05/23/2012 archive

The White House Appoints “Death Sentence Czar”

Meet the new “Death Sentence Czar” appointed by President Barack Obama to choose who will be targeted for assassination by unmanned drone without due process

WASHINGTON-White House counter-terror chief John Brennan has seized the lead in choosing which terrorists will be targeted for drone attacks or raids, establishing a new procedure for both military and CIA targets.

The effort concentrates power over the use of lethal U.S. force outside war zones within one small team at the White House.

The process, which is about a month old, means Brennan’s staff consults with the State Department and other agencies as to who should go on the target list, making the Pentagon’s role less relevant, according to two current and three former U.S. officials aware of the evolution in how the government goes after terrorists.

John Brennan,a top CIA aide to George Tenet during the Bush Administration, was President Obama’s choice for CIA Director. He voluntarily withdrew his name because of the controversy over his support of the Bush policies of the torture of terrorist detainees and the governments extraordinary rendition program. Instead the president appointed Brennan as his counter-terrorism chief and now has put him in charge of killing accused terrorists around the world.

Glenn Greenwald reports that Brennan has been caught lying on a number of occasions about the circumstances surrounding some high profile cases.

{..}including falsely telling the world that Osama bin Laden “engaged in a firefight” with U.S. forces entering his house and “used his wife as a human shield,” and then outright lying when he claimed about the prior year of drone attacks in Pakistan: “there hasn’t been a single collateral death.” Given his history, it is unsurprising that Brennan has been at the heart of many of the administration’s most radical acts, including claiming the power to target American citizens for assassination-by-CIA without due process and the more general policy of secretly targeting people for death by drone.

Brennan will be the sole arbiter of who to recommend to President Obama to target for assassination. No evidence presented in court, no judge, no jury, no chance for the victim to defend himself and in total secrecy It has now become extremely easy to have someone killed, all this under the guise of “Change” with the blessing of the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.

What is even more disconcerting is the loyalists to this President who defend or conveniently ignore all of the things they decried just a short 4 years ago: Torture, the Patriot Act, warrant-less eavesdropping, rendition, Guantanamo, indefinite detention. All of this is now acceptable under this president. Dick Cheney must be so proud.

N.B. Greenwald provides links to two amazing exchanges by Charles Davis that demonstrate the twisted logic used by Obama fanatics to either justify or ignore Obama’s policies.  

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”.

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Wednesday is Ladies’ Day

Katrina vanden Huevel: The GOP’s fear-mongering on defense

House Republicans voted last week to break last summer’s deal to raise the debt ceiling and avoid default. “We are here to meet our legal and our moral obligations to lead,” Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said of the occasion, without a hint of irony.

The original debt deal required a bipartisan “supercommittee” to find $4 trillion in deficit savings, or “sequestration” would automatically be triggered – an across-the-board cut of $1.2 trillion in each party’s priority: domestic programs and defense. Even under that self-imposed sword of Damocles, Congress failed to do its job, setting the cuts in motion. But House Republicans argued that the requisite cuts to defense funding would harm national security. Take the money from food stamps and health care for the poor, they cried, as they cradled the defense industry in their arms.

Never mind that the Republicans are, as Jon Stewart said, turning a “suicide pact” into a “murder pact.” Is this fear-mongering warranted? Will the looming cuts to the Pentagon’s budget really threaten our security?

Yves Smith: Earth to Dimon: Banks Don’t Have a Right to Profit

Preventing blow-ups like the JPMorgan “hedge” that bears no resemblance to any known hedge isn’t difficult. What makes preventing it difficult is that banks that exist only by virtue of state-granted charters – and more recently, huge transfers from the public – have persuaded public officials and regulators that they have a God-granted right not just to high levels of profit but also high levels of employee and executive compensation.

Banks enjoy state support because they provide essential services, like a payments system and a repository for deposits. One proposal to limit them to these vital services is “narrow banking,” or requiring that deposits be invested in only safe and liquid instruments. This idea was put forward by Irving Fisher and Henry Simons in the 1930s, and has been championed by the right (Milton Friedman), the left (James Tobin) and banking experts (Lowell Bryan of McKinsey). [..]

Maybe it’s time to recognize that these firms are too big and in too many complex businesses to be managed. Jamie Dimon was touted as a star who could supervise a sprawling firm running huge risks, and he fell short because no one can do the job adequately. A less disaster-prone financial system requires more simplicity and redundancy. Re-instituting Glass-Steagall or other variants on the narrow banking theme isn’t a full solution, but it would make for a good start.

Ellen Brown: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised: Quiet Drama in Philadelphia

Last week, the city of Philadelphia’s school system announced that it expects to close 40 public schools next year, and 64 schools by 2017. The school district expects to lose 40% of its current enrollment, and thousands of experienced, qualified teachers.

But corporate media in other cities made no mention of these massive school closings — nor of those in Chicago, Atlanta, or New York City. Even in the Philadelphia media, the voices of the parents, students and teachers who will suffer were omitted from most accounts.

It’s all about balancing the budgets of cities that have lost revenues from the economic downturn. Supposedly, there is simply no money for the luxury of providing an education for the people.

Where will those children find an education? Where will the teachers find work? Almost certainly in an explosion of private sector “charter schools,” where the quality of education — from the curriculum to books to the food served at lunch — will be sacrificed to the lowest bidder, and teachers’ salaries and benefits will be sacrificed to the profits of the new private owners, who will also eat up many millions of dollars of taxpayer subsidies.

Ilyse Hogue: Et Tu, Cory Booker? The Pathology of False Equivalence

There is a disease spreading across our political punditry, and the beloved mayor of Newark, Cory Booker, seems to have contracted it. On Sunday’s Meet The Press, Booker disavowed the new ad campaign attacking Mitt Romney’s tenure at Bain Capital, and in doing so, compared the Obama team’s decision to air the ads to the right-wing invocation of Reverend Wright to take down the president. Booker released a retraction video hours later, but the incident indicates just how advanced the sickness of false equivalence is in our national dialogue. The plague has now infected a normally sharp public official unlikely to confuse a thinly veiled racist play against the first African-American president with an examination of the economic track record of his challenger. [..]

The problem of false equivalence is so rife in our country that the president dedicated a chunk of his speech at the Associated Press luncheon in April to the issue. While it doesn’t rank explicitly on the list of voter concerns, this habit contributes to the high rates of American distrust in the news media. The American people are smart enough to know when a commentator or anchor holds an opinion and forgiving when this is made apparent. Attempts to cover up personal bias with false equivalence does not make one objective, but it does make one complicit in obscuring the dynamics of that lead to political gridlock and an unresponsive democracy. I’d expect Cory Booker, who’s built his entire political career on being responsive, to be immune to such an affliction.

Ellen Cantarow: How Rural America Got Fracked: The Environmental Nightmare You Know Nothing About

If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out.  As Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and misery) in sand — and if you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep.March in Wisconsin used to mean snow on the ground, temperatures so cold that farmers worried about their cows freezing to death. But as I traveled around rural townships and villages in early March to interview people about frac-sand mining, a little-known cousin of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” daytime temperatures soared to nearly 80 degrees — bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message.

In this troubling spring, Wisconsin’s prairies and farmland fanned out to undulating hills that cradled the land and its people. Within their embrace, the rackety calls of geese echoed from ice-free ponds, bald eagles wheeled in the sky, and deer leaped in the brush. And for the first time in my life, I heard the thrilling warble of sandhill cranes.

Harriet Rowan: A Sea of Robin Hoods Tell the G8, It’s Time to Tax Wall Street!

Thousands of nurses from around the world descended upon Daley Plaza, in the heart of Chicago on May 18, to demand that the richest nations in the world put an end to austerity politics and start asking the people who collapsed the global economy to do more to “heal the world.”

Wearing red National Nurses United (NNU) scrubs calling for “an economy for the 99%” and zippy green Robin Hood hats, made for them in Europe, the nurses were joined by Occupy Chicago and thousands of community activists in what may be one of the most colorful demonstrations in days of protests marking the G8 meeting at Camp David and the NATO Summit in Chicago.

The man who took from the rich to give to the poor is the international symbol of a grassroots campaign for a financial speculation tax, a tiny tax on stocks, futures and options with the potential to raise billions a year in revenue for critical public services. Nurses around the globe are campaigning on the idea as a public policy alternative to the cut, cut, cut mentality of pro-austerity politicians. The tax is supported by the leaders of Germany and France and the European Union is working on its implementation, but England and the U.S. have been major roadblocks to a global transaction tax.

It just doesn’t stop…

When the Circus leaves town.

Secret Clinics Tend to Bahrain’s Wounded

By KAREEM FAHIM, The New York Times

Published: May 21, 2012

Friends dragged the men away from the clashes and the riot police, to a safe house nearby. Soon, it was time to go, but not to a hospital: the police were there, too. “No one goes to the hospital,” one protester said.

For the injured protesters, the houses have replaced the country’s largest public hospital, the Salmaniya Medical Complex, which has been a crucial site in the conflict between Bahrain’s ruling monarchy and its opponents since the beginning of a popular uprising in February 2011. Activists say that because of a heavy security presence at the hospital, protesters – or people fearful of being associated with Bahrain’s opposition – have been afraid to venture there for more than a year. That reluctance, officials and activists say, may be responsible for several deaths.

The authorities continue to prosecute Shiite doctors who worked at the hospital on charges including plotting to overthrow the government. Some of the doctors say their arrests represented a purge of Shiites, allowing the government to replace them with Sunni loyalists.

A report released Monday by Physicians for Human Rights says some of the current problems at Salmaniya stem from the conduct of security forces in the hospital and at its gates. People interviewed by the group said guards stopped arriving cars and questioned the passengers. They asked what village they were from, a way of telling whether someone was Shiite or Sunni.

In January, the government sent a directive to private hospitals and clinics that requires them to report not only suspected criminal activity but also “accidents irrespective of causes,” according to the report by Physicians for Human Rights. One doctor told the group that some private hospitals had simply stopped treating protesters and that he had stopped noting the cause of injury in some patients’ medical records.

The law, the report noted, “not only subordinates the needs of the patient to that of the state, it propagates fear among the population.”

On This Day In History May 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.

May 23 is the 143rd day of the year (144th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 222 days remaining until the end of the year.

Click on images to enlarge

On this day in 1873, the Canadian Parliament establishes the North West Mounted Police, the forerunner of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

North-West Mounted Police

The RCMP has its beginnings in the North-West Mounted Police (NWMP). The police was established by an act of legislation from the Temporary North-West Council the first territorial government of the Northwest Territories. The Act was approved by the Government of Canada and established on May 23, 1873, by Queen Victoria, on the advice of her Canadian Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, with the intent of bringing law and order to, and asserting sovereignty over, the Northwest Territories. The need was particularly urgent given reports of American whiskey traders, in particular those of Fort Whoop-Up, causing trouble in the region, culminating in the Cypress Hills Massacre. The new force was initially to be called the North West Mounted Rifles, but this proposal was rejected as sounding too militaristic in nature, which Macdonald feared would antagonize both aboriginals and Americans; however, the force was organized along the lines of a cavalry regiment in the British Army, and was to wear red uniforms.

The NWMP was modelled directly on the Royal Irish Constabulary, a civilian paramilitary armed police force with both mounted and foot elements under the authority of what was then the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. First NWMP commissioner, Colonel George Arthur French visited Ireland to learn its methods.

The initial force, commanded by Commissioner French, was assembled at Fort Dufferin, Manitoba. They departed on July 8, 1874, on a march to what is now Alberta.

The group comprised 22 officers, 287 men – called constables and sub-constables – 310 horses, 67 wagons, 114 ox-carts, 18 yoke of oxen, 50 cows and 40 calves. A pictorial account of the journey was recorded in the diary of Henri Julien, an artist from the Canadian Illustrated News, who accompanied the expedition.

Their destination was Fort Whoop-Up, a notorious whiskey trading post located at the junction of the Belly and Oldman Rivers. Upon arrival at Whoop-Up and finding it abandoned the troop continued a few miles west and established headquarters on an island in the Oldman, naming it Fort MacLeod.

Historians have theorized that failure of the 1874 March West would not have completely ended the Canadian federal government’s vision of settling the country’s western plains, but could have delayed it for many years. It could also have encouraged the Canadian Pacific Railway to seek a more northerly route for its transcontinental railway that went through the well-mapped and partially settled valley of the North Saskatchewan River, touching on Prince Albert, Battleford and Edmonton, and through the Yellowhead Pass, as originally proposed by Sandford Fleming. This would have offered no economic justification for the existence of cities like Brandon, Regina, Moose Jaw, Swift Current, Medicine Hat, and Calgary, which could, in turn, have tempted American expansionists to make a play for the flat, empty southern regions of the Canadian prairies.

The NWMP’s early activities included containing the whiskey trade and enforcing agreements with the First Nations peoples; to that end, the commanding officer of the force arranged to be sworn in as a justice of the peace, which allowed for magisterial authority within the Mounties’ jurisdiction. In the early years, the force’s dedication to enforcing the law on behalf of the First Nations peoples impressed the latter enough to encourage good relations between them and the Crown. In the summer of 1876, Sitting Bull and thousands of Sioux fled from the US Army towards what is now southern Saskatchewan, and James Morrow Walsh of the NWMP was charged with maintaining control in the large Sioux settlement at Wood Mountain. Walsh and Sitting Bull became good friends, and the peace at Wood Mountain was maintained. In 1885, the NWMP helped to quell the North-West Rebellion led by Louis Riel. They suffered particularly heavy losses during the Battle of Duck Lake, but saw little other active combat.