Tuesday, February 19, 2013

US city bans use of drones

Unmanned aircraft, or drones, are widely used by the US against foreign targets. But their use inside the United States is more controversial. Privacy advocates worry that drones in America's skies will result in a surveillance society. That has led the city of Charlottesville to ban the use of drones in its airspace. Al Jazeera's Kimberly Halkett reports from the city.

Wealthy backers fund right-wing agenda in secret

Democracy Now!:

Since 1999, the nonprofit charity Donors Trust has handed out nearly $400 million in private donations to more than 1,000 right-wing and libertarian groups. The fact it has been able to quietly do so appears to explain why it exists: Wealthy donors can back the right-wing causes they want without attracting public scrutiny. The most detailed accounting to date shows Donors Trust funds a wish list of right-wing causes, prompting Mother Jones magazine to label it "the dark-money ATM of the right." We’re joined by John Dunbar, politics editor at the Center for Public Integrity and co-author of the group’s months-long investigation into Donors Trust. "They’re essentially a pass through," Dunbar says of Donors Trust. "They act as a kind of a middleman between what are very large, well-known private foundations created mostly by corporate executives, like the Kochs, for example, and they direct the money of those contributions to a very large network of right-leaning, free-market think tanks across the country."

Drones - web press grills Obama

"President Barack Obama touched on a slew of issues in his second Google Hangout, repeating the major points from Tuesday's State of the Union speech but also directly addressing the viability of the penny, the Benghazi hearings, drone strikes on American citizens, his daughters' math and science skills, and the GOP blocking a confirmation vote on Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of defense."*

In a recent Google Hangout, President Obama took questions from a handful of bloggers. The questions were tough, and they grilled the president on his drone policy, much more than any mainstream press have ever. Why were these bloggers and the daily show the only ones to pose these critical questions? Cenk Uygur breaks it down

Friday, February 15, 2013

The NDAA and the death of the democratic state

Chris Hedges, Truthdig:

On Wednesday a few hundred activists crowded into the courtroom of the Second Circuit, the spillover room with its faulty audio feed and dearth of chairs, and Foley Square outside the Thurgood Marshall U.S. Courthouse in Manhattan where many huddled in the cold. The fate of the nation, we understood, could be decided by the three judges who will rule on our lawsuit against President Barack Obama for signing into law Section 1021(b)(2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).

The section permits the military to detain anyone, including U.S. citizens, who “substantially support”—an undefined legal term—al-Qaida, the Taliban or “associated forces,” again a term that is legally undefined. Those detained can be imprisoned indefinitely by the military and denied due process until “the end of hostilities.” In an age of permanent war this is probably a lifetime. Anyone detained under the NDAA can be sent, according to Section (c)(4), to any “foreign country or entity.” This is, in essence, extraordinary rendition of U.S. citizens. It empowers the government to ship detainees to the jails of some of the most repressive regimes on earth.

Section 1021(b)(2) was declared invalid in September after our first trial, in the Southern District Court of New York. The Obama administration appealed the Southern District Court ruling. The appeal was heard Wednesday in the Second Circuit Court with Judges Raymond J. Lohier, Lewis A. Kaplan and Amalya L. Kearse presiding. The judges might not make a decision until the spring when the Supreme Court rules in Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, another case in which I am a plaintiff. The Supreme Court case challenges the government’s use of electronic surveillance. If we are successful in the Clapper case, it will strengthen all the plaintiffs’ standing in Hedges v. Obama. The Supreme Court, if it rules against the government, will affirm that we as plaintiffs have a reasonable fear of being detained.

Continue reading here.

Is Mexico's war on drugs close to a real end?

The election of Enrique Pena Nieto last year marked the return to power of the Industrial Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had ruled the country for 71 years prior to the year 2000. Pena Nieto promised the PRI was no longer a party of patronage and corruption, but a modern force focused on economic growth, poverty reduction and tackling the drug-related violence unleashed during the presidency of Felipe Calderon. This week the president unveiled his plan to tackle crime and take on the cartels. He appeared to reject Calderon's policy of force, instead promising to approach the problem through a $9.2bn investment in social programs to address the root causes of crime. And in Ecuador, all indications suggest that President Rafael Correa's leadership is almost certain to continue after Sunday's presidential election. Correa is already the longest-serving president the country has had in a century, despite having only come to power in 2007.

The growing militarization of domestic policing

Democracy Now!:

The fire that killed former Los Angeles police officer Christopher Dorner on Tuesday has drawn comparisons to the deadly 1993 raid on the Branch Davidian complex in Waco, Texas, and the 1985 police bombing of the MOVE headquarters in Philadelphia. In Waco, federal agents denied for years they had used incendiary tear gas after a fire killed 76 people inside the compound. The MOVE bombing left six adults and five children dead. We speak to former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper and Radley Balko, author of the forthcoming book, “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.”

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tony Benn on market forces

(click image for larger view)

Poverty, inequality are ignored by Obama

Democracy Now!:

President Obama opened his State of the Union with a call to revive the middle class and with a challenge to a divided Congress to back his economic proposals to create jobs. We get reaction from Bob Herbert, distinguished senior fellow with Demos, and Cathy Cohen, professor of political science at the University of Chicago and founder of the Black Youth Project. "Median income in the United States has gone down since the recession ended," Herbert says. "Poverty is expanding. We have nearly 50 million people who are officially poor in this country and another 50 million who are near poor. ... You’re getting close to a third of the entire population. So, there is no way to address challenges that are that enormous without making enormous investments."

Inside Story - The two sides of Barack Obama

US President Barack Obama has once again attempted to appease both sides of the political divide as he set out his agenda for 2013. His annual State of the Union address was filled with policies appealing both to progressives and conservatives, even though some like - fighting climate change and increasing oil production - appear incompatible.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Obama's Game of Drones

(click image for larger view)

Legacy of Chile's Pinochet dictatorship lives on

State repression of social movements by militarized Carabinero police force draws international condemnation.

Special ops, private sector to continue Afghan War

Democracy Now!:

As President Obama announced plans to withdraw another 34,000 troops from Afghanistan, longtime peace activist Kathy Kelly warns the war shows no end. Kelly, who just returned from Afghanistan, says the company formally known as Blackwater is now running a base just outside of Kabul used by the Special Operations Joint Task Force. On Monday, a U.S. air strike in Afghanistan killed 10 civilians. The strike hit what the NATO occupation force called a suspected Taliban hideout in the province of Kunar. Kelly, co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, warns Afghan civilians continue to suffer from longest-running war in U.S. history.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Canadian unions under siege

Workers often toiled 10 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week in the 19th century. In the decades that followed the Great Depression, unions won higher wages and better working conditions for their members

Although much denigrated by the right these days, union activists are, as the old saying notes, “the people who brought you the weekend.”

The right apparently wants you to believe that the weekend is now out of date.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Ontario Conservative Leader Tim Hudak, along with influential members of the corporate and media world, are hostile to unions, rarely missing an opportunity to portray union leaders as autocratic “bosses.”

Yet, if you’re middle class, a union probably helped you or your ancestors get there. In the 19th century, workers typically toiled 10 to 16 hours a day, six or seven days a week. Unions fought to change that. In the decades that followed the Great Depression, unions won higher wages and better working conditions for their members, setting a standard with ripple effects that led to a better deal for all workers.

But in recent decades, many of the precious, hard-fought union gains — job security, workplace pensions, as well as broader social goals like public pensions and unemployment insurance — have been under fierce attack by the corporate world (where workers really are under the thumb of unelected “bosses”).

Part of the strategy has been to pit worker against worker. So, as private sector workers have lost ground, they’ve been encouraged to resent public sector workers, whose unions have generally been stronger and better able to protect them.

With workers increasingly baited into a dogfight against each other, it’s been easier to make the case that unions are no longer relevant.

But, given the intensity of the attack, unions are likely more necessary than ever. If you’ve grown attached to the weekend, not to mention the eight-hour day, this probably isn’t the time to throw unions under the bus.

In fact, they’re really the only organized line of defence against the broad right-wing assault on a wide range of social programs and government regulations important to most Canadians.

Continue reading here.

Israel plan to wall off West Bank land defied

A court in Israel is due to hear final arguments on the construction of a separation wall in a pristine valley in the West Bank. Lawyers representing Palestinian landowners and a convent say if the wall is built they will lose their land and the convent will be surrounded. Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston reports from the Cremisan Valley in the Occupied West Bank.

Remembering Eslanda Robeson

Democracy Now!:

In a Black History Month special, we remember the lives of the legendary civil rights activist, singer and actor Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda, whose story is not as well known. One of the most celebrated singers and actors of the 20th century, Robeson was attacked, blacklisted and hounded by the government for his political beliefs. Eslanda Robeson, known by her friends as "Essie," was an author, an anthropologist and a globally connected activist who worked to end colonialism in Africa and racism in the United States. We’re joined by historian Barbara Ransby, author of the new biography, "Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson."

Friday, February 8, 2013

Protests disrupt CIA director hearing

Protesters in the US have disrupted the hearing to confirm John Brennan as the new director of the CIA. They were condemning the controversial US drone programme, which Brennan helped to establish. Al Jazeera's Kimberley Halkett reports from Washington DC.

CodePink names victims of drones at hearing

Democracy Now!:

Thursday’s confirmation hearing for CIA nominee John Brennan was briefly postponed to clear the room of activists from CODEPINK after they repeatedly disrupted Brennan’s testimony. One woman held a list of Pakistani children killed in U.S. drone strikes. Former U.S. diplomat Col. Ann Wright interrupted Brennan while wearing a sign around her neck with the name of Tariq Aziz, a 16-year-old Pakistani boy who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in 2011. Wright and seven others were arrested. We speak to CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin who also disrupted the meeting and recently visited Pakistan to speak with victims of drone strikes. “It’s not only the killing, it’s the terrorizing of entire populations, where they hear the drones buzzing overhead 24 hours a day. Where they’re afraid to go to school, afraid to go to the markets, to funerals, to weddings. Where it disrupts entire communities,” Benjamin says. “And we are trying to get this information to our elected officials, to say, 'You are making us unsafe here at home,' to say nothing about illegal, immoral and inhumane these policies are.”

Brennan hearing: citizen assassinations ignored

Democracy Now!:

President Obama’s nominee to run the CIA, John Brennan, forcefully defended Obama’s counterterrorism policies, including the increase use of armed drones and the targeted killings of American citizens during his confirmation hearing Thursday. “None of the central questions that should have been asked of John Brennan were asked in an effective way,” says Jeremy Scahill, author of the forthcoming book “Dirty Wars.” “In the cases where people like Sen. Angus King or Sen. Ron Wyden would ask a real question, for instance, about whether or not the CIA has the right to kill U.S. citizens on U.S. soil. The questions were very good — Brennan would then offer up a non-answer. Then there would be almost a no follow-up.” Scahill went on to say, “[Brennan has] served for more than four years as the assassination czar, and it basically looked like they’re discussing purchasing a used car on Capitol hill. And it was total kabuki oversight. And that’s a devastating commentary on where things stand.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Narrowing Asia's gap between rich and poor

China and Indonesia have agreed to increase minimum wages to help narrow the gap between rich and poor. The countries' economies are among the fastest growing in the world but they are also witnessing growing social unrest. Millions remain in poverty and workers are increasingly taking to the streets, holding strikes and protests - pressing their demands for more money. We examine if raising wages in Indonesia and China could burden production cost and hurt the lowest paid.

'Wide variety of complicity' in CIA rendition

As many as 54 countries have been complicit in the CIA's extraordinary rendition operations in which terrorism suspects were held in secret prisons overseas or turned over to foreign governments for interrogation, a human rights organization has said in a report. Speaking to Al Jazeera from New York, Amrit Singh, author of the report for the Open Society Justice Initiative, said there has been a "continuum of involvement by each of these governments", ranging from hosting CIA secret prisons to the capture and detention of prisoners. These actions, Singh says, illustrate a "wide variety of complicity" from European and Middle Eastern states.

Debate: case for Iraq War was false from get-go

Democracy Now!:

Ten years ago this week, a defining moment occurred in the Bush administration’s push to invade Iraq. On Feb. 5, 2003, then-Secretary of State General Colin Powell addressed the United Nations Security Council. His message was clear: Iraq possessed extremely dangerous weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein was systematically trying to deceive U.N. inspectors by hiding prohibited weapons. A decade later, we host a debate between Powell’s former aide, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson — who prepared the U.N. speech, only to later renounce it — and media critic Norman Solomon, author of "War Made Easy." "I don’t believe the hype about that presentation having been the ultimate presentation ... that led us to war with Iraq," Wilkerson says of Powell’s speech. "George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and others had decided to go to war with Iraq long before Colin Powell gave that presentation. ... It added to the momentum of the war. ... Frankly, we were all wrong. Was the intelligence politicized in addition to being wrong at its roots? Absolutely." In response, Solomon says, "We were not all wrong. As a matter of fact, many experts and activists and researchers, from the get-go, in 2002, were saying that the administration case for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was full of holes. ... So, now to say, 'Well, it wasn't just us at the administration; other people believed it,’ people believed it because they were propagandized by the administration, with massive assistance from the mass media."

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Pompeii: Its restoration and preservation

Millions of people visit it every year but the ancient Roman city of Pompeii is threatened by neglect. And despite a major EU funding initiative, there are fears the World Heritage site could slowly disappear. Al Jazeera's Claudio Lavanga reports on the attempts being made to preserve Pompeii.

Inside Story - Probing Obama's drone wars

A leaked US government document sets out a legal justification for President Barack Obama's policy of extrajudicial killing, as the United Nations prepares its own investigation into drone strikes. Obama's policy of using lethal force against suspected terrorists is coming under further scrutiny after a Justice Department white paper was obtained by the US media. The document moves the goalposts in regards to when the government is authorized to carry out the killing of a US citizen. This comes as, last week, the UN announced a major investigation into drone strikes. Led by the UN's special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, the study will examine the extent of civilian casualties, and the wider consequences of an expanding global drone war.

Indonesian workers protest minimum wage delays

Tens of thousands of people are protesting in Indonesia against government plans to delay its planned increase of the minimum wage. Said Iqbal, a union labour leader in Jakarta, the capital, told Al Jazeera on Wednesday that workers are continuing to demonstrate because they "need the government to implement a health insurance and pension system for all Indonesians". Al Jazeera's Step Vaessen speaks to the workers demanding higher minimum pay and better employment benefits.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

NDAA indefinite detention: assault on Constitution

Democracy Now!:

A lawsuit challenging a law that gives the government the power to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens is back in federal court this week. On Wednesday, a group of academics, journalists, and activists will present oral arguments in court against a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, authorizing the military to jail anyone it considers a terrorism suspect anywhere in the world without charge or trial. In a landmark ruling last September, Judge Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York struck down the indefinite detention provision, saying it likely violates the First and Fifth Amendments of U.S. citizens. We’re joined by Daniel Ellsberg, a plaintiff in the case and perhaps the country’s most famous whistleblower. Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers in 1971, exposing the secret history of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.

Obama's kill list exposed

Democracy Now!:

The Obama administration’s internal legal justification for assassinating U.S. citizens without charge has been revealed for the first time. In a secret Justice Department memo, the administration claims it has legal authority to assassinate U.S. citizens overseas even if there is no intelligence indicating they are engaged in an active plot to attack the United States. We’re joined by Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "If you look at the memo, there is no geographic line," says Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. "Now the Obama administration is making a greater claim of authority in some ways [than President Bush]. They are arguing the authority to kill American citizens has no geographic limit."

Why do you only see me as African-American?

"Bill O'Reilly asked Colin Powell a question during a recent interview that appeared to offend the former Secretary of State.

On Tuesday night, O'Reilly described Powell as "a staunch Republican" until he voted for Barack Obama twice, and noted that he has also recently been critical of the GOP."*

Colin Powell asked a simple, yet important question of Bill O'Reilly: "Why do you only see me as an African-American?" This is a challenge to the assumption that the only reason Powell could support Obama was on a presumed racial bias. David Sirota challenges the notion and the questions never asked out loud.

Read more from the Huffington Post:


Monday, February 4, 2013

Obama's drone strikes

(click image for larger view)

Leaving felons in charge of the banks

Bill Black: Obama Administration not investigating and prosecuting banking fraud.

Rosa Parks’ 100th Birthday

Democracy Now!:

Born on Feb. 4, 1913, today would have been Rosa Parks’ 100th birthday. On Dec. 1, 1955, Parks refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Her act of resistance led to a 13-month boycott of the Montgomery bus system that would help spark the civil rights movement. Today we spend the hour looking at Rosa Parks’ life with historian Jeanne Theoharis, author of the new book, "The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks." Often described as a tired seamstress, no troublemaker, Parks was in fact a dedicated civil rights activist involved with the movement long before and after her historic action on the Montgomery bus. "Here we have, in many ways, one of the most famous Americans of the 20th century, and yet treated just like a sort of children’s book hero," Theoharis says. "We diminish her legacy by making it about a single day, a single act, as opposed to the rich and lifelong history of resistance that was actually who Rosa Parks was."

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Parents, students: stop privatization of schools

"Journey for Justice" activists rally in DC to DOE investigate alleged civil rights violations in school closings.

Inside Story - Gangs and guns in US inner cities

The Newtown shooting in December, which left 20 school children and six teachers dead, has dragged the issue of gun control back into the national agenda. For the first time in years, US politicians are discussing serious gun control measures. But millions of people in the country's inner cities live with the threat of gun violence on a daily basis. In Baltimore, one of the most dangerous cities in the US, the police have reframed their 'war on drugs' as a 'war on guns'. In the third episode of our special series on guns in the US, Inside Story Americas travels to Baltimore to meet those trying to stop gun crime and others who say owning a gun is sometimes a matter of survival.

David Letterman explains fracking

David Letterman gives us his take in fracking. Posted by Grant MacLaren. Perhaps you've notice the similarities between Tobacco advertising and that of the Natural Gas Industry. Years ago the tobacco industry vehemently denied any connection between smoking and health issues. Tobacco advertising in the 1950's would often include doctors and other medical professionals in their ads as a method of allaying public concerns. After all if you doctor smoked, what's the harm? The Natural Gas industry hasn't gone as far as including doctors or even actors dressed up as doctors in their advertising, nonetheless, the advertising and talking points do include words like "Safe", "Natural", "Clean". These words are selected to make the public feel more comfortable. And it's working on those who just understand the damage fracking is doing to our water supply.

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Stream - Canada's native winter

We look at how social media launched the Aboriginal's "Idle No More" protests in Canada. Can online momentum sustain the movement as divisions grow?

Rob Ford campaign audit to be released today

The Toronto Star:

A forensic audit of his campaign financial practices will be released imminently, auditor Bruce Armstrong said on Thursday — possibly Friday, possibly early next week. Armstrong had said earlier that it would be released by the end of January. 

“The anticipation is that it’ll be out this week,” Armstrong said. “It’s going to be read by a lot of people; we want to make sure that — haste makes waste.”

If Armstrong’s audit identifies “apparent contraventions” of the Municipal Elections Act, the city’s three-person compliance audit committee will decide whether to hire a special prosecutor to consider non-criminal charges against Ford. The prosecutor would likely have the power to decide which alleged breaches to pursue and which to discard.

“While a compliance auditor might perceive there to be ‘apparent contraventions,’ which is the language in the Municipal Elections Act, that doesn’t mean there automatically has been an offence beyond a reasonable doubt that can be proved in court. And that’s the gap that has to be bridged,” said Tim Wilkin, a Kingston-based lawyer who served as a special prosecutor in Vaughan, Ottawa, and Hamilton.

Removal from office is one of the possible penalties, but no Ontario politician has ever been punished severely for breaking elections law. 

Regardless of the eventual outcome, election-related charges would cast another shadow over Ford’s tumultuous mayoralty. Any court case could well continue into the 2014 campaign; Wilkin said it can take four to six months just for the special prosecutor to make a decision on laying charges.

Continue reading here.

UN inquiry says Israel must end settlements

Israeli settlements in the Occupied West Bank violate international law, and the country must "immediately" withdraw all settlers from such areas, UN human rights investigators have said. Israel has not co-operated with the inquiry, set up by the Human Rights Council (HRC) last March to examine the impact of settlements in the territory, including East Jerusalem. "Israel must ... cease all settlement activities without preconditions [and] must immediately initiate a process of withdrawal of all settlers" from the occupied territories, the fact-finding mission concluded in a report released on Thursday. Al Jazeera's Nicole Johnston reports from Jerusalem.