Election Day Reads: Four More Years!

Good Morning!!

The big day is finally here. I voted In Massachusetts by absentee ballot shortly after I got to Indiana. I voted for Barack Obama and Joe Biden for President and Vice President, and for Elizabeth Warren for Senator. I voted for my long-time Representative Ed Markey. I also voted in favor of ballot questions on legalizing physician assisted suicide and medical marijuana in Massachusetts.

In 2008, I didn’t care much for Barack Obama, because I didn’t think he had any real ideology and I didn’t trust him to stand up to the Republicans. But I have to admit that he accomplished some good things in his first term.

I still have plenty of problems with President Obama’s policies. I think he should have fought harder for a bigger stimulus and for a public health care option. I think the President should have made a much more serious effort to deal with the foreclosure crisis, prosecute the banksters who brought down our economy, and create jobs through government investment.

I strongly disapprove of Obama’s support for the Patriot Act and for his use of drones to assassinate suspected “terrorists”–along with many innocent civilians–in several foreign countries. I’m glad he found Osama bin Laden, but I think he should have been arrested and put on trial instead of being summarily executed.

On the other hand, the stimulus–though not large enough–did help state and local governments save and create jobs. I think the auto bailout was absolutely necessary and it seems to have saved and created jobs for many U.S. workers. I appreciate that President Obama reversed Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and came out in support of same-sex marriage. I believe that this president has grown in office and that he now recognizes that the Republicans in Congress are never going to compromise with him.

I also think President Obama did a very smart thing in appointed Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State and giving full control over the State Department. Many of Obama’s advisers didn’t want him to appoint Hillary, but he did it anyway. I respect that Obama has asked for Bill Clinton’s help during the past couple of years and has wholeheartedly thanked him for his efforts.

We now face a choice between a President who kept us out of another Great Depression, managed to pass a health care law that is at least a step in the right direction, and appears to have grown in office, and a man who is a pathological liar and race baiter who represents the top 1%–the people who got us into the financial crisis in the first place; who conceals his highly suspect finances and potential conflicts of interest; who refuses to spell out what he would do if elected, who treats the electorate with utter disrespect, and who clearly has no understanding of or interest in what it is like to be poor, or even middle class. We do know that, if elected, Mitt Romney would appoint Supreme Court Justices who would very likely overturn Roe v. Wade, the Voting Rights Act, and other important progressive court decisions.

Obama must be reelected or our country will be be in deep deep trouble.

If Obama wins reelection, I think we must continue to be eternally vigilant. I strongly suspect that he will push for what he calls a “grand bargain,” which is really a “great betrayal.” We cannot let his desire to “reach across the aisle” lead him to accede to the Republicans’ austerity agenda and trade away the social safety net that allows so many elderly, disabled, and poor people to live with some kind of dignity.

Just in my lifetime, the American people have lived through many difficult times politically. Our rights were threatened and curtailed in the McCarthy era, we faced the murder of President John F. Kennedy, and later the murders of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy. We dealt with Watergate, Iran Contra, and 9/11. For the past thirty years we’ve faced increasing income inequality and reduced opportunities for upward mobility. Our rights have been threatened anew by fundamentalist crazies and by Bush’s “war on terror.”

Democracy isn’t easy. It’s very hard, as we have seen in the past week watching people in Ohio and Florida struggling to exercise their rights to vote and over the past couple of years as we watched Republican legislatures try restrict voting rights and take away women’s control over their own bodies and their health care choices.

But we can’t quit. We must fight on to make this country a place we can be proud of and a place where our children and grandchildren can have decent lives. We have to try. If Obama is reelected, we have a chance. If Romney wins, we go back to the Bush years–on steroids.

I’ve gone on a rant now and taken up a lot of space in this post, but I wanted to express how I feel about this election. Over the past four years, I’ve realized that we really can’t have perfection–only progress, if we work at it. President Obama has made some progress, and in a second term, he can be pushed to make more. I’m glad I decided to vote for him.

I do have some news items for you.

Unfortunately, the areas that were hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy last week are facing a nor’easter this week.

Storm-savaged New Yorkers still drying out and rebuilding their lives after the fury of Hurricane Sandy face another nightmare barreling up the East Coast — an angry nor’easter packing winds of 55 mph hour that’s expected to pummel the area on Wednesday.

Forecasters say the latest assault from Mother Nature — while not nearly as ferocious or crippling as the Oct. 29 superstorm — is expected to bring renewed coastal flooding to parts of the city and the New Jersey shore, where Sandy obliterated protective sand dunes and age-old natural beach defenses.

New power outages could strike still-ravaged swaths of Staten Island, the Bronx and Westchester — and possibly “undo” some of the repairs Con Ed has made to its battered system, said John Miksad, the utility’s senior vice president of electric operations….

Meteorologists expect howling winds whipping up to 3 inches of rain along the Northeastern shoreline late Wednesday afternoon. Then it may get worse: Forecasters also fear a bone-chilling cold by Thursday morning that could bring several inches of snow to New York, New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania.

Dana Millbank says that a new Romney has suddenly emerged in the final days of the campaign. What number incarnation is this?

As he made his closing appeal to voters on the final day before the election, Mitt Romney sounded as though, at any moment, he might burst into a song from the musical “Annie.”

“Tomorrow’s a moment to look into the future and imagine what we can do,” he said.

“Tomorrow, we get to work rebuilding our country, restoring our confidence and renewing our conviction.”

“Tomorrow, on November 6th, we come together for a better future.”

“Tomorrow is a new beginning. Tomorrow we begin a new tomorrow.”

As usual, Romney is talking ragtime–making no sense whatsoever. Either he really believes he’ll win the election, or he’s just blabbering aimlessly waiting for his dream to die. The death stench must be unbearable for anyone who gets close to him.

Still, despite Millbank’s claims, the mean Romney still lives on. His campaign is making robocalls calling President Obama a ‘Threat To Our Religious Freedom.’ Here’s the transcript of the call:

Christians who are thinking about voting for Obama should remember what he said about people of faith: “They … cling to guns or religion.” And remember when Obama forced Christian organizations to provide insurance coverage that was contrary to their religious beliefs?
That’s the real Barack Obama. That’s the real threat to our religious freedom. Mitt Romney understands the importance of faith and family. That’s why so many leaders of the Christian community are supporting Romney.

They know we can’t underestimate the threat Barack Obama poses to our faith, our values, our freedom.

So once again, Romney is playing the race card, suggesting that Obama is not a real American and that he’s lying about his religious beliefs.

Paul Ryan expressed something similar on a conference call with members of Ralph Reed’s Faith and Freedom Coalition:

Representative Paul D. Ryan accused President Obama on Sunday of taking the country down a path that compromised Judeo-Christian values and the traditions of Western civilization….

“It’s a dangerous path,” Mr. Ryan said, describing Mr. Obama’s policies. “It’s a path that grows government, restricts freedom and liberty and compromises those values, those Judeo-Christian, Western civilization values that made us such a great and exceptional nation in the first place.”’

A spokesman for Mr. Ryan, Michael Steel, said, “He was talking about issues like religious liberty and Obamacare – topics he has mentioned frequently during the campaign.”

Sigh… if only we could be rid of Ryan tomorrow, but I suppose he’ll be back in Congress if Romney loses.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie refused to appear at a campaign event with Mitt Romney on Sunday.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was effusive in his praise of President Barack Obama when the two leaders toured damage from Hurricane Sandy last week, turned down a request by Mitt Romney to appear with him at a rally on Sunday night in Pennsylvania, The Huffington Post has learned.

Christie’s decision will only add to questions among Republicans about what the governor — who is up for reelection a year from now — is thinking, and why he went out of his way to heap praise on the president, and then refused to appear with Romney.

The Romney rally was held at a farm in Morrisville, Pa., not more than 20 minutes from Trenton, the New Jersey capital. The physical proximity of the event to New Jersey only added to questions in the Romney campaign about why Christie chose not to come.

“You can’t tell me he couldn’t have gone over there for a night rally,” a Romney campaign source told HuffPost.

Meanwhile Christie’s new BFF Barack Obama made Christie’s dream come true: Chris Christie moved to tears by hug from Bruce Springsteen.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said on Monday that he was moved to tears by recent interactions with singer Bruce Springsteen, who hugged the governor at a benefit concert for victims of Hurricane Sandy on Friday and spoke with Christie by phone on Monday while flying aboard Air Force One with President Obama.

Christie, a Republican, is an ardent fan of Springsteen, a noted liberal who was traveling with the president to Columbus, Ohio, after playing at an Obama rally in Madison, Wis. Christie said during a press briefing that Obama called during the flight to discuss New Jersey’s recovery from Sandy and then handed the phone to Springsteen.

“[Obama] told me in times of real difficulty, he thought that the only thing better than one Jersey guy were two Jersey guys, and he put Bruce Springsteen on the phone,” Christie said.

“Bruce said to me how proud he was of his state and how proud he was of the people of this state and how tough they are,” Christie added. “And he’ll be back to the Jersey Shore soon.”

I can’t help but be happy for the guy. Will he be running against Hillary Clinton in 2016? Who knows? I just hope that sometime tonight we’ll know whether we’ll have an Obama second term or two pathological liars running the country back into the ditch.

Now what are you reading and blogging about today?


Some Alternative Takes on the Killing of Osama bin Laden

First of all, I think Joseph Cannon has it right. There is no way Obama sent just two helicopters into Pakistan to kill Public Enemy No. 1. The Pakistanis knew what was happening and cooperated–either willingly or unwillingly. Either the Pakistan government, military, and intelligence services wanted plausible deniability or the U.S. pressured them into going along with the assassination. I don’t believe for one minute that Obama wanted to take bin Laden alive. Here’s Cannon’s take:

Allow me to suggest one possible scenario. Let us suppose the Bin Laden daughter Safia was correct when she said that her father was captured and then executed. (Frankly, I think that’s a fairly good bet.) Both the body and the post-mortum photos would provide evidence of the execution. A close-range shot leaves powder burns and other evidence.

This hypothesis would also explain the changing stories about whether Obama and Clinton watched the operation on video in real time. (I feel certain that they did.) I suspect that they realized belatedly that they would need plausible deniability if the truth of the execution ever came out: “I am shocked, shocked to learn about this. At the time, I had no idea…”

After reading Cannon’s piece, I think it makes sense that Obama and the rest of his team did see the kill shots, but they’ll never admit it. I also think Cannon makes a lot of sense when he brings in the question of Al Qaeda and the drug trade.

The connection between the ISI and Al Qaeda primarily involved drugs. That’s the factor which everyone keeps forgetting about. Yet it is key.

It should also not be forgotten that the ISI has strong links to the CIA. America was perhaps the primary market for Afghanistan’s poppy product, and thus it was necessary for the Bin Laden network to maintain ties with powerful people in this country.

I haven’t yet formulated a proper theory about all of this. But it seems to me that the answer to the mysteries surrounding the life and death of Osama Bin Laden may revolve around the drug connection.

Via Truthdig, former CIA agent Robert Baer basically agrees with Joseph Cannon. In this radio interview, Baer says that the Pakistan government must have known where bin Laden was and it is highly unlikely that they weren’t involved in the operation. He says the chances of a foreigner living in a heavily secured compound in that area filled with military and security people is zero. Baer also says if the U.S. had done this, there would have been a much sharper reaction from Pakistan–they would have closed the U.S. embassy and thrown all Americans out of the country. According to Baer, those Black Hawk helicopters are extremely slow and they would have been seen for hours flying in from Afghanistan, and if Obama had sent two helicopters in alone, he would be extremely daring, but utterly foolish. No president has ever forgotten what happened to Jimmy Carter after his failed attempt to rescue the hostages in Iran.

There’s a lot more, you can listen to the interview if you’re interested. But the bottom line, as far as I’m concerned, is that our government thinks we’re stupid. They think we’ll believe whatever outrageous propaganda they feed us.

Next up, Noam Chomsky’s reactions. Like me, Chomsky thinks bin Laden should have been brought back here and put on trial.

It’s increasingly clear that the operation was a planned assassination, multiply violating elementary norms of international law. There appears to have been no attempt to apprehend the unarmed victim, as presumably could have been done by 80 commandos facing virtually no opposition—except, they claim, from his wife, who lunged towards them. In societies that profess some respect for law, suspects are apprehended and brought to fair trial. I stress “suspects.” In April 2002, the head of the FBI, Robert Mueller, informed the press that after the most intensive investigation in history, the FBI could say no more than that it “believed” that the plot was hatched in Afghanistan, though implemented in the UAE and Germany. What they only believed in April 2002, they obviously didn’t know 8 months earlier, when Washington dismissed tentative offers by the Taliban (how serious, we do not know, because they were instantly dismissed) to extradite bin Laden if they were presented with evidence—which, as we soon learned, Washington didn’t have. Thus Obama was simply lying when he said, in his White House statement, that “we quickly learned that the 9/11 attacks were carried out by al Qaeda.”

That’s why I love Chomsky. He comes right out and says exactly what he really thinks. Here’s a little more:

We might ask ourselves how we would be reacting if Iraqi commandos landed at George W. Bush’s compound, assassinated him, and dumped his body in the Atlantic. Uncontroversially, his crimes vastly exceed bin Laden’s, and he is not a “suspect” but uncontroversially the “decider” who gave the orders to commit the “supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole” (quoting the Nuremberg Tribunal) for which Nazi criminals were hanged: the hundreds of thousands of deaths, millions of refugees, destruction of much of the country, the bitter sectarian conflict that has now spread to the rest of the region.

I know you’ll want to read the whole thing–it’s not very long, but it’s powerful.

Tom Englehardt, of the American Empire Project and TomDispatch.com argues that Osama bin Laden achieved his goals–he wanted to destroy the U.S. economy and generally have an impact on American society and culture.

Unfortunately, in every way that matters for Americans, it’s an illusion that Osama bin Laden is dead. In every way that matters, he will fight on, barring a major Obama administration policy shift in Afghanistan, and it’s we who will ensure that he remains on the battlefield that George W. Bush’s administration once so grandiosely labeled the Global War on Terror.

[….]

Consider it an insult to irony, but the world bin Laden really changed forever wasn’t in the Greater Middle East. It was here. Cheer his death, bury him at sea, don’t release any photos, and he’ll still carry on as a ghost as long as Washington continues to fight its deadly, disastrous wars in his old neighborhood.

Let’s face it. We no long live in anything resembling freedom. The Constitution is on life support. Our economy is wrecked, and we may never get back to where we were. We’re living in the last days of a dying empire. And the American empire wasn’t much to write home about anyway–certainly it can’t compare to the one Rome built.

Economist Mark Weisbrot, writing in the Guardian expands on bin Laden’s goals and his vision of what he wanted to happen to the U.S.

Bin Laden, who – like Saddam Hussein and other infamous mass murderers – was supported by the United Stated government for years before he turned against it, changed the world with the most destructive terrorist act ever committed on US soil. But the reasons that he was able to do that have as much to do with US foreign policy at that particular juncture as with his own strategy and goals.

Bin Laden’s goal was not, as some think, simply to bring down the US empire. That is a goal shared by most of the world, who – fortunately for us – would not use terrorist violence to further this outcome. His specific goal was to transform the struggle between the United States and popular aspirations in the Muslim world into a war against Islam, or at least create the impression for many millions of people that this was the case. As we look around the world 10 years after the attack, we can see that he had considerable success in this goal. The United States is occupying Afghanistan and Iraq, bombing Pakistan and Libya, and threatening Iran – all Muslim countries. To a huge part of the Muslim world, it looks like the United States is carrying out a modern-day crusade against them, despite President Obama’s assertions to contrary Sunday night.

George W. Bush happily obliged by inventing the “War on Terror.” And his successor, Barack Obama is now willingly carrying the torch. We should pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan and Iraq, since the bogey man is dead. But that won’t happen.

Weisbrot says that the WOT made al Qaeda stronger and bin Laden probably knew that would happen:

Could bin Laden have known that the US response to 9/11 would have made his movement even stronger, even if he lost his base in Afghanistan? I would say it is likely. While it was not predictable that President Bush would necessarily invade Iraq – although it was a strong possibility – it was foreseeable that the US government would seize on 9/11 to create a new overarching theme for its interventions throughout the world.

The administration and the media are already searching for a new bogey man, and working hard to gin up as much outrage as possible among gullible Americans. The latest effort is the release of bin Laden’s home movies. But we only get video–no sound. Why doesn’t our government allow us to hear what’s going on in videos? Are they afraid bin Laden’s words will influence us? And why do they keep calling bin Laden’s home a “lair?” Is that supposed to make us see him and his family as animals?

Finally, what are we to make of the video below–Osama bin Laden watching himself on television? Are we supposed see him as narcissistic and self-involved? Are we expected to compare this aging man watching himself on TV with our glorious hero President who would supposedly never do such a thing?

How very appropriate that the video begins with a Coors Beer ad. It fits right in with the sports motif that is building around the killing of the bogey man: USA! USA! and all that….


Finally! Public Outrage Builds Against TSA Abuse of Power

John Tyner, 31, of Oceanside, CA

Thanks to John Tyner, an ordinary citizen from Oceanside, CA, who just wanted to enjoy a little pheasant hunting in South Dakota last weekend, the media spotlight is now on the TSA and its employees, some of whom are apparently power-mad and abusive to the travelers they are supposed to be protecting.

I’m sure you’ve heard about Tyner by now. He’s the man who refused a naked body scan at San Diego Airport, and then refused to be manhandled by TSA employees using their new security procedure, the “resolution pat-down,”

which requires TSA agents to grasp the body of the subject more firmly when running hands over limbs and also requires probing up to the genital areas of the body.

Tyner had the presence of mind to capture video of his encounter with the TSA, and he later posted the videos on you tube and on his blog, where he also described his experience in detail. Here’s an exerpt:

A male agent…directed me over to the far corner of the area for screening….he turned to me and began to explain that he was going to do a “standard” pat down. (I thought to myself, “great, not one of those gropings like I’ve been reading about”.) After he described, the pat down, I realized that he intended to touch my groin. After he finished his description but before he started the pat down, I looked him straight in the eye and said, “if you touch my junk, I’ll have you arrested.” He, a bit taken aback, informed me that he would have to involve his supervisor because of my comment.

We both stood there for no more than probably two minutes before a female TSA agent (apparently, the supervisor) arrived. She described to me that because I had opted out of the backscatter screening, I would now be patted down, and that involved running hands up the inside of my legs until they felt my groin. I stated that I would not allow myself to be subject to a molestation as a condition of getting on my flight. The supervisor informed me that it was a standard administrative security check and that they were authorized to do it. I repeated that I felt what they were doing was a sexual assault, and that if they were anyone but the government, the act would be illegal. I believe that I was then informed that if I did not submit to the inspection, I would not be getting on my flight. I again stated that I thought the search was illegal. I told her that I would be willing to submit to a walk through the metal detector as over 80% of the rest of the people were doing, but I would not be groped. The supervisor, then offered to go get her supervisor.

The upshot of all this was that Tyner was escorted out of the security area by a police officer and then after more consultations with supervisors, managed to get a refund on his ticket.

At this point, I thought it was all over. I began to make my way to the stairs to exit the airport, when I was approached by another man in slacks and a sport coat. He was accompanied by the officer that had escorted me to the ticketing area and Mr. Silva. He informed me that I could not leave the airport. He said that once I start the screening in the secure area, I could not leave until it was completed. Having left the area, he stated, I would be subject to a civil suit and a $10,000 fine. I asked him if he was also going to fine the 6 TSA agents and the local police officer who escorted me from the secure area. After all, I did exactly what I was told. He said that they didn’t know the rules, and that he would deal with them later. They would not be subject to civil penalties.

You get the idea. Tyner’s experience was Kafkaesque. The behavior of TSA and Airline employees was reminiscent of Joseph Heller’s descriptions of military red tape in Catch-22. Eventually Tyner did escape the airport without being groped, but the TSA isn’t through with him yet.

The TSA plans to “investigate” Tyner because he left the airport without being authorized by TSA to do so.

The Transportation Security Administration has opened an investigation targeting John Tyner, the Oceanside man who left Lindbergh Field under duress on Saturday morning after refusing to undertake a full body scan….

Michael J. Aguilar, chief of the TSA office in San Diego, called a news conference at the airport Monday afternoon to announce the probe. He said the investigation could lead to prosecution and civil penalties of up to $11,000.

TSA agents had told Tyner on Saturday that he could be fined up to $10,000.

“That’s the old fine,” Aguilar said. “It has been increased.”

So that’s it, folks. If you want to fly in the U.S. today, you either have to be photographed naked or you have to submit to a humiliating groping process that involves a stranger’s hands coming into contact with your genitals. That’s a Hobson’s choice if I’ve ever heard one. One way or another, you submit to an embarrassing situation in which you are vulnerable to the whims of strangers who may be drunk with power.

Naked body scan image

What’s the risk you take with the naked body scans? They expose you to radiation, and that may be dangerous for young children and elderly people. Many people would find the invasion of privacy and modesty embarrassing and humiliating. And how about the fact that some invisible total stranger may be examining your body and perhaps gawking at your body parts or ridiculing you? These scans show the body in detail and seem to highlight the genital area (see photo). Worst of all, although the government claims the naked images are immediately destroyed, that isn’t so clear.

Gizmodo published multiple stories about this issue today. Here’s a very creepy one you might like to take a look at: The TSA’s Sense of Humor Makes Me Nervous The story includes a photograph of a TSA computer with a highly offensive wallpaper image that apparently reflects TSA “humor” (see below)

The technology site also posted a video of 100 leaked naked body scans.

Wait a minute. Those images aren’t supposed to be saved, are they? Riiiiiight.

At the heart of the controversy over “body scanners” is a promise: The images of our naked bodies will never be public. U.S. Marshals in a Florida Federal courthouse saved 35,000 images on their scanner. These are those images.

A Gizmodo investigation has revealed 100 of the photographs saved by the Gen 2 millimeter wave scanner from Brijot Imaging Systems, Inc., obtained by a FOIA request after it was recently revealed that U.S. Marshals operating the machine in the Orlando, Florida courthouse had improperly-perhaps illegally-saved images of the scans of public servants and private citizens.

We understand that it will be controversial to release these photographs. But identifying features have been eliminated. And fortunately for those who walked through the scanner in Florida last year, this mismanaged machine used the less embarrassing imaging technique.

Yet the leaking of these photographs demonstrates the security limitations of not just this particular machine, but millimeter wave and x-ray backscatter body scanners operated by federal employees in our courthouses and by TSA officers in airports across the country. That we can see these images today almost guarantees that others will be seeing similar images in the future. If you’re lucky, it might even be a picture of you or your family.

Finally Gizmodo asks whether the scanners are being put into airports our safety or for the further enrichment of three giant corporations and their lobbyists. The Gizmodo story refers to this story by Timothy P. Carney:

If you’ve seen one of these scanners at an airport, there’s a good chance it was made by L-3 Communications, a major contractor with the Department of Homeland Security. L-3 employs three different lobbying firms including Park Strategies, where former Sen. Al D’Amato, R-N.Y., plumps on the company’s behalf. Back in 1989, President George H.W. Bush appointed D’Amato to the President’s Commission on Aviation Security and Terrorism following the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103. Also on Park’s L-3 account is former Appropriations staffer Kraig Siracuse.

The scanner contract, issued four days after the Christmas Day bomb attempt last year, is worth $165 million to L-3.

Rapiscan got the other naked-scanner contract from the TSA, worth $173 million. Rapiscan’s lobbyists include Susan Carr, a former senior legislative aide to Rep. David Price, D-N.C., chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee. When Defense Daily reported on Price’s appropriations bill last winter, the publication noted “Price likes the budget for its emphasis on filling gaps in aviation security, in particular the whole body imaging systems.”

An early TSA contractor for full-body scanners was the American Science and Engineering company. AS&E’s lobbying team is impressive, including Tom Blank, a former deputy administrator for the TSA. Fellow AS&E lobbyist Chad Wolf was an assistant administrator at TSA and an aide to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who sits on the Transportation and Defense subcommittees of Appropriations. Finally, Democratic former Rep. Bud Cramer is also an AS&E lobbyist — he sat on the Defense and Transportation subcommittees of the Appropriations Committee.

It always comes down to money, doesn’t it? Personally I haven’t flown since before 9/11, and I am determined never to fly again until this outrageous violation of our privacy and civil liberties ends.