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Cargo Plane Crash at Bagram (Video)

Posted on 04/30/2013 by Juan Cole

Warning: some may find this footage disturbing.

A cargo plane crashed Monday at Bagram air base in Afghanistan, killing all 7 passengers aboard (Americans). .

This article says,

“The Boeing 747-400 — owned by National Airlines, a Florida-based subsidiary of National Air Cargo — was en route to Dubai, carrying vehicles and other cargo.”

The Taliban claimed responsibility, but the US has denied that claim.

Video is here:

One reader wrote this comment:

“The centre of gravity was off due to improper loading methods, cargo shifted to the back causing high pitch angle which eventually led to a stall. Pilot did everything he could of done.”

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The Failure of Gun Legislation in the Senate Tells us we Need to fight for our Democracy (Graeber)

Posted on 04/30/2013 by Juan Cole

David Graeber, author of The Democracy Project, writes in a guest column for “Informed Comment”

GraeberAuthorPhoto_creditAdamPeers The recent defeat of gun buyers’ background check legislation in the Senate—legislation backed by an almost unimaginable 90% of the American public—has been taken as a somber day in the history of American democracy. We’ve been having a lot of such somber days of late. In fact, one can well argue we’ve not only reached the point where not only does the will of the American people has almost no bearing on governance, but most of our opinion-makers see little reason why it should have.

No one can deny there is an increasing disparity between what the American public says it wants, and what the political class feel they should even have to talk about. At the height of the health reform debate in 2009, polls suggested that as many as two thirds of Americans would have preferred a Canadian style single-payer health plan, which could have been achieved fairly simply by expanding existing programs like Medicare. In Washington, and in the national media, it was not even seen as worthy of debate. On the other side, overwhelming majorities even of Republicans, let alone Democrats, make clear the last thing we should be talking about is cutting social security benefits, yet we have a President and political class that—despite the lack of any immediate crisis —seem almost obsessively determined to figure out an excuse to do so.

On one level we all know why this happens. Lobbyists for powerful moneyed interests control the terms of debate. Any proposal would be strongly opposed by, say, the Gun Lobby, or the Health Insurance Lobby, is simply not considered serious, no matter how much popular support it has. But what’s really startling is the indifference with which this situation is greeted by America’s talking classes, even those who represent themselves as (and in many cases at least, actually do sincerely see themselves to be) the guardians of America’s democratic traditions. Each new outrage is greeted with at best a minor flurry of concern, usually followed by some wistful complaints about the “dysfunctional culture” in Washington—complaints which, if they lead to anything, lead only to pleas for politicians to stop fighting and build a “pragmatic,” “centrist” consensus—that is, to effectively do away with any remaining difference between the two parties and eliminate popular input into politics entirely.

Even fundamental structural issues are shrugged away. Politicians and journalists who regularly hold out American democracy as a beacon to the world never seem to reflect on what the world is supposed to make of the fact that, say, 2/3 of the American public who don’t happen to live in swing states effectively have no say in who gets to be the President, or that we can have House elections, as we did in 2012, where a majority of voters can choose candidates from one party and watch the other party win the election anyway.

One can only conclude that for most of our official opinion-makers, the word “democracy” no longer has anything, really, to do with popular will. It refers to a structure of authority. “Democracy” for them means that elaborate architecture of checks and balances created by the Framers of the Constitution, the fact that elections, appointments, congressional votes and judicial and executive decisions take place according to established laws, bylaws, traditions, and procedures. It means following the rules laid down by the Founding Fathers and their later, duly authorized, interpreters. Hence in the event of a crisis, the press feels that it’s first loyalty is not to what the public wants, or even really to the facts, but above all, to maintaining public faith in the legitimacy of what they consider “democratic institutions.” This came out very clearly during the dispute over the Bush-Gore election of 2000. No one contested that Gore was the choice of the majority of American voters. It was not at all clear that Bush was the choice of the majority of Florida voters (and as it later turned out, he was not.) But after a Supreme Court decision in which a majority of justices barely disguised the fact that they were intervening to stop the ballot-counting on the basis of their own personal political preferences, the media instantly declared the issue over—many openly admitting that they felt pointing out that the Court had effectively engaged in a judicial coup would be irresponsible, since it would undermine popular faith in the integrity of “democratic institutions.”

II:

DEMOCRACY WAS NEVER A GIFT: WE TOOK IT

All nations, all societies, have their founding myths. Back in the 18th century, Enlightenment thinkers tended to assume that nations were originally created by great lawgivers, men like Solon or Lycurgus, who created their constitutions, and thus, that the “spirit of the laws” shaped what kind of people their inhabitants were ultimately to become. John Adams, James Madison, and Thomas Jefferson were raised on such ideas. It seems unlikely that there’s anywhere this really happened. But here in the United States, they tried to put theory into practice; and so we still insist that “democracy” was something given us by great lawgivers, that we are “a nation of laws and not of men,” and that this institutional structure has been the basis of our democratic spirit, and our rights and freedoms, ever since.

But there’s a basic problem here. Nowhere in the Declaration of Independence or Constitution does it say anything about the United States being a democracy. In fact, men like Adams, Madison, and even Jefferson were staunchly opposed to democracy, which they defined as “the powers of government exercised by the people”—whether directly through popular assemblies, or by extension, through the direct election of representatives closely bound to the popular will. Most were also quite explicit about their reasons. How could we possibly have majority rule, wrote John Adams, in a country where only one or two million people own any significant amount of property, and 9 million do not? It could only led to the cancellation of debts and expropriation of the wealthy. One need only glance at the opening remarks of the Constitutional Convention of 1789, delivered by George Washington protégé Edmund Randolph, then Governor of Virginia, to get a sense of why they felt that system of checks and balances needed to be created:

Our chief danger arises from the democratic parts of our constitutions. It is a maxim which I hold incontrovertible, that the powers of government exercised by the people swallows up the other branches. None of the constitutions have provided sufficient checks against the democracy. The feeble Senate of Virginia is a phantom. Maryland has a more powerful senate, but the late distractions in that State, have discovered that it is not powerful enough. The check established in the constitution of New York and Massachusetts is yet a stronger barrier against democracy, but they all seem insufficient.

Instead of the democracy of ancient Athens, the new state was to be a Republic, modeled on Rome, which, the founders (being good classical scholars) argued had the perfect balance between monarchy (the President was to be an elected monarch), the oligarchic (the Senate, which was to be composed of wealthy landholders), and a Congress with carefully limited democratic powers—largely, on the principle of “no taxation without representation” to handle finance. True power, they argued, would be held by a “natural aristocracy” of educated lawyers, drawn from the propertied classes, with the wealth and leisure to separate themselves from the battling interests of the masses and think about the greater good.

At that time, in fact, the word “democracy” was used—by politicians, at least—largely as a term of abuse, in fact almost interchangeably with “anarchy” or “mob rule.” A few radicals did sometimes call themselves “democrats,” but mainly for shock value, in much the same later radicals would call themselves “anarchists” or “queers.” But over time more and more did. By the 1830s, Andrew Jackson started calling himself a “democrat” when running for office, and won, and before the decade was out, everyone was using the term. The Republican structure that was created to prevent what Washington once called “the horrors of democracy” was itself relabeled “democracy” and we have been calling the system that ever since.

*

The obvious question is: Why did a one-time term of abuse like “democracy” had such appeal to American farmers and mechanics that eventually, even politicians eventually had to start using it? And what did it mean to them? The entire story has yet to be told. But clearly, it had something to do with that “democratic spirit” later celebrated by Tocqueville and Whitman, an ideal of individual equality, freedom, and at least the aspiration for forms popular self-governance that was rarely fully realized, or even, completely articulated. It was the driving force behind the revolution itself, with its great popular assemblies and mobilizations, and it led to an endless series of popular movements—in the early days of the republic, even outright uprisings—that frequently forced the political classes’ hand.

Insofar as we have democratic elements in our system—and these do exist—they can almost invariably be traced to here. Normally, when we think of the Constitution as the embodiment of democratic freedoms, we think above all of the Bill of Rights. But the framers never had any intention of placing such a list in the text of the constitution; it was just that, faced with the simultaneous mobilization of anti-Federalist politicians and radicals demanding debt relief, they were finally realized they would never be able to ratify the document without it. Rights to freedom of the press, speech, and assembly were won through those very means (with a fear of outright insurrection lingering in the background.) At the time, it’s pretty clear probably a majority of those that signed the document didn’t have the slightest intention of honoring those commitments (nine years later, most of the same men signed the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798, rendering “false, scandalous and malicious” criticisms of the new government punishable by law), but gradually, popular embrace of those principles forced the politicians to act as they were the very basis of the American ideal.

The story was to repeat time after time, every time democratic freedoms expanded: whether with the expansion of the franchise, suffrage, abolition, civil rights… None were granted by the benevolence of law-givers. They were won, usually against fierce opposition from the political establishment, usually beginning with the vision of stubborn groups of idealists acting in conscious defiance of the law (the phrase “civil disobedience,” after all, was first coined in America), gradually winning broad popular support or moral consensus and finally forcing the politicians, however reluctantly, to incorporate those new moral understandings into the constitutional order—at least to some extent.

For most of American history, one could make a case that as a result, even if democracy remained an aspiration, there was a broad movement in its direction. The beginnings of the Cold War marked a major push-back in the other direction and after the ‘60s, progress basically ground to a halt.

III:

THE CURSE OF THE PROFESSIONAL-MANAGERIAL CLASS

President Obama likes to evoke the language and gestures of popular mobilization. But it’s all hollow theater. In reality, the very fact that he can do so marks the completion of the work begun by Clinton of purging the Democratic Party from any remaining remnants of movement politics: the languages and gestures have now been so thoroughly severed from the movement politics that first created them, that they can simply be deployed as a marketing tool. Meanwhile, his style of government is almost completely technocratic, with politics, insofar as it appears at all in non-election years, reduced to closed-door negotiations between powerful interest groups. The battles over health care is the perfect illustration. There were no appeals to lofty principles, no grassroots mobilization; in fact, the only broad popular mobilization was by the other side. In fact, this seems to be a regular pattern now. It is the Right who still speak of matters of absolute principle, or who encourage their supporters to take to the streets.

I don’t think this is simply a matter of changing attitudes. It represents a change in the social base of the Democratic party. At this point, both parties really just represent different fractions of the 1%; Wall Street funds both, but where the Republicans are supported largely by business, especially the extractive industries, the Democratic Party has become that of the upper echelons of the professional and managerial classes: of university administrators, museum board directors, doctors, lawyers, designers and marketing consultants. Their sensibilities are profoundly anti-democratic. Most assume ordinary Americans are not particularly bright, and that matters of governance are best left to professionals such as themselves. But they are obsessed with form. Rules, procedures, etiquette, respect for institutional norms, and the maintenance of at least the external show of civility, are everything to such people; divisive (“unprofessional”) behavior anathema even if it gets results. That too came through quite clearly in the battle over health care reform. Again and again we heard politicians like Obama declaring that what Americans really want was a change in the “divisive climate” in Washington—as if what was really important to the average working class single mother of two, desperate to ensure her children have access to regular medical check-ups, is whether politicians in Washington are being nice to one another. Only to someone who spent their entire careers surrounded by elite professionals would be blind to the obvious: that most humans in such a situation would not have cared less if Obama had personally kneecapped Joe Lieberman and couple Republican senators to boot, if it had meant even a 40% cut to their deductible. Hence widespread working class disgust at those who woo their votes on economic grounds. At least Republicans are goal-oriented—even if the goals are not their own.

Such sensibilities dominate the media, as well, if for no other reason than that journalists are themselves highly paid professionals. Thus while the content of US News might be skewed sharply Republican (Republican talking heads are twice as likely to be interviewed on CNN than Democrats), its forms and sensibilities are those of the procedure-obsessed center-left. In such a world, it makes perfect sense to see “democracy” as the gift of enlightened lawyers, popular participation as problematic or unimportant, and almost any form of corruption as acceptable if worked out through proper legal channels: which is why it has been possible to turn the US political system into one of institutionalized bribery by simply relabeling bribes as “fund-raising” and “lobbying” and then making most of them formally legal, without significant complaint. Similarly it makes it possible to suppress attempts to create old-style social movements objecting to such corruption using militarized force with barely a peep from the liberal establishment. After all, such people aren’t playing by the rules.

Most Americans are cut out of the system entirely. The fact that their views on policy issues have been rendered largely irrelevant is just the tip of the iceberg. Many are becoming increasingly alienated from even the most basic institutions of society. If being middle-class means above all having a sense that the institutional structure which frames one’s existence —the government, schools, police, even financial industry—are, or at least ought to be, there for one’s benefit, then it’s hardly surprising that, for the first time in living memory, a majority of Americans are telling pollsters that they no longer consider themselves middle class. But it leaves the honest observer wondering in what sense, precisely, the United States can still be called a democratic society.

——
David Graeber’s current book is The Democracy Project, available at Amazon.com

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Karzai admits taking CIA money; Galbraith: We’re not getting what we pay for

Posted on 04/30/2013 by Juan Cole

Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai on Monday confirmed an NYT report that he has been receiving cash payments in a paper bag every month from the US Central Intelligence Agency. Karzai maintained that the money actually goes to the director of national intelligence to be used for intelligence work, but the implication of the NYT article was that he is simply on the take.

CNN has a video report, where Jake Tapper interviews Amb. Peter Galbraith on Karzai’s corruption.

What seems clear is that Hamid Karzai plays both ends against the middle, taking US money and support but publicly attempting to distance himself from the US. The latest report, of his actually being on the CIA payroll, gives the lie to this recent public announcement, translated from an Afghan newspaper by the USG Open Source Center:

“Afghan leader to restrict CIA activities
Cheragh
Monday, April 22, 2013
Document Type: OSC Translated Text

Text of report in Dari entitled “Karzai’s new stroke on CIA” published by independent Afghan newspaper Cheragh on 22 April

The spokesman of the Afghan president has announced that Hamed Karzai is going to restrict the activities of the US Central Investigation Agency (CIA) in Afghanistan saying: “The decision has been made to prevent civilian casualties”. Lemar TV reported, quoting Emal Faizi, the president’s spokesman, that the president has decided to restrict the CIA’s activities in the country. The president’s spokesman stated that Hamed Karzai believes the main factor behind civilian casualties is the lack of coordination of the CIA’s activities in Afghanistan. According to him, President Karzai believes that illegal paramilitaries act without coordination with the Afghan institutions while reporting to the CIA.

Faizi said: “When the issue of civilian casualties in military operations of the Americans are discussed, the USA justifies that they have carried out the operations in coordination with the Afghan forces while no coordination has been done with the Afghan government institutions”.

Faizi did not explain how the president is going to restrict the CIA’s activities in Afghanistan. It has been said that Mr Karzai decided to restrict the CIA’s activities in Afghanistan after a number of civilians were killed in a NATO air strike in Konar Province. In this attack, which took place last week, 17 civilians including 11 children were killed.

(Description of Source: Kabul Cheragh in Dari — Independent daily paper that frequently criticizes the Afghan Government, Pakistan, and the United States, and is generally pro-Iran.) “

With Karzai, it is all Kabuki theater.

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How to Become an Expert in Iran’s Nuclear Program (in less than four minutes) (Video)

Posted on 04/30/2013 by Juan Cole

How to become an expert in Iran’s nuclear program (in less than four minutes):

courtesy EA Worldview

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Egypt: ” Muslim Brotherhood Seeking Revenge on the Judges” – Moussa

Posted on 04/29/2013 by Juan Cole

The Constitutional crisis in Egypt between the Muslim Brotherhood president, Muhammad Morsi, and the thousands of judges in the Egyptian judiciary, according to Amr Moussa, derives from a misplaced desire for revenge on the part of the Brotherhood. Under the regime of Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood was only semi-legal, and members were often imprisoned (Morsi himself was). Moussa, a former cabinet member under Mubarak who broke with the regime around 2000 and became secretary general of the Arab League, says it is wrong to think of Mubarak appointees on the bench as mere lackeys of the former regime. Many sought more judicial independence, and often gave Brotherhood members a break, he said.

The BBC reports that President Muhammad al-Morsi is attempting to persuade judges there to compromise with him on the issues of hiring and re-hiring.

Moussa said that the president’s proposed compromise should have been offered from the very beginning.

There is an argument that Morsi, who gained a slim mandate as president last June and operates in the absence of a lower house of parliament (elections are set for October) should just wait until there is a proper government next fall and work with elected representatives on judicial reform.

The president had announced that the mandatory retirement age for judges had been changed from 70 to 60 The judges protested that some quarter of sitting judges would thereby be forced out. Then Morsi, they argued, would use the vacancies as as a pretext to stack the courts with Muslim Brotherood judges. The Muslim Brotherhood has long been said to suspect that the judges are Mubarak appointees and that they might like to promote a counter-revolution with their decrees.

Press TV has a video account:

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Drone Strikes are the Face of America to Yemenis: al-Muslimi

Posted on 04/29/2013 by Juan Cole

Alice K. Ross writes at the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

‘Drone strikes are the face of America to many Yemenis,’ Farea al-Muslimi told a rare US Senate hearing on targeted killing last week.

The Yemeni journalist and activist gave emotive testimony at a Senate subcommittee about the impact of drone strikes and targeted killings on his homeland. His statement was a view from beneath the strikes that is almost unique in Washington and drew some applause from the chamber.

In stark terms he described the human toll of the US’s covert campaign in Yemen, such as the aftermath of the catastrophic December 2009 cruise missile strike on al-Majala that killed over 40 civilians, including children and pregnant women. After the attack the bodies of the women and children were indistinguishable from the livestock that died alongside them, a tribesman told him.

‘Just six days ago, this so-called war came straight to my village,’ said al-Muslimi, who was educated in the US. A reported drone strike on April 18 left farmers ‘scared and angry’ and ‘tore my heart’, he added.

The presumed target of the strike, Hamdi al Radami, could easily have been arrested, al-Muslimi claimed, challenging statements by President Obama and his new CIA chief John Brennan that targeted killings are only used as a ‘last resort’, when capture is impossible.

Accounts of the strike vary: unnamed intelligence officials said al Radami was an ‘influential al Qaeda trainer’ and founder of a local cell. Yemeni journalist Nasser al-Arabyee described the area as ‘Yemen’s Tora Bora’.

Read Farea al-Muslimi’s written testimony here

The Senate constitutional subcommittee hearing, which heard al-Muslimi’s statement, is one of a tiny number of public examinations of the drone campaign and targeted killing to date.

As public interest in the drone issue has mounted there has been increasing pressure on the government to be more open over its use of drones and its legal justifications, and President Obama has recently pledged the administration will be more transparent over targeted killings. But the government refused to send a representative to yesterday’s hearing.

Alongside al-Muslimi, the committee heard from the Pentagon’s former number two General James Cartwright, from constitutional lawyers, and from the casualty-counting organisation New America Foundation.

Witnesses all expressed reservations about the current drone programme, and several voiced concerns at the prospect of other nations embarking on targeted killing programmes of their own.

Retired US Air Force colonel Martha McSally said oversight of targeted killing needed to be ‘tightened up’ and added: ‘There has been, I think, way too much vagueness and lack of clarity even in the information that’s come out of the chain of command relating to their legal argument and their strategy on that matter.’

But drones allowed more ‘oversight and precision’, and were more efficient than capture missions, she added, which could also risk civilian lives and took longer.

General Cartwright, the former deputy Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee, chaired by Senator Dick Durbin, that he feared the US had ‘ceded the moral authority’ through its use of drones, while law professor Rosa Brooks warned the ‘squishy’ definition of what constitutes official armed combat meant the US’s justification for targeted killing was ‘infinitely malleable’.

The hearing follows a row between Congress and the government over the government’s initial refusal to reveal its legal justifications for targeted killing to members of the Intelligence committee, even though the committee is responsible for overseeing the CIA’s activities. The issue threatened to dominate Brennan’s nomination hearings as CIA director. Durbin indicated in yesterday’s session that further government hearings are a possibility.

Watch the full hearing here

Mirrored from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism

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Obama Jokes with White House Correspondents (Video)

Posted on 04/29/2013 by Juan Cole

President Obama at 2013 White House Correspondents’ Dinner

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