Sunday, February 15, 2015

(Cheating Happy-To-Pay Americans)  Must Attend Popular Pretender Governors in States like NC, FL, NJ, KS, WV et al., Or We're Doomed  (Bernie Buzz in NC!)  Unreconstructed Israelists? Bernie Sanders Signals Change (CIA Scales Back in Yemen After Government Collapses) Goodbye Bob - No One To Take Your Place?

John Kiriakou:  Blowing Whistle on Bush-Era Torture 'Was Worth It'

Bernie Sanders:  Keeping US From Becoming Oligarchy 'A Struggle We Must Win'

We have to start paying attention to who's running for our top offices, don't ya know? Although with less than 40% of registered voters bothering to vote (or perhaps be counted?), we're probably getting what we deserve.

And I don't just mean the presidency. (/snark)

If we continue to let smooth-talking (and many not-so-smooth) rich guys be elected to governorships and senatorships and many, many representativeships, the whole country will soon be exactly like what we are being treated to witnessing today in Wisconsin, Michigan, New Jersey, North Carolina, West Virginia (need I go on?).

In a scathing indictment published Wednesday, "LA Times" columnist Michael Hiltzick blasted the logic behind the GOP's efforts.

"Chairman Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) not only displayed a shocking level of ignorance of Social Security and the disability program, but offered no solutions whatsoever to the looming crisis — which he repeatedly mischaracterized," Hiltzick wrote. "Enzi also trotted out one of the hoariest lies about Social Security in the conservatives' playbook:  the claim that there's no money in either the old-age or disability trust fund."

He continued:

[T]his assertion is nothing but an attempt to cheat working Americans of the benefits they've paid for. The trust funds hold trillions of dollars of U.S. Treasury bonds bought and paid for by payroll taxes collected from American workers since 1983; these transfers have been certified, in writing, every year by U.S. Treasury Secretaries and other cabinet members, Republican and Democrat, and accepted by Congress. If the money's gone, they should all go to jail — but you won't hear that said by Enzi or his cronies.

The only way the money can be judged "spent" is if Enzi and the rest of Congress vote to cut the benefits workers already have paid for. That's what he seems to be plotting.
Progressives charge that this fight is about much more than an obscure rule change or account transfer. In an email to supporters sent Wednesday night, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) lambasted the GOP's "ideological war on our most important national safety net."

And Sanders echoed Warren's call.

"Republicans are manufacturing a phony crisis in Social Security in order to cut the earned benefits of millions of the most vulnerable people in this country," he said. "The American people won’t let them get away with it."

Sanders, for his part, has proposed "scrapping the cap that allows multi-millionaires to pay a much smaller percentage of their income into Social Security than the middle class." He claims that increasing the size of that cap could bolster funding for the program past 2060.

Currently, the amount of earnings that are subject to the payroll tax each year is capped at $118,500. Income above that level is not subject to the tax, which means a Wall Street CEO making $20 million, for instance, only pays into the fund on the first $118,500 of income.

I know the Bernie Buzz has hit NC because I've been invited to a Bernie Celebration next week in Greenville. Home of ECU (and you remember who emerged from there to begin the fouling of the water (so to speak) statewide, right?)!

The Bernie Buzz

Watch: Bernie speaks about Lincoln's Gettysburg address

Speaking Monday at The Brookings Institution, Bernie recounted a weekend trip to the Civil War battlefield at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “While there, we read Lincoln’s extraordinary Gettysburg Address – where he spoke of his hope that this nation would have a ‘new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’

As we drove home it struck me hard that Lincoln’s beautiful vision – a government of the people, by the people, for the people – was, in fact, perishing, was coming to an end, and that we are moving rapidly away from our democratic heritage into an oligarchic form of society – where we are experiencing a government of the billionaire class, by the billionaire class and for the billionaire class.” American democracy is in peril, Bernie explained, because the Supreme Court opened the floodgates and let billionaires spend unlimited sums to buy elections. The Koch brothers alone are planning a nearly $1 billion campaign in 2016, a bigger budget than either of the major political parties.

Bernie at Brookings
Bernie at Brookings
Bernie laid out his Agenda for America during a speech and question-and-answer session at the preeminent Washington think tank. He spoke about reversing a 40-year decline in wages and increasing wealth and income inequality. He advocated a massive federal jobs program which would create some 13 million jobs, a higher minimum wage and affordable higher education.
Read Watch the speech

When You've Lost Bernie Sanders:  How Netanyahu Destroyed the Israel Lobby

By Juan Cole, "Informed Comment"

13 February 15

enator Bernie Sanders, the most consistent and prominent progressive in the US Senate, has decided to skip the speech of Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to Congress on March 3, which was orchestrated by Israel’s ambassador to the US Ron Dermer and Speaker of the House John Boehner in an attempt to derail President Obama’s negotiations with Iran over its civilian nuclear enrichment program. It is Bibi’s Kanye West moment.

Sanders’s announcement may well signal a turning point in the domestic politics of Mideast policy. Sanders runs as a Socialist but might well announce his candidacy within the Democratic Party for president in the 2016 race. He can’t win, of course, but could push the electoral issues to the left. He in any case caucuses with the Democrats. Despite his strong progressive vision, Sanders has in the past been reluctant to criticize Israel. He, like many on the American left, held up Israel in general as a progressive cause, regardless of the country’s colonial actions in the Palestinian West Bank or its illegal blockade of Gaza.

Obama believes that a deal can be had whereby Iran is allowed to enrich uranium for reactor fuel but through restrictions and inspections can be kept from ever militarizing the program. Boehner and Netanyahu believe that Iran’s enrichment program must be closed down to forestall the development of a bomb by Tehran. Israel is currently the only nuclear power in the region, which makes it a regional hegemon, a position it might lose if it were one of many nuclear powers.

The Israel lobbies as a project of Jewish nationalism have long depended primarily on three tactics for their success. 1) They brutally punish those critical of Israeli policy (no matter how justified the criticism) with boycotts, smears and blackballing; 2) They marshal American Jewish groups into unanimity in support of Israel regardless of the latter’s feelings about certain policies, and 3) they use political donations to shape Congressional and general political discourse on Israel in official circles.

The Israel lobbies are not by any means unique, since there are Cuban, Armenian and other ethnic lobbies. And of course there are many ideological lobbies, including that of the Koch brothers for a peculiar kind of conservatism (they say they are Libertarians but seek government policies favorable to their Oil businesses).

But the Israel lobbies are, while sometimes dealt defeat, remarkably successful among lobbies. And, whereas many wealthy conservatives might have objected to the views of Native Americans specialist Steven Salaita at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign, none of them pressured the chancellor with withdrawal of donations on the basis of conservatism. A Jewish nationalist donor did get Salaita fired over his private tweets, done on his own time and unconnected to his position in Native American studies, about the brutality of the Gaza War. Jewish nationalist legislators or those beholden to the Israel lobbies also routinely shoot down government appointments of officials insufficiently obsequious to Israel as a cause.

Rep. Steven Cohen (D-Tenn.) is also said to be leaning toward a boycott of Netanyahu’s speech. So are a number of other Jewish Congressmen on the Democratic side. And, Vice President Joe Biden’s own decision to boycott may sway many Democrats in Congress.

This stampede of Democratic legislators away from Netanyahu’s speech disrupts principles 2) and 3) above, and makes it difficult for the Israel lobbies to implement 1) consistently. Biden has been close for his entire career to the positions of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a coordinating body for 16,000 smaller lobbies that throw millions into congressional races. He may not have another race to run, and for the lobbies to try to smear or punish him would surely backfire on them.

It would also signal to younger politicians that it is dangerous to take their money because they are fickle and intolerant of the slightest dissent. I have argued that for many reasons, Israel is becoming more a Republican Party project than a Democratic one. Many in the GOP agree and hope this development will bring US Jews, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic, over to the Republicans. But another development is possible, which is that Jewish Democrats may become less supportive of an increasingly far rightwing Israel.

By overreaching, Netanyahu may be shattering the hammer his partisans in the US have used to destroy critics of his policies in America. And Mideast policy in the US may never be quite the same.

Breaking in Boston, The CIA’s Yemen Exit & A Portuguese Miracle

And speaking of the CIA - wait - we were speaking of the CIA, right? (Kidding!)

CIA Scales Back in Yemen After Government Collapses

Yemen is in freefall. Just last year Obama touted it as a “success” in his counterterrorism strategy. But now Western governments are pulling embassy staff, the Yemenis are facing a “humanitarian disaster,” and even the CIA is curtailing its effort in one of America’s favorite drone zones. Unnamed officials told the "Washington Post" that the Agency “pulled dozens of operatives, analysts and other staffers from Yemen,” including key senior officers. However, some operatives will remain there in an attempt to salvage an intelligence network that worked closely with the Saudis and “built an air base in Saudi Arabia for a fleet of armed drones that have carried out dozens of strikes” inside Yemen.

Twitter Handles Information Requests from 58 National Governments, but 56% are from U.S.

In its latest “Transparency Report,” Twitter details the attempts by governments around the world to access information about users. A total of 58 nations requested Twitter turn over users’ records, but the United States was far and away the world leader in trying to pry open Twitter’s accounts. Although Americans make up 22% of Twitter users, the U.S. Government submitted 56% of the requests. Overall requests were up 40% over the previous year.

Bob Simon was one of the last voices on mainstream media news that I trusted.

And like Doug Marlette, he was taken out by traffic.

Why am I surprised?

Only the good . . . .

CBS News Correspondent Bob Simon, 1941-2015

Bob Simon, perhaps the last of the great network correspondents to emerge from the maelstrom of Vietnam, died in a car accident on Wednesday night. Simon’s five-decade career is worth reviewing. And his relentless coverage of the Middle East—regarded as both balanced and nuanced—set him apart from his less intrepid colleagues.

Bob Simon on Buying the War in Iraq

Bill Moyers

15 February 2015

he sad news about the death of award-winning CBS news correspondent Bob Simon on Wednesday had our team reflecting on an interview he did with Bill for the program Buying the War, investigating big media’s role in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

In this clip from the show, which first aired in 2007, Simon, a correspondent for 60 Minutes who was based in the Middle East ahead of the war, questioned the Washington press corps reporting that linked Saddam Hussein with Al Qaeda.

Simon talks to Bill about his 2002 60 Minutes report investigating the Bush administration’s claims that the lead 9/11 hijacker Mohammed Atta and an Iraqi intelligence officer had a meeting in Prague, proving collusion between the terrorists and the Iraqi government. He also offers “a thousand mea culpas” for not digging deeper into the administration’s justifications for taking America to war.

See the full program:  Buying the War.


Charles Krauthammer:  (FOX NEWS 9/22/01) If you go after Iraq you’re gonna lose a lot of allies, but who cares…

Bill Moyers:  Charles Krauthammer and other top columnists at "The Washington Post" also saw the hand of Saddam Hussein in the terrorist attacks…

Jim Hoagland implicated Hussein within hours after the suicide bombers struck on 9/11 …. … And the "Post"’s George Will fired away on the talk shows.

George Will:  (ABC 10/28/01) The administration knows he’s vowed, Hussein has vowed revenge, he has anthrax, he loves biological weapons, he has terrorist training camps, including 747’s to practice on…

Bill Moyers:  It was proving difficult to distinguish the opinion of the pundits from the policies of the administration…but as the hullabaloo over Saddam grew in Washington, Bob Simon of CBS News “60 Minutes” was dumbfounded. He is based in the Middle East.

Bob Simon:  From overseas we had a clearer view. I mean we knew things or suspected things that perhaps the Washington press corps could not suspect. For example, the absurdity of putting up a connection between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda.

Bill Moyers:  Absurdity. The Washington press corps cannot question an absurdity?

Bob Simon:  Well maybe the Washington press corps based inside the belt wasn’t as aware as those of us who are based in the Middle East and who spend a lot of time in Iraq. I mean when the Washington press corps travels, it travels with the president or with the Secretary of State.

Bill Moyers:  In a bubble.

Bob Simon:  Yeah in a bubble. Where as we who’ve spent weeks just walking the streets of Baghdad and in other situations in Baghdad just were scratching our heads. In ways that perhaps that the Washington press corps could not.

Bill Moyers:  Simon was under no illusions about Saddam Hussein. During the first gulf war he and his camera crew were arrested by Iraqi forces, and brutalized for 40 days before being released.

Bob Simon:  (3/3/1991) We’re going home, which is the, the place you go to after a war, if you’ve been as lucky as we’ve been.

Bill Moyers:  It didn’t make sense to simon that the dictator would trust islamic terrorists.

Bob Simon:  Saddam as most tyrants, was a total control freak. He wanted total control of his regime. Total control of the country. And to introduce a wild card like Al Qaeda in any sense was just something he would not do. So I just didn’t believe it for an instant.


Bill Moyers:  The administration was now stepping up efforts to nail down a tangible link between Saddam and 9/11. Journalists were tipped to a meeting that supposedly took place in Prague between Iraqi agents and the 9/11 ringleader Mohammed Atta. Pundits had a field day.

George Will:  (THIS WEEK, ABC 10/28/01) He has contacts outside in Sudan and Afghanistan with terrorists. He met… They did indeed have a contact between Atta and an Iraqi diplomat.

Bill Moyers:  In "The New York Times" William Safire called the Prague meeting an “undisputed fact.” He would write about the Atta connection 10 times in his op-ed column.

Just weeks after 9/11, Safire had predicted a “quick war” …”with Iraqis cheering their liberators and leading ‘the Arab world toward democracy.”

Between March 2002 and the invasion a year later Safire would write a total of 27 opinion pieces fanning the sparks of war.

And on Tim Russert’s “Meet the Press” Safire kept it up.

Tim Russert:  (MEET THE PRESS, NBC7/28/02) Bill Safire, the difference between sufficient provocation and a preemptive strike?

William Safire:  I don’t think we need any more provocation then we’ve had by 10 years of breaking his agreement at the cease fire. He has been building weapons of mass destruction.

Bill Moyers:  In October his own paper ran a front page story by James Risen questioning the evidence. Then came this report from Bob Simon.

Bob Simon (60 MINUTES 12/8/02):  The administration has been trying to make the link to implicate Saddam Hussein in the attacks of September 11th and they’ve been pointing to an alleged meeting between Mohammed Atta, the lead hijacker, and an Iraqi intelligence officer in the Czech capital of Prague.

Bob Simon:  If we had combed Prague and found out that there was absolutely no evidence for a meeting between Mohammad Atta and the Iraqi intelligence figure. If we knew that, you had to figure that the administration knew it. And yet they were selling the connection between Al Qaeda and Saddam.

Bob Simon (60 MINUTES):  Bob Baer spent 16 years as an undercover agent for the CIA in the Middle East.

Bill Moyers:  How did you get to Bob Baer, the former CIA official who was such an important source for you?

Bob Simon:  We. (laughter) We called him.

Bill Moyers:  How did you find him? Did you know him?

Bob Simon:  I knew some friends of his. It wasn’t a problem getting his phone number. I mean any reporter could get his phone number.

Bill Moyers:  Who was he? And why was he important?

Bob Simon:  He was one of the guys who was sent to Prague to find that link. He was sent to find the link between Al Qaeda and Saddam.

Bill Moyers:  He would have been a hero if he’d found the link.

Bob Simon:  Oh my heavens yes. I mean this was what everyone was looking for.

Bill Moyers:  but there was little appetite inside the networks for taking on a popular, war-time president. So Simon decided to wrap his story inside a more benign account of how the White House was marketing the war.

Bob Simon (60 MINUTES 12/8/02):  It’s not the first time a president has mounted a sales campaign to sell a war.

Bob Simon:  And, I think we all felt from the beginning that to deal with a subject as explosive as this, we should keep it in a way almost light. If that doesn’t seem ridiculous.

Bill Moyers:  Going to war, almost light.

Bob Simon:  Not to present it as a frontal attack on the Administration’s claims. Which would have been not only premature, but we didn’t have the ammunition to do it at the time. We did not know then that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.
We only knew that the connection the administration was making between Saddam and Al Qaeda was very tenuous at best and that the argument it was making over the aluminum tubes seemed highly dubious. We knew these things. And therefore we could present the Madison Avenue campaign on these things, which was a sort of softer, less confrontational way of doing it.

Bill Moyers:  Did you go to any of the brass at CBS, even at “60 Minutes,” and say, “Look, we gotta dig deeper. We gotta connect the dots. This isn’t right.”

Bob Simon:  No in all honesty, with a thousand mea culpas, I’ve done a few stories in Iraq. But, nope I don’t think we followed up on this.

I loved that guy. The last of the truth-telling reporters.


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