The contours of the alleged insurance fraud seemed unusual enough: The participants, men and women, were accused of improperly seeking Medicaid benefits for pregnancies, births and postnatal care.
That the defendants were Russian was, perhaps, not altogether unusual, given the number of recent prosecutions for similar insurance schemes perpetrated in New York by immigrants from the former Soviet Union.
But these were no ordinary Russians. They were diplomats posted to New York City, and their wives, accused of fraudulently applying for Medicaid benefits over the past nine years. Prosecutors characterized the scheme as an audacious swindle of the federal health benefits program for the needy, orchestrated by officials in the Russian Consulate in New York and its mission to the United Nations.
Imagine what they could have done if the Obamacare web site had been working sooner.
Three or four are reported dead in the ongoing Bangkok protests (most places are publishing four, but a few are publishing three) and over the weekend crowds forced prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra to flee from a police compound where she was going to give a television address.
Crowds of pro-Shinawatra Red Shirts from the countryside showed up by the busload, presumably to hassle the anti-Shinawatra urban protesters, but didn't stick around long:
On Saturday, around 70,000 Red Shirts, who had gathered near Bangkok’s Rajamangala National Stadium to show support for the current administration, clashed with students, mainly antigovernment Yellow Shirts, emerging from neighboring Ramkhamhaeng University. About 8 p.m. local time, one person was killed when a shot was fired into the campus. Red Shirts had emerged from the stadium to support their comrades after several people were pulled from cars and beaten on the belief that they were Thaksin [Shinawatra] supporters.
Fighting continued in the surrounding area into the night, and by morning busloads of Red Shirt supporters were leaving the capital after leaders said their safety could not be guaranteed. “With the main group being sent home, hopefully we won’t see that conflict between these two mass movements,” says Robertson. “But there’s always a worry of agent provocateurs from one side or another trying to cause problems.”
The protesters' actions are dramatic and, some say, suggest the tacit support of the military, which has been very restrained in the past few days. Their demands are equally dramatic and, I'm guessing, not going to impress democratically elected world leaders:
But protest leader Suthep Thaugsuban, who met Yingluck on Sunday night, has said he won't be satisfied with her resignation or new elections. Instead, he wants an unelected "people's council" to pick a new prime minister.
"I don't know how we can proceed" with that, she said. "We don't know how to make it happen. Right now we don't see any way to resolve the problem under the constitution," she said in the brief 12-minute news conference.
Meanwhile, the street battles are giving reporters in Thailand an excuse to try out new "drone journalism":
Insert obligatory Amazon/Bezos reference here.
The word "hipster" might be officially dead in Seattle, but not in, say, Haifa, where a subculture of young Palestinians is steadily forming around bars and parties that promote (create spaces for) a liberal or progressive (rather than traditional) social ethic.
Photoset: The new underground || Arab Israeli hipsters dancing through the culture clash. A bubbling new... http://t.co/uA7daLdaXW
— Haaretz.com (@haaretzcom) November 30, 2013
While calm and "friendly" protesters in Bangkok continue to try and shut down the government in a calm and friendly way, prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra has survived a no-confidence vote in parliament. (Her party controls most of the seats.) From the Guardian:
Her Puea Thai party and coalition partners dominate the lower house with 299 seats and comfortably survived the three-day debate during which the opposition grilled Yingluck on a 3.5 billion baht (£66m/US$108m) water management scheme and financially troubled government rice intervention scheme...
The demonstrators, a motley collection aligned with Bangkok's royalist civilian and military elite, accuse Yingluck of being an illegitimate proxy for her billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra, a former prime minister and populist hero of the rural poor who was ousted in a 2006 military coup.
The demonstrators are occupying the ministry of finance and have shut down others. Our Man in Southeast Asia says Richard Barrow's Twitter feed is the best source of information on the nuts and bolts of what's happening. Despite the Wall Street Journal's fretting that "democracy is under siege" in Thailand—they seem to side with the populist, allegedly corrupt billionaire Thaksin and his sister Yingluck—Barrow seems fairly mellow:
Want a break from #Bangkok protests? The International Fireworks Festival takes place in Pattaya on Friday & Saturday nights. I'll be there!— Richard Barrow (@RichardBarrow) November 28, 2013
Early this morning, Our Man in Southeast Asia sent an update:
So, things are getting a little weird.
Thailand goes its own way. The police HQ has had power cut, several government ministries have been closed, but everyone is really mellow. I can't imagine what this would be like in another country.
The real test will be on Saturday when the "Red Shirts," the opposition to the occupiers (who are, yes, wearing those "V for Vendetta" masks) come to town.
But no-one will want to mar the King's birthday on Thursday, so there is that. Both sides fight to show how they love the king more.
I really like this country. They do things so differently. Everyone thought that after the floods things would fall apart, but the sweet Thais just worked hard to get it together, which is maybe why Yingluck has not had many problems until now.
The last time the pro-Thaksin Red Shirts came to Bangkok in a big way, back in 2010, there were rocket-grenade attacks in the business district, military snipers picking people off, and around 100 deaths. Let's hope they and the military don't give a repeat performance.
"Friendly" protesters are trying to shut the government. They're occupying the finance ministry and have turned it into their de facto headquarters and their latest (peaceful) attack has been on Thailand's equivalent of the FBI:
Anti-government protesters have forced the evacuation of Thailand's top crime-fighting agency, on the fourth day of street demonstrations.
The marchers, who want the government to step down, targeted a complex of government offices outside the city.
The protest leader said they wanted to shut down government ministries in a bid to cause disruption.
They accuse the government of being controlled by the prime minister's brother, Thaksin Shinawatra.
The BBC's Lucy Williamson in Bangkok says the mood of the protesters is very friendly, as they and the government side shadow-box around each other.
You can find a quick primer on what's fueling the protests—and why Bangkok is basically pitted against the rest of the country in this matter—over at CNN.
From the LA Times earlier this week:
More than 100 people pelted U.S. Border Patrol agents with rocks and bottles during a rowdy confrontation Sunday afternoon along the U.S.-Mexico border, federal authorities said.
Nobody was seriously injured and it’s not clear whether the crowd was trying to enter the U.S. illegally or hold a demonstration, but the sight of a large crowd surging beyond the border rattled nerves.
Agents said it harked to the days in the 1990s when migrants would run across the border en masse, in so-called banzai runs that would overwhelm agents. As the crowd on Sunday crossed the Tijuana River into California, more than one dozen agents responded to the border fence atop the levee and deployed pepper spray to hold them back, triggering the melee.
As many, many people have pointed out in recent years, there is a contradiction at the heart of globalization. Free-trade agreements, international banking agreements, communications technology, and the rest want to accelerate the movement of goods, services, money, and information across borders—everything, that is, except people.
Meanwhile in DC, immigration reform seems stalled and activists will spend Thanksgiving on their 16th day of hunger strike.
Amos Yadlin, the former head of the IDF’s Military Intelligence hierarchy, said that the terms agreed by the P5+1 powers and Iran were “far better” than those in the deal that fell apart in Geneva two weeks ago. Yadlin, who now heads the Institute for National Security Studies think tank at Tel Aviv University, also said he did not think Iran would breach the terms of the deal in the coming six months.Yadlin also pointed out that an attack on Iran would not have achieved better results than the agreement. But what is good for world peace and boiling the blood of neocons, will probably be bad for the environment. Stability in that part of the world often results in the fall of petrol prices. This means that the private costs of gas consumption in the US goes down, while the social costs rise considerably.
Lina Attalah's Madamasr.com post about the website Sisi Fetish (Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the general who removed Mohamed Morsi from power and crippled his party, the Muslim Brotherhood), opens a kind of magic window onto the unsettled and turbulent region of contemporary Egyptian politics:
The question then becomes: Can Sisi’s popularity be sustained past the perceived specter of the Brotherhood? If Sisi is investing in his war with the Brotherhood to drum up more public acceptance every day, how far can he go? Wars are bound to end — especially as the Brotherhood is proving on a daily basis that it is in a deep crisis with regards to its own survival. Can politics be reduced to a constructed war on terror if the animosity that people who like Sisi feel toward the Brotherhood wanes as the latter slowly fade out of the political spectrum? What about urgent socio-economic questions kept on the shelf? How long can they be kept there once this war is over, at least in people’s minds? How long can a state define itself through an enemy once this enemy has ceased to exist?Much of the social turbulence in Egypt appears to have this as its constant: the politics of keeping the important question on the shelf.
And if Egyptians are given convincing options in the form of reformist politicians, would they glorify Sisi unconditionally because they like men with military ranks and hats? Time is better off answering these questions, but we had a sneak peek at the people’s political taste in the 2012 presidential elections, when a dozen men contested for the post. While Morsi made it to the presidency after a run-off with Ahmad Shafiq, a man with a military background, the first stage of the elections left us with an important, often overlooked figure. The total number of votes for the top three candidates after Morsi and Shafiq, none of whom represented the military nor political Islam in its strict form, exceeded those that went to either Morsi or Shafiq. This 43 percent, this majority, expressed its views differently when the political space was actively filled with negotiations and arguments.
Hundreds of Ethiopians living in London have staged a protest outside the Saudi Arabian embassy on Monday.They were protesting against a clampdown by Saudi authorities against illegal migrant workers. Officials say more than 20,000 Ethiopians have surrendered to the country's authorities since the clampdown began.
A lot of people are asking how they can support relief efforts to the Philippines, where Typhoon Haiyan has killed thousands and devastated the central part of the country. Great.
Here's a suggestion, though: If you want to really help, give money to Filipinos directly, and not through foreign middlemen calling themselves charitable humanitarian organizations.
Macklemore has the right idea: He tweeted urging folks to support the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns (NAFCON), after the Blue Scholars' Prometheus Brown—who is Filipino-American—suggested it to him. Some writer for Foreign Policy thinks there's something wrong with this. But the rappers are right.
Over at Humanosphere, longtime global health and development reporter Tom Paulson points out:
[Foreign aid groups] often end up competing with each other, while at the same time putting out urgent calls for donations. The dirty secret of the aid-and-relief business is that most organizations use high-profile emergencies to raise funds for the less dramatic ones...
I covered the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and witnessed the chaos of the emergency response in Sri Lanka. Chaos is inherent to disasters. But it was disconcerting to see certain well-known humanitarian organizations—who shall remain nameless–-arguing over turf and how high up they could hang their banners even as people around them were struggling to get adequate food, water and shelter.
I saw similar bullshit in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, where I reported for the better part of the following two years. Half of all American households donated to relief efforts and billions of dollars were pledged. But what happened on the ground was an utter fiasco. Locals, including government officials, were largely ignored. Cluster meetings hosted by the United Nations, where all these aid groups (Red Cross, UNICEF, Mercy Corps, World Vision, etc. etc.) were supposed to coordinate with one another, were literal clusterfucks. I wrote more about the failure of reconstruction efforts in Haiti earlier this year.
This is not to say that all aid groups are corrupt. And I respect the charitable impulse (solidarity efforts are even better).
But if you care about whether your donation actually achieves its intended purpose, keep in mind that you won't be able to personally track down where your dollar went. You don't have time, and foreign aid groups are far from transparent. Just about the only one I trust is Médecins Sans Frontières, which claims to do one thing (treat illness in difficult settings), spends the money it raises, and does it well. I have friends in Haiti who are alive thanks to MSF.
If you're interested in helping the Philippines rebuild from the typhoon's destruction, you're better off putting your money in the hands of Filipinos themselves. If you're interested in helping the Philippines avoid future typhoons of record-breaking severity, you could also, you know, fight climate change.
Keep the Philippines in your thoughts today, and prepare to do what you can for the relief effort once this nightmare is over:
Khalil Shreateh is already well-known in the tech world for hacking Mark Zuckerberg's Facebook page, leaving the message:
Dear Mark Zuckerberg,
First sorry for breaking your privacy and post to your wall , i has no other choice to make after all the reports I sent to Facebook team .
My name is KHALIL, from Palestine…
This was after he'd attempted to notify Facebook's white hat team about the bug. (Shreateh provides a full account at his site, and it's widely corroborated, although Facebook denies Shreateh followed the proper channels, citing an "absence of detail.") Shreateh, who at times worked construction 12 hours a day during his 10-year bid to complete a B.A. in Information Systems at Al-Quds Open University (an institution proposed by the PLO in the 1970s), learned English by reading chat boards. It's all the more impressive considering his conditions:
The West Bank is no easy place to be a hacker, or to do anything in the technology sphere. The occupied region depends on Israel for electricity, water and telecommunications, including the sluggish Internet that crawls into the South Hebron Hills. Shreateh has a well and three water tanks on his roof because Yatta only receives several days of running water every few months. Blackouts are common, and the town often goes without electricity for whole days in the winter.
A member of the Iranian government says yes:
An influential Iranian lawmaker says his country has halted the production of enriched uranium up to 20 percent, a level that experts say is only a few technical steps from what is needed to produce a nuclear weapon.
And, as usual, everyone involved remains suspicious of everyone about everything.
Slog tipper Greg sent this Democracy Now! link to me, and I'm really glad he did, because it highlights a trade agreement that's been flying under the radar during the whole shutdown fiasco. Here's Democracy Now's explanation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership:
The TPP is often referred to by critics as "NAFTA on steroids," and would establish a free trade zone that would stretch from Vietnam to Chile, encompassing 800 million people — about a third of world trade and nearly 40 percent of the global economy. While the text of the treaty has been largely negotiated behind closed doors and, until June, kept secret from Congress, more than 600 corporate advisers reportedly have access to the measure, including employees of Halliburton and Monsanto. "This is not mainly about trade," says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. "It is a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations."
You can find video and a transcript of the Democracy Now! discussion over at their site. Or, if you'd like something in the form of an article, Moran Zhang has written a short primer about the TPP over at the International Business Times, which concludes that "the lack of clear economic benefits for the U.S. does not seem to justify its engagement." Once the shutdown soap opera ends for at least a few more months, I'm hoping the media will make the TPP a topic of discussion. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the American people should at least be given a chance to learn about the fact that their representatives are pushing enormous corporate-approved trade agreements.
While US politicians grapple with how to reopen their shuttered government and avoid a potentially disastrous default on their debt, the world should consider 'de-Americanising', a commentary on China's official news agency said Sunday.
"As US politicians of both political parties (fail to find a) viable deal to bring normality to the body politic they brag about, it is perhaps a good time for the befuddled world to start considering building a de-Americanised world," the commentary on state news agency Xinhua said..."A new world order should be put in place, according to which all nations, big or small, poor or rich, can have their key interests respected and protected on an equal footing."
Given the way everything seemed to fall apart this weekend, it's really hard to argue the American side of this debate right now.
(Thanks to Slog tipper Greg.)
Moss became obsessed with Iceland during a youthful trip, but when she left Great Britain to teach in Iceland, the fantasy of the country smashed into the reality of it. She's in love with the land, but Icelanders huddle close and keep foreigners at arm's length. She writes about a friend who had it even worse:
Charlotte's outsider status in Reykjavík is doubled because she is black. The first few times she visited her husband's family, she says, people used to turn around in the street to watch her go past. Children would hide and point. When she was driving one day and saw another black driver at a traffic light, they waved and smiled in astonishment and it took her only two days to find out who the other person was.
Grocery shopping in Iceland is a nightmare, the place is insanely expensive, and there's barely any public transit to speak of. But then Moss has a moment like this:
And then we're outside, the air a cool flannel on the face after a long run under a hot sun. There's snow, a drift of crystals each the size of a dandelion seed, and, at 2 p.m., sun on the snow, the slanting late-afternoon light that's the Icelandic winter zenith. The snow is so light that when the children kick it, it drifts down again like feathers, and all the lines in the land are softened. As the bus sets off, the low sunlight is pink, the mountains and the swaddled outlines of the lava field the colour of candyfloss. Ghosts of steam rise from the pools at the side of the airport road and hang there, swaying a little.
And she's swept up in the magic of it all again. No place on Earth is perfect, and we have to wrestle with that battle between the good and the bad wherever we decide to make our home. I'd recommend Names for the Sea to anyone who's planning to visit Iceland, or just anyone who's had to make a home for themselves in a place that looks nothing like their own country of origin.
Edward Snowden, the fugitive American former intelligence worker, has made the shortlist of three for the Sakharov prize, Europe's top human rights award.
The other nominees are Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who was shot for daring to suggest that women should be allowed to have an education, and "a group of Belarusian political dissidents jailed in 2010." Confidential to Snowden: If you win, you probably shouldn't attend the award ceremony.
(Thanks to Sgt. Doom for the tip.)
On Tuesday, Netanyahu ordered the Israeli delegation to boycott Iranian President Hassan Rowhani's address to the UN General Assembly and put himself in this corner:
"Prime Minister Netanyahu said that despite the charm offensive by the new Iranian president, the policies of the regime toward Israel have not changed.
"Just last week, Rowhani, like Ahmadinejad before him, refused to recognise the Holocaust as an historical fact.
"When Iran's leaders stop denying the Holocaust of the Jewish people, and stop calling for the destruction of the Jewish state and recognise Israel's right to exist, the Israeli delegation will attend their addresses at the General Assembly."
Soon after the speech, the charmer went on CNN and said...
...I can tell you that any crime that happens in history against humanity, including the crime the Nazis committed towards the Jews, as well as non-Jewish people...
[Netanyahu] doesn’t want anyone easing the pressure until there’s real change in Tehran’s nuclear program. But it’s a stance that isolating Israel, while Rouhani leads his country in from the cold..It's not about facts at this point; it's about winning the press, and Rouhani is ahead and Netanyahu is falling behind...
Netanyahu did not immediately comment on Rouhani’s Holocaust remarks, but his loyal Minister of Intelligence, Yuval Steinitz, was reduced to complaining that Rouhani “didn’t condemn those who have denied” the Holocaust.
Remember kratom? It's a Southeast Asian leaf that has been used as a mild narcotic (extremely mild—not one single overdose death has been reported in its centuries of use) and a kind of "herbal methadone" that cheaply and effectively helps people transition off harder, opiate-based drugs. (Some report relief from methamphetamine withdrawal as well.)
But in the US, those reports are mostly anecdotal. Kratom has only come onto America's radar screen in the past year or two. It's legal, and it's been used for centuries in Thailand and other SE Asian countries, but it hasn't been extensively researched by US or European scientists. (Though in a story last spring, I talked to a few of the researchers who are taking it seriously.)
But because kratom is a drug (a mild drug, but a drug) and because all drugs are bad (except for the ones that arbitrarily aren't), weaselly politicians and credulous reporters began squawking about the dangers of kratom as soon as they heard about it. Among the claims: It's fed to Islamist child soldiers of the southern Thai insurgency to make them ruthless killing machines, it causes kids to kill their parents, it causes hallucinations and overdose deaths, it "could wind up killing a child or blowing a child's mind forever." Even the DEA got into the act, and was particularly eager to circulate the "young Thai militants" meme.
Of course, those small-time politicians, drug warriors, and credulous reporters could not provide a scintilla of credible evidence to support their outrageous claims. (The most believable of which is that Islamist soldiers—child or otherwise—take it. But "soldiers take intoxicants" is not exactly a newsflash, and trying to examine the Islamist insurgency in southern Thailand through some cockeyed "kratom madness" squint is, at best, a total waste of time.)
One Iowa legislator I talked with took steps to ban kratom two hours after he heard about it on a talk-radio show. (No time for reading or research! To the ProhibitionMobile!) I asked him why. "It is banned in the two countries where it's grown," he said, "and banned in a whole bunch of European countries, like Australia [sic]."
That's the steadiest leg the knee-jerk prohibitionists have had to stand on—someone else banned it, so why shouldn't we?
The big deal at the UN today is not Obama but Rouhani. The Iranian leader has stolen the whole show. Everyone knows what Obama is going to say, and also knows he has failed to substantially break with Bush. But Rouhani seems to be making a break with his Bush, Ahamdinejad. This, of course, may not be how it is in fact, but it's certainly how it appears in the press. Nicholas Kristof is now tweeting that Rouhani has released Amir Hekmati, and calls it a "smart gesture." Why? Because it grabs the headlines. It's free publicity. This business of freeing prisoners, who are for the most part harmless, and tweeting kind words to Jews, costs him nothing and generates good press...
Who is Hassan Rouhani, Iran's mysterious new president? http://t.co/JI4OcI25mC
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) September 24, 2013
The more one looks at the current political and cultural developments in Iran, the more weight is added to this idea: Ahmadinejad and his kind did not, in fact, survive the Twitter Revolution of 2009. The millions of protesters who challenged the results of the 2009 presidential election (Ahmadinejad claimed he won 60 percent of the vote, which was very unlikely) and demanded a new direction in Iranian internal politics and international relations, dealt a fatal blow to the conservatives. But that death did not occur until the presidential election on August 13, 2013—the day Ahmadinejad's program was voted out and replaced by a leader, Hassan Rohan, whose political and cultural program appears to be closer and closer to those expressed during the Twitter Revolution. Haaretz puts it nicely:
Call it a charm offensive, seduction sortie, bewitchment blitz or wooing war, one thing is certain: Iranian President Hassan Rohani is waging an all-out public relations onslaught on American hearts and minds that poses unprecedented new challenges for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli policymakers.And he is already missing Bush.
Following initial skirmishes and reconnaissance patrols over the past few weeks on Twitter and Facebook, Rohani has now unleashed a preparatory salvo of moderate-sounding, peace-hugging statements on NBC and in the Washington Post. The main thrust of his campaign will be rolled out next week in New York, where Rohani will use his status as the star sensation of this year’s United Nations General Assembly to launch a barrage of interviews, speeches and public appearances, all aimed at convincing America of Iran’s benevolent policies and benign nuclear plans.
The attention, some of it fawning, that is already being bestowed on the so-called “moderate” Iranian president has confirmed the widespread assumption of most analysts following Rohani’s election in August as Iran’s 7th president: that it wouldn’t take long for Israel and other critics of Iran to sorely miss his predecessor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Iran's new president, Hassan Rohani, is reportedly prepared to decommission the Fordo enrichment plant and allow international inspectors to monitor the removal of the centrifuges. In return, he could demand that the United States and Europe rescind their sanctions against the Islamic Republic, lift the ban on Iranian oil exports and allow the country's central bank to do international business again.
Rohani reportedly intends to announce the details of the offer, perhaps already during his speech before the United Nations General Assembly at the end of the month.
Granta has published Haruki Murakami's non-fiction account of his walk through Kobe, two years after a devastating earthquake. Like much of Murakami's writing, it's simple, directly, and beautiful:
The old stone bridge across the pond where I used to catch shrimp as a child (using a simple technique: I would tie a string around an empty bottle, put in noodle powder as bait, lower it into the water and the shrimp would go into the bottle and then I would pull it up) had collapsed and remained that way. The water in the pond was dark and muddy and turtles of indiscriminate ages lay sprawled on dry rocks, basking in the sun, their minds no doubt bereft of any thoughts. Terrible destruction was in evidence all around, as if the area was some ancient ruins. Only the deep woods were the same as I remembered from childhood, dark and still, beyond time.
A new revelation from the Guardian (of course) shows that the US doesn't just spy on its own citizens and residents—it shares raw intelligence data with foreign governments (Israel's for sure, possibly others):
The National Security Agency routinely shares raw intelligence data with Israel without first sifting it to remove information about US citizens, a top-secret document provided to the Guardian by whistleblower Edward Snowden reveals.
Details of the intelligence-sharing agreement are laid out in a memorandum of understanding between the NSA and its Israeli counterpart that shows the US government handed over intercepted communications likely to contain phone calls and emails of American citizens. The agreement places no legally binding limits on the use of the data by the Israelis.
The disclosure that the NSA agreed to provide raw intelligence data to a foreign country contrasts with assurances from the Obama administration that there are rigorous safeguards to protect the privacy of US citizens caught in the dragnet. The intelligence community calls this process "minimization", but the memorandum makes clear that the information shared with the Israelis would be in its pre-minimized state.
According to the memorandum of understanding, the US would like Israel's use of the raw data to be "consistent with the requirements placed upon NSA by U.S. law and Executive Order to establish safeguards protecting the rights of U.S. persons under the Fourth Amendment," but it also specifies: "This agreement is not intended to create any legally enforceable rights and shall not be construed to be either an international agreement or a legally binding instrument according to international law."
Short version: We'll give you all of our domestic surveillance, unredacted, and while it'd be nice if you used it in a way that is consistent with our constitution, you can really do whatever you want.
Meaning: Israel is allowed to do things with the data that the US technically can't. But what's to stop Israel from sharing what it finds out in its Bill of Rights-free zone?
That sounds like the surveillance-state version of stashing your ill-gotten gains in the Cayman Islands so you can enjoy it without any legal obligations.
And I must say, Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, and the rest of the gang are handling this expertly, doling out small, curated amounts of information in digestible portions instead of a massive, Wikileaks-style data dump. Wikileaks was a treasure trove for journalists and experts but I get the feeling it left most citizens too overwhelmed to draw any specific conclusions from all that information.
I wonder what the coming days will bring.
Thanks to Joe for quickly pointing us to this article.
Is it a coincidence that the BBC is just now running a story on birth defects caused by the 20 million gallons of Agent Orange US troops sprayed in Vietnam? And we're not talking about children born in the '70s—we're talking about kids born last week:
There are claims that thousands of children continue to be born with horrific facial deformities due to the 20 million gallons of Agent Orange chemical sprayed by the United States.
The Vietnamese call the disfigured youngsters 'the children of Agent Orange'.
Da Nang in central Vietnam is thought to have the highest level of congenital deformity in the world.
Not that that changes anything about Syria. But it's a gentle reminder that when it comes to modes of violence, we're trendsetters.
A lot of that oil wealth is not trickling down...
#الراتب_مايكفي_الحاجة Poverty in Saudi Arabia pic.twitter.com/NS7yuEci4o
— Šā3Đ (@sa3d2013) July 29, 2013
You know whose eardrums are definitely being tapped by the NSA? Dennis Rodman's.
On Sunday, the name of Kim Jong-un's baby became known almost by accident, courtesy of a certain former US basketball star who keeps popping up in Pyongyang.
Dennis Rodman has already described Kim as an "awesome guy". On Sunday, he told the Guardian the leader was also a "good dad" to his baby daughter, whom he named as Ju-ae.
"The Marshal Kim and I had a relaxing time by the sea with his family," Rodman said of his recent visit to the world's most isolated country. "We shared many meals and drinks where we discussed our plans to play a historic friendship basketball game between North Korea and the US as well as ways to develop their basketball team."
Some folks are upset that a wealthy, tattooed American giant is relaxing by the sea with one of the most repressive heads of state in the world. But one North Korea specialist—Daniel Pinkston in Seoul—says it's a two-way opportunity:
"The risks and costs are very, very low, and what you're creating is a channel for the exchange of ideas. It's a very small channel, but it's there."
He said the interaction between Kim and Rodman sent out a signal to the world – and to North Koreans. "Here's someone who's one of the most nonconformist individuals you can think of. And here's the leader, embracing him. That is an implicit signal – it's OK to be different."
In other North Korea news, it looks like the Hermit Kingdom might have had a little something to do with the 1,400 people—including 400 children—killed during those gas attacks in Syria:
... Sankei Shimbun, a Japanese newspaper known for its North Korea coverage, reported that in April, Turkey had seized a shipment of arms, ammunition and gas masks en route from North Korea.
The Turkish government has not commented on the alleged confiscation. If true, the discovery suggests the military may have foreseen using chemical weapons, and sought protective gear for its own troops.
And in other Syria news, it looks like there might be a fresh new deal that circumvents a US military strike:
A seemingly offhand suggestion by Secretary of State John Kerry that Syria could avert an American attack by relinquishing its chemical weapons received an almost immediate welcome from Syria, Russia, the United Nations, a key American ally and even some Republicans on Monday as a possible way to avoid a major international military showdown in the Syria crisis. A White House official said the administration was taking a “hard look” at the idea.
Sounds like a good starting point, at least—I imagine Obama is eager to find a way out of this "red line" trap the US has created for itself, since our track record of trying to make people's lives more peaceful by sending in our military has not been a great one.
(Also, who would've guessed you could play six degrees of separation with despots and Dennis Rodman?)
A group of Israeli soldiers has danced up a storm of criticism after they were filmed boogying alongside Palestinians while on patrol in the West Bank.
The soldiers were making their rounds in the city of Hebron when they entered a dance hall and joined dozens of Palestinian men dancing to South Korean rapper Psy's hit Gangnam Style.
A group of Israeli soldiers have been suspended after being caught dancing with Palestinians while on patrol in the West Bank.
The troops were walking past a dance hall in the Jabara neighbourhood of Hebron when they went in after hearing the song Gangnam Style by South Korean singer Psy. TV footage aired on Israel’s Channel 2 shows the fully armed soldiers dancing with dozens of Palestinian men.
And he lies, lies, lies. But what he said in that interview isn't nearly as important as the fact that he was forced to give that interview. John at Americablog:
I’ve been noting for the past month how interesting it is that Putin hasn’t spoken out about the building gay drama. Lots of other senior Russian officials have, but not Putin. Now he has. Anyone who’s run an effective activist campaign against a large corporation, or especially a politician, knows that they try to insulate the CEO, or the Senator or President—they refuse to let him or her comment on the matter—until they feel they absolutely have no choice. In Putin’s case, that’s clearly what’s happened. Things have gotten so bad that he no longer has a choice but to respond to international criticism.
And it’s clear why Putin feels so cornered. The international outrage following the launch of last month’s Russian vodka boycott, has been deafening. First it was gays and our allies around the world, then it was the international media, just hounding the Russians non-stop about this issue. Then the next shoe to drop, and it keeps dropping, was world leaders weighing in, like President Obama. And now we have the news that Obama will meet with NGO representatives, including gay and trans activists, during the G20 meeting in Russia this coming Thursday. And the additional news that British Prime Minister David Cameron will raise his concerns about the gay situation with Putin.
To call the last month a glaring success would be an understatement.
Putin has even now offered to meet with Russian LGBT activists, something he only offered because President Obama is doing the same. And President Obama likely only offered it because the issue exploded in the news over the past month following the Russian vodka boycott.
This wouldn't be happening—Putin wouldn't be forced to answer questions about the gays—if it weren't for the activism we've seen in New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Berlin, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and other cities around the world. And if we keep the pressure on in the run-up to the Winter Olympics next year, and if we continue to push even after the Olympics (next up: pressuring FIFA to move the 2018 World Cup out of Russia), Russian lawmakers will eventually conclude that the domestic political benefits of scapegoating and persecuting gay people are outweighed by this never-ending international political shitstorm. And there's really only one Russian lawmaker whose opinion matters: Putin. And he isn't happy about the protests taking place around the world.
And this story in the Guardian yesterday drives home the importance of getting these laws revoked:
"The latest laws against so-called gay propaganda, first in the regions and then on the federal level, have essentially legalized violence against LGBT people, because these groups of hooligans justify their actions with these laws," [said Igor Kochetkov, head of the Russian LGBT Network]. "With this legislation, the government said that, yes, gays and lesbians are not valued as a social group. It is an action to terrorise the entire LGBT community."
And to all who turned out yesterday to demonstrate at the Russian Consular Residence in Seattle and at other "To Russia With Love" demonstrations around the world yesterday: Russian LGBT people appreciate what you did for them. And they organized a photo campaign to show their appreciation:
We, Russian LGBT people and their allies, would like to thank all the people around the world who support us and express their concern about the events in our country in hope of making a difference and pulling Russia out of a tightening medieval darkness. To show that global support and solidarity are very important for all of us, we organized in response an acknowledgment action “From Russia with Love."
You may recognize the young man in that last photo from this now-iconic image of the violence LGBT people are being subjected to in Russia.
More "From Russia With Love" photos—heartbreaking photos—here.