Thursday, March 12, 2009

If Moses had brought along Republicans

Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh describes 'executive assassination ring'

Seymour Hersh
At a "Great Conversations" event at the University of Minnesota last night, legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh may have made a little more news than he intended by talking about new alleged instances of domestic spying by the CIA, and about an ongoing covert military operation that he called an "executive assassination ring."

Hersh spoke with great confidence about these findings from his current reporting, which he hasn't written about yet.

In an email exchange afterward, Hersh said that his statements were "an honest response to a question" from the event's moderator, U of M Political Scientist Larry Jacobs and "not something I wanted to dwell about in public."

Hersh didn't take back the statements, which he said arise from reporting he is doing for a book, but that it might be a year or two before he has what he needs on the topic to be "effective...that is, empirical, for even the most skeptical."

The evening of great conversation, featuring Walter Mondale and Hersh, moderated by Jacobs and titled "America's Constitutional Crisis," looked to be a mostly historical review of events that have tested our Constitution, by a journalist and a high government officials who had experience with many of the crises.

And it was mostly historical, and a great conversation, in which Hersh and Mondale talked about the patterns by which presidents seem to get intoxicated by executive power, frustrated by the limitations on that power from Congress and the public, drawn into improper covert actions that exceed their constitutional powers, in the belief that they can get results and will never be found out. Despite a few references to the Founding Fathers, the history was mostly recent, starting with the Viethnam War with much of it arising from the George W. Bush administration, which both men roundly denounced.

At the end of one answer by Hersh about how these things tend to happen, Jacobs asked: "And do they continue to happen to this day?"

Replied Hersh:

"Yuh. After 9/11, I haven't written about this yet, but the Central Intelligence Agency was very deeply involved in domestic activities against people they thought to be enemies of the state. Without any legal authority for it. They haven't been called on it yet. That does happen.

"Right now, today, there was a story in the New York Times that if you read it carefully mentioned something known as the Joint Special Operations Command -- JSOC it's called. It is a special wing of our special operations community that is set up independently. They do not report to anybody, except in the Bush-Cheney days, they reported directly to the Cheney office. They did not report to the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff or to Mr. [Robert] Gates, the secretary of defense. They reported directly to him. ...

"Congress has no oversight of it. It's an executive assassination ring essentially, and it's been going on and on and on. Just today in the Times there was a story that its leaders, a three star admiral named [William H.] McRaven, ordered a stop to it because there were so many collateral deaths.

"Under President Bush's authority, they've been going into countries, not talking to the ambassador or the CIA station chief, and finding people on a list and executing them and leaving. That's been going on, in the name of all of us.

"It's complicated because the guys doing it are not murderers, and yet they are committing what we would normally call murder. It's a very complicated issue. Because they are young men that went into the Special Forces. The Delta Forces you've heard about. Navy Seal teams. Highly specialized.

"In many cases, they were the best and the brightest. Really, no exaggerations. Really fine guys that went in to do the kind of necessary jobs that they think you need to do to protect America. And then they find themselves torturing people.

"I've had people say to me -- five years ago, I had one say: 'What do you call it when you interrogate somebody and you leave them bleeding and they don't get any medical committee and two days later he dies. Is that murder? What happens if I get before a committee?'

"But they're not gonna get before a committee."

Hersh, the best-known investigative reporter of his generation, writes about these kinds of issues for The New Yorker.

Should the Ford Foundation Buy the NY Times?

Wither Print
by Steve Brodner
Gradually coming into focus is the very harsh prospect of a world without newspapers.  McClatchy just announced more job cuts, the LA Times is becoming a shadow of what it was.  The Rocky Mountain News is gone and the SF Chronicle may be the first newspaper to go, leaving a major city newspaperless. The NY Times, though privately owned, cannot sustain huge losses indefinitely.  So what does this mean?  I wouldn't be so gravely concerned if there was something even remotely like a newspaper for organizing and delivering news.  It is not just the investment in newsgathering that will be lost.  It is also the issue of DESIGN.  Unlike the Web, which has almost no design in media sites.  Here design is integral in giving the reader a sense of the scope and weight of news.  Only a newspaper does that.  In the future I am sure the web will because it will have to.  But what about in the interim? It is in those cracks that very bad things can grow. Journalism is the fourth branch of government.  Losing a big part of it will mean important things can be more easily hidden.  I feel this is too important for the market to solve.  Here is the first of a series of voices on the topic.  The first is Bruce Bartlett, former Treasury Dept. economist under HW Bush.

"Personally, I am partial to the nonprofit model. Foundations, universities, think tanks and even political parties might sponsor publications. For example, the Ford Foundation might take over The New York Times, Harvard University might buy The Boston Globe and the Heritage Foundation might assume control of the The Washington Times. They could run these publications without expectation of profit and a least keep alive the basic journalistic function."

Tent Cities: Welcome to the new Bushvilles


MSNBC has been reporting on the huge tent city forming outside Sacramento, including a remarkable photo essay on the encampment. Similarly, a Daily Mail piece offers more detail:

Mikkel Fishman at The Moderate Voice has more details on the economic and political background.

As Chris Jansing reports, this isn't the only "tent city" gaining in size: So are similar encampments near Seattle, and Reno, and Nashville. Down in Dallas, the need for an encampment is rising quickly.

In other words, by mid-summer, we may see these encampments around the country. And they deserve a name:


When Americans had to endure such hardships 80 years ago -- forming shantytowns made of wood shacks and canvas tents -- they named them in honor of the president who had done nothing to prevent the oncoming recession and ultimately Depression into which he had led them.

They called them Hoovervilles:

hooverville_bb9c1.jpgA Hooverville was the popular name for shanty towns built by homeless men during the Great Depression. They were named after the President at the time, Herbert Hoover, because he allegedly let the nation slide into depression. The term was coined by Charles Michelson, publicity chief of the Democratic National Committee.[1] The name Hooverville has also been used to describe the tent cities commonly found in modern-day America.


Gimme Shelter: U.S. Military Deserters Once Again Flock to Canada to Avoid Iraq War

Looks like this time they picked the wrong country


Just 5 feet tall, with a baby strapped to her chest and a soft, faltering voice, Kim Rivera is anything but soldierly. Yet, two years ago she was a private in the "War on Terror," guarding a gate with an M4 rifle and frisking Iraqi civilians at a base in eastern Baghdad.

Now, on a Wednesday evening in January, the 26-year-old mother of three stands in a room in frigid, snow-covered Toronto. Her fair-skinned face and round blue eyes are framed by auburn hair pulled back in a low ponytail, and she places a hand on her bundled baby as she faces about 100 people seated in folding chairs in the middle-class apartment building's community room.

Rivera clears her throat and unfolds a sheet of paper.

"I was fighting your kind for killing my kind," she begins, reading a poem she wrote last summer and dedicated to the people of Iraq. "I was fighting for your liberty; I was fighting for peace." She pauses and takes a deep breath. "But in reality, I was fighting to destroy everything you know and love."

The audience listens in silence. Some nod. A few wipe tears from their eyes. They are peace activists and professors, fellow American Iraq War deserters in their 20s and American hippies in their 60s, Vietnam draft dodgers and Canadian mothers.

They're all rooting for Rivera, red state–warrior-turned-peacenik deserter. They're hoping and praying that by some lucky chance or the benevolent hand of a politician or judge, the young mother will escape the deportation order that has been issued here and the court martial that awaits back home.

Return to the 21st century

How to stop the drug wars

Failed states and failed policies

Prohibition has failed; legalisation is the least bad solution

 A HUNDRED years ago a group of foreign diplomats gathered in Shanghai for the first-ever international effort to ban trade in a narcotic drug. On February 26th 1909 they agreed to set up the International Opium Commission—just a few decades after Britain had fought a war with China to assert its right to peddle the stuff. Many other bans of mood-altering drugs have followed. In 1998 the UN General Assembly committed member countries to achieving a "drug-free world" and to "eliminating or significantly reducing" the production of opium, cocaine and cannabis by 2008.

That is the kind of promise politicians love to make. It assuages the sense of moral panic that has been the handmaiden of prohibition for a century. It is intended to reassure the parents of teenagers across the world. Yet it is a hugely irresponsible promise, because it cannot be fulfilled.

Next week ministers from around the world gather in Vienna to set international drug policy for the next decade. Like first-world-war generals, many will claim that all that is needed is more of the same. In fact the war on drugs has been a disaster, creating failed states in the developing world even as addiction has flourished in the rich world. By any sensible measure, this 100-year struggle has been illiberal, murderous and pointless. That is why The Economist continues to believe that the least bad policy is to legalise drugs.



For nearly two decades, I have been a resident doctor at the Mushroom Kingdom Hospital, in the Division of Virus Research. Patients depend on my Megavitamins to eradicate a seemingly never-ending stream of horrible viruses. Under a microscope, the viruses appear multicolored, with gloved hands and feet. Sometimes, they appear to have demonic faces. In my nightmares, they laugh at me.

The other day, Nurse Toadstool and I talked in the break room over reheated mushroom casserole. She appeared sad. She mentioned turning a Goomba away because his health insurance wouldn't give him enough gold coins for treatment. Then I realized why the same viruses continue to appear again and again. Each time we turn a patient away for financial reasons, not only are we denying care to the poorest creatures, who often need it the most, but we're putting the disease back into the world, where it continues to spread. Furthermore, the patients I do treat get hooked on my expensive medicine. Mushroom Kingdom's health-care system has turned into a sick, addictive game.

Are we under one of Bowser's spells? A basic human need like health care should not be monetized. Even our pack dinosaurs and humanoid mushrooms deserve coverage—a healthy workforce generates more points and 1-ups, increasing the chances of long-term gameplay for everyone. Clearly, a forward-thinking health-care plan, as seen in other gaming systems, some of which I will outline below, is the right choice. Yet even Princess Peach is full of disinformation on the subject. Why? It's me, Dr. Mario. Fueled by my own self-interest, I prescribed my medication, wrote articles promoting it in respected publications, and played right into the HMOs' greedy hands. Here are some of the myths I shamefully propagated.


Mushroom Kingdom has the best
health care of any gaming world

Consider the hostile planet Zebes, which the female warrior Samus liberated many years ago. The Metroid viruses native to that planet are as nefarious as they are diverse. Among the viruses cataloged are Side Hoppers, Geegas, and fire-generating Gerutas. But Zebes, a planet larger than the Mushroom Kingdom, has reformed its health system. Free help comes in the form of Chozo statues. Is there a waiting period to receive this help? Yes, and oftentimes one needs to fire a rocket at a red door just to get treatment. It's a small nuisance when you consider that you get an energy orb that grants full life. Not even my Megavitamins can make that claim.


What you are about to see is a mix of unrelated YouTube videos/clips edited together to create ThruYou. In other words - what you see is what you hear.

Former Taliban soldiers display their weapons during a ceremony in the western city of Herat

Former Taliban soldiers display their weapons during a ceremony in the western city of Herat March 10, 2009. Forty Taliban fighters surrendered to the government on Tuesday, according to local authorities. Afghanistan's Taliban on Tuesday turned down as illogical U.S. President Barack Obama's bid to reach out to moderate elements of the insurgents, saying the exit of foreign troops was the only solution for ending the war.

US Congress eases curbs on Cuba

Barack Obama
President Obama has indicated US policy on Cuba will change

The US Congress has voted to lift restrictions on relations with Cuba imposed by the Bush administration.

Cuban-Americans will be allowed to travel to the island once a year and send more money to relatives there.

Curbs on sending medicines and food have also been eased. The measures were part of a $410bn bill to fund US government operations.

The legislation was approved by the Senate after clearing the House of Representatives last month.

The bill was supported by two Cuban-American senators who had initially opposed it.

They changed their votes after receiving assurances from the Obama administration that the changes did not amount to a major reversal of the 47-year-old US trade embargo on Cuba.

Job hunting...

Single-payer concept gets no respect


President Barack Obama promises health care reform, but he has taken single-payer health care off the table. Single-payer is the system that removes private insurance companies from the picture; the government pays all the bills, but health care delivery remains private. People still get their choice of what doctor to go to and what hospital to use. Single-payer reduces the administrative costs and removes the profit that insurance companies add to health care delivery. Single-payer solutions, however, get almost no space in the debate.

A study released by Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, a watchdog group, found that in the week before Obama's health care summit, of the hundreds of stories that appeared in newspapers and on the networks, "only five included the views of advocates of single-payer -- none of which appeared on television." Most columns that mentioned single-payer were written by opponents.

Congress is considering HR 676, "Expanded and Improved Medicare for All," sponsored by John Conyers, D-Mich., with 64 co-sponsors. Yet even when Conyers directly asked Obama at a Congressional Black Caucus meeting if he could attend the White House health care summit, he was not immediately invited. Nor was any other advocate for single-payer health care.

Conyers had asked to bring Dr. Marcia Angell, the first woman editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine, the most prestigious medical journal in the country, and Dr. Quentin Young. Young is perhaps the most well-known single-payer advocate in America. He was the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s doctor when King lived in Chicago. "My 15-minute house calls would stretch into three hours," he told me.

But he came to know Barack Obama even better. Though his medical partner was Obama's doctor, Young was his neighbor, friend and ally for decades. "Obama supported single-payer, gave speeches for it," he said.

This past weekend, hundreds turned out to honor the 85-year-old Young, including the Illinois governor and three members of Congress, but the White House's response to Conyers' request that Young be included in the summit? A resounding no. Perhaps because Obama personally knows how persuasive and committed Young is.

After much outcry, Conyers was invited. Activist groups like Physicians for a National Health Program ( expressed outrage that no other single-payer advocate was to be included among the 120 people at the summit. Finally, the White House relented and invited Dr. Oliver Fein, president of PNHP. Two people out of 120.

Locked out of the debate, silenced by the media, single-payer advocates are taking action. Russell Mokhiber, who writes and edits the Corporate Crime Reporter, has decided that the time has come to directly confront the problem of our broken health care system. He's going to the national meeting of the American Health Insurance Plans, and is joining others in burning their health insurance bills outside in protest. Mokhiber told me, "The insurance companies have no place in the health care of American people. How are we going to beat these people? We have to start the direct confrontation." Launching a new organization, Single Payer Action (, Mokhiber and others promise to take the issue to the insurance industry executives, the lobbyists and to the members of Congress directly, in Washington, D.C., and their home district offices.

McCaskill takes GOP to task on earmarks


McCaskill, poking a pencil at the podium as she spoke, said she couldn't understand Republicans who criticized the stimulus package for being weighed down with earmarks then sponsor earmarks themselves on the giant omnibus spending bill under consideration.

"Every single member of Republican leadership has earmarks in this bill," McCaskill said. "Every single one of these people rejected the stimulus … because supposedly they were so upset about wasteful spending."

Republican A-hole Comic Stories