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22 Oct 21:02

We should have seen Trump coming – podcast

Obama’s rise felt like a new chapter in American history. But the original sin of white supremacy was not so easily erased • Read the text version here
21 Oct 06:24

Democracy Now! 2017-10-19 Thursday

Tom Roche

The Christopher Glazek (@ Esquire) interview regarding the secretive Sackler family, their Purdue Pharma company, and their role in creating the opioid crisis by pushing Oxycontin (as well as their history in creating and marketing Valium) is very excellent.

Democracy Now! 2017-10-19 Thursday

  • Headlines for October 19, 2017
  • Trump's Travel Ban Suffers Another Defeat as Judges Say Threat of Discrimination "Still Intact"
  • Who Profits from the Opioid Crisis? Meet the Secretive Sackler Family Making Billions from OxyContin
  • Guantánamo Prisoners on Hunger Strike Say Guards Threatened to Kill Them by Stopping Force-Feeding

Download this show

20 Oct 16:00

Iran Doesn’t Have a Nuclear Weapons Program. Why Do Media Keep Saying It Does?

by Adam Johnson
Tom Roche

see comments by me and 'Jeffrey Fein'

No Nuclear Weapons/Mushroom CloudWhen it comes to Iran, do basic facts matter? Evidently not, since dozens and dozens of journalists keep casually reporting that Iran has a “nuclear weapons program” when it does not—a problem FAIR has reported on over the years (e.g., 9/9/15). Let’s take a look at some of the outlets spreading this falsehood in just the past five days:

  • Business Insider (10/13/17): The deal, officially called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), aims to incentivize Iran to curb its nuclear weapons program by lifting crippling international economic sanctions.”
  • New Yorker (10/16/17): “One afternoon in late September, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called a meeting of the six countries that came together in 2015 to limit Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
  • Washington Post (10/16/17): “The administration is also considering changing or scrapping an international agreement regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”
  • CNN (10/17/17): “In reopening the nuclear agreement, [Trump] risks having Iran advance its nuclear weapons program at a time when he confronts a far worse nuclear challenge from North Korea that he can’t resolve.”

The problem with all of these excerpts: Iran does not have a nuclear weapons program. It has a civilian nuclear energy program, but not one designed to build weapons. Over 30 countries have civilian nuclear programs; only a handful—including, of course, the US and Israel—have nuclear weapons programs. One is used to power cities, one is used to level them.

If you are skeptical, just refer to a 2007 assessment by all 16 US intelligences agencies (yes, those 16 US intelligence agencies), which found Iran had “halted” its nuclear weapons program. Or look at the same National Intelligence Estimate in 2012, which concluded again that there “is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.” Or we can listen to the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, which concurred with the US intelligence assessment (Haaretz, 3/18/12).

The “Iran Deal,” formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), is built on curbing Iran’s civilian nuclear program, out of fear—fair or not—that it could one day morph into a nuclear weapons program. But at present, there is no evidence, much less a consensus, that Iran has an active nuclear weapons program. JCPOA cannot be used as per se evidence such a program exists today; indeed, it is specifically designed to prevent such a program from developing down the road.

A slightly less egregious variant of this canard is when outlets suggest the JCPOA stopped an ongoing existing weapons program—though they don’t make the mistake of saying it still exists: The JCPOA “called for the elimination of economic sanctions Iran in exchange for Tehran giving up its nuclear weapons program,” USA Today (10/13/17) wrote. US and Israeli intelligence do claim that Iran once had a nuclear weapons program—but they say it ended in 2003, not in 2015 as a result of the JCPOA.

The distinction between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons is, of course, non-trivial. Every time the media mindlessly report Iran has a “nuclear weapons program” rather than a “nuclear program” (or, better, a “nuclear energy” or “nuclear power program”), they further advance the myth that Iran’s intentions or “ambitions” are to build a nuclear bomb, which is something we have no evidence it is doing or plans to do—at least since the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against building nuclear weapons in 2003 (Foreign Policy, 10/16/14).

So why do some many reporters keep mucking this up? A few reasons: It’s just a mantra repeated ad infinitum, and journalists and pundits often mindlessly repeat an oft-repeated phrase. Some, such as nuclear arms expert Jeffrey Lewis at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute, think it’s simply an issue of reporters not knowing how to express a complicated idea.

“I often see this point [about the civilian vs weapons program] mangled. I don’t think it’s malice, just a writer or editor not knowing how to express an idea,” he said on social media. “The JCPOA imposes measures that constrain Iran’s nuclear energy program to provide confidence that the program remains peaceful,” he added, offering an example of how that idea can be expressed.

Another major reason for this recurring falsehood, as FAIR (7/6/17) noted after the New York Times twice “mistakenly” accused Iran of carrying out 9/11 (one of the smears going uncorrected for over three years), is that one can say pretty much anything about Iran without any professional or public backlash. Because Iran is an Official US Enemy, and its motives are therefore always deemed sinister, the idea that it is plotting to violate the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and build a nuclear weapon is simply taken as a given. The lack of hard evidence for this is irrelevant: Intentions of those in the crosshairs of US power are always presented as cynical and malicious; those of the US and its allies benevolent and in good faith. Iran’s sinister motives are simply the default setting—no matter much evidence points to the contrary.


19 Oct 15:27

Tales of the New Cold War: Has Nato expansion made you safer? Stephen F. Cohen @NYU @Princeton PART 1 of 2.

by The John Batchelor Show
Tom Roche

history of NATO expansion


(Photo: German KFOR soldiers patrol southern Kosovo in 1999)

Twitter: @batchelorshow

Tales of the New Cold War: Has Nato expansion made you safer? Stephen F. Cohen @nyu @princeton PART 1 of 2.

The Treaty of Brussels was a mutual defence treaty against the Soviet threat at the start of the Cold War. It was signed on 17 March 1948 by Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, and the United Kingdom. It was the precursor to NATO. The Soviet threat became immediate with the Berlin Blockade in 1948, leading to the creation of the Western European Union's Defence Organization in September 1948.[13] However, the parties were too weak militarily to counter the military power of the USSR. In addition the 1948 Czechoslovak coup d'état by the Communists had overthrown a democratic government and British Foreign Minister Ernest Bevin reiterated that the best way to prevent another Czechoslovakia was to evolve a joint Western military strategy. He got a receptive hearing in the United States, especially considering American anxiety over Italy (and the Italian Communist Party).[14]

In 1948, European leaders met with U.S. defense, military and diplomatic officials at the Pentagon, under U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall's orders, exploring a framework for a new and unprecedented association.[15] Talks for a new military alliance resulted in the North Atlantic Treaty, which was signed by U.S. President Harry S. Truman in Washington, D.C. on 4 April 1949. It included the five Treaty of Brussels states plus the United States, Canada, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.[16] The first NATO Secretary General, Lord Ismay, stated in 1949 that the organization's goal was "to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down".[17] Popular support for the Treaty was not unanimous, and some Icelanders participated in a pro-neutrality, anti-membership riot in March 1949. The creation of NATO can be seen as the primary institutional consequence of a school of thought called Atlanticism which stressed the importance of trans-Atlantic cooperation.[18]

19 Oct 15:27

Tales of the New Cold War: Has Nato expansion made you safer? Stephen F. Cohen @NYU @Princeton PART 2 of 2.

by The John Batchelor Show
Tom Roche

history of NATO expansion


(Photo: Libyan Army Palmaria howitzers destroyed by the French Air Force near Benghazi in March 2011)

Twitter: @batchelorshow

Tales of the New Cold War: Has Nato expansion made you safer? Stephen F. Cohen @nyu @princeton PART 2 of 2.

Between 1994 and 1997, wider forums for regional cooperation between NATO and its neighbors were set up, like the Partnership for Peace, the Mediterranean Dialogue initiative and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council. In 1998, the NATO-Russia Permanent Joint Council was established. On 8 July 1997, three former communist countries, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Poland, were invited to join NATO, which each did in 1999. Membership went on expanding with the accession of seven more Central and Eastern European countries to NATO: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovenia, Slovakia, Bulgaria, and Romania. They were first invited to start talks of membership during the 2002 Prague summit, and joined NATO on 29 March 2004, shortly before the 2004 Istanbul summit. At that time the decision was criticised in the US by many military, political and academic leaders as a "a policy error of historic proportions."[58] According to George F. Kennan, an American diplomat and an advocate of the containment policy, this decision "may be expected to have an adverse effect on the development of Russian democracy; to restore the atmosphere of the cold war to East-West relations, to impel Russian foreign policy in directions decidedly not to our liking."[59]

New NATO structures were also formed while old ones were abolished. In 1997, NATO reached agreement on a significant downsizing of its command structure from 65 headquarters to just 20.[60] The NATO Response Force (NRF) was launched at the 2002 Prague summit on 21 November, the first summit in a former Comecon country. On 19 June 2003, a further restructuring of the NATO military commands began as the Headquarters of the Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic were abolished and a new command, Allied Command Transformation (ACT), was established in Norfolk, United States, and the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) became the Headquarters of Allied Command Operations (ACO). ACT is responsible for driving transformation (future capabilities) in NATO, whilst ACO is responsible for current operations.[61] In March 2004, NATO's Baltic Air Policing began, which supported the sovereignty of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia by providing jet fighters to react to any unwanted aerial intrusions. Eight multinational jet fighters are based in Lithuania, the number of which was increased from four in 2014.[62] Also at the 2004 Istanbul summit, NATO launched the Istanbul Cooperation Initiative with four Persian Gulf nations.[63]

18 Oct 16:27

Law and Disorder October 16, 2017

by lawadmin
Tom Roche

Creeley/FIRE piece (1st and most of this MP3) is excellent

Free Speech on College Campuses

Last week an invited lawmaker was shut down form addressing Texas Southern University after protesters stormed the room calling him a racist. House Representative Briscoe Cain was asked to speak to the Thurgood Marshall School of Law by the Federalist Society about the recent legislative special session. But as he uttered a few words, he was shut down by students and then the University’s President claimed it was an unapproved event. It’s ironic that the school is named for the Supreme Court justice known for his exemplary record of protecting First Amendment rights.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions also recently spoke–uninterrupted–at Georgetown University about free speech on American college campuses. He said, “The right of free speech does not exist only to protect the ideas upon which most of us agree at a given moment in time,” and encouraged students to: “make your voices heard, [and] to defend the rights of others to do the same.” Sessions joins a bipartisan chorus of public officials expressing support for free speech in academic institutions.

This summer, Senators Bernie Sanders and Mitch McConnell condemned efforts to shut down different viewpoints at schools. And in 2015, Barack Obama more than once defended the importance of free speech on campus. “I don’t agree that you, when you become students at colleges, have to be coddled and protected from different points of view,” he said at a September 2015 town hall.

The recent Sessions talk comes amid an uptick (1) in efforts to dis-invite controversial speakers of all ideological persuasions, (2) use of bias response teams to monitor unpopular speech, and (3) in unprecedented violence aimed at silencing off-campus speakers.

These are some of the findings from a recent study produced by The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. The comprehensive survey on students’ attitudes about free speech measured responses to questions about hate speech, guest speakers on campus, self-expression and reactions to expression of other students.

Guest –Will Creeley, Senior Vice President of Legal and Public Advocacy at the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. FIRE is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to defending liberty, freedom of speech, due process, academic freedom, legal equality, and freedom of conscience on America’s college campuses.



Tech Freedom on USA Liberty Act of 2017

Americans whose data is inadvertently swept up while the government monitors foreign intelligence, risk having their information used for non-national-security related purposes.

Two weeks ago draft legislation was introduced to address this, but a broad coalition of civil liberties organizations say it doesn’t go far enough. They are calling on the House to close the so-called “back-door search” loophole by requiring a warrant based on probable cause for any search of information about U.S. citizens and residents.

Similar to the USA Freedom Act of 2015, which ended the practice of bulk surveillance of American citizens under Section 215 of the 2001 PATRIOT Act, the current USA Liberty Act of 2017 would overhaul surveillance that is supposed to be limited to targets outside the U.S. but actually affects Americans. Section 702 expires at the end of December, which is why Congress is reassessing the program.

Currently, FISA surveillance is conducted under a warrant issued annually by the FISA court for a list of foreign intelligence targets. But law enforcement can access, and can use, Americans’ communications swept up in FISA surveillance with no warrant at all. This is even though U.S. persons’ communications require constitutional protections not afforded to foreigners.

The USA Liberty Act adds a warrant-like ‘probable cause’ requirement before law enforcement can search the database, but also includes a sweeping, vague exception for “foreign intelligence information” and does not stop law enforcement from using that information for criminal prosecutions. This is a glaring violation of the Fourth Amendment.

Guest – Austin Carson, Executive Director of TechFreedom joins us to talk about this legislation, and the state of surveillance generally. Tech Freedom is a non-profit, non-partisan technology think tank launched in 2011 that focuses on issues of Internet freedom and technological progress.



18 Oct 16:18

Mikhail Gorbachev's legacy and life

He opened the Soviet Union and ended the Cold War, but lost the admiration of his people
18 Oct 16:10

The Munich Conference

Tom Roche

excellent revision of "appeasement" historiography

The acclaimed historical novelist Robert Harris talks to us about his new book Munich, which explores the events of September 1938 where Neville Chamberlain, Hitler and other European leaders met in Germany in an attempt to avert European war.
17 Oct 19:18

Haiti, Puerto Rico, and the Clintons

by Doug Henwood
Tom Roche

short history of Clinton Foundation fraud in Haiti

Howard Dean, who for a brief period long ago wasn’t a shill for the medical-industrial complex, recommended on Twitter that Trump turn over Puerto Rican rehab operations to the Clinton Foundation. Either Dean doesn’t know the first thing about how the Foundation operated in Haiti, an excellent case study on how they do disaster relief, or he’s more depraved than we realized. Their behavior, in collaboration with Hillary’s State Department, was appalling.

Here’s the Haiti section from my widely under-bought, under-read, and under-promoted book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency. Formatting the footnotes for the web requires far more ambition than I have; I’ve attached the book pages as a PDF at the bottom. And apologies for not superscripting the footnotes; similar reason.

Dean on Haiti
No review of Hillary’s diplomatic career would be complete without an examination of her work in Haiti. Bill and Hillary have a rich shared history with the country, one of the poorest in the world. (Its per capita annual income is equal to about twelve seconds of their standard speaking fee.)150 During Hillary’s Secretaryship, she and Bill were, as a Politico headline put it, “The King and Queen of Haiti.”151

Their history with Haiti began with a 1975 trip—a leg of an extended honeymoon—to Port-au-Prince that was financed by David Edwards, an old friend of Bill’s who was working for Citibank and who had some business to transact in the country. 152 In his memoir, Bill claimed that Edwards used his frequent-flyer miles to pay for the trip, but frequent-flyer programs didn’t begin until airline deregulation hit in 1979 and the junket looks like the first of many sponsored journeys to come. You have to hand it to them: their first date involved crossing a picket line, and their honeymoon was a banker-financed trip to the Caribbean.

On that first trip, the newlyweds and Edwards went to a voodoo ceremony conducted by a Sorbonne alum, during which a man walked across burning coals and a woman bit the head off a live chicken. In his strangely abrupt accounting of the sequence in his memoirs, Bill, fresh from an electoral defeat, emerged from the experience resolving to run for attorney general back in Arkansas, because of something the ceremony taught him about how “the Lord works in mysterious ways.”153

Many years later, early in his presidency, Bill engineered the return to office of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who had been elected as president of Haiti in 1990 as a serious progressive reformer and was promptly overthrown in a coup. The army’s subsequent rule was predictably brutal, but the Bush administration was fine with the arrangement, since it saw eye-to-eye with the rapacious Haitian elite. Bill was troubled, however, and when he took office he began maneuvering for a restoration of Aristide. A UN resolution in 1994 authorized a U.S.-led military force to restore Aristide to office, earning Bill plaudits as a friend of democracy. But the restoration was conditional on the acceptance of an IMF-written austerity and privatization program, which largely eviscerated Aristide’s reformist agenda.154 You could consider this an early instance of the left wing of neoliberalism, with the Bush position representing its right. Either way you get rule by a moneyed elite, but the left variety is more attentive to optics.

On becoming Secretary of State, Hillary resolved to make Haiti a foreign policy priority. It was to be a prime example of a new development strategy that would, as Jonathan Katz put it in a detailed history of the couple’s relationship with the country, put “business at its center: Aid would be replaced by investment, the growth of which would in turn benefit the United States.”155

Promoting foreign investment often requires keeping wages low, which is precisely what Hillary’s State Department successfully helped engineer, as a series of WikiLeaks cables published by The Nation and Haïti Liberté revealed. When the Haitian parliament unanimously passed an increase in the minimum wage to $5 a day—an amount that Hillary earned in about 0.07 seconds at her standard speaking fee—U.S. business interests on the island mobilized. President René Préval, who had replaced Aristide, then engineered a two-tiered compromise minimum. The U.S. Embassy was not pleased, dismissing the president’s move as a “populist measure aimed at appealing to ‘the unemployed and underpaid masses.’”156 Rising to the defense of this brutal reasoning, Adam Davidson, host of NPR’s Planet Money—who portrayed himself in an interview with me as having grown up in a bohemian West Village culture, and who cultivates the image that he’s cooler than his econobeat would suggest—explained that to earn $5 a day, Haitians would simply have to develop the skills to perform complex tasks.157

The WikiLeaks cables also showed the U.S. State Department collaborating in 2009 with other Western Hemisphere ambassadors to push ahead with corrupt elections from which the country’s largest party, Aristide’s Fanmi Lavalas (FL), was excluded. The elections were delayed by the January 2010 earthquake. When they were eventually held, they were a disgrace, with fraud rampant, and a 23% turnout.158 Michel “Sweet Micky” Martelly, a singer and supporter of the second coup against Aristide (mounted in 2004), was proclaimed the winner by the Organization of American States, with Hillary Clinton presiding.

The cynicism around the election was perfectly captured in an email from Hillary’s longtime aide Cheryl Mills, who wrote this to the Port-au-Prince embassy staff on March 20, 2011, the night of the runoff that delivered Martelly his victory:

Nice job. Nice job all. You do great elections. And make us all look good. I am so very grateful for all you have done. Dinner on me in Haiti next trip. [And we can discuss how the counting is going! Just kidding. Kinda. :)]159

Evidently the counting was no straightforward affair; official results weren’t announced until a month later, on April 21. They were greeted with protests across the country. In an account of Hillary’s history with Haiti, New York Times reporter Yamiche Alicindor quoted Mills’ email, adding, with the paper’s characteristic patronizing tone, that “it has fed a suspicion among Haitians, if lacking in proof, that the United States rigged the election to install a puppet president.”160 Those Haitians will believe anything.

Soon after his selection, Martelly appointed Bill Clinton to an advisory board to encourage foreign investment in the country.161 There wasn’t a single election in Haiti for four years after Martelly took office; his rule was bloody, authoritarian, and corrupt.162 When, in August 2015, a vote for parliament was finally allowed, the campaign and balloting were full of violent disruptions, including firefights, several deaths, and vandalized polling stations. The turnout was a risible 15%.163 A presidential election, held in October 2015, featured 54 candidates for president. Martelly’s chosen successor, a previously obscure banana exporter, came in first amid widespread reports of massive fraud; run-off elections were scheduled for December but were postponed until April 2016. Martelly left office in February 2016 without a successor.164

On January 12, 2010, Haiti was hammered by a massive earthquake that killed at least 100,000, rendered a quarter-million homeless, and destroyed much of the country’s feeble infrastructure. Within days, Barack Obama appointed two of his predecessors, Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, as co-czars of the relief effort. On the same day of the appointment, Hillary flew in to meet with President Préval. Four days after the earthquake, she expressed confidence that Haiti would “come back even stronger and better in the future.”165 She said the goal was to “build back better.”166

From the first, the United States was to be the dominant force in Haiti relief and reconstruction—a point quickly made by the arrival of the 82nd Airborne. The Clintons, one as philanthropist and one as diplomat, were the dominant forces in the U.S. effort. As Jonathan Katz put it in Politico, “The hardest thing about evaluating the Clintons’ work in Haiti is that there is so much of it.” The Foundation spent scores of millions and raised much more, and the Secretary of State, aside from strong personal involvement, had the embassy and USAID through which to channel help. (Amusingly, both Bill’s brother, Roger, and Hillary’s brother Hugh tried to work their connections into business deals in Haiti, but only Roger succeeded.)167 But the enormous effort ended largely in failure. The rubble was cleared, and most people were moved out of refugee camps, but Haiti remains one of the most deeply poor parts of the world. Though there are doubtless some decent things that the Foundation sponsors in Haiti, the overwhelming effect of its interventions lies somewhere between disappointment and disaster.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), an independent agency that operates under the strategic guidance of the State Department, supervised a lot of the reconstruction efforts.168 USAID’s relief efforts relied heavily on private contractors, who performed poorly despite their high fees. Like any major business sector, the contractors formed a trade association, which hired a PR firm co-founded by the ubiquitous John Podesta.169

The marquee project of the Clinton-led reconstruction was the Caracol Industrial Park, which, as Hillary told a roomful of investors at its October 2012 opening, was the sort of thing that would mean “more than providing aid.” Rather, it was the kind of investment that “would help the Haitian people achieve their own dreams.”170 It follows a long-standing Clinton model, the public–private partnership of the sort that allows some to do well by doing some kind of good. So far, Caracol has fallen well short of its objectives, producing a mere 6,200 jobs, a tenth of the number promised initially.

The Caracol scheme was also responsible for some dreadful housing. USAID commissioned bids on a plan to build worker housing around Caracol. The scheme was described in an architectural peer review by Greg Higgins as “substandard, inadequate.” This was putting it mildly. The houses were tiny, crowded closely together, and lacked running water. They were without flush toilets; occupants would have to make do with a hole in the floor placed right next to the kitchen, which was to be outfitted with little more than a hot plate. The metal roofing proposed for the houses was incapable of standing up to the hurricanes that frequent the region, and could get as hot as 185°F in the summer. Drainage trenches were to run just a few feet from front doors and the sole access to running water for the entire complex was just one half-inch pipe. No provision was made for drainage in an area known to flood.171 Higgins sent his review to the State Department for investigation, but received little more than a “thank you.” According to Higgins, the execution of the plan was as bad as the design—he described the construction as “horrible.”172

The Clinton Foundation also promised to build “hurricane-proof…emergency shelters that can also serve as schools”—one of which was to be located in the coastal city of Léogâne. The buildings were to have electricity and plumbing. When Nation correspondents Isabel Macdonald and Isabeau Doucet visited the Léogâne site they found the project consisted of “twenty imported prefab trailers beset by a host of problems, from mold to sweltering heat to shoddy construction.” The units were made by Clayton Homes, a company owned by the billionaire Warren Buffett, a Foundation member and contributor to Hillary’s 2008 campaign whose reputation for decency seems inexplicable. Air samples from the Haitian trailers detected “worrying levels” of the same toxin found in the trailers deployed by FEMA in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, also manufactured by Clayton Holmes. A sixth-grader in one of the trailer schools reported recurring sickening headaches and vision problems. Similar stories came out of the Katrina trailers, but apparently no one at the Clinton Foundation heard them. And Clayton apparently hadn’t learned much either: the Haitian trailers were a fresh design, not a simple rehash of the New Orleans models.

The schools never got the plumbing—not even a latrine. According to a wind scientist quoted by Macdonald and Doucet, it seemed unlikely that trailers could be made hurricane-proof, an opinion seconded by a structural engineer who looked at them. When the mayor of Léogâne was told that the Clayton trailers were similar to those provided after Katrina, he said, “It would be humiliating to us, and we’ll take this as a black thing.”173

On another visit to Haiti, in September 2011, Greg Higgins tried to find the trailers, but learned that they’d been removed. The contractor who did the job showed him pictures on his cell phone, but wouldn’t say what happened to them.

Clinton interests did, however, succeed in building two new luxury hotels around Port-au-Prince. The Foundation put $2 million of its own money into the Royal Oasis hotel in a suburb of the capital; it’s today reported to be largely empty. And Bill was instrumental in getting a Marriott built in the center of the city, introducing its developer—his friend and major donor, the Irish telecoms mogul Denis O’Brien—to Marriott execs. The grand opening in February 2015 featured not only Bill, but Sean Penn as well.174 Both hotels provided some jobs, of course, but to the many Haitains without housing and short of food, the provision of luxury hotels must have seemed a secondary priority.

In another scheme to accommodate non-Haitians, Hillary’s State Department commissioned snazzy housing for the U.S. embassy staff in Port-au-Prince—LEED certified, with a pool and basketball and tennis courts. According to a write-up in the architectural trade press, “The inspiration for the design is derived from the local Haitian culture and is modeled after the Cubist forms of the ‘Bidonvilles’ (clustered houses hugging the hillside).”175 Bidon is French for “tin”; reflecting the corrugated metal from which the houses are often made. The term translates as “shanty towns.” The design is literally slumming.

The proposed budget was around $100 million for about 100 townhouse units, or about $1 million a unit. Meanwhile, as Higgins pointed out, the budget for building 900 houses for the displaced after the earthquake was around $25 million, about $28,000 a unit. Hillary said that Haiti would be a model for a new kind of economic development, but this doesn’t really look like one.176

Hillary’s people launched a big PR campaign to paint their disastrous Haitian operation as a success, and her emails show that she was very pleased with the results. “A new model of engagement with our own people,” she declared, urging her staff to press “Onward!” But as she was writing those celebratory words, daughter Chelsea, on a secret mission to the country, was blunt about the disaster: “the incompetence is mind numbing,” she reported. She noted that Haitians were doing a remarkable job of self-organization, with very limited resources—and the outsiders who were supposed to help weren’t up to the task. But instead of deferring to the locals—people about whom Bill constantly complained, according to Jonathan Katz— Chelsea urged her father to take even more direct control of the relief efforts: “The Office of Special Envoy—i.e., you Dad—needs authority over the UN and all its myriad parts…”

Of course, Bill and Hillary were already mostly in charge, and their priorities were ass-backward. Katz writes: “The new email tranche shows how quickly the construction of low-wage garment factories and prioritizing exports to the U.S. market came to the center of the U.S.-led response in Haiti.” They installed a former Liz Claiborne exec to accelerate the garment strategy.177 Haitians’ needs for food and housing would just have to wait.

For footnotes, click here

17 Oct 16:13

Living with the Gods

Former British Museum director Neil MacGregor talks about his new BBC Radio 4 series Living with the Gods, and the accompanying exhibition, which together explore humanity’s longstanding relationship with faith

17 Oct 16:06

Radio Ecoshock: Eden Is Broken

by Alex Smith
Tom Roche

Bardeen's is the only piece worth the listen: . Note Bardeen is former software engineer turned scientist

Atmospheric scientist Charles Bardeen about the day the Earth burned. Grow-your-own-groceries gardener Marjory Wildcraft: how she weathered Hurricane Harvey. A shocking warning for the Northern Hemisphere from Danish scientist Jørgen Steffensen. Prime Minister of Dominica tells the UN his island Eden is “broken”  …
16 Oct 20:02

'Making a Murderer' lawyer, Dean Strang, on justice US-style.

Tom Roche

very excellent, very scary story of prosecutorial and police malice and misconduct

What does the case of Steven Avery, from 'Making a Murderer', tell us about the US justice system?
16 Oct 19:58

Intrepid Sailors: The Legacy of Preble's Boys and the Tripoli Campaign by Chipp Reid. PART 1 of 2.

by The John Batchelor Show
Tom Roche



(Photo: ... USS Philadelphia aground off Tripoli, in 1803.)

Twitter: @batchelorshow

Intrepid Sailors: The Legacy of Preble's Boys and the Tripoli Campaign by Chipp Reid. PART 1 of 2.

"Named a "Notable Naval Book of 2012" by Proceedings Magazine

Intrepid Sailors tells one of the greatest sea stories in the history of the U.S. Navy. Under Commodore Edward Preble, the Navy came of age fighting the scourge of the time, the infamous Barbary Pirates. Intrepid Sailors tells the story of the Navy’s campaign to subdue the pirate leader of Tripoli, who declared war on the United States in 1801. After two failed campaigns, Preble took command of the U.S. squadron in the Mediterranean and served notice to world the U.S. Navy would be a force with which to reckon.

"Among the ships in Preble’s flotilla was a non-descript little ketch. Once a French supply boat, the ketch served Tripoli until the U.S. squadron captured her in 1803. Upon her capture, Preble incorporated the little boat into his force, re-naming her the Intrepid. She was the first ship in the United States Navy to bear the name of Intrepid and would play a central role in some of the primary feats of “Preble’s Boys.”

"The exploits of the officers and sailors in this campaign are the stuff of legend. In culling myth from fact, Reid went back to original sources, using the words of the men in the campaign to tell their story. Whether it is Decatur leading the daring raid to burn the captured frigate Philadelphia or the escape attempts of American prisoners in Tripoli, Intrepid Sailors brings to life a story many Americans once widely knew but that today has become little more than footnote.

"Unlike other books on the topic, however, Intrepid Sailors delves into the development of officers and sailors under Preble. Most were half the age of their commander and few had major combat experience. Under Preble, these men forged a legacy of professionalism to which the Navy still adheres. The book also examines one of the most famous friendships in American and Navy history – that of Decatur and Somers. Their thirst for glory and utter devotion to making the U.S. Navy a permanent, respected force inspired all around them but that quest for immortality never caused a breach in their friendship. Instead, that friendship grew stronger, providing even more inspiration. Intrepid Sailors offers a rare insight into the lives of men who today loom larger-than-life and who continue to inspire each new class of naval officer. Stephen Decatur, Richard Somers, Charles Stewart, James Lawrence, Edward Preble and a pantheon of early U.S. Navy heroes all come to life...."

16 Oct 19:57

Intrepid Sailors: The Legacy of Preble's Boys and the Tripoli Campaign by Chipp Reid. PART 2 of 2.

by The John Batchelor Show
Tom Roche



(Photo: ... Commodore Edward Preble, painted before 1807.

after Rembrandt Peale - U.S. Naval Academy Museum Collection.)

Twitter: @batchelorshow

Intrepid Sailors: The Legacy of Preble's Boys and the Tripoli Campaign by Chipp Reid. PART 2 of 2.

"Named a "Notable Naval Book of 2012" by Proceedings Magazine

Intrepid Sailors tells one of the greatest sea stories in the history of the U.S. Navy. Under Commodore Edward Preble, the Navy came of age fighting the scourge of the time, the infamous Barbary Pirates. Intrepid Sailors tells the story of the Navy’s campaign to subdue the pirate leader of Tripoli, who declared war on the United States in 1801. After two failed campaigns, Preble took command of the U.S. squadron in the Mediterranean and served notice to world the U.S. Navy would be a force with which to reckon.

"Among the ships in Preble’s flotilla was a non-descript little ketch. Once a French supply boat, the ketch served Tripoli until the U.S. squadron captured her in 1803. Upon her capture, Preble incorporated the little boat into his force, re-naming her the Intrepid. She was the first ship in the United States Navy to bear the name of Intrepid and would play a central role in some of the primary feats of “Preble’s Boys.”

"The exploits of the officers and sailors in this campaign are the stuff of legend. In culling myth from fact, Reid went back to original sources, using the words of the men in the campaign to tell their story. Whether it is Decatur leading the daring raid to burn the captured frigate Philadelphia or the escape attempts of American prisoners in Tripoli, Intrepid Sailors brings to life a story many Americans once widely knew but that today has become little more than footnote.

"Unlike other books on the topic, however, Intrepid Sailors delves into the development of officers and sailors under Preble. Most were half the age of their commander and few had major combat experience. Under Preble, these men forged a legacy of professionalism to which the Navy still adheres. The book also examines one of the most famous friendships in American and Navy history – that of Decatur and Somers. Their thirst for glory and utter devotion to making the U.S. Navy a permanent, respected force inspired all around them but that quest for immortality never caused a breach in their friendship. Instead, that friendship grew stronger, providing even more inspiration. Intrepid Sailors offers a rare insight into the lives of men who today loom larger-than-life and who continue to inspire each new class of naval officer. Stephen Decatur, Richard Somers, Charles Stewart, James Lawrence, Edward Preble and a pantheon of early U.S. Navy heroes all come to life...."

14 Oct 15:57

Democracy and its discontents

Tom Roche

Gareth Evans

Standing up to democracy's critics and restoring faith in the system.
13 Oct 23:50

American Made: A Largely True Story With Some Not-So-Fun Lies

by Jim Naureckas
Tom Roche

more USCFM sanitizing of US crimes, and an interesting illustration of Deep State family ties (Arthur Liman and son Doug)

Tom Cruise as Barry Seal in American Made.

Tom Cruise as Barry Seal in American Made

Director Doug Liman (Writing Studio, 9/1/17) describes American Made, his film about real-life drug dealer Barry Seal, as “a fun lie based on a true story.” So it’s not like he’s holding himself to a high standard of historical accuracy.

For one thing, Seal (portrayed by Tom Cruise) did not meet Colombian druglords Jorge Ochoa and Pablo Escobar, whose psychopathic hijinks provide much of the incident in the movie, until 1984, when the narrative is almost over. And Seal never landed a plane on a suburban street and pedaled away on a child’s bike to evade the DEA, as Cruise does, I’m sorry to say. (American Made largely exists because the Oscar-winning Argo showed that CIA exploits could be turned into a commercial and critical success—if, as Argo did, you make up all the most exciting and cinematic parts.)

But as the movie covers a subject—the intersection of the 1980s’ drug trade with the covert wars in Central America—that was deliberately ignored by major media at the time, and has been little examined by historians subsequently (we’ll have to wait at least another decade for Ken Burns’ Iran/Contra), it’s worth looking at which parts of the script were fun lie and what was true story.

Barry Seal

The real Barry Seal

It’s uncontroversial that Seal was a pilot for the Medellín cartel, and a much less reluctant one than portrayed in American Made. His ties to the CIA and the US-backed Nicaraguan Contra rebels are more often disputed but no less evident, given that the point of a covert operation is to be able to deny that your employees are working for you.  Seal’s tiny airport in Mena, Arkansas, through which he was smuggling multi-millions in Colombian cocaine, did indeed also double as a Contra training camp, as depicted in the film. As investigative journalist Gary Webb wrote in his book Dark Alliance:

While denying that the CIA was involved in any illegal activities at Mena during the time Seal’s drug-smuggling operation was based there, the CIA’s Inspector General’s Office confirmed in 1996 that the CIA ran a “joint training operation with another federal agency at Mena Intermountain Airport.”… The CIA also used the Mena airport for “routine aviation related services” on CIA-owned planes, according to a declassified summary of the report.

One of Seal’s planes actually did end up being shot down over Nicaragua while ferrying US arms to the Contras, thus kicking off the Iran/Contra scandal. And Seal did have friends in high places, as the film suggests; John Kerry’s 1989 Senate subcommittee report on Contras and drugs reported:

Associates of Seal who operated aircraft service businesses at the Mena, Arkansas, airport were also the targets of grand jury probes into narcotics trafficking. Despite the availability of evidence sufficient for an indictment on money laundering charges, and over the strong protests of state and federal law enforcement officials, the cases were dropped. The apparent reason was that the prosecution might have revealed national security information.

In their book Whiteout, Alexander Cockburn and Jeffrey St. Clair quote a Customs official’s memo explaining that a drug investigation into a pilot had to be dropped because he “works for Seal and cannot be touched because Seal works for the CIA.”

More dubious are the film’s depictions of the Medellin cartel as having a close working relationship with the revolutionary Sandinista government in Nicaragua. Charges of Nicaraguan involvement in “narcoterrorism” were a staple of 1980s Cold War propaganda, but despite its best efforts, the Reagan administration was never able to come up with any evidence. As Webb quotes the CIA telling the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in 1984:

Although uncorroborated reports indicating Nicaraguan involvement in the shipping of cocaine to the United States had been received, CIA was unable to confirm reports implicating high-level Sandinistas in drug trafficking.

Frederico Vaughn

The low-res image of Frederico Vaughn (in the striped shirt) that Ronald Reagan offered as proof of Sandinista drug trafficking

In fact, the best-documented part of Seal’s covert life was his involvement with the DEA and Oliver North’s National Security Council in a sting operation that was supposed to provide the proof of Sandinista drug-dealing. While in the film, Seal flies to Nicaragua and gets absurdly incriminating photos of Escobar and Ochoa themselves loading sacks of cocaine onto his plane, in reality what Seal brought back were grainy images that were supposed to represent Frederico Vaughn, who both the Reagan White House and Liman’s film maintain was a top aide to a major Sandinista official (Interior Minister Tomas Borge, though his name doesn’t come up in the film).

Vaughn was really a minor player in the Sandinista bureaucracy, the deputy director of a government import/export company. Though it’s pretty clear that that was just his day job, his real employer seems to have been somewhere north of the border. As FAIR (Extra!, 7–8/88) reported back in the ’80s:

Federico Vaughn, the supposed Sandinista official…appears to have been a US spy all along. An AP dispatch (Omaha World-Herald, 7/29/88) disclosed that subcommittee staffers called Vaughn’s phone number in Managua and spoke to a “domestic employee” who said the house had been “continuously rented” by a US embassy official since 1981.

The unnamed embassy official, according to Hughes, was among the group of US officials recently expelled by the Nicaraguan government after a violent political demonstration in July.

Webb points out that the CIA said in 1985 that Vaughn “was said to be an associate of Nicaraguan narcotics trafficker Norwing [sic] Meneses Cantarero”—Norwin Meneses being a Contra-connected drug dealer (and DEA informant) who figured prominently in Webb’s San Jose Mercury News Contra/crack expose. Webb also notes that “Oliver North’s daily diaries for that period contained several references to ‘Freddy Vaughn,’ including a July 6, 1984, entry that said, ‘Freddy coming in late July.’”

More broadly, the film depicts Central America as a Cold War battleground—the politics are succinctly explained with a cartoon of a Russian bear fighting an American eagle—with no mention of the fact that hundreds of thousands of civilians were being murdered by US-backed governments (and the US-backed Contras). But bringing up that part of the history would definitely put a feel-bad spin on what was meant to be an entertaining romp with a lovable rogue.

Arthur Liman (image: Vimeo)

Iran/Contra committee counsel Arthur Liman (image: Vimeo)

The strangest twist in the film comes at the very end, when it’s dedicated “To Arthur”—that is, Arthur Liman, the director’s late father, who served as the Senate’s lead counsel for the Joint Iran/Contra Committee. Under the elder Liman’s direction, of course, the committee steered well clear of the Reagan administration’s ties to Barry Seal and his ilk. The Nation‘s David Corn (3/23/15) long after recalled the subject coming up when the committee’s final report was released:

In the midst of the questioning, a journalist from an alternative weekly asked, “Did the committees investigate the allegations of Contra drug-dealing?” Before Arthur Liman, the chief counsel of the Senate Iran/Contra committee, could reply, a reporter from the New York Times loudly sneered, “C’mon, ask a serious question.” And Liman, perhaps taking his cue from the Times reporter, moved on.

I protested: Why not answer the question? But no other reporter joined in.

It’s disquieting to see ugly realities that were buried by the father with the help of the New York Times turned by his son into entertainment product for Comcast (the parent company of Universal). But how entertaining is it? The actual story of how drugs and counter-revolution intersected in Central America was told to more dramatic effect—and much greater regard for factual accuracy—in Kill the Messenger, the 2014 biopic of Gary Webb (In These Times, 11/20/14). If you’re looking for a charming good ol’ boy carrying out improbable capers in a Southern milieu, Channing Tatum did it better in Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky, released earlier this year—and without the historical distortions.

13 Oct 23:40

Azeem Ibrahim on Rohingya Ethnic Cleansing

by CounterSpin
Tom Roche

excellent on the history of Rohingya oppression

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Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh from Myanmar (cc photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús)

Rohingya refugees (cc photo: Jordi Bernabeu Farrús)

This week on CounterSpin: A human rights nightmare continues to unfold in Myanmar, as hundreds of thousands of Rohingya flee what a new UN report calls “coordinated and systemic” attacks by security forces and Buddhist-majority mobs, only to arrive—if they arrive—to horrific conditions in refugee camps in Bangladesh. What human rights groups have the called “ethnic cleansing” of the religious and linguistic minority, the Myanmar government of Aung San Suu Kyi calls “clearance operations,” aimed solely at ousting militants. Though the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations, the Nobel Peace Prize recipient’s government maintains they are simply illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, where, as in Myanmar, Rohingya are denied citizenship.

You may have seen or read some of what the UN calls “bone-chilling” accounts of attacks on Rohingya people. What’s the history behind those accounts? Azeem Ibrahim is a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy and author of The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Hidden Genocide. He’ll join us for an extended conversation about the roots of the current crisis and where we go from here.

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Plus a quick look back at recent coverage of the continuing Puerto Rican disaster.

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12 Oct 15:44

Toxic masculinity under fire

Tom Roche

Joan Smith

From IS's recruiting tactics to Harvey Weinstein's casting couch, toxic masculinity is the story of our age.
11 Oct 16:35

Patrick Wyman's Tides of History

Tom Roche


A promo episode of the brand new Tides of History Podcast by Patrick Wyman!

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10 Oct 16:52

Democracy Now! 2017-10-10 Tuesday

Tom Roche

good interview with Assange (as usual)

Democracy Now! 2017-10-10 Tuesday

  • Headlines for October 10, 2017
  • As Catalonia Plans Independence from Spain, Julian Assange Advises Organizers on Secure Messaging
  • Julian Assange Marks 5.5 Years Inside Ecuadorean Embassy as UK & US Refuse to Confirm Arrest Warrant
  • Julian Assange on Roger Stone & Accusations About WikiLeaks and Trump Campaign Ties to Russia
  • Judge Denies Bail to Alleged NSA Leaker Reality Winner, Citing Her Admiration for Snowden & Assange
  • New Yorkers Call for Indigenous Peoples' Day & Removal of Columbus Statue

Download this show

10 Oct 16:46

Climate Hope and Horror

by Alex Smith
Three degrees C warming by 2050? Catastrophe, and what we have to do to avoid it – famous American scientist V. Ramanathan from his life work & new science. Dr. Andy Ridgwell from UC Riverside on the last great warming of 5 degrees  …
10 Oct 05:18

An Al Jazeera Reporter Went Undercover with the Pro-Israel Lobby In Washington

by Aída Chávez

Britain’s broadcasting regulator on Monday concluded that Al Jazeera did not violate any rules in its controversial undercover investigation exposing the Israeli embassy’s campaign to target British citizens critical of Israel, a campaign that included attempts to destroy the careers of pro-Palestinian British politicians.

The move by the communications regulator, known as Ofcom, clears the way for a follow-up documentary focused on Israeli influence in the U.S., the existence of which has previously been suspected but had yet to be made public. Clayton Swisher, director of investigative journalism for Al Jazeera Media Network, confirmed it to The Intercept on Monday. The goal of the British complaint may partly have been to delay publication of the follow-up American version, he said. “At the very same time [as the London investigation] — and we can safely reveal this now — we had an undercover operative working in tandem in Washington, D.C. With this U.K. verdict and vindication past us, we can soon reveal how the Israel lobby in America works through the eyes of an undercover reporter,” he said.

The four-part series, “The Lobby,” dug into the Israeli embassy in London, as well as several other pro-Israel lobby groups, and their campaign to “take down” British Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan.

The investigation led to the resignation of a top Israeli official in London, as well as a high-profile complaint that Al Jazeera had broken broadcasting regulations in the United Kingdom. One of the complaints charged the investigation with anti-Semitism, but the government board ruled that imputing such a motive to a film critical of Israel would be akin to calling a series on gang violence racist.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote to Prime Minister Theresa May in January, calling for a probe into Shai Masot, the Israeli embassy’s then-senior political officer. An undercover reporter secretly filmed Masot discussing a plot to “take down” Duncan, which Corbyn described as “improper interference in this country’s democratic process.” Masot resigned shortly after the recordings were made public.

Swisher, whose writing has also appeared in The Intercept, said that his outlet turned over reams of unpublished audio and video files to demonstrate that its report had not been unfairly edited. “For several months, we were put through the equivalent of an editorial colonoscopy. Turning over emails, different edits, all the raw footage, photos, cellphone messages — basically anything the investigators found of interest,” said Swisher.

Ofcom received complaints about the series from pro-Israel British activists and a former Israel embassy employee. It dismissed all charges, which included anti-Semitism, bias, unfair editing, and the infringement of privacy.

It ruled that as per the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s guidance: “It did not consider that such a critical analysis of the actions of a foreign state constituted anti-Semitism, particularly as the overall focus of the programme was to examine whether the State of Israel was acting in a manner that would be expected of other democratic nations.”

All other charges were also dismissed as Ofcom found the program maintained due impartiality, the footage was not edited in a way which resulted in unfairness, and there was no unwarranted infringement of privacy.

In January, pro-Israel activists in the U.S. began to suspect they’d been infiltrated when footage in America appeared in the British version of “The Lobby.” Tablet began piecing things together and identified the likely hoaxer as a highfalutin British intern who’d dissonantly been renting a fully furnished $5,460 a month corporate apartment.

Swisher wouldn’t confirm or deny the identity of the American operative, but he said that with the American political class focused on foreign intervention in the affairs of the United States, now is an appropriate time to run the follow-up investigation. “I hear the U.S. is having problems with foreign interference these days, so I see no reason why the U.S. establishment won’t take our findings in America as seriously as the British did, unless of course Israel is somehow off limits from that debate,” he said.

Top photo: An employee of the Qatar-based news network and TV channel Al Jazeera is seen at the channel’s Jerusalem office on July 31, 2017.

The post An Al Jazeera Reporter Went Undercover with the Pro-Israel Lobby In Washington appeared first on The Intercept.

09 Oct 20:58

Facebook’s war on free will – podcast

Tom Roche

some interesting bits about Zuckerberg and Facebook, interspersed with uninformed and occasionally ludicrous "explanations" of computer-science topics. Instead, just skim the original article/transcript by Franklin Foer @

How technology is making our minds redundant • Read the text version here
09 Oct 20:54

Behind the News, 10/5/17

Tom Roche

the Schalit piece is good, rest (after ~21 min) is deletable

Behind the News, 10/5/17 - guests: Joel Schalit on the right in Germany, Marisol LeBron on debt, austerity and hurricanes in Puerto Rico, and Shawna Potter on feminist punk rock - Doug Henwood
09 Oct 14:51

The inside story of Labour’s election shock – podcast

When a snap election was called, a divided Labour sprang into action to defy predictions of a wipeout and upturn the political consensus. The key players reveal how it all happened • Read the text version here
07 Oct 04:45

William Taubman | Gorbachev with Yuri Slezkine | House of Government

Tom Roche

as is so often the case with PFL, one part (here, Taubman on Gorbachev) is great, and the other is ehh

William Taubman won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Khrushchev: The Man and His Era, a portrait of the Soviet leader ''unlikely to be surpassed any time soon in either richness or complexity'' (New York Times Book Review). The Bertrand Snell Professor of Political Science Emeritus at Amherst College, he is the author of several other works detailing 20th-century Russian politics. Drawing from international archival documents, interviews with foreign leaders, Kremlin contemporaries, and Gorbachev himself, Taubman's new biography is a nuanced look at the transformational leader. Yuri Slezkine is best known as the author of The Jewish Century, a boldly interpretive treatise about Jews' role in modernity. Jane K. Sather Professor of History at the University of California, Berkeley and a W. Glenn Campbell and Rita Ricardo-Campbell National Fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution, he is also the author of several other books about the Soviet state, including In the Shadow of Revolution, Arctic Mirrors, and Between Heaven and Hell. In House of Government, Slezkine tells the epic of the massive apartment building occupied by high-ranking Communists until their annihilation during Stalin's purges. (recorded 9/26/2017)
04 Oct 18:55

Stephen Pimpare, “Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen” (Oxford UP, 2017)

by Sarah E. Patterson
Tom Roche

excellent. TODO: watch more of these movies

In Stephen Pimpare‘s new book, Ghettos, Tramps, and Welfare Queens: Down and Out on the Silver Screen (Oxford University Press, 2017), the reader is encouraged to think about how we portray poverty and people in poverty in…
04 Oct 18:54

Harry Bennett, “The Royal Navy in the Age of Austerity, 1919-1922: Naval and Foreign Policy under Lloyd George” (Bloomsbury Academic, 2016)

by Mark Klobas
Tom Roche

very excellent, not only about UK politics ~1900-1945 but also foreign/military relations with US and Japan, and also the post-WW1 implications of UK naval privatization (begun well pre-WW1). Basically, imperial overreach and domestic plutocracy bit the Royal Navy (and the British Empire) in the ass.

Great Britain’s victory in the First World War brought with it the competing challenges of defending an expanded empire while reducing military expenditures. In The Royal Navy in the Age of Austerity, 1919-22: Naval and Foreign Policy under Lloyd George
03 Oct 18:15

At $50 a barrel, billions in tax breaks keep many oil projects profitable

by Megan Geuss

Enlarge / MIDLAND, TX - JANUARY 20: A pumpjack sits on the outskirts of town at dawn in the Permian Basin oil field on January 21, 2016 in the oil town of Midland, Texas. (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images) (credit: Getty Images)

At $50 a barrel, the low price of crude oil has slowed some of the oil production in the US, especially in regions that are costly to develop, like the Arctic. But US oil producers aren't bearing the whole brunt of low prices, because federal and state governments provide tax breaks that stimulate oil production despite low prices.

The tax situation isn’t unique to the US—China, the EU, and India also offer a variety of flavors of tax breaks to fossil fuel producers, despite their recognition of the need to address climate change. Although the US has signaled its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, tax breaks that fund more fossil fuel production don't help the rest of the globe to limit warming to 2 degrees Celsius.

The latest research offers some hard numbers on just how much tax policy is supporting extra CO2 emissions. “Federal tax subsidies to the oil and gas industry alone cost US taxpayers at least US$2 billion each year,” write researchers from the Stockholm Environment Institute and Earth Track in a recent Nature Energy article. That $2 billion in uncollected taxes is helping some oil fields go from "unprofitable" to "profitable," increasing the amount of oil that's available for consumption. (The researchers broadly used the term "subsidies" to indicate different types of tax-based support that "confer a financial benefit from government to oil producer.")

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03 Oct 17:09

The Safe Way to Build a Smart City

by Corin Faife
Tom Roche

see also the cited paper 'Protecting Privacy Using k-Anonymity' @

You don’t have to dig deep to find out what can go wrong with open data initiatives. Just look back to 2014, when the New York City Taxi and Limousine Commission released hundreds of millions of records on taxi trips in the city, with data anonymized to protect identifiable details—at least in theory. In reality, the data was recorded in a format that allowed a software engineer to re-identify the license numbers of the taxis and drivers. A Gawker journalist then linked this to celebrities taking cab rides across the city months after the initial release, speculating on the routes they had taken and even how much they tipped.

It’s certainly not the most sensitive data to ever be leaked or hacked, but it is an important illustration of the risks cities face in releasing data from their many constituent agencies; the implications aren’t always apparent until long after the information is out in the public domain.

In recent years, as the Seattle metro area has grown into a thriving tech hub, the city has been pioneering a progressive, carefully considered approach to releasing public data. Slowly but surely, city authorities are crafting what they hope can serve as a model for “smart cities” around the world. One key part of this plan came in 2016, when the city adopted a resolution that all civic data would be “open by preference,” rather “open by default.” As David Doyle, Open Data Program Manager for Seattle Information Technology, explains, this extra layer of caution aims to make the city more deliberate about its data practices from the start.

“Policies were first developed with ‘open by default’ in mind, but that isn't really feasible when you consider factors like privacy,” he says. “Seattle took a more nuanced approach of being open by preference: This means we can be open [with data] once we mitigate for privacy risks, release of personally identifying information, and other kinds of harm.”

Essentially, an open by default policy would mean “publish first, ask questions later”: datasets collected by all city government agencies—police department, housing authority, department of transportation, etc.—would be released online unless and until there was a clear reason not to. Open by preference speaks to a more measured approach: Civic datasets are evaluated proactively with a view to releasing them wherever possible, but only after they’ve been reviewed by city officials.

In one example, Doyle explains that data from the city’s Aging and Disability Service was released to support a hackathon focused on solving accessibility challenges. Since the data on disability, income, ethnicity, and exact location were extremely sensitive, teams from multiple departments worked together to group it into neighborhood segments and age brackets, reducing the identifiability while still providing a useful resource to participants in the event.

As part of the 2016 resolution on open data, Seattle also committed to an annual, publicly released risk assessment of its open data program. This year the privacy-focused nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum (FPF) was commissioned to undertake the task, which culminated in the release of a draft report in August that is currently open to public input.

The report aims not only to analyze the city’s progress with data release, but also to develop a framework for evaluating the risks of open data initiatives overall. The idea is to lay out clear criteria for judging the benefits and drawbacks of publishing a certain dataset, leading to a score that can inform a decision on how to proceed.

Still, correctly gauging the risks of a privacy breach is a difficult task: Some personal data is easy to classify as too sensitive for public release—Social Security numbers are one example, or at least should be. But other data fall into a gray area. Making some medical information public is important for epidemiological research, for example, but details on specific medical conditions should not be traceable back to individual patients.

In order to reap the potential benefits of the sensitive-but-not-secret category, data is usually anonymized before being released—but truly guaranteeing anonymity is much easier said than done. In a widely cited study from 2000, Harvard professor Latanya Sweeney (then at Carnegie Mellon) found that 87 percent of Americans could be uniquely identified in a dataset by only gender, date of birth, and ZIP code. That can then be cross-referenced with voter records to identify each individual by name.

This is the central problem that cities like Seattle face when trying to release anonymized data: Details that are non-identifying when isolated can easily become unique in combination.

A diagram from Latanya Sweeney’s research paper shows how details shared between datasets can lead to de-anonymization.

Given the abundant need for privacy controls in the digital age, it might come as a surprise to learn that legal definitions of personally identifying information have not been updated for decades. In the U.S., “Personally Identifying Information” is a legal term with specific meaning in the Privacy Act of 1974; but the law draws the line between identifying and non-identifying information in a way that ignores the realities of modern information security.

“The problem is, as an actual technical matter, this is a distinction without meaning,” says Joseph Jerome, a policy counsel at the Center for Democracy and Technology. “When you look at open data policy, there's a question over how many different indirect identifiers can be put into data before you have something that completely identifies someone. So in some respects, this is a legal policy debate, but it's also a technical debate... and the answer isn't clear.”

The debate is complicated by the need to release information that will be useful for analysis while also being protective of user privacy, two factors that are often in direct opposition. Technically data is at its least identifying if every individual in the group has exactly the same score for every variable—but then the data is effectively meaningless. By definition, useful data must be identifying to some degree, and a judgement must be made over where to draw the line between the two.

As a guideline, statistical de-identification expert Khaled El Emam has suggested that no more than six to eight indirect identifiers should be included in any dataset, which should also be modified so as to ensure a certain threshold of “k-anonymity:” A term meaning that even by combining the indirect identifiers, a minimum number of individuals will always share the same values, so that no one record is completely unique.

All of these technical and legal constraints can make it difficult for cities to know when data has been processed well enough to be safely released. It can be even harder for citizens to know whether they could be identified from a given dataset. Compounding this problem is the fact that municipal governments, unlike private corporations, can also be compelled to disclose information under public records laws.

It was exactly this situation that led New York’s Taxi and Limousine Commission to release the insufficiently anonymized data on taxi trips. Had it not been for a request from a freedom of information activist, would not have been publicly disclosed in the first place.


Dan Bevarly is executive director of the National Freedom of Information Coalition (NFOIC), an alliance of civil society groups advocating for open government. Though his organization lobbies for greater transparency, he is also conscious of the need for caution, and suggests that budgeting more time and resources for public record requests could help strike that balance without limiting access to information.

“We see an area that requires more specialization, and that's the public records steward,” Bevarly says. “We think that much more formal training has to be provided, mainly because of the changing legislation and the increasing use of technology to manage information and communicate.”

He also believes public institutions could be more proactive in releasing properly sanitized information ahead of time, reducing the risk of a badly handled disclosure in response to a public records request. But while Bevarly and other experts have a key role in shaping the debate on open data, it's also crucial to solicit input from the largest party involved: the general public.

The public release and consultation period for FPF's evaluation in Seattle is one step toward this, and in practice, is paired with in-person outreach, too. Program Manager David Doyle often makes speaking appearances at conferences and other events, like the Seattle Public Library's open data literacy series. Nonetheless, he concedes, “It’s a difficult topic to explain to the public, for sure.”

And according to policy counsel Joseph Jerome, if we want to promote openness, we should also respect the choice of those who do not want to participate.

“I think we need to facilitate the ability not of individuals, but of communities, to opt out of this type of thing: I think that's the level where an opt-out would work,” he says.

Still, Jerome says that the practicalities of this are unclear; there has not yet been any large-scale opt-out of open data, perhaps an indication of the difficulties involved in doing so.

With the open data movement gathering momentum, it's important that debates around the pros and cons can take place with a transparency appropriate to the topic. Not all city governments will have the financial resources or technical know-how of a city like Seattle, but smaller governments across the country may yet learn from the successes and failures of the bigger players.