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Archive for June 4th, 2013

Four Years Ago Obama Promised to Investigate Afghan Massacre.

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What happened? Well, you get a clue in “Obama promised”: nothing happened. Obama promises, but the promises have little to do with what he does. Cora Currier reports in ProPubica:

In his first year in office, President Barack Obama pledged to “collect the facts” on the death of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Taliban prisoners of war at the hands of U.S.-allied Afghan forces in late 2001.

Almost four years later, there’s no sign of progress.

When asked by ProPublica about the state of the investigation, the White House says it is still “looking into” the apparent massacre. Yet no facts have been released and it’s far from clear what, if any, facts have been collected.

Human rights researchers who originally uncovered the case say they’ve seen no evidence of an active investigation.

The deaths happened as Taliban forces were collapsing in the wake of the American invasion of Afghanistan. Thousands of Taliban prisoners had surrendered to the forces of a U.S.-supported warlord named Abdul Rashid Dostum. The prisoners, saysurvivors and other witnesses, were stuffed into shipping containers without food or water. Many died of suffocation. Others were allegedly killed when Dostum’s men shot at the containers.

A few months later, a mass grave was found nearby in Dasht-i-Leili, a desert region of northern Afghanistan.

The New York Times reported in 2009 that the Bush administration, sensitive to criticism of a U.S. ally, had discouraged investigations into the incident. In response, Obama told CNN that “if it appears that our conduct in some way supported violations of the laws of war, I think that we have to know about that.”

A White House spokeswoman told ProPublica that there has indeed been some kind of review – and that it’s still ongoing: “At the direction of the President, his national security team is continuing its work looking into the Dasht-i-Leili massacre.” She declined to provide more details.

“This seems quite half-hearted and cynical,” said Susannah Sirkin, director of international policy at Physicians for Human Rights, the group that discovered the grave site in 2002 and since then has pushed for an investigation.

The group sent a letter to the president in December 2011, the tenth anniversary of the incident. In a follow-up meeting some months later, senior State Department officials told Physicians for Human Rights that there was nothing new to share.

“This has been a hot potato that no one wanted to deal with, and now it’s gone cold,” said Norah Niland, former director of human rights for the United Nations in Afghanistan.

Human rights advocates have long said the responsibility for a comprehensive investigation lies with the U.S., because American forces were allied with Dostum and his men at the time. Surviving prisoners have also claimed that Americans were present when the containers were loaded, though that’s never been corroborated.

A Pentagon spokesman told ProPublica that the Department of Defense “found no evidence of U.S. service member participation, knowledge, or presence. A broader review of the facts is beyond D.O.D.’s purview.” That initial review has never been made public.

At this point, say advocates, an investigation should address not just the question of U.S. involvement, but also what the U.S. did in the years that followed to foster accountability.

“I’m not saying Dostum ordered these people killed, and I’m not saying U.S. troops participated,” said Stefan Schmitt, a forensic specialist with Physicians for Human Rights. “All I’m saying is there are hundreds if not thousands of people that went missing. In a country that’s looking to have peace, to be under the rule of law, you need to answer these questions.”

Initially excited by Obama’s statement, researchers with Physicians for Human Rights peppered the administration with their findings. But the response was “murky at best,” said Sirkin.

“We were never very clear on who within the administration was delegated the task,” she said. Current and former administration officials interviewed by ProPublica couldn’t say which agency or department had the job.

Sirkin and others eventually resigned themselves to the fact that Obama, in his televised remarks, had not specifically called for a full investigation. With the U.S. now withdrawing from Afghanistan, many observers say it’s no surprise that investigating Dasht-i-Leili is no longer a priority. . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2013 at 4:03 pm

American Fascism: Ralph Nader Decries How Big Business Has Taken Control of the U.S. Government

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Interesting interview at Democracy Now!:

Describing the United States as an “advanced Third World country,” longtime consumer advocate and former presidential candidate Ralph Nader calls for a new mass movement to challenge the power corporations have in Washington. “It is not too extreme to call our system of government now ‘American fascism.’ It’s the control of government by big business, which Franklin Delano Roosevelt defined in 1938 as fascism,” Nader says. “We have the lowest minimum wage in the Western world. We have the greatest amount of consumer debt. We have the highest child poverty, the highest adult poverty, huge underemployment, a crumbling public works — but huge multi-billionaires and hugely profitable corporations. I say to the American people: What’s your breaking point? When are you going to stop making excuses for yourself? When are you going to stop exaggerating these powers when you know you have the power in this country if you organize it?” Nader has just published a new book, “Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns.”

Watch Part 2 of Today’s Ralph Nader Interview (Part 1 is at the main link – LG)

TRANSCRIPT
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AARON MATÉ: For the rest of the hour, we’re joined by Ralph Nader, consumer advocate, corporate critic, attorney, author, activist and former presidential candidate. For well over four decades, Ralph has helped us drive safer cars, eat healthier food, breathe better air, drink cleaner water and work in safer environments. His devotion to political reform and citizens’ activism has fueled a number of critical policy victories and the creation of generations of watchdogs and activists to carry them forward.

AMY GOODMAN: Ralph Nader came to prominence in the early ’60s, when he began to take on powerful corporations and work with local activists on their campaigns, putting himself on the map in 1965 with his book Unsafe at Any Speed: The Designed-In Dangers of the American Automobile. In this interview from that same year, Nader pointed out the safety flaws of General Motors’ Chevrolet Corvair.

RALPH NADER: What aggravates the problem is that the rear wheels of the Corvair begin to tuck under. And as they tuck under—the angle of tuck under is called “camber.” And as they tuck under, it can go from three or four degrees camber to 11 degrees camber almost in an instant. And when that happens, nobody can control the Corvair. Interestingly—

CBC INTERVIEWER: Well, then, surely they did the right thing. They found out there was something was wrong with the car, and they fixed it.

RALPH NADER: Yes. The question is: Why did it take them four years to find out? This is my point. Either it’s sheer callousness or indifference, or they don’t bother to find out how their cars behave.

AARON MATÉ: Ralph Nader’s exposé led to the first of a number of federal laws bearing his imprint: the 1966 National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. As he moved on to public and environmental health, Nader would help spur landmark bills, including the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, and the creation of federal regulatory agencies, such as the Environment Protection Agency. Meanwhile, Nader also helped found a number of nonprofit organizations dedicated to the common good, including the Public Interest Research Group, or PIRG, and Public Citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: In recent years, Ralph Nader’s name has become synonymous with challenging the nation’s two-party political system. He ran for president in 1996 and 2000 as a candidate on the Green Party ticket, again in 2004 and 2008 as an independent.

Ralph Nader is just out with a new book—it’s his columns—called Told You So: The Big Book of Weekly Columns. It’s an anthology collecting Nader’s weekly opinion pieces. Throughout, Nader tackles the major political issues of our time while offering practical solutions rooted in collective organizing.

Ralph Nader joins us for the first time in our studios, the greenest TV, radio, Internet studios in the country.

Welcome, Ralph.

RALPH NADER: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. So, the title, Told You So?

RALPH NADER: Yes. I’ve been impressed by how all the warmongers and the false predictors get promoted, and they get on op-ed pages, and they get jobs after they have failed in the U.S. government. We know Robert Rubin and Larry Summers and Wolfowitz and Cheney and all these people. And we don’t—we don’t recognize people who have predicted accurately, who have spotted problems arising, as we should. And so I decided to say—excuse me—I decided to say, “Told you so,” as we told Nixon about the rise of corporate crime. We warned about the Iraq War and the consequences. We made sure that the consequences of repealing Glass-Steagall were going to lead to huge speculation and serious problems on Wall Street for trillions of dollars of workers’ money. And again and again and again. And there’s something wrong with a society that marginalizes, in so many ways, the people who were right, the people who predicted right, who cautioned, who sent up the warning signals to the American people; and the people who got us into Iraq and warmongering and militarism and corporatism, they’re the ones who get applauded, those are the ones who get $100,000 speeches, like Bush is getting, $150,000. So, I decided—

AMY GOODMAN: Where did he get that?

RALPH NADER: I decided to throw down the gauntlet and say, “Told you so.”

AARON MATÉ: Ralph, can you compare our capacity for taking on corporate crime, one of your big issues, from when you first started out to today? Have we developed any improved regulatory framework to tackle the crimes of corporations? . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2013 at 4:00 pm

USDA Inspector General: Food Safety and Humane Slaughter Laws Ignored With Impunity

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It seems odd for a country to lose interest in the quality of the food. But Congress is focused totally on fighting each other and preventing accomplishments—and we continue to re-elect them. Fruce Friedrich reported this in Huffington Post:

Two weeks ago, the USDA’s Office of the Inspector General released a report  [3]that, once again, proves that our food system is broken: First, the Food Safety and Insepection Service doesn’t meaningfully attempt to stop repeat violations of food safety laws. Second, it has allowed a 15-year-old pilot program with faster slaughter and fewer inspectors to proceed without review. Third, it all but ignores its humane slaughter mandate. Remarkably, unless you read Food Safety News  [4]or the agricultural media, you will have missed this extremely damning report.

First, FSIS’ food safety oversight system in pig slaughterhouses is completely broken. Out of 44,128 identified violations of food safety laws at 616 slaughterhouses over four years, there were just 28 plant suspensions, all brief. Over these same four years, FSIS didn’t reach enforcement stage 5 or 6 even once. OIG offers some stomach-turning examples of illegal activity that warranted but did not receive suspension, including:

  • At a South Carolina slaughterhouse, FSIS issued more than 800 violations, including fourteen for egregious violations like “fecal contamination on a hog after the final trim,” almost 100 “for exposed or possibly adulterated products that had ‘grease smears’ or ‘black colored liquid substance’ on processed meat,” and 43 for “pest control problems, such as cockroaches on the kill floor.” This plant was not suspended even once.
  • At a Nebraska slaughterhouse, FSIS issued more than 600 violations, which included 50 repeat violations for “contaminated carcasses that included ‘fecal material which was yellow [and] fibrous’ on the carcass.” FSIS never even reached enforcement stage three, notice of intended enforcement, let alone suspension.
  • At an Illinois slaughterhouse, FSIS issued more than 500 violations, including 26 repeat violations for “fecal matter and running abscesses on carcasses.” Yes, FSIS found fecal matter and running abscesses on carcasses 26 times. Nevertheless, FSIS never even got to stage three on its 6-stage plan.

Second, fifteen years ago USDA approved a “pilot program” to speed slaughter lines and reduce inspector numbers in some plants, but it never bothered to see how the program is working. Remarkably, the slaughterhouse with the most violations was such a plant, “with nearly 50 percent more [violations] than the plant with the next highest number.” One of these plants doesn’t even require manual inspection of viscera, a requirement at the other 615 pig slaughter plants, because “some signs of disease and contamination can be detected only through a manual inspection. Examples include … parasites within the intestine, and inflamed or degenerated organs that are unusually sticky to the touch or excessively firm.”

Third, . . .

Continue reading.

The American people, I have to say, are amazingly patient.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2013 at 3:39 pm

Questions will raised in some states (AZ, TX, FL, et al.)

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Ezra Klein and Evan Soltas write in the Washington Post:

Curious why some hardcore conservative governors, including Jan Brewer of Arizona and Rick Scott of Florida, are fighting with their legislators to accept Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion? A new study in the journal Health Affairs article will clear it up.

The study, by the Rand corporation, looks at the 14 states that have said they will opt out of the new Medicaid funds. It finds that the result will be they get $8.4 billion less in federal funding, have to spend an extra $1 billion in uncompensated care, and end up with about 3.6 million fewer insured residents.

So then, the math works out like this: States rejecting the expansion will spend much more, get much, much less, and leave millions of their residents uninsured. That’s a lot of self-inflicted pain to make a political point.

It’s a truism of health-care politics that the uninsured are impossible to organize. But Obamacare creates an extraordinarily unusual situation. The Affordable Care Act will implemented in states that reject Medicaid. There will be huge mobilization efforts in those states, too, as well as lots of press coverage of the new law. The campaign to tell people making between 133 and 400 percent of poverty that they can get some help buying insurance will catch quite a few people making less than that in its net. And then those people will be told that they would get health insurance entirely for free but for an act of their governor and/or state legislature.

Typically, in politics, there’s no guarantee that winning an election will get anything big done. Politicians talk about ending wars and reforming health care, but then they take office, have one meeting with the chairman of the relevant committee, and back off. Here, however, federal law already says Americans making less than 133 percent of poverty are entitled to Medicaid coverage. All that needs to happen is for recalcitrant state governors and legislators to get out of the way.The publicity the benefit will get, the value it has to the target population, and the clear political path to getting that benefit all present an extraordinary organizing opportunity.

In Texas, for instance, 38 percent of the Hispanic population is uninsured. Will having that security so near, and then learning that it’s been blocked by their government, activate that voting bloc in the way Prop 187 did in California? It’s a possibility National Journal columnist Ron Brownstein raised in a recent article. “In 1994, California Republican Gov. Pete Wilson mobilized his base by promoting Proposition 187, a ballot initiative to deny services to illegal immigrants. He won reelection that year—and then lost the war as Hispanics stampeded from the GOP and helped turn the state lastingly Democratic. Texas Republicans wouldn’t be threatened as quickly, but they may someday judge their impending decision on expanding Medicaid as a similar turning point.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2013 at 7:56 am

Posted in GOP, Government, Healthcare

La Toja and my shave

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SOTD 4 June 2013

Continuing the WSP brush odyssey, today one of the Prince models, which made a fine lather from La Toja shaving soap. Three very smooth and pleasant passes from the DLC Weber head, which holds a Gillette 7 O’Clock SharpEdge blade and rides on a UFO handle. A good splash of La Toja’s very pleasant aftershave, and the day begins.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 June 2013 at 7:53 am

Posted in Shaving

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