Sanders Joins Obama In Opposing Clinton’s Hawkish Views On Syria


While economics have so far dominated the campaign, I feel that the number one reason to nominate Bernie Sanders and not Hillary Clinton is to prevent a return to the foreign policy of George Bush and get us involved in further foolish military intervention. Clinton has a long history of irrational hawkishness. This includes pushing for the Iraq war with false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaeda, along with advocating increased military intervention as Secretary of State. Fortunately the Obama White House frequently opposed advice from Clinton, often with Joe Biden leading the opposition to her proposals. When the Obama administration did listen to her on intervention in Libya, it turned into a disaster.

Clinton has disagreed with Obama on Syria, favoring increased military intervention. She has attacked Obama on Syria saying, “Great nations need organizing principles, and ‘Don’t do stupid stuff’ is not an organizing principle. ” It sound like a good principle to me, sort of the political equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, and an idea Clinton should consider. Instead Clinton is proposing more “stupid stuff” in proposing that the United States impose a no-fly zone in Syria. Enforcement of this would not only increase the risk of us getting entangled in the conflict between the Syrian government and ISIS, but also risk direct military confrontation with Russia.

Bernie Sanders has joined Obama in opposing Clinton’s desire for this increase in military intervention. The Washington Post reports:

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said Saturday that he opposes a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria, offering a less hawkish stance on the war-torn region than Hillary Rodham Clinton, his chief rival for the Democratic presidential nomination, and a position more in line with President Obama.

“We must be very careful about not making a complex and dangerous situation in Syria even worse,” Sanders said in a statement to The Washington Post. “I support President Obama’s efforts to combat ISIS in Syria while at the same time supporting those in that country trying to remove the brutal dictatorship of Bashar Assad.”

But, Sanders added: “I oppose, at this point, a unilateral American no-fly zone in Syria, which could get us more deeply involved in that horrible civil war and lead to a never-ending U.S. entanglement in that region.”

In a television interview broadcast Thursday, Clinton advocated additional air power to protect civilians in the multi-front war, in which Syrian rebels and international advocates have said that air patrols in Syria’s north could give civilians a refuge from Assad’s bombing raids…

Clinton’s position puts her in the same camp as some Republican contenders for the presidential nomination, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush and Ohio Gov. John Kasich…

Sanders, who has a pair of rallies planned in Massachusetts on Saturday, has been speaking out in his recent campaign appearances about “the cost of war,” accusing Republicans of being too eager to insert the U.S. military into conflicts that will result in casualties and a range of other problems for returning U.S. soldiers.

Saturday’s events, planned in Springfield and Boston, come amid a fresh burst of momentum for Sanders, whose campaign announced this week that it had raised $26 million in the last fundraising quarter, nearly as much as Clinton. Recent polls from New Hampshire have showed Sanders leading Clinton, and polls from Iowa have showed a close contest.

I don’t know how much of his economic agenda Bernie Sanders could pass when the Republicans can block legislation with forty Senators. The big difference between a Sanders presidency and a Clinton presidency will probably seen in the areas where the president has more direct power. If Sanders is president we are far less likely to wind up in more unnecessary wars, and far less likely to see a continuation of infringements on civil liberties with activities such as the NSA surveillance of American citizens.

Update: Sanders reportedly had more record crowds out to see him in Boston. The Boston Globe reports it was “the largest rally for a presidential primary candidate in recent Massachusetts history, topping 10,000 people drawn to Boston Common eight years ago by Barack Obama.”

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Right Wing Outrage Over Obama Missing A Photo-Op In Paris

The latest lunacy from conservatives like Ted Cruz  is to make a huge fuss about Obama not attending the Paris memorial march, while ignoring the substantive assistance he has been providing to fight terrorism.

Considering the security measures utilized whenever the president leaves the White House, it was not practical for Obama to have attended with such short notice. Even if time permitted, his presence would have been disruptive for such an event.

The French certainly are not offended:

 French President François Hollande’s office also defended Obama. A senior official told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour that the U.S. president has been “very present” since the attacks, noting that he was one of the first leaders to call Hollande last Wednesday.

The official also pointed to Obama’s visit to the French Embassy in Washington last week. “For us It was an emotional moment of solidarity,” the official said.

They actually would have preferred that Obama and Biden not attend due to the security issues, already having to contend with Benjamin Netanyahu attending when asked not to.

Obama essentially missed a photo op–not a true case of world leaders leading a March, as pictures from the march have demonstrated:

Many on the right repeated their automatic opposition to anything Obama does. We know that if he had gone, the same conservatives would have been the first to attack Obama for grabbing the limelight, the cost of the trip, and disrupting the march with his security measures. We also know that if it had been a Republican president who did not attend they would have had no complaints.

Ron Fournier, not a common defender of Obama, had several points on this faux controversy:

His critics seem to forget a few things.

1. The United States has some 66,000 military personnel deployed in Europe. More than 6,800 U.S. service members have died in post-9/11 operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hundreds of billions of dollars from the U.S. treasury finance intelligence and military operations across the globe, making the United States the most stalwart enemy of terrorists.

2. The president of the United States doesn’t need to march in the streets of Paris to prove his nation’s commitment.

3. Somebody should find out how many federal agents, spies, and intelligence assets the United States has dispatched to Europe since the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Does anybody think the Obama administration hasn’t flooded the zone?

4. Obama’s presence at the rally would have been disruptive. The apparatus that follows the U.S. president is isolating and suppressive – a direct counter to the vibe that organizers achieved in the streets of Paris.

5. Obama and his national security team are rightly worried about the next 9/11. Only hard work and good luck have kept the wolves at bay this long. An attack like the ones in Paris last week keeps U.S. national security personnel awake at night because among their greatest fears are so-called lone wolf attacks on soft targets in the United States. There could have been a copycat.

Here’s my thought process: Had there been an attack on U.S. soil while Obama marched in Paris, I would have wondered whether the president and his team had taken their eyes off the ball. Wouldn’t that be the natural reaction? The conservative Outrage Machine would have demanded impeachment proceedings.

Personally, I’ve got no problem with the U.S. ambassador representing my country in Paris. If it was my call to make, I would have put Biden on a plane.

But did Obama let the world down? Take a breath. After all this country has done for Europe in the last century, let’s not confuse a mistake with something more meaningful.

He wrote this earlier in the day before all the information was in, and the same security issues related to Obama would probably also apply to Biden. Whether it was still a mistake not to send Biden is far more debatable with more facts now in, but regardless Fournier is correct that, even if it was a mistake, it is “no disgrace” and hardly anything meaningful.

Update: Dana Milbanks wrote about the hypocrisy of the Republican attacks. He also pointed out that sending Obama with this little lead time was “never a possibility, for security and logistical reasons.” As most reasonable people (meaning non-Republicans) would, he characterizes the failure to send anyone else of higher rank than the ambassador a faux pas. He also states that, “Officials I spoke to said it was a simple screw-up: They didn’t understand how significant the event would be, with leaders of some 40 countries in attendance.” There was no strategic importance to Obama being there and there was no insult to the French (which until this week would hardly be of concern to conservatives).

The White House admits it was wrong, but again the error was one of public relations, not of anything of real significance or to justify the current attacks from the right, which are more about their usual pattern of attacking anything done by Obama.

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SciFi Weekend: Person of Interest; The Flash and Other CW Shows; Agent Carter; Agents of SHIELD; The Returned; Mad Men; Star Talk; Neil Gaiman; Robert Crumb on Charlie Hedbo

Person of Interest Simulations

Often middle episodes of a trilogy can be weak, containing neither the set up or conclusion, but Person of Interest had no difficulty with the second part of their current trilogy. A show which deals with showing different versions of the same scenario might also be risky, but they certainly pulled that off well with If-Then-Else. Many viewers were aware that the episode might deal with the death of a character and they played with viewers in showing Finch get killed early in the episode. While the series has had one major character get killed in the past, it is a safe bet that Finch and Reese are safe, so it was no surprise that Harold’s death (along with a later sequence showing Reese get killed) were only a computer simulation as the Machine looked at every possible strategy.

I particularly enjoyed one way they kept the showing of different scenarios from seeming redundant or boring–the use of generic responses to speed up the dialog:

Reese: “Coolly delivered sadistic warning.”

Fusco: “Self-deprecating inquiry into the time necessary to infiltrate system.”

Root: “Funny, yet insightful retort.”

Finch: “Mildly agitated declaration of mission completion.”

Once the scenarios were evaluated, we had the “real” version of events, with a couple of  surprises. While one simulation had Root kiss Fusco, as it was just a simulation, the real version showed a progression in the relationship between Shaw and Root. It was not entirely clear to what degree Shaw kissed root out of romantic interest versus to startle her so that she could sacrifice herself to get the elevator rising.

Person of Interest Shaw Kiss Root

It is notable that the when the final shot was heard we did not see Shaw’s body, and we know that in the absence of a dead body we should never assume a character has really been killed. The previews suggest that at very least Team Machine believes Shaw is alive. Interviews with the producers and cast reveal some spoilers as to whether Shaw is really dead. From TV Guide:

While debate rages about whether or not Shaw is actually dead, she certainly won’t be appearing on POI in the near future. In fact, this entire storyline was crafted after Shahi informed the show’s producers she was expecting twins.

“Our fans think we’re sadists who like killing off our characters. In this case, we had no choice,” executive producer Jonathan Nolan tells “Our hands were tied. The circumstances of Shaw’s character and what she does — being a lethal operative who goes around the world and exterminates people and often puts her life in peril — kind of makes her irresponsible as a maternal figure on the show. Sarah was the first person to say, “There’s no way we can write this into the character,” and we agreed.”

So, is Shaw really dead? “You have to stay tuned,” executive producer Greg Plageman says. “The great part of doing a serialized show is that you have people waiting to find out what happens. We’d hate to spoil that for the audience, but there is a little bit of ambiguity about what happens after those elevator doors close.” As for how long that ambiguity will last, Nolan quips, “What’s the earliest you can put two twins on an airplane?”

Regardless of Shaw’s fate, the producers did give fans a huge moment between Shaw and Root (Amy Acker), as the much-‘shipped duo finally locked lips before Shaw’s heroics kicked in. “I directed their first scene together on the show, and it was abundantly clear to me that there was a great deal of chemistry between those two characters,” Nolan says. “So from the beginning, for me, that tension has always been there. We felt like the fans were invested in that relationship. You don’t feel like you can walk away from something like that without giving some kind of consummation.”

Person of Interest Root Elevator

Initially stories I read about Sarah Shahi leaving the show reported an expected two year absence, but Shahi left this more open in an interview with Entertainment Weekly where she talked about her pregnancy and the kiss with Root:

How did you break the news to the producers?
I just kept hitting them, like one after another. At first it was, “Guys, I’m pregnant,” and they were like, “Woah, okay, this is great, how far along are you?” And then: “Hey guys, just went to the doctor, I’m having twins.” “Woah! What! Oh shit!” So the whammies just kept coming for them. They’ve been wonderful about it, and they’re all fathers themselves so they understand what blessings children are, but it did take some adjusting. As far as the show goes, I do 99 percent of my own stunts all the time, so it took a little re-wiring in terms of what was safe for me to do, what was not safe for me to do. There are things that on paper didn’t seem like a stunt. When you’re carrying two human beings inside your belly, sometimes just walking or standing is a stunt.

Was there any conversation about writing the pregnancy into the show?
There were. Even through creatively I didn’t have anything to do with how Shaw goes, I just kept stressing that I wanted to honor her in every way that I could, and I didn’t want them to write me behind a desk. I didn’t want them to lessen Shaw’s abilities in any way because of my physical inabilities. I just kept stressing to them, please please please let’s honor her the right way. I still want to go balls out. Don’t hold back just because I’m pregnant.

What is the right way to honor her?
Her going out the way she did is pretty perfect for her. I always viewed this character as somebody who had a death wish on her. She’s such an adrenaline junkie and she’s got an appetite for violence. She will definitely put herself in that situation. It’s fun for her. If she doesn’t do that, she’s not living. She looked death squarely in the eye. She had a hint of a smile in her eyes. And then it just went to black. I think for her, that was the perfect ending. If Shaw could pick anyway to go, that’s the way she would want to go.

Tell me about that big kiss between Root and Shaw. Was that purely for the fans?
It’s funny because that was Amy’s first girl-on-girl kiss, whereas I’m incredibly experienced because of The L Word. I’m a veteran at the girl-on-girl! And Amy was kind of getting kissed all over that episode, between me and Fusco. Although I think she’d rather me than Fusco.

But yeah, to be honest, I felt like it was more for the fans. The one thing that the producers and I did kind of disagree on was they felt like Shaw knew she was going to die. She’s against ten Samaritan operatives, there’s no way she’s getting out of this alive, and that kiss was a goodbye kiss. Whereas I didn’t see it like that. I don’t think Shaw goes into any situation going, okay, I’m going to die today. I feel like the stronger choice is to struggle to live, and so I felt like that kiss was just like, “Oh, shut the f–k up already, Root!” I felt like it was more trying to calm down a pestering child, if anything. “Okay, fine, I’ll give you what you want, now be quiet.” Just one of those moments. But again, I also felt like it was more for the fans than anything….

So, the million dollar question once more: Is Shaw gone for good?
This episode is the second episode in a three-part series, and that is going to be the question moving on. That is what the team is going to have to figure out. Is she alive? Did Samaritan capture her? Where is she? The rule in TV is if you don’t see a body, then they’re not dead.

If hypothetically you did return and Shaw wasn’t dead, do you have an idea of your own timeline?
As far as my own timeline, it’s one of those things where you say that you’re having twins and you automatically see the fear of God in people’s eyes. Most people know what it’s like to handle one baby. There’s not a lot of sleep that involves just one baby. Then you add another baby to that equation and it’s just like doomsday. It’s going to be me for the next, like, two years. So to be honest, I have no idea. I’m trying not to think about stuff like that. But there’s no way—I’ve never had experience in this department before, so I can’t say at all, no clue.

SpoilerTV has a spoiler-free advance look at part three in this trilogy, Control-Alt-Delete, which does include the return of Camryn Manheim as Control.


There have been a number of teasers on Arrow and The Flash coming out of the Television Critics Association winter press tour. Among items of interest, it does appear that Tom Cavenagh’s character is the Reverse-Flash, as was suggested before the holiday hiatus, but he might not be the only Reverse-Flash:

Executive producer Andrew Kreisberg hinted that another person may be involved in the Reverse Flash mythology — namely Eddie Thawne (Rick Cosnett). Fans have speculated that Eddie (whose name resembles Eobard Thawne, one of the aliases of Reverse-Flash in the comic books on which the series is based) will emerge as Reverse Flash in the series.

“His name is not an accident,” Kreisberg said Sunday. “Eddie’s connection to the Reverse Flash lore is going to pay off big time in the back half of the year.”

The DC universe will also be growing on CW. This includes another spin-off based on The Atom and there are plans for an animated series about Vixen taking place in the same universe.

The DC v. Marvel rivalry didn’t interfere with this discussion between writers and producers of both the DC and Marvel based television shows in this interview at The Hollywood Reporter. It was confirmed in this interview that a crossover between Supergirl (on CBS) with the CW shows is a distinct possibility.

CW has announced the renewal of multiple shows including Arrow, The Flash, The 100, and Jane the Virgin.

While the DC cinematic universe will be kept separate from the television universe, there will be overlap in characters between the movies. Viola Davis is rumored to have been offered the part of Amanda Waller in the Suicide Squad movie, with her character to also appear in other DC movies.  There are also rumors (and a denial) that Batman V. Superman will be split into two parts.

Agent Carter Poster

Agent Carter started out much stronger than Agents of SHIELD, hopefully indicating that Marvel has learned its lesson and will be doing a better job with its future television shows. Although set in the 1940’s, there were plenty of references to the Marvel universe. Besides frequently mentioning Captain America and including Tony Stark’s father, there were multiple other references. What Culture provides a list of 10 Easter Eggs.

Edward James Olmos of Battlestar Galactica will be appearing in a major role on Agents of SHIELD. Reportedly his character will have “massive repercussions” for SHIELD.

A date has finally been announced for the next Marvel television show. Netflix will be releasing Daredevil on April 10. The other planned Marvel shows on Netflix will be released approximately one year apart, with Jessica Jones, staring Krysten Ritter,  next in 2016.

Carlton Cuse is busy working with A&E, although not on original ideas.  One of his shows, Bates Motel, starts its third season on March 9. In addition he has a second show premiering with the network on the same day. He is doing an American adaptation of the French series, The Returned. This has the same basic premise as ABC’s Resurrection with people returning from the dead, but it is a totally different story. The American adaptation will also diverge from the French version after the sixth episode, and the second season will be entirely new as the French version only ran for a single season.

When Amazon included a show from Chris Carter, The After, in their pilots, there was mixed reaction. Some were excited, hoping for great things from the creator of The X-Files, while others remain wary of Carter after the way The X-Files deteriorated over the years. We will not find out whether he learned from his past mistakes on this series as Amazon has decided not to pick it up.

Mad Men Bar

AMC announced that the final episodes of Mad Men will start on April 5. Matthew Weiner has discussed the finale saying, “The last seven episodes, I would say each one of them feels like a finale in the show.”

Following an era filled with very polarizing finales, from Lost to How I Met Your Mother, Weiner says he is very cognizant of finding a balance between giving the audience what they want and best serving the overall story. “I’m extremely interested in what the audience thinks, so much so that I’m trying not to confound them, not frustrate and irritate them,” Weiner said. “I don’t want them to walk away angry. But I don’t want to pander to them. This sounds patronizing, but as the person telling the story, sometimes people have to be protected from what they want to see happen and the story has to have its own organic thing. You can’t just give them everything that they want. That said, part of entertainment can be catharsis. Bad things happening are considered a good thing in entertainment.”

Tonight Girls returns and there is the debut of a new comedy on HBO entitled Togetherness. The advance hype for the show has been making a big deal out of Amanda Peet appearing topless considering she is 42 years old. Personally I find seeing Amanda Peet topless, regardless of her age, to be far more desirable than to see more nudity from Lena Dunham.

Neil deGrasse Tyson will be returning to television in a weekly late night talk show entitled Star Talk.


Neil Gaiman has a new book coming out entitled Trigger Warning which includes a Doctor Who short story. It is not clear if this is the same story which was previously only available in an ebook collection for the 50th anniversary.

Speaking of books and ebooks, Time and Financial Times are reporting that ebooks are going “out of fashion” but, even if they are correct, I question how they came to this conclusion. First they cite declining sales for ebook readers like the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook. I see three flaws in using sales of these devices to be a meaningful measure of reading ebooks. First of all, while some might upgrade to the newest versions, many people might still be using an ebook reader which was purchased over a year ago and have no reason to buy a new ebook reader. Secondly, tablets have come down in price so much that many people might be using tablets as opposed to dedicated ebook readers. Thirdly, as screens on cell phones have increased in size and screen resolution has increased, cell phones have become much better for reading ebooks. Personally I find myself using my phone more than ebook readers since upgrading to an LG G3.

Their second argument is an increase in sales of physical books, but increased sales of physical books could just as likely mean more people are getting ebooks as mean less are. It could be a sign of an overall increase in reading and book sales, with different people buying more of one or the other along with some of us who buy both. Generally when I read a book I’ll obtain both a hard cover copy for my library and to read when at home along with an ebook copy to have it available for either when away from home or to read on my phone or tablet in night mode should I awaken in the middle of the night and decide to read for a little while.

American cartoonist Robert Crumb gives a

The New York Observer interviewed American cartoonist Robert Crumb, who moved to France in 1991, about the recent killings at Charlie Hebdo:

Charlie Hebdo, they print so many insulting cartoons about Muslim extremists, you know, geez, they just kept at it, you know…but that wasn’t the only people they insulted, they insulted everybody. The Pope, the President of the country, everybody! They were merciless, to everybody. It was a really funny magazine. They just didn’t hold back towards anybody. You know, they didn’t let anybody off the hook, which was good.

What was your reaction inside when you first heard about it?

I had the same reaction I had when 9/11 happened.  I thought, “Jesus Christ, things are really going to turn ugly now.” That kind of thing, just like 9/11, it gives the government the excuse to crack down, to become very much more, like, you know, “Homeland Security” oriented.  And the right wing gets like this kind of like fodder for its arguments. The right wing here is very down on the Arabs. And France has an Arab population that’s like, 5 Million, something like that – huge population of Muslims in this country, most of whom just want to mind their own business and don’t want to be bothered. Those kinds of extremists are a very small minority. We have friends here who are from that background, you know, Moroccan or Algerian. And they just don’t want any trouble, and their kids are mostly even more moderate than they are.

Is there anything in the US in our history that comes anywhere near this tradition – the Hedbo tradition? If so, what would it be?

Underground comics, back in the 70s.  But today, I don’t think there’s anything like that now in the US. The thing about Charlie Hebdo is that it started in 1969. The gang of guys that worked for that magazine, they just kept at that for decades. Those guys are fairly old, you know, older guys most of them. There wasn’t a whole lot of, you know, 20- somethings or 30-somethings in that group. The cartoonists are mostly older guys. There is lots of critique of the left also. They say the left is hypocritical, bullshitters and opportunists, and all that. But generally I would say there’s a leftish sympathy in Charlie Hebdo. But they just came out with that every week. Every week. And people would just look at it and laugh, “Oh, you know those guys, those crazy guys.  They’re outrageous.”

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Doctor Who Returns This Afternoon

Doctor Who first airs at 7:50 London time, so I’m about to make sure Hola unblocker is working fine, and then hooking it up via the HDMI port to my big screen television. For those who are more patient (or won’t be out to dinner as I will be at the time) BBC America is showing it at 8 p.m.

Using Hola to make it appear that my computer is in the U.K. will also come in handy to watch Doctor Who Extra which will be showing on the BBC iPlayer, replacing the old Doctor Who Confidential.

New trailer above, and a scene from today’s episode, Deep Breath, below:

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Edward Snowden Explains That His Goal Was To Expose Putin For Lying About Mass Surveillance, Not To Whitewash Him

Yesterday Edward Snowden called into a question and answer show held by Vladamir Putin and asked him about mass surveillance in Russia. The video is above. Putin’s response:

“Mr. Snowden, you are a former agent,” the president replied. “I used to work for an intelligence service. Let’s speak professionally.”

“Our intelligence efforts are strictly regulated by our law,” Mr. Putin said. “You have to get a court’s permission first.” He noted that terrorists use electronic communications and that Russia had to respond to that threat.

“Of course we do this,” Mr. Putin said. “But we don’t use this on such a massive scale and I hope that we won’t.”

“But what is most important,” Mr. Putin concluded, “is that the special services, thank God, are under a strict control of the government and the society, and their activities are regulated by law.”

Most likely as a reflection of views they already had about him, some people have since criticized Snowden for giving Putin the opportunity to lie in this manner, as if the only way Putin could lie on Russian television is by responding to a question from Edward Snowden. Think Progress has pointed out some of the ways in which Putin was lying:

Numerous reports lay doubt to Putin’s claims that the collection of information is much more narrowly tailored in Russia. In fall 2012, Russia put into place a system it claimed was to protect children from viewing pornography. The method it decided to enact that goal, however, was one not only puts into place a list of banned websites that could surpress political speech, but also has the ability to track the flow of information across Russian networks. “Logistically, this will require Russia’s [internet service providers] to maintain detailed records of user traffic and would allow the Russian government a potential backdoor into the private lives of Russia’s internet users,” ThinkProgress explained at the time of the network’s launch.

Last October, Reuters also reported that the Russian government was requiring internet service providers to “store all traffic temporarily and make it available to the top domestic intelligence agency.” Under the order drafted in the Communications Ministry, the FSB — the successor to the KGB — would have access for 12 hours to all stored data, “including phone numbers, IP addresses, account names, social network activity and e-mail addresses.” That order is due to take effect this July.

And just this year, Russian officials admit while defending hotels in Sochi built for the Winter Olympics that they were equipped with surveillance equipment that was closely watched. The entire proceedings in the Russian resort town were subject to a massive dragnet of surveillance as a system was put into place to monitor all communications that flowed in and out. This was done using the SORM system that Russia utilizes to listen in to phone conversations and read email threads, which according to Privacy International, “gathers information from all communication media, and offers long-term storage (three years), providing access to all user data.” SORM is deployed year-round and controlled by the FSB.

Former U.S. Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul said he has been on the receiving end of the Russian surveillance program. As a government official, he was a prime target, he told NBC just prior to stepping down earlier this year, but Americans writ large are also subject to having their information spied upon, given Moscow’s espionage abilities. “As we remind all Americans that come to this country,” McFaul said, “the Russian government has tremendous capabilities, and legal by their law, of intercepting phone calls, emails, etc.”

In a post at The Guardian entitled Vladimir Putin must be called to account on surveillance just like Obama, Snowden explained that “I questioned the Russian president live on TV to get his answer on the record, not to whitewash him.”

On Thursday, I questioned Russia’s involvement in mass surveillance on live television. I asked Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, a question that cannot credibly be answered in the negative by any leader who runs a modern, intrusive surveillance program: “Does [your country] intercept, analyse or store millions of individuals’ communications?”

I went on to challenge whether, even if such a mass surveillance program were effective and technically legal, it could ever be morally justified.

The question was intended to mirror the now infamous exchange in US Senate intelligence committee hearings between senator Ron Wyden and the director of national intelligence, James Clapper, about whether the NSA collected records on millions of Americans, and to invite either an important concession or a clear evasion. (See a side-by-side comparison of Wyden’s question and mine here.)

Clapper’s lie – to the Senate and to the public – was a major motivating force behind my decision to go public, and a historic example of the importance of official accountability.

In his response, Putin denied the first part of the question and dodged on the latter. There are serious inconsistencies in his denial – and we’ll get to them soon – but it was not the president’s suspiciously narrow answer that was criticised by many pundits. It was that I had chosen to ask a question at all.

I was surprised that people who witnessed me risk my life to expose the surveillance practices of my own country could not believe that I might also criticise the surveillance policies of Russia, a country to which I have sworn no allegiance, without ulterior motive. I regret that my question could be misinterpreted, and that it enabled many to ignore the substance of the question – and Putin’s evasive response – in order to speculate, wildly and incorrectly, about my motives for asking it.

The investigative journalist Andrei Soldatov, perhaps the single most prominent critic of Russia’s surveillance apparatus (and someone who has repeatedly criticised me in the past year), described my question as “extremely important for Russia”. According to the Daily Beast, Soldatov said it could lift a de facto ban on public conversations about state eavesdropping.

Others have pointed out that Putin’s response appears to be the strongest denial of involvement in mass surveillance ever given by a Russian leader – a denial that is, generously speaking, likely to be revisited by journalists.

In fact, Putin’s response was remarkably similar to Barack Obama’s initial, sweeping denials of the scope of the NSA’s domestic surveillance programs, before that position was later shown to be both untrue and indefensible.

So why all the criticism? I expected that some would object to my participation in an annual forum that is largely comprised of softball questions to a leader unaccustomed to being challenged. But to me, the rare opportunity to lift a taboo on discussion of state surveillance before an audience that primarily views state media outweighed that risk. Moreover, I hoped that Putin’s answer – whatever it was – would provide opportunities for serious journalists and civil society to push the discussion further.

When this event comes around next year, I hope we’ll see more questions on surveillance programs and other controversial policies. But we don’t have to wait until then. For example, journalists might ask for clarification as to how millions of individuals’ communications are not being intercepted, analysed or stored, when, at least on a technical level, the systems that are in place must do precisely that in order to function. They might ask whether the social media companies reporting that they have received bulk collection requests from the Russian government are telling the truth.

I blew the whistle on the NSA’s surveillance practices not because I believed that the United States was uniquely at fault, but because I believe that mass surveillance of innocents – the construction of enormous, state-run surveillance time machines that can turn back the clock on the most intimate details of our lives – is a threat to all people, everywhere, no matter who runs them.

Last year, I risked family, life, and freedom to help initiate a global debate that even Obama himself conceded “will make our nation stronger”. I am no more willing to trade my principles for privilege today than I was then.

I understand the concerns of critics, but there is a more obvious explanation for my question than a secret desire to defend the kind of policies I sacrificed a comfortable life to challenge: if we are to test the truth of officials’ claims, we must first give them an opportunity to make those claims.

This comes a few days after The Guardian and the Washington Post received a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for their reporting on the NSA surveillance based upon documents leaked by Edward Snowden.

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John Hagee Sees Russian Invasion Of Ukraine As Fulfillment Of Biblical Prophesy On The End Times

There is a tendency in any crisis to find analogies to similar events. It is inevitable that the Russian invasion of Ukraine will bring back memories of previous wars in Europe, especially the Cold War and Nazi Germany. While still not how we want borders drawn in the 21st century, and a clear violation of international law, even if Russia were to annex Crimea on the pretext of a popular vote, this would not be the same as the Soviet Union invading Hungary, Czechoslovakia, and Poland. There are certainly some comparisons which could be made, but Hillary Clinton was right to walk back her comparison to Nazi Germany.

Commentary on the Ukrainian crisis has varied. I have previously linked to some of the better commentary here and here. We have hysterical Republicans trying to place the blame on Obama, as they do with everything which happens in the world. Politico is more reasonable today in pointing out Why the Cold War isn’t back. Among the nuttiest commentary came from John Hagee (video above) who has for a long time found Biblical references to the Soviet Union and now Russia. He sees the Russian invasion of Ukraine as fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and that we are now in the End Times. Hagee has previously seen events including the 9/11 attack, the 2008 financial breakdown and Katrina as part of God’s judgment.  Hagee also believes that God created the United States and the Constitution, views recently repeated by Tom DeLay.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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A Response To Obama’s Critics On Ukraine

There’s nothing like a crisis to show how intellectually bankrupt the right wing has become. I won’t waste more time with the nutty right wing, such as those who think the Russian invasion of Ukraine means that Palin had some actual insights into foreign policy when she mentioned Ukraine or Russia during the 2008 campaign. The supposedly more sensible portion of the right wing over at The Washington Post does some classic right wing projection in claiming that President Obama’s foreign policy is based on fantasy. The gist is that Obama should do something, but they don’t actually say what he can or should do. This looks like more of the same lack of understanding of the real world seen with Fred Hyatt’s previous support for Bush’s invasion of Iraq.

Among the best commentary I’ve seen (to add to that I linked to yesterday from David Remnick) came from Michael Cohen at The Guardian. He began with pointing out several more instances of absurd commentary from the right and then wrote:

As in practically every international crisis, the pundit class seems able to view events solely through the prism of US actions, which best explains Edward Luce in the Financial Times writing that Obama needs to convince Putin “he will not be outfoxed”, or Scott Wilson at the Washington Post intimating that this is all a result of America pulling back from military adventurism. Shocking as it may seem, sometimes countries take actions based on how they view their interests, irrespective of who the US did or did not bomb.

Missing from this “analysis” about how Obama should respond is why Obama should respond. After all, the US has few strategic interests in the former Soviet Union and little ability to affect Russian decision-making.

Our interests lie in a stable Europe, and that’s why the US and its European allies created a containment structure that will ensure Russia’s territorial ambitions will remain quite limited. (It’s called Nato.) Even if the Russian military wasn’t a hollow shell of the once formidable Red Army, it’s not about to mess with a Nato country.

The US concerns vis-à-vis Russia are the concerns that affect actual US interests. Concerns like nuclear non-proliferation, or containing the Syrian civil war, or stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Those are all areas where Moscow has played an occasionally useful role.

So while Obama may utilize political capital to ratify the Start treaty with Russia, he’s not going to extend it so save the Crimea. The territorial integrity of Ukraine is not nothing, but it’s hardly in the top tier of US policy concerns.

What is America’s problem is ensuring that Russia pays a price for violating international law and the global norm against inter-state war. The formal suspension of a G8 summit in Sochi is a good first step. If Putin’s recalcitrance grows – and if he further escalates the crisis – then that pressure can be ratcheted up.

But this crisis is Putin’s Waterloo, not ours.

Which brings us to perhaps the most bizarre element of watching the Crimean situation unfold through a US-centric lens: the iron-clad certainty of the pundit class that Putin is winning and Obama is losing. The exact opposite is true.

Putin has initiated a conflict that will, quite obviously, result in greater diplomatic and political isolation as well as the potential for economic sanction. He’s compounded his loss of a key ally in Kiev by further enflaming Ukrainian nationalism, and his provocations could have a cascading effect in Europe by pushing countries that rely on Russia’s natural gas exports to look elsewhere for their energy needs. Putin is the leader of a country with a weak military, an under-performing economy and a host of social, environmental and health-related challenges. Seizing the Crimea will only make the problems facing Russia that much greater.

For Obama and the US, sure, there might be less Russian help on Syria going forward – not that there was much to begin with – and it could perhaps affect negotiations on Iran. But those issues are manageable. Meanwhile, Twitter and the opinion pages and the Sunday shows and too many blog posts that could be informative have been filled with an over-the-top notion: that failure to respond to Russia’s action will weaken America’s credibility with its key allies. To which I would ask: where are they gonna go? If anything, America’s key European allies are likely to fold the quickest, because, you know, gas. And why would any US ally in the Far East want Obama wasting his time on the Crimea anyway?

You don’t have to listen to the “do something” crowd. These are the same people who brought you the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other greatest hits. These are armchair “experts” convinced that every international problem is a vital interest of the US; that the maintenance of “credibility” and “strength” is essential, and that any demonstration of “weakness” is a slippery slope to global anarchy and American obsolescence; and that being wrong and/or needlessly alarmist never loses one a seat at the table.

The funny thing is, these are often the same people who bemoan the lack of public support for a more muscular American foreign policy. Gee, I wonder why.

Cross posted at The Moderate Voice

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Putin Goes To War

As is often the case, David Remnick provides excellent coverage of the events of the last few days in Ukraine. He shows not only what is going on in the Ukraine, but what good journalism should be. On Putin:

Vladimir Putin, the Russian President and autocrat, had a plan for the winter of 2014: to reassert his country’s power a generation after the collapse of the Soviet Union. He thought that he would achieve this by building an Olympic wonderland on the Black Sea for fifty-one billion dollars and putting on a dazzling television show. It turns out that he will finish the season in a more ruthless fashion, by invading a peninsula on the Black Sea and putting on quite a different show—a demonstration war that could splinter a sovereign country and turn very bloody, very quickly.

There’s more background information than is found in the typical article which concentrates more on up to the minute news than analysis, and then a return to Putin’s motives:

In a recent Letter from Sochi, I tried to describe Putin’s motivations: his resentment of Western triumphalism and American power, after 1991; his paranoia that Washington is somehow behind every event in the world that he finds threatening, including the recent events in Kiev; his confidence that the U.S. and Europe are nonetheless weak, unlikely to respond to his swagger because they need his help in Syria and Iran; his increasingly vivid nationalist-conservative ideology, which relies, not least, on the elevation of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been so brutally suppressed during most of the Soviet period, as a quasi-state religion supplying the government with its moral force.

And this is how the war is likely to go:

I spoke with Georgy Kasianov, the head of the Academy of Science’s department of contemporary Ukrainian history and politics, in Kiev. “It’s a war,” he said. “The Russian troops are quite openly out on the streets [in Crimea], capturing public buildings and military outposts. And it’s likely all a part of a larger plan for other places: Odessa, Nikolayev, Kherson. And they’ll use the same technique. Some Russian-speaking citizens will appear, put up a Russian flag, and make appeals that they want help and referendums, and so on.” This is already happening in Donetsk and Kharkov.

“They are doing this like it is a commonplace,” Kasianov went on. “I can’t speak for four million people, but clearly everyone in Kiev is against this. But the Ukrainian leadership is absolutely helpless. The Army is not ready for this. And, after the violence in Kiev, the special forces are disoriented.”

In conclusion (but read Remnick’s full article first):

Putin’s reaction exceeded our worst expectations. These next days and weeks in Ukraine are bound to be frightening, and worse. There is not only the threat of widening Russian military force. The new Ukrainian leadership is worse than weak. It is unstable. It faces the burden of legitimacy. Yanukovych was spectacularly corrupt, and he opened fire on his own people. He was also elected to his office and brought low by an uprising, not the ballot; he made that point on Friday, in a press conference in Rostov on Don, in Russia, saying that he had never really been deposed. Ukraine has already experienced revolutionary disappointment. The Orange Revolution, in 2004, failed to establish stable democratic institutions and economic justice. This is one reason that Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Prime Minister, newly released from prison, is not likely the future of Ukraine. How can Ukraine possibly move quickly to national elections, as it must to resolve the issue of legitimacy, while another country has troops on its territory?

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal Russian politician who no longer holds office, said that the events were not only dangerous for Ukraine but ominous for Russia and the man behind them. “It’s quite likely that this will be fatal for the regime and catastrophic for Russia,” he told “It just looks as if they have taken leave of their senses.”

There are, of course, other views worth reading.  Peter Baker explains why it will not be easy to make Russia pay, despite the rants from Republican politicians such as Marco Rubio who seek to find political advantage in the current international crisis.

Mr. Putin has already demonstrated that the cost to Moscow’s international reputation would not stop him. Having just hosted the Winter Olympics in Sochi, he must have realized he was all but throwing away seven years and $50 billion of effort to polish Russia’s image. He evidently calculated that any diplomatic damage did not outweigh what he sees as a threat to Russia’s historic interest in Ukraine, which was ruled by Moscow until the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Mr. Putin may stop short of outright annexation of Crimea, the largely Russian-speaking peninsula where Moscow still has a major military base, but instead justify a long-term troop presence by saying the troops are there to defend the local population from the new pro-Western government in Kiev. Following a tested Russian playbook, he could create a de facto enclave loyal to Moscow much like the republics of South Ossetia and Abkhazia that broke away from Georgia. On the other hand, the White House worries that the crisis could escalate and that all of Russian-speaking eastern Ukraine may try to split off.

Finding powerful levers to influence Mr. Putin’s decision-making will be a challenge for Mr. Obama and the European allies. Mr. Obama has seen repeatedly that warnings often do not discourage autocratic rulers from taking violent action, as when Syria crossed the president’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in its civil war.

Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies.

The longer-term options might be more painful, but they require trade-offs as well. The administration could impose the same sort of banking sanctions that have choked Iran’s economy. And yet Europe, with its more substantial economic ties, could be reluctant to go along, and Mr. Obama may be leery of pulling the trigger on such a potent financial weapon, especially when he needs Russian cooperation on Syria and Iran.

“What can we do?” asked Fiona Hill, a Brookings Institution scholar who was the government’s top intelligence officer on Russia during the Georgia war when Mr. Putin deflected Western agitation. “We’ll talk about sanctions. We’ll talk about red lines. We’ll basically drive ourselves into a frenzy. And he’ll stand back and just watch it. He just knows that none of the rest of us want a war.”

Baker also compared Obama’s options to those which George Bush had when Russia went to war with Georgia in 2008. Bush eventually learned that he was wrong about his initial sense of Putin’s soul from looking into his eyes. If anyone still has any doubts, it is clear that Putin’s soul is that of an autocrat and KGB killer.

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Sarah Palin Saw A Russian Invasion Of Ukraine From Her House

I really wouldn’t mind if Sarah Palin just made her amusing quip about the Ukraine crisis saying “Yes, I could see this one from Alaska” on her Facebook page. It is understandable that she would react this way, both in response to criticism for giving a foreign crisis example of Russia invading Ukraine in 2008 and for the impression of her by Tina Fey. Palin and other conservatives just should be happy with a quick quip such as this an not overplay their hand and pretend that Sarah Palin really had the slightest idea as to what she was talking about.

Steve M. reviewed this in far more detail than is probably needed considering that nobody really needs an explanation as to why Palin is not really an expert on Russian policy, or anything else. Steve pointed out that Palin, or actually her speech writer as this was in a prepared speech, raised the possibility of Russia invading Ukraine during the first six months of his presidency to test Obama. That would be the first six months of his first term. In the same speech Palin criticized Obama for his statement during the campaign that he might go into Pakistan to go after known terrorist targets without their permission. In other words, she attacked Obama for doing what he did to kill Osama bin Laden.

With the full context, Sarah Palin doesn’t look all that bright on foreign policy but thanks for helping us recall Tina Fey’s spot-on impressions. The video and transcript of her routine in which she had Palin say “And I can see Russia from my house” can be found here.

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John Kerry Warns Of A Trend Towards Authoritarianism In Eastern Europe–Don’t Forget Our Problems At Home

John Kerry has warned about a disturbing trend of authoritarianism in Eastern Europe. He is probably right, but what about that trend here? The Republican Party has made voter suppression a major part of their electoral strategy, along with continuing the Southern Strategy based upon racism and now xenophobia. The party of small government increasingly advocates using the power of government to infringe upon the private lives of individuals. They claim to support capitalism while they work to redistribute the nation’s wealth and replace our system with a plutocracy.

An informed electorate is essential to the workings of a democracy but the Republicans use their propaganda machine, such as Fox, to intentionally spread misinformation. They have been preventing the normal workings of a legislative branch, meeting on election night to organize to oppose any measures initiated by Obama, regardless of the merits, how needed they are, or even if they are former Republican positions. They talk of supporting the Constitution, but it is a version of the Constitution which exists only in their heads, and is not what was intended by the Founding Fathers. They totally deny the essential liberties in the First Amendment intended to form a secular state as they promote the agenda of the religious right. Even their so-called libertarians don’t have a very good record with regards to supporting liberty.

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