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White House says just a coincidence CIA director is in Ukraine

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Nothing wrong with recycling the same old lies!

Sanctions have been the most visible sign of U.S. anger at Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region in southern Ukraine last month, reflecting the deepest plunge in U.S.-Russian relations since the Cold War.

Obama spoke to French President Francois Hollande about the crisis on Monday and praised Ukraine’s government for showing “great restraint” and working to unify the country, the White House said.

Spokesman Jay Carney confirmed that the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan, had been in Kiev over the weekend and decried what he called “false claims” leveled at the CIA by Russian authorities.

“Senior level visits of intelligence officials are a standard means of fostering mutually beneficial security cooperation including U.S.-Russian intelligence collaboration going back to the beginnings of the post-Cold War era,” Carney said.

“U.S. and Russian intelligence officials have met over the years. To imply that U.S. officials meeting with their counterparts (in Kiev) is anything other than in the same spirit is absurd,” he said.

According to media reports, Russia has urged Washington to explain what Brennan was doing in Ukraine.

Bobblehead politicians nod in agreement and sagely quote the nearest brass hat, “Peace is our profession”.

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Written by Ed Campbell

April 15, 2014 at 2:00 pm

Guardian and Washington Post win Pulitzer prize for NSA revelations by Edward Snowden

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The Guardian and the Washington Post have been awarded the highest accolade in US journalism, winning the Pulitzer prize for public service for their groundbreaking articles on the National Security Agency’s surveillance activities based on the leaks of Edward Snowden.

The award, announced in New York on Monday, comes 10 months after the Guardian published the first report based on the leaks from Snowden, revealing the agency’s bulk collection of US citizens’ phone records.

In the series of articles that ensued, teams of journalists at the Guardian and the Washington Post published the most substantial disclosures of US government secrets since the Pentagon Papers on the Vietnam war in 1971.

The Pulitzer committee praised the Guardian for its “revelation of widespread secret surveillance by the National Security Agency, helping through aggressive reporting to spark a debate about the relationship between the government and the public over issues of security and privacy”.

Snowden, in a statement, said: “Today’s decision is a vindication for everyone who believes that the public has a role in government. We owe it to the efforts of the brave reporters and their colleagues who kept working in the face of extraordinary intimidation, including the forced destruction of journalistic materials, the inappropriate use of terrorism laws, and so many other means of pressure to get them to stop what the world now recognises was work of vital public importance.”

He said that his actions in leaking the documents that formed the basis of the reporting “would have been meaningless without the dedication, passion, and skill of these newspapers”.

At the Guardian, the reporting was led by Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill and film-maker Laura Poitras, and at the Washington Post by Barton Gellman, who also co-operated with Poitras. All four journalists were honoured with a George Polk journalism award last week for their work on the NSA story…

The Pulitzers have been bestowed since 1917, at the bequest of the legendary newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer who established the honour in his will as a means of encouraging publicly-spirited journalism. The awards have shifted and grown over the years to reflect the modern publishing landscape and today stands at 22 categories, including 14 journalism awards and seven gongs for books, drama and music. All the awards are administered by Columbia University.

Bravo! Stick that in your eye Mr. Constitutional Scholar Obama! Freedom of the Press still exists in a small brightly-illuminated corner of what has become entertainment media. The mass of what passes for journalism nowadays extends from pallid to putrid, an imitation of the life once generated by courageous writers and editors.

I’ve read the Guardian since early days based in Manchester – even then a focus on the world of principle and journalistic freedom that has been unrelenting. The best witness for that being the voices of death and destruction that try day in and day out to shout down this voice of reason and progress.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 14, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Global trade to gain speed in 2014 and 2015

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containers offloading in Qingdao, Shandong province
Trucks carry containers unloaded from ship in Qingdao, China’s Shandong province

The growth of global commerce will pick up speed this year and next, says the World Trade Organization…Trade will grow by a “modest” 4.7% this year and by 5.3% in 2015, says the WTO.

Next year’s figure, if correct, would be in line with the average growth rate in world trade over the last 20 years…These forecasts are consistent with other figures that show the world economy is gradually recovering from the financial crisis…

The overall impact is that global trade is above its pre-crisis level, but well below where it would have been, had it grown in line with the earlier pre-crisis trend…In fact, that gap is still getting wider and by next year will, on the new forecasts, be 19%.

So the analysis by the WTO does suggest progress…But if world trade and its growth before 2008 was in some sense normal, we are still not back there…

“In addition to creating a permanent shift downward in the level of trade,” said the WTO in a press release…”The global recession of 2008-09 may have reduced its average growth rate as well.”

The agency’s director general, Roberto Azevedo, said that just waiting for an automatic increase in trade was not enough…He called for new trade liberalisation agreements, in particular the negotiations known as the Doha Round…”Concluding the Doha Round would provide a strong foundation for trade in the future, and a powerful stimulus in today’s slow growth environment.”

The new WTO figures confirm that China is now the biggest goods trader in the world…Adding together exports and imports, China leads the United States, which is itself still the biggest trader in commercial services…However, the picture is different if the European Union is treated as a single unit, counting the trade of EU member states with outside nations and excluding commerce within the Union.

On that basis, the EU is the world’s biggest trader.

A significant portion of the whole equation is foreign direct investment, one of those economically rich processes that typically provides jobs and trade at both ends of such agreements. As long as Congressional Republicans control regulations governing FDI, the United States doesn’t stand a chance of improving trade.

Tea Party Confederates and the rest of the Republican Party have done everything they can to sabotage foreign direct investment from China in the United States. Between their Cold War mentality and fear-based ideology leftover from the Bush-Cheney years, FDI from China last year was less than 1% of the total.

Logic makes it clear to the Chinese their investment plans are better served within the European Union and in bilateral agreements with developing nations. That is where they are going to send their money. Americans who want jobs had better start asking questions of the isolationist patriots in Congress who believe their only mandate is to protect the likes of General Electric and the Koch Brothers.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 14, 2014 at 2:00 pm

America’s ten least healthy cities

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smoking, obesity, no exercise

There’s no doubt that great strides have been made in Americans’ health over the years. Americans smoke less, are more likely to be insured and live longer. However, significant health disparities remain across the nation, influenced by individual choices, the community and clinical care.

To determine the well-being of Americans, Gallup-Healthways surveyed hundreds of thousands of Americans in 189 metropolitan areas in the United States in 2012 and 2013. The survey recorded the physical and emotional health of the residents, as well as measuring job satisfaction and access to basic needs. The resulting Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index allows for comparisons between places and over time.

Not surprisingly, the physical health of residents was influenced by their habits. While less than 20% of Americans surveyed were smokers, more than 34% of Charleston, W.Va., residents smoked, the most in the nation. Residents also reported among the highest rates of obesity in the country…

According to Dan Witters, research director for the Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index, there is a clear relationship between poor physical health outcomes, such as obesity, and many of these habits. “When you’re talking about obesity, the big three are healthy eating, exercise, and smoking…”

AMERICA’S LEAST HEALTHY CITIES:

10. Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, Ark.

9. Spartanburg, S.C.

8. Chattanooga, Tenn.-Ga.

7. Clarksville, Tenn.-Ky.

6. Fort Smith, Ark.-Okla.

5. Redding, Calif.

4. Columbus, Ga.-Ala.

3. Kingsport-Bristol-Bristol, Tenn.-Va.

2. Charleston, W.Va.

1. Huntington-Ashland, W.Va.-Ky.-Ohio

RTFA for the depressing details. Each metro area is rated for a physical health index, obesity, blood pressure and poverty rate. Following notes describe contributing factors – without having the courage to confront politics and ideology.

Fact is – nine of these ten unhealthiest cities are in the old [and new] Confederacy. You’re looking at the actual achievements of Tea Party and right-wing Republicans, Blue Dog Democrats and True Believers in fundamentalist religion. This is the reality they offer to Americans gullible enough, ignorant enough to vote them into power.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 13, 2014 at 2:00 pm

CIA torture report starts to leak from the Senate

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A still-secret Senate Intelligence Committee report calls into question the legal foundation of the CIA’s use of waterboarding and other harsh interrogation techniques on suspected terrorists, a finding that challenges the key defense on which the agency and the Bush administration relied in arguing that the methods didn’t constitute torture.

The report also found that the spy agency failed to keep an accurate account of the number of individuals it held, and that it issued erroneous claims about how many it detained and subjected to the controversial interrogation methods. The CIA has said that about 30 detainees underwent the so-called enhanced interrogation techniques.

The CIA’s claim “is BS,” said a former U.S. official familiar with evidence underpinning the report, who asked not to be identified because the matter is still classified. “They are trying to minimize the damage. They are trying to say it was a very targeted program, but that’s not the case.”

The findings are among the report’s 20 main conclusions. Taken together, they paint a picture of an intelligence agency that seemed intent on evading or misleading nearly all of its oversight mechanisms throughout the program, which was launched under the Bush administration after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and ran until 2006.

Some of the report’s other conclusions, which were obtained by McClatchy, include:

_ The CIA used interrogation methods that weren’t approved by the Justice Department or CIA headquarters.

_ The agency impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making regarding the program.

_ The CIA actively evaded or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

_ The agency hindered oversight of the program by its own Inspector General’s Office.

RTFA and imagine what we wait to read in detail. Thugs acting on behalf of the United States government do our nation no service at all. Lying about what they did – in conjunction with a phony court called to order to justify crimes committed in our name – doesn’t change their deeds.

We need a government with sufficient backbone to keep this from happening again. We need laws that can’t be defeated by the usual expedient of crying “wolf” about national security.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 12, 2014 at 2:00 am

Angela Merkel denied access to NSA file on her government

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The US government is refusing to grant Angela Merkel access to her NSA file or answer formal questions from Germany about its surveillance activities, raising the stakes before a crucial visit by the German chancellor to Washington.

Merkel will meet Barack Obama in three weeks, on her first visit to the US capital since documents leaked by whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA had been monitoring her phone.

The face-to-face meeting between the two world leaders had been intended as an effort to publicly heal wounds after the controversy, but Germany remains frustrated by the White House’s refusal to come clean about its surveillance activities in the country.

In October, Obama personally assured Merkel that the US is no longer monitoring her calls, and promised it will not do so in the future. However, Washington has not answered a list of questions submitted by Berlin immediately after Snowden’s first tranche of revelations appeared in the Guardian and Washington Post in June last year, months before the revelations over Merkel’s phone.

The Obama’s administration has also refused to enter into a mutual “no-spy” agreement with Germany, in part because Berlin is unwilling or unable to share the kinds of surveillance material the Americans say would be required for such a deal…

A senior US administration official denied the surveillance controversy would overshadow Merkel’s visit.

So, Germany isn’t spying on enough people to make it worthwhile for the White House to order diminished spying on Germans and their government. Not exactly a modern approach to democracy.

The “senior US administration official” – of course – is a liar.

RTFA article for history, details, the kind of info embraced by few journalists and even fewer editors.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 10, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Louisiana republican sets new speed record for getting caught in sleazy behavior

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McAllister and some of the folks who worked to get him elected

The married U.S. congressman embroiled in controversy over kissing a woman on his Louisiana office staff may request a federal investigation into the leak of the security camera video showing the incident, his spokeswoman said on Wednesday.

Republican Representative Vance McAllister, who took office last November in a special election that he won partly by promoting his Christian values, apologized on Monday after a Louisiana newspaper posted a surveillance video showing him in a passionate embrace with office scheduler Melissa Peacock, who is also married. The scandal erupted when the security video from his Monroe, Louisiana, district office was posted on the website of a local weekly newspaper, the Ouachita Citizen.

Peacock resigned from McAllister’s office on Monday, the congressman’s communications director, Jennifer Dunagin, said.

If you believe.

But McAllister considers the leak to be a serious breach in office security and may send a letter to House Speaker requesting an official investigation into the matter by the FBI, Dunagin said…

The Ouachita Citizen, which boasts a paid weekly circulation of just 5,200 copies, said it had obtained the video from an “anonymous source.” The grainy low-light footage was captured by a handheld camera pointed at a computer monitor showing multiple security camera images throughout the small office building…

The Monroe, Louisiana News-Star…quoted McAllister’s chief of staff, Adam Terry, as saying that a staffer had denied providing the video to the newspaper…

On Tuesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said he was glad McAllister had apologized for the incident, but declined to say whether McAllister should resign when asked by reporters…

Peacock and her husband, Heath Peacock, have longstanding ties to McAllister, each contributing $5,200 to his election campaign, according to Federal Elections Commission disclosure forms. Heath Peacock and McAllister had previously worked together at Mustang Engineering, an oil and gas pipeline and services company.

CNN quoted Heath Peacock on Tuesday as saying that he was “devastated” by the incident and blamed McAllister for ruining his marriage.

“He has wrecked my life,” Peacock told CNN. “We’re headed for divorce.”

Eric Cantor burbled a few remarks about the high standards in our Congress. I’m not certain if he’s talking about public record-keeping or what. He certainly can’t be talking about ethics or dedication to service for Americans.

Regular readers recall my dicho about “Republicans would have invented hypocrisy if Christians hadn’t beaten them to it”. Congressman McAllister gets an extra pat on the behind for catching both sides of the ethic.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 10, 2014 at 2:00 am

Philippine top court defies Catholic Church – Backs birth control

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The Supreme Court in the Philippines has approved a birth control law, in a defeat for the Catholic Church…The law requires government health centres to distribute free condoms and contraceptive pills.

The court had deferred implementation after the law’s passage in December 2012 after church groups questioned its constitutionality.

Supporters of the law cheered as the court found that most of the provisions were constitutional.

The government of President Benigno Aquino defied years of church pressure by passing the bill…It says the law will help the poor, who often cannot afford birth control, and combat the country’s high rates of maternal mortality.

The provisions will make virtually all forms of contraception freely available at public health clinics…Sex education will also be compulsory in schools and public health workers will be required to receive family planning training…There will also be medical care for women who have had illegal abortions.

The Philippines is about 80% Catholic, and with a population approaching 100 million, has one of the highest birth rates in Asia.

The church fought fiercely against the bill, denouncing it as evil and a threat to life. It denounced politicians who supported it, including President Aquino.

While most of the world’s candyass media keeps the focus of their attention on the nice guy with the big ring in Rome – throughout the rest of the world, especially developing nations, the Catholic Church continues with the iron fist in the velvet glove. Fully committed to the suppression of women and reproductive freedom, the church is satisfied with tying society to the ignorance of 14th Century minds.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 9, 2014 at 8:00 am

A spill in West Virginia, in Chemical Valley

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On the morning of Thursday, January 9, 2014, the people of Charleston, West Virginia, awoke to a strange tang in the air off the Elk River. It smelled like licorice. The occasional odor is part of life in Charleston, the state capital, which lies in an industrial area that takes flinty pride in the nickname Chemical Valley. In the nineteenth century, natural brine springs made the region one of America’s largest producers of salt. The saltworks gave rise to an industry that manufactured gunpowder, antifreeze, Agent Orange, and other “chemical magic,” as The Saturday Evening Post put it, in 1943. The image endured. Today, the Chemical Valley Roller Girls compete in Roller Derby events with a logo of a woman in fishnet stockings and a gas mask. After decades of slow decline, the local industry has revived in recent years, owing to the boom in cheap natural gas, which has made America one of the world’s most inexpensive places to make chemicals.

At 8:16 A.M., a resident called the state Department of Environmental Protection and said that something in the air was, in the operator’s words, “coating his wife’s throat.” Downtown, the mayor, Danny Jones, smelled it and thought, Well, it’s just a chemical in the air. It’ll move. A few minutes passed. “I stuck my mouth up to a water fountain and took a big drink, and I thought, We’re in trouble,” he recalls. People were calling 911, and the state sent out two inspectors. Eventually, they reached a chemical-storage facility run by Freedom Industries, a “tank farm,” with seventeen white metal pillbox-shaped containers clustered on a bluff above the Elk River.

The staff initially said that there was nothing out of the ordinary, but, when the inspectors asked to look around, a company executive, Dennis Farrell, told them that he had a problem at Tank No. 396, a forty-eight-thousand-gallon container of industrial chemicals. At the foot of the tank, the inspectors found a shallow open-air lake of an oily substance, gurgling like a mountain spring. When hazardous-material crews arrived, they followed a liquid trail under a concrete wall, into the bushes, and down a slope, where it disappeared beneath ice on the river.

Freedom Industries was obligated to report the spill to a state hot line. The operator, who identified herself as Laverne, asked what was leaking; the caller, a staff member named Bob Reynolds, said, “Uh, MCHM.”

“MCHM?” Laverne asked.

“Right,” he said, and offered the scientific name.

Laverne paused and said, “Say again?”

MCHM—4-methylcyclohexane methanol—is part of a chemical bath that the mining industry uses to wash clay and rock from coal before it is burned. There are more than eighty thousand chemicals available for use in America, but, unless they are expected to be consumed, their effects on humans are not often tested, a principle known in the industry as “innocent until proven guilty.” MCHM was largely a mystery to the officials who now confronted the task of containing it. But they knew that the site posed an immediate problem: it was a mile upriver from the largest water-treatment plant in West Virginia. The plant served sixteen per cent of the state’s population, some three hundred thousand people—a figure that had risen in the past decade, because coal mining has reduced the availability and quality of other water sources, prompting West Virginians to board up their wells and tap into the public system.

RTFA because we all need reinforcing on tales of politics and corporate greed in bed with each other. And how the rest of us are screwed to the wall because of their carelessness, lack of concern for ordinary citizens, their greed.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 7, 2014 at 8:00 pm

Maryland lawmakers vote to decriminalize marijuana

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State lawmakers in Maryland’s House of Delegates voted Saturday to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

The state’s Senate has already approved a similar measure – but some changes made by the House would still need to be approved by the Senate in order to pass the bill before the legislative session ends at midnight Monday…

Some of the “decriminalized” penalties are crap and overblown. No doubt to be reduced at a later date.

Maryland’s Democratic governor will review the bill if it passes the General Assembly, said Nina Smith, a spokeswoman for Gov. Martin O’Malley…

Republicans had introduced several amendments to the bill – such as requiring a public service campaign highlighting the dangers of smoking, or letting it remain a criminal offense to smoke pot in public. None of the measures made it through.

“We don’t have to notify the public that they’re not supposed to use marijuana,” said Delegate Kathleen Dumais, D-Montgomery. “It’s still illegal.”

Much of Saturday’s debate focused on whether decriminalization would encourage teens to smoke marijuana…

Dumais said a better way to deal with drug abuse is to encourage treatment, rather than imprisonment.

Arguments in support of the bill tended to focus on racial disparities in drug law enforcement. The American Civil Liberties Union found last year that black people in Baltimore are 5.6 times more likely than the city’s white residents to be arrested for marijuana possession.

Golly gee. Maryland politicians actually noticed that racial disparity, eh? Must be gaining slightly better vision – along with a touch of backbone.

Written by Ed Campbell

April 7, 2014 at 2:00 am

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