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Congress Gives FOIA a Modest but Important Update For Its 50th Birthday: 2016 in Review

eff.org - Thu, 29/12/2016 - 02:19

Year after year, federal agencies worked behind the scenes to thwart any attempt to reform the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In 2016, Congress finally came through and successfully amended the 50-year-old transparency statute with the goal of improving our ability to oversee our government.

For FOIA’s golden anniversary, EFF and other transparency advocates were hoping for a comprehensive set of reforms (our wishlist is here). Although what Congress ultimately passed wasn’t half as robust, the FOIA Improvement Act of 2016 represents some of the most pronounced changes to the law in roughly a decade.

The biggest change: “the presumption of disclosure.”

FOIA now explicitly limits officials' discretion to withhold records by requiring agencies to disclose them by default, with a couple of exceptions. The agency can hold back if it can point to a law other than FOIA that prohibits disclosure. The agency can also withhold the records if it can articulate exactly how disclosure would harm a specific interest protected by FOIA’s exemptions, such as an individual’s private medical records or classified military files.

EFF is cautiously optimistic that the presumption of disclosure rule will lead to greater transparency.

Other features of the reform bill:

  • The All-in-One FOIA Portal. The law mandates that the federal government create a central online portal that will allow anyone to file a FOIA request with any agency.
  • No More Outdated Regs. The law also requires all federal agencies to update their FOIA regulations before the end of 2016 to reflect the current law. This was a small but essential requirement, as many agencies’ regulations were woefully out of date, ignoring changes to FOIA passed by Congress from as far back as 2007.
  • The 25-Year “Deliberative Process” Clock. The law now includes a 25-year limit on agencies’ claims that records would disclose internal decision-making, in what is known as the deliberative process privilege, and required agencies to give requesters more time to appeal denied requests.

The FOIA reforms have already had an impact. One of EFF’s allies, the National Security Archive, had been fighting in court for years to disclose a volume of the CIA’s Bay of Pigs invasion history. The CIA had long claimed that the document could not be released on grounds that it would reveal internal decision-making, i.e. deliberative process. After the law passed, the CIA reversed course and released the document to the Archive. You can read the newly released history here.

We’d like to wish a Very Sunshiny New Year to Sens. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) for getting the bill to President Obama’s desk and fixing parts of our nation’s transparency law. But we’ll be clinking our champagne flutes to the coalition who worked with us all year, which included: Project On Government Oversight, National Security Archive, Sunshine in Government Initiative, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, American Society of News Editors, ACLU, and, of course, the Sunlight Foundation.

And to the incoming agency heads, we’ll FOIA you in January.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.

Like what you're reading? Support digital freedom defense today!


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Kerry's One-Sided Vision of Israeli/Palestinian Peace

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 23:21
Kerry’s One-Sided Vision of Israeli/Palestinian Peace
by Stephen Lendman
Decades of intermittent peace talks achieved nothing but continued occupation harshness for nearly half a century.
Oslo was a Palestinian Versailles, unilateral surrender. Israel wants all valued Judea and Samaria areas developed for Jews alone. It claims Jerusalem, a UN-designated international city, as its exclusive capital.
Palestinians got nothing for renouncing armed struggle, recognizing Israel’s right to exist, and agreeing to leave major unresolved issues for later final status talks. They’re still waiting after nearly a quarter century.
Major issues include an independent sovereign Palestine free from occupation, the right of return, settlements, borders within pre-June 1967 lines, resource rights, Gaza’s blockade, political prisoners, along with East Jerusalem as Palestine’s future capital.
Kerry’s earlier shuttle diplomacy excluded peace in our time. It was pretense, old wine in new bottles, smoke and mirrors deception. A Hamas statement called it “based upon an American-Zionist agenda which sees settlements devour land and the Judaization of Jerusalem and holy sites.”
Kerry endorses “national divisions,” serving Israeli interests exclusively, Palestinian rights ignored like always.
Any plan letting Israel annex settlements amounts to legitimizing years of land theft. Palestine belongs to Palestinians. They’ll settle for 22% of their historic homeland.
Israel wants all valued areas Judaized, Palestinians excluded, a prescription for endless conflict. Washington is no honest broker. Francis Boyle once said Israel “never demonstrated even one iota of good faith when it came to negotiating a two-state solution with the Palestinians.”
Nor did America earlier going back decades, throughout Obama’s tenure and from whatever Kerry proposes in his dubious December 28 initiative - presenting what the State Department calls a “comprehensive vision” for achieving Israeli/Palestinian peace.
Calling himself “a lifelong friend of Israel,” his address will likely update his March 2014 “framework document,” warmed over past failure serving Israeli interests exclusively, enough to give US diplomacy more of a bad name than already.
It’ll likely be the basis for January 15 Paris peace conference discussions, dozens of international foreign ministers involved. A conflict resolution plan will likely be drafted for adoption by the Quartet and Security Council before Obama leaves office on January 20 if things go as planned.
Kerry’s Wednesday address, followed by mid-January Paris talks, will be his last hurrah. 
A trilateral Russia, Iran, Turkey alliance on achieving cessation of hostilities and conflict resolution in Syria excludes Washington, NATO and their rogue Middle East allies - obstacles to peace, not supporters.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

US Colluded with Palestinians Before UN Settlements Vote?

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 23:10
US Colluded with Palestinians Before UN Settlements Vote?
by Stephen Lendman
According to a document published by the Arabic Al-Youm Al-Sabaa broadsheet, John Kerry and national security advisor Susan Rice told a Palestinian delegation headed by Saeb Erekat and intelligence chief Majed Faraj in Washington that the Obama administration would abstain on SC Res. 2334 if its wording was balanced - 10 days before last Friday’s vote.
The five-page Arabic document discussed the meeting between both sides. If authentic, it indicates US involvement in wanting the resolution adopted - no surprise given its abstention. 
It affirmed the illegality of Israeli settlements, what’s been known for nearly half a century, no world community action ever taken to halt Israeli lawlessness, on this or any other issue affecting Palestinians and regional peace.
The day before the Security Council vote, the Israeli Hebrew language Walla broadsheet published a similar report. Both sides denied colluding ahead of Res. 2334’s adoption - failing to prevent leaks of their meeting.
According to the document Al-Youm Al-Sabaa published, Kerry promised “full (US) cooperation,” saying he’d deliver an address explaining Washington’s position - provided Palestinians agreed with principles he presented in his 2014 framework proposal. 
The talk intended days earlier was postponed until December 28.
In 2014, Israel accepted Kerry’s plan with objections. Palestinians didn’t respond either way. A same day article explained it one-sidedly favored Israel, Palestinian rights ignored like always.
The leaked document called Trump hostile to Palestinian interests. Rice asked Erekat how the PA would respond if he moves America’s embassy to Jerusalem and supports Israel’s annexation of West Bank land.
Erekat reportedly said Palestinians would join 16 UN agencies they’re not currently members of, disavow recognition of Israel, freeze security, diplomatic and economic relations with the Jewish state, make its regime responsible for managing matters the PA now handles, as well as urging Arab countries to expel US ambassadors.
Kerry’s address won’t likely surprise. Nor will what comes out of January’s Paris peace conference - results at least largely favorable to Israel at the expense of fundamental Palestinian rights.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Russia and Turkey Agree on Syria Ceasefire

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 22:58
Russia and Turkey Agree on Syria Ceasefire
by Stephen Lendman
According to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu (press) Agency, Moscow and Ankara agreed on cessation of hostilities in Syria in all areas with no jihadist presence.
It’s effective at midnight on December 29, based on provisions of UN Security Council Resolution 2254 - calling for ceasefire and diplomatic conflict resolution.
It excludes continuing anti-terrorism operations against ISIS, al-Nusra and likeminded groups. If implemented, conflict resolution talks will take place in Astana, Kazakhstan - Moscow and Ankara acting as guarantors of any agreement reached.
Last week, Moscow hosted a trilateral Russia, Iran and Turkey meeting, their foreign ministers agreeing to work cooperatively toward resolving conflict in Syria diplomatically.
Sergey Lavrov called the format “the most effective one,” saying he and his Iranian and Turkish counterparts agreed on the urgency of “terminat(ing) violence, combat operations, unhampered delivery of humanitarian aid and the start of an inclusive political process incorporating all Syrian parties concerned without any preconditions.”
“Regretably…our (international) counterparts” seem bent on polar opposite policies, favoring war, not resolution, he added.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said “experts are working on the text of the Moscow declaration on immediate steps toward resolving the Syrian crisis. This is a thorough, extremely necessary document.”
Previous efforts involving Washington, Britain and France failed, why their foreign ministers were excluded from talks in Moscow, as well as continuing ones.
Tass said Lavrov and Turkish Foreign Minister Melvut Cavusoglu “held intense phone conversations devoted to (resolving) the Syrian crisis” - in preparation for meeting next month in Astana.
Cavusoglu separately spoke with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. America’s involvement after Obama leaves office depends on whether Trump intends combating terrorism or continues support like the current administration.
Turkey agreed to cooperate with Russia and Iran against ISIS, al-Nusra and other terrorist groups it supported throughout years of war.
Erdogan has lots of proving to do given his deplorable actions so far. On Tuesday, he claimed “confirmed evidence,” showing Washington and its coalition partners support ISIS and other terrorist groups.
“They give support to terrorist groups including Daesh,” he said. “It's very clear. We have confirmed evidence, with pictures, photos and videos.”
He remarks sound like the pot calling the kettle black. Turkey and Saudi Arabia have been Washington’s key allies in waging naked aggression on Syria, using imported terrorists as imperial foot soldiers.
Obama, the Saudis, Qataris, NATO and Israel remain committed to regime change. It’s unclear what Turkey intends given Erdogan’s hostility to Assad throughout nearly six years of war.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Obama to Announce Sanctions on Russia for Nonexistent US Election Hacking

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 22:15
Obama to Announce Sanctions on Russia for Nonexistent US Election Hacking
by Stephen Lendman
Obama seems bent on being as disruptive as possible during his waning days in office. 
Throughout his tenure, he inflicted more harm on more people at home and abroad than any previous US president, including wars of aggression in multiple theaters still raging, Trump inheriting the mess he made.
What further deplorable policies he intends until January 20 remains to be seen. 
According to the neocon Washington Post, he’s “close to announcing a series of measures to punish Russia for its (nonexistent) interference in the 2016 presidential election, including economic sanctions and diplomatic censure, according to (unnamed) US officials.”
Details are being finalized. They’re “expected to include covert action that will probably involve cyber-operations…” An announcement could come before the New Year’s holiday weekend.
Fact: Accusations without verifiable proof are groundless.
Fact: No credible evidence indicates Russian US election hacking. None exists. Everything claimed was fabricated - some of the worse kind of fake news.
Fact: Obama’s scheme combines sour grapes over Republicans winning the presidency and both houses of Congress, ending his tenure on a sour note, longstanding Russia bashing, and exerting pressure on Trump against normalizing ties, including cooperating with Putin in combating terrorism.
According to WaPo, imposing sanctions for alleged cyber attacks under existing law requires designating election infrastructure as critical and proving it was harmed, along with showing actions threatened US economic or national security. and stability.
Current law doesn’t cover overseas cyberattacks “influenc(ing) the electoral system,” said WaPo. Another consideration is making it hard for Trump to rescind what Obama imposes.
According to an unnamed senior administration official, “(p)art of the goal here is to make sure that we have as much of the record public or communicated to Congress in a form that would be difficult to simply walk back.”
In April 2015, Obama’s Executive Order blocked “property of certain persons engaging in significant malicious cyber-related activities.”
Legal considerations don’t stop US administrations or Congress from doing whatever they please - domestically or abroad.
On the one hand, previous sanctions helped more than harmed Russia by enabling it become more self-sufficient. New ones will be just as counterproductive.
According to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Trump will rescind up to 70% of Obama’s executive orders straightaway after taking office, adding:
“I think President Obama is beginning to figure out that his legacy is like one of those dolls that as the air comes out of it, it shrinks and shrinks and shrinks.”
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Our Fight to Rein In the CFAA: 2016 in Review

eff.org - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 18:03

Laws enacted out of fear, not facts, are a recipe for disaster. That’s what happened with the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA)—the federal statute that makes it illegal to break into computer systems to access or alter information. The law’s notoriously vague language has confused courts, chilled security research, and given overzealous prosecutors broad discretion to bring criminal charges for behavior that in no way qualifies as breaking into a computer. And it’s out of touch with how we use computers today. We were hard at work in 2016 pushing courts to limit the CFAA to what Congress intended and advocating for reform that would rein the law back in. We’ve seen some minor victories as well as a few setbacks, but we anticipate a big fight next year against efforts to expand the law without correcting its many problems. We stand ready.

The CFAA was passed back in 1986—in the very early years of the Internet, long before the vast majority of people were even using email—after a House of Representatives report cited WarGames, a 1983 techno thriller staring Matthew Broderick and Ally Sheedy, as a "realistic representation of the automatic dialing and access capabilities of the personal computer." And because Congress was trying to solve a problem it didn’t fully understand, it gave us a law with incredibly vague language. The CFAA makes it illegal to intentionally access a “protected computer”—which includes any computer connected to the Internet—“without authorization” or in excess of authorization. But it doesn’t tell us what “without authorization” means. This language is so vague that, if not applied narrowly, it could criminalize routine online behavior like checking the weather while at work or using a family member’s Netflix password.

A few years back, the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals clarified that terms of service violations—like using a work computer for personal reasons or creating a Facebook account with anything other than your real name—cannot give rise to CFAA liability. Two other circuit courts, the Second Circuit and Fourth Circuit, have since followed suit, along with numerous district courts across the country. But this year, we learned that even though the three most recent federal circuit courts to address the issue agree, federal prosecution guidelines still recommend pursuing an overbroad and constitutionally suspect interpretation of the statute in any jurisdiction that hasn’t explicitly rejected it. The government released the guidelines in a pending ACLU lawsuit, which challenges the CFAA on First Amendment grounds for chilling research into online discrimination. The guidelines make one thing clear: our fight against the government’s problematic interpretation of the CFAA is far from over. And we’re prepared to go to court to continue this fight.

Password sharing and the CFAA also came to a head in 2016. The Ninth Circuit issued two troubling decisions in July with reasoning that threatened to criminalize routine password sharing. We filed an amicus brief in both cases, U.S. v. Nosal and Facebook v. Power Ventures, urging the court to reconsider these dangerous holdings en banc. In our briefs, we pointed out how the two decisions, written by two different three-judge panels, were inconsistent not only with each other, but also with CFAA precedent and sound public policy. While the court declined to reconsider either case, both panels revised their decisions, attempting to walk back their holdings by clarifying that the decisions were limited to the “stark” facts before them. They say they really, really didn’t mean to criminalize all password sharing, just the particular instances of password sharing at issue in these cases—where both defendants had received “particularized notice” that the computer owner had “affirmatively revoked” their authorization to access the computers at issue. But because neither panel actually modified the flawed reasoning underlying these opinions, both cases still raise a host of questions about how the CFAA will be applied to password sharing and other types of terms of service violations in the future. We’ll be fighting to ensure that that the CFAA, a law meant to target computer break-ins, is not turned into a mechanism for enforcing terms of service violations across the board, and that these cases are limited to the very specific facts at issue—just as the judges said they should be. We’ll also keep advocating for reform clarifying that the CFAA is not and was never intended to be a massive computer misappropriation statute.

We also fended off yet another legislative proposal in 2016 that would have taken CFAA reform in the wrong direction. It was called the Botnet Prevention Act of 2016 and ostensibly directed at stopping botnets. But it was vague, its prohibitions were covered by existing law, and it would have empowered government officials to obtain court orders to force companies to “hack” computer users for a wide range of activity completely unrelated to botnets. Botnet, a portmanteau of “robot” and “network,” refers to a network of private computers or devices infected with malicious software and controlled without the owner’s knowledge. It appears that folks in Congress are worried about botnets. And there is some cause for concern, as illustrated by the Mirari botnet that took over insecure Internet of Things devices and “broke the Internet” in September. But the way to protect against the threat of botnets is by bolstering security research—not by passing yet another vague, fear-based law that would exacerbate the CFAA’s harshness, overbreadth, and confusion, and only further chill the important security research that will keep us all safe.

Because some representatives in Congress seem to think that expanding the CFAA is the way to address all of our “cyber” problems, we expect a fight on the horizon against further proposals to make this draconian law worse. Keep your ears open in 2017. We’ll need your help to reign in the CFAA—and to fight back against the same type of fear-based proposals that got us here in the first place.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016. 

Like what you're reading? Support digital freedom defense today!

Related Cases: United States v. David NosalFacebook v. Power Ventures
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Categories: Aggregated News

The Patent Troll Abides: 2016 in Review

eff.org - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 04:55

Patent trolls were down but certainly not out in 2016. After a massive burst of litigation at the end of last year, we saw a noticeable drop in patent troll lawsuits at the start of this one. But trolls began returning to court as the year continued and 2016 will likely end with a relatively small overall decline. Consistent with recent trends, troll cases clustered in the Eastern District of Texas. Approximately one in three patent suits were filed in that remote, troll-friendly district, and these suits were almost all filed by companies with no business other than suing for patent infringement.

With many of the worst patent suits clustering in Texas, recent reform efforts have focused on requiring that patent suits be brought in forums that have meaningful ties to the dispute. The current regime allows trolls to pick an inconvenient and expensive venue where they can pressure defendants to settle regardless of the merits of the case. We urged Congress to pass the VENUE Act and also filed an amicus brief in a case called TC Heartland v. Kraft, urging the Supreme Court to end forum shopping in patent cases. On December 14, 2016, the Supreme Court agreed to take the case. When it considers the merits of the case next year, we will ask the Supreme Court to loosen the Eastern District of Texas's hold on patent troll litigation.

We saw mixed results in the courts this year. The Supreme Court issued a good decision cutting back on out of control damages in design patent cases. Meanwhile, the Federal Circuit issued a very disappointing decision that allows patent owners to undermine ownership by asserting patent rights even after selling a patented good. Fortunately, the Supreme Court has agreed to review that ruling. We will file an amicus brief supporting the fundamental principle that once you buy something, you own it.

At EFF, we continued to battle patent trolls in the courts. We responded to the appeal of our successful challenge to Personal Audio’s podcasting patent and are now waiting for a ruling from the Federal Circuit. We filed a lawsuit on behalf of a small business and its owner targeted by one of the most litigious trolls out there. We also worked to bring more transparency to patent litigation. Despite opposition from patent trolls determined to operate in the shadows, we convinced judges in the Eastern District of Texas to unseal important documents in two cases. We also supported a LARP arrow supplier’s First Amendment right to criticize a patent troll.

Outside the courts, we launched our Reclaim Invention campaign urging universities not to sell patents to trolls and to focus on commercialization and real partnerships. We held events around the country with university groups and hope to continue to build momentum for the campaign into next year. We also continued to cover the crisis in patent quality with our Stupid Patent of the Month series.

Next year may see a backlash against the small improvements the patent system has made recently. Ultimately, we should reward true innovators and not those who game a broken patent system to get vague and overbroad software patents. We will fight hard against any efforts to undermine post-grant review of patents or recent Supreme Court decisions cutting back on abstract patents.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.

 

Like what you're reading? Support digital freedom defense today!


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Categories: Aggregated News

DRM vs. Civil Liberties: 2016 in Review

eff.org - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 04:52

Imagine a world where your Internet-connected car locks you in at the behest of its manufacturer—or the police. Where your media devices only let you consume mass media, not remix it to publish a counter-narrative or viral meme. Where your phone is designed to report on your movements and communications. Where your kid's toy tells them it's their friend, then talks about how much it loves sponsored products and transmits everything it hears in your home back to its manufacturer. Where your phone stops working if the police or the manufacturer ask it to. Where these backdoors are vulnerable to hacking, so anyone with the right resources can take advantage of them.

Now imagine that you could configure your devices to be loyal to you, to stop snitching, to run video publishing software, and to be more secure against hacking, except that the law forbids looking at the code or modifying it.

It shouldn't be hard to imagine. These examples are real and the law in question is Section 1201 of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.

Regulators and companies have gravitated towards the power that comes from code-based restrictions on user activity. Your conscience is irrelevant, the legality of what you want to do is irrelevant, your rights are irrelevant; you simply cannot use your device in a way contrary to its programming.

Unless you change that programming—or someone inspects the code and warns you about what the device is programmed to do so you can choose an alternative.

In July 2016, we sued the federal government to establish your right to do just that: to look at and change the code in your devices and to share the tools needed to do so. Traditional copyright law allowed such modifications; it's only since the 1998 DMCA that your traditional rights have been swallowed up by what amounts to a blanket prohibition on accessing the software in your devices.

In our suit, we focus on the First Amendment problems with Section 1201—and there are many. The law directly prohibits protected speech in the form of instructions for how to access restricted code (or other copyrighted works). The law also prevents people from creating their own speech using copyrighted works of others, such as fair use remixes of media or compatible software. Finally, the law includes an unconstitutional regime for the Library of Congress to decide what speech will or will not be permitted every three years.

We and the government have both briefed the issues on a preliminary basis, and we await a ruling on whether this case can move forward.

In the meantime, we're continuing to push for legislative reform. In October, we sent in comments—supported by 11,000 of you—telling the Copyright Office that Section 1201 needs to change to protect our right to inspect and use the software in our life, and to promote accessibility and free speech. Piecemeal proposals aren't enough, we told them; it's time for a comprehensive overhaul of Section 1201.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.

 

Like what you're reading? Support digital freedom defense today!

Related Cases: Green v. U.S. Department of Justice
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Categories: Aggregated News

How Long Will Israelis Put Up With Netanyahu's Antics?

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 04:01
How Long Will Israelis Put Up With Netanyahu’s Antics?
by Stephen Lendman
Democrats in America are sore losers, disgracing themselves in the process. According to Vladimir Putin, they’re “losing on all fronts and looking for scapegoats on whom to lay the blame,” entirely lacking dignity.
“It is important to know how to lose gracefully,” Putin stressed. His comments apply to Netanyahu, lashing out at Obama over Security Council members voting 14 - 0, affirming the illegality of Israeli settlements - America withholding its usual rubber-stamp veto on anything hostile to Israeli interests.
His antics since Friday’s vote show he’s lost it, going out of his way to alienate countries supporting Res. 2334. He controls the Foreign Ministry portfolio, serving in a dual capacity, doing considerable diplomatic damage by how he operates.
Last Sunday, he told his ministers to “(t)ravel less frequently in the near future to those countries that voted against us. Restrain yourselves,” he added.
He had his US ambassador appear on Sunday talk shows - Ron Dermer claiming Israel has “clear evidence” indicating Obama was behind Res. 2334.
He ordered his Foreign Ministry to punish Security Council members supporting the measure, ordering the imposition of (illegal) sanctions on ones he designates - including refusing to receive their foreign ministers and other officials.
He’s hysterical over a January 15 Paris conference involving dozens of foreign ministers, intending to draft a conflict resolution plan for adoption by Quartet and Security Council members before Obama leaves office.
Extremist regime ministers urge annexation of West Bank land Israel controls - outrageous to the world community if he proceeds.
His one saving grace is strong Trump backing, soon to succeed Obama, promising to be the most “pro-Israel president ever” - aided by near-unanimous congressional support.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R. CA) said “(t)he new Republican government looks forward to working with our ally Israel and will stand up at the United Nations to prevent future ill-conceived resolutions.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell: “…I am committed to working with the new administration and my colleagues in Congress to reassure our ally Israel that America's commitment to the two state solution - achieved in a manner which protects Israel’s vital national security interest - is unswerving.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan (R. WI): “Friday’s vote is a blow to peace that sets a dangerous precedent for further diplomatic efforts to isolate and demonize Israel. Our unified Republican government will work to reverse the damage done by this administration, and rebuild our alliance with Israel.”
House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R. SC): “Congress will work w/@realDonaldTrump to reject any UN efforts to impose 1-sided solutions or unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state.”
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D. MD): “Blaming Israel for the continuation of the conflict is not only wrong and unjust…This resolution ignores the culpability of Palestinian leaders and groups for engaging in violent acts.”
Blaming victims is longstanding US practice. So is ignoring fundamental international and constitutional law. 
America and Israel conspired against Palestinian rights for decades - destroying hope for equitable conflict resolution earlier, now or ahead.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Obama Wants War in Syria Continued, Not Resolved

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 03:36
Obama Wants War in Syria Continued, Not Resolved
by Stephen Lendman
Months of US planning preceded Obama’s war on Syria, orchestrated by Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, her second lead role along with raping Libya.
Hundreds of thousands perished. Targeted areas in both countries were turned to rubble, millions displaced internally and abroad - both countries ravaged by US imperial viciousness.
Russia admitted the futility of dealing with Washington on conflict resolution in Syria and Ukraine as long as Obama remains in power.
Putin hopes responsible geopolitical leadership will replace him under Trump, both leaders cooperating in combating terrorism, restoring peace to war-torn countries, and normalizing Russia/US relations.
With weeks remaining in his tenure, Obama approved supplying US-supported terrorists in Syria with man-portable air defense systems (MANPADS) - able to down low-flying aircraft and helicopters.
They’ve been covertly getting these and other heavy weapons all along, America and its rogue allies providing them. Continuing this policy assures endless war, precisely what neocons infesting Washington want.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova blasted Obama’s approval to supply MANPADS to anti-government elements, terrorists posing as moderates, cold-blooded killers responsible for gruesome atrocities.
America “sponsor(s) the Jabhat al-Nusra” terrorist group banned in Russia, she said. “This can hardly be called otherwise than aiding and abetting terrorists.”
“This poses a direct threat to aircraft of the Russian Aerospace Forces, other Russian military personnel and our Embassy in Syria that has been shelled repeatedly. That is why we consider this to be a hostile move.”
“Instead of pooling efforts to counter rampaging extremists of every stripe and color, as we have suggested for a long time, Washington is staking on the provision of military aid to anti-government units (no different) from bloody thugs.”
Before leaving office in a few weeks, Obama apparently wants his deplorable legacy more blood-drenched than already. 
Will Trump follow in his footsteps or go another way? Humanity holds its breath to find out.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

The Fight to Rein in NSA Surveillance: 2016 in Review

eff.org - Wed, 28/12/2016 - 02:16

It’s been a busy year on a number of fronts as we continue to fight to rein in the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of innocent people. Since the 2013 leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden, the secretive and powerful agency has been at the top of mind for those thinking about unconstitutional surveillance of innocent Americans and individuals abroad.

In 2016 the courts, lawmakers, and others continued to grapple with questions of how much we know about NSA surveillance. 

In the Courts

Early this year, one of EFF’s key cases in the fight to rein in government surveillance saw fallout from Congress’ 2015 passage of the modest surveillance reform bill, the USA FREEDOM Act, which formally ended a controversial program that collected records about Americans’ phone calls in bulk.

In a March decision, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Smith v. Obama—a case brought by Idaho neonatal nurse Anna Smith challenging the constitutionality of the phone records program—that, because the program was ended by the USA FREEDOM Act, a court could not order the government to stop collecting phone records in bulk. The ruling also sent back to a lower trial court in Idaho the question of whether the U.S. government must delete Smith’s records.

We saw progress in another one of EFF’s flagship cases against government surveillance in June, when a federal judge in California gave us the green light to start asking the NSA questions related to Jewel v. NSA, a case challenging the dragnet surveillance of AT&T customers’ communications and communications records.

First filed in 2008, Jewel was stymied for years as the U.S. government repeatedly sought to have it thrown out, arguing that our clients did not have standing to bring the case. The government also said that publicly available information was inadequate and could not inform a court about the legality of the NSA’s surveillance but refused to provide any clarity or explanation that would help a court address that question.

While we’ve been able to glean considerable information about NSA surveillance through leaks, the work of investigative journalists, and public officials’ statements, we are finally able to pursue discovery and pose questions to the NSA about its surveillance activities over the years.

In April, we saw two disappointing actions by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. First, the court unsealed a ruling from November 2015 that formally approved the FBI to use information collected through the NSA’s warrantless surveillance programs in general criminal investigations.  While we applaud the court’s move to unseal the ruling in the first place, we’re disappointed that this virtually un-appealable decision condones the use of information collected without a warrant—under a sweeping surveillance program for “foreign intelligence” purposes—in domestic criminal investigations.

The court also made public a ruling granting the FBI’s request to obtain and retain call records, even if those records were not relevant to an investigation.

In the first ruling on call records since the enactment of USA FREEDOM, the court showed how limited the law’s restraints on government surveillance really are. The law requires the government to prove it has “reasonably articulable suspicion” that an “individual, account, or personal device” is relevant to an investigation. But the court ruled that the FBI could obtain not only “first hop” records—or those about a person, device, or account relevant to an investigation—but also the “second hop” records of any person, device, or account that communicated with the first hop, regardless of whether the second hops were relevant to an investigation.

The ruling also flew in the face of the USA FREEDOM Act’s requirements that the government promptly destroy call records that are not foreign intelligence related. Instead, the court ruled that the FBI could keep the records for six months and possibly longer. Again, it’s a step in the right direction that the public see these rulings at all, but we are disappointed in the way the court has narrowly applied the already-narrow restraints in the USA FREEDOM Act.

Most recently, we saw a troubling decision out of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in the case United States v. Mohamud that further eroded Fourth Amendment protections by allowing the warrantless surveillance of a U.S. citizen under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act.

The case centered on Mohammed Mohamud, who in 2012 was convicted of plotting to bomb a Christmas tree lighting ceremony and was later notified that he had been subject to Section 702 surveillance. In an amicus brief last year, we argued that the surveillance in this case was unconstitutional because information about Mohamud was “incidentally” collected through a surveillance authority intended to target foreigners and then searched without a warrant, despite Mohamud’s Fourth Amendment protections as an American citizen.

We think the Ninth Circuit erred in upholding this warrantless surveillance, effectively signing off on stripping fundamental privacy protections from American citizens who communicate with people abroad.

On the Hill

Congress started off 2016 particularly attuned to concerns about NSA surveillance after The Wall Street Journal reported at the very tail end of 2015 that the NSA was eavesdropping on phone calls between members of Congress, Israeli officials, and interest groups. This is just one example of the troubling surveillance the NSA conducts under overly broad and often mysterious authorities like Section 702 and Executive Order 12333. Both of those can be used to “target” sweeping groups of people and types of communications.

At the time, we pointed out the many other reasons congressional communications could end up in the hands of the NSA—including communicating with officials at the United Nations or discussing trade issues with foreign trading partners—and we urged members of Congress to ask tough questions about how their communications were collected and shared by the NSA.

Section 702 is not set to expire until the end of 2017, but Congress started thinking about reauthorizing as early as January, when the House Judiciary Committee announced a closed-door, members only meeting to discuss the surveillance authority.

The committee briefly debated—but failed to pass—Section 702 reforms when it considered the USA FREEDOM Act in 2015, and we looked forward to the debate around many much-needed changes to the law. But the closed-door meeting shut out participation from everyone except members of the intelligence community, so we joined two-dozen other organizations in calling on the committee to hold open hearings.

A closed meeting “continues the excessive secrecy that has contributed to the surveillance abuses we have seen in recent years and to their adverse effects upon both our civil liberties and economic growth,” we wrote, arguing instead for open hearings to allow input from privacy and civil liberties advocates and promote transparency.

Months later, the Senate Judiciary Committee held an open hearing on Section 702, featuring testimony from civil liberties advocates and highlighting crippling knowledge gaps around the law’s implementation, which make it impossible to conduct effective oversight of the surveillance programs.

One point driven home during the hearing was the fact that no one—including members of Congress tasked with overseeing these surveillance programs—seems to know how many Americans have their communications swept up by surveillance under Section 702, which is supposed to be aimed at individuals abroad.

“When the public lacks even a rough sense of the scope of the government’s surveillance program, they have no way of knowing if the government is striking the right balance, whether we are safeguarding our national security without trampling on our citizens’ fundamental privacy rights,” committee member and vocal privacy advocate Sen. Al Franken said during the hearing. “But the public can’t know if we succeed in striking that balance if they don’t even have the most basic information about our major surveillance programs.

The hearing also highlighted concerns about minimization procedures—or steps taken to ensure that irrelevant data about Americans incidentally swept up is deleted—applied to information collected under Section 702. Then-Chairman of the Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board told lawmakers that intelligence officials don’t follow minimization procedures, which call for deletion of information about innocent Americans. “What the Board’s report found is that in fact information is never deleted,” he said. “It sits in the databases for five years, or sometimes longer.”

As Congress continues to debate reauthorizing Section 702 ahead of the 2017 deadline, we hope lawmakers will push for more information about how many innocent Americans are impacted by these sweeping programs and what measures, if any, effectively protect their privacy.

We suffered a blow on Section 702 surveillance in June when, in the wake of the tragic nightclub shooting in Orlando, surveillance defenders in the House urged members to vote against a previously popular measure to curtail spying on Americans.

In past years, the House passed similar measures from Reps. Thomas Massie and Zoe Lofgren to prevent warrantless searches of Americans’ information and keep the intelligence community from undermining encryption, including by an overwhelming 293-123 vote in 2014. But the vote fell short of the needed majority in 2016 after some lawmakers, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, launched a campaign against the amendment, dishonestly tying it to the tragedy in Orlando.

We noted that the claims that this amendment would somehow stop a warranted search of the Orlando shooter’s communications to see if he was in contact with known terrorists had been debunked, and we encouraged our supporters to voice their concerns about the vote to their representatives in Congress.

We stand ready to fight similar misinformation campaigns and scare tactics as the debate continues next year.

Looking Abroad

The privacy of individuals abroad suffered a setback in 2016 when the European Commission and the U.S. Department of Commerce reached an agreement on a new deal to let companies transfer users’ data across the Atlantic. While many voiced concerns that a new cross-border data deal would pose the same privacy problems as the previous Safe Harbor agreement—which the European Court of Justice threw out in 2015 citing U.S. government surveillance—U.S. and E.U. officials went ahead with a new agreement.

We criticized the new Privacy Shield, saying the agreement “will not prevent the collection of hundreds of millions of law abiding Europeans by U.S. intelligence agencies and their partners.” We also noted that the much-lauded Judicial Redress Act—which allows European citizens and others to use the U.S. court system to defend their privacy rights—provides little in the way of actual redress for Europeans’ whose data is swept up in NSA surveillance.

We’re waiting to see if European courts reject the new deal like they did the old one. If and when the deal is struck down, we will continue the fight to protect individuals abroad from sweeping surveillance by the NSA.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.

Like what you're reading? Support digital freedom defense today!

Related Cases: Smith v. ObamaJewel v. NSA
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Obama Signs Measure Opposing Speech and Media Freedoms

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 23:15
Obama Signs Measure Opposing Speech and Media Freedoms
by Stephen Lendman
Post-9/11, an array of police state laws, executive orders, memoranda, various national security and homeland security presidential directives, along with other repressive measures eliminated constitutional protections.
Indefinite detention without charges or trial became the law of the land. Torture-obtained evidence may be used against detainees in trial proceedings, despite earlier Supreme Court decisions ruling it impermissible.
Amending longstanding Insurrection Act and Posse Comitatus protections allows federal troops to be deployed on US streets.
Big Brother watches everyone. Whistleblowers exposing government wrongdoing risk longterm imprisonment under harsh conditions.
Obama’s war on freedom risks eliminating it altogether, America under his tenure a hair’s breadth from full-blown tyranny.
First Amendment rights are threatened like never before. Truth-telling on vital domestic and geopolitical issues is now considered fake news or Russian propaganda.
Targeting it is the hallmark of fascist dictatorship. Washington wants views contrary to its own suppressed, writers like myself and many others silenced.
When truth-tellers become enemies of the state, freedom no longer exists.
In early December, Congress overwhelmingly passed the Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act as part of the annual National Defense Authorization Act - an unconstitutional measure against First Amendment freedoms.
On December 23, ahead of the Christmas holiday weekend, Obama signed it into law practically unnoticed. Along with approving bloated military spending, it establishes a Center for Information Analysis and Response - a de facto Ministry of Truth.
It aims to ferret out truth-telling on vital issues, suppress what everyone has a right to know, countering it with state-sponsored propaganda - along with perhaps targeting reliable independent sources of news, information and analysis for elimination.
Orwell once said in times of universal deceit, truth-telling is a revolutionary act. In America, it’s an endangered species, heading toward becoming criminalized, its disseminators risking prosecution, imprisonment or elimination by other means.
Obama governs under a police state apparatus, hardened throughout his tenure. When truth-telling becomes fake news or Russian propaganda, criminalizing it is a step closer to reality.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

What Israel Fears Most

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 23:07
What Israel Fears Most
by Stephen Lendman
Israel has strong US-led Western support. Security Council Resolution 2334, affirming the illegality of its settlements, changed nothing on the ground - nor will it any time ahead as far as it’s reasonable to predict.
Eventual Palestinian self-determination based on pre-June 1967 borders is another matter entirely. The possibility of it happening any time ahead concerns Israel most of all.
Longstanding state policy calls for maximum land with minimum Arabs - dispossessing them extrajudicially for exclusive Jewish development, achieving the goal through one bulldozed Palestinian home at a time, eliminating entire communities longer term, settlement expansions continuing unabated on stolen land.
A near-century ago, the World Zionist Organization’s plan for a Jewish state included:
  • historic Palestine;

  • South Lebanon up to Sidon and the Litani River;

  • Syria's Golan Heights, Hauran Plain and Deraa; and

  • control of the Hijaz Railway from Deraa to Amman, Jordan as well as the Gulf of Aqaba.

Some Zionists wanted more - land from the Nile in the West to the Euphrates in the East, comprising Palestine, Lebanon, Western Syria and Southern Turkey. 
Hardliner Ze’ev Jabotinsky opposed peaceful coexistence with Arabs, calling it unattainable. Arguing for “an iron wall of (superior) Jewish military force,” his idea was to discourage Arab hopes of destroying Israel - followed by a negotiated settlement based on Israeli-dictated terms.
Ben-Gurion sided with Jabotinsky. Israel’s war of independence followed, seizing 78% of historic Palestine, the rest in June 1967. 
Unresolved conflict persists by design. Peace and stability defeat Israel’s longterm objectives. Middle East expert Joseph Massad once said:
“The logic goes as follows: Israel has the right to occupy Palestinian land, lay siege to (its) populations in Bantustans surrounded by an apartheid wall, starve the population, cut them off from fuel and electricity, uproot their trees and crops, and launch periodic raids and targeted assassinations against them and their elected leadership, and if (resistance is encountered, Israel is entitled to slaughter) them en masse (because it’s just) ‘defending.’ itself as it must and should.”
Arabs are considered inferior, undeserving of rights, so “Israel has the right to oppress them and does so to defend itself, but were (they) to defend themselves against Israel’s oppression, Israel (has) the right to defend itself against their legitimate defense” without restraint or regard for the laws of war and humanitarian considerations.
Israel doesn’t negotiate. It demands, imposing its will by brute force. For decades, Palestinians endured ruthless occupation harshness, slow-motion genocide, exacting a terrible toll with no prospect in sight for relief - no matter which wing of US duopoly rule is in power.
Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes said John Kerry intends “lay(ing) out a comprehensive vision for” conflict resolution before stepping down on January 20.
A January 15 French peace conference is scheduled, involving dozens of international foreign ministers. A conflict resolution plan will be drafted for adoption by the Quartet and Security Council before Obama leaves office on January 20 if things go as planned.
Israel is hysterical over the prospect of other nations dictating terms it wants sole authority over to maintain oppressive status quo conditions.
According to an unnamed senior Israeli official, “(t)he effort now is to see how to prevent such a move at the Paris conference.”
Ultranationalist Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman was over-the-top, calling what’s planned “a modern version of the (19th century) Dreyfus trial…(T)his time, the whole people of Israel and the whole State of Israel will be in the guilty dock.”
French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said his country is “determined to hold (the) conference…to reaffirm the necessity of a two-state solution.”
Years ago it was possible. No longer with Israel controlling over 60% of West Bank land, calling Jerusalem its exclusive capital, and continuing unabated settlement expansions on stolen Palestinian land.
Whatever comes out of Paris in January, nothing on the ground will change - especially with Trump succeeding Obama in short order, intending to be the most “pro-Israel president ever.”
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Israel Claims Obama Behind UN Resolution Affirming Illegality of Settlements

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 22:57
Israel Claims Obama Behind UN Resolution Affirming Illegality of Settlements
by Stephen Lendman
Despite Obama authorizing the largest ever military handout to Israel, $3.8 billion annually for the next 10 years once the current agreement expires, plus lots of extras along the way, Netanyahu publicly blamed him for Friday’s Security Council resolution, aiming to humiliate and abandon Israel, he claimed.
On Monday, Israel’s ambassador to America Ron Dermer claimed his government has evidence, showing Obama was behind SC Res. 2334.
“We will present this evidence to the new administration through the appropriate channels,” he said. “If they want to share it with the American people they are welcome to do it.”
Dermer blamed Obama for “ganging up on Israel at the UN,” calling last Friday “a sad day and a shameful chapter in US-Israeli relations.”
According to Netanyahu spokesman David Keyes so-called “ironclad information, frankly, that the Obama administration really helped this resolution and helped craft it, (came) from sources internationally and sources in the Arab world” - without further elaboration.
Deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes denied the accusation, calling Res. 2334 an Egyptian/Palestinian initiative - put forward by Malaysia, New Zealand, Senegal and Venezuela, adding:
The measure “is consistent with longstanding bipartisan US policy as it relates to settlements, as it relates to our opposition to Israeli settlements, as it relates to our opposition to, and condemnation of, incitement and violence and terrorism, and, above all, about our affirmative support for a two-state solution.”
Fact: Res. 2334 aside, Washington one-sidedly supports Israel, partners in its high crimes, doing nothing for Palestinian self-determination, nothing to free it from illegal occupation harshness, leaving millions ruthlessly oppressed, largely isolated on their own.
US-led Western lip service alone is paid to a two-state solution and peaceful conflict resolution. No punitive action was ever taken to end settlement expansions on stolen Palestinian land - ongoing for nearly half a century, certain to continue unabated ahead.
With Israel controlling nearly all valued Judea and Samaria land, a two-state solution is pure fantasy. Nor will it ever be possible without Israel withdrawing to pre-June 1967 borders, returning stolen land to Palestine.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

Russian Christmas Gifts for Syrian Children

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 22:39
Russian Christmas Gifts for Syrian Children
by Stephen Lendman
The Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) was America’s largest Muslim charity until Bush/Cheney neocons disgracefully called it an enemy of the state, shut it down and imprisoned its principles - police state ruthlessness by any standard, continued by Obama at home and abroad.
HLF described its work, saying “(w)e gave books, not bombs; bread, not bullets; smiles, not scars; toys, not tanks; liberty, not not poverty; hope, not despair; love, not hate (and) life, not death.”
Russia is helping long-suffering Syrians and its sovereign state the same way by combating US-supported terrorists, providing vital humanitarian aid, and through a “Children of Russia to Children of Syria” initiative tons of toys and other gifts for Christmas - in stark contrast to American-led death and destruction, causing unspeakable human misery.
According to Russia’s Defense Ministry, “(i)n the framework of the pan-Russian ‘Children of Russia to Children of Syria’ campaign, schoolchildren from Kursk and Vologda regions have gathered over 1,000 boxes of presents for Syrian children. Apart from traditional crafts, cards and stationery, they included souvenirs typical for these regions.”
Gifts were flown to Khmeymim airbase in Latakia, Syria. Tartus-based Hashim Yusef school head Asifa Asaad responded, saying:
“During this time of evil and unfairness, children continue to study, gain knowledge and do everything possible to build the bright future of Syria. We thank Russia for those efforts that it takes for our country in the military, humanitarian and humanistic spheres.”
Separately in his pre-Christmas press briefing, State Department spokesman admiral John Kirby ignored Obama’s war of aggression, America’s high crimes complicit with rogue allies and terrorist foot soldiers, calling the whole ugly business successful.
Long-suffering Syrians believe otherwise. The horrendous toll of US aggression speaks for itself - one of many high crimes on Obama’s rap sheet, a war criminal multiple times over, his legacy drenched in blood.
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

Listen to cutting-edge discussions with distinguished guests on the Progressive Radio News Hour on the Progressive Radio Network.

The Year in Government Hacking: 2016 in Review

eff.org - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 09:34

There's no question that this has been a big year for government hacking. Not a day has gone by without some mention of it in the news. 2016 may forever be remembered as the year when government hacking went so mainstream that Stephen Colbert cracked jokes about Fancy Bear and Cozy Bear on The Late Show. The Obama administration has publicly blamed the Russian government for a series of compromises of U.S. political institutions and individuals in this election year, including the Democratic National Committee, the Republican National Committee, and John Podesta, former Chairman of the Hillary Clinton election campaign. Political espionage is nothing new, but what distinguishes this series of attacks is the element of publication. This election cycle was dominated by news stories stemming from DNC and Podesta emails leaked to and published by Wikileaks, which has repeatedly said that it will not comment on sources but denies that the source of the documents is Russian.

Whether or not Kremlin-directed hacking tipped the scales in this year's presidential election towards Donald Trump is unclear, but paranoia about Russian hacking has successfully sown confusion all over the world. The Obama administration has ordered a full review of foreign-based digital attacks aimed at disrupting the election and European governments are reportedly bracing for Russian interference in next year's elections in France, Germany, and the Netherlands.

But Russia did not corner the market on developments in government hacking this year. In February, a U.S. federal magistrate judge ordered Apple to break the security of an iPhone as part of the investigation into the 2015 San Bernardino shootings. Apple fought the order on the grounds that complying would compromise the security of all iPhone users. Technology companies and civil society spoke out stridently against this dangerous precedent and eventually the FBI withdrew its request after they found another way to access the contents of the iPhone.

Not all efforts to expand government hacking powers were met with the same success as the showdown between Apple and the FBI. 2016 also saw dangerous changes to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that will allow the FBI to request a warrant from practically any magistrate judge in any district in the United States whenever they are investigating a crime and encounter computers using location-obscuring technology. Not to be outdone, the U.K. passed the sweeping Investigatory Powers Bill, which grants the government the power to compel companies to secretly backdoor their encrypted communications.

In the meantime, certain types of Chinese government hacking appear to be on the decline, probably as a result of the 2015 agreement between the United States and China that neither government would “conduct or knowingly support cyber-enabled theft of intellectual property” for an economic advantage. Activist groups, such as Tibetan and Uyghur minorities in China, appear to remain fair game.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.

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What Happened to Unlocking the Box? 2016 in Review

eff.org - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 07:39

EFF spends a lot of time investigating the latest trends and developments in technology, trying to stay one step ahead of the most recent threats to your digital rights. This isn’t one of those stories. This is a story about a technology that’s even older than our organization, that’s barely changed since we’ve been around.

Don’t mistake lethargy for perfection. Television set-top boxes are far from a perfected product. They’re large. They’re slow. They haven’t changed much in decades. And they’re so expensive—according to Consumer Video Choice, Americans pay an average of $231 a year renting them from cable and satellite companies. Since 1994, the price has gone up 185%; during the same time period, nearly every other consumer electronics product has gotten more affordable. The reason why set-top boxes are stuck isn’t technology; it’s politics. Over the past year, we’ve seen corporate interests grind to a halt an effort to open the market to competition.

We were delighted when the Federal Communications Commission announced its plans to institute rules allowing third-party manufacturers to create their own boxes. Competition can drive prices down, but just as importantly, it can give rise to innovative new features. Why can’t you easily sync your favorite shows onto your mobile phone or search across multiple free and paid video services? It’s not because the technology isn’t there.

Needless to say, pay TV companies and large entertainment conglomerates reacted poorly to the proposal. That’s to be expected. A few companies have dominated the market for a long time; we wouldn’t expect them to lose that advantage graciously. But their arguments all hinged on a troubling misinterpretation of copyright law. They complained that customers shouldn’t be allowed to use third-party devices “without authorization from the copyright owner,” in Comcast-NBCUniversal’s words.

That’s not how copyright works. Copyright is a limited monopoly on the redistribution of creative work. It doesn’t let owners impose any conditions it likes on consumers’ behavior. Imagine if your cable company said that you could only watch its programs if you had a certain brand of television, or if a book publisher said that you could only read its books by the light of a specific brand of lamp.

Keep in mind that Congress ordered the FCC to ensure competition in set-top boxes 20 years ago, as part of the Telecommunications Act of 1996. The copyright argument was nothing but a distraction.

Together with a group of some of the top copyright experts in the country, EFF explained that no, products that touch copyrighted content aren’t automatically a violation of copyright. A few weeks later, we were stunned to see the Copyright Office wade into the debate by echoing Hollywood’s talking points. Little did we know at the time that the Copyright Office’s memo had come after an aggressive, behind-the-scenes lobbying campaign by the Motion Picture Association of America.

In September, FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler announced an alternative proposal. Under the new proposal, pay TV operators would have been required to provide apps to third-party box manufacturers that mimic the functionality of their proprietary boxes. It’s hard to comment on the specifics since text was never made public, but it’s clear that from the consumer’s prospective, the new proposed rule was a mixed bag: it might have helped drive down the price of boxes, but it wouldn’t have opened many doors for disruptive innovation in the box functionality itself.

We believed that we had one final shot to make a difference in the FCC’s decision. A hearing was coming up where the Senate Commerce Committee would ask the Commissioners about Unlock the Box among other issues. Thousands of you took to Twitter with a simple message: put people first, not Hollywood.

And they heard you. The Senators grilled the FCC, asking them why they hadn’t yet unlocked the box. One Senator even quipped that he knows when a topic is important to Americans because his Twitter mentions go through the roof. That was you.

Unfortunately, we all know how this story ended. The Commissioners never reached a decision, and with Wheeler stepping down, the proposal is probably dead for now. And there may be bigger fights on the horizon: like many net neutrality advocates, we’re concerned that the FCC may lose its focus on protecting consumers under the new administration.

The story of Unlock the Box is really about where policymakers get their information. When Hollywood aggressively pushed the Copyright Office into backing its agenda, it showed. When we spoke out en masse to the Commerce Committee, they asked the Commissioners the right questions.

We might have lost this battle, but in the coming years, it will be more important than ever for us to speak up to defend innovation and users’ rights, both in the Executive Branch and in Congress. We can work together to show policymakers that competition is good for consumers and good for innovation, and that copyright law should not be used as an excuse to keep incumbent interests in power. When we speak up, they listen.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.

Like what you're reading? Support digital freedom defense today!

Related Cases: FCC Set-Top Box Rulemaking
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Top 5 Threats to Transparency: 2016 in Review

eff.org - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 07:20

As we approach the end of 2016, it’s disturbing to note the wide variety of ways in which government transparency has languished—even under an administration rhetorically committed to it. With the next administration poised to even further extend executive secrecy, it becomes ever more crucial for the courts and Congress to aggressively seek meaningful answers to questions for which the public deserves an answer.

Below are EFF's top 5 threats to transparency in 2016:

1) War on Whistleblowers

Journalists investigating national security agencies have faced unprecedented threats, alongside government employees and contractors who come forward to reveal fraud, waste, and abuse. Conscientious public servants—people who have risked (and often resigned) their careers in order to do the right thing—have been thanked for their public service with criminal prosecutions for espionage, as if they were subverting the U.S. rather than performing their constitutional function or fulfilling their oaths of office.

Under the Obama administration, more federal employees faced accusation of espionage based on their public interest whistleblowing activities than during the entire preceding history of the U.S. put together.

For instance, military whistleblower Chelsea Manning filed an appeal in May, noting that her 35-year sentence in military prison is “grossly unfair” since “no whistleblower in American history has been sentenced this harshly.” Manning revealed documents about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to Wikileaks, including a video revealing a U.S. military coverup following the assassination of Reuters journalists and evidence that the Pentagon suppressed accurate data about civilian casualties that were in fact higher than those officially acknowledged.

EFF submitted a brief to the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals, arguing that her conviction for violating the Computer Fraud & Abuse Act was inappropriate since the law was designed to punish people for breaking into computers systems, which Manning never did.

Informed by Manning’s treatment and due process violations pervading her prosecution, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden continued to seek refuge internationally. Meanwhile, a domestic coalition petitioned the Obama administration to pardon Snowden, given the public interest in his revelations and failure of congressional oversight to expose policymakers to the unconstitutional surveillance programs—including PRISM and upstream collection, which Congress will examine in 2017—that Snowden uncovered.

2) Double Standards for Senior Officials

Meanwhile, Obama administration officials who actually did violate the public trust by lying to investigators have been repeatedly rewarded.

These include David Petraeus, a former CIA Director who lied to FBI investigators about leaks of classified documents to a mistress for use in a book glorifying his record. Petraeus is reportedly under consideration for senior service in the Trump administration.

They also include James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence who gave false self-serving answers under oath about unconstitutional spying on Americans en masse. Despite the passage of the USA Freedom Act in 2015, the vast majority of programs that Snowden revealed continue to operate today.

Finally, John Brennan, the current CIA Director, admitted to misleading Congress about the CIA conducting an electronic espionage operation targeting the U.S. Senate. Even worse than Brennan’s misrepresentation, or perhaps even the CIA’s hack itself, was the purpose: to obstruct an investigation into criminal violations by CIA personnel of international human rights norms the U.S. was once proud to have pioneered.

Few observers expect the next administration to prove more transparent, or to more conscientiously hold accountable officials who violate the public trust.

3) Congressional Heads in the Sand

Across each of these areas, Congress has been complicit by accepting official secrets, and ignoring whistleblowers despite the demonstrable importance of their revelations. Put simply, Congress has proven more concerned about preserving the appearance of oversight than actually doing its job.

In the 1970s, when public revelations appeared of domestic spying far less extensive than the programs revealed by the Snowden disclosures, Congress took action: it undertook a two-year investigation and created standing bipartisan committees with ongoing oversight responsibilities. Today’s Congress—including those very same committees—have responded to contemporary revelations of vastly broader domestic surveillance with perverse deference to the agencies it oversees.

On surveillance policy, Congress remains in the dark even today, with no answers to questions as basic as, “how many Americans have been monitored by the NSA?” Yet in the next year, members of Congress will be called upon to decide whether to reauthorize Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Currently set to expire in December 2017, it is the statute on which intelligence agencies rely to conduct unconstitutional upstream collection and the notorious PRISM program.

EFF has long fought to force meaningful congressional oversight of FISA Section 702.

In January, we joined two dozen civil liberties groups in calling on the House Judiciary Committee to open a “members only” meeting to the public, at least in part. The meeting addressed FISA Section 702, but remained classified, lacking the independence or objectivity enabled by including whistleblowers. It must be followed by open oversight hearings that include the observations of whistleblowers before Congress can reasonably consider re-authorizing the statute's expiring provisions.

In June—informed by congressional failure to mount a long overdue investigation—we and a dozen coalition partners joined forces to call on Congress to let Section 702 expire as scheduled, or alternatively enact reforms to render it constitutionally defensible. That remains our position today.

4) Retaliation Against Civilian Journalists Exposing Police Violence

The public, press, and policymakers have grown increasingly willing to challenge the claims of public safety agencies, driven by civilian journalists who have repeatedly exposed police violence and institutional coverups. Their courageous reporting has forced a mounting national debate over racially discriminatory state violence, an issue that has festered for centuries.

While grassroots journalism has helped restore healthy skepticism of police, it has also inspired a backlash in the form of police suppression around the country. Arrests of civilian journalists who peacefully observe and record police activity were endorsed in two cases by a federal judge in Philadelphia whose judgments we have challenged on appeal before the Third Circuit. The trial decision in those cases perversely imposed a subjective test allowing constitutional protection only after an observer risks violence by openly demonstrating hostility to police.

The Fields and Geraci decisions threaten not only the right of civilians to observe and record police, but also the accountability that those rights promote. Acting both to defend the rights of journalists and these broader principles, EFF filed our amicus brief, and also supported an online petition launched by the International Documentary Association calling on the Justice Department to intervene to restrain local police departments from arresting, detaining, or harassing either professional or lay journalists.

5) Secret International Trade Agreements

Since at least 1995, when the World Trade Organization adopted its Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), international trade agreements have overturned national laws aiming to protect freedom of expression to serve the interests of corporate rightsholders. Since then, a steady stream of international agreements further entrenched the power of corporations to impede free expression by restricting access to culture, content, and criticism.

The 2016 presidential campaign season, however, marked a political turning point. Even candidates instrumental in negotiating them jousted for the opportunity to derogate international trade agreements, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) proposed to establish U.S. interests in trade with Asian countries other than China. The TPP faced enduring criticism for a host of reasons, particularly because it was negotiated in secret primarily by corporate lobbyists, without public participation or even visibility into the draft document. The draft changed arbitrarily and at one point was slated for a fast track approval by Congress.

On the one hand, the Obama administration announced shortly after this November’s election that it would shelve the unpopular TPP. Its decision came after months of opposition by voices from across the political spectrum, which EFF has been proud to support. We developed an infographic to help explain concerns about the proposed agreement, launched online actions in both January and September, and helped promote creative dissent in half a dozen cities through the Rock Against the TPP concert series featuring Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello.

On the other hand, future trade agreements could be as opaque as the TPP. Only "an alert and knowledgeable citizenry" can ensure that those agreements meet the same fate. Beyond stopping discrete agreements, Congress could enact proposed reforms to force transparency on the U.S. Trade Representative's office. While some channels to limit international trade agreements must happen at the national level, the resistance to opaque trade agreements like the TPP ultimately unite the globe.

This article is part of our Year In Review series. Read other articles about the fight for digital rights in 2016.

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Related Cases: Jewel v. NSA
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Categories: Aggregated News

Whistleblowers Don’t Need Elite Credentials To Help Protect Us from Government Overreach

eff.org - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 06:14

Author Malcolm Gladwell recently name-checked the EFF in an article published in The New Yorker. Mr. Gladwell’s piece examines what he sees as the differences between whistle-blowers Edward Snowden and Daniel Ellsberg, and concludes that Snowden doesn’t deserve the respect (or apparently the same legal protection) that Ellsberg does. It’s always nice to be mentioned in respected publications, but as an organization that has actual experience with trying to make change with whistleblower information, we sharply disagree with Mr. Gladwell’s conclusion, and even more so with how he gets there.

Gladwell’s Theory of Legitimate Whistleblowers

In his piece, Mr. Gladwell dreams up a fictional whistleblower, Daniel Snowberg, an ex-EFF intern with a PhD in international relations who is working as an analyst at the NSA. This highly credentialed guy runs across a copy of a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) authorization, which requires phone companies to hand over records to the NSA under Section 215 of the Patriot Act (sound familiar?). He’s troubled by it, and sends it to his old friends at EFF, who confirm that it looks unconstitutional (so far, so good). Snowberg then goes to Senator Ron Wyden, who also agrees that the order is unconstitutional and suggests that Snowberg go to the national press with it. Snowberg eventually leaks the order to the Washington Post.

As Mr. Gladwell tells it, this trajectory—credentials, Congress, big-time press and only revealing a single thing at a time—puts his fictional creation in the same league as Ellsberg, an ex-Marine and Harvard graduate who studied under a Nobel Prize winner and gave advice to Henry Kissinger before disclosing the Pentagon Papers. Gladwell paints good leaking as part of a deep game where key insiders play chess with each other by leaking and then counterleaking. Mr. Gladwell contrasts Snowberg and Ellsberg to Snowden, a community college dropout who left the CIA under a cloud and revealed an unprecedented global surveillance infrastructure. Snowden wasn't playing a game; his motivation is that he cares about democracy and the public's right to know and make informed decisions. Because of Snowden’s differences with Ellsberg (or Snowberg), Mr. Gladwell claims that Snowden isn’t an “insider” leaker who we should trust, but instead is a “radicalized hacker.”

Let's put aside, for a minute, that Snowden revealed many programs that qualify as both controversial and illegal, including far more than the NSA’s mass collection of telephone records—the only disclosure of which Gladwell seems to approve. We learned that the NSA was systematically attacking the encryption that underpins the Internet, that tech companies like Google and Facebook were secretly collaborating with the government beyond what the law required, that the NSA was covertly hacking overseas datalinks owned by those same US tech companies, and that the spy agency was collecting data on hundreds of millions of innocent people around the world. In response to these disclosures, a review board of legal and intelligence experts appointed by President Obama recommended more than forty sweeping changes to how the intelligence community conducts surveillance—including additional privacy protections for foreigners not protected by the law. And a federal appeals court held that the NSA had engaged in widespread illegal conduct.

Let's also put aside the fact that neither Snowden nor Ellsberg revealed all that they know—Gladwell makes much of this in holding up Ellsberg, but it's clear that both men made that same choice. This "good leaker" argument which holds Ellsberg up as the only legitimate whistleblower is something we've heard over and over from a certain kind of Washington insider. And it's completely wrong.

Washington insiders often want to look reasonable by saying they understand the need for whistleblowers in the abstract, and point to Ellsberg, whose acts are safely in the past, as an example. But when it comes to the actual steps someone has to take today, they find some way to oppose. Today’s whistleblowers always deserve jail, or worse, the argument goes.

Beyond smacking of elitism—apparently you have to go to Harvard and rub shoulders with Henry Kissinger to be considered a "real" whistleblower—what's clear is that this narrative greatly reduces the number of whistleblowers who deserve respect and protection. It’s already a tremendous act of courage for an insider to stand up and call out illegal or immoral behavior. They risk their jobs, their ability to ever get a good job again, their friends, their community and maybe even their family. Mr. Gladwell's additional credential requirement makes sure that those numbers are even smaller.

The recently released additional sections of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence report also suggest a stop at an Inspector General’s office—like the one who was just sent on leave for retaliating against a whistleblower. The House report is based upon a fantasy of an internal agency whistleblower structure and Congressional oversight and that can actually raise and correct policy wrongs and protect people who come forward. This simply does not exist. On the internal side, Snowden’s efforts to raise his concerns internally, along with the horror stories of retaliation against Thomas Drake, William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe and most recently John Crane—all of whom had serious credentials, by the way—abundantly proves that neither congressional oversight nor internal processes actually work to protect policy-based whistleblowers much less ensure that the rest of us are informed of potentially illegal activities involving our communications.

The Good Leaker Theory Fails

Part of the reason Mr. Gladwell’s fantasy-based critique of Snowden bothers us is that we’ve tried a version of the “Ellsberg Good Leaker path” for our original NSA whistleblower, Mark Klein, starting in 2006.

Mr. Klein was in tech support at AT&T. Like Snowden, he didn’t go to Harvard, pal around with Kissinger, or serve in the intelligence services. But he had real documents and direct testimony demonstrating that, at the behest of the NSA, AT&T was (and still is) making illegal copies of Internet traffic through key network junctures. This includes the juncture in a building on Folsom Street in San Francisco. After copying, searching is conducted through the full content of much of that information, especially messages going to and from abroad but including millions of Americans' communications. We now know that the government calls this program “UPSTREAM,” and calls its searching through the actual content of messages  “about” searching, but we didn’t know these names in 2006. This was a big, new program with profound legal and constitutional implications. It deserved (and still deserves) serious public and judicial consideration.

So what happened? Mr. Klein went to the press before coming to EFF, but a Los Angeles Times story about his discoveries was famously spiked by Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte who intimidated now New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet out of running it. Finally, the New York Times did publish a story but the government just kept issuing carefully worded denials.

During this time Mr. Klein also came to EFF and we tried to do what Ellsberg did. We approached several U.S. senators about the information, including Mr. Klein’s own Senator Dianne Feinstein. We were, to put it kindly, strung along. We never even got a meeting with a senator. EFF also filed a lawsuit against AT&T based on Mr. Klein’s information, but we had to keep the actual evidence under seal for a long time, making it easy for the government to largely ignore us and, when pushed, dismiss Mark’s claims as unfounded since he was just a lowly technician.1

We tried another part of the “Ellsberg” strategy. We took Mark to Washington to try to increase the chance of Congressional assistance as well as to try to bring more public attention to what his evidence revealed. We even managed to have a press briefing on Capitol Hill and a few meetings with staffers.

But we couldn’t get a hearing on Mark’s whistleblower information, couldn’t keep the press on it, and couldn’t penetrate the assumptions and elitist narrative about whistleblowers.2

But Mr. Klein was right, and the information he brought forward was important. Nevertheless, it took the "flood" of the Snowden revelations seven years later to move the ball forward in a significant way including the end of the telephone records program, greatly increased corporate use of encryption to protect users and even baby steps toward protecting foreigners abroad. But there’s still never been a Congressional hearing focused on the Upstream program, much less one that let someone like Mr. Klein, Mr. Binney, Mr. Drake or Mr. Wiebe say what they know. We’ll be pushing further when the authority the government now relies upon for the program, FISA Amendments Act Section 702,  is up for renewal next December.

So thanks for the name check, Mr. Gladwell. We do appreciate it and would welcome a chance to give this Snowberg or the next an internship at EFF. But whistleblowers should be judged on whether they brought seriously improper and illegal government or corporate activities to light, not based on who they are or where they sit in an elite hierarchy. That doesn’t mean that there can never be any potential consequences for whistleblowing. But making public something that people in a functioning democracy deserve to know should take a whistleblower firmly out of the reach of the Espionage Act or other serious felonies that the government put in its indictment against Mr. Snowden.

On that score, Mr. Snowden, along with Thomas Drake, William Binney, J. Kirk Wiebe, Chelsea Manning and Mark Klein, deserve to stand right beside Ellsberg.

  • 1. AT&T convinced the Court to keep the information sealed, claiming that it revealed trade secrets.
  • 2. Then just as the courts started taking our claims against AT&T seriously, Congress stepped in, but not to support Mr. Klein. Instead, led by the intelligence committees, Congress passed the FISA Amendments Act, which (among other things) granted retroactive immunity to AT&T and the other telecommunications companies for their (still denied) complicity. This ultimately killed our first lawsuit, Hepting v. AT&T. Meanwhile, in our second lawsuit, Jewel v. NSA, the government has continued to strategically and secretly deny our claims about backbone surveillance, slowing the lawsuit down to a crawl.
Related Cases: Jewel v. NSAHepting v. AT&T
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Categories: Aggregated News

A Stinging Moscow Christmas Message to Washington

sjlendman.blogspot.com - Tue, 27/12/2016 - 04:33
A Stinging Moscow Christmas Message to Washington
by Stephen Lendman
Russia admitted the futility of dealing with Obama and neocons infesting his regime, hoping for normalized bilateral relations once Trump takes over - mutual cooperation instead of current US hostility.
On Christmas eve, its Foreign Ministry blasted Obama as follows:
“The second in the past three days extension of US sanctions against Russia at a time when the bloody tragedies in Ankara and Berlin should rally all reasonable people in the fight against the terrorist threat is evidence that Washington has completely lost its grip on reality.”
Comment: Russia wants nothing more to do with Washington while Obama remains president - what should have happened long ago instead of wasting time on futile diplomacy accomplishing nothing positive. 
Russian FM: “On the other hand, we did not expect anything else considering that for the past few years the Obama administration has been busily looking for ways to harm Russia.” 
“By doing this, the US administration is also harming the American nation, whose image has been marred by this imprudent policy even in the eyes of those who are completely apolitical.”
Comment: Diplomacy only works when both or all sides are committed to use it responsibly - never by Washington since the Clinton co-presidency.
Russian FM: “Instead of reining in their Kiev clients, who have derailed many opportunities for a peaceful settlement in Donbass, Washington has yet again directed its unfounded complaints at Russia.” 
“We would like to remind everyone that the referendum in Crimea and Sevastopol was the direct result of the state coup in Ukraine supported by the United States.” 
“The decision taken by the people of Crimea and Sevastopol cannot be reversed, no matter how hard some people may try to convince themselves otherwise.”
Comment: The “state coup” was planned, orchestrated and implemented by Washington - Russia fully aware of what went on, democracy replaced by fascist illegitimacy.
The vast majority of Crimean and Sevastopol residents voted democratically to rejoin Russia, correcting a historic mistake, their legitimate right under international law. 
Russian FM: “We are also being ‘punished’ for supporting the Syrian Government in its fight against terrorism, which is a threat not only to Syria but also to the rest of the world.” 
“It is a fact that the current US administration is willing to support any, even the most destructive forces in its desire to bring about a regime change in Syria.” 
“The US administration has protected the Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist group, which is a unit of al-Qaeda that has staged the most terrible terrorist attacks in US history.” 
“The White House seems to have forgotten that under US law providing support to terrorists is a criminal offense.”
Comment: Hillary Clinton as secretary of state orchestrated US naked aggression on Libya and Syria - wanting pro-Western puppet governance replacing their sovereign independence, a flagrant breach of international and US constitutional law.
Moscow deserves universal praise for intervening in Syria last year at the behest of its government. Its aim is to combat terrorism, prevent its spread to Russia’s heartland, along with protecting Syrian sovereignty and territorial integrity.
America created and supports the terrorist scourge it claims to oppose. The Big Lie persists claiming otherwise.
Russian FM: “Sanctions will not force us to change our views. The Russian companies that are cooperating with Crimea, the agrarian, energy and defence companies, Tempbank, which is working with Syrian partners, and other Russian companies sanctioned by the outgoing US administration will continue working as usual.” 
“But these sanctions will cast an even more unflattering light on this administration, which will leave a bad memory behind.”
Comment: Security Council members alone may impose sanctions on countries - not individual ones against others, lawless when done unilaterally or jointly with other nations.
Will Trump end US hostility toward Moscow, normalizing relations and cooperating with Putin in combating terrorism?
Will he prioritize diplomacy over belligerence? Will he be a responsible leader or a rogue one like Obama, Bush/Cheney and the Clintons?
Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net. 
His new book as editor and contributor is titled "Flashpoint in Ukraine: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks WW III."
http://www.claritypress.com/LendmanIII.html
Visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com. 

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