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The Government’s ‘Passion’ to Protect Us

In a Washington Post profile today, we read that NSA Director Keith Alexander’s “passion” to protect us from terrorist threats led him to “collect it all,” meaning to intercept and store our every electronic interaction. According to the Post, Alexander used the “collect it all” approach in Iraq to help make it a safer place in the mid-2000s, and his success there led him to use it against the rest of us at home. Was Iraq really a success? Does Iraq seem like a safe place?
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New Egyptian War: Americans Lose, Again

Looking at the banners in the massive Egyptian protests last week, we saw many anti-American slogans. Likewise, the Muslim Brotherhood-led government that was deposed by the military last week was very critical of what it saw as US support for the coup. Why is it that all sides in this Egyptian civil war seem so angry with the United States? Because the United States has at one point or another supported each side, which means also that at some point the US has also opposed each side. It is the constant meddling in Egyptian affairs that has turned Egyptians against us, as we would resent foreign intervention in our own affairs.

For more than 30 years, since the US-brokered Camp David Accord between Israel and Egypt, the US supported Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak. Over that period the US sent more than $60 billion to prop up Mubarak and, importantly, to train and seek control over the Egyptian military. Those who opposed Mubarak’s unelected reign became more and more resentful of the US, which they rightly saw as aiding and abetting a dictator and denying them their political aspirations.


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US Egypt Policies Don't Pass the Laugh Test

A military coup in Egypt yesterday resulted in the removal and imprisonment of the elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a closure of media outlets sympathetic to him, the house arrest of his advisors, and the suspension of the constitution. The military that overthrew Morsi is the main recipient of the $1.3 billion yearly US aid package to Egypt. You could say that the US “owns” the Egyptian military that just overthrew its democratically-elected leader.
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If You Like the Surveillance State, You'll Love E-Verify

From massive NSA spying, to IRS targeting of the administration's political opponents, to collection and sharing of our health care information as part of Obamacare, it seems every day we learn of another assault on our privacy. Sadly, this week the Senate took another significant, if little-noticed, step toward creating an authoritarian surveillance state. Buried in the immigration bill is a national identification system called mandatory E-Verify.

The Senate did not spend much time discussing E-Verify, and what little discussion took place was mostly bipartisan praise for its effectiveness as a tool for preventing illegal immigrants from obtaining employment. It is a tragedy that mandatory E-Verify is not receiving more attention, as it will impact nearly every American’s privacy and liberty.


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The Death of Daniel Somers

I am reading the heartbreaking suicide note of Daniel Somers, a US combat veteran who spent several years fighting in Iraq. Mr. Somers was only 30 years old when he took his own life, after being tormented by the horrific memories of what he experienced in Iraq. 

He wrote: “The simple truth is this: During my first deployment, I was made to participate in things, the enormity of which is hard to describe. War crimes, crimes against humanity. Though I did not participate willingly, and made what I thought was my best effort to stop these events, there are some things that a person simply can not come back from.”

Many who shout the loudest that we must “support the troops” urge sending them off to unwinnable and undeclared wars in which there is no legitimate US interest. The US military has been abused by those who see military force as a first resort rather than the last resort and only in self-defense. This abuse has resulted in a generation of American veterans facing a life sentence in the prison of tortured and deeply damaged minds as well as broken bodies.


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What We Have Learned From Afghanistan

Last week the Taliban opened an office in Doha, Qatar with the US government’s blessing. They raised the Taliban flag at the opening ceremony and referred to Afghanistan as the "Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan"—the name they used when they were in charge before the US attack in 2001.

The US had meant for the Taliban office in Doha to be only a venue for a new round of talks on an end to the war in Afghanistan. The Taliban opening looked very much like a government in exile. The Karzai government was annoyed that the US and the Taliban had scheduled talks without even notifying Kabul. Karzai’s government felt as irrelevant to negotiations on post-war Afghanistan as they soon will be on the ground. It seemed strangely like Paris in 1968, where the US met with North Vietnamese representatives to negotiate a way out of that war, which claimed nearly 60,000 Americans and many times that number of Vietnamese lives.


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Nobody is Listening to Our Phone Calls?

Today we learned from the Guardian newspaper that Federal judges and Attorney General Eric Holder signed off on an NSA request to make use of information it “inadvertently” collected on Americans without a warrant. According to the paper, the NSA was given permission to retain our intercepted information for a broad and vaguely defined variety of reasons, including “if they contain usable intelligence, information on criminal activity, threat of harm to people or property, are encrypted, or are believed to contain any information relevant to cybersecurity.” That could cover almost anything.
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It’s Obama’s Safari – But We’re the Ones Taken for a Ride!

Remember the Sequester? Remember the Administration threatening the end of the world if the phony “cuts” (which were actually just decreases in future spending increases) came into effect? Remember the cuts to Air Traffic Controllers while we were told “good luck” on our flights? Remember the cuts to TSA agents while we were told to enjoy our two hour wait in line to be groped or irradiated?
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Obama’s Syria Policy Looks a Lot Like Bush’s Iraq Policy

President Obama announced late last week that the US intelligence community had just determined that the Syrian government had used poison gas on a small scale, killing some 100 people in a civil conflict that has claimed an estimated 100,000 lives. Because of this use of gas, the president claimed, Syria had crossed his “red line” and the US must begin to arm the rebels fighting to overthrow the Syrian government.


Setting aside the question of why 100 killed by gas is somehow more important than 99,900 killed by other means, the fact is his above explanation is full of holes. The Washington Post reported last week that the decision to overtly arm the Syrian rebels was made “weeks ago” – in other words, it was made at a time when the intelligence community did not believe “with high confidence” that the Syrian government had used chemical weapons.


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