Daily Archive: 05/02/2012

May 02 2012

The War on Terror Escalates

One would have thought that with Osama bin Laden gone forever from the scene that the Obama administration and Congress would have stepped back from the continued use of fear of a terrorist attack to whittle away at our freedoms. Apparently, Osama’s demise has actually led to an even greater increase the assault on American’s Constitutional freedoms. Glenn Greenwald enumerates the increased assaults on civil liberties that have been taken since bin Laden’s “summary execution one year ago”:

   *With large bipartisan majorities, Congress renewed the once-controversial Patriot Act without a single reform, and it was signed into law by President Obama; Harry Reid accused those urging reforms of putting the country at risk of a Terrorist attack.

   * For the first time, perhaps ever, a U.S. citizen was assassinated by the CIA, on orders from the President, without a shred of due process and far from any battlefield; two weeks later, his 16-year-old American son was also killed by his own government; the U.S. Attorney General then gave a speech claiming the President has the power to target U.S. citizens for death based on unproven, secret accusations of Terrorism.

   * With large bipartisan majorities, Congress enacted, and the President signed, a new law codifying presidential powers of worldwide indefinite detention and an expanded statutory defintion of the War on Terror.

   * Construction neared completion for a sprawling new site in Utah for the National Security Agency to enable massive domestic surveillance and to achieve “the realization of the ‘total information awareness’ program created during the first term of the Bush administration.”

   * President Obama authorized the use of “signature” drone strikes in Yemen, whereby the CIA can target people for death “even when the identity of those who could be killed is not known.”

   * The U.S. formally expanded its drone attacks in Somalia, “reopening a base for the unmanned aircraft on the island nation of Seychelles.”

   * A U.S. drone killed 16-year-old Pakistani Tariq Aziz, along with his 12-year-old cousin, Waheed, three days after the older boy attended a meeting to protest civilian deaths from U.S. drones (another of Tariq’s cousins had been killed in 2010).

   * NATO airstrikes continued to extinguish the lives of Afghan children; in just the last 24 hours, 5 more Afghan children were killed by the ongoing war.

   * The FBI increased its aggressive attempts to recruit young Muslim-American males into Terror plots which the FBI concocts, funds, encourages, directs and enables, while prosecuting more and more Muslims in the U.S. for crimes grounded in their political views and speech.

President Obama now has power that Bush never had, earning the damning praise of war criminal in retirement, Dick Cheney, “He’s learned that what we did was far more appropriate than he ever gave us credit for while he was a candidate.” The United States is rapidly becoming a surveillance state with no protections for its citizens, thanks to a Democratic administration. Who would have dreamed?

May 02 2012

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”.

Wednesday is Ladies Day

Katrina vanden Huevel: Free college? We can afford it.

Student loans set off the latest Washington spitball fight. The House Republican budget called for letting interest rates double on government-subsidized student loans (and for deep cuts in Pell Grants and other student support). Students who borrow the maximum in subsidized loans would end up paying as much as $1,000 a year in added interest. Last week, President Obama sensibly called for extending the lower rate and starting stumping through colleges and talk shows to enlist students in the cause.

Republican leaders quickly calculated the perils of angering young voters. Mitt Romney flipped over to support extending the lower rates. House Republicans passed an extension, taunting the president by paying for it using a preventive health fund in the Affordable Care Act. Senate Democrats propose to pay for the extension by closing a tax dodge that doctors, lawyers and small businesses use to avoid payroll taxes. The standoff allows for what has now become the routine exchange of insults, slurs and posturing before a deal is worked out at the last possible moment.

Ignored in this is the stark reality that even with the lower rates, more and more students can’t afford the college education or advanced training that everyone except for Rick Santorum believes they need.

Joan Walsh: What Rachel Maddow said

Women still face pay bias, no matter how much (or how disrespectfully) GOP flacks want to deny it

I’m thrilled that Rachel Maddow has her own show, but I still sometimes miss her as a news-show guest. Maddow the guest always brings the facts, usually with charm, and sometimes with an edge of outrage at the behavior of her conservative sparring partners. As the host, she has to stick to charm (while still well-armed with facts) on the rare occasion she gets Republican guests on her show.

Her “Meet the Press” debate with Alex Castellanos Sunday was one for the ages. The Republican who defended calling Hillary Clinton a “white bitch” in 2008 (“Some women, by the way, are named that, and it’s accurate,” he told CNN’s Jeffrey Toobin) tried to confound Maddow with divergent claims about whether women are paid less than men – “actually no,” he insisted; then he admitted they are, but there are reasons for it. And when he couldn’t confound Maddow, he condescended.

Alexis Goldstein: Why I Had to Get Out: Confessions of a Wall Street Insider

The culture of Wall Street is pervasive and contagious. I drank the Kool Aid. I’m out of it now. But I’d like to tell you what it was like.

When some people think about Wall Street, they conjure up images of traders shouting on the stock exchange, of bankers dining at five-star restaurants, of CEOs whispering in the ears of captured Congress members.

When I think about Wall Street, I think about its stunted rainbow of pale pastel shirts. I think about the vaulting, highly secured, and very cold lobbies. And I think about the art passed daily by the harried workers, virtually unseen.

Before I occupied Wall Street, Wall Street occupied me. What started as a summer internship led to a seven-year career. During my time on Wall Street, I changed from a curious college student full of hope for my future into a cynical, bitter, depressed, and exhausted “knowledge worker” who felt that everyone was out to screw me over.

The culture of Wall Street is pervasive and contagious. While there are Wall Street employees who are able to ignore or block it out, I was not one of them. I drank the Kool Aid. I’m out of it now. But I’d like to tell you what it was like.

Maureen Dowd: Libertine on the Loose

It’s the most chilling warning you can hear in France: Dominique Strauss-Kahn is out on the town, looking for a good time.

When Julien Dray, a prominent Socialist Party deputy, had a birthday party for himself Sunday night at a cocktail lounge, he didn’t bother to tell his V.I.P. guests that he had invited the most notorious man in France.

The randy economist – once considered the leading prospect to beat Nicolas Sarkozy before a swan dive from grace – could not resist popping up as a Socialist Party pooper on the eve of the election.

Rebecca Solnit: American Dystopia: Welcome to the 2012 Hunger Games

Sending Debt Peonage, Poverty, and Freaky Weather Into the Arena

When I was growing up, I ate books for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and since I was constantly running out of reading material, I read everyone else’s — which for a girl with older brothers meant science fiction. The books were supposed to be about the future, but they always turned out to be very much about this very moment. [..]

We now live in a world that is wilder than a lot of science fiction from my youth. My phone is 58 times faster than IBM’s fastest mainframe computer in 1964 (calculates my older brother Steve) and more powerful than the computers on the Apollo spaceship we landed on the moon in 1969 (adds my nephew Jason). Though we never got the promised jetpacks and the Martians were a bust, we do live in a time when genetic engineers use jellyfish genes to make mammals glow in the dark and nerds in southern Nevada kill people in Pakistan and Afghanistan with unmanned drones.  Anyone who time-traveled from the sixties would be astonished by our age, for its wonders and its horrors and its profound social changes. But science fiction is about the present more than the future, and we do have a new science fiction trilogy that’s perfect for this very moment.

Paula Crossfeild Pink Slime and Mad Cow Just the Tip of the Iceberg

Following on the heels of pink slime, mad cow disease (AKA bovine spongiform encephalopathy-or BSE) is back this week after a California dairy cow destined for a rendering plant that makes pet food was found to have the disease. So far, it looks like the beef industry is playing down the finding, hoping to dodge a loss in sales at home and abroad. The U.S. Department of Agriculture was quick to tell Americans that our food supply is entirely safe. But the re-emergence of mad cow and the conversation around pink slime has re-opened questions about our food system. It has exposed how food safety falls inevitably through the cracks in a country where over 9 billion animals are being slaughtered per year and budgets for the departments that oversee these processes are being slashed. The incredible media coverage of both issues reflects a growing consumer interest in more transparency in what we’re eating and how it’s being produced.

May 02 2012

Drones: Attack of the Killer Drones

President Barack Obama has resumed drone attacks into Pakistan and sends one of is lackeys to defend it as legal, blithely dismissing civilian casualties:

Fresh off of an interview yesterday in which he shrugged off civilian killings in the US drone war, top White House adviser John O. Brennan was ordered to provide more “openness” on the program at a speech today in Washington.

Fresh off of an interview yesterday in which he shrugged off civilian killings in the US drone war, top White House adviser John O. Brennan was ordered to provide more “openness” on the program at a speech today in Washington.

White House Admission of Drone Strikes Does Nothing to Justify Program’s Legality, ACLU Says

ACLU National Security Experts Warn Program is Unlawful and Dangerous

NEW YORK – April 30 – President Obama’s top counter-terrorism adviser today publicly confirmed that the United States conducts targeted killings of suspected terrorists using drones.

In a speech this afternoon at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, John Brennan insisted the targeted strikes are a “wise choice” and “legal” and within the boundaries of international law. However, ACLU Deputy Legal Director Jameel Jaffer said Brennan’s statement did not go far in explaining how the program passed constitutional muster.

“This is an important statement – first because it includes an unambiguous acknowledgement of the targeted killing program and second because it includes the administration’s clearest explanation thus far of the program’s purported legal basis.” Jaffer said.

“But Mr. Brennan supplies legal conclusions, not legal analysis. We continue to believe that the administration should release the Justice Department memos underlying the program – particularly the memo that authorizes the extrajudicial killing of American terrorism suspects. And the administration should release the evidence it relied on to conclude that an American citizen, Anwar al-Aulaqi, could be killed without charge, trial, or judicial process of any kind.”

Brennan maintained the Obama administration was committed to transparency when it came to deciding who would be subject to lethal drone strikes. But Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU National Security Project, said the program is both unconstitutional and overly broad.

“We continue to believe, based on the information available, that the program itself is not just unlawful but dangerous. This statement makes clear that the administration is treating legal restrictions on the use of force as questions of preference. Moreover, it is dangerous to characterize the entire planet as a battlefield,” Shamsi said.

“It is dangerous to give the President the authority to order the extrajudicial killing of any person – including any American – he believes to be a terrorist. The administration insists that the program is closely supervised, but to propose that a secret deliberation that takes place entirely within the executive branch constitutes ‘due process’ is to strip the Fifth Amendment of its essential meaning.”

Rights groups hit Brennan’s defense of ‘legal’ drone strikes

Representatives of Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International USA said they welcomed the unprecedented public acknowledgement of the drone campaign by John Brennan, assistant to the president for homeland security and counterterrorism.

But they said there are still serious questions about whether drone attacks on suspected millitants are legal under international law.

“Where there’s a war, for example in Afghanistan, [drone strikes] are a legitimate weapon of war,” said Tom Parker, a former British government security official who is now head of Amnesty International’s counter-terrorism program. “The problem comes when you make the unprecedented claim that you are in a world-wide conflict with a non-state actor.”

“We don’t believe that the justification [offered by Mr. Brennan] stands up under international humanitarian law,” he added.

Here is a report from Kevin Gosztola at FDL on Obama’s Death Panels and the videos of the speech given by Jeremy Scahill of The Nation:

Activists, lawyers, human rights advocates, civil liberties defenders and others came together for a major international summit on drone warfare and the issues created by drone use yesterday. The summit was co-organized by CODEPINK, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Reprieve. An exceptional lineup of speakers addressed participants detailing salient and significant aspects around the Obama administration’s expansion of the covert drone wars in countries like Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. [..]

Scahill opens his speech by saying, “The real death panels that we have in this country were unleashed on our own citizens. Republicans like to talk about death panels having to do with health care. President Obama is the one that is operating secret death panels” that include United States citizens and often include non-US citizens. The vast majority of the victims of this policy around the world are not US citizens.

May 02 2012

On This Day In History May 2

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.

Click on images to enlarge

May 2 is the 122nd day of the year (123rd in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 243 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 2011, Osama bin Laden, the head of Al Qaeda and mastermind of the 9/11 attacks on the United States, died . He was killed in an attack on the compound where he was hiding outside the Pakistan capital of Islamabad. U.S. President Barack Obama announced on national television that bin Laden had been killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan by American military forces and that his body was in U.S. custody.

The raid began around 1 a.m. local time, when 23 U.S. Navy SEALs in two Black Hawk helicopters descended on the compound in Abbottabad, a tourist and military center north of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. One of the helicopters crash-landed into the compound but no one aboard was hurt. During the raid, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, five people, including bin Laden and one of his adult sons, were killed by U.S. gunfire. No Americans were injured in the assault. Afterward, bin Laden’s body was flown by helicopter to Afghanistan for official identification, then buried at an undisclosed location in the Arabian Sea less than 24 hours after his death, in accordance with Islamic practice. [..]

A break in the hunt for bin Laden came in August 2010, when C.I.A. analysts tracked the terrorist leader’s courier to the Abbottabad compound, located behind tall security walls in a residential neighborhood. (U.S. intelligence officials spent the ensuing months keeping the compound under surveillance; however, they were never certain bin Laden was hiding there until the raid took place.) The U.S. media had long reported bin Laden was believed to be hiding in the remote tribal areas along the Afghan-Pakistani border, so many Americans were surprised to learn the world’s most famous fugitive had likely spent the last five years of his life in a well-populated area less than a mile from an elite Pakistani military academy. After the raid, which the U.S. reportedly carried out without informing the Pakistani government in advance, some American officials suspected Pakistani authorities of helping to shelter bin Laden in Abbottabad, although there was no concrete evidence to confirm this.

May 02 2012

Beltane

May Day may be a day for workers to take to the streets and protest oppression but for Pagans and Wiccans around the world it is one of the eight sabbats of the Wheel. It is a  celebration of fertility and birth. It is Beltane, the old Gaelic name for the month of May, is the last of the three Wiccan spring fertility festivals, the others being Imbolc and Ostara. Beltane is the second principal Celtic festival (the other being Samhain). Celebrated approximately halfway between Vernal (spring) equinox and the midsummer (Summer Solstice). Beltane traditionally marked the arrival if summer in ancient times. It is one of eight solar Sabbats.

Beltane, like Samhain, is a time of “no time” when the veils between the two worlds are at their thinnest. No time is when the two worlds intermingle and unite and the magic abounds! It is the time when the Faeries return from their winter respite, carefree and full of faery mischief and faery delight. On the night before Beltane, in times past, folks would place rowan branches at their windows and doors for protection, many otherworldly occurrences could transpire during this time of “no time”. Traditionally on the Isle of Man, the youngest member of the family gathers primroses on the eve before Beltane and throws the flowers at the door of the home for protection. In Ireland it is believed that food left over from May Eve must not be eaten, but rather buried or left as an offering to the faery instead. Much like the tradition of leaving of whatever is not harvested from the fields on Samhain, food on the time of no time is treated with great care.

When the veils are so thin it is an extremely magical time, it is said that the Queen of the Faeries rides out on her white horse. Roving about on Beltane eve She will try to entice people away to the Faeryland. Legend has it that if you sit beneath a tree on Beltane night, you may see the Faery Queen or hear the sound of Her horse’s bells as She rides through the night. Legend says if you hide your face, She will pass you by but if you look at Her, She may choose you. There is a Scottish ballad of this called Thomas the Rhymer, in which Thomas chooses to go the Faeryland with the Queen and has not been seen since. [..]

On Beltane eve the Celts would build two large fires, Bel Fires, lit from the nine sacred woods. The Bel Fire is an invocation to Bel (Sun God) to bring His blessings and protection to the tribe. The herds were ritually driven between two needfires (fein cigin), built on a knoll. The herds were driven through to purify, bring luck and protect them as well as to insure their fertility before they were taken to summer grazing lands. An old Gaelic adage: “Eadar da theine Bhealltuinn” – “Between two Beltane fires”.

The Bel fire is a sacred fire with healing and purifying powers. The fires further celebrate the return of life, fruitfulness to the earth and the burning away of winter. The ashes of the Beltane fires were smudged on faces and scattered in the fields. Household fires would be extinguished and re-lit with fresh fire from the Bel Fires.

Celebration includes frolicking throughout the countryside, maypole dancing, leaping over fires to ensure fertility, circling the fire three times (sun-wise) for good luck in the coming year, athletic tournaments feasting, music, drinking, children collecting the May: gathering flowers. children gathering flowers, hobby horses, May birching and folks go a maying”. Flowers, flower wreaths and garlands are typical decorations for this holiday, as well as ribbons and streamers. Flowers are a crucial symbol of Beltane, they signal the victory of Summer over Winter and the blossoming of sensuality in all of nature and the bounty it will bring.

May birching or May boughing, began on Beltane Eve, it is said that young men fastened garland and boughs on the windows and doors of the young maidens upon which their sweet interest laid. Mountain ash leaves and Hawthorne branches meant indicated love whereas thorn meant disdain. This perhaps, is the forerunner of old May Day custom of hanging bouquets hooked on one’s doorknob?

Young men and women wandered into the woods before daybreak of May Day morning with garlands of flowers and/or branches of trees. They would arrive; most rumpled from joyous encounters, in many areas with the maypole for the Beltane celebrations. Pre-Christian society’s thoughts on human sexuality and fertility were not bound up in guilt and sin, but rather joyous in the less restraint expression of human passions. Life was not an exercise but rather a joyful dance, rich in all beauty it can afford.

And don’t forget to wash you face in the morning dew.