Fighting Terror with Laughter

Jon Stewart isn’t the usual go-to for reasoned analysis of politically tinged events, primarily because his general bias makes him nearly incoherent sometimes. But he got the events in Paris right when he said “there is no sense to be made of this”:

It takes a lot for an apologist to acknowledge that, for some things, there simply is no apology. Things like not being able to take a joke to the point that 12 people had to die. Perhaps that assessment will offend some who see more to the fanaticism of the Islamist wing of Islam. But ultimately, that’s what the massacre of the 12 in Paris yesterday was all about. There is no satirizing the sacred and profane for these guys. But we’ve known that for a while. As Jeffrey Goldberg writing in The Atlantic notes:

12 Dead: Freedom of Speech, Expression under assault from Islamic terrorists in Paris

Charlie Hebdo cartoon

Charlie Hebdo, a French satirical publication based in Paris, was firebombed in 2011. Six days later, they published the above cartoon. The caption reads “Love: Stronger than hate.” Earlier today, at least two gunmen opened fire on the publication’s office, killing at least 12 and wounding 11 others.

It’s difficult to understand this fact: The freedom of speech and expression we enjoy as Americans is not understood anywhere else in the world. Even among Western nations, there are numerous laws that curtail all manners of speech and expression.

In some nations, there is a “right to be forgotten,” which means the government can force online entities to delete unflattering information about you at your request, even if you were at one time a public figure. Wikipedia actually has a pretty substantial rundown on the various restrictions globally.

It’s important to understand this when framing the most recent terrorist attack on the Paris office of Charlie Hebdo, an irreverent and sometimes offensive weekly satirical publication. The office was firebombed in 2011 when it published an unflattering cartoon of the Islamic Prophet Mohammed.

Was the cartoon offensive to Muslims? Sure. Was the subsequent attack warranted? Absolutely not.

Doomed to repeat history: Funding Syrian rebels could create another Libya-like foreign policy crisis

Watching history repeat itself was not enough for Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY).

The senator from Kentucky took the stage yesterday morning and didn’t stop talking until he made sure the public and the empty chamber had listened to his concerns.

During his remarks on the floor of the Senate, Paul highlighted his reasons to oppose the amendment authorizing president Obama’s plan to provide training and arms to what he calls moderate rebels in Syria. The plan passed both the House and the Senate as an amendment to the continuing resolution funding the government until December 11.

Before the vote, however, Paul raised and urged the empty chamber to put an end to Obama’s plan of arming fighters in Syria who have not proven to be fundamentally opposed to ISIS. “We gave 600 tons of weapons to the Syrian rebels in 2013 alone,” Paul said as he urged his colleagues to keep in mind that the United States is not the only country providing weapons to the rebels.

According to Paul, a Wall Street Journal report detailed “millions of dollars in direct US aid to rebels” from “nearly 8 months ago or more.” As the aid continues to be funneled to rebels in Syria, Paul claims that “no one really knows where that all ended up: Jane’s Terrorism Center noted, the transfer of Quatari arms to targeted groups has the same practical effect as shipping them to Al Nusra, a violent jihadist force.”

By not knowing where these weapons are going and who’s actually making use of the military training, Paul believes passing a resolution that will fund this operation abroad in the hopes that that it might deter ISIS is ludicrous:

Report on DOD Response to Benghazi Released by House subcommittee

After reviewing thousands of pages of a series of Benghazi-related documents, including classified emails and situation reports, the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations released a summary of its members’ particular reviews regarding what is known of the circumstances surrounding the Benghazi attack and the Department of Defense’s response.

According to Think Progress, the Subcommittee concluded that “there was no way for the U.S. military to have responded in time to the 2012 terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya to save the four Americans killed that night,” but according to the report, “given the uncertainty about the prospective length and scope of the attack, military commanders did not take all possible steps to prepare for a more extended operation.”

In other words, what the Subcommittee concluded appears to sound nothing close to what Think Progress reported.

The White House, the Subcommittee found, failed to address a growing concern related to the deteriorating security situation in Libya, which created a particularly vulnerable situation for U.S. personnel stationed in Benghazi. The Subcommittee also found that the response of our military was “severely degraded because of the location and readiness posture of U.S. forces, and because of lack of clarity about how the terrorist action was unfolding.”

“60 Minutes” on Benghazi: al-Qaeda announced plot online prior to attack

The media has spun much of what we now know to be true about the attack in Benghazi that claimed the life of Chris Stevens over the past year.

A witness to the attack, and what happened afterwards, was recently interviewed for a segment of 60 Minutes on Benghazi. The security officer talked about the frustrating and terrifying experience. He was sent to Benghazi to train the Libyan militia securing the Benghazi mission. He calls himself Morgan Jones.

During the night after the September 11th attack in Benghazi, the former British soldier was able to sneak into the hospital that had been under control of al Qaeda to search for Ambassador Stevens, who had been reportedly taken there after the attacks. The security officer was able to find him but it was already too late, the Ambassador had already been killed.

According to the report, the official statements issued by the White House had absolutely nothing to do with the facts. The attack against the Benghazi mission had been planned. Al Qaeda had posted plans regarding the attacks against the U.S. and the U.K. online before the assaults.

Months before the attacks were carried out, Ambassador Stevens authorized a series of detailed cables to Washington making specific claims of possible threats. He specifically detailed that al Qaeda flags had been spotted flying over government buildings, which could be interpreted as a sign that their presence in the region had been challenged.

What Syria Can Teach About Net Neutrality

Internet killswitch

There is a focus, and rightly so, on what the U.S. reaction to the crises in Syria will be — if anything — from the perspective of how strong the United States looks on the world stage, and what that means as regards our relationships with long-standing allies. These are important considerations.

But Syria may have something else to teach us that is just as timely and relevant as the ubiquitous relevance of international relationships and war games. The country, along with the other hotbed of unrest Egypt, is the Petri dish of the Internet “killswitch.” (Read: what happens when the government controls access to the Internet and decides a population has had enough of communication and information gathering. Yeah. Scary.)

Mashable reports:

The Internet is a decentralized global network, designed to be resilient and hard to take down. But it’s still possible to black out a certain area, or even an entire country, disconnecting it from the rest of the world.

That’s what happened in Egypt in 2011 and three times in Syria in just the last year…does Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime have stronghold over the country’s Internet access? Most likely yes, according to experts.

WSJ: NSA programs cover 75% of Internet traffic, keeps some e-mail content

The National Security Agency’s Internet communications surveillance is so vast that it can reach nearly 75% of all online communications, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal.

President Barack Obama has gone to great lengths recently to downplay the NSA’s surveillance apparatus, telling Americans that the government isn’t spying on them and publicly discussing reforms that would protect privacy. But the Wall Street Journal’s report indicates that the snooping programs do in fact retain both email and phone communications between American citizens.

“The system has the capacity to reach roughly 75% of all U.S. Internet traffic in the hunt for foreign intelligence, including a wide array of communications by foreigners and Americans. In some cases, it retains the written content of emails sent between citizens within the U.S. and also filters domestic phone calls made with Internet technology, these people say,” noted the Wall Street Journal.

“The NSA’s filtering, carried out with telecom companies, is designed to look for communications that either originate or end abroad, or are entirely foreign but happen to be passing through the U.S.,” the paper added. “But officials say the system’s broad reach makes it more likely that purely domestic communications will be incidentally intercepted and collected in the hunt for foreign ones.”

The Tactics of the Enemy

Peggy Noonan has a great column in The Wall Street Journal about the domestic spying at the National Security Agency (NSA) that, it turns out, may have been a little broader and a little more illegal than previously suspected. The Washington Post reported yesterday that new documents and an internal audit indicate that NSA “has broken privacy rules or overstepped its legal authority thousands of times each year since Congress granted the agency broad new powers in 2008”:

The documents provided by Snowden offer only glimpses of those questions. Some reports make clear that an unauthorized search produced no records. But a single “incident” in February 2012 involved the unlawful retention of 3,032 files that the surveillance court had ordered the NSA to destroy, according to the May 2012 audit. Each file contained an undisclosed number of telephone call records.

One of the documents sheds new light on a statement by NSA Director Keith B. Alexander last year that “we don’t hold data on U.S. citizens.”

Some Obama administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, have defended Alexander with assertions that the agency’s internal definition of “data” does not cover “metadata” such as the trillions of American call records that the NSA is now known to have collected and stored since 2006. Those records include the telephone numbers of the parties and the times and durations of conversations, among other details, but not their content or the names of callers.

Chris Matthews: Ted Cruz is a “terrorist”

Chris Matthews

Chris Matthews has completely lost whatever little bit of sanity he had left. During a segment on Wednesday, the MSNBC host called Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) a “terrorist” because of his opposition to ObamaCare and increasing the debt limit.

“Ted Cruz is going after fellow Republicans for not supporting a government shutdown over ObamaCare. Let’s just say he’s a political terrorist on this one,” said Matthews at the beginning of a Hardball segment on the divisions inside the GOP, later lumping Sens. Mike Lee (R-UT) and Rand Paul (R-KY) in the same category.

He wasn’t done there. During a discussion with former Obama strategist David Alexrod and Republican strategist Steve Schmidt, Matthews continued to single out Cruz, again calling him a “terrorist,” which clearly made his guests uncomfortable.

“[Cruz] just acts that way with that somber, indictive aspect, like this guy is the evil one. But I will say he’s a terrorist, because what the guy has done, basically, he says my goals are — is demolition,” said Matthews during a rant about the push to defund ObamaCare. “Blow up health care, blow up the continuing resolution. Bring the government to a standstill. And then make us forfeit on the national debt.”

Rand Paul Issues Second Letter Asking the FBI About its Drone Use

On March 6th, Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) held a 13-hour long filibuster to rally against this administration’s threatening drone policy concerning the targeting of American citizens overseas. He also used the time he had to ask broader questions dealing with the potential targeting of Americans on U.S. soil, which weren’t fully answered.

On June 20th, Sen. Paul requested more answers concerning the current U.S. drone use. Unfortunately, the Senator did not obtain any responses to his first letter, which was directed to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. According to the official release, Sen. Paul questioned the FBI Director Robert Mueller on whether the agency is actively using drones without governance policy, which would be the only way to assure the lawful use of the unmanned devices is authorized.

With the first letter, Sen. Paul asked the FBI for details on the period in which drones have been in use by the agency, and accurate information on whether these devices are armed.

Sen. Paul has now issued a second letter since the FBI failed to provide answers to his questions after Robert Mueller testified before Congress on June 19th claiming that the FBI does operate done aircrafts.

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