Stratfor: The American Public’s Indifference to Foreign Affairs

Excellent commentary on how we are increasingly insular when it comes to world events.

By George Friedman

Last week, several events took place that were important to their respective regions and potentially to the world. Russian government officials suggested turning Ukraine into a federation, following weeks of renewed demonstrations in Kiev. The Venezuelan government was confronted with violent and deadly protests. Kazakhstan experienced a financial crisis that could have destabilized the economies of Central Asia. Russia and Egypt inked a significant arms deal. Right-wing groups in Europe continued their political gains

Any of these events had the potential to affect the United States. At different times, lesser events have transfixed Americans. This week, Americans seemed to be indifferent to all of them. This may be part of a cycle that shapes American interest in public affairs. The decision to raise the debt ceiling, which in the last cycle gripped public attention, seemed to elicit a shrug.

The Primacy of Private Affairs

The United States was founded as a place where private affairs were intended to supersede public life. Public service was intended less as a profession than as a burden to be assumed as a matter of duty — hence the word “service.” There is a feeling that Americans ought to be more involved in public affairs, and people in other countries are frequently shocked by how little Americans know about international affairs or even their own politics.

Read more: The American Public’s Indifference to Foreign Affairs | Stratfor
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My latest for the Huffington Post


Jeremiah Oliver is a 5-year old boy from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, who hasn’t been seen since September of last year. The boy was supposed to be under the supervision of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families, but, it has since been learned, DCF social workers not only were negligent in their oversight of Jeremiah, they also misrepresented their work to keep that fact hidden. Little Jeremiah is now feared dead.

Still, Governor Deval Patrick had the temerity to say yesterday that the problems at the DCF are “not systemic.” Is that a fact, Governor? Why is it, then, that your own independent investigation into the DCF found that nearly 20 percent of required home visits to check on children like Jeremiah were not made by your DCF’s social workers? How is it that more than one-third of the social workers employed by the DCF are not licensed to practice in their field? And what of the evidence unearthed by the Office of the Child Advocate showing that 249 allegations of physical and sexual abuse and poor care involving youngsters in state-watched settings were made last year?

While a normal person recoils in horror upon hearing about the consequences of the incompetence at his DCF, Governor Patrick sees them as “a great opportunity… to rethink and reinvigorate the department.” So, the cruelties that Jeremiah and hundreds of other children suffered are tolerable because they present an opportunity to for the Governor to fix the DCF? No, the problem is that the Patrick administration has been at the helm for more than six years now. He was supposed to make sure the DCF was doing their job before these things happened. Jeremiah Oliver is a person, he’s not an “opportunity” for a bureaucrat to do what he should have done years ago.

Nevertheless, the governor presses on, determined to distance himself from the problem. “It’s troubling to me too, but the question is, is it troubling to people who actually know what is engaged, what is involved in being a social worker in a child’s welfare agency?” he told the media yesterday, as if he was a randomly-chosen pedestrian doing a man-on-the-street interview. Perhaps his penchant for being out of his office, nestled in his mansion in the Berkshires or traveling the world, is what gives the Governor the sense of detachment from the waste, fraud, and abuse for which he is responsible at the DCF.

Is there a person outside of Massachusetts who is aware of this scandal? Of course not, because all of the attention is focused on a Republican governor from another state who may or may not have had a hand in creating a traffic jam. But Deval Patrick is a Democrat with presidential aspirations and a close friend of President Obama. So, where’s the national media on this one? As the legendary Boston talk show host Howie Carr likes to say, “there’s nothing to see here, folks. Move along.”

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Court Backs Airlines in Reporting Possible Threats (Washington Post)

Glad to see the courts were on the right side in this one. –AA

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that because Congress has given airline employees broad leeway to report potentially dangerous individuals to security officials, those employees cannot be sued for defamation provided that their reports are substantially true. The ruling was made Monday in Air Wisconsin Airlines Corp. v. Hoeper, which involved a former Air Wisconsin pilot whose supervisor reported him to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) as a potential security threat. The report to the TSA was made after Hoeper had failed to pass a test on a new aircraft for the third time, angrily said that the testers were sabotaging him, swore at the testers and threatened to contact a union lawyer. His supervisor had booked him on a flight back to Denver, but then called TSA saying Hoeper was “unstable” and expressed concern about the whereabouts of Hoeper’s authorized firearm. Hoeper was ultimately taken off the flight because he was seen as being a security risk. The concerns were unfounded and Hoeper sued, earning a $1.2 billion award, which the Supreme Court ruling says that he was not entitled to. The three dissenting judges felt that the lower court got the right legal standard, but that the majority should not have applied it in this case.

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Russia not sharing Sochi threat information, US says

In my estimation, this can only mean that the threat information received by the Russians in especially daunting. –AA

by Stephen Collinson with the American Foreign Press

Washington — Russia has balked at sharing specific information on terror threats made against the Sochi Olympics with Washington, a US official said amid mounting fears over security at the Games.

The Obama administration meanwhile publicly stopped short of expressing full confidence in a massive Russian security operation ahead of the sporting spectacular opening next month in the Black Sea resort and nearby mountains.

Signs of increasing US concern followed a telephone discussion on security at the Sochi Olympics between Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.

A senior US official told AFP on condition of anonymity that Russia “has not been forthcoming in sharing specific threat information.”

Extremist insurgents based in North Caucasus republics such as Dagestan who are seeking their own independent state have vowed to disrupt the Sochi Games in an effort to undermine Putin.

Washington, which has sophisticated intelligence and counterterrorism capabilities that have been deployed in previous Olympics, has offered Russia security assistance as it places a ring of steel around the host city and venues shortly to welcome thousands of athletes and spectators.

White House spokesman Jay Carney admitted earlier that there was “concern” in Washington about an uptick in reporting of threats by Islamic extremists relating to the Sochi Games.

He said the United States would send diplomatic security and FBI agents who would liaise with Russian security officials to protect American athletes and spectators.

But he did not take several opportunities offered by journalists to express full confidence in Russia’s preparations.

“I wouldn’t be qualified or wouldn’t want to venture to assess overall,” Carney said.

“These kinds of major events around the world obviously present security challenges,” he said, without confirming whether Russia had accepted US offers of help.

“The president spoke with President Putin about this. We have offered any assistance that they might want to avail themselves of.”

At the State Department, deputy spokeswoman Marie Harf deflected a query as to whether the United States had full confidence in the Russian effort, but added that Washington knew Moscow was “committed to doing everything they can in terms of security.”

The careful public tone adopted by the administration could signal a desire to avoid offending or antagonizing Russia in the run-up to the Games while concerns are expressed privately with top Russian officials.

The Games are seen as hugely important to Putin’s personal prestige and to his project of restoring stability and honor to Russia as it emerges from the post-Cold War period that saw the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Ties between Moscow and Washington are currently as tense as they have been for many years, with the case of fugitive US intelligence leader Edward Snowden — granted temporary asylum by Russia — and the Kremlin’s support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, fraying tempers.

The call between Putin and Obama came amid signs of subtle but rising pressure on Russia over securing the Games from Washington.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it was ready to deploy air and naval assets — including two ships — to help secure the Olympics, which begin on February 7.

US Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel had already offered American support during a January 4 phone call with his Russian counterpart Sergei Shoigu.

Security fears were exacerbated by two suicide bombings in the southern city of Volgograd last month — Russia’s deadliest in three years — that killed 34 people.

The State Department has warned Americans headed to Sochi to be vigilant.

On Sunday, several prominent US lawmakers raised new concerns about Russia’s security efforts to protect the Games, despite Moscow’s effort to encircle the host city in a ring of steel.

Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said there had been good cooperation between Russian authorities and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

But “it could be a lot better,” he told ABC News in an interview from Moscow.

Another Republican lawmaker, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, said US officials were not getting all the information they needed to protect athletes at the Games.

“What we’re finding is they aren’t giving us the full story about what are the threat streams, who do we need to worry about,” he said.

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Black Widow Terrorists In Sochi?

(CNN) — New details fueled debate Monday over security at the upcoming Winter Olympic Games in Sochi: Wanted posters of a terrorism suspect on the loose, warships at the ready and a video threat from beyond the grave.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stressed that his country has stepped up security and is prepared to handle any threats.

But some U.S. lawmakers — and at least one Olympic athlete — have said they’re worried about the situation.

Hotels warned about terror suspect

Police in Sochi have handed out fliers at area hotels warning of a woman they believe could be a terrorist and who may currently be in the city.

One flier, obtained by CNN, asks workers to be on the lookout for Ruzanna “Salima” Ibragimova, described as the widow of a member of a militant group from the Caucasus region.

The woman, according to the flier, may be involved in organizing “a terrorist act within the 2014 Olympic region.”


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A Deserved Win for the Baltimore Museum of Art


There’s no question that this painting was stolen from the BMA, and I’m glad to see it go back where it belonged.–AA

The saga of an Impressionist painting stolen from the Baltimore Museum of Art decades ago and allegedly purchased for $7 at a West Virginia flea market came to an end Friday in federal court in Alexandria when a judge rendered her verdict: Renoir Girl is losing her Renoir.

U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema awarded the painting to the BMA at the expense of the woman who dubbed herself “Renoir Girl,” ending a bizarre art drama that generated coverage from the Los Angeles Times to “Good Morning America.” The decision wiped out a potential six-figure windfall for Loudoun County driving instructor Martha Fuqua, who claimed that in 2009 she found “On the Shore of the Seine” in a box containing a plastic cow and a Paul Bunyan doll. (Washington Post)


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State Department Issues Warning Regarding Olympics

To the surprise of absolutely no one…

WASHINGTON (AP) — The State Department is advising Americans going to the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia to be vigilant about their security due to potential terrorist threats, crime and uncertain medical care.

In a travel alert issued on Friday, the department said it was not aware of specific threats to U.S. interests related to the Games that begin next month. But it said large events like the Olympics are ‘‘an attractive target for terrorists’’ and Americans should be aware of their surroundings and ‘‘exercise good judgment and discretion’’ if they use public transportation.

It noted that Russia has vowed to take appropriate security steps. But it also pointed out several recent terrorist attacks on public transport in the city of Volgograd while also making clear those occurred 600 miles (965 kilometers) from Sochi.


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Terror Chief Dubbed Russia’s Osama Bin Laden ‘Will Target Britons at Olympics’ Daily Mail (United Kingdom)

More ominous news for the coming Olympics. –AA

A secret intelligence report drawn up by Canadian counterterrorism agencies and shared with British intelligence warns that Doku Umarov, the leader of the Chechen jihadist group Imarat Kavkaz (IK), poses the greatest terror threat for next month’s Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Compiled by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, the report states that Umarov–who is blamed for the two recent suicide bombings in Volgograd, Russia–has called for attacks on the “satanic games” and notes that the warlord “appears to have consolidated his leadership” over the IK. The extent to which the IK cells will follow his lead is not known, however, as many IK commanders who have been eliminated in Russia’s counterterrorism efforts have been replaced with younger, less experienced fighters. The report notes that British athletes and spectators will be targeted by Umarov at the Games. MI6, British intelligence has begun working closely with Russia’s security service to counter the threat to British citizens.

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Help Award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Heroes of United Flight 93

Please sign my petition to the White House to award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the heroic passengers and crew of United Airlines Flight 93.  These brave souls were the first to fight back against terrorism on September 11, 2001, and spared the nation from further devastation on that tragic days.

You can sign the petition by clicking HERE.Image

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This shouldn’t surprise anyone. Islamists will stop at nothing, and Chechen Islamists are especially brutal, having massacred 385 innocents in Beslan.–AA

(CNN) — Another deadly blast has struck the southern Russian city of Volgograd, killing at least 14 people and further highlighting Russia’s security challenges as it readies to host the Winter Olympics in less than six weeks.

An explosion hit a trolleybus near a busy market during the morning rush hour Monday, a day after a blast at Volgograd’s main train station killed 17 people and wounded at least 35 others.

Like Sunday’s attack, the blast Monday was a terrorist act, Vladmir Markin, a spokesman for the country’s federal investigation agency, told the state-run news agency RIA Novosti.

No one claimed responsibility for the explosions. But they come several months after the leader of a Chechen separatist group pledged violence to disrupt the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.


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