Daily Archive: 10/23/2013

Oct 23 2013

“Will I Be Next?”

Two recent reports on America’s drone wars reveal some very disturbing evidence that the use of drones is killing more civilians than the US wants to admit and that their use is a war crime. The report by Amnesty International (pdf) focused on the killing of Mamana Bibi, a 68 year old grandmother who was killed while picking vegetables in a field with her grandchildren in North Waziristan, Pakistan. A few minutes later a second strike injured family members trying to aid her. Amnesty International has stated that the drone strikes are unlawful amounting to war crimes or extrajudicial assassinations.

Based on rare access to North Waziristan, the region in Pakistan where most drone strikes have occurred, Amnesty International conducted detailed field research into nine drone strikes that occurred between January 2012 and August 2013 and which raise serious questions about violations of the right to life.

Among them is the October 2012 killing of 68-year old grandmother Mamana Bibi. She was killed in a double strike, apparently by a Hellfire missile, as she picked vegetables in the family’s fields and while surrounded by a handful of her grandchildren.

“We cannot find any justification for these killings,” said Mustafa Qadri, Amnesty International’s Pakistan Researcher. “There are genuine threats to the U.S. and its allies in the region, and drone strikes may be lawful in some circumstances. But it is hard to believe that a group of laborers, or a grandmother surrounded by her grandchildren, were endangering anyone at all, let alone posing an imminent threat to the United States.”

Amnesty International also documented cases of so-called “rescuer attacks” in which those who ran to the aid of the victims of an initial drone strike were themselves targeted in a follow-on attack. In a July 2012 case, 18 laborers, including 14-year-old Saleh Khan, were killed in multiple strikes on an impoverished village close to the border with Afghanistan as they were about to enjoy an evening meal at the end of a long day of work. Witnesses described a macabre scene of body parts and blood, panic and terror, as U.S. drones continued to hover overhead.

In addition to the threat of U.S. drone strikes, people in North Waziristan are frequently caught between attacks by armed groups and Pakistan’s armed forces. Al-Qa’ida-linked groups have killed dozens of local villagers they accused of being spies for U.S. drone strikes.

In the 97 page Human Rights Watch report (pdf), the focus was on drone strikes in Yemen between 2009 and 2013:

Two of the attacks killed civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.

“The US says it is taking all possible precautions during targeted killings, but it has unlawfully killed civilians and struck questionable military targets in Yemen,” said Letta Tayler, senior terrorism and counterterrorism researcher at Human Rights Watch and the author of the report. “Yemenis told us that these strikes make them fear the US as much as they fear Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.”

As with the unfettered surveillance program, this must be brought out of the shadows and a full accounting of the hundreds of civilians killed. Those responsible for their deaths must be held accountable and brought to justice.

Oct 23 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting thea Pundits”.

Wednesday is Ladies’ Day.

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Marcy Wheeler: After General Alexander, Obama should split the NSA to make us all safer

The NSA’s aggressive pursuit of Big Data has not only invaded our privacy, but also left us more vulnerable to cyber attack

The NSA is one of its own biggest adversaries in its fight to keep America safe from cyber attacks. To fight this considerable adversary, the president should use the replacement of NSA Director Keith Alexander and his deputy, John Inglis, as an opportunity to split off NSA’s defensive function and rebuild necessary trust.

Commentators have long recognized the NSA had two conflicting missions: one to defend key American networks, and one to collect intelligence on our adversaries. [..]

So long as the NSA prioritizes exploiting data that should be shared for the defense of the country, the agency will be one of America’s most formidable adversaries in the effort to keep the US safe from cyber attacks.

Moira Herbst: Obamacare website woes: another sign of out-of-control private contractors

The Obama team outsourced Healthcare.gov to big corporations that rang up large bills without delivering what they promised

Government outsourcing to private contractors has exploded in the past few decades. Taxpayers funnel hundreds of billions of dollars a year into the chosen companies’ pockets, about $80bn of which goes to tech companies. We’ve reached a stage of knee-jerk outsourcing of everything from intelligence and military work to burger flipping in federal building cafeterias, and it’s damaging in multiple levels. [..]

Fortunately, then, there are alternatives to outsourcing public functions to big corporations padding their profits at taxpayers’ collective expense, and it is time we used them.

Naureen Shah: Time for the truth about ‘targeted’ killings and US drones’ civilian victims

The Obama administration is like a reckless hit-and-run driver. Congress must not let John Brennan’s CIA get away with murder

It is time to demand that the US government, and President Obama in particular, tell the whole truth about the US drone program: not just the claimed successes, but the human costs of its failures. Especially over the last two years, journalists and human rights groups have gathered credible documentation of civilian deaths from drone strikes, suggesting that Mamana Bibi’s death is not an isolated incident. Amnesty International released a report Tuesday raising serious concerns about several recent drone strikes that appear to have killed civilians outside the bounds of the law.

The US government has never committed to investigating these cases. It has never even acknowledged responsibility for most of these strikes.

Laura Finley: In Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples

Last I heard, contracts negotiated between two consenting and capable parties are supposed to be binding, with repercussions if one party violates what has been agreed upon and codified into a legal document. That is, of course, unless it is the state entering into such agreements with indigenous peoples. Then these legal documents are little more than lip-service, or so it seems, based on the actions of the U.S., Canadian, and other governments who have and continued to trample the rights of indigenous peoples with impunity. Instead of being held accountable to the legally binding agreements they have signed, these governments continue to deprive indigenous peoples of their land, their livelihoods, and their cultures. Worse yet, they have the gall to point the finger at indigenous peoples and their allies who resist this continued destruction of their land and resources, calling them the criminals. [..]

Indigenous people and their supporters have not and will not be silent about these issues. Groups like Idle No More have organized, taken to the streets, and used traditional indigenous dance and culture as well as teach-ins and other nonviolent direct action to organize communities to speak out about the repressive policies. I was fortunate to hear from representatives from Idle No More recently and to participate in one of their rallies. To call it a humbling experience is an understatement.

Margaret Kimberly: Food Stamp Corporate Welfare

“Discussions about government spending are inherently bogus because the elephant in the room, big business, is absent.”

The federal and state governments operate under a system which is of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. Ordinary governmental functions which could easily be carried out with public money are instead privatized, depriving the public sector of revenue and jobs and making the neediest citizens unnecessarily dependent on the private sector. Governmental largesse on behalf of big business is focused primarily on poor people, the group most at the mercy of the system. Corporations collect child support payments and then imprison the poor people who can’t pay. While imprisoned, another corporation provides what passes for medical care. The crime is a perfect one.

When the Republicans demanded cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, the debate revolved around human need versus the call for fiscal austerity. Scarcely anyone mentioned that JPMorgan Chase, Xerox and eFunds Corporation make millions of dollars off of this system meant to help the poor.

Jill Richardson: Meat So Cheap You Could Die

Even under normal conditions, as the latest tainted chicken scare illustrates, we’re giving food safety short shrift.

Thanks to the shutdown, the government is doing less to protect Americans from foodborne pathogens and deal with the aftermath of outbreaks.

The timing couldn’t be worse.

Ten days after the shutdown began, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that 317 people in 20 states and Puerto Rico had confirmed cases of salmonella from Foster Farms chicken. Although 42 percent of them had to be hospitalized, thankfully none had died by that point.

The CDC had to bring 30 furloughed employees in its foodborne division back to work to cope with the Foster Farms situation. The Food and Drug Administration has furloughed the majority of its 1,602 investigators.

But even under normal conditions, as the latest tainted chicken scare illustrates, food safety gets short shrift.

Oct 23 2013

On This Day In History October 23

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

October 23 is the 296th day of the year (297th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 69 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1921, in the French town of Chalons-sur-Marne, an American officer selects the body of the first “Unknown Soldier” to be honored among the approximately 77,000 United States servicemen killed on the Western Front during World War I.

According to the official records of the Army Graves Registration Service deposited in the U.S. National Archives in Washington, four bodies were transported to Chalons from the cemeteries of Aisne-Marne, Somme, Meuse-Argonne and Saint-Mihiel. All were great battlegrounds, and the latter two regions were the sites of two offensive operations in which American troops took a leading role in the decisive summer and fall of 1918. As the service records stated, the identity of the bodies was completely unknown: “The original records showing the internment of these bodies were searched and the four bodies selected represented the remains of soldiers of which there was absolutely no indication as to name, rank, organization or date of death.”

The four bodies arrived at the Hotel de Ville in Chalons-sur-Marne on October 23, 1921. At 10 o’clock the next morning, French and American officials entered a hall where the four caskets were displayed, each draped with an American flag. Sergeant Edward Younger, the man given the task of making the selection, carried a spray of white roses with which to mark the chosen casket. According to the official account, Younger “entered the chamber in which the bodies of the four Unknown Soldiers lay, circled the caskets three times, then silently placed the flowers on the third casket from the left. He faced the body, stood at attention and saluted.”

Bearing the inscription “An Unknown American who gave his life in the World War,” the chosen casket traveled to Paris and then to Le Havre, France, where it would board the cruiser Olympia for the voyage across the Atlantic. Once back in the United States, the Unknown Soldier was buried in Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C.

The World War I Unknown lay in state in the Capitol Rotunda from his arrival in the United States until Armistice Day, 1921. On November 11, 1921, President Warren G. Harding officiated at the interment ceremonies at the Memorial Amphitheater at Arlington National Cemetery. During the ceremony, the World War I Unknown was awarded the Victoria Cross by Admiral of the Fleet Lord Beatty, on behalf of King George V of the United Kingdom. (The Victoria Cross being the highest award for valour issued in the UK, on par with the Medal of Honor. Earlier, on March 4, 1921, the British Unknown Warrior was conferred the U.S. Medal of Honor by General of the Armies John Pershing.) In 1928, the Unknown Soldier was presented the Silver Buffalo Award for distinguished service to America’s youth by the Boy Scouts of America.

Oct 23 2013

A Controversial Nobel?

There are those who are disappointed that Malala Yousafzai didn’t win this year’s Nobel Peace prize, particularly after her meeting with Barack Obama where she stated the obvious truth that unrestricted and unjustified by international law drone strikes by the United States on innocents, especially women, children, and ‘double tap’ strikes on first responders, is increasing, not decreasing anti-U.S. sentiment and terrorist activity.

It’s a sad commentary that a 16 year old has a better grasp of the facts than our political leadership, especially including Obama and the ‘best and brightest’ senior members of his Administration and the institutional Democratic Party.

And certainly her personal story and the sacrifices she has made to educate women in a culture where they are mostly viewed as the chattel slaves of men is compelling.

On the other hand the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did as much as anyone outside the official United Nations mission and the British House of Commons to thwart the growing D.C. Beltway conventional wisdom consensus to expand a disastrous civil war in Syria with misguided at best intervention by the Great Powers of Britain, France, and the United States that would surely have resulted in humanitarian catastrophe for the Syrian population (but who gives a damn about brown people anyway) and quite possibly ignominious defeat (Iraq was such a success and arming Al-Queda and Taliban mujahideen with MPADS is so clearly a good idea) or a wider Mideast (hear that Saudis?) or perhaps even global thermonuclear war (the Russians and Chinese don’t play tiddly winks).

At 120+ I’m old enough to remember what it’s like to live in the over pressure confluence of New York and Boston and the casualties make 9-11 look like a bathroom slip and fall (which incidently do kill more people every year than all terrorist incidents since and including the attack on the World Trade Center).

We have the sense of proportion of a Fairy Cake.  I’m so (not) sorry you couldn’t get your next war on you NeoCon Nazis.

Oct 23 2013

“I have found a flaw.”

Alan Greenspan is the most thoroughly discredited economist in the world.

Humans Can Be Irrational, and Other Economic Insights

By BINYAMIN APPELBAUM, The New York Times

Published: October 20, 2013

Accounts of the financial crisis, in particular, have assumed the character of Mr. Potato Head kits. There is a box of standard explanations, and each writer picks the ones he finds most appealing. Mr. Greenspan’s Potato Head is made up of predictable parts: He blames the government for encouraging subprime lending but absolves the Federal Reserve’s policy of low interest rates.



In this new book, Mr. Greenspan writes that the crisis could have been entirely prevented by stricter capital standards, which would have limited the unstable reliance of financial institutions on borrowed money. But he does not explain that under his leadership, the Fed played the lead role in creating rules that let banks set their own capital levels, with predictable results.

“The marked increase in risk taking of a decade ago could have been guarded against wholly by increased capital,” he writes. “Regrettably, that did not occur, and the accompanying dangers were not fully appreciated, even in the commercial banking sector.”

The most provocative part of the book is Mr. Greenspan’s assertion that government spending on Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs is the reason that the American economy has grown more slowly in recent decades. He writes that taxation of upper-income households is reducing their ability to invest in new ideas and new machines and new buildings. Less investment yields less innovation, slower growth in productivity and less economic growth.



Yet it is not obvious that the American economy has been suffering from a lack of financing. While Americans saved less, the rest of the world was only too happy to shovel money into the United States. Mr. Greenspan in this same book subscribes to the view that the housing crash was caused in part by an overabundance of foreign investment in the American economy.

Furthermore, taxation cannot be the reason Americans are saving less. The New York Times reported last year that most Americans in 2010 paid a smaller share of income in taxes than households with the same inflation-adjusted incomes paid in 1980. Mr. Greenspan notes that the wealthy are paying more in taxes – but that is only true because they are making more money. Households earning more than $200,000 saw the largest decline in taxation as a share of income.

It’s also worth noting that productivity and growth have sagged most dramatically since President George W. Bush cut taxes in 2001.