When asked whether he would have supported working with the producers of Zero Dark Thirty, Department of Defense’s Director of Entertainment Media said he would not have recommended working with screenwriter Mark Boal and director Katherine Bigelow, because he was not happy with the way their movie Hurt Locker had presented the military. But he was not given a choice. “These senior people do whatever they want,” the Director told DOD’s Inspector General, according to a draft of the IG’s report on the leaks of classified information to Boal and Bigelow.

The Project on Government Oversight released the draft this week.

The Director’s comments are all the more telling given how much more centrally this draft of the report – as compared to another POGO obtained and released – point to the role of then CIA Director Leon Panetta and his Chief of Staff, Jeremy Bash, in leading the government to cooperate on the movie.

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A few years ago, a plucky contestant on Dancing with the Stars popularized a terrific phrase when asked about her daring routine late in the contest. It was time, she quipped, for her to “go big or go home.”

We’d like to see that can-do attitude manifested at the upcoming UN review conference on the Non-Proliferation Treaty – the so-called NPT RevCon.

What would going big mean? A serious commitment by the nuclear powers to get busy negotiating the global elimination of nuclear weapons, as required by the treaty’s Article VI. The conference will convene April 27 and run through May 22.

Nearly all the world’s countries will be in attendance, and there is sure to be a buzz over the historic breakthrough agreement on Iran’s nuclear enrichment program.

Presumably the United States and its allies will seek to bask in their diplomatic achievement with Iran – though not too brazenly, as the deal is not yet finally sealed, and some in the U.S. Congress seem hell-bent to torpedo it. But with the US and Russia brandishing their nuclear swords over Ukraine, it’s no time for anyone to rest on their laurels. There’s still so much unfinished business regarding the NPT, which became binding international law in 1970.

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With the second anniversary of the Boston Marathon bombing approaching, NPR is running a series called “The Road Ahead”. In its daily segments, NPR examines how everyday lives have been affected by the horrific event two years ago. One unfortunate but seemingly inevitable part of that road entails law enforcement’s stepped-up abuse of its citizens. As with all acts of terrorism, law enforcement has not let this crisis go to waste. The dreadful acts of two lone-wolf brothers at the 2013 Boston Marathon have provided the momentum needed for law enforcement to foist ever increasing violations of privacy upon its subjects. It is a pill that will be swallowed by Bostonians, at least initially, without much protest given the nature of the police state’s justification.

This year’s marathon attendees will see some 3,500 police officers and National Guardsmen monitoring their every move. Attendees will also be subject to security checkpoints, searches, and bomb-sniffing dogs. Many of the officers patrolling the marathon will be in plain clothes, an even more devious invasion of privacy. With bag searches being law enforcement’s stated focus, they prove themselves one step behind the next Tsarnaev, who will merely adapt to their plans.

In a recent interview with HBO’s John Oliver, Edward Snowden stated a painful truth about security. The only way to be one hundred percent secure, Snowden said, is to be in jail. Leaving aside the quality of security one experiences in prison, it is a comment worthy of serious contemplation. Each day people face mixed possibilities of risk and reward. The law enforcement community’s way to deal with risk involves no nuance. Its draconian brand of risk reduction comes down firmly on the side of destroying individual liberties.

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I was hired in 1972 by the American Jewish Committee to serve as editor of a new magazine I named Present Tense. My vague assignment was to be more “Jewish” than the well-established and influential Commentary magazine, which, while also parented by the AJC, had shifted its primary attention to more worldly interests under Norman Podhoretz, its smart and creative editor, who had abandoned his and the magazine’s traditional liberalism and moved right, very far right, into the brawling territory of U.S. foreign policy and national politics. From 1972 to 1990, when we were closed down, my office was one flight below that of Commentary.

From the very beginning Present Tense was “a sort of counter-Commentary,” as Susan Jacoby, one of our regular columnists, shrewdly noted in her illuminating book, “Half-Jew: A Daughter’s Search for Her Family’s Buried Past.” Early on, a reader wrote us that we were doomed to obscurity and worse because the further we veered left, the more we became too liberal for the AJC’s conservative donors (they also had liberal donors, equally unhappy with Commentary). Even so, we lasted for many years, sometimes taking on the Israel Lobby, disdainful of Reagan for Iran-Contra and his proxy war in Central America, while celebrating his anti-nuke huddle in Reykjavik with Gorbachev and publishing all sides of the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and I mean, all sides, including right, center and left. We also refused to forgive and forget the ugly legacy of McCarthyism and how its impact still blunted dissent in the American Jewish world, as the novelist and journalist Anne Roiphe, another of our intrepid columnists, pointed out in our final issue. Continue

Suggesting he neither understands what happened to Iraq in 2014 or what is happening in Iraq right now, Vice President Joe Biden claimed the ISIS war is going very well, and that it had ultimately been a net positive that “unified” the country against a common enemy.

The claim was made in spite of increasingly divided nation, particularly on a sectarian basis, as pro-government Shi’ite militias loot and lynch civilians in Sunni towns along the front lines, and fewer and fewer of the Sunni tribal allies remain to support the Abadi government.

Biden’s comments seem to center around the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) not explicitly talking about secession from Iraq as much as they were in mid-2014, though that seems to be at best a temporary decision, with the same disputes over oil revenues and autonomy as unresolved as ever.

How hollow Biden’s claims of progress in the war ring is a reflection not only of his stark disconnect with reality in general, but that there is very little basis upon which to claim the war has been anything but an abject failure so far.

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This is the 150th anniversary of General Lee’s surrender at Appomattox.  Many commentators are touting Lee’s surrender as a triumph for freedom.  While it was a great blessing that slavery ended, the Civil War set precedents for ignoring atrocities that continue to bedevil America.  Here’s a piece from the January issue of The Future of Freedom:

Forgotten Civil War Atrocities Bred More Carnage
by James Bovard

George Orwell wrote in 1945 that “the nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them.” The same moral myopia has carried over to most Americans’ understanding of the Civil War. While popular historians have recently canonized the war as a practically holy crusade to free the slaves, in reality civilians were intentionally targeted and brutalized in the final year of the war.

The most dramatic forgotten atrocity in the Civil War occurred 150 years ago when Union Gen. Philip Sheridan unleashed a hundred-mile swath of flames in the Shenandoah Valley that left vast numbers of women and children tottering towards starvation. Unfortunately, the burning of the Shenandoah Valley has been largely forgotten, foreshadowing how subsequent brutal military operations would also vanish into the Memory Hole.

In August 1864, supreme Union commander Ulysses S. Grant ordered Sheridan to “do all the damage to railroads and crops you can…. If the war is to last another year, we want the Shenandoah Valley to remain a barren waste.” Grant said that Sheridan’s troops should “eat out Virginia clear and clean as far as they go, so that crows flying over it for the balance of the season will have to carry their provender with them.” Sheridan set to the task with vehemence, declaring that “the people must be left nothing but their eyes to weep with over the war” and promised that when he was finished, the valley “from Winchester to Staunton will have but little in it for man or beast.”

Because people lived in a state that had seceded from the Union, Sheridan acted as if they had automatically forfeited their property, if not their lives. Along an almost 100-mile stretch the sky was blackened with smoke as his troops burned crops, barns, mills and homes. Continue