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Welcome to Somalia: Libertarian Paradise

Monday, May 25, 2009

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NATIONAL MEMORIAL DAY CONCERT: Salute to the Services

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Hubble's Final Goodbye

By Steve Benson
Arizona Republic



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Bush, God, Iraq and Gog

By Clive Hamilton
Counter Punch


The revelation this month in GQ magazine that Donald Rumsfeld as Defense Secretary embellished top-secret wartime memos with quotations from the Bible prompts a question. Why did he believe he could influence President Bush by that means?

The answer may lie in an alarming story about George Bush’s Christian millenarian beliefs that has yet to come to light.

In 2003 while lobbying leaders to put together the Coalition of the Willing, President Bush spoke to France’s President Jacques Chirac. Bush wove a story about how the Biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East and how they must be defeated.

In Genesis and Ezekiel Gog and Magog are forces of the Apocalypse who are prophesied to come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation took up the Old Testament prophesy:
“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle … and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.”
Bush believed the time had now come for that battle, telling Chirac:
“This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a New Age begins”.
The story of the conversation emerged only because the Elysée Palace, baffled by Bush’s words, sought advice from Thomas Römer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne. Four years later, Römer gave an account in the September 2007 issue of the university’s review, Allez savoir. The article apparently went unnoticed, although it was referred to in a French newspaper....(Click for remainder.)

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Land of the Safe and Home of the Cruel

By Prof. David Bromwich
The Huffington Post


Between May 15, when President Obama announced that he would keep the Bush-era Military Commissions to try enemy combatants, and May 21 when he replied to the opponents of his decision to close Guantanamo, we had an opportunity to judge the temper of this administration on issues of national security and the defense of civil liberties.

Obama's May 21 speech at the National Archives combined a general repudiation of the Bush-Cheney policies with a surprising concession to methods that the former vice president, Dick Cheney, tried to graft onto the Constitution. This approach the Constitution repels as surely as a healthy body rejects poison; for in the Cheney interpretation, the common-law right of prisoners to be charged with a crime and to have due process in challenging the accusation was abridged in cases specified by the executive. Cheney singled out for detention as "enemy combatants" persons suspected of being hard-core terrorists without there being sufficient identification to charge or sufficient evidence to convict them.

We may think ourselves a safe country, but we can hardly be the United States of 1776, of 1865, and of 1945 so long as we retain a power imported by Dick Cheney and his lawyers from the 17th century into the 21st -- the power of government to imprison and keep in jail a person against whom nothing has been proved and nothing charged. It is a bondage as complete as slavery; and like slavery, it can last for life.

Immediately following President Obama's speech on May 21, the former vice president spoke against liberty and due process at the American Enterprise Institute. But the logical order of these speeches was not their chronological order. Obama was giving an answer to earlier charges by Dick Cheney and his allies in Congress and the right-wing mass media; Cheney, meanwhile, was reinforcing the charges and giving them a semblance of coherent or, at least, official formulation. It seems proper therefore to consider Cheney's speech first....(Click for remainder.)

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Justice Dept. Investigates Pennsylvania Contractor Tied to Rep. Murtha

By Carol D. Leonnig
The Washington Post


In tiny, cash-strapped Monongahela, Pa., the city clerk was stunned when federal investigators arrived this fall with a subpoena seeking information on a crime-fighting grant she'd never heard of. She takes pride in tracking every dollar in the municipal budget.

The $15,000 federal grant was to buy police radios and other equipment to protect the city's 4,700 residents, but it had traveled an unusual route, never crossing the clerk's desk.

Over the past five years, a local defense contractor with close ties to Rep. John P. Murtha, a Democrat who has represented southwestern Pennsylvania for three decades, has selected several small police departments in the region to receive $10 million in Justice Department grants.

The company, Mountaintop Technologies, was selected by the lawmaker in a series of earmarks to hand out and monitor the grants. As it distributed the money to the departments, the firm would explain each time that it was arriving through the largess of Murtha -- often just before fall elections....(Click for remainder.)

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EU Calls for Suu Kyi Release

By Al Jazeera English

The European Union has repeated calls for Myanmar's military government to free Aung San Suu Kyi, the country's opposition leader who is standing trial on charges of violating the terms of her house arrest.

The call came on Monday at the start of two days of talks in Vietnam between foreign ministers from Asia and Europe.

The Asia-Europe Meeting (Asem) in Hanoi had been called to discuss ways of tackling the global economic slowdown and boosting economic cooperation.

But it is expected to be overshadowed both by the Aung San Suu Kyi trial and Monday's surprise nuclear weapon test by North Korea.

Representatives from 45 nations are taking part in the two-day meeting with brings together representatives of the European Union (EU), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), as well as China, Japan, South Korea, India and Pakistan.

Speaking on the sidelines of the meeting Jan Kohout, the Czech foreign minister, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said he had passed on a message to his Myanmar counterpart calling for Aung San Suu Kyi's immediate release....(Click for remainder.)

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Cheney Lured Bush Away From Closing Gitmo

By Press TV

Former US secretary of state Colin Powell says ex-vice president Dick Cheney even disagreed with his boss George W. Bush on the closure of Guantanamo.

"Mr. Cheney is not only disagreeing with President Obama's policy. He's disagreeing with President Bush's policy," Powell said in an interview with CBS television on Sunday.

"President Bush stated repeatedly to international audiences and to the country that he wanted to close Guantanamo. The problem he had was he couldn't get all the pieces together," he added.

Over the past month, Cheney appeared on different television programs to defend the Bush administration policies while Bush remained silent after leaving the office in January.

When asked about the effectiveness of using harsh interrogation methods during the presidency of the unpopular Bush, Powell had no clear answer.

"I have no idea. I hear that they were. I hear that they weren't," Powell argued.

"You see people from the FBI who come out and say, 'We got all of that information before any of that was done.' I cannot answer that question. And the problem is, I don't know what I don't know," he added.

Powell also threw his weight behind Obama for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center....(Click for remainder.)

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State of Paralysis

By Paul Krugman
The New York Times


California, it has long been claimed, is where the future happens first. But is that still true? If it is, God help America.

The recession has hit the Golden State hard. The housing bubble was bigger there than almost anywhere else, and the bust has been bigger too. California’s unemployment rate, at 11 percent, is the fifth-highest in the nation. And the state’s revenues have suffered accordingly.

What’s really alarming about California, however, is the political system’s inability to rise to the occasion.

Despite the economic slump, despite irresponsible policies that have doubled the state’s debt burden since Arnold Schwarzenegger became governor, California has immense human and financial resources. It should not be in fiscal crisis; it should not be on the verge of cutting essential public services and denying health coverage to almost a million children. But it is — and you have to wonder if California’s political paralysis foreshadows the future of the nation as a whole.

The seeds of California’s current crisis were planted more than 30 years ago, when voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 13, a ballot measure that placed the state’s budget in a straitjacket. Property tax rates were capped, and homeowners were shielded from increases in their tax assessments even as the value of their homes rose....(Click for remainder.)

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Fighting Rages in Pakistan's Swat

By Al Jazeera English

Street battles are continuing to rage in the Pakistani town of Mingora in the Swat valley, where troops are engaged in an all-out offensive against Taliban fighters.

As the fighting continued on Monday, a Pakistani military spokesman said that six Taliban fighters had been killed in an explosion in the town of Kabal, 20km west of Mingora.

"They were trying to plant a bomb outside a mosque but it exploded on them," the spokesman told the AFP news agency.

"The dead bodies of six armed militants are still lying near the mosque."

The spokesman also said the military was regaining control in Mingora, the main city in the volatile Swat valley.

'Regaining control'

"According to information I received, militants are retreating from different fronts but we are still receiving fire from some pockets of resistance," he said.


A day earlier, Major-General Athar Abbas, another military spokesman, said the troops were making gains against the Taliban.

"We have blocked all the entries and exits," Abbas told Al Jazeera.

"Now the forces that were already present inside have linked up with the outside forces, and with this increased ratio they are moving from one end to the other."

Meanwhile, Muslim Khan, a Taliban spokesman, said late on Sunday Taliban fighters would not attack the army in Mingora to avoid civilian casualties....(Click for remainder.)

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Dennis Kucinich: We're Moving From Industrial Capitalism To Financial Capitalism To Crony Capitalism!

Once again, Rep. Kucinich hits the nail right on the head. When is the American public going to start listening to this man?


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Blowback Begins?: 42-Year CIA Vet Details the Agency's Rich History of Lying to Congress

By Brad Friedman
The Brad Blog


But will Democrats have a clue what to do with it?...

The faux Republican outrage over Nancy Pelosi's perceived slight, in charging that CIA briefers directly misled Congress, has been amusing to watch. Even as the Democrats' seeming inability to either defend her, or fear of sinking into the same phony political sandtrap, is disappointing. But Democrats seem to excel at disappointment these days, so that part of the ginned-up story is hardly surprising.

The GOP hypocrisy in charging that Pelosi has somehow hurt the morale of The Agency in the bargain (and, as bonus, that Obama's release of the Bush Torture Memos has endangered CIA operatives) has been all the more amusing to witness, in their complete and entire selective amnesia of their party's own 100%, unqualified support of a White House which, for the first time in the history of this nation, had publicly outed the identity of a covert CIA operative. In unapologetically exposing Valerie Plame-Wilson, and completely destroying her entire, crucial network monitoring the trafficking of WMD in the Middle East along with it, untold damage was brought not only to CIA operatives risking their lives in the defense of this nation, but also to the national security of the nation itself, which was significantly blinded in the Middle East --- and on the issue of WMDs, of all things --- at a time when we were theoretically going to war there, over that very issue. Yet, the Republicans chose to side with the criminals in treason, over the "morale" or "effectiveness" of The Agency in their shortsighted and inexcusable politicization of the matter.

It doesn't get much more absurd than all of that...unless you add to it the Democrats near-complete incapacity to take on, and tear down, the opportunistic Republicans on their own, absurdist argument in phony defense of the CIA of late....(Click for remainder.)

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The Next Torture Meme: They Deserved It

By Something The Dog Said
Square State


The Dog is all about progress, so when progress on an issue like torture, however small it is, happens, the Dog is always trying to look down the road and see what will be the next step or counter step. This week with the very public and very limited waterboarding of Mancow (a conservative radio shock jock) and his admission that even his sanitized and safe version was indeed torture; the Dog thinks we should talk about one of the next memes you are likely to hear about from the torture apologists.

What you are going to start hearing, from those precincts that grudgingly admit that waterboarding is torture is that while this is true, somehow these men, Khalid Sheik Mohammed and Abu Zabaydah were such horrible human beings, so much the worst of the worst that even though it was torture and even though torture is against the law it is justified with them, even if it did not turn up any intelligence.

Let's take a look at what these men are accused of doing, but always remember that we have a presumption of innocence in this country. They may or may not have actually committed the deeds they are accused of. A reasonable person may infer they did some of these things, but as we have never taken them to trial, we do not have definitive proof. Since both men were actually tortured we are likely to never have this issue decided under law as it is supposed to be done.

Abu Zabaydah is accused of no overt acts himself. Instead he is accused of being part of Al Qaeda as a logistician. He is associated with Richard Reed the so-called "Shoe Bomber" who did in fact attempt to down a British Airways jet by detonating explosives in his shoes. If this is a true accusation then Zabaydah would be guilty of conspiracy to commit terrorism. This is very serious crime so there is no doubt that Mr. Zabaydah would be a criminal under this act alone.

This seems to be the major extent of Mr. Zabaydah's role in terrorism. He has been accused multiple times of being a recruiter and planner of attacks, in Jordan, in the US, in Afghanistan. If these accusations are true then he has been part of a terrorist organization which has caused significant loss of life around the world....(Click for remainder.)

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The Only Sure Way to Fund Universal Health Care

By Robert Reich
Robert Reich's Blog


During the presidential campaign, I thought Obama made only one big policy mistake. He criticized John McCain for proposing to tax all employer-provided health benefits. McCain’s overall health plan was regressive – he would have turned the savings into tax credits for purchasing health care – but he was right about where the revenues should come from. I worried that Obama would come to regret the position he took.

Half a year later, it appears that the President will need to tax employer provided health benefits in order to finance universal health care. Or at least the tax-free benefits now enjoyed by higher-income employees. Many in Congress and in the White House are convinced it’s the only good option. Max Baucus, chair of Senate Finance, expliticly put it on the table last week. Peter Orszag, the President’s budget director, has told Congress the option should remain on the table.

The White House is in a revenue bind. The President had intended to raise money for health care by limiting the income tax deductions that wealthy taxpayers can claim. This would have generated some $318 billion over ten years, about half of Obama’s proposed “health care reserve fund.” But the proposal ran into a buzz saw of opposition from congressional Democrats. Not only did Baucus balk but so did Charles Rangel, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee....(Click for remainder.)

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Birthers and Billboards

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly


If the left were drawing up a script for the right to follow, which would make conservatives look hopelessly ridiculous, they might come up with something like this. (via John Cole)
The electoral system has failed to satisfy lingering questions about Barack Obama's eligibility to serve as president.

The press has failed to satisfy those questions. The courts have failed to satisfy those questions. The Congress has failed to satisfy those questions.

But the people are still asking.

That's how Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of WND, explains the petition he initiated several months ago that has collected nearly 400,000 names of Americans demanding answers as to Obama's elidibility [sic] as well as the outpouring of financial support for his new campaign to erect billboards around the country asking the simple question: "Where's the birth certificate?"

In just five days, the billboard campaign has been backed by about $45,000 in donations.
Obviously, the Birthers' argument is nuts. But the fact that they're still at it, seven months after the election, is extraordinary.

For Democrats, it's extraordinarily helpful, in large part because it makes the president's detractors appear insane. Former Clinton White House press secretary Jake Siewert said a few months ago, "At some level, they're not that bad to have around because it reminds people that under the mainstream conservative press there's this bubbling up of really irrational hatred for the guy."...(Click for remainder.)

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Red State: Jesus Would Have Approved Waterboarding

By Metavirus
Library Grape


More pearls of wisdom from that bastion of politicized Christianist exceptionalism:
It’s likely even Jesus would have OK’d water boarding if it would have saved his Mom. He would’ve done the same to save his Dad, or any one of His disciples. For that matter, He even died to save all humans.

It’s obvious He would not be happy with those who voted for the candidate who kills because it’s above his “pay grade” to know if they’re alive. Checking the Commandments, killing innocents is against the 5th. Because pro-aborts don’t know for sure life does not exist at conception, they are still willing to risk that it’s not killing.
So, Jesus wouldn't be cool with killing babies in the womb but he'd be fine with torturing people? Yep, nothing says "Christ's love" like strapping a guy to a bench and drowning him to extract information.

This reminds me of a couple of things I've blogged about before. The first is the poll that came out a few weeks ago that revealed that a majority of regular church-goers approve of the use of torture:
More than half of people who attend services at least once a week -- 54 percent -- said the use of torture against suspected terrorists is "often" or "sometimes" justified. Only 42 percent of people who "seldom or never" go to services agreed, according the analysis released Wednesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.
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CNN Poll: Record Support for Roe v Wade?

By Nate Silver
FiveThirtyEight


Although there have been a series of recent polls suggesting declining support for abortion choice -- see our previous coverage here -- another new poll from CNN comes to an apparently contradictory conclusion:
The 1973 Roe versus Wade decision established a woman's constitutional right to an abortion, at least in the first three months of pregnancy. Would you like to see the Supreme Court completely overturn its Roe versus Wade decision, or not?

30% Yes, overturn
68% No, not overturn
The 68 percent level of support for upholding Roe v Wade is the highest of any poll I can find in the PollingReport.com database, although opinion on this question -- like most others on abortion -- has historically changed very little over time:



I've seen some complaints from conservative websites that CNN's poll wording is misleading -- first because they insert the modifier "completely" before before the phrase "overturn its Roe v Wade decision", and secondly because the poll specifies that the decision applies only to the first three months of pregnancy. I'm glad that people are getting in the habit of scrutinizing question wording and undoubtedly it makes some difference. In 2005, for example, Pew Research -- which was using virtually identical question wording -- found that removing the word "completely" decreased support for Roe from 62 percent to 57 percent....(Click for remainder.)

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Is Anyone Still Listening to Cheney?

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The Reaganites Self-Inflicted Recession

By Stirling Newberry
Firedoglake


It should say something that when unemployment has taken off, it has swamped Slate's interactive unemployment map, rendering it a haze of unreadable red. However, when you look at the metro and county data, some very interesting trends become obvious. The Reaganite revolt against taxes began in California and is most closely associated with it. As the graphic from the Department of Labor shows, the epicenters of that "Reagan Democrat" revolt are now the areas that are hardest hit by the present depression: California, the Upper Midwest, and the Sunbelt South. This is not an accident.

The reality is that the Reagan Democrats revolted against the very system that had protected and fostered them, and in two directions. The metro map here shows one direction: the raw slagging of unemployment in the Upper Mid-West, Coastal areas, and the Atlantic Coast south is clear. The other direction is seen, ironically, in a long belt of low unemployment that runs along the Great Plains. How is low unemployment a problem? In itself, it is not. However, these are areas where it is virtually impossible to be unemployed; and so rather than stay and remain unemployed (there being no government programs to keep them there) young people pour out of these empty stretches, which include parts of the North-East such as rural Maine. This youth drain is a deep political and social issue in these areas.

The only places that are doing well in the Republican universe are those strongly associated with mining, plus Republican metro centers such as Phoenix and Salt Lake City, which are the recipients of the labor draining from the rest of the Republican heartland. Resource extraction is the only bright spot in the Republican world. If one wants to know what was The Matter With Kansas, the answer is that they were voting to kneecap the people they thought were their peer competitors. They were not getting ahead because they were busy getting even.

The force of this becomes even more obvious when looking at the split between male and female unemployment: the unemployment rate for men is a percentage point higher among men than among women. This is true even of white men versus white women. The Reagan Democrat, that disorganized or manual unionized, working class male of socially conservative leanings, is the individual who, statistically speaking, is the target of the downturn. The evidence for this is so obvious that even Andrew Sullivan can see it.

This cuts in two directions. Looking backward, it shows the failure of two mega-trends in the last generation of American society: both the Reaganite Revolt, and the New Democrat attempt to make Reaganism work -- while looking forward, it shows why the Republican core is becoming more radicalized along economic, rather than social, lines. It is not that social conservatism is waning in their base; because, remember "Christianist Pseudo-Capitalism" is a unified ideology in that Republicans believe in rent, not capital -- but instead they are being focused by message on the second part of that ideology. Teabagging in taxes has replaced the now ubiquitous sexual reference in marriage as the driving rhetorical device of the Republicans; because, it is essential that they get the economically hammered base to blame Pelosi, rather than to blame conservatism....(Click for remainder.)

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Luntz vs Begala

By Steve Benen
Washington Monthly


Republican pollster Frank Luntz recently distributed a 28-page memo, "The Language of Health Care," to help Republican lawmakers undermine health care reform efforts. He talked to the NYT's Deborah Solomon this week, but wasn't exactly prepared to discuss the issue at hand.

After Luntz explained that "takeover" is "a word that grabs attention," which is why he and other Republicans "want to avoid 'a Washington takeover,'" Solomon noted the phrasing is fundamentally misleading: "What the Democrats want is for everyone to be able to choose between their old, private health-insurance plan and an all-new, public health-insurance option."

Luntz replied, "I'm not a policy person. I'm a language person."

Those are nine words that say an awful lot. Luntz's job is to help kill important legislation through rhetorical manipulation. His job is not, however, to know what he's talking about. The debate isn't about what (or who) is right; it's about what Luntz thinks he can get away with. (Asked who paid him to write the health care memo, Luntz refused to answer, saying the issue is "not relevant.")

Democratic strategist Paul Begala, to his credit, put together a pretty detailed, point-by-point response, to the Luntz memo, with some advice for Democrats about how to approach the debate.
Veteran Republican pollster Frank Luntz has circulated a memo which attempts to teach Republicans how to kill health care reform by misleading people. Because they know they cannot win the argument honestly, Republicans are resorting to mendacity. Democrats must not let them get away with it.

There is one fact that animates the Republicans' strategy. It should animate yours as well. That fact is this: the overwhelming majority of American support health care reform. In fact, Dr. Luntz himself notes that voters trust Democrats over Republicans by a whopping 20 percent on health care. If health care reform were unpopular, Republicans would not resort to misleading rhetoric to mask their opposition. The striking thing about Luntz's memo is how the rhetoric he advocates apes our message. The Republicans have three goals:

1. Co-opt our messaging; 2. Confuse voters; and 3. Kill health care reform.

Democrats should take their cue from Sen. Mitchell. Voters are not going to fall for Republican rhetoric -- as long as we don't.
(Click for remainder.)

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Obama Betrays the Liberals

By Sherwood Ross
The Smirking Chimp


America's liberals stand betrayed. Their new president, the one they sweated to elect -- a brilliant, charismatic leader with a professional background in constitutional law -- has transmogrified himself from the champion who denounced in his campaign the illegalities of the Bush White House into a president bent on their perpetuation.

Liberals are stunned by Obama's plan to "restart Bush-era military tribunals" for some Guantanamo detainees, reviving what the Associated Press pointed out, is "a fiercely disputed trial system he once denounced."(May 15). Liberals are appalled by Obama's May 21st proposal to hold terrorism suspects in "prolonged detention" inside the U.S. without a trial. "Such detention," Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) wrote him, "is a hallmark of abusive systems that we have historically criticized around the world."

If liberals chaffed over Obama's centrist cabinet choices, they were dismayed by his decision not to release photographs depicting the sadistic tortures the Bush Gang inflicted on prisoners during a so-called "War on Terror" that was nothing but terror itself. A typical reaction comes from Joe Kishore, writing on the World Socialist Website (May 22): "Whatever verbal warnings Obama may make about the erosion of democracy in the United States, the actions of his administration facilitate and escalate its breakdown."

Obama's latest policy reversals come as liberals are still reeling from his April 16th speech to the CIA, ignoring its documented history of 60 years of overthrows and assassinations, and reassuring the Agency of its "right" to continue "covert activities," as if such conduct was not prima facie illegality in the eyes of law-abiding nations. Earlier, Obama's pledge not to prosecute CIA torturers that followed orders likely brought relief to the throne room in Langley that is a throbbing heart of the Dark Side. Obama calls upon the nation to "look forward" as he ignores his presidential obligation to prosecute those who, like Bush and Cheney, trampled the Constitution when they ordered torture in violation of international laws that by treaty are America's laws as well....(Click for remainder.)

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Fixing America, Erasing Bush


Obama's shadow on the US Constitution (Photo: Reuters Pictures)

By William Rivers Pitt
truthout


President Obama gave a speech on Thursday praising the excellence of the American experiment, and claimed his own life was made possible by the promise of the documents and the ideals that founded this nation. As usual, his delivery and diction was perfect. Unfortunately, his behavior of late has fallen far short of the ideals he has given such eloquent lip service to.

Two thousand pictures of Americans performing acts of savage torture on prisoners will not be released to the general public if Mr. Obama gets his way. Military commissions will continue to try prisoners outside the scope of American law, and will be free to use brazen hearsay as "hard" evidence against defendants. Mr. Obama continues to cleave to the most abhorrent aspects of Bush-era secrecy policies, and has moved to block a lawsuit filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) on behalf of former CIA agent Valerie Plame, who was outed by Bush administration officials in order to silence her Iraq whistleblower husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

Melanie Sloan, Executive Director of CREW, responded to the Obama administration's stance regarding the Plame suit with a statement that succinctly sums up the distance between Obama's words and his administration's deeds. "We are deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has failed to recognize the grievous harm top Bush White House officials inflicted on Joe and Valerie Wilson," said Sloan. "The government's position cannot be reconciled with President Obama's oft-stated commitment to once again make government officials accountable for their actions."

Indeed....(Click for remainder.)

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Space Shuttle Atlantis Lands in California

So awesome and amazing!


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The Real McCain



Why is Meghan McCain so popular in the press? Perhaps she’s who the media thought her dad really was.

By Jennifer Senior
New York Magazine


Politics, like nature, abhors a vacuum. Not since Watergate has the Republican Party suffered such a paucity of charismatic, plausible leadership, which is why we’re being lectured by celebrity noncandidates like Dick Cheney and Rush Limbaugh and John McCain’s blogger-daughter, Meghan McCain. Cheney is obdurately stuck in the past, and Limbaugh is next to hysterical, which leaves Meghan, who once again reared her sunshiny head last week on The Colbert Report.

The official explanation for Meghan’s media popularity—the one she gives herself—is that the GOP lacks a spokesperson for a kinder, gentler version of itself, and what Obama’s victory showed is that it desperately needs one. “It can be a party for a 24-year-old pro-sex woman,” she told Colbert. “We have people that are in this party that are hijacking it and trying to make it even more extreme.”

But there’s another reason for her ubiquity, one that explains why she’s been so aggressively sought after—and such a hit—on every show from The View to Rachel Maddow to Larry King. She is now, effectively, running the campaign that the press hoped her father was going to run. It’s a case of media wish fulfillment.

In the 2000 primary, John McCain was the perfect West Wing Republican, spun directly from the looms of Aaron Sorkin’s imagination. He said whatever popped into his head. When he didn’t know something, he admitted it; when he made a mistake, he fessed up. He picked a fight with Pat Robertson and his ugly brethren, calling them “agents of intolerance” and sending the message that the GOP ought to stop courting bigots. He made himself so available to reporters he once jokingly referred to them as “my base.”

By 2008, though, that love affair was over, because the admirable eccentric—the man who appeared on SNL as a lounge lizard specializing in Barbra Streisand covers—was gone. Instead, McCain stayed numbingly on message. He kowtowed to bigots, giving the commencement address at Liberty University. And he chose Sarah Palin as his running mate....(Click for remainder.)

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Sunday Loon Watch: Repubs Love Dick, Hate Empathy

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Two Speeches

By Jeffrey Toobin
The New Yorker

Tom Bachtell ©
It’s tempting to see last week’s speech-making duel between Barack Obama and Dick Cheney as a mismatch, with the eloquence of the admired incumbent set against the snarl of the discredited predecessor. Certainly, there was no contest in terms of political stagecraft. Obama appeared in the hushed rotunda of the National Archives, in front of the documents that embody the highest aspirations of American government, while Cheney found a secure location at a right-wing think tank, one of a handful of places in the country where he could be assured a friendly audience.

But the popularity of the messengers should not be confused with the popularity of their messages. Obama’s speech came toward the end of a rough week for one of his signature issues—the return of the rule of law in the war on terror. Obama ran for President on a promise to close the government’s notorious detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, and in the first week of his new Administration he directed that it be shuttered and its inmates released or dispersed to other locations by January, 2010. While he was figuring out the details of that process, he suffered a political ambush in the Senate, which voted ninety to six to deny his request for eighty million dollars to shut down the prison, and, furthermore, voted to forbid that any inmates be transferred anywhere within the United States. Even by congressional standards, this was a cynical maneuver, since many of those voting aye had earlier supported the prison’s closure. Where, one wonders, did the legislators think the Guantánamo alumni were going to be sent?

This question has confounded lawmakers ever since the Bush Administration came up with the misbegotten idea to open Guantánamo in early 2002. In a series of landmark cases before the Supreme Court, in 2004, 2006, and 2008, the Justices courageously repudiated the Bush Administration’s attempts to deny basic rights to the Guantánamo prisoners, and, in so doing, gave the new Administration a road map of sorts about how an honorable detention system might be devised. The core of Obama’s speech was an attempt to describe how he would solve a problem that proved well beyond the capabilities—moral as well as legal—of the Bush Administration....(Click for remainder.)

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If Obama Cedes Ground on Torture to Cheney, We'll All Pay a Heavy Price

By acknowledging recent crimes while refusing to pursue the criminals, the president has made his position untenable.

By Gary Younge
The Guardian


'Every government ­assumes deeds and ­misdeeds of the past," writes Hannah Arendt in Eichmann and the Holocaust. "It means hardly more, generally speaking, than that every generation, by virtue of being born into a historical continuum, is burdened by the sins of the fathers as it is blessed with the deeds of the ancestors."

For Barack Obama this cuts both ways. Talented as he is, he looks much more so when compared with the man who preceded him. Just by showing up and stringing a few coherent sentences together, he embodies an improvement. To earn acclaim in these early months, he hasn't had to do anything good. He merely had to announce that he would stop doing things that were bad.

On the other hand, he has inherited the scarred landscape of his predecessor's tenure. Bush's wars, banks, car companies, secret prisons and untried prisoners are now his. As the candidate he may have promised change, but as the president he must also simulate some sense of continuity. Soaring ­rhetoric, however hopeful about the future, cannot erase the past, which has a habit of remaining with us.

Herein lies the tension in Obama's deeply flawed attempts to come to terms with America's recent disgraceful record of torture and detainment. As a candidate he was consistent on two points. First, he was opposed to torture and would close Guantánamo Bay. "I believe that we must reject torture ­without equivocation because it does not make us safe, it results in unreliable intelligence, it puts our troops at risk, and it contradicts core American ­values." Second, he had no desire to prosecute those who have been guilty of human rights abuses. "I would not want my first term consumed by what was perceived on the part of the Republicans as a partisan witch-hunt, because I think we've got too many problems to solve."...(Click for remainder.)

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The Walking War Crime, Rove, Follows Darth Cheney's Lead, Picks Oxy-Moron Over Gen. Powell

By David Edwards and Jeremy Gantz
The Raw Story


Two weeks after former vice president Dick Cheney chose Rush Limbaugh over Colin Powell for Republican party membership, Karl Rove has followed suit.

Speaking on Fox News Sunday, Rove – White House chief of staff under George W. Bush – said: “Yes, [I would choose Limbaugh] if I had to pick between the two.” But Rove struck a more inclusive tone than Cheney did earlier this month, saying that “anybody who says they’re a Republican is a Republican. There’s no membership committee.”

On May 10, Cheney said he assumed Powell, who endorsed Obama last year, had left the Grand Old Party. In fact, Powell continues to describe himself as Republican, while acknowledging he is not at the far-right of the party. (Earlier this month Powell said something rarely heard from contemporary conservatives: “Americans do want to pay taxes for services. Americans are looking for more government in their life, not less.”)

But even while siding with Limbaugh over Powell, Rove pointedly rejected the notion that the choice between the outspoken talk show host and the former Secretary of State is a meaningful one. “This is a false debate that Washington loves,” Rove told Chris Wallace, noting that neither men are running for office.

Meanwhile Sunday morning, former Homeland Security Chair and Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge criticized Limbaugh as too “shrill” and combative, saying the Republicans should explain their principles in a “responsible and reasonable way” and “respect others’ opinions.”...(Click for remainder.)

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Obama's SCOTUS Nominess Expected This Week



By Thomas Ferraro

Reuters


WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will likely announce a nominee within days to replace retiring U.S. Supreme Court Justice David Souter, Assistant Senate Democratic leader Dick Durbin said on Sunday.

"I've been told it is likely to come this week, but I don't know which day," Durbin told NBC's "Meet the Press" as the president entered a fourth week of considering possibilities.

Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl, on "Fox News Sunday," admitted his party lacks the votes to block the pending nominee with a procedural hurdle in the Democratic-led Senate.

But Kyl also made clear Obama's pick will face plenty of questions. "Undoubtedly this nominee will be liberal," said Kyl, a conservative.

Obama has been mulling a short list of mostly women for a seat on the nine-member, male-dominated high court, which decides abortion, death penalty and civil rights cases as well as ones involving business and property rights.

The pick is unlikely to change the ideological makeup of the nation's highest court since Obama, a Democrat, is expected to select a liberal in the mold of Souter, who announced his resignation on May 1.

"He is going to look for a person who understands the law, someone of high integrity and, as he has said, someone who is in touch with the real world," Durbin said.

While Obama has said he wants a nominee who could empathize with others, Kyl said he would be unable to back a pick who decided cases not by the law, but personal feelings....(Click for remainder.)

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Powell Attacks 'Rightwing Diktats' Over Republican Party Decline

By Chris McGreal
The Guardian


Colin Powell, the former US secretary of state, has joined the battle for the soul of the Republican party by warning that in succumbing to "diktats from the right wing" it risks spending years in the political wilderness. Powell called on the party to become more inclusive and help the poor.

His comments on Face the Nation follow an attack by the former vice-president, Dick Cheney, who said he regarded Powell as having left the party when he endorsed Barack Obama in the presidential election. Cheney said he viewed the extremist rightwing talk show host Rush Limbaugh as a better Republican than the former general.

The party's most prominent black politician said he was still a loyal Republican but the party needed to reconnect with the electorate and "not just listen to diktats that come down from the right wing of the party".

He said: "I think the Republican party has to take a hard look at itself and decide what kind of party are we."

That included "sharing the wealth of the country not only with the rich but with the least advantaged in our country".

"I have felt that the Republican party needs to be more inclusive than we have been in recent years ... If we don't do that, if we don't reach out more, the party is going to be sitting on a very, very narrow base. You can only do two things with a base. You can sit on it and watch the world go by or you can build on it," he said....(Click for remainder.)

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The Filter Up Effect

By John O'Kane
The Public Record


The “debate” about how we’re now on the slippery slope of socialism is truly a farce this time around! Virtually everything the Obama administration is doing, as Harold Meyerson said recently in the Washington Post, is about salvaging capitalism, and with mostly the same filter-down policies that got us where we are. It’s doing little more than slapping the wrists of the too-talented-to-fail bonus bankers.

But when “experts” just mention this toxic non-asset word most Americans cringe. Responding like Pavlov’s famous dog, they see badly tailored suits waiting in long lines and a government crimping their style with pap passed from that unmentionable 19th century critic. If you drop his name these days you’ll likely be labeled an ex-weatherman!

Now we certainly deserve less government in our lives. Whatever gets the licensors and bureaucrats off our backs.

But the problem with this picture is that we ignore both the public subsidies that permit private para-governments to license our lives, and how government can do so many good things: regulate trade, food production, agriculture, financial transactions; provide safety nets for people in times when the private sector can’t, or refuses to do so.

These actions make people freer. They help create a reasonably level playing field and trump the hostile takeovers in the dog-eat-dog jungle where those with bigger sticks passed down from their Neanderthal ancestors get bigger whacks at their foes. Not to mention better trust funds to get them through the inevitable recessions when those great deals pop up that will lead to the next generation of fortunes. Freedom is not just about blocking what crimps our style; it’s about creating institutions that teach us good habits to act upon.

How far we are from Socialism! We’ve never been so unequal and our habits never so bad. We accept the interests of the elite-driven system as our own. Some complain about millions in bonuses paid when so many are hurting, but most barely wince when the Treasury passes billions to AIG. As the country’s wealth is redistributed upward by public-private “partnerships,” we still believe what happens in the boardrooms is really about us. And now many say these “bailouts” equal socialism!...(Click for remainder.)

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Barack Obama Signals Possible End to U.S. Military Gay Ban

By Associated Press
Via The Guradian


President Barack Obama's top military adviser today said the Pentagon would comply if Congress repeals the ban on openly gay men and lesbians serving in the military, but added the US armed forces are already stretched thin fighting two wars.

Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said he is working on an assessment of what – if any – impact overturning the "don't ask, don't tell" policy would mean for the military.

In the meantime, the Pentagon plans to follow the existing rules, which says gay men and lesbians can serve in the military if they do not disclose their sexuality or engage in homosexual behaviour.

"The president has made his strategic intent very clear, that it's his intent at some point in time to ask Congress to change this law," Mullen said. "I think it's important to also know that this is the law, this isn't a policy. And for the rules to change, a law has to be changed."

During his presidential campaign, Obama pledged to overturn the Clinton-era policy and pledged that gay men and lesbians could serve openly in uniform. But he has made no specific move to do so since taking office in January.

He has not set a deadline for repeal, has given the Pentagon no direct orders and has kept Capitol Hill guessing about when he might ask for a change in the law....(Click for remainder.)

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China Stuck in 'Dollar Trap'

By Jamil Anderlini
The Financial Times


China’s official foreign exchange manager is still buying record amounts of US government bonds, in spite of Beijing’s increasingly vocal fear of a dollar collapse, according to officials and analysts.

Senior Chinese officials, including Wen Jiabao, the premier, have repeatedly signalled concern that US policies could lead to a collapse in the dollar and global inflation.

But Chinese and western officials in Beijing said China was caught in a “dollar trap” and has little choice but to keep pouring the bulk of its growing reserves into the US Treasury, which remains the only market big enough and liquid enough to support its huge purchases.

In March alone, China’s direct holdings of US Treasury securities rose $23.7bn to reach a new record of $768bn, according to preliminary US data, allowing China to retain its title as the biggest creditor of the US government.

“Because of the sheer size of its reserves Safe [China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange] will immediately disrupt any other market it tries to shift into in a big way and could also collapse the value of its existing reserves if it sold too many dollars,” said a western official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The composition of China’s reserves is a state secret but dollar assets are estimated to comprise as much as 70 per cent of the $1,953bn total and China owns nearly a quarter of the US debt held by foreigners, according to US Treasury data.

The collapse of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the US mortgage financiers, last summer prompted Safe to adjust its strategy and start buying far more short-term US government securities, instead of longer-maturity bonds and notes....(Click for remainder.)

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Former, Current Military Chiefs Back Obama on Guantanamo

By Agence France-Presse
Via The Raw Story


President Barack Obama gained support for closing Guantanamo from a current and a former military leader Sunday despite opposition in Congress to moving “war on terror” suspects to the United States.

Colin Powell, the former secretary of state and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff in Republican administrations, and Admiral Michael Mullen, the current head of the joint chiefs, said on separate television shows that the “war on terror” prison should be closed.

“I felt Guantanamo should be closed for the past six years, and I lobbied and presented reasons to President (George W.) Bush,” Powell said in an interview with CBS television.

With former vice president Dick Cheney leading the charge, Republicans have attacked Obama for promising to close the prison camp by January without a plan for dealing with the estimated 240 terror suspects held there.

Democratic lawmakers also have opposed transferring potentially dangerous prisoners to US prisons, forcing Obama to defend his “war on terror” policies in a major speech this week.

In an interview with ABC television, Mullen said he had long been an advocate for closing the prison because it “has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us.”

Asked about Cheney’s charge that the recruitment argument amounted to blaming “America for the evil others do,” Mullen said, “It’s my judgment that (Guantanamo) has had an impact (on recruiting). And it’s time to move on.”...(Click for remainder.)

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Wing-Nut Republicon Senator Threatens Filibuster Over SCOTUS

By Philip Elliott
Associated Press via Google News


WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate's No. 2 Republican on Sunday refused to rule out a filibuster if President Barack Obama seeks a Supreme Court justice who decides cases based on "emotions or feelings or preconceived ideas."

Sen. Jon Kyl made clear he would use the procedural delay if Obama follows through on his pledge to nominate someone who takes into account human suffering and employs empathy from the bench. The Arizona Republican acknowledged that his party likely does not have enough votes to sustain a filibuster, but he said nonetheless he would try to delay or derail the nomination if Obama ventures outside what Kyl called the mainstream.

"We will distinguish between a liberal judge on one side and one who doesn't decide cases on the merits but, rather, on the basis of his or her preconceived ideas," Kyl said.

The White House is preparing to announce Obama's pick to replace Justice David Souter, who plans to retire back to his beloved New Hampshire when the court's term ends. Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate, said Sunday that he has been told a choice is likely to be announced this week. Those involved with Obama's decision hint that it could come as early as Tuesday.

Obama, who has interviewed at least two candidates for the position, has offered hints into what he wants in a justice.

"You have to have not only the intellect to be able to effectively apply the law to cases before you," Obama said in an interview carried Saturday on C-SPAN television. "But you have to be able to stand in somebody else's shoes and see through their eyes and get a sense of how the law might work or not work in practical day-to-day living."...(Click for remainder.)

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DINO Sen. Ben Nelson Warns Against 'Activist' Obama Court Nominee

By Agence France-Presse

A leading Democratic senator warned Sunday his party could support a potentially polarizing obstruction of President Barack Obama's nominee to the Supreme Court if he names an "activist" to the bench.

Parties in opposition to a sitting president traditionally call for moderation in a pick to the country's highest court, but moderate Democrat Ben Nelson issued a blunt warning from Obama's own party that the president should not choose someone seen as out of the mainstream.

"I don't care whether they're liberal or conservative," Nelson told Fox News Sunday in an interview. "I just want to make sure they're not activist. I don't want an activist on the bench."

"I think that's the test -- will they be an activist or not?" Nelson said.

"And I would hope that there wouldn't be any circumstances that would be so extreme with any of the president's nominees that the other side would feel the need to filibuster or that I might feel the need to filibuster in a case of extraordinary circumstances."

It is widely expected that the new president will make his first nomination to the nine-member court this week, following moderate Justice David Souter's retirement announcement.

Nelson was a member of a bipartisan group of senators -- dubbed the Gang of 14 -- who negotiated a compromise in 2005 following several divisive battles over appellate court nominations by then-president George W. Bush....(Click for remainder.)

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N. Korea Conducts Nuclear Test

By Jonathan Thatcher
Reuters


SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea said it successfully conducted a nuclear test on Monday, a move certain to further isolate the impoverished state which argues it has no choice but to build an atomic arsenal to protect itself in a hostile world.

"(North Korea) successfully conducted one more underground nuclear test on May 25 as part of the measures to bolster up its nuclear deterrent for self-defense in every way," the North's official KCNA news agency said.

It added that the underground test "was safely conducted on a new higher level in terms of its explosive power and technology of its control."

The news knocked South Korean financial markets with the main share index falling 4 percent at one stage on fears the test will raise tension in a region which accounts for one sixth of the global economy.

"The reported test appears to be aimed at securing ultimate endorsement of its nuclear power status from the United States and bringing Washington to the negotiation table," said Kim Sung-han, a professor at Korea University.

"It could increase investor concerns about South Korea as the test may further worsen already soured inter-Korea relations," he added....(Click for remainder.)

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Colin Powell Tells the Oxy-Moron and Darth Vader to Pack Sand

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