Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Obama's drone program rooted in Eisenhower era's assassinations of foreign leaders

Image courtesy of salon.com.
I'm glad at least a few in the media continue to investigate the Bush/Obama drone program with its targeted killing of "suspected" terrorists. Steve Coll at the New Yorker finds roots to today's use of drones in the Eisenhower era when Ike directed the CIA to assassinate foreign leaders perceived to be unfriendly to U.S. interests. Coll writes:

In the summer of 1960, Sidney Gottlieb, a C.I.A. chemist, flew to Congo with a carry-on bag containing vials of poison and a hypodermic syringe. It was an era of relative subtlety among C.I.A. assassins. The toxins were intended for the food, drink, or toothpaste of Patrice Lumumba, Congo’s Prime Minister, who, in the judgment of the Eisenhower Administration, had gone soft on Communism. Upon his arrival, as Tim Weiner recounts in his history of the C.I.A., Gottlieb handed his kit to Larry Devlin, the senior C.I.A. officer in Léopoldville. Devlin asked who had ordered the hit. “The President,” Gottlieb assured him. In later testimony, Devlin said that he felt ashamed of the command. He buried the poisons in a riverbank, but helped find an indirect way to eliminate Lumumba, by bankrolling and arming political enemies. The following January, Lumumba was executed by the Belgian military.

For Eisenhower, who had witnessed the carnage of the Normandy landings and the Battle of the Bulge, and later claimed to “hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can,” political assassinations represented an alluring alternative to conventional military action. Through the execution or overthrow of undesirable foreign leaders, the thinking went, it might be possible to orchestrate the global struggle against Communism from a distance, and avoid the misery—and the risks of nuclear war—that out-and-out combat would bring. 
Assassination was seen not only as precise and efficient but also as ultimately humane. Putting such theory into practice was the role of the C.I.A., and the agency’s tally of toppled leftists, nationalists, or otherwise unreliable leaders is well known, from Mohammad Mosadegh, of Iran, in 1953, and Jacobo Árbenz Guzmán, of Guatemala, in 1954, to Ngo Dinh Diem, of South Vietnam, in 1963, and Salvador Allende, of Chile, in 1973. Not all the schemes went according to plan; a few seemed inspired by Wile E. Coyote. The C.I.A. once planned to bump off Fidel Castro by passing him an exploding cigar.

Read more:

Monday, April 29, 2013

Should drones be used as a law enforcement surveillance tool?

Courtesy of RealClearPolitics.
This is scary news from the FAA:

The heavens will soon be thick with drones.

That, at least, is the confident expectation of the Federal Aviation Administration and a slew of states and companies competing for a coveted designation as one of six U.S. sites that will test the capability and safety of unmanned aircraft. The FAA anticipates there will be at least 10,000 of these aircraft in the domestic skies by 2020.

The promoters of drones avoid calling them by that name, preferring the duller technical description of “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs. That’s because “drone” to most people means the deadly remote-controlled missile launcher that is the Obama administration’s weapon of choice in waging war on terrorists. Even before their current military use, drones were a staple of science fiction, often as spy vehicles and sometimes as something much more sinister.

Nick Palatiello, spokesman for the Reston, Va.-based Management Association for Private Photogrammetric Surveyors (MAPPS), decries what he calls this “movie image” and observes that unmanned aircraft are useful in mapmaking, mining, agriculture, forestry and scientific research.

A farmer, for instance, might be able to improve crop yields by monitoring his fields to see if they are being devoured by insects or sufficiently watered. In the view of Palatiello and Kyle Snyder of the NextGen Air Transportation Center at North Carolina State University, such beneficial uses of unmanned aircraft do not violate privacy. “Corn doesn’t care,” Snyder said.

Civil libertarians on both left and right do care, especially about using drones to track suspected criminal activity, including potential terrorism. In the wake of the Boston Marathon bombing, Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis expressed interest in using drones for surveillance purposes at next year’s race.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Bill Clinton at Gay Awards speaks of interdependence

In accepting the Advocate for Change Award at the 24th Annual GLAAD Media Awards in Los Angeles, Bill Clinton effectively expressed the Buddhist concept of interbeing taught by Thich Nhat Hanh. Clinton said:

“You have helped me come to the place where I am today. That's why you are the true agents of change. But we have all learned in our interdependent society, in our increasingly interdependent world that whenever people anywhere are denied any rights, it diminishes us all. That's why we were so gripped to our television after those bombs exploded at the Boston marathon. That 8-year-old child was our child. And the same is true here.”

Watch Clinton's eloquent support of gay rights:

Watch Thich Nhat Hanh explain interbeing:


Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Echoes of 9/11 in yesterday's tragedy in Boston

TV coverage of yesterday's tragedy in Boston affected me physically. I'm hundreds of miles from Boston, but reports of the limbs of children strewn on the roadway really got to me.  It took all of my mindfulness training to calm down and recenter.

Later on, I experienced a flashback to 9/11 and our nation's rush to war despite the warnings of the peace-makers among us:

In his book “Calming the Fearful Mind: a Zen Response to Terrorism,” Thich Nhat Hanh wrote: “Many of us claim to be disciples of the Buddha, of Jesus Christ, of Mohammed, but we don’t listen to their teachings. Hatred cannot overcome hatred. Violence cannot overcome violence. The bible, the Koran, the Torah, and the Sutras teach us that. But we don’t always believe in our spiritual path. We must think that our spiritual teachings are not realistic, because we have put so much faith in military and financial power. We think that money and weapons can make us strong. But our country has a lot of weapons and a lot of money and we are still very afraid and insecure.”

Hopefully, we've learned the difference since 9/11 between justice and revenge, and this latest incident will not send our nation down the path of retaliatory violence. There is but a slight hint of that "get even" mentality in the New York Times editorial board's response to yesterday's tragedy:

A marathon is the most unifying of sporting events. The city that shows up to cheer on thousands of runners doesn’t really know or care much about who wins; there are no sides to root for or against. Those who stand on the sidelines — as they have done in Boston since 1897 — come to celebrate runners from around the world. The country or neighborhood of origin of the competitors matters far less than their stamina. 

 On Monday, the weather for the 117th running of the Boston Marathon was cloudy and a little chilly — just the way runners like it. Three hours after the winners had broken the tape, there were still many runners on the course, and hundreds of spectators on the sidewalk, when an explosion rocked the finish-line area on Boylston Street, across from the main viewing stand. For a brief second, the flags of scores of nations were bent downward by the blast. 

Read more:

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Good idea: cut the Pentagon instead of Social Security and Veterans Benefits

Courtesy Facebook.
As both a senior and a U.S. Air Force veteran, I confess to a somewhat negative bias toward Obama's recent budget proposal, and I can therefore appreciate any sensible alternative to the cleverly labeled "chained CPI" (consumer price index).  For example, Robert Naiman at OpEDNews.com suggests that we cut the Pentagon instead of Social Security and Veterans' Benefits:

The boss organizes the workers, union organizers like to say. 

Say what you want about President Obama's proposal to cut Social Security and veterans' benefits with the "chained CPI." He did accomplish one thing for liberals that they often have a hard time doing on their own.

He united them -- in opposition to his proposal.

Since Friday, the following groups, among others, have contacted me expressing outrage about and pledging to vigorously oppose the president's proposal: the AFL-CIO, MoveOn, Progressive Campaign Change Committee, CREDO Action, Americans for Democratic Action, Democracy for America. Some of these groups are explicitly threatening primary challenges to any Congressional Democrat who supports the president's proposal. 

But that's not all we have to celebrate. If, like most Americans, you prefer to cut what Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has called the "bloated" Pentagon budget instead of cutting Social Security and veterans' benefits, you have even more reason to rejoice.

Because at this political juncture, everyone in America who says "no cuts to Social Security or veterans' benefits" is effectively saying "cut the bloated Pentagon budget," whether they do so explicitly or not. If the "grand bargain" is killed and Social Security and veterans' benefits are spared -- apparently these are all the same political event -- then the Pentagon budget will be cut instead. 

Read more:

Thursday, April 11, 2013

A thunder snowstorm in mid-April?

The snow is falling steadily in St. Paul this April morning, and I just heard the rumble of thunder. Thunder snowstorms are special occasions in my world as they remind me of a favorite anecdote from when my two children were toddlers, which I commemorated in a column I wrote for our local suburban newspaper a few years ago. (Also published previously here at Katalusis.)

It must have been early March some years ago in Ohio when a loud crash of thunder awakened me in the middle of the night. My children were just toddlers then and moments later, I heard my daughter Jean scamper across the floor above me. My son Steve, the younger of the two, plodded after her.

Rushing upstairs to check on them, I stopped short near the top step; they stood side by side, gazing out the window in Jean’s room. Suddenly, Jean turned around. In her bunny rabbit pajamas, her hands on her hips, she said, “Mom, you are ‘be-sturbing’ us.”

Apologizing, I joined them at the window. It was snowing — large, fluffy white flakes. Lightning flashed, and thunder rumbled in the distance. March is the month when winter and spring customarily collide in their epic struggle. Even in Minnesota, spring usually wins. Here in Woodbury, I watch the drama unfold again, hoping as always to see another thunder snowstorm.

My neighborhood is a small island of fields and woods, nearly surrounded by freeway traffic. Despite the sound effects, I enjoy the illusion of country living. Having grown up in the country, I’ve long been attuned to seasonal changes in hours of daylight and darkness, weather patterns, and landscapes and skyscapes.

Beyond my windows, trees and bushes dance in the wind. Sometimes, three or four deer romp across the fields as if at play. Birds dart and soar across a wide expanse of sky. After an ice storm I once saw what appeared to be a large hawk clawing for a foothold on a slippery power line. He gave up in a huff, shook himself, and circled upward.

The simple pleasure of looking out the window whenever I choose to each day has been a big plus since my retirement from fulltime work. For several years, I’d been confined in a building 40 hours a week where only the privileged few had desks near a window, and yes, I felt deprived.

Among other gifts, a glimpse of the natural world now and then offers continuity to distant times and places.

Fiery evening light in Woodbury transports me to Doheny State Beach in southern California, where I’ve watched Catalina Island rise from the sea, back lit by the setting sun.

Local sunlight occasionally fades into a golden glow across the otherwise bleak landscape near Amarillo, Texas where I spent five months in tech school, completing the second phase of basic training in the United States Air Force (WAF).

Once in awhile, I find myself standing again on the banks of the wide Mississippi near St. Louis where I’ve seen the sun both rise and set.

Returning home to Woodbury from my imaginary wanderings, I feel connected to family and friends. Wherever we are in the present moment, the same earth turns beneath our feet, and familiar stars and planets keep us company on our cosmic journey. 
And you can bet on it, if a loud crash of thunder awakens me in the middle of the night anytime soon, I’ll not roll over and go back to sleep. Without turning on the lights, I’ll slip out to the kitchen to sit by the window and watch the fireworks. I won’t be the least bit surprised if a couple of wide-eyed toddlers get there before me. I’ll try hard not to “be-sturb” them.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Obama puts cuts to Social Security and Medicare back on the table (video)

I've known cuts to Social Security and Medicare under the Obama Administration were inevitable, so the president's latest offer to the Republicans doesn't surprise me; I am left wondering, though, if this is the change we can believe in that Obama promised in 08:

Robert Reich, Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy, University of California at Berkeley; Author, 'Beyond Outrage', explains what Obama's latest attempt to negotiate with the Republicans means for senior citizens:

The White House and prominent Democrats are talking about reducing future Social Security payments by using a formula for adjusting for inflation that's stingier than the current one. It'scalled the "Chained CPI." I did this video so you can understand it -- and understand why it's so wrongheaded. 

Even Social Security's current inflation adjustment understates the true impact of inflation on the elderly. That's because they spend 20 to 40 percent of their incomes on health care, and health-care costs have been rising faster than inflation. So why adopt a new inflation adjustment that's even stingier than the current one?

Social Security benefits are already meager for most recipients. The median income of Americans over 65 is less than $20,000 a year. Nearly 70 percent of them depend on Social Security for more than half of this. The average Social Security benefit is less than $15,000 a year.

Watch video:

Read more:

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Yay, Hillary, and Joe!

Thanks to my friend Katherine for the link to this article at the Caucus (NY Times) reporting Hillary Clinton's first public speaking engagement on the topic of - what else - women's rights.

Joe Biden also spoke at the event, and I was moved by the exchange of compliments between Joe and Hillary, who are longtime friends and allies on behalf of women.

NY Times journalist Peter Baker writes:

WASHINGTON — Hillary Rodham Clinton made her public debut in her new role as prospective presidential candidate on Tuesday night by returning to the issue that has animated her long career on the national stage — the empowerment of women around the globe.

In her first public appearance since stepping down as secretary of state, Mrs. Clinton addressed a ceremony honoring women who have stood up as leaders in places like Brazil, Cambodia, Somalia and the Palestinian territories. She used the occasion to cement what she considers a central legacy of her four years as the nation’s top diplomat.

“When I became secretary of state, I was determined to weave this perspective into the fabric of American foreign policy,” Mrs. Clinton told an audience of movers and shakers at the Kennedy Center. She recalled appointing the first ambassador for global women’s rights, directing the diplomatic corps to focus on gender issues and stepping in to free a Cambodian woman jailed for protesting. “We did put women on the agenda and made it a centerpiece of all that we did.”

It was an evening without overt politics and yet Mrs. Clinton’s appearance drew attention as she enters a period of deciding whether to run for president again in 2016. Freed of her official duties and her position in President Obama’s cabinet, Mrs. Clinton began re-establishing herself as an independent figure. Her remarks were in keeping with her longstanding passions but many in the audience were rooting for her to make one more campaign to become the nation’s first female president.

Read more: