Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! Does anyone have a remedy for the sleepies? I recently finished a semester of teaching, and the last couple of days I’ve been extremely groggy. Yesterday I even slept until 10:30AM! It doesn’t help that we haven’t seen the sun in the Boston area for at least a week–it’s dark, dank, and raw out there. It seems a lot more like November than late May. On top of all that my Spring allergies are the worst I’ve ever experienced. So please forgive me if this post makes no sense. On to the news of the day.

Disgraced IMF honcho Dominque Strauss-Kahn’s accuser testified before a New York grand jury today. Immediately following her testimony, Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys announced their determination to spring their client from his cell at Rikers Island Jail.

His lawyers initially proposed a $1 million bail package that was rejected by the court.

Today a new offer that was said to add a private monitoring firm, an electronic bracelet and a guard to the package was put together. The cash component of the bail package remained at $1 million dollars, but the deal now included a guarantee that Strauss-Kahn would remain confined in New York City and not leave his residence except for visits to his doctor or lawyers. His passports and travel documents have already been taken from him.

According to ABC News, police are testing body fluids found in Strauss-Kahn’s hotel room for DNA.

ABC News has confirmed that police cut a swath of carpet to test for DNA and swabbed one of the suite’s sinks under a black light that indicated there was potential DNA evidence there.

Apparently Strauss-Kahn’s attorneys plan to claim that their client’s sexual encounter with a hotel maid was “consensual,” but there is a serious problem with that theory in addition to the maid’s testimony.

Investigators also say information downloaded from the suite door’s electronic card reader indicates the maid entered the room and never closed the door. The hotel policy requires maids to leave the door open when cleaning. The open door, they say, is proof that the women entered the room to work, not to engage in consensual sex.

I won’t dwell on this sordid story much longer, but I did want to call your attention to this piece in Time Magazine, which details a number of previous accusations against Strauss-Kahn–along with rumors –gossip about his abusive behavior toward women–that were hushed up until now. How predictable these guys are!

Joseph Cannon’s latest post is a must-read, along with the New Yorker article by Jane Mayer on which the Cannon comments. It’s about the domestic spying by the NSA that went on under Bush and the Obama administration’s heavy handed prosecution of whistleblowers while at the same time protecting the Bush administration criminals. (Minkoff Minx also mentioned Mayer’s article in her morning post yesterday.) Here’s an introduction to the piece by Cannon:

This humble blog spent a lot of time talking about NSA overreach during the controversies over Russell Tice and FISA. Meyer’s piece confirms a long-held suspicion that the real problem wasn’t eavesdropping on telephone calls but automated data-mining of all forms of electronic communication.

Two competing computer systems were designed to take us into this brave new world: ThinThread and Trailblazer. (The system in place now is called Turbulence. Someone at NSA has a strange affection for the letter T — which is also the first letter in totalitarian.) Trailblazer turned out to be a costly boondoggle. ThinThread worked. Originally, it had provisions built in to protect the privacy of American citizens; NSA Director Haybed tossed out those barriers.

Meyer focuses on an NSA whistleblower named Thomas Drake, who tried to blow the whistle on the Trailblazer fiasco — and on the abuses of privacy — to a staffer on the House Intelligence Committee. Unfortunately, the Committee was headed, at the time, by Porter Goss — and by Nancy Pelosi. They both seemed deaf to what Drake had to say.

Why is Obama so obsessed with prosecuting whistleblowers–even to the point of dusting off the Espionage Act? Jane Mayer writes:

When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as “often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks—more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama’s Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book “Necessary Secrets” (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, “Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history—even more so than Nixon.”

Mayer asked Drake about it:

Sitting at a Formica table at the Tastee Diner, in Bethesda, Drake—who is a registered Republican—groaned and thrust his head into his hands. “I actually had hopes for Obama,” he said. He had not only expected the President to roll back the prosecutions launched by the Bush Administration; he had thought that Bush Administration officials would be investigated for overstepping the law in the “war on terror.”

“But power is incredibly destructive,” Drake said. “It’s a weird, pathological thing. I also think the intelligence community coöpted Obama, because he’s rather naïve about national security. He’s accepted the fear and secrecy. We’re in a scary space in this country.”

Check out her article if you can. She’s one of the best investigative reporters we have.

You may have missed Dakinikat’s late night post on Tuesday–the one about exploding watermelons. I thought this story deserved a little more emphasis, because it shows what can happen when there are no government regulations on agriculture–and industry in general (and that is what the Republicans would love to make happen). From Raw Story:

A bizarre wave of exploding watermelons — possibly due to farmers’ abuse of a growth-boosting chemical — has once again spotlighted safety fears plaguing China’s poorly regulated food sector.

State media has said nearly 50 hectares (120 acres) of watermelon crops in the eastern city of Danyang have been ruined by the phenomenon this month after some growers doused them with the growth accelerator forchlorfenuron.

“On May 7, I came out and counted 80 (exploded watermelons), but by the afternoon it was 100,” farmer Liu Mingsuo told state broadcaster China Central Television (CCTV) in a report that aired Tuesday. He said he had sprayed them with the chemical just a day before.

Remind me to never buy any food produce in China!!

Have you heard that the Obama campaign is selling T-shirts and coffee cups that mock the “birthers?”

President Obama’s 2012 presidential campaign today started selling “Made in the USA” t-shirts featuring images of both President Obama and the long-form birth certificate he released copies of last month.

Wear your support for this campaign with an official Made in the USA T-shirt,” his website advertises. Donate $25 or more today and we’ll send you your limited-edition shirt.

Coffee-mugs are also available.

“Remember ‘fight the smears’ from the 2008 campaign?” asked campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt. “This is the mobile version of it.”

Quite frankly, I think this is a little bit tacky….but that’s just me. And speaking of tasteless behavior, the Catholic Church is attempting to blame the ’60s counterculture for the behavior pedophile priests. From the Guardian UK:

The investigation commissioned by Catholic bishops said that the peak incidence of sexual abuse by priests in the 1960s and 70s reflected the increased level of other deviant behaviours in American society in the period, including “drug use and crime, as well as social changes, such as an increase in premarital sex and divorce.”

Researchers at John Jay College of Criminal Justice said most of the abusive priests were ordained in the 1940s and 50s and were not properly trained to confront the social upheavals of the 1960s.

David O’Brien, a historian of American Catholicism at the University of Dayton, said the report, Causes and Context of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests in the United States, 1950-2010, was dangerous because it seemed to exonerate bishops.

The study also ignores the long history of sexual abuse of children by the Catholic clergy. Methinks these “researchers” told the Catholic Bishops what they wanted to hear rather than do any serious research.

Finally, President Obama plans to give another “most amazing speech evah” tomorrow. This one is on the Middle East and North Africa. According to Voice of America:

The speech will be broad in scope, as Mr. Obama focuses on the peaceful democratic movements for change that have swept the region, discusses implications for U.S. policy, and offers what administration officials call some concrete policy proposals.

He will give his assessment of the impact of popular uprisings that have led to political changes in Egypt and Tunisia, and which continue in places like Syria, Libya and Yemen.

Senior administration officials say Mr. Obama will speak of a moment of opportunity, after a decade of great tensions and divisions, in which people of the region and U.S. policy can begin to turn the page toward a more positive and hopeful future.

The stalemated Israel-Palestinian peace process will be an important element. However, Mr. Obama is expected to frame it as part of a wider picture and say that leaders on both sides of that conflict should seize an opportunity for peace.

Whatever….I think I’ll arrange to be busy while he’s speechifying. Anyway, what are you reading and blogging about today?


Bradley Manning Could Face Death Penalty

Bradley Manning

Remember when the U.S. was a civilized country? Or am I dreaming? Were we ever a civilized country? Are we really supposed to believe that this guy in the White House is a Democrat? This latest outrage is way beyond the pale, as far as I’m concerned:

Sara Sorcher at The National Journal

The U.S. Army today charged Pfc. Bradley Manning with 22 additional offenses related to the release of classified documents to WikiLeaks, including “aiding the enemy,” traditionally a capital offense. But in a release announcing the new charges, the Army said it would not be recommending the death penalty.

The charges, announced after what the Army said was a seven-month investigation, also included wrongfully causing intelligence to be published on the Internet where it could be accessed by “the enemy,” theft of public records, transmitting defense information, and fraud in connection with computers. The new counts included five violations of Army regulations as well, the Army release said. During this time Manning has been held in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps Base brig at Quantico, Va.

They won’t recommend the death penalty? I’m not sure why we should believe anything our government tells us anymore. And just who is this “enemy” that Manning supposedly “aided” by releasing a video of war crimes and supposedly leaking diplomatic cables? That is still a mystery, because the army won’t say.

In its Twitter feed, WikiLeaks said the charge of aiding the enemy was “a vindictive attack on Manning for exercising his right to silence. No evidence of any such thing.” It also said the charge suggested that “WikiLeaks would be defined as ‘the enemy.’ A serious abuse.”

Military officials did not respond to a question on Wednesday about who the “enemy” was. The charge sheet, however, accuses the private of giving intelligence to the enemy “through indirect means,” which could suggest that prosecutors are referring to Afghan and Iraqi insurgents rather than to WikiLeaks.

Does anyone think the Afghan and Iraqi insurgents were surprised to learn that U.S. Soldiers have killed innocent civilians in their countries? I’m not sure what they are supposed to get out of the diplomatic cables. I doubt if any of them would be surprised to learn that the Bush administration lied in order to start a war in Iraq.

The Guardian tries and fails to decipher the “aiding the enemy” charge:

The charge involves “giving intelligence to the enemy”, which is defined as “organised opposing forces in time of war but also other hostile body that our forces may be opposing such as a rebellious mob or a band of renegades”. Such an enemy could be civilian or military in nature.

The charge sheet, like the original set of accusations, contains no mention by name of the enemy to which the US military is referring.

It could be WikiLeaks itself, which the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, has accused of launching an “attack on America”. Or it could be a reference to enemy forces in Afghanistan.

A report by NBC News said Pentagon officials emphasised that some WikiLeaks material contained names of informants and others working with US forces whose lives could have been put in danger.

That’s bullsh&t, IMHO. I hope they’re ready to present evidence of harm that actually took place as a result of the release of the diplomatic cables.

At FDL, Jane Hamsher has published a statement from Manning’s friend and supporter David House along with a petition to tell Robert Gates to drop the “aiding the enemy” charges. Here is House’s statement:

Through WikiLeaks we have been given direct evidence that the White House openly lies to congress and the American people in order to achieve political ends. Richard Nixon, in an attempt to stifle government transparency, once called Ellsberg “the most dangerous man in America” and accused him of “providing aid and comfort to the enemy.” Today we see the Obama administration continuing the legacy Nixon started by declaring whistleblowers as enemies of the state. It is a sad and dangerous day for transparency advocates everywhere.

President Obama should be ashamed, but I’m not sure he has the capacity for that–or to feel empathy for this young man who has already spent months in prison under conditions tantamount to torture.

Gotta Love those Wikileaks

I’m still waiting for the BOA Wikileaks data drop but the idea of a Swiss Banker from offshore banking haven, The Cayman Islands, dropping a dime on a few of those tax evading customers is almost as sweet.  I can sense the thickness of air hanging in private clubs all over the world from my little corner of the ninth ward.

Rudolf M. Elmer, the former head of the Cayman Islands office of the prominent Swiss bank Julius Baer, refused to identify any of the individuals or companies, but told reporters at a press conference that about 40 politicians and “pillars of society” worldwide are among them.

He told The Observer newspaper over the weekend that those named in the documents come from “the U.S., Britain, Germany, Austria and Asia — from all over,” and include “business people, politicians, people who have made their living in the arts and multinational conglomerates — from both sides of the Atlantic.”

Mr. Assange said that WikiLeaks would verify and release the information, including the names, in as little as two weeks. He suggested possible partnerships with financial news organizations and said he would consider turning the information over to Britain’s Serious Fraud Office, a government agency that investigates financial corruption.

That’s a wow story!   But then, there’s been a series of them coming from Assange’s organization and the entire thing is just too great for words.  Any one that really doesn’t see that Wikileaks is becoming THE way for little guys to undermine the power elites of the world is basically a tool of oppressors and autocrats.  Just as Bradley Manning witnessed tapes that revealed the incredibly war crimes and inhumanity of a few American soldiers, Rudolf Elmer has witnessed pilfering that probably includes profiteering from crimes against humanity.  However, like every one else, I want NAMES.

Check out the CIA’s list of the RICHEST countries in the world in per capita terms. I always love to quiz my students on which ones shake out at the top and they nearly always get it wrong.   The top ten countries–with the exceptions of oil rich Kuwait and Norway–are all havens of offshore banking, tax evasion, and gambling.  The USA has dropped to number 11 on the richest country list.  Undoubtedly, it still holds that position because of its Investment Bankers.  As I mentioned in the Friday Reads, it’s not because we reward our brain surgeons, 4 star generals, or great minds. I’m appalled that this might be the century that proves Karl Marx right on how ‘capitalism’ eventually falls.  I’m only afraid that it will not be replaced with any kind of utopia; worker or otherwise.

What was Rudolf Elmer’s motivation?

Mr. Elmer said he had turned to WikiLeaks to educate society about what he considers an unfair system designed to serve the rich and aid money launderers after his offers to provide the data to universities and governments were spurned and, in his opinion, the Swiss media failed to cover the substance of his allegations. “The man in the street needs to know how this system works,” he said, referring to the offshore trusts that many “high net worth individuals” across the world use to evade taxes.

This, is the beauty of the Wikileaks.  (I’m going to take some time here to wave to our junior G-guys and G-gals!)  It gives a voice to those of us that work in the trenches holding up a system that rewards our work with pink slips, loss of insurance, and raises that don’t keep up with the cost of living don’t have much power.  The information we sit on frequently has a lot of power.  Once released to the public domain, it has even more power.  These leaks expose corruption and thievery; pure and simple.

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