Thursday, December 19, 2013

How lies about 911 enabled NSA surveillance of American citizens.

Even as a federal judge ruled that the NSA mass data collection of Americans exposed by Edward Snowden is unconstitutional and a panel appointed by Obama released findings calling for the end of the NSA bulk data collection, and as congress prepares to vote on The Freedom Act which would eliminate the NSA's  intrusive mass surveillance, especially when it comes to American citizens, it is useful to remember how we got here.

 General Keith Alexander reminded us of that once again, when, in his most recent appearance before a senate oversight committee and for the upteenth time since the programs were exposed by Edward Snowden, he defended them by invoking the 911 attacks.

 Alexander has repeatedly, in every congressional hearing in which he has given testimony has tried to make the claim that the NSA bulk data collection of Americans phone calls and Internet activity was not in place prior to the 911 attacks and had they been the program would have prevented the 911 attack.

 The assertion is and has been a complete and well documented fabrication and a denial of all the facts surrounding the attacks and prior intelligence.

 Alexander is able to do this because the truth about the 911 attacks brought to light by the 911 Commission hearings were virtually buried because neither the news media nor Democrats, and certainly not Republicans wanted to make an issue of what amounted to the Bush administration ignoring valuable and specific intelligence that would have prevented the attacks in what might have been the worst case of gross negligence by government officials with regards to the national security of the United States in American history.

 Prior to the 911 attacks Bush, Rice and others in the Bush administration  had enough intelligence (without any of the current NSA programs) to have prevented the attacks. They were warned by intelligence officials repeatedly of a massive impending attack against the United States which they dismissed and ignored.

 Its been a dirty little open secret for 12 years, one that neither the news media, Democrats or Republicans have wanted to touch for different reasons preferring instead to perpetuate the lies and myths that there was nothing the Bush administration could have done to stop it.  The Bush administration tried to place the blame on intelligence failures And Alexander has sought to capitalize on those myths.

 The 911 Commission through documents and direct testimony showed that from the day Bush took office terrorism was rejected as a real threat against the United States.  they believed Clinton overstated the danger and their number one national security priority was getting out of the ABM treaty with Russia and reviving Star Wars.

 The Bush administration was so contemptuous of terrorism as a threat  that  during the 911 hearings the assistant director of the FBI testified to the Commission, that when he went to Attorney General John Ashcroft with issues related to Al-Qaeda he said Ashcroft told him, " don't ever come to me with anything related to terrorism again".

 This in spite of the fact that during Bush's transition period, Bush was told by the heads of every intelligence agency in the country as well as former president Bill Clinton and outgoing national security advisor Sandy Berger that Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda were the biggest threat to U.S. national security in the world
  Bush and Rice dismissed it and in fact one of Bush's first decisions regarding terrorism when he took office was to demote Richard Clarke, the White House anti-terrorism chief for 20 years under Reagan, Bush 41 and Clinton,  from cabinet level status to sub cabinet status reducing his access to the president. Bush also dissolved what Clarke called the Meeting of the Principals, where on a daily basis, the heads of every government agency related to terrorism -- the Attorney General, Director of CIA, FBI, ATF, Immigration etc. would  have a meeting chaired by Clarke and share all the terrorist related intelligence received by each agency in the previous 24 hours.

 One of the biggest criticisms the 911 Commission had under Bush was a lack of sharing of intelligence between agencies. That was a direct result of Bush's decision to end what had been a top priority during the Clinton administration.

 Testimony and documents further showed that in July of 2001, CIA intercepts of Al-Qaeda traffic so concerned CIA Director George Tenant so much he sought an emergency meeting with then national security advisor Rice to discuss it.  Rice testified she didn't remember the meeting though White House logs showed it took place.

 From July on and with increasing frequency intercepts by the CIA that the United States was about to be hit with a major terrorist attack were so dire that Richard Clarke testified that in August of 2001 he and Tenant were " running around the White House like men with their hair on fire" trying to warn Bush and Rice of the impending attack.   One of the CIA translations of an Al-Qaeda intercept in August of 2001 was " the match has been lit".

 Another intercept in August of 2001 indicated that the U.S. was about to be hit with a major Al-Qaeda attack and that the attack, in the words of the CIA translator, was going to be "spectacular".

 The coup de grace, was the August 6,2001 Presidential Daily Briefing, a collection of reports from all the intelligence agencies in one briefing given to the president that represents what the intelligence agencies think is the most important for the president to have. This briefing was entitled  " Bin Laden Determined to Strike Within the United States".

 In this briefing  (which can be accessed online), Bush and Rice were told that not only that there was intelligence that  Al-Qaeda was going to attack within the United States, it presented intelligence  that Al-Qaeda cells were already in the United States, that they had been observed in New York City putting office buildings under surveillance, and, unbelievably told Bush and Rice that the plan to attack inside the United States was going to involve the hijacking of U.S. commercial airliners. And remember, this was within the same time frame that  Clarke and Tenant were  "running around the White House like men with their hair on fire"  armed with the CIA intercepts confirming an Al-Qaeda attack was imminent.

 Incomprehensibly, Bush and Rice did nothing and Bush went on vacation to Crawford.

 In her testimony before the 911 Commission when Rice was asked pointedly about having the intelligence that Al-Qaeda planned to hijack  commercial airliners as part of their attack on the U.S.  by committee counsel Richard Ben Veniste, her answer was " we had no idea they were going to use the planes as missiles".

 Like hijacking U.S. airliners and holding hostages or threatening the lives of hundreds if not thousands of passengers was something to be dismissed?

 It was during this testimony that Rice uttered her now famous line that became an overused Washington and news media cliche when she said "we couldn't connect the dots".

 To this day almost everyone in the news media and in politics who appropriated that metaphor, including General Alexander who invoked being able to "connect the dots" at least four times in his last congressional appearance, never fully understood the full meaning of Rice's remark.

 Rice is a highly educated person with a highly sophisticated vocabulary. She could have chosen any metaphor or combination of words to express the failure of the Bush administration to stop the attacks. But a case can be made that " we couldn't connect the dots" was an unintended confession on her part that, far from their being intelligence failures,  they simply dropped the ball.

 Connecting the dots is after all, a child's game. A series of dots is in front of you, each one with a number and all one has to do is draw a line from one dot to the other in consecutive order  to see the whole picture. Rice admitted that they couldn't do that. In fact they didn't even try.

One wonders what the future might have been had the news media or even Democrats  for that matter gone after the Bush administration for ignoring the intelligence they had in the 911 attacks with even half the ferocity they used in going after Anthony Weiner over his online sex chats.  There is a real possibility Bush and Cheney might not have  finished out their first term.  At the very least they would have lost to John Kerry in 2004 and the course of history would have been dramatically changed.  And it would have never led to the NSA bulk data collection and their intrusive surveillance into innocent American citizens because  it was only after the 911 attacks that the NSA got its marching orders from Bush and Cheney.

For a brief moment during Alexander's senate testimony,  senator Patrick Leahy addressed Alexander's attempts at misrepresenting the facts surrounding  911 as justification for the NSA programs  having not been in place prior to 911 when Leahy replied that at the time  "the FBI alone had enough information" so that"anyone with "half a brain" could have used that intelligence to have prevented  the 911 attacks. 

Leahy didn't press the point beyond that, dismissed Alexander's 911 assertions, and moved on to his next question. The congress, in its vote on the Freedom Act  in January, will have the final answer

NOTE: A Federal judge in New York, in a law suit filed by the ACLU issued a ruling contrary to the one issued by a federal judge in Washington, and found the NSA data collection legal. In a bizarre ruling which the ACLU is appealing, the judge seemed to ignore his sole purpose which was to rule on law and constitutionality and instead, his rulling was filled with his own personal opinions of the value of the program. What was notable, was that in that ruling, he too cited the 911 attacks and that the government did not have the data collection program in place at the time, again ignoring the facts that the Bush Administration had more than enough intelligence to stop the attacks at the time without the meta data collection and simply failed to act.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Dishonest distortions of Obamacare from the New York Times editorial board.

As has already been documented here on previous occasions,  the New York Times editorial board, in a number of editorials praising Obamacare have either been badly out of touch with reality or instead choose simply to distort it. And they remind us again to consider the source -- a group of people whose medical insurance is taken care of by the New York Times Company and so will never have need of Obamacare while pontificating on how good it is for everyone else.

In it's most recent editorial in praise of Obamacare and its "success", this is how the editors of the NY Times chooses to frame the most recent set of facts: 

"At the current rate, more than a million people may (italics mine) select private health plans by Jan. 1, the earliest date the new policies can take effect. That’s fewer than the administration had originally hoped, but surprisingly robust given the start-up troubles."    

Characterizing the sign ups of more than a million "at the current rate" as "fewer" than the administration had hoped  is an understatement so preposterous as to reduce the editorial to a PR release.

What the administration had hoped for was 7 million sign ups by the end of the year.  Even with the glitches in the web site, calling one million sign ups out of a hoped for number of 7 million simply "fewer"  is not journalism. It's not even opinion anyone can respect. It is propagandizing, distorting facts, and in essence leaving out or sugar coating inconvenient facts that reveal just how badly Obamacare is doing.  As Warren Buffet predicted it would. And justifying Howard Dean's calling for Democrats to "junk" the bill that became Obamacare and pass the public option.

As for their editorializing that the sign ups are "suprisingly robust" that too is pure distortion. What the Times editorial fails to point out is that while boasting of 803,000 expanded Medicaid sign ups  out of the total 1.2 million sign ups at the Obamacare web site, Medicaid sign ups are in no way a reflection or barometer of success for Obamacare. And for three reasons.

 First and foremost,  for Obamacare to succeed at all, it is entirely dependent on signing up all 32 million uninsured into private healthcare insurance policies that they must buy -- not Medicaid enrollments.  The 365,000 non-Medicaid enrollments represents only 1% of the number needed to make Obamacare successful on its own terms. Which, even then, wouldnt produce real healthcare reform.

Medicaid enrollments, while expanding Medicaid eligibility to a more reasonable qualifying income (133% of the poverty line), will do nothing to make Obamacare successful. Only all of the 32 million uninsured purchasing health insurance can do that. And right now  the number of enrollments based on all applications filled out is less that 3%.And, as pointed out earlier only 1% of what's needed, based on the most recent figures of 365,000 plans purchased nationwide.

Based on every indication, signing up all 32 million uninsured is never going to happen. In fact Obama will be lucky to get 10% of that number, which would still be a disaster for Obamacare. And no surprise given the low end polices being offered by insurance companies  offering skimpy coverage for exorbitant premiums and high deductibles and co-pays, and offers very little government help by way of subsidies for people making $40,000 a year or more.  Based on what's been offered, it is almost a certainty that people who do not have health insurance now because they cant afford it will never buy into this mess. And the numbers show it.

Without the young, healthy uninsured putting their money into the pool to offset the costs for the elderly and chronically or catastrophically ill, insurance premiums will sky rocket in the future for those who already had insurance prior to Obamacare,  to pay for the mandates involving pre-existing conditions and eliminating the cap on coverage. And the vast majority of the 32 million will remain uninsured, adding to the cost of healthcare.

The second reason Medicaid sign ups do not contribute to any success of Obamacare is that Medicaid expansion would have been unnecessary under the public option, the healthcare plan a vast majority of Americans wanted, that Obama and the Democrats had the votes to pass, but which Obama sold out to the health insurance lobby in perhaps the most egregious sell out of a public policy and cave in by a publicly elected official to a lobbying group in American history.
 Under the public option,  those who are now qualifying for Medicaid would have gotten the same free healthcare coverage without expanding Medicaid while everyone else would have had the option for Medicare-like coverage for a fraction of what they're paying now, something that would have lowered health care costs,(something Obamacare doesn't even touch) and would have been a boon to business whose skyrocketing health care costs are paid for by consumers in the cost of goods and services. 

The third reason Medicaid expansion is no indication of success for Obamacare is that the same Medicaid expansion could have been passed as a standalone without Obamacare whose entire reason for being is to get the uninsured to buy insurance from the health insurance companies who are the ones who set the premiums and conditions. Given that less than 3% of people who do get to the web site and fill out applications sign up for insurance company polices once they see what's being offered, more access to the web site will not mean a higher percentage of enrollments. 

The NY Times editorial board have consistently been out of touch with the healthcare debate,as well as reality and the gross flaws and failures of Obamacare that go far beyond its web site as evidenced by a quotation from one of its past editorials which  cited that "the premiums being offered through Obamacare  may not be bargain basement prices, but it is like shopping at Filene's".

That's something sure to give comfort to a family of four in Mississippi with an income of $40,000 a year looking at premiums of $1,069 a month under Obamacare. Or the single person making $40,000 a year in New York City looking at  a silver plan, the next to cheapest plan on the exchanges, offering health insurance for $611 a month with a $6,000 deductible and 40% co-pay.

What the Times editorial board ought to do is tell the truth about the serious endemic failures of Obamacare, its almost certain demise and to tell the truth about Obama's cave in on the public option. And point out the price Democrats have paid and are still paying for going along with the Obama-Pelosi sell out,  and to start advocating for the public option, the healthcare reform that would have had none of the current and future problems of Obamacare and would have constituted real reform.  And they could start rallying Democrats to promise to pass the public option if they gain control of the House in 2014.  Because if they don't , and can't get out from under Obamacare as they need to, they could get wiped out of congress in 2014 just like they did in 2010. And for the same reason -- Obamacare instead of the public option.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Obama's Iran Deal: If you like your nuclear reactor you can keep it.

With all of the embarrassing, fumbling and high profile problems of the Obamacare web site and the stark failures of Obamacare as a policy so far,(less than 2% of those setting up accounts are enrolling)   some may think comparing the glaring flaws and gitches with Obamacare and its implementation to the nuclear agreement with Iran  is overly simplistic, a cheap shot or even a low blow.  It isn't.

 The two have very real similarities and threaten to have very similar outcomes, failed outcomes that were predictable and are both very much the product of Obama's  flawed approach and thinking when it comes to important issues and solving problems often sacrificing something real just to have a deal an adversary can accept.  Which is why both have become equally worrisome  and have about the same chance of succeeding and accomplishing what they promised.

 Just as the Obamacare roll out and web site was fraught with problems and glitches from the beginning,  the Iran agreement  is hardly two weeks old but from the very beginning started to fray. And for much the same reasons.

 And as was the case with Obamacare, the nuclear deal shows a lack of planning, a lack of foresight, miscalculations, imprecise language and most  important of all does not solve the problem it was supposed to solve.

 The ink hadn't even  dried on the nuclear agreement before  Iran claimed the deal said one thing and the Obama administration claimed it said the opposite.

 Iran's foreign minister said the deal explicitly gave Iran the right to enrich uranium. Kerry said it didn't. Iran's foreign minister said the agreement explicitly removed the threat of military force by United States against Iran. Kerry said it didn't.

Iran said the deal specifically allows them to continue to operate their heavy water reactors (which are needed only to enrich uranium to weapons grade level). The White House says it doesn't.  And Iran's foreign ministry put out a statement saying that the outline of the specifics of the deal posted by Obama on the White House web site "are not true".  To call this getting off to a rocky start is something of a gross understatement.

There is already ample evidence that the Iran deal, like Obamacare, is rife with misjudgments,  lack of foresight, but most of all, like Obamacare, is a capitulation and compromise to an adversary who was the sole source of the problem when no capitulation or compromise was necessary.

 Just as it had been the insurance companies and their Draconian practices of high premiums, caps on coverage and denial of coverage for pre-existing conditions which had been the core problem, only to see Obama drop the public option which had overwhelming support and which solved those problems simply to make a deal that the insurance companies were pleased with,  it has been Iran and their belligerence and military threats to wipe their adversaries "off the face of the earth" that has made their nuclear enrichment program and it's potential military use the sole source of the problem.

 And like  Obamacare,   Obama's  Iran deal does nothing to solve the problem. Which is solely to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.

 Just as Obamacare does nothing to lower the cost of healthcare and favors insurance companies by letting them offer policies to the uninsured at prices they themselves choose,  the Iran agreement, even as a preliminary one, favors Iran, reduces leverage by easing sanctions and does nothing to stop Iran's weapons grade nuclear program.

 And like Obamacare, which was Obama's substitute for the public option, for many the Iran deal represents a wasted opportunity.

 But unlike Obamacare, opposition to the Iran deal has been led by Democrats, been very vocal, even fierce in its opposition, and has bipartisan support.

 Democratic senator Chuck Schumer said he was "disappointed" with the deal. Republican congressman and chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee Peter King called it "a serious strategic mistake".  Republican congressman and House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers said it was "a serious mistake". Democratic senator Robert Menedez is calling for tougher sanctions in spite of the deal and is drafting a senate bill to do just that over Obama's objections.   Republican senator Lindsay Graham doesn't like the deal either. Neither does Israel or Saudi Arabia. So it's no wonder that Iran sees it as a "win" and made a point of saying how "pleased" it was with the deal.

 You don't have to be an expert on nuclear proliferation or geopolitics to understand the ramifications of Iran saying how "pleased"  it is. Just like Karen Ignagni, the chief Washington lobbyist for the health insurance industry said how "pleased" she was that Obama dropped the public option for Obamacare.   When the adversaries and source of the problem are "pleased" its a pretty good indication the deal  isn't what it should be and someone is getting screwed. And it's not the adversary.

 Given the issues and the leverage the sanctions provided with Iran, there should have been no agreement that would cause the Iranian government to be "pleased". Iran caused the problem themselves. They were the ones making threats. They are responsible for the sanctions against them.  Iran's choices should have been, shut down the centrifuges and heavy water reactor used to enrich weapons grade uranium  in return for easing sanctions or face more sanctions. The deal should have been either or. They can't have both. Except for now, based on this deal,  they do.

 That Obama has tried to defend the deal by saying its the product of "clear eyed principled diplomacy" when there is complete disagreement between the principals as to what the agreement actually says, is enough to prove it's anything but clear eyed and principled.

 And a close look at Obama's statement bears that out. Obama, who seems to spend a lot of time trying to craft language that gives him a way out in case of failure, has said that the deal will "help prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon".

 The problem is "will help prevent" is very different from "will prevent" which  is the only thing that matters. And the only thing that "will prevent" Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is for Iran to shut down it's centrifuges and heavy water reactors. And this agreement doesn't do that. In fact, it looks more and more like  Obama's deal with Iran is "if you like your nuclear reactor you can keep it".

There are already bipartisan bills in the senate, sponsored by Democrats Robert Menedez and Chuck Schumer and with strong Republican support, that take the agenda away from Obama and slap Iran with even tighter sanctions in spite of Obama's deal, both recognizing history and refusing to repeat it as well as recognizing Einstein's definition of insanity of doing the same things over again and expecting different results.

Had Democrats did the same in 2009 when Obama was caving in to the health insurance lobby, taken the agenda away and passed the public option which they had the votes to pass instead of falling into line behind Pelosi, they wouldn't be dealing with the policy and political disaster that is Obamacare today and will be in the future. They won't do the same with Iran.

NOTE: Democratic senator Robert Menedez and Republican senator Mark Kirk announced they are about to introduce legislation that would limit Obama's ability to waive sanctions and automatically reimpose sanctions on Iran in six months if Iran renegs on the deal.

Tellingly, Iran has said that such legislation will "kill the deal" just completed even if the legislation wouldn't take effect for six months and only if Iran attempted deception.

If Iran is threatening to kill the deal because of legislation that would hold them accountable for any deception regarding their nuclear program, it only serves to re-enforce what's wrong with the deal.  And if that's the case, maybe its better to kill the deal now rather than continue the deception and put Obama in a position of  waffling over another red line six months from now.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

In JFK remembrances two historians explode the myth of Obama as inspirational.

No one intended it. It wasn't said to make a political point. It was said by two different accomplished presidential historians in two different  venues at two different times. But their message was the same. Obama is neither the inspirational leader that those who supported him in and out of the news media tried to convince themselves and others he was (and some still do) nor is he a president of any accomplishment.

When Obama ran for the Democratic nomination and later for president, many promoted Obama's speeches as examples of "soaring rhetoric" when, to anyone who was really paying attention, his speeches  said  little or nothing but used so many $20 words, people who couldn't think for themselves pretended they were meaningful and that they understood
While true profound ideas are expressed simply and with 10c words that express priceless ideas ( "do unto others as you would have others do unto you", "we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal" " I dream of a day when people will be judged by the content of their character not the color of their skin")  Obama used $20 words and meandering syntax to do what $20 words and meandering syntax are often meant to do -- cover up the fact that they are saying nothing real or of any value.

Robert Dallek the noted presidential historian in an op-ed piece in the New York Times, in assessing Kennedy's presidency and his ability to inspire wrote:  "compared with other recent presidents whose stumbles and failures have assaulted the national self-esteem, memories of Kennedy continue to give the country faith that its best days are still ahead".
Stumbles and failures that assault the national esteem are pretty harsh words. But given the presidencies of both Bush and Obama, those words are accurate.

Historian Douglas Brinkley,  in a television interview after listening to a reading of some of Kennedy's speeches at the Dallas memorial  event said: "We're looking for an inspirational leader like we had with Kennedy and now when we need one the most we can't find one."
About as harsh a criticism of Obama and what his "brand" was supposed to be as one can get. Though his brand, to anyone who was paying attention during the Democratic primary was more shady used car salesman than anything presidential.

Obviously Obama was not the only recent president Dallek was referring to since it's clear that both Bush and Obama share the honors.

Eight years of the George W. Bush presidency which included ignoring ample warnings of the 911 attacks which could have been prevented, the unnecessary war in Iraq  which was the result of intentional deception, the fiasco that was Katrina and the worst economic collapse since the depression, didn't make anyone feel warm and fuzzy about the Bush years.
But it was the Obama candidacy, and the Obama presidency to those who believed the empty rhetoric, that was supposed to be one of  inspiration. At least that's what the press and the slightly less than half of the Democratic party that made up Obama's supporters were trying to sell during the primaries.

Though there is no denying the symbolism of electing to the presidency a man who wouldn't have been able to get a cup of coffee at a southern lunch counter 50 years ago, aside from that, national inspiration was supposed to be Obama's biggest selling point. As both historians point, it doesn't exist.And never did.

Though neither historian had the intention of  exposing Obama as being far from the inspirational leader he and so many of his supporters pretended,  in a moment of total candor and honesty, and moved by the power and true inspiration of Kennedy's speeches like his speech on the value of the arts and how a country  that made the world a better place is more likely to be remembered for its art, literature and poetry than for its wars, and the Kennedy speech that defined the commitment and inspiration to go to the moon, the need to open new lines of communication with the Soviet Union to avoid nuclear war by recognizing the humanity of the people of each country, and his inauguration speech calling for sacrifice, the comparisons to what the country had then and what the country has now and what the country has been missing, for the last 13 years was too stark to ignore.

Since  both historians spoke spontaneously from the heart, its likely that what the political game show hosts on television like to refer to as "Obama's legacy" has already started to be written. And so far, once one gets past the obvious issue of race and what Obama's election meant on that score, it's not very pretty.

At a time when these historians and the country were once again appreciating Kennedy's inspirational words,  ideas and leadership, it's revealing of the state the country is in now that the words from Obama that people are quoting the most are:
 "If you like your health insurance you can keep it".


As if to underscore the point and how pointless comparing those two presidents are, in a minor but humorous, yet also telling episode that seems to repeat itself regularly, Obama is now backtracking and reversing a claim in 2011 that he never met or knew an uncle from Kenya who claimed Obama had stayed with him during a dispute the uncle was having with Immigration over being deported.

 Now we are told Obama admits that he does know the dear uncle, that he did in fact live with him when he began attending Harvard and gee, the whole thing was just some misunderstanding because, according to Jay Carney no one had actually asked Obama back in 2011 if he knew his uncle and simply put out the statement that he didnt on their own.

In essence saying to the uncle "ask not what the White House can do for you but what you can do for the White House". Meaning Obama says he is staying out of the dispute between his new found uncle and Immigration.