Sunday, March 01, 2015

PNN - The Water Show


RWS - 7:01pm
Vickie Machado - 7:15pm
Food and Water Watch 

Merilee Malwitz-Jipson
Our Sante Fe River

Drew Martin
Palm Beach County Soil and Water Board

Prof. Wendy Lynn Lee
Anti-Fracking and Privacy Advocate

Andrew Malquale  - 8:42pm
Energy Analyst Oceana

Robin Mahoney
Wheeling Water Warriors

1. Duke Energy is facing multiple criminal charges for years of dumping coal waste into North Carolina’s rivers. 
Federal prosecutors charged Duke with nine counts of misdemeanors under the Clean Water Act late Friday, saying that the energy company had been dumping coal ash from power plants in five North Carolina locations since at least 2010. Duke isn’t challenging the case — instead, it has already worked out a proposed plea bargain with the federal government. If approved, the bargain would require the company to pay a total of $102.2 million — $68.2 million in fines and restitution and $34 million for community service and projects to help mitigate the effects of the pollution.

“We are accountable for what happened at Dan River and have learned from this event,” Lynn Good, Duke’s president and CEO said in a statement. “Our highest priorities are safe operations and the well-being of the people and communities we serve.”

Duke’s problem with coal ash pollution made headlines last February, when a storage pond from a closed power plant leaked 39,000 tons of coal ash, a byproduct of coal burning that can contain toxins such as arsenic, mercury, and lead, and 27,000 gallons of contaminated water into North Carolina’s Dan River. That spill sparked increased pressure on Duke to stop polluting the state’s rivers and to clean up the coal ash that had spilled in the Dan River — something the company started doing in May. 

The spill also marked the beginning of a string of environmental citations for Duke — later last February, North Carolina’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) cited five more Duke power plants for failing to hold storm water permits, and in March, a North Carolina judge ruled that Duke must immediately act to stop the groundwater contamination caused by the company’s 14 coal-fired power plants in the state. 

And last December, Duke reported 200 seeps at its coal-fired power plants in North Carolina in its filings to state regulators filings to state regulators in December, with seeps at two plants leaking almost 1 million gallons every day. According to the filings, six power plants contained seeps with levels of arsenic that were up to 140 times higher than North Carolina’s safety standard, and two power plants contained seeps with higher-than-normal levels of selenium, which can kill wildlife. 

Environmental groups — which tried unsuccessfully to sue Duke Energy three times in 2013 in an attempt to force the company to stop contaminating rivers in North Carolina with coal ash — have applauded the criminal charges leveled at Duke.
“It’s not just a slap on the wrist,” Kemp Burdette, of Cape Fear River Watch, told the AP. “A $100 million fine is a significant one. It confirms what we’ve been saying all along. It’s good to finally have somebody say, ‘You’re right. Duke was illegally polluting waterways across North Carolina and it was criminal. It wasn’t an accident.'”

2. This Is Why Scott Walker Is Not Presidential Material

I have known Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker since he was a young state legislator. We used to talk a good deal about our differing views on how to reform things: campaign finance rules, ethics regulations, social-welfare programs.
We seldom reached agreement. But I gave him credit for respecting the search for common ground. And for understanding that a disagreement on a particular matter is never an excuse for ending the search -- or for disregarding others who are engaged in it.
But that was a long time ago. Scott Walker has changed a great deal -- and not, I fear, for the better.
He is deep into a political career that has seen plenty of ups and downs; and, now, he is grasping for a top rung on the ladder: the Republican nomination for the presidency in 2016.

On Thursday, at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Walker was asked how he would respond to ISIS, and the "radical Islamic terrorism" he had condemned in his speech to the group. Walker told the crowd: "If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe."

That was, by just about every measure, an unsettling statement. Even conservative commentators who are inclined to praise Walker acknowledged that it was "a terrible response." National Review's Jim Geraghty explained that "taking on a bunch of protesters is not comparably difficult to taking on a Caliphate with sympathizers and terrorists around the globe, and saying so suggests Walker doesn't quite understand the complexity of the challenge from ISIS and its allied groups."

Former Texas Governor Rick Perry, who knows a thing or two about making mistakes on the campaign trail, said "I think, you know, some of the statements that he's made are obviously problematic for him."

"You are talking about, in the case of ISIS, people who are beheading individuals and committing heinous crimes, who are the face of evil," Perry continued. "To try to make the relationship between them and the unions is in appropriate."

Walker is "walking back" as quickly as he can, and griping once more that the media will "misconstrue" his message. Unfortunately, this is not the first time he has suggested that his "experience" with Wisconsinites who disagreed with his assault on workers and public education and public services has somehow prepared him to stand strong on the global stage.
The trouble with this calculus is that the protesters in Wisconsin were teachers and nurses and librarians. They were the parents of ailing children. They were seniors who were worried about access to health care and the security of their pensions. They did not threaten Scott Walker. They asked him to listen, to care, to simply respect them.

Scott Walker refused to do so in 2011. He is still refusing to do so.
That is not a "mistake." That is the political path Scott Walker has chosen. When citizens assembled andpetitioned their government for the redress of grievances in 2011, Walker chose as their governor to disrespect and disregard. And now, as an all-but-announced presidential candidate, he continues to choose to disregard and disrespect them.
I know there will be those who say this is who Scott Walker has always been. I have a different view. I believe this is what he has become.
That is more than just deeply disappointing. That is the sort of statement that ought to make even his most ardent advocates pause to consider whether this man is ready for presidential politics.
If Scott Walker really believes that the experience of disregarding the concerns of Wisconsinites has prepared him to deal with global threats, then I fear that he misconstrues his own strengths, that he misconstrues threats that are as complex as they are serious, and, above all, that he misconstrues the duty of respect that every governor (and every president) owes the people that she or he proposes to serve.

3. Apple Agrees To Chinese Government Security Audits, Worrying Activists    (Reprinted from )

Apple has agreed to allow the Chinese government run security audits on the new iPhone to prove that there is no back door access for the U.S. government. However, activists say that this agreement could have the opposite effect, allowing China to broaden spying on its own people.
"Handing over source code [would] mean that the Chinese government will know exactly how ... Apple software works," said Percy Alpha, the founder of the anti-censorship group "Apple users world-wide are much more vulnerable to spying from the Chinese government."
For its part, Apple maintains that it does not cooperate with any government. "Unlike our competitors, Apple cannot bypass your passcode and therefore cannot access this data," the company claims. "So it's not technically feasible for us to respond to government warrants for the extraction of this data from devices in their possession running iOS 8."
Indeed James Comey, the director of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, recently complained that the government was worried that Apple's latest software update was too secure. "What concerns me about this iscompanies marketing something expressly to allow people to place themselves beyond the law," Comey told reporters last September.
But despite Apple's assurances of privacy for its users, the question remains as whether it is a match for the Chinese government, which is believed to have one of the world's most sophisticated government systems for Internet censorship and surveillance, collectively known as the Great Firewall.
Not only are the Internet's biggest services -- Gmail, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram - not available in China, the Chinese government also employs a variety of means to prevent citizens from accessing material it deemed to be potentially threatening or socially controversial. This includes tight political regulations for domestic media and delegated liability for online content providers.
Beijing also uses just-in-time Internet filtering and Deep Packet Inspection technology to blacklist pages based on pre-defined keywords. In addition China employs thousands of government and private sector workers who reportedly manually monitor and censor objectionable content on social media platforms, blogs, and political websites.
Can iPhones Be Hacked?
Rumors of holes in Apple's security have been backed by National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden who refuses to use an iPhone because he says it contains "special software that can activate itself without the owner having to press a button and gather information about him," according to Anatoly Kucherena, his Russian lawyer.
Snowden has twice published documents about the ability of the NSA to break into Apple's products. The first time was when he revealed the Prism program in June 2013, which indicated that Apple had agreed to collaborate with the U.S. government in October 2012.

In December 2013, Der Spiegel published documents from Snowden that showed that the NSA was targeting and hacking into Apple iPhones through a program called DROPOUT JEEP that "includes the ability to remotely push/pull files from the device. SMS retrieval, contact list retrieval, voicemail, geolocation, hot mic, camera capture, cell tower location, etc."
At the time, Apple denied this. "Apple has never worked with the NSA to create a backdoor in any of our products, including iPhone," the company reported on its site. "Additionally, we have been unaware of this alleged NSA program targeting our products."
To date, the question of whether or not Apple's products are accessible to the U.S. government remains an open question, regardless of the official statements. The fact that hackers have been able to easily steal celebrity photos and data from Apple's cloud infrastructure has not helped the company's cause.
It is clear that the size of the Chinese market has been a powerful incentive for Apple to collaborate with Beijing. After years of negotiations, Apple finally signed an agreement in December 2013 to sell iPhones in collaboration with China Mobile, the largest wireless network in the world with over 800 million subscribers.

Last August, Apple agreed to store data belonging toits Chinese userson the state-controlled China Telecom network, claiming that it had encrypted all the data.
Within 12 months of the China Mobile deal, Apple rose fromChina's sixth largest smartphone vendor to number one in the last quarter, overtaking Samsung from Korea, and local Chinese brands like Huawei, Lenovo and Xiaomi. The greater China region contributed $16.1 billion or 22 percent of Apple's total revenue in the final quarter of 2014, propelling the company to a $18 billion profit for the three month period, the biggest profit ever reported by a public company in history.
At the end of the day, the Chinese market is too big to be ignored. China is expected to spend $465 billion in 2015 on information and communications technology. The expansion of China's tech market will account for 43 percent of worldwide tech sector growth.
"It is an incredible market," Timothy Cook, Apple's CEO, recently said of China. "People love Apple products. And we are going to do our best to serve the market."
One of the conditions that Apple is likely to be required to meet in order to serve that market is to sign agreements with the Chinese government to submit their source code. Last month, China required foreign companies that sell computer equipment to Chinese banks to turn over their source code, allow audits and and build so-called "back doors" into their hardware and software. A new government official policy approved last year, indicates that these technology requirements are likely to be expanded to other sectors ostensibly to track "terrorists."
Nor is it unusual for a Silicon Valley company to agree to invasive Chinese government terms. Indeed between 2006 and 2010, Google agreed to purge its search results of any Web sites blacklisted by the Chinese government. Google eventually pulled its search operation out of mainland China in 2010 after an alleged "cyber attack" by China. Since then, the Chinese government has gradually increased its blocking of Google, most recently making Gmail unavailable.

4. A Review "Kill the Messenger" (from OpEd News)
Make no mistake; this is an important story. This piece of history is so crucial that American children (and others) should be taught it as part of the curriculum. This is the CIA engaging in widespread international conspiracies, even domestically, by allowing thousands of tons of cocaine to be imported, when it was convenient for them. The hypocrisy of keeping that very same cocaine illegal for Americans and sending thousands of people to long prison terms for same makes these policies schizophrenic, immoral, blatantly criminal, and yet beyond the reach of the law. It lays bare the two-tiered so-called “justice” system, and shows the powerful as a criminal class, gangsters.
That’s what Gary Webb uncovered in 1996.
The cat was out of the bag already, somewhat, as a result of the Iran-Contra CONSPIRACY hearings of the mid-1980s. But that had died down and was largely forgotten about, at least in America’s newsrooms. Webb was given some information that the government had let slip from its fingers.
So Gary Webb, with this new lead into state-sanctioned drug running, set out to do what a professional reporter was supposed to do. Only Webb never got the memo that all that Pollyanna shit is good for telling children, so that they’ll mindlessly believe in the system, but that the real world is a much darker and somewhat sickening place.
This film version had its good points and bad. I’ll start with the good.
The opening of the story and the build-up are done well. The period looks good, the locations, cinematography and most of the music works as intended. Renner is a decent actor and he did his best with the script. Montage sequences encapsulate the history quickly with well-selected clips.
But the bad becomes apparent in snippets here and there. And that is the cliched dialogue whenever the interpersonal scenes need to make points about Webb’s family. These cliches pile on, and they are flat and uninspired. The dialogue dragged this thing down, where it should have really been punched up.
Lastly, the ending is anti-climactic, and it didn’t have to be. Truncated as it is, it avoided two gigantic story beats and relied instead on text cards – the laziest form of filmmaking, as I’ve mentioned before.
The first beat was the break-up of the family. This wasn’t dramatized, although it was likely what finally did Gary in.
The second one was the suicide itself. Not shown or dramatized at all, this was a major omission.
It seemed like the filmmakers thought they were ending on an All the President’s Men type of text sequence, but they weren’t. The ending of All the President’s Men was visually striking, from a rapidly firing teletype machine that repeated actual news headlines leading up to the removal of Nixon from the White House. That was in line with the newspaper motif and the structure of the story set up throughout.
Here, in Kill the Messenger, they avoided the killing of the messenger, and instead put up some text. This added nothing to our understanding or empathy for Webb, nothing at all. It remains the laziest form of filmmaking and we are owed more after sitting two hours through the film. It felt like a cheap copout after a very downbeat final scene. So the film ended too soon, lacking a final climax.
Partly this was the result of the real tragedy. But a tragedy needs to show the tragedy. That’s the point. That’s what the end of a tragic story needs. You can’t just resort to a couple of cue cards. This failing was a major disappointment, and it likely left audiences cold.

5.  Thousands March In Moscow To Mourn Death Of Boris Nemtsov

MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands were converging Sunday in central Moscow to mourn veteran liberal politician Boris Nemtsov, whose killing on the streets of the capital has shaken Russia's beleaguered opposition.
President Vladimir Putin has marginalized and intimidated his political opponents, jailing some and driving others into exile. Nemtsov, 55, was among the few prominent opposition figures who had refused to be cowed.
The mourners are to march to the bridge near the Kremlin where Nemtsov was gunned down shortly before midnight Friday. The march could serve to energize the opposition or it could prove to be a brief outpouring of emotions that once again dissipates in a climate of fear.
Whoever was responsible for the slaying, the signal it sends to Putin's foes is that if Nemtsov can be killed for his political activism then no one is safe. As a former deputy prime minister and longtime politician, he retained strong ties among Russia's political and business elite.
Russia's federal investigative agency said it was looking into several possible motives for his killing.
The first possibility, the Investigative Committee said, was that the murder was aimed at destabilizing the political situation in Russia and Nemtsov was a "sacrificial victim for those who do not shun any method for achieving their political goals."
This suggestion echoed comments by Putin's spokesman and other Russian politicians that the attack was a "provocation" against the state.
Opposition activists had planned a protest rally on Sunday, which the city demanded they hold in a suburban neighborhood. After Nemtsov's death, they called instead for a demonstration to mourn him in central Moscow. The city gave its quick approval.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

6. Has anyone else noticed - NewsMax ads on "Progressive Media"
Obama, Netanyahu on Collision Course
'Stolen' Chiloquin Home Found 2 Days Later Half a Mile Away
Injured MLB Star to Play With Special Helmet
Americans Urged to Search Their Names Before Site Gets Taken Down
'American Sniper' — Get the Book Behind the Hit Film
Americans Urged to Search Their Name on New Controversial Site
Brand New Sleep-Aid Takes CVS by Storm
New Sleep-Aid Arrives at CVS

Welcome to the Newsmax Feed Network — a fast, easy and inexpensive way to reach new customers through targeted content streams.

7. Is Breaking Web Encryption Legal
Companies finding ways to subvert Internet encryption have been in the news recently. Last month, in-flight Wifi provider Gogo was caught intercepting encrypted web sessions on YouTube and other video sites in order to throttle high-bandwidth users. And earlier this week, it was revealed that Lenovo was installing adware on laptops that intercepted all encrypted web requests in order to inject targeted ads into encryption-protected sites. A lot has been written about bad these practices are for consumer security – but are they even legal? The law is far from settled, but I believe that absent very clear disclosure to users, breaking encryption likely violates — at the very least — consumer protection law that prohibits deceptive and unfair business practices. Given how important robust encryption is to the privacy of our communications, it is incumbent upon regulators to enforce these regulations on companies that undermine the security of the Internet.

How Is Encryption Supposed to Work?

First, a very abbreviated background on what’s going on here (feel free to skip ahead if you know this already). On the web, encryption is typically achieved through use of the Transport Layer Security (TLS) and Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) protocols[1]; these technologies enable users to communicate with websites privately without surveillance by network providers, malicious hackers, or other intermediaries.

Under normal circumstances, when a user connects to a website over an encrypted SSL connection (the web address will begin with “https://…”), the user’s browser initiates a “handshake” with the website’s server in which the two sides decide on a variety of parameters for the encrypted communication. During this handshake process, the user’s browser first requests the site’s public encryption key and then checks to see if the site is trusted by a certificate authority. Certificate authorities are trusted third party vendors — such as Symantec or Comodo — that certify the identity of the operator of a website, and technically assure the user’s browser that the site’s public key is legitimate.[2] Using the site’s public key, the user’s browser sends a communication back to the originating site (which can only be decrypted with the private key, possessed only by the site operator) negotiating the parameters for and then initiating a symmetrically encrypted session with the site, during which communications between the site and the user are both encrypted, and cannot be viewed by intermediaries.

In setting up this encrypted session, an intermediary network transmitting the user’s requests and subsequent communications should not be able to see the contents of that communication; they’ll be able to discern some basic attributes of the communication — including the destination IP address and domain (e.g., — but won’t know the actual url (e.g., or the contents of the particular page visited.

Of course, the weakness of encryption is that is relies upon these certificates in the first place. Intermediaries that sit in between the user and the web — such as Gogo and Lenovo — have the opportunity to issue their own certificates for various sites, representing that they operate those sites. Thus, Gogo’s network posed as YouTube, and presented a fake, self-generated SSL certificate to the user’s browser indicating, erroneously, that it operated YouTube and other Google web domains. (Technically, Gogo’s network presented a fake certificate for any * domain, encompassing far more than merely Google’s YouTube site.) As a result, Gogo was able to inspect traffic to YouTube and determine it was video (Gogo blocks video sites because of bandwidth constraints on planes). Worse still, Lenovo allowed its advertising partner Superfish to pose as any website in order to insert targeted ads into encrypted webpages.

Intermediaries thus have the opportunity to take advantage of their privileged position as a network intermediary to pose as a destination website in order to intercept and inspect encrypted communications. In computer security, this is commonly called a “man-in-the-middle” attack: an entity sitting between two other parties who are trying to communicate with each other (here the user and YouTube) intercepting, inspecting, and potentially altering those communications, and posing to each party as the other party. And that is what happened in these cases — the intermediary posed as the destination site to the end user, and it posed as the end user to the destination site, decrypting and then reencrypting traffic between the two destinations. As a result, they were able to view the unencrypted communications between the two in a way that it could not have if it hadn’t falsely issued certificates for those domain. In doing so, they also — especially in the case of Lenovo — made it much easier for other parties to pose as destination websites and intercept encrypted traffic (more about that in a bit).
OK, So Is That Actually Legal?

There might be a few statutes where you could make a legal case that this behavior is illegal (the Wiretap Act, for one), but I’m going to focus on Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Act. While most nations around the world have comprehensive data protection law, the United States is an outlier; the US only protects certain sensitive categories of information through sector-specific laws like HIPAA (health), Gramm-Leach-Bliley (finance), and FERPA (education). That said, using its decades-old consumer protection authority under Section 5, the FTC has been the de facto privacy and security regulator in the U.S. in recent years. Broadly speaking, Section 5 prohibits companies from engaging in deceptive or unfair business practices; the FTC (and state Attorneys General under similar state laws) have applied this standard to dozens of privacy and security cases in recent years (for a full exploration, consider this excellent article by Professors Dan Solove and Woody Hartzog). Under these precedents, there is a very strong argument that breaking encryption will in many cases violate this statute.

Is Breaking Encryption Deceptive?

There are a couple arguments for why this behavior might be considered a deceptive business practice.

At a technical level, these SSL-breaking technologies trick your browser by forging SSL certificates, implying that their service operates encrypted websites like and In fact, instead of passing encrypted traffic on to the appropriate destination, these technologies enact the previously described “man-in-the-middle attack,” gaining access to potentially sensitive information that should rightly be kept between you and, for example, your bank or health care provider. Though these practices do not directly deceive the end user, they do effectively deceive the user’s software that acts as a “user agent.”  It’s not settled that this is prohibited by deceptive practices authority; in the past, the FTC has been reluctant to pursue deceptive practices cases merely on the grounds of tricking a browser: the FTC declined to pursue companies that issued bogus machine-readable P3P policies to get around Internet Explorer privacy restrictions or against companies that evaded Apple Safari’s default cookie settings in order to place third party cookies.[3] On the other hand, six state Attorneys General did bring a deceptive practices claim under their own version of Section 5 against companies that tricked Safari browsers into accepting third-party cookies.

Alternatively, the FTC could argue that failure to disclose that encrypted transmissions were being intercepted constituted a material omission — that is, failure to explain the practice would be a deceptive means to prevent a consumer from meaningfully evaluating the product. The FTC has brought a number of cases arguing that failure to disclose highly invasive or controversial practices either in a privacy policy or in clear, upfront language could constitute a deceptive practice.  For instance, the FTC has found that failure to disclose access to your phone’s contact information or precise geolocation could constitute a material omission.

8. BORDC (Bill of Rights Defense Coalition)
Washington, DC –– Shahid Buttar, Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), was arrested on Thursday, February 26, 2015 after a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing with Director of National Intelligence James Clapper. Joining CODEPINK activists who protested during the hearing, Buttar approached Clapper after the hearing concluded to ask a question about America's separate systems of justice.
Buttar particularly said (video): "In March 2013, you misled the Senate Intelligence Committee about the scope of NSA surveillance. What do you have to say to communities of color that are so hyper-policed that we're subjected to extrajudicial assassination for selling loose cigarettes, when you can get away with perjury before the Senate? Why is your agency above the law, sir? ...Why are you above the law for perjury and why is the NSA above the law for mass surveillance, even violating the contours that the authors of the Patriot Act intended to authorize in 2001?...[A]nd Senators, why won't you do your job? You're charged with oversight of these officials."
Although the hearing had ended and Buttar was not visibly "demonstrating," Capitol Police quickly escorted him out of the room. 
Later, Buttar noted the remarkable irony pervading how he left the hearing. He said, "I asked a simple question of a public official in a public setting that no elected member of Congress has had the independence to ask: how can you lie to Congress and get away with it? It's a disturbing sign of our draconian times that posing that question is an alleged crime, while Clapper's lies to Congress remain unpunished and tacitly rewarded. Welcome to America!"

Founded specifically to fight the PATRIOT Act through grassroots organizing at the local level, BORDC challenges executive power abuses including mass surveillance, as well as torture with impunity, and arbitrary profiling according to race or ideology. BORDC supports an ideologically, politically, ethnically, geographically, and generationally diverse grassroots movement focused on educating Americans about the erosion of our fundamental freedoms; increasing civic participation; and converting concern and outrage into community action.  

9. Hayden laughed at after referring to himself as a Libertarian
For a second year in a row, the Conservative Action Political Conference hosted a debate on the National Security Agency’s surveillance programs.
This morning, in a stinging rebuke similar to audience jeering of former Gov. Jim Gilmore’s seething criticism of Ed Snowden at last year’s CPAC, former NSA director Michael Hayden received an earful when he awkwardly declared that he is a libertarian.
Referring to his co-panelist Fox News’ Andrew Napolitano as an “an unrelenting libertarian,” Hayden continued, “So am I.”
As Mediaite pointed out, Hayden was quickly mocked by the audience with sustained booing and at least two people yelling, “no, you’re not!”
One person’s laughter was so loud that it is audible on C-SPAN’s video of the event.
Though Hayden went on to cast his defense of domestic spying as a his duty in the pursuit of liberty and homeland security, he also has a direct stake in the debate over surveillance — and it doesn’t make him any more disposed to the libertarian side of that debate.
Hayden is a principal with the Chertoff Group, a consulting firm for the multi-billion dollar cyber security and intelligence industry. He is also on the board of Alion Science and Technology, a military contractor that does intelligence and technical work. For that part-time gig he has been paid approximately $336,500 over the last four years, according to reports filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission.


It’s easy to forget that just two years ago, President Obama was determined to bomb Syria and remove the Assad regime, and U.S. establishment institutions were working to lay the groundwork for that campaign. NPR began dutifully publishing reports from anonymous U.S. officials that Syria had stockpiled large amounts of chemical weapons; the NYT was reportingthat Obama was “increasing aid to the rebels and redoubling efforts to rally a coalition of like-minded countries to forcibly bring down” Assad; Secretary of State John Kerry pronounced that forced removal of Assad was “a matter of national security” and “a matter of the credibility of the United States of America.”
Those opposed to the anti-Assad “regime change” bombing campaign argued that while some of the rebellion was composed of ordinary Syrians, the “rebels” the U.S. would arm and empower (i.e., the only effective anti-Assad fighters) were actually violent extremists and even terrorists aligned with Al Qaeda and worse. The people arguing that were invariably smeared as Assad apologists because this happened to be the same argument Assad was making: that the most effective fighters against him were jihadis and terrorists.

But that argument in D.C. was quickly converted from taboo into conventional wisdom the moment it was needed to justify U.S. involvement in Syria. The U.S. is now bombing Syria, of course, but rather than fightingagainst Assad, the Syrian dictator is (once again) America’s ally and partner. The rationale for the U.S. bombing campaign is the same one Assad long invoked: that those fighting against him are worse than he is because they are aligned with Al Qeada and ISIS (even though the U.S. funded and armed those factions for years and their closest allies in the region continue to do so).

A similar dynamic is at play in Russia and Ukraine. Yesterday, Obama’s top national security official, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper, told a Senate Committee “that he supports arming Ukrainian forces against Russian-backed separatists,” as the Washington Post put it. The U.S. has already provided “non-lethal” aid to Ukrainian forces, and Obama has said he is now considering arming them. Who, exactly, would that empower?

Russian President Vladimir Putin has long said that the Ukrainian coup of last year, and the subsequent regime in Kiev, is driven by ultra-nationalists, fascists, and even neo-Nazi factions. The Russian TV outlet RT alsofrequently refers to “the active role far-right groups have played on the pro-government side in Ukraine since the violent coup of the last year.”

For that reason, anyone pointing out that arming the regime in Kiev would strengthen fascists and neo-Nazis is instantly accused of being a Putin propagandist: exactly like those arguing that the best anti-Assad fighters were al-Qaeda-affiliated were accused of being Assad propagandists (until that became the official position of the US Government). U.S. media accounts invariably depict the conflict in Ukraine as a noble struggle waged by the freedom-loving, pro-west democrats in Kiev against the oppressive, aggressive “Russian-backed” separatists in the east.

But just as was true in Syria: while some involved in the Ukrainian coup were ordinary Ukrainians fighting against a corrupt and oppressive regime, these claims about the fascist thugs leading the fight for the Kiev government are actually true. Writing in Foreign Policy from eastern Ukraine last August, Alec Luhn observed:

Pro-Russian forces have said they are fighting against Ukrainian nationalists and “fascists” in the conflict, and in the case of Azov and other battalions, these claims are essentially true. . . .  The Azov Battalion, whose emblem also includes the “Black Sun” occult symbol used by the Nazi SS, was founded by Andriy Biletsky, head of the neo-Nazi groups Social-National Assembly and Patriots of Ukraine.

In September, Shaun Walker wrote in the Guardian about his experience embedding with the pro-Kiev forces of the Azov, which he called “Ukraine’s most potent and reliable force on the battlefield against the separatists.” While dismissing as “overblown” Russian warnings that these groups seek to ethnically cleanse all of Ukraine, Walked described “the far right, even neo-Nazi, leanings of many of its members,” and noted that “Amnesty International called on the Ukrainian government to investigate rights abuses and possible executions by the Aidar, another battalion.” Walker’s principal concern was that these fascist militias intend, once the separatists are vanquished, to seek control of Kiev and impose their ultra-nationalist vision on the entire country.

Ever since the coup in Kiev was carried out, these unpleasant facts about the pro-government forces have been largely ignored in most establishment U.S. media accounts, leaving a handful of commentators to point them out. In January of last year, as the coup was unfolding, the Guardian‘s Seumas Milne argued that the west’s morality narrative about Ukraine – democracy-fighters v. Putin oppressors – “bears only the sketchiest relationship to reality” and that, instead, “far-right nationalists and fascists have been at the heart of the protests and attacks on government buildings.” Britain’s Channel 4 reported on the central role played by far-right ultra-nationalists in that coup, noting that Sen. John McCain traveled to the Ukrainian capital (pictured, above) and shared a stage with the worst fascist elements.’s Justin Raimondo has long been warning of “the ascension of a genuinely fascist mass movement into the corridors of power” in Kiev, noting that far from being a handful of fringe elements, “the activists of the two main fascist parties in Ukraine – Svoboda and ‘Right Sector’ – provided the muscle the insurrectionists needed to take over government buildings in Kiev and across western Ukraine.”

These facts have now become so glaring that even the most mainstream organizations in the west are now being compelled to point them out. Last week, Vox published an article by Amanda Taub about the “approximately 30 of these private armies fighting on the Ukrainian side,” whose “fighters are accused of serious human rights violations, including kidnappings, torture, and extrajudicial executions.” While claiming the militias operate largely separately from the central Kiev government, Taub nonetheless notes how central they have become to the fight against the separatists, and also acknowledges their clear use by Kiev officials:

The militias have also gained more power because the Ukrainian government, led by new President Petro Poroshenko, brought them friends in high places. For instance, Arsen Avakov, Poroshenko’s Minister of Internal Affairs, was previously the leader of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko’s political bloc in eastern Ukraine. He has a longstanding alliance with members of the Azov Battalion, a far-right organization whose members have a history of promoting anti-Semitism and neo-Nazi views. Avakov has has used his position to support the group, going so far as to appoint Vadim Troyan, an Azov deputy leader, as the chief of police for the whole Kiev region. And Azov’s leader, Andriy Biletsky, is now a member of parliament as well.

The Intercept yesterday published reporting from Marcin Mamon on the role jihadists are playing in the conflict on behalf of the government.
U.S. media propaganda has not only sought to glorify the Kiev regime by suppressing all of these elements but also has actively demonized the separatists as little more than Putin-controlled pawns. In fact, as BuzzFeed’s Max Seddon describes in an excellent article from a separatist stronghold in eastern Ukraine, those fighting against Kiev have a range of significant grievances against the Ukrainian government quite independent of any Putin agenda, including violence against civilians and long-standing contempt for residents of the east:

In the very areas Ukraine is fighting to regain, near-constant artillery bombardment and a crippling economic blockade have hardened attitudes to the point of no return. Almost every day, shelling claims the lives of civilians: someone’s mother, husband, child. And every day, reconciliation between millions of Ukrainian citizens here and the Ukrainian government seems even further off.

Whatever else is true, this is yet another case of the U.S. government – followed as always by its media – fabricating a Manichean morality narrative to justify U.S. involvement and militarism. Just as the U.S. spent years funding and arming the precise extremist elements it claims it wants to combat – in Libya, in Syria, and long before that in Afghanistan – arming Ukrainian forces would empower a monstrous crew of fascists and outright Nazi sympathizers. The coup itself, which the U.S. government supported, almost certainly did exactly that.

One can debate whether empowering such thugs is a feature or a bug: it’s hardly rare for the U.S. knowingly to arm and prop up fascists and other assorted tyrants which it believes will promote its interests (see this morning’s David Ignatius column arguing that Egyptian dictator Gen. Abdel Fata Sisi is as bad as Mubarak when it comes human rights abuses, but the U.S. must continue steadfastly to support him so that he preserves “stability”). But at least when the U.S. is in bed with regimes such as the Saudis or Egyptians, most people understand the kind of allies it has embraced. In the case of Ukraine, those facts have been almost entirely excluded from mainstream discourse. Now that Obama’s leading national security official is expressly calling for the arming of those forces, it is vital that the true nature of America’s allies in this conflict be understood.

Photo: Sergei Chuzavkov/AP

11. Fracking Opponents Feel Police Pressure In Some Drilling Hotspots

Wendy Lee, an anti-fracking activist and philosophy professor at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania, has always protested peacefully. So she was stunned last winter when a state trooper came to her home to ask her about eco-terrorism and pipe bombs.
The trooper was investigating an alleged trespassing incident that involved Lee and two other activists visiting a gas compressor in Pennsylvania's Lycoming County in June 2013. Lee says they stayed on a public road and left when security guards told them to go away.

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Lee was never charged with anything and believes the trooper's visit was intended simply to intimidate her. "They're clearly there to send the message that they protect the industry," she says.
Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has been controversial in the U.S. since the business began to boom. As protests have grown across the country, some police departments have begun working closely with the oil and gas industries to monitor activists. The surveillance is taking place in drilling hotspots in Pennsylvania, Texas and the Rocky Mountains.
The same Pennsylvania trooper who questioned Lee also traveled to upstate New York and, along with a New York state trooper, questioned Jeremy Alderson, an activist who was with Lee at the compressor.
"Having two troopers show up at your door when you can't imagine anything you've done wrong, that's kind of scary, because you don't know what's happened," says Alderson.
Like Lee, Alderson was never charged with a crime.
The Pennsylvania trooper, Mike Hutson, declined to comment for this story, as did the state police. (The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, declined to be interviewed but sent an email stating, "Safety is the industry's top priority.") But documents obtained by NPR member station WITF through an open records request show that he is part of a broader intelligence-sharing network between the oil and gas industry and federal, state and local law enforcement called the Marcellus Shale Operators' Crime Committee.
Similar partnerships have sprung up in other oil and gas plays around the country, including in south and east Texas and the Rocky Mountains.
Some of the biggest drilling companies in the U.S. work closely with FBI task forces to monitor potential threats.
Jim Beiver, a retired Pennsylvania State Police trooper, emphasizes that the priority for the police "is protecting people." Although he never worked on energy issues or eco-terrorism, he spent much of his time as an investigator.
There have been reports of pipe bombs, charred debris and gunshots fired at gas sites in Pennsylvania, but the incidents have not been publicly linked to activists.
Beiver says people without criminal records can still turn to violence.
"We always tried to maintain the balance of gathering information, doing our job and keeping in mind the rights of the people — keeping in mind the Constitution," says Beiver.
But not everyone believes that police are striking the right balance.
Paul Rossi is an attorney for the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, an anti-fracking group in northeastern Pennsylvania that recently settled a lawsuit with the state after it was erroneously labeled a terrorist threat back in 2010.
Rossi says he's disturbed to hear about the surveillance. "I'm about as flabbergasted as an attorney can be at the serial violations of First Amendment rights in this state," he says.
Partnerships between industry and police are not new. In fact, the Pennsylvania State Police was formed to quell violence between mining companies and their workers more than a century ago.
The state police have a proud history of protecting the public, says West Virginia State University College of Law professor Patrick McGinley. "But that history doesn't have to be whitewashed, and historically there were abuses," he says.
Activists like Lee believe those abuses continue to this day. She filed an open records request with the state police to try to find out why she was questioned. Her request was denied because the documents are part of an ongoing criminal investigation. Lee still hopes to get the records and is appealing the decision.

This story comes to us from StateImpact Pennsylvania, a public media reporting project covering Pennsylvania's energy economy.

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