Category Archives: Obama

Trump Broadens CIA Powers, Allows Deadly Drone Strikes

Gordon Lubold and Shane Harris reports for The Wall Street Journal:

Image result for Trump Broadens CIA Powers, Allows Deadly Drone StrikesPresident Donald Trump has given the Central Intelligence Agency secret new authority to conduct drone strikes against suspected terrorists, U.S. officials said, changing the Obama administration’s policy of limiting the spy agency’s paramilitary role and reopening a turf war between the agency and the Pentagon.

The new authority, which hadn’t been previously disclosed, represents a significant departure from a cooperative approach that had become standard practice by the end of former President Barack Obama’s tenure: The CIA used drones and other intelligence resources to locate suspected terrorists and then the military conducted the actual strike. The U.S. drone strike that killed Taliban leader Mullah Mansour in May 2016 in Pakistan was the best example of that hybrid approach, U.S. officials said.

The Obama administration put the military in charge of pulling the trigger to promote transparency and accountability. The CIA, which operates under covert authorities, wasn’t required to disclose the number of suspected terrorists or civilian bystanders it killed in drone strikes. The Pentagon, however, must publicly report most airstrikes.

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If Trump Tower Was Wiretapped, Trump Can Declassify That Right Now

Jon Schwarz writes for The Intercept:

If in fact Trump Tower was wiretapped during the 2016 presidential campaign, as President Trump claimed in several tweets Saturday morning, he can do much more than say so on twitter: Presidents have the power to declassify anything at any time, so Trump could immediately make public any government records of such surveillance.

What Trump is saying seems to be a garbled version of previous reporting by the BBC, among other news outlets.

According to a report in the BBC, citing unnamed sources, a joint government task force was formed in spring of 2016 to look into an intelligence report from a foreign government that Russian money was somehow coming into the U.S. presidential race. In June the Department of Justice, part of the task force, asked the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court for a warrant to intercept electronic communications by two Russian banks.

However, the BBC’s report says, the FISA court turned the application down.. The Justice Department then asked again in July with a more narrowly drawn request, which was again turned down. Justice then made a third request for a warrant on October 15, which was granted.

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How the Feds Could Have Listened to Trump’s Phone Calls

Cory Bennett reports for Politico:

13_donald_trump_10_gty_1160 (2).jpg[…] There are still many ways in which information from Trump Tower phone calls could end up in the hands of intelligence agents or law enforcement officials — even without any knowledge on Obama’s part.

First, they may have come upon Trump Tower phone calls if a targeted foreign agent was on the other end of the line — this method comes from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, or FISA court. Or Trump Tower digital chatter might have shown up while authorities dug through the vast quantities of data hoovered up via more sweeping foreign surveillance programs.

Second, the FBI could also have asked for a so-called “pen register” or “trap and trace device,” which record only the parties involved in a phone call. These requests have a lower bar for approval.

While it’s unknown whether any of these scenarios occurred, it’s “very likely that the people in the Obama administration had access to the communication of senior Trump officials in the run-up to the election, because they have very, very broad authority,” said Cindy Cohn, executive director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which has advocated for revising surveillance laws.

And given the ongoing FBI-led investigation into potential ties between Trump’s associates and Russian officials, it’s plausible that law enforcement officials and intelligence agencies had an interest in — or simply came across — the communications in Trump Tower, specialists said. The government is also investigating an alleged Russian plot to use cyberattacks and disinformation to help Trump win.

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Trump’s Defense Topline Faces a Big Hurdle, Just as When Obama Proposed It

Marcus Weisgerber reports for Defense One:

President Donald J. Trump departs from the Pentagon alongside Secretary of Defense James Mattis on Jan. 27, 2017, in Washington, D.C.President Donald Trump has proposed to return Pentagon spending to levels originally proposed by then-President Barack Obama in 2013.

The move has drawn fire from Republicans who say it doesn’t increase defense spending enough and Democrats who decry the cuts it entails for the rest of the federal government.

The proposal was revealed in the top-level spending targets sent by Trump’s Office of Management and Budget to federal departments on Monday. The Pentagon’s share of Trump’s 2018 budget plan is $603 billion, according to Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney.

The figure happens to be near the same amount envisioned for 2018 in a multiyear spending plan approved by the last administration. But Obama’s plan ran afoul of the caps imposed by the Budget Control Act, or BCA. That’s also a problem for Trump, who is proposing to spend $54 billion more, or about 10 percent, than the $549 billion cap allows.

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Democrats Elect Thomas Perez, Establishment Favorite, as Party Chairman

Jonathan Martin reports for The New York Times:

Image result for Democrats Elect Thomas Perez, Establishment Favorite, as Party ChairmanFormer Labor Secretary Thomas E. Perez was elected chairman of the Democratic National Committee on Saturday, narrowly defeating Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota to take the helm of a still-divided party stunned by President Trump’s victory but hopeful that it can ride the backlash against his presidency to revival.

The balloting, which carried a measure of suspense not seen in the party in decades, revealed that Democrats have yet to heal the wounds from last year’s presidential primary campaign. Mr. Perez, buoyed by activists most loyal to former President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, won with 235 votes out of 435 cast on the second ballot.

Mr. Ellison, who was lifted primarily by the liberal enthusiasts of Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, captured the remaining 200 votes. But that was only after he had pushed the voting to a second round after Mr. Perez fell a single vote short of winning on the first ballot.

After Mr. Perez’s victory was announced, Mr. Ellison’s supporters exploded in anger and drowned out the interim chairwoman, Donna Brazile, with a chant of “Party for the people, not big money!” When Mr. Perez was able to speak, he immediately called for Mr. Ellison to be named deputy chairman, delighting Mr. Ellison’s supporters.

Taking the microphone from Mr. Perez, Mr. Ellison pleaded with his fervent backers: “We don’t have the luxury to walk out of this room divided.”

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John Boehner: Republicans Won’t Repeal and Replace Obamacare

Darius Tahir reports for Politico:

Image result for Boehner: Republicans won't repeal and replace ObamacareFormer House Speaker John Boehner predicted on Thursday that a full repeal and replace of Obamacare is “not what’s going to happen” and that Republicans will instead just make some fixes to the health care law.

Boehner, who retired in 2015 amid unrest among conservatives, said at an Orlando healthcare conference that GOP lawmakers were too optimistic in their talk of quickly repealing and then replacing Obamacare.

“They’ll fix Obamacare, and I shouldn’t have called it repeal and replace because that’s not what’s going to happen. They’re basically going to fix the flaws and put a more conservative box around it,” Boehner said.

The former speaker’s frank comments capture the conundrum that many Republicans find themselves in as they try to deliver on pledges to axe Obamacare but struggle to coalesce around an alternative.

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Trump’s Deportations are Possible Because Obama and Congress Failed to Protect Immigrants

Amy Goodman speaks to former Department of Homeland Security attorney Margo Schlanger and attorney Cesar Vargas, co-director of DREAM Action Coalition, about how the White House is moving to greatly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s authority to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to increase the number of immigration and Border Patrol agents by 15,000. President Obama’s deportation practices set the stage for today’s new crackdown. During his time in office, Obama deported a record 2.7 million people. In 2014, the head of the National Council of La Raza, Janet Murguía, called Obama the nation’s “deporter-in-chief”. (Democracy Now!)

Obama Handed a Lethal Deportation Machine to Trump’s Gang of White Nationalists

Sarah Lazare reports for AlterNet:

On January 18, Barack Obama used his final press conference as president to pledge to the public that he will speak up if the administration of Donald Trump crosses a line, whether that’s imposing “systematic discrimination” or silencing the press. “There’s a difference between that normal functioning of politics and certain issues or certain moments where I think our core values may be at stake,” Obama told journalists assembled in the White House briefing room. “I would put in that category efforts to round up kids who have grown up here and for all practical purposes are American kids, and send them someplace else, when they love this country.”

Yet the president’s palliative remarks that afternoon concealed a more harrowing truth: sweeps and forced expulsions of children would not constitute a break with norms of his own administration, which oversaw more deportations than any other in U.S. history. During Obama’s tenure, mass incarceration of mothers and their children became a mainstay of the U.S. response to the violent displacement of peoples across Central America. And amidst the greatest refugee crisis since World War II, Obama has greatly expanded the U.S. deportation machine, overseeing a higher number of border patrols than any previous administration. That deportation machine is now being handed to Trump, whose administration is aggressively delivering on his fascist and white supremacist campaign pledges to slam the door on refugees and migrants.

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Alleged Mastermind Tells Obama 9/11 Was America’s Fault

Carol Rosenberg reports for McClatchy:

Khalid Sheik Mohammed poses for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) at at the U.S. Navy Base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, in this undated photo.The alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 terror attacks wrote former President Barack Obama in a long suppressed letter that America brought the 9/11 attacks on itself for years of foreign policy that killed innocent people across the world.

“It was not we who started the war against you in 9/11. It was you and your dictators in our land,” Khalid Sheik Mohammed, 51, writes in the 18-page letter to Obama, who he addressed as “the head of the snake” and president of “the country of oppression and tyranny.” It is dated January 2015 but didn’t reach the White House until a military judge ordered Guantánamo prison to deliver it days before Obama left office.

[…] The Kuwait-born Pakistani citizen of Baluch ethnic background, lists a long litany of U.S. overseas interventions — from Iraq and Iran to Vietnam and Hiroshima — to justify the worst terror attack on U.S. soil.But he is particularly focused on the cause of the Palestinians, highlights civilian suffering and accuses Obama of being beholden to special interests, notably Israel and “the occupier Jews.” Israel gets 39 mentions while Osama bin Laden gets a dozen, including once to excoriate Obama for the mission that hunted down and killed the founder of the al-Qaida movement for the 9/11 attacks.

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Obama Killed a 16-Year-Old American in Yemen, Trump Just Killed His 8-Year-Old Sister

Glenn Greenwald writes for The Intercept:

[…] Few events pulled the mask off Obama officials like this one. It highlighted how the Obama administration was ravaging Yemen, one of the world’s poorest countries: just weeks after he won the Nobel Prize, Obama used cluster bombs that killed 35 Yemeni women and children. Even Obama-supporting liberal comedians mocked the Obama DOJ’s arguments for why it had the right to execute Americans with no charges: “Due Process Just Means There’s A Process That You Do,” snarked Stephen Colbert. And a firestorm erupted when former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs offered a sociopathic justification for killing the Colorado-born teenager, apparently blaming him for his own killing by saying he should have “had a more responsible father.”

The U.S. assault on Yemeni civilians not only continued but radically escalated over the next five years through the end of the Obama presidency, as the U.S. and the UK armed, supported and provide crucial assistance to their close ally Saudi Arabia as it devastated Yemen through a criminally reckless bombing campaign. Yemen now faces mass starvationseemingly exacerbated, deliberately, by the US/UK-supported air attacks. Because of the west’s direct responsibility for these atrocities, they have received vanishingly little attention in the responsible countries.

In a hideous symbol of the bipartisan continuity of U.S. barbarism, Nasser al-Awlaki just lost another one of his young grandchildren to U.S. violence. On Sunday, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, using armed Reaper drones for cover, carried out a commando raid on what it said was a compound harboring officials of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. A statement issued by President Trump lamented the death of an American service member and several others who were wounded, but made no mention of any civilian deaths. U.S. military officials initially denied any civilian deaths, and (therefore) the CNN report on the raid said nothing about any civilians being killed.

But reports from Yemen quickly surfaced that 30 people were killed, including 10 women and children. Among the dead: the 8-year-old granddaughter of Nasser al-Awlaki, Nawar, who was also the daughter of Anwar Awlaki.

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US Drone Killing Machine Now on Autopilot

Laurie Calhoun writes for The Drone Age:

photo credit: mikechurch.comFor years now I have been pointing out that Obama’s lasting legacy would be his ill-advised decision back in 2009 to normalize assassination, which his administration successfully rebranded as “targeted killing”. This was supposed to be the latest and greatest form of “smart war”: the use of unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAVs), or lethal drones, to go after and eliminate evil terrorists without risking US soldiers’ lives.

It all sounds so slick and, well, Obama cool. The problem is that any sober consideration of Obama’s foreign policy over the course of his eight years as president reveals that the reality is altogether different. Judging by the murder and mayhem being perpetrated all across the Middle East, “smart war” was not so smart after all.

It’s not easy to tease out how much of the mess in the Middle East is specifically due to Obama’s accelerated use of lethal drones in “signature strikes” to kill thousands of military-age men in seven different lands. For he also implemented other, equally dubious initiatives. Planks of Obama’s bloody “smart power” approach included deposing Libya’s dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and massively arming (from 2012 to 2013) a group of little-understood “appropriately vetted moderate rebels” in Syria.

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A Trump Administration, With Obama Staff Members Filling In the Gaps

Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush report for The New York Times:

Donald J. Trump arrived in Washington the day before his inauguration as the nation’s 45th president in a swirl of cinematic pageantry but facing serious questions about whether his chaotic transition has left critical parts of the government dangerously short-handed.

Mr. Trump will be sworn in at noon Eastern time on Friday, but his team was still scrambling to fill key administration posts when he got here on Thursday, announcing last-minute plans to retain 50 essential State Department and national security officials currently working in the Obama administration to ensure “continuity of government,” according to Sean Spicer, the incoming White House press secretary.

The furious final staff preparations included designating Thomas A. Shannon Jr., an Obama appointee, as the acting secretary of state, pending the expected confirmation of Rex W. Tillerson.

As of Thursday, only two of Mr. Trump’s 15 cabinet nominees — John F. Kelly, to head the Department of Homeland Security, and his nominee for defense secretary, Gen. James N. Mattis — had been approved by congressional committees and were close to assuming their posts.

In all, Mr. Trump has named only 29 of his 660 executive department appointments, according to the Partnership for Public Service, which has been tracking the process. That is a pace far slower than recent predecessors, falling far short of the schedule originally outlined by Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, who was Mr. Trump’s transition director before Mr. Trump ousted him 10 weeks ago.

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On Final Day of Obama Presidency, a Look at His Mixed Legacy

Amy Goodman speaks to Eddie Glaude, chair of the Department of African American Studies at Princeton University, about President Obama’s legacy on his last day in office. (Democracy Now!)

If Obama Did What Trump Is Doing He’d Be Called a Communist, Says Nouriel Roubini

Matt Clinch reports for CNBC:

The U.S. is about to cut itself off from one of the most dynamic regions of the globe, according to economist Nouriel Roubini, who has also slammed the industrial strategy of the incoming U.S. administration.

Roubini, the economist who predicted the 2008 stock market crash and is sometimes known as “Dr Doom”, said that China is now becoming the champion of free trade.

“(China is promoting) globalization and free market capitalization at a time when the new incoming leader of the biggest capitalist country in the world talks as if it is scared of competition, of globalization, of trade,” he said at a seminar at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.

“Actually some of the tone of bashing firms and telling them where to produce and what to do … If Obama has done any of those things then he would have been accused of being a communist. But the fact that Trump is doing it is considered to be good industrial policy by some people, not by me,” he added.

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President Obama’s Final Word: ‘We’re Going to Be Okay’

David A. Graham reports for The Atlantic:

Barack Obama is the leader of the nation’s progressive political party, but his belief in progress is more fundamental than a simple political label. “Hope” may have seemed a facile or even juvenile basis for a presidential campaign in 2008, but it was a sincere one, as Obama demonstrated one final time Wednesday afternoon in the final press conference of his presidency.

Speaking to reporters at the White House, he insisted that although the arc of history is long, passing even through a Donald Trump presidency, it does bend toward Obama’s vision of justice. This faith that there is a right side of history has been a hallmark of his term in office, but it looks shakier than ever to many members of his party since the November election. As he did in his farewell address on Tuesday, Obama made the case for hope, even as he offered a series of warnings to, and about, the incoming Trump administration.

“I believe in this country. I believe in the American people,” he said. “I think we’re going to be okay.”

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Andrew Bacevich and John Mearsheimer on Obama’s Legacy

Derek Davison writes for LobeLog:

obama-356133_960_720With Donald Trump set to take the oath of office and become America’s 45th president in a matter of days, this is an appropriate time to begin to evaluate Barack Obama’s presidency. To help analyze his performance on foreign policy and national security, I spoke with two eminent foreign policy analysts: historian Andrew Bacevich of Boston University’s Pardee School of Global Studies and political scientist John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago. In part one of our discussion, we look at Obama’s foreign policy and look ahead to what the Trump administration’s foreign policy may bring.

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President Obama Commutes Sentence of Chelsea Manning: Interviews with Nancy Hollander, Chase Strangio, Jeremy Scahill and Kevin Gosztola

In the first interview, Amy Goodman speak with Nancy Hollander, Manning’s appellate attorney, and Chase Strangio of the ACLU, who represents Manning in a lawsuit against the Pentagon for denial of medical care related to her gender dysphoria. In the second she speaks to Jeremy Scahill, investigative reporter for The Intercept, who also discusses Edward Snowden. And in the third interview, Jaisal Noor speaks to Kevin Gosztola, managing editor of Shadow Proof managing, about Obama’s surprising and historic decision. (Democracy Now!/The Real News)

Obama Commutes Bulk of Chelsea Manning’s Sentence

Charlie Savage reports for The New York Times:

President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration, and made WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures, famous.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to commit suicide last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the male military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

Now, under the terms of Mr. Obama’s commutation announced by the White House on Tuesday, Ms. Manning is set to be freed on May 17 of this year, rather than in 2045.

The commutation also relieved the Department of Defense of the difficult responsibility of her incarceration as she pushes for treatment for her gender dysphoria — including sex reassignment surgery — that the military has no experience providing.

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U.S. Military Loves the Obama Doctrine, But Can It Survive Trump?

Kevin Baron writes for Defense One:

U.S. soldiers from the 82nd Airborne Division train Iraqi soldiers during a live-fire movement exercise at Camp Taji, Iraq, April 12, 2015.There’s no welcome sign at this U.S military base discreetly tucked into the corner of the Kurdistan International Airport in northern Iraq. It doesn’t even have a name. But it’s here. Thousands of troops are here, including Americans, Germans, Italians, Finns, and Brits. And this time, it seems the U.S. military is in Iraq to stay.

The temporary tents and dining hall erected to house American forces — including special operators, CIA agents, and private military contractors who hunt, kill, and interrogate for America — are being replaced with permanent buildings. At least five types of U.S. military helicopters criss-cross the bright September skies over Kurdistan’s peaceful, bustling capital city, some ferrying generals up from Baghdad, others heading north into Syria with bearded special operators’ feet dangling from Black Hawk doors, or banking west toward Mosul, bringing Americans to the front lines of war.

It sounds busy and feels familiar, but today’s war in Iraq is a far cry from the mammoth effort of a decade ago. Gone are the hundreds of thousands of American troops and contractors occupying hundreds of sprawling bases and outposts across the country. Gone is the Bush administration’s total war and total occupation of a country. In its place is the Obama Doctrine.

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Obama Expands Surveillance Powers on His Way Out

Kate Tummarello reports for the Electronic Frontier Foundation:

With mere days left before President-elect Donald Trump takes the White House, President Barack Obama’s administration just finalized rules to make it easier for the nation’s intelligence agencies to share unfiltered information about innocent people.

New rules issued by the Obama administration under Executive Order 12333 will let the NSA—which collects information under that authority with little oversight, transparency, or concern for privacy—share the raw streams of communications it intercepts directly with agencies including the FBI, the DEA, and the Department of Homeland Security, according to a report today by the New York Times.

That’s a huge and troubling shift in the way those intelligence agencies receive information collected by the NSA. Domestic agencies like the FBI are subject to more privacy protections, including warrant requirements. Previously, the NSA shared data with these agencies only after it had screened the data, filtering out unnecessary personal information, including about innocent people whose communications were swept up the NSA’s massive surveillance operations.

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Inquiry Points Toward a Pentagon Plot to Subvert Obama’s Syria Policy

Gareth Porter reports for Truthdig:

Airstrikes by the United States and its allies against two Syrian army positions Sept. 17 killed at least 62 Syrian troops and wounded dozens more. The attack was quickly treated as a non-story by the U.S. news media; U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) claimed the strikes were carried out in the mistaken belief that Islamic State forces were being targeted, and the story disappeared.

The circumstances surrounding the attack, however, suggested it may have been deliberate, its purpose being to sabotage President Obama’s policy of coordinating with Russia against Islamic State and Nusra Front forces in Syria as part of a U.S.-Russian cease-fire agreement.

Normally the U.S. military can cover up illegal operations and mistakes with a pro forma military investigation that publicly clears those responsible. But the air attack on Syrian troops also involved three foreign allies in the anti-Islamic State campaign named Operation Inherent Resolve: the United Kingdom, Denmark and Australia. So, the Pentagon had to agree to bring a general from one of those allies into the investigation as a co-author of the report. Consequently, the summary of the investigation released by CENTCOM on Nov. 29 reveals far more than the Pentagon and CENTCOM brass would have desired.

Thanks to that heavily redacted report, we now have detailed evidence that the commander of CENTCOM’s Air Force component attacked the Syrian army deliberately.

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How Many Bombs Did the United States Drop in 2016?

Micah Zenko and Jennifer Wilson write for the Council on Foreign Relations:

Sources: Estimate based upon Combined Forces Air Component Commander 2011-2016 Airpower Statistics; CJTF-Operation Inherent Resolve Public Affairs Office strike release, December 31, 2016; New America Foundation (NAF); Long War Journal (LWJ); The Bureau of Investigative Journalism (TBIJ); Department of Defense press release; and U.S. Africa Command press release. As President Obama enters the final weeks of his presidency, there will be ample assessments of his foreign military approach, which has focused on reducing U.S. ground combat troops (with the notable exception of the Afghanistan surge), supporting local security partners, and authorizing the expansive use of air power. Whether this strategy “works”—i.e. reduces the threat posed by extremists operating from those countries and improves overall security and governance on the ground—is highly contested. Yet, for better or worse, these are the central tenants of the Obama doctrine.

In President Obama’s last year in office, the United States dropped 26,171 bombs in seven countries. This estimate is undoubtedly low, considering reliable data is only available for airstrikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and Libya, and a single “strike,” according to the Pentagon’s definition, can involve multiple bombs or munitions. In 2016, the United States dropped 3,027 more bombs—and in one more country, Libya—than in 2015.

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Something About This Russia Story Stinks

Matt Taibbi writes for Rolling Stone:

[…] Did the Russians do it? Very possibly, in which case it should be reported to the max. But the press right now is flying blind. Plowing ahead with credulous accounts is problematic because so many different feasible scenarios are in play.

On one end of the spectrum, America could have just been the victim of a virtual coup d’etat engineered by a combination of Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, which would be among the most serious things to ever happen to our democracy.

But this could also just be a cynical ass-covering campaign, by a Democratic Party that has seemed keen to deflect attention from its own electoral failures.

The outgoing Democrats could just be using an over-interpreted intelligence “assessment” to delegitimize the incoming Trump administration and force Trump into an embarrassing political situation: Does he ease up on Russia and look like a patsy, or escalate even further with a nuclear-armed power?

It could also be something in between. Perhaps the FSB didn’t commission the hack, but merely enabled it somehow. Or maybe the Russians did hack the DNC, but the WikiLeaks material actually came from someone else? There is even a published report to that effect, with a former British ambassador as a source, not that it’s any more believable than anything else here.

We just don’t know, which is the problem.

We ought to have learned from the Judith Miller episode. Not only do governments lie, they won’t hesitate to burn news agencies. In a desperate moment, they’ll use any sucker they can find to get a point across.

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Under Cover of Christmas, Obama Establishes Controversial Anti-Propaganda Agency

Lauren McCauley reports for Common Dreams:

Buried within the $619 billion military budget is a controversial provision that establishes a national anti-propaganda center that critics warn could be dangerous for press freedoms. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)In the final hours before the Christmas holiday weekend, U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday quietly signed the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) into law—and buried within the $619 billion military budget is a controversial provision that establishes a national anti-propaganda center that critics warn could be dangerous for press freedoms.

The Countering Disinformation and Propaganda Act, introduced by Republican Sen. Rob Portman of Ohio, establishes the Global Engagement Center under the State Department which coordinates efforts to “recognize, understand, expose, and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts aimed at undermining United Sates national security interests.”

Further, the law authorizes grants to non-governmental agencies to help “collect and store examples in print, online, and social media, disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda” directed at the U.S. and its allies, as well as “counter efforts by foreign entities to use disinformation, misinformation, and propaganda to influence the policies and social and political stability” of the U.S. and allied nations.

The head of the center will be appointed by the president, which likely means the first director will be chosen by President-elect Donald Trump.

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Chelsea Manning’s Attorney: Her Life Depends on Obama Taking Action Now

As President Obama’s term nears to a close, more than 100,000 people have signed a petition urging Obama to commute the sentence of Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning. In 2013, Manning was sentenced to 35 years in prison for leaking more than 700,000 classified files and videos to WikiLeaks about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. foreign policy. Manning has been held since 2010 and been subjected to long stretches of solitary confinement and denied medical treatment related to her gender identity. In a letter to President Obama, Chelsea Manning wrote, “The sole relief I am asking for is to be released from military prison after serving six years of confinement as a person who did not intend to harm the interests of the United States or harm any service members. I am merely asking for a first chance to live my life outside the U.S. Disciplinary Barracks as the person I was born to be.” Amy Goodman speaks with Chase Strangio, staff attorney at the ACLU, who is representing Manning in a lawsuit against the Pentagon. (Democracy Now!)

Obama Is Expanding Trump’s War-Making Powers on His Way Out the Door

Micah Zenko writes for Foreign Policy:

Obama Is Expanding Trump’s War-Making Powers on His Way Out the Door The scope of war-making authorities and powers available to the Trump administration depends on decisions made by the Obama administration. Two recent news reports shed some troubling light on its approach to the coming transition.

The Obama administration’s present mindset reflects a departure from its approach in the fall of 2012. In anticipation of an election it believed Republican challenger Mitt Romney might win, the Obama White House accelerated the development and implementation of a “drone rule book” that codified the procedures for drone strikes in non-battlefield settings. As one official worried aloud in November 2012, “There was concern that the levers might no longer be in our hands.”

The latest reporting suggests that, rather than restraining and limiting Trump, the Obama administration, in its final weeks in office, is further expanding the geographic scope of airstrikes, the nature of combatants who can be targeted, and the legal justification underpinning such strikes. The incoming president-elect, who has previously pledged to “bomb the hell out of ISIS,” will have the capabilities and authorities to do just that — for the Islamic State and other terrorist and militant armies.

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Obama Will Not Restrict Drone Strike ‘Playbook’ Before Trump Takes Office

Spencer Ackerman and Patrick Wintour report for The Guardian:

Image result for obama trump dronesBarack Obama will not tighten the rules governing US drone strikes ahead of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Guardian has learned.

Trump will inherit the apparatus for what Obama calls “targeted killing” – the so-called drones “playbook” formally known as the 22 May 2013 Presidential Policy Guidance or PPG – that has turned drone strikes into Obama’s signature counter-terrorism tactic.

While the White House considers its standards for drone strikes to be scrupulous, much of the rest of the world considers them to represent an arbitrary, secret and dangerous apparatus of secret killing that Trump will soon have at his disposal.

“Maybe on the left no one would believe that Trump has a steady hand, but Obama has normalized the idea that presidents get to have secret large-scale killing programs at their disposal,” said Naureen Shah of Amnesty International USA.

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Obama Refuses to Pardon Edward Snowden, Trump’s New CIA Pick Wants Him Dead

Alex Emmons and Naomi LaChance report for The Intercept:

Image result for pompeo snowdenPresident Obama indicated on Friday that he won’t pardon NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, even as President-elect Donald Trumpannounced his pick to run the CIA: Kansas congressman Mike Pompeo, who has called for “the traitor Edward Snowden” to be executed.

Pompeo has supported nearly unfettered NSA surveillance, has blamed Muslim leaders for condoning terror, and is one of the most hyperbolic members of Congress when it comes to describing the Islamic State, which he has called “an existential threat to America” and “the most lethal and powerful terrorist group ever to have existed.”

In an interview with Obama published on Friday, German newspaper Der Spiegel asked: “Are you going to pardon Edward Snowden?” Obama replied: “I can’t pardon somebody who hasn’t gone before a court and presented themselves, so that’s not something that I would comment on at this point.”

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Henry Kissinger on Obama’s Foreign Policy and Challenges for Donald Trump

Jeffrey Goldberg writes for The Atlantic:

Over the past several months, I’ve interviewed Henry Kissinger, the former secretary of state, numerous times on the subject of America’s role in the world. Our conversations took place before this week’s election, but were informed by the foreign-policy differences between the candidates. The December 2016 issue of The Atlantic includes my article on these conversations, which you will  find published below. In addition, a full rendering of our several interviews, on subjects including the future of Russia, the rise of China, and the chaos of the Middle East, can be found here.

On Wednesday, the day the country, and the world, were just beginning to absorb the shock of Donald Trump’s victory, I spoke with Kissinger by telephone to get his postelection thoughts. He told me that he was expecting other nations, particularly the great powers, to enter a period of intense study, in order to understand how they should respond to a Trump presidency. He also said he expected the Islamic State, or other similarly minded jihadist organizations, to test Trump early by launching attacks, in order to provoke a reaction (or, he suggested, an overreaction).

“Nonstate groups may make the assessment that Trump will react to a terror attack in a way that suits their purposes,” Kissinger said.

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Donald Trump Appears to Soften Stance on Range of Pledges

Alice Ross reports for The Guardian:

Image result for Donald Trump Appears to Soften Stance on Range of PledgesDonald Trump has appeared to soften his stance on a range of sweeping campaign pledges, saying in his first interview since being elected US president that he might not repeal Obamacare and admitting the prosecution of Hillary Clinton over confidential emails was not a priority.

The president-elect, who said he would “immediately repeal and replace” Obamacare after taking office, told the Wall Street Journal he might instead seek to reform the policy, keeping the ban on insurers denying coverage for pre-existing conditions.

He said he would also look to retain the provision that allowed young adults to be insured on their parents’ policies, adding that he had been convinced of the virtues of the two points in his meeting with outgoing president, Barack Obama, on Thursday.

Trump and his family also filmed an interview with CBS’s 60 Minutes to be broadcast on Sunday. The president-elect said he would amend or repeal and replace Obamacare without any gaps in healthcare provision. “It will be just fine. It’s what I do: I do a good job and I know how to do this stuff,” he told Lesley Stahl.

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