Already found one blatant falsehood in James Kirchick’s hit-piece on Greenwald, Scahill, et al

James Kirchick says:

Only one government employee has received jail time under the Obama administration for revealing classified information, and the punishment has been 30 months.

Actually, according to ProPublica’s list, I count three individuals who would meet such criteria: Shamai Leibowitz (20 month sentence), Chelsea Manning (35 year sentence) and John Kiriakou (30 month sentence). Glenn Greenwald also directs me to the recent case of Donald Sachtleben, who has agreed to serve 43 months after pleading guilty to leaking classified information (which is separate from the 97 months he will be serving for child pornography).

It’s also convenient that Kirchick omits all the pending prosecutions based on leaks of classified information in addition to the particularly chilling case of Thomas Drake (who miraculously avoided any prison time). As Sari Horwitz of the Washington Post put it earlier this year:

The aggressive investigation into the possible disclosure of classified information to the AP is part of a pattern in which the Obama administration has pursued current and former government officials suspected of releasing secret material. Six officials have been prosecuted, more than under all previous administrations combined.

(This site counts up to 8 whistleblowers charged with violating the Espionage Act and doesn’t include Sachtleben. So the number now stands at 9.)

If Kirchick’s point is that Obama has been generous in its treatment of unauthorized leak suspects, he’s sorely mistaken.

Still scanning the article for other distortions of reality. Will update this post accordingly.


Before we bomb Syria over its alleged use of chemical weapons, five things you should know

1. Experts on chemical warfare say that footage of the alleged gas attacks is inconsistent with the effects of weapons-grade substances.

Haaretz, 21 August 2013:

Dan Kaszeta, a former officer of the U.S. Army’s Chemical Corps and a leading private consultant, pointed out a number of details absent from the footage so far: “None of the people treating the casualties or photographing them are wearing any sort of chemical-warfare protective gear,” he says, “and despite that, none of them seem to be harmed.” This would seem to rule out most types of military-grade chemical weapons, including the vast majority of nerve gases, since these substances would not evaporate immediately, especially if they were used in sufficient quantities to kill hundreds of people, but rather leave a level of contamination on clothes and bodies which would harm anyone coming in unprotected contact with them in the hours after an attack. In addition, he says that “there are none of the other signs you would expect to see in the aftermath of a chemical attack, such as intermediate levels of casualties, severe visual problems, vomiting and loss of bowel control.”

Steve Johnson, a leading researcher on the effects of hazardous material exposure at England’s Cranfield University who has worked with Britain’s Ministry of Defense on chemical warfare issues, agrees that “from the details we have seen so far, a large number of casualties over a wide area would mean quite a pervasive dispersal. With that level of chemical agent, you would expect to see a lot of contamination on the casualties coming in, and it would affect those treating them who are not properly protected. We are not seeing that here.”

euronews, 21 August 2013:

Stephen Johnson is an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Cranfield Forensic Institute. He said there were inconsistency among the patients’ symptoms.

“There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower,” Johnson said.

2. There are plausible alternative theories as to what caused the symptoms shown in the footage.
Haaretz, 21 August 2013:

“One alternative is that a large concentration of riot control agents were used here, which could have caused suffocation of large numbers of people who were pressed together in a bunker or underground shelter,” says Gwyn Winfield, a veteran researcher and editor of CBRNe World, a professional journal the effects of chemical, biological and nuclear warfare. While riot-control substances, mainly various types of tear gas, are usually deployed in small quantities using hand-grenades, they can be used in much larger quantities in artillery shells or even dropped in barrels from aircraft as the U.S. Army did in Vietnam, trying to flush the Vietcong out of its underground bunkers. In large concentrations, these substances can cause suffocation, especially in closed spaces where many of the Syrian families would have been hiding from the bombing.

Another possible explanation for the casualties is that a large bomb, or a number of bombs, created a fireball that sucked the air out of the nearby building for a short period of time, causing the asphyxiation of those inside. The Syrians have extensively used fuel-air bombs, which create a large vacuum beneath the blast and could have lead to many such casualties.

3. There have been previous allegations from UN officials that the rebels, not the regime, have used chemical weapons.
Reuters, 5 May 2013:

U.N. human rights investigators have gathered testimony from casualties of Syria’s civil war and medical staff indicating that rebel forces have used the nerve agent sarin, one of the lead investigators said on Sunday. The United Nations independent commission of inquiry on Syria has not yet seen evidence of government forces having used chemical weapons, which are banned under international law, said commission member Carla Del Ponte.

“Our investigators have been in neighboring countries interviewing victims, doctors and field hospitals and, according to their report of last week which I have seen, there are strong, concrete suspicions but not yet incontrovertible proof of the use of sarin gas, from the way the victims were treated,” Del Ponte said in an interview with Swiss-Italian television. “This was use on the part of the opposition, the rebels, not by the government authorities,” she added, speaking in Italian.

4. The US has asserted that possible UN inspections of the site of the alleged gas attack are “too late to be credible.”
LA Times, 25 August 2013:

U.N. officials confirmed that its inspection team, already in Syria to investigate previous allegations of chemical weapons use, would begin “on-site fact-finding activities” Monday. The Syrians have “agreed to provide the necessary cooperation,” including a “cessation of hostilities” in the area, the U.N. statement said.

But a senior administration official, in a written statement given to reporters on condition of anonymity, brushed aside the Syrian offer. “If the Syrian government had nothing to hide and wanted to prove to the world that it had not used chemical weapons in this incident, it would have ceased its attacks on the area and granted immediate access to the U.N. — five days ago,” the official said. By now, the government has had many opportunities to destroy evidence, including by shelling the areas, the official noted. A “belated decision by the regime to grant access to the U.N. team is too late to be credible,” the statement said. U.S. officials are continuing to assess the facts to determine “how to respond to this indiscriminate use of chemical weapons,” the official said. “The president has not made a decision to take action. But as you’ve seen, we think there is little doubt that these attacks were undertaken by the regime,” the official said.

5. A planned UN inspections of the alleged attack site have been delayed due to insecurity allegedly created by rebel forces.
NY Times, 27 August 2013:

United Nations weapons inspectors in Syria postponed a second visit to suspected attack sites on the outskirts of the capital, Damascus, after having failed to secure assurances of their safety, the United Nations and Syrian officials said.
On the ground in Syria, United Nations inspectors, who came under sniper fire on Monday before a visit to one location, had been set “to continue their investigation in a different site” on Tuesday, the United Nations said in a statement. But after the attack on Monday, “a comprehensive assessment determined that the visit should be postponed by one day in order to improve preparedness and safety for the team.” The statement said the inspectors had not received “confirmation of access.”

Syria’s foreign minister, Walid al-Moallem, said that the inspectors’ trip had been delayed by one day because of disputes among the rebel groups. The minister said the insurgents could not agree on issues related to guaranteeing the inspectors’ safety. He gave no further details.

BuzzFeed/Fox News myth of Mexicans getting easy asylum by using “keywords” debunked

Associated Press:

Between Aug. 1 and Aug. 15, the agency said, an average of 30 people per day have arrived at San Diego ports asking for asylum, compared with roughly 170,000 travelers who cross the border there legally each day.

Critics of current immigration reform efforts in Washington have claimed would-be immigrants are using the credible fear claim seeking asylum as a loophole to gain legal entry into the U.S., citing fear of drug cartel violence in Mexico. Immigration experts say the concerns are overstated.
The issue gained new attention last month after a group of nine immigration rights activists presented themselves at the Arizona border in Mexico seeking asylum. After spending several weeks in detention, they have since been released into the U.S. pending hearings before an immigration judge who will make a final decision on whether to grant their requests.

DHS is quick to point out that such requests from Mexican citizens are rarely granted, noting that on average, 91 percent are denied.
In order to win asylum in the United States, an immigrant must to prove he or she is being persecuted because of race, religion, political view, nationality or membership in a particular social group. They also must prove that their government is either part of the persecution or unable or unwilling to protect them.

Immigration lawyers also point out that the bar is extremely high for being granted asylum in the U.S.

“Most people who get these credible fear interviews, even if they pass, it doesn’t mean they’re going to be released,” said David Leopold, an Ohio immigration attorney and former president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. “You could be sitting in detention for months and months until you get your asylum hearing, and then you’re denied and sent back.”

This whole kerfuffle started when a local Fox affiliate reported breathlessly that:

A loophole is allowing hundreds of immigrants across the Mexico border in to the United States. Immigrants are being taught to use “key words and phrases” to be allowed to enter and stay in the country.

The story was then picked up by Buzzfeed (which helpfully included a scary image of brown people carrying personal belongings and walking somewhere) and given further viral exposure:

Unstated in either of these pieces is the incredibly low-rate of successful asylum claims for Mexicans claiming persecution. In most cases, they will rot in immigration detention for a couple of weeks or months and be sent back to Mexico.

Of course, it’s far too late to debunk this lie now. The damage is already done thanks to the right-wing rage peddlers at Fox News and Buzzfeed. We will be hearing about this “story” for years now from easily-outraged, anti-immigration right-wingers who already believe our current president (the one who deported 1.5 million immigrants) is an open borders advocate.

LA Times wonders why foreign countries resent US-funded “democracy promotion” programs

The LA Times‘ Paul Richter has written a rather flawed article that ponders why nations such as Bolivia, Russia and Egypt do not enjoy having USAID and US government-funded NGOs engage in political activities within their borders. The suspicions of Bolivian president Evo Morales and the Bolivarian Alliance of the Americas about USAID are presented as paranoid rantings that lack any reasonable basis. It even quotes an unnamed “senior Obama administration official” disparaging the widespread legal backlash against these groups as “the empire striking back.”

Strangely, the article doesn’t mention the National Endowment of Democracy, one of the key US tax-payer funded NGOs that supposedly promote democracy around the world. The co-founder of this group, Allen Weinstein, once stated that, “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.” It also neglects to mention the in-depth role played by the briefly-mentioned International Republican Institute in the temporary 2002 coup in Venezuela the permanent 2004 coup in Haiti. Both of these coups overthrew democratically elected leaders who were widely supported by the impoverished majority in their respective countries. In Haiti, individuals and groups funded and trained by the IRI actually associated with illegal militias made up of ex-death squad members in order to make their regime change successful.

Since the article mainly deals with USAID, it is inexcusable that it fails to cite a Wikileaked State Department cable from 2006 which plainly shows how USAID was utilized to undermine the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez:

The cable, signed by then-Ambassador William Brownfield, outlines a five-point strategy that includes “penetrating Chavez’s political base,” “dividing Chavismo,” “protecting vital U.S. business” and “isolating Chavez internationally.” Those goals are to be obtained by strengthening “democratic institutions,” according to the cable.

“During his 8 years in power, President Chavez has systematically dismantled the institutions of democracy and governance,” Brownfield wrote in the memo detailing how the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Office of Transition Initiatives helped those goals. Strengthening democratic institutions, he wrote, “represents the majority of USAID/OTI work in Venezuela. Organized civil society is an increasingly important pillar of democracy, one where President Chavez has not yet been able to assert full control” (The Hill, 5 April 2013).

The harshest criticism voiced in the LA Times article comes from a Brookings Institution analyst named Ted Piccone:

“If this were flipped — if Egypt were funding groups in the United States — it would hit a real wrong chord […] As evenhanded as we try to be, this is the most sensitive kind of assistance out there. We are intervening directly in their political affairs.”

This is relatively mild criticism when one considers the documented cases of “democracy promotion” being used as a fig leaf for political intervention defending US interests.

Chamber of Commerce affiliate received $100 mil. in US tax dollars to promote free market policies abroad (26 November 2010)

Wikileaks cable: US sought to intentionally stoke Chavez’ “paranoia” with aircraft carrier deployment

William R. Brownfield, US Embassy in Caracas, “Carrier Visit To Benefit Us Policy Toward Venezuela,” 23 March 2006:

Post supports Southcom’s planned “Partnership of the Americas” maritime surge to the Caribbean to be led by the aircraft carrier U.S.S. George Washington. The deployment will help us to counter President Hugo Chavez’ courtship of Caribbean countries and his attempts to pit them against the United States. The ship visit will provide benefits to participating nations that offer a stark contrast to the Venezuelan Government’s failures to provide concrete help against drug trafficking and to promote sustainable economic development. Finally, the deployment advances U.S. interests by feeding into Chavez’ increasingly paranoid behavior and by creating conditions in which the Venezuelan leader could make a mistake.
Chavez sees conspiracy theories behind most U.S. actions. The involvement of his perceived allies in the region may constrain his ability to paint the deployment as a U.S. invasion. He is likely, however, to paint it as a dry run or an attempt to gather intelligence for a future attack. Timely notification that the Ambassador will visit the George Washington may contribute to Chavez’ paranoia. Planned port calls of the destroyer U.S.S. Stout to Curacao, the cruiser U.S.S. Monterey to Aruba, and the frigate U.S.S. Underwood to Trinidad and Tobago will play a useful role, as well.

If Chavez takes the bait, the deployment will expose the international community to apocalyptic statements and Venezuela-centric views of the region that make Chavez appear at best silly and at worst clinically paranoid in the eyes of many observers. He will alienate himself if he publicly suggests participating countries are collaborating in the U.S. military’s alleged machinations against him. The deployment is also consistent with Post’s broader strategy to force Chavez to react to the USG rather than allowing him to define the bilateral relationship.

Making Chavez feel temporarily isolated may provoke additional BRV missteps. Venezuelan diplomats lash out at their foreign counterparts when they are outnumbered on a particular issue. In addition, Chavez has shown an increasing tendency to provoke international leaders other than President Bush when he feels snubbed (REFTEL). Because Chavez fancies himself a regional leader, seeing much of the Caribbean participating in a U.S. military deployment will get his goat.
Any Chavez attempts to portray regional states as “colonies” of the empire will further undermine the Bolivarian President’s credibility.

This was some incredibly cynical and disturbing psy-ops on the part of the US.

(Related story here.)

CRS demonstrates how anti-Chávez concern trolling works

Mark P. Sullivan, Hugo Chávez’s Death: Implications for Venezuela and U.S. Relations (Congressional Research Service, 8 March 2012), pp. 4-5:

One of the legacies of President Chávez is his extensive financial support for the poor, supported by high oil prices, which was a significant reason for his continued popularity and re-election over the years. His government established social programs known as misiones or missions offering an array of services in education, health, nutrition, and housing. As a result of increased social spending, the rate of poverty fell from about 49% in 2002 to about 29% in 2011. The political empowerment of the poor under President Chávez will likely be an enduring aspect of his legacy in Venezuelan politics for years to come. Any future successful presidential candidate will need to take into account how his or her policies would affect working class and poor Venezuelans.

On the other hand, President Chávez also left a large negative legacy, including the deterioration of democratic institutions and practices, threats to freedom of expression, high rates of crime and murder (the highest in South America), and an economic situation characterized by high inflation (over 20% in 2012), crumbling infrastructure, and shortages of consumer goods. Ironically, while Chávez championed the poor, his government’s economic mismanagement wasted billions that potentially could have established a more sustainable social welfare system benefiting poor Venezuelans.

Multiple things are notable about this.

First off, when this report mentions the massive reduction in poverty under Chavez, it cites an external source: the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean‘s Social Panorama of Latin America 2012. By contrast, when mentioning all of Chávez’ faults it does not feel the need to identify a single external source to support its claims. I suppose that the crime rate and inflation are quantifiable and easily proven, but that isn’t the case with dubious assertions of a “crumbling infrastructure” and “economic mismanagement.”

So while outright admitting that Chávez massively reduced poverty and empowered the poor, this report seeks to convince people that he was not a True Friend of the poor because the social welfare system he established is not “sustainable.” Unsurprisingly, this claim is short on details. Without any external source to look up or any specific examples of Chávez’ mismanagement cited, it is unclear why any reader should be convinced that this is the case.

It is very typical for liberal critics of Chávez to proclaim their sympathy for the impoverished majority of Venezuelans while arrogantly brushing aside the fact that they elected him repeatedly. They are often taken in by the most inflammatory propaganda pieces in the purportedly “liberal” Western press that assailed his rule based on anecdotes and misrepresented his statements to make him look buffoonish. They are made unjustifiably nervous by his illiberal (but often wholly justified) actions such as the closing of RCTV. Perhaps more than anything, they held his reign to a higher standard than that of other regimes in Latin America, be they center-left or right-wing. Every time someone brings up Venzeuala’s high murder rate, it should be kept in mind that post-coup Honduras’ murder rate is even higher–the highest in the world in fact. Rarely is Honduras’ homicide problem ever attributed to its US-backed neo-liberal government.

It is entirely possible that because Chávez’ government vocally rejected the neo-liberal framework and actively took responsibility for the health of its citizens that its shortcomings were more noticeable. The cruel irony of the rhetorical battle between capitalism and socialism is that capitalism has little pretext for providing economic necessities to each and every citizen while socialism does. This means that those who die from neglect and deprivation under free market-based societies are rarely held up as examples of capitalist failure. Since capitalism declares itself devoid of any duty to provide food and health care to every human being regardless of their class or employment status, it is considered blameless for any “unfortunate” deaths that occur. By contrast, socialism is lambasted and ridiculed as a direct cause of economic ruin and poverty even in countries that are not socialist by any stretch of imagination. So even if it is the case that socialism does a better job of providing for basic human needs, it often becomes discredited by its own high expectations.

That there are massive problems in Venezuelan society is undeniable. That Chávez’ vision of socialism and his regime are solely to blame for most of these problems is doubtful. That these problems are worse than in economically neo-liberal Third World countries is even more doubtful.

Israeli right lobbying GOP for RNC speech that would exhort the annexation of West Bank Area C

Jewish Press, 19 Jan. 2012:

MK Yaakov “Katzeleh” Katz (National Union) […] has submitted to the Knesset a new piece of legislation that would allow Israel to annex the portion of Judea and Samaria [sic] known as Area C from the Oslo 2 agreement, signed in 1995.

Approximately 350,000 Israeli citizens live in Area C, a portion of Judea and Samaria [sic] which is currently under Israeli military control. The Israeli citizens who live in Area C currently do not enjoy the same legal status and rights that they would receive if the area was annexed. There are also between 56,000 and 150,000 Arabs living in Area C. Knesset Diaspora Affairs Committee Chairman MK Danny Danon (Likud) and Knesset House Committee Chairman Yariv Levin (Likud) have signed on as co-sponsors of Katzeleh’s bill.

Outside of the Knesset, Pinchas Polonsky is leading a new peace initiative involving the annexation of Area C which will target American politicians. The plan calls for promoting the strategy to Republican congressman and presidential candidates and would lead to a speech at the Republican National Convention in August. There are now more than a dozen Congressmen who have signed on to the objective.

This, of course, comes on the heels of multiple GOP presidential contenders asserting that Palestinian people do not exist, a bill proposed by a Republican representative in the House that supports “Israel’s right to annex Judea and Samaria in the event that the Palestinian Authority continues to press for unilateral recognition of Palestinian statehood at the United Nations,” and an RNC resolution that appeared to endorse a one-state solution to the conflict. This news comes about six months after it was revealed that the World Likud organization had hired a prominent PR firm led by a member of the prominent Rubenstein PR dynasty that also does work for well known American figures such as Donald Trump and Alex Rodriguez. All signs point to a cynical alliance between the right-wings of both Israel and America to undermine the Obama’s administration’s (already watered down) position on Israeli colonization of the West Bank in addition to increased PR work in the US on the part of Israeli-based operatives.

Make no mistake about it: the Republican position on Palestine is outright ghoulish these days and the terrible specter of a Zionist pander-fest at the RNC that calls for the legalized theft of 62% of the West Bank is increasingly likely.