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Member since: Wed Mar 16, 2005, 10:12 AM
Number of posts: 60,364

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Fear and loathing at Hotel Babylon


Fear and loathing at Hotel Babylon
By Pepe Escobar
Jun 27, '14

So now a huge Hardcore Sunnistan stretches all the way from the suburbs of Aleppo to Tikrit and from Mosul to the Jordanian/Iraqi border - the same one that dissolved in 2003 when Shock and Awe turned into Mission (Un)Accomplished.

In an eerie echo of Dick Cheney's army's footprints reverberating in the sands of Anbar province, the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and their coalition of the willing (jihadis, Islamists, Ba'athists and tribal sheikhs) now pose as the "liberators" of Iraqi Sunnis from the clutches of an "evil" Shi'ite majority government in Baghdad.


From a Sunni perspective, it's down with Iraq's Counter-terrorism law; down with de-Ba'athification (with the ascent of neo-Ba'athist Jaysh Rijal al-Tariqa al-Naqshbandia - JRTN, led by former Saddam honcho Izzat Ibrahim al-Douri); down with the Interior Ministry in Baghdad going after Sunni politicians; down with protests being crushed.

At the same time, it's the return of the US-sponsored Sahwa (Sons of Iraq) - who fiercely fought al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2007, the mother of ISIS - and the return of assorted Shi'ite militias (Muqtada al-Sadr not only repelled the new wave of US "military advisers" - that's how it started in Vietnam - but also warned that his own badass Men in Black will "shake the ground" fighting ISIS.) The mid-2000s are the new normal; it's gonna be militia hell all over again.
Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 07:01 AM (0 replies)

FAA insists on Regulating Delivery Drones


FAA insists on Regulating Delivery Drones
By contributors | Jun. 27, 2014
Via Gas2

The FAA doesn’t think much of Jeff Bezos’ idea to deliver packages to Amazon.com customers using drones. Yesterday the agency issued a proposed ruling that defines such deliveries as part of a “business purpose” and not a recreational or hobby activity. Well, d’uh! TechCrunch reports that the agency said in a footnote to its proposed rule:

If an individual offers free shipping in association with a purchase or other offer, FAA would construe the shipping to be in furtherance of a business purpose, and thus, the operation would not fall within the statutory requirement of recreation or hobby purpose.

Amazon, of course, vows to fight the FAA on this. It is already moving forward with its drone delivery plans via a wholly owned subsidiary called Prime Air. The idea is that customers would place an order online, the nearest Amazon warehouse would load the merchandise aboard a Prime Air drone and within minutes it would be winging its way directly to the customer’s front door. Delivery times measured in hours rather than days should be possible if Bezos’ vision ever becomes reality.

Which may be never. The FAA has authorized test facilities in six states – Alaska, Virginia, New York, Texas, Nevada, and North Dakota – to explore how drones can be integrated into civilian air space currently occupied by commercial and private aircraft, police and fire aircraft, emergency medical flights, news and traffic reporters and others. The idea of itty bitty drones like those depicted in the movie Minority Report flitting around in between all those regular aircraft makes some people more than a little queasy. They worry about mid air collisions between conventional aircraft and pint size drones that are difficult to see. As the government gains experience from the test facilities, it plans to put together a nationwide drone policy by 2020.
Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 06:52 AM (2 replies)

Unconstitutional: Top 4 Ways the US Gov’t has Shredded the 4th Amendment


Unconstitutional: Top 4 Ways the US Gov’t has Shredded the 4th Amendment
By Juan Cole | Jun. 27, 2014
By Peter Van Buren

Here’s a bit of history from another America: the Bill of Rights was designed to protect the people from their government. If the First Amendment’s right to speak out publicly was the people’s wall of security, then the Fourth Amendment’s right to privacy was its buttress. It was once thought that the government should neither be able to stop citizens from speaking nor peer into their lives. Think of that as the essence of the Constitutional era that ended when those towers came down on September 11, 2001. Consider how privacy worked before 9/11 and how it works now in Post-Constitutional America.

The Fourth Amendment

A response to British King George’s excessive invasions of privacy in colonial America, the Fourth Amendment pulls no punches: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

In Post-Constitutional America, the government might as well have taken scissors to the original copy of the Constitution stored in the National Archives, then crumpled up the Fourth Amendment and tossed it in the garbage can. The NSA revelations of Edward Snowden are, in that sense, not just a shock to the conscience but to the Fourth Amendment itself: our government spies on us. All of us. Without suspicion. Without warrants. Without probable cause. Without restraint. This would qualify as “unreasonable” in our old constitutional world, but no more.

Here, then, are four ways that, in the name of American “security” and according to our government, the Fourth Amendment no longer really applies to our lives.
Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 06:47 AM (3 replies)

Patrick signs Mass. minimum wage hike: $9/hr on Jan. 1. $11 by 2017


Patrick signs Mass. minimum wage hike: $9/hr on Jan. 1. $11 by 2017

BOSTON — Gov. Deval Patrick has signed a law raising the state’s $8 per hour minimum wage to $11 per hour — a high among U.S. states — by 2017.

Patrick told a Statehouse ceremony on Thursday that the new law would provide some relief to low-income workers, while noting it would still not be a “livable wage” for many Massachusetts residents.

The first increase in the minimum wage, to $9 an hour, will take effect on Jan. 1.

Activists had gathered some 350,000 signatures around the state to put a minimum wage increase on the ballot had the law not been passed.
Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 06:38 AM (4 replies)

Mass. SWAT teams claim they’re private companies and don’t have to tell you anything


Mass. SWAT teams claim they’re private companies and don’t have to tell you anything
By Travis Gettys
Thursday, June 26, 2014 14:56 EDT

After the ACLU sent open records requests as part of its investigative report on police militarization, SWAT teams in Massachusetts claimed they were exempt because they were private corporations.

Some SWAT teams in the state operate as law enforcement councils, or LECs, which are funded by several police departments and overseen by an executive board largely made up of local police chiefs.

Member police departments pay annual membership dues to the LECs, which share technology and oversee crime scene investigators or other specialists.


“Let’s be clear,” wrote Radley Balko for The Washington Post. “These agencies oversee police activities. They employ cops who carry guns, wear badges, collect paychecks provided by taxpayers and have the power to detain, arrest, injure, and kill. They operate SWAT teams, which conduct raids on private residences. And yet they say that because they’ve incorporated, they’re immune to Massachusetts open records laws. The state’s residents aren’t permitted to know how often the SWAT teams are used, what they’re used for, what sort of training they get or who they’re primarily used against.”

Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 05:36 AM (26 replies)

What Orwell might have said about today’s Big Brothers


Who’s watching who?

What Orwell might have said about today’s Big Brothers
25 June 2014, 11.57am BST

So it’s Day 21 in Channel 5’s Big Brother household. It would also have been George Orwell’s 111th birthday. And this month marks 65 years since his landmark novel Nineteen Eighty-Four was first published. With all that in mind, I’m taking a moment to think about what Orwell means to us in 2014.

“Big Brother is watching you” wherever you are in Orwell’s dystopian world. The novel’s anti-hero, Winston Smith, has to huddle in the alcove of his living room to avoid the gaze of the “telescreen” which monitors him and every other citizen day and night. Constant surveillance is the cornerstone of Big Brother’s power. Each resident lives like an inmate of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon, caught up, as Michel Foucault would say, in “a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power”.

Since the Big Brother reality TV game show first took the Netherlands by storm in 1999, it seems we’ve become increasingly used to watching inmates ourselves. Back in 2000, when Big Brother first aired in the UK, it attracted some 10 million viewers. Research suggests that watching reality television fulfils some of our basic desires for vicarious experience and self-importance. It offers us a gratifying illusion – one that Orwell would probably warn against buying into if his novels are anything to go by.


Whether it’s capitalism, imperialism or totalitarianism, Orwell’s novels impress upon us that those who refuse to become slaves to the dominant ideology face alienation, defeat, incarceration, even destruction. John Flory of Orwell’s first novel, Burmese Days (1934), is a timber merchant in Burma sickened by imperial values. But his attempt to finally bring himself to stand up against his compatriots’ racism in support of his Indian friend only leads to his suicide.
Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 05:33 AM (0 replies)

Argentina closer to defaulting on $1.3 billion debt after U.S. federal judge’s ruling


Argentina closer to defaulting on $1.3 billion debt after U.S. federal judge’s ruling
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, June 26, 2014 19:30 EDT

New York (AFP) – Argentina moved a step closer to defaulting on its debt Thursday after a US federal judge refused to freeze an order for it to pay off hedge funds holding $1.3 billion in bonds.

The country said it deposited $832 million into US banks to pay principal and interest due Monday to creditors holding the country’s restructured debt.

But New York judge Thomas Griesa denied a stay requested by Buenos Aires on his order to pay, at the same time, hedge funds NML Capital and Aurelius Management, which refused to take part in the country’s 2005 and 2010 debt restructuring.

That left Argentina under order to pay both at the same time, by the June 30 deadline, and banks processing the payments forbidden to pay one without the other.
Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 05:21 AM (0 replies)

Drones are cheap, soldiers are not: a cost-benefit analysis of war


A MQ-9 Reaper Drone has an operational cost one-fifth of the F35 Joint Strike Fighter. So should drones replace soldiers in military warfare?

Drones are cheap, soldiers are not: a cost-benefit analysis of war
26 June 2014, 4.26am BST

Cost is largely absent in the key debates around the use of unmanned drones in war, even though drones are a cost-effective way of achieving national security objectives.

Many of the common objections to drones, such as their ambiguous place in humanitarian law, become second-tier issues when the cost benefits are laid out. For strategic military planners, cost efficiencies mean that economic outputs can be more effectively translated into hard military power. This means that good intentions concerned with restricting the use of drones are likely to remain secondary.

This pattern of cost-trumping-all has historical precedents. The cheap English longbow rendered the expensive (but “honourable”) horse-and-knight combination redundant in the 14th century. Later, the simple and cost-effective design of the machine gun changed centuries of European military doctrine in just a few years.


Soldiers are expensive

While military budgets get smaller, the cost of the human soldier remains expensive. For example, each US solider deployed in Afghanistan in 2012 cost the government US$2.1 million.
Posted by unhappycamper | Fri Jun 27, 2014, 05:19 AM (0 replies)

Two top Veterans Affairs officials leaving jobs


Two top Veterans Affairs officials leaving jobs
By Alan Fram
The Associated Press
© June 25, 2014


Two top Department of Veterans Affairs officials are stepping down, the beleaguered agency announced Wednesday as it continued reeling from complaints that thousands of veterans across the country have endured long waits for appointments and allegations of poor medical care.

The agency said in a written statement that Will A. Gunn is resigning as general counsel. Also leaving a top post is Dr. Robert L. Jesse, who has been acting undersecretary for health.

The statement said the changes were "aimed at accelerating veterans' access to quality health care and rebuilding the trust of America's veterans."

Acting VA Secretary Sloan Gibson made the moves less than a month after he replaced Eric Shinseki as head of the agency. Shinseki resigned May 30 after apologizing for the agency's problems.
Posted by unhappycamper | Thu Jun 26, 2014, 08:37 AM (0 replies)

Veterans' health bill stumbling block is budget


Veterans' health bill stumbling block is budget
By Derek Wallbank and James Rowley, Bloomberg News
© June 26, 2014


House and Senate lawmakers began negotiations Tuesday on the central question holding up legislation to reduce waiting times at U.S. Veterans Affairs hospitals — how to pay for it.

Republicans say they want increased spending to be offset by reductions elsewhere in the budget, while the Democratic- controlled Senate's bill provides emergency funds that don't have to be financed with other cuts. Lawmakers also are having sticker shock following estimates that the measures would cost $35 billion to $44 billion over the next five years.

"War, as everyone here knows, is a very expensive proposition — in terms of human life, human suffering and in financial terms," Senate Veterans Affairs Chairman Bernie Sanders said as the conferees met.

"If we are not prepared to take care of those men and women who went to war, then we shouldn't send them to war in the first place," said Sanders, a Vermont independent. "Taking care of veterans is a cost of war, period."
Posted by unhappycamper | Thu Jun 26, 2014, 08:35 AM (2 replies)
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