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Cyclamen. Scott Arboretum.  March, 2013.  Photo by joanneleon.

Steely Dan - Royal Scam

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Huffpo discovers the video from 2008.

Obama Vowed Never To Cut Social Security Cost-Of-Living Before Chained CPI Move (VIDEO)

During the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Barack Obama made two specific promises when it came to Social Security.

The irony of a Goldman Sachs economists' report shining a light on what a bad policy this is... wow.
Obama’s senseless Social Security cuts
With a rapidly shrinking deficit, Obama's plan to shred our social safety net is as unwise as it is unnecessary

The reason President Obama’s proposal to cut Social Security benefits is tragic is that it is simply not necessary. His plan is to use a different method to compute how benefits are raised to offset inflation. But Social Security will add very little to federal spending over the next 30 to 40 years. As a proportion of national income (GDP), It will rise from 5 percent to 6 percent. At the same time, retirees are set to get much less money from their pensions because so many were forced to depend on 401(k)s and defined contribution plans rather than traditional pensions with defined benefits.

But a new report from Goldman Sachs economists puts the Obama decision in an even harsher light. The federal deficit is coming down rapidly on its own. In a piece entitled, “The Rapidly Shrinking Federal Deficit,” Goldman notes that the deficit averaged 4.5 percent of GDP in the first calendar quarter, compared to 10.1 percent in fiscal year 2009. The reasons are faster economic growth, higher taxes and reduced government spending.

Elizabeth Warren Responds To Criticism Of Social Security Email

The email, which was sent on Wednesday, was a response to President Barack Obama's plan to cut Social Security benefits. Warren said she was "shocked to hear" of Obama's plan before describing how her brother David lives on the $13,200 per year he receives in Social Security benefits.

A reporter from Boston's FOX 25 questioned Warren on the email, asking the senator why she didn't help her brother.

"I do help him. This is a question about how much," Warren said. "He was worked for 40 years and paid into this system and that's all the money he has to live on. And there are literally millions of people around the country for whom that is the case."

Peter Ludlow in a NYT blog.
Hacktivists as Gadflies

Around 400 B.C., Socrates was brought to trial on charges of corrupting the youth of Athens and “impiety.” Presumably, however, people believed then as we do now, that Socrates’ real crime was being too clever and, not insignificantly, a royal pain to those in power or, as Plato put it, a gadfly. Just as a gadfly is an insect that could sting a horse and prod it into action, so too could Socrates sting the state. He challenged the moral values of his contemporaries and refused to go along with unjust demands of tyrants, often obstructing their plans when he could. Socrates thought his service to Athens should have earned him free dinners for life. He was given a cup of hemlock instead.

We have had gadflies among us ever since, but one contemporary breed in particular has come in for a rough time of late: the “hacktivist.” While none have yet been forced to drink hemlock, the state has come down on them with remarkable force. This is in large measure evidence of how poignant, and troubling, their message has been.

Hacktivists, roughly speaking, are individuals who redeploy and repurpose technology for social causes. In this sense they are different from garden-variety hackers out to enrich only themselves. People like Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates began their careers as hackers — they repurposed technology, but without any particular political agenda. In the case of Mr. Jobs and Mr. Wozniak, they built and sold “blue boxes,” devices that allowed users to defraud the phone company. Today, of course, these people are establishment heroes, and the contrast between their almost exalted state and the scorn being heaped upon hacktivists is instructive.

Jake Tapper gets a clue.  
Is U.S. drone policy creating more terrorists than it's killing?

The drones operate out of U.S. bases in neighboring Afghanistan, and according to the White House, target al Qaeda and Taliban hiding in Pakistan's tribal border region - not civilians.

Karim Khan, who is from that tribal region, tells CNN his brother and son were killed in a drone strike in late 2009.

"They were both government employees, they were not involving in any terrorists acts," said Khan.

He is suing the CIA, but given the chance, says he would take revenge on those responsible.

"I will kill them if Allah give me this opportunity, I will kill them. Because they are responsible for killing my brother and my son," said Khan. "I will kill them because they are criminal."

Rights Groups, in Letter to Obama, Question Legality and Secrecy of Drone Killings

In a letter sent to President Obama this week, the nation’s leading human rights organizations questioned the legal basis for targeted killing and called for an end to the secrecy surrounding the use of drones.
The nine-page letter, signed by the American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights First, Human Rights Watch, the Open Society Foundations and several other groups, is the most significant critique to date by advocacy groups of what has become the centerpiece of the United States’ counterterrorism efforts.

While not directly calling the strikes illegal under international law, the letter lists what it calls troubling reports of the criteria used by the Central Intelligence Agency and the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command to select targets and assess results. The reported policies raise “serious questions about whether the U.S. is operating in accordance with international law,” the letter says. It is also signed by the Center for Civilians in Conflict and units of the New York University and Columbia Law Schools.

The letter comes as American strikes in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia, and the example the United States has set for the world, are drawing intense scrutiny. United Nations human rights investigators are reviewing the American record, and Congress has shown a new willingness to discuss the classified program in public, with a House subcommittee hearing on the constitutional and counterterrorism implications of targeted killing set for April 23. That hearing was postponed for a week in an effort to persuade the administration to send an official to testify, a committee aide said.

Emptywheel. There is another part of the list with names that have not been disclosed, which is exactly what the U.S. did with their list of Russian human rights violators.  Now that the human rights violations of this country are well known, will other countries follow suit and retaliate like this every time we call them out? By starting the torture program, Pres. Bush set us up for this.  By being belligerent about it on news shows and in speeches, Cheney set us up for it.  By refusing to hold torturers accountable, this president has also set us up for it.  By helping to create and endorsing crappy movies like Zero Dark Thirty, that the whole world will see, this administration and their CIA propaganda arm set us up for it.  (And by the way, the movie really is crap. I have no idea why the film critics lauded it or the academy nominated it, especially the best picture nomination and the best actress nomination for Jessica Chastain.)
America’s Human Rights Abusers: John Yoo, David Addington, and Bout’s Prosecution Team

In retaliation for the Magnitsky sanctions — in which the US placed sanctions on those deemed to have had a role in retaliating against Sergei Magnitsky’s whistleblowing — Russia just issued a list of 18 Americans who will be prohibited from traveling to Russia.

The list released by the Foreign Ministry includes John Yoo, a former U.S. Justice Department official who wrote legal memos authorizing harsh interrogation techniques; David Addington, the chief of staff for former U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney; and two former commanders of the Guantánamo Bay detention center: retired Army Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Miller and Navy Rear Adm. Jeffrey Harbeson.


Also on Russia’s list are 14 Americans whom Russia says violated the rights of Russians abroad. It does not give specifics of the alleged violations, but includes several current or former federal prosecutors in the case of Viktor Bout, the Russian arms merchant sentenced in 2012 to 25 years in prison for selling weapons to a U.S.-designated foreign terrorist group. One FBI agent and four U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration agents also are on the list.

And by the way, the person behind Zero Dark Thirty is Megan Ellison of Annapurna Pictures and she is working on a new project now that could be another work of CIA propaganda. This time the idea is not to praise something or someone (the torture program and the acting female head of the agency's covert unit?) but to go after Julian Assange, or that's what it looks like anyway.  The story is taken from Bill Keller's hit piece on Assange in the NYT.  I think that is curious.  Now to be fair, supposedly Elllison is known for pouring tons of  money into films that allow their directors to have full control, so maybe it is better to study the directors and screenwriters.  But I still think it is curious, given how much writing there has been about the CIA's Hollywood propaganda department lately and its increased activity. Oh look who is doing the screenwriting for the Assange movie -- Mark Boal, screenwriter for Zero Dark Thirty and formerly embedded journalist in Iraq. This story is from a couple of months ago in the Guardian.
Megan Ellison, the most powerful new force in Hollywood

As she arrives for the Oscars, the producer of The Master and Zero Dark Thirty is no longer the mystery she was

Photographers should be able to recognise Megan Ellison as she arrives at the Oscars this Sunday. Dark-haired and a young-looking 27, the producer of two of the year's most contentious films – The Master and Zero Dark Thirty – is no longer the mystery she was a couple of years ago. Yet the most powerful new force in Hollywood may still go unnoticed.
The money involved is dizzying – The Master and Zero Dark Thirty reportedly cost $80m (£52m) combined, all of it paid by Ellison.

Of course, Hollywood has always found room for rich outsiders – as far back as 1932, scriptwriter Ben Hecht was calling independent producer Howard Hughes "the sucker with the money". Even so, Ellison cuts a striking figure, not just as a woman and one so young and lavish, but because of her role as patron saint of the kind of smart, economically risky movies which in 2013 would struggle to exist without her.
While Waxman may yet prove prophetic, the short-term future is all about expansion. Among the myriad films Ellison has pending are work from director David O Russell, a study of Julian Assange scripted by Zero Dark Thirty writer Mark Boal and another Anderson movie – this time an adaptation of Thomas Pynchon's novel Inherent Vice.

Jeremy Scahill is touring for his new book and movie.
Dirty Wars: Jeremy Scahill investigates from Afghanistan to Yemen and the US Congress

On Friday 12th April the Frontline Club hosted the first UK screening of Dirty Wars; author and investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill‘s chilling account of his journey from a remote corner of Afghanistan to Yemen, the American Congress and Somalia as he investigated the rise of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC).

As JSOC’s raids are carried out increasingly in the open and are publicly praised – as in the case of the operation which killed Osama Bin Laden – Scahill was asked if feelings of despair come in to play:

“One of the enduring legacies of the Obama administration… is that he’s going to go down in recent history as the president that solidified assassination as a central component of US foreign policy and sold as a popular cause to any liberals who support him…. I am doing what journalists should do which is viewing those in power as a force that needs to be held accountable and confronted for its actions, regardless of whichever party happens to be in power.”
“This film started of as a very different story,” Scahill said. “It started off as a more linear documentary and was going to be focussed on Afghanistan and the war within the war – the special operations war. As we started to research who was conducting these raids we realised it was part of a much bigger story…I didn’t realise just exactly how much of a part these forces lay in these expanding US wars.”
A recent interview with Scahill.

Blog Posts and Tweets of Interest

Steely Dan - Pretzel Logic
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