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Better Believe It

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FBI: We need wiretap-ready Web sites - now



Surveillance State democracy
As the FBI seeks full access to all forms of Internet communication, it is not voters who need to be convinced
By Glenn Greenwald
May 6, 2012


I wrote about this back in September, 2010, when it first revealed that the Obama administration was preparing legislation to mandate that “all services that enable communications — including encrypted e-mail transmitters like BlackBerry, social networking Web sites like Facebook and software that allows direct ‘peer to peer’ messaging like Skype” — be designed to ensure government surveillance access. This isn’t about expanding the scope of the government’s legal surveillance powers — numerous legislative changes since 2001 have already accomplished that quite nicely — but is about ensuring the government’s physical ability to intrude into all forms of Internet communication.

What was most amazing to me back when I first wrote about these Obama administration efforts was that a mere six weeks earlier, a major controversy had erupted when Saudi Arabia and the UAE both announced a ban on BlackBerries on the ground that they were physically unable to monitor the communications conducted on those devices. Since Blackberry communication data are sent directly to servers in Canada and the company which operates Blackberry — Research in Motion — refused to turn the data over to those governments, “authorities decided to ban Blackberry services rather than continue to allow an uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information within their borders.” As I wrote at the time: “that’s the core mindset of the Omnipotent Surveillance State: above all else, what is strictly prohibited is the ability of citizens to communicate in private; we can’t have any ‘uncontrolled and unmonitored flow of electronic information’.”

A week after the announced ban by the Saudis and UAE, The New York Times published an Op-Ed by Richard Falkenrath — a top-level Homeland Security official in the Bush administration and current principal in the private firm of former Bush DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff — expressing support for the UAE’s Blackberry ban. Falkenrath explained that “mong law enforcement investigators and intelligence officers , the Emirates’ decision met with approval, admiration and perhaps even a touch of envy.” The Obama administration — by essentially seeking to ban any Internet technology that allows communication to take place beyond its reach — is working hard to ensure that its own Surveillance State apparatus keeps up with those of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

.... for anyone who defends the Obama administration here and insists that the U.S. Government simply must have access to all forms of human communication: does that also apply to in-person communication? Should home and apartment builders be required to install monitors in every room they build to ensure that the Government can surveil all human communications in order to prevent threats to national security and public safety? I believe someone once wrote a book about where this mindset inevitably leads. The very idea that no human communication should ever be allowed to take place beyond the reach of the Government is definitive authoritarianism, which is why Saudi Arabia and the UAE — and their American patron-ally — have so vigorously embraced it.

Read the full article at:

http://www.salon.com/2012/05/06/surveillance_state_democracy/singleton/


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FBI: We need wiretap-ready Web sites - now

CNET learns the FBI is quietly pushing its plan to force surveillance backdoors on social networks, VoIP, and Web e-mail providers, and that the bureau is asking Internet companies not to oppose a law making those backdoors mandatory.
by Declan McCullagh
May 4, 2012


The FBI is asking Internet companies not to oppose a controversial proposal that would require firms, including Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, and Google, to build in backdoors for government surveillance.

In meetings with industry representatives, the White House, and U.S. senators, senior FBI officials argue the dramatic shift in communication from the telephone system to the Internet has made it far more difficult for agents to wiretap Americans suspected of illegal activities, CNET has learned.

The FBI general counsel's office has drafted a proposed law that the bureau claims is the best solution: requiring that social-networking Web sites and providers of VoIP, instant messaging, and Web e-mail alter their code to ensure their products are wiretap-friendly.

In addition to the FBI's legislative proposal, there are indications that the Federal Communications Commission is considering reinterpreting CALEA to demand that products that allow video or voice chat over the Internet -- from Skype to Google Hangouts to Xbox Live -- include surveillance backdoors to help the FBI with its "Going Dark" program. CALEA applies to technologies that are a "substantial replacement" for the telephone system.

Read the full article at:

http://news.cnet.com/8301-1009_3-57428067-83/fbi-we-need-wiretap-ready-web-sites-now/


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dministration Seeks Easy Access To Americans' Private Online Communications
September 27, 2010

Executive Branch Spying Powers Already Too Broad, Says ACLU

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE



WASHINGTON – The Obama administration is seeking to expand the government’s ability to conduct invasive surveillance online, according to a report in The New York Times today. According to the report, the administration is expected to submit legislation to Congress early next year that would mandate that all online communications services use technologies that would make it easier for the government to collect private communications and decode encrypted messages that Americans send over texting platforms, BlackBerries, social networking sites and other “peer to peer” communications software.

The administration has argued that it is simply hoping to emulate the Communications Assistance to Law Enforcement Act (CALEA), which mandated that telephone companies rework their networks to be wiretap-ready. The administration’s proposal, however, differs from CALEA as it would require reconfiguring of the Internet to provide easier access to online communications. This is particularly problematic because many of the privacy protections that governed the government’s wiretapping powers when CALEA passed in 1994 no longer exist or have been significantly weakened.

For example, Congress has granted the executive branch virtually unchecked power to conduct dragnet collection of Americans' international e-mails and telephone calls without a warrant or suspicion of any kind under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 (FAA). The ACLU and the New York Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit in July 2008 challenging the unconstitutional law, and the case is currently on appeal before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Today’s reported proposal would provide the apparatus for the government to implement its overbroad surveillance authority.

The following can be attributed to Christopher Calabrese, ACLU Legislative Counsel:

“Under the guise of a technical fix, the government looks to be taking one more step toward conducting easy dragnet collection of Americans’ most private communications. Mandating that all communications software be accessible to the government is a huge privacy invasion. With concern over cybersecurity at an all-time high, this proposal will create even more security risks by mandating that our communications have a ‘backdoor’ for government use and will make our online interactions even more vulnerable.

“Congress must reject the Obama administration’s proposal to make the Internet wiretap ready.”

For more information about the ACLU’s legal challenge to the FAA, go to: www.aclu.org/faa

http://www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/administration-seeks-easy-access-americans-private-online-communications
Posted by Better Believe It | Mon May 7, 2012, 01:02 PM (3 replies)

The Last Months of Osama bin Laden: Isolated, Delusional, Ridiculed by His Men

May 07, 2012
Isolated, Delusional, Ridiculed by His Men
The Last Months of Osama bin Laden
by PATRICK COCKBURN


Immediately after the killing, administration officials portrayed Bin Laden as a spider at the centre of a conspiratorial web, the well-hidden but operationally active commander in chief of al-Qa’ida. They later retreated from these claims that were obviously at odds with his demonstrably limited contacts with the outside world outside his compound in Abbottabad. This picture is confirmed by the release of 16 of his letters covering 200 pages last week showing him vainly urging new plots and policies on the organization he once controlled.

A striking feature of these letters is that there is no evidence that their recipients made any effort to carry out their leader’s instructions. Bin Laden had become delusional about his organization’s capacity, suggesting shooting down the plane of President Obama.

The best-informed account of Bin Laden’s last 10 years, and the way in which he was found, comes from the investigative journalist Gareth Porter working in concert with retired Pakistani Brigadier General Shaukat Qadir, a 30-year veteran of the Pakistan army, who spoke to three different couriers in contact with Bin Laden between 2001 and 2003. They explain how and why he had been marginalized within al-Qa’ida in the two years after he escaped from the Tora Bora mountains at the time of the fall of Afghan Taliban in 2001.

By the account of these couriers, who had worked for Baitullah Mehsud, head of the al-Qa’da-linked Tehrik-e-Taliban in south Waziristan, Bin Laden played no active role in the leadership of his organization after 2003. The couriers no longer felt bound by oaths of secrecy after Mehsud was killed by a drone in 2009. They say that the al-Qa’ida leader’s physical and mental health had deteriorated after Tora Bora and he had to be moved from house to house in South Waziristan. He was becoming increasingly unrealistic and delusional, obsessed with a desire to attack Pakistan’s nuclear reactor at Kahuta (though no bombs were stored there). “He had become a physical liability and was going mad,” one courier told General Qadir, adding “he had become an object of ridicule” among militants in South Waziristan. Another courier said: “Nobody listened to his rantings any more.”

Read the full article at:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/07/the-last-months-of-osama-bin-laden/
Posted by Better Believe It | Mon May 7, 2012, 12:22 PM (17 replies)

Members of Congress, Faith Groups Send Letters to Obama Appealing for LGBT Anti-Discrimination Order

Did Your Member of Congress Sign the ENDA Executive Order Letter to President Obama?
By: Jane Hamsher
May 4, 2012


We had hundreds of people calling their representatives yesterday to ask if they would sign the letter to President Obama, telling him to issue an executive order preventing federal contractors from discriminating against employees based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

LGBT activists lobbying on the Hill report that the DNC is actively discouraging the letter in order to shield the President from the pressure within his own party.

Lyndon Johnson signed such an executive order in in 1965 prohibiting discriminating on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex or national origin.”

Call your member of Congress today and ask them to sign the letter to President Obama, asking him to issue an executive order to end LGBT discrimination in the federal workplace.

http://firedoglake.com/2012/05/04/call-reports-did-your-member-of-congress-sign-the-enda-executive-order-letter-to-president-obama/


Read the full text of the letter at:

http://www.scribd.com/Firedoglake/d/92250398-LGBT-Workplace-Non-Discrimination-EO-Letter-to-President-Obama

The following members of Congress have signed the letter:


Raúl Grijalva, AZ-07

Susan Davis, CA-53

Donna Edwards, MD-4

Yvette D. Clarke, NY-11

George Miller, CA-07

Diana DeGette, CO-1

Chris Van Hollen, MD-8

Nydia Velázquez, NY-12

Barbara Lee, CA-09

Jared Polis, CO-2

Chellie Pingree, ME-01

Carolyn Maloney, NY-14

Pete Stark, CA-13

Jim Himes, CT-4

Gary Peters, MI-09

Charles B. Rangel, NY-15

Mike Honda, CA-15

Eleanor Holmes-Norton, DC

Sander Levin, MI-12

Nita Lowey, NY-18

Zoe Lofgren, CA-16

Ted Deutch, FL-19

Hansen Clarke, MI-13

Maurice Hinchey, NY-22

Sam Farr, CA-17

Hank Johnson, GA-4

Keith Ellison, MN-05

Brian Higgins, NY-27

Lois Capps, CA-23

John Lewis, GA-5

David Price, NC-04

Louise Slaughter, NY-28

Brad Sherman, CA-27

Bruce Braley, IA-1

Rob Andrews, NJ-01

Earl Blumenauer, OR-03

Howard Berman, CA-28

Jesse Jackson, Jr., IL-2

Frank Pallone, NJ-06

David Cicilline, RI-01

Adam Schiff, CA-29

Luis Gutiérrez, IL-4

Bill Pascrell, NJ-08

Steve Cohen, TN-09

Henry Waxman, CA-30

Michael Quigley, IL-5

Steven Rothman, NJ-09

Silvestre Reyes, TX-16

Judy Chu, CA-32

Jan Schakowsky, IL-9

Rush D. Holt, NJ-12

Bobby Scott, VA-03

Maxine Waters, CA-35

André Carson, IN-7

Martin Heinrich, NM-01

Jim Moran, VA-08

Janice Hahn, CA-36

Jim McGovern, MA-3

Shelley Berkley, NV-01

Jim McDermott, WA-07

Laura Richardson, CA-37

Barney Frank, MA-4

Tim Bishop, NY-01

Adam Smith, WA-09

Linda Sánchez, CA-39

Niki Tsongas, MA-5

Gary Ackerman, NY-05

Tammy Baldwin, WI-02

Bob Filner, CA-51

Mike Capuano, MA-8

Jerrold Nadler, NY-08

Ron Kind, WI-03


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23 Faith and Humanist Groups Send Letter to President Obama Calling For ENDA Executive Order
By Noah Baron
May 3, 2012


In 2008, President Obama made a commitment to sign an executive order banning discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) employees of federal contractors. Yet a few weeks ago – and about four years after he made that promise – he announced that he would not be signing that executive order after all. Many LGBT advocacy groups have already expressed their disappointment about the president’s decision, and the RAC recently coordinated 23 faith and humanist organizations recently in joining those groups and urging the president to change his mind and issue the executive order he promised four years ago.

Among those groups were the Union for Reform Judaism and the Central Conference of American Rabbis – the congregational and clergy bodies of the Reform Jewish Movement in North America, which together encompass more than 1.5 million Jews and 1800 rabbis.

The Reform Movement has long been active in the struggle for civil rights for all Americans. For over three decades, we have called for equality for LGBT people. As people of faith, our holy texts teach us that all people are created b’tselem Elohim, in the Divine image (Gen. 1:27), and as such are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect. As Jews, our tradition and history teach us that we should not stand by as others suffer discrimination – we envision a government which “to bigotry gives no sanction, to persecution no assistance” (George Washington, in a letter to Moses Seixas, 1790).

We hope the White House will reverse course on this vital issue and protect LGBT Americans and their families from discrimination.


The executive order prohibiting anti-LGBT discrimination among federal contractors is ready for the president's signature

http://blogs.rj.org/rac/2012/05/03/faith-and-humanist-groups-call-for-enda-executive-order/


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The following is the text of the letter to President Obama:


May 3, 2012

ISSUE AN EXECUTIVE ORDER PROTECTING LGBT AMERICANS FROM DISCRIMINATION BY U.S. GOVERNMENT CONTRACTORS

Dear President Obama:

On behalf of the undersigned groups representing a wide variety of faith and belief systems, including non-theistic beliefs, we write to express our disappointment in your decision not to issue an executive order to include sexual orientation and gender identity among the prohibited forms of discrimination in the hiring and employment practices of U.S. government contractors.

We believe that no one should face discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity: Our various faith traditions and belief systems counsel the treatment of all people with dignity. They inspire us to act with compassion and to work to ensure that all are accorded respect and equal opportunity. Moreover, many of us draw on our experience as members of groups that historically have known discrimination as a reminder of the importance of such anti-discrimination measures as a means of ensuring fairness in employment.

LGBT Americans face significant discrimination and harassment in the workplace, which threatens their and their families’ economic security. Research has shown that up to 43 percent of gay Americans have experienced some form of workplace discrimination or harassment; this number is significantly higher for transgender Americans (90%). Moreover, between 8 and 17 percent of LGBT workers said that they had been passed over for a job or fired as a result of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As a result of this discrimination, 14 percent of LGBT Americans earn less than $10,000 per year, compared to only six percent of all Americans (Center for American Progress and the Williams Institute, Memo to Congressman Barney Frank re: LGBT Equality in Government Contracting, January 13, 2012).

The concept of prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity in employment is supported among Americans of all political stripes. A poll commissioned by the Center for American Progress discovered that almost three-quarters of those asked supported protecting LGBT people from discrimination in the workplace. Supermajorities of Democrats (81%), Independents (74%), and Republicans (66%) all supported anti-discrimination provisions (Memo to Congressman Barney Frank re: LGBT Equality in Government Contracting).

For these reasons, we strongly urge you to reconsider issuing an executive order prohibiting discrimination by U.S. government contractors on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Signed,

Anti-Defamation League
American Humanist Association
American Conference of Cantors
Central Conference of American Rabbis
The Center for Inquiry
The Episcopal Church
The Fellowship of Affirming Ministries
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Global Justice Ministries
Interfaith Alliance
Institute for Science and Human Values
Jewish Reconstructionist Federation
Metropolitan Community Churches
Muslims for Progressive Values
National Council of Jewish Women
National Council of Churches USA
National Minority AIDS Council
Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association
Secular Coalition for America
Union for Reform Judaism
Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations
United Church of Christ, Justice and Witness Ministries
Women of Reform Judaism








Posted by Better Believe It | Fri May 4, 2012, 11:52 PM (4 replies)

The U.S. Surveillance State Expands: Life Under Constant Watch


Weekend Edition May 4-6, 2012
The Surveillance State
Life Under Constant Watch
by FIRMIN DeBRABANDER


The surveillance state expands. Since 9-11, our phones are subject to warrantless wiretaps. Our email and internet transactions leave a trail for some to follow. The police can access our GPS location data through our smart phones, also without a warrant. Retailers record our purchasing habits with painstaking detail. Apparently, Target studies those purchases to determine when customers are pregnant—in the second trimester no less—for specialized marketing purposes.

And now, there will be surveillance drones. Congress recently passed a bill that opens the gates to widespread use of surveillance drones on US soil. There has been relatively little coverage of this alarming development: drones, so far associated with our illegal war in Pakistan and Yemen, are soon to become a domestic mainstay. On our shores, they will be used for law enforcement and border protection, but also commercially, for real estate, entertainment and journalistic purposes, for example. One prominent drone showcased on the internet is a hummingbird drone. As the name suggests, it’s tiny, quick and highly mobile. A popular video shows the hummingbird drone entering a building and flying down a corridor, transmitting everything it sees. Imagine the possibilities.

In his book Discipline and Punish, the French philosopher Michel Foucault argues that constant surveillance has a devastating effect. It’s a subtle form of oppression. When we feel we are being watched, we are more self-conscious of our behavior, more likely to watch what we do and conform to what we think the surveyors want or expect. The hawks among us say this is a good thing: if you’re doing nothing wrong, what do you have to fear from a hummingbird drone? But it’s not as simple as that.

The political problem with all this surveillance is obvious, if we’d care to admit it. The political authorities have so much more access to the details of our lives, and in the wrong hands, could do real harm. The only thing protecting us is the character of those in power who collect all this information—and swear they will do nothing objectionable with it. Regarding the new National Defense Authorization Act, which sanctions the president’s power to detain indefinitely or even assassinate US citizens suspected of involvement in terrorist organizations, Obama tried to allay fears by arguing that his administration will use discretion and judgment in exercising this power. What about subsequent administrations? Our founding fathers were highly concerned to design a government that was impervious to corruption by the character flaws of individual office holders. The War on Terror has steadily rendered us vulnerable to just that.

Read the full article at:

http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/05/04/life-under-constant-watch/
Posted by Better Believe It | Fri May 4, 2012, 11:20 PM (22 replies)

Water Guns Banned, Handguns Allowed at GOP Convention

Water Guns Banned, Handguns Allowed at GOP Convention
By Amy Bingham
May 3, 2012


In the politically-charged and likely protest-filled streets of Tampa, Fla., during the Republican National Convention in August, water guns will be strictly prohibited. Concealed handguns, on the other hand, will be perfectly legal.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott said this week that banning handguns from downtown Tampa during the convention, as the city's Mayor Bob Buckhorn requested, "would surely violate the Second Amendment."

Tampa officials are expecting thousands of protesters to descend on the Florida metropolis for the GOP convention. While no handguns will be allowed inside the convention, which is being protected by the Secret Service, concealed carry license-holders will be able to carry their weapons in the streets surrounding the convention.

Buckhorn said last month that the state law, which prohibits the city from temporarily banning handguns, makes the city "look silly" because officials can prohibit water guns but not real ones, The Associated Press reported.

Read the full article at:

http://news.yahoo.com/water-guns-banned-handguns-allowed-gop-convention-202223900--abc-news-politics.html
Posted by Better Believe It | Thu May 3, 2012, 09:58 PM (9 replies)

More Democrats stand up to threats & intimidation from Obama Adm. and condemn medical pot attacks



For Immediate Release:
May 3rd, 2012
House Minority Leader Pelosi Joins Democrats in Condemning Federal Medical Marijuana Attacks
Momentum builds as more Democratic leadership stand up to threats & intimidation from Obama administration


San Francisco, CA -- U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) issued a statement yesterday condemning the escalated attacks on state-compliant medical marijuana businesses in her state. Responding to recent federal government actions threatening safe access to medical marijuana, Pelosi said she has "long supported" and will "continue to strongly support" efforts to "advocate federal policies that recognize the scientific evidence and clinical research demonstrating the medical benefits of medicinal marijuana, that respects the wishes of the states in providing relief to ill individuals, and that prevents the federal government from acting to harm the safe access of medicinal marijuana provided under state law."

As a result of threats by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag to bring criminal and civil charges against San Francisco dispensary operators and their landlords, five city facilities have been forced to close, and at least four additional dispensaries have received similar threatening letters. Pelosi's statement comes on the same day the Alameda County Democratic Party unanimously adopted a resolution "decrying the federal raids on dispensaries and calling for the U.S. Department of Justice to refrain from future expenditure of public resources on any act that contradicts the will of the California voters regarding medical marijuana."

Last week the San Francisco Democratic Party passed a similar resolution, calling on President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag "cease all Federal actions in San Francisco immediately, respect State and local laws, and stop the closure of City-permitted medical cannabis facilities." This resolution followed a statement earlier in April by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee, opposing "recent federal actions targeting duly permitted Medicinal Cannabis Dispensaries...that aim to limit our citizens’ ability to have safe access to the medicine they need."

The group behind the recent momentum of opposition by local, state and federal elected officials is the coalition "San Francisco United for Safe Access," made up of patients, patient advocates like Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and its local ASA-SF chapter, as well as other stakeholders seeking to maintain a safe and legal means by which qualified patients can obtain their medication. "We applaud Pelosi's leadership in urging President Obama to address medical marijuana as a public health issue," said ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer. "Rather than defending a policy of intolerance, President Obama should end his unnecessary and harmful attacks once and for all."

President Obama, who was recently interviewed by Rolling Stone magazine, weakly defended his administration's practice of aggressively raiding permitted dispensaries by claiming that "there haven't been any prosecutions" of medical marijuana patients. President Obama conspicuously avoided the question of why he was using Justice Department funds to carry out a campaign against medical marijuana that not only contradicts a campaign pledge, but has also far surpassed that of his predecessor President George W. Bush. Obama's Justice Department has conducted more than 200 SWAT-style raids on dispensaries and growers in at least 9 medical marijuana states since he took office in January 2009.

Further information:
Statement by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi: http://pelosi.house.gov/news/press-releases/2012/05/pelosi-statement-on-recent-federal-government-actions-threatening-safe-access-to-medicinal-marijuana.shtml
Today's Alameda County Democratic Party resolution: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DCCC_Alameda_Resolution.pdf
Last week's San Francisco Democratic Party resolution: http://AmericansForSafeAccess.org/downloads/DCCC_SF_Resolution.pdf
President Obama in Rolling Stone: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/ready-for-the-fight-rolling-stone-interview-with-barack-obama-20120425

# # #


http://www.safeaccessnow.org/house-minority-leader-pelosi-joins-democrats-in-condemning-federal-medical-marijuana-attacks
Posted by Better Believe It | Thu May 3, 2012, 09:35 PM (113 replies)

Bionic eye gives sight to the blind in medical breakthrough!





Bionic eye gives sight to the blind in medical breakthrough
May 3, 2012


They have the technology, and now scientists in the U.K. have given sight to the blind using bionic eyes. Electronic microchips implanted into the eyes of a group of British patients suffering from retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable genetic condition that causes blindness, have partially restored the vision of the formerly sightless so that they're able to view the world as a "grainy black-and-white image." The implant's first British recipient said the bionic eye gives him "some imagery rather than just a black world." Another patient reported suddenly dreaming in "very vivid color for the first time in 25 years" because a part of his brain had been reactivated. Wow, Toto. I don't think we're in Kansas anymore.

http://now.msn.com/living/0503-bionic-eye-blind.aspx
Posted by Better Believe It | Thu May 3, 2012, 05:26 PM (17 replies)

Kucinich: We are Not Exiting Afghanistan. We are Staying.



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 2, 2012

Kucinich: We are Not Exiting Afghanistan. We are Staying.

Strategic Partnership Agreement Commits U.S. to Afghanistan for the Indefinite Future



WASHINGTON - May 2 - Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), who has led the call to end the war in Afghanistan, today released the following statement after President Obama announced that the U.S. has signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan.

“Yesterday, the President announced that the U.S. signed a Strategic Partnership Agreement with Afghanistan, committing the United States to the country for a long time to come. The agreement addressed the transition to Afghan-led security forces by 2014. Human and monetary costs to the U.S. will continue to skyrocket.

“According to a recent article in The Atlantic, the U.S. spends an estimated $14,000 per Afghan troop per year. The long-term costs to the U.S. to train the 352,000 Afghan security troops we are counting on to allow the withdrawal of U.S. troops will be over $4 billion per year; or more than $40 billion over the next ten years. The Associated Press recently highlighted a report that raises significant questions regarding International Security Assistance Force claims that there have been Afghan-led military operations, an indicator of progress toward Afghan military self sufficiency, a cornerstone of our strategy.

“It is widely recognized that much of Al-Qaeda’s leadership and presence in Afghanistan has been decimated. Since the death of Osama bin Laden exactly one year ago, we have lost 381 U.S. troops. The President stated that ‘we must give Afghanistan the opportunity to stabilize.’ The assertion that maintaining a long-term presence in the country is the best way to prevent future attacks on the U.S. belies the reality on the ground: that our mere presence is destabilizing. The events of the past few months alone – the Koran burnings, coordinated attacks by the Taliban in Kabul, and the killing of Afghan civilians by a U.S. solider – should be enough of an indication that more time in Afghanistan is not the answer.

“America has been lulled to sleep by the mindboggling elongation of a war seven thousand miles away. The plain fact is we are not exiting Afghanistan, despite the appearances which the White House is trying to create. We are staying. Have we learned nothing from ten years of quagmire? It is time to bring our troops home safely and responsibly.”

###

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2012/05/02-1


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In Midnight Signing Ceremony, Obama Promises at Least Ten More Years of War in Afghanistan
One thing crystal clear in secretive US-Afghan 'strategic partnership agreement': War not even close to ending
by Common Dreams staff
May 2, 2012


President Obama's secret trip to Afghanistan, shrouded in secrecy for security reasons, culminated in a midnight meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the signing of a 'strategic partnership agreement', the full details of which have not been made available to either the American or Afghan public.

The agreement, broadly understood, codifies the ongoing conditions under which the US government agrees to operate in Afghanistan and will guide policies on the management of military bases, authority over detainees, the execution of night raids and other security operations, and will set conditions for troop levels and residual US forces that will remain in Afghanistan even after a 'withdrawal' commences in 2014. The agreement also deals with ongoing financial support for the Afghan government and military into the future.

Though Obama spoke optimistically of 'light of a new day' in Afghanistan and many media reports heralded the agreement as a 'signal to the end of war', other analysts arrived at different conclusions.

Read the full article at:

http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2012/05/02-6


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Obama's midnight dash to Kabul shows that he dare not visit the place in daylight
By Peter Foster
May 2, 2012


If ever there was an image to convey the limits of the UK-US success in Afghanistan, it was the way that Barack Obama, the Commander-in-Chief of the liberating, Taliban-scattering forces was forced to skulk into Kabul last night under the cover of darkness.

.... after landing at Bagram Airbase just after 10pm local time, there was a low-level, cover-of-darkness of helicopter insertion to the Presidential Palace where the ten-page deal (which contains no specifics on funding or troop levels) was signed around midnight.

After the signing, there was just time for Mr Obama to duck into hangar and make a rousing address to the poor troops who must daily wonder which direction enemy fire is coming from, before making an address to the nation. This was, of course, another perfect excuse for the President to remind everyone of his heroic decisions in the Situation Room a year ago.

Mr Obama tried to make a virtue out of absurdity, referring to a “new light” breaking on the horizon for Afghanistan, even as he gestured to the “pre-dawn darkness” in which he was speaking, but even Mr Obama oratorical skills couldn’t disguise the tail-between-the-legs ‘optics’ of the event. It was terrible.

Read the full article at:

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peterfoster/100155044/obamas-midnight-dash-to-kabul-shows-that-he-dare-not-visit-the-place-in-daylight/


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What Did We Get for 381 US Dead Since the Death of bin Laden?
by Robert Naiman
Robert Naiman is Policy Director at Just Foreign Policy
May 2, 2012


No U.S. official has explained to us yet what we won in Afghanistan since May 2, 2011, that justified the additional sacrifice that we have made in Afghanistan since Osama bin Laden's death. No U.S. official has presented a case that we are safer than we were a year ago as a result of our additional sacrifice in Afghanistan, still less that our increased safety was sufficient to justify the additional sacrifice of the last year.

In his speech, President Obama said, "As we move forward, some people will ask why we need a firm timeline." I'm delighted that President Obama supports the principle of a firm timeline. But it's far from obvious that we actually have a "firm timeline," and if we do, exactly what it is. Certainly there is no timeline for when all U.S. troops will be withdrawn. President Obama did seem to imply that we can be sure that there will be no U.S. troops involved in "combat" in Afghanistan after December 31, 2014. But they may be involved in "counterterrorism," which presumably is combat, and "training," and if you ask the military what "training" is, they will say it includes embedding with Afghanistan troops who are engaged in combat. So "training" is also combat. And therefore it is far from obvious that we actually have a "firm timeline" for anything.

If it's a good idea to end "combat" by December 31, 2014, how do we know it's not a good idea to end "combat" by December 31, 2013, or by December 31, 2012? Shouldn't someone have to explain this? If the government wants to regulate a chemical, it has to do a cost-benefit analysis of the regulation. Shouldn't the government have to do a cost-benefit analysis of keeping tens of thousands of U.S. troops in Afghanistan for another 2 years, given the huge sacrifice involved? Shouldn't that be a public document that outside experts can examine?

In his speech, President Obama said, "Others will ask why we don't leave immediately." Isn't that a "strawman" argument? Is a single Member of Congress actually proposing that we "leave immediately"? Could 90,000 people "immediately" leave a rock concert or a football game in a safe way, even if they were sober and unarmed? Wouldn't we want them to file out in an orderly and deliberate way? Except for rhetorical flourish, is anyone really arguing that 90,000 U.S. troops should leave Afghanistan "immediately"? If we pulled all U.S. troops from Afghanistan within a year, wouldn't most war critics be satisfied by that? Therefore isn't the real question that the Administration has to answer not "why can't we leave immediately?" but "why can't we leave within a year?" Didn't we withdraw tens of thousands of troops from Iraq in a matter of months?

Regardless of when we withdraw troops, couldn't we end offensive combat immediately while we try to pursue peace talks? The official policy of the international community towards the Syrian civil war is to support a ceasefire followed by political talks. Why isn't this the official policy of the international community towards the civil war in Afghanistan? If we ended offensive combat operations, wouldn't U.S. casualties in Afghanistan fall considerably? Isn't that what happened in Iraq?

Read the full article at:

http://www.justforeignpolicy.org/node/1207


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One Year After Bin Laden’s Death, Bring the Troops Home Now
by Kevin Martin and Michael Eisenscher
May 2, 2012

Kevin Martin is Executive Director of Peace Action, the country’s largest peace and disarmament organization with 100,000 members and over 70,000 on-line supporters.
Michael Eisenscher is National Coordinator of U.S. Labor Against the War (USLAW) a network of over 190 national, regional and local unions and other labor organizations.


Today marks one year since the death of Osama bin Laden. The CIA estimates there are fewer than 100 al Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Since ‘getting Bin Laden’ and defeating al Qaeda were the stated reasons the U.S. invaded Afghanistan in 2001, President Barack Obama should use the anniversary to announce the end of the U.S. war in Afghanistan.

Instead, his administration has negotiated an agreement with President Hamid Karzai’s government for a U.S. presence in that country until at least 2024, ten years past the supposed date for withdrawal of U.S. combat troops. The U.S. and its NATO allies are supposed to commit to ongoing training of the Afghan military, as well as development aid. Obama swept into Afghanistan in the middle of the night to sign the agreement, but full details of the agreement remain secret.

If the agreement covers a ten year period, commits U.S. military forces for training and counter-insurgency (which means inevitable combat), obligates the U.S. to continue providing billions of taxpayer dollars annually in aid (essentially bankrolling the entire Afghan government and military), and posits support for any number of "nation-building" measures, isn't this in fact a treaty, subject to U.S. Senate ratification, rather than an intergovernmental memorandum of agreement?

Karzai apparently feels obligated to take the agreement to his parliament for approval. Doesn’t Obama have a similar obligation - one imposed by the U.S. Constitution? It’s not clear what the year since the killing of Bin Laden has done to improve U.S. or Afghan security. It’s even less clear what staying for another dozen years will do for either country.

Read the full article at:

http://www.commondreams.org/view/2012/05/02-4

Posted by Better Believe It | Wed May 2, 2012, 05:33 PM (83 replies)

Service Employees Union (SEIU) Marching Forward for Justice and Good Jobs on International Labor Day




FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 1, 2012
SEIU Marching Forward for Justice and Good Jobs on International Labor Day


WASHINGTON - May 1 - Thousands of hardworking, taxpaying immigrant workers are participating in marches and rallies in cities across the U.S. today, standing up for the rights of the 99% by calling for good jobs and justice for workers and immigrants. SEIU is marching for an America that is fair to immigrants, an America where prosperity is shared, and an America where the rights of all people are respected.

From Boston to New York, to Los Angeles and points in between, many SEIU members will be carrying the messages: “We are the 99%” and “I Vote for Immigrants Justice” -- statements that define SEIU’s mobilization efforts as members march towards the November election.

“The 1% increases its wealth on the backs of the 99%, and the 1% profits from the politics of division. They blame the struggling economy on immigrant workers as a way to turn U.S. workers against immigrants. But don’t forget: As long as the politics of fear and division goes unchecked, it is the 1% that profits while the rest of us -- the 99% -- get thrown under the bus,” said Eliseo Medina, SEIU’s International Secretary-Treasurer. “We have to stop that and stop it now. We have the power to do it by marching to the polls on Nov. 6 and voting for leaders who will uphold our nation’s values.”

The 1% has the ability to invest in good jobs, but its greediness keeps them sitting on cash while demanding that Congress extend tax cuts for rich.

Workers know the score, and it will be delivered on Election Day. Meanwhile, SEIU will stay true to our mission -- to unite all working people for a better future that includes an end to exploitation and discrimination against workers and immigrants.

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With 2 million members in Canada, the United States and Puerto Rico, SEIU is the fastest-growing union in the Americas. Focused on uniting workers in healthcare, public services and property services, SEIU members are winning better wages, healthcare and more secure jobs for our communities, while uniting their strength with their counterparts around the world to help ensure that workers—not just corporations and CEOs—benefit from today's global economy.

http://www.commondreams.org/newswire/2012/05/01-1
Posted by Better Believe It | Tue May 1, 2012, 12:54 PM (0 replies)

How Did Obama Become Our Most Imperial President?

How Did Obama Become Our Most Imperial President?
By Tom Engelhardt
April 29, 2012


Once upon a time, American presidents didn’t consider micro-managing a permanent war state as a central part of their job description, nor did they focus so unrelentingly on the U.S. military and the doings of the national security state. Today, the president’s word is death just about anywhere on the planet and he exercises that power with remarkable frequency. He appears in front of “the troops” increasingly often and his wife has made their wellbeing part of her job description. He has at his command expanded “covert” powers, including his own private armies: a more militarized CIA and growing hordes of special operations forces, 60,000 of them, who essentially make up a “covert” military inside the U.S. military.

In effect, he also has his own private intelligence outfits, including most recently a newly formed Defense Clandestine Service at the Pentagon focused on non-war zone intelligence operations (especially, so the reports go, against China and Iran). Finally, he has what is essentially his own expanding private (robotic) air force: drones.

He can send his drone assassins and special ops troops just about anywhere to kill just about anyone he thinks should die, national sovereignty be damned. He firmly established his “right” to do this by going after the worst of the worst, killing Osama bin Laden in Pakistan with special operations forces and an American citizen and jihadi, Anwar al-Awlaki, in Yemen with a drone.

At the moment, the president is in the process of widening his around-the-clock “covert” air campaigns. Almost unnoted in the U.S., for instance, American drones recently carried out a strike in the Philippines killing 15 and the Air Force has since announced a plan to boost its drones there by 30%. At the same time, in Yemen, as previously in the Pakistani borderlands, the president has just given the CIA and the U.S. Joint Operations Command the authority to launch drone strikes not just against identified “high-value” al-Qaeda “targets,” but against general “patterns of suspicious behavior.” So expect an escalating drone war there not against known individuals, but against groups of suspected evildoers (and as in all such cases, innocent civilians as well).

Read the full article at:

http://www.alternet.org/story/155196/how_did_obama_become_our_most_imperial_president/?page=entire
Posted by Better Believe It | Mon Apr 30, 2012, 10:59 PM (111 replies)
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