A potentially massive threat from Al Qaeda in Yemen, previously not much of a player in transnational terrorism, is said to be the cause of the closure of 22 US embassies and diplomatic missions in the Islamic world, along with a worldwide travel alert for US citizens through the end of August. No specifics have been revealed or alluded to.
** QUICK HITS. The Chinese news media is having a field day over the Edward Snowden saga, calling Russia’s handling of the situation masterful and denouncing the US for double standards on cyber-surveillance and on zealous pursuit of those who oppose its policies, especially Snowden, Bradley Manning, and Julian Assange. … Irananian President-elect Hassan Rouhani, a relative moderate who takes office Sunday and whom some have seen as a potential breakthrough player, caused a ruckus Friday by calling Israel “a sore that has been sitting on the body of the Islamic world for many years.” … The US Supreme Court turned down California’s bid to halt a federal court order requiring the release of some 10,000 inmates from state prison, on a 6-3 vote.
** NEW SURVEY: EVEN WITH RISING TIDE OF SUPPORT FOR LEGALIZATION, MARIJUANA USAGE HAS STALLED, WITH YOUNG ADULTS AT LOWER LEVELS THAN THEIR ’70S AND ’80S PEERS. A new Gallup Poll survey indicates that a flood tide of support for marijuana legalization is not accompanied by any rise in usage of the drug.
In fact, young people aren’t especially into it. Though I suspect we won’t much like the reasons for that. Quite a few seem to view pot as “quaint,” a hippie thing, and have a taste for harder stuff.
Less than 40% of Americans say they’ve tried marijuana, something I’m not sure I buy.
Just 7% say they use it regularly, which sounds credible.
Intriguingly, smokers are twice as likely to have tried marijuana as non-smokers, 65-32, and to be regular users, 10-6.
Which means that the true gateway drug is tobacco.
Even as Americans’ support for legalizing marijuana has doubled, and more than 20 states have loosened marijuana restrictions in various ways, Gallup finds relatively little increase throughout the past three decades in the percentage of U.S. adults who say they have tried marijuana. Thirty-eight percent of Americans admit to having tried marijuana, compared with 34% in 1999 and 33% in 1985. …
Before Americans’ self-reported experimentation with marijuana leveled off in the 1980s, it surged in the 1970s, rising from 4% in 1969 to 12% in 1973 and 24% in 1977.
Gallup’s trend by age reveals that widespread experimentation with marijuana first occurred among adults aged 18 to 29 between 1969 and 1973, rising from 8% to 35%. It then continued to mount, reaching 56% by 1977, and remained at that level in 1985. Since then, however, marijuana use among young adults has progressively declined. At the same time, as the bulge of young adults who tried marijuana in the 1970s ages and replaces older Americans who never tried it, the rate of all Americans who have ever tried the drug has increased slightly. …
Americans’ use of marijuana differs greatly by gender, age, and political ideology. However, the demographic patterns for Americans’ past experimentation with marijuana and current use are not always the same.
In particular, adults between the ages of 30 and 64 are the most likely age group to say they have tried marijuana, while young adults aged 18 to 29 are the most likely to indicate they currently smoke it. Also, by 47% to 30%, men are more likely than women to say they have tried the drug. However, there is less of a gender difference in current reported usage, with 8% of men and 6% of women saying they smoke pot.
Liberals (13%) have one of the highest rates of self-reported current usage of marijuana, exceeding both moderates (8%) and conservatives (2%). And the pattern is the same for having ever tried it: More liberals (49%) have tried marijuana than moderates (40%) and conservatives (32%).
Experience with marijuana, both past and present, is similar among Democrats and independents, and is more prevalent among both of these groups than it is among Republicans.
There are relatively minor differences in marijuana use by race — between whites and nonwhites — and by education. There are no income-related differences among those who say they have tried marijuana, but lower-income Americans are the most likely to say they currently use it. This is consistent with the higher percentage of young adults who say they smoke it, given young adults report relatively lower household income figures. …
Many US embassies are closing due to a reported Al Qaeda terror threat.
** OBAMA FRIDAY. President Barack Obama is in Washington.
Obama and Vice President Joe Biden received the intelligence and economic briefings in the Oval Office.
They then met with senior advisors in the Oval Office.
Obama got some mixed to good news this morning, with the US unemployment rate dipping again to 7.4%. But actual job growth was less than forecast.
US embassies in the Middle East and elsewhere will be shut on August 4th. It’s unclear when they will reopen.
This due to a reported unspecified threat from Al Qaeda.
August 4th is Obama’s birthday. He turns 52. It’s also the day of the Iranian presidential inauguration.
There is also now worldwide travel alert for US citizens through August 31st.
In other action, China “strongly opposes” a new US Senate resolution on the South China Sea and East China Sea opposing the PRC’s aggressive moves there.
Along with new UN Ambassador Samantha Powers, confirmed on an 87-10 vote Thursday by the US Senate, several Californians were confirmed as ambassadors to individual countries.
Each was confirmed on a unanimous vote.
John Emerson, old Gary Hart for President colleague and best man at my first wedding, is the new ambassador to Germany; HBO exec James Costos is ambassador to Spain; and Obama finance director Rufus Gifford is ambassador to Denmark.
Ex-NSA analyst Edward Snowden has moved into Russia proper. Snowden, ensconced in the transit zone of Moscow’s main airport for weeks after the US blocked his exit strategies to Latin American asylum, received temporary asylum in Russia for up to a year, which should give him and his growing ranks of supporters plenty of time to secure passage to his ultimate destination.
If in fact Russia does not expedite his passage itself in advance of summitry it is hosting next month. Obama is scheduled to hold a mini-summit in Moscow in early September with President Vladimir Putin, around the time of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg.
In the wake of the latest Snowden-derived revelations in Guardian, President Obama on Thursday held a hastily scheduled meeting with perturbed members of the US Senate and House. Following a string of stunning revelations of massive secret surveillance programs of phone and Internet activity, the administration is beset by charges not only of bad policy but of widespread dishonesty.
Obama promised improvements around the surveillance controversy, but the situation remains unclear.
Obama is monitoring several geopolitical crises involving the Egyptian coup, the Snowden revelations, the Syrian civil war, the Arab Awakening, Iran and Israel, Iraq, AfPak, and the South China Sea.
Military Crisis Zone Times: The Persian/Arabian Gulf is ten hours ahead of Pacific time, and Afghanistan is eleven and a half hours ahead of Pacific time. The time in Manila, on the South China Sea, is fifteen hours ahead of Pacific time. The time on the Korean Peninsula is sixteen hours ahead of Pacific time.
** A CASE OF CONVICTION: MANY TROUBLING ASPECTS OF THE MANNING VERDICT AND SNOWDEN SAGA. Bradley Manning stands convicted, though not of the biggest charge. Edward Snowden is out of Moscow’s main airport, his latest revelation of NSA surveillance echoing loudly around the world and in the White House. Two cases of conviction, though imperfect, with only one convicted, bringing mixed tidings and mixed reactions.
There are a variety of troubling aspects here, pro and con with regard to Manning and Snowden. But on balance, it shouldn’t surprise observers that, in the long run of the post-9/11 era, the nod will go in their direction.
I’m sensing a largely fractured reaction to the Manning verdict. I have a fractured reaction all my own. I thought revealing what looked very much like a possible war crime was useful. Along with some of the revelations of stupidity in policy planning and command in Iraq and Afghanistan.
(Here’s a useful compendium of Manning’s leaks via WikiLeaks. I notice that it leaves out a number of things, especially embarrassing commentary from various diplomatic missions.)
I also thought what Manning did was wildly indiscriminate and much of the time the intellectual equivalent of throwing fists full of gravel at a plate glass window; destructiveness in the form of embarrassment for the sake of destructiveness.
But he’s no traitor, as any reading of the Constitution, whose authors deliberately set a very high bar, makes clear. And he’s not really a spy, either.
The “aiding the enemy” charge was a very dangerous charge to bring, as it would have an enormously chilling effect on investigative journalism. Especially since it’s not entirely clear how the enemy was aided. In fact, the most recent report we are publicly aware of indicates that intelligence practices and sources weren’t compromised. And no one seems to have been killed as a result of the relatively indiscriminate leakage.
When embarrassing the government — which in large part is another way to say, embarrassing a set of politicians — is equated to “aiding the enemy” then we have gone very far down a very dangerous path. Dissent, which is at the heart of any democratic system, cannot be equated with treason or even treacherous disloyalty.
That said, using the media as vehicle to get out word that actually does aid the enemy — as in provide clearly operational intelligence, not political embarrassment — is certainly a conceivable scenario. So we can’t have anything goes, either. Total transparency is tantamount to unilateral disarmament in an information age.
It’s also obvious that we can’t have privates, or any subordinates, thinking they can simply pick and choose which orders to follow. Even if the orders are sometimes wrong or stupid. Not in any real military. The individual may be correct, but he may also be incorrect. Failing to follow orders because one’s heart was in the right place is a ludicrous notion. So Manning, as a member of the military, had to be convicted on at least some charges.
On the other hand, we don’t want people just to be “good Germans,” as the post-Nuremberg saying goes, either.
Manning is going to prison, probably for quite a while.
Those who insist on the notion that he deserves a life sentence will likely be disappointed, because the public is deeply distrustful of the folks who are making what are turning out, once again this week, to be even more expansively intrusive decisions about surveillance of not just terrorism suspects but an entire society.
For Edward Snowden has succeeded in changing the game, and is likely to have far more impact because I suspect there is still more to come.
His revelations, about systemic spying on us all, differ from Manning’s, which provide a scatter-shot guide to making a lot of trouble for the U.S., along with revealing some serious problems.
The Guardian has its latest Snowden-derived revelation of NSA surveillance per the enterprising advocacy journalist Glenn Greenwald. The latest secret NSA surveillance program to be revealed allows an analyst to search a user’s e-mails, chats, and browser history with only basic Internet identification data.
It’s quite alarming.
But it is of a piece with what we have already learned in a wild two months beginning not long before the U.S.-China summit in California.
Though establishment politicians and media did their level best to shut down debate, while amusingly insisting they wanted debate on something that had been kept deliberately secret, it’s really no wonder that momentum has been building against the emerging ubiquity and intrusiveness of these cyber-surveillance programs.
The dramatically changed politics were clear last week in the House, where a plan to in effect eliminate the NSA’s phone program was barely defeated.
Now Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner, congressional sponsor of the Patriot Act whose interpretation has given rise to the controversy and staunch Republican, is working with California Democratic Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren and others on ways to dramatically scale back NSA surveillance.
Sensenbrenner, when he spoke on behalf of the NSA program defunding amendment, said he had never intended with the Patriot Act to enable surveillance going beyond specific targets of investigations.
Even the most diehard defenders — like Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman Mike Rogers, the Senate and House Intelligence Committee chairs — are looking for ways to at least co-opt widespread popular concerns. Rogers promises fall legislation with new privacy components and more openness for the ultra-secret FISA Court, which denies government requests once in a blue moon, classifies its orders, and does not allow representation for any side but the government’s.
Here is my concern about this extraordinary level of surveillance. If people are able to easily see who I am calling and what I am doing on the Internet, they have an extraordinary window into my mind. I don’t like that. Not one bit. And not because I have a liking for child pornography or jihadist bomb making tutorials. Simply because that is properly a level of extreme intimacy that can only be earned. And ultimately only granted by one person: Me.
No government, even a government I support, as is the case with this government, should have that ability.
I am also, let’s say, extraordinarily skeptical about the argument that the capability to do something won’t lead to it being done. That’s not human nature. Power tempts, power seduces, power corrupts, to paraphrase and update Lord Acton’s oft-proved dictum.
And that’s my concern about normal people. Imagine a J. Edgar Hoover type with this sort of power at his fingertips and those of his minions.
As the Lucius Fox character noted in The Dark Knight, which explored this very sort of scenario five years ago: “This is too much power for one person.” Even a person of good intentions. And it is far too much power for the unknown number of persons who evidently have it now. …
** FROM THE JERRY FILES – FRIDAY. Governor Jerry Brown is in Northern California.
He has no scheduled public events as of this morning.
His semi-declared Republican challengers for re-election have raised little money and essentially have none, while Brown has more than $10 million in his re-election coffers and more than $3 million left from his Yes on 30 campaign last year.
But the Bay Area Rapid Transit strike may be about to flare up again. Brown Administration negotiators succeeded in stopping the strike for a month while negotiations continued. That was last month.
Secretary of State John Kerry says that US drone strikes on Pakistan could end soon. Kerry’s remark to Pakistani broadcaster PTV on Thursday was the first official confirmation that the Obama administration wants to end the program, which has been wildly controversial.
** A FAR-FLUNG STRATEGY UNFOLDS: FROM WASHINGTON TO MUMBAI TO TOKYO TO THE SOUTH CHINA SEA. … From my July 28th essay.
** DESPITE MULTIPLE CRISES, OBAMA’S ASIA-PACIFIC MOVES ROLL ON. … From my July 22nd essay.
** HOW PROP 187 BECAME THE PIVOT FOR THE IMMIGRATION ISSUE AND FUTURE OF DEMOCRATIC POLITICS. … From my July 18th essay.
** BETTER TO BE RESPECTED OR FEARED? … From my June 16th column.
** WELCOME PROTO-SKYNET. … From my July 12th column.
** ICONS OF AN ERA. … From my July 10th essay.
** FROM GOVERNATOR TO MOONBEAM. … From my January 3rd, 2011 feature.
** OBAMA: RIDING WITH HISTORY. (NOTE: As Barack Obama was inaugurated as the 44th president of the United States, this column was the featured column on the top of the front page of the Huffington Post.) … From my January 19th, 2009 Huffington Post column.
** 24/7 LIVE TV NEWS FEED FROM AL JAZEERA. With the US entangled in major military operations in the region, and the Arab awakening underway, it’s valuable to keep up with news and perspectives from the leading Middle Eastern-based TV news network. Click here for a live TV news feed on your computer. The NWN live link to AJ does not constitute an endorsement of the channel’s views. It’s presented as an otherwise unavailable new media window.
** TRACK GLOBAL AND NATIONAL ENERGY PRICES IN NEAR REAL TIME VIA BLOOMBERG ENERGY MARKET WATCH. Having crashed over $147 for yet another record on July 11th, 2008, crude oil is trading around $107 per barrel on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
This is up about $73 from the low of $34 per barrel prior to enactment of the Obama economic recovery program, reflecting a low point in global economic activity, and down about $7 per barrel from the price at the time of the Osama bin Laden raid.
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