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One cheer for the Times (three for the Guardian): Nation’s Major Paper Says Snowden’s a Hero, but Won’t Say Obama’s a Criminal

By Dave Lindorff


Let’s start here by conceding that today’s New York Times editorial saying that President Obama should “find a way to end (Edward) Snowden’s vilification and give him an incentive to return home” was pretty remarkable.

It shouldn’t be, though.

Optimistic Thought for the New Year: The Looming Battle for Real Social Security Can Spawn a New Progressive Movement

By Dave Lindorff


I don’t care if you are 75 and retired, 61 and just about to reach the age when you become eligible for Social Security, 50 and looking out 15 or 20 years to the time when you’ll need to retire, or 25 with grandparents collecting retirement benefits and wondering what will be there when you get old. Whatever your age, don’t let anyone tell you Social Security is in trouble, or that it “won’t be around” when you need it.


“Operation Enduring America”: The US in Central Asia After Afghanistan

[This is a re-posting -- with slight alterations, images and links added -- of a piece that appeared in Z Magazine, January, 2014.]

 

“As we reassure our partners that our relationships and engagement in Afghanistan will continue after the military transition in 2014, we should underscore that we have long-term strategic interests in the broader region... As the United States enters a new phase of engagement in Afghanistan, we must lay the foundation for a long-term strategy that sustains our security gains and protects U.S. interests...” --US Senator John Kerry, Chair of Senate Foreign Relations Committee, December, 2011.

 

…A fuller reflection on the last eleven years should include the perverse twist about how in its almost single-minded effort to promote state-building, political tolerance and good governance in Afghanistan, just next door the West [sic] has left a trail of repression, graft and unfulfilled commitments to Central Asia’s fledgling civil society. — Central Asia analyst Alexander Cooley, “Afghanistan’s Other Regional Casualty”

 



Despite the projected 2014 “drawdown” of most of its troops from Afghanistan, the US is not about to exit strategically vital and resource-rich Central Asia.

A criminal government at work!: The NSA Paid to Steal Your Private Data

By Alfredo Lopez

 

As the people of this country, and much of the world, observe the year-end holidays, we can look back on 2013 as the year when any illusion of genuine democracy was dashed by the remarkable revelations about the police-state surveillance that watches us. Last week, we saw a deeply disturbing stroke added to that incrementally developing picture.

Dollarocracy: U.S. Congressmen Refuse to Address Keystone XL Southern Half Spill Concerns

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

What's the U.S. congressional response to the safety issues with the 485-mile southern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL pipeline raised by Public Citizen's Texas office? Mostly what Simon & Garfunkel called "The Sound of Silence" in their famous song.

US hypocrisy over diplomatic immunity: US Embassy and Consular Employees Deserve It, Foreign Diplomats Not So Much

By Dave Lindorff

 

The diplomatic brouhaha between the US and India over a federal arrest and multiple strip-search and cavity search of a high-ranking Indian consular official in New York has exposed the astonishing hypocrisy of the US when it comes to the issue of diplomatic immunity.

Corporate media keeps US citizens in the dark: Pakistan Outs Three US CIA Station Chiefs in Three Years

By Dave Lindorff


For the third time in three years, a CIA station chief has been outed in Pakistan, a country where the CIA is running one of its largest covert operations. It’s a remarkable record of failure by the CIA, since each outing, which has required a replacement of the station chief position, causes a breakdown in the agency’s network of contacts in the country.


Keystone XL Fork in the Road: TransCanada's Houston Lateral Pipeline

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

Only Barack Obama knows the fate of the northern half of TransCanada's Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.  But in the meantime, TransCanada is preparing the southern half of the line to open for commercial operations on January 22.

It’s been a ‘Catch-22’: My Experience with Obama(doesn’t)care

By Alfredo Lopez

The web designers will tell you: when it comes to websites, good design can't mask bad ideas.

I've been thinking about that for the last six weeks as I've confronted, with waning trust morphing into enraged frustration, the remarkably complicated corridors of The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (popularly known as "Obamacare"). The problems in the roll-out of this ersatz reform are generally known and, depending on who's talking, have led to irritated calls for fixes or have been cited as proof that anything the government does that is socially responsible is a communist-inspired train wreck.

Oppose Drone Strikes - A War Crime!

Today, Monday 16th of Dec. 2013 JUST International released following statement:

OPPOSE DRONE STRIKES ― A WAR CRIME!

On 12 December 2013, 15 civilians who were part of a wedding convoy were killed in an unmanned US drone attack in Central Yemen. A Yemeni official has explained that the air strike was a mistake. The missiles had missed their target.

Three days earlier, another US drone had killed 3 persons driving on a road in Al-Qatan in the Hadramout province of Yemen.  They were also civilians.

The US based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had investigated 6 selected drone strikes since 2009 and concluded that 57 out of the 82 killed were civilians. This included a pregnant woman and her 3 children killed in September 2012.

Another human rights group, Amnesty International (AI), had also examined suspected drone strikes between May 2012 and July 2013 in North Waziristan, Pakistan, and from the evidence available suggested that more than 30 civilians were killed in four of those air attacks.

A report released by the UN Assistance Mission and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights indicates that there were 2,754 civilian deaths and 4,805 injuries from drone strikes in 2012 alone in Yemen and Pakistan.  

In response to various criticisms of these strikes, the US Administration insists that civilian casualties are “rare” in this particular mode of warfare which began in 2004.  But the evidence, as we have shown, tells adifferent story.

The US Administration is also wrong when it argues that drones have been an effective weapon in the fight against terrorism. On the contrary, it is because drone attacks have wiped out innocent civilians, including women and children that terrorism has increased. An example would be the events that constitute the backdrop to the two recent drone strikes in Yemen. The two drone strikes it seems were in retaliation to an Al-Qaeda attack on the Defence Ministry in Sana, Yemen’s capital, on 5 December 2013. The attack killed 56 people. While claiming responsibility for the heinous massacre, Al-Qaeda emphasised that it was carried out because of US drone strikes in Yemen that have been going on for years. This is also true of Pakistan where Al-Qaeda and Taliban operatives on either side of the Pakistan –Afghanistan border become even more determined to commit acts of terror when they see innocent villagers with whom they often share bonds of kinship bombed out of existence by US drones.

It is not surprising therefore that a huge movement against drones has developed in Pakistan in recent years. Both Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and Opposition Leader, Imran Khan, are campaigning against drone attacks. The Peshawar High Court has ruled that drone attacks are “illegal, inhumane, violate the UN Charter on human rights and constitute a war crime.” In Yemen too, a significant segment of society is totally opposed to drone strikes though the US backed government of Mansour Al-Hadi acquiesces with them.

There is no sign yet to indicate that President Obama will abandon his drone policy. Both Yemen and Pakistan are vital to the US’s hegemonic power. Yemen is adjacent to the Bab-el-Mandeb which connects the oil fields of the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea, the Suez Canal and Europe. Pakistan is strategically situated in relation to China and Russia and the rich oil fields of Central Asia.

The only way to get Obama to abandon his policy is for more citizen groups in Asia and the West to speak up against US drone strikes. Both the print and electronic media should also do much more to raise the awareness of the people so that they would be persuaded to act against this war crime. Isn’t it a shame that major media channels gave so little attention to the poor and innocent victims of the drone strikes a few days ago?

Dr. Chandra Muzaffar,

President,

International Movement for a Just World (JUST).

Malaysia.

16 December 2013.     

Two cheers for Pope Francis: About Time American Idiocy and Paranoia over Marxism Got Called Out

By Dave Lindorff


So Pope Francis, the new pope who has conservative American Catholics, particularly those in politics and the media, freaked out because he is criticizing capitalist greed, knows Marxists who are "good people,"  and isn't upset to be labeled one of them, even though he says "Marxist ideology is wrong.".

Historic opportunity missed: Obama Failed To Deliver Long-Overdue Apology To Mandela

By Linn Washington, Jr.


When Barack Obama, the first black president of America, delivered remarks during a South African memorial service for that country’s first black president, he muffed a historic opportunity to right a grave wrong done by the American government – one that helped send Nelson Mandela to prison for nearly 30-years.

Obama, during his remarks at a Johannesburg, SA memorial service for Mandela, who died on December 5 at age 95, recalled how that world-revered leader had endured “brutal imprisonment.”

Historic opportunity missed: Obama Failed To Deliver Long-Overdue Apology To Mandela

By Linn Washington, Jr.


When Barack Obama, the first black president of America, delivered remarks during a South African memorial service for that country’s first black president, he muffed a historic opportunity to right a grave wrong done by the American government – one that helped send Nelson Mandela to prison for nearly 30-years.

Obama, during his remarks at a Johannesburg, SA memorial service for Mandela, who died on December 5 at age 95, recalled how that world-revered leader had endured “brutal imprisonment.”

Making good news out of bad: BLS 7% Jobless Rate for November is Nothing to Cheer About

By Dave Lindorff


The White House, and most headline writers around the country, are crowing that the November jobless rate of 7.0%, reported Friday by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is the lowest since 2009 when President Obama took office, when it was 7.3% and rising.


But is this number really something worth cheering? 


A Pre-Conspiracy Theory: What If Our Premature Nobel Laureate President’s Having a ’63-Style Kennedy Moment?

By Dave Lindorff


I’m going to engage here in a thought experiment which may make some readers a little queasy, but bear with me.

It’s been half a century since the wrenching experience of having a charismatic young president cut down by bullets in what most Americans apparently still believe was a dark conspiracy by elements of the US government unhappy with the direction he was taking the country in international affairs.

US Court Denies Halt on Pipeline Set to Replace Keystone XL Northern Half

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

The ever-wise Yogi Berra once quipped "It's like déjà vu all over again," a truism applicable to a recent huge decision handed down by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 

Shifting from Defense to Offense: Americans Want Improved Social Security and Medicare and less Military Spending

By Dave Lindorff


A tectonic shift is occurring in the US body politic. Ignore the media-driven sideshow about the 2014 contest for control of the House or about the screwed-up Obamacare insurance-market website. The real political battle is over Social Security and Medicare, and there the story is a historic turn from fighting against Washington efforts to cut those programs to demanding that both be expanded.


Is FBI behind rash of account closings?: Islamic Name? US Banks May Not Want Your Business

By Dave Lindorff


(This article first appeared in WhoWhatWhy News)


“I regret to inform you…”

The Obamacare Disaster and the Poison of Party Loyalty

By Norman Solomon

Four years ago, countless Democratic leaders and allies pushed for passage of Barack Obama’s complex healthcare act while arguing that his entire presidency was at stake. The party hierarchy whipped the Congressional Progressive Caucus into line, while MoveOn and other loyal groups stayed in step along with many liberal pundits.

Lauding the president’s healthcare plan for its structure of “regulation, mandates, subsidies and competition,” New York Times columnist Paul Krugman wrote in July 2009 that the administration’s fate hung in the balance: “Knock away any of the four main pillars of reform, and the whole thing will collapse -- and probably take the Obama presidency down with it.” Such warnings were habitual until Obamacare became law eight months later.

Meanwhile, some progressives were pointing out that -- contrary to the right-wing fantasy of a “government takeover of healthcare” -- Obama’s Affordable Care Act actually further enthroned for-profit insurance firms atop the system. As I wrote at the time, “The continued dominance of the insurance industry is the key subtext of the healthcare battle that has been raging in Washington. But that dominance is routinely left out of the news media's laser-beam concentration on whether a monumental healthcare law will emerge to save Obama's presidency.”

Today, in terms of healthcare policy, the merits and downsides of Obamacare deserve progressive debate. But at this point there’s no doubt it’s a disaster in political terms -- igniting the Mad Hatter Tea Party’s phony populism, heightening prospects for major right-wing electoral gains next year and propagating the rancid notion that the government should stay out of healthcare.

That ominous takeaway notion was flagged days ago on the PBS NewsHour by commentator Mark Shields, who worried aloud that “this is beyond the Obama administration. If this goes down, if … the Affordable Care Act is deemed a failure, this is the end -- I really mean it -- of liberal government, in the sense of any sense that government as an instrument of social justice, an engine of economic progress… Time and again, social programs have made the difference in this country. The public confidence in that will be so depleted, so diminished, that I really think the change -- the equation of American politics changes.”

At this pivotal, historic, teachable moment, progressives should not leave the messaging battle about the ACA to right wingers and Obama loyalists. While critiquing the law for its entanglement with the profit-voracious insurance industry, we should fight for quality healthcare for everyone -- definitely including the people who live in states where right-wing officials are blocking expansion of Medicaid coverage. (In a recent Nation article, historian Rick Perlstein cited a grim example of a chronic mentality: “the policy wizards in the Obama White House build a Rube Goldberg healthcare law that relies on states to expand Medicaid and create healthcare exchanges, and then are utterly blindsided when red-state legislatures and governors decline.”) We should challenge all efforts to deny the human right of healthcare.

What we should not be doing is what MoveOn.org is now doing -- proclaiming that the Obamacare law is just fine. In a November 14 email blast, subject-lined “Obamacare in serious trouble,” MoveOn acknowledged that the rollout “has been badly botched” but flatly declared: “Obviously, the law itself is still really good.”

Huh?

The problems with Obamacare involve far more than simply bad website coding. They’re bound up in the enormous complexity of the law’s design, wrapped around a huge corporate steeplechase for maximizing profits. As a Maine physician, Philip Caper, wrote this fall, the ACA “is far too complicated and therefore too expensive to manage, full of holes, will be applied unevenly and unfairly, be full of unintended consequences, and be easily exploited by those looking to make a quick buck.” The ACA is so complicated because it has been so relentlessly written for the benefit of -- and largely written by -- insurance companies.

Along the way, the “individual mandate” cornerstone of the ACA -- required by government yet actually enriching the private insurance industry -- is a tremendous political boost to demagogic GOP leaders. I’m not engaging in hindsight here. Like many others, I saw this coming before the ACA became law, writing in March 2010: “On a political level, the mandate provision is a massive gift to the Republican Party, all set to keep on giving to the right wing for many years. With a highly intrusive requirement that personal funds and government subsidies be paid to private corporations, the law would further empower right-wing populists who want to pose as foes of government ‘elites’ bent on enriching Wall Street.”

Obamacare is a mess largely because it builds a revamped healthcare system around the retrenched and extended power of insurance companies -- setting back prospects for real healthcare reform for a decade or more. Egged on by corporate media and corporate politicians, much of the public will blame higher premiums on government intervention and not on the greedy insurance companies which, along with Big Pharma, helped write the law in the Obama White House and on Capitol Hill.

It should now be painfully obvious that Obamacare’s little helpers, dutifully reciting White House talking points in 2009 and early 2010, were helping right-wing bogus populism to gather steam. Claiming that the Obama presidency would sink without signing into law its “landmark” healthcare bill, many a progressive worked to throw the president a rope; while ostensibly attached to a political life preserver, the rope was actually fastened to a huge deadweight anvil.

In the process, the political choreography included a chorus of statements by Congressional Progressive Caucus members before ultimate passage of the Affordable Care Act. Having previously removed the words “single payer” and “Medicare for all” from their oratorical vocabulary while retaining the laudatory language -- and after later excising the words “public option” in a similar way -- those legislators still pretended that passage of the ACA would be an unalloyed positive triumph. Like the president, they resolutely oversold Obamacare and made believe it would bring about an excellent healthcare system.

With such disingenuous sales pitches four years ago, President Obama and his Democratic acolytes did a lot to create the current political mess engulfing Obamacare -- exaggerating its virtues while pulling out the stops to normalize denial about its real drawbacks. That was a bad approach in 2009. It remains a bad approach today.

______________________________________________

Norman Solomon is co-founder of RootsAction.org and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” Information about the documentary based on the book is at www.WarMadeEasyTheMovie.org.

The real criminal, our government, jails the real hero: The Hero and the Villains: the Jeremy Hammond Sentence

By Alfredo Lopez


This past Friday, Internet activist Jeremy Hammond stood in a federal courtroom and told Judge Loretta A. Preska why he released a trove of emails and other information uncovering the possibly illegal and certainly immoral collaboration of a major surveillance corporation called Stratfor with our government.

In the US Social Security’s ‘just a floor’: In Finland Saunas are Hot, Retirement is Cool

By Dave Lindorff


Helsinki—Mikko Kautto, impeccable in a blue suit and open-collared shirt, was sitting at a table in the cafeteria of the modern Centre for Pensions building on the outskirts of Finland’s capital city, answering questions about the operation of his Nordic country’s retirement system.


A ‘60-Minutes’ Scandal: Lara Logan, Hotness and Benghazi Gone Wild

By John Grant


Lara Logan is a formidable TV reporter who has covered wars and other stories at significant risk. She’s supremely confident and has a powerful journalistic institution supporting her. But as a would-be ethical journalist, she seems to rely too much on her sexual allure and to be too tight with elite elements of the US military establishment.

Yemeni drone victim requests meeting with Obama during Washington visit

From Reprieve:
 
A Yemeni man who lost two members of his family to a US drone strike one year ago has asked President Obama to meet with him when he visits Washington DC this week.
 
Faisal bin Ali Jaber lost his brother in law, a preacher who publicly opposed al Qaeda, and nephew, a local policeman, in a strike that took place in the Hadhramout region on August 29, 2012.
 
Just days before he was killed, Salim bin Ali Jaber had preached at the local mosque against al Qaeda.  He was killed, along with police officer Waleed bin Ali Jaber, in a strike which may have been targeted at three strangers who visited the village demanding to speak to Salem following his sermon.
 
Mr Jaber is visiting Washington DC from Thursday November 14 to Wednesday November 20 in order to hold meetings with members of Congress and address conferences of academics and activists regarding his experiences.  His visa has been sponsored by peace group Code Pink, at whose conference he is speaking on Saturday.
 
Writing to President Obama on behalf of Mr Jaber, his legal representative, Cori Crider, an attorney at human rights charity Reprieve said:
 
“As well as killing innocent Yemenis, Faisal believes the drone strikes are counter-productive.  His village is peaceful.  They bore the US no ill-will, quite the contrary as can be seen from Salim’s brave stand five days before he died.  Yet today the villagers associate the US with the brutal murder of two of their own. 
 
“Faisal is visiting the US as a representative of the victims’ families to bring attention to the true cost of the drone war, not only in terms of Yemeni lives and but in terms of America’s reputation in the region.  I know that you are very busy, but I hope that you might make time to meet him, in order to understand the cost of the US’ drone programme for those on the ground in Yemen.”

What’s more important: Security or freedom?: The Big Question the National Security State isn’t Asking

By Dave Lindorff


So National Security Agency Director Keith B. Alexander, who, along with his boss, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr., thinks that “if you can collect it, you should collect it,” now is asking whether it might not be such a good idea in the case of spying on the citizens of US allies like Germany, France, Spain et al.


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