John McCain Cites Islamic State As Bigger Threat Than Climate Change

Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) told host Bob Schieffer on Face The Nation, the Sunday political talk show on CBS, that President Barack Obama needs to focus on the Islamic State rather than climate change.

McCain responded to a question by Schieffer on what the Obama administration could do after the fall of Ramadi in Iraq and Palmyra in Syria to ISIS. He advocated for a “robust strategy” as the current one was not working:

We need to have a strategy. There is no strategy. And anybody that says that there is, I would like to hear what it is, because it certainly isn`t apparent now, and right now we are seeing these horrible — reports are now in Palmyra they`re executing people and leaving their bodies in the streets.

Meanwhile, the president of the United States is saying that the biggest enemy we have is climate change.

McCain’s reference to climate change stems from what President Obama told graduates of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy on May 20 when it came to the America’s security:

Denying it, or refusing to deal with it endangers our national security. It undermines the readiness of our forces.

Criticism of the Obama administration on facing ISIS by McCain is not new as, on May 21, he called the loss of Ramadi “a significant defeat” when speaking on the Senate Armed Services Committee. McCain is the chairman of the committee.

The White House admitted the fall of Ramadi was a “setback.” Yet White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters the loss of the city is a part of the “back-and-forth” military campaign.
(more…)

Obama Signed Bill to Help Protect Police From Threats, However, Police Are Not Under Attack in America

Obama signs "Blue Alert" system bill

President Barack Obama signed legislation that creates a “Blue Alert” system for law enforcement in the United States. It establishes a network for alerting police expeditiously when there are “active threats” against police. However, police are not under attack and have not been under attack in the US, despite recent tragic deaths of officers.

The passage of this legislation is the product of the continued exploitation of the deaths of Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, who were killed by a mentally ill black man, Ismaaiyl Brinsley, on December 20. It provided a sensational example of an ambush killing that local and national police associations could seize upon to undercut the “Black Lives Matter” movement, which has been drawing attention to police violence directed at black Americans.

It also is one of the first recommended “action items” by Obama’s appointed police “task force” to be implemented. In contrast to many of the policy suggestions, this does nothing to reform police but rather reinforces the false presumption that police face some kind of threat because of increased opposition to police conduct.

“Leveraging the current Amber Alert program used to locate abducted children, the Blue Alert would enlist the help of the public in finding suspects after a law enforcement officer is killed in the line of duty,” the report recently released by the “task force” indicates. “Some similar state systems do exist, but there are large gaps, a national system is needed. In addition to aiding the apprehension of suspects, it would send a message about the importance of protecting law enforcement from undue harm.”

Except, there is no debate in the United States. Just about all citizens agree that law enforcement should not face “undue harm.” Far fewer, unfortunately, agree that strong measures should be taken to protect people of color from “undue harm” from law enforcement.

The bipartisan legislation, named after Ramos and Liu, establishes that a system will send out alerts when an officer is seriously injured or killed. The system will send out an alert when an officer is missing. “At the time of receipt of death,” the suspect should be “wanted by a law enforcement agency.” The suspect should not have already been apprehended. There should be “sufficient descriptive information of the suspect involved and any relevant vehicle and tag numbers.”

More problematic is the fact that an alert will go out when there is an “imminent and credible threat” that “an individual intends to cause the serious injury or death of a law enforcement officer.”

The criteria for sending out this type of “blue alert” includes “confirmation” that a threat is “imminent and credible.” How threats are to be confirmed is not outlined in the legislation.

Ashley Yates, co-founder of Millennial Activists United and an activist who was part of protests in the immediately after Mike Brown was killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, declared, “I am absolutely disheartened and honestly terrified,” by the “Blue Alert” bill President Obama signed. Yates worries it could be used by police to suppress protest.

She fears that the system will “encourage vigilantes and place possibly innocent ‘suspects’ in serious danger” because “you only need to be suspected to get blasted out via this system. There is a grave potential for mistaken identity and false accusations.” (Yates shared this harrowing story of 23-year-old Cornell McKay, who was falsely accused by St. Louis police of being involved in a robbery that ended in a murder. Authorities insisted he was responsible, even as it became evident there was evidence McKay was never involved in the robbery.)

The “Amber Alert” system is now capable of sending alerts to millions of cell phone users. It has a page on Facebook, which makes it possible for users to share alerts about missing children. Will the “Blue Alert” system harness technology in this same manner? And what information about suspects will be in any public alerts?

How will citizens be certain that this system will not be manipulated to undermine protests explicitly directed at police departments by hyping threats (as happened in Baltimore when police wrongly attributed violence to a flier urging teens to take part in a “purge”).

What if someone sends an angry tweet that police construe as a “threat” against police? How might that be put into the “Blue Alert” system and what might the effect on freedom of expression be?

More significantly, as writer Ryan Dalton stated, “Police are not being systematically targeted and murdered in America. Black people are.”

No statistics come close to supporting the notion that police are under attack and in need of urgent protection. (more…)

Government Seeks ‘Emergency Stay’ of Decision Ordering Release of Thousands of Torture Photos

The United States government requested an “emergency stay” of a federal court decision, which ordered thousands of photographs of detainee abuse and torture in Iraq and Afghanistan to be released.

In March, Judge Alvin Hellerstein of the US District Court of the Southern District of New York was no longer willing to tolerate the government’s secrecy arguments or the government’s refusal to individually review each photo and explain why each photo would pose a national security risk if made public.

The judge immediately issued a temporary stay and gave the government 60 days to file an appeal.

With that 60-day period about to elapse, the government abruptly announced it would appeal on May 15 and filed a motion requesting a stay.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has pursued the release of records related to detainee treatment and “the death of prisoners in United States custody and abroad after September 11, 2001,” since October 2003, objected in a letter to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals [PDF].

“The government simply does not explain why it could not have made its decision long before the eve of the expiration of the stay granted by the district court,” the ACLU declares. “Its last minute decision to do so is abusive of both the court and counsel and should not be rewarded by the routine grant of this kind of motion which the government expressly seeks.”

Back in August, when Hellerstein ruled that the Secretary of Defense’s certification for keeping the photos secret was “inadequate,” the government was instructed to individually review the photographs and inform the court of why each photograph could not be released. Government attorneys rebuffed his request.

In October and February, the court reminded the government that the Secretary of Defense had to certify each picture “in terms of its likelihood or not to endanger American lives.” It explained again afterward that the government could not certify a mass of photographs as a risk to national security. The government never complied, which led to the judge’s decision in March.

The Protected National Security Documents Act (PNSDA) was passed in October 2009 to amend the Freedom of Information Act. It was the prime measure supported by President Barack Obama to ensure torture photographs remained secret.

The law established that “photographs could be made exempt from disclosure for a three-year certification by the Secretary of Defense to the effect that publication would endanger American lives.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki asked President Barack Obama not to release photographs of detainees abuse, for “fear of the consequences.” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates filed a certification to prevent the release of photographs and the court upheld that certification.

Three years later, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta renewed the certification, even though US troops had withdrawn and the war in Iraq had been declared over. (Military operations against ISIS were not ongoing at the time.)

The ACLU points out in the letter to the judge, “PNSDA did not strip courts of the power to review the basis for the secretary’s suppression of otherwise public documents.” The Secretary of Defense “must provided some basis to believe that he reviewed each photograph and evaluated its individual risk in advance of certification.”

Only a “sample of photographs” were ever reviewed by the government for this lawsuit, and the ACLU argues an “emergency stay” should not be granted because the government is not likely to succeed in its appeal.

The government maintains in its motion that an “emergency stay” will cause minimal harm to the ACLU. On the other hand, no stay will mean the photographs are released and the “status quo” is destroyed. It will harm the ability of the government to appeal.

“The absence of a stay will cause the disclosure of records that the Secretary of Defense has certified to be exempt from disclosure under the PNSDA, a statute that was enacted by Congress in order to protect U.S. citizens, members of the US Armed Services, and US government employees from harm while overseas,” the government argues. (more…)

Senate Democrats Fold, Obama To Get Fast-Track On TPP

For a brief shining moment it looked like Senate Democrats might actually stand up for their own constituents and oppose a terrible so-called “trade deal.” But now comes the seemingly inevitable capitulation with Senate Democrats agreeing to give President Obama fast-track authority to advance the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The cosmetic concessions offered to the weak-kneed Democrats included some empty votes on currency manipulation and an extension of an African trade agreement – in short, nothing. Senate Democrats have set themselves up to get rolled when TPP comes up for a final vote and voting no means scuttling an agreement all their donors will be demanding they approve. Then again, maybe that was the plan all along – offer token opposition to appease the base, cave, then say your hands are tied because the fast-track has made the vote on TPP so binary you have to vote yes.

For all the drama, Senate Democrats may have ended up where they started, with tough trade enforcement provisions that are broadly supported but without a vehicle to get them into law. Lawmakers from both parties say that even if the enforcement and currency bill passes Thursday, they may try to break off some provisions as amendments to the trade promotion bill that Mr. Obama must sign into law.

Same as it ever was.

In any case, the White House continued to crow that TPP is the “The most progressive trade agreement in history,” with pairs well with their claim that they are “The most transparent administration in history.” Neither statements are true, but when has that stopped a talking point from being repeated ad nauseum?

And as the economic statecraft heats up to empower Western corporations in Asia so to does the military planning. The US Marines recently announced a new project to integrate military forces in Asia with the exclusion of China which compliments new expansive US military agreements with China’s neighbors such as Japan.

Can you guess where America’s next war will be?

Democrats In Senate Block TPP Fast-Track Authority For Obama

President Barack Obama’s campaign to give him authority to jam a secretive “trade” deal down Congress’ throat hit a roadblock in the Senate on Tuesday when Democrats refused to vote to cut off debate. Senator Tom Carper of Delaware was the only Democrat to vote in favor of advancing controversial fast-track authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Despite claims by White House officials that President Obama is leading “The most transparent administration in history,” the TPP deal has been shrouded in secrecy with a ban on members of Congress speaking about what is in the bill with the public. Members of Congress know that Obama wants fast-track authority so he can negotiate the entire agreement without Congressional amendments then demand Congress pass the agreement or risk hurting the economy.

The con did not work this time. President Obama responded to the defeat by lashing out at his own party and claiming that an economic agreement that would last years and effected numerous countries was “personal.”

President Obama’s dismissive attitude towards TPP opponents within his own party had already been an issue especially concerning his statements on Senator Elizabeth Warren which some claimed were sexist. Obama and his supporters have been waging a full scale campaign against progressive TPP critics in press releases and social media.

For now the campaign seems stalled thanks to the efforts of Senators Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown which are prevailing within the Democratic Party. TPP has already been scrutinized by economists as being mostly irrelevant to new job creation leaving the downsides of the bill which will lead to further diminished labor and environment standards, more expansive intellectual property “rights” at the expense of health and innovation, and a surrender of national sovereignty to corporate tribunals.

With Republicans eager to officially turn America over to transnational corporations and the global 1% it seems unlikely that fast-tracking the TPP is completely off the table. The House is set to take up the proposal soon and there is no guarantee that Democrats in the Senate will stay united. TPP is far from dead.

Hersh Tells CNN’s Chris Cuomo ‘Not Out on Limb’ with bin Laden Story

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh appeared on CNN’s “New Day” this morning and host Chris Cuomo had Hersh defend his major story in the London Review of Books on lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden.

Hersh told Cuomo he was not “out on a limb” with this one. That is just what Cuomo thinks.

“Look, I’m sorry this goes against the grain. I’ve been doing this all my life. All I can tell you is I understand the consequences. I’ve been a reporter for fifty years in this town. I have a lot of good stories,” Hersh explained.

Cuomo asked, “What is the main reason why this would be a lie? Why would it be covered up if it was really just a cooperative agreement with Pakistan? Where’s the motive?”

“Motive is very simple,” Hersh replied. A “walk-in,” an officer from Pakistan’s intelligence agency, wanted the $25 million reward money the CIA offered for information leading to the whereabouts of bin Laden. He was willing to betray his country for the reward.

The alternative to this story, Hersh suggested, is that you believe “what I call a Lewis Carroll fairy tale, that bin Laden, the most hunted man since 2002 in the wolrd, decided a safe place to live is in a compound forty miles from the main capital of Pakistan.”

On this point, Cuomo agreed that this had always been a “point of intrigue.”

Cuomo claimed on air that Hersh had leaned heavily on one anonymous source. Hersh took issue with that characterization.

On sources for his story, he argued, “It’s very tough for guys still inside to get quoted extensively. And there are other people—America uses an awful lot of retired CIA people, military people in the War on Terror. And there are other people, who have retired with a great deal of information. So, it’s much easier to quote some of them than somebody on active duty.”

Hersh’s interview happened before the White House described the claims in his investigative story as “baseless assertions.”

For more on media reaction to Hersh’s bin Laden story, go here.

US Establishment Press Dismiss, Shrug Off Seymour Hersh’s Story on Killing of bin Laden

(update below)

Most distressing about investigative journalist Seymour Hersh’s story on the lies President Barack Obama’s administration reportedly told about the killing of Osama bin Laden is the general reaction of the United States establishment press.

Hersh is an award-winning journalist best known for exposing the My Lai massacre in the Vietnam War. It earned him a Pulitzer Prize. He also did stellar reporting on the abuse and torture of detainees at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison. Yet, most establishment press seem to be shrugging at Hersh’s latest 10,000-word feature story published by the London Review of Books or they are snidely dismissing it altogether.

Is it because most in the US press wholly accept the narrative put forward by the Obama administration around the raid that killed bin Laden? Is it because they have moved on and no longer find it worthy to investigate what really happened? Is it because they do not want to believe what Hersh is alleging because it amounts to a major international espionage conspiracy if it all happens to be true?

Christopher Frizzelle of The Stranger already went to the trouble to list off each allegation against the Obama administration that is made in Hersh’s story. So, courtesy of Frizzelle:

• Pakistani officials knew about the raid and even helped the US pull it off.

• There never was a firefight, neither in the yard outside the house nor once the Seals got inside.

• The story of the courier whom the reportedly CIA traced, leading them to bin Laden, was a fabrication.

• The story of the courier dying in the firefight was a cover-up “because he didn’t exist and we couldn’t produce him,” a retired senior intelligence official told Hersh.

• The way the CIA actually found out where bin Laden was is that a “Pakistani walk-in” who wanted the $25 million reward came in and told the CIA about it.

• Osama bin Laden was not armed, contrary to reports that he had a machine gun and was killed in a firefight, and he was not killed with just one or two bullets but “obliterated.”

• “Seals cannot live with the fact that they killed bin Laden totally unopposed, and so there has to be an account of their courage in the face of danger. The guys are going to sit around the bar and say it was an easy day? That’s not going to happen,” that same retired senior intelligence official said.

• “Despite all the talk” about what the Seals collected on site, the retired official said there were “no garbage bags full of computers and storage devices. The guys just stuffed some books and papers they found in his room in their backpacks.”

• The story about bin Laden’s sea burial may be a fabrication.

• The retired official told Hersh that bin Laden’s “remains, including his head… were thrown into a body bag and, during the helicopter flight back to Jalalabad, some body parts were tossed out over the Hindu Kush mountains—or so the Seals claimed.”

• Obama was going to wait a week until after bin Laden’s death to announce it, and he was going to tell the American people that bin Laden had been killed by a drone, but after the Seals had to blow up their malfunctioning helicopter onsite, attracting attention locally, everything changed.

• The story about the vaccination program carried out locally in an attempt to get bin Laden’s DNA—a story that “led to the cancellation of other international vaccination programmes that were now seen as cover for American spying”—wasn’t true.

• Retired official again: “It’s a great hoax.”

What are Hersh’s sources for these claims against the Obama administration?

Hersh relies on a “major US source” who is not named in the story. The person is described as a “retired senior intelligence official who was knowledgeable about the initial intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Abbottabad.” He also sources his claims to two additional unnamed US sources, “who had access to corroborating information” and have been “longtime consults to the Special Operations Command.”

He writes that he received information from “inside Pakistan” that indicates “senior ISI and military leadership” were upset with Obama’s decision to immediately go public with the news that bin Laden was killed. He also quotes Asad Durrani, who was the head of Pakistan’s spy agency, the ISI, in the 1990s.

One of the key criticisms of Hersh’s story is that it relies on anonymous sources. However, should this criticism be allowed to invalidate the claims put forward by Hersh? (more…)