29 February 2012

Jim Crow For The Poor | Media Matters for America

February 28, 2012 4:03 pm ET by Simon Maloy

I refuse to believe that this is real, and that someone is actually arguing this as a serious proposal, and that said proposal was deemed serious enough for publication by a secondary party, but it seems too earnestly argued to be parody, and nowhere is it identified as such.

A columnist at the Daily Caller writes today that people receiving food stamps should be forced to shop at government-owned stores selling sub-standard food so that they can feel the "humiliation and pain in receiving government assistance."

Oh, and they should "lose the privilege of voting."

My reform measures might seem draconian to some (and the antithesis of the free market), but they would hopefully have the desired result of reducing food stamp rolls so we could eventually eliminate the program and let the states handle the issue. Before accepting food stamps, people would have to carefully consider whether they want to face the loss of voting privileges, the humiliation of shopping at government stores and using government food, the inability to smoke or do drugs and the added inconvenience of having to make two or three stops for their groceries should they choose to buy snacks with their own money. Plus, tax producers would no longer have to knowingly be face to face with people at the check-out who are on government assistance but have nicer cell phones and accessories than they do.

So, essentially, Jim Crow for the poor. He even says food stamp recipients are "slaves to the government and should be reminded of that fact."

Again, it could be parody. I dearly, dearly hope it's parody. The author, Brion McClanahan, Ph.D.(!) might be a serious person, though his bibliography contains titles such as "The Politically Incorrect Guide to the Founding Fathers," which would suggest otherwise.

What I do know is that he's put forth an idea that is illegal, almost certainly unconstitutional, morally reprehensible, and altogether monstrous.

28 February 2012

America: the best government the corporations can buy?

Exclusive: Homeland Security Kept Tabs on Occupy Wall Street | Michael Hastings | Rolling Stone

As Occupy Wall Street spread across the nation last fall, sparking protests in more than 70 cities, the Department of Homeland Security began keeping tabs on the movement. An internal DHS report entitled “SPECIAL COVERAGE: Occupy Wall Street," dated October of last year, opens with the observation that "mass gatherings associated with public protest movements can have disruptive effects on transportation, commercial, and government services, especially when staged in major metropolitan areas." While acknowledging the overwhelmingly peaceful nature of OWS, the report notes darkly that "large scale demonstrations also carry the potential for violence, presenting a significant challenge for law enforcement." The five-page report – contained in 5 million newly leaked documents examined by Rolling Stone in an investigative partnership with WikiLeaks – goes on to sum up the history of Occupy Wall Street and assess its "impact" on everything from financial services to government facilities. Many of the observations are benign, and appear to have been culled from publicly available sources. The report notes, for instance, that in Chicago "five women were arrested after dumping garbage taken from a foreclosed home owned by Bank of America in the lobby one of the bank's branches," and that "OWS in New York staged a 'Millionaires March,' from Zucotti Park to demonstrate outside the homes of some of the city’s richest residents." But the DHS also appears to have scoured OWS-related Twitter feeds for much of their information. The report includes a special feature on what it calls Occupy's "social media and IT usage," and provides an interactive map of protests and gatherings nationwide – borrowed, improbably enough, from the lefty blog Daily Kos. "Social media and the organic emergence of online communities," the report notes, "have driven the rapid expansion of the OWS movement." The most ominous aspect of the report, however, comes in its final paragraph: "The growing support for the OWS movement has expanded the protests’ impact and increased the potential for violence. While the peaceful nature of the protests has served so far to mitigate their impact, larger numbers and support from groups such as Anonymous substantially increase the risk for potential incidents and enhance the potential security risk to critical infrastructure (CI). The continued expansion of these protests also places an increasingly heavy burden on law enforcement and movement organizers to control protesters. As the primary target of the demonstrations, financial services stands the sector most impacted by the OWS protests. Due to the location of the protests in major metropolitan areas, heightened and continuous situational awareness for security personnel across all CI sectors is encouraged." It’s never a good thing to see a government agency talk in secret about the need to “control protestors” – especially when that agency is charged with protecting the homeland against terrorists, not nonviolent demonstrators exercising their First Amendment rights to peaceable dissent. From the notorious Cointelpro operations of the 1960s to the NYPD’s recent surveillance of Muslim Americans, the government has a long and disturbing history of justifying the curtailing of civil liberties under the cover of perceived, and often manufactured, threats ("the potential security risk to critical infrastructure). What’s more, there have been reports that Homeland Security played an active role in coordinating the nationwide crackdown on the Occupy movement last November – putting the federal government in the position of targeting its own citizens in the name of national security. There is not much of a bureaucratic leap, if history is any guide, between a seemingly benign call for "continuous situational awareness" and the onset of a covert and illegal campaign of domestic surveillance.

Goodbye, First Amendment: ‘Trespass Bill’ will make protest illegal — RT

...Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.

The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance."

It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.

Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.

Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod...

Va. Senate approves contentious ultrasound bill - The Washington Post

By , Updated: Tuesday, February 28, 3:00 PM

RICHMOND — The Virginia Senate voted Tuesday for a scaled-back version of a contentious proposal that would require women to undergo external ultrasounds before abortions, but not the transvaginal ones.

The 21-19 vote in the Republican-controlled Senate — mostly along party lines — came Monday after Gov. Robert F. McDonnell asked legislators to soften the bill following protests on Capitol Square and mocking on national television, including “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “Saturday Night Live.’’

McDonnell, an abortion opponent who had said he would sign the bill, asked lawmakers to amend the measure after it became clear the original legislation would have required a vaginal ultrasound in most cases because abortions usually occur in the first trimester.

The Senate amended the bill to exclude women who have reported to law enforcement that they are victims of rape and incest. But they excluded women who know that their fetus suffers from birth defects.

Two Democrats — Sen. Charles Colan (Prince William) and Phil Puckett (Russell) — voted with Republicans. One Republican, Sen. John Watkins (Chesterfield), voted with Democrats.

The bill now goes to McDonnell for his signature.

Wall Street greed fueling high gas prices - CNN.com

Editor's note: Bernie Sanders is an independent senator from Vermont. He was elected to the U.S. Senate in 2006 after serving 16 years in the House of Representatives and is the longest-serving independent member of Congress in American history.

(CNN) -- Gas prices approaching $4 a gallon on average are causing severe economic pain for millions of Americans. Pump prices spiked 5% in the past month alone. Crude oil prices stood at $108 on Friday, up from only double digits at the beginning of the month.

What's the cause? Forget what you may have read about the laws of supply and demand. Oil and gas prices have almost nothing to do with economic fundamentals. Supplies are greater than ever before in the United States. Demand for oil in the U.S. is at its lowest level since 1997.

Is Big Oil to blame? Sure. Partly. Big oil companies have been gouging consumers for years. They have made almost $1 trillion in profits over the past decade, in part thanks to ridiculous federal subsidies and tax loopholes. I have proposed legislation to end those pointless giveaways to some of the biggest and most profitable corporations in the history of the world.

But there's another reason for the wild rise in gas prices. The culprit is Wall Street. Speculators are cashing in by jacking up oil and gas prices in the very loosely regulated energy futures market.

A decade ago, speculators controlled only about 30% of the oil futures market. Today, Wall Street speculators control more than 70%. Many of those people buying and selling oil in the commodity markets will never use a drop of this oil. They are not airlines or trucking companies that will use the fuel in the future. The only function of the speculators in this process is to make as much money as they can, as quickly as they can.

I've seen the raw documents that prove the role of speculators. Commodity Futures Trading Commission records show that in the summer of 2008, the last time gas prices spiked to more than $4 a gallon, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and other speculators dominated the crude oil futures market. The commission, which is meant to represent the interests of the American people, had kept the information hidden from the public for nearly three years. That alone is an outrage. The American people had a right to know exactly who caused gas prices to skyrocket in 2008 and who is causing them to spike today.

Even those inside the oil industry have admitted that speculation is driving up the price of gasoline. The CEO of Exxon-Mobil, Rex Tillerson, told a Senate hearing last year that speculation was driving up the price of a barrel of oil by as much as 40%. The general counsel of Delta Airlines, Ben Hirst, and the experts at Goldman Sachs said excessive speculation is causing oil prices to spike by up to 40%. Even Saudi Arabia, the largest exporter of oil in the world, told the Bush administration back in 2008, during the last major spike in oil prices, that speculation was responsible for about $40 of a barrel of oil.

Just last week, Commissioner Bart Chilton, one of the only Commodity Futures Trading Commission members looking out for consumers, calculated how much extra drivers are being charged as a result of Wall Street speculation. If you drive a relatively fuel-efficient vehicle such as a Honda Civic, you pay an extra $7.30 every time you fill your tank. For larger vehicles, such as a Ford F150, drivers pay and extra $14.56 each fill-up. That works out to more than $750 a year going directly from your wallet or pocketbook to the Wall Street speculators.

So as speculators gamble, millions of Americans are paying what amounts to a speculators tax to feed Wall Street's greed. People who live in rural areas like my home state of Vermont are hit harder than most as they buy gas to drive long distances to their jobs.

It doesn't have to work this way. The current spike in oil and gasoline prices was avoidable. Under the Wall Street reform Act that Congress passed in 2010, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission was ordered to impose strict limits on the amount of oil that Wall Street speculators could trade in the energy futures market. The regulators dragged their feet.

Finally, after months and months of law-breaking delays, the commission adopted a rule in October. It was a weak version of a proposal that might have put meaningful limits on the number of futures and swaps contracts a single trader could hold. Even the watered-down regulation adopted by the industry-friendly commission was challenged in court. The Financial Markets Association and the International Swaps and Derivatives Association wanted free rein to continue unregulated gambling in the oil markets.

So today, Wall Street once again is laughing all the way to the bank, and once again federal regulators should move aggressively to end excessive oil speculation. We must do everything we can to lower gas prices so they reflect the fundamentals of supply and demand and bring needed relief to the American people.

The time for real action is now.

NYPD Uses White House Money to Spy on Muslim Communities -- News from Antiwar.com

Millions of dollars used by the New York City Police Department to put entire Muslim communities under surveillance came directly from the White House, although it was allocated to fight drug crimes. The White House on Monday said it has no opinion about how the money was spent, as if support for blatantly unconstitutional spying programs on huge numbers of innocent people is not something they need to worry about. The police commissioner in New York similarly refused to apologize.

“Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,” reports the Associated Press, “the Bush and Obama administrations have provided $135 million to the New York and New Jersey region through the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area program, known as HIDTA. It’s unclear exactly how much was spent on surveillance of Muslims because the HIDTA program has little oversight.”

The AP has been exposing policies of the NYPD that systematically target various Muslim communities to secretly surveil groups of people based on their ethnicity and religion. The reporters recently won awards for their work documenting, for example, “how the NYPD assigned ‘rakers’ and ‘mosque crawlers’ to ethnic neighborhoods, infiltrating everything from booksellers and cafes to Muslim places of worship.” The NYPD also spied on Muslim students and their campus organizations, despite having no evidence that any crime had been committed, other than being Muslim of course.

The fact that the money used to do this kind of surveillance on Americans was actually meant for drug war activities is yet another indication that this is the national security state run-amok. Vast sums of taxpayer money is used not only to violently enforce regressive and unnecessary drug laws, but also to fund tyrannical law enforcement powers that violate the basic constitutional rights of American citizens.

I think the author's conclusion that "drug war" money being used for domestic spying is the 'security state run amok' but, rather, further proof that the "war on terror" and the "drug war" are seen as one in the same in DC. A dangerous, liberty killing linking.

25 February 2012

Santorum: Obama 'A Snob' For Wanting Everyone To Go To College | TPM Livewire

UPDATE: Santorum supported making it easier to go to college in 2006.

TROY, MICHIGAN -- Rick Santorum is working hard in Michigan to try and cast himself as the candidate of the working class. At a speech before a tea party audience here Saturday, he made his case by accusing President Obama of trying to turn America's youth into liberal drones by sending them to college.

The idea was pretty well received by the crowd here at a rally hosted by the Michigan branch of Americans For Prosperity.

"Not all folks are gifted the same way. Some people have incredible gifts with their hands," Santorum began. "Some people have incredible gifts and want to work out there making things."

Then he went after the president's call for making college easier for Americans to attend.

President Obama wants everybody in America to go to college. What a snob," Santorum said as the crowd howled with laughter and applause. "There are good, decent men and women who work hard every day and put their skills to the test that aren't taught by some liberal college professor."

Santorum said he knows the real reason Obama wants more Americans on college campuses.

"That's why he wants you to go to college. He wants to remake you in his image," Santorum said to more applause. "I want to create jobs so people can remake their children into their image, not his."

video @ the link

Ohio man given choice of Facebook apology or jail - The Denver Post

CINCINNATI—A man who was threatened with jail time for posting comments about his estranged wife on his personal Facebook page unless he posted daily apologies for a month says the court ruling violates his freedom of speech.

Mark Byron, who is making the apology to avoid 60 days in jail, said Friday night that he believes it's too late for him to appeal the domestic relations court ruling as planned. But the Cincinnati man and free speech and media experts say it should concern other users of the social networking site.

With hundreds of millions of people using Facebook for communication, Byron said that "if they can do this to me, they can do it to others."

The idea "that anybody could tell you what to say to your friends on Facebook should be scary to people," said Cincinnati attorney Jill Meyer, who specializes in free speech and media issues.

The ruling is highly unusual and "troubling because it's a court telling someone to say something to—in some regards—his chosen group of friends," said Meyer. She noted that the comments were not directed to Byron's wife, Elizabeth Byron, who was blocked from accessing the page.

According to the ruling, Byron posted comments on his page in November, saying in part, "If you are an evil, vindictive woman who wants to ruin your husband's life and take your son's father away from him completely—all you need to do is say you're scared of your husband or domestic partner and they'll take him away."

The Byrons are involved in ongoing divorce and child custody proceedings. Byron has said his wife and the court have prevented him from seeing his 17-month-old son many times. The court maintains he is allowed to see him on a twice-weekly basis.

Domestic Relations Magistrate Paul Meyers last month found Byron in contempt of a protective order because of his Facebook comments. Meyers said that Byron could avoid a 60-day jail sentence and a $500 fine by posting the apology—written by Meyers—to his wife and all of his Facebook friends and paying her attorney fees. The same apology must be posted every day no later than 9 a.m.

The June court order prohibited Byron from causing his wife physical or mental abuse, harassment or annoyance. She asked in December that he be found in contempt after learning of the Facebook comments.

Byron's comments expressed frustration, but they were not threats and he didn't make them to his wife, said Cincinnati attorney Jack Greiner, who also specializes in free speech and media issues.

Greiner said he doesn't think the First Amendment "allows a court to find that someone has harassed or caused a person to suffer mental abuse merely by expressing one's opinion about a court proceeding in a non-threatening way."

Greiner said that a court compelling speech through a court-written apology raises as many free speech concerns as actions prohibiting free speech.

The statement that Byron says he has been posting since Feb. 13 has him apologizing to his wife for "casting her in an unfavorable light" and to his Facebook friends for "attempting to mislead them. Byron said the apology forces him to make false statements.

The magistrate's assistant said Friday that Meyers cannot comment on pending court cases. Elizabeth Byron's attorney didn't immediately return calls.

The ruling says several of Mark Byron's comments were "clearly intended to be mentally abusive, harassing and annoying" to his wife and "generate a negative and venomous response toward her from his Facebook friends."

Responses by Facebook friends to his posting caused Elizabeth Byron to be "afraid and concerned," according to court documents.

Byron and his attorney, Becky Ford, say he made his comments out of frustration and never expected his wife to see them since she couldn't access his account.

"Once he made the comments, some of his Facebook friends started making inflammatory comments which he had no control over," Ford said.

His comments were "nothing other than free speech communication where he was venting truthful information," Ford said.

Bryon must appear in court March 19 and show proof that he posted the apology or face jail.

Talk about judicial overreach! Way to gut the 1st Amendment Judge Ahole!

24 February 2012

U.S. does not believe Iran is trying to build nuclear bomb - latimes.com

As U.S. and Israeli officials talk publicly about the prospect of a military strike against Iran's nuclear program, one fact is often overlooked: U.S. intelligence agencies don't believe Iran is actively trying to build an atomic bomb. A highly classified U.S. intelligence assessment circulated to policymakers early last year largely affirms that view, originally made in 2007. Both reports, known as national intelligence estimates, conclude that Tehran halted efforts to develop and build a nuclear warhead in 2003. The most recent report, which represents the consensus of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, indicates that Iran is pursuing research that could put it in a position to build a weapon, but that it has not sought to do so. Although Iran continues to enrich uranium at low levels, U.S. officials say they have not seen evidence that has caused them to significantly revise that judgment. Senior U.S. officials say Israel does not dispute the basic intelligence or analysis. But Israel appears to have a lower threshold for action than Washington. It regards Iran as a threat to its existence and says it will not allow Iran to become capable of building and delivering a nuclear weapon. Some Israeli officials have raised the prospect of a military strike to stop Iran before it's too late. It's unclear how much access U.S. intelligence has in Iran, a problem that bedeviled efforts to determine whether Iraq had weapons of mass destruction before the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The assessment that Saddam Hussein had secretly amassed stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and was seeking to build a nuclear weapon, cited by the George W. Bush administration to justify the invasion, turned out to be wrong. Iran barred inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog group, from visiting Parchin, a military site, this week to determine whether explosives tests were aimed at developing nuclear technology. An IAEA report in November cited "serious concerns" about "possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," but did not reach hard conclusions. Another IAEA report is imminent. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, insisted Wednesday that Tehran had no intention of producing nuclear weapons. In remarks broadcast on state television, he said that "owning a nuclear weapon is a big sin." But he said that "pressure, sanctions and assassinations" would not stop Iran from producing nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. The U.S. and European Union have imposed strict sanctions on Iran's oil and banking sectors, and unidentified assassins on motorcycles have killed several nuclear scientists in Iran, attacks for which Tehran has blamed Israel. For now, U.S. military and intelligence officials say they don't believe Iran's leadership has made the decision to build a bomb. "I think they are keeping themselves in a position to make that decision," James R. Clapper Jr., director of National Intelligence, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Feb. 16. "But there are certain things they have not yet done and have not done for some time." Clapper and CIA Director David H. Petraeus told a separate Senate hearing that Iran was enriching uranium below 20% purity. Uranium is considered weapons grade when it is enriched to about 90% purity, although it is still potentially usable at lower enrichment levels. U.S. spy agencies also have not seen evidence of a decision-making structure on nuclear weapons around Khamenei, said David Albright, who heads the nonprofit Institute for Science and International Security and is an expert on Iran's nuclear program. Albright's group estimates that with the centrifuges Iran already has, it could enrich uranium to sufficient purity to make a bomb in as little as six months, should it decide to do so. It is not known precisely what other technical hurdles Iran would have to overcome, but Albright and many other experts believe that if it decides to proceed, the country has the scientific knowledge to design and build a crude working bomb in as little as a year. It would take as long as three years, Albright estimated, for Iran to build a warhead small enough to fit on a ballistic missile. Albright said a push by Iran to build a nuclear weapon probably would be detected... ...U.S. intelligence on Iran's nuclear ambitions has vacillated over the years. After Iranian dissidents exposed a long-hidden program in 2002, U.S. intelligence warned that Tehran was "determined to build nuclear weapons." In 2006, Bush asked aides to present him with options for a U.S. attack. But newly recruited informants, intercepted conversations and notes from deliberations of Iranian officials led U.S. intelligence to reconsider its warning. In December 2007, the National Intelligence Estimate judged with "high confidence" that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program in the fall of 2003. It judged with "moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons."...

Report: Debt will swell under top GOP hopefuls’ tax plans - The Washington Post

The national debt would balloon under tax policies championed by three of the four major Republican candidates for president, according to an independent analysis of tax and spending proposals so far offered by the campaigns.

The lone exception is Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who would pair a big reduction in tax rates with even bigger cuts in government services, slicing about $2 trillion from future borrowing.

According to the report released Thursday by U.S. Budget Watch, a project of the bipartisan Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, former Pennsylvania senator Rick Santorum and former House speaker Newt Gingrich would do the most damage to the nation’s finances, offering tax and spending policies likely to require trillions of dollars in fresh borrowing.

Both men have proposed to sharply cut taxes but have not identified spending cuts sufficient to make up for the lost cash, the report said. By 2021, the debt would rise by about $4.5 trillion under Santorum’s policies and by about $7 trillion under Gingrich’s plan, pushing the portion of the debt held by outside investors to well over 100 percent of the overall economy, the study said.

The red ink would gush a little more slowly under former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, the report said. Until this week, Romney had paired $1.35 trillion in tax cuts with $1.2 trillion in spending reductions, leaving the debt rising on a trajectory that closely tracks current policies.

But that changed Wednesday, when Romney proposed to cut federal income tax rates by 20 percent more for all earners, which would slash U.S. revenue by more than $2 trillion over 10 years.

Romney economic adviser Glenn Hubbard said the lost cash would be recovered by closing tax loopholes and boosting economic activity. But until the campaign offers a more specific plan, Budget Watch analysts said Romney’s entire framework would add about $2.6 trillion to the debt by 2021.

Only Paul emerged as a fiscal conservative in the report. His policies would cut tax revenue by more than $5 trillion over the next decade, the report said, but the loss would be offset by more than $7 trillion in spending cuts, including deep reductions in defense and federal health programs.

The report marks the first independent attempt to gauge the overall impact of policies proposed by the GOP candidates on the nation’s $15.4 trillion debt.

“As we enter the thick of the campaign season, no one can ignore the debt issue,” said Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, which supports debt-reduction efforts in Washington. “This report is designed to inform the public on the fiscal policies put forward by each of the Republican candidates and stimulate debate on this crucial topic.”

Paul campaign spokesman Gary Howard welcomed the analysis. “It’s not a surprise to us the report found that Congressman Paul’s plan is the only one that doesn’t raise the debt,” Howard said via e-mail. “The critical importance of dealing with our growing debt has been a hallmark issue of Dr. Paul’s campaign and his career.”

Romney spokesperson Andrea Saul declined to directly address the findings, arguing that Romney is the only candidate to lay out a realistic budget framework “that will jump-start the American economy and bring tax relief to middle-income Americans.”

Aides to Santorum and Gingrich did not respond to requests for comment.

23 February 2012

Will Bradley Manning have a fair trial?

NYPD racially profiling Muslims confirmed

This bugs me a lot. I know the rationale that the powers that be will have, how they would have me persuaded that we must, naturally, treat all Muslims this way because of 9/11. Now, I know this unpopular speech, I'm not altogether convinced that the US government didn't aid in or facilitate the events of that day. So this bugs me a lot. At least we aren't rounding them up and putting them into "internment" camps as our nation did with the Japs. If we allow the rights of any group to be denied this way, there is no true freedom in America. It is conditional. Does that sound right to you? Yet my countrymen overwhelmingly support actions such as these while belaboring the point that our nation is somehow still the greatest and freest. Today's Muslim is seen by too many Americans the way many Germans saw the Jews. It is our Two Minute Hate.

Why do uterus' drive the GOP to madness?


Obama signature could bring surveillance drones to your backyard

President Obama last week signed the FAA Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act of 2012. Tucked inside the legislation is a provision that could have far-reaching implications in the coming decade: widespread civilian use of unmanned aerial drones.

Until now, the use of unmanned drones has been tightly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration. Use has mostly been restricted to government agencies, and applications for private use were considered on a case-by-case basis. As of last summer, the FAA had only approved about 100 applications from private parties to fly unmanned drones.

But that's about to change. According to the New York Times, the new legislation mandates that the FAA begin allowing the use of small drones (under 4.4 pounds) by law enforcement within 90 days. And the agency must overhaul its drone regulations by September 30, 2015, including allowing more widespread use of drones by private parties.

The number of potential uses for aerial drones is almost endless, ranging from the life-saving to the creepy. Drones will allow search-and-rescue personnel to more quickly locate disaster victims. The Times interviewed a photographer, Daniel Gárate, who used a drone to make fly-by videos of high-end real estate to help their owners sell them. He shut down his operation after the Los Angeles police warned him that he was violating federal regulations, but he will likely be able to resume his business in 2015.

Other uses of the drones are likely to prove controversial. Gárate says he was asked to use his drone to conduct paparazzi surveillance of Kim Kardashian's wedding. He said no, but others are likely to say yes if drone regulations are liberalized. Google and Microsoft have already added high-resolution aerial photographs to their online maps, but their coverage is currently limited. Unmanned aerial photography will allow them to achieve much higher coverage at lower cost.

The American Civil Liberties Union has argued that law enforcement use of drones threatens Americans' privacy. A December report called for new regulations to ensure that drones are not abused.

Ah the American police state! Yet another great reason to celebrate 9/11 day! Seriously, 'merica, how can we be the land of the free when Big Brother dogs our every movement??

Politics makes for strange bedfellows


On the president as alien - The Washington Post

They say that President Obama is a Muslim, but if he isn’t, he’s a secularist who is waging war on religion. On some days he’s a Nazi, but on most others he’s merely a socialist. His especially creative opponents see him as having a “Kenyan anti-colonial worldview,” while the less adventurous say that he’s an elitist who spent too much time in Cambridge, Hyde Park and other excessively academic precincts.

Whatever our president is, he is never allowed to be a garden-variety American who plays basketball and golf, has a remarkably old-fashioned family life and, in the manner we regularly recommend to our kids, got ahead by getting a good education.

Please forgive this outburst. It’s simply astonishing that a man in his fourth year as our president continues to be the object of the most extraordinary paranoid fantasies. A significant part of his opposition still cannot accept that Obama is a rather moderate politician quite conventional in his tastes and his interests. And now that the economy is improving, short-circuiting easy criticisms, Obama’s adversaries are reheating all the old tropes and cliches and slanders.

True, some of this is driven by cable television (a venue in which I acknowledge regularly participating). Attacks designed to gin up the conservative base are quickly recycled to gin up outrage within Obama’s own base. Moreover, Obama is not the first president caught up in the rank unpleasantness of this particularly unforgiving political moment. A quick Google search will unearth references to George W. Bush as a “Nazi,” and Bill Clinton’s Republican opponents went so far as to impeach him in a shameful episode of extreme partisanship.

On those Hitler metaphors: Can we please agree to a voluntary cross-party ban on invoking the Fuhrer in the context of American politics? Only dictators who commit genocide against millions qualify for this odious comparison. It trivializes Hitler’s crimes to use Nazi references as everyday epithets.

But there is something especially rancid about the never-ending efforts to turn Obama into a stranger, an alien, a Manchurian Candidate with a diabolical hidden agenda. Are we trying to undo all the good it did us with the rest of the world when we elected an African American with a middle name popular among Muslims?

In my experience, even Americans who voted against Obama were proud that our nation showed friend and foe alike that we are a special place. We know it’s wrong to judge people by their race or lineage, and we so value religious freedom and openness that we elected a Christian convert who is the son of a Muslim father and an agnostic mother to lead us at one of our most difficult moments.

Yet many in the anti-Obama camp just can’t stop themselves from playing on fears that electing a man who defies old stereotypes was a terrible mistake. Thus did the Rev. Franklin Graham assert Tuesday on MSNBC not only that Muslims regard Obama as “a son of Islam” (because his father was Muslim) but also that “under President Obama, the Muslims of the world, he seems to be more concerned about them than the Christians that are being murdered in the Muslim countries.” Graham slightly softened his comments on CNN Wednesday, but it remains troubling that he chose to turn a legitimate concern about the persecution of Christians into a slander.

In the meantime, Republican presidential candidates want to take a disagreement over whether and how contraception should be covered in plans issued under the new health-care law and turn it into a war against religion itself. “Unfortunately, possibly because of the people the president hangs around with, and their agenda, their secular agenda — they have fought against religion,” declared Mitt Romney, who pursued a similar line of attack in Wednesday night’s debate.

It’s another breathtaking slander to label Obama’s choice as an attack on religion altogether — and I say this as someone who strongly opposed the president’s initial decision not to offer any accommodation to religiously affiliated institutions on contraception. And how strange it is that Obama’s critics imply that he’s a Muslim and also condemn him as a secularist. He must be terribly clever — maybe it’s that fancy education of his — to be both.

As for Obama as a socialist, ponder two numbers: 13,005, which the Dow Jones average hit this week, up from a low point of 6,547 in March 2009. Some socialist.

We are blessed with the freedom to say whatever we want about our president. But those who cast Obama as something other than one of us don’t understand him and don’t understand what it means to be American.

22 February 2012

President Obama sings Sweet Home Chicago with B.B. King at White House b...

Fox News decries the Soul Train-ing of the White House, asks where's all the white people at?!

The big spenders behind the super PACs - The Washington Post

The big spenders behind the super PACs - The Washington Post

Super PAC donors revealed: Who are the power players in the GOP primary? - The Washington Post

...Simmons is part of a rarefied group of millionaires and billionaires acting as kingmakers in the GOP contest, often helping to decide, with a simple transfer of money, which candidate might survive another day.

Although many of these mega-donors have long participated in politics, none were able to wield the kind of influence now possible under loosened campaign finance regulations, which allow super PACs and other outside groups to spend unlimited amounts on political races.

In January, just five donors gave a total of $19 million, a quarter of the money raised for the presidential race that month, according to a Washington Post analysis of new contribution data filed this week. Overall, 23 people have directed about $54 million to super PACs this cycle, helping to bankroll a tide of negative ads in primary-contest states.

The dominance of a handful of well-to-do donors has suddenly reshaped campaign finance, but it could also pose a political risk to candidates in both parties at a time of economic distress, particularly as President Obama and his Republican rivals debate issues relating to tax fairness and income inequality ahead of the November election.

“I’m against very wealthy people attempting to or influencing elections,” casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, who is funding a pro-
Gingrich super PAC, said in an interview published this week in Forbes magazine. “But as long as it’s doable, I’m going to do it.”...

21 February 2012

Mother Love Bone - Stardog Champion

KYUSS - green machine

Queens Of The Stone Age - Walkin' On The Sidewalks

Foo Fighters - Come Back

Crisis and the creeping militarization of American society | The Daily Caller

Earlier this month, Congress passed House Resolution 658, the “Federal Aviation Administration Air Transportation Modernization and Safety Improvement Act,” which President Obama is expected to sign. One of the over 1,000 sections of H.R. 658 authorizes domestic use of aerial spy drones by the U.S. government.

This is but the latest case of the increased militarization of U.S. police forces. Other examples abound. Under Program 1033, the U.S. military provided police with over $500 million in military equipment in 2011, more than double the amount allocated by the government a year before. Small town police forces have been equipped with SWAT gear and automatic weapons. State and local law enforcement are receiving training akin to that expected in the armed forces.

Such activities fuel an ongoing debate regarding their implication for civil liberties. But H.R. 658 and these other examples also draw attention to a broader point. They lead us to wonder about government constraints, particularly during and after times of crisis.

The Founding Fathers understood the “paradox of power” — the need to simultaneously empower government and constrain its ability to use that power to violate the rights of citizens. They addressed this paradox by creating checks and balances that would, in principle, constrain the activities of government. One of the most important checks, noted the Founders, were vigilant citizens who monitored the activities of their government.

But sometimes, citizens are not so careful to check their government. There are instances which work to loosen the restraints on government. One of the greatest threats is the onset of crises. A crisis event induces citizens to call for government to do something and do it quickly. The demand to act swiftly results in an aggressive government response absent public debate and scrutiny. This leads to increases in both the scale and scope of government activities, many of which persist well after the crisis has ended.

This logic helps to explain the increased militarization of U.S. domestic police forces, which began with the onset of the War on Drugs in the 1980s. This militarization accelerated in the wake of September 11th, as federal dollars flowed through the Department of Homeland Security to local police forces in the name of fighting terrorism. Under this broad umbrella, domestic police have justified the acquisition of military technologies and equipment, ranging from assault rifles and armored cars to tactical training, and soon drones.

There is reason to expect such expansions in the reach of government power to continue. As the threat of terrorism remains a focal point of elected officials, government is able to justify a myriad of expenditures and policies that may reduce the rights of its citizens, like the new stipulations in H.R. 658.

American citizens have reason to be concerned about their civil liberties. It is immensely important, however, that citizens recognize the broader process through which the government expands its powers. Only then may these powers be checked. American citizens would be wise to heed the words of Patrick Henry: “The Constitution is not an instrument for the government to restrain the people, it is an instrument for the people to restrain the government.”

Christopher J. Coyne is the F.A. Harper Professor of Economics at George Mason University. Abigail R. Hall is a Mercatus Graduate Fellow, Department of Economics at George Mason University.

Israel to US: Talk of Avoiding War Helps Iran -- News from Antiwar.com

Israeli officials on Monday complained that U.S. officials speaking publicly about their reluctance to start a war with Iran ”served Iran’s interests.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and other senior officials lambasted U.S. national security adviser Tom Donilon, who has been in Israel this week, saying any criticism of Israel’s impending attack on Iran basically helps the Ayatollahs.

Specifically, Netanyahu and Barak expressed resentment over an interview given by Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, to CNN. In it, Dempsey said ”I don’t think a wise thing at this moment is for Israel to launch a military attack on Iran,” and a strike “would be destabilizing” and “not prudent.” He also said that U.S. efforts to dissuade Israel from attacking Iran have failed.

The Israeli condemnation of the rather sober comments from Dempsey came dangerously close to equating public nonconformity with Israeli policy traitorous.

“We made it clear to Donilon that all those statements and briefings only served the Iranians,” a senior Israeli official said. “The Iranians see there’s controversy between the United States and Israel, and that the Americans object to a military act. That reduces the pressure on them.”

Israeli officials, also including National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror, Mossad chief Tamir Pardo, Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz and Military Intelligence head Aviv Kochavi, told Donilon that in order to avoid an Israeli attack on Iran, increased pressure and economic sanctions on Iran must intensify.

But the U.S.-led sanctions against Iran are already unprecedented in their scale and have already begun to cripple the economy, fuel inflation, interrupt trade flows, cut off supplies of food, and destabilize oil markets. Columbia University Professor Gary Sick has called this effort “the equivalent of a blockade. It’s an act of war.”

The Israelis are not only demanding these aggressive efforts be intensified, but they’re trying to prohibit U.S. officials from denouncing unnecessary war. All this, despite a broad consensus throughout the military and intelligence community that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons and has not demonstrated any intention of doing so.

by John Glaser, February 20, 2012

Rick Santorum could take Republicans down with him - The Washington Post

At times, it seems as if Santorum is running to become theologian in chief. He made the bizarre allegation Saturday that Obama’s actions are motivated by “some phony theology, not a theology based on the Bible.” On Sunday, he said by way of clarification that he understands Obama is a Christian, but that the president was somehow misinterpreting God’s truth — as revealed to Rick Santorum — about our duty to be stewards of the Earth.

This is not customary fodder for a presidential campaign. Nor is Santorum’s obvious obsession with women’s reproductive issues — not just his absolute opposition to abortion but his criticism of contraception and prenatal testing as well.

Santorum’s social conservatism is a huge iceberg, and his views on women and childbearing are just the tip. He not only opposes gay marriage but has criticized the Supreme Court decision that struck down anti-sodomy laws and declared that “I have no problem with homosexuality. I have a problem with homosexual acts.” That alone would be enough to put him well outside the mainstream. But his Ozzie-and-Harriet ideas about family life place him in a different solar system.

--Eugene Robinson

Santorum Takes Climate Change Denial To A Biblical Level | TPM2012

Climate change denial has become a litmus test for modern Republicans, but Rick Santorum, in his fondness for melding faith and government, has become one of the precious few to cite the Bible as evidence that the science-accepting crowd has it all wrong — and apparently the first to bring that thinking to the presidential stage.

“We were put on this Earth as creatures of God to have dominion over the Earth, to use it wisely and steward it wisely, but for our benefit not for the Earth’s benefit,” Santorum told a Colorado crowd earlier this month.

He went on to call climate change “an absolute travesty of scientific research that was motivated by those who, in my opinion, saw this as an opportunity to create a panic and a crisis for government to be able to step in and even more greatly control your life.”

The surging presidential hopeful fleshed out this argument further this Sunday on CBS Face The Nation, when asked to justify his recent controversial claim that President Obama has a “phony theology” that’s not “based on the Bible.” He said the President sides with “radical environmentalists” who don’t understand what God intended to be the relationship between humans and the planet.

“When you have a worldview that elevates the Earth above man and says that we can’t take those resources because we’re going to harm the Earth; by things that frankly are just not scientifically proven, for example, the politicization of the whole global warming debate — this is all an attempt to, you know, to centralize power and to give more power to the government,” Santorum said.

And the former Pennsylvania senator doubled down Monday, declaring that, “Unlike the Earth, we’re intelligent, and we can actually manage things.”

That explanation doesn’t exactly fly with scientists. “Neither Obama nor any environmentalist thinks man is here to serve the Earth. That is a right-wing fantasy,” Joe Romm, a climate expert at the liberal Center for American Progress, told TPM.

Santorum appears to be the first to bring this this brand of Bible-tinged climate change denial to a presidential stage. Even the more faith-heavy former GOP hopefuls such as Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry were careful not to go there in their many attacks on climate science. They instead went with the more mainstream party line that the science is unsettled.

But lest you believe Santorum’s thinking is hitherto unseen in the GOP. Rep. John Shimkus, in a 2009 congressional hearing, cited the Book of Genesis as evidence that climate change is a hoax, pointing out that God promised Noah that man won’t destroy the Earth. Shimkus was subsequently rewarded with the Chairmanship of the powerful Energy & Commerce subcommittee on the environment.

18 February 2012

The Imperial Way: American Decline in Perspective, Part 2 | MichaelMoore.com

....The regime is doubtless a serious threat to much of its own population -- and regrettably, is hardly unique on that score. But the primary threat to the U.S. and Israel is that Iran might deter their free exercise of violence. A further threat is that the Iranians clearly seek to extend their influence to neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan, and beyond as well. Those “illegitimate” acts are called “destabilizing” (or worse). In contrast, forceful imposition of U.S. influence halfway around the world contributes to “stability” and order, in accord with traditional doctrine about who owns the world.

It makes very good sense to try to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear weapons states, including the three that have refused to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty -- Israel, India, and Pakistan, all of which have been assisted in developing nuclear weapons by the U.S., and are still being assisted by them. It is not impossible to approach that goal by peaceful diplomatic means. One approach, which enjoys overwhelming international support, is to undertake meaningful steps towards establishing a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, including Iran and Israel (and applying as well to U.S. forces deployed there), better still extending to South Asia.

Support for such efforts is so strong that the Obama administration has been compelled to formally agree, but with reservations: crucially, that Israel’s nuclear program must not be placed under the auspices of the International Atomic Energy Association, and that no state (meaning the U.S.) should be required to release information about “Israeli nuclear facilities and activities, including information pertaining to previous nuclear transfers to Israel.” Obama also accepts Israel’s position that any such proposal must be conditional on a comprehensive peace settlement, which the U.S. and Israel can continue to delay indefinitely.

This survey comes nowhere near being exhaustive, needless to say. Among major topics not addressed is the shift of U.S. military policy towards the Asia-Pacific region, with new additions to the huge military base system underway right now, in Jeju Island off South Korea and Northwest Australia, all elements of the policy of “containment of China.” Closely related is the issue of U.S. bases in Okinawa, bitterly opposed by the population for many years, and a continual crisis in U.S.-Tokyo-Okinawa relations.

Revealing how little fundamental assumptions have changed, U.S. strategic analysts describe the result of China’s military programs as a “classic 'security dilemma,' whereby military programs and national strategies deemed defensive by their planners are viewed as threatening by the other side,” writes Paul Godwin of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. The security dilemma arises over control of the seas off China’s coasts. The U.S. regards its policies of controlling these waters as “defensive,” while China regards them as threatening; correspondingly, China regards its actions in nearby areas as “defensive” while the U.S. regards them as threatening. No such debate is even imaginable concerning U.S. coastal waters. This “classic security dilemma” makes sense, again, on the assumption that the U.S. has a right to control most of the world, and that U.S. security requires something approaching absolute global control....

Read more at the link

Real Time with Bill Maher 17 february 2012 New Rules

17 February 2012

Another March to War? | Matt Taibbi | Rolling Stone

As a journalist, there’s a buzz you can detect once the normal restraints in your business have been loosened, a smell of fresh chum in the waters, urging us down the road to war. Many years removed from the Iraq disaster, that smell is back, this time with Iran.

You can just feel it: many of the same newspapers and TV stations we saw leading the charge in the Bush years have gone back to the attic and are dusting off their war pom-poms. CNN’s house blockhead, the Goldman-trained ex-finance professional Erin Burnett, came out with a doozie of a broadcast yesterday, a Rumsfeldian jeremiad against the Iranian threat would have fit beautifully in the Saddam’s-sending-drones-at-New-York halcyon days of late 2002. Here’s how the excellent Glenn Greenwald described Burnett’s rant:

It’s the sort of thing you would produce if you set out to create a mean-spirited parody of mindless, war-hungry, fear-mongering media stars, but you wouldn’t dare go this far because you’d want the parody to have a feel of realism to it, and this would be way too extreme to be believable. She really hauled it all out: WMDs! Terrorist sleeper cells in the U.S. controlled by Tehran! Iran’s long-range nuclear missiles reaching our homeland!!!! She almost made the anti-Muslim war-mongering fanatic she brought on to interview, Rep. Peter King, appear sober and reasonable by comparison.

Like Greenwald, I was particularly struck by Burnett’s freak-out about Iran’s nuclear program, about which she said, “No one buys Iran’s claim that [it is] for peaceful purposes.” She then cited remarks by Director of Intelligence James Clapper, which, she said, “drove that message home.” But then she ran a clip with Clapper’s quote, which read as follows:

Iran’s technical advances . . . strengthen our assessment that Iran is more than capable of producing enough highly enriched uranium for a weapon if its political leaders, specifically the Supreme Leader himself, choose to do so.

In other words, “If Iran were to decide to be capable of making nuclear weapons, it would be capable of making nuclear weapons.” Unless I'm missing something, that’s a statement that would be true of almost any industrialized country, wouldn't it?

Virtually all of the Iran stories of late have contained some version of this sort of rhetorical sophistry. The news “hook” in most all of these stories is that intelligence reports reveal Iran is “willing” to attack us or go to war – but then there’s usually an asterisk next to the headline, and when you follow the asterisk, it reads something like, “In the event that we attack Iran first.”

An NBC report Greenwald also wrote about put it this way: “Within just the past few days, Iranian leaders have threatened that if attacked, they would launch those missiles at U.S. targets.”

There’s a weird set of internalized assumptions that media members bring to stories like this Iran business. In fact there’s an elaborate belief system we press people adhere to, about how a foreign country may behave toward the U.S., and how it may not behave. It reminds me a little of a passage in Anna Karenina about the belief system of noblemen in Tolstoy’s day:

Vronsky’s life was particularly happy in that he had a code of principles, which defined with unfailing certitude what he ought and what he ought not to do… These principles laid down as invisible rules: that one must pay a cardsharper, but need not pay a tailor; that one must never lie to a man, but one may lie to a woman; that one must never cheat anyone, but one may a husband; that one must never pardon an insult, but one may give one, and so on.

We have a similar gentleman’s code, a “Westernized industrial power” code if you will, that operates the same way. In other words, our newspapers and TV stations may blather on a thousand times a day about attacking Iran and bombing its people, but if even one Iranian talks about fighting back, he is being “aggressive” and “threatening”; we can impose sanctions on anyone, but if the sanctioned country embargoes oil shipments to Europe in response, it’s being “belligerent,” and so on.

I’m not defending Achmedinejad, I think he’s nuts and a monstrous dick and I definitely don’t think he should be allowed to have nuclear weapons, but to me this issue has little to do with Iran at all. What’s more troubling to me is that we’ve internalized this “gentleman’s code” to the point where its basic premises are no longer even debated.

Once upon a time, way back in the stone ages, when Noam Chomsky was first writing about these propaganda techniques in Manufacturing Consent, our leaders felt the need to conceal – or at least sugar-coat – these Orwellian principles. It was assumed that the American people genuinely needed to feel like they were on the right side of things, and so the foreign powers we clashed with were always depicted as being the instigators and aggressors, while our role in provoking those responses was always disguised or at least played down.

But now the public openly embraces circular thinking like, “Any country that squawks when we threaten to bomb it is a threat that needs to be wiped out.” Maybe I’m mistaken, but I have to believe that there was a time when ideas like that sounded weird to the American ear. Now they seem to make sense to almost everyone here at home, and that to me is just as a scary as Achmedinejad.

Why China’s Political Model Is Superior (or shit the NYT publishes just to piss me off!)

So I was having my morning coffee, perusing the headlines as I am wont to do, when lo! I came across this interesting bit of incitement titled, get this, Why China's Political Model IS Superior.

Now hold on right here, 'merica.

IS superior? WTF?! Oh and then you are going to explain WHY it IS, not if it is, or might be, no no no no no, you go on and explain in simple enough terms so that my dumb 'merican brain kin figure it out. IS??? I'll tell you what IS, Mr. Eric X. Li of Shanghai, venture capitalist and writer of this blood boiling insult, China IS a corrupt government system that lives and dies on cronyism. It cannot and does not survive on its merits but upon the forced military suppression of other groups, political, religious or otherwise. Now, it may be that as a man from another country you might see certain similar elements in our American government since those Bush assholes took over this country, but I promise you sir, that 'merica is greater than that and we will one day reclaim our "A" once we do away with this bullshit terror war, the Patriot Act, spying on our own people, demilitarize our police forces, um... okay, so we have similarities in our current government styles, but America is always able to right herself and always has. The corruption of today won't stand because we the people won't let it. If you don't see the groundswell, the backlash by the common folks of this land against the totalitarian oppression imposed upon us by George Bush's incompetence and furthered by the Obama people, then you are not paying attention! What's more, this won't ever happen in China while the system you tell me IS superior remains in place. It can't. You have no room for dissent. That gives our system the edge. THIS week the Obama administration is playing host to Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and heir apparent. The world’s most powerful electoral democracy and its largest one-party state are meeting at a time of political transition for both.

Many have characterized the competition between these two giants as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. But this is false. America and China view their political systems in fundamentally different ways: whereas America sees democratic government as an end in itself, China sees its current form of government, or any political system for that matter, merely as a means to achieving larger national ends.

In the history of human governance, spanning thousands of years, there have been two major experiments in democracy. The first was Athens, which lasted a century and a half; the second is the modern West. If one defines democracy as one citizen one vote, American democracy is only 92 years old. In practice it is only 47 years old, if one begins counting after the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — far more ephemeral than all but a handful of China’s dynasties.

Why, then, do so many boldly claim they have discovered the ideal political system for all mankind and that its success is forever assured?

The answer lies in the source of the current democratic experiment. It began with the European Enlightenment. Two fundamental ideas were at its core: the individual is rational, and the individual is endowed with inalienable rights. These two beliefs formed the basis of a secular faith in modernity, of which the ultimate political manifestation is democracy.

In its early days, democratic ideas in political governance facilitated the industrial revolution and ushered in a period of unprecedented economic prosperity and military power in the Western world. Yet at the very beginning, some of those who led this drive were aware of the fatal flaw embedded in this experiment and sought to contain it.

The American Federalists made it clear they were establishing a republic, not a democracy, and designed myriad means to constrain the popular will. But as in any religion, faith would prove stronger than rules.

The political franchise expanded, resulting in a greater number of people participating in more and more decisions. As they say in America, “California is the future.” And the future means endless referendums, paralysis and insolvency.

In Athens, ever-increasing popular participation in politics led to rule by demagogy. And in today’s America, money is now the great enabler of demagogy. As the Nobel-winning economist A. Michael Spence has put it, America has gone from “one propertied man, one vote; to one man, one vote; to one person, one vote; trending to one dollar, one vote.” By any measure, the United States is a constitutional republic in name only. Elected representatives have no minds of their own and respond only to the whims of public opinion as they seek re-election; special interests manipulate the people into voting for ever-lower taxes and higher government spending, sometimes even supporting self-destructive wars.

The West’s current competition with China is therefore not a face-off between democracy and authoritarianism, but rather the clash of two fundamentally different political outlooks. The modern West sees democracy and human rights as the pinnacle of human development. It is a belief premised on an absolute faith.

China is on a different path. Its leaders are prepared to allow greater popular participation in political decisions if and when it is conducive to economic development and favorable to the country’s national interests, as they have done in the past 10 years.

However, China’s leaders would not hesitate to curtail those freedoms if the conditions and the needs of the nation changed. The 1980s were a time of expanding popular participation in the country’s politics that helped loosen the ideological shackles of the destructive Cultural Revolution. But it went too far and led to a vast rebellion at Tiananmen Square.

That uprising was decisively put down on June 4, 1989. The Chinese nation paid a heavy price for that violent event, but the alternatives would have been far worse.

The resulting stability ushered in a generation of growth and prosperity that propelled China’s economy to its position as the second largest in the world.

The fundamental difference between Washington’s view and Beijing’s is whether political rights are considered God-given and therefore absolute or whether they should be seen as privileges to be negotiated based on the needs and conditions of the nation.

The West seems incapable of becoming less democratic even when its survival may depend on such a shift. In this sense, America today is similar to the old Soviet Union, which also viewed its political system as the ultimate end.

History does not bode well for the American way. Indeed, faith-based ideological hubris may soon drive democracy over the cliff.

Okay, 'merica, I highlighted a bunch of stuff but I found this last bit revealing because the author presumes all us 'mericans are religious nut jobs like he sees on the TV or deals with in his business. We ain't thank goodness! It is this diversity that keeps our nation great. Mr. Li misses all that. And, for a person opposed to our Republic and who really nails home many of our disparate nation's current, unfortunate similarities, he, in fine gospel preacher style, closes his fire and brimstone elucidation of why his Chinese government IS so much better than our Yankee Doodle Dandy one by assuring us that violent government suppression is just tits. Perhaps for you sir, but not for me and not for this country.

And a really sincere American "Fuck you," to your face for suggesting it ought be otherwise.

16 February 2012

Daily Kos: Darrell Issa refuses to let woman speak at hearing on 'religious freedom' to deny birth control

Because Republican Rep. Darrell Issa's hearing "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" is a very serious matter that is all about religious freedom and not at all about birth control, no siree, it can only feature the testimony of very serious religious persons whose freedom is important. And when Darrell Issa's running the hearing, only men who agree with Darrell Issa deserve a platform to speak about their freedoms.

As Kaili Joy Gray wrote yesterday, "Issa won't be hearing from any of the nearly two dozen religious groups who have no problem with the Obama administration's new health care policy to require insurance coverage of birth control." That list of the uninvited includes "representatives from the Catholic Health Association, which is run by a woman and actually runs the Catholic hospitals, nor Catholic Charities, both of which said Friday they supported the president’s plan."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, asked to invite a witness, but, as Cummings recounts:

When my staff inquired about requesting minority witnesses for this hearing, we were informed that you would allow only one. Based on your decision, we requested as our minority witness a third-year Georgetown University Law Center student named Sandra Fluke. I believed it was critical to have at least one woman at the witness table who could discuss the repercussions that denying coverage for contraceptives has on women across this country.

In response, your staff relayed that you had decided as follows:

“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.” [...]

Instead of inviting Ms. Fluke to testify, your staff informed us that you planned to invite a different witness who was no longer available after being informed of your decision to limit the minority to a single witness. Compounding this insult, this afternoon you added two more witnesses of your own, in violation of Committee rules requiring three days notice for witnesses called by the majority.

Fluke had been chosen to talk "about a classmate who lost an ovary because of a syndrome that causes ovarian cysts. Georgetown, which is affiliated by the Catholic Church, does not insure birth control, which is also used to treat the syndrome." But that's unrelated to the topic of the hearing, at which women don't count because it's not about birth control, it's about the religious freedom to deny birth control coverage, and that's different. Religious organizations that support the administration's position don't count because ... well, they don't.

8:41 AM PT: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) walked out of the hearing in protest, and Holmes Norton "told reporters in the hallway outside the hearing that she marched out because it was being conducted like an 'autocratic regime.'"

Yeah, if women think the GOP wants anything more from them than to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, they are sadly mistaken. Even if this hearing was all about religious freedom (read as: White Christian Male religious freedom), which it isn't, the lack of women testifying strikes me more as a move akin to what the Taliban might do.

Daily Kos: Darrell Issa refuses to let woman speak at hearing on 'religious freedom' to deny birth control

Because Republican Rep. Darrell Issa's hearing "Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Conscience?" is a very serious matter that is all about religious freedom and not at all about birth control, no siree, it can only feature the testimony of very serious religious persons whose freedom is important. And when Darrell Issa's running the hearing, only men who agree with Darrell Issa deserve a platform to speak about their freedoms.

As Kaili Joy Gray wrote yesterday, "Issa won't be hearing from any of the nearly two dozen religious groups who have no problem with the Obama administration's new health care policy to require insurance coverage of birth control." That list of the uninvited includes "representatives from the Catholic Health Association, which is run by a woman and actually runs the Catholic hospitals, nor Catholic Charities, both of which said Friday they supported the president’s plan."

Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the Oversight Committee, asked to invite a witness, but, as Cummings recounts:

When my staff inquired about requesting minority witnesses for this hearing, we were informed that you would allow only one. Based on your decision, we requested as our minority witness a third-year Georgetown University Law Center student named Sandra Fluke. I believed it was critical to have at least one woman at the witness table who could discuss the repercussions that denying coverage for contraceptives has on women across this country.

In response, your staff relayed that you had decided as follows:

“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience, he believes that Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness.” [...]

Instead of inviting Ms. Fluke to testify, your staff informed us that you planned to invite a different witness who was no longer available after being informed of your decision to limit the minority to a single witness. Compounding this insult, this afternoon you added two more witnesses of your own, in violation of Committee rules requiring three days notice for witnesses called by the majority.

Fluke had been chosen to talk "about a classmate who lost an ovary because of a syndrome that causes ovarian cysts. Georgetown, which is affiliated by the Catholic Church, does not insure birth control, which is also used to treat the syndrome." But that's unrelated to the topic of the hearing, at which women don't count because it's not about birth control, it's about the religious freedom to deny birth control coverage, and that's different. Religious organizations that support the administration's position don't count because ... well, they don't.

8:41 AM PT: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), and Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL) walked out of the hearing in protest, and Holmes Norton "told reporters in the hallway outside the hearing that she marched out because it was being conducted like an 'autocratic regime.'"

Yeah, if women think the GOP wants anything more from them than to be barefoot, pregnant and in the kitchen, they are sadly mistaken. Even if this hearing was all about religious freedom (read as: White Christian Male religious freedom), which it isn't, the lack of women testifying strikes me more as a move akin to what the Taliban might do.

15 February 2012

Drumming up a phony war on religion - The Washington Post

At ease, Christian soldiers. There is no “war on religion,” no assault on the Catholic Church. A faith that has endured for thousands of years will survive even Nicki Minaj.

It never occurred to me to evaluate the Grammy Awards show on theological rectitude, but apparently we’re supposed to be outraged at the over-the-top “exorcism” Minaj performed Sunday night. The hip-hop diva, who writhed and cavorted amid a riot of religious iconography, is accused of anti-Catholic bigotry — and seen as an enemy combatant in an escalating “war on religion” being waged by “secular elites,” which seems to be used as a synonym for Democrats.

Seriously? Are we really going to pretend that Christianity is somehow under siege? That the Almighty would have been any more offended Sunday than he was, say, in 2006, when Madonna — who could sue Minaj for theft of intellectual property — performed a song during her touring act while being mock-crucified on a mirrored cross? While wearing a crown of thorns? Even at her show in Rome?

The “war on religion” alarmists are just like Minaj and Madonna in one key respect: Lacking a coherent point to make, they go for shock value.

Among the loudest voices, predictably, are those of the Republican presidential candidates. Guess who’s to blame for the attack on all God-fearing Americans who go to church every Sunday to hear sermons about the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ. Hint: He got in trouble four years ago, during his presidential campaign, for going to church every Sunday to hear sermons about the sacrifice and triumph of Jesus Christ.

President Obama is indeed waging a war on religion, Mitt Romney claimed last week at the Conservative Political Action Conference. Romney promised to rescind every “Obama regulation” that somehow “attacks our religious liberty.”

Newt Gingrich said at CPAC that Obama plans to “wage war” on the Catholic Church if he is reelected. Those who don’t see this coming are not familiar with “who [the president] really is.” Apparently, the real Obama is about to come out of hiding, any day now.

But it is Rick Santorum who wins the award for histrionics. Progressives, he said last week in Texas, are “taking faith and crushing it.” From that ridiculous proposition, he went on in truly hallucinatory fashion:

“When you marginalize faith in America, when you remove the pillar of God-given rights, then what’s left is the French Revolution. What’s left is a government that gives you rights. What’s left are no unalienable rights. What’s left is a government that will tell you who you are, what you’ll do and when you’ll do it. What’s left in France became the guillotine. Ladies and gentlemen, we’re a long way from that, but if we follow the path of President Obama and his overt hostility to faith in America, then we are headed down that road.”


Just how has this “hostility to faith in America” manifested itself? Obama issued a rule requiring some church-owned or church-run institutions to provide health insurance that pays for contraceptives, which are outlawed by Catholic doctrine — and used by most Catholic women . Obama subsequently altered the rule to placate Catholic bishops, who responded by declaring themselves implacable.

In his speech at the annual National Prayer Breakfast, Obama cited New Testament scripture in arguing for economic and social justice. Conservatives blasted him for, um, quoting the Bible.

This is a war? This is a march to the guillotine?

Romney and Gingrich know better; they’re just cynically pandering to religious conservatives. Santorum, at least, is sincere in his pre-Enlightenment beliefs. But rejection of the intellectual framework that produced not just the French Revolution but the American Revolution as well does not strike me as an appropriate philosophy for a U.S. presidential candidate to espouse, much less a winning platform to run on.

The Founders wisely decided to institutionalize separation of church and state. The references to God, the Creator and Divine Providence in the Declaration of Independence mask the fact that the Founders disagreed on the nature and existence of a Supreme Being. They understood the difference between faith and religiosity.

Within our secular governmental framework, religion has thrived. No other large industrialized nation has nearly as many regular churchgoers as does the United States.

And just as faith somehow survived Nicki Minaj’s burlesque at the Grammys, it will survive the attempt by Republicans to create a religious war out of thin air.

13 February 2012

Lt. Col. Davis’s ‘Manufacturing Consent’ « Antiwar.com Blog

Over the weekend, Rolling Stone magazine published a full copy of the unclassified report that Lt. Col. Daniel Davis submitted to Congress. Davis is of course the army whistleblower who has written and spoken out against the “rosy official statements by U.S. military leaders about conditions on the ground” in Afghanistan, which he claims bear “no resemblance” to the truth.

Unlike other recent leaks – like the January National Intelligence Estimate that concluded the war is still a “stalemate,” or the highly classified report that revealed most Afghans expect the Taliban to retake control of Afghanistan once the U.S. leaves – Davis’s report is not necessarily an expose of the failures on the ground. At its core, the report is a window into the propaganda that the U.S. military continuously disseminates to the American people, which is then eaten up by cowardly politicians and a gullible, uninformed public. And it is not couched in delicate language. He is straightforward.

“Our current military leadership,” Davis writes, “is so distorting the information it releases that the deterioration of the situation and the failing nature of our efforts is shielded from the American public (and Congress), and replaced instead with explicit statements that all is going according to plan.”

Davis goes into the genesis of how the U.S. military handled the media during the first Gulf War as it “began to pay more attention to the role of media in conflicts and how it could be used to support operations.” The Pentagon calls it Information Operations, defined by Brigadier General Ralph O. Baker as “activities undertaken by military and nonmilitary organizations to shape the essential narrative of a conflict or situation and thus affect the attitudes and behaviors of the targeted audience.” The U.S. military considers this a “core competency” in wars that is “on a par with ground and air forces.”

None of these propaganda efforts could work, of course, without a compliant news media. As Davis explains:

The first point is also probably the most obvious: in today’s world of major journalism, it’s all about viewership ratings which directly drive the bottom line: advertising revenue. If CNN doesn’t put more news shows on that draw larger audiences than FOX News, they’ve got to adjust. One of the key permutations of this requirement comes in which reporters get the best, most accurate news and in the world of military and defense news, that means access to senior leaders, whether uniformed or civilian.

The military, of course, is well versed in this game and is keenly aware of the power that gives them. If reporter A does not cover a story the way senior military leader B desires, reporter A suddenly finds his access to B greatly reduced – or in some cases outright eliminated – even if A works for a major outlet. If reporter X shows he or she will routinely give the slant that is supportive of the IO outlined in the section above, military leader Z will not only find time for them, but will from time to time give them a scoop. Other times reporter Z will be invited to a VIP-level tour of certain locations on the battlefield, sometimes with a three-star general as an escort.

That a Lieutenant Colonel with multiple deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan is explaining these propaganda models to Congress, I think, is remarkable. Most Americans get turned off even by the word propaganda, certain such deviousness is only utilized in authoritarian states like North Korea. It gives incredible weight to media criticisms that have been coming from sensible, antiwar voices for years. Or rather, it would…if the media had chosen to highlight Davis’s dissent, which it has not. Instead, a smear campaign has been waged against him by the Pentagon and has been dutifully amplified by the news media, almost exemplifying the predictive power of Davis’s report.