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Let's face it, even Bo is photogenic, charismatic. He's a camera hound. And as for Barack, Michelle, Sasha, and Malia -- keep in mind that we're now in a first name culture -- they all glow on screen.
Before a camera they can do no wrong. And the president himself, well, if you didn't watch his speech in Cairo, you should have. The guy's impressive. Truly. He can speak to multiple audiences -- Arabs, Jews, Muslims, Christians, as well as a staggering range of Americans -- and somehow just about everyone comes away hearing something they like, feeling he's somehow on their side. And it doesn't even feel like pandering. It feels like thoughtfulness. It feels like intelligence.
For all I know -- and the test of this is still a long, treacherous way off -- Barack Obama may turn out to be the best pure politician we've seen since at least Ronald Reagan, if not Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He seems to have Roosevelt's same unreadable ability to listen and make you believe he's with you (no matter what he's actually going to do), which is a skill not to be whistled at.
Right now, he and his people are picking off the last Republican moderates via a little party-switching and some well-crafted appointments, and so driving that party and its conservative base absolutely nuts, if not into extreme southern isolation.
[Here's the New Yorker article this is reporting on. -DS]
CIA Head Says Cheney Almost Wishing US Be Attacked
Associated Press | Google News
CIA Director Leon Panetta says former Vice President Dick Cheney's criticism of the Obama administration's approach to terrorism almost suggests "he's wishing that this country would be attacked again, in order to make his point."
Panetta told The New Yorker for an article in its June 22 issue that Cheney "smells some blood in the water" on the issue of national security. Read more.
FutureGen moves forward with Department of Energy support
By Kelsey Volkmann | St. Louis Business Journal
A proposed $2.4 billion coal-fueled, near-zero emissions experimental power plant in Mattoon, Ill., is moving forward with the preliminary backing of the U.S. Department of Energy and the allocation of $1 billion in stimulus money.
The FutureGen Alliance, comprised 11 member companies, including Peabody Energy Corp., and President Barack Obama’s Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, have signed an agreement to restart plans for preliminary design activities, final cost estimate analysis and funding for the plant, which stalled under the Bush administration. Read more.
A plan to create a new Pentagon cybercommand is raising significant privacy and diplomatic concerns, as the Obama administration moves ahead on efforts to protect the nation from cyberattack and to prepare for possible offensive operations against adversaries’ computer networks.
President Obama has said that the new cyberdefense strategy he unveiled last month will provide protections for personal privacy and civil liberties. But senior Pentagon and military officials say that Mr. Obama’s assurances may be challenging to guarantee in practice, particularly in trying to monitor the thousands of daily attacks on security systems in the United States that have set off a race to develop better cyberweapons. Read more.
Congressional negotiators have agreed to drop amendments to a supplemental approrpiations bill that would have banned the release of photos depicting alleged detainee abuse and would have restricted bringing Guantanamo detainees to the United States.
The agreement on those issues should speed passage of the bill, which provides $79.9 billion for the Pentagon to fight the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another $10.4 billion would go to the State Department and other “international affairs and stabilization” efforts in Pakistan.
The agreement came after President Barack Obama wrote a five-paragraph letter promising to fight to prevent disclosure of the photos. The letter noted that an appeals court on Thursday agreed to stay a lower court ruling ordering the photos release so that the Obama administration could appeal to the Supreme Court. Read more.
N.M. Conference of Churches urges torture investigation
Trip to the White House is part of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture
By Gwyneth Doland | New Mexico Independent
A Santa Fe woman is among 33 religious leaders meeting in Washington this week to urge President Obama to establish an independent, non-partisan commission to investigate U.S.-sponsored torture of detainees since 9/11.
The Rev. Holly Beaumont, the Santa Fe-based legislative advocate for the New Mexico Conference of Churches, traveled to the capital on Wednesday as part of a delegation from the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. Rev. Beaumont spoke with NMI from Washington, D.C. Here is an excerpt from the conversation: Read more.
The U.S. Department of Justice is asking a federal appeals court to reconsider its decision to allow a Boeing Co. subsidiary to be sued for allegedly flying terrorism suspects to secret prisons overseas to be tortured.
In April, a panel of judges from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco ruled that the lawsuit dealing with the CIA's "extraordinary rendition" program could proceed. Read more.
In the words of ACLU attorney Ben Wizner, a lead counsel on behalf of the five detainees suing Jeppesen Dataplan, President Obama now "owns the state secrets privilege."
Wizner is correct. Remember precisely what it is that the government wants the 9th circuit to decide: that the U.S. government can dismiss any federal or civil case before it reaches the phase of discovery simply because the government asserts that the national security interests of the United States would be compromised if the case proceeds.
That's the same expansive state secrets privilege that presidents for 50 years have enjoyed -- but it's precisely the privilege that Obama, not two months ago, expressed an anxiety about: "I actually think that the state secret doctrine should be modified. I think right now it's over-broad." Obama did not elaborate. During the presidential campaign, he criticized the use of the privilege as a justiciability doctrine to dismiss entire cases, rather than as an evidentiary doctrine, used to prevent the disclosure of highly-sensitive pieces of evidence.
Why is Obama hardening up his position? If the privilege in weakened, it exposes the government to perpetual liability resulting from the mistakes of the past eight years. Read more.
The decision by Johnson Toribiong, president of the obscure Pacific nation of Palau, to take in up to 13 Uighurs -- Muslim Chinese -- currently being held at Guantanamo is meeting some resistance from the general population.
As ABC News' polling director Gary Langer points out, proportional to population, sending 13 Uighurs to Palau is like sending 188,993 Uighurs to the United States. Read more.
ACLU Files Lawsuit Seeking Disclosure Of Still-Secret Torture Documents | Press Release
Case Marks Launch Of Group's "Accountability For Torture" Initiative
The American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit seeking the disclosure of still-secret records relating to the torture of prisoners held by the U.S. overseas. The requested documents include legal memos authored by John Yoo and Steven Bradbury, who were lawyers in the Bush administration Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), as well as documents sent by the Bush White House to the CIA. The government has failed to turn over the documents in response to a December 2008 Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.
"The information already in the public domain makes clear that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration, but there are still unanswered questions about precisely what the policies permitted, how they were implemented and who specifically signed off on them," said Jameel Jaffer, Director of the ACLU National Security Project. "This lawsuit is an effort to fill some of the gaps in the narrative."
Today's lawsuit marks the launch of the ACLU's new "Accountability for Torture" initiative, which has four goals: comprehensive disclosure of information relating to the Bush administration's torture policies; the creation of an accurate and comprehensive historical record; the appointment of an independent prosecutor to investigate issues of criminal responsibility; and recognition and compensation for torture victims.
We are finally beginning to learn the full scope of the Bush administration's torture program. Government documents show that hundreds of prisoners were tortured in the custody of the CIA and Department of Defense, some of them killed in the course of interrogations. Justice Department memos show that the torture policies were devised and developed at the highest levels of the Bush administration.
The ACLU is committed to restoring the rule of law. We will fight for the disclosure of the torture files that are still secret. We will advocate for the victims of the Bush administration's unlawful policies. We will press Congress to appoint a select committee that can investigate the roots of the torture program and recommend legislative changes to ensure that the abuses of the last eight years are not repeated. And we will advocate for the appointment of an independent prosecutor to examine issues of criminal responsibility.
We can't sweep the abuses of the last eight years under the rug. Accountability for torture is a legal, political, and moral imperative. Much more to read.
The Obama administration is moving to appeal a ruling that some detainees at a military air base in Afghanistan can use U.S. civilian courts to challenge their detention. Read more.
I'm at the Center for a New American Security's day-long conference today to learn a few things about Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. I won't be live-blogging the whole thing, but one interesting note came just after General David Petraeus's keynote speech. Yesterday, Fox News passed along a report from Republican Congressman Mike Rogers that detainees in Afghanistan and particularly at Bagram Airforce base are, on the orders of the Obama administration, being read their Miranda Rights -- the "right to remain silent," etc., afforded to domestic criminal suspects -- which could somehow compromise their intelligence value. (This is, presumably, because 'mirandizing' suspects would make them legally ineligble for "enhanced interrogation," which is already prohibited by executive order.)
A Fox News correspondent at the CNAS conference lucked out after Petreaus' speech and managed to be called on for one of three allowed questions; he asked the general, who supervises Afghanistan as the head of U.S. Central Command, about the Miranda reports. "This is the FBI doing what the FBI does," Petraeus replied. "These are cases where they are looking at potential criminal charges. We're comfortable with this." He denied that his soldiers and other relevant American agents are reading Miranda rights to detainees, some of whom are detained as enemy combatants, while others are high-value anti-terrorism targets. (A U.S. federal court recently ruled that some Bagram detainees have the same habeas rights as prisoners in Guantanamo Bay.) Read more.
By Dave Lindorff
My bank, a small regional institution that was not involved in sub-prime lending, and that was not a recipient of any TARP bailout money, cut off my home equity line of credit two weeks ago. They did it abruptly, with no notice—I only discovered it had happened when I tried to get a $500 advance from it to cover a payment I was making on my credit card. When I asked what was going on, the local branch manager informed me that “we are closing out a lot of credit lines while we reassess the value of houses in this region, which have been falling.”
Wartime Contracting Report: We Have Big, Costly Problems
By Robert O'Harrow, Jr. | Government, Inc. Blog
As promised, here's the new report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the organization formed by Congress to examine where all the money went.
It's a sad reminder about just how bad the contracting system has been in recent years, and all the billions that have been wasted because of poor oversight, poor planning and plain old corruption.
"The environment in Iraq and Afghanistan has been and continues to be susceptible to waste, fraud, and abuse," the report said.
The report, called "At What Cost? Contingency Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan," contains the interim findings of the commission, which will issue a final report next year. It underscores the gloomy finding about the troubled federal procurement system from a host of other analysis in recent years.
It'll be the subject of a hearing today by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's national security and foreign affairs subcommittee. Read more.
By Linda Milazzo
This evening at a Washington DC fundraiser, in a statement that can best be described as regressive American exceptionalism, former Republican Speaker Newt Gingrich said of himself:
"I am not a citizen of the world. I think the entire concept is intellectual nonsense and stunningly dangerous!"
Witness the video below of Mr. Gingrich's pronouncement that defines in two simple sentences the elitism, racism and egotism that have destroyed his Republican Party:
It appears that Mr. Hamdan is the latest victim of the U.S. government’s practice of asking foreign governments to detain terrorism suspects whom the federal government cannot itself detain and interrogate under U.S. law — a practice known as “proxy detention.” By asking other countries to detain on our behalf, the U.S. government apparently believes it can avoid the constraints of the U.S. Constitution, allowing federal agents to interrogate individuals held in secret, incommunicado detention, without charge or access to a lawyer, and subject to torture.
In only two weeks a U.S. citizen will go on trial in the United Arab Emirates. The American man, who lived in Los Angeles for the better part of 20 years and built his family and business there, reports having been severely tortured while in the custody of the State Security forces of the United Arab Emirates. Yet, his own government has said nothing publicly to inquire about or protest his treatment. There is only one plausible explanation for the federal government’s silence on the issue: our nation was complicit in the detention and torture that took place.
The case presents a simple yet profound question for the Obama Administration: whether it will actually end the human rights abuses of the Bush Administration, or instead simply stand silent while they continue.
More than eight months ago Naji Hamdan was arrested by State Security forces in the U.A.E. He was detained without charges or access to a lawyer until the ACLU filed a lawsuit in U. S. court seeking his release from incommunicado detention. One week later, he was transferred into U.A.E. criminal custody, officials disclosed his location and the torture stopped.
In criminal custody, Mr. Hamdan told both his family and the U.S. consular officer who visited him that he had been severely tortured: repeatedly beaten on his head, kicked on his sides, stripped and held in a freezing cold room, placed in an electric chair and made to believe that he would be electrocuted, and held down in a stress position while his captors beat the bottoms of his feet with a large stick. During this horrific process, he said whatever the agents wanted him to say, and those statements may now be used against him in a criminal trial in the U.A.E.
Saturday marked the 65th anniversary of D-Day. Obama was on hand at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer in northern France, as was France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy, Britain’s Prince Charles, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
“No man who shed blood or lost a brother would say that war is good,” said Obama, reading from his trusty teleprompters. “But all know that this war was essential. For what we faced in Nazi totalitarianism was not just a battle of competing interests. It was a competing vision of humanity.”
It was an essential war because it was designed that way. Corporations associated with the Morgan-Rockefeller international investment bankers subsidized and facilitated the rise of Nazi totalitarianism and industry. “General Motors, Ford, General Electric, DuPont and the handful of U.S. companies intimately involved with the development of Nazi Germany were — except for the Ford Motor Company — controlled by the Wall Street elite — the J.P. Morgan firm, the Rockefeller Chase Bank and to a lesser extent the Warburg Manhattan bank,” writes economist, historian, and author Antony C. Sutton in his book, Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler. Read more.
Obama's Outreach to Muslims: Empty Rhetoric, Same Old Policies
By Stephen Lendman
As well as anyone, Edward Said understood the West's long-standing antipathy to Islam - reflected in Samuel Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations" article in the summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs and later a 1996 book.
He wrote that future conflicts won't be "primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be cultural....the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future" - demagogically suggesting a benevolent, superior West confronting a belligerent, hostile, inferior Muslim world. In other words, good v. evil.
Corporations behind efforts to label Sotomayor ‘racist’
By Larisa Alexandrovna and Muriel Kane | Raw Story
Corporate interests posing as a grassroots conservative group are behind attacks on President Obama’s Supreme Court nominee, a RAW STORY investigation has found.
The Committee for Justice (CFJ), an astroturf group established by big business in July 2002 to create an appearance of popular support for President Bush’s judicial nominees, is now leading the effort to oppose the nomination of Judge Sonia Sotomayor to the US Supreme Court. Read more.
President Barack Obama has decided to delay the transfer of the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (al-Quds) amid a heightening row between the US and Israel.
Sources in the White House revealed on Friday that the US policy towards Israeli-Palestinians issue had not been changed and that the US embassy would remain in Tel Aviv for at least six more months.
The US Congress ratified the Jerusalem Embassy Act in October 1995, which states that Jerusalem be recognized as the capital of Israel. The act also states that the United States had to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem no later than 31 May 1999.
However, the decision has been delayed every six months due to the Palestinian-Israeli row over the city.
The status of Jerusalem has been among the thorny issues in the stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, with the Israelis claiming the city as their "eternal, undivided capital" -- a position not recognized by the international community. Read more.
Obama may toss ‘full trials’ for alleged 9/11 plotters
By Agence France-Presse | Raw Story
One advantage of permitting guilty pleas by defendants in the Sept. 11 case would be that the government would not have to expose harsh interrogation techniques during full trials that would otherwise have to be carried out, the Times said. It said the proposal to permit guilty pleas — which are not allowed in the legal framework the U.S. military uses in trials for its own personnel — would in effect permit the Sept. 11 defendants to achieve a self-proclaimed desire for martyrdom.
A plan under consideration by the Obama administration would permit Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, detainees facing the death penalty to plead guilty without a full trial, it has been reported.
This option would principally be aimed at a group of detainees accused of planning the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, five people who have already indicated they prefer this resolution of the case, The New York Times said in a story posted late Friday on its Web site.
The terrorism-era U.S. military commission format has come under withering criticism from legal and human rights quarters, and American military prosecutions employing this structure and legal rules have for the most part been put on hold since January while the new administration considered other options. Read more.
Obama Administration Announces National Strategy to Reduce Drug Trafficking & Flow of Bulk Cash and Weapons Across SW Border
Today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, U.S. Department of Homeland Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Director of National Drug Control Policy Gil Kerlikowske released President Obama’s strategy to stem the flow of illegal drugs and their illicit proceeds across the Southwest border and reduce associated crime and violence in the region.
The National Southwest Border Counternarcotics Strategy directs federal agencies to increase coordination and information sharing with state and local law enforcement agencies, intensifies national efforts to interdict the southbound flow of weapons and bulk currency, and calls for continued close collaboration with the Government of Mexico in their efforts against the drug cartels. The strategy is an important component of the Administration’s national drug control policy and complements the Administration’s comprehensive efforts to respond to threats along the border.
On June 6, 2009, a spirited solidarity rally in support of the people of Occupied Gaza was staged by human rights activists in front of the Israeli Embassy, in Washington, D.C. The protest action demanded: "End the Siege of Gaza!" June 6th marks the 42nd anniversary of the Israeli" seizure of Gaza." The demonstration was sponsored by the ANSWER Coalition, among other groups.
Click here for featured speakers and organizations.
Afghanistan's Wolesi Jirga, the lower house of parliament, has accused foreign troops based in the country of war crimes, urging a trial for the criminals.
Wolesi Jirga secretary Abdul Sattar Khawaasi told reporters that 73 members of parliament are collecting documents regarding foreign troops' crimes and offences in Afghanistan.
"The foreign troops came to the country claiming to bring security, but the crimes perpetrated by the them are not pardonable," he said.
Khawaasi added that foreign troops based in Afghanistan have violated the Constitution as well as international agreements in more than 20 instances.
In May, the Afghan parliament slammed the brutal bombardment of civilian areas by US-led forces, demanding legal restrictions on the activities of foreign forces.
Nearly 150 civilians were killed when US warplanes dropped bombs last month on two villages in Bala Baluk district in western Farah Province. Read more.
Cartwright: U.S. Force-Sizing, Basing Strategy Need Overhaul
By John T. Bennett | Defense News
Over the next few years, the U.S. military is likely to become engaged in a number of hot and cold conflicts, each spanning five to 10 years, meaning the Pentagon must "adjust" its decades-old force sizing and basing constructs, says Gen. James Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
Since the Cold War, the Pentagon has used a so-called "force-sizing construct" that focused on a need to fight two conventional wars at once, while also placing emphasis on "the most deadly" threats to American national security, Cartwright said June 4 in Washington.
But the world has changed in major ways, meaning the two conventional war-based approach is no longer a good fit, according to defense officials. Those changes are the reason senior Pentagon officials are examining whether the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) should include a new force-planning construct, as well as a new plan for how American bases, troops and combat equipment are located around the globe.
"It is clear we are going to have conflicts whose character will not be the same" as the ones on which the Pentagon has for decades based its force planning and global basing postures, Cartwright said. "It's clear [U.S. forces] will be engaged in operations that [each] last five or 10 years - and that is fundamentally different that in the past."
Obama Administration Targets Environmental and Animal Rights Activists as Eco-Terrorists
By Stephen Lendman
What began under George Bush continues under Barack Obama - targeting dedicated activists with "one of today's most serious domestic terrorism threats," according former FBI Deputy Assistant Director of Counterterrorism John Lewis before a Senate panel in May 2005. Called "eco-terrorism," it grew out of the 2001 USA Patriot Act that created the federal crime of "domestic terrorism" and applied it to US citizens as well as aliens.
In his February 2002 testimony before the House Resources Committee, Subcommittee on Forests and Forest Health, the FBI's Domestic Terrorism Section Chief, Counterterrorism Division, James Jarboe defined eco-terrorism as:
Military-Backed Public Schools on the Rise in U.S.
By The Associated Press | Google News
The U.S. Marine Corps is wooing public school districts across the country, expanding a network of military academies that has grown steadily despite criticism that it's a recruiting ploy.
The Marines are talking with at least six districts — including in suburban Atlanta, New Orleans and Las Vegas — about opening schools where every student wears a uniform, participates in Junior ROTC and takes military classes, said Bill McHenry, who runs the Junior ROTC program for the Marines.
Those schools would be on top of more than a dozen public military academies that have already opened nationwide, a trend that's picking up speed as the U.S. Department of Defense looks for ways to increase the number of units in Junior ROTC, which stands for Reserve Officers Training Corps.
"Many kids in our country don't get a fair shake. Many kids live in war zones. Many kids who are bright and have so much potential and so much to offer, all they need to be given is a chance," McHenry said. "If you look at stats, what we're doing now isn't working."
Last year, Congress passed a defense policy bill that included a call for increasing the number of Junior ROTC units across the country from 3,400 to 3,700 in the next 11 years, an effort that will cost about $170 million, Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen M. Lainez said. The process will go faster by opening military academies, which count as four or more units, McHenry said.
Other military branches also are aiming to increase their presence in school hallways, but the Marines are leading the charge. Read more.
During the past four months, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) backlog of unfinished disability claims grew by more than 100,000, adding to an already mountainous backlog that is now close to topping one million.
The VA's claims backlog, which includes all benefits claims and all appeals at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) and the Board of Veterans Appeals at VA, was 803,000 on January 5, 2009. The backlog hit 915,000 on May 4, 2009, a staggering 14 percent increase in four months.
The issue has become so dire that veterans now wait an average of six months to receive disability benefits and as long as four years for their appeals to be heard in cases where their benefits were denied.
The results of eight years of Bush-Cheney at the helm make the demise of the Republican Party an easy call. Our financial system is on life support. The major banks are insolvent, according to banking and legal authority William K. Black. If they’re not, they’re in intensive care. No matter how many trillions of dollars worth of infusions they receive, they’re not making loans. The economy is in a free fall with growth down 6% a quarter and job losses running at nearly 600,000 a month. We’re stuck in two catastrophic wars. Despite President Obama’s election, we’re viewed with suspicion and disregard throughout the world.
Judge Rules Telecoms Have Immunity Under Unconstitutional FISA Amendments Act | Press Release
EFF and ACLU Planning to Appeal Dismissal of Dozens of Spying Cases
A federal judge today dismissed dozens of lawsuits over illegal domestic surveillance of American citizens, ruling that telecommunications companies had immunity from liability under the controversial FISA Amendments Act (FISAAA). The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) California and Illinois affiliates are planning to appeal the decision to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, arguing that FISAAA is unconstitutional.
"We're deeply disappointed in Judge Walker's ruling today," said EFF Legal Director Cindy Cohn. "The retroactive immunity law unconstitutionally takes away Americans' claims arising out of the First and Fourth Amendments, violates the federal government's separation of powers as established in the Constitution, and robs innocent telecom customers of their rights without due process of law."
Signed by President Bush in 2008, the FISAAA allowed for the dismissal of the lawsuits over the telecoms' participation in the warrantless surveillance program if the government secretly certifies to the court that the surveillance did not occur, was legal, or was authorized by the president. Then-Attorney General Michael Mukasey filed that classified certification with the court in September and demanded that the cases be dismissed.