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Dogwood, first blossom. April, 2013. Photo by joanneleon.

San Francisco (flowers in your hair)

News and Opinion

Farea Al-muslimi testimony at Drone Wars Senate Committee Hearing

Obama Administration Skips Senate Drone Hearing

The administration's refusal to participate comes just a few months after President Barack Obama pledged greater transparency on his targeted killing program during his 2013 State of the Union address.
A White House spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment about the absence of administration officials from the hearing.

Yemeni Testifies at Senate Drone Hearing on Human Cost of US Drone Wars

Farea Al-Muslimi is a journalist, writer and pro-democracy activist from Yemen. He was invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary’s subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and human rights.

Six days ago, Al-Muslimi reports, the remote mountain village where he lives, Wessab, was struck by a drone . The attack “terrified thousands of simple poor farmers,” and its impact, he says, tore his heart, “much as the tragic bombings in Boston last week tore your hearts as well as mine.”
The strike made farmers in Wessab “afraid and angry.” Al-Radmi had not known he would be a target so they were “upset” because “they could have potentially been with him during the missile strike.”"Some of the people that were with Al-Radmi when he was killed were never affiliated with AQAP and only knew Al-Radmi socially,” Al-Muslimi reports.

“The farmers in my village were angry because Al-Radmi was a man with whom government security chiefs had a close connection. He received cooperation from and had an excellent relationship with the government agencies in the village.  This made him look legitimate and granted him power in the eyes of those poor farmers, who had no idea that being with him meant they were risking death from a U.S. drone.”

Former AFRICOM Chief at Senate Hearing: Using Word ‘Drone’ Fuels Al Qaeda Propaganda

McSally has a background in “targeting procedures,” drones and “national security expertise.” She also served as Chief of Current Operations at the US Africa Command from July 2007-April 2010. In this position, she “led the planning and execution oversight for targeting operations in Africa.”  She was a leader at an Air Operations Center in Saudi Arabia when the US “first used an MQ-1 Predator for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) in Iraq and when it was first employed to conduct a strike with a Hellfire missile in Afghanistan after 9/11.”

She also apparently believes that those who use the word “drone” instead of the more sanitized “remotely piloted aircraft” are fueling an al Qaeda “information operation”—which is commonly known as a phrase for propagand, and Sen. Lindsey Graham requested she be added to the panel of witnesses so she could share this view.

McSally opened her remarks before the Senate subcommittee on the Constitution, civil rights and human rights with the following:

…I use the term “remotely piloted aircraft,” which is my first point, instead of drones because I think that is part of the challenge. There is an information operations campaign by Al Qaeda going on against us. The word “drone” actually has a connotation that we’ve got these autonomous vehicles flying around and striking at will without a whole lot of oversight and scrutiny to them. So, the military does use the term “remotely piloted aircraft” to explain and to try and paint the picture that it actually takes 200 individuals to keep one of these aircrafts airborne for a 24 hour orbit and that 200 individuals include the operators, the intelligence personnel, the maintenance personnel. the equipment people, the lawyers, and, also, part of the process you have literally hundreds  of other personnel that are involved in the process on the military side when you are actually conducting one of these operations. So, I will be using RPA throughout my testimony and that is certainly one of the points to make…
Senate drone hearing challenges “targeted kill” claims
Witness testimony undermines administration claims that only al-Qaida leaders are drone targets

Whether the Senate hearing will yield answers to crucial questions about Obama’s drone wars is unclear. Witnesses scheduled to testify include retired Gen. James Cartwright of United States Marine Corp; activist and journalist Farea Al-Muslimi of Sana’a, Yemen; Peter Bergen, director of the National Security Studies Program at the New America Foundation; and a number of legal experts. Although the Senate committee tried to have a witness appear from the Justice Department, this request was denied.

This really does look like an act of terrorism to me and to most people, I suspect. But I'm glad that the conversation about the word "terrorism" is becoming part of the conversation.  If there is any good that can possibly come of this tragedy, a conversation about terrorism might be one of them, a comparison of different acts, both by extremists and by our own government, might be part of it.  Maybe we can get past the reactionary attitudes that have prevailed for the past 12 years and start to have a more meaningful conversation about terrorism, endless wars against it, rights we've lost because of it, blowback we've created, most effective things we can do to minimize it, etc.
Why is Boston 'terrorism' but not Aurora, Sandy Hook, Tucson and Columbine?

Over the last two years, the US has witnessed at least three other episodes of mass, indiscriminate violence that killed more people than the Boston bombings did: the Tucson shooting by Jared Loughner in which 19 people (including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords) were shot, six of whom died; the Aurora movie theater shooting by James Holmes in which 70 people were shot, 12 of whom died; and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting by Adam Lanza in which 26 people (20 of whom were children) were shot and killed. The word "terrorism" was almost never used to describe that indiscriminate slaughter of innocent people, and none of the perpetrators of those attacks was charged with terrorism-related crimes. A decade earlier, two high school seniors in Colorado, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, used guns and bombs to murder 12 students and a teacher, and almost nobody called that "terrorism" either.

In the Boston case, however, exactly the opposite dynamic prevails. Particularly since the identity of the suspects was revealed, the word "terrorism" is being used by virtually everyone to describe what happened. After initially (and commendably) refraining from using the word, President Obama has since said that "we will investigate any associations that these terrorists may have had" and then said that "on Monday an act of terror wounded dozens and killed three people at the Boston Marathon". But as Abunimah notes, there is zero evidence that either of the two suspects had any connection to or involvement with any designated terrorist organization.
But this proves the point: "terrorism" does not have any real meaning other than "a Muslim who commits violence against America and its allies", so as soon as a Muslim commits violence, there is an automatic decree that it is "terrorism" even though no such assumption arises from similar acts committed by non-Muslims. That is precisely my point. (About the younger brother, Andrew asserts that "the stoner kid [] got caught up in his brother's religious fanaticism" but he has no evidence at all that this is true, and indeed, his friends say almost uniformly that he never evinced any religious fanaticism).

Study Debunking Austerity Research Sparks Wide Reaction

As we reported on The Real News last week, a new study from the PERI institute written by Michael Ash, Bob Pollin, and Thomas Herndon refuted, some people say, something that had been described as one of the intellectual touchstones of the move towards government austerity efforts. That's a study by Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff, two eminent Harvard economists, which essentially presented the argument that if debt-to-GDP ratio reaches 90 percent, there will be no growth in the economy. Well, the report from the PERI institute—and if you haven't watched it yet, you should—more or less takes that argument apart.
Now joining us is one of the authors of that report is Bob Pollin. Bob's the founder and codirector of the PERI institute in Amherst, Massachusetts. His latest book is Back to Full Employment.
Thanks for joining us again, Bob.
JAY: So, first of all, before we get into some of the reaction to the report, just go back over the basic argument about the conclusions your team reached.
POLLIN: Reinhart and Rogoff's very influential, widely cited paper of 2010 found that when public debt—it's not all debt, it's the government's debt—when public debt gets to equal 90 percent of an economy's GDP, then you basically have this very dramatic falloff in economic growth. This is for all kinds of countries in different circumstances.
The specific data set that we looked at that they work through is for the entire post World War II period, 20 advanced economies. So starting in roughly 1946, all the way to 2009, they found that when the debt, public debt to GDP ratio exceeds 90 percent, the average economic growth of those 20 countries falls from around 3 percent per year to –0.1, so a very precipitous falloff.
Now, in our study we found major errors. We found that they made some actual Excel coding errors. We found that some of the countries that were in their dataset, some of the years were dropped. One country, Belgium, was dropped altogether in their calculations.
And then the third thing wrong with it was the way they averaged out the performances of the different countries. So, for example, Great Britain was in this high public debt ratio for 19 years, and the economy grew at an average rate of 2.4 percent. Okay? Now, New Zealand had, according to their calculations—wrong calculations, it turns out, but anyway, according to their calculations, New Zealand had one year, 1951, in which they were at the high public debt ratio, and their economy collapsed to –7.6 percent. The way they averaged the Great Britain 19 years experience and the New Zealand '51 one-year experience was they were equally weighted. One year in New Zealand, 19 years in Great Britain, equally weighted. So that wasn't a mistake. That was their deliberate methodology. The result is it hugely overstated the impact of this one year, 1951, in New Zealand.


Congress: We're planning the largest online protest since SOPA. Vote NO on CISPA sooner rather than later.
CISPA -- the bill that would END our online privacy and violate the 4th Amendment -- will go to a vote in the House today. We're planning the largest online privacy protest in history to stop this bill. Can you contact your reps now to warn them?

What's wrong with CISPA? (in as few words as possible)
As it's written, CISPA won't protect us from cyber threats, but it will violate our 4th Amendment right to privacy.

It lets the government spy on you without a warrant. (read more)

It makes it so you can’t even find out about it after the fact. (read more)

It makes it so companies can’t be sued when they do illegal things with your data. (read more)

It allows corporations to cyber-attack each other and individuals outside of the law. (read more)

It makes every privacy policy on the web a moot point, and violates the 4th amendment. [...]

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