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Longwood Gardens.  February, 2013.  Photo by joanneleon.

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Longwood Gardens.  February, 2013.  Photo by joanneleon.




The Beatles - The Fool On The Hill



News and Opinion



Nato forces 'kill two children in Afghanistan'
The latest in a string of civilian deaths causing friction with the Afghan leadership

A Nato helicopter has reportedly killed two children in south-east Afghanistan after opening fire on Taliban fighters.
[...]
Nine Taliban fighters were killed and eight civilians were wounded, according to senior Afghan police detective Colonel Mohammad Hussain.

A Reuters reporter saw the bodies of two children, whom local people said had been killed in the air strike.

The message sent by America's invisible victims
As two more Afghan children are liberated (from their lives) by NATO this weekend, a new film examines the effects of endless US aggression

Yesterday I had the privilege to watch Dirty Wars, an upcoming film directed by Richard Rowley that chronicles the investigations of journalist Jeremy Scahill into America's global covert war under President Obama and specifically his ever-growing kill lists. I will write comprehensively about this film closer to the date when it and the book by the same name will be released. For now, it will suffice to say that the film is one of the most important I've seen in years: gripping and emotionally affecting in the extreme, with remarkable, news-breaking revelations even for those of us who have intensely followed these issues. The film won awards at Sundance and rave reviews in unlikely places such as Variety and the Hollywood Reporter. But for now, I want to focus on just one small aspect of what makes the film so crucial.

The most propagandistic aspect of the US War on Terror has been, and remains, that its victims are rendered invisible and voiceless. They are almost never named by newspapers. They and their surviving family members are virtually never heard from on television. The Bush and Obama DOJs have collaborated with federal judges to ensure that even those who everyone admits are completely innocent have no access to American courts and thus no means of having their stories heard or their rights vindicated. Radical secrecy theories and escalating attacks on whistleblowers push these victims further into the dark.

It is the ultimate tactic of Othering: concealing their humanity, enabling their dehumanization, by simply relegating them to nonexistence. As Ashleigh Banfield put it her 2003 speech denouncing US media coverage of the Iraq war just months before she was demoted and then fired by MSNBC: US media reports systematically exclude both the perspectives of "the other side" and the victims of American violence. Media outlets in predominantly Muslim countries certainly report on their plight, but US media outlets simply do not, which is one major reason for the disparity in worldviews between the two populations. They know what the US does in their part of the world, but Americans are kept deliberately ignorant of it.

Bill Moyers Essay: The Hypocrisy of ‘Justice for All’

Bill reports on the hypocrisy of “justice for all” in a society where billions are squandered for a war born in fraud while the poor are pushed aside. Turns out true justice — not just the word we recite from the Pledge of Allegiance — is still unaffordable for those who need it most. Bill says we’ve “turned a deaf ear” to the hopeful legacy of Gideon vs. Wainwright, the 50-year-old Supreme ruling that established the constitutional right of criminal defendants to legal representation, even if they can’t pay for it.

Obama Plans to Sacrifice Ordinary Americans Yet Again in “Public/Private Partnership” Infrastructure Scam

Apparently Obama’s idea of a Holy Week sacrifice is to feed American citizens to rapacious bankers, this time through the device of “public/private partnerships” to support infrastructure spending. Some NC readers were correctly alarmed by a speech by Obama on Friday on using public/private partnerships to fund infrastructure spending. This is not a new idea; Obama first unveiled it in his Statue of the Union address. But it is a singularly bad idea, that is, if you are anyone other than a promoter of or investor in these deals.

As we’ve discussed at length earlier, these schemes are simply exercises in extraction. Investors in mature infrastructure deals expect 15% to 20% returns on their investment. And that also includes the payment of all the (considerable) fees and costs of putting these transactions together. The result is tantamount to selling the family china and then renting it back in order to eat. There is no way that adding unnecessary middlemen with high return expectations improves the results to the public. In fact, the evidence is overwhelmingly the reverse: investors jack up usage fees and skimp on maintenance. And their deals are full of sneaky features to guarantee their returns. For instance, Truthout noted:

Infrastructure privatization contracts are full of “gotcha” terms that require state or local governments to pay the private contractors. For example, now when Chicago does street repairs or closes streets for a festival, it must pay the private parking meter contractor for lost meter fares. Those payments put the contractors in a much better position than the government. It gets payments, even though Chicago did not get fares when it had to close streets…..

Highway privatization contracts also often include terms that forbid building “competing” roads or mass transit. Some even require making an existing “competing” road worse. For example, the contract for SR-91 in Southern California prohibited the state from repairing an adjacent public road, creating conditions that put drivers’ safety at risk. A proposed private highway around the northwest part of Denver required that local governments reduce speeds and install speed humps and barriers and narrow lanes on “competing” roads to force drivers to use the privatized road….

Virginia decided to promote carpooling to cut down on pollution, slow highway deterioration and lessen highway and urban congestion. As a result, Virginia must reimburse the private contractor for lost revenues from carpoolers, even though not all of the people in a car would otherwise have driven individually….

Shocking Rahm's Shock Doctrine

One thousand Chicago Public School teachers and their supporters, including this correspondent, packed Daley Plaza in forty-degree temperatures on Wednesday for a rally protesting the city’s announced plans to close 54 kindergarten-through-eighth-grade schools next year. One-tenth of the protesters were detained and ticketed (though police originally said they had been “arrested”) at a sit-in in front of school board headquarters a few blocks to the south. What they are protesting is genuine shock-doctrine stuff—an announcement utterly rewiring a major urban institution via public rationales swaddled in utter bad faith, handed down in a blinding flash, absent any reasonable due process. Though Mayor Emanuel is learning that the forces of grassroots democracy can shock back too. And boy, does he have it coming.

The story went down like this. Immediately following Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s defeat in the historic Chicago Teachers Union strike this past fall, the district, claiming massive underutilization of school facilities in light of an announced $1 billion budget deficit, began talking about closing perhaps 129 schools. The district CEO Jean-Claude Brizard—sacked soon after as a “distraction” to “school reform”—had once said he could only imagine closing perhaps three schools, given the paucity of schools performing better than the ones they would have shut down. Knowledgeable observers thought perhaps a dozen or two would end up getting the axe. (You can hear those details in this panel discussion from February of this year).

It took a petition signed by an overwhelming majority of the city’s fifty alderman to even win hearings on the issue. But those hearings were a disaster—“cannibalism,” as one alderman described them, “Good people pitted against each other because each one was trying to save their individual school.” A war of all against all: just the kind of atomization any self-respecting shock doctrineer wants to see among his constituency. Karen Lewis, the Chicago Teachers Union president, called them a “sham” for all the effect she thinks they actually had on decision-making.

Then came Thursday, March 21, and the bombshell: the all-at-once announcement of the fifty-four schools to be shuttered. Even the aldermen who’d be responsible for managing the fallout in their wards weren’t informed in advance. And the announcement was made not by the mayor but current school CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett; Rahm, that brave, brave man, had scheduled the most important announcements of his term on a day when he was off on a Utah ski vacation with his family. “It’s a slap in the face of the citizens,” Alderman Bob Fioretti said. “He’s not here to answer any questions or stand by his head of the school system. He knows the publicity realm. He’s nowhere to be found when he needs to respond to the people.” One sign at the rally had a cartoon of Rahm in ski togs, and a mayoral quote: “I did not run for office to shirk my responsibility.” Another addressed Byrd-Bennett: “Your Conscience Is Underutilized.”

Why is this a matter of conscience? Isn’t it reasonable to assume that declining enrollment figures mean some schools should close? Some schools, perhaps—but consider this school-closing plan in its sordid specifics. When Rahm finally showed his face, sunburned from the ski trip, for a Saturday press conference (to brag about the opening of a new Walmart), he admitted, “there is a lot of anguish and I understand that and appreciate it.… But the anguish and the pain…pales compared to the anguish that comes by trapping children in schools that are not succeeding.” Which makes no sense, when you consider that many of the schools receiving new students perform at or below the levels of the schools that are being closed.

Rahm.  He's just a crook.  Article from February.
Privatizing Chicago

Unfortunately, the City Council, charged with keeping a watchful eye on such dealings, has not rallied to that important cause. The council has buried a proposed privatization disclosure act in the Rules Committee, where it cannot get a full public hearing.

The proposed Privatization and Accountability Ordinance was introduced by Ald. Roderick Sawyer, 6th.

The Better Government Association supports the spirit and intent of this proposed law because it creates a standardized, transparent and accountable process to use whenever the city wants to privatize any asset or service valued at $250,000 or more.

It strives to correct glaring inadequacies in the privatization process that gave us the parking meter debacle under the Daley administration.

For example, the city does not require that cost-effectiveness studies be performed to ensure that deals are financially necessary and sound. Nor does it require a public debate.

Thousands rally against school closings, vow "the fight has just begun"

Brown was speaking to thousands of teachers, parents, students and city residents March 27 who protested the announcement by Chicago Board of Education that it will close 54 schools effecting 30,000 students.

Marchers, numbering some 7,000 circled City Hall where they directed their ire at Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was on a ski vacation in Utah with his family when the announcement was made.
[...]
"They are closing schools with names of African American icons (including singer Mahalia Jackson, Olympic athlete Jesse Owens and explorer Matthew Henson). But they want to open schools named after living billionaires," decried Karen Lewis, president of the CTU.

Lewis was alluding to privatization that is driving Chicago Public School policy.

"One set of schools for children who are learning how to become greeters and one set of schools for children who are being taught how to rule the world," she said.

"Let's not pretend that if you close schools on the South and West sides (predominantly African-American), the children effected won't be black," said Lewis. "Let's not pretend that's not racist."

Of the students affected by the closings, 80% are African American.

Karen Lewis: School Closure Plan Racist, Classist And Unnecessary

Source: http://www.nbcchicago.com/...

The Chicago Teacher's Union didn't mince words in reacting to the possible closure of 54 Chicago Public Schools.
"Our mayor, who's away on a ski trip, drops this information right before Spring Break," Lewis said at an afternoon press conference outside Mahalia Jackson Elementary School on the city's south side. "This is cowardly and it's the ultimate bullying job. Mayor Rahm Emanuel should be ashamed of himself."
She called the proposal "racist" and "classist" and said it would send the "school district into utter chaos."

A Pledge to Iraq War Veteran Tomas Young

The least we can do for Tomas Young is to not let his inspirational voice and struggle against the Iraq war be for naught. It is important that people hear his profound story of both courage and suffering. He deserves a legacy that must not be forgotten. Whenever that fateful day arrives for Tomas to take his last breath, I hope that that breath breathes new life into an American citizenry compelled not to let history repeat itself.

In the words of Erica Modugno, author of our pledge to Tomas Young:

We see you. We hear you. We will not remain passive. We will not be silent.
Farewell, Tomas, and thank you.
Please sign this pledge to Iraq veteran Tomas Young.
Boeing Helps Kill Proposed Law to Regulate Drones

Boeing, the aircraft manufacturing giant from Seattle, helped defeat a Republican proposal in Washington state that would have forced government agencies to get approval to buy unmanned aerial vehicles, popularly known as drones, and to obtain a warrant before using them to conduct surveillance on individuals.
[...]
After the company approached several lawmakers, Frank Chopp, the Democratic speaker of the House of Representatives in Washington state, canceled a scheduled March 13 vote on the bill. Instead Jeff Morris, another Democrat who chairs the House Technology and Economic Development Committee, was asked to lead a “more comprehensive study of surveillance issues.”

“This is all about profit,” said a disappointed Taylor. “This is about profit over people’s rights.”

A Swedish judge, chairman of the Supreme Court of Sweden, is traveling to Australia to give a speech about the Assange case.  Their foreign minister also visited Australia recently.  It looks like an attempt to undermine support for him in his home country. The DOJ also just publicly confirmed that there is an ongoing grand jury investigation on Wikileaks and Assange.  I wonder what it is costing us as taxpayers to throw the whole weight of the US government at going after Assange.  There are some upcoming movies about Assange too that look a lot like propaganda to undermine support for him here.  It's simply amazing, the lengths to which Team Obama will go to get at dissenters and whistleblowers.  It looks like they are scared to death of just bringing him to trial, fair and square, while he has some public support and throwing him in solitary, detainment, might result in protests.  So they have to use their vast media resources/tools and other resources and influence to try him in the court of public opinion first, making him into a villain, before extraditing him.
Assange prosecutor quits while accuser sacks lawyer

Fairfax Media has obtained Swedish court documents that reveal high-profile Swedish prosecutor Marianne Nye has unexpectedly left the handling Mr Assange's case, effective from Wednesday, and has been replaced by a more junior prosecutor, Ingrid Isgren. The reasons for the change have not yet been disclosed.

One of Mr Assange's two accusers, political activist Anna Ardin, also applied to the Swedish courts on February 28 to replace her controversial lawyer Claes Borgstrom. [...]

As well as pursuing the prosecution of Mr Assange, Mr Borgstrom has been heavily criticised for his handling of another high-profile case involving an alleged mass murderer, with one prominent Swedish commentator describing him as doing "the worst defence counsel job in modern Swedish history".
[...]
News of changes in the Swedish prosecution of Mr Assange comes shortly before Swedish Supreme Court judge Stefan Lindskog delivers a keynote lecture on "the Assange affair, and freedom of speech, from the Swedish perspective" at the University of Adelaide next Wednesday.
Speaking to Fairfax Media, Mr Assange condemned Judge Lindskog's planned discussion of his case.
"If an Australian High Court judge came out and spoke on a case the court expected or was likely to judge, it would be regarded as absolutely outrageous," he said.
"This development is part of a pattern in which senior Swedish figures, including the Swedish Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister and Minister for Justice, have all publicly attacked me or WikiLeaks."


Allegations of cunning play over final passage of Justice and Security bill

There have been angry mutterings from the backbenches today about the passage of the Justice and Security Bill last night, with allegations of cunning play by the whips. It appears that the start of yesterday evening’s discussions was mysteriously delayed until 6.15pm and Closed Material Proceedings (secret courts) were debated at around 7pm. The first vote took place at 9.20, several hours after it was originally expected and very late in the day.

The whips were enormously active in the face of last minute amendments to derail ‘secret couts’: several peers were bussed in to bolster the government and at least one ermine-clad creature was plucked from abroad to answer the division bell. And that is not all. 007 and the queen renewed their partnership: Politics Home reported earlier today that special screenings of Skyfall and The Queen were arranged at 7.30pm to keep peers on-site to vote later in the evening.

I'm leaving the Liberal Democrats too
The justice and security bill will have a corrosive impact on individual rights. The party's support for it is a coalition compromise too far

After the London attacks of July 2005 the Lib Dems stood firm against the idea that the "rules of the game" had changed, committed to respect of human rights for all. They opposed executive authority, secrecy and the rise of the "security state". In government, on many issues, that position has been maintained. But to my great regret, last week the parliamentary group was whipped to vote in favour of the introduction of secret court hearings in part 2 of the justice and security bill. If adopted, the bill will put British judges in the invidious position of adjudging certain civil claims under conditions in which one party will not be entitled to see the evidence on which the opposing party relies. Last year Lib Dem members voted overwhelmingly against this. They did so again at their conference on Sunday. Their approach was informed, reasonable, principled and correct. Why was it ignored?

This part of the bill is a messy and unhappy compromise. It is said to have been demanded by the US (which itself has stopped more or less any case that raises 'national security' issues from reaching court), on the basis that it won't share as much sensitive intelligence information if the UK doesn't rein in its courts. Important decisions on intelligence taken at the instigation of others are inherently unreliable. We remember Iraq, which broke a bond of trust between government and citizen.

Peers approve government plans for closed courts

The government's plans to allow closed material proceedings (CMPs) in civil courts will go ahead after peers failed in a final attempt to reinstate limits on the so-called secret courts.

The Justice and Security Bill sets out proposals whereby evidence can be presented in secret, with only the judge and security-cleared special advocates able to review it.

UK Justice and Security Bill 'threatens human rights'

Secret courts vote: 'Terrible day for British justice'

Posted: 26 March 2013

‘The government has created a very un-British secret justice system’ - Tim Hancock

Responding to a vote in the House of Lords this evening which saw the government’s controversial Justice and Security Bill approved by a majority of peers, Amnesty International UK Campaigns Director Tim Hancock said:

“This is a terrible day for British justice.

“After fierce lobbying by the government, Peers have failed to restore even minimal amendments previously included to this deeply damaging Bill.

“The cherished and vitally important principle that justice must be done and seen to be done has been dealt a serious blow this evening.

“Victims of human rights violations like rendition and torture will be prevented from seeing secret evidence about their own case. It’s an insult to them and a stain on our justice system.

“Lawyers in their hundreds have spoken out against these proposals and now they must try to represent their clients with one hand tied behind their backs.

Immigration Deal Reached By 'Gang Of Eight,' Chuck Schumer, Lindsey Graham Say

A bipartisan agreement on an immigration reform plan has been reached, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union."
[...]
Graham said the bill would have three goals: to prevent a "third wave" of undocumented immigrants moving into the United States, to allow employers who can't find American workers at competitive wages to hire guest workers and to weigh immigration decisions largely on merit rather than family relations.

Undocumented immigrants "will have a path to citizenship, but it will be earned, it will be long, and I think it will be fair," he said.
[...]
“It’s got to be written up ... But conceptually, we have an agreement between business and labor, between ourselves," Graham said.
[...]
The AFL-CIO, which struck an agreement Friday with Schumer and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, also took issue with Graham's push for a merit-based system. "It is disappointing that on Easter Sunday, Lindsey Graham would suggest that he would stop re-uniting families and instead seek to further [privatize] the immigration system," AFL-CIO spokesman Jeff Hauser said in an email to The Huffington Post. "Supposedly pro-family values Republicans should understand that 'merit' is not something determined by the highest bidder in a country built on family and defined by its commitment to equality."

Russia considers returning to Afghanistan

Russian defense officials are exploring the possibility of establishing military bases on Afghan soil after the U.S. drawdown in 2014, according to Russian press reports. Sergey Koshelev, of the Russian Defense Ministry's Department of Cooperation, told Russia Today that the military "will look into various options of creating repair bases" to maintain the Afghan National Security Forces's Russian-made equipment. Further cooperation is also being considered, according to Russia's NATO envoy Aleksandr Grushko.

Russia certainly has an economic stake in post-war Afghanistan. In addition to maintaining Russian gear -- from small arms to armored personnel carriers and helicopters -- Russia is also considering expanding its supply routes into Afghanistan through Central Asian countries. These supply routes, often called the Northern Distribution Network, have been a troublesome logistical lifeline for ISAF troops in Afghanistan, and will likely remain important after the drawdown.


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