Maine Writer

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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Pope Francis and Senator Elizabeth Warren - Harbingers of a New World Order

Although the refreshing Vatican leadership of Pope Francis is lifting the 2013 year end news, his world wide impact was, ironically, quietly foreshadowed by the election of Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit Pope elected after Pope Benedict XVI resigned

Senator Warren defeated incumbent Republican Senator Scott Brown. A woman defeating an incumbent is news enough but her election was a harbinger of a sea turn away from conservative politics. Warren is an academic who enjoyed being able to critique the politics of greed. In so doing, she became somewhat imune to big money's influence in politics. As a result, Warren won the popular vote to defeat an incumbent Republican Senator.

Senator Elizabeth Warren Democrat from Massachusettes

In the wake of the 2008 financial crisis, Warren served as chair of the Congressional Oversight Panel created to oversee the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). She later served as Assistant to the President and Special Advisor to the Secretary of the Treasury for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau under President Barack Obama. In the late 2000s she was recognized by publications such as the National Law Journal and the Time 100 as an increasingly influential public policy figure.

In September 2011, Warren announced her candidacy for the U.S. Senate, challenging Republican incumbent Scott Brown. She won the general election on November 6, 2012, to become the first female Senator from Massachusetts. She was assigned to the Senate Special Committee on Aging; the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee; and the Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee. As a Senate leader, Warren is calling attention to the arrogance of many who have a sense of entitlement because they control wealth.

Pope Francis is the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church and the first Jesuit Pope. 
His election followed the unprecedented resignation of Pope Benedict XVI, a religious leader who was admired by conservative Catholics for his steadfast adherence to conservative social policy issues. Unfortunately, however, Pope Benedict also seemed to embellish the accoutrement's allowed for the leader of the Vatican. One of Pope Benedict's earliest images included wearing custom made red shoes. Although conservatives liked him, he didn't do much to energize the church especially after the bleak years of priest abuse issues. In fact, Pope Benedict even admitted to one reason for his resignation was because he felt like God appeared to be sleeping during his leadership.

In contrast, before he left Buenos Aires for the Roman conclave, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio's friends asked him to buy a new pair of shoes to replace the pair he was wearing. The day he was departing (Argentina) for the conclave, a couple of friends brought (the Cardinal) a pair of shoes. He's always very humbly dressed and the shoes he was wearing were not in very good shape, a pair of South American priests told Vatican Radio.

Quite a stark contrast between the Benedict and Francis.
Since Pope Francis was elected, he has electrified the Roman Catholic Church with his astounding outreach to the poor and those who feel marginalized by the society. He's even rumored to be considering giving a woman an adminisrative position in the male dominated Vatican.
God certainly  "woke up" when Pople Francis was elected by his fellow Cardinals to lead the Roman Catholic Church.

Pope Francis and Senator Warren are synergestic leaders. Both of them are politically astute because they certainly know how to electrify their supporters. Each advocates for wealth distribution. Pope Francis criticizes the concept of trickle down economics, thereby causing the rich to bristle.  He draws crowds like a rock star, was named “Person of the Year” by Time Magazine, as well as a gay rights magazine, and drew the ire of right wing radio bombastic pundit Rush Limbaugh. Pope Francis has dramatically shifted the message and tone of the Vatican and he’s forcing Republicans in Washington to reassess their relationship with the Catholic church.

For years, Catholic leaders’ staunch opposition to abortion, gay marriage and the contraception-related provisions of Obamacare made them natural allies for the GOP. But Francis scrambled the equation by de-emphasizing hot-button social issues, warning against unchecked capitalism and pushing a populist message at odds with the core of the anti-spending, anti-big government Republican Party.
Read more:
Senator Warren is an advocate for sharing the weath of the rich through taxation. Warren rebuts the GOP-touted notion that raising taxes on the wealthy amounts to "class warfare," contending that "there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody."

Warren rejects the concept that it is possible for Americans to become wealthy in isolation.

"You built a factory out there? Good for you," she says. "But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn't have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did."

"There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own," says Warren.

It seems natural for Senator Warren and Pope Francis to eventually meet. They'e likely energize each other because their beliefs compliment one another. As a matter of fact, if the two ever gave a joint speech, it could have an explosive impact on the world's often exploited working classes. 
As history has demonstrated, charismatic people frequently charge up a destructive backlash of opposition.  
Nevertheless, Pope Francis seems to have created new opportunities to discuss issues like poverty, wealth sharing and forgiveness. Likewise, Senator Warren dared to stand up the powerful money interests to unseat an incumbent and she uses words like "taxation".
Both Pope Francis and Senator Warren are harbingers of a potential new world order where the meek have an opportunity to inherit the earth.  Well, maybe that's ambitiously idealistic. Nevertheless, Republicans, conservatives, the tax averse and trickle down supply siders could soon be among economic endangered species.  

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Friday, December 27, 2013

Snowden Says Nothing about His Own Surveillance While Living Like a House Cat

Edward Snowden tells reporters he lives like a house cat. Yet, when he speaks like some sort of reconstituted oracle about US surveillance, he looks outward rather than at his self imposed exile. Indeed, Russia is certainly no place of enlightened freedom. Being of Russian ancestry myself, I can report from personal experience how paranoia is genetic in their national genome.  

Unfortunately, I don't speak Russian, but I'm curious about how the word "privacy" translates into Cyrillic. I suspect, in Russian the word "privacy" likely refers to modesty rather than personal security. Russians don't speak about privacy. Rather, they fully understand the concept of "spying". They're making a mockery of clandestine US spying operations by propping up Snowden to speak with the press. Russians don't care two hoots about privacy, it's the spying they're mocking through Snowden.

Americans are obsessed with privacy, which is why Snowden is able to capture attention. This privacy obsession continues, even while we're fully aware of the risk we expose ourselves to when we swipe a credit card or make an easily traceable cell phone call.

Snowden calls for an end of mass surveillance of Americans while he holds court with hungry journalists in a Russian hotel room, where every word he utters is monitored. This hypocrisy has become pathological.  

Obviously, Snowden's narcissistic behavior is coupled with delusions about the people who hold him in a cat's cradle exile.

Snowden speaks about surveillance of "everything we do", while every word he utters is likely scripted by his Russian pet owners.

American National Security has been put under the proverbial microscope by Snowden's deluge of information leaks. Shame on our government for allowing Snowden the freedom he enjoyed to steal so much information.

Until American National Security is able to find Snowden's mirror clone in Russia, this security babble from Snowden will continue like a cat screeching in breeding season.

Surely, there's a counter Snowden out their in Russia's tundra who can put an end to the condescending self righteous babbling of this information traitor. Meanwhile, I suspect very little about Snowden's self declared victory has changed America's intention to protect our national security, even at the risk of exposing our surveillance technologies.

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Thursday, December 26, 2013

Looking to 2016- CNN Reports a Deadlocked Race

Here's why:

1. Christie will inevitably screw up in the next two years, he's an ego machine and it will trip him up. 

2. Mrs. Clinton, on the other hand, is totally cool under pressure. She's a known entity, there's virtually nothing we don't know about her. 

3. Christie's supporters are the very people who score dismally against Mrs. Clinton in the CNN Poll.

Christie's fan club are like anchors dragging him down. Christie's surrogates have the potential to tank him.

4. Mrs. Clinton's surrogates are super stars. Enough said about them.

Of course, right wing nuts will carry on about the Benghazi tragedy, which unfortunately happened on Mrs. Clinton's tenure as Secretary of State. But, unless new information is forthcoming, the entire catastrophe could backfire on zealous Republicans. They need new information about Benghazi and I doubt anything else is forthcoming.

Christie supporters, on the other hand, continue to hail his overwhelming victory in his re-election for governor in distinctly Democratic New Jersey. This super victory doesn't endear Christie with the right wing of the very conservative Republican party.
Regardless of how wide a margin Christie gained in his re-election, his victory was an endorsement of his rapid response to the Sandy hurricane disaster, rather than a coronation for national political status.

I suspect the more we learn about Governor Christie the less likely he is to gain enough popular support to defeat Mrs. Clinton in a Presidential election.

All of the above is presuming, of course,that a 2016 election is a Clinton versus Christie debate.

Therefore, I suspect Mrs. Clinton is feeling good about her two point down challenge in a neck and neck election, if one were held today.Candidate want to avoid a toxic sense of inevitability. Rather, Mrs. Clinton will have the opportunity to define Governor Christie, because, after all, he's still a political unknown to many, especially to right wingers who, frankly, would rather vote for a resurrected Attila the Hun than a moderate Republican.

CNN's neck and neck poll is a teaser to keep the pressure on the Democratic and Republican front runners in a quest to create rather than report news.

As a blogging news reporter, my opinion is to advise CNN to spend their political polling money on reporting real news. Hypothetical deadlocked political races are totally useless prognosticators of election outcomes. Mrs. Clinton will not be enticed to announce any earlier just because CNN polls are giving a measly 2 point advantage to Governor Christie.

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Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Pope Francis - Love Transcendng Sinfulness

Merry Christmas to the World from Pope Francis at St. Peter's Midnight Mass- Pope Francis rang in his first Christmas at the Vatican with a Christmas Eve Mass, by preaching a message of love and forgiveness. Having experienced attending Christmas Eve Midnight Mass at St. Peter's, when Pope John Paul II led the Mass, I'm reliving the uplifting Christmas memory and imagining how exhilarated the people are to be with Pope Francis at this joyous liturgical celebration.  

"He called on the throngs gathered at St. Peter's Basilica to cast aside hatred." (Reports CNN)

"People are listening to him, because he's speaking in a language that's not Vaticanese," O'Connell said. "He's speaking the language of ordinary people."

Pope Francis puts a face on human love. His behavior, reaching out to the poor and disenfranchised, extends beyond being a teacher from the pulpit. He has demonstrated the power of humility to win human hearts. His capacity to show love transcends sinfulness. 

It seems to me, hate and love cannot coexist. If love can replace hate, then humans have a moral obligation to open their hearts to the message Pope Francis extends to the world.  Love can replace hate. Pope Francis sends a message about forgiveness that transcends sinfulness.  

Pope Francis asks us to eradicate hate from the human condition and extend love to all, especially to the poor and the millions of people in the world who are suffering from war, disease, oppression or illness.

In response, if I could replace hate with love by waving a peace wand, I would remove the hate in Syria right now, immediately, while so many people (mostly Christians) are suffering in refugee camps because of the nation's cruel civil war.

(CNN reports) St. Peter's Basilica -- Pope Francis rang in his first Christmas at the Vatican with a Christmas Eve Mass on Tuesday, preaching a message of love and forgiveness.

"On this night, let us share the joy of the Gospel. God loves us. He so loves us that he gave us his son to be our brother, to be light in our darkness. To us the Lord repeats, 'Do not be afraid,' ... And I, too, repeat, do not be afraid,'" the Pope said.

"Our Father is patient. He loves us, he gives us Jesus to guide us on the way which leads to the promised land. Jesus is the light who brightened the darkness. Our Father forgives always. He is our peace and light."

He called on the throngs gathered at St. Peter's Basilica to cast aside hatred.

"God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. Yet on the part of the people, there are times of both light and darkness, fidelity and infidelity, obedience and rebellion, times of being a pilgrim people, and times of being a people adrift," the Pope said. "In our personal history, too, there are both bright and dark moments, lights and shadows. If we love God and our brothers and sisters, we walk in the light. But if our heart is closed, if we are dominated by pride, deceit, self-seeking, then darkness falls within us, and around us. Whoever hates his brother -- writes the Apostle John -- is in the darkness; he walks in the darkness, and does not know the way to go, because the darkness has blinded his eyes."

Before the Mass, pilgrims gathering in Vatican City told CNN they were excited to celebrate with the Pope.

"We want to share this special moment with a person who is a beloved person, and we appreciate all he's doing," one woman said.

Nine months into his papacy, much has been made of the Pope's reforms, among them more scrutiny at the Vatican bank, changes to the church's bureaucratic structure, and a commission to deal with the abuse of minors.

And while this year's Christmas liturgy remains the same, experts say we should expect the unexpected.

"He tends to be a surprise, because he does things that are normal, but are very abnormal in terms of the papacy," said Gerald O'Connell, a Vatican analyst. "He brought three homeless men into where he is living to have breakfast with him on his birthday. ... I suspect we will see something else again over the Christmas period."

The festivities began on Saturday, with the Pope's Christmas message to the Curia. He urged the church's governing body to avoid gossip and to focus on service.

And then he practiced what he preached, spending three hours at a local hospital bringing Christmas cheer to sick children.

There were a record number of requests to attend this year's Christmas Eve Mass.

On Christmas Day, tens of thousands of pilgrims are expected to flood St. Peter's Square to hear his message to the world.

"People are listening to him, because he's speaking in a language that's not Vaticanese," O'Connell said. "He's speaking the language of ordinary people."

Merry Christmas and God Bless Pope Francis.

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Monday, December 23, 2013

Edward Snowden Wants All Headlines All the Time

So now Edward Snowden is holding court in Russian hotel rooms with journalists who will keep his name in the news. He's like a siren that won't stop screeching until somebody finds the off button.  By the way, where is Snowden's "off" button?

Washington Post article by Barton Gellman with Julie Tate: 

"People who accuse him of disloyalty, he said, mistake his purpose."(That's me!  I'm reading Gellman's inerview to try and figure out the purpose of Snowden's disloyalty, but it hasn't hit me yet.)

Snowden: “I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

Snowden grants that NSA employees by and large believe in their mission and trust the agency to handle the secrets...

Privacy, as Snowden sees it, is a universal right, applicable to American and foreign surveillance alike. (So, is Snowden experiencing privacy while living in Russia? I suspect not.)

(I don't understand how Snowden was hired by NSA when he clearly has narcissitic issues.  In the following interview, he credits his appointment to the Senate and House intelligence committees, because they gave his work a pass when performing their oversight Nevertheless, who was the person who hired him? It wasn't the Senate or House intelligence committees who hired him. He was hired by a person.)

Barton Gellman is keeping the Snowden siren going in a Washington Post interview done in Moscow. This article is a regurgitation of the Snowden saga. Snowden tells Gellman how he has now  fullfilled his mission. "His mission?" (Apparently, Snowden has a Messianic complex.  In other words, he has an inflated state of mind in which he believes he is a savior for freedom from government surveillance.)

Meanwhile, every transaction conducted over electronic communications leavesa footprint and the concept of confidentiality in cyberspace is a delusion.  But, Snowden now feels vindicated.

Maybe, he's fishing for an excuse to return home to the US. Well, too late. Who wants him, except in jail?  Perhaps Gellman can do jail house interviews, it's a lot cheaper than going to Moscow.

MOSCOW — The familiar voice on the hotel room phone did not waste words.“What time does your clock say, exactly?” he asked.
He checked the reply against his watch and described a place to meet.

“I’ll see you there,” he said.

Edward Joseph Snowden emerged at the appointed hour, alone, blending into a light crowd of locals and tourists. He cocked his arm for a handshake, then turned his shoulder to indicate a path. Before long he had guided his visitor to a secure space out of public view.

During more than 14 hours of interviews, the first he has conducted in person since arriving here in June, Snowden did not part the curtains or step outside. Russia granted him temporary asylum on Aug. 1, but Snowden remains a target of surpassing interest to the intelligence services whose secrets he spilled on an epic scale.

Late this spring, Snowden supplied three journalists, including this one, with caches of top-secret documents from the National Security Agency, where he worked as a contractor. Dozens of revelations followed, and then hundreds, as news organizations around the world picked up the story. Congress pressed for explanations, new evidence revived old lawsuits and the Obama administration was obliged to declassify thousands of pages it had fought for years to conceal.

Taken together, the revelations have brought to light a global surveillance system that cast off many of its historic restraints after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Secret legal authorities empowered the NSA to sweep in the telephone, Internet and location records of whole populations. One of the leaked presentation slides described the agency’s “collection philosophy” as “Order one of everything off the menu.”

Six months after the first revelations appeared in The Washington Post and the Guardian, Snowden agreed to reflect at length on the roots and repercussions of his choice. He was relaxed and animated over two days of nearly unbroken conversation, fueled by burgers, pasta, ice cream and Russian pastry.

Snowden offered vignettes from his intelligence career and from his recent life as “an indoor cat” in Russia. But he consistently steered the conversation back to surveillance, democracy and the meaning of the documents he exposed.

“For me, in terms of personal satisfaction, the mission’s already accomplished,” he said. “I already won. As soon as the journalists were able to work, everything that I had been trying to do was validated. Because, remember, I didn’t want to change society. I wanted to give society a chance to determine if it should change itself.”

“All I wanted was for the public to be able to have a say in how they are governed,” he said. “That is a milestone we left a long time ago. Right now, all we are looking at are stretch goals.”

(This is fanciful thinking! I find it impossible to believe the Russians are falling for this Snowden thinking. There's no way the public will have a say in how they're governed. If this were possible, people could finally have world peace.)
‘Going in blind’ - (or one man's paranoia)
Snowden (writes Gellman) is an orderly thinker, with an engineer’s approach to problem-solving. He had come to believe a dangerous machine of mass surveillance was growing unchecked. Closed-door oversight in Congress and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was a “graveyard of judgment,” he said, manipulated by the agency it was supposed to supervise. Classification rules erected walls to prevent public debate.

Toppling those walls would be a spectacular act of transgression against the norms that prevailed inside them. Someone would have to bypass security, extract the secrets, make undetected contact with journalists and provide them with enough proof to tell the stories.

The NSA’s business is “information dominance,” the use of other people’s secrets to shape events. At 29, Snowden upended the agency on its own turf.

“You recognize that you’re going in blind, that there’s no model,” Snowden said, acknowledging that he had no way to know whether the public would share his views.

“But when you weigh that against the alternative, which is not to act,” he said, “you realize that some analysis is better than no analysis. Because even if your analysis proves to be wrong, the marketplace of ideas will bear that out. If you look at it from an engineering perspective, an iterative perspective, it’s clear that you have to try something rather than do nothing.”

By his own terms, Snowden succeeded beyond plausible ambition. Accustomed to watching without being watched, the NSA faces scrutiny it has not endured since the 1970s, or perhaps ever.

The cascading effects have made themselves felt in Congress, the courts, popular culture, Silicon Valley and world capitals. The basic structure of the Internet itself is now in question, as Brazil and members of the European Unionconsider measures to keep their data away from U.S. territory and U.S. technology giants including Google, Microsoft and Yahoo take extraordinary step to block the collection of data by their government.

For months, Obama administration officials attacked Snowden’s motives and said the work of the NSA was distorted by selective leaks and misinterpretations.

Last Monday, in a lawsuit that could not have gone forward without the disclosures made possible by Snowden, U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon described the NSA’s capabilities as “almost Orwellian” and said its bulk collection of U.S. domestic telephone records was probably unconstitutional.

On Tuesday, in the Roosevelt Room, an unusual delegation of executives from old telephone companies and young Internet firms told President Obama that the NSA’s intrusion into their networks was a threat to the U.S. information economy. The following day, an advisory panel appointed by Obama recommended substantial new restrictions on the NSA, including an end to the domestic call-records program.

“This week is a turning point,” said Jesselyn Radack of the Government Accountability Project, who is one of Snowden’s legal advisers. “It has been just a cascade.”

‘They elected me’

On June 22, the Justice Department unsealed a criminal complaint charging Snowden with espionage and felony theft of government property. It was a dry enumeration of statutes, without a trace of the anger pulsing through Snowden’s former precincts.

In the intelligence and national security establishments, Snowden is widely viewed as a reckless saboteur, and journalists abetting him little less so.

At the Aspen Security Forum in July, a four-star military officer known for his even keel seethed through one meeting alongside a reporter he knew to be in contact with Snowden. Before walking away he turned and pointed a finger.

“We didn’t have another 9/11,” he said angrily, because intelligence enabled warfighters to find the enemy first. “Until you’ve got to pull the trigger, until you’ve had to bury your people, you don’t have a clue.”

It is commonly said of Snowden that he broke an oath of secrecy, a turn of phrase that captures a sense of betrayal. NSA Director Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., among many others, have used that formula.

In his interview with The Post, Snowden noted matter-of-factly that Standard Form 312, the classified-information nondisclosure agreement, is a civil contract. He signed it, but he pledged his fealty elsewhere.

“The oath of allegiance is not an oath of secrecy,” he said. “That is an oath to the Constitution. That is the oath that I kept that Keith Alexander and James Clapper did not.”

People who accuse him of disloyalty, he said, mistake his purpose.

“I am not trying to bring down the NSA, I am working to improve the NSA,” he said. “I am still working for the NSA right now. They are the only ones who don’t realize it.”

What entitled Snowden, now 30, to take on that responsibility?

“That whole question — who elected you? — inverts the model,” he said. “They elected me. The overseers.”

He named the chairmen of the Senate and House intelligence committees.

Dianne Feinstein elected me when she asked softball questions” in committee hearings, he said. “Mike Rogers elected me when he kept these programs hidden. . . . The FISA court elected me when they decided to legislate from the bench on things that were far beyond the mandate of what that court was ever intended to do. The system failed comprehensively, and each level of oversight, each level of responsibility that should have addressed this, abdicated their responsibility.”

“It wasn’t that they put it on me as an individual — that I’m uniquely qualified, an angel descending from the heavens — as that they put it on someone, somewhere,” he said. “You have the capability, and you realize every other [person] sitting around the table has the same capability but they don’t do it. So somebody has to be the first.”

‘Front-page test’

Snowden grants that NSA employees by and large believe in their mission and trust the agency to handle the secrets it takes from ordinary people — deliberately, in the case of bulk records collection, and “incidentally,” when the content of American phone calls and e-mails are swept into NSA systems along with foreign targets.

But Snowden also said he believed acceptance of the agency’s operations was not universal. He began to test that proposition more than a year ago, he said, in periodic conversations with co-workers and superiors that foreshadowed his emerging plan.

Beginning in October 2012, he said, he brought his misgivings to two superiors in the NSA’s Technology Directorate and two more in the NSA Threat Operations Center’s regional base in Hawaii. For each of them, and 15 other co-workers, Snowden said he opened a data query tool called BOUNDLESSINFORMANT, which used color-coded “heat maps” to depict the volume of data ingested by NSA taps.

His colleagues were often “astonished to learn we are collecting more in the United States on Americans then we are on Russians in Russia,” he said. Many of them were troubled, he said, and several said they did not want to know any more.

“I asked these people, ‘What do you think the public would do if this was on the front page?’ ” he said. He noted that critics have accused him of bypassing internal channels of dissent. “How is that not reporting it? How is that not raising it?” he said.

By last December, Snowden was contacting reporters, although he had not yet passed along any classified information. He continued to give his colleagues the “front-page test,” he said, until April.

Asked about those conversations, NSA spokeswoman Vanee Vines sent a prepared statement to The Post: “After extensive investigation, including interviews with his former NSA supervisors and co-workers, we have not found any evidence to support Mr. Snowden’s contention that he brought these matters to anyone’s attention.”

Snowden recounted another set of conversations that he said took place three years earlier, when he was sent by the NSA’s Technology Directorate to support operations at a listening post in Japan. As a system administrator, he had full access to security and auditing controls. He said he saw serious flaws with information security.

“I actually recommended they move to two-man control for administrative access back in 2009,” he said, first to his supervisor in Japan and then to the directorate’s chief of operations in the Pacific. “Sure, a whistleblower could use these things, but so could a spy.”

That precaution, which requires a second set of credentials to perform risky operations such as copying files onto a removable drive, has been among the principal security responses to the Snowden affair.

Vines, the NSA spokeswoman, said there was no record of those conversations, either.

U.S. ‘would cease to exist’

Just before releasing the documents this spring, Snowden made a final review of the risks. He had overcome what he described at the time as a “selfish fear” of the consequences for himself.

“I said to you the only fear [left] is apathy — that people won’t care, that they won’t want change,” he recalled this month.

The documents leaked by Snowden compelled attention because they revealed to Americans a history they did not know they had.

Internal briefing documents reveled in the “Golden Age of Electronic Surveillance.” Brawny cover names such as MUSCULAR, TUMULT and TURMOIL boasted of the agency’s prowess.

With assistance from private communications firms, the NSA had learned to capture enormous flows of data at the speed of light from fiber-optic cables that carried Internet and telephone traffic over continents and under seas. According to one document in Snowden’s cache, the agency’s Special Source Operations group, which as early as 2006 was said to be ingesting “one Library of Congress every 14.4 seconds,” had an official seal that might have been parody: an eagle with all the world’s cables in its grasp.

Each year, NSA systems collected hundreds of millions of e-mail address books, hundreds of billions of cellphone location records and trillions of domestic call logs.

Most of that data, by definition and intent, belonged to ordinary people suspected of nothing. But vast new storage capacity and processing tools enabled the NSA to use the information to map human relationships on a planetary scale. Only this way, its leadership believed, could the NSA reach beyond its universe of known intelligence targets.

In the view of the NSA, signals intelligence, or electronic eavesdropping, was a matter of life and death, “without which America would cease to exist as we know it,” according to an internal presentation in the first week of October 2001 as the agency ramped up its response to the al-Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington.

With stakes such as those, there was no capability the NSA believed it should leave on the table. The agency followed orders from President George W. Bush to begin domestic collection without authority from Congress and the courts. When the NSA won those authorities later, some of them under secret interpretations of laws passed by Congress between 2007 and 2012, the Obama administration went further still.

Using PRISM, the cover name for collection of user data from Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, Apple and five other U.S.-based companies, the NSA could obtain all communications to, from or “about” any specified target. The companies had no choice but to comply with the government's request for data.

But the NSA could not use PRISM, which was overseen once a year by the surveillance court, for the collection of virtually all data handled by those companies. To widen its access, it teamed up with its British counterpart, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ, to break into the private fiber-optic links that connected Google and Yahoo data centers around the world.

That operation, which used the cover name MUSCULAR, tapped into U.S. company data from outside U.S. territory. The NSA therefore believed it did not need permission from Congress or judicial oversight. Data from hundreds of millions of U.S. acconts flowed over those Google and Yahoo links, but classified rules allowed the NSA to presume that data ingested overseas belonged to foreigners.

‘Persistent threat’

Disclosure of the MUSCULAR project enraged and galvanized U.S. technology executives. They believed the NSA had lawful access to their front doors — and had broken down the back doors anyway.

Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith took to his company’s blog and called the NSA an “advanced persistent threat” — the worst of all fighting words in U.S. cybersecurity circles, generally reserved for Chinese state-sponsored hackers and sophisticated criminal enterprises.

“For the industry as a whole, it caused everyone to ask whether we knew as much as we thought,” Smith recalled in an interview. “It underscored the fact that while people were confident that the U.S. government was complying with U.S. laws for activity within U.S. territory, perhaps there were things going on outside the United States . . . that made this bigger and more complicated and more disconcerting than we knew.”

They wondered, he said, if the NSA was “collecting proprietary information from the companies themselves.”

Led by Google and then Yahoo, one company after another announced expensive plans to encrypt its data traffic over tens of thousands of miles of cable. It was a direct — in some cases, explicit — blow to NSA collection of user data in bulk. If the NSA wanted the information, it would have to request it or circumvent the encryption one target at a time.

As these projects are completed, the Internet will become a less friendly place for the NSA to work. The agency can still collect data from virtually any one, but collecting from everyone will be harder.

The industry’s response, Smith acknowledged, was driven by a business threat. U.S. companies could not afford to be seen as candy stores for U.S. intelligence. But the principle of the thing, Smith said, “is fundamentally about ensuring that customer data is turned over to governments pursuant to valid legal orders and in accordance with constitutional principles.”

‘Warheads on foreheads’

Snowden has focused on much the same point from the beginning: Individual targeting would cure most of what he believes is wrong with the NSA.

Six months ago, a reporter asked him by encrypted e-mail why Americans would want the NSA to give up bulk collection if that would limit a useful intelligence tool.  (Is the siren hurting your  ears yet?  Another journalist gives Snowden a microphone...)

“I believe the cost of frank public debate about the powers of our government is less than the danger posed by allowing these powers to continue growing in secret,” he replied, calling them “a direct threat to democratic governance.” (I don't understand this convoluted response to the encrypted email...maybe somebody who is sympathetic to Snowden can translate this doublespeak, but I can't...)

In the Moscow interview, Snowden said, “What the government wants is something they never had before,” adding: “They want total awareness. The question is, is that something we should be allowing?”

Snowden likened the NSA’s powers to those used by British authorities in Colonial America, when “general warrants” allowed anyone to be searched. The FISA court, Snowden said, “is authorizing general warrants for the entire country’s metadata.”

“The last time that happened, we fought a war over it,” he said.

Technology, of course, has enabled a great deal of consumer surveillance by private companies, as well. The difference with the NSA’s possession of the data, Snowden said, is that government has the power to take away life or freedom.

At the NSA, he said, “there are people in the office who joke about, ‘We put warheads on foreheads.’ Twitter doesn’t put warheads on foreheads.”

Privacy, as Snowden sees it, is a universal right, applicable to American and foreign surveillance alike. (Is Snowden experiencing privacy while living in Russia?)

“I don’t care whether you’re the pope or Osama bin Laden,” he said. “As long as there’s an individualized, articulable, probable cause for targeting these people as legitimate foreign intelligence, that’s fine. I don’t think it’s imposing a ridiculous burden by asking for probable cause. Because, you have to understand, when you have access to the tools the NSA does, probable cause falls out of trees.”

‘Everybody knows’

On June 29, Gilles de Kerchove, the European Union’s counterterrorism coordinator, awoke to a report in Der Spiegel that U.S. intelligence had broken into E.U. offices, including his, to implant surveillance devices.

The 56-year-old Belgian, whose work is often classified, did not consider himself naive. But he took the news personally, and more so when he heard unofficial explanations from Washington.

“ ‘Everybody knows. Everybody does’ — Keith Alexander said that,” de Kerchove said in an interview. “I don’t like the idea that the NSA will put bugs in my office. No. I don’t like it. No. Between allies? No. I’m surprised that people find that noble.”

Comparable reactions, expressed less politely in private, accompanied revelations that the NSA had tapped the cellphones of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Dilma Rousseff of Brazil. The blowback roiled relations with both allies, among others. Rousseff canceled a state dinner with Obama in September.

When it comes to spying on allies, by Snowden’s lights, the news is not always about the target. (Snowden obviously considers himself to  be a world expert on espionage.)

“It’s the deception of the government that’s revealed,” Snowden said, noting that the Obama administration offered false public assurances following the initial reports about NSA surveillance in Germany “The U.S. government said: ‘We follow German laws in Germany. We never target German citizens.’ And then the story comes out and it’s: ‘What are you talking about? You’re spying on the chancellor.’ You just lied to the entire country, in front of Congress.”

In private, U.S. intelligence officials still maintain that spying among friends is routine for all concerned, but they are giving greater weight to the risk of getting caught.

“There are many things we do in intelligence that, if revealed, would have the potential for all kinds of blowback,” Clapper told a House panel in October.

‘They will make mistakes’

U.S. officials say it is obvious that Snowden’s disclosures will do grave harm to intelligence gathering, exposing methods that adversaries will learn to avoid.

“We’re seeing al-Qaeda and related groups start to look for ways to adjust how they communicate,” said Matthew Olsen, director of the National Counterterrorism Center and a former general counsel at the NSA.

Other officials, who declined to speak on the record about particulars, said they had watched some of their surveillance targets, in effect, changing channels. That evidence can be read another way, they acknowledged, given that the NSA managed to monitor the shift.

Clapper has said repeatedly in public that the leaks did great damage, but in private he has taken a more nuanced stance. A review of early damage assessments in previous espionage cases, he said in one closed-door briefing this fall, found that dire forecasts of harm were seldom borne out.

“People must communicate,” he said, according to one participant who described the confidential meeting on the condition of anonymity. “They will make mistakes and we will exploit them.”

According to senior intelligence officials, two uncertainties feed their greatest concerns. One is whether Russia or China managed to take the Snowden archive from his computer, a worst-case assumption for which three officials acknowledged there is no evidence.

In a previous assignment, Snowden taught U.S. intelligence personnel how to operate securely in a “high-threat digital environment,” using a training scenario in which China was the designated threat. He declined to discuss the whereabouts the files now, but he said he is confident he did not expose them to Chinese intelligence in Hong Kong and did not bring them to Russia at all.

“There’s nothing on it,” he said, turning his laptop screen toward his visitor. “My hard drive is completely blank.”

The other big question is how many documents Snowden took. The NSA’s incoming deputy director, Rick Ledgett, said on CBS’s “60 Minutes” recently that the number may approach 1.7 million, a huge and unexplained spike over previous estimates. Ledgett said he would favor trying to negotiate an amnesty with Snowden in exchange for “assurances that the remainder of the data could be secured.”

Obama's national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, later dismissed the possibility.

“The government knows where to find us if they want to have a productive conversation about resolutions that don’t involve Edward Snowden behind bars,” said Ben Wizner of the American Civil Liberties Union, the central figure on Snowden’s legal team.

Some news accounts have quoted U.S. government officials as saying Snowden has arranged for the automated release of sensitive documents if he is arrested or harmed. There are strong reasons to doubt that, beginning with Snowden’s insistence, to this reporter and others, that he does not want the documents published in bulk.

If Snowden were fool enough to rig a “dead man’s switch,” confidants said, he would be inviting anyone who wants the documents to kill him.

Asked about such a mechanism in the Moscow interview, Snowden made a face and declined to reply. Later, he sent an encrypted message. “That sounds more like a suicide switch,” he wrote. “It wouldn’t make sense.”

‘Let them say  what they want’

By temperament and circumstance, Snowden is a reticent man, reluctant to discuss details about his personal life. (Oh  paaaleeeze, Gellman....I don't think so..., the siren just went up a few decibles)

Over two days his guard never dropped, but he allowed a few fragments to emerge. He is an “ascetic,” he said. He lives off ramen noodles and chips. He has visitors, and many of them bring books. The books pile up, unread. The Internet is an endless library and a window on the progress of his cause.

“It has always been really difficult to get me to leave the house,” he said. “I just don’t have a lot of needs. . . . Occasionally there’s things to go do, things to go see, people to meet, tasks to accomplish. But it’s really got to be goal-oriented, you know. Otherwise, as long as I can sit down and think and write and talk to somebody, that’s more meaningful to me than going out and looking at landmarks.”

In hope of keeping focus on the NSA, Snowden has ignored attacks on himself.

“Let them say what they want,” he said. “It’s not about me.”

Former NSA and CIA director Michael V. Hayden predicted that Snowden will waste away in Moscow as an alcoholic, like other “defectors.” To this, Snowden shrugged. He does not drink at all. Never has.

But Snowden knows his presence here is easy ammunition for critics. He did not choose refuge in Moscow as a final destination. He said that once the U.S. government voided his passport as he tried to change planes en route to Latin America, he had no other choice.

It would be odd if Russian authorities did not keep an eye on him, (hello?) but no retinue accompanied Snowden and his visitor saw no one else nearby. Snowden neither tried to communicate furtively nor asked that a visitor do so. He has had continuous Internet access and talked to his lawyers and journalists daily, from his first day in the transit lounge at Sheremetyevo airport.

“There is no evidence at all for the claim that I have loyalties to Russia or China or any country other than the United States,” he said. “I have no relationship with the Russian government. I have not entered into any agreements with them.”

“If I defected at all,” Snowden said, “I defected from the government to the public.”

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Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Progressive Pope Francis - Creates a New Normal and There's No Turning Back

Pope Francis is shuffling Vatican bureaucrats.  

Pope warns Vatican bureaucrats to remember their vocation.

He stresses the priority of being compassionate to the needy.

The pontiff removes some administrators and urges those remaining to shun mediocrity, gossip and squabbles.

By Nicole Winfield
The Associated Press

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis warned Vatican administrators Saturday that their work can take a downward spiral into mediocrity, gossip and bureaucratic squabbling if they forget that theirs is a professional vocation of service to the church.
click image to enlarge
Pope Francis speaks with a child during his visit to the Bambino Gesu’ pediatric hospital in Rome on Saturday. He continues revamping the Vatican administration.
The Associated Press

Francis made the comments in his Christmas address to the Vatican Curia, the bureaucracy that forms the central government of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church. The speech was eagerly anticipated given that Francis was elected in March on a mandate to overhaul the antiquated and oftentimes dysfunctional Vatican administration. Already, heads have started to roll: Just last week, Francis reshuffled the advisory body of the powerful Congregation for Bishops, the office that vets all the world’s bishop nominations. He removed the archconservative American Cardinal Raymond Burke, a key figure in the U.S. culture wars over abortion and gay marriage, and also nixed the head of Italy’s bishops’ conference and another hard-line Italian, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, earlier axed as head of the Vatican office responsible for priests.
Other changes are on the horizon: In the coming weeks Francis will name his first batch of cardinals and in February he'll preside over the third summit of his “Group of Eight” cardinal advisers, who are expected to put forward a first round of proposals for revamping the Holy See bureaucracy.

Francis said he wants a Vatican Curia that's more responsive to the needs of local bishops, who have long complained about Rome’s slow or unhelpful interventions in their work caring for souls. Francis said he wants the church as a whole to be less consumed with moralizing than showing mercy to the needy.

Blogger response - Perhaps Pope Francis will progress the Vatican to consider allowing women to become Deacons, especially for the thousands of religious nuns who work with poor people throughout the world. Although it's highly doubtful the Roman Catholic Church will ever  allow for the ordination of women as clergy, there is nothing to prevent women from becoming Deacons. The  role of a Deacon is already assumed by many women religious but they are not ordained. Therefore, these dedicated women religious aren't permitted to con-celebrate at the Consecration of the Eucharist or to read the Gospel at the celebration of the Mass.  

Allowing women to fulfill their role as inspired religious Deacons
can promote the evangelizing of the faith by providing more people with access to Catholic religious worship traditions. 

Pope Francis has absolutely moved the Roman Catholic Church forward. Certainly, his pace of change is long overdue, although likely causing many in Vatican City to keep Prozac handy in their top desk drawers. 

Regardless of how the Vatican establishment responds to the changes Pope Francis brings to the world of Roman Catholics, the fact is, the populace tone he sets for the Papacy will never move backward. Pope Francis quickly created a new normal for what it means to be a Pope. He's bound to hit some bumps on his progressive road.  Nevertheless, God Bless Him.

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Dear Senator Inhofe: Condolences are Not Political in Sympathy for Your Loss

Interesting commentary from NBC pundit David Gregory.  
My sincere condolences to the family of Senator Inhofe and to the community in Tulsa, OK, who have lost a valued physician.

From Gregory's "David's Take"

Conservative Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma, lost his 52 year-old son Perry in a plane crash last month. David Gregory, pundit and moderator of "Meet the Press", spoke to the senator about his loss and his attitude about politics as a result. 

“The differences are still there,” he told Gregory during an interview with tears welling up in the corner of his eyes. 

When his son died, he was moved by the number of Democrats who reached out to comfort him- even more, he admitted, than fellow Republicans. “Your attitude changes. And I can’t help but think when I’m confronting someone on something in which we disagree that I know how they responded to my loss and how we got closer.”

A friend thought Inhofe’s story was a sign of how bad things have gotten around here, that a Senator finds it notable that Democratic colleagues would be nice after his personal loss.

Yes, but what have we all learned from Pope Francis this year about the power of small gestures. Maybe this is a start. 

The son of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has died in a plane crash, a person close to Inhofe and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel's office confirmed Monday.

The plane crashed near Owasso, Okla., on Sunday afternoon, reportedly killing the pilot.

Reports on Monday traced the plane to a company that Dr. Perry Inhofe is associated with, but the victim has not officially been identified. KOCO-TV was the first to confirm that the younger Inhofe was indeed the victim.

"My thoughts and prayers are with Jim and Kay and their family as they mourn this terrible loss," Hagel said in a statement, according to multiple reports.

Perry Inhofe was an orthopedic surgeon who worked in Tulsa. His legacy obituary is posted at

We can only imagine the emotional pain felt by the Inhofe family during their bereavement. Condolences are not political.

From a sincerely sympathetic Democrat.

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Thursday, December 19, 2013

Ryan's Cuts: US Military Give Up their Youth and Lives - Promised Benefits Are Earned

US Military give up their youth with a promise of benefits to compensate them for this national sacrifice. These young people are now thanked for their service but promises made are recalled. How horrible! Shame on politicians who have never served in the military who allow these promised benefits to be cut while defense spending is still receiving benefit sequester relief.

Military retirees are outraged at Congress , calling the move  "an egregious breach of faith."

The Military Coalition, some 27 military groups, wrote to leaders in Congress and President Obama late Wednesday about their "strong objection" and "grave concern" over the budget deal.

Cuts to military retirees could conceivably make sense if good jobs for veterans were assured, after they're discharged to civilian life. This is absolutely not the case. Instead, veterans are given a nice letter of thanks and a party. No job.

US military earn the benefits they're promised, when they meet the requirements for retirement. Many in our US Congress don't serve in the military. Shame on all of them for cutting the benefits for those who serve on behalf of all Americans.

Military retirees earn their promised benefits. They give up their youth to defend our nation. Moreover, it's wrong to cut military retirements when the transition to civilian life remains challenging. 

Rather than cut military retirement to create budget opportunities for other programs, the US Congress should, instead, consider taxing all people who don't serve in any capacity to defend our national security. This would include all those who vote on military pay and benefits but haven't served their country in uniform.

I'm not psychic, but throughout history, I know those who take advantage of veterans for the sake of saving money have lost their political clout. Republicans and Congressman Ryan must learn from history or they're, also, doomed to reap the consequences of cutting military benefits.

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Wednesday, December 18, 2013

An Obamacare Overview - with data slides from Maine Commissioner Cioppa

I was assigned to be scribe when our Maine Insurance Commissioner Eric Cioppa spoke at the Rotary Club of Portland Maine.  Commissioner Cioppa gave an informative, fact filled talk about the Affordable Care Act, accompanied by power point data slides. (link included)

Take away message from the Commissioner is this - Medicare Beneficiaries are not impacted by Obamacare. 

Otherwise, beneficiaries are able to shop for affordabe plans based upon the co-pays a person or family can afford, rather than on what services are, or aren't, covered, without regard for pre-existing conditions. Nevertheless, enrollment of young and healthy enrollees are essential to create coverage providing affordable premiums.

Here’s a link to the Bureau of Insurance website where you can view/download Eric Cioppa's slides on the Affordable Care Act.

Rotary Club of Portland Friday December 6, 2013

Speaker Eric A. Cioppa Maine Superintendent of Insurance

Julie's notes published in the Windjammer Newsletter December 6, 2013:  Rotary President Jack Marr introduced Maine’s Superintendent of Insurance Eric A. Cioppa, who spoke about the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and Maine’s Health Insurance Market.

Mr. Cioppa said the ACA is complex legislation. Some provisions are already in effect. 

Since 2010, the ACA has lifted lifetime limits on coverage; children up to 19 years old are covered without exclusions for pre-existing conditions; children can receive coverage under their parents’ private insurance plans up to 26 years of age

Enrollment in the health insurance exchanges for individuals required to receive coverage in 2014, began October 1, 2013. The envollment period extends until March 31, 2014. Coverage starts as soon as January 1, 2014.

Medicare beneficiaries are not impacted by the Affordable Care Act.

Mr. Cioppa explained where the nation and Maine are at regarding the costs of providing health care. Cost of providing health care in the USA is nearly 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but this isn’t an indicator of quality. For example, Japan has the world’s longest life expectancy but their expenditures on health care are lower than the USA. In 2009, Maine was number 5 in the nation reporting per capita health care costs. Less than half of Maine’s population receives health coverage through private insurance. Other coverage is provided by Medicare, Medicaid and the military. Additionally, 133,000 Maine people are uninsured.

The breadth of the ACA affects all aspects of private health insurance.Everyone must be covered in 2014 or be subject to a penalty fee.

Employers who provide coverage under the ACA law fall into two categories. Those with 50 or more employees are large groups; those with 49 and less are small groups.

Beginning in 2015, employers with 50 or more full time equivalent (FTE’s) employees must make coverage available to their full-time employees and their dependents. Coverage must be affordable, meaning the employees’ share of premiums cannot exceed 9.5 percent of their income (based on the cost of the employee’s coverage only and not the cost of family coverage). A full time employee is defined as one who works 30 hours or more a week averaged over one month. Failing to offer the minimum coverage involves a penalty at $2000 per year times the number of full-time employees, minus 30. Employers determined to offer unaffordable coverage also invokes a penalty. Nevertheless, penalties are less than the cost of providing coverage.

A Minimum Medical Loss Ration (MLR) requires health insurance issuers to submit data on the proportion of premium revenues spent on clinical services and quality improvement. It also requires them to issue rebates to enrollees if this percentage doesn’t meet minimum standards. MLR requires insurance companies to spend at least 80% of premium dollars on medical care for those who purchase individual plans; 80% for those enrolled in small group plans and 85 % for those in large group plans.

Preventive care is 100 percent covered.

Carriers for Maine’s Health Insurance Individual Marketplace are Anthem and Maine Community Health Option; small group market carriers are Anthem and Maine Community Health Options (MCHO); Large Group Market carriers are Anthem, Connecticut General, Harvard Group, Nationwide, Aetna Group and United Healthcare.

Individuals are mandated to obtain minimum coverage beginning January 1, 2014. Access to coverage is offered via a “no wrong door” or single entry concept. Individuals are eligible for Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) subsidy based on a calculation of their income developed by the Federal government. The calculation also determines an individual’s eligibility to participate in the Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance (CHIP) programs. This determination qualifies an individual for Medicaid, CHIP, premium tax credits or cost-sharing reductions. Dependents are indelible for subsidies if they’re covered by an employer plan. Tax status determines subsidies for those who fall between zero and 400 percent of the Federal poverty level. Subsidies are zero for those who fall over 400 percent of Federal Poverty level. If a beneficiary underestimates their income, a rebate is issued; but if income exceeds 400 percent of poverty level, the entire subsidy must be repaid.

The only place where subsidies are available are through the insurance exchanges. Insurance rates are contingent on recruiting young and health people into the plans.

Another provision to keep premiums affordable is the implementation of a Cadillac Tax, imposed when health insurance benefits exceed a certain threshold. This provision was put in place as an incentive for employers to reduce overutilization of health care.

Insurers will offer “metal tier plans” at these actuarial values (AV)

a. Bronze 60 %

b. Silver 70 %

c. Gold 80 %

d. Platinum 90 %

e. Catastrophic plans are available if premiums exceed 8 percent of a family’s income.

Out of picket maximum expenses for co-pays and deductibles will not exceed $6,300 per year or double that amount for a family.

Individual and small group health plans will cover essential health benefits to include at least these 10 categories: (a) ambulatory care (b)emergency services (c) hospitalization (d) maternity and newborn care (e) mental health and substance use disorder services including behavioral health treatment (f) prescription drugs (g) rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices (h) laboratory services (i) preventative and wellness services and chronic disease management and (j) pediatric services including oral and visual care.


Sunday, December 15, 2013

North Korean Insanity

North Korea is in chaos. It doesn't take a political scientist with a doctorate degree to figure out how Kim Jong Un is unstable, to say the least. He murdered his uncle on apparently trumped up charges of treason, in a public display of unbridled power grabbing.

Obviously, anyone who tries to solve the chaotic behavior of Kim Jong Un will be murdered, just like the uncle.

CNN's Peter Shadbolt says, depending on how you read the signs, the execution of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's uncle and formerly trusted regent, Jang Song Thaek, either shows a young leader further cementing his control, or the first death throes of a regime teetering on collapse.

In the absence of any independently verifiable information, and in a regime where paranoid rhetoric is the normal register of almost all diplomatic language, any conjecture is likely to be as accurate as it is to be wide of the mark.

Nevertheless, far from asserting Kim's leadership, recent events suggest that his position has been seriously eroded by the execution of his uncle.

Obviously, nobody knows what's going on in North Korea, but what the world sees, coming through on the tightly controlled national media (KCNA), is very concerning.

Moreover, the recent release of the prisoner (Merrill Newman) and his uncle's execution couldn't be more at odds; this indicates a chaotic situation. It points to regime change, not a question of "if" but "when".....and "who"? Will the next leader be even more heinous?

When an unstable paranoid person feels legitimately threatened, there's virtually no way of stopping their ambitious terrorist instincts.  

Our world must pay attention to what's going on in North Korea. We know Kim Jung Un is capable of doing virtually anything including launching a random deadly military attack, or worse.

Millions of North Koreans have no recourse but to fall into lock step with Kim Jung Un. But, he's only one man holding millions of people hostage to his extraordinary tyranny.  

I've always been mystified about dictators who lead by imposing horror and fear on all who threaten their powers. These evil people engage in fanciful thinking, engaging in delusional beliefs about their unmitigated authority. In other words, they believe they're invincible. Tragically, before every single evil motivated dictator finally learns about their own mortality, they've already imposed unspeakable horror on everyone who exists within their scope of power. But, these demonic people are just one person. Those people who suffer under these despots are numbered in the millions, maybe close to a billion! Yet, the overwhelming majority are incapable of rising up against one evil despot. 

Case example, Pol Pot of Cambodia. He died in a hospital in 1998, after causing the massacre of untold thousands of his nation's people, for no particular reason. No one has yet been held accountable for the "Killing Fields" of Cambodia. But, Pol Pot was just one man. He was never prevented from continuing this terror on his own people. Pol Pot was just one mortal man.

Another example, of course, is Germany's Adolf Hitler. He died of an apparent self inflicted bullet wound on April 30, 1945; by then, he was responsible for the preventable deaths of millions of innocent Jewish people, civilians and military people who were immersed in World War II.  Just one man, who led millions of people to early and preventable deaths. Even an assassination attempt didn't deter Hitler, on July 20, 1944. Sadly, no one came forth to support those brave men who tried to stop his madness.  Instead, all the conspirators who tried to kill Hitler on July 20, 1944, wound up dead while Hitler continued his tyranny. Hitler was just one mortal man.

It seems to me, the world is risking a lot by waiting to see what Kim Jung Un will do next. He's capable of anything and we must assume he will do whatever he wants, even on a whim, without any motivation.  

Obviously, the North Korean situation is precarious. One unstable man is inflicting unmitigated terror on his own people while keeping innocent people wondering what he's up to.

With the cruel execution of his uncle, Kim Jung Un has successfully proven he is a person who must be feared. We the people of the world must be afraid, very afraid.

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Friday, December 13, 2013

Cluster and Copycat Shootings - Cruel Christmas Headlines

Typically, this is the time of year when lead stories are about how Christmas consumes the retail news.

Not so during this particular pre Holiday week.  

As the nation is reminded about the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the memorializing is sadly trumped by more stories of innocent people who are victims of even more heinous gun violence.

CNN Reports on another Colorado Colorado shootings in a school. This follows the horror of the Columbine school shootings and the movie theater massacre.

Centennial, Colorado (CNN) -- The condition of a 15-year-old girl who was shot Friday at Arapahoe High School was downgraded after surgery to critical, Sheriff Grayson Robinson told reporters.

In addition to two students who suffered gunshot wounds, three students suffered anxiety attacks, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson told reporters Friday.

Two of the students were released to their families immediately; one was taken to a hospital for additional treatment and later released, he said.

Two Molotov cocktails were found inside Arapahoe High School, Sheriff Garyson Robinson told reporters during a news conference on Friday.

Approaching the one year December anniversary of the Newtown massacre, the NBC news correspondent Jeff Rossen ran a drill on several schools to determine if security measures were in place to prevent another massacre. Unescorted, Rossen went looking for the main office, per school policy. As he looked, he walked past several classrooms with kids, stopping at one to ask a teacher for directions. No one asked who he was, or what he was doing there. For two minutes, he walked through the halls, and was only stopped once he arrived at the office. Although some schools in the test passed the security test, several others came up short, putting students in a potentially vulnerable situation.

This seasonal time of year is supposed to be consumed with joy and good will. Instead, the negativity of more gun violence compounds the one year memorial of the Sandy Hook preventable murders.

Peace and good will are lovely seasonal themes, but these greetings are lost on the victims of preventable gun violence. This Christmas and every subsequent Holiday will cause the victims to relive the Sandy Hook massacre. Indeed, the entire Sandy Hook community is harmed by association with the traumatic killings.

A one year Sandy Hook memorial will be a quiet observance, but the growing incidence of gun violence screeches through the headlines. A cacophony of anguish about relentless gun violence incidents continues, with no hope in sight for prevention.

These cluster and copycat shootings are cruel Christmas headlines,
All these deadly incidents are preventable, if guns and ammunition were to be regulated.  

My sympathy to the families who are mourning the one year memorial of the preventable death of children and teachers at Sandy Hook. Their sadness is deep and everlasting.

Even worse, the Sandy Hook deaths haven't changed anything in our nation about preventing future tragedies. There's no justice in these continual cruel headlines.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Pope Francis-Time's Person of the People

Pope Francis is a charismatic choice as Time Magazine Person of the Year. His surprise leadership teaches humanity about the beauty of humility. He's a humble "Person of the People".  

In his short time as Pope, Francis brought life to the Beatitudes taught by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.  Pope Francis has brought joy to the meek. "Blessed be the meek, for they will inherit the earth."

Jorge Cardinal Mario Bergoglio of Buenos Aires was elected Pope by his peers 9 months ago and took the name Francis. He's the 266th and current Pope of the Catholic Church, Bishop of Rome and Sovereign of Vatican City. His charisma became evident the moment he was introduced into St. Peter's Square.

Today, Time Magazine named the Pontiff as their "Person of the Year".  The annual title goes to the one chosen by prominent US magazine Time as the individual who had the most influence on the world and news over the year.

"For pulling the papacy out of the palace and into the streets, for committing the world’s largest church to confronting its deepest needs and for balancing judgment with mercy, Pope Francis is TIME's 2013 Person of the Year," as managing editor, Nancy Gibbs, explained the magazine’s choice.

“He took the name of a humble saint and then called for a church of healing.”

In so doing, Pope Francis is demonstrating to all mankind about how love for one another will transcend the destructive forces of evil. Through his visible humility, Pope Francis demonstrates how leading a life dedicated to spiritual growth and human love provides us with the opportunity to become better human beings and improve the world. He does all of this by simply reaching out, touching people, smiling and speaking from his heart.

Nevertheless, Pope Francis can't be the Time Person of the Year without the love, support and prayers of millions of people who want his Papacy to be hugely successful.

Pope Francis is a Person of the People. We, the people who applaud his well deserved selection as Time Person of the Year, must continue to pray for his well being. We want his Time as Pope to transcend the confines of the Vatican, so he can touch the hearts and souls of all the persons of the world. God Bless Pope Francis.

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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Mandela Transitions Into the Ages - President Obama's Memorial Speech

Madiba emerged as the last great liberater of the 20th century

President Obama thanked South Africa for sharing Nelson Mandela with the world. Mandela's death is perceived as a "transition" to South Africans. He will be elevated in death beyond the mortal he was in life. Let's hope his memory will continue to inspire others. 

Here is President Obama's "Mandela Memorial" Speech:

To Graça Machel and the Mandela family; to President Zuma and members of the government; to heads of state and government, past and present; distinguished guests - it is a singular honor to be with you today, to celebrate a life unlike any other. To the people of South Africa - people of every race and walk of life - the world thanks you for sharing Nelson Mandela with us. His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph. Your dignity and hope found expression in his life, and your freedom, your democracy is his cherished legacy.
Read more:
It is hard to eulogize any man - to capture in words not just the facts and the dates that make a life, but the essential truth of a person - their private joys and sorrows; the quiet moments and unique qualities that illuminate someone’s soul. How much harder to do so for a giant of history, who moved a nation toward justice, and in the process moved billions around the world.Born during World War I, far from the corridors of power, a boy raised herding cattle and tutored by elders of his Thembu tribe - Madiba would emerge as the last great liberator of the 20th century. Like Gandhi, he would lead a resistance movement - a movement that at its start held little prospect of success. Like King, he would give potent voice to the claims of the oppressed, and the moral necessity of racial justice. He would endure a brutal imprisonment that began in the time of Kennedy and Khrushchev, and reached the final days of the Cold War. Emerging from prison, without force of arms, he would - like Lincoln - hold his country together when it threatened to break apart. Like America’s founding fathers, he would erect a constitutional order to preserve freedom for future generations - a commitment to democracy and rule of law ratified not only by his election, but by his willingness to step down from power.

Given the sweep of his life, and the adoration that he so rightly earned, it is tempting then to remember Nelson Mandela as an icon, smiling and serene, detached from the tawdry affairs of lesser men. But Madiba himself strongly resisted such a lifeless portrait. Instead, he insisted on sharing with us his doubts and fears; his miscalculations along with his victories. “I’m not a saint,” he said, “unless you think of a saint as a sinner who keeps on trying.”

It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection - because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried - that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood - a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.

Mandela showed us the power of action; of taking risks on behalf of our ideals. Perhaps Madiba was right that he inherited, “a proud rebelliousness, a stubborn sense of fairness” from his father. Certainly he shared with millions of black and colored South Africans the anger born of, “a thousand slights, a thousand indignities, a thousand unremembered moments…a desire to fight the system that imprisoned my people.”

But like other early giants of the ANC - the Sisulus and Tambos - Madiba disciplined his anger; and channeled his desire to fight into organization, and platforms, and strategies for action, so men and women could stand-up for their dignity. Moreover, he accepted the consequences of his actions, knowing that standing up to powerful interests and injustice carries a price. “I have fought against white domination and I have fought against black domination,” he said at his 1964 trial. “I’ve cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”

Mandela taught us the power of action, but also ideas; the importance of reason and arguments; the need to study not only those you agree with, but those who you don’t.

(Mandela) understood that ideas cannot be contained by prison walls, or extinguished by a sniper’s bullet. He turned his trial into an indictment of apartheid because of his eloquence and passion, but also his training as an advocate. He used decades in prison to sharpen his arguments, but also to spread his thirst for knowledge to others in the movement. And he learned the language and customs of his oppressor so that one day he might better convey to them how their own freedom depended upon his.

Mandela demonstrated that action and ideas are not enough; no matter how right, they must be chiseled into laws and institutions. He was practical, testing his beliefs against the hard surface of circumstance and history. On core principles he was unyielding, which is why he could rebuff offers of conditional release, reminding the Apartheid regime that, “prisoners cannot enter into contracts.”

But as he showed in painstaking negotiations to transfer power and draft new laws, he was not afraid to compromise for the sake of a larger goal. And because he was not only a leader of a movement, but a skillful politician, the Constitution that emerged was worthy of this multiracial democracy; true to his vision of laws that protect minority as well as majority rights, and the precious freedoms of every South African.

Finally, Mandela understood the ties that bind the human spirit. There is a word in South Africa- Ubuntu - that describes his greatest gift: his recognition that we are all bound together in ways that can be invisible to the eye; that there is a oneness to humanity; that we achieve ourselves by sharing ourselves with others, and caring for those around us. We can never know how much of this was innate in him, or how much of was shaped and burnished in a dark, solitary cell. But we remember the gestures, large and small - introducing his jailers as honored guests at his inauguration; taking the pitch in a Springbok uniform; turning his family’s heartbreak into a call to confront HIV/AIDS - that revealed the depth of his empathy and understanding. He not only embodied Ubuntu; he taught millions to find that truth within themselves. It took a man like Madiba to free not just the prisoner, but the jailor as well; to show that you must trust others so that they may trust you; to teach that reconciliation is not a matter of ignoring a cruel past, but a means of confronting it with inclusion, generosity and truth. He changed laws, but also hearts.

For the people of South Africa, for those he inspired around the globe - Madiba’s passing is rightly a time of mourning, and a time to celebrate his heroic life. But I believe it should also prompt in each of us a time for self-reflection. With honesty, regardless of our station or circumstance, we must ask: how well have I applied his lessons in my own life?

It is a question I ask myself - as a man and as a President. We know that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome centuries of racial subjugation. As was true here, it took the sacrifice of countless people - known and unknown - to see the dawn of a new day. Michelle and I are the beneficiaries of that struggle. But in America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done. The struggles that follow the victory of formal equality and universal franchise may not be as filled with drama and moral clarity as those that came before, but they are no less important. For around the world today, we still see children suffering from hunger, and disease; run-down schools, and few prospects for the future. Around the world today, men and women are still imprisoned for their political beliefs; and are still persecuted for what they look like, or how they worship, or who they love.

We, too, must act on behalf of justice. We, too, must act on behalf of peace. There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba’s legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality. There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba’s struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people. And there are too many of us who stand on the sidelines, comfortable in complacency or cynicism when our voices must be heard.

The questions we face today - how to promote equality and justice; to uphold freedom and human rights; to end conflict and sectarian war - do not have easy answers. But there were no easy answers in front of that child in Qunu. Nelson Mandela reminds us that it always seems impossible until it is done. South Africa shows us that is true. South Africa shows us we can change. We can choose to live in a world defined not by our differences, but by our common hopes. We can choose a world defined not by conflict, but by peace and justice and opportunity.

We will never see the likes of Nelson Mandela again.

But let me say to the young people of Africa, and young people around the world - you can make his life’s work your own. Over thirty years ago, while still a student, I learned of Mandela and the struggles in this land. It stirred something in me. It woke me up to my responsibilities - to others, and to myself - and set me on an improbable journey that finds me here today. And while I will always fall short of Madiba’s example, he makes me want to be better. He speaks to what is best inside us. After this great liberator is laid to rest; when we have returned to our cities and villages, and rejoined our daily routines, let us search then for his strength - for his largeness of spirit - somewhere inside ourselves. And when the night grows dark, when injustice weighs heavy on our hearts, or our best laid plans seem beyond our reach - think of Madiba, and the words that brought him comfort within the four walls of a cell:

It matters not how strait the gate,

How charged with punishments the scroll,

I am the master of my fate:

I am the captain of my soul.

What a great soul it was. We will miss him deeply. May God bless the memory of Nelson Mandela. May God bless the people of South Africa.

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