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Obama Has a Small Window to Go Out with Some Flair and Excitement

About that legacy, Mr. President

 

There is a lot of talk going on among the pundits about how President Obama is leaving no enduring legacy -- that his progressive actions as president, few and small that they may have been, were written in the sand of executive orders, which can and likely will be erased within days of Donald Trump’s inauguration.

In fact though, while there is truth to that observation, there is a legacy of President Obama that will last. It’s just that it’s a terrible one: His failure to prosecute and put an end to the many crimes and constitutional violations of the prior George W. Bush/Dick Cheney administration, like torture, the horrific and unconstitutional war-crime prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba; the Tuesday morning White House drone murder-planning sessions (which he actually institutionalized); the continuation of a program of mass incarceration (mostly of males of color); the expansion of the NSA’s domestic and international surveillance program, aimed at monitoring all electronic communications domestically and eventually globally; his signing instead of vetoing of a renewal of the wretched USA PATRIOT Act and related constitutional atrocities; and of course the decision to authorize a trillion-dollar upgrade of the US nuclear force, including the development of “useable” tactical nukes, coupled with the emplacement of nuclear missiles along Russia’s western border. I could go on, but in the interest of brevity I’ll let the reader finish this list of horrors.

Trump has vowed to cancel most of Obama's legacy of executive orders, but he still can act to leave an immutable legacyTrump has vowed to cancel most of Obama's legacy of executive orders, but he still can act to leave an immutable legacy
 

It’s too late now to undo most of this legacy of horrors, but there are still some things that our ill-deserving Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president could yet do as a lame-duck and largely powerless president before Trump’s move into the White House to at least do penance for his failures, and to perhaps salvage some measure of integrity as a legacy. Here’s my list:
 

1. At this point, with Trump waiting in the wings ready to reverse them, any new executive orders would be a waste of time, without even any symbolic value. But there is one power conferred specifically in the Constitution which Obama owns until the minute Trump finishes taking the presidential oath, and that is the power to commute sentences and to pardon. To date, Obama has been one of the most stingy presidents in history in his application of this awesome power. He should start wielding it like a saber, cutting the chains of all those languishing in jails around the country who are non-violent offenders, primarily for possession of drugs, all those sentenced to lengthy terms or to life in prison for minor crimes because of harsh mandatory sentencing guidelines and especially “three-strikes” laws, all those sentenced to life in prison for crimes they committed as minors or even young kids, all those sentenced to death in a system that we all, including this president, know were tried, conficted and sentenced by a wholly unfair and corrupted judicial system that excludes from capital juries anyone who opposes the death penalty, all those young people in juvenile detention who were sentenced without a lawyer, and all those jailed because of unpaid debts. Obama could go further: He could pardon all those in prison who have served, say, five years of their sentence and who are over 60, or perhaps 50 years old. Statistics show that older people do not commit much violent crimes. If rehabilitation is to mean anything, then keeping such older prisoners in jail any longer is simply a self-destructive, incredibly costly act of national vengeance, not intelligent and humane justice.

Here and There

 
 
We worship the moon here;
we sing her songs.
She charms us,
she heals us.
There they bow deep to the sun.
 
Here we plant our dreams
and harvest visions.
There they plant periods,
and harvest silence.
 
Here we intuit.
There they know.
 
Here we weave stories out of dreams and grief.
There they weave cities of blood and sand.
 
Here the tide ebbs
and rises and when it rises
the barnacles open and wave little ferns.
There the coral reefs are dying;
the bottle with their message
never reaches shore.
 
Here we call out names
in celebration of the family of life.
Here a name holds power.
There a name is lost and found,
cemented to a building
printed on the sky.
 
Here a fish leaps and the river sings.
There a river
is a million drinks of water,
a million sad stories of once upon a time.
 
Here the land is alive,
and the wind
and the stones are alive.
There the land is thirsty
and confused.
The wind is hungry,
the stones, asleep.
If you disturb them
they will begin to whisper
to the minerals in your bones
and they will gently ask you to return
the diamonds in your necklace.
 
 
--Gary Lindorff

Trump’s First Presidential Act Should Reward the Man Who Handed Him the Election

Free Julian Assange!

 

Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential race is probably bad news for Edward Snowden if he was hoping for a chance to leave Russia for a warmer climate or a more open political environment. Trump, in his typically over-the-top blustery manner has more than once called the man who exposed the NSA’s massive program for monitoring the electronic communications of Americans and even of the leaders of our purported foreign allies, a “spy” who should be “executed.”

But his election should be good news for Julian Assange, founder of Wikileaks. It was the Wikileaks disclosure of hacked copies of Hilllary Clinton’s secret speeches to the country’s big banks, and of the emails to and from Clinton campaign chair John Pedesta, describing among other things her campaign’s, and the Democratic National Committee’s sabotage of Bernie Sanders’ insurgent primary campaign, which almost certainly handed the presidency to Trump. (In one leaked email, Hillary Clinton asks if Assange could be "droned.")

Julian Assange peers from his place of asylum in Ecuador's London Embassy, from which he directed leaks of Clinton bank speeches and DNC emails that helped Trump win the presidencyJulian Assange peers from his place of asylum in Ecuador's London Embassy, from which he directed leaks of Clinton bank speeches and DNC emails that helped Trump win the presidency
 

Snowden is fine and safe living in asylum in Russia, but Assange has for four years been trapped in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London, which is really just a large apartment in a ritzy section of the city. There London Metropolitan Police stand guard round the clock ready to grab him if he tries to leave. Assange is being sought by an Ahab-like right-wing Swedish prosecutor with links to US intelligence for questioning about a trumped up pair of dodgy “rape” complaints long since debunked and withdrawn by two Swedish women, but because of the continued extradition demand from Sweden and a British arrest warrant issued on orders of a complicit right-wing British government, he is trapped. His understandable fear is that, with a sealed warrant for his arrest on espionage charges which is being held at the ready by the US Justice Department, the whole Swedish case is really about getting him delivered to Sweden, from which country he could be extradited to the US. (Assange has offered to voluntarily go to Sweden to be questioned by prosecutors if the Swedish government would promise not to extradite him to the US, but the Swedish government has refused such a guarantee, making the whole scheme apparent.)

Clearly, what Trump should do is announce that he intends to have his Justice Department drop all charges against Assange and Wikileaks.

Trump’s Presidency, the Demise of the Major Parties, and the Need for a New Progressive Movement

Of silver tongues and silver linings

 

Let’s look on the bright side.

Donald J. Trump is the next president of the United States. His stunning victory over Hillary Clinton came after he had first crushed the Republican Party establishment, steamrollering all the candidates it put forward and defeating party leaders’ concerted efforts to deny him the nomination as he rolled up victory after victory in that party’s primaries.

But Trump did more than that. He also, along with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, smashed the Democratic Party establishment too.

 President-Elect Donald TrumpGet used to it: President-Elect Donald Trump
 

Trump’s win in traditionally Democratic strongholds like New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, and his near win in Minnesota, not to mention his victories and near wins in states like Florida, Ohio, Michigan, North Carolina and Virginia, all a result of the Democratic Party’s failure to energize its critical base in black and Latino communities, have exposed the total bankruptcy of a party whose leadership long ago abandoned the poor, the working class, African Americans, Latinos and organized labor, working on a now thoroughly discredited assumption that it would automatically win those votes anyhow because those “little people” would have no place to turn but to the Democrats.

The Democratic Party establishment this election cycle threw any shred of principle to the wind in orchestrating the nomination of Hillary Clinton, surely the most disliked candidate to run on a major party ticket in history. The party did this knowing that it was promoting a candidate who had a tin ear for the issues of ordinary people, who was demonstrably corrupt and dismissive of laws and ethical standards, and who was actually under investigation by the FBI the whole time she was running in the primaries.

We know, thanks to principled Democratic Party leaders who quit like Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, the vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, and to emails leaked by Wikileaks, that the DNC worked assiduously throughout the primary season to undermine Bernie Sanders’ insurgent primary campaign. The DNC and the Clinton campaign -- actually facets of the same malignant organization -- did this by scheduling early debates at times, like during the Superbowl, when few people would be paying attention, by working with corrupt mainstream journalists to plant hit pieces on Sanders, resorting to cheap red-baiting, lying about his history of civil rights activism, and questioning his mental abilities, and even resorting to voter suppression -- usually a tactic favored more by Republican Party operatives.

Christie and Trump: Two G-O-Ps in a Rotten Pod

Joined at the lip

 

For a quick glimpse of life within a "Trump Nation" look no further than New Jersey, the east coast state led by Trump booster Gov. Chris Christie, the man who heads the transition team assembling top personnel for the administration of a possible President Donald Trump.

A snapshot of Christie’s ruinous reign as governor since taking the helm of the Garden State in 2010 is found in the headline of an editorial published in mid-September by New Jersey’s largest daily newspaper, the Newark Star Ledger:

“Chris Christie’s state is an economic cripple.”

Christie has practiced the economic policies that Trump has promised to pursue: massive tax cuts for corporations plus tax breaks for wealthy individuals.

“What tax cuts have surely given us is a big revenue hole – with no real economic boost to show for it,” that Star Ledger editorial noted.

Trump will improve their lot? Not!  LBW PhotoTrump will improve their lot? Not! LBW Photo
 

Christie push $2-billion in business tax reductions through the Democrat-dominated legislature and opposed modest tax increases on the wealthy.

“In short, the magical thinking that Gov. Chris Christie has relied on to steer the economy is simply not working. Like many Republicans, he clings to the notion that lower taxes are the key to economic growth, despite all the hard evidence to the contrary,” that editorial declared.

Like Trump’s current campaign trail promises for America, gubernatorial candidate Christie pledged to get New Jersey’s fiscal house in order – a pledge he failed to deliver.

Dakota Access Pipeline Prophecy for Worse to Come

Treaty rights as a grim lesson

 
Media coverage of the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline has been hopelessly myopic. Certainly environmental justice, police brutality and the violation of sacred burial grounds are important topics, but no one has addressed the larger systemic issues at play: Native American treaty rights and how their handling portends dismally for the everyone else. Even the most self-centered and politically apathetic must realize Pastor Martin Niemöller’s warning that it’s only a matter of time before even the most mainstream of society are persecuted.

To truly appreciate the full significance of the face-off at Standng Rock, one has to understand the historical context of this struggle, which has seen supporters from 300 Indian tribes lining up to back the Sioux People.

Every person in the United States has the right to clean water, but for Native Americans, that right is two-fold. The treaties that set up Indian reservations were not simply land ownership agreements. The terms actually dictated a broader set of terms. This includes not just land, but also the obligation to protect tribal property and assets; in other words, natural resources such as clean water.
  
Protectors at Standing RockProtectors at Standing Rock

Furthermore, the Snyder Act of 1921 delineated that the federal government is also obligated to provide health care to federally recognized tribes. While this typically takes the form of providing clinics and health insurance through Indian Health Services, ensuring clean water is obviously a basic tenant to providing basic public health care.

So when the Sioux who live on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation demand that their source of clean water is protected, it’s not simply a matter of basic human rights, but also a contractual financial obligation.

But the bigger concept at play here is that the 56.2 million acres of land that are identified as reservation land (totaling about 2% of the United States), are actually held “in trust.”

Most of us don’t know what that means. In life experience of the average American, you either own something or you don’t, but a “trust” is something in between. Some rich children have an idea. It’s similar to the “trust funds” that wealthy people set up for their children. The money is named to them and for their use, but with active management and significant restrictions on its use. Only at least with rich kids, at a certain age, the trust money usually is given to them outright and they can spend it however they see fit. That will never happen for the lands held in trust for Native Americans.

What that means on a practical level is that even if a specific tribe has rights to the land of reservation, it’s only in the setting of the high regulation from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Humanizing Our Militarized Border

History haunts the borderlands

 
The recent Encuentro (or Encounter) At the Border in the middle of Ambos Nogales -- the term used to consider Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Sonora, as one community -- was a wonderful distraction from the Donald and Hillary Show, which may be the most tiresome and preposterous encuentro in American political history.

Pablo Peregrina sings and an acrobat dances at the wall cutting through Ambos NogalesPablo Peregrina sings and an acrobat dances at the wall cutting through Ambos Nogales

For two days, from north and south, people trekked to the two Nogaleses to participate in the gatherings and demonstrations critical of the militarized US/Mexico border there. Hundreds of Mexicans and North Americans spoke out for a more humane, more sensible and more constructive border arrangement between the two nations. Citizens of both nations were fed up with the mistrust and paranoia, the growing array of weaponry and police-state surveillance with drones and other mysterious de-humanizing technology -- plus the not unusual grisly fact of Mexican corpses encountered in the Arizona desert. The timing for such an encuentro of citizens from both nations was good, given immigration along the border has become a major football in national political scrimmaging.

Donald Trump, of course, is going to build a wall to protect frightened North Americans from the scourge of “rapists” and other brown-skinned demons insinuating themselves from the south by hook or crook into our exceptional, Anglo culture. He’s going to make Mexico pay for this wall, he tells us, by fomenting a trade war with Mexico favorable to the US, thus making Mexico “pay” for his wall. Today, some 580 miles of barriers exist along the entire 1,989 miles of border. There’s currently a very tall and very ugly rusted steel wall running through Ambos Nogales.

A split rally was held for two days at this steel wall, with people coming from the south and from the north. It was sponsored by the School Of the Americas Watch, a group that had has for 25 years held annual demonstrations at the gate of Fort Benning in Georgia. The Friday before the weekend events at the wall, a large, boisterous rally and vigil was held at an immigration detention center in Eloy, north of Tucson. There were also workshops at a Nogales hotel, where all aspects of the militarization of our southern border were addressed.

Yahoo Scanned All Users' Emails for Government!

A scandal that reveals more than it says

 

If you are one of the approximately 280 million people with Yahoo email accounts, your email was scanned for content and possibly turned over to the U.S. government. Yahoo, on Tuesday, admitted that fact.

Reuters revealed on Tuesday that the Internet mega-company (which is now being purchased by Verizon Communications) designed a special program last year to capture and scan all its users' incoming email after being ordered to do that by the either the NSA or FBI. It deployed the program over the last year, scanning every piece of email Yahoo accounts received and apparently turning over all email that contained any of the tens of thousands of "keywords" the NSA considers suspicious.

The decision, Reuters says, was made by President and Chief Executive Officer Marissa Mayer, in collaboration with people in her legal department. It wasn't without controversy: several Yahoo top staffers left the company including Chief Information Security Officer Alex Stamos (who left for a top job at Facebook).

Yahoh Chief Mayer -- She left out "scan all user email"Yahoh Chief Mayer -- She left out "scan all user email"
 

The news is startling for several reasons. It's also deceptive for some others.

Sioux Activists and Backers Prepare for Cold Winter of Resistance at Standing Rock ND

Native Peoples of the US and around the globe come ogether in support

 

UPDATE: Shortly after this program was aired, and after this article linking to the podcast was posted, a group of praying Lakota at the Standing Rock protest site were confronted by at least 40 deputies of the Monroe County ND Sheriff's office. They reported that the deputies -- in full riot gear -- aimed their guns at the unarmed men, women and children, and arrested 21 of them. One elderly Lakota woman in her 80s reported that in all her life living on the reservation "I never had a gun pointed at me until these sheriff's did it." She called the experience "terrifying."

A Vietnam-era veteran living abroad who is Lakota said he fears that the current Standing Rock resistance movement could end in another massacre. He says that a friend from the days of the '73 AIM occupation in Wounded Knee wrote him saying, "Standing Rock is not Wounded Knee 1973 –- they’re not armed, they have no cover, no security. This is more like the first Wounded Knee." That Wounded Knee was when US Army troops in 1890 raided a Lakota encampment and massacred some 300 Lakota men, women and children.

Hopefully such an atrocity will not happen again, but the Monroe County Sheriff's action is not a good sign. Increased support and solidarity, and demands for more media attention to this standoff, are the best defense in this latest struggle of America's indigenous people.
 

Sioux resistance continues at Standing  Rock, ND (L) and image of Keith Scott at the moment he was shot dead by Charlotte NC policeSioux resistance continues at Standing Rock, ND (L) and image of Keith Scott at the moment he was shot dead by Charlotte NC police
 

Levi Rickert, founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online, talks with "This Can't Be Happening!: radio host Dave Lindorff about the latest developments at Standing Rock, North Dakota, where the Sioux People are still taking a rock-solid stand against efforts by the federal government and the oil industry to run a crude oil pipeline from North Dakota's Bakkan oilfield south to St. Louis through Sioux lands and sacred sites. Rickert also talks about a meeting of tribal representatives from the 500 recognized Indian tribes in the US with Washington government agencies to hammer out a protocol for having "substantive" discussions between tribes and government agencies whenever a decision is going to impact them.

Rickert talks about how the whole indigenous community, including indigenous people in other parts of the world as remote as New Zealand and the Arctic, are sending support to Standing Rock to help Sioux activists and their supporters prepare for the long haul as cold weather starts to move into the prairie.

Lindorff also segues into a discussion of the worsening slaughter of unarmed people -- mostly people of color -- in the US by increasingly militarized and gratuitously violent state, county, local and federal police. To hear the whole hour-long program, please go to the Progressive Radio News' This Can't Be Happening! podcast of the show, which aired Wednesday.

We Should All Start 'Taking Responsibility' for our Transgressions

Wells Fargo's Stumpf leads the way

 

Hey Americans! Let's all start taking responsibility for what we do wrong. Let's all start being accountable for our actions or our lack of action.

John Stumpf, the CEO of Wells Fargo Bank, one of the nation's biggest "too-big-to-fail" banks, is showing us the way in to this bright new stand-up world.

When the government discovered that his bank had since as long ago as 2011 been boosting its bottom line by creating millions of credit card accounts in the name of but behind the backs of existing Wells Fargo clients, and then running up charges on those accounts, charging the unawares named holders of the cards late fees and interest for those charges, it slapped the bank with a $185-million fine. But as with prior criminal behavior by the nation's biggest banks (think Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase), it didn't indict any bank executives this time either.

But hey, this John Stumpf is a stand-up guy. He has told the media and the Senate Banking Committee that he takes "full responsibility" for the gigantic defrauding of the country's third largest bank's customers, and says that he is "accountable" for the high-pressure sales tactics demnded of low-level bank salespeople to make them produce sales of bank products -- the policy that led over 5300 of those employees to set up the fraudulent accounts.

But here's the beautiful thing: Standing up and saying "I take full responsibilty" and "I'm accountable" is really easy! You don't have to actually do anything and nothing happens to you! In fact, Stumpf admitted under questioning by Senate Banking Committee member Elizabeth Warren, the Democratic senator from Massachusetts, that he earned $19.3 million last year alone, $ 4 million of that a bonus for doing such a fine job of running the operation -- this in a year in which the bank and its board of directors was well aware that it was being investigated for the gigantic fraud. "Taking responsibilty" and being "accountable" doesn't apparently involve actually taking responsiblity or being accountable, as in stepping down from one's lucrative post as CEO, much less leaving one's firm. It doesn't apparently even mean taking a pay cut. Pretty neat really.

That's not true though for the thousands of employees who engaged in the actual act of creating the fraudulent charge accounts. They have all been fired by the bank, no doubt at Stumpf's direction. They took a substantial paycut for their criminal behavior, which one might say is a kind of "taking responsibility" for what they did, though perhaps they didn't do it voluntarily.

Model stand-up guy John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo BankModel stand-up guy John Stumpf, CEO of Wells Fargo Bank
 

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Here's the link to prairie radio radical Mike Caddell's Radio Free Kansas program, where you can hear the podcast of the whole group interview that was conducted on Saturday, May 8.

Also, listen to Dave Lindorff on Chris Cook's Gorilla Radio on CFEV Radio in Victoria, Canada.

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by Dr. Radut