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Rouhani’s Inauguration and the West’s Strategic Suicide

Rouhani

As Hassan Rouhani approaches his inauguration this weekend, there is self-referential optimism in Western policy circles about what his accession might portend.  A substantial quorum in these circles sees Rouhani as perhaps someone with whom the West—to recall Margaret Thatcher’s 1984 assessment of rising Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev—“can do business.”

The traits these observers cite to justify their optimism—Rouhani’s deep knowledge of the nuclear file, his history of seeking creative diplomatic solutions, an easier rhetorical style for Westerners than outgoing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, fluency in English—are real.

But the focus on them suggests that Western elites still look for Tehran to accommodate the West’s nuclear demands—above all, by compromising Iran’s right, as a sovereign state and signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium indigenously under safeguards.  This motivates them to interpret Rouhani’s election as evidence of Iranians’ growing weariness with sanctions and, by extension, with their government’s policies that prompt escalating international pressure on Iran’s economy.
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Time to Abolish the DHS?

Homeland
photo: Steve Rhodes

To the glee of her critics, Janet Napolitano, the longest-serving secretary at the Department of Homeland Security in its decade-long existence, has announced her resignation. No longer will Republicans have old Janet to kick around. As for the civil libertarians and frustrated national security state watchers, she was a reliable foot solider and bureaucrat and her departure is welcome for as much as it will make a difference, which is likely not much.

That’s because speculation of her replacement has centered around such milquetoast figures as retired Coast Guard Chief Thad Allen and former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, both of whom would no doubt would toe the line as faithfully as Napolitano and her ineffectual predecessors, Michael Chertoff and Tom Ridge. 

Then there is the incredibly jarring prospect of New York City Police Commissioner Ray Kelly becoming the new head of DHS. While the force’s infamous stop-and-frisk and Muslim community surveillance programs are currently tied up in contentious civil rights litigation, he has also overseen an expansion of the NYPD which is now acting like an auxiliary of both the CIA and the military here and abroad. If there were a poster child for post-9/11 overreach, it would be the NYPD, and its flinty-eyed top cop the perfect embodiment of imperious state authority.
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The American Surveillance State Is Here. Can It Be Evaded?

You Are Under Surveillance
photo: TheeErin
“If, as it seems, we are in the process of becoming a totalitarian society in which the state apparatus is all-powerful, the ethics most important for the survival of the true, free, human individual would be: cheat, lie, evade, fake it, be elsewhere, forge documents, build improved electronic gadgets in your garage that’ll outwit the gadgets used by the authorities.” – Philip K. Dick, author of Minority Report
On any given day, the average American going about his daily business will be monitored, surveilled, spied on and tracked in more than 20 different ways, by both government and corporate eyes and ears.

A byproduct of this new age in which we live, whether you’re walking through a store, driving your car, checking email, or talking to friends and family on the phone, you can be sure that some government agency, whether the NSA or some other entity, is listening in and tracking your behavior. As I point out in my new book, A Government of Wolves: The Emerging American Police State, this doesn’t even begin to touch on the corporate trackers that monitor your purchases, web browsing, Facebook posts and other activities taking place in the cyber sphere.
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Japan Must Face Up To China

China Protest
photo: guccio@文房具社

World War II has never really ended for Japan. Sixty-eight years after the battleship US “Missouri” sailed into Tokyo Bay to receive the surrender of the Japanese Empire, Japan still behaves like a meek, defeated nation rather than one of the world’s great powers – and great peoples.

Economically, Japan is a giant, albeit a staggering one. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party just secured full control of both houses of Japan’s parliament. Abe’s “three-arrow” reform program has injected new life in Japan’s formerly stagnant $5 trillion economy industry and driven down the over-valued yen.

But military, Japan remains a midget. Its so-called Self-Defense Forces were designed to stop a Soviet amphibious invasion of the northern islands. Japan’s US-written pacifist constitution prohibits all offensive military operations or exports of arms and military equipment.
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A House Divided Over NSA Spying on Americans

Last week’s House debate on the Defense Appropriations bill for 2014 produced a bit more drama than usual. After hearing that House leadership would do away with the traditional “open rule” allowing for debate on any funding limitation amendment, it was surprising to see that Rep. Justin Amash’s (R-MI) amendment was allowed on the Floor. In the wake of National Security Agency (NSA) whistleblower Edward Snowden’s revelations about the extent of US government spying on American citizens, Amash’s amendment sought to remove funding in the bill for some of the NSA programs.


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Kafka’s America: Secret Courts, Secret Laws, and Total Surveillance

Kafka Sidewalk
photo: Tom Hilton
“Logic may indeed be unshakeable, but it cannot withstand a man who is determined to live. Where was the judge he had never seen? Where was the High Court he had never reached? He raised his hands and spread out all his fingers. But the hands of one of the men closed round his throat, just as the other drove the knife deep into his heart and turned it twice.” – Franz Kafka, The Trial
In a bizarre and ludicrous attempt at “transparency,” the Obama administration has announced that it asked a secret court to approve a secret order to allow the government to keep spying on millions of Americans, and the secret court has granted its request.

Late on Friday, July 19, 2013, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC)—a secret court which operates out of an undisclosed federal building in Washington, DC—quietly renewed an order from the National Security Agency to have Verizon Communications hand over hundreds of millions of Americans’ telephone records to government officials. In so doing, the government has doubled down on the numerous spying programs currently aimed at the American people, some of which were exposed by whistleblower Edward Snowden, who temporarily pulled back the veil on the government’s gigantic spying apparatus.
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NRA vs Medical Associations: Guess Who Wants You in the Government Database?

Old Computer Room
photo: Orange County Archives

A conflict may be emerging between the National Rifle Association (NRA) and several large national medical and mental health associations regarding the expansion of US and state government mental health databases. Medical Daily reported last week that four national medical and mental health associations have sent letters to the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) expressing concern about a proposed rule to increase the flow of mental health records into the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS). The NICS database holds a vast amount of information about Americans—including people who have no intention of ever buying firearms—to be checked whenever anyone attempts to purchase a gun from a US licensed firearms dealer.

The American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors are, in sending the letter, expressing direct opposition to the National Rifle Association's (NRA) multi-year effort to enhance government restrictions of gun ownership and possession by creating a US government mental health database and encouraging the flow of information into that database.
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The Kurdish Spring in Turkey’s Backyard

Ocalan
photo: ~ Magne

The blowback of Turkey’s covert operations aimed at destabilizing the Syrian regime has begun surging. The spectre of an independent Kurdish entity on its Syrian border has come to haunt Turkey.

The challenge posed by the “Kurdish Spring” in northern Syria is of an existential character, but, ironically, the powers from far and near who encouraged Turkey to destabilize Syria are nowhere to be seen – incapable or unwilling to get involved in what could turn out to be a regional maelstrom.

An even bigger irony is that Turkey’s best allies in the region in the struggle against Kurdish separatism have traditionally been – and still could be – Iran, Iraq and Syria – but Ankara is no longer on friendly terms with any of them and the prospects of reconciliation seem a remote possibility at the moment.

Meanwhile, the military coup in Egypt has found Turkey badly isolated in its region. The regional axis involving Turkey, Qatar and Egypt has overnight disintegrated and key Arab states view with disfavor the Turkish leadership’s affinities with the Muslim Brotherhood.
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The Road to Nowhere: Kerry's Mideast Journey

Kerry Peres Abbas
photo: World Economic Forum

Here we go again, another round of Mideast peace talk kabuki.

A process in which Washington, Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization hold intense talks over holding talks, a ritual as stylized as the traditional Japanese dance. In the end, it’s the same empty, cynical ritual, year after year.

This past week, US Secretary of State John Kerry has been leading the dance in the latest attempt to restart peace talks between Israel and the Mahmoud Abbas’ PLO. As of this writing, the talks appear off. But they may be on again just as quickly. It depends on how much Washington offers its feuding clients, Israel and the PLO.

Watching this annual charade is both painful and exhausting. It makes cynics of the most idealistic hopers for Mideast peace.

Israel holds all the cards, and knows it. Jewish settlements, roads, and security walls are roaring ahead, relentlessly gobbling up the occupied West Bank, Golan and their water resources. West Bank Palestinians are being crammed into future native Bantustans patterned after South Africa’s apartheid-era reservations for blacks.
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