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News and Opinion

Senators Only Asked Chuck Hagel About Iran And Israel
Or that's what it seemed like. A word cloud maps it out.


Steve Clemons did a pretty comprehensive liveblog here. He was at the hearing.  It looks like he went back and filled in a lot of background info and added video clips.
The Scene at the Hagel Hearing (Updating)

8:53 am.  This morning I'm up in SD-G50, which means basement of the Senate Dirksen Office Building, as the media and other notables assemble for the Senate Armed Services Committee hearings on Senator Chuck Hagel's nomination to serve as the next Secretary of Defense.

There is a huge line outside -- and clearly not enough room in here for all of the people who will want to get in.  

For those following, here is a pdf of the Chuck Hagel Statement Before the Senate Armed Services Committee (as prepared for delivery).

Things start up formally in 30 minutes.

Barack Obama, Wall Street Co-Conspirator?

Though my father is no Obama apologist by any stretch, his politics lean liberal, and so in response to watching last week’s PBS Frontline report, he asked me questions that were similar to those I’ve heard before. He wants to believe Obama really hopes to “hold Wall Street accountable,” as the president claimed, and so my dad wonders whether the president’s refusal to do so can be explained by something other than corruption. He wants to believe — or at least to explore the possibility — that the depressing situation isn’t simply about Obama raking in massive Wall Street contributions and then paying back his donors with immunity from prosecution — immunity, mind you, that the rest of us are not afforded.

It goes without saying, of course, that when this line of discussion is initiated by liberals about Obama, there is a serious double standard at work. Simply put, if a Republican was president right now and hadn’t prosecuted a single banker and had appointed a scandal-plagued Wall Street defense lawyer to head the SEC, liberals would be — rightly — screaming bloody murder on Twitter, on Facebook, on blogs and on cable television. They wouldn’t be looking for ways to excuse that president from personal culpability, nor would they be looking to claim the situation exemplified anything other than the kind of ugly-but-legal bribery that dominates American politics.

Bill Black: Yglesias Pours the Geithner, Holder, Breuer (GHB) Banksters Immunity Doctrine in our Drinks

Yves here. Some readers may not get Black’s joke. GHB (gammahydrabuterol) was demonizied as a date rape drug when it was legal and is now a Schedule 1 drug.*

By Bill Black, the author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One and an associate professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City

It’s early, but Salon has published on January 30, 2013 either the funniest or saddest column of the year to date: “Are Banks Too Big To Prosecute?”

The column is attributed to Matthew Yglesias, a blogger who studied philosophy as an undergraduate. It could be a brilliantly ironic satire of the Geithner, Holder and Breuer doctrine of immunity for banksters (which I am dubbing “GHB” for short). GHB is the “roofie” that the Obama administration gave us so the banksters could screw us repeatedly with impunity. Alternatively, and far more likely, Yglesias has written the saddest and most immoral apologia for elite white-collar crime that has yet made it into electronic bits. It takes a rerouted beginning student of philosophy, posing as a commentator on finance, to replace what should be a discussion that includes virtue ethics with a virtue-free, criminology-free, and economics-free apologia for the felons who became wealthy by costing the Nation $20 trillion and 10 million jobs.

Matthew Yglesias wrote a similar column on April 14, 2011 embracing the Geithner immunity doctrine. He titled it: “The Fraud Free Financial Crisis” – and it proves our family’s rule that it is impossible to compete with unintentional self-parody. In 2011, Yglesias thought we might be experiencing the first “Virgin Financial Crisis” – conceived without sin.


Here we go with the feminism defense again for Zero Dark Thirty.  Funny thing is, I keep hearing this line of defense from men, not women.   This article is based on an interview with Mark Boal, screenwriter and former embedded journalist with the U.S. military, and in my opinion, chief propagandist.  It's also interesting that (if I remember correctly)  Mark Boal is the only person involved with the film who has ever met the real life "Maya" character.  So while this film had a female director, producer and main character,  the heroine character was created by a man and presumably most of what the actress and director know about that woman was relayed by a male, so it's not quite as pure as Michael Moore and others have made it out to be.  Anyway, it looks like there is a strong desire to change the subject before the Academy votes from the criticisms of the film to the issue of feminism.  Again, that's just my opinion.
“Zero Dark Thirty” goes feminist
Forget torture! The film's screenwriter emphasizes that Bin Laden was defeated by "a liberated Western woman"

In interviews around “The Hurt Locker” in particular, Bigelow always seemed reluctant to talk about gender or to feel defined by it, I guess out of a reluctance to be pigeonholed. So why foreground that aspect now?

I don’t know that she’s foregrounding it. I think that there’s an important and valid social issue that the movie plugs into, and I think Kathryn’s objection was always that she didn’t want to talk about gender in terms of being defined as a female director versus a male director, because I think she’s always had that — directing is gender neutral, the camera doesn’t know what sex you are, it’s the same job, that kind of thing.

But there’s been a historic shift in the military in terms of allowing women in combat and she just made a movie about a woman based on real life who happened to be instrumental in the hunt for Bin Laden. So I think it’s just a fact of pointing that out. Not to say that gender was determining, but to note that there ought to be more equality than there is, you know?

Here is the earlier review in Salon that the author is referring to, for the record.
Is feminism worth defending with torture?
How Kathryn Bigelow's thrilling Osama-hunting saga faces the thorniest moral dilemmas of the "war on terror"

Whether Bigelow and her screenwriter and off-screen partner Mark Boal are actually arguing that torture is effective, or that it yielded useful information that helped lead to the killing of bin Laden, is ambiguous and sure to be the subject of much debate. Personally, I find the symbolic significance of this agonizing and confrontational scene more alluring. Bigelow, the first and only female director to win an Oscar, knows something about being a woman in a macho environment. Her films have rarely focused on female protagonists, and it’s hard to avoid the possible parallels between her and Maya. Beyond that come the bigger questions signified by Maya’s presence in that room. Does a society that produces female CIA agents (and reelects a black president) gain the right to commit atrocities in its own defense? Is torture justified if the torturer is a university-educated woman, and the tortured a bigoted Muslim fundamentalist?

I think those are excellent questions for us to ask ourselves, arguably defining questions of the age, and I think the longer you look at them the thornier they get. I certainly incline toward the predictable left-libertarian response that torture and other illegal and unconstitutional actions (like, say, the government assassination of United States citizens on secret evidence) are immoral and unjustifiable in almost every instance. But you’ll notice that I’ve left myself a little wiggle room, and if we’re honest we recognize that morality is always relative, and only available in shades of gray. Whether you want to view this as coincidence or reflection of the Zeitgeist, there are several important films this season in which questions of morality, political leadership and good intentions loom large in the air, in the immediate wake of a presidential election conducted around just these issues, however murkily articulated. (The dog-abusing robot with the funny underwear vs. the Muslim brother from another planet. Have you forgotten already?)

Oh god (no pun intended).
The White House’s contraceptives compromise

The Obama administration proposed broader latitude Friday for religious nonprofits that object to the mandated coverage of contraceptives, one that will allow large faith-based hospitals and universities to issue plans that do not directly provide birth control coverage.
Their employees would instead receive a stand-alone, private insurance policy that would provide contraceptive coverage at no cost.


Under the policy proposed Friday, self-insured plans opting out of contraceptive coverage would notify the company that administers their health benefits. That third-party administrator would then be responsible for arranging “separate individual health insurance policies for contraceptive coverage from an issuer providing such polices.”

Insurers who create these plans for self-insured companies will receive an offset from the federal government: Lower fees to sell plans on the new health exchanges run by the Obama administration.

Private employers and faith-based nonprofits have filed more than 40 lawsuits against the contraceptive mandate. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled in January that it would hold a legal challenge from two colleges, Belmont Abbey in Belmont, N.C. and Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., “in abeyance” as the Obama administration worked to issue these new rules.

Meet the Contractors Turning America's Police Into a Paramilitary Force
You should know about them because they may already know about you.

The national security state has an annual budget of around $1 trillion. Of that huge pile of money, large amounts go to private companies the federal government awards contracts to. Some, like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, are household names, but many of the contractors fly just under the public's radar. What follows are three companies you should know about (because some of them can learn a lot about you with their spy technologies).

L3 Communications
Harris Corporation: Stingray “IMSI catcher”


Later this year, the FBI expects to begin using scanned images of criminals’ eyes to verify the right convicts are released after completing their sentences and those on the lam are recaptured.

Following an arguably successful launch of a nationwide facial recognition trial in 2012, the bureau is on track to try another novel identification technique in September, FBI officials said.  Both tests are part of a $1 billion upgrade of the bureau’s fingerprint ID system. “We’re about 65 percent of the way for development,” Brian Edgell, unit chief for the FBI’s new biometric system, said at an information-sharing forum organized by the IJIS Institute, a nonprofit membership organization for IT companies.

Work that remains to be done on the Next Generation Identification system includes incorporating repositories of scars, marks, and tattoos, as well as irises – the colored portion of the eye.

The iris experiment will run for about a year, Edgell said.

Iran fuel may be part of U.S.-funded Afghan supply deals: report

(Reuters) - Fuel purchases made for Afghan security forces using U.S. government funds may have included Iranian petroleum products in violation of U.S. sanctions, investigators said in a report published late on Wednesday.


Fuel imported from Russia and Turkmenistan is usually blended and the U.S. Embassy in Kabul told Sigar it is possible that fuel blended in Turkmenistan could contain Iranian fuel.

Free Speech Radio news show.
Blackout at Guantanamo hearing draws attention to restrictions at military commissions

This week, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and four other defendants accused of planning the September 11 terrorist attacks are facing a pre-trial hearing at the Guantanamo Bay military commissions. At issue are a number of motions, including access to evidence and classified information and whether the torture of defendants while in US custody at CIA black sites can be part of the trial. The proceedings were interrupted at one point this week when the audio and video feed was suddenly blacked out after one of the defense attorneys began discussing the CIA black sites.

Reporter Jason Leopold was there and he joins us on the line from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where he’s been monitoring the hearing this week for Truthout.

Government internet snooping takes more than it gives, says web founder
Press watchdog group criticizes Nova over drone coverage sponsorship

FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting), a progressive press watchdog group, is criticizing Nova over sponsorship issues surrounding its recent report, “Rise of the Drones.” The report was underwritten by Lockheed Martin, which manufactures the unmanned aircraft.

FAIR says that is a “clear violation of PBS’s underwriting guidelines.”

PBS Drone Coverage Brought to You by Drone Makers
Lockheed's Nova sponsorship violates underwriting rules

The program's sponsorship tie to the drone industry were never mentioned--though there were opportunities to disclose that relationship. In addition to Lockheed Martin's connection to one of the interview subjects, the show discussed a U.S. drone that was captured by Iran--without mentioning that it was manufactured by Nova's underwriter. And when Nova discusses the drones of the future, it's talking about the kind of miniature drones Lockheed Martin is developing to provide "constant surveillance capabilities" (TPM IdeaLab, 7/4/12).

Full Show: Are Drones Destroying our Democracy?

Bill explores the moral and legal implications of using drones to target our enemies. Also, Matt Taibbi on big bank privileges.


Amazon Users Pen Sarcastic Drone 'Reviews' For Children's Unmanned Aircraft Toy

On the Internet, sometimes you can't avoid political bickering. Even while shopping for a children's toy online.

The latest instance: a protest Amazon users are holding on the page of a children's unmanned aircraft toy. [...]

The toy shares the "Predator" name with an unmanned aerial vehicle that has become a favorite of the U.S. Air Force and CIA. The use of drones -- particularly in countries where the U.S. is not at war such as Yemen or Pakistan -- have come under intense scrutiny in recent years for causing child casualties, with studies showing drone strikes could potentially cause unprecedented blowback.


Maisto Fresh Metal Tailwinds 1:97 Scale Die Cast United States Military Aircraft - US Air Force Medium Altitude, Long Endurance, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) RQ-1 Predator with Display Stand (Dimension: 6" x 3-1/2" x 1")

The RQ-1 Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) which the United States Air Force describes as a MALE (medium-altitude, long-endurance) UAV system. It can serve in a reconnaissance role and fire two AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. The aircraft, in use since 1995, has seen combat over Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bosnia, Serbia, Iraq, and Yemen. It is remote-controlled by humans so is therefore not an autonomous aircraft.

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

Evening Blues

Hope that Maryland is next

Barack Obama, Drone Ranger

WATCH: Matt Taibbi on Our Blind Eye to Shockingly Bad Behavior

Yves Smith’s Devastating Takedown Of BofA’s Not-So-Independent Foreclosure Review, Part I of V

"War" by Edwin Starr (Original Video - 1969)


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