Category: Barack Obama

US Spying: “An Institutional Obsession”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Former constitutional lawyer and columnist on civil liberties and U.S. national security issues for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to discuss how US spying in out allies has become an institutionalized obsession with surveillance.

The spat over U.S. spying on Germany grew over the weekend following reports the National Security Agency has monitored the phone calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel since as early as 2002, before she even came to office. The NSA also spied on Merkel’s predecessor, Gerhard Schroeder, after he refused to support the Iraq War. NSA staffers working out of the U.S. embassy in Berlin reportedly sent their findings directly to the White House. The German tabloid Bild also reports President Obama was made aware of Merkel’s phone tap in 2010, contradicting his apparent claim to her last week that he would have stopped the spying had he known. In another new disclosure, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo reports today the NSA tracked some 60 million calls in Spain over the course of a month last year. A delegation of German and French lawmakers are now in Washington to press for answers on the allegations of U.S. spying in their home countries.

Jay Ackroyd at Eschaton thought this part of the lengthy interview deserved to be highlighted:

    So, for the top national security official in the United States to go to the Senate and lie to their faces and deny that the NSA is doing exactly that which our reporting proved that the NSA was in fact doing is plainly a crime, and of course he should be prosecuted, and would be prosecuted if we lived under anything resembling the rule of law, where everybody is held and treated equally under the law, regardless of position or prestige. Of course, we don’t have that kind of system, which is why no Wall Street executives have been prosecuted, no top-level Bush officials were prosecuted for torture or warrantless eavesdropping, and why James Clapper hasn’t been prosecuted despite telling an overt lie to Congress. And what’s even more amazing, though, Amy, is that not only has James Clapper not been prosecuted, he hasn’t even lost his job. He’s still the director of national intelligence many months after his lie was revealed, because there is no accountability for the top-level people in Washington.

   And the final thing to say about that is, there’s all kinds of American journalists who love to go on television and accuse Edward Snowden of committing all these grave and horrible crimes. They’re so brave when it comes to declaring Edward Snowden to be a criminal and calling for [inaudible]. Not one of them has ever gone on television and said, “James Clapper committed crimes, and he ought to be prosecuted.” The question that you just asked journalistically is such an important and obvious one, yet not-none of the David Gregorys or Jeffrey Toobins or all these American journalists who fancy themselves as aggressive, tough reporters, would ever dare utter the idea that James Clapper ought to be arrested or prosecuted for the crimes that he committed, because they’re there to serve those interests and not to challenge or be adversarial to them.

Jay also pointed out e-mail exchange between Glenn and Bill Keller, the former executive editor of The New York Times, in an op-ed by Keller.

Is Glenn Greenwald the Future of News?

by Bill Keller

Much of the speculation about the future of news focuses on the business model: How will we generate the revenues to pay the people who gather and disseminate the news? But the disruptive power of the Internet raises other profound questions about what journalism is becoming, about its essential character and values. This week’s column is a conversation – a (mostly) civil argument – between two very different views of how journalism fulfills its mission.

Glenn Greenwald broke what is probably the year’s biggest news story, Edward Snowden’s revelations of the vast surveillance apparatus constructed by the National Security Agency. He has also been an outspoken critic of the kind of journalism practiced at places like The New York Times, and an advocate of a more activist, more partisan kind of journalism. Earlier this month he announced he was joining a new journalistic venture, backed by eBay billionaire Pierre Omidyar, who has promised to invest $250 million and to “throw out all the old rules.” I invited Greenwald to join me in an online exchange about what, exactly, that means.

It’s long but worth the read.  

The Big Lie: The US Doesn’t Torture

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The prisoners on trial before military tribunal at Guantanamo for their attacks on the United States are unable to present evidence that they were tortured by the CIA even though they are facing the death penalty. This is what has been happening:

On Tuesday, October 22, the lawyers for the September 11 accused argued that the Guantanamo military commissions’ protective order (pdf) violates the United Nations Convention Against Torture. The protective order states that the defendant’s “observations and experiences” of torture at CIA black sites are classified. Defense counsel say that this violates the Convention Against Torture’s requirement that victims of torture have “a right to complain” to authorities in the countries where they are tortured, and makes the commission into “a co-conspirator in hiding evidence of war crimes.”

It is not only the defendants’ lawyers who object to the protective order. The ACLU has called the restrictions on detainees’ testimony “chillingly Orwellian.” Earlier this year, the Constitution Project’s bipartisan, independent Task Force on Detainee Treatment (for which I served as staff investigator) found that the military commissions’ censorship of detainees’ descriptions of their own torture could not be justified on grounds of national security, and violated “the public’s First Amendment right of access to those proceedings, the detainees’ right to counsel, and counsel’s First Amendment rights.” This month, the European Parliament passed a resolution that called on the United States “to stop using draconian protective orders which prevent lawyers acting for Guantánamo Bay detainees from disclosing information regarding any detail of their secret detention in Europe.”

The reason the prisoners are being denies their rights to present the evidence of torture, even though they are facing the death penalty, is this:

In April 2009, over the CIA’s objections, Obama declassified four Office (pdf) of Legal (pdf) Counsel (pdf) (OLC) (pdf) opinions that described in graphic detail the brutal techniques that the CIA used against captives after September 11, because in his judgment their release was “required by the rule of law.”

But today, the administration takes the position (pdf) that the release of the OLC memos only declassified the CIA’s use of torturous interrogation techniques “in the abstract.” The details of any individual detainee’s treatment in CIA custody are still top secret. The CIA claims this is necessary because disclosures about individual interrogations would “provide future terrorists with a guidebook on how to evade such questioning,” and “provide ready-made ammunition for al-Qa’ida propaganda.”

The one thing that the defense lawyers, the prosecutors and the judges all agree on, President Barack Obama could fix this.

Biden: Mukasey Stance on Torture “Shocks My Conscience”

Paul Kiel – January 30, 2008, 4:12 PM EST

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) said that he’d been getting the impression that Mukasey really thought about torture in relative terms, and wanted to know if that was so. Is it OK to waterboard someone if a nuclear weapon was hidden — the Jack Bauer scenario — but not OK to waterboard someone for more pedestrian information?

Mukasey responded that it was “not simply a relative issue,” but there “is a statute where it is a relative issue,” he added, citing the Detainee Treatment Act. That law engages the “shocks the conscience” standard, he explained, and you have to “balance the value of doing something against the cost of doing it.”

What digby said:

So basically, while we “do not torture” we have admitted “in the abstract” that we did torture, but if any of those tortured reveal the details of that torture the terrorists of the future will know how we torture and learn how to evade it. So we’re obviously still torturing. Am I missing something?>

No, digby, you didn’t miss a thing.

Sam Adams Award

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In Russia, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden appeared in public for the first time since he was grated asylum by the Russian government. He met with other whistleblowers and activists to receive the Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence.

RT News interviewed whistleblowers and activists Jesselyn Radack, Thomas Andrews Drake, Ray McGovern and Coleen Rowley in their studio after the award was presented.

Never Mind Bush, Obama Worse Than Nixon

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

This is the most closed, control-freak administration I’ve ever covered.

That is what David E. Sanger, the chief Washington correspondent for the New York Times, told former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie. Sanger was one of 30 journalists Downie interviewed for a report on the Obama administration’s efforts to control leaks. Downie, who was one of the editors involved in the Post’s Watergate investigation, called the administration’s “war on leaks” the most aggressive since the Nixon administration.

The Obama Administration and the Press

by Leonard Downie Jr. with reporting by Sara Rafsky, Committee to Protect Journalists

Leak investigations and surveillance in post-9/11 America

U.S. President Barack Obama came into office pledging open government, but he has fallen short of his promise. Journalists and transparency advocates say the White House curbs routine disclosure of information and deploys its own media to evade scrutiny by the press. Aggressive prosecution of leakers of classified information and broad electronic surveillance programs deter government sources from speaking to journalists.

Compounding the concerns of journalists and the government officials they contact, news stories based on classified documents obtained from Snowden have revealed extensive surveillance of Americans’ telephone and e-mail traffic by the National Security Agency. Numerous Washington-based journalists told me that officials are reluctant to discuss even unclassified information with them because they fear that leak investigations and government surveillance make it more difficult for reporters to protect them as sources. “I worry now about calling somebody because the contact can be found out through a check of phone records or e-mails,” said veteran national security journalist R. Jeffrey Smith of the Center for Public Integrity, an influential nonprofit government accountability news organization in Washington. “It leaves a digital trail that makes it easier for the government to monitor those contacts,” he said.

“I think we have a real problem,” said New York Times national security reporter Scott Shane. “Most people are deterred by those leaks prosecutions. They’re scared to death. There’s a gray zone between classified and unclassified information, and most sources were in that gray zone. Sources are now afraid to enter that gray zone. It’s having a deterrent effect. If we consider aggressive press coverage of government activities being at the core of American democracy, this tips the balance heavily in favor of the government.”

At the same time, the journalists told me, designated administration spokesmen are often unresponsive or hostile to press inquiries, even when reporters have been sent to them by officials who won’t talk on their own. Despite President Barack Obama’s repeated promise that his administration would be the most open and transparent in American history, reporters and government transparency advocates said they are disappointed by its performance in improving access to the information they need.

In an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now!, Leonard Downey discusses freedom of the press and the Obama administration.

I found that these leaks investigations and a program called the Insider Threat Program, instituted since the Bradley Manning leaks, that requires government employees to monitor each other to make sure that they’re not leaking information to anyone, including journalists, to have really frightened government officials. Many, many reporters that I interviewed here in Washington say that government officials are afraid to talk to them. They’re afraid that their telephone conversations and their email exchanges would be monitored. That is to say that investigators could come in later, as they did in several leaks investigations, and use their telephone and email records in order to find the contacts between government officials and reporters. So they’re simply scared to talk to reporters.

And this, this is not good, because-I just heard the president saying that he was concerned about the safety of our troops and our intelligence officers. It’s important that responsible, knowledgeable government officials be able to talk to reporters about these matters, so that, among other things, they can alert reporters to information that might be harmful to national security or harmful to human life, in which case no responsible news organization would publish those.



Transcript can be read here

Obama to Nominate Yellen to the Fed Chair

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In the midst of the government shutdown and looming debt ceiling crisis, it was announced from the usual anonymous White House sources, that President Barack Obama will name the Federal Reserve’s vice chair, Janet Yellen, as his nominee to succeed Chairman Ben Bernanke.

The announcement by president Barack Obama is scheduled for 3pm EST on Wednesday, the White House said. Both Yellen and the current Fed chair, Ben Bernanke, are expected to attend.

The nomination ends a long public debate about Obama’s choice for Fed chairman. Yellen has long been seen as the frontrunner to succeed Bernanke, who is set to step down early next year. But she faced stiff opposition from former Treasury secretary Lawrence Summers who had strong support within the Obama administration. If approved by the Senate, she would be the first woman to head the central bank in its 100-year history.

The president was left with few choices after his “favorite” and “best bud’ Larry Summers was forced to withdraw because of fierce criticism from just about everyone, including Wall Street, except White House insiders. Larry was just not going to happen.

That said, while Ms. Yellen is going to be the first female head of the Federal Reserve (another glass ceiling broken), she is hardly that different policy-wise from Summers.

What We Really Should be Yellin About When it Comes to Who Runs the Fed

by priceman

Effective regulation, and on that note, it is a positive thing that the Summers of our discontent can finally be laid to rest. After all the damage Larry Summers has caused in being one of the architects of this crisis, from boxing in Brooksley Born and ignoring her warnings with regard to derivatives which brought down Long Term Capital Management during the Clinton administration, to his sexism among everything else. He has now thankfully taken himself out consideration for the job.

It’s a good thing he did. Rather than fighting for something or someone that helps people suffering from this economic crisis, President Obama strongly recommended and fought for Larry Summers to be Chairman of the Federal Reserve, a guy who lost a billion dollars as President of Harvard betting on interest rates. Yeah, let that sink in for awhile.

It’s really not OK. This is why making excuses for everything the President does, as too many Democrats do without thinking of the damage, is dangerous, immoral, and unprincipled. Now it looks like the front runner to replace Ben Bernanke as Chairman of the Federal Reserve is going to be Vice Chairwoman of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and once President and Chief Executive Officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, Janet Yellin. Unlike Larry Summers, she at least saw the crisis coming as early as 2005.

Be Careful What You Ask For

The progressive Democrats of the Senate got Larry Summers to withdraw from consideration for chair of the Federal Reserve over the weekend. So now they’re yellin’ for Yellen. Well, folks Janet Yellen the current vice chair of the Federal Reserve is just the distaff version of Larry minus the misogyny.

Huffington Post’s senior political economy reporter Zach Carter gives a rundown of Ms. Yellen’s policy history before and during her tenure as chair of Council of Economic Advisers in the Clinton administration. During that time she backed the repeal of the landmark Glass-Steagall bank reform, supported the 1993 North American Free Trade Agreement and pressured the government to develop a new statistical metric intended to lower payments to senior citizens on Social Security. Yes, dears, that last one would be an earlier version of the Chained CPI.

TPP: Obama’s Trojan Horse

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

The government shutdown and the threat of default on debt payments kept President Barack Obama from attending the recent round of talks on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). The president has hopes that it will be finished by the end of the year. Major corporations are urging the Pres. Obama not to “water down” the agreement which would put billions in their pockets sucking more money from the 99%, creating an even bigger income gap around the world. The TPP, which has been negotiated in secret since the Bush administration, would prioritize corporate rights over the rights of consumers and workers. In June, Rep. Alan Grayson was allowed to read the text of the TPP, that he described as “an anti-American power grab by big corporations

The TPP is a large, secret trade agreement that is being negotiated with many countries in East Asia and South America.

The TPP is nicknamed “NAFTA on steroids.”  Now that I’ve read it, I can see why. I can’t tell you what’s in the agreement, because the U.S. Trade Representative calls it classified. But I can tell you two things about it.

1)    There is no national security purpose in keeping this text secret.

2)    This agreement hands the sovereignty of our country over to corporate interests.

3)    What they can’t afford to tell the American public is that [the rest of this sentence is classified].

(Well, I did promise to tell you only two things about it.)

I will be fighting this agreement with everything I’ve got. And I know you’ll be there every step of the way.

Besides this agreement being labeled a secret except for the business insiders who are negotiating it, the corporations want Congress to “fast track” it’s approval which the president the ability to put an accord before lawmakers for an up-or-down vote. This would assure that the TPP would pass without congressional oversight. However, some lawmakers are balking, at not only fast tracking the agreement, but the agreement itself:

A growing chorus of lawmakers is calling for trade negotiators to address issues including currency manipulation, food-safety standards and competition with state-backed industries as the administration seeks “fast-track” authority to smooth eventual passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“I oppose fast-track authority like what we have had in the past,” Representative Rosa DeLauro, a Connecticut Democrat, said on a conference call today with reporters. “We are not just here to rubber stamp what gets done” by trade negotiators, she said. [..]

Negotiations are “being done without sufficient input from members of Congress,” DeLauro said. Lawmakers should have more of a say because the TPP is a 21st century agreement that goes beyond traditional tariff deals, she said. The TPP would entail issues including environmental protection, Internet trade, access to medicines and market access for small businesses.

A bipartisan group of 60 senators — a bloc big enough to sink a trade accord — on Sept. 24 urged the administration to include provisions to prevent currency manipulation in U.S. free-trade agreements.

Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, joined Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman and Juan González to discuss how this corporate “Trojan Horse” would rewrite US laws and regulation

While the text of the treaty has been largely negotiated behind closed doors and, until June, kept secret from Congress, more than 600 corporate advisers reportedly have access to the measure, including employees of Halliburton and Monsanto. “This is not mainly about trade,” says Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. “It is a corporate Trojan horse. The agreement has 29 chapters, and only five of them have to do with trade. The other 24 chapters either handcuff our domestic governments, limiting food safety, environmental standards, financial regulation, energy and climate policy, or establishing new powers for corporations.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation is fighting the fast tract of this agreement and calling for open congressional hearings.

President Obama was scheduled to meet with the leaders of the other eleven countries negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Bali, supposedly to plan the “end-game” for this massive trade deal. However, he has made a sudden decision to cancel his trip, claiming that this was a casualty of the government shutdown. Obama’s announcement adds to the impression that goal of completing TPP at APEC has become unobtainable and reveal how precariously the negotiations are going.

There are reports that the remaining TPP country leaders who will be attending the APEC meeting will still be convening “with the aim of hammering out a framework.” As we’ve also previously mentioned, smaller issue-specific intersessional meetings have also grown more frequent and gone even further underground. So while the news of his trip getting cancelled is indeed welcome news, the TPP still could be signed even as its contents remain hidden from the public.

They also have  website “Why the Heck Should I Care About the TPP?” which lets you click through different facts about the agreement and how it will impact us as users.

We here at Stars Hollow and Docudharma urge you to take action and demand Congress exercise their Constitutional authority to oversee the U.S. trade negotiations.

“A Naked Declaration of Imperialism”

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama addressed the world at the 2013 UN General Assembly meeting in New York City. He mostly touted the US policy in the Middle East and the so-called right of the US to interfere with the sovereign nations of the region. Even though the president has directed Secretary of State John Kerry to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister over Iran’s nuclear program, he again declared that the US can use force to stop what there is no evidence of, an Iranian nuclear weapon. The speech, a neo-con’s dream, was littered with lies, as enumerated by David Swanson.

2. “(P)eople are being lifted out of poverty,” Obama said, crediting actions by himself and others in response to the economic crash of five years ago. But downward global trends in poverty are steady and long pre-date Obama’s entry into politics. And such a trend does not exist in the U.S. [..]

4. “Together, we have also worked to end a decade of war,” Obama said. In reality, Obama pushed Iraq hard to allow that occupation to continue, and was rejected just as Congress rejected his missiles-for-Syria proposal. Obama expanded the war on Afghanistan. Obama expanded, after essentially creating, drone wars. Obama has increased global U.S. troop presence, global U.S. weapons sales, and the size of the world’s largest military. He’s put “special” forces into many countries, waged a war on Libya, and pushed for an attack on Syria. How does all of this “end a decade of war”? And how did his predecessor get a decade in office anyway? [..]

6. “We have limited the use of drones.” Bush drone strikes in Pakistan: 51. Obama drone strikes in Pakistan: 323. (That they have admitted to. TMC [..]

8. “… and there is a near certainty of no civilian casualties.” There are hundreds of confirmed civilian dead from U.S. drones, something the Obama administration seems inclined to keep as quiet as possible. [..]

13. “How do we address the choice of standing callously by while children are subjected to nerve gas, or embroiling ourselves in someone else’s civil war?” That isn’t a complete list of choices, as Obama discovered when Russia called Kerry’s bluff and diplomacy became a choice, just as disarmament and de-escalation and pressure for a ceasefire are choices. Telling Saudi Arabia “Stop arming the war in Syria or no more cluster bombs for you,” is a choice. [..]

14. “What is the role of force in resolving disputes that threaten the stability of the region and undermine all basic standards of civilized conduct?” Force doesn’t have a role in civilized conduct, the most basic standard of which is relations without the use of force. [..]

17. “It is an insult to human reason – and to the legitimacy of this institution – to suggest that anyone other than the regime carried out this attack.” Really? In the absence of evidence, skepticism isn’t reasonable for this Colin-Powelled institution, the same U.N. that was told Libya would be a rescue and watched it become a war aimed at illegally overthrowing a government? Trust us? [..]

There are 45 cringe worthy lies in David’s dissection of the president’s speech.

Author and national security correspondent for The Nation, appearing with Amy Goodman and Nermeen Shaihk on Democracy Now! called the president’s speech “a really naked declaration of imperialism.



Transcript can be read here

During this section of the speech my jaw sort of hit the floor. He basically came out and said the United States is an imperialist nation and we are going to do whatever we need to conquer areas to take resources from around the world. I mean, it was a really naked sort of declaration of imperialism, and I don’t use that word lightly, but it really is. I mean, he pushed back against the Russians when he came out and said I believe America is an exceptional nation. He then defended the Gulf War and basically said that the motivation behind it was about oil and said we are going to continue to take such actions in pursuit of securing natural resources for ourselves and our allies. I mean, this was a pretty incredible and bold declaration he was making, especially given the way that he has tried to portray himself around the world. On the other hand, you know, remember what happened right before Obama took the stage is that the president of Brazil got up, and she herself is a former political prisoner who was abused and targeted in a different lifetime, and she gets up and just blasts the United States over the NSA spy program around the world.

Obama’s UN Speech: Packaging Neoconservative Values in the Language of Peace & Liberation

by Kevin Gosztola, FDL The Dissenter

The speech President Barack Obama delivered at the United Nations General Assembly was a neoconservative foreign policy speech, the kind of speech one might have heard President George W. Bush deliver in the midst of the Iraq War to defend decisions made by those ruling America.

Both Robert Kagan and William Kristol, leading American neoconservatives, argued in 1996, “Without a broad, sustaining foreign policy vision, the American people will be inclined to withdraw from the world and will lose sight of their abiding interest in vigorous world leadership. Without a sense of mission, they will seek deeper and deeper cuts in the defense and foreign affairs budgets and gradually decimate the tools of US hegemony.”

The hegemon or paramount power that neoconservative policy thinkers like Kagan and Kristol consider America to be passed on an opportunity to show “leadership” by striking Syria. Obama was acutely aware that the United States was not in control of the developing response to the crisis in Syria. His speech was an opportunity to reassert American power, especially in the Middle East and North Africa. [..]

Now, America has drone bases to make war permanent. It has a massive surveillance apparatus that Obama is more than willing to defend and utilize against any country in the world that threatens its power. Though all countries may seek to spy on one another to decide what to do diplomatically, no country can match the technological capabilities of the United States as it bugs and spies on diplomatic missions of countries to remain supreme.

US Demands India Block Production Of Low-Cost Generic Drugs

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

One of the biggest drivers of health care costs to the patient is medication. Pharmaceutical companies who hold the patents often make minor changes in the drug to gain a new patent and applying for a new patent on essentially the same drug. This is called “evergreening.” A paper in PLOS examined the economic impact of this practice:

The researchers identified prescriptions of eight follow-on drugs issued by hospital and community pharmacists in Geneva between 2000 and 2008. To analyze the impact of evergreening strategies on healthcare spending, they calculated the market share score (an indicator of market competitiveness) for all prescriptions of the originally patented (brand) drug, the follow-on drug, and generic versions of the drug. The researchers then used hospital and community databases to analyze the costs of replacing brand and/or follow-on drugs with a corresponding generic drug (when available) under three scenarios (1) replacing all brand drug prescriptions, (2) replacing all follow-on drug prescriptions, and (3) replacing both follow-on and brand prescriptions. [..]

Using these methods, the researchers found that over the study period, the number of patients receiving either a brand or follow-on drug increased from 56,686 patients in 2001 to 131,193 patients in 2008. The total cost for all studied drugs was €171.5 million, of which €103.2 million was for brand drugs, €41.1 million was for follow-on drugs, and €27.2 million was for generic drugs. Based on scenario 1 (all brand drugs being replaced by generics) and scenario 2 (all follow-on drugs being replaced by generics), over the study period, the healthcare system could have saved €15.9 million and €14.4 million in extra costs, respectively. The researchers also found some evidence that hospital prescribing patterns (through a restrictive drug formulary [RDF]) influenced prescribing in the community: over the study period, the influence of hospital prescription patterns on the community resulted in an extra cost of €503,600 (mainly attributable to two drugs, esomeprazole and escitalopram). However, this influence also resulted in some savings because of a generic drug listed in the hospital formulary: use of the generic version of the drug cetirizine resulted in savings of €7,700.

(emphasis mine).

In a post at his blog, law professor Jonathan Turley explains how President Barack Obama has yielded to the pressures of the pharmaceutical industry and pushed to block access the inexpensive generic drugs, demanding India, one of the world’s largest suppliers of generic drugs, block production of the low cost medications:

Millions of Americans struggle on a daily basis to afford medicine in the United States which is the highest in the world. Many seek affordable drugs by driving to Canada or seeking medicine (as well as medical care) in India. Yet, one of the first things that President Obama did in the new health care law was to cave to a demand by the powerful pharmaceutical lobby to drop provisions guaranteeing cheaper medicine. The lobby then got Congress to block two measures to guarantee affordable medicine. With billions at stake, Congress and the White House again yielded to the demands of this industry, which is sapping the life savings away of millions of families. Given this history, many are concerned about a meeting planned between Obama and the Prime Minister of India. Public interest groups object that Obama is threatening retaliation against India in the hopes of blocking one of the major alternatives for families in acquiring affordable medicine. Congress has also again responded to industry demands for pressure in India to change its laws and, as a result, raise the cost of medicine. Doctors Without Borders, a highly respected medical group, has denounced the effort of the Obama Administration as threatening basic health care for its own citizens and those around the world.

From Doctors Without Boarders press release:

On the eve of a meeting between US president Barack Obama and Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh at the White House, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today warned that India faces retaliatory political pressure from the US government and pharmaceutical industry for its efforts to legally limit abusive patenting practices and to increase access to affordable generic medicines.

Pharmaceutical companies are aggressively lobbying congress and the Obama administration in a broad campaign to press India into changing its intellectual property laws. India is a critical producer of affordable medicines, and competition among generic drug manufacturers there has brought down the price of medicines for HIV, TB, and cancer by more than 90 percent. [..]

The pharmaceutical lobby, led by Pfizer, is currently engaged in a concerted effort to pressure India to change its intellectual property laws. In June, 170 members of US congress wrote a letter to President Obama urging him to send a “strong signal” to India’s high-level officials about its intellectual property policies, and numerous congressional hearings have been held in the past year designed in part to criticize India’s robust defense of public health. Several interest groups have been created to lobby the US government about India’s policies and in early September, US congressional trade leaders requested that the US International Trade Commission initiate an official investigation on India’s intellectual property laws. [..]

Earlier this year, Novartis lost a seven-year-battle to claim a patent on the salt form of the cancer drug imatinib, marketed as Gleevec. The Indian Supreme Court ruled that this new formulation did not meet the patentability requirement in Indian patent law, which limits the common pharmaceutical industry practice of “evergreening,” or extending drug patents on existing drugs in order to lengthen monopolies. [..]

These decisions by the Indian judiciary and government are compliant with all existing international law, including those rules outlined in the World Trade Organization Agreement on Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property (TRIPS) and the Doha Declaration on TRIPS and Public Health. Both defend access to existing medicines by allowing countries to use legal flexibilities such as patent oppositions and compulsory licenses to overcome intellectual property barriers. Nevertheless, some US pharmaceutical companies are crying foul, and wrongly accusing India’s patent system of not being consistent with TRIPS.

(all emphasis mine)

As Prof. Turley points out, India is forcing down the cost of drugs making life saving drugs available to millions. If Big Pharma is successful the impact will be life threatening to millions around the world.

No, Mr. President, the Economy Is Not Improving

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

President Barack Obama briefly addressed the country on the fifth anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the start of the financial crisis that would see the middle class loose most of its wealth. The president rightfully chastised the obstruction on congress, blasting the Republican threats to shut down the government unless the he agrees to de-fund the Affordable Care Act and he patted himself on the back for how far the economy has come in the last five years.

In his speech the president paints a glowing picture of the economy and his accomplishments:

And so those are the stories that guided everything we’ve done. It’s what those earliest days of the crisis caused us to act so quickly through the Recovery Act to arrest the downward spiral and put a floor under the fall. We put people to work, repairing roads and bridges, to keep teachers in our classrooms, our first responders on the streets. We helped responsible homeowners modify their mortgages so that more of them could keep their homes. We helped jump-start the flow of credit to help more small businesses keep their doors open. We saved the American auto industry.

And as we worked to stabilize the economy and get it growing and creating jobs again, we also started pushing back against the trends that have been battering the middle class for decades, so we took on a broken health care system, we invested in new American technologies to end our addiction to foreign oil, we put in place tough new rules on big banks, rules that we need to finalize before the end of the year, by the way, to make sure that the job is done, and we put in new protections that crack down on the worst practices of mortgage lenders and credit card companies.

We also changed a tax code that was too skewed in favor of the wealthiest Americans. We locked in tax cuts for 98 percent of Americans. We asked those at the top to pay a little bit more.

So if you add it all up, over the last three-and-a-half years, our businesses have added 7.5 million new jobs. The unemployment rate has come down. Our housing market is healing. Our financial system is safer. We sell more goods made in America to the rest of the world than ever before.

However, his rosy view of the current state of the economy isn’t shared by the 99% who are still struggling with low wage jobs, unemployment, and a housing crisis that is still looming.

The president’s speech makes one wonder who is advising this man and what economy was Obama talking about? Then one remembers that it was his best buddy Larry Summers and the Chicago School of Rubinite cohorts, as The Guardian‘s economics editor Heidi Moore notes in her column. Ms. Moore writes that is time to “end the delusion that this White House has done even a fraction of what it should to help the economy” and concludes that the president has had some poor economic advice:

The president’s economic initiatives – food stamps, manufacturing, infrastructure, raising the debt ceiling, appointing a new chairman of the Federal Reserve – have mostly ended in either neglect or shambles. After five years, the Obama Administration’s stated intentions to improve the fortunes of the middle class, boost manufacturing, reduce income inequality, and promote the recovery of the economy have come up severely short. [..]

Here’s the litany of failure: the president has not pushed through any major stimulus bill since 2009, and most of that was pork-barrel junk. Manufacturing is weak and weakening; the employment gap between the rich and the poor is the widest on record; the economic recovery is actually more like an extended stagnation with 12 million people unemployed; the housing “recovery” will be stalled as long as incomes are low and house prices are high; and quantitative easing as a stimulus, while a heroic independent effort by the Federal Reserve, is past its due date and is no longer improving the country’s fortunes beyond the stock market.

Shall we continue? We don’t have a food stamp bill even though 49 million Americans lack regular access to food. Goldman Sachs analysts have said the sequester is taking a toll on stubbornly growing unemployment: “since sequestration took effect in March, federal job losses have been somewhat more pronounced,” they wrote last week; and another debt ceiling controversy – the third of Obama’s presidency – looms in only a few weeks with the potential to hurt what meager economic growth we can still cling to.

The economy for the vast majority of people and small businesses is not going well and won’t improve in the neat future. One of the people that Pres, Obama has ignored is Pres. Bill Clinton’s former Labor Secretary and economics professor that the University of California, Robert Reich. Prof. Reich sat down with Democracy Now!‘s Amy Goodman to discuss the current state of the economy since the fall of Lehman Brothers.



Transcript can be read here

Meanwhile, the president is living in a bubble. Let’s hope his bubble bursts before ours does and he starts to really do something about it.  

Game, Set, Match

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

Just how really stupid do these two think we are?

Obama’s Syria address: do we look that dumb?

by Michael Cohen, The Guardian

The president marred his chance to lay out a principled position to the American people with patronising dog-whistling

Upholding and enforcing the longstanding global norm against chemical weapons – while deterring Bashar al-Assad from using them again against his own people – offers a compelling rationale for even a punitive use of force by the United States against Syria. Tuesday night, Barack Obama made a semblance of that argument; but he lathered it in so much threat-exaggeration and maudlin imagery that it was virtually impossible to take his case for war seriously.

If anything, the fact that Obama was forced to rely on contradictory and deceptive arguments to sell the American people on the idea of military intervention in Syria did more to undermine the case for intervention than reinforce it. [..]

Finally, what is the justification for condemning one violation of international law (the use of chemical weapons) with the violation of another (fighting a war in Syria without a UN security council mandate)? Does this set a troubling precedent for conflicts down the road?

To be sure, there are reasonable answers to these questions, but in failing even to try to answer them, and instead, raising red-herring issues and making dubious claims – such as, attacking Syria will “make our own children safer over the long run” – Obama offered the American people a confusing and ultimately misleading rationale for military action.

What Vladimir Putin didn’t tell the American people about Syria

by Anna Neistat, The Guardian

Russia’s leader poses as a champion of the rule of law in a New York Times op-ed, but his record as Assad’s backer is shameful

It’s not what Vladimir Putin’s New York Times op-ed says that’s so worrisome; it’s what it doesn’t say. As a Russian and as someone who has been to Syria multiple times since the beginning of the conflict to investigate war crimes and other violations, I would like to mention a few things Putin overlooked …

There is not a single mention in Putin’s article, addressed to the American people, of the egregious crimes committed by the Syrian government and extensively documented by the UN Commission of Inquiry, local and international human rights groups, and numerous journalists: deliberate and indiscriminate killings of tens of thousands of civilians, executions, torture, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests. His op-ed also makes no mention of Russia’s ongoing transfer of arms to Assad throughout the past two and a half years. [..]

Finally, the sincerity of Putin’s talk about democratic values and international law is hard to take seriously when back home his own government continues to throw activists in jail, threatens to close NGOs, and rubber-stamps draconian and discriminatory laws.

President Putin should give more credit to his audience: Russia will be judged by its actions, both on the international arena and domestically. So far, Russia has been a key obstacle to ending the suffering in Syria. A change towards a more constructive role would be welcome. But a compilation of half-truths and accusations is not the right way to signal such a change.

Neither of these two men are honest brokers to end the Syrian conflict, nor are they exceptional.

Syria: Exceptional Drumming for War

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

In his speech to the nation on the possible use of military force in Syria, President Barack Obama spent most of the fifteen minutes justifying his banging the drums for war. Describing the images of people dying from exposure to an chemical weapon and citing unconfirmed casualty numbers, was a repulsive ploy to appeal to the emotions of the American people. Bombing and killing more people for humanitarian reasons is an oxymoron.

The president’s speech was a confusing mixture of claims that the action was a matter of national security but a paragraph later stating the opposite as his reason to take the issue to congress. He also made the statement that the US was the “anchor of global security” and looked upon as the enforcer of international agreements but then says “America is not the world’s policeman.” He mentions the danger of al Qaeda gaining strength in the chaos but failed to mention that the US is arming the Syrian rebels many of whom are members of al Qaeda and even more extremist Islamic groups.

After this rambling garbled message, Pres. Obama finally got around to mentioning diplomacy as an option and the Assad government’s offer to surrender its chemical weapons to international control and finally asked congress to table the resolution for the use of force.

However, it seemed as if Mr. Obama was already throwing in the towel on diplomacy through the UN before a resolution is even on the table.

In today’s New York Times, Russian President Vladimir Putin writes an op-ed opposing an American strike against Syria. In his plea for caution, Mr. Putin said he felt the need to speak directly to the “American people and their political leaders” citing “insufficient communication between our societies.” He noted the strong opposition worldwide and the possible consequences from the potential strike.

A strike would increase violence and unleash a new wave of terrorism. It could undermine multilateral efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and further destabilize the Middle East and North Africa. It could throw the entire system of international law and order out of balance.

Mr. Putin went on to argue that this fight is not about democracy stating that neither side is a champion for democratic rule and that arming the Syrian rebels is also arming US designated terrorist organizations, Al Nusra Front, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. Calling this an internal conflict  and ” one of the bloodiest in the world,” he didn’t mention that Russia was supplying the Syrian government with weapons and would continue to do so.

What have not heard from Mr. Obama, Mr. Putin, pundits or any world leaders is a plea for a cease fire. They all have bemoaned how difficult it will be to secure the stockpile of Syrian weapons during an armed conflict but no one has brokered the idea of a “white flag” while the process is taking place. Of course that would mean the rebels would have to present a unified front and there are few that believe that’s possible. Also no one is asking that the rebel forces surrender whatever chemical weapons they might have simply because the White House and the media is refusing to acknowledge even the idea that they might be in possession of them, as has been revealed by communications from Iran.

America is not a neutral actor in this conflict and neither is Russia. As Mr. Putin noted, “we must stop using the language of force and return to the path of civilized diplomatic and political settlement.”  Both sides need to own up to reality and stop banging the war drums. They need to learn to stop talking past each other and listen.

Syria: UN Resolution for Control of Chemical

Cross posted from The Stars Hollow Gazette

There are at least two resolutions are being presented to the UN Security Council to have an international agency take control of Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons and their destruction.

The Russian’s have rejected the US/French resolution and called for the US to drop its threats of military force.

American, British and French diplomats were meeting at the UN in New York on Tuesday night to draw up a resolution that would set deadlines for Bashar al-Assad to give up his chemical weapons backed by the threat of force.

However, a major standoff loomed as Russia made clear it would not abandon its Syrian ally. Instead the Russian foreign ministry said Moscow would push for a security council declaration on disarmament, which would have no binding authority and would not allow the use of force against the Assad regime.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, insisted the disarmament process would work “only if the US and those who support it on this issue pledge to renounce the use of force, because it is difficult to make any country – Syria or any other country in the world – unilaterally disarm if there is military action against it under consideration”.

Russia proposes to work with the Assad regime and the UN secretariat to lay out a “workable, precise and concrete” disarmament plan with a timetable but no chapter 7 enforcement mechanism.

Syria has accepted the Russian proposal to place the chemical weapons it possesses under international control.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem earlier announced that Damascus had agreed to the Russian proposal because it would “remove the grounds for American aggression,” according to an Interfax report.

“We held a very fruitful round of talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov yesterday, and he proposed an initiative relating to chemical weapons. And in the evening we agreed to the Russian initiative,” Walid al-Moualem was quoted as telling the speaker of Russia’s lower house parliament house in Moscow.

It comes as France plans to submit a resolution to the U.N. Security Council calling for Syria’s chemical weapons stockpile to be turned over to international control, Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said at a press conference in Paris on Tuesday.

Fabius said that the resolution would threaten “extremely serious” consequences if Syria violates conditions on chemical weapons.

The UN Security Council is scheduled to meet ina closed door session today at 4 PM EDT.

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama is preparing to speak this evening to press his policy for the use of military force to a very skeptical American public. In the light of the latest developments, the speech is expected to take a different direction. It does appear from statements from the White House press office that military intervention will still be an integral part of his policy towards Syria.

In the Senate, the vote on the resolution that passed the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week was rescheduled for Wednesday. That vote, as well, may not happen as a group of senators craft a new resolution tailored to the recent Russian proposal.

All of this is unlikely to stop the fighting or even guarantee that chemical weapons won’t be used against the Syrian civilian population since no one knows who is in possession of these weapons. What we do know is that this is a small step to use diplomacy to back away from increased hostilities.  

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