Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Invasion of the body snatchers

Al-Qaeda offers US conditional peace

Al-Qaeda has offered the US President Barack Obama a truce in exchange for a complete withdrawal of US-led troops from Afghanistan.

Ayman al Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two, offered the conditional truce in a 90-minute video released on Monday.

"If Obama wants to [reach] an understanding then he should respond to Sheikh Osama [bin Laden's] two offers," Zawahiri noted, referring to the militants' commander-in-chief's suggestions for a ceasefire.

Bin Laden had put forward the notion of a peace treaty with the US in 2006 which would entail "just conditions that we will stand by ... a truce which offers security and stability and the rebuilding of Iraq and Afghanistan which war has destroyed."

The quid pro quo armistice was originally proposed to the administration of the former US president George W. Bush.

Zawahiri reiterated Bin Laden's conditions for a peace, saying, "The minimum that the mujahideen (al-Qaeda) would accept [includes] ... the exit of infidel troops from all of the land of Islam and an end to stealing Muslims' wealth under the threat of military power," The Washington Post quoted him on Monday.

He went on to warn the US of more attacks unless the conditions were met.

America makes nothing except weapons

Jon Taplin reproduces this jaw-dropping chart: Floyd Norris's scary graph of Durable Goods Production, adding, "We have so hollowed out our industrial plant that the only thing we are now producing is weapons of war." He goes on to quote Toynbee on Rome: "The economy of the Empire was basically a Raubwirtschaft or plunder economy based on looting existing resources rather than producing anything new. The Empire relied on booty from conquered territories... With the cessation of tribute from conquered territories, the full cost of their military machine had to be borne by the citizenry."

Barack Obama faces 30 death threats a day, stretching US Secret Service

US President Barack Obama is the target of more than 30 potential death threats a day and is being protected by an increasingly over-stretched and under-resourced Secret Service, according to a new book.
Barack Obama faces 30 death threats a day, stretching US Secret Service Since Mr Obama took office, the rate of threats against the president has increased 400 per cent from the 3,000 a year or so under President George W. Bush, according to Ronald Kessler, author of In the President's Secret Service.

Some threats to Mr Obama, whose Secret Service codename is Renegade, have been publicised, including an alleged plot by white supremacists in Tennessee late last year to rob a gun store, shoot 88 black people, decapitate another 14 and then assassinate the first black president in American history.

Most however, are kept under wraps because the Secret Service fears that revealing details of them would only increase the number of copycat attempts. Although most threats are not credible, each one has to be investigated meticulously.

According to the book, intelligence officials received information that people associated with the Somalia-based Islamist group al-Shabaab might try to disrupt Mr Obama's inauguration in January, when the Secret Service co-ordinated at least 40,000 agents and officers from some 94 police, military and security agencies.

More than a dozen counter-sniper teams were stationed along the inauguration parade route and the criminal records of employees and hotel guests in nearby buildings were scrutinised.

Despite all this, there were glaring loopholes in the security. Kessler describes how more than 100 VIPs and major campaign donors were screened by metal detectors but then walked along a public pavement before boarding "secure" buses and were not checked again.

It could have been relatively simple for an assassin to have mingled with them in order to get close enough to shoot the new president.


Associated Press will sell you a license to quote the public domain

James Grimmelman sez,
The Associated Press -- which thinks you owe it a license fee if you quote more than four words from one of its articles -- doesn't even care if the words actually came from its article. They'll charge you anyway, even if you're quoting from the public domain.

I picked a random AP article and went to their "reuse options" site. Then, when they asked what I wanted to quote, I punched in Thomas Jefferson's famous argument against copyright. Their license fee: $12 for an educational 26-word quote. FROM THE PUBLIC FREAKING DOMAIN, and obviously, obviously not from the AP article. But the AP is too busy trying to squeeze the last few cents out of a dying business model to care about little things like free speech or the law.

They tell me I have to use the sentence "exactly as written" and heaven help me if I don't include the complete footer with their copyright boilerplate. Along the way, their terms of use insisted that I'm not allowed to use Jefferson's words in connection with "political Content." Also, I can't use use his words in any manner or context that will be in any way derogatory" to the AP. As if. Jefferson's thoughts on copyright are inherently political, and inherently derogatory towards the the AP's insane position on copyright. I require no license to quote Jefferson. The AP has no right to stop me, no right to demand money from me. All their application does is count words to calculate a fee. It doesn't even check that the words come from the story being "quoted."

The AP Will Sell You a "License" to Words It Doesn't Own (Thanks, James!)

Cash for Clunkers

Trilateral Member Hormats nominated to State Department

by Patrick Wood

On July 18, 2009, another Trilateral Commission member has been nominated to a strategic post in the Obama administration, bringing the total number of Obama's Trilateral appointees to twelve.

Robert Hormats, vice-chairman of Goldman Sachs, has been nominated by President Obama to be an Undersecretary of State for Economic, Energy and Agriculture. His Senate confirmation is expected to proceed without incident.



Ghost Letters: Opponents Of Clean Energy Reform Send Fake Letters To Sen. Conrad

astoturfLast week, ThinkProgress reported that a DC-based lobbying firm was caught forging letters to Rep. Tom Periello (D-VA) in opposition to the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill. The company, Bonner & Associates, has a decades-long history of "astroturfing" –- misrepresenting corporate-backed policy as a real grassroots movement. ThinkProgress just received a letter indicating that more anti-clean energy letter forgeries may be out there.

Joseph Richardson received a letter from Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND) in reply to a letter that he never sent:


Richardson never wrote such a letter, and he never would. Calling himself a "vocal member" of the North Dakota Alliance for Renewable Energy, Richardson told ThinkProgress that he is an ACES supporter and even wrote a letter to Rep. Earl Pomeroy (D-ND) calling on the congressman to support clean energy reform.

The forged letter was likely a result of astroturfing. Conrad's letter was delivered to an out-of-date address that Richardson hadn't used for months. According to Richardson, Conrad's office is currently in the process of tracking down the original letter they received. See the full letter Senator Conrad's office sent to Richardson.

This latest news joins an evolving series of dishonest tactics from opponents of clean energy reform. On Friday, a former Bonner & Associates employee told Talking Points Memo that extreme managerial pressure at Bonner is par for the course, and inevitably leads to these desperate measures. According to the article:

[The former employee] portray[ed] Bonner and Associates as a place where ethical missteps were far from rare. "They just got caught this time," he said.

A note to the astroturf groups: next time you decide to forge a letter, try doing a Google search to make sure your target hasn't publicly stated their opposition to your agenda.


VIDEO: Is Israel Guilty of Piracy off the Coast of Gaza


Is Israel guilty of piracy? Watch the video and decide for yourself how many international and maritime laws Israel has broken. The Israeli navy hijacked the Spirit of Humanity in international waters. The Israeli government hijacks Palestinian fishing boats, in Palestinian territorial waters, kidnaps the fishermen, and sends its military out to shoot to wound and kill them as they struggle to make a living. After watching this video, you will be convinced that Israel has committed acts of piracy against Palestinians and against internationals. No other country would be allowed to do what Israel does on a daily basis.

The International Solidarity Movement (ISM) volunteers were accompanying fishermen to document attacks on them by the Israeli Navy, and to provide a deterrence to these attacks. (www.palsolidarity.org)
For more information and current reports about Gaza fishermen: fishingunderfire.blogspot.com


What's so great about private health insurance?

The bloody battle in Congress over a 'public option' ignores the insurers' role in creating the nation's healthcare crisis and their efforts to throttle reform.
by Michael Hiltzik
Throughout the heroic struggle in Congress to provide a "public option" in health insurance, one question never seems to get answered: Why are we so intent on protecting the private option?

The "public option," as followers of the debate know, is a government-sponsored health plan that would be available as an alternative to, and in competition with, the for-profit health insurance industry, otherwise known as the private option.
On Friday, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce narrowly passed a reform bill incorporating a public option resembling Medicare. It was a bloody fight among members of Congress, some of whom believe that the public option will give the government unwarranted power over healthcare, and all of whom enjoy government-provided healthcare that's a lot better than what most of us get.

But the battle is just beginning. After the committee vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi warned that the health insurance industry will conduct a "shock and awe" campaign to kill the public option when Congress returns from vacation in September and starts debating the measure. We can expect to be overwhelmed with an industry ad campaign worth millions of dollars (remember Harry and Louise?) exhorting us to write our lawmakers to preserve the American way of healthcare.

So it's proper to remind ourselves what that American way entails. For if the insurers have proved anything over the last 15 years as the health crisis has gathered speed like an avalanche roaring downhill, it's that they're part of the problem, not the solution.

The firms take billions of dollars out of the U.S. healthcare wallet as profits, while imposing enormous administrative costs on doctors, hospitals, employers and patients. They've introduced complexity into the system at every level. Your doctor has to fight them to get approval for the treatment he or she thinks is best for you. Your hospital has to fight them for approval for every day you're laid up. Then they have to fight them to get their bills paid, and you do too.

One Wendell Potter reminded a Senate committee in June that health insurance executives had assured Congress in 1993 that they would work to secure universal medical coverage and end denials of coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. Then they moved heaven and earth to kill reform.

Torturing Children: Bush's Legacy and Democracy's Failure

by Henry A. Giroux

Adult kicking child.
The torture of children under the Bush administration has gone relatively unpublicized. (Photo: thepeoplesvoice.org)

    This is an excerpt from Henry A. Giroux's forthcoming book, "Hearts of Darkness: Torturing Children in the War on Terror," to be published by Paradigm Publishers.

    Nowhere is there a more disturbing, if not horrifying, example of the relationship between a culture of cruelty and the politics of irresponsibility than in the resounding silence that surrounds the torture of children under the presidency of George W. Bush - and the equal moral and political failure of the Obama administration to address and rectify the conditions that made it possible. But if we are to draw out the dark and hidden parameters of such crimes, they must be made visible so men and women can once again refuse to orphan the law, justice, and morality. How we deal with the issue of state terrorism and its complicity with the torture of children will determine not merely the conditions under which we are willing to live, but whether we will live in a society in which moral responsibility disappears altogether and whether we will come to find ourselves living under a democratic or authoritarian social order. This is not merely a political and ethical matter, but also a matter of how we take seriously the task of educating ourselves more critically in the future.

    We haven't always looked away. When Emmett Till's battered, brutalized, and broken fourteen-year-old body was open to public viewing in Chicago after he was murdered in Mississippi in 1955, his mother refused to have him interred in a closed casket. His mutilated and swollen head, his face disfigured and missing an eye, made him unrecognizable as the young, handsome boy he once was. The torture, humiliation, and pain this innocent African-American youth endured at the hands of white racists was transformed into a sense of collective outrage and pain, and helped launch the Civil Rights movement. Torture when inflicted on children becomes indefensible. Even among those who believe that torture is a defensible practice to extract information, the case for inflicting pain and abuse upon children proves impossible to support. The image of young children being subjected to prolonged standing, handcuffed to the top of a cell door, doused with cold water, raped, and shocked with electrodes boggles the mind. Corrupting and degenerate practices, such despicable acts also reveal the utter moral depravity underlying the rationales used to defend torture as a viable war tactic. There is an undeniable pathological outcome when the issue of national security becomes more important than the survival of morality itself, resulting in some cases in the deaths of thousands of children - and with little public outrage. For instance, Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, appearing on the national television program "60 Minutes" in 1996 was asked by Leslie Stahl for her reaction to the killing of half a million Iraqi children in five years as a result of the U.S. blockade. Stahl pointedly asked her, "We have heard that a half million children have died. I mean, that's more children than died in Hiroshima. And, you know, is the price worth it?" Albright replied, "I think this is a very hard choice, but the price - we think the price is worth it."(1) The comment was barely reported in the mainstream media and produced no outrage among the American public. As Rahul Mahajan points out, "The inference that Albright and the terrorists may have shared a common rationale - a belief that the deaths of thousands of innocents are a price worth paying to achieve one's political ends - does not seem to be one that can be made in the U.S. mass media."(2) More recently, Michael Haas has argued that in spite of the ample evidence that the United States has both detained and abused what may be hundreds of children in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantánamo, there has been almost no public debate about the issue and precious few calls for prosecuting those responsible for the torture. He writes:

The mistreatment of children is something not so funny that has been neglected on the road to investigations of and calls for prosecution of those responsible for torture. George W. Bush has never been asked about the abuse of children in American-run prisons in the "war on terror." It is high time for Bush and others to be held accountable for what is arguably the most egregious of all their war crimes - the abuse and death of children, who should never have been arrested in the first place. The best kept secret of the Bush's war crimes is that thousands of children have been imprisoned, tortured, and otherwise denied rights under the Geneva Conventions and related international agreements. Yet both Congress and the media have strangely failed to identify the very existence of child prisoners as a war crime.(3)

    While it is difficult to confirm how many children have actually been detained, sexually abused, and tortured by the Bush administration, there is ample evidence that such practices have taken place not only from the accounts of numerous journalists but also in a number of legal reports. One of the most profoundly disturbing and documented cases of the torture of a child in the custody of U.S. forces is that of Mohammed Jawad, who was captured in Afghanistan after he allegedly threw a hand grenade at a military vehicle that injured an Afghan interpreter and two U.S. soldiers. He was immediately arrested by the local Afghan police, who tortured him and consequently elicited a confession from him. An Afghan Attorney General in a letter to the U.S. government claimed that Jawad was 12 years-old when captured, indicating that he was still in primary school, though other sources claim he was around 15 or 16.(4) Jawad denies the charges made by the Afghan police, claiming that "they tortured me. They beat me. They beat me a lot. One person told me, 'If you don't confess, they are going to kill you.' So, I told them anything they wanted to hear."(5)


Really long delays

Hope for Health Reform? Push Single-Payer Now

It is unsettling to listen as President Obama and House Speaker Pelosi talk up a health-care reform "plan" that has yet to take shape in any realistic form.

The vagueness on the part of the president and the speaker is, of course, intentional.

Obama and Pelosi are still pushing the notion that they can get some version of their public-private stew cooked up before the year is done -- although not, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, before the president and the Congress take the extended summer vacations that will kill whatever sense of official urgency might have existed.

Reid has taken some hits for suggesting that it would be a good idea to try and get health-care reform right, rather than just rush through a plan that fails to cover all Americans or control costs.

But that requires details. And neither Obama nor Pelosi is dealing in details right now because that's where the devil resides.

Here is the truth they tend to avoid mentioning: A robust public plan, with the quality and flexibility that is required to make it appealing to all Americans, would wipe out its insurance-industry competitors in short order. Why would anyone opt for more of the profiteering, restrictions and actual denials of needed treatment -- especially for people with pre-existing conditions -- that the insurance industry uses to make money rather than provide Americans with the medical care they require? And why would any employer choose to subsidize the stock value of health-care conglomerates when it is possible to opt for the better care and controlled costs of a public plan?

Unfortunately, the creation of a robust public plan, one that can compete on the basis of quality and affordability, will require a significant federal expenditure in the form of start-up money as well as regulatory protection for the program. That's where the devil comes in.

The powerful insurance and private health-care lobbies, which fear honest competition as the vampire does the stake, are going to do everything in their power to accomplish three things:

1. Scare Americans with hypocritical talk about the hefty price-tag for getting a robust public plan off the ground.

2. Undermine the structural supports for a public plan so that it cannot compete -- effectively turning it into a sub-standard "alternative" that will appeal only to those who have no other options.

3. Fiddle with the overall "reform" so that most of the taxpayer money that is expended streams into the accounts of private firms.

In the state of confusion created the industry's lobbying and advertising campaigns, chances are that the scaremongers and the profiteers will come out ahead.

They usually do.


Recalcitrant Blue Dogs Raked In Health Industry Cash

Blue DogsThe seven Blue Dog Democrats holding up health care reform legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee have received tens of thousands more dollars from health and insurance interests than other Democrats on the same committee, a new report finds.

An analysis of campaign finance data by the Public Campaign Action Fund finds a fairly strong correlation between private industry donations and opposition to health care reform. Lawmakers in both the House and Senate who voted against proposed legislation this congressional cycle, the report found, received roughly 65 percent more money from health and insurance interests than those who supported the bills.

When it came to the Blue Dogs in particular, that data showed that the seven members who sit on the Energy and Commerce Committee -- Reps. Mike Ross (Ark.), Baron Hill (Ind.), Charlie Melancon (La.), Jim Matheson (Utah), John Barrow (Ga.), Bart Gordon (Tenn.) and Zach Space (Ohio) -- have received, on average, $711,828 from the health and insurance sectors. Other Democrats on the committee, by contrast, have received an average of $628,023.

Not all the Blue Dogs partook at such high levels. Space, for instance, has raised only slightly more than $200,000 from those two sectors, according to Public Campaign Action Fund. But on the whole, these self-proclaimed fiscal conservatives have found their coffers filled by the industries over which they now have massive legislative sway. Gordon has received more than $1.4 million in donations; Matheson got slightly more than $1 million. Ross, who is leading the Blue Dog negotiations, took in more than $980,000.

In the world of campaign finance, it is almost always the case that money follows power. And on the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Blue Dogs have carved out a powerful niche for themselves through their willingness to buck the party leadership. In recent weeks, the seven members of the committee have held up the passage of health care reform legislation by demanding further negotiations and compromises on measures they say would contain costs. In short order, they have become the crucial votes for health care in the House.


National health care