Category Archives: USA

Congressional Hawks Vow to Block Normalization of Cuba Ties

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘President Obama’s announcement of his intentions to end 53 years of acrimony toward Cuba, and move toward normalization of relations, including reopening the Embassy in Havana, came as a shock to many.

Polls show that the American public has been supportive of the idea for awhile now, however, and that anti-Cuba sentiment is something a lot of people got over literally decades ago.

Being the obvious thing to do, and a popular thing to do, doesn’t mean it’s going to get done, however, and Congressional hawks are promising to stop normalization, as well as to block any nomination of an ambassador to Cuba.’

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U.S. Supreme Court Says Ignorance Of The Law Is An Excuse — If You’re A Cop

Nicole Flatow reports for Think Progress:

police lights‘There is one simple concept that law students learn in their very first weeks of criminal law class: Ignorance of the law is no excuse. This principle means that when an individual violates the law, it doesn’t matter whether or not they knew what the law said. If it’s a crime, and they are found to have committed the elements of that crime, they are guilty.

On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the same standard doesn’t necessarily apply to police. In a splintered 8-1 ruling, the court found that cops who pulled over Nicholas Heien for a broken taillight were justified in a subsequent search of Heien’s car, even though North Carolina law says that having just one broken taillight is not a violation of the law.

The ruling means that police did not violate Heien’s rights when they later searched his car and found cocaine, and that the cocaine evidence can’t be suppressed at a later trial. But it also means that the U.S. Supreme Court declined the opportunity to draw a line limiting the scope of police stops, at a time when they are as rampant and racially disproportionate as ever. Instead, police may have considerably more leeway to stop passengers on the road, even in a number of jurisdictions that had previously said cops are not justified in mistakes of law.’

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Is the Bilderberg Group Picking Our Politicians?

Andrew Gavin Marshall writes:

clinton-thatcher‘When it comes to the secretive meetings of the world’s financial, corporate, political and technocratic elites at the annual Bilderberg conferences, a common criticism from conspiracy theorists and others is that the group pre-selects major politicians – choosing presidents and prime ministers in private before populations have a chance to vote themselves.

Bilderberg participants contest this framing, suggesting that Bilderberg participants simply invite up-and-coming politicians who appear to have a bright future ahead of them.

The truth is that it’s a bit of both. Bilderberg invites politicians who appear to have an influential future in their respective nations, but their attendance at the meetings (depending on their ability to impress Bilderberg members and participants) can itself have a very significant influence on their political futures. This is because the industrialists, bankers and media moguls in attendance hold significant individual and collective power over the political processes across much of the Western world.’

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U.S. and Cuba Will Resume Diplomatic Relations

Peter Baker reports for The New York Times:

The United States will restore full diplomatic relations with Cuba and open an embassy in Havana for the first time in more than a half-century after the release of an American contractor held in prison for five years, President Obama announced on Wednesday.

In a deal negotiated during 18 months of secret talks hosted largely by Canada and encouraged by Pope Francis, who hosted a final meeting at the Vatican, Mr. Obama and President Raúl Castro of Cuba agreed in a telephone call to put aside decades of hostility to find a new relationship between the United States and the island nation just 90 miles off the American coast.’

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Why The Guardian Censored One of Its Top Journalists: Interview with Nafeez Ahmed

Editor’s Note: Nafeez Ahmed recently launched a crowdfunding drive in order to support his great journalism and with the hopeful aim of creating his own investigative journalism collective. Please support him in any way you can. You can find links to more of his work here.

Abby Martin interviews investigative journalist, Nafeez Ahmed, about what was not discussed in the torture report and his claims of censorship at the Guardian newspaper, where he used to work.’ (Breaking the Set)

“Oh God, it’s Mom”: Mother calls C-SPAN to rebuke her arguing pundit sons

Republican Congressman Peter King: Sydney calls for “heavy surveillance”

Ben Kamisar reports for The Hill:

‘Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.) says the deadly hostage situation in Sydney underscores the need for increased government surveillance, applauding former programs that spied on Muslim communities.

“It shows to me the need for increased surveillance, heavy surveillance, and to get as many sources as we can into these communities where these type of lunatics may come from,” King said on Fox News’ “America’s Newsroom.”

“And not just lunatics — people who are on the edge and who have these Islamist leanings,” the lawmaker added.

King went on to bash the American Civil Liberties Union and The New York Times for what he referred to as “attacking the police.”’

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‘DIY Jihad': U.S. Officials Fear Lone Wolf Attacks

SEE ALSO: If the war on terror fuels terrorism, how does terrorism actually end? and US government agents ‘directly involved’ in most high-profile US terror plots

9/11 Commission Based on Torture

Editor’s Note: The below interview was conducted by Democracy Now in February 2008. Philip Zelikow served as executive director of the 9/11 Commission, Robert Windrem is an investigative journalism who co-authored an analysis on the 9/11 Commission Report, and Michael Ratner is the president of the Center for Constitutional Rights. You can view the full uninterrupted interview here.

They Said ‘No’ to Torture: The Real Heroes of the Bush Years

Jon Wiener writes for The Nation:

‘Hidden in the Senate torture report are stories of some heroes—people inside the CIA who from the beginning said torture was wrong, who tried to stop it, who refused to participate. There were also some outside the CIA, in the military and the FBI, who risked careers and reputations by resisting—and who sometimes paid a heavy price. They should be thanked and honored.

But President Obama hasn’t mentioned them. Instead, he praised the CIA officials who presided over the torture regime as “patriots.”

We should “celebrate the ones who stood up for what was right,” says David Luban of the Georgetown University law school, author of Torture, Power and Law. Jane Mayer of The New Yorker, author of the definitive book on Bush administration torture, The Dark Side, calls them “the real torture patriots.”

The opposition to torture within the CIA was so strong, Mayer reports, that the CIA Inspector General, John Helgerson, “conducted a serious and influential internal investigation.” That led the Justice Department to “ask the CIA to suspend the torture program”—at least “until it could be reconciled with the law.”’

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Denver Cops Arrest Man Who Exposed Them Beating Man On Video While Promoting Cop Who Did The Beating

Carlos Miller reports for Photography Is Not A Crime:

‘A man who video recorded Denver police repeatedly punching a man in the face, causing his head to bounce off the pavement, before tripping his pregnant wife and causing her to fall on her face – sparking an FBI investigation into the department – was arrested Thursday in what appears to be a case of retaliation.

After all, Denver police not only arrested him on what they called a “newly activated traffic warrant” from a nearby county after he had just left the FBI office with whom he is cooperating on the federal investigation, they refused to allow him to bond out of jail, even though the warrant was regarding a measly missed court date over failure to provide proof of insurance and registration during a traffic stop a few months ago.

Denver police are obviously upset that upset Levi Frasier managed to recover the footage from his Samsung tablet after they had deleted it, which led to them being investigated by the feds.

Not that it stopped them from promoting the cop, Charles “Chris” Jones IV, seen on video punching the suspect to sergeant earlier this month.’

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Dodd-Frank Budget Fight Proves Democrats Are a Bunch of Stuffed Suits

Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone:

‘[…] Conservatives for welfare, and liberals for big business. It doesn’t make sense unless we’re not really dealing with any divided collection of conservatives or liberals, and are instead talking about one nebulous mass of influence, money and interests. I think of it as a single furiously-money-collecting/favor-churning oligarchical Beltway party, a thing that former Senate staffer and author Jeff Connaughton calls “The Blob.”

What’s happening here is that The Blob, which includes supposed enemies like Reid and Graham, wants to give donation-factory banks like Citi and Chase a handout. But a coalition of heretics, including the liberal Warren, the genuinely conservative Vitter and (surprisingly to me) the usually party-orthodox Nancy Pelosi is saying no to the naked giveaway.

Is killing the Citigroup provision really worth the trouble? Is it a “Hill to die on”? Maybe not in itself. But the key here is that a victory on the swaps issue will provide the Beltway hacks with a playbook for killing the rest of the few meaningful things in Dodd-Frank, probably beginning with the similar Volcker Rule, designed to prevent other types of gambling by federally-insured banks. Once they cave on the swaps issue, it won’t be long before the whole bill vanishes, and we can go all the way back to our pre-2008 regulatory Nirvana.’

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What the Torture Report Isn’t Telling You

‘Why is the corporate media turning torture into a debate? Abby Martin discusses the media’s reaction to the Senate torture report and why torture has suddenly turned into a partisan debate.’ (Breaking the Set)

CIA First Planned Jails Abiding by U.S. Standards

Matt Apuzzo and James Risen report for The New York Times:

Just six days after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, President Bush signed a secret order that gave the Central Intelligence Agency the power to capture and imprison terrorists with Al Qaeda. But the order said nothing about where they should be held or how the agency should go about the business of questioning them.

For the next few weeks, as the rubble at ground zero smoldered and the United States launched a military operation in Afghanistan, C.I.A. officials scrambled to fill in the blanks left by the president’s order. Initially, agency officials considered a path very different from the one they ultimately followed, according to the newly released Senate Intelligence Committee report on the C.I.A.’s harsh interrogation program.

They envisioned a system in which detainees would be offered the same rights and protections as inmates held in federal or American military prisons. Conditions at these new overseas prisons would be comparable to those at maximum-security facilities in the United States. Interrogations were to be conducted in accordance with the United States Army Field Manual, which prohibits coerced, painful questioning. Everything at the prisons would “be tailored to meet the requirements of U.S. law and the federal rules of criminal procedure,” C.I.A. lawyers wrote in November 2001.

The C.I.A.’s early framework for its detention program offers a glimpse of a possible alternative history. As the country grapples with new disclosures about the program, the Senate report tells a story of how plans for American-style jails were replaced with so-called “black sites,” where some prisoners were chained to walls and forgotten, froze to death on concrete floors and were waterboarded until they lost consciousness.’

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Proposed Senate Bill Would Make Future CIA Torture Prosecutable

Jason Ditz reports for Antiwar:

‘Speaking on NBC’s Meet the Press today [Sunday 14th December], Sen. Ron Wyden (D – OR) a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has promised to introduce a new bill next year which would make any future incidents of CIA torture prosecutable.

Sen. Wyden expressed concern that in CIA Director John Brennan’s Thursday defense of past torture, he left open the possibility that the CIA would do so again in the future.’

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Former CIA Director Michael Hayden: Rectal Rehydration Necessary

Dick Cheney On The Torture: “I’d Do It Again In A Minute”

‘Do No Harm’: When Doctors Torture

Julie Beck writes for The Atlantic:

‘[…] Two psychologists, Dr. James Mitchell and Dr. Bruce Jessen, were paid $81 million to design the program, and medical officers and physicians’ assistants are cited throughout the report as consultants who advised on things like forcing detainees to stand on broken limbs and “rehydrating” via a rectal tube rather than a standard IV infusion. While in many medical schools around the United States, students swear the Hippocratic Oath, saying out loud the words “may I long experience the joy of healing those who seek my help,” CIA medical officers used their intimate knowledge of the human body as a weapon, to harm people the U.S. government deemed enemies.

Dr. Steven Miles is a professor at the University of Minnesota Medical School, a board member of the Center for Victims of Torture, and author of Oath Betrayed: America’s Torture Doctors. He has been studying doctors’ involvement in torture programs since photos of the human rights violations at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to light in 2003. He maintains the website Doctorswhotorture.com, which tracks physician standards of conduct and punishments for doctors who aid torture around the world. We spoke by phone about the CIA report, the role doctors play in interrogation, and how they could be held accountable.’

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Untrained CIA Agents Were Just Making Up Torture Methods As They Went Along

‘On Tuesday morning [9th December], the Senate intelligence committee released an executive summary of its five-year investigation into the CIA’s interrogation and detention program.

Among the report’s most striking revelations is that CIA interrogators were often untrained and in some instances made up torturous techniques as they went along.

The CIA was “unprepared” to begin the enhanced interrogation program, the Senate report concluded. The agency sent untrained, inexperienced people into the field to interrogate Abu Zubaydah, the first important Al Qaeda suspect the US captured.’

Torture Report: CIA Was Pressured to Link Iraq to Qaeda After 9/11

Patrick Cockburn writes for The Independent:

‘The CIA tortured al-Qaeda suspects because it wanted evidence that Saddam Hussein was linked to 9/11 in order to justify the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The agency was under intense pressure from the White House and senior figures in the Bush administration to extract confessions confirming co-operation between the Iraqi leader and al-Qaeda, although no significant evidence was ever found.

The CIA has defended its actions by claiming that it was “unknowable” if torture had produced results, although the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Dianne Feinstein, maintains torture produced nothing of value.

A second line of defence put forward by defenders of the CIA is to say that the agency was swept up in the reaction to 9/11 in the US and needed to find out quickly if there were going to be further attacks.’

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Man can’t challenge $280K tax bill he probably doesn’t really owe, court says

Matt Miller reports for Penn Live:

Pennsylvania Judicial CenterWith undisguised reluctance, Commonwealth Court has issued an order requiring a Philadelphia man to pay a $280,772 tax bill that he probably doesn’t really owe.

In fact, city officials acknowledged in court that the tax bill they sent Nathan Lerner was a “jeopardy assessment” based on a fabrication.

The problem is that Lerner didn’t follow the right procedural course in challenging it, a Commonwealth Court panel found in a ruling issued this week. And so, the state judges determined, he’s stuck with that unfounded tax tab.’

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U.S. Congress Secretly Legitimizes Questionable NSA Mass Surveillance Tool

Mike Masnick reports for Techdirt:

‘[…] For a while now, we’ve discussed executive order 12333, signed by President Ronald Reagan, which more or less gives the NSA unchecked authority to tap into any computer system not in the US. Over the summer, a former State Department official, John Napier Tye, basically blew the whistle on 12333 by noting that everyone focused on other NSA programs were missing the point. The NSA’s surveillance is almost entirely done under this authority, which has no Congressional oversight. All those other programs we’ve been arguing about — Section 215 of the Patriot Act or Section 702 of the FISA Amendments Act — are really nothing more than ways to backfill the data the NSA has been unable to access under 12333. In other words, these other programs are the distraction. 12333 is the ballgame, and it has no Congressional oversight at all. It’s just a Presidential executive order.

Yet, what Amash and his staffers found is that a last minute change by the Senate Intelligence Committee to the bill effectively incorporated key parts of EO 12333 into law, allowing for “the acquisition, retention, and dissemination” of “nonpublic communications.” Here’s where those who slipped this bit into the law got sneaky. Recognizing that they might be called on it, they put it in with language noting that such information could only be held on to for five years — and then claimed what they were really doing was putting a limit on data already collected.’

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U.S. Drone Strikes Escalated In Afghanistan

Russia Rejects South Steam Pipeline Through Europe: Interview with Michael Hudson

Editor’s Note: Michael Hudson is a Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Missouri, Kansas City and a former Wall Street analyst. He is the author of several books including he ‘Bubble and Beyond and Finance Capitalism and its Discontents.’

Ukraine’s Made-in-USA Finance Minister

Robert Parry writes for Consortium News:

Ukraine's new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko.‘Ukraine’s new Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, a former U.S. State Department officer who was granted Ukrainian citizenship only this week, headed a U.S. government-funded investment project for Ukraine that involved substantial insider dealings, including $1 million-plus fees to a management company that she also controlled.

Jaresko served as president and chief executive officer of Western NIS Enterprise Fund (WNISEF), which was created by the U.S. Agency for International Development (U.S. AID) with $150 million to spur business activity in Ukraine. She also was cofounder and managing partner of Horizon Capital which managed WNISEF’s investments at a rate of 2 to 2.5 percent of committed capital, fees exceeding $1 million in recent years, according to WNISEF’s 2012 annual report.

The growth of that insider dealing at the U.S.-taxpayer-funded WNISEF is further underscored by the number of paragraphs committed to listing the “related party transactions,” i.e., potential conflicts of interest, between an early annual report from 2003 and the one a decade later.’

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U.S. providing little information to judge progress against Islamic State

Editor’s Note: Essentially, the U.S. has launched over 1000 air strikes, some of which have missed their intended targets by nearly 100 miles. Also, the Islamic State controls pretty much the same territory it did before the U.S. intervention, give or take a border village here and there. At least the weapons companies are happy.

Nancy A. Youssef reports for McClatchy:

‘The American war against the Islamic State has become the most opaque conflict the United States has undertaken in more than two decades, a fight that’s so underreported that U.S. officials and their critics can make claims about progress, or lack thereof, with no definitive data available to refute or bolster their positions.

The result is that it’s unclear what impact more than 1,000 airstrikes on Iraq and Syria have had during the past four months. That confusion was on display at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing earlier this week, where the topic – “Countering ISIS: Are We Making Progress?” – proved to be a question without an answer.

“Although the administration notes that 60-plus countries having joined the anti-ISIS campaign, some key partners continue to perceive the administration’s strategy as misguided,” Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., the committee’s chairman, said in his opening statement at the hearing, using a common acronym for the Islamic State. “Meanwhile, there are grave security consequences to allowing ISIS to control a territory of the size of western Iraq and eastern Syria.”

The dearth of information by which to judge the conflict is one of the difficulties for those trying to track progress in it. The U.S. military, which started out announcing every air mission almost as soon as it ended, now publishes roundups of airstrikes three times a week. Those releases often don’t specify which strikes happened on what days or even whether a targeted site was successfully hit. McClatchy has discovered that in some cases, the location given for bombings has been inaccurate by nearly 100 miles.’

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U.S. Attorney General Won’t Force New York Times Reporter James Risen to Reveal Source

Pete Williams reports for NBC News:

‘Attorney General Eric Holder has decided against forcing a reporter for the New York Times to reveal the identity of a confidential source, according to a senior Justice Department official.

The reporter, James Risen, has been battling for years to stop prosecutors from forcing him to name his source for a book that revealed a CIA effort to sabotage Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

The government wanted Risen’s testimony in the trial of a former CIA official, Jeffrey Sterling, accused of leaking classified information.

But now, according to the Justice Department official, Holder has directed that Risen must not be required to reveal “information about the identity of his source.”‘

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A Cold War Is On Between The West and Russia

A.G. Noorani writes for DAWN:

‘A Cold war is on between the West and Russia in right earnest. Its immediate cause is, of course, the Ukraine. But Prof John J. Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago, and one of the few dissenters in the US, points out in Foreign Affairs that “the taproot of the trouble is Nato enlargement”.

The West’s backing of the pro-democracy movement in Ukraine beginning with the Orange Revolution in 2004 aggravated the situation. “For President Putin, the illegal overthrow of Ukraine’s democratically elec­ted and pro-Russian president — which he rightly labeled a ‘coup’ — was the final straw. He responded by taking Crimea, a peninsula he feared would host a Nato naval base.” He began working to destabilise Ukraine until it abandoned its efforts to join the West.

This provoked a slew of unprecedented sanctions on individuals; tensions mounted as charges were traded.

Ukraine is not a Nato member, and is not covered under its umbrella, but it has expressed interest in joining. Three other former Soviet republics have joined the alliance since the end of the Cold War, as well as the former Warsaw Pact states of Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Romania and Bulgaria.

Jack Matlock, former US ambassador to the then USSR is a scholar, who prizes objectivity over the claims of ‘patriotism’.

He said emphatically that “If there had been no possibility of Ukraine ever becoming part of Nato, and therefore Sevastopol becoming a Nato base, Russia would not have invaded Crimea. It is as simple as that. Why don’t we understand that other countries are sensitive about military bases from potential rivals not only coming up to their borders, but taking land which they have historically considered theirs?”’

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Gorbachev calls for U.S.-Russia summit to defrost ties

Alexei Anishchuk reports for Reuters:

‘Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called on Wednesday for a U.S.-Russia summit to be convened to prevent a deep freeze in Moscow’s relations with the West over the Ukraine crisis.

Gorbachev, whose policy of “perestroika” (restructuring) played a role in ending the Cold War, warned of potentially dire consequences if tensions were not reduced.

“This is extremely dangerous, with tensions as high as they are now. We may not live through these days: someone could lose their nerve,” he wrote in a commentary entitled “To unfreeze relations” for government daily Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

“I suggest the leaders of Russia and the United States think about holding a summit with a broad agenda, without preliminary conditions,” he wrote. “One needn’t be afraid of ‘losing face’, that someone will gain a propaganda victory: this should all belong to the past. One needs to think about the future.”‘

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The Chinese Century

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a former chief economist at the World Bank, writes for Vanity Fair:

‘When the history of 2014 is written, it will take note of a large fact that has received little attention: 2014 was the last year in which the United States could claim to be the world’s largest economic power. China enters 2015 in the top position, where it will likely remain for a very long time, if not forever. In doing so, it returns to the position it held through most of human history.

Comparing the gross domestic product of different economies is very difficult. Technical committees come up with estimates, based on the best judgments possible, of what are called “purchasing-power parities,” which enable the comparison of incomes in various countries. These shouldn’t be taken as precise numbers, but they do provide a good basis for assessing the relative size of different economies. Early in 2014, the body that conducts these international assessments—the World Bank’s International Comparison Program—came out with new numbers. (The complexity of the task is such that there have been only three reports in 20 years.) The latest assessment, released last spring, was more contentious and, in some ways, more momentous than those in previous years. It was more contentious precisely because it was more momentous: the new numbers showed that China would become the world’s largest economy far sooner than anyone had expected—it was on track to do so before the end of 2014.’

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