Daily Archive: 10/05/2015

Oct 05 2015

Note to Secret Service: Republicans Don’t Need Your Help to Look Stupid

Last week it was reported that the US Secret Service allegedly tried to embarrass House Rep. Jason Caffetz (R-UT) by releasing information from his Secret Service file. John Oliver, host of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight,” wonders why they are wasting their time when given enough time Republicans will embarrass themselves>

   OLIVER: That’s right. The Secret Service attempted to embarrass one of their biggest critics, Congressman Jason Chaffetz, by leaking his rejected application to join them, essentially behaving like the high school table of mean girls. […]

   And I don’t know what’s worse here. The fact that the Secret Service is so petty that they broke the law to embarrass Jason Chaffetz, or that they’re so stupid, they didn’t realize, if you want to embarrass Jason Chaffetz, just wait, and he will do it for you.

H/t Heather, Crooks and Liars

Oct 05 2015

MSF Kunduz: The Truth Begins to Leak

The official story from the Afghan government and US military about the attack on the Kunduz hospital run by the international medical aid agency, Doctors Without Borders. At a press conference in Washington, DC early today General John Campbell, the American commander of international forces in Afghanistan, changed the original story about US forces requesting the air strike and “may have resulted in collateral damage.” He is now states that US forces were not under fire and that it was the Afghan forces who requested the air strike.

Campbell said that Afghan troops were under direct fire and “called in for fire to support them.” He acknowledged that initial statements from the coalition indicated that U.S. Special Forces were under direct fire, but that was not the case and he is “correcting that statement here.”

He said that U.S. Special Forces were in the area, just not under direct fire.

Campbell declined to answer whether the rules of engagement allow for the Afghans to call in American airstrikes and what kind of fall back or fail-safe system is in place.

Military officials told NBC News over the weekend that Afghans cannot call in airstrikes – that they do not have the training. However, they can report to the U.S. and coalition that they are under fire from a location and the U.S. or coalition partners there can call it in. Officials said the U.S. would not strike without target verification first.

It isn’t clear how the Afghans asked for air support, but Campbell seemed to suggest both of those policies were violated.

As Glenn Greenwald notes, this story is radically changing:

This obfuscation tactic is the standard one the U.S. and Israel both use whenever they blow up civilian structures and slaughter large numbers of innocent people with airstrikes. Citizens of both countries are well-trained – like some tough, war-weary, cigar-chomping general – to reflexively spout the phrase “collateral damage,” which lets them forget about the whole thing and sleep soundly, telling themselves that these sorts of innocent little mistakes are inevitable even among the noblest and most well-intentioned war-fighters, such as their own governments. The phrase itself is beautifully technocratic: it requires no awareness of how many lives get extinguished, let alone acceptance of culpability. Just invoke that phrase and throw enough doubt on what happened in the first 48 hours and the media will quickly lose interest.

But there’s something significantly different about this incident that has caused this “mistake” claim to fail. Usually, the only voices protesting or challenging the claims of the U.S. military are the foreign, non-western victims who live in the cities and villages where the bombs fall. Those are easily ignored, or dismissed as either ignorant or dishonest. Those voices barely find their way into U.S. news stories, and when they do, they are stream-rolled by the official and/or anonymous claims of the U.S. military, which are typically treated by U.S. media outlets as unassailable authority.

In this case, though, the U.S. military bombed the hospital of an organization – Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) – run by western-based physicians and other medical care professionals. They are not so easily ignored. Doctors who travel to dangerous war zones to treat injured human beings are regarded as noble and trustworthy. They’re difficult to marginalize and demonize. They give compelling, articulate interviews in English to U.S. media outlets. They are heard, and listened to.

MSF has used this platform, unapologetically and aggressively. They are clearly infuriated at the attack on their hospital and the deaths of their colleagues and patients. From the start, they have signaled an unwillingness to be shunted away with the usual “collateral damage” banalities and, more important, have refused to let the U.S. military and its allies get away with spouting obvious falsehoods. They want real answers. As the Guardian‘s Spencer Ackerman put it last night: “MSF’s been going incredibly hard, challenging every US/Afgh claim made about hospital bombing.”

In particular, MSF quickly publicized numerous facts that cast serious doubt on the original U.S. claim that the strike on the hospital was just an accident. To begin with, the organization had repeatedly advised the U.S. military of the exact GPS coordinates of the hospital. They did so most recently on September 29, just five days before the strike. Beyond that, MSF personnel at the facility “frantically” called U.S. military officials during the strike to advise them that the hospital was being hit and to plead with them to stop, but the strikes continued in a “sustained” manner for 30 more minutes. [..]

All of these facts make it extremely difficult – even for U.S. media outlets – to sell the “accident” story. At least as likely is that the hospital was deliberately targeted, chosen either by Afghan military officials who fed the coordinates to their U.S. military allies and/or by the U.S. military itself.

Even cynical critics of the U.S. have a hard time believing that the U.S. military would deliberately target a hospital with an airstrike (despite how many times the U.S. has destroyed hospitals with airstrikes). But in this case, there is long-standing tension between the Afghan military and this specific MSF hospital, grounded in the fact that the MSF – true to its name – treats all wounded human beings without first determining on which side they fight. That they provide medical treatment to wounded civilians and Taliban fighters alike has made them a target before.

In July – just 3 months ago – Reuters reported that Afghan special forces “raided” this exact MSF hospital in Kunduz, claiming an Al Qaeda member was a patient. [..]

News accounts of this weekend’s U.S. airstrike on that same hospital hinted cryptically at the hostility from the Afghan military. The first NYT story on the strike – while obscuring who carried out the strike – noted deep into the article that “the hospital treated the wounded from all sides of the conflict, a policy that has long irked Afghan security forces.” Al Jazeera similarly alluded to this tension, noting that “a caretaker at the hospital, who was severely injured in the air strike, told Al Jazeera that clinic’s medical staff did not favour any side of the conflict. ‘We are here to help and treat civilians,’ Abdul Manar said.”

As a result of all of this, there is now a radical shift in the story being told about this strike. No longer is it being depicted as some terrible accident of a wayward bomb. Instead, the predominant narrative from U.S. sources and their Afghan allies is that this attack was justified because the Taliban were using it as a “base.” [..]

The New York Times today – in a story ostensibly about the impact on area residents from the hospital’s destruction – printed paragraphs from anonymous officials justifying this strike: “there was heavy gunfire in the area around the hospital at the time of the airstrike, and that initial reports indicated that the Americans and Afghans on the ground near the hospital could not safely pull back without being dangerously exposed. American forces on the ground then called for air support, senior officials said.” It also claimed that “many residents of Kunduz, as well as people in Kabul, seemed willing to believe the accusations of some Afghan officials that there were Taliban fighters in the hospital shooting at American troops.” And this:

   Still, some Afghan officials continued to suggest that the attack was justified. “I know that there were civilian casualties in the hospital, but a lot of senior Taliban were also killed,” said Abdul Wadud Paiman, a member of Parliament from Kunduz.

So now we’re into full-on justification mode: yes, we did it; yes, we did it on purpose; and we’re not sorry because we were right to do so since we think some Taliban fighters were at the hospital, perhaps even shooting at us. In response to the emergence of this justification claim, MSF expressed the exact level of revulsion appropriate (emphasis added):

   “MSF is disgusted by the recent statements coming from some Afghanistan government authorities justifying the attack on its hospital in Kunduz. These statements imply that Afghan and US forces working together decided to raze to the ground a fully functioning hospital with more than 180 staff and patients inside because they claim that members of the Taliban were present.

   “This amounts to an admission of a war crime. This utterly contradicts the initial attempts of the US government to minimize the attack as ‘collateral damage.’

   “There can be no justification for this abhorrent attack on our hospital that resulted in the deaths of MSF staff as they worked and patients as they lay in their beds. MSF reiterates its demand for a full transparent and independent international investigation.”

Christopher Stokes, the Director General of MSF, issued this statement in response to these latest developments:

October 05, 2015

“Today the US government has admitted that it was their airstrike that hit our hospital in Kunduz and killed 22 patients and MSF staff. Their description of the attack keeps changing-from collateral damage, to a tragic incident, to now attempting to pass responsibility to the Afghanistan government. The reality is the US dropped those bombs. The US hit a huge hospital full of wounded patients and MSF staff. The US military remains responsible for the targets it hits, even though it is part of a coalition. There can be no justification for this horrible attack. With such constant discrepancies in the US and Afghan accounts of what happened, the need for a full transparent independent investigation is ever more critical.”

Dr. Gino Strada, co-founder of Emergency, an Italian NGO that provides free medical care to victims of war, spoke to Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman.



Transcript can be read here.

As Glenn said, “the U.S. seems to have picked the wrong group this time to attack from the air.”

No apology is acceptable. Only punishing the individuals responsible for this war crime is.

Oct 05 2015

Two Liars

Donald Trump Says His Tax Cut Will Lead to 6% GDP Growth and President Obama Says TPP Will Boost Growth

Dean Baker, Center for Economic Policy Research

Published: 05 October 2015

The most favorable positive assessment comes from the Peterson Institute. It projects that the agreement would boost growth by 0.03 percentage points annually over the next dozen years. This would mean, for example, that if growth would have been 2.2 percent without the TPP, it would be 2.23 percent with the TPP. Other projections have been lower. For example, an analysis by the United States Department of Agriculture concluded that the gains would be too small to measure.

It is also worth noting that none of these studies took into account the negative impact on growth from the higher drug prices that would be the result of the stronger protectionist measures in the TPP. The United States currently spends more than $400 billion a year on prescription drugs. This amount will almost certainly increase in both the U.S. and elsewhere as a result of stronger patent and related protections in the TPP. Higher drug prices will pull money out of people’s pockets, leaving less to spend in other areas, thereby slowing growth.

Oct 05 2015

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 the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Glenn Greenwald: The Radically Changing Story of the U.S. Airstrike on Afghan Hospital: From Mistake to Justification

When news first broke of the U.S. airstrike on the Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the response from the U.S. military was predictable and familiar. It was all just a big, terrible mistake, its official statement suggested: an airstrike it carried out in Kunduz “may have resulted in collateral damage to a nearby medical facility.” Oops: our bad. Fog of war, errant bombs, and all that. [..]

But there’s something significantly different about this incident that has caused this “mistake” claim to fail. Usually, the only voices protesting or challenging the claims of the U.S. military are the foreign, non-western victims who live in the cities and villages where the bombs fall. Those are easily ignored, or dismissed as either ignorant or dishonest. Those voices barely find their way into U.S. news stories, and when they do, they are stream-rolled by the official and/or anonymous claims of the U.S. military, which are typically treated by U.S. media outlets as unassailable authority.

In this case, though, the U.S. military bombed the hospital of an organization – Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)) – run by western-based physicians and other medical care professionals. They are not so easily ignored. Doctors who travel to dangerous war zones to treat injured human beings are regarded as noble and trustworthy. They’re difficult to marginalize and demonize. They give compelling, articulate interviews in English to U.S. media outlets. They are heard, and listened to.

Paul Krugman: Enemies of the Sun

Does anyone remember the Cheney energy task force? Early in the George W. Bush administration, Vice President Dick Cheney released a report (pdf) that was widely derided as a document written by and for Big Energy – because it was. The administration fought tooth and nail to keep the process by which the report was produced secret, but the list of people the task force met was eventually leaked, and it was exactly what you’d expect: a who’s who of energy industry executives, with environmental groups getting a chance to make their case only after the work was essentially done.

But here’s the thing: by the standards of today’s Republican Party, the Cheney report was enlightened, even left-leaning. One whole chapter was devoted to conservation, another to renewable energy. By contrast, recent speeches by Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio – still the most likely Republican presidential nominees – barely address either topic. When it comes to energy policy, the G.O.P. has become fossilized. That is, it’s fossil fuels, and only fossil fuels, all the way.

Lori Wallach: If There Really Is a Final TPP Deal: Can It Pass Congress?

If there really is a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) deal, its fate in Congress is highly uncertain given the narrow margin by which trade authority passed this summer, the concessions made to get a deal, and growing congressional and public concerns about the TPP’s threats to jobs, wages, safe food and affordable medicines and more. The intense national battle over trade authority was just a preview of the massive opposition the TPP will face given that Democratic and GOP members of Congress and the public soon will be able to see the specific TPP terms that threaten their interests.

With congressional opposition to TPP growing and the Obama administration basically up against elections cycles in various countries, this ministerial was extended repeatedly because this was the do or die time but it’s unclear if there really is a deal or this is kabuki theatre intended to create a sense of inevitability so as to insulate the TPP from growing opposition.

Trevor Timm: The Yemen crisis is partly our fault. We can no longer facilitate this war

While the crisis in Syria continues to garner front-page headlines and ample television coverage, the media has largely turned a blind eye to the other travesty unfolding in the Middle East: Yemen has turned into a humanitarian disaster, where thousands of bombs are being dropped, 1.5 million people are displaced and more than 90% of the population is in need of assistance. The major difference? In Yemen, the US is one of the primary causes of the problem.

The United States and the United Kingdom are actively aiding and abetting Saudi Arabia while the country indiscriminately kills thousands of civilians in Yemen in what amounts to war crimes by almost anyone’s definition. The two western powers, who often purport to care about democracy and human rights, are also helping the Saudi monarchy – one of the most repressive regimes on the planet – cover up those crimes at the UN. These actions are abhorrent, and it’s shameful the brewing scandal has hardly received any attention from the US political establishment or television news.

Michael Waldman: What Obama Can Do About Dark Money in Elections Right Now

The spectacle of the 2016 election is riveting, that’s for sure. But behind the gaffes and rallies — and hair — there is something different, and deeply disturbing, about this election.

To a degree unseen since the Gilded Age over a century ago, money will come from a handful of donors giving once unimaginable sums. Many want something from government.

And many of these donors will operate undisturbed — their identities secret from the public, if not from the grateful politicians. It’s called “dark money.”

Since 2010’s Citizens United decision, outside groups that conceal all of their funding sources from the public have spent more than $600 million to influence elections. We don’t know where the money comes from. And we don’t know what the donors hope to get in return.

With a stroke of his pen, President Obama can help address one particularly troubling area of dark money spending. He can issue an Executive Order requiring major companies that are awarded federal contracts to disclose all of their political donations.

Leo W. Gerard: More Free Stuff for Corporations

Republicans and the rich guys who imposed 35 years of stagnant wages on American workers now offer a prescription for easing this pain!

Their solution for robber-baron-level income inequality is not the obvious: Give workers raises. They don’t want to increase the minimum wage, which would eventually push up pay for everyone else as well. They don’t intend to provide paid sick leave or decent pensions or fewer unstable contract jobs. They have no intention of strengthening unions so workers can collectively bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Instead of any of those straightforward measures, rich guys and corporate-owned Republicans assert that the solution is more free stuff for corporations!  The government, they say, should provide that free stuff. The government, the very organization they deride and despise and denounce as incompetent and deserving of nothing but cutting and shrinking and destroying! Yes, they actually contend that very same government should take the taxes paid by workers and give that money to corporations to improve worker wages and working conditions!

Oct 05 2015

The Breakfast Club (Laughter)

Welcome to The Breakfast Club! We’re a disorganized group of rebel lefties who hang out and chat if and when we’re not too hungover  we’ve been bailed out we’re not too exhausted from last night’s (CENSORED) the caffeine kicks in. Join us every weekday morning at 9am (ET) and weekend morning at 10:30am (ET) to talk about current news and our boring lives and to make fun of LaEscapee! If we are ever running late, it’s PhilJD’s fault.

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This Day in History

First victim dies in post-Sept. 11th anthrax scare; VP candidates spar over JFK; The Beatles release ‘Love Me Do’; ‘Monty Python’ premieres; Baseball’s Barry Bonds tops single-season runs record.

Breakfast Tunes

Something to Think about over Coffee Prozac

A wonderful thing about true laughter is that it just destroys any kind of system of dividing people.

John Cleese

Oct 05 2015

On This Day In History October 5

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 5 is the 278th day of the year (279th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 87 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1877, Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce Indians surrenders to U.S. General Nelson A. Miles in the Bear Paw mountains of Montana, declaring,

“Hear me, my chiefs: My heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”

Chief Joseph (March 3, 1840 – September 21, 1904) was the chief of the Wal-lam-wat-kain (Wallowa) band of Nez Perce during General Oliver O. Howard‘s attempt to forcibly remove his band and the other “non-treaty” Nez Perce to a reservation in Idaho. For his principled resistance to the removal, he became renowned as a humanitarian and peacemaker.

Joseph the Younger succeeded his father as chief in 1871. Before his death, the latter counseled his son:

“My son, my body is returning to my mother earth, and my spirit is going very soon to see the Great Spirit Chief. When I am gone, think of your country. You are the chief of these people. They look to you to guide them. Always remember that your father never sold his country. You must stop your ears whenever you are asked to sign a treaty selling your home. A few years more and white men will be all around you. They have their eyes on this land. My son, never forget my dying words. This country holds your father’s body. Never sell the bones of your father and your mother.”

Chief Joseph commented “I clasped my father’s hand and promised to do as he asked. A man who would not defend his father’s grave is worse than a wild animal.”

The non-treaty Nez Perce suffered many injustices at the hands of settlers and prospectors, but out of fear of reprisal from the militarily superior Americans, Joseph never allowed any violence against them, instead making many concessions to them in hopes of securing peace.

In 1873, Chief Joseph negotiated with the federal government to ensure his people could stay on their land in the Wallowa Valley. But in 1877, the government reversed its policy, and Army General Oliver Howard threatened to attack if the Wallowa band did not relocate to the Idaho Reservation with the other Nez Perce. Chief Joseph reluctantly agreed.

Before the outbreak of hostilities, General Howard held a council to try to convince Joseph and his people to relocate. Joseph finished his address to the General, which focused on human equality, by expressing his “[disbelief that] the Great Spirit Chief gave one kind of men the right to tell another kind of men what they must do.”

Howard reacted angrily, interpreting the statement as a challenge to his authority. When Chief Too-hul-hul-sote protested, he was jailed for five days.

The day following the council, Joseph, White Bird, and Chief Looking Glass all accompanied General Howard to look at different areas. Howard offered them a plot of land that was inhabited by Whites and Indians, promising to clear them out. Joseph and his chieftains refused, adhering to their tribal tradition of not taking what did not belong to them.

Unable to find any suitable uninhabited land on the reservation, Howard informed Joseph that his people had thirty days to collect their livestock and move to the reservation. Joseph pleaded for more time, but Howard told him that he would consider their presence in the Wallowa Valley beyond the thirty-day mark an act of war.

Returning home, Joseph called a council among his people. At the council, he spoke on behalf of peace, preferring to abandon his father’s grave over war. Too-hul-hul-sote, insulted by his incarceration, advocated war.

The Wallowa band began making preparations for the long journey, meeting first with other bands at Rocky Canyon. At this council too, many leaders urged war, while Joseph argued in favor of peace.

While the council was underway, a young man whose father had been killed rode up and announced that he and several other young men had already killed four white men, an act sure to initiate war.

Still hoping to avoid further bloodshed, Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs began leading his people north toward Canada.

With 2,000 U.S. soldiers in pursuit, Joseph and other Nez Perce chiefs led 800 Nez Perce toward their friends the Crows, but when the Crows betrayed them and joined the United States army for money, the Nez Perce went towards freedom at the Canadian border. For over three months, the Nez Perce outmaneuvered and battled their pursuers traveling 1,600 miles (2,570 km) across Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana. General Howard, leading the opposing cavalry, was impressed with the skill with which the Nez Perce fought, using advance and rear guards, skirmish lines, and field fortifications. Finally, after a devastating five-day battle during freezing weather conditions with no food or blankets, Chief Joseph formally surrendered to General Nelson Appleton Miles on October 5, 1877 in the Bear Paw Mountains of the Montana Territory, less than 40 miles (60 km) south of Canada in a place close to the present-day Chinook in Blaine County. The battle is remembered in popular history by the words attributed to Chief Joseph at the formal surrender:

“Tell General Howard I know his heart. What he told me before, I have it in my heart. I am tired of fighting. Our chiefs are killed; Looking Glass is dead, Too-hul-hul-sote is dead. The old men are all dead. It is the young men who say yes or no. He who led on the young men is dead. It is cold, and we have no blankets; the little children are freezing to death. My people, some of them, have run away to the hills, and have no blankets, no food. No one knows where they are-perhaps freezing to death. I want to have time to look for my children, and see how many of them I can find. Maybe I shall find them among the dead. Hear me, my chiefs! I am tired; my heart is sick and sad. From where the sun now stands, I will fight no more forever.”