Monday, September 9, 2013

Comic: The Red Line Dance

Turn on some music!

Keep Dancing

That's Enough

Comic: Syria in Crisis

Syria in Crisis

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Weekly Roundup

Recent Comics

Recent News

From the whistleblowing-gone-awry department:
via Buzzfeed:
One refrain in the wake of the National Security Agency leaks is that Edward Snowden should have reported his concerns up the chain of command rather than leaking documents to the press. But the internal reporting system is seriously broken in the military. All too often when a soldier reports misconduct or illegal activity, it is swept under the rug.
Many sites are maintaining a detailed tally of the House's upcoming Syria vote:
As of Friday afternoon, there were 223 members in the “no” or “leaning no” category, more than the 217 that would be needed to sink the resolution
Apparently Obama is learning about the NSA's activities from leaks along with the rest of us. Via Techdirt again:
Regarding Syria, it's never a good sign when your own military has misgivings:
 And finally, the good folks at ProPublica liked Thursday's comic!

Anything for my heroez. As I said recently, more alliances like these are needed in journalism. Everyone involved in the NSA leaks is fighting the good fight and they should all be immortalized in song.

See you Monday!

Friday, September 6, 2013

Thursday, September 5, 2013

NYT, Guardian, and ProPublica Join Forces

For the first time, a National Security Agency leak has been published simultaneously by three different news organizations. The New York Times, the Guardian, and ProPublica all joined forces following a tumultuous experience with British authorities last month.

As ProPublica made clear in their eloquent explanation, an important relationship exists between publishing leaks and protecting civil liberties:
There are those who, in good faith, believe that we should leave the balance between civil liberty and security entirely to our elected leaders, and to those they place in positions of executive responsibility. Again, we do not agree. The American system, as we understand it, is premised on the idea -- championed by such men as Thomas Jefferson and James Madison -- that government run amok poses the greatest potential threat to the people’s liberty, and that an informed citizenry is the necessary check on this threat. The sort of work ProPublica does -- watchdog journalism -- is a key element in helping the public play this role.
As we've seen lately, government abuse has finally reached a point where no one can go it alone. The lone journalist who attempts to speak truth to power is sure to fail, pulled down both by the power he attempts to hold accountable and by his own peers, who enjoy their access to government officials far too much to speak up.

Luckily, journalists are finally learning the meaning of "United we stand, divided we fall." While it is easy to call for the prosecution of a lone journalist who reports on government abuses, very little can be done about three major news organizations working together. Even if the government were to push back, we would see the alliance between journalists strengthen -- as it did following the destruction of the Guardian's hard-drives -- rather than weaken. More alliances like these are needed to keep the ball rolling toward transparency.

Thanks For The Info

The New York Times website today:

Good to know. Tell us more.

Update: Looks like the Guardian has just published their story relating to this.

And here is the NYT's version.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Sunday, September 1, 2013

Obama's Own Words Could Be Used to Justify an Attack on the US

In his long-awaited address to the nation, the president made another call for the US to uphold international norms. The problem with this line of reasoning is that if the US were to strike Syria for the sake of upholding the law, then another country could just as reasonably attack us on the same grounds. There are, after all, laws prohibiting military aggression in the same way that there are laws prohibiting the use of chemical weapons.

If another country did decide to attack us, they would probably find Obama's words perfectly fitting for their own purposes. Just read the president's speech again with the references to chemical weapons replaced by references to military aggression:
What message will we send if a president can attack a foreign nation in plain sight and pay no price? What’s the purpose of the international system that we’ve built if a prohibition on military aggression that has been agreed to by the governments of 98% of the world’s not enforced?

Make no mistake -- this has implications beyond illegal warfare. If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules? To governments who would choose to build nuclear arms? To terrorists who would spread biological weapons? To armies who carry out genocide?

We cannot raise our children in a world where we will not follow through on the things we say, the accords we sign, the values that define us.

...we will insist that an aggressive attack on another country...must be confronted.
Would anyone object if Russia issued that statement in response to our actions? What if they backed it up by sinking our ships? No, they wouldn't have the law on their side, but neither would we. Their intent to uphold the law would appear just as noble as ours, which is to say, not very noble at all. In fact, it would seem downright hypocritical. How can anyone claim that the act of breaking the law actually upholds it?

More on Syria >>

Weekly Roundup

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See you tomorrow!

Friday, August 30, 2013

Obama: We Must Uphold International Law by Breaking International Law

Attempting to justify his plans for a military strike on Syria, Obama said today that the US, as a leader in the world, has an "obligation" to uphold international norms.

The problem with this argument is that by attacking Syria, the US would actually be breaking international law, which forbids the sort of strike that Obama is contemplating. In essence, Obama wants to break international law in order to uphold it, a senseless proposition. Assuming the US does have a special obligation to the world, the best way to fulfill it would be to play by the rules. That means respecting both the Constitution and international law. A unilateral strike on Syria would violate both.

(For those who think the president has the power under the Constitution to launch an attack, I addressed that issue here and here. Both Thomas Jefferson and Candidate Obama said that the president did not have that power.)

Of course, it may be that Obama thinks our obligation to punish Assad is greater than our obligation to obey the law. But if we adopt that line of reasoning, then Russia, who is currently moving warships into the area, may very well adopt a similar line of reasoning toward us. We would, after all, be breaking the same sort of international agreement that Assad is supposedly breaking, and we would, therefore, be worthy of receiving the same sort of unilateral punishment at the hands of Russia.

Would people complain if Russia attacked us? Of course. But anyone who thinks that Obama is justified in punishing Syria would have to agree that Russia would be equally justified in punishing us. As Obama said today, no one will take international laws seriously if no one enforces them. Just imagine those words coming from a Moscow official next week when Russia is sinking our warships. I wonder if Obama would see the irony.

Of course, all this can be avoided if Obama sits tight and convenes Congress for a vote. It would fail, but it would send an important message to the rest of the world, that world-leaders are bound by their own laws. That sounds much better to me than the reckless course of action currently being considered.

Happy Blog Quotez

War is luv
Wall Street Journal: 
President Obama said Thursday he hasn't decided whether to attack Syria, adding that any strike would be a brief "shot across the bow" in response to the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons. We can't recall another President suggesting his goal was to miss his military target  
Joe Biden:
...the president has no constitutional authority to take this country to war ... unless we’re attacked or unless there is proof that we are about to be attacked. And if he does, I would move to impeach him.
 @TheHutchReport, Twitter:
President Obama is an airstrike away from becoming the first person to win two Nobel Peace Prizes.

Coming of Age

More Comics and News >>

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Needles in Haystacks

A brilliant quote from Techdirt's Mike Masnick about the recently leaked NSA budget:
  ...the NSA is swimming in so much information that it asked for nearly $50 million to cope with the problem of having too much information. We've pointed out for years that the trick to finding the needles in haystacks isn't to build bigger haystacks, but that's long been the NSA's approach. However, those haystacks have become so big that the NSA asked for $48.6 million designated for "coping with information overload." Here's a simple, and cheaper, plan: don't collect so much irrelevant data.

Jennifer Rubin Responds to Imaginary Errors with Almost Nothing but Errors

Rand Paul had this to say about Syria:
The United States should condemn the use of chemical weapons. We should ascertain who used the weapons, and we should have an open debate in Congress over whether the situation warrants U.S. involvement. The Constitution grants the power to declare war to Congress, not the President. The war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States, and victory by either side will not necessarily bring in to power people friendly to the United States.
All perfectly sensible. Unfortunately, Jennifer Rubin of the Washington Post seems to have misunderstood every word, describing Paul's statement as bone-chilling evidence that Paul should "never, ever be commander in chief." Rubin is welcome to her opinion about Paul's fitness for the presidency, but she is flat-out wrong when she says, as she later does, that Paul's statement includes errors. It is her own response, in fact, that is filled with errors. I will address three of them.
We don’t need to ascertain whether chemical weapons have been used (does he read the papers?). We already know.
What Paul said is that we should ascertain who used the chemical weapons, a completely different statement. Modern history is filled with enough false flag attacks to warrant skepticism, and that is what Paul is referring to. But whether or not one thinks a false flag attack is likely to have occurred in this scenario, it is still flat-out wrong for Rubin to imply that Paul's statement is an error.
But the worst is his declaration that we have no national security interest in Syria.
Paul said that the war in Syria has no clear national security connection to the United States, and he is right. After three years, no threat to our national security has emerged as a result of the civil war in Syria. Not a single Syrian bullet or missile has reached our shores. Neither Assad's military nor the rebels fighting it have come to our country and harmed us. Rubin is welcome to argue that the outcome in Syria has consequences for our allies in the region, and therefore has consequences for the United States, but that is not the same as saying that the war in Syria has a clear national security connection to the United States. There is no error in Paul's statement.
As for Congress, Rand Paul again demonstrates his misunderstanding of the Constitution. A declaration of war requires congressional act; a minimal strike of the sort the president contemplates is surely within the Article 1 powers of the commander in chief. Thomas Jefferson thought so.
This is wrong on all counts. First, Article I of the Constitution does not address the "powers of the commander in chief." That would be Article II. More important, however, is Rubin's claim that Thomas Jefferson is on her side. That is simply false. If she wanted to support her hawkish views with history, then she could not have picked a worse example for her purposes. Thomas Jefferson did not think what she claims he did. In fact, he held the opposite view, that the president is prohibited from making even the most minimal attack without congressional approval. If she had bothered to investigate her own example, then she would know this. The instance in question comes from the First Barbary War, when Tripoli declared war on the United States after several years of harassing American ships in the Mediterranean. Congress passed legislation that allowed the president to command six frigates as he "may direct," in order to "protect our commerce & chastise their insolence — by sinking, burning or destroying their ships & Vessels wherever you shall find them."

Even with Congress's approval, however, Jefferson was mindful of his powers under the Constitution. He "sent a small squadron of frigates to the Mediterranean to protect against possible attacks by the Barbary powers," but he insisted that he was "'unauthorized by the Constitution, without the sanction of Congress, to go beyond the line of defense.' He further noted that it was up to Congress to authorize 'measures of offense also.'"

That bears repeating: Jefferson refused to take offensive measures against Tripoli because, in his own words, he was "unauthorized by the Constitution ... to go beyond the line of defense." Every step of the way, he held to this conviction and waited for congressional approval before attacking. Gradually, in at least ten different statutes, Congress authorized offensive measures, culminating in a victory for the United States.

To say then, as Rubin does, that Jefferson thought he had the authority to make a "minimal strike" of the sort that Obama is contemplating is completely false. He explicitly said otherwise, that he did not have that authority. If Obama followed Jefferson as a model, then he would show Congress and the Constitution the same level of respect that Jefferson did. That means seeking congressional approval before launching an attack, no matter how "minimal."

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Carney's Twisted Logic: Syria using chemical weapons is a "threat" to the US and justifies war


The White House is currently preparing the public for a strike on Syria, and part of that preparation involves heading off accusations that the president is abusing his powers. As Obama himself said when he was still a candidate, "the President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation." Everyone knows this and everyone knows that Congress won't approve a military strike on Syria, which is why Obama hasn't asked Congress to convene on the matter. That leaves the White House only one option: to re-define "imminent threat to the nation" to include whatever it wants, such as a civil war in a land thousands of miles away. Here is the Guardian's live-blog of the relevant exchange:
Carney is asked about Obama's statement as a candidate in 2007 of his belief that a president may only take unilateral war action, without congressional approval, in cases of "an actual and imminent threat" to the United States. Does the US face such a threat? Carney replies in the affirmative: "Allowing [the asserted chemical attack] to take place without a response would present a significant... threat to the United States," Carney says.
This sounds remarkably like something from the Bush era, and it deserves widespread condemnation for its twisted logic. The Obama administration clearly hasn't learned from Bush's mistakes, or it wouldn't be leading us into yet another unpopular war on flimsy legal grounds.

Of course, some people will forgive the White House simply because they want to support the Syrian rebels. But that is a separate issue. Even if one supports a military strike on Syria, one can still condemn the illegality of it. In the present scenario, the president simply does not have the legal authority to do what he is about to do, and this should alarm anyone who wants to avoid re-living the past. We must hold our government officials accountable -- especially when their reasoning is as irrational as Carney's -- if we want to live in a lawful society. Allowing this administration to so flagrantly abuse its powers would be an astonishing disavowal of the rule of law.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Choose Your Political Adventure!

Your story begins... NSA headquarters. You are a spiffy dude.

One day, a high-ranking colleague hands you a stack of papers and asks you to deliver it to another office. Along the way...

"Mr. President: These pictures will convince
Senator D-- to support your re-election campaign. Heh heh heh!"
Oh no! The President is blackmailing politicians to win re-election!

What do you do?
Nothing. Follow orders.
Blow the whistle through the proper channels.
Go to the press.

We're doomed

In video posted on the station’s website, [it] was seen hovering above the stands. It appeared to be about four feet in diameter and reminiscent of a spider, with numerous appendages projecting from a central core. Then, it suddenly dipped and fell into the midst of about a dozen spectators. Others rushed toward the place where it came down. [Wall Street Journal, 8/26]
The government has landed.

"Key Surveillance Laws"

While trying to explain away cases of agents spying on lovers and spouses, the NSA slipped into babble recently:
NSA said in a statement Friday that there have been “very rare” instances of willful violations of any kind in the past decade, and none have violated key surveillance laws. “NSA has zero tolerance for willful violations of the agency’s authorities” and responds “as appropriate.”
Willful violations? Zero tolerance? What do those phrases mean to the NSA? I especially want to know about these "key surveillance laws." They sound important. I assume they're written down somewhere. And if spying on one's lover doesn't violate them, then what does?

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Weekly Roundup

Recent Comics
Recent News
Thus ends the first week of Happy Blog Friendz. See you tomorrow.

Friday, August 23, 2013

The Independent Has a Second Source and They Don't Want You to Know it

The Independent today revealed the existence of an internet surveillance facility operated by the UK in the Middle East. The carefully-worded article doesn't credit a source but says the information "was contained in the 50,000 GCHQ documents that Mr Snowden downloaded during 2012."

As others have pointed out, this is a clever way of implying that Snowden is the source for the story. Unfortunately for The Independent, Snowden is still very much alive and capable of issuing statements, which is exactly what he did:
I have never spoken with, worked with, or provided any journalistic materials to the Independent.
Uh oh. The Independent is suddenly without a source. They WANT you to think it's Edward Snowden, but it's not. So who is it?

Snowden himself offers an explanation:
It appears that the UK government is now seeking to create an appearance that the Guardian and Washington Post's disclosures are harmful, and they are doing so by intentionally leaking harmful information to The Independent and attributing it to others. The UK government should explain the reasoning behind this decision to disclose information that, were it released by a private citizen, they would argue is a criminal act.
Is he right? Who knows. One thing is certain: The Independent is being incredibly manipulative and secretive about its source, and that fact alone should be deeply troubling to everyone. There is a Second Source out there for the NSA leaks, and the only people who know about it -- The Independent -- don't want you to know about it. Why?

FOIA Request

Thursday, August 22, 2013


Starring Dirk Bogarde and Olivia de Havilland

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Reactions to the Bradley Manning verdict will be shaped by two misconceptions

Reactions to the Bradley Manning verdict will be shaped by two misconceptions:

• First, that Manning and WikiLeaks "dumped" hundreds of thousands of US diplomatic cables onto the internet. On Nov. 29, 2010, several media outlets reported as much:

ABC: "...making public hundreds of thousands of secret diplomatic cables."

TIME: "...the more than 250,000 diplomatic cables dumped by the website WikiLeaks..."

NYDaily News: "The vast document dump that WikiLeaks unveiled Sunday..."

At that time, however, WikiLeaks had only released 220 diplomatic cables, all carefully reviewed and, where necessary, redacted. The NY Times was one of the few news sources to get this right:
WikiLeaks posted 220 cables, some redacted to protect diplomatic sources...
Yes, you read that right. The documents were redacted to protect diplomatic sources. On Nov. 29, 2010, many media figures were warning us that the life of everyone named in those 250,000 documents was at risk. That mistake is why many people still think of Manning as a traitor.

• Second, that Manning's leaks harmed US interests.

First of all, I don't believe that exposing wrongdoing harms a country's interests any more than the foul taste of medicine harms the sick. The good clearly outweighs the bad. But what actual harm, if any, was there? Here's what U.S. officials had to say, via McClatchy (emphasis added):
American officials in recent days have warned repeatedly that the release of documents by WikiLeaks could put people's lives in danger.

But despite similar warnings ahead of the previous two massive releases of classified U.S. intelligence reports by the website, U.S. officials concede that they have no evidence to date that the documents led to anyone's death.
Of course, it's not too late. Maybe in good time, Manning's leaks will lead to death and destruction. But as of right now, four years later, they haven't. Not one death has been attributed to Manning. If that fact were more widely known, would people still be celebrating his 35-year sentence?

Please Trust NSA

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The NSA Hubbub Continues

Techdirt has become one of my favorite sources for surveillance news lately, thanks in large part to Mike Masnick's tireless coverage of every possible news angle. Some highlights include:
The tide is quickly turning, but you can't expect the intelligence community to admit that yet. They have a knack for stubbornness and for making absurd and untruthful claims about their activities. Think of Clapper's statement to congress, his many explanations for that statement, and now this doozy from the NSA's director of compliance, John DeLong, via the Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):
"NSA has a zero-tolerance policy for willful misconduct," Mr. DeLong said. "None of the incidents that were in the document released were willful." Mr. DeLong reported, however, "a couple" of willful violations in the past decade. He didn't provide details.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell Sen. Diane Feinstein, head of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee, who really ought to know:
As I have said previously, the committee has never identified an instance in which the NSA has intentionally abused its authority to conduct surveillance for inappropriate purposes.
But of course, the "truthfulness" of that statement depends on one's own definition of "inappropriate purposes." In Feinstein's mind, there might be a difference between intentional abuses conducted for appropriate purposes and intentional abuses conducted for inappropriate purposes. I can't imagine what that difference would be, but I can sure imagine someone defending their words with such a distinction and getting away with it, a la Clapper. That's just the how the world works now.
An important message from the NSA
Meanwhile, congress is (surprisingly) keeping up the good fight. Sen. Pat Toomey issued a statement yesterday that read in part:
The latest revelations about privacy violations by the NSA raise important questions and warrant a congressional hearing.
In other words, the Amash Amendment, narrowly defeated in congress, isn't dead yet. The scale is tipping. Many representatives, including Rep. Amash, are raring for a second go.

Now Vs. Near Future

Did you find the monkey?

Monday, August 19, 2013

Another round of "Is Glenn Greenwald a real journalist?"

HotAir's Jazz Shaw has begun another round of "Is Glenn Greenwald a real journalist?" in a piece entitled "Defining Glenn Greenwald". The answer to that question will, obviously, determine the fate of the world. There's no other explanation for its constant recurrence.

Shaw's main beef with Greenwald, surprisingly, is not that Greenwald is publishing classified information, but that he is not publishing it all at once. Greenwald, he suggests, is releasing the documents "in dribs and drabs" in order to ingratiate himself with the public, because "Glenn is in the business of promoting Glenn."

Unfortunately, he blasts Greenwald's character with what appears to be a complete fabrication (emphasis added):
"when the White House indicated that they would be pursuing Snowden, Greenwald immediately resorted to threats, indicated that if 'anything happens' to him, he would open the floodgates."
Goodness me! What Greenwald actually said is that Snowden is no longer the sole possessor of the NSA documents, so their publication does not depend upon Snowden's freedom. He never said anything about changing the frequency of publication in reaction to something happening to Snowden.

A lot of misinformation gets around about Greenwald, but today was downright silly. Elsewhere, the Huffington Post's headline blared: "GREENWALD VOWS VENGEANCE: ENGLAND 'WILL BE SORRY'," to which Andrea Peterson of the Washington Post responded with a sobering blog post: "No, Glenn Greenwald didn't 'vow vengeance.' He said he was going to do his job." Cue weary sigh.

Heathrow Airport, Part Deux

Reactions to the Heathrow airport incident continue to pour in along with more information: namely that David Miranda, the partner of Glenn Greenwald, is on the Guardian payroll [Amnesty Int'l] and was carrying documents from documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras intended for Mr. Greenwald [NY Times].

Whether that makes Mr. Miranda a journalist or not (there will be needless debate, I'm sure), there can be no doubt that this was an attack on investigative journalism. Authorities, in their determination to squelch any further embarrassments, are willing to intimidate not just nosy journalists like Mr. Greenwald, but their associates as well. Never mind that Mr. Greenwald has done nothing illegal.

So who HAS done something illegal? Edward Snowden, allegedly. Mr. Greenwald, an associate, is once removed, and Mr. Miranda, an associate of Mr. Greenwald, is twice removed. That means that UK authorities, like the NSA, are now targeting individuals "two hops" from alleged criminals. So you might want to tighten up your circle of friends.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Heathrow Airport

Hello, my darlings. It's good to be back. The Guardian reported today that the partner of Glenn Greenwald (one of the journalists who broke the NSA story) was detained this Sunday at Heathrow airport in London for nine hours. This was done under a provision of the UK's Terrorism Act of 2000, which allows airport authorities to detain and question travelers for up to nine hours. According to the Home Office, fewer than 1 in 2,000 people are held that long. Most travelers, obviously, are never selected for examination to begin with; according to the Home Office again, it's "fewer than 3 people in every 10,000." The number of those who undergo the full 9-hour marathon, then, is exceedingly small. Of those 3 in 10,000 who are examined, fewer than 1 in 2,000 are examined for nine hours. In other words, this is an exceptionally rare case.

You would assume, then, that David Miranda, the individual involved, was a dangerous threat to the lives of his fellow travelers. Because surely airport authorities would only exercise this rarely-invoked power in order to protect us. It must have been a matter of life and death. Save me, my darlings!
In actuality, however, it is much more likely that the British government or its American allies wanted to send a message to Greenwald about his investigative journalism. Unfortunately, this is not the first time that authorities have used their post-9/11 powers to harass politically-active travelers. That's because in the US, airports are the one place where the government can ignore the Fourth Amendment and openly intimidate its enemies by searching and confiscating their property. Coincidentally, Greenwald himself has addressed this phenomenon in the past,
  • including in 2011 ("Will Congress act to curb the shocking abuses U.S. citizens encounter when re-entering their own country?")
  • and in 2010, when a Bradley Manning supporter had his cellphones and laptop seized upon re-entering the US.
These seem like gross misuses of power to me. But what about the rest of you, my darling readers? Many of you seem willing to put up with increased airport security in order to curb terrorism, but how many of you will put up with increased airport security if it's being used to intimidate the government's political enemies? Not many, I hope.

In parting, I have just one question for you, my lovelies. Will you be my happy blog friends?