a passionate public health advocate,” Donnelly said in a statement. “However, after reviewing his qualifications, experience, and past positions—as well as the input from Hoosiers—I had concerns about his ability to serve as our nation’s leading medical voice on critical public health issues.”
Manchin announced before the vote that he would oppose Murthy because he was concerned that the positions he took would make it harder to win the trust of the American people.
“Our Surgeon General serves as America’s leader on public health services and chooses what health policies we should prioritize,” Manchin said in a release. “For that reason, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for America’s number one doctor to participate in political activism.”
As Rep. Janice Hahn said (page 9), 
if losing 20 young innocent lives doesn’t shake us up to end this epidemic of gun violence that has plagued our Nation’s neighborhoods, schools, and churches, then nothing will. If we harden our hearts to the tears and the testimonies of the parents of
Newtown here with us this week, then we’re telling every family that has been shattered by a gun and every family that has been shattered by this kind of violence that, if we don’t act, we’re washing our hands of their agony.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Haitian Prime Minister Resigns

A Haitian Commission established by President Martelly in response to protests over delayed elections in Haiti released a report calling for, among other recommendations, the resignation of Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe and 40 others in Parliament and the Judiciary.

Haitian Caribbean News Network reports that the
Commission called for the resignation of Prime Minister Lamothe, of a 9-member electoral council, of the President of the High Council of the Judiciary (CSPJ) and called on relevant authorities to free "political prisoners" and on opposition groups to cease a series of street demonstrations and other kinds of unrests.
The political crisis appears to have its roots in election delays since 2011 after the earthquake in 2010 that is still affecting the country very heavily, including an ongoing cholera outbreak.  
According to Mr. Medrano, the cholera outbreak in Haiti that started in October 2010 has produced more than 707,000 suspected cases and over 8,600 deaths to date, and “will continue until health, water and sanitation systems are addressed.”
“Like Ebola, cholera feeds on weak public health systems, and requires a sustained response,” he wrote.
(I'm writing this post in order to establish the background more, after only seeing in the news reporting that the Prime Minister resigned following commission recommendation.  This is actually the better article).  Here is his resignation speech.

Miami Herald reports that
The resolution of the crisis inevitably requires the forced or voluntary resignation of Martelly, the creation of a credible CEP, the release of political prisoners, the establishment of a provisional government and the holding of general elections in 2015. That’s it,” he said.

Commission coordinator Reginald Boulos said the recommendations are not an indictment on Lamothe’s performance but an acknowledgment that Haiti can no longer ignore what’s happening.

Martelly and the opposition have been at a stalemate over an electoral law with six opposition senators blocking the vote on constitutional grounds and a lack of confidence in the provisional electoral council, which is charged with staging the vote.

The lack of a law has further delayed the local and legislative elections, which should have taken place in 2011.

Read more here: http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/haiti/article4381663.html#storylink=cpy
Here is some more background on the political crisis.
Constitution calls for permanent electoral commission but there are things that must be in place including Senate vote
lack of a full Senate made this impossible but the permanent formula for choosing CEP members was applies to temporary.
This fueled the problem along with accusations the Pdt was trying to control most of the members
El Rancho Politcal Accord only fanned matters bcuz it didn't challenge the framework opposition argued was unconstitutional.
Hence Senate's Group 6 refused to give quorum to vote electoral law. Even deputies said they have reservations when they voted
Apparently despite the Prime Minister's resignation, protests continue

Audio of speech (link)

Prime Minister on why he quit (interview in English) (link)

PS. If anyone can read/translate French or Haitian Creole I would appreciate, and post here, the translation of the Commission's report and the Prime Minister's resignation speech.  You can email it to me at thebiasedreporter@gmail.com