Saturday, September 20, 2014

Apple Says They Aren't Going To Help The CIA And NSA Illegally Spy On Their Customers Any More

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Do you believe them? Or any of the big tech companies? They all lied and lied about protecting our privacy while allowing the spy agencies easy access to all our personal information and communications, as though we are all legitimate suspects in some kind of Orwellian dystopia.

Apple CEO Tim Cook, is savvy enough to know how that cooperation with the worst aspects of the National Security State has damage Apple's precious, hard-earned brand, which has already been tattered around the edges. Yesterday Cook released this statement at Apple.com:
At Apple, your trust means everything to us. That’s why we respect your privacy and protect it with strong encryption, plus strict policies that govern how all data is handled.

Security and privacy are fundamental to the design of all our hardware, software, and services, including iCloud and new services like Apple Pay. And we continue to make improvements. Two-step verification, which we encourage all our customers to use, in addition to protecting your Apple ID account information, now also protects all of the data you store and keep up to date with iCloud.

We believe in telling you up front exactly what’s going to happen to your personal information and asking for your permission before you share it with us. And if you change your mind later, we make it easy to stop sharing with us. Every Apple product is designed around those principles. When we do ask to use your data, it’s to provide you with a better user experience.

We’re publishing this website to explain how we handle your personal information, what we do and don’t collect, and why. We’re going to make sure you get updates here about privacy at Apple at least once a year and whenever there are significant changes to our policies.

A few years ago, users of Internet services began to realize that when an online service is free, you’re not the customer. You’re the product. But at Apple, we believe a great customer experience shouldn’t come at the expense of your privacy.

Our business model is very straightforward: We sell great products. We don’t build a profile based on your email content or web browsing habits to sell to advertisers. We don’t “monetize” the information you store on your iPhone or in iCloud. And we don’t read your email or your messages to get information to market to you. Our software and services are designed to make our devices better. Plain and simple.

One very small part of our business does serve advertisers, and that’s iAd. We built an advertising network because some app developers depend on that business model, and we want to support them as well as a free iTunes Radio service. iAd sticks to the same privacy policy that applies to every other Apple product. It doesn’t get data from Health and HomeKit, Maps, Siri, iMessage, your call history, or any iCloud service like Contacts or Mail, and you can always just opt out altogether.

Finally, I want to be absolutely clear that we have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.

Our commitment to protecting your privacy comes from a deep respect for our customers. We know that your trust doesn’t come easy. That’s why we have and always will work as hard as we can to earn and keep it.

Tim


Earlier today we looked at the widespread belief that Obama Administration has the very worst record in history for transparency, even worse than Cheney and Bush, which is saying a lot. Apple claims that they are "working for greater transparency and protects on behalf of our customers" and that their "commitment to customer privacy doesn't stop because of a government information request. Government information requests," they write, "are a consequence of doing business in the digital age. We believe in being as transparent as the law allows about what information is requested from us. In addition, Apple has never worked with any government agency from any country to create a 'back door' in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed any government access to our servers. And we never will."

Last week we took a look at what Ed Snowden had to say about these kinds of claims that, are, obviously very self serving. From Michael Gurnow's book, The Edward Snowden Affair:
Snowden divulges that his greatest fear is not death but his efforts might ultimately be in vain, "[ ... ] that nothing will change. People will see the media, all of these disclosures [and] they’ll know the lengths that the government is going to grant themselves powers unilaterally to create greater control over American society and global society, but they [the American people] won’t be willing to take the risks necessary to stand up and fight to change things, to force their representatives to actually take a stand in their interests." He closes the interview with a prediction of where the current state of affairs might ultimately lead: "And the months ahead, the years ahead, it’s only going to get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change because the only thing that restricts the activities of the surveillance state are policy. Even our agreements with other sovereign governments, we consider that to be a stipulation of policy rather than a stipulation of law and because of that, a new leader will be elected ... they’ll find the switch ... say that 'Because of the crisis-- because of the dangers we face in the world-- some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power' and there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it and it will be turnkey tyranny."

Early in the dialogue, Greenwald bluntly puts to Snowden, "Does it [the intelligence community] target the actions of Americans?" Greenwald wants to have the world hear, directly from the lips of a high-ranking ex-CIA employee and NSA contractor, what is taking place behind the surveillance curtain.

"The NSA, and intelligence community in general, is focused on getting intelligence wherever it can, by any means possible. It believes-- on the grounds of sort of a self-certification-- that they serve the national interest. Originally we saw that focus very narrowly tailored as foreign intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it’s happening domestically and to do that they, the NSA specifically, targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system and it filters them and it analyses them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time simply because that’s the easiest, most efficient, and most valuable way to achieve these ends." He continues, "Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything, but I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the president if I had a personal e-mail." He adds that the American populace should take notice "[b]ecause even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded, and the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong. You simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer."
Apple admits that the "most common requests we receive for information come from law enforcement in the form of either a Device Request or an Account Request. Our legal team carefully reviews each request, ensuring it is accompanied by valid legal process. All content requests require a search warrant. If we are legally compelled to divulge any information and it is not counterproductive to the facts of the case, we provide notice to the customer when allowed and deliver the narrowest set of information possible in response. National security-related requests are not considered Device Requests or Account Requests and are reported in a separate category altogether.

"On devices running iOS 8, your personal data such as photos, messages (including attachments), email, contacts, call history, iTunes content, notes, and reminders is placed under the protection of your passcode. Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data. So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."

Sounds like an ad. But the trade press seems persuaded and, of course, Yahoo couldn't be more eager to sing Apple's praises. How about you? Do you believe them?



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On Transparency Is Obama Even Worse Than The Cheney-Bush Regime?

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In January 2009, the newly elected President Obama said that "transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency." Watch the video above. He also said that "The way to make government responsible is to hold it accountable. And the way to make government accountable is to make it transparent so that the American people know exactly what decisions are being made, how they're being made and whether their interests are being well-served… For a long time now, there's been too much secrecy in this city. The old rules said that if there was a defensible argument for not disclosing something to the American people, then it should not be disclosed. That era is now over. Starting today, every agency and department should know that this administration stands on the side not of those who seek to withhold information but those who seek to make it known."

A consensus at the the American Society of News Editors and Associated Press Media Editors joint convention this week was that things haven't gotten better, nor have they stayed as bad as they were under Cheney and Bush. They've gotten worse. Worse than Cheney and Bush. Can you imagine? This is how President Obama, when he was first elected, said he wanted it to be:
Our commitment to openness means more than simply informing the American people about how decisions are made. It means recognizing that government does not have all the answers, and that public officials need to draw on what citizens know. And that's why, as of today, I'm directing members of my administration to find new ways of tapping the knowledge and experience of ordinary Americans-- scientists and civic leaders, educators and entrepreneurs-- because the way to solve the problem of our time is-- the way to solve the problems of our time, as one nation, is by involving the American people in shaping the policies that affect their lives.
It didn't turn out that way. The editors seem to agree that not only has the Obama Administration not lived up to its promises about transparency but that things are getting worse and worse. "It's widely agreed by journalists who cover the Obama administration that it has the worst record of all time when it comes to freedom of information. 'There is a serious problem with access across the federal government,' [AP Washington Bureau Chief Sally] Buzbee says, adding that the situation has 'worsened significantly in the last few years.' Says AP Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, '(President George W.) Bush was bad. Obama's worse.'"

Team Obama seems to have written a road map that others are eagerly following. The information spigot is increasingly being turned off by state and local governments, universities and sports teams, according to journalists who spoke Wednesday as well as ASNE legal counsel Kevin Goldberg, who says the problem goes all the way down to high schools. "There is a concerted effort," he says.
Buzbee has a long list of infractions, including: few opportunities to take photographs or video of Obama appearances (the administration likes to distribute its own); no photos or video of bombers taking off for sorties against the Islamic State and no embedded journalists on hand; a massive blackout on information about Guantanamo; unprecedented ferocity in prosecuting national security leaks designed to intimidate journalists and chill sources.

And the get-tough approach is having an impact. "It's harder to get sources to believe that we can protect them," says AP senior managing editor Mike Oreskes.

But the information crisis has spread far beyond the Beltway, says AP Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano, infecting state and local governments and institutions of higher learning. "It's the most difficult climate we've seen," he says.

Carovillano points to New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who also ran as a big transparency guy, then tried unsuccessfully to have his swearing-in closed to the press. But, says Carovillano, Hizzoner has since barred the media from 53 events, and on some days his entire schedule is off-limits.

And there is no limit to the absurdity. Outgoing ASNE President David Boardman, the former Seattle Times editor who is now dean of the Temple University School of Media and Communication, recalls a time when the University of Washington wanted to limit the number of tweets at sporting events.

So what's the answer? The news media have to battle back on every front. They should refuse to run government photos and video. Reporters should constantly push back as hard as they can. News outlets should be ready to challenge unreasonable restraint in court. And the industry must band together in a full-fledged campaign against government secrecy.

And they must do their best to educate the people about why this is their problem. Because the American public-- and American democracy-- are the losers when the electorate can't get the information it needs to make informed decisions.

Oh, and one more thing, says New York Times reporter James Risen, the convention's keynote speaker, who faces jail time for refusing to ID a confidential source: The best idea is to do even more hard-edged investigative reporting, to find out more things the government doesn't want you to know. That, he said, would amount to a "brushback pitch."

"If there's not pushback," he says, the authorities are going to "keep doing what they are doing."

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Friday, September 19, 2014

So that wretched doofus David Cameron won't go down in history as the British PM who "lost Scotland"

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Does this make Scots, or anybody else, feel better? You could laugh or you could cry -- don't ask me.

by Ken

As the polls were coming in last night predicting a "no" vote on Scottish separation from the United Kingdom (which as we know now was indeed defeated by 55 to 45 percent, with more than 85 percent of eligible voters voting), Ian Welsh wrote:
I think this vote is a mistake, and I note that having been given a clean vote to leave and a chance to live their own values, but having given in to fear; for me, at least, Scottish complaints about privatization of the NHS and other cuts to the social state will now ring rather hollow.

However, as with Greece voting to have its economy destroyed by refusing to take a chance on Syriza, people are voting their fear and for the status quo.  Older folks seem to want to just hang on, and are unwilling to take chances for a better future and they can’t really believe that their own elites are intent on impoverishing them, and, effectively, in many cases, killing them. (Because that’s what deliberate austerity policies do.)

The Great Complacency will come to an end; but people aren’t going to like how that happens.  Oh well.
I think Ian is utterly correct. But I noticed that when I heard the news this morning on the radio, I felt a certain measure of relief -- a "yes" vote would have involved such a leap into the unknown.

And I think this isn't just fear-driven clinging to the status quo on my part. Or maybe what I mean is that it's justifiable fear-driven clinging to the status quo. Yes, all sorts of changes would have opened up as possibilities for the Scots if they had taken the leap, but does anything in 21st-century history-to-date suggest that any of the good changes would have happened? If we've learned anything, isn't it that all over the world there are rich and powerful (or violent and soon-to-be-powerful) forces lying in wait to seize any opportunity? If I were a Scottish voter, would I have been eager to take that risk?

Or to put it another way: If it isn't the Koch brothers, isn't it just going to be somebody else? There will be some entertainment value in seeing how eagerly PM Cameron fulfills his campaign promises to Scotland -- with all the same concessions presumably going to Wales and Northern Ireland (and, um, England, I guess?) as well. My guess is that by the time the dust settles, the usual elites will have figured how to cash in, with maybe some token kickbacks to rising regional predators.
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Looks like Republicans get the last laugh over Senate (non)confirmation of presidential appointments

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Former Clinton administration deputy chief of staff Maria Echaveste was named yesterday by President Obama to be our new ambassador to Mexico. The good news for her is that -- as a nonjudicial appointee, not subject to post-"nuclear option" majority vote -- she shouldn't feel any rush about packing.

by Ken

Goodness knows, most Democratic pols aren't good for much, but set them alongside their Republican counterparts and, well, we're looking into an absolute void. At this point it's hard to think of any exception to the general principle that all Republicans are vile, worhless filth, of no possible human use except as landfill. The fact that any American who isn't part of he Thieving Predator Class (or their fluffer wannabes) would consider for even a second votiing for any Republican for any elective office testifies to the final moronification of the country.

Today's case in point: an update on the Senate confirmation process in the post-sort-of-nuclear-option era. The Washington Post's "In the Loop" team reports today, in an item called "Dribs and drabs":
Back when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) unleashed the nuclear option in November 2013, keen observers, such as our colleague Paul Kane, predicted that Democrats might rue the day — they might get their long-blocked judicial nominees confirmed, but precious few others.

Turns out that was right. The Dems have gotten their judges, but furious Republicans retaliated by blocking or delaying action on other nominees, reducing a steady confirmation flow down to a trickle.

This week, the Senate did manage to approve 26 nominees for various posts, including key ambassadorships, with 11 confirmed just before the Senate recessed for the elections.

More than a hundred other nominees will have to hope they’re part of a tiny group that can get through during the lame-duck session in November — or maybe next year, though then they’ll have less than two years in their jobs. (On the other hand, President Obama’s judges will be wearing those robes for decades.)
The "Loop"-ers go on to enumerate the trickle of confirmees, starting with three ambassadors (Mark Lippert for South Korea, Kevin O'Malley for Ireland, and Adam Scheinman as "special rep to the president for nuclear nonproliferation"), followed by a sprinkling of deputies and assistants in cabinet departments and other federal agencies.

Possibly for laughs, a couple of new ambassadorial appointments are chronicled: for Mexico, Maria Echaveste ("a deputy chief of staff in the Clinton White House and before that a senior Labor Department official"); and for India, Richard Rahul Verma ("a former foreign policy adviser to Reid and assistant secretary of state for legislative affairs").

To play a quick round of my favorite game, If The Shoe Was On the Other Foot, if the situation was reversed and Republican nominees had so much as a gentle glove laid on them, the Great Right-Wing Noise Machine would be up in arms. The Fox Noisemakers would be screaming at full volume, and George Will would be strutting his stuff as the Most Dishonest Life Form in the History of Planet Earth by screeching about the Death of Democracy as Caused by the Tyranny of a Crazed, Wildly Overreaching Liberal [sneer!] Congress. We would be hearing about it 24/7, no doubt with limitless heart-rending video vignettes -- most of which would turn out to be faked -- of Ordinary Americans victimized by those demonicallly power-drunk Senate Dems. Polls would soon show that Americans overwhelmingly blamed the evil Dems for destroying America.

My own fantasy in the matter of Senate confirmation of executive appointments is a secret pact to the effect that no nominee who has support from the Senate Republican caucus will ever again be confirmed for any post. Ever.

Of course Dems don't have the moxie to try anything like that, and probably for good reason -- the Great Right-Wing Noise Machine would crucify them. But as anyone who has, for example, been following Howie's coverage of the reelection bid of that next-to-useless pile of protoplasm Maine Sen. Susan Collins knows, even if the candidate had any virtues -- and I'm prepared to concede that our Susie has some very, very modest ones -- they become irrelevant when it comes to election to Congress, where all Republican members of both the Senate and the House now accept the blood oath of loyalty required of them. Vote for Susie and you might as well be electing one of those infernal piles of Senate sludge from Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Idaho, et al.

The one small note of consolation, as sounded in the "Loop" item, is that over time, and with the change in the Senate rules, a whole lot of federal judges have been seated who will be very different from the sociopathic crud packed onto the bench during Republican administrations, and in particular that of the late unlamented Bush regime. Of course Republican presidents have learned the trick of naming judges more or less as they graduate grade school, to ensure that they can perpetrate more than a lifetime's worth of judicial mayhem. Whereas the Obama appointees, by the time they're actually seated on the bench, are closing in on nearing retirement age.
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Welcome To America-- A Guest Post By Melissa San Miguel

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Melissa San Miguel currently serves as one of California Young Democrats Latino Caucus, Northern California Regional Directors and Vice-Chair of the California Democratic Party Region 1 Chicano Latino Caucus. This opinion piece was written after conducting interviews as part of her work with the National Center for Youth Law. Melissa can be reached at melissa.san.miguel@gmail.com


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name Mother of Exiles.

-Emma Lazarus



In my office hangs a drawing made by one of the most beautiful little girls I have ever seen. She had big, piercing brown eyes; curly, dark brown hair; and a quiet, knowing air. She had been dexterous enough to draw a neat, little house with a chimney coming out of the roof. Her graceful drawing struck me. She was two years old and living in a prison-like family detention center with her mother, whom I was interviewing.

I think of her, each time I look at that drawing, and of the other kids I spoke with when I traveled to the Texas border. As part of my work at the National Center for Youth Law, I interviewed the children seeking refuge whom you hear about in the news. And I am forever changed by what I saw and heard in the detention centers there.

The McAllen Border Patrol Station is one of the many stations used to hold children and families after they are arrested at the border. The station smelled like feces and looked like a dungeon. Here, I spoke to a 10-year-old boy who was sitting alone in a cement cell. As we walked out of the cell to the interview room, his mother suddenly appeared from a separate cell carrying a baby in her arms. The boy ran to hug his mother and she asked me, as any mom would, where I was taking her son.

As I began to explain to her that I was there to investigate the detention conditions, another cell door opened and a teenage boy ran to the mother and younger boy. I soon learned this whole family had been separated in different cells. It was the first time in several days that they had been able to physically hold each other. The mother told me she had fled her country with her sons because she was afraid for their lives. Her teenage son had refused to cooperate with the Maras gang and was beaten as punishment. He lifted up his shirt to show me the marks the gang left along the right side of his abdomen. His mom was afraid they would kill her eldest son and harm her 10-year-old son, too. The boys wept, and she continued speaking with tears in her eyes. She shared that she herself had been a survivor of sexual violence and the perpetrator had just moved back to her town. She was afraid for her life, but most of all, for her sons’ lives. All she wanted was for them to be safe here in the United States.

Many children in the Rio Grande Valley are then taken to the McAllen Processing Center. We entered this building through a side door. As I made my way through the facility, on my right was a table full of telephones. They were all lined up, with no one around, as if there were no plan to use them. When I turned to my left, I saw faces. Not just one face, but two, three, four and then many more. All these little faces stared at me from behind a tall, chain-link fence, but we were indoors. And those faces were of scared kids. Kids in cages.

As I surveyed the giant warehouse we had just entered, the place reminded me of a giant dog kennel. Girls were placed in one cage and boys in another. I spotted a few boys in a separate cage and wondered why they weren’t with the others. A teenage boy I spoke with explained why.

The Border Patrol agents told him that the kids from Reynosa (Mexico) were too rough and could not play well with other kids, so they would not be allowed to play at all. Even though he had never harmed another child there, the guards told him he was bad and refused to let him play. Border Patrol didn't treat any of the boys from other countries better. It was more about who was treated worse. Indeed, he shared with me that when the children complained of the cold, the guards would laugh at them and say they would send the kids to Alaska where it was even colder. Like McAllen Station, the warehouse was so cold that many of the children referred to it as a “hielera,” or icebox.

At the Processing Center, I also spoke with a teenaged girl from El Salvador who had a lovely smile. She had just arrived and felt so cold. She had only a pair of flip-flops over socks to keep her feet warm. Border Patrol agents had thrown away her shoes because they were “too dirty,” and had given her black flip-flops instead. She didn’t have a jacket to stay warm, and as we spoke, she shared with me that she was in much pain. She was on her period and felt embarrassed to ask a Border Patrol agent for a pain reliever. There was only one female Border Patrol agent who worked at the facility, and she wasn’t there at that time. Every other agent guarding the boys and girls was a man.

The next day, at the prison-like family detention center in Karnes City, Texas, I spoke with the mothers of young children. Many of the mothers had been victims of physical and sexual violence, often at the hands of men. Most were afraid for their lives and their childrens’ lives and were making the perilous journey to the United States so they could simply exist in this world.

Another family detained at Karnes described to me their experience upon entering the U.S. The mom, teenage boy, and young daughter had also been detained at the McAllen Border Patrol station and had been separated from each other in different cells there. They told me that Border Patrol agents would use a metal tube to bang on the cell doors and walls regularly to prevent them from sleeping. When children asked Border Patrol agents the time, they would tell them, “you don’t need to know.” The first night there, the cell was so packed that mother and daughter did not sleep at all. They had to stand up the entire night.

These children and their mothers had fled their home countries, survived the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border and once they had made it safely here, our government was treating them like animals. Many would not likely have an immigration attorney to help them through the process and would be deported-- to die.

I felt ashamed, ashamed of my own country. I am a U.S.-born daughter of Peruvian immigrants. Growing up, my Dad often spoke about the greatness of America. I wondered how our country could treat human beings-- let alone children-- this way. How could our government’s response be to try to break their spirits and keep them ignorant of their legal rights so that they would give up and sign a deportation order? It hurts to know my government is doing this to refugees and that our tax money funds it all.

Our country must do better by these women and children. What is happening to them along the border is not right, and our very own humanity is at stake. Many of the refugees have been made to feel less than by our government for being female, for having dark skin, for being young, for being from a Latin American country. They have confronted similar insults to their person back home, too. These are strong human beings who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. After listening to their stories, I have never felt prouder of being a Latina daughter of immigrants with brown skin and dark features, and fluent in Spanish. Our country must live up to its ideals of justice, fairness, and freedom. I grew up believing in them. The struggle for immigrants' rights breathes new life into those American values. They are worth fighting for, and so are the children knocking at our door.
From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

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The GOP Way Of Dealing With Immigration-- Sell Visas To Rich Foreigners And Rake Off A Cut

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Primarily because of Harry Reid's childish pique at Tom Daschle, he isn't allowing the DSCC to engage in keeping the open South Dakota Senate seat blue. Reid is a madman who would have preferred Blue Dog corporate shill and sleazy lobbyist Stephanie Herseth Sandlin-- who was rejected by South Dakota voters in 2010-- instead of prairie populist, and Daschle ally, Rick Weiland. Reid should get over himself and get a grasp that control of the Senate is more likely to stay with the Democrats if they keep Tom Johnson's South Dakota seat than if they spend millions of dollars on showy-but-failed campaigns for conservatives Democrats in deep red Georgia and Kentucky. Weiland is on the verge of winning, even without DSCC help. If Reid wasn't playing the roll of spoiler, Weiland would be crushing the GOP's unattractive and corrupt candidate by now. But Rounds has already spent $2,962,183 and still has $754,800 cash-on-hand up against just $447,919 that Weiland has on hand, almost all of it from grassroots donors. Which reminds me, here's the Blue America Senate page if you can help out.

Last week we did a rundown of the Mike Rounds visa-selling scandal that is roiling the Senate race now. The independent ad above, from a non-partisan, good government SuperPAC called Every Voice Action (formerly Public Campaign Action Fund), started running on South Dakota TV stations on Wednesday. The group says their buy is $200,000... which goes a long way in South Dakota media.
It's the Mike Rounds citizenship-for-sale scheme. It all started with an exclusive no-bid contract. Gov. Mike Rounds gave his friend a no-bid contract to sell EB-5 green cards to the highest bidder. Now there's a half-million dollars unaccounted for. It's under federal investigation, and taxpayers are left with millions in EB-5 liability. Mike Rounds: rich foreigners get green cards; cronies make a profit, and South Dakota gets stuck with the bill.
South Dakota is the key to the Democrats keeping control of the Senate and it's the key to keep Senate Democrats on a progressive path, not on a path that has to walk gingerly around every issue crucial to working families because conservative Democrats in red states might lose in the next election.

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Bernie Sanders Explains Why Arming Syrian Terrorists Is A Bad Idea-- Mark Walker (R-NC) Campaigns On War Against Mexico

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The GOP has a lot of freaks and nuts running for Congress this cycle. As we've explained before, few are as off-the-chart out of their minds, as North Carolina extremist Mark Walker. Watch the video up top, in which he talks about "blitzing somebody [Mexico] with a couple of fighter jets to make our point" and how he doesn't have a problem with going to war against Mexico. Or is that his stand up comedian role? But, really, how much crazier and off-the-rails are the fanatics like Walker than the Republicans already in Congress. Wednesday the bulk of the House Republicans-- 159 of them, acting on orders from Boehner-- voted for Buck McKeon's moronic amendment "to train and equip appropriately vetted elements of the Syrian opposition and other appropriately vetted Syrian groups or individuals." In other words to arm the nonexistent moderate Syrian terrorists, a figment of John McCain's overactive imagination.

Yesterday the Senate voted on the whole budget CR that the House passed and sent over including funds to arm the Syrian terrorists. It passed 78-22 with most progressive senators-- Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Pat Leahy (D-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA) and Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) voting NO. This is the press release Bernie Sanders released right before the vote explaining why he would vote no, and beneath that is his floor speech. If you'd like to help his run for the presidency… we have a page for that.


The Senate prepared to vote Thursday on whether to allow the American military to arm and train Syrian rebels. Sen. Bernie Sanders voted against the United States training and arming Syrian rebels. Sanders said the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria "is a brutal and dangerous extremist organization which must be defeated, but this war cannot be won by the United States alone. There needs to be a real international coalition led by the countries most threatened-- Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Turkey and Iran. The worst thing that we can do now is allow ISIS to portray this struggle as East vs. West, as Muslim vs. Christian, as the Middle East vs. America. That is exactly what they want and that is exactly what we should not be giving them."

The senator faulted wealthy Middle East nations for doing too little to protect their own interests, especially when Saudi Arabia has the fourth largest military budget in the world. He also questioned why American taxpayers are footing the bill when royal families that rule those Mideast nations are worth hundreds of billions of dollars.

"This is not just a question of whether young men and women in Vermont and across America should be putting their lives on the line in another Mideast war. It is not just about whether the taxpayers of our country should once again pay for a war in the Middle East. It is about the reality that, long term, this struggle will never be won by the United States alone. It must be won with the active participation of the Muslim countries in the region," Sanders said.

Sanders said he supports President Barack Obama’s judicious use of airstrikes which already have shown some success, but in opposing the resolution Sanders said, "I fear very much that supporting questionable groups in Syria who will be outnumbered and outgunned by both ISIS and the Assad regime could open the door to the United States once again being dragged back into the quagmire of long-term military engagement."


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Thursday, September 18, 2014

A New Jersey Democrat Explains Why He's Stopped Contributing To DCCC Candidates

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Fressers from the Republican wing of the Democratic Party

Jack Hannold is one of the DWT regular sources on political news in New Jersey. Rachel Maddow has Steve Kornacki. Ken and I have Jack. Today the South Jersey Times published an OpEd by Jack that may be difficult and confusing for Democrats who don't pay close attention to electoral politics.
In the waning days of August, my email account was flooded with 30 messages from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, all of them urging me to donate to their campaign fund before some Aug. 31 deadline.

I didn't contribute, and here's why.

The DCCC is controlled by self-styled "centrist" Democrats-- actually conservative, Wall Street Democrats-- who routinely use the funds they raise to support only candidates who share their views, which are often not those of grassroots Democrats.  Some of their favored candidates are former Republicans who were persuaded to switch parties and run as Democrats.

In a race where a grassroots progressive wins a primary against a more conservative DCCC-backed candidate, the DCCC usually withholds its support in the general election. But the progressive usually gets trounced by a well-financed, DCCC-directed campaign. The case of Christine Cegelis is a good example.

Cegelis had built a strong local organization in the Illinois Sixth District, and in 2004 she gave Henry Hyde his closest race since he won his first term in 1974.  When Hyde announced his retirement in 2005, the DCCC began looking for a more conservative candidate to run for the open seat in 2006.

  Their candidate, Tammy Duckworth, spent nearly $1 million, most of it DCCC money, on a three-way primary she won with 44 percent of the vote, but then went on to lose the 2006 general election to Republican Pete Roskam, a far right state senator.

And the DCCC is no better today. In the Thirteenth District of Illinois this year, progressive George Gollin, who was endorsed by three important newspapers, lost to DCCC-backed candidate Ann Callis. And in Ohio's Sixth District (in what I believe is probably the worst single example of a DCCC candidate at odds with Democratic Party values), progressive Greg Howard lost to anti-choice, pro-gun, pro-fracking, pro-Keystone XL pipeline candidate Jennifer Garrison, who has been called "Ohio's Sarah Palin."

With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans? No progressive should donate one red cent to a bloated beltway organization that is trying to turn the Democratic Party into some kind of "G.O.P. Lite."

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TV Watch (sick-day edition): Binge-watching Season 3 of TNT's "Dallas"

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The 2012-14 (and beyond) Ewings: Sue Ellen (Linda Gray), Bobby (Patrick Duffy), John Ross (Josh Henderson), and Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe)

"You selfish bastard! Lying and cheating were the only two things you were good at, and now you've failed at them too!"
-- Pamela Barnes Ewing, after slapping terminally
estranged husband John Ross, in "Victims of Love,"
Episode 12 of Season 3 of Dallas (2012)

by Ken

I love that line, even if I'm not sure Julie Gonzalo has read it quite right. Surely Pamela means to stress the "them too," but she kind of half-stresses "failed" and "too." But it's still a great line, following that nicely executed slap.

Today was a sick day for me, and while there's probably more productive stuff I could have been attempting to do, I needed to wallow. Fortunately, my timing was perfect -- I happened to be midway through a binge-watch of Season 3-to-date of the TNT resurrection of Dallas, developed and executive-produced by Cynthia Cidre. I had watched a few episodes of the earlier seasons and never dveloped any interest, but I also never got around to canceling the series recording I programmed way back when.

I often do this with a new show, since if I'm going to program the DVR to record the first episode, it's just as easy to program the series, and this way if I like the thing, the recording is already scheduled. It also means I'm under no pressure to watch that premiere episode right away, knowing that -- barring machine failure -- I'll have the ensuing episodes stacked up if I wind up having any interest. And if not, I can just undo it all. Except that in the case of Dallas I apparently never got around to undoing the series programming.

I've noticed that my DVR is getting cluttered now with series that I once had some interest in but have already given up on. I recall that there's a season or more of Psych and most of this past season of Blue Bloods, which I couldn't bring myself to watch -- or to delete. The count on Dallas episodes, I noticed, reached 13 after Monday night's airing. It was time to do something. Somehow, though, I couldn't bring myself to just delete the crop willy-nilly, so I decided to watch at least one episode and see whether that gave me the go-ahead to dump the rest.

Well, Episode 1 of Season 3 didn't thrill me. (It it seems like there have been many more seasons than three, it's because like so many cable series, Dallas has been shown in split-season format. season has been shown in split-season format, so what I was watching was the episode first broadcast on January 28, followed by seven more episodes comprising the first half of Season 3. The rest of what I had stored was the first five episodes of the seven-episode second half of the 15-episode season.)

Of course a lot of my attention had to be devoted to remembering or figuring out who the heck the characters were. Sure Patrick Duffy as Bobby Ewing (the upright one among Jock Ewing's three sons) and Linda Gray as Sue Ellen Ewing (the long-suffering wife of J.R.) didn't require any introduction to original-series Dallas watchers. Ditto for cutaways to Nuevo Laredo Prison for scenes with encootified Ken Kerchival in his now-recurring role as Cliff Barnes (age-old nemesis of the Ewing brothers), except I had to watch out for tidings of why Cliff was in prison in Mexico.

Among the new cast of characters for what Wikipedia refers to as Dallas (2012), it was easy enough to keep track of the Ewing cousins, Christopher (Bobby's adopted son) and John Ross (J.R. and Sue Ellen's son), but the others in the crowd were kind of murky, and even as I began to sort them out and sort of remember which is which, it was often made harder by the need to remember who both parents of each character were. I remember getting caught short when Christopher referred to Cliff Barnes as his uncle, until I reminded myself that back then Bobby Ewing was indeed married to Cliff's sister Pamela -- and what a to-do that had occasioned, a Ewing marrying a Barnes!

Still and all, I must have seen enough in Episode 1 of Season 3 to press on to Episode 2, and then Episode 3, by which time I began to suspect that I was in it for the duration of the stored-up episodes.

Which was strange, because I really didn't find the characters much more interesting than I had in the earlier episodes of Dallas (2012) I'd watched. There are clutches of extremely pretty boys and girls -- obviously designed to give the new show appeal to viewers other than original-Dallas ancients -- but as pretty as they all are, what's eerie is how not-really-attractive they are, and kind of short on personality.

But as the series began to exert some pull on me, albeit pull of the guilty-pleasure kind, I began to speculate that what was drawing me in was the machinations. It's not so much the oil-industry wheeling-and-dealing of the old Dallas as it is scheming-and-reaming among Dallas's current crop of energy machinators, with the currently-in-play Ewings varously teaming up and splitting apart again. I'm not saying that the plots would hold up to intensive scrutiny, but they're functional, and the machinations have been striking as genuinely expert, even as regards the diabolical Mexican drug cartel that's fixin' to take over the Mexican government.

And that's the thing: Everyone is involved in the machinations, like as not involving blackmail of one sort or another if not as machinators then as machinatees. And the creative team seems pretty good at both involving their characters in rich enough machinations and respecting the established outlines of those characters. What has kept at least Season 3 going is that nearly all of the machinations seem credible enough to pass casual viewer muster, and yet nearly all of the machinations wind up de-machinating, though not until after they've caused much additional mayhem.

It's not that the characters lack intricateness, if not quite complexity. Poor John Ross (Josh Henderson), as J.R.'s son, has been cast not just by the producers but by his family and community as the machinator-in-chief, but comes to wonder himself whether his father's persona is something he has to live up to or something he ought to be living down.

The one thing I've noticed that was a little disconcerting at first but after a while comes to seem quite welcome is that the scene layout often jumps freely over in-between establishing-and-developing scenes that most shows would find obligatory to get us from Fix A to Fix B. I found that once I got used to knowing that no, I hadn't necessarily missed scenes that I could easily enough figure out what had taken place, and appreciated not having had to waste time on the dispensable scenes.

Harris R -- the un-Skinner
I should add that there are some genuinely engaging characters. There's shambly-looking old Bum (Kevin Page), J.R.'s old fanatically loyal retainer, a man who can get seemingly anything done. And good old Brenda Strong was brought in as a new wife for Bobby, packing lots of baggage but with a shining-through goody-ness. And among the corps of villians, that fine actor Mitch Pileggi as super-shady business Harris Ryland adds oily shades to the character type (if we hadn't seen him all those years as The X Files' eternally upright, straight-arrow FBI Assistant Director Skinner, we might chalk up all that nonstop slithery motion under his shiny shaved head to mannerism, but it's as creepily un-Skinnerish as one might imagine), under the thumb of his recurringly appearing mother Judith, played with drawlingly sneering evil by TV super-veteran Judith Light. Evil Judith has one of the stronger machinating records among the heavy-duty machinators, and yet even she can be toppled. It was great to see her collapse, physically as well as spiritually, in Episode 12, when the nasty cartel guy Luis (Antonio Jaramillo) showed her evidence that his people new how to make her crumble.

When the show needs a big acting gun, they know where to find one. Until Episode 12, the identity of the supreme head of the cartel was so secret that even the CIA didn't know. (Oh, didn't I mention that the CIA is involved too?) I had noticed among the top-of-the-show guest-star credits the name of that great character actor Miguel Sandovál, but I didn't make the connection until a late scene where right-hand man Luis delivers a good-news report -- so far the cartel people are by far our most successful machinators -- in his boss's enormous, lush garden. The Big Guy delivers some remarkable lines while fastidiously pruning tomato plants (at least some of them were tomato plants, I know; I wasn't really watching th plants). Like this, which he speaks in a philosophically-professorially disapproving but even tone:

"Drugs destroy families and social infrastructures. The more broken a society becomes, the easier it is for us to seize power."

When Luis assures him that this is "precisely why I have a plan in place which will double the volume of product going through the pipeline," "El Pozolero" (as I see he's called) says, again delivered in that calm, dispassionate professorial tone:

"Good. Not since the Europeans raped our ancestors have we truly been in power. Now, it is our time once again. [Extended pause for pruing.] Now will be the real Mexican Revolution."

This isn't the sort of plotting and writing -- and acting -- we see on the tube every night of the week.
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The DCCC Won't Acknowledge Him, Let Alone Help Him, But There Is A Democrat Running Against John Boehner This Year

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As I've mentioned before, Steve Israel protects his own vulnerable seat by never allowing the DCCC to challenge any Republican leaders or committee chairs, not even the ones in blue-leaning districts like Fred Upton (R-MI), John Kline (R-MN) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL). When Blue America worked hard to help Justin Coussoule run against Boehner, the DCCC went beyond being not helpful to being downright insulting to an Afghan War vet and decorated West Point grad. They didn't help him; they disparaged him and did everything they could to humiliate and discourage him. After that, no one even wanted to run again. However, this year there is a candidate-- Tom Poetter, who we asked to introduce himself.


My name is Tom Poetter and I am the Democratic nominee for Congress in Ohio's 8th Congressional District against Speaker John A Boehner. I am a professor in the College of Education, Health, and Society at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. My research interests are curriculum studies and the politics of education.

I am running in this race because no one was on the ballot in 2012, and progressives deserve a vote here, too, even in the most conservative district in Ohio. This is about building an infrastructure for a congressional campaign, about starting somewhere, and about making sure that viable candidates can run here in the future. Boehner doesn't run-- he takes his election for granted. As a result, people here don't even know what federal congress DOES, what candidates DO. No one has ever personally asked them for their vote. No one has held town halls on critical issues and no one has ever asked them for anything, including for money and volunteer time. We have to build a capacity to do these things, or we won't ever be able to challenge the status quo.

We know the odds against Boehner. We also know that power needs to be questioned, and power needs to be CHALLENGED. Atticus Finch, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill A Mockingbird says, “I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” Let me remind you: We are running for Congress against the most powerful Republican in the nation.

In our campaign we keep in mind the following: IF YOU CANNOT WIN, YOU CANNOT LOSE. Some people think we shouldn’t talk like that, but I want to tell you that this is the experience of a lifetime and you’ve got to be willing to get in it, to do things that people say you’ve no right to do, if you’re going to make any progress. And we’ve already won, because we are DOING IT. Running in this race as a progressive voice IS winning.

I spend 60 seconds each day imagining what it would be like to unseat the SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE. I spend a minute a day feeling those feelings of absolute elation and sheer terror. From the beginning I had an inkling, a glimmer of belief, that if certain things happened, we could win and I still allow myself that rousing feeling, dreaming of winning, for one minute per day. Why just a minute? Because you have to keep your head down, focus on the purposes you are trying to fulfill with whatever talents and time that you have at hand. And there is so much work to do!

And running a congressional race the right way and focusing on the most important things in this election are the most critical, highest purposes to attend to, and some of the most important work we can do.

Our clear and defined purpose: We have to connect with unaffiliated voters, independents, and soft Republican voters in this district, and there are over 300,000 of them. Turning out votes is done with the aid of the two most important, major tools of the day: money, and direct voter contact strategies. No one has ever attempted a campaign with this focus against Boehner in his 24 years in office. And we are doing it and doing it well.

I want this campaign to be a testament to people who step up in impossible circumstances. I want this campaign to honor the ideas that we all share, and to honor a belief in democracy. I want this campaign to be a testament to my staff, to the people who do this for the love of it and for the hope embedded in running and winning and in serving.

I'll never forget walking into that voting booth in 2012 and there was no one on the ballot contesting Speaker Boehner. This isn't that year, and I am so proud, and so happy to be running.

Please support our campaign here.

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House Republicans Have Another Problem-- Rampant Cocaine Abuse

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Northeast Ohio's very own 2 Live Crew

Yesterday, according to Fox DC Bureau Chief Chad Pergram, Boehner was whining about how the House Republican conference is filled with "knuckleheads." He didn't name any and everyone-- including everyone here at DWT just assumed he was talking about the Members that don't get bought off by corruption, guys like Justin Amash and Walter Jones, who Boehner hates for their refusal to allow him to bioss them around. No one suspected he might be talking about the House Republicans' massive drug problem. The GOP conference is riddled with coke addicts, meth freaks and pill poppers. Now, I don't know if David Joyce is a still an alcoholic and a coke hound and it's unclear if he was one of Trey Radel's customers before Radel (R-FL) was busted as a coke distributor and forced to resign from Congress. But the FBI does know-- and won't spill the beans. They just sit on it-- in case they ever need any special leverage over Congressman Joyce (R-OH).


OK, here's the background. Most people think Joyce got turned down for a cush job as Northern Ohio's Federal Prosecutor because he's a sexist pig who was always being "inappropriate" with female employees, especially when he was drunk, which was frequently. But the sexism and his own little war against women isn't what caused Bush to kill the nomination. In 2001 two heavy-weight Ohio senators, Mike DeWine ® and George Voinovich ® recommended Joyce for the job and Bush nominated him. By mid-May Joyce was ready to move into his new gig-- “As a career prosecutor, I see it as a challenge that I look forward to. My job now is to make sure that people are treated fairly and that justice is done, and that’s what I hope to bring to the federal system.” But by the end of the year Bush withdrew the nomination. In fact, Bush tried saying that technically he had never even made the nomination. That was after 6 months of FBI vetting and scrutiny and a eye-popping report they gave Attorney General John Ashcroft who was appalled at what he saw. By December the Plain Dealer was reporting that "the Bush administration decided not to nominate Joyce as the U.S. attorney for Northern Ohio due to questions that came up about his past during an FBI background check." But the Plain Dealer didn't seem especially curious to find out what exactly was in that FBI background check, assuming, like everyone else, it had something to do with Joyce's inability to act like a gentleman when he was around women, especially women he could lord it over on some level. But they were wrong.

Joyce said he would "fight for" the job but by May, 2002, he suddenly ended the fight, telling the Plain Dealer "You just get sick of it. It’s been a year, and enough’s enough. I’m honored that I was considered for this job, but it’s time for me to let somebody else have this opportunity." A few years later, when rumors about his cocaine abuse started circulating in Ohio, he was still bitter but started presenting the story in a new light. He said he didn't get the job because he was "out-politicked." He said that Gregory White, who eventually got the job, had the backing of then Governor Bob Taft. "I can’t change what happened. I didn’t do anything wrong,” Joyce told the media. "I got beat at a game I didn’t understand all that well." He got "out-politicked?" WIth Mike DeWine and George Voinovich on his team? No one really believed that.

In 2005, Cleveland Scene Magazine reported that Joyce’s nomination for U.S. Attorney failed because defense attorneys accused him of withholding evidence during a murder case.

Joyce was cleared of accusations but the article reported that the White House did not want to risk nominating Joyce. More nonsense about something the Bush Administration didn't care a whit about. The cocaine rumors never went away entirely and "everybody" knows he gets high-- everybody, that is, except the voters in OH-14.

When Joyce was Geauga County Prosecutor, Steve LaTourette was Prosecutor in neighboring Lake County and the two of them became fast friends and political allies. The 2 of them worked on banning the multiplatinum 2 Live Crew album, As Nasty as They Wanna Be from local record stores. (They failed.) LaTourette went on to serve 9 terms in Congress from the area and when he decided to make a fortune as a lobbyist, he managed to secure his old seat for Joyce and voters weren't allowed to see the FBI report on Joyce's outrageous behavior. They still haven't been.

Funny that Joyce had such antipathy towards 2 Live Crew for their lifestyle instead of inviting them to his legendary Friday night poker games where white people did their version of exactly what he tried persecuting the 2 Live Crew guys for:



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Arming Syrian Moderates? They Are No Syrian Moderates Except In McCain's Twisted Mind

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The House leaders-- afraid of midterm voters-- avoided voting for war in the Middle East yesterday and instead voted to fund what McCain insists are "moderate" Syrian rebels… you know, the ones who have been selling arms and captives to ISIS (the "non-moderates") for months. Do we never learn? Anything? Buck McKeon's slippery slope amendment passed 273 to 156 with 85 Democrats and 71 Republicans voting against it. Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) has learned history's lessons. Like most progressives, he voted NO-- and made the case why all Democrats should have:
If we’ve learned one thing in the thirteen years since we rushed into wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is that wars cannot be rushed. Conflicts cannot be won through cut corners and half-measures. We must be deliberate, and have a clear depiction of our allies and enemies alike. We must have assurances and participation from other nations in the region. We must have a clearly defined-- and achievable-- mission. Most importantly, it must be clear in our minds how we will bring hostilities to an end.

On every one of these thresholds, the arming of Syrian rebels to confront ISIL fails to reach the mark. While I am deeply troubled by the violence spreading in the region, I will not cast a vote that only further complicates and intensifies the fight.

Syrian rebels are not loyal to our flag, and they will not do our bidding. They will pursue their own interests, and while allied today, they may be a sworn enemy tomorrow. We have seen time after tragic time that the weapons we provide will be aimed at our own troops if that comes to pass.

A successful response to this crisis can only come with the significant involvement of other nations in the region. They have the most to lose if ISIL remains unchecked, and they have a vested interest in the social, political and economic implications of this conflict. If we proceed despite the tepid response from nations like Turkey, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, we will be taking sides in a civil war and welcoming the perception that we’ve adopted the conflict as our own.

This is not a strategy for victory or a roadmap to peace. It is a prescription for more war, and I cannot in good conscience support it.
Republican Justin Amash also voted NO, not because he's a deranged, obstructionist Obama-hater (like, say, Michele Bachmann) but for very similar reasons to the ones Grijalva gave. He explained why he voted against it to his constituents very thoroughly. Did yours reach out to you this way?
What have we learned from the last decade of war?

Those years should have taught us that when going to war, our government must:

(1) be careful when defining a military mission,
(2) speak forthrightly with the American people about the sacrifices they will be called to make,
(3) plan more than one satisfactory end to the conflict, and
(4) be humble about what we think we know.

These lessons should be at the front of our minds when Congress votes today on whether to arm groups in Syria.

Today’s amendment ostensibly is aimed at destroying ISIS-- yet you’d hardly know it from reading the amendment’s text. The world has witnessed with horror the evil of ISIS: the public beheading of innocents, the killing of Christians, Muslims, and others.

The amendment’s focus-- arming groups fighting the Assad government in Syria-- has little to do with defeating ISIS. The mission that the amendment advances plainly isn’t the defeat of ISIS; it’s the defeat of Assad.

Americans stood overwhelmingly against entangling our Armed Forces in the Syrian civil war a year ago. If Congress chooses to arm groups in Syria, it must explain to the American people not only why that mission is necessary but also the sacrifices that that mission entails.

The Obama administration has tried to rally support for U.S. involvement in the Syrian civil war by implying that our help would be at arm’s length. The amendment Congress will vote on broadly authorizes “assistance” to groups in Syria. It does not specify what types of weapons our government will give the groups. It does not prohibit boots on the ground. (The amendment is silent on the president’s power to order our troops to fight in the civil war; it states only that Congress doesn’t provide “specific statutory authorization” for such escalation.) It does not state the financial cost of the war.

As we should have learned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, we must plan for multiple satisfactory ends to military conflicts before we commence them.

If the Syrian groups that are “appropriately vetted” (the amendment’s language) succeed and oust Assad, what would result? Would the groups assemble a coalition government of anti-Assad fighters, and would that coalition include ISIS? What would happen to the Alawites and Christians who stood with Assad? To what extent would the U.S. government be obligated to occupy Syria to rebuild the government? If each of the groups went its own way, would Syria’s territory be broken apart, and if so, would ISIS control one of the resulting countries?

If the Syrian groups that we support begin to lose, would we let them be defeated? If not, is there any limit to American involvement in the war?

Perhaps some in the administration or Congress have answers to these questions. But the amendment we’ll vote on today contains none of them.

Above all, when Congress considers serious actions-- especially war-- we must be humble about what we think we know. We don’t know very much about the groups we propose to support or even how we intend to vet those groups. Reports in the last week suggest that some of the “appropriately vetted” groups have struck deals with ISIS, although the groups dispute the claim. The amendment requires the administration to report on its efforts to prevent our arms and resources from ending up in the wrong hands, but we know little about those precautions or their effectiveness.

Today, I will vote against the amendment to arm groups in Syria. There is a wide misalignment between the rhetoric of defeating ISIS and the amendment’s actual mission of arming certain groups in the Syrian civil war. The amendment provides few limits on the type of assistance that our government may commit, and the exit out of the civil war is undefined. And given what’s happened in our country’s most recent wars, our leaders seem to have unjustified confidence in their own ability to execute a plan with so many unknowns.

Some of my colleagues no doubt will come to different judgments on these questions. But it’s essential that they consider the questions carefully. That the president wants the authority to intervene in the Syrian civil war is not a sufficient reason to give him that power. Under the Constitution, it is Congress’s independent responsibility to commence war.

We are the representatives of the American people. The government is proposing to take their resources and to put their children’s lives at risk. I encourage all my colleagues to give the decision the weight it is due.
My own congressman, Adam Schiff, is a warmonger in a peace-loving progressive district he was recently shoe-horned into. He voted for Bush's attack on Iraq and is always, first and foremost a lackey for AIPAC and far right-extremists in Israel. Needless to say, he voted YES. He always votes for war and gore. If I still lived in Brooklyn on East 17th Street between Avenue P and O, my Rep. would be Yvette Clarke, who voted NO. Here's what she told the folks in my old neighborhood after the vote yesterday:
As our recent history demonstrates, armed conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan have often resulted in increased-- and unanticipated-- involvement by the armed forces of the United States. Before the War in Iraq, for example, the administration of President George W. Bush assured Congress and the American people that the conflict would end quickly, without substantial loss of life. Yet, American troops remain in Iraq, even after 4,487 were killed and 32,226 wounded. In Afghanistan, the Taliban were armed through the Congressional appropriations process, also known as ‘Charlie Wilson's War,’ in their battle against the Russians, only to become our fiercest adversaries and a breeding ground for terrorists. We cannot risk a similar outcome in Syria. If and when our nation becomes more substantially involved, we must have a comprehensive plan-- from start to finish.

The idea that we can simply train and equip Syrian rebel fighters to combat ISIS/ISAL to eliminate the terrorist threat to our nation flies in the face of the practical realities of the nature of the threat and the realities of the threat to the rebels themselves, that being the Assad Regime. I am deeply concerned that our interests are not necessarily aligned with the Syrian rebels.

Whether these rebels are truly our allies remains to be seen. Those who we train today could ultimately become our enemies, and could deploy the weapons which we have provided them against us and our allies. At a time when Republican leaders in Congress want to eliminate resources for job training programs and social services for families, I cannot in good conscience, given the current conditions in Syria of an ongoing civil war and a failed state, support the diversion of hundreds of millions of dollars from much needed domestic priorities into this precarious situation.
Most of the good Democrats-- like Alan Grayson, Mark Pocan, Donna Edwards, Jim McGovern, Barbara Lee… voted NO. Pelosi joined the worst Democrats-- Steve Israel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, John Barrow, Scott Peters, Kyrsten Sinema, Steny Hoyer, Joe Crowley, Patrick Murphy, Henry Cuellar… voting YES. And, once again, we saw the contrast in New Hampshire, where the progressive, Carol Shea-Porter, voted against this foolish and dangerous policy and the clueless conservative New Dem, Ann Kuster, betrayed her constituents and voted for it.

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