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Dutch elm disease: Toronto DNA-mapping team gets closer to a cure for tree-killing fungus



Decades after Dutch elm disease spread to Canada, killing many of Toronto’s elm trees, researchers have mapped the genome of a fungus that causes it. Understanding the make-up of Ophiostoma ulmi could be a step toward halting future destruction, said Dr. Dinesh Christendat. The University of Toronto associate professor and molecular biologist is part of a team that spent two years mapping the 30-million-letter DNA chain.

“It opens up a multitude of opportunities for research around the world . . . now they can start understanding how it’s infecting these trees,” said Christendat, one of the authors of an article outlining the findings published last week in the journal BMC Genomics.

About 4.4 per cent of Toronto’s 10.2 million trees are elms, said Beth McEwen, the city’s manager of urban forest renewal. She estimated that, before the disease hit the city, elms were closer to 12 per cent of Toronto’s trees. The fungus, which often kills trees two years after infection, is thought to have originated in the Himalayas, hitting the Netherlands shortly after the First World War. In Canada, it was first detected in Quebec in 1945, after spreading from the United States. Eventually it would kill 80 per cent of Toronto’s 35,000 elms in a single year, according to federal research...elms in Toronto include the American, Slippery and Siberian varieties. The latter is resistant to the fungus, which interrupts nutrient distribution by blocking the flow of sap....Christendat said the idea of using the university’s sequencer to map the fungus genome was sparked over coffee with a colleague who focuses on forestry.

“Instead of trying to control the spread of the organism by restricting the movement of firewood and (infected) beetles, we could try to get rid of the fungus itself,” Christendat said, adding that research in Quebec is looking at a second variation of the Dutch elm disease fungus.

“It’s very important to protect (the elms) remaining.”

Weekend Economists Volvemos a Puerto Rico May 22-25, 2015

As promised, the survey of La Isla del Encanto continues...

Christopher Columbus put Puerto Rico on the map, so to speak. He brought disease, slavery, Catholicism and Capitalism to the tribes that had lived forever without them.

But in 1898, Republican President William McKinley declared war on Spain (the Spanish-American War) and Puerto Rico, long desired by the Navy as a fueling station, was one of the plums of that victorious conquest....

The Spanish–American War (Spanish: Guerra hispano-estadounidense) was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, the result of U.S. intervention in the Cuban War of Independence. U.S. attacks on Spain's Pacific possessions led to involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately to the Philippine–American War.

Revolts against Spanish rule had occurred for some years in Cuba. There had been war scares before, as in the Virginius Affair in 1873. In the late 1890s, US public opinion was agitated by anti-Spanish propaganda led by journalists such as Joseph Pulitzer and William Hearst which used yellow journalism to criticize Spanish administration of Cuba. After the mysterious sinking of the US Navy battleship Maine in Havana harbor, political pressures from the Democratic Party and certain industrialists pushed the administration of Republican President William McKinley into a war he had wished to avoid. Compromise was sought by Spain, but rejected by the United States which sent an ultimatum to Spain demanding it surrender control of Cuba. First Madrid, then Washington, formally declared war.

Although the main issue was Cuban independence, the ten-week war was fought in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. US naval power proved decisive, allowing expeditionary forces to disembark in Cuba against a Spanish garrison already brought to its knees by nationwide Cuban insurgent attacks and further wasted by yellow fever. Numerically superior Cuban, Philippine, and US forces obtained the surrender of Santiago de Cuba and Manila despite the good performance of some Spanish infantry units and fierce fighting for positions such as San Juan Hill. With two obsolete Spanish squadrons sunk in Santiago de Cuba and Manila Bay and a third, more modern fleet recalled home to protect the Spanish coasts, Madrid sued for peace.

The result was the 1898 Treaty of Paris, negotiated on terms favorable to the US, which allowed it temporary control of Cuba, and ceded indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine islands from Spain. The defeat and collapse of the Spanish Empire was a profound shock to Spain's national psyche, and provoked a thorough philosophical and artistic revaluation of Spanish society known as the Generation of '98. The United States gained several island possessions spanning the globe and a rancorous new debate over the wisdom of expansionism.

The war began exactly fifty-two years after the Mexican–American War began, and was one of only five US wars to have been formally declared by Congress.

And things have been downhill ever since....our Instant Empire!

Scientists Resurrect Bonkers Extinct Frog That Gives Birth Through Its Mouth


In 1983, the world lost one of its weirdest frogs. The gastric-brooding frog, native to tiny portions of Queensland, Australia, gave birth through its mouth, the only frog to do so (in fact, very few other animals in the entire animal kingdom do this--it's mostly this frog and a few fish). It succumbed to extinction due to mostly non-human-related causes--parasites, loss of habitat, invasive weeds, a particular kind of fungus. There were two subspecies, the northern and souther gastric-brooding frog, and they both became extinct in the mid-80s sometime.

Except--what if they didn't?

Taking place at the University of Newcastle, the quest to revive the gastric-brooding frog became known as the Lazarus Project. Using somatic-cell nuclear transfer (SCNT), a method for cloning, the project has achieved the major step forward of creating an early embryo of the extinct frog. Essentially, they found a related frog--the great barred frog, which also lives in Queensland and has cool eye markings, like it's wearing sunglasses--deactivated its eggs, and replaced them with eggs taken from the extinct frog.

Even though the gastric-brooding frog has been extinct for decades, it's possible to do this because individual specimens were kept preserved in, believe it or not, everyday deep freezers. When going through somatic-cell nuclear transfer, the eggs began to divide and form into the early embryo stage.

The embryos didn't survive much longer than that, but it was confirmed that these embryos contain genetic information from the gastric-brooding frog--that yes, in fact, they have brought it back to life. The researchers are confident that this is a "technical, not biological" problem at this stage to breed gastric-brooding frogs to adulthood. This is a big step forward for the worldwide attempts to revive extinct animals--the Lazarus Project researchers will soon meet with those working to revive the woolly mammoth, dodo, and other extinct beasties to share what they've learned.


Oh, and in case you were wondering: the gastric-brooding frog lays eggs, which are coated in a substance called prostaglandin. This substance causes the frog to stop producing gastric acid in its stomach, thus making the frog's stomach a very nice place for eggs to be. So the frog swallows the eggs, incubates them in her gut, and when they hatch, the baby frogs crawl out her mouth. How delightfully weird!

Beau Biden, U.S. vice president's son, hospitalized


Beau Biden, a son of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, has been hospitalized at Walter Reed Army Medical Center outside Washington, the vice president's office said on Tuesday. Biden, 46, a former Delaware attorney general, is undergoing treatment at the facility. No further details were available.

After eight years as attorney general, Biden joined the investor law firm Grant & Eisenhofer in 2015.

He served a yearlong tour in Iraq as a captain in the Delaware Army National Guard and underwent surgery at a cancer center in Texas last year. He suffered a mild stroke in 2010.

In a message to voters posted on his website in April 2014, Biden, a Democrat like his father, said he planned to run for governor of the mid-Atlantic state.

Obama's new rules for police actually ban just one new piece of equipment — the bayonet


Yesterday, President Obama made headlines announcing new rules to limit the federal government's sale of military equipment to local police departments. As The Week's Peter Weber reported, the ban prohibited the Pentagon selling "tracked armored vehicles, weapons or ammunition of .50 caliber or higher, camouflage uniforms, grenade launchers, or bayonets" to police.

Unfortunately, an investigation by The Washington Examiner found that only one of the items on Obama's ban list (the bayonet) is actually affected by the rule change — the rest were already banned, some for more than two decades.

Meanwhile, Obama's rules do not ban the sale of other military equipment, notably mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles — the armored vehicles that became a defining image of police militarization in Ferguson, Missouri — to local police. And though the Obama Administration says it will consider having police departments return some of the equipment they've already received, it's worth noting that some departments have already tried to do this, only to have their returns refused by the Pentagon.

Finally, it is potentially significant that Obama's prohibition targeted the "sale" of military equipment to local police, but past equipment transfers have typically been loans or gifts provided free of charge without a sales transaction.

Secret files reveal police feared that Trekkies could turn on society


Scotland Yard kept a secret dossier on Star Trek and the X-Files in the run up to the millennium amid security concerns... For years Star Trek fans – known as Trekkies – have been the butt of jokes about their penchant for wearing pointy ears and attending science fiction conventions. But the police feared British fans of the cult American show might boldly go a little too far one day.

It has emerged that Scotland Yard kept a secret dossier on Star Trek, The X-Files, and other US sci fi shows amid fears that British fans would go mad and kill themselves, turn against society or start a weird cult. The American TV shows Roswell and Dark Skies and the film The Lawnmower Man were also monitored to protect the country from rioting and cyber attacks. Special Branch was concerned that people hooked on such material could go into a frenzy triggered by the millennium leading to anarchy. An undated confidential report to the Metropolitan Police, thought to have been filed around 1998-99, listed concerns about conspiracy theorists who believed the end of the world was nigh.

"Fuel is added to the fire by television dramas and feature films mostly produced in America," the report said.

"These draw together the various strands of religion, UFOs, conspiracies, and mystic events and put them in an entertaining storyline.”

It added: "Obviously this is not sinister in itself, what is of concern is the devotion certain groups and individuals ascribe to the contents of these programmes."

The dossier – called UFO New Religious Movements and the Millennium – was drawn up in response to the 1997 mass suicide by 39 cultists in San Diego known as Heaven's Gate. The group members were "ardent followers of The X-Files and Star Trek" according to Special Branch. The secret briefing note was obtained from the Met under the Freedom of Information Act by Sheffield-based British X-Files expert Dr Dave Clarke while researching a new book, How UFOs Conquered the World. Dr Clarke, who teaches investigative journalism at Sheffield Hallam University, said: "The documents show the police and security services were concerned about the export of some new religious movements concerning UFOs and aliens from the USA in the aftermath of the mass suicide by followers of the Heaven's Gate.

"It's no coincidence this occurred around 1997 – which was the 50th anniversary of the birth of UFOs and the Roswell incident – at a time when the net was buzzing with rumours about aliens and cover-ups.”

A Met spokesman said: "We have no knowledge of this."


"Did you guys ever WATCH the show?"


9th Circuit: 4th Amendment Applies At Border; Also: Password Protected Files Shouldn't Arouse Suspic


from the well-that's-a-surprise dept

Here's a surprise ruling. For many years we've written about how troubling it is that Homeland Security agents are able to search the contents of electronic devices, such as computers and phones at the border, without any reason. The 4th Amendment only allows reasonable searches, usually with a warrant. But the general argument has long been that, when you're at the border, you're not in the country and the 4th Amendment doesn't apply. This rule has been stretched at times, including the ability to take your computer and devices into the country and search it there, while still considering it a "border search," for which the lower standards apply. Just about a month ago, we noted that Homeland Security saw no reason to change this policy. (MARCH 2013)

Well, now they might have to.

In a somewhat surprising 9th Circuit ruling (en banc, or in front of the entire set of judges), the court ruled that the 4th Amendment does apply at the border, that agents do need to recognize there's an expectation of privacy, and cannot do a search without reason. Furthermore, they noted that merely encrypting a file with a password is not enough to trigger suspicion. This is a huge ruling in favor of privacy rights. The ruling is pretty careful to strike the right balance on the issues. It notes that a cursory review at the border is reasonable:

Officer Alvarado turned on the devices and opened and viewed image files while the Cottermans waited to enter the country. It was, in principle, akin to the search in Seljan, where we concluded that a suspicionless cursory scan of a package in international transit was not unreasonable.

But going deeper raises more questions. Looking stuff over, no problem. Performing a forensic analysis? That goes too far and triggers the 4th Amendment. They note that the location of the search is meaningless to this analysis (the actual search happened 170 miles inside the country after the laptop was sent by border agents to somewhere else for analysis). So it's still a border search, but that border search requires a 4th Amendment analysis, according to the court.

It is the comprehensive and intrusive nature of a forensic examination—not the location of the examination—that is the key factor triggering the requirement of reasonable suspicion here....

Notwithstanding a traveler’s diminished expectation of privacy at the border, the search is still measured against the Fourth Amendment’s reasonableness requirement, which considers the nature and scope of the search. Significantly, the Supreme Court has recognized that the “dignity and privacy interests of the person being searched” at the border will on occasion demand “some level of suspicion in the case of highly intrusive searches of the person.” Flores-Montano, 541 U.S. at 152. Likewise, the Court has explained that “some searches of property are so destructive,” “particularly offensive,” or overly intrusive in the manner in which they are carried out as to require particularized suspicion. Id. at 152, 154 n.2, 155–56; Montoya de Hernandez, 473 U.S. at 541. The Court has never defined the precise dimensions of a reasonable border search, instead pointing to the necessity of a case-by-case analysis....

For years, we've repeated two key arguments for why border searches of laptops and other devices should be illegal.

  • You mostly store everything on your laptop. So, unlike a suitcase that you're bringing with you, it's the opposite. You might specifically choose what to exclude, but you don't really choose what to include.

  • The reason you bring the contents on your laptop over the border is because you're bringing your laptop over the border. If you wanted the content of your laptop to go over the border you'd just send it using the internet. There are no "border guards" on the internet itself, so content flows mostly freely across international boundaries. Thus if anyone wants to get certain content into a country via the internet, they're not doing it by entering that country through border control.

    We'd never seen a court even seem to acknowledge that content on devices is different than contents in a suitcase... until now. One interesting tidbit, is that they specifically note that "secure in their papers" part of the 4th Amendment, while noting that what's on your device is often like your personal "papers."

  • Everything You've Been Told About Personal Finance Is Dead Wrong


    According to Helaine Olen, the lion's share of financial advice served up by so-called experts is useless -- or worse. In her must-read new book, Pound Foolish: Exposing the Dark Side of the Personal Finance Industry, she reveals that to think about money solely in a personal sense causes us to miss the problem. I caught up with Olen to discuss her take on what we're missing, and how to think better and smarter about our financial lives.

    Lynn Parramore: Why does America need a book on the personal finance industry? We're messed up about money, right? Don't we need help?

    Helaine Olen: We need help, but not the way we think. In a society where salaries have stagnated and fallen, net worth has plunged, even as the costs of things like healthcare, housing and education have gone up at rates well beyond that of inflation, it’s not surprising most of us have financial problems. But most of us still don’t see that we have a societal problem. Instead, we listen to people and organizations that insist our problem is an individual one. As a result, we gobble up books and television programs that offer us the promise of the magical tip that will allow us to fix all our financial woes. Of course, that’s not really possible. So … enter Pound Foolish. You can think of it as the anti-personal finance advice personal finance advice book.

    LP: What are the biggest factors that have contributed to our current retirement crisis?

    HO:There are so many factors contributing to the retirement crisis it is hard to succinctly list them all. But once upon a time, a majority of us at least had the possibility of receiving a pension when we retired. That’s no longer the case. We’re now expected to do this on our own. And, frankly, most of us aren’t capable of this task, and we have 30 years of evidence – that is, the lifespan of the 401(k) – to prove this fact. We do everything wrong we possibly can. We are unable to save enough money and we don’t invest it well. At the same time, we lack the crucial ability to see the future. We don’t really know when we will retire and why that will occur. We don’t know if our investments will pan out. We don’t know how the greater economic environment will either play out or interact with our lives.

    I was reporting on this stuff 15 years ago and I can tell you just about no one said anything like “oh, by the way, you’ll need more than $200,000 just for medical expenses in retirement.” It’s just unfair to expect people – who are not financial experts – to be able to pull this off. The fact is Social Security and other such schemes were created for a reason. There was no imagined past where people saved up for their old age. As the family farm gave way to urbanization and industrialization, old people had this distressing tendency to end up in workhouses – which were as Dickensian as they sound – if they couldn’t convince a relative to take them in. And many couldn’t. Yes, the rates of intergenerational living were higher than they are now, but it wasn’t all The Walton’s.

    LP:How does the industry prey on our fears about our inability to save and plan for the future?

    HO: We can’t articulate that for all too many of us our problem is not an inability to manage and invest money effectively; it’s that we’re expected to do more and more with less and less. So we think we are individually messing up, that we lack the financial skills and smarts to get ahead. The financial services industry presents itself as our savior. But by doing that, it has to confirm our cultural bias that we are alone responsible for our financial fates.

    You see this dynamic especially in personal finance and investment initiatives aimed at women, which contain an almost odd mix of the language of empowerment and infantalization. They tell us we are women, we are so strong because we do so much more around the home and work than men, but yet we are financial illiterates who have no clue. In fact, both sexes have low financial knowledge. Men have more money than women for the most obvious of reasons: they earn more.

    LP:You mention the work of economist Teresa Ghilarducci, "the most dangerous woman in America." Who is afraid of her and why?

    HO: It became very clear to me while reporting this book that Teresa Ghilarducci had hit a nerve in the financial services sector that no one else had. The reason, to me, was obvious. Most other people discussing retirement reform schemes (Auto IRAs, Save More Tomorrow and the like) were talking about expanding the role – or at least the bottom line of -- the current dominant players on the retirement scene. I mean the retail brokerages, the 401(k) plan providers, the dominant mutual fund companies and the like. Ghilarducci’s Guaranteed Retirement Accounts calls BS on this model. First, she points out how much money the current retirement is making on what we think is our money. Second, her model would bring new players in and I mean new, powerful players – state pension funds, institutional investors, and hedge funds – into the game.

    LP:Media figures like Suze Orman, David Bach and David Ramsey tell us, "Follow my advice and everything will be OK." Why is this promise a lie?

    HO: All of these people are in the business of selling simplistic solutions to complex problems. Should we live below our means? Of course. Is it always possible to do so? No. It’s not easy to live within your means if your means are a $300-a-week unemployment check. As if that were not enough, some of the advice they are purveying is flat-out wrong. Our financial woes are not the result of spending our funds on lattes and other small luxuries, like David Bach says. You can’t choose not to participate in a recession, despite what Dave Ramsey thinks. Personal finance can’t do it all for us.

    LP:You write about the financial literacy movement, which, on first glance, looks like a helpful educational crusade. How has it conspired to make us poorer? What does it mean that big banks like Capital One promote it?

    HO: Financial literacy classes sure sound good. But students who take the classes don’t seem to retain much of the knowledge. And, when you think about it for a moment, that makes sense. The idea that taking a class on how finance works at the age of 17 can save someone from a predatory 100-page small-print mortgage when they are 40 is just preposterous. Don’t believe me? Tell me how the French and Indian War contributed to the American Revolution. See what I mean? I swear that was taught in your high school history class.

    So you need to move on to the next part of the equation. Why is financial literacy being promoted when we know it doesn’t do much at all for consumers? Well, take a look at who is funding it. It’s the banks and the rest of the financial services sector. Now think about it for a moment. Wouldn’t it just be a heck of a lot easier to not offer certain products, or design them in such a way so that they are easily comprehended, than to take on the seemingly hopeless task of teaching a consumer what a structured product is? Of course. So why isn’t this happening? Well, a cynic might say that’s because financial literacy works quite well at what it was really designed to do and that’s head off legislative protection of consumers.

    LP:How does the personal finance industry shape our views about government regulation, like rules that protect consumers?

    HO: This is a mixed bag. There are many respectable personal finance journalists pushing for greater transparency and more legal protections for consumers. Ron Lieber at the New York Times, for example, was harping on the need for 401(k) fee disclosure for years before it became law. On the other hand, the financial services industry is always pushing the idea that we can do it, and that we can do it alone. How much that’s impacting our views? Hard to know. They keep telling us we can prepare for retirement ourselves, but the survey data shows that 80 percent of us are out-and-out petrified and want some form of pension back. Perhaps the right question to ask is not how the financial services sector shapes our views about government regulation to protect consumers, but how it shapes the views of the legislators whose campaign they contribute to.

    LP:Has your research changed your own behavior and attitude toward personal finance?

    HO: Yes, but not in the ways that you would think. I don’t spend any less money, but I am more conscious of spending it in ways that are meaningful. Take my Katie, our poodle. She dines on high-quality dog food (not to mention quite a bit of anything that can be begged), but her “bed” in my office is actually a 20-year-old blanket that I’d never put on a bed any longer but has somehow never gotten tossed. I mean, what does she care if she’s not sleeping on an official dog bed from the pet store versus a blanket that no longer has a color? On the other hand, the quality of the food she eats impacts her health and that I care about quite a bit.

    LP:What's the best hope for our financial health? Are we completely screwed?

    HO: Our best hope for our personal finances is to realize we aren’t in this alone. There is a powerful culture of shame around money in this country, and it is so powerful it actually seems to prevent us from stepping forward, saying things aren’t working out for us financially, and asking not for charity, but for substantive legislation designed to help us all.

    Lynn Parramore is contributing editor at AlterNet. She is cofounder of Recessionwire, founding editor of New Deal 2.0, and author of "Reading the Sphinx: Ancient Egypt in Nineteenth-Century Literary Culture." She received her Ph.D. in English and cultural theory from NYU. Follow her on Twitter @LynnParramore.

    Attorney General Holder: Prez Can Assassinate Americans On U.S. Soil March 6, 2013

    http://www.washingtonsblog.com/2013/03/attorney-general-holder-prez-can-assassinate-americans-on-u-s-soil.htmlBecause America Is a Battlefield In The Eyes of the Government

    Attorney general Eric Holder wrote the following to Senator Rand Paul yesterday:

    On February 20, 2013, you wrote to John Brennan requesting additional information concerning the Administration’s views about whether “the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and without trial.”

    As members of this administration have previously indicated, the US government has not carried out drone strikes in the United States and has no intention of doing so. As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat. We have a long history of using the criminal justice system to incapacitate individuals located in our country who pose a threat to the United States and its interests abroad. Hundreds of individuals have been arrested and convicted of terrorism-related offenses in our federal courts.

    The question you have posed is therefore entirely hypothetical, unlikely to occur, and one we hope no president will ever have to confront. It is possible, I suppose, to imagine an extraordinary circumstance in which it would be necessary and appropriate under the Constitution and applicable laws of the United States for the President to authorize the military to use lethal force within the territory of the United States. For example, the president could conceivably have no choice but to authorize the military to use such force if necessary to protect the homeland in the circumstances like a catastrophic attack like the ones suffered on December 7, 1941, and September 11, 2001.

    Were such an emergency to arise, I would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the President on the scope of his authority.

    There’s more to the following statement than appears at first blush:

    As a policy matter moreover, we reject the use of military force where well-established law enforcement authorities in this country provide the best means for incapacitating a terrorist threat.

    Specifically, Holder did not say “we are legally constrained by the Constitution from depriving people of life, liberty or property without due process of law, and from using military force on U.S. soil”. Instead, he said that the Obama administration was so far abstaining from using a power it already has as a current “policy” decision.

    John Glaser notes:

    The concluding legal opinion represents a radical betrayal of constitutional limits imposed on the state for depriving citizens of life, liberty and property. Officially now, Obama’s kingly authority to play Judge, Jury, and Executioner and deprive Americans of their life without due process of law applies not only to Americans abroad but to citizens that are inside the United States.

    “The US Attorney General’s refusal to rule out the possibility of drone strikes on American citizens and on American soil is more than frightening – it is an affront the Constitutional due process rights of all Americans,” Sen. Paul said in a statement.

    Holder, along with the Obama administration, is making it seem as if the President’s use of lethal force, as in the drone war, would only be used in circumstances like another impending 9/11 attack or something. Only when an attack is imminent.

    But that categorical limitation on the President’s authority to kill depends upon their definition of “imminence,” which we learned from a leaked Justice Department white paper last month, is extremely broad.

    The memo refers to what it calls a “broader concept of imminence” than what has traditionally been required, like actual intelligence of an ongoing plot against the US.

    “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on U.S. persons and interests will take place in the immediate future,” the memo states, contradicting conventional international law.

    Instead, so long as an “informed, high-level” US official claims the targeted American has been “recently” involved in “activities” that pose a threat and “there is no evidence suggesting that he has renounced or abandoned such activities,” then the President can order his assassination. The memo does not define “recently” or “activities.”

    Holder also insists that in the case of such “extraordinary circumstances,” like another impending 9/11, he ”would examine the particular facts and circumstances before advising the president of the scope of his authority.”

    Boy, do I feel comforted.

    This is not entirely surprising. As we noted in December 2011, a top constitutional expert confirmed that Obama was claiming the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil. We reported that month:

    For more than a year and a half, the Obama administration has said it could target American citizens for assassination without any trial or due process.

    But now, as shown by the debates surrounding indefinite detention, the government is saying that America itself is a battlefield.

    AP notes today:

    U.S. citizens are legitimate military targets when they take up arms with al-Qaida, top national security lawyers in the Obama administration said Thursday.


    The government lawyers, CIA counsel Stephen Preston and Pentagon counsel Jeh Johnson … said U.S. citizens do not have immunity when they are at war with the United States.

    Johnson said only the executive branch, not the courts, is equipped to make military battlefield targeting decisions about who qualifies as an enemy.

    The courts in habeas cases, such as those involving whether a detainee should be released from the Guantanamo Bay detention facility in Cuba, make the determination of who can be considered an enemy combatant.

    We pointed out a year ago, the director of the FBI said he’d have to “check” to see if the president had the authority to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil. We reported last October that form Department of Justice lawyer John Yoo – the guy who wrote the memo justifying torture, even of children, which was used to justify torture of innocent people, including children – said that the president has the power to assassinate Americans on U.S. soil in times of war.

    And Mother Jones notes:

    In a Google+ Hangout last month, President Obama refused to say directly if he had the authority to use lethal force against US citizens. As Mother Jones reported at the time, the reason the president was being so coy is that the answer was likely yes. Now we know that’s exactly what was happening.

    It is not very reassuring that the same unaccountable agency which decides who should be killed by drones also spies on all Americans.


    You might assume – in a vacuum – that this might be okay (even though it trashes the Constitution, the separation of military and police actions, and the division between internal and external affairs).

    But it is dangerous in a climate where you can be labeled as or suspected of being a terrorist simply for questioning war, protesting anything, asking questions about pollution or about Wall Street shenanigans, supporting Ron Paul, being a libertarian, holding gold, or stocking up on more than 7 days of food. And see this.

    And it is problematic in a period in which FBI agents and CIA intelligence officials, constitutional law expert professor Jonathan Turley, Time Magazine, Keith Olbermann and the Washington Post have all said that U.S. government officials “were trying to create an atmosphere of fear in which the American people would give them more power”, and even former Secretary of Homeland Security – Tom Ridge – admitst hat he was pressured to raise terror alerts to help Bush win reelection.

    And it is counter-productive in an age when the government – instead of doing the things which could actually make us safer – are doing things which increase the risk of terrorism.

    And it is insane in a time of perpetual war. See this, this, this and this.

    And when the “War on Terror” in the Middle East and North Africa which is being used to justify the attack on Americans was planned long before 9/11.

    And when Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser told the Senate in 2007 that the war on terror is “a mythical historical narrative”. And 9/11 was entirely foreseeable, but wasn’t stopped. Indeed, no one in Washington even wants to hear how 9/11 happened, even though that is necessary to stop future terrorist attacks. And the military has bombed a bunch of oil-rich countries when it could have instead taken out Bin Laden years ago.

    As I noted in :

    The government’s indefinite detention policy – stripped of it’s spin – is literally insane, and based on circular reasoning. Stripped of p.r., this is the actual policy:

    If you are an enemy combatant or a threat to national security, we will detain you indefinitely until the war is over

    It is a perpetual war, which will never be over

    Neither you or your lawyers have a right to see the evidence against you, nor to face your accusers

    But trust us, we know you are an enemy combatant and a threat to national security

    We may torture you (and try to cover up the fact that you were tortured), because you are an enemy combatant, and so basic rights of a prisoner guaranteed by the Geneva Convention don’t apply to you

    Since you admitted that you’re a bad guy (while trying to tell us whatever you think we want to hear to make the torture stop), it proves that we should hold you in indefinite detention

    See how that works?

    And – given that U.S. soldiers admit that if they accidentally kill innocent Iraqis and Afghanis, they then “drop” automatic weapons near their body so they can pretend they were militants – it is unlikely that the government would ever admit that an American citizen it assassinated was an innocent civilian who has nothing at all to do with terrorism.

    Read this if you have any doubt as to how much liberty Americans have lost.

    Senator Paul told MSNBC:

    The response by Holder could lead to a situation where “an Arab-American in Dearborn (Mich.) is walking down the street emailing with a friend in the Mideast and all of a sudden we drop a drone” on him. He said it was “really shocking” that President Barack Obama, a former constitutional law professor, would leave the door open to such a possibility.

    Bloomberg: Why Obama Is Wrong And Elizabeth Warren Is Right On Trade Bill Dispute


    In her quarrel with President Barack Obama over trade legislation, Elizabeth Warren has got the law on her side. The Massachusetts senator has warned fellow Democrats that a fast-track trade bill now in Congress could undo U.S. laws such as the Dodd-Frank banking regulations later. A number of constitutional scholars and other legal experts say she’s right. The reason: An arcane trade-bill provision that would make it easier for a future president and Congress to undercut existing statutes, even ones with little to do with trade.

    The risk to Dodd-Frank is “real and meaningful and worth worrying about,” said Michael Barr, Obama’s former assistant Treasury secretary for financial institutions and an architect of the financial law. Barr said a hostile president might weaken the law through other means, such as a legislative assault or regulatory maneuvers.

    The fight pits two of the most popular Democrats in the country against one another. Obama’s support of fast-track trade authority and regional free-trade deals under negotiation with Pacific Rim and European nations places him sharply at odds with most of his party.

    Simple Majority

    Warren says she’s concerned that Republicans could include provisions in a future trade deal undercutting Dodd-Frank. They could then pass it with a simple majority in the U.S. Senate because the fast-track bill would prevent Democrats from blocking the legislation through a filibuster. Normally, it takes 60 votes to break a filibuster.

    “In the next few weeks, Congress will decide whether to give the president fast-track authority,” she said in a May 5 speech to the Institute for New Economic Thinking in Washington. “If fast-track passes, a Republican president could easily use a future trade deal to override our domestic financial rules.”

    Obama called Warren’s contention “absolutely wrong” in an interview with Yahoo News, and said he’d “have to be pretty stupid” to agree to a trade deal that would undermine the Dodd-Frank law he signed himself....

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