Category: Barack Obama

Court Upholds Obama’s Power to Kill

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

We have gone down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass.

“Off With His Head”: Court Upholds Obama’s Power to Kill



Full transcript can be read here

Joining us now is Michael Ratner. Michael is the president emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, the attorney for Julian Assange, and president of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights. He’s also a board member for The Real News. [..]

Michael Ratner: [..] In a chilling ruling this federal judge in this federal district court dismissed the case. And the key language from that opinion is: the government must be trusted. I want to repeat that: the judge said the government must be trusted. And here’s the exact quote: “Defendants must be trusted and expected to act in accordance with the U.S. Constitution when they intentionally target a U.S. citizen abroad at the direction of the president and with the concurrence of Congress. It’s a really outrageous ruling. The president kills whom he pleases, just so Congress is given broad authority for the president to determine who the enemy is.

It’s an utter abdication by the court. It gives up on the so-called checks and balances we all learned as schoolchildren. It ends, actually, a key principle of the Magna Carta, which is the American and British charter of liberties, which was actually ratified or signed by King John in the year 1215. We’re coming up to the 800th anniversary. So what this court ruling does, what the president’s action does do is overturn 800 years of constitutional history.

Courts are supposed to be a buffer between what was the absolute power of kings and the people. We no longer have the rule of law; we have the rule of the king. In other words, we have the syndrome of “off with his head”.

Drone killings case thrown out in US

Judge dismisses lawsuit over death of Anwar al-Awlaki and two others in Yemen, saying it is a matter for Congress

The families of the three – including Anwar al-Awlaki, a New Mexico-born militant Muslim cleric who had joined al-Qaida’s Yemen affiliate, as well as his teenage son – sued over their 2011 deaths in US drone strikes, arguing that the killings were illegal.

Judge Rosemary Collyer of the US district court in Washington threw out the case, which had named as defendants the former defence secretary and CIA chief Leon Panetta, the former senior military commander and CIA chief David Petraeus and two other top military commanders.

“The question presented is whether federal officials can be held personally liable for their roles in drone strikes abroad that target and kill U.S. citizens,” Collyer said in her opinion. “The question raises fundamental issues regarding constitutional principles and it is not easy to answer.”

But the judge said she would grant the government’s motion to dismiss the case.

Part of Torture Report To Be Released, Someday

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The Senate Intelligence Committee voted on Thursday. by 11 – 3, to declassify portions of a study into the Central Intelligence Agency’s use of torture on detainees suspected of being involved in terrorism.

CIA officers subjected some terrorism suspects the agency held after the Sept. 11 attacks to interrogation methods that were not approved by either the Justice Department or their own headquarters and illegally detained 26 of the 119 in CIA custody, the Senate Intelligence Committee has concluded in its still-secret report, McClatchy has learned.

The spy agency program’s reliance on brutal techniques _ much more abusive than previously known _ and its failure to gather valuable information from the detainees harmed the U.S.’s credibility, according to the committee’s findings in its scathing 6,300-page report on the CIA’s interrogation and detention program.

The agency also repeatedly misled the Justice Department while stymieing Congress’ and the White House’s efforts to oversee the secret and now-defunct program, McClatchy has learned.

In all, the committee came to 20 conclusions about the CIA’s harsh interrogation tactics after spending six years and $40 million evaluating the controversial program, which began during the Bush administration. [..]

The finding that 26 detainees were held without legal authorization and the confirmation that the CIA in some cases went beyond the techniques approved by the Justice Department might fuel legal challenges.

The committee may have approved the partial release but have deferred to the president to decide just what will be made public and when.

It’s unclear, however, precisely how the declassification process will unfold. The White House could directly oversee what should be released, given the tensions between the committee and the CIA over the report. Or the White House could cede even more control to the CIA, which could mean more details will be kept under wraps. [..]

Caitlin Hayden, a spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said the administration’s position “remains that the executive summary and the findings and conclusions of the final RDI (Rendition Detention and Interrogation) report should be declassified, with any appropriate redactions necessary to protect national security.”

She said she wouldn’t speculate on a timeframe for declassifying something the White House hasn’t yet received. Some expect the process to take months. [..]

Last week, Brennan indicated the agency’s direct involvement, saying that the “CIA will carry out the review expeditiously” once the committee sends it to the executive branch. [..]

The White House has been more involved than publicly acknowledged, however. For five years, the White House has been withholding more than 9,000 top-secret documents sought by the committee for its investigation, even though Obama hasn’t exercised a claim of executive privilege, McClatchy has reported.

Let’s be very clear what this is report reveals and some of the facts.

These are not state secrets. The report is an extensive investigation into the illegal activities of the CIA post 9/11. These are crimes against the state and humanity that the current Justice Department has refused to prosecute. Torture is a war crime.

The Senate does not need the President of the United States to make them public.

These are the facts about the CIA’s torture program and the executive branch cover up that has done more to disgrace this country and undermine the credibility, integrity, the laws and Constitution. Do no forget that as the Senate and the President continue this macabre dance to cover up these crimes.  

While I agree with Marcy Wheeler and others that those who voted to release that portion of the report deserves credit and is a step in the right direction,I will be greatly surprised if any part of the 6300 pages sees the light of day. Nor will any of those who authorized, justified, ordered or committed the crimes of torturing countless prisoners ever be brought to justice. The days of courageous acts like Senator Mike Gravel are long gone. The cover up will continue. That will be one of the blackest marks on the country, ever.

The War on the First Amendment Has Gone Global

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The war on media was inspired by America and encouraged by Barack Obama. Obama rocks. Not

Egypt’s al-Jazeera trial was inspired by America’s global war on journalism

   From a War on Terror to a war on leaks, now comes America’s shadow influence on a media crackdown

   Ten years ago, the United States also justified its detention of al-Jazeera journalists by claiming a “national security threat”. These arrests could not be cloaked as mere collateral damage in a messy war. The US, then as Egypt does now, made leaping connections between the news network and militants, and specifically targeted those whose coverage did not serve the military’s objectives: Dick Cheney warned that al-Jazeera risked being “labeled as ‘Osama’s outlet to the world‘”; Donald Rumsfeld called the network’s coverage of the Iraq war “vicious, inaccurate, inexcusable”.

   Over the next several years, US forces arrested and detained al-Jazeera journalists like Sami al Hajj and Salah Hasan Nusaif Jasim al Ejaili. US military forces captured both in separate instances while they were doing their jobs, and tortured them while attempting to establish ties between al-Jazeera and al-Qaida. Neither al Hajj nor al Ejaili received justice for their wrongful detention. After seven years of imprisonment in Guantanamo Bay, the US government released al Hajj to Sudanese authorities, without any reparations. Meanwhile al Ejaili, who was detained at Abu Ghraib, brought a case with other victims against the private military contractor at the prison, alleging it conspired to commit torture and war crimes. But the case was dismissed by the district court. The court perversely ordered al Ejaili and other plaintiffs to pay their alleged torturers for the cost of the suit. The case is pending on appeal.

   The reverberations of this misguided War on Terror continue, even if the war has shifted: the Obama administration has famously invoked the Espionage Act more than any other American president, attempting to control press leaks with tactics a report found to be “the most aggressive … since the Nixon administration“.

Ukraine Crisis

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

If you’ve turned on your television, the radio or read any on line news, you know there was a revolution in the Ukraine that overturned the government of Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych refused to step down, even after he was removed by the Parliament and a warrant for his arrest was issued for the deaths of protesters when the police used snipers to kill unarmed demonstrators in Kiev. Yanukovych disappeared showing up in Russia where Russian President Vladimir Putin declared the deposal of Yanukovych an unconstitutional coup d’etat, On Friday, Putin sent troops into Ukrainian Peninsula of Crimea and blockading the Black Sea deep water port of Sevastopol. The UN Security Council met at the New York City headquarters yesterday and NATO will meet for the second time in three day in Brussels at the request of member nation Poland that shares a border with Ukraine.

Crimea crisis: Putin rules out war but will use force ‘as last resort’

• We will not go to war with the Ukrainian people, says Putin

• Claims ousting of Ukrainian president was ‘coup d’état’

• Yanukovych ‘still legitimate head of state’

• Pro-Russian troops and Ukrainian soldiers in tense standoff

Vladimir Putin ruled out war with Ukraine on Tuesday, but also reserved the right to use force “as a last resort” days after his forces took control of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

Breaking his silence for the first time since the revolution in Ukraine toppled Viktor Yanukovych, Putin denounced the takeover as an unconstitutional coup d’etat, insisted Yanukovych was still the legitimate head of state, although he declared him politically dead, and said he would not recognise presidential elections being held in Ukraine at the end of May.

Putin emphasised that Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine, or of annexing territory. But he also kept his options open by claiming Yanukovych had written a letter asking for Russian help.

It appeared that Putin was also seeking to send signals to the west, keen to ward off growing US-led pressure for sanctions against his regime and to sow divisions among the Europeans who are economically much more engaged in Russia than the Americans.

He also warned that sanctions were a two-way street that would effect those applying them.

Kerry, Arriving in Kiev, Offers $1 Billion in Loan Guarantees to Ukraine

KIEV, Ukraine – In a demonstration of support for Ukraine’s fledgling government, Secretary of State John Kerry arrived here on Tuesday with an offer of $1 billion in American loan guarantees and pledges of technical assistance, a senior State Department official said on Tuesday.

The purpose of the loan guarantee is to support Ukraine’s efforts to integrate with the West and to help offset the reduction of energy subsidies from Russia, which has challenged the new government’s legitimacy and occupied the Crimean Peninsula.

The United States will also send technical experts to help Ukraine’s national bank and finance ministry, provide advice on how to fight corruption and train election monitors to help establish the legitimacy of Ukraine’s coming election.

As Prime Russian Trading Partner, Germany Appears Crucial to Ending Crisis

In the face of the diplomatic maneuvering over how to confront a bellicose Russia in Ukraine, one country appears to hold the key to any long-lasting entente: Germany, Europe’s economic powerhouse and one of Russia’s primary trading partners.

Whether it is importing fuel from Gazprom or selling Mercedes-Benz to billionaire oligarchs, trade with Russia has played an important role in Germany’s emergence as an economic superpower over the last decade. Germany is now heavily reliant on Russia for its energy needs, importing more natural gas from Russia than any other country in Europe.

But Germany’s enhanced status on the world stage – combined with the end of the commodity boom and the onset of economic stagnation in Russia – has also shifted the balance of power. Some analysts argue that it is Russia that has the most to lose if economic sanctions are ever imposed.

This dynamic could offer insight into the role that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, will play in any negotiations with the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin.

Timothy Snyder, professor of history at Yale University and Ray McGovern, activist and former senior CIA analyst joined Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! to discuss the crisis and who is provoking the unrest.

Russia is vowing to keep its troops in the Ukrainian region of Crimea in what has become Moscow’s biggest confrontation with the West since the Cold War. Ukraine’s new prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had effectively declared war on his country. Concern is growing that more of eastern Ukraine could soon fall to the Russians. Earlier today, Russian troops seized a Ukraine coast guard base in the Crimean city of Balaklava. On Sunday, the new head of Ukraine’s navy defected to Russia



Transcript can be read here

The Free Press is Dying in the US

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The group that monitors attacks on freedom of information worldwide, Reporters Without Borders, released in 2014 Free Press Index which rates the decline of the free press in countries around the world. Not unsurprisingly, the United States dropped 13 spots from last year, now ranking just 46th among 180 countries, between Romania and Haiti. RWB lays that blame at the feet of President Barack Obama and his Attorney General Eric Holder:

In the United States (46th, -13), the hunt for leaks and whistleblowers serves as a warning to those thinking of satisfying a public interest need for information about the imperial prerogatives assumed by the world’s leading power.

The group is calling on the United Nations to monitor how member states meet their obligations to protect reporters. See the World Press Freedom Index and the 3-dimensional map “freedom of the press worldwide”

The Obama administration also came under attack by the Committee to Protect Journalists for aggressive leak prosecutions, secret subpoenas, surveillance and its marked lack of transparency and access:

Press freedom in the United States dramatically deteriorated in 2013, a special report by CPJ found.

The Obama administration’s policy of prosecuting officials who leak classified information to the press intensified with the sentencing of Chelsea Manning (then known as Pvt. Bradley Manning) to 35 years in prison and the indictment of NSA consultant Edward Snowden.

As part of its investigations into earlier leaks, the Justice Department revealed it had secretly subpoenaed the phone records of nearly two dozen Associated Press telephone lines and the emails and phone records of Fox News reporter James Rosen. The two cases, and language in the Rosen subpoena that suggested the journalist could be criminally charged for receiving the information, provoked widespread criticism. The backlash resulted in the drafting of revised Justice Department guidelines on press subpoenas and a renewed debate in the Senate of a federal shield law that would allow journalists greater protection for their sources.

As the debate moved forward in the Senate, a federal appeals court rejected an appeal by New York Times reporter James Risen in his long-term effort to protect a confidential source, setting up a likely Supreme Court showdown.

Snowden’s leak of a still unknown quantity of classified information on secret surveillance programs spurred both a national and international outcry and, after a report that Al-Jazeera’s communications had allegedly been spied on, caused journalists to fear even more for their sources. The secrecy surrounding the surveillance programs echoed a pervasive lack of transparency and openness across government agencies where, despite President Barack Obama’s promise to head the most open government in history, officials routinely refused to talk to the press or approve Freedom of Information Act requests.

Journalists faced limitations covering national security-related trials, in cases of alleged terrorism at Guantánamo Bay and in the court-martial of Manning in Virginia.

Delphine Halgand, U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders, joined [Democracy Now! ]’s Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaikh to discuss the decline of the free press and the safety of journalists.

Obama Targets Another American for Assassination by Drone

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

On September 30, 2011, President Barack Obama authorized the assassination of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen by virtue of his birth in New Mexico in 1971, by an American drone in Yemen along with another U.S. citizen, Samir Khan, who grew up in New York City and Charlotte, North Carolina. Two weeks later, Awlaki’s 16-year-old son, Abdulrahman, was killed by another US strike in Yemen. Jude Kenan Mohammad, alleged to have at one stage been part of an eight-man terror cell in North Carolina, was killed by a US drone strike in Pakistan later in 2011. These assassinations made Barack Obama the first president known president to have authorized the assassination of a US citizen.

Now, as was reported by the Associated Press, Pres. Obama is trying to find a way to legally justify the assassination of another American citizen living in Pakistan. The target has been accused, without evidence, of plotting attacks against America with Al Qaeda:

The CIA drones watching him cannot strike, because he’s a US citizen and the Justice Department must build a case against him, a task it hasn’t completed.

Four US officials said the American suspected terrorist is in a country that refuses US military action on its soil and that has proved unable to go after him. And President Obama’s new policy says American suspected terrorists overseas can only be killed by the military, not the CIA, creating a policy conundrum for the White House. [..]

Under new guidelines Obama addressed in a speech last year to calm anger overseas at the extent of the US drone campaign, lethal force must only be used “to prevent or stop attacks against US persons, and even then, only when capture is not feasible and no other reasonable alternatives exist to address the threat effectively.” The target must also pose “a continuing, imminent threat to US persons” – the legal definition of catching someone in the act of plotting a lethal attack.

Co-founders of the new digital magazine Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald discuss the issue of another American being targeted for assassination with [Democracy Now! ]’s Amy Goodman.

While the Associated Press had agreed to keep the name and location of Pres. Obama’s latest target, his location was disclosed by the Los Angeles Times.

Why should we, as Americans, accept that the Executive Branch can act as judge, jury and executioner without a trial in a duly recognized court of law? Where is any evidence that this person is a threat or even doing what the Obama administration charges are his alleged crimes? At FDL Dissenter, Kevin Gosztola asks why should a news organization should conceal the target’s identity and location for an administration that has touted greater transparency:

Knowing where he is currently located would help one understand this story appropriately. So, in what country would certain officials like to be able to launch an attack? [..]

It seems reasonable to question this decision by the AP to not publish. The decision bears a distinct similarity to refusing to print that a secret drone base is located in a certain country when covering the issue of drones, which US media organizations have previously done.

If it is illegal to add the person to a list and the government cannot come up with a legal way to launch a US military attack because the country opposes it, why should a media organization play the role of not “interrupting” this “ongoing counterterror operation”?

Just how many alleged American members of al Qaeda are there? This report disseminated on the Internet could now aid an “enemy” in figuring out some details on the extent to which he is being tracked and monitored for assassination in order to stop him from launching more attacks on Americans overseas. So, it would seem if AP really wants to protect counterterror operations from “interruption” they would simply not publish the story at all.

The story was given to Associated Press reporter Kimberly Dozier by four anonymous “US officials,” who were not authorized to speak, and a “senior administration official” possibly from the Department of Justice may have political undertones. Marcy Wheeler suggested that the sources may have been congressional staffers since Dozier mentioned Rep. Mike Rogers (R-MI), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, who is upset because Obama’s new guidelines would impede the assassination of another American.

Whatever the allegations are against this person, it does not legally justify the use of a drone to target an American in a sovereign country that we are not at war with or without due process. Breaking the law under the guise of protecting America from terrorist attack is not justifiable. Regardless of who is in the Oval Office, the US should be a nation of laws and respect the constitutional rights of its citizens.

Death by Metadata

Cross posted at The Stars Hollow Gazette

In their premier article for the new online magazine, The Intercept, co-founders Jeremy Scahill and Glenn Greenwald take an in-depth look at how the NSA mass surveillance plays an intrinsic role in President Barack Obama’s assassination program. In the article they reveal how the NSA is providing information that targets, not an individual, but a nameless SIM cards that have led to the deaths of innocent civilians:

According to a former drone operator for the military’s Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) who also worked with the NSA, the agency often identifies targets based on controversial metadata analysis and cell-phone tracking technologies. Rather than confirming a target’s identity with operatives or informants on the ground, the CIA or the U.S. military then orders a strike based on the activity and location of the mobile phone a person is believed to be using. [..]

In one tactic, the NSA “geolocates” the SIM card or handset of a suspected terrorist’s mobile phone, enabling the CIA and U.S. military to conduct night raids and drone strikes to kill or capture the individual in possession of the device. [..]

One problem, he explains, is that targets are increasingly aware of the NSA’s reliance on geolocating, and have moved to thwart the tactic. Some have as many as 16 different SIM cards associated with their identity within the High Value Target system. Others, unaware that their mobile phone is being targeted, lend their phone, with the SIM card in it, to friends, children, spouses and family members.

As a result, even when the agency correctly identifies and targets a SIM card belonging to a terror suspect, the phone may actually be carried by someone else, who is then killed in a strike. According to the former drone operator, the geolocation cells at the NSA that run the tracking program – known as Geo Cell – sometimes facilitate strikes without knowing whether the individual in possession of a tracked cell phone or SIM card is in fact the intended target of the strike. [..]

What’s more, he adds, the NSA often locates drone targets by analyzing the activity of a SIM card, rather than the actual content of the calls. Based on his experience, he has come to believe that the drone program amounts to little more than death by unreliable metadata.

(emphasis mine)

Jeremy and Glenn joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to discuss the NSA’s secret role in President Obama’s assassination program and, defying the threats, the launch of The Intercept.



Transcript can be read here



Transcript can be read here

KeystoneXL on Fast Track for Approval

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Stop Keystone XL photo pipelinedump_zpsbf093d9e.jpg

The Koch brothers must be thrilled. Late this afternoon, the US State Department released its environmental impact study on the Keystone XL pipeline that, if approved, will carry the dirtiest oil in the world from Canada, across the US heartland to the Gulf Coast where it will be sent to China and other foreign markets.

In the final review, the study concludes that the pipeline would have little environmental impact, and would likely have no significant effect on carbon emissions. This fits the criteria that President Barack Obama has said that he would need to approve the construction.

The State Department, in Friday’s report, essentially concluded that Keystone would have little material effect on greenhouse gas emissions and that Canada would continue to develop and ship tar sands crude with or without the pipeline. [..]

The review included models suggesting that transporting oil by rail would generate even more greenhouse gas emissions than a pipeline, and also discussed measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the pipeline. [..]

The campaign against Keystone XL has become a national movement over the last three years, with environmental activists, Nebraska landowners and hedge fund managers all coming out against the project. In 2012, Obama, under pressure from landowners concerned about underground water sources and sensitive prairie, rejected the first proposed route for the pipeline across Nebraska. [..]

The State Department had conducted two earlier environmental reviews of the project. Last March, it found that if Obama rejected the pipeline Alberta crude would go to market by rail or other pipelines. But it revisited the issue under criticism from the Environmental Protection Agency, which said the early reviews had not been broad enough.

There is one more report to be released on an investigation by the State Department Inspector General of allegations that that a contractor’s review was biased because of connections to TransCanada and the oil industry.

The accusations stem from the release of unredacted documents submitted to the State Department by Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the consultant hired to perform the environmental review. Those documents, released by Mother Jones in May, show that analysts who worked on the Keystone report had previously worked for TransCanada and “other energy companies poised to benefit from Keystone’s construction.” [..]

In July, Friends of the Earth and the Checks and Balances Project, another advocacy group, said they uncovered publicly available documents online that show TransCanada, ERM, and an ERM subsidiary have worked together at least since 2011 on a separate pipeline project in Alaska. Last week, Bloomberg Businessweek posted a 2010 document in which ERM lists TransCanada as a client.

If true, the department would have to conduct another study.

The battle to keep the grease in the ground is not over.

Sign the petition and tell President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to Protect the Earth’s Future and Stop the Keystone XL Pipeline.

NYT’s Reporter Wonders Why the President’s Approval Ratings Are So Bad

What world do the economics writer live in? It can’t be anywhere on the planet Earth, never mind the United States, especially when they write things like this:

Obama’s Puzzle: Economy Rarely Better, Approval Rarely Worse

President Obama will pronounce on the state of the union for the fifth time on Tuesday, and never during his time in office has the state of the economy been better – yet rarely has he gotten such low marks from the public for his handling of it.

Not only have economic indicators shown progress toward pre-recession health, but many forecasters are predicting what one called “a breakout year” for growth. A new study from a Federal Reserve economist even put a more benign spin on a negative trend, the shrinking labor force, by attributing the decline not to discouraged unemployed workers who have quit looking for jobs, but to the first baby-boomer retirements.

Demand for labor is up and the unemployment rate is below 7 percent for the first time since November 2008. Consumers, buoyed by rising home prices and stock values, are spending more; so are businesses. Exports are growing as Europe regains health. The fiscal drag from state and federal spending cuts has abated.

I suppose that the writer, Jackie Calmes, who covers the White house, is a very smart person but obviously not tuned into what is a happening outside the bubble of the political pages of the New York Times. Quoting one anonymous Federal Reserve economist without evidence to refute the actual numbers from the Bureau of Labor statistics is ether more spin or bad journalism, probably both. We all know that the markets and the GDP are not true indicators of how well the majority of Americans are faring economically.

However, the explanation for the negativity about the economy and not just the president’s approval ratings but those of the Congress, is simple: since the “recovery” started in June 2009, 95 percent of the income gains have gone to the richest 1 percent (pdf) of the U.S. population. For a vast number of Americans the recession never ended.

Just look at what is happening in New York City, since the drastic cuts to SNAP and unemployment benefits ended, food banks and soup kitchens have seen an increase in the number of people seeking assistance and are now running out of food

New York, NY – January 22, 2014 – New research from Food Bank For New York City reveals a majority of New York City’s food pantries and soup kitchens (85 percent) experienced an increase in the number of visitors following a $5 billion national cut to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, also known as food stamps) that took effect on November 1st, 2013. In fact, the numbers of visitors post-November 1 actually exceeded the number of visitors seen in November 2012, in the immediate aftermath of Super Storm Sandy. [..]

* 85% reported an overall increase in visitors in November 2013, as compared to November 2012, immediately following Super Storm Sandy.

* 76% of food pantries and soup kitchens saw an increase in visitors in November 2013 compared to the previous two months, with nearly half (45%) reporting considerable increases in visitor traffic of more than 25%;

* Nearly half (48%) of emergency food providers ran out of food required for meals or pantry bags, with 26% reporting having to turn people away due to insufficient food supplies;

* Nearly one quarter (23%) of food pantries and soup kitchens reported having to reduce the total number of meals they otherwise provided

  That should be setting off alarm bells in Congress and at the White House. It isn’t. Congress is now set to pass a farm bill that further cuts food assistance by another $8.8 billion dollars over 10 years but continues generous subsidies for farmers.

The president will address this inequality and need for jobs with a living wage in the State of the Union address tonight. The White House has announced that he will raise the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10 an hour by executive order. The president has also said that he has “a pen and a phone” and is going to use them. The question is, with so many Americans suffering and the middle class shrinking, what took five years? And why should anyone believe him now?

Perhaps if he started with vetoing this farm bill and taking a stand against the Republicans and the corporate Democrats who enable them, then, maybe, he’d see an improvement in his approval ratings. Another flowery speech won’t do it.

And, Ms Calmes, read something other than your own paper, you might find out what’s going on in the world outside the offices of the NYT. Better yet, check out a food kitchen or pantry.

Snowden Answers Questions

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Yesterday afternoon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden answered questions in s candid on line chat. He responded not only to questions about what he believes should be done about the massive NSA surveillance programs and the threats to his life but countered some of the spurious accusations that he acted in concert with the Russians and stole his co-workers passwords.

@mperkel #ASKSNOWDEN They say it’s a balance of privacy and safety. I think spying makes us less safe. do you agree?

Intelligence agencies do have a role to play, and the people at the working level at the NSA, CIA, or any other member of the IC are not out to get you. They’re good people trying to do the right thing, and I can tell you from personal experience that they were worried about the same things I was.

The people you need to watch out for are the unaccountable senior officials authorizing these unconstitutional programs, and unreliable mechanisms like the secret FISA court, a rubber-stamp authority that approves 99.97% of government requests (which denied only 11 requests out of 33,900 in 33 years http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/06/fisa-court-nsa-spying-opinion-reject-request. They’re the ones that get us into trouble with the Constitution by letting us go too far.

And even the President now agrees our surveillance programs are going too far, gathering massive amounts of private records on ordinary Americans who have never been suspected of any crime. This violates our constitutional protection against unlawful searches and seizure. Collecting phone and email records for every American is a waste of money, time and human resources that could be better spent pursuing those the government has reason to suspect are a serious threat.

I’m going to stop here. My deepest thanks to everyone who sent questions, and whether or not we agree on where the lines should be drawn, I encourage you to contact your members of congress and tell them how you feel about mass surveillance. This is a global problem, and the first step to tackling it is by working together to fix it at home.

If you’d like to more ideas on how to push back against unconstitutional surveillance, consider taking a look at the organizations working together to organize https://thedaywefightback.org/. [..]

@LukasReuter #AskSnowden How should the community of states react to the new information concerning surveillance? What actions have to be made?

We need to work together to agree on a reasonable international norm for the limitations on spying. Nobody should be hacking critical-to-life infrastructure like hospitals and power stations, and it’s fair to say that can be recognized in international law.

Additionally, we need to recognize that national laws are not going to solve the problem of indiscriminate surveillance. A prohibition in Burundi isn’t going to stop the spies in Greenland. We need a global forum, and global funding, committed to the development of security standards that enforce our right to privacy not through law, but through science and technology. The easiest way to ensure a country’s communications are secure is to secure them world-wide, and that means better standards, better crypto, and better research. [..]

@RagBagUSA #AskSnowden what (in your opinion) is the appropriate extent of US national security apparatus? Surely some spying is needed?

Not all spying is bad. The biggest problem we face right now is the new technique of indiscriminate mass surveillance, where governments are seizing billions and billions and billions of innocents’ communication every single day. This is done not because it’s necessary – after all, these programs are unprecedented in US history, and were begun in response to a threat that kills fewer Americans every year than bathtub falls and police officers – but because new technologies make it easy and cheap.

I think a person should be able to dial a number, make a purchase, send an SMS, write an email, or visit a website without having to think about what it’s going to look like on their permanent record. Particularly when we now have courts, reports from the federal government, and even statements from Congress making it clear these programs haven’t made us any more safe, we need to push back.

This is a global problem, and America needs to take the lead in fixing it. If our government decides our Constitution’s 4th Amendment prohibition against unreasonable seizures no longer applies simply because that’s a more efficient means of snooping, we’re setting a precedent that immunizes the government of every two-bit dictator to perform the same kind of indiscriminate, dragnet surveillance of entire populations that the NSA is doing.

It’s not good for our country, it’s not good for the world, and I wasn’t going to stand by and watch it happen, no matter how much it cost me. The NSA and the rest of the US Intelligence Community is exceptionally well positioned to meet our intelligence requirements through targeted surveillance – the same way we’ve always done it – without resorting to the mass surveillance of entire populations.

When we’re sophisticated enough to be able to break into any device in the world we want to (up to and including Angela Merkel’s phone, if reports are to be believed), there’s no excuse to be wasting our time collecting the call records of grandmothers in Missouri. [..]

@savagejen Do you think it is possible for our democracy to recover from the damage NSA spying has done to our liberties? #AskSnowden

Yes. What makes our country strong is our system of values, not a snapshot of the structure of our agencies or the framework of our laws. We can correct the laws, restrain the overreach of agencies, and hold the senior officials responsible for abusive programs to account.

The Russian government has extended Mr. Snowden’s asylum beyond next August, possibly indefinitely.

The lawmaker, Aleksei K. Pushkov, chairman of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of Parliament, hinted during a panel discussion that the extension of temporary refugee status for Mr. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, might be indefinite.

“He will not be sent out of Russia,” Mr. Pushkov said. “It will be up to Snowden.”

He added that Mr. Snowden’s father believes his son could not get a fair trial in the United States.

Mr. Pushkov made his comments came against a backdrop of broad criticism of the American spying programs that have come to light since the summer. He pointed to the sheer volume of information that American authorities are able to gather.

“The U.S. has created a Big Brother system,” Mr. Pushkov said.

Will the NSA Be “Reformed”?

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In the run up to President Barack Obama’s promised decision on reforms the National Security Agency and its surveillance programs, there has been an  unsubstantiated press release, by House Intelligence Committee chairman Rep. Mike Rogers and his Democratic counterpart Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger, that the material taken by whistleblower Edward Snowden gravely impacted America’s national security, put the lives of US military personnel at risk and aided terrorists. There are no specifics about these allegations that Snowden had downloaded 1.7 million files or had considerable information on current U.S. military operations because the Pentagon report is, of course, classified.

Meanwhile top NSA officials and their allies are making their public appeals to retain their surveillance powers

In a lengthy interview that aired on Friday on National Public Radio (NPR), the NSA’s top civilian official, the outgoing deputy director John C Inglis, said that the agency would cautiously welcome a public advocate to argue for privacy interests before the secret court which oversees surveillance. Such a measure is being promoted by some of the agency’s strongest legislative critics. [..]

But security officials are arguing strongly against curtailing the substance of domestic surveillance activities.

While Inglis conceded in his NPR interview that at most one terrorist attack might have been foiled by NSA’s bulk collection of all American phone data – a case in San Diego that involved a money transfer from four men to al-Shabaab in Somalia – he described it as an “insurance policy” against future acts of terrorism. [..]

Inglis was bolstered on Thursday by the new FBI director James Comey, who said he opposed curbing the bureau’s power to collect information from businesses through a non-judicial subpoena called a national security letter. The use of national security letters, which occurs in secret, came under sharp criticism from Obama’s surveillance review panel, which advocated judicial approval over them.

Comey told reporters that would make it harder for his agency to investigate national security issues than conduct bank fraud investigations.

What we have learned is that the massive data collection has not led to the prevention of one terrorist attack and that conventional methods using court orders were more effective (pdf).

Activist and journalist Chris Hedges, along with former NSA technical director and NSA whistle-blower William Binney, tell Real News Network‘s Paul Jay that there should be accountability, including the President himself, for the criminal practices used by the NSA against the American people.

This Friday the president will publicly announce the results of his review of National Security Agency surveillance programs at the Department of Justice, not the White House.

Who the President Reads

Cross posted frpm The Stars Hollow Gazette

At the end of each year Salon’s Alex Pareene gives us his list of his top ten journalistic hacks. This year Alex has ranked the columnists that are President Barack Obama top reads. As, he points out in the article, the Internet has made the conversation more “democratized” than in the past when everyone relied on the print media. Today it isn’t so much how many people read a columnist, it’s who.

But as a Politico editor could tell you, it’s not how many you reach, it’s who. Among Friedman’s readers: much of the nation’s executive class. Among Allen’s? Nearly everyone who works in any capacity for every member of Congress. That’s why it’s necessary to criticize them. They really do “drive the conversation,” to use a particularly odious Politico-ism. Both what is considered politically possible and politically desirable in this country depend in large part on what a handful of mainly older, mainly white and overwhelmingly male columnists and pundits say. Who is let into that conversation and who is left out of it has consequences for all Americans. That was made clear 10 years ago, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, which the nation’s premier political opinion makers (what we once called “Thought Leaders”) almost universally supported. The Bush administration was aware of this, too, and devoted more efforts to convincing them than to trying to win over what we vaguely call “the people.”

President Barack Obama. Barack Obama loves newspaper columnists. He reads them, because he thinks they offer smarter commentary than one hears on cable news, and he invites them to the White House regularly, so he can influence their writing.

There in lies the problem, as Alex lays it out. Of the columnists that Pres. Obama has said are his favorite reads and who he has invited to the White House, none are women, all but one is black, most are older than 50 and most supported the Iraq war in 2003.

These are the men whose opinions the president “favors”

12. Eugene Robinson, Washington Post.

11. Jonathan Chait, New York magazine.

10. Josh Barro, Business Insider.

9. Ezra Klein, Washington Post.

8. E.J. Dionne, Washington Post.

7. David Brooks.

6. Gerald Seib, Wall Street Journal.

5. David Ignatius, Washington Post.

4. Jeffrey Goldberg, Bloomberg View.

3. Joe Klein, Time.

2. Thomas Friedman, The Davos Herald-Register.

1. Fred Hiatt, Washington Post Editorial Page editor.

Who do you think the president should be reading more? Why?

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