Longwood Gardens. Photos by joanneleon. January, 2013
“Any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should 'have his head examined,' as General [Douglas] MacArthur so delicately put it.”
-- Defense Secretary Robert Gates
|Physical Pain - Joan Armatrading
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News and Opinion
How Extreme Is the Business Roundtable? Check Out Its Attack On the Elderly
A tune from the Peterson songbook …
Loveman expanded on the Roundtable’s anti-elderly agenda in a Wall Street Journal op-ed. Not coincidentally, that agenda corresponds exactly with that of right-wing billionaire ideologue Pete Peterson, who has funded many such anti-”entitlement” initiatives. They include:
Raise the Social Security age even more than currently scheduled – presumably from 67 to 70;
Raise the Medicare eligibility age;
Partially (or totally) privatize Medicare;
Implement the “chained CPI,” which cuts Social Security benefits by 3 percent and raises taxes on the middle class (but not on Loveman or other members of the Business Roundtable)
Each of these measures would be financially devastating to most Americans.
The Planned 3 Percent Cut to Social Security; Obama and the Democrats Are on BoardAndrew Sullivan makes the connection many have made from the start, between our theme this week, torture, and Aaron Swartz's prosecution. I hope that this contrast resonates with more people every day and that the pressure builds on Carmen Ortiz's bosses, Lanny Breuer, Eric Holder and Barack Obama, enough to make them change course (though I'm not holding my breath on that). I hope that it gives other prosecutors pause too. They will notice petitions signed by tens of thousands, calling for the firing of a US attorney. Sullivan's advocacy here is important, IMHO, because he is one of the people who can help to take this movement to a broader group of people and might bring in more independents, perhaps some from the moderate right, and some of the "pragmatic" left who are open minded and fair minded enough to set aside their constant defense of the Obama administration.
The bottom line is that President Obama and many leading Democrats are prepared to give seniors a larger hit to their income than they gave to the over $250,000 crowd.
According to inside Washington gossip, Congress and the president are going to do exactly what voters elected them to do; they are going to cut Social Security by 3 percent. You don't remember anyone running on that platform? Yeah, well, they probably forgot to mention it.
Of course some people may have heard Vice President Joe Biden when he told an audience in Virginia that there would be no cuts to Social Security if President Obama got reelected. Biden said: "I guarantee you, flat guarantee you, there will be no changes in Social Security. I flat guarantee you."
But that's the way things work in Washington. You can't expect the politicians who run for office to share their policy agenda with voters. After all, we might not like it. That's why they say things like they will fight for the middle class and make the rich pay their fair share. These ideas have lots of appeal among voters. Cutting Social Security doesn't.
They don't care that we are still down more than 9 million jobs from our growth trend; deficit reduction must take priority. These whiz kids apparently also don't care that the cuts that have already been made are slowing growth and costing us jobs.
If we actually did have to reduce the deficit it's hard to see why Social Security would be at the top of the list. After all, the vast majority of seniors are not doing especially well right now. Our defined benefit pension system is disappearing and 401(k)s have not come close to filling the gap. Retirees and near retirees have lost a large portion of whatever wealth they had managed to accumulate when the collapse of the housing bubble destroyed much of their home equity.
The DOJ demurred on prosecuting war criminals over torture, but they sure as hell hounded Aaron Swartz to his death: andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com/2013/01/fighti…— Andrew Sullivan (@sullydish) January 17, 2013
Ortiz ‘upset’ by suicide but backs data theft case
Facing sharp criticism for her office’s prosecution of Aaron Swartz, US Attorney Carmen Ortiz said Thursday she was “terribly upset” over the Internet activist’s suicide, but was confident that the data theft case against him was “reasonably and appropriately handled.”
While responding to reporters’ questions about Swartz at a press conference on a crackdown on Boston street gangs, Ortiz became emotional as she discussed the case and the criticism against her.
“I have to say that I am terribly upset about what happened here and the kind of allegations that have been made, because I pride myself in striving to be fair,” she said.
By Thursday evening, a White House petition to remove Ortiz from office had received more than 41,000 signatures.
“A prosecutor who does not understand proportionality and who regularly uses the threat of unjust and overreaching charges to extort plea bargains from defendants regardless of their guilt is a danger to the life and liberty of anyone who might cross her path,” the petition reads.
Aaron Swartz and the Corrupt Practice of Plea Bargaining
Carmen Ortiz, the federal prosecutor who hounded Aaron Swartz in the months before his Friday suicide, has released a statement arguing that “this office’s conduct was appropriate in bringing and handling this case.” She says that she recognized that Swartz’s crimes were not serious, and as a result she sought “an appropriate sentence that matched the alleged conduct – a sentence that we would recommend to the judge of six months in a low security setting.”
That’s funny because the press release her office released in 2011 says that Swartz “faces up to 35 years in prison, to be followed by three years of supervised release, restitution, forfeiture and a fine of up to $1 million.” And she apparently didn’t think even that was enough, because last year her office piled on even more charges, for a theoretical maximum of more than 50 years in jail.
If Ortiz thought Swartz only deserved to spend 6 months in jail, why did she charge him with crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 50 years? It’s a common way of gaining leverage during plea bargaining. Had Swartz chosen to plead not guilty, the offer of six months in jail would have evaporated. Upon conviction, prosecutors likely would have sought the maximum penalty available under the law. And while the judge would have been unlikely to sentence him to the full 50 years, it’s not hard to imagine him being sentenced to 10 years. [More...]
|White House PETITIONS: Remove United States District Attorney Carmen Ortiz from office for overreach in the case of Aaron Swartz.|
Zero Dark Thirty controversy drones onNational Security Archive collects all publicly available information on the bin Laden hunt and kill. There's not much to go on. Nowhere near as much information as was given to the Bigelow and Boals, apparently.
The controversy over "Zero Dark Thirty", a film depicting the mission to kill Osama bin Laden, has once again spilled onto social media.
On Thursday the film's official Twitter account sent out a tweet that many interpreted as support for the US drone programme. This follows criticism over what some see as an endorsement of torture in the film.
The Zero Dark Thirty File
Lifting The Government's Shroud Over the Mission That Killed Osama bin Laden
National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 410
Posted – January 17, 2013
Washington, DC, January 17, 2013 – The poster for the blockbuster movie Zero Dark Thirty features black lines of redaction over the title, which unintentionally illustrate the most accurate take-away from the film - that most of the official record of the hunt for Osama bin Laden is still shrouded in secrecy, according to the National Security Archive's ZD30 briefing book, posted today at www.nsarchive.org. The U.S. government's recalcitrance over releasing information directly to the public about the twenty-first century's most important intelligence search and military raid, and its decision instead to grant the film's producers exclusive and unprecedented access to classified information about the operation, means that for the time being – for bad or good – Hollywood has become the public's "account of record" for Operation Neptune Spear.
As often happens when the government declines on secrecy grounds to provide an authoritative account of a controversial event, leaked, unauthorized and untrustworthy versions rush to fill the void. In this extraordinary case, a Hollywood motion picture, with apparent White House, CIA, and Pentagon blessing and despite its historical inaccuracies, is now the closest thing to the official story behind the pursuit of bin Laden.
Zero Dark Thirty 's screenwriter, Mark Boal, has claimed that the film is "a movie not a documentary" and should not be treated as history. But the U.S. government's widely reported support and its official silence about the raid have made Zero Dark Thirty (the military designation for 12:30 AM) more than a mere thriller. Today, in an effort to balance the record, to the extent currently possible, the National Security Archive has collected, posted, and analyzed in one Electronic Briefing Book all of the available official documents on the mission to kill the notorious al-Qaeda leader. The documents include: [...]
Zero Dark Thirty, Secrecy, and TortureJon Stewart fail.
By Susan Sarandon
Have you seen Zero Dark Thirty? The movie, about the hunt for Osama bin Laden, has received rave reviews – it’s an Oscar contender – and if you enjoy a thriller, you should see it.
But as you watch, you should know that the movie has generated controversy because it leaves a mistaken impression: that the CIA’s torture of prisoners “worked” by providing information that led to bin Laden. Some will use the movie to argue that the CIA’s torture program was justified.
Of course, as I can tell you, movies are entertainment, not fact. And especially on an issue as important as torture, we shouldn’t mistake fiction for fact.
As a concerned American who wants to make sure our nation never takes the wrong path again, I believe it is essential that we all have the truth. Because when it comes to torture, the national conversation should be based on the facts – and not what makes the most the exciting story.
It is wrong and frustrating that Americans can see torture depicted in fictionalized movies like Zero Dark Thirty, but are blocked from getting the real facts on the past CIA torture program. We should watch Zero Dark Thirty as entertainment, but when we talk about torture, we should have the facts.
Torture and the mask of moral ambiguityJon Stewart fail. Jessica Chastain has bad info?/wtf?/fail. Sully is waffling again.
Torture is “difficult.” That’s evidently the view of Jon Stewart, who on Wednesday used the word to euphemistically allude to Zero Dark Thirty’s torture scenes. He’s not the only one who feels that way, either: Any number of critics have praised the film for being “morally complicated” or “a morally ambiguous movie about a morally ambiguous subject.”
But in fact, those who take this position aren’t making some concession to reality or steering a moderate course between the anti-torture and pro-torture extremists. Instead, they’re buying wholesale into the pro-torture fantasy of the “difficult decision”—the illusion that torture is a heroic act not only because it saves lives, but because it requires the moral courage to commit ethically ambiguous acts.
Of course, there’s nothing courageous about concealing one’s support for torture. Nor is there anything particularly brave about saying the state should be able to do unspeakable things in order to keep you safe. Excusing and even fetishizing those unspeakable things is an act of cowardice—and there’s nothing particularly complicated about that.
Jon Stewart On Zero Dark Thirty
The segment he had on with Jessica Chastain last night - a simply extraordinary actress, by the way - shook me up. I may be wrong, but I got the very strong impression that after seeing the movie, he had moved toward supporting torture. Since the movie didn't do that for me, but was seen that way by many I deeply respect, Stewart's impression - indeed his entire attitude to the subject - made me wonder if indeed my naivete or attempt to see the movie as an artistic whole was misplaced. Here's the interview, so let me know whether you think I'm off-base:
One small but important thing. Chastain insisted that Boal and Bigelow decided to have no cooperation with the government. Maybe she got some things muddled up but one of the things no one doubts - because it was first questioned and then proven by the right's Judicial Watch FOIA and then by the anti-torture coalition - is that there was close cooperation with the Pentagon, the CIA and even the White House. There is now a Senate investigation into whether the CIA figures with knowledge of the torture program overstepped the line in cooperating with ZD30. And yet the Daily Show's site still has this sentence describing the segment:Jessica Chastain explains why Kathryn Bigelow and the creators of Zero Dark Thirty decided not to work hand-in-hand with the US government.Just. Not. True. [...]
Obama's America Expands Its Global Overreach
Has America's commitment to a global reign deepened?
The U.S. has followed up with moves intended to encircle and contain China, disturbingly reminiscent of its Cold War efforts to contain the Soviet Union. Rather than constructively engage China, the U.S. has been militarizing the region with arms sales, joint naval operations, strengthened military alliances, deployment of troops to Australia, and a growing naval presence.
Even Obama's rhetoric has been disconcerting. Though he has not gone as far as Bush in announcing a crusade to wipe out "evil" in the world, he has echoed Woodrow Wilson's post-World War I description of "America as the savior of the world." "Unlike the old empires, we don't make these sacrifices for territory or for resources. We do it because it's right," Obama told troops returning from Iraq. He might better recall the words of long-serving Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan, who wrote, "Everyone knows: The Iraq War is largely about oil."
Nor has he repudiated the attempt to achieve full spectrum dominance, including weaponization of space and militarization of cyberspace.
There are, however, a few signs of hope that Obama's approach is changing. Nominating Chuck Hagel as secretary of Defense — with his criticism of the Israel lobby, sensible approach toward Iran, opposition to the surge in Iraq and repudiation of nuclear weapons — and John Kerry as secretary of State represents a major break with the hawks who populated Obama's first administration.
Some Hostages Killed, but Raid Rescues Many, Algeria SaysChuck Schumer is Commander-in-Chief now?
BAMAKO, Mali — Kidnappers and at least some of their hostages were killed on Thursday as Algerian forces raided a gas facility where a heavily armed group of Islamist extremists was holding dozens of captives, including Americans and other foreigners, the Algerian government announced.
Unconfirmed news reports earlier on Thursday, quoting a statement reportedly from the hostage takers, said the Algerian military assault had left 35 hostages and 15 kidnappers dead. One Algerian government official called those numbers “exaggerated.”
The communications minister said the military assault force sent to end the siege had first sought a peaceful end.
“But confronted with the determination of the heavily armed terrorist group, our armed forces were forced to surround the site and fire warning shots,” he said. “In front of the stubborn refusal of these terrorists to heed these warnings and confronted with their evident desire to leave Algeria with the foreign hostages to then use them as a bargaining chip, an assault was launched this Thursday at the end of the morning.”
Former U.S. commander warns strike on Iran would not end nuclear programA feast for the eyes and for the mind, and hopefully for the environment.
A former US military commander warned Wednesday that a potential US strike against Iran would take weeks and probably only set back the country’s nuclear program by several years.
Admiral William Fallon, the former head of US Central Command which covers the Middle East, said that Iran posed concerns for both the United States and Israel but voiced hope for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row.
Fallon resigned as Central Command chief in 2008 and ended a four-decade military career after an article in Esquire magazine portrayed him as critical of then president George W. Bush’s stance on Iran.
Fallon joined other former US officials last year in signing a study that said military action should be a last resort on Iran and estimating that military strikes could set back the nuclear program by up to four years.
But Senator Chuck Schumer, a hawkish supporter of Israel who had initially wavered on supporting Hagel, said Hagel promised him that planning military contingencies on Iran would be his first priority at the Pentagon.
Beautiful, Innovative, and Sustainable: The Future of Green Architecture
Architizer is hosting the world’s definitive architectural awards program, with 50+ categories and 200+ jurors. As part of an ongoing series, we’re spotlighting projects that fit into “Plus” categories, including “Sustainability,” that tap into topical and culturally relevant themes. To see a full list of categories and learn more about the awards, visit architizerawards.com.
Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest
I finally understand. Republicans key policy goal is 4 Democrats to come up with and push through massive cuts to Social Security & Medicare— Josh Marshall (@joshtpm) January 17, 2013
Aaron Swartz's father: MIT put "institutional concerns ahead of compassion." huff.to/SRUJKB— Huffington Post (@HuffingtonPost) January 18, 2013
Read Amy Goodman's column: "Aaron Swartz and the Freedom to Connect" owl.li/gUsLO— Democracy Now! (@democracynow) January 18, 2013
Jon Stewart finds torture propaganda "challenging" tinyurl.com/b5yjhwu Expect the "I'm just a comedian" excusetomorrow— David Swanson (@davidcnswanson) January 17, 2013
Joan Armatrading Down To Zero
Remember when progressive debate was about our values and not about a "progressive" candidate? Remember when progressive websites championed progressive values and didn't tell progressives to shut up about values so that "progressive" candidates can get elected?
Come to where the debate is not constrained by oaths of fealty to persons or parties.
Come to where the pie is served in a variety of flavors.
"The smart way to keep people passive and obedient is to strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum." ~ Noam Chomsky