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News and Opinion


Just saw this news. It's impossible not to draw the contrasts between the children honored and remembered at last night's SOTU speech and this.  I am seeing some other reports saying that 10 civilians were killed.

Five Afghan Children Among Ten Civilians Killed in NATO/US Attack
Afghan officials say that five children are among the ten civilians killed by a US/NATO missile attack in eastern Afghanistan on Wednesday.

"Four women and five children were killed, and five children wounded. One man, who was the leader of the family, was also killed, according to reports from the site," a man named Farid told The Guardian's local correspondent by telephone. Farid is the chief of staff to the governor of Kunar Province, where the missile strike took place.
[...]
The suspected drone attack, though not confirmed in all its details due to the remote nature of the village where it occurred, took place just hours after President Obama delivered his State of the Union address in Washington.

[Emphasis added]

Obama State of the Union: Hadiya's Parents 'Deserve a Vote' on Gun Control

CHICAGO — Hadiya Pendleton's parents "deserve a vote" in the national debate on gun control, President Barack Obama said during his State of the Union address Tuesday.
Obama said Hadiya's murder two weeks ago at a South Side park, along with the violent deaths of others since the mass school shooting in Newtown, Conn., demonstrate the need for stricter gun control laws.
"One of those we lost was a young girl named Hadiya Pendleton," Obama said. "She was 15 years old. She loved Fig Newtons and lip gloss. She was a majorette. She was so good to her friends, they all thought they were her best friend. Just three weeks ago, she was here, in Washington, with her classmates, performing for her country at my inauguration. And a week later, she was shot and killed in a Chicago park after school, just a mile away from my house."
Obama said that Hadiya’s parents, who were seated next to first lady Michelle Obama during the speech, "along with more than two dozen Americans whose lives have been torn apart by gun violence ... deserve a vote" in the national debate on gun control.

Green ribbons honor Connecticut shooting victims

WASHINGTON -- Green ribbons dotting the lapels of Democrats and Republicans attending President Barack Obama's State of the Union address were in honor of the 26 students and educators killed at a Connecticut elementary school in December.

Nato air strike kills civilians in eastern Afghanistan, officials say
If confirmed as Nato action, deaths of 10 civilians, including five children, likely to renew tensions between Karzai and Nato

A Nato air strike in eastern Afghanistan has killed 10 civilians, five of them children, and wounded five other children, Afghan officials said.
[...]
If confirmed the latest deaths are likely to spark protests and renew tensions over civilian casualties between the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and the Nato-led military coalition.

A single home in the remote Sultan valley, in Kunar province, was hit by bombs around 3am on Wednesday, said Wasifullah Wasifi, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Four Taliban commanders were also killed in the attack, said Farid, chief of staff for the Kunar governor who, like many Afghans, goes by only one name.

Yes to Obama’s New Jobs Focus. But No To Benefit Cuts in Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

With last night’s State of the Union address, President Obama attempted to refocus his new second term with a focus on jobs and supporting the middle class.  He clearly wants to stop talking about deficits and debt and start talking about reviving the economy for people.  His best line was a clear attempt to pivot in the right direction:

“Let’s be clear: deficit reduction alone is not an economic plan. A growing economy that creates good, middle-jobs – that must be the North Star that guides our efforts.”
And yet, as Al Pacino, who longs to escape the mob, laments in The Godfather, “Just when I thought I was out…they pull me back in” President Obama feels like he has to assert that “a plan to reduce the deficit must be part of our agenda” and that he must keep negotiating with Republicans about cutting spending and raising taxes.  He could have declared that we’ve done enough on deficit reduction – and that, as the Economic Policy Institute has recently explained, we have stabilized the debt as a percentage of GDP and we should be spending money to spur growth.

Instead, President Obama has clearly embraced the urging of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (and Republicans to the right of CBPP) that he needs to find and additional $1.5 trillion more in deficit reductions.  As a result, he’s got most of the progressive movement working earnestly that we can accomplish this conservative goal in a way that doesn’t cut important spending – and mostly by raising taxes progressively – or cuts Pentagon spending.

Moyers.
The Hubris of the Drones

Last week, the New York Times published a chilling account of how indiscriminate killing in war remains bad policy even today. This time, it's done not by young GIs in the field but by anonymous puppeteers guiding drones that hover and attack by remote control against targets thousands of miles away, often killing the innocent and driving their enraged and grieving families and friends straight into the arms of the very terrorists we're trying to eradicate.
[...]
A special report from the Council on Foreign Relations last month, "Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies," quotes "a former senior military official" saying, "Drone strikes are just a signal of arrogance that will boomerang against America." The report notes that, "The current trajectory of U.S. drone strike policies is unsustainable... without any meaningful checks -- imposed by domestic or international political pressure -- or sustained oversight from other branches of government, U.S. drone strikes create a moral hazard because of the negligible risks from such strikes and the unprecedented disconnect between American officials and personnel and the actual effects on the ground."

Adam Serwer at Mother Jones.  I would add that if some kind of targeted killing court is created, it would be secret like the FISA court and most likely a rubberstamp, based on secret actions and secret law interpretations (since many of the legal memos have still not been released).
Obama's Empty Promises of Transparency on National Security

This time, Obama spoke of past accomplishments as well as future commitments, and responded, perhaps for the first time, to critics of the administration's largely opaque targeted killing program:

[M]y Administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism operations. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention, and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.
Obama is acknowledging critics who argue that his use of targeted killing has caused the deaths of innocent people—not just terrorists. It's  likely the first time Obama has spoken of the necessity of "checks and balances" on the targeted killing program. But Obama's definition of checks and balances probably doesn't include a targeted killing court that would independently evaluate whether or not someone should be placed on a "kill list." Instead, he may simply mean that he will tell certain members of Congress after he orders the deaths of suspected terrorists.

Obama's past record, however, suggests that his promises of transparency will be unmet, and his promise to "continue to engage with Congress" implies that he believes his administration is already meeting most of its transparency obligations.

Emptywheel goes into some detail about what she believes the reasons are for the idea of a targeted killing court catching on.
Setting Up a Department of Pre-Crime, Part One: Why Are We Doing This?

There are, as I see it, three different motivations among those now backing a FISA Drone (and/or Targeted Killing) Court.

First, there’s Dianne Feinstein. Now that the white paper has been released — and the actual OLC memos to the other members of her committee — it has been made clear that the program she has been assuring Americans, based on her Gang of Four review, is lawful is not the slam dunk she made it out to be. [...]

If a FISA Drone (and/or Targeted Killing) Court is necessary and justified, it should have been in 2009, when she took over the Chair at Senate Intelligence Committee (or at the very least, by January 2010, when it became clear the Obama Administration was targeted Anwar al-Awlaki). But somehow, DiFi is only backing the idea now that her poor judgment in letting the killings continue without oversight is being exposed. To some degree, I’d put Patrick Leahy (who doesn’t want to be tough with Obama) and Chuck Grassley in this position, as well.

The March issue of Esquire has a long article about the "Shooter", the Navy SEAL who allegedly actually shot and killed bin Laden.  This is a different guy from Bissonette,  the one who wrote a book.  The author got to know the Shooter (who is not identified in the article) and learns that he is about to leave the Navy after 16 years of service, and talks about his difficult prospects.  I've read some comments about this article and one of them noted that this is an odd time to leave the service since a few more years of service would bring a pension and more benefits.  Stars and Stripes published a push back article, which I included below, about some of the assertions made in the article.  It's an odd article, IMHO.  Worth reading.  I can't really excerpt it very well.  I'll just put the intro paragraph here.
The Man Who Killed Osama bin Laden... Is Screwed

For the first time, the Navy SEAL who killed Osama bin Laden tells his story — speaking not just about the raid and the three shots that changed history, but about the personal aftermath for himself and his family. And the startling failure of the United States government to help its most experienced and skilled warriors carry on with their lives.

Stars and Stripes published an article pushing back on some of the details in the Esquire piece. It's interesting how they disclose that he has a disability claim in the backlog. That seems like a privacy issue to me.  I agree that Esquire should correct the story.  It won't be possible for the print issue until the next one comes out, but it can be corrected in the online issue.  And while the author's excuses are pretty weak, healthcare is not the only thing he talks about when he discusses the issue of the prospects for the Navy SEAL's career after he leaves the service, and veterans issues in general.
Esquire article wrongly claims SEAL who killed bin Laden is denied healthcare

Like every combat veteran of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the former SEAL, who is identified in the story only as “the Shooter”, is automatically eligible for five years of free healthcare through the Department of Veterans Affairs.
[...]
The writer, Phil Bronstein, who heads up the Center for Investigative Reporting, stands by the story. He said the assertion that the government gave the SEAL “nothing” in terms of health care is both fair and accurate, because the SEAL didn’t know the VA benefits existed.
[...]
The Center for Investigating Reporting posted a story on its website today that goes into greater detail about the SEAL's interactions with the VA, including that he has a disability claim that is stuck in the backlog.

An article from last week.
The Kill List ‘Debate’: Why Liberal And Conservative Media Have No Clue How To Handle The Story

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney claims the kill list is “legal,” “ethical” and “wise” in protecting the American people and preventing future attacks. It’s so confusing…he sounds downright Dana Perino-ian…
[...]
Is Rachel Maddow exploring the subject? Sure…but she won’t dare label President Obama a war criminal as she did during a similar scenario with George W. Bush (nor did Chris Hayes during a segment earlier today).
[...]
It sounds like the answer should be a slam-dunk with Mr. Obama mimicking and even escalating Bush 43’s anti-terrorism efforts on the drone front. Surely they’re patting the president on the back for continuing an aggressive strategy on the war on terror, right?

Uh, not even close…

Instead, the kill list revelation is seen as a golden opportunity to call out the president’s hypocrisy for being anti-torture but pro-assassination.

O'Reilly uses this situation to exploit an African American liberal who is willing to speak honestly on the issue.  
Marc Lamont Hill Slams Obama’s Drone Policy: Unlike Bush, ‘We Refuse To Hold Him Accountable’

Hill agreed with O’Reilly that the left “doesn’t want to deal with” drones, saying, “I think the problem is we have convinced ourselves that Obama’s drones are somehow softer and kinder and gentler than Bush’s drones.” Helping make O’Reilly’s central point, he added, “We refuse to hold President Obama accountable for drones the same way we would have under the Bush administration.”

“So basically you’re saying your crew is hypocritical on the issue?” O’Reilly interrupted, clearly happy to have a liberal confirming his hypothesis.

Hill explained that whenever he would try to “hold Obama accountable” for things like drones, Democrats would tell him to be quiet until after the election and look at the bigger picture. “People have convinced themselves that Obama is much more reasonable and dovish on war issues than he actually is and I don’t think it’s just strategy,” he said. “I think we are wrong.”

13 Men Condemned to Die Despite Severe Mental Illness
If juveniles and intellectually disabled people are ineligible for execution, why not paranoid schizophrenics?

Thomas' case is on appeal in federal court, and as it stands, the courts cannot even address the question of whether he is competent to be executed until he is about to be. But should someone as obviously crazy as Andre Thomas be facing execution at all? Over the past decade, US courts have barred the death penalty for the intellectually disabled and for juveniles—the Supreme Court found that they have less culpability due to their lower mental functioning and immaturity. Many legal observers believe that barring the death penalty for the severely mentally ill, given their dissociation from reality, is the next frontier in capital jurisprudence.

Over the years, governors from both parties have seen fit to commute the death sentences of profoundly mentally ill prisoners, even in conservative states. But authorities in Texas have shown little mercy: The state Board of Pardons and Paroles has recommended clemency based on mental illness in only one case since 1977, when the death penalty came back into use (see Kelsey Patterson below)—and Gov. Rick Perry denied it.

A bit of a tongue in cheek post by Joe Romm at ThinkProgress. He had done several earlier posts on a SOTU climate change drinking game.  He excerpts part of the SOTU speech.  He notes that Obama ad libbed the line about an "all of the above" plan and that the remarks about climate change were extensive this in this speech.  Hurricane Sandy made it impossible to ignore or minimize but the pressure from activists, lack of focus on it during the 2012 campaign, and upcoming march on Washington were a undoubtedly a factor too.  
Climate Hawk Obama: ‘If Congress Won’t Act Soon To Protect Future Generations, I Will’
Now is the time to reach a level of research and development not seen since the height of the Space Race. And today, no area holds more promise than our investments in American energy.

After years of talking about it, we are finally poised to control our own energy future. We produce more oil at home than we have in 15 years. We have doubled the distance our cars will go on a gallon of gas, and the amount of renewable energy we generate from sources like wind and solar – with tens of thousands of good, American jobs to show for it. We produce more natural gas than ever before – and nearly everyone’s energy bill is lower because of it. And over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen.

But for the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change. Yes, it’s true that no single event makes a trend. But the fact is, the 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15. Heat waves, droughts, wildfires, floods – all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that Superstorm Sandy, and the most severe drought in decades, and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence. Or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgment of science – and act before it’s too late.
Now the good news is, we can make meaningful progress on this issue while driving strong economic growth. I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change, like the one John McCain and Joe Lieberman worked on together a few years ago. But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will. I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.

Four years ago, other countries dominated the clean energy market and the jobs that came with it. We’ve begun to change that. Last year, wind energy added nearly half of all new power capacity in America. So let’s generate even more. Solar energy gets cheaper by the year – let’s drive costs down even further. As long as countries like China keep going all-in on clean energy, so must we.

In the meantime, the natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that. That’s why my Administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits. That’s got to be a part of an all-of-the-above plan. But I also want to work with this Congress to encourage the research and technology that helps natural gas burn even cleaner and protects our air and water.

In fact, much of our new-found energy is drawn from lands and waters that we, the public, own together. So tonight, I propose we use some of our oil and gas revenues to fund an Energy Security Trust that will drive new research and technology to shift our cars and trucks off oil for good. If a non-partisan coalition of CEOs and retired generals and admirals can get behind this idea, then so can we. Let’s take their advice and free our families and businesses from the painful spikes in gas prices we’ve put up with for far too long. I’m also issuing a new goal for America: let’s cut in half the energy wasted by our homes and businesses over the next twenty years. The states with the best ideas to create jobs and lower energy bills by constructing more efficient buildings will receive federal support to help make that happen.

Same author, Joe Romm, had gone through two decades of SOTU speeches to highlight mentions of climate change and publishes them here.  It's notable that they all fit into a blog post that is not excessively long.  
Three Decades Of SOTU Climate Remarks Plus A Brand New Drinking Game

First the bad news, via a tweet from CNN White House Correspondent Brianna Keilar:

Pres. Obama will NOT announce regs on carbon emissions for existing power plants in the SOTU, per sr. admin official.
The good news is I have a brand new drinking game. And the “ugly” news is below the jump: All the climate mentions from State of the Union addresses (SOTUs) and joint Congressional addresses from 1992 through 2012, showing that talk has been cheap for a long, long time….




Action


At 12 Noon on Sunday, February 17, thousands of Americans will head to Washington, D.C. to make Forward on Climate the largest climate rally in history. Join this historic event to make your voice heard and help the president start his second term with strong climate action.

What: The largest climate rally in U.S. history.

When: February 17, 2013, Noon - 4:00 p.m. (please arrive by 11:30 a.m.)

Where: The National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Gather at the northeast corner of the Washington Monument
(Closest Metro subway stations: Federal Triangle and Smithsonian)

For more details about the rally -- including information about coordinating and riding buses to Washington -- please read our FAQ. Also check out the nearly 100 organizations leading and supporting this rally!



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