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Peter van Buren

Tell Us Why We’re At War, Candidates

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When I was a kid, successive presidents told us we had to fight in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, because if we didn’t fight them over there, we’d have to fight them on the beaches of California. We believed. It was a lie.

I was a teenager during the Cold War, several presidents told us we needed to create massive stockpiles of nuclear weapons, garrison the world, maybe invade Cuba, fight covert wars and use the CIA to overthrow democratically elected governments and replace them with dictators, or the Russians would destroy us. We believed. It was a lie.

When I was in college our president told us that we needed to fight in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua or the Sandinistas would come to the United States. He told us Managua was closer to Washington DC than LA was. He told us we needed to fight in Lebanon, Grenada and Libya to protect ourselves. We believed. It was a lie.
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Trouble Follows When the US Labels You a ‘Thug’

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There is a nasty pattern in American political speech, going back into the 1980s at least: when a senior US  official labels you a thug, often times wars follow. Thug is the safest word of American Exceptionalism.

So it is with some concern that lots of folks are pushing each other away from the mic to call Putin a thug (fun fact: Putin has been in effective charge of Russia for 15 years. As recently as the Hillary Clinton Secretary of State era, the US  sought a “reset” of relations with him.)

While the current throwing of the term thug at Putin is tied to the weak evidence presented publicly linking a Russian hacker under Putin’s employ to the hacking of the Democratic National Committee computers, there may be larger issues in the background. But first, a sample of the rhetoric.

Putin the Thug

Obama on Putin: “a thug who doesn’t understand his own best interests.”

Mario Rubio on Putin: “A gangster and a thug.”

Paul Ryan’s spokesperson on Putin: “Russia is a global menace led by a devious thug.”
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The Secret Rules That Allow the FBI to Spy on Journalists

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The bones of our democracy — the core elements that separate that way of life from others — lie in the First Amendment to the Constitution, specifically the rights to free speech and a free press.

Without the ability to speak freely, and to have things about our government reported equally freely to us, most of the rest of the concept of what was laid out on July 4, 1776 and later falls away. Thomas Jefferson himself stated that an “informed citizenry” was the key to everything.

So it is with more than a little anxiety that we learned secret rules allow the FBI to spy on journalists with such ease that the restraints are really nothing more than a bit of paperwork. As always, the ostensible justifications for another deep step into Post Constitutional America are terrorism, security, protecting the homeland. And, as always, the outcome seems to be much more about stomping out whistleblowers than anything else.

As revealed by an anonymous whistleblower to The Intercept (the government refused to release the information), secret rules allow FBI agents to obtain journalists’ phone records with approval from only two internal officials. No warrant needed. No outside oversight. No courts, no judges, no hearings, no public records.
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Clinton, Wasserman Schultz and the Wheezing Corpse of the Democratic Process Revealed

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Wikileaks over the last few days dumped tens of thousands of emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) server.

The disclosures of dirty tricks directed against Bernie Sanders contained in those emails are startling, and only add to the whirlpool of corruption and sleaze surrounding Hillary Clinton and the wheezing corpse of the democratic process.

There's a lot to unpack here:

-- The same people on the Clinton team who made enormous efforts to claim her private email server, which operated unencrypted over the Internet for three months including during trips to China and Russia and which contained Top Secret national security data, was not hacked by the Russians now are certain that the DNC server was hacked by the Russians.

-- Many in Camp Clinton and the media labeled Bernie Sanders' supporters are paranoid when they made claims during the primaries that the DNC was working against them. The hacked emails confirm the DNC was working against them, including suggestions that the DNC find ways to suggest Sanders was an atheist to discredit him in religious areas.
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Defeating Islamic Terrorism. Here’s How…

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As terrorism struck again in Nice and Germany and… Donald Trump outlined his policy against Islamic State: as president, he will seek a full declaration of war from Congress, the first such formal invocation since Pearl Harbor.

Trump was short on specifics but very clear he would take the strategies of the post-9/11 era into a presidency. Clinton, for her part, intends on “intensifying the current air campaign [and] stepping up support for local forces on the ground.” Their French counterpart, President Francois Hollande, declared “We will continue striking those who attack us on our own soil.”

The problem is that none of that will work. While perhaps necessary at times, military force is far from sufficient in defeating Islamic terrorism.

Post-Germany, Post-Nice, post-Brussels, post-Turkey, post-Paris… it is clear the last 15 years of the war on terror in general, and the last two against Islamic State in particular, have not worked. No society can defend itself fully when any truck can be turned into a weapon. No amount of curating social media will prevent disenfranchised people from becoming radicalized. Ramadi fell, Fallujah fell, Mosul will likely fall, and Nice still happened.

“The effect that’s going to happen now is like stepping on a ball of mercury,” stated one American intelligence analyst. “You step on a ball of mercury, all the pieces break up and spread around the world.”
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Cleveland Police to RNC Protesters: Don’t Hide Your Faces (Facial Recognition)

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Cleveland Police Chief Calvin Williams issued a warning to an undisclosed number of masked protesters outside the Republican National Convention: “If you are a member of a group that causes you to have to hide your face, then you probably need a different cause.”

Police claim they have received at least a dozen calls related to concerns about the small groups of black-clad “anarchists” with masks.

So why is Chief Williams so concerned about the face masks? Too early for Halloween?

Nope, facial recognition.

Law enforcement aggressively employs facial recognition technology at events such as the Republican National Convention to identify “persons of interest” and to catalog new persons of interest. Masked faces don’t play as well with the technology (though newer tech can get around some limitations, and iris scan tech needs only to see your, well, eyes. More below.)

With facial recognition, a computer digitizes an image of someone’s face in a way that makes fooling the system difficult, stuff like measuring the distance between eyes, the angle of one’s nose, ear lobe shape and other tough to alter things.
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The Baghdad Bombings, Islamic State, and What America Still Hasn’t Learned

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The suicide bombings in Baghdad by Islamic State, timed for maximum violence, are only the latest reminders that the United States should not downplay the group.

Since the wave of Islamic State suicide bombings in May – killing 522 people inside Baghdad, and 148 people inside Syria – American officials have downplayed the suicide bombing strategy as defensive. Brett McGurk, the Special Presidential Envoy in the fight against Islamic State, saidthe group “returned to suicide bombing” as the area under its control shrinks. The American strategy of focusing primarily on the “big picture” recapture of territory seems to push the suicide bombings to the side. “It’s their last card,” stated a compliant Iraqi spokesperson in response to the attacks.

The reality is just the opposite. Just a day after the June 26 liberation of Fallujah, car bombs exploded in eastern and southern Baghdad. Two other suicide bombers were killed outside the city. An improvised explosive device exploded in southwest Baghdad a day earlier. And now the latest, with a death toll approaching 200.

Washington should know better than to underestimate the power of small weapons to shape large events. After Donald Rumsfeld labeled Iraqi insurgents as “dead enders” in 2003, they began taking a deadly toll of American forces via suicide bombs. It was the 2006 bombing of the Shi’ite al-Askari Golden Mosque in Samarra that kicked the Iraqi civil war into high gear. It was improvised explosive devices and car bombs that kept American forces on the defensive through 2011.
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Stop Giving Chickens Away, Bill Gates

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Bill Gates’ philanthropic efforts are usually greeted with near-universal praise from people who believe he is a great humanitarian, but Bill Gates knows very little about sustainable, intelligent development.

 Bolivia to Bill Gates: Go to Hell and Take Your Chickens with You

The billionaire recently sought to donate 100,000 chickensto impoverished countries. The leftist government of Bolivia, one of the nations to receive the poultry, refused the donation, describing Gates’ gift as “offensive.”

“He does not know Bolivia’s reality to think we are living 500 years ago, in the middle of the jungle not knowing how to produce,” said Bolivia’s minister of land and rural development. “Respectfully, he should stop talking about Bolivia, and once he knows more, apologize to us.”

Coop Dreams

Gates announced the chicken initiative — dubbed [Honestly, I am not making this up] “Coop Dreams” — earlier this month.
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Google, YouTube, Facebook, Others, Now Using Automated Blocking of ‘Extremist’ Content

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The web’s biggest content providers have started using automation to remove “extremist propaganda” videos from their sites.

Censoring Content

YouTube (owned by Google) and Facebook are among the sites deploying systems to block or rapidly take down Islamic State videos and other similar material, sources said, though no company would confirm the action.

The technology employed was originally developed to remove copyright-protected content on video sites. It looks for “hashes,” unique digital fingerprints that Internet companies automatically assign to specific videos, allowing all content with matching fingerprints to be removed rapidly. Someone finds an offensive video, tags it, and then searches find other copies across the Internet.
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Teen Sues US Over Cavity Drug Search for Which She was Billed $575

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Ashley Cervantes, a then 18-year-old American citizen, was stopped at the Mexico border and, for some unspecified reason, perhaps related to her being young and of Hispanic ethnicity, accused by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) of smuggling drugs.

What Drugs?

A search of her person and belongings proved fruitless, which often is a strong indicator that there are no drugs. The process involved being locked into a detention room for several hours, handcuffed to a chair, while several dogs were brought in to sniff at her. A request to call her mother was denied.

But bullying is the best law enforcement tactic, so they gave her a body cavity search, which means a CBP agent put on some rubber gloves and shoved a finger up her vagina and butt. She was also made to squat pantless so female investigators could visually inspect her privates. Still no drugs.
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