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Days Before Casselton Oil Train Explosion, Obama Signed Bill Hastening Fracking Permits on ND Public Lands

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On December 20, both chambers of the U.S. Congress passed a little-noticed bill to expedite permitting for hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") on public lands in the Bakken Shale basin, located predominantly in North Dakota. And on December 26, President Obama signed the bill into law. 

Time to invite Occupy back to Wall Street: Is New York’s New Mayor De Blasio Really a Lefty or Just Another Progressive Poseur?

By Dave Lindorff


There is no question but that New York’s new mayor, Bill De Blasio, owes his landslide victory in the November election to the Occupy Movement.


Exclusive: Missouri Permit Shows Exploding ND Oil Train Contained High Levels of Volatile Chemicals

On January 2, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) issued a major safety alert, declaring oil obtained via hydraulic fracturing ("fracking") in the Bakken Shale may be more chemically explosive than the agency or industry previously admitted publicly

Foreign Aid, the U.S. and Palestine

Foreign Aid, the U.S. and Palestine

Let us, for a moment, take a look at a part of the world where suffering is rampant. Here are some of the conditions the residents there experience:

-        Very limited potable water.

-        Electricity for six hours a day, at a maximum.

-        Children have to walk through areas destroyed by terrorist bombings to get to school. Many schools have been destroyed.

-        Unemployment is in the double-digits. It rose to 32.5% over the second quarter.

-        Food is lacking; few people have sufficient to eat, due to import restrictions.

Warren Buffett Buys Stake in Pipeline Company on Same Day as North Dakota Oil Train Explosion

Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog

On December 30, the same day a Burlington Northern Sante Fe (BNSF) oil train derailed and exploded in Casselton, North Dakota, Warren Buffett — owner of holding company giant Berkshire Hathaway, which owns BNSF — bought a major stake in pipeline logistics company Phillips Specialty Products Inc.

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.

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