Saturday, April 25, 2015

Transformative Drones

This “uncomfortable truth” has been obvious for so long. So often, the U.S. government shoots missiles at buildings, cars and homes outside of “battlefields” without having any idea who it will kill. Despite this fact — that not even the government itself knows who it is killing — the U.S. media routinely and reflexively describes victims of U.S. drone strikes as “militants.”


How can people killed by the U.S. government regularly be described as “militants” or “terrorists” when nobody has any idea who they are?


Foreign Muslims are so dehumanized, so invisible, that they are just equated with Evil Threats even when nothing is known about them. Indeed, Obama officially re-defined the term “combatant” to mean “all military-age males in a strike zone.” In other words, as The New York Times reported in 2011, all males between 18 and (roughly) 54 killed by U.S. drones are presumed to be combatants — terrorists — “unless there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent.” That mentality is the ultimate in dehumanization.

  Glenn Greenwald

Fast Track to Banana Republic

In a move that elicited a collective groan from virtually all of progressive America, the Obama administration and congressional Republicans reached a deal on April 16 on so-called “fast track” trade authority. This is the legislation needed to ram new trade agreements through the U.S. Congress with limited debate and no amendments.


The bill lays out trade policy objectives that elevate the narrow interests of large corporations and undercut efforts to support good jobs, the environment, and financial stability.

Nowhere is this corporate bias more explicit than in the “investor-state” dispute settlement mechanism. In fact it would be hard to find in any U.S. policy a stronger example of excessive power granted to large corporations. Under this mechanism, private foreign investors are allowed to sue governments in international tribunals over actions—including public interest regulations— that reduce the value of their investments.


You would think the proliferation of such “investor-state” suits in recent years would give policymakers pause. Here we are, for example, in the middle of the climate crisis, and yet investors are allowed to sue governments over policies to encourage renewable energy. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, we have a case against Germany over their decision to phase out nuclear power. And at a time when tobacco-related health costs total about half a trillion dollars per year, Philip Morris is suing the governments of Australia and Uruguay over anti-smoking laws.

What I find particularly galling is that in the wake of the financial crisis, we still have trade agreements that allow private investors to sue governments if they use policies called capital controls to deal with destabilizing hot money flows. Good grief, it was back in the aftermath of the 1990s global financial crisis that reasonable people started pointing out the foolishness of such policies.

  War Times
But “people” don’t run things.
On a conference call with a small group of reporters, President Obama significantly intensified his criticism of Elizabeth Warren and other opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, accusing them of being “dishonest” about the secrecy around the TPP process, suggesting they were playing to their “fundraising” lists, and arguing flatly that they were using “misinformation that stirs up the base but doesn’t serve them well.”


“The one that gets on my nerves the most is the notion that this is a ‘secret’ deal,” Obama said. “Every single one of the critics who I hear saying, ‘this is a secret deal,’ or send out emails to their fundraising base saying they’re working to prevent this secret deal, can walk over today and read the text of the agreement. There’s nothing secret about it.”


Obama allowed that some parts of the deal cannot currently be read, but argued that allowing those portions that have not yet been finalized to receive public exposure could undermine ongoing negotiations.

  Greg Sargent
But that’s not secret. I wonder what secret means.
Obama actually said that there are “brackets” for parts of it that are not finalized, meaning that those parts don’t actually exist yet.
TBA. After it’s done.
How can anyone with even a pretense of being "progressive" look at economic issues we face -- most of them tied to raging plutocracy - and say, "you know, what we REALLY need to do now is push a corporate agenda of fast tracking "free" trade deals"?

The fact that Obama has made TPP his key 2nd term economic priority says one (or both) of two things -- and I don't know which is worse.
Either Obama and his administration never had the slightest intention of doing anything other than push a corporate economic agenda, or they've gotten behind TPP because they think it's a get, a doable deal -- something to add to list of presidential accomplishments.

Either motive would be depressing, but in some ways 2nd one would almost be worse: Careerism as Obama's only real authentic ideology.

  Billmon Twitter
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

(And I think that's a fair assessment of what Obama is all about.)

The Annual White House Whores' Respondent Dinner

President Obama has chosen to operate his drone war in such unprecedented, absurd and arguably illegal secrecy that even in a rare burst of compelled transparency yesterday, neither he nor his press secretary could actually bring themselves to say the word “drone.”

Over and over again, Obama called the drone strike that killed two al Qaeda hostages a “counterterrorism operation.”

  Dan Froomkin
I don’t think it’s the secrecy as much as it is the embarrassment. At the previous correspondents’ dinner, he was all jock about it. Got laughs. Has had a good deal of bad press about the program since then. Especially recently, after killing two “white” hostages.  Eg...

The use of drones and cyberattacks mean you can have secret wars now. But secret wars and democracy don’t go together. One has to go.
Guess which.

...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Oopsie (Again)

This morning, the White House disclosed that a January 2015 drone strike, conducted in Pakistan by the CIA with the intention of taking out an al Qaeda compound, resulted in the deaths of two al Qaeda hostages who were not known to have been in the line of fire at the time of the attack. "The killing of American development expert Warren Weinstein and Italian aid worker Giovanni Lo Porto is the first known instance in which the U.S. has accidentally killed a hostage in a drone strike," Wall Street Journal's Adam Entous reported Thursday.

Really? The first? I’m feeling skeptical, but not energetic enough to research. I do think my skepticism is warranted, however, since more often than not (approaching always), we don’t even know WHO was in range of our drones when they landed.
President Barack Obama held a brief press conference Thursday morning following a statement released by the White House, which described the incident as a "uniquely tragic situation."
Well, now, that IS bullshit. There’s nothing unique about the tragedy of THIS drone strike.
Obama told reporters that he was taking "full responsibility" for what happened, and offered his "profound regrets" and "deepest apologies" to the families of Weinstein and Lo Porto.
More bullshit, but typical of American politicos…”I’m taking full responsibility” means “I said I was sorry, what more do you want?”
This particular mission, greenlit by the CIA without the president "directly sign[ing] off on the strike beforehand," according to reports, will be declassified. During the press conference, Obama signaled his commitment to "identify[ing] the lessons that can be learned from this tragedy."
We’ve been told that Obama personally signs off on all strikes to kill. Now, when one could be a national media disaster for him, it seems he doesn’t.
It's not that a perfect program finally slipped up. Rather, a program that has killed somewhere between 400 and 1000 civilians in Pakistan alone finally killed an American civilian, to whom no wrongdoing can be even tangentially attributed.


And this "signature" strike, carried out on January 23, 2009, was actually the successful one of two that occurred on the same day. As Newsweek's Daniel Klaidman reported, here's what happened a little later:
Weinstein and Lo Porta won't be the last innocent people to meet their untimely end in this fashion, but the next innocent people to die probably won't end up meriting a special press conference and investigation into what went wrong.
Nor did the last who knows how many.
According to the U.S. theory, insurgents can be identified from above merely by the nature of their movements. A convoy of Toyotas with guys in the beds carrying guns presents a certain signature on the ground, tipping off a drone operator that bad guys are coalescing. We strike them without knowing their names, their affiliations, their motives, or sometimes anything more than where they were walking or driving.

That helps explain why we see so many wedding convoys and parties accidentally bombed. Pro-tip for the CIA: Insurgents operating in areas known to be under the eye of U.S. drones tend not to travel in long convoys, because being a fundamentalist militant does not always mean you're an idiot, too.
...but hey, do what you will anyway.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

The First Same-Sex Marriage Licenses: 1975, Boulder, Colorado

In 1975, Boulder County, Colo., clerk Clela Rorex issued the first same-sex marriage licenses in the United States. In this excerpt from the documentary "Limited Partnership," Rorex describes what led her to make the decision and reunites decades later with one of the couples, Richard Adams and Anthony Sullivan. The full documentary airs on PBS's "Independent Lens" on June 15, 2015. (Independent Television Service)


[One] license shows that Anthony Corbett Sullivan and Richard Frank Adams were married April 21, 1975, in Boulder, Colo., years before others thought two men should be allowed to wed and decades before a majority of Americans would say it was okay with them, too.

Mr. Sullivan, now 73 years old, also has a letter from the US immigration service…
... the official response from the U.S. government after Adams informed officials of his nuptials and asked that his new husband, an Australian citizen facing deportation, be extended a spouse’s visa.

Denied, the immigration service said, for the following reason:
You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots.

The denial sparked a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, and the eventual “exile” of the two men.[...]

The judge who wrote the final word on whether Sullivan and Adams could stay together in the United States or be forced to strike out in search of a country that would take them was Anthony M. Kennedy, then a circuit judge and now the Supreme Court’s pivotal justice on gay rights.

 An interesting story – remarkable people. Read it here. ...but hey, do what you will anyway.

We Don't Concern Ourselves with Laws - Domestic Version

Of 28 examiners with the FBI Laboratory’s microscopic hair comparison unit, 26 overstated forensic matches in ways that favored prosecutors in more than 95 percent of the 268 trials reviewed so far, according to the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


The cases include those of 32 defendants sentenced to death. Of those, 14 have been executed or died in prison.


The FBI errors alone do not mean there was not other evidence of a convict’s guilt. Defendants and federal and state prosecutors in 46 states and the District are being notified to determine whether there are grounds for appeals. Four defendants were previously exonerated.


In a statement, the FBI and Justice Department vowed to continue to devote resources to address all cases and said they “are committed to ensuring that affected defendants are notified of past errors and that justice is done in every instance. The Department and the FBI are also committed to ensuring the accuracy of future hair analysis, as well as the application of all disciplines of forensic science.”

Because they have a proven record of commitment to justice, right?

...but hey, do what you will anyway.