Friday, June 28, 2013

Invest, Divest and Prosper

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine 
Date: Fri, Jun 28, 2013 at 9:15 PM
Subject: re: Invest, Divest and Prosper
To: ""

To the Editor:
  Although I tremble to write it, professor Krugman has got the economics of coal wrong. Reducing or eliminating coal-fired generation would reduce the cost of electricity, even as it increased the rate on our bills. The scandal of coal is that the public bears huge externalities--in atmospheric warming, in ocean acidification, in mercury poisoning, in environmental degradation--that far outbalance the profits of the coal industry.  With every kilowatt-hour generated, American coal costs America far more wealth than the mine owners pocket.
Barry Haskell Levine

Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Broken Outsourcing Model

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine
Date: Thu, Jun 27, 2013 at 8:52 AM
Subject: re: A Broken Outsourcing Model
To: ""

To the Editor:
  One searches in vain in the writings of Adam Smith for evidence of
concern for the "race to the bottom". In his 18th century world, all
wages tended towards subsistence because starvation was commonplace
and there was always a lower applicant for low-skill work. That
changed with the Industrial Revolution; for the first time, the
world's economic activity could absorb the world's labor resource. The
result was an increase in total wealth inconceivable to an earlier
generation of economist.
   In this new industrialized world, we need policy more sophisticated
than Adam Smith's insight that globalization produces more efficient
use of human resource. We need to couple trade policy to civil rights
and to environmental policy. It should be no more acceptable to import
a garment made by abused labor than it would be to import a child in a
crate and put her to slave labor in our homes.
Barry Haskell Levine

Find more of my (largely one-sided) correspondence with the New York Times at:
Or write a letter of your own. Democracy only works when we engage in
the issues of our day


A Broken Outsourcing Model


Published: June 26, 2013

In the two months since the collapse of a factory building killed more than 1,100 people in Bangladesh, 50 Western clothing companies have signed an agreement designed to improve working conditions in that country’s apparel factories. That should help, but the effort can be sustainable only if it is accompanied by much bigger changes in how the industry does business.

Workers die inpreventable fires, building collapses and other workplace catastrophes in developing countries because factory owners have few incentives and little money to build safe plants. Most American and European brands and retailers use a rotating cast of hundreds of third-world suppliers, instead of establishing long-term relationships with fewer of them. This helps keep costs low because factories must submit competing bids for each bulk order of T-shirts, jeans and cargo shorts.

Even factory owners who want to improve conditions find it hard to do so because the customers have no obligation to give them more work in the future or to compensate them for the renovations through higher prices, labor activists and industry executives say. Those who do make big improvements may have to raise their costs so much that they might lose orders to less scrupulous suppliers.

The current system also hurts big Western brands and retailers in important ways. Many of the clothes produced in poor conditions tend to be of inferior quality because plant owners who skimp on safety often spend less money on training and installing technology, factory inspectors say. As a result, clothing companies who use cut-rate suppliers often end up wasting time sending back defective merchandise and waiting for replacement goods.

But it does not have to be this way. American and European retailers could contract with fewer factories and establish long-term relationships with them. If they did so, they would have to monitor fewer factories and would have greater influence over suppliers to demand upgrades and changes. Reducing the number of suppliers would certainly raise retailers’ costs compared with the current race-to-the-bottom system of outsourcing. But those costs could be offset by benefits like better-quality products and more timely deliveries of products, retail executives and factory inspectors say. In fact, companies like Nike have said that reducing the number of factories they use has made their businesses more efficient.

The agreement recently signed by clothing retailers and brands, including Zara, H&M and Calvin Klein, commits the companies to help pay for renovations and stick with Bangladeshi suppliers who agree to improve their facilities. This is a good start in addressing an entrenched problem — and also makes sound business sense.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine
Date: Wed, Jun 26, 2013 at 9:41 AM
Subject: re: Supreme Court Invalidates Key Part of Voting Rights Act
To: ""

To the Editor:
   If the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional for singling out some
counties for special scrutiny, the remedy is at hand. Congress should
apply the same test to all counties, nationwide. As Anatole France put
it "The law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the
poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal
bread". Let one law apply to all. It's no burden to those who weren't
engaging in discriminatory practices.
Barry Haskell Levine

Find more of my (largely one-sided) correspondence with the New York Times at:
Or write a letter of your own. Democracy only works when we engage in
the issues of our day

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Tuesday effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by a 5-to-4 vote, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.

Drew Angerer for The New York Times

Representative John Lewis of Georgia, center left, and Representative John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, right, at a news conference. The Voting Rights Act covered nine states, mostly in the South.

The court divided along ideological lines, and the two sides drew sharply different lessons from the history of the civil rights movement and the nation’s progress in rooting out racial discrimination in voting. At the core of the disagreement was whether racial minorities continued to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.

“Our country has changed,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote for the majority. “While any racial discrimination in voting is too much, Congress must ensure that the legislation it passes to remedy that problem speaks to current conditions.”

The decision will have immediate practical consequences. Texas announced shortly after the decision that a voter identification law that had been blocked would go into effect immediately, and that redistricting maps there would no longer need federal approval. Changes in voting procedures in the places that had been covered by the law, including ones concerning restrictions on early voting, will now be subject only to after-the-fact litigation.

President Obama, whose election as the nation’s first black president was cited by critics of the law as evidence that it was no longer needed, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg summarized her dissentfrom the bench, an unusual move and a sign of deep disagreement. She cited the words of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and said his legacy and the nation’s commitment to justice had been “disserved by today’s decision.”

She said the focus of the Voting Rights Act had properly changed from “first-generation barriers to ballot access” to “second-generation barriers” like racial gerrymandering and laws requiring at-large voting in places with a sizable black minority. She said the law had been effective in thwarting such efforts.

The law had applied to nine states — Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia — and to scores of counties and municipalities in other states, including Brooklyn, Manhattan and the Bronx.

Chief Justice Roberts wrote that Congress remained free to try to impose federal oversight on states where voting rights were at risk, but must do so based on contemporary data. But the chances that the current Congress could reach agreement on where federal oversight is required are small, most analysts say.

Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. joined the majority opinion. Justice Ginsburg was joined in dissent by Justices Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

The majority held that the coverage formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, originally passed in 1965 and most recently updated by Congress in 1975, was unconstitutional. The section determined which states must receive clearance from the Justice Department or a federal court in Washington before they made minor changes to voting procedures, like moving a polling place, or major ones, like redrawing electoral districts.

Section 5, which sets out the preclearance requirement, was originally scheduled to expire in five years. Congress repeatedly extended it: for five years in 1970, seven years in 1975, and 25 years in 1982. Congress renewed the act in 2006 after holding extensive hearings on the persistence of racial discrimination at the polls, again extending the preclearance requirement for 25 years. But it relied on data from the 1975 reauthorization to decide which states and localities were covered.

The current coverage system, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, is “based on 40-year-old facts having no logical relationship to the present day.”

“Congress — if it is to divide the states — must identify those jurisdictions to be singled out on a basis that makes sense in light of current conditions,” he wrote. “It cannot simply rely on the past.”

The decision did not strike down Section 5, but without Section 4, the later section is without significance — unless Congress passes a new bill for determining which states would be covered.

It was hardly clear, at any rate, that the court’s conservative majority would uphold Section 5 if the question returned to the court in the unlikely event that Congress enacted a new coverage formula. In a concurrence, Justice Thomas called for striking down Section 5 immediately, saying that the majority opinion had provided the reasons and had merely left “the inevitable conclusion unstated.”

The Supreme Court had repeatedly upheld the law in earlier decisions, saying that the preclearance requirement was an effective tool to combat the legacy of lawless conduct by Southern officials bent on denying voting rights to blacks.

The Formula Behind the Voting Rights Act

Critics of Section 5 say it is a unique federal intrusion on state sovereignty and a badge of shame for the affected jurisdictions that is no longer justified.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was one of the towering legislative achievements of the civil rights movement, and Chief Justice Roberts said its “strong medicine” was the right response to “entrenched racial discrimination.” When it was first enacted, he said, black voter registration stood at 6.4 percent in Mississippi, and the gap between black and white registration rates was more than 60 percentage points.

In the 2004 election, the last before the law was reauthorized, the black registration rate in Mississippi was 76 percent, almost four percentage points higher than the white rate. In the 2012 election, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “African-American voter turnout exceeded white voter turnout in five of the six states originally covered by Section 5.”

The chief justice recalled the Freedom Summer of 1964, when the civil rights workers James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were murdered near Philadelphia, Miss., while seeking to register black voters. He mentioned Bloody Sunday in 1965, when police officers beat marchers in Selma, Ala.

“Today,” Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “both of those towns are governed by African-American mayors. Problems remain in these states and others, but there is no denying that, due to the Voting Rights Act, our nation has made great strides.”

Justice Ginsburg, in her dissent from the bench, drew a different lesson from those events, drawing on the words of Dr. King.

“The great man who led the march from Selma to Montgomery and there called for the passage of the Voting Rights Act foresaw progress, even in Alabama,” she said. “ ‘The arc of the moral universe is long,’ he said, but ‘it bends toward justice,’ if there is a steadfast commitment to see the task through to completion.”

In her written dissent, Justice Ginsburg said that Congress was the right body to decide whether the law was still needed and where. Congress reauthorized the law in 2006 by large majorities; the vote was 390 to 33 in the House and unanimous in the Senate. President George W. Bush, a Republican, signed the bill into law, saying it was “an example of our continued commitment to a united America where every person is valued and treated with dignity and respect.”

The Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the 2006 extension of the law in a 2009 decision, Northwest Austin Municipal Utility District Number One v. Holder. But it avoided answering the central question, and it seemed to give Congress an opportunity to make adjustments. Congress, Chief Justice Roberts noted on Tuesday, did not respond.

Justice Ginsburg suggested in her dissent that an era had drawn to a close with the court’s decision on the Voting Rights Act, in Shelby County v. Holder, No. 12-96.

“Beyond question, the V.R.A. is no ordinary legislation,” she wrote. “It is extraordinary because Congress embarked on a mission long delayed and of extraordinary importance: to realize the purpose and promise of the Fifteenth Amendment,” the Reconstruction-era amendment that barred racial discrimination in voting and authorized Congress to enforce it.

“For a half century,” she wrote, “a concerted effort has been made to end racial discrimination in voting. Thanks to the Voting Rights Act, progress once the subject of a dream has been achieved and continues to be made.”

“The court errs egregiously,” she concluded, “by overriding Congress’s decision.”

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Defendant Added to Protesters’ Spying Suit

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine 
Date: Tue, Jun 25, 2013 at 8:55 AM
Subject: re: Defendant Added to Protesters’ Spying Suit
To: ""

To the Editor:
    The particular revelations in Washington State illustrate a general threat; once you have cut a hole in due process of law for terrorists, others will be stuck into it.  The anti-war protesters were exercising their constitutionally-guaranteed freedoms of peaceful assembly and of free speech. Yet some low-level investigator abridged their rights by reclassifying them as terrorist suspects. That is an outrage, but should be no surprise. It will happen again anywhere that these loopholes are cut.
Barry Haskell Levine

Defendant Added to Protesters’ Spying Suit

Published: June 24, 2013An investigator working with an intelligence-gathering office in Washington State placed the names and photos of antiwar protest organizers into a domestic terrorism file, according to an amended complaint filed on Monday with the Federal District Court in Tacoma.

Those papers added the investigator as a defendant in a lawsuit that began in 2010 after it emerged that John J. Towery, a civilian employee of the Army, had used a fake name to infiltrate and spy on antiwar groups. Much of the case has been based on a continuing series of public information requests filed by activists, which have yielded hundreds of pages of documents.
The investigator, Chris Adamson, was described by plaintiffs as a member of the Pierce County Sheriff’s Department and a director of regional intelligence groups with the Washington Joint Analytical Center, which became the Washington State Fusion Center, one of dozens of counterterrorism offices financed by the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr. Adamson helped coordinate Mr. Towery’s spying efforts and listed at least four protesters in a “national domestic terrorist database with pictures, and identifying personal information along with false claims alleging a propensity for violence,” the lawsuit said.
Lawrence A. Hildes, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, said the database was controlled by the Washington State Patrol.
“They have taken upon themselves to say, ‘We don’t like this person, therefore he’s a domestic terrorist,’ ” Mr. Hildes said. “It’s not only illegal — it’s absolutely chilling.”
Mr. Adamson did not return a phone call seeking comment. Bob Calkins, a spokesman for the Washington State Patrol, who also spoke on behalf of the fusion center, said there was no indication that either group was currently using the domestic terrorism index described in the lawsuit.
“We do our best to separate lawless behavior from lawful protest,” he said, adding: “Today we would be very careful in vetting information — is this someone who is truly a terrorist?”
Other defendants in the case include Mr. Towery, formerly a criminal intelligence analyst at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, near Tacoma; his former supervisor at the base, Thomas R. Rudd; and several police officials from Tacoma and Olympia, who are said in the lawsuit to have impeded protests against the war in Iraq. Law enforcement officials have said that some of those protests became unruly and dangerous.
Over the past four years, public information requests have elicited a trove of documents, including handwritten notes from Mr. Towery, e-mails between law enforcement officers and detailed analyses of protesters.
In 2009, an activist, Brendan Maslauskas Dunn, received documents from the City of Olympia showing that Mr. Towery had spied on organizations like Students for a Democratic Society and Port Militarization Resistance, which aimed to disrupt military shipments. Further information about the surveillance came after Tim Smith, then the chairman of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee of Tacoma, received records from that city.
More recently, an activist named Drew Hendricks and others obtained documents that provided information about the domestic terrorism index.
Those materials included a letter to law enforcement officials from a captain in the Washington State Patrol about a domestic terrorism workshop scheduled for 2007. The captain wrote that his agency would distribute an “intelligence document” containing information about “extremist activities” provided by attendees and added that “a blank index entry form is enclosed for submission of information on activists that you will be sharing.”
Other material included two documents with the heading “2007 Domestic Terrorism Conference Index Entry Form” that named Mr. Dunn and a fellow protester, Jeffrey A. Berryhill. Mr. Adamson was listed as a “submitting officer” on the forms, which showed photographs of Mr. Dunn and Mr. Berryhill, identified them as members of Students for a Democratic Society, and included their addresses, employers and Social Security numbers.
The forms described Mr. Dunn and Mr. Berryhill, who are among the plaintiffs suing Mr. Towery and others, as “aggressive during protests and demonstrations” and listed “assault, criminal trespass” under the heading “criminal activity.”
Both men said that they had not assaulted anyone and had no connection to terrorism. Mr. Dunn said he was concerned about the implications of being labeled a domestic terrorist. “Will I not get certain jobs or be allowed to travel to certain places or be detained arbitrarily?” he wondered, adding: “It’s frightening that I’m on a list like that.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Documents Detail Restrictions on N.S.A. Surveillance

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine 
Date: Fri, Jun 21, 2013 at 7:30 AM
Subject: re: Documents Detail Restrictions on N.S.A. Surveillance
To: ""

To the Editor:
   Snowden's revelations, including "two sets of rules [on what to do with intercepted data] each nine pages long, belie the image of a rogue intelligence agency recklessly violating Americans' privacy". What they show instead is an Executive amok, that has arrogated to itself the proper function or our Legislative and Judiciary branches.  
   It is the proper function of our Executive to "take care that these Laws be faithfully executed". Instead, our Department of Justice has busied itself with writing its own rules and guidelines--often in secret--and then enforcing them as if they were law.
   The Balance of Powers on which our government was built only works if the Legislature and the Judiciary and the People push back against the inevitable Executive power-grabs.  The transformation of the U.S. government since 9/11 has shown that we have become a nation of sheep, who deserve to be ruled by wolves.
Barry Haskell Levine

Find more of my (largely one-sided) correspondence with the New York Times at:
Or write a letter of your own. Democracy only works when we engage in
the issues of our day

Documents Detail Restrictions on N.S.A. Surveillance

Published: June 20, 2013

WASHINGTON — Since the disclosure of National Security Agency surveillance documents by the British newspaper The Guardian began this month, President Obama, top intelligence officials and members of Congress have repeatedly assured Americans that they are not the target of the N.S.A.’s sweeping electronic collection system.
“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Mr. Obama said when the news broke.
But as experts on American intelligence knew, that was not the whole story. It left out what N.S.A. officials have long called “incidental” collection of Americans’ calls and e-mails — the routine capture of Americans’ communications in the process of targeting foreign communications.
On Thursday, in the latest release of documents supplied by Edward J. Snowden, the former N.S.A. contractor now believed to be hiding in Hong Kong, The Guardian published two documents setting out the detailed rules governing the agency’s intercepts. Dated 2009 and signed by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., they advise N.S.A. eavesdroppers on how to judge whether a target is a foreigner overseas, and therefore fair game, and what to do when they pick up Americans at home or abroad.
They show, for example, that N.S.A. officers who intercept an American online or on the phone — say, while monitoring the phone or e-mail of a foreign diplomat or a suspected terrorist — can preserve the recording or transcript if they believe the contents include “foreign intelligence information” or evidence of a possible crime. They can likewise preserve the intercept if it contains information on a “threat of serious harm to life or property” or sheds light on technical issues like encryption or vulnerability to cyberattacks.
And while N.S.A. analysts usually have to delete Americans’ names from the reports they write, there are numerous exceptions, including cases where there is evidence that the American in the intercept is working for a terrorist group, foreign country or foreign corporation.
The documents, classified “Secret,” describe the procedures for eavesdropping under Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act, including an N.S.A. program called Prism that mines Internet communications using services including Gmail and Facebook. They are likely to add fuel for both sides of the debate over the proper limits of the government’s surveillance programs.
They offer a glimpse of a rule-bound intelligence bureaucracy that is highly sensitive to the distinction between foreigners and “U.S. persons,” which technically include not only American citizens and legal residents but American companies and nonprofit organizations as well. The two sets of rules, each nine pages long, belie the image of a rogue intelligence agency recklessly violating Americans’ privacy.
But the very existence of the rules suggests that Americans routinely fall into the agency’s global net, even if they are not the intended target of the eavesdropping. And since a major focus of American intelligence since 2001 has been the terrorist threat to the United States, calls and e-mails in and out of the country draw particular attention.
In addition, current and former N.S.A. officials acknowledge that “incidental” collection of Americans’ communications occurs more often today than in the past because of the proliferation of cellphones and e-mail, which can make it harder to determine a person’s identity and location.
A senior American intelligence official said that while the possibility of incidental collection of Americans’ calls and e-mails had always been acknowledged, the N.S.A.’s goal is to focus on foreigners. “The point we’ve been making is this is not a tool for listening to Americans,” the official said.
Another American official noted that the default procedure when an American is incidentally picked up is to stop listening and destroy the record, and that exceptions are made mostly for threats to security.
“If there’s a terrorist attack planned or a threat of a cyberattack, I think Americans want us to pay attention to it,” the official said. Both officials agreed to discuss the classified rules on condition of anonymity.
But Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the detailed rules only underscored the intrusion on American privacy from the agency’s eavesdropping.
“From the beginning the concern was that the government would sweep up Americans’ communications in the course of surveillance directed at people outside the country,” Mr. Jaffer said. “These documents suggest that it’s even worse than we thought.”
He noted a clause about restrictions on the intercept of attorney-client communications but said it allowed wide latitude for sharing such communications inside the government.
“The exceptions swallow the rule,” Mr. Jaffer said.
William C. Banks, an expert on national security law at Syracuse University College of Law, said many of the issues raised by the leaked documents were thoroughly discussed when the FISA Amendments Act was passed in 2008 and renewed last year. But he said there appeared to be little reason for the rules to be secret.
“I can’t imagine there’s great harm to national security from these rules being out,” Professor Banks said. “If this helps us learn more about what the government’s doing, that’s probably a good thing.”
F.B.I. agents and American prosecutors are believed to be building a criminal leak case against Mr. Snowden, who turns 30 on Friday. Officials in Iceland say Mr. Snowden’s representatives have contacted them to explore the possibility that he might be granted asylum there.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

U.S. Presses Taliban on Qatar Office in Bid to Save Talks

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: barry levine 
Date: Wed, Jun 19, 2013 at 4:46 PM
Subject: re: U.S. Presses Taliban on Qatar Office in Bid to Save Talks
To: ""

To the Editor:
  President Karzai has understood for years what the U.S. media don't; the Taliban is a Pashtun nationalist movement, intent on running its own state, whether that be Afghanistan or a newly created Pashtunistan.    In fairness, 44million Pashtuns can make a case that such a Pashtunistan was implicit when the U.N. endorsed "national self-determination of peoples" almost seventy years ago. But they constitute only the largest minority group among many in Afghanistan, and have no right to impose their mores on the others.
   President Karzai, who is himself Pashtun has embarked on the difficult project of building a cohesive  multi-ethnic Afghanistan. We will him well in the effort as we pull ourselves out. If he is to succeed, it will be because he sees the problems more clearly than we ever have.
Barry Haskell Levine

Find more of my (largely one-sided) correspondence with the New York Times at:
Or write a letter of your own. Democracy only works when we engage in
the issues of our day

U.S. Presses Taliban on Qatar Office in Bid to Save Talks

Lynsey Addario for The New York Times
Afghans watched a news broadcast about the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban from a restaurant in Kabul on Wednesday.
By  and 
Published: June 19, 2013 200 Comments

KABUL, Afghanistan — In a diplomatic scramble to keep alive the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban, American officials on Wednesday pressed the insurgents to backtrack on their effort to present themselves as essentially an alternative government at the office they opened Tuesday in Qatar, Afghan officials said.
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The Afghan government, furious that assurances from the Americans that the Taliban would not use the Doha office for political or fund-raising purposes had been flouted, suspended bilateral security talks with the Americans earlier Wednesday and said they would not send their peace emissaries to Qatar to talk to the Taliban until there was a change.
American officials, worried that painstaking efforts to restart the peace process after 18 months of deadlock were crumbling right at a breakthrough moment, moved quickly to try to resolve the Afghan government’s objections to what increasingly appeared to be a publicity coup by the Taliban.
Afghans of nearly every political stripe expressed outrage and concern at widely broadcast news images of insurgent envoys raising the white Taliban flag from their days in power and speaking as if they had set up an embassy for a government in exile — including raising a sign that described the office as the political office of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, the formal name of the old Taliban government. Qatari-based news organizations, including Al Jazeera, later broadcast several interviews with the envoys making their case for international attention.
Hours after President Hamid Karzai canceled talks with the Americans over a post-2014 security agreement, accusing the Americans of saying one thing and doing another, and then boycotting the Qatar peace talks, his spokesman said that he had received assurances from Secretary of State John Kerry that the Taliban office would be curbed.
The State Department spokeswoman, Jennifer R. Psaki, confirmed that, saying that Mr. Kerry had spoken twice with Mr. Karzai, on Tuesday night and again on Wednesday.
Mr. Kerry told him that Qatar’s government had assured that the Taliban’s office in the capital, Doha, had removed the Islamic Emirate sign. “The office must not be treated as or represent itself as an embassy or other office representing the Afghan Taliban as an emirate government or sovereign,” she said.
However there was much to repair from the events of the last two days, and the Afghans said they felt betrayed by their American allies and by the Taliban.
In lashing out, Mr. Karzai again showed his willingness to unilaterally halt American initiatives when his allies displeased him, after reining in American detention operationsand Special Operations missions earlier this year. It struck directly at two of the most critical parts of the Obama administration’s long-term vision for Afghanistan: entering peace talks with the Taliban to help dampen the insurgency as Western troops withdraw, and reaching an agreement to allow a lasting American military force past 2014.
At the same time, it became increasingly apparent that the Taliban, at little cost in binding promises or capital, were seizing the peace process as a stage for publicity.
The rapid-fire developments on Wednesday came a day after the American military formally handed over control of security in all of Afghanistan to Afghan forces, a development that was followed hours later with the three sides’ announcement that peace talks would begin in Doha.
The opening was hailed by American officials as a breakthrough after 18 months of stalled peace efforts, though they cautioned that a long road remained ahead.
Meanwhile, the Taliban played to the cameras.
Opening their Doha office with a lavish ceremony that included a ribbon-cutting and the playing of the Taliban anthem, insurgent officials said they intended to use the site to meet with representatives of the international community and the United Nations, interact with the news media, “improve relations with countries around the world” and, almost as an afterthought, meet “Afghans if there is a need.” They did not mention the Afghan government.
Some of the other language the Taliban used closely followed the American framework for peace talks. The insurgents seemed to agree to distance themselves from Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, saying the Taliban’s aims were only within Afghanistan and that they did not support the use of Afghan soil to plot international attacks.
In one move, showing a sudden and surprising willingness to open an office after months of resistance, the insurgents could appear to accede to an exhaustive international effort to start peace talks, even while using Qatari territory — and its globally reaching news outlets — in a new bid for acceptance as a political force.
“The way the Taliban office was opened in Qatar and the messages which were sent from it was in absolute contrast with all the guarantees that the United States of America had pledged,” said the statement from President Karzai’s office.
The statement also seemed to lump in Qatar, for its active role in facilitating the Taliban office, with the United States. “Recent developments showed that there are foreign hands behind the opening of the Taliban office in Qatar. Unless the peace process is led by Afghans, the High Peace Council will not participate in the Qatar negotiations,” the statement said, referring to a body Mr. Karzai established in 2010 during earlier peace efforts.
“The Taliban cannot call themselves an Islamic emirate,” said Aminuddin Mozafari, a member of the High Peace Council and a former mujahedeen commander who fought the Russians. “They are just a group of insurgents with no legal status.”
American officials said the Taliban overture was relatively sudden, initially signaled by Qatari officials toward the end of May. The timing, too, offered some surprise. Taliban forces in Afghanistan had been stepping up their attacks as summer neared, bloodying Afghan Army and police forces who have been taking the lead in security operations as American troops stepped back to a support role.
Almost as a reminder that the Taliban, too, could borrow a page from the “fight and talk” American road map for diplomacy in Afghanistan, insurgents struck within hours of the Doha office opening. Insurgents tripped a deadly ambush on an American convoy near the Bagram Air Base north of the Afghan capital, killing four American soldiers, Afghan officials said.
Steven Lee Myers contributed reporting from Washington, and Sangar Rahimi, Sharifullah Sahak, and Habib Zahori from Kabul

    Tuesday, June 18, 2013

    To Get a Truce, Be Ready to Escalate

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    From: barry levine
    Date: Tue, Jun 18, 2013 at 8:15 AM
    Subject: re: To Get a Truce, Be Ready to Escalate
    To: ""

    To the Editor:
       "For every complex problem" H. L. Mencken warned us,  "there is a
    solution that is simple, neat, and wrong." Who could oppose President
    Obama acting as a catalyst to birth a free, stable Syria?  But a
    catalyst--by definition--emerges unchanged from the transformation
    that it assists. And therein lies the rub. General Clark proposes that
    we should be prepared to escalate (i.e. kill and bleed) to drive
    Bashar al-Assad to the negotiating table. That might indeed be the
    best course we can plot. But to pretend that we could sail through
    unchanged ourselves is dishonest.
    Barry Haskell Levine

    Find more of my (largely one-sided) correspondence with the New York Times at:
    Or write a letter of your own. Democracy only works when we engage in
    the issues of our day

    To Get a Truce, Be Ready to Escalate

    Published: June 17, 2013

    FOLLOWING the Obama administration’s conclusion last week that President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have used chemical weapons, the talk in Washington is all about military assistance toSyria’s rebels. That aid is necessary, but observers have overlooked a crucial point: the American decision to give rebels lethal aid, though it might eventually contribute to the overthrow of Mr. Assad, opens an opportunity for concerted diplomacy to end the bloodshed.

    President Obama’s decision to supply small arms and ammunition to the rebels is a step, possibly just the first, toward direct American intervention. It raises risks for all parties, and especially for Mr. Assad, who knows that he cannot prevail, even with Russian and Iranian military aid, if the United States becomes fully engaged. We used a similar strategy against the Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic in Kosovo in 1999, where I commanded American forces, and showed that NATO had the resolve to escalate. With a brutal dictator like Mr. Assad, only the knowledge that he cannot prevail will force him to negotiate an exit.

    Mr. Obama has sought a diplomatic solution for some time, but has been reluctant to take steps that might lead to military intervention. Rightly so. No one wants more death and disruption in the Middle East, nor another open-ended military commitment — and certainly not the Pentagon. Despite the humanitarian tragedy in Syria, most of the conditions that have allowed previous interventions to succeed are absent. Legal authorization from the United Nations is unlikely, given opposition from Russia and China. Syria’s rebels are fragmented politically and militarily; some are religious extremists with professed ties to Al Qaeda.

    What would follow Mr. Assad’s departure is unclear, which is why he has managed to retain support from Shiites and other minorities, besides his own Alawite sect, who fear the consequences of a Sunni-led takeover. Iranian agents, along with their allies from Hezbollah, are involved, as are the Russians, who have a naval port at Tartus.

    But inaction is not an option. The bloodletting — more than 90,000 are estimated to have died so far — has deepened the region’s longstanding Shiite-Sunni struggle. It has become a proxy war, with Sunni Arab states backed by the West, like Saudi Arabia and Qatar, challenging Iran’s reach to the Mediterranean via a proxy, Hezbollah, and Syria.

    The risk of going beyond lethal aid to establishing a no-fly zone to keep Mr. Assad’s planes grounded or safe zones to protect refugees — options under consideration in Washington — is that we would find it hard to pull back if our side began losing. Given the rebels’ major recent setbacks, can we rule out using air power or sending in ground troops?

    Yet the sum total of risks — higher oil prices, a widening war — also provide Syria (and its patrons, Iran and Russia) a motive to negotiate. If Mr. Obama can convince Iran that he is serious, and is ready to back up his new promise of aid with additional forces, Iran and Russia will know the risks: Mr. Assad could lose his regime, and most likely his life. Higher oil prices would cost China, which has blocked anti-Syrian initiatives at the United Nations, dearly.

    In 1999 in Kosovo, the West used force as leverage for diplomacy. There, a limited NATO air campaign began after diplomatic talks failed to halt Serbian ethnic cleansing. The bombing lasted 72 days, and plans for a ground invasion of Serbia were under way when Mr. Milosevic finally bowed to the inevitable.

    Of course, the Middle East is not the Balkans, the Russian government is more confident now than it was then, and Americans are tired after a decade of war. But there are similarities: The Kosovars, too, bickered among themselves, and some were said to be terrorists. The Russians backed Serbia — and at one point suggested that their naval fleet in the Black Sea would intervene. Like Mr. Assad, Mr. Milosevic was rational and calculating — he, too, wanted to survive.

    Mr. Assad knows that Mr. Obama can be surprisingly resolute, as in his approval of drone strikes and the military operation to kill Osama bin Laden. While the United States begins to supply the rebels, there is a crucial opening for talks. Russia or China could recalculate and help lead Syria to a real peace process, as Viktor S. Chernomyrdin, a former Russian prime minister, did in Kosovo in 1999. Iran could emerge from a truce with Hezbollah’s power in Lebanon (and its strong links to Iran) intact.

    The formula for diplomacy is clear: a cease-fire agreement; a United Nations presence; departure of foreign fighters; disarmament of Syrian fighters; international supervision of Syria’s military; a peaceful exit for Mr. Assad, his family and key supporters; a transitional government; and plans for a new Syria.

    The conflict, and the diplomacy needed to end it, are likely to play out simultaneously. All parties will be recalculating their options and risks, so any assurance Mr. Obama gives Americans that he will limit our engagement would reduce the chances of success. This is a nerve-racking time, but the consequences of inaction are too high. Working together, America, Russia and China can halt Syria’s agony and the slide toward wider conflict. Mr. Obama’s decision might be the catalyst to get that done.

    Wesley K. Clark, a retired Army general and former NATO supreme allied commander for Europe, is a senior fellow at the Burkle Center for International Relations at the University of California, Los Angeles.

    Monday, June 17, 2013

    Living With the Surveillance State

    ---------- Forwarded message ----------
    From: barry levine 
    Date: Mon, Jun 17, 2013 at 8:08 AM
    Subject: re: Living With the Surveillance State
    To: ""

    To the Editor:
       Bill Keller would keep us focused on threats in some vague future, while assuring us that intrusive surveillance in the present is tolerable because "evidence of data malfeasance" is only reported  "[f]rom time to time".  
         Attentive readers will find two flaws with this: 1-we can't know how tiny a fraction of actual data malfeasance is escaping government suppression of secret programs. and 2-Mr. Keller himself has himself been a key player in this, quashing the story of widespread criminal wiretapping in direct violation of the FISA statute for over a year at Dick Cheney's behest.
        That FISA statute was enacted in response to an earlier Imperial presidency. Failing to enforce that law is killing our republic.
    Barry Haskell Levine

    Find more of my (largely one-sided) correspondence with the New York Times at:
    Or write a letter of your own. Democracy only works when we engage in
    the issues of our day


    Living With the Surveillance State

    Published: June 16, 2013 
    MY colleague Thomas Friedman’s levelheaded take on the National Security Agency eavesdropping uproar needs no boost from me. Hiscolumn soared to the top of the “most e-mailed” list and gathered a huge and mostly thoughtful galaxy of reader comments. Judging from the latest opinion polling, it also reflected the prevailing mood of the electorate. It reflected mine. But this is a discussion worth prolonging, with vigilant attention to real dangers answering overblown rhetoric about theoretical ones.
    Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
    Bill Keller
    For Op-Ed, follow@nytopinion and to hear from the editorial page editor, Andrew Rosenthal, follow@andyrNYT.
    R.O. Blechman

    Tom’s important point was that the gravest threat to our civil liberties is not the N.S.A. but another 9/11-scale catastrophe that could leave a panicky public willing to ratchet up the security state, even beyond the war-on-terror excesses that followed the last big attack. Reluctantly, he concludes that a well-regulated program to use technology in defense of liberty — even if it gives us the creeps — is a price we pay to avoid a much higher price, the shutdown of the world’s most open society. Hold onto that qualifier: “well regulated.”
    The N.S.A. data-mining is part of something much larger. On many fronts, we are adjusting to life in a surveillance state, relinquishing bits of privacy in exchange for the promise of other rewards. We have a vague feeling of uneasiness about these transactions, but it rarely translates into serious thinking about where we set the limits.
    Exhibit A: In last Thursday’s Times Joseph Goldsteinreported that local law enforcement agencies, “largely under the radar,” are amassing their own DNA databanks, and they often do not play by the rules laid down for the databases compiled by the F.B.I. and state crime labs. As a society, we have accepted DNA evidence as a reliable tool both for bringing the guilty to justice and for exonerating the wrongly accused. But do we want police agencies to have complete license — say, to sample our DNA surreptitiously, or to collect DNA from people not accused of any wrongdoing, or to share our most private biological information? Barry Scheck, co-director of the Innocence Project and a member of the New York State Commission on Forensic Science, says regulators have been slow to respond to what he calls rogue databanks. And a recent Supreme Court ruling that defined DNA-gathering as a legitimate police practice comparable to fingerprinting is likely to encourage more freelancing. Scheck says his fear is that misuse will arouse public fears of government overreach and discredit one of the most valuable tools in our justice system. “If you ask the American people, do you support using DNA to catch criminals and exonerate the innocent, everybody says yes,” Scheck told me. “If you ask, do you trust the government to have your DNA, everybody says no.”
    Exhibit B: Nothing quite says Big Brother like closed-circuit TV. In Orwell’s Britain, which is probably the democratic world’s leading practitioner of CCTV monitoring, the omnipresent pole-mounted cameras are being supplemented in some jurisdictions by wearable, night-vision cop-cams that police use to record every drunken driver, domestic violence call and restive crowd they encounter. New York last year joined with Microsoft to introduce the eerily named Domain Awareness System, which connects 3,000 CCTV cameras (and license-plate scanners and radiation detectors) around the city and allows police to cross-reference databases of stolen cars, wanted criminals and suspected terrorists. Fans of TV thrillers like “Homeland,” “24” and the British series “MI-5” (guilty, guilty and guilty) have come to think of the omnipresent camera as a crime-fighting godsend. But who watches the watchers? Announcing the New York system, the city assured us that no one would be monitored because of race, religion, citizenship status, political affiliation, etc., to which one skeptic replied, “But we’ve heard that one before.”
    Exhibit C: Congress has told the F.A.A. to set rules for the use of spy drones in American air space by 2015. It is easy to imagine the value of this next frontier in surveillance: monitoring forest fires, chasing armed fugitives, search-and-rescue operations. Predator drones already patrol our Southern border for illegal immigrants and drug smugglers. Indeed, border surveillance may be critical in persuading Congress to pass immigration reform that would extend our precious liberty to millions living in the shadows. I for one would count that a fair trade. But where does it stop? Scientific American editorializedin March: “Privacy advocates rightly worry that drones, equipped with high-resolution video cameras, infrared detectors and even facial-recognition software, will let snoops into realms that have long been considered private.” Like your backyard. Or, with the sort of thermal imaging used to catch the Boston bombing fugitive hiding under a boat tarp, your bedroom.
    And then there is the Internet. We seem pretty much at peace, verging on complacent, about the exploitation of our data for commercial, medical and scientific purposes — as trivial as the advertising algorithm that pitches us camping gear because we searched the Web for wilderness travel, as valuable as the digital record-sharing that makes sure all our doctors know what meds we’re on.
    In an online debate about the N.S.A. eavesdropping story the other day, Eric Posner, a professor at the University of Chicago Law School, pointed out that we have grown comfortable with the Internal Revenue Service knowing our finances, employees of government hospitals knowing our medical histories, and public-school teachers knowing the abilities and personalities of our children.
    “The information vacuumed up by the N.S.A. was already available to faceless bureaucrats in phone and Internet companies — not government employees but strangers just the same,” Posner added. “Many people write as though we make some great sacrifice by disclosing private information to others, but it is in fact simply the way that we obtain services we want — whether the market services of doctors, insurance companies, Internet service providers, employers, therapists and the rest or the nonmarket services of the government like welfare and security.”
    Privacy advocates will retort that we surrender this information wittingly, but in reality most of us just let it slip away. We don’t pay much attention to privacy settings or the “terms of service” fine print. Our two most common passwords are “password” and “123456.”
    From time to time we get worrisome evidence of data malfeasance, such as the last big revelation of N.S.A. eavesdropping, in 2005, which disclosed that the agency was tapping Americans without the legal nicety of a warrant, or the more recent I.R.S. targeting of right-wing political groups. But in most cases the advantages of intrusive technology are tangible and the abuses are largely potential. Edward Snowden’s leaks about N.S.A. data-mining have, so far, not included evidence of any specific abuse.
    The danger, it seems to me, is not surveillance per se. We have already decided, most of us, that life on the grid entails a certain amount of intrusion. Nor is the danger secrecy, which, as Posner notes, “is ubiquitous in a range of uncontroversial settings,” a promise the government makes to protect “taxpayers, inventors, whistle-blowers, informers, hospital patients, foreign diplomats, entrepreneurs, contractors, data suppliers and many others.”
    The danger is the absence of rigorous, independent regulation and vigilant oversight to keep potential abuses of power from becoming a real menace to our freedom. The founders created a system of checks and balances, but the safeguards have not kept up with technology. Instead, we have an executive branch in a leak-hunting frenzy, a Congress that treats oversight as a form of partisan combat, a political climate that has made “regulation” an expletive and a public that feels a generalized, impotent uneasiness. I don’t think we’re on a slippery slope to a police state, but I think if we are too complacent about our civil liberties we could wake up one day and find them gone — not in a flash of nuclear terror but in a gradual, incremental surrender