Focal Points Blog

NSA Surveillance’s Cost-Benefit Ratio

Senator Frank Church, spied on by the NSA

Senator Frank Church, spied on by the NSA

Polls show that a majority of Americans rhetorically oppose the extensive domestic surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA). But the outrage is far less than one might expect, considering the agency’s profound intrusion into people’s private spheres.

One explanation for this might be that, in the age of Facebook and Google, people are simply used to the massive sharing of information as a condition for using social media services. The currency is information, not money—a price many citizens seem to be very willing to pay.

Many might also think that they are simply not affected by the extensive collection of data—and even if they are, it is unclear why they, innocent citizens with “nothing to hide,” should be concerned. After all, the collection is done for the sake of security, a value many are willing to pay for with their privacy.
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Obama Administration Actually Doesn’t Want Too Good a Nuclear Deal With Iran

Iran Talks

In an article at Truthout, Gareth Porter explains how French objections that undermined the nuclear deal that the six power including the United States were offering Iran were in deference to Israel, with whom the French foreign ministry has been close since the administration of President Sarkozy. He then makes a subtle point.

From the beginning of the talks in October through last week’s negotiations, Iran had been proposing an agreement that would [lead to an] end game [which] for Iran meant the removal of all the sanctions against Iran in return for Iran’s acceptance of strict limits on its enrichment and the acceptance of much more intrusive monitoring by the IAEA.

But, what

… concerned US officials primarily was whether Iran could achieve a breakout to a bomb. … If Iran ended its 20 percent enrichment and systematically was eliminating its stockpile of uranium that could still be enriched to weapons-grade levels (90 percent), the Obama administration might feel that the urgency of the crisis had lessened.
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Cameroon’s Chantal Biya – From the Streets to the Halls of Power

The Biyas and the Obamas. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

The Biyas and the Obamas. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Library of Congress: only U.S. copy

I am wondering if the copy of Bertrand Teyou’s  La Belle de la Republique Bananière: Chantal Biya – de la rue au Palais* which I acquired is the only copy of the book here in the United States. Most copies of the book were confiscated by the Cameroon government itself. My search for it did produce a lone copy from the Library of Congress, which was sent me through the modern miracle of the inter-library loan system. I doubt it was an original – but seemed instead to be a Xeroxed copy, its pages poorly cut with a paper cutter, so that some of the text was cut away.

Still there it was, and I read it in its entirety.

For his contribution to our understanding of the psychology of power and female upward mobility in Cameroon Teyou was rewarded by being thrown in prison for six months where he nearly died. He would have, if not for an international campaign to free him that included publicity of his fate by organizations like Amnesty International and PEN International.
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The Battle of Berlin: 70 Years Ago This Month

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Despite the lack of a world war since and the Nuremberg Trials, which sent the message that war criminals would be held accountable by a world body in the future, it’s debatable whether the lessons of World War II have been fully learned. By that point, of course, the Western world just wanted to put all the death and devastation behind it and rebuild. But, the speed with which the United States pivoted to the USSR as an enemy and were back on war footing, where we remain as if terrorism and China were threats equal to Germany and Japan, suggests we still haven’t digested World War II. In fact, it should be central to our daily discourse on a daily basis.

It might seem obscure to some, but November 17 and 18 mark the seventieth anniversary of the beginning of the Battle of Berlin. If you haven’t heard of or forgot it, the Battle of Berlin was to Germany as the Blitz was to England, only more so. The following passage is from World War II (Penguin, 1989) by the great British military historian John Keegan, who died last year.
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Typhoon Haiyan Leads the Storm Arms Race

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Speaking of Typhoon Haiyan, Jim Pe, vice mayor of the town of Coron on Basuang, said the 150-plus miles-per-hour winds were “like a 747 flying just above my roof.” Or as Alan Boyle reports for NBC News:

Experts say Typhoon Haiyan was about as strong as it could theoretically get when it swept through the Philippines. … If the higher estimates are correct, the warning center said Haiyan’s maximum strength would exceed that of its previous record-holder: Hurricane Camille, which hit the northern Gulf Coast in 1969 with sustained winds of 190 mph. [But] climate models suggest they will keep rising over the decades to come, with the potential for bigger and more devastating storms.
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Democratic Republic of the Congo Test Case for ‘New World Order’

M23. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

M23. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

In a reprise of the military operation that helped secure independence for the Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1960, the United Nations finally got tough. It unleashed MONUSCO, its in-country peacekeeping force, to join forces with the Congolese Armed Forces in a full-scale military operation to route the rampaging rebel group, the M23. Too often peacekeepers have been reduced to bystanders, most shamefully in Bosnia and Rwanda.

U.S. ambassador to the UN and genocide authority Samantha Power is often taken to task for advocating humanitarian intervention in an age when many Americans of conscience believe it’s only a cover for implementing our own agenda. The odds of that are rolled back to some extent when it’s authorized by the UN. In a November 5 press release reacting to MONUSCO’s success, she stated (emphasis added)

We look forward to the final declaration providing for the timely disarmament and demobilization of the M23, as well as accountability for perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In this regard, we continue to call for the establishment of “mixed chambers,” a hybrid domestic-international court that would prosecute the worst perpetrators of atrocities. We reiterate our calls for the DRC government to hold accountable all those who have committed abuses in the Congolese army, as well as militia members.
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Egypt: The First Nation Ever to Revolt Against Democracy?

Egyptian security forces. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Egyptian security forces. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

When Egyptian military leaders decided to end Egypt’s first ever-ever democratic experience in a coup d’etat on July 2nd, toppling the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) government from powerand imprisoning President Mohammad Morsi, Egypt perhaps became the only country in the world that had a revolution against democracy.

As a result, the new government embarked on persecuting and illegally imprisoning members of the Muslim brotherhood and others who defy the military takeover of power. Last Monday President Morsi was arraigned in court for his initial procedural hearing on charges of “incitement to murder” and “collaborating with enemy entities or states,” a reference to the Palestinian organization Hamas. During his brief appearance, Morsi defied the court declaring that he is the “legally-elected president of Egypt” and that “the court proceedings were illegal.” Although the trial was rescheduled for January 8th, it is doubtful that the Egyptian judiciary, which is famously corrupt and staffed with pro-Mubarak and pro-coup judges, will hold a fair trial for the deposed president and his aides.
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U.S. Official Propagates Myths About Iran and Nuclear Energy

Memorial for assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Memorial for assassinated Iranian nuclear scientists. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

At Going to Tehran, Flynt and Hillary Mann Leverett wrote about an appearance last month before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, who is also the senior U.S. representative in the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran. What Ms. Sherman said not only calls into question her ability to perform that job, it begs the question of whether she’s even listening to herself. Ironically, it was in the cause of attempting to delay the implementation of further sanctions until the talks that she said of Iranians:

“We know that deception is part of the DNA.”

The Leveretts’ reaction:

This statement goes beyond orientalist stereotyping; it is, in the most literal sense, racist. And it evidently was not a mere “slip of the tongue”: a former Obama administration senior official told us that Sherman has used such language before about Iranians.
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Strange Bedfellows: Israel and Arabs United in Opposition to Iran

IsraelAirForce

Is Israel really planning to attack Iran, or are declarations about the possibility of a pre-emptive strike at Teheran’s nuclear program simply bombast? Does President Obama’s “we have your back” comment about Israel mean the U.S. will join an assault? What happens if the attack doesn’t accomplish its goals, an outcome predicted by virtually every military analyst? In that case, might the Israelis, facing a long, drawn-out war, resort to the unthinkable: nuclear weapons?

Such questions almost seem bizarre at a time when Iran and negotiators from the P5+1—the U.S., China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany—appear to be making progress at resolving the dispute over Teheran’s nuclear program.And yet the very fact that a negotiated settlement seems possible may be the trigger for yet another war in the Middle East.
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What if They Held a Wake and Nobody Came?

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Courtesy Wikimedia Commons

It often occurs to me that the fellow who wrote the book some years back about learning everything worthwhile at his mother’s knee had a very good point about foreign policy. We are trained and brainwashed to believe, of course, that foreign policy is too complicated for us mere citizens, and that the President and his minions have much more information than we do and must and should be trusted to deploy it to confound our enemies abroad. “Liberal” information radio constantly re-emphasizes the point that we are incompetent to participate in foreign policy by employing think-tank pundits to field every question and comment and turn it back on the listener with some patronizing pronouncement or other. (For example, CALLER: Why should everybody be in a lather about Iran and a possible nuclear weapon someday, when Israel already has 200-300 of those, won’t admit it, and doesn’t abide by any international agreements on nuclear weapons? ANSWER:  Israel is a special case; it’s different; the President and the military and even Congress has special secret information about this; don’t worry your pretty head.)
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