In the USA...
May 23, 2013Pivoting From a War Footing, Obama Acts to Curtail Drones
By PETER BAKER
WASHINGTON — Nearly a dozen years after the hijackings that transformed America, President Obama said Thursday that it was time to narrow the scope of the grinding battle against terrorists and begin the transition to a day when the country will no longer be on a war footing.
Declaring that “America is at a crossroads,” the president called for redefining what has been a global war into a more targeted assault on terrorist groups threatening the United States. As part of a realignment of counterterrorism policy, he said he would curtail the use of drones, recommit to closing the prison at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and seek new limits on his own war power.
In a much-anticipated speech at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama sought to turn the page on the era that began on Sept. 11, 2001, when the imperative of preventing terrorist attacks became both the priority and the preoccupation. Instead, the president suggested that the United States had returned to the state of affairs that existed before Al Qaeda toppled the World Trade Center, when terrorism was a persistent but not existential danger. With Al Qaeda’s core now “on the path to defeat,” he argued, the nation must adapt.
“Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue,” Mr. Obama said. “But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. It’s what our democracy demands.”
The president’s speech reignited a debate over how to respond to the threat of terrorism that has polarized the capital for years. Republicans contended that Mr. Obama was declaring victory prematurely and underestimating an enduring danger, while liberals complained that he had not gone far enough in ending what they see as the excesses of the Bush era.
The precise ramifications of his shift were less clear than the lines of argument, however, because the new policy guidance he signed remains classified, and other changes he embraced require Congressional approval. Mr. Obama, for instance, did not directly mention in his speech that his new order would shift responsibility for drones more toward the military and away from the Central Intelligence Agency.
But the combination of his words and deeds foreshadowed the course he hopes to take in the remaining three and a half years of his presidency so that he leaves his successor a profoundly different national security landscape than the one he inherited in 2009. While President George W. Bush saw the fight against terrorism as the defining mission of his presidency, Mr. Obama has always viewed it as one priority among many at a time of wrenching economic and domestic challenges.
“Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless ‘global war on terror,’ ” he said, using Mr. Bush’s term, “but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.”
“Neither I, nor any president, can promise the total defeat of terror,” he added. “We will never erase the evil that lies in the hearts of some human beings, nor stamp out every danger to our open society. But what we can do — what we must do — is dismantle networks that pose a direct danger to us, and make it less likely for new groups to gain a foothold, all the while maintaining the freedoms and ideals that we defend.”
Some Republicans expressed alarm about Mr. Obama’s shift, saying it was a mistake to go back to the days when terrorism was seen as a manageable law enforcement problem rather than a dire threat.
“The president’s speech today will be viewed by terrorists as a victory,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, the top Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Rather than continuing successful counterterrorism activities, we are changing course with no clear operational benefit.”
Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona, said he still agreed with Mr. Obama about closing the Guantánamo prison, but he called the president’s assertion that Al Qaeda was on the run “a degree of unreality that to me is really incredible.” Mr. McCain said the president had been too passive in the Arab world, particularly in Syria’s civil war. “American leadership is absent in the Middle East,” he said.
The liberal discontent with Mr. Obama was on display even before his speech ended. Medea Benjamin, a co-founder of the antiwar group Code Pink, who was in the audience, shouted at the president to release prisoners from Guantánamo, halt C.I.A. drone strikes and apologize to Muslims for killing so many of them.
“Abide by the rule of law!” she yelled as security personnel removed her from the auditorium. “You’re a constitutional lawyer!”
Col. Morris D. Davis, a former chief prosecutor at Guantánamo who has become a leading critic of the prison, waited until after the speech to express disappointment that Mr. Obama was not more proactive. “It’s great rhetoric,” he said. “But now is the reality going to live up to the rhetoric?”
Still, some counterterrorism experts saw it as the natural evolution of the conflict after more than a decade. “This is both a promise to an end to the war on terror, while being a further declaration of war, constrained and proportional in its scope,” said Juan Carlos Zarate, a counterterrorism adviser to Mr. Bush.
The new classified policy guidance imposes tougher standards for when drone strikes can be authorized, limiting them to targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, according to government officials. The guidance also begins a process of phasing the C.I.A. out of the drone war and shifting operations to the Pentagon.
The guidance expresses the principle that the military should be in the lead and responsible for taking direct action even outside traditional war zones like Afghanistan, officials said. But Pakistan, where the C.I.A. has waged a robust campaign of air assaults on terrorism suspects in the tribal areas, will be grandfathered in for a transition period and remain under C.I.A. control.
That exception will be reviewed every six months as the government decides whether Al Qaeda has been neutralized enough in Pakistan and whether troops in Afghanistan can be protected. Officials said they anticipated that the eventual transfer of the C.I.A. drone program in Pakistan to the military would probably coincide with the withdrawal of combat units from Afghanistan at the end of 2014.
Even as he envisions scaling back the targeted killing, Mr. Obama embraced ideas to limit his own authority. He expressed openness to the idea of a secret court to oversee drone strikes, much like the intelligence court that authorizes secret wiretaps, or instead perhaps some sort of independent body within the executive branch. He did not outline a specific proposal, leaving it to Congress to consider something along those lines.
He also called on Congress to “refine and ultimately repeal” the authorization of force it passed in the aftermath of Sept. 11. Aides said he wanted it limited more clearly to combating Al Qaeda and affiliated groups so it could not be used to justify action against other terrorist or extremist organizations.
In renewing his vow to close the Guantánamo prison, Mr. Obama highlighted one of his most prominent unkept promises from the 2008 presidential campaign. He came into office vowing to shutter the prison, which has become a symbol around the world of American excesses, within a year, but Congress moved to block him, and then he largely dropped the effort.
With 166 detainees still at the prison, Mr. Obama said he would reduce the population even without action by Congress. About half of the detainees have been cleared for return to their home countries, mostly Yemen. Mr. Obama said he was lifting a moratorium he imposed on sending detainees to Yemen, where a new president has inspired more faith in the White House that he would not allow recidivism.
The policy changes have been in the works for months as Mr. Obama has sought to reorient his national security strategy. The speech was his most comprehensive public discussion of counterterrorism since he took office, and at times he was almost ruminative, articulating both sides of the argument and weighing trade-offs out loud in a way presidents rarely do.
He said that the United States remained in danger from terrorists, as the attacks in Boston and Benghazi, Libya, have demonstrated, but that the nature of the threat “has shifted and evolved.” He noted that terrorists, including some radicalized at home, had carried out attacks, but less ambitious than the ones on Sept. 11.
“We have to take these threats seriously and do all that we can to confront them,” he said. “But as we shape our response, we have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11.”
Eric Schmitt and Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.
Click to watch this very important speech: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hsp5xtUERmk
Yet more evidence of the utterly corrupt U.S. Corporate Media ...The Media Refuses to Challenge John Boehner’s ‘Obama Scandals’ BS
By: Sarah Jones
May. 23rd, 2013
Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) carefully started off Thursday’s press conference by instructing reporters that Republicans’ number one priorities are jobs and economic growth… but IRS scandal!
The media refused to challenge the Speaker on the facts that have come to light over the past week, many of which threw cold water on Republicans’ various claims regarding the “Obama scandals”.
Boehner skipped over the specifics for jobs, throwing the Keystone Pipeline out as one of their jobs plans (even though a State Department draft environmental impact statement found it will only create 35 permanent jobs). Then he quickly launched into Operation Heritage Institute Get Barack Obama, saying of the IRS scandal, “This White House — The lights are on, but there doesn’t seem to be anyone home.”
Luckily for the Speaker, he doesn’t need facts to indict. Boehner assured the press that the IRS has been systematically destroying Americans rights for two years, but we can’t get a straight answer from this administration. Are you getting the Nixonian references or should I put it in bold around Obama’s name just in case you missed it? Since there is no real evidence suggesting Obama had anything to do with any of these scandals, we might need to repeat the Nixon theme a LOT in order to smear via suggestion.
What the American people are seeing in this administration, the Speaker repeated again this week, is an “arrogance in power.” Nixon! Nixon, because suggesting there is an atmosphere of “intimidation” and “arrogance” is the best they can do. Notice that those are feelings, and not facts, and they serve to both silence critics and smear the target, who is now caught unable to aggressively fight back because — “arrogance”.
Asked about disagreements on aid for Oklahoma, Boehner tried to avoid the topic by sidestepping into a “we have programs in place to help people in need” beginning, but in order to kill the notion that aid should be given, he was sure to add that “Washington has a spending problem…”
I’m happy to report that Boehner did revert back to debt fear-mongering (in spite of the actual numbers improving), as I feared he’s forgotten about his alleged mission amidst the manufacturing of scandals against the President.
Boehner was reminded that last week he said someone should go to jail over the IRS scandal. The press was very helpful in pushing the Republican narrative forward, noting that we have to get these people in the IRS to talk somehow (that’s a NO to your right to plead the fifth, apparently) if he wants to send them to jail. Boehner backtracked by noting that the DOJ has opened a criminal investigation into the IRS “scandal” of asking nonprofits for proof that they aren’t overly involved in politics. Currently, this “scandal” looks more like incompetence and bad target words, but unlike Republicans, we reserve final judgment until the facts are uncovered at great expense to us all, because it’s not as if Republicans should be doing any actual legislating.
No one asked Boehner about the news that a Capitol Hill Republican leaked doctored Benghazi emails to the press.
No one asked Boehner about the fact that Darrell Issa (R-CA/Obama Hunter) was told of the IRS investigation last year, while Republicans keep claiming no one told them anything and asking why Congress was not informed.
No one asked Boehner about the fact that the only person who changed Benghazi talking points was Republican hero General David Peteraeus. No one asked him if he might want to clear the record of his previous allegations against President Obama and Hillary Clinton.
No one asked why Republicans have not passed one single jobs bill, but instead keep trying to pass off this as their jobs bill (“this” translates to killing ObamaCare, subsiding big oil more, cutting taxes for corporations and rich people, etc), even though nonpartisan economists agree that their list will not create jobs in the short term and we need jobs created in the short term.
The Republican public relations “presser” is now concluded.
Expect this to go on throughout the summer, packaged and sold with relentless cable fervor ala Nancy Grace, as your media tries to survive the summer slump.
Polls show that all Americans care about right now is the economy. Obama’s approval rating is going up because the economy is getting better, even as Republicans and the press try to burn him at the stake for floating after they accused him of being a witch.
Meanwhile, real Americans still want to know: WHERE ARE THE JOBS.
**********In Order to Sell ‘Obama’s Watergate’, RNC Chair Dismisses the Constitution
By: Sarah Jones
May. 23rd, 2013
Republicans have to hit the cray-cray wall at some point very soon.
On MSNBC’s Morning Joe Thursday morning, RNC Chairman Reince Priebus made a total fool of himself by ricocheting from suggesting an Obama impeachment should only come after the evidence, and then, sans evidence, claiming that Obama was in the middle of the IRS “scandal”. Priebus was called out by panelist John Heilemann, who demanded to know why Priebus would make such an assertion without any evidence.
Priebus tried to claim that Bush and Reagan administration appointee Lois Lerner pleading the fifth is all we need to know before indicting Obama. That irritated Heilemann even more, as he apparently knows his history.
Reince Priebus: I think that the Republicans and Democrats too now. They are involved in investigating this. I think you have to connect the dots. I think Daryl Issa is doing a pretty good job to figure out what the truth is. I don’t think that Lois Lerner did herself a scandal with any favors by pleading the fifth amendment yesterday which whether you agree with it as a basis of law or not, implies some criminal aspects of this investigation.
John Heilemann: That is not –
Reince Priebus: I get it, John but when you plead the fifth after you claim that –
John Heilemann: It doesn’t –
Reince Priebus: I didn’t understand.
John Heilemann: Just to be clear.
Reince Priebus: You don’t need to plead the fifth if you’ve done nothing wrong and come forward.
John Heilemann: That is not true. Not what the Fifth Amendment says.
Reince Priebus: I know it’s not.
John Heilemann: You’re asserting the opposite.
Reince Priebus: No. Because if you have an administration that says they have done nothing wrong and this is just a bunch of low level people in Cincinnati, and then you have Lois Lerner come forward and plead the fifth I think it raises questions and that is the only point.
Let us help the Republican chairman. The right against self-incrimination is spelled out in the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Furthermore, pleading the fifth may not be taken into consideration when deciding if a defendant is guilty: “When a defendant pleads the Fifth, jurors are not permitted to take the refusal to testify into consideration when deciding whether a defendant is guilty. In the 2001 case Ohio v. Reiner, the U.S. Supreme Court held that “a witness may have a reasonable fear of prosecution and yet be innocent of any wrongdoing. The [Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination] serves to protect the innocent who otherwise might be ensnared by ambiguous circumstances.” This case beefed up an earlier ruling that prosecutors can’t ask a jury to draw an inference of guilt from a defendant’s refusal to testify in his own defense.”
According to Priebus, police around the country can now use a suspect’s silence as proof of guilt. Heck, why don’t we just revert back to 17th century England.
Priebus followed that fail up with assertions that the IRS ‘scandal’ is Obama’s Watergate (maybe it will stick this time, unlike the other 15 times Republicans have tried). He said “You don’t call for impeachment until you have the facts” and then proceeded to indict Obama on non-facts, claiming Obama was in the “middle” of it all. Pressed on this, Preibus claimed the White House admitted they were in the middle of it. That wasn’t true either, but Obama’s “guerrilla warfare” needs to be stopped! Obama is “out of control” (notice the lack of evidence, and the wild, unsupported accusations).
Of course, there is not a shred of evidence that President Obama even knew about what two staffers in Cincinnati were allegedly doing (this entire narrative was leaked to the press by Congressional Republican aides and “someone” in the IRS, but has been vehemently denied by IRS officials).
Even if Republicans had established that the President knew (and they have NOT), they have no smoking gun that he ordered the IRS to do this in order to seek revenge on his political opponents, and that is what Nixon did. Also, of rather large import, there was indisputable evidence in Nixon’s case.
Using keywords to flag certain nonprofits, some of whom were actually doing illegal activities in aiding the GOP, for review is not even on the same planet as a President using a governmental agency to exact revenge on his enemies.
These facts got Heilemann worked up, and he hollered at Preibus that his Watergate charge was “… an assertion that’s not actually borne out by any of the facts!”
This caused Preibus to trip over himself, babbling about how Obama was in the “middle of all of this”, again, without a shred of proof.
According to Priebus’ logic, Speaker John Boehner, who is from Ohio, needs to be impeached as well: If the President is supposed to have known about what was allegedly going on in an office with two workers in Cincinnati, Ohio, then surely the Speaker, who is from there, should have known even before the President.
After all, as the Speaker keeps telling us, his job is oversight of the government.
Alert: There will be no more Constitutional freedoms, in order that Republicans are allowed to persecute this President without evidence. You are on notice: In order to protect Dark Money from being asked questions by the IRS, you no longer have the right to plead the fifth without it automatically inferring your criminal guilt. No trial necessary.
**************House Republicans Pass Unconstitutional Bill Hijacking Obama’s Power Over Keystone XL
May. 24th, 2013
As America continues making the transition from a representative democracy to a corporate-controlled fascist state, it is becoming more difficult to have any faith that the minority party in power has any regard whatsoever for this nation or its people, but that is to be expected from Republicans whose raison d’être is empowering corporations. There are few areas of government and policy Republicans have not ceded to their corporate handlers, but none is as blatant and damaging as allowing the corporate oil industry to dictate energy and environmental policy that is having acutely deleterious effects on the people and health of the environment. Part of the problem is a corporate-controlled press that advances the oil industry agenda without opposition, and part is allowing oil industry sycophants to serve in Congress that emboldened them to stage a coup d’état to seize power from the President and warn him to toe the oil industry line or else. A major share of the blame lies solely with the Founding Fathers and their pathetic Constitution that has failed miserably to protect the people from corporate oligarchs even when they are from a foreign nation.
Two events over the past two days inform that Republicans are employed by a foreign nation’s prime minister and one of its corporations that promises to enrich the GOP’s primary campaign donors’ bottom line regardless the existential threat to the environment and the health and welfare of the American people. On Wednesday, House Republicans took the unprecedented, but not wholly unexpected, step to wrest power from the President of the United States by passing a bill that circumvents the President’s executive power and approved the environment-killing Keystone XL pipeline at the direct order of a foreign corporation and Canada’s prime minister. The Harper government has exerted its formidable power over Republicans to subvert the Constitution to advance a Canadian corporation’s intent to pump 830,000 barrels per day of tar sand bitumen to American refineries en route to South America, China, and Europe.
Following the Republican practice of blatant lying to enrich and empower corporate control of energy policy, TransCanada spokesman, Shawn Howard, said, “We appreciate the continued support from many members of Congress, who understand the importance of Keystone XL to the American economy,” and that “Keystone XL will be the safest oil pipeline, and it will help make America less reliant on more expensive oil from countries that do not share its interests and values.” TransCanada has reported that the KeystoneXL pipeline will regularly spill tar sand bitumen on American soil, as well as touted contracts already in place to sell every drop of refined tar sand on the foreign export market. Americans will never see or use any of the refined tar, but they will pay more for gas as TransCanada predicted the pipeline will increase the price of fuel at the pump by at least 20-cents per gallon. In fact, the pipeline is so hazardous to the environment that the Canadian government will not allow TransCanada to build the pipeline over Canadian soil to West coast refineries, so they charged Republicans to ignore the Constitution and pass a bill to approve the pipeline’s construction regardless it is the purview of the President of the United States.
Yesterday, a group of Senate Republicans sent a stern warning to President Obama to approve the pipeline forthwith, and forbade him from including any measures to address climate change the pipeline is certain to exacerbate on a massive scale. Two dozen Senate Republicans cautioned the President that he had better not link one single climate change policy to approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, and that he dare not “tether its fate to wholly unrelated and economically disastrous new regulatory policies.” Every climate scientist on the planet has warned that developing Canada’s tar sands will increase CO2 emissions to a point it will be “game over for the climate” in spite of the Koch brothers and ExxonMobil report to the State Department that building the pipeline is an environmentally sound endeavor with “manageable” consequences to the environment. Two weeks ago, carbon dioxide (CO2) reached the 400ppm milestone for the first time in at least 800,000 years according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and climate scientists agree the evidence is conclusive the strong growth of CO2 emissions is from burning coal, oil, and natural gas. 400 ppm is 50 ppm over the threshold scientists claim demands immediate steps to curb fossil fuel emissions or it is game over for the climate; Republicans and their corporate masters could not care less.
The real issue is not just the devastation inherent in pumping tar bitumen through the pipeline, or that the climate is going to be decimated to expand Canada’s tar industry, but that Republicans have no regard for anything but corporate interests; even a corporation’s interests. It is true they successfully put the oil industry in charge of energy policy, but they have also given corporations power to dictate policy on every issue affecting the American people and there is little anyone can, or will, do to stop the corporate takeover. The media is wholly owned and operated by corporations pushing agendas hostile to democracy and the American people, and Republicans dutifully enact laws written by corporations through the American Legislative Exchange Council. The recent Senate vote on background checks prior to gun purchases is the perfect example of Republicans giving corporate interests power to subvert the will of 91% of the population to maintain their profits, and it was a portent of democracy’s end and corporate control of government.
The Founding Fathers could have prevented America’s spiral into corporate fascism, but they likely never imagined Americans would sit idly by and allow their elected representatives to cede the government to corporations. Perhaps the Constitution’s framers believed a free press would inform the people of the impending corporate coup d’état, but corporations own the media and successfully concealed democracy’s demise. It is prescient that the media has never informed the people that Keystone is dangerous and will not provide any oil for Americans, and they will be as guilty as Republicans and the oil industry for climate Armageddon as well as America’s continued slide into corporate oligarchy. It is apropos the corporate oil industry and Republicans will be the undoing of the climate, because long before they despoil the climate and environment that will make Earth uninhabitable, their effort to destroy American democracy will have reached fruition.
**********House Republicans Destroy the GOP by Voting to Raise Student Loan Interest Rates
By: Jason Easley
May. 23rd, 2013
By a vote of 221-198, House Republicans continued to destroy their party by passing a bill that would raise student loan rates.
Nine Republicans voted against the bill, and two Democrats voted for it. House Republicans tried to disguise their plan to raise student loan interest rates as saving the student loan program by making it a part of the “free market.” What House Republicans passed is a variable rate scheme where a student’s loan rate would be reset every year, so that the loan rate the student paid as a freshman would likely increase each year until they graduated.
The Washington Post reported that the bill would cause the interest rate on a Stafford Loan to double, “Students who max out their subsidized Stafford loans over four years would pay $8,331 in interest payments under the Republican bill, and $3,450 if rates were kept at 3.4 percent. If rates were allowed to double in July, that amount would be $7,284 over the typical 10-year window to repay the maximum $19,000.”
The point of this bill wasn’t to save the student loan program, but to kill it. The Republican goal is to turn student loans back over to the banks. By turning student loans into variable rate loans, House Republicans are laying the groundwork for the big banks to make huge profits off of students should they get their hands on student loans again.
President Obama has already threatened to veto the bill, but Senate Democrats should bury it before it ever has the chance to hit his desk.
Votes like this one are what is destroying the Republican Party.
Republicans can’t be serious about courting young voters and their parents while passing legislation that makes a college education less affordable, or in the worst case scenario unobtainable for many Americans.
The contrast is obvious. President Obama and the Democrats frequently discuss ways to make higher education more available and affordable as Republicans vote to impose economic barriers of exclusion that would only aid their corporate benefactors.
The message from House Republicans to the middle class is clear. The American Dream is dead for you. Forget about advancing through education. Shoot for being a manager at Wal-Mart, because in our America you have to pay to play.
That mentality makes for a terrible campaign slogan, and it’s why disapproval of the Republican Party has reached 59%.
House Republicans are offering most Americans a message of rejection and alienation. In short, they are the self destruct button that keeps blowing up their party.
**********Bernie Sanders Calls Out the Corporate Controlled Senate For Rejecting GMO Labels
By: Jason Easley
May. 23rd, 2013
After the Senate rejected an amendment that would have let states require labels on food or beverages made with genetically modified ingredients, Sen. Bernie Sanders called them out.
After seeing his amendment rejected by a vote of 29-71, Sen. Sanders (I-VT) said, “An overwhelming majority of Americans favor GMO labeling but virtually all of the major biotech and food corporations in the country oppose it. Today’s vote is a step forward on an important issue that we are going to continue to work on. The people of Vermont and the people of America have a right to know what’s in the food that they eat.”
The amendment, which was co-sponsored by Democratic Senators Mark Begich (D-AK) Michael Bennet (D-CO), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), would have given states the clear authority to require the labeling of foods produced through genetic engineering. The troubling thing for liberals and progressives is that more Democrats voted against the bill (28) than voted for it (24). (Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska was the lone Republican to vote for the amendment, because Republicans as a general rule believe that actually knowing what is in your food is big government.) Usual progressive voices Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown voted against the amendment, while corporate Democrat Chuck Schumer voted for it.
It is common sense that people have the right to know what they are putting in their bodies. This isn’t about telling anyone what to eat, but offering people the freedom and information that will allow them to know more about what they are eating. The number of no votes for the Sanders amendment on the Democratic side illustrates how much the Senate has been infected with the corporate agenda.
If GMOs are so harmless, why do the biotech and food corporations oppose labeling them?
Sen. Sanders saw progress in this vote, but real progress will come when the Democratic caucus stops subscribing to the corporate agenda on GMOs, and supports giving the American people access to the truth about what is in their food. China, which used lead paint in children’s toys, requires GMO labeling, but the land of the free and home of the brave does not.
Until we get the corporate money out of politics Americans will never be what they eat, because they’ll have no idea what’s in their food.