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Question

Napolitano: Is Obama a dupe or a totalitarian, megalomaniacal liar?

© Greg Groesch
When German Chancellor Angela Merkel celebrated the opening of the new U.S. Embassy in Berlin in 2008, she could not have imagined that she was blessing the workplace for the largest and most effective gaggle of American spies anywhere outside of the United States.

It seems straight out of a grade-B movie, but it has been happening for the past 11 years: The National Security Agency (NSA) has been using Mrs. Merkel as an instrument to spy on the president of the United States. We now know that the NSA has been listening to and recording her cellphone calls since 2002.

In 2008, when the new embassy opened, the NSA began using more sophisticated techniques that included not only listening, but also following her. Mrs. Merkel uses her cellphone more frequently than her landline, and she uses it to communicate with her husband and family members, the leadership of her political party, and her colleagues and officials in the German government.
Take 2

Tom Hanks quips: 'Four more years' for Obama

© Alex Brandon
Conspiracy theorists, be on alert. Hollywood icon Tom Hanks may not have been joking when he said he wanted President Obama to run for a third term - over the prohibitions of the Constitution.

Mr. Hanks, who's starring in the soon-to-be-released "Captain Phillips" and was in Washington, D.C., this week for a premiere showing at the Newseum, declared his choice for president for 2016: Mr. Obama, The Hill reported.

"I'm voting for Barack Obama, 2016," he said. "Yes I am. Four more years."
V

Sean Penn: Commit tea partyers, Ted Cruz 'by executive order'

© AP
If it weren't for the tea party, Congress would work well, Hollywood actor Sean Penn said during a recent appearance on CNN with host Piers Morgan. And he also said tea partyers should be forcibly committed for mental health treatment.

Really, the tea party is to blame for nearly all of the issues facing Congress, he said, as Politico reported.

"I think they have - there's a mental health problem in Congress," Mr. Penn said. "This would be solved by committing them by executive order, I think. Because these are our American brothers and sisters, we shouldn't be criticizing them, attacking them. ... This is a cry for help.

Mr. Morgan encouraged Mr. Penn to continue: "You literally commit what, people like Ted Cruz?"
Eye 1

Ben Franklin was right about the NSA: Government is like fire - a useful tool but a terrible master!

NSA
© AFP/File, Paul J. Richards
The National Security Agency (NSA) is shown on May 31, 2006 in Fort Meade, Maryland.

In 1975, I was invited to join the US Senate's Church Committee that was formed after the Watergate scandals. Its goal was to investigate massive illegalities committed by the CIA, National Security Agency and FBI.

As a then staunch Republican, and having worked on President Nixon's reelection campaign developing Mideast policy, I declined.

With the wisdom of hindsight, I should have joined the investigation.

Senator Frank Church warned: " If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. "

The Church Committee revealed Washington's role in the assassinations of foreign leaders, CIA collaboration with the Mafia, wide scale subversion around the globe, mail and phone intercepts, spying on Americans by the US Army and intelligence services, collusion with right-wing terrorist groups like Gladio, and much, much more.

Edward Snowden's revelations of NSA malfeasance have done much the same thing today. Both Church and Snowden were branded traitors by rightwing zealots and flag-wavers. Government security agencies were reined in for decades. But it's now clear they are not only back to their old tricks, but are out of control.
Bad Guys

You can't keep your insurance because Democrats don't want you to control your own health-care spending.

© Corbis
The White House has issued a clarification. When the president said if you like your insurance plan you can keep it, what he meant was you can keep it if he likes it.

Hundreds of thousands of Americans who are getting policy cancellation notices this month can't be as surprised as they pretend to be. President Obama made it clear at his 2010 health care summit what he thought of their taste in insurance.

"It's the equivalent of Acme Insurance that I had for my car. . . . It's basically not health insurance," he explained. "It's house insurance. . . .

"I'm buying that to protect me from some catastrophic situation; otherwise, I'm just paying out of pocket. I don't go to the doctor. I don't get preventive care. There are a whole bunch of things I just do without. But if I get hit by a truck, maybe I don't go bankrupt."
USA

Obamacare trick: President Obama's promise had a secret footnote. Who knew?

© AP
President Obama has intoned "if you like your health plan, you can keep your health plan" hundreds if not thousands of times. Sometimes he has even added that "no one will take it away, no matter what" or "nothing will change, period."

But now that reality is repudiating the President's unequivocal promise, Democrats want you to know that there was always a secret footnote: If you're losing a health plan you liked, the President didn't mean your plan.

Liberals now argue that Mr. Obama was mostly correct but his claim should have been caveated with a clause that people could keep their plans as long as they met ObamaCare regulations. This asterisk somehow wasn't mentioned until millions of policies started to be terminated as ObamaCare-noncompliant.

Questioned about this on Monday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said "Well, let's just be clear," which is how he and his boss announce they're about to turn on the fog machine. "What the President said and what everybody said all along is that there are going to be changes brought about by the Affordable Care Act that create minimum standards of coverage."
USA

U.S. withdraws from Afghanistan, poppy trade it spent billions fighting still flourishes

© Rahmat Gul/AP
Afghan farmers collect raw opium as they work in a poppy field in the Khogyani district of Jalalabad, east of Kabul, in May.
The United States is withdrawing troops from Afghanistan having lost its battle against the country's narcotics industry, marking one of the starkest failures of the 2009 strategy the Obama administration pursued in an effort to turn around the war.

Despite a U.S. investment of nearly $7 billion since 2002 to combat it, the country's opium market is booming, propelled by steady demand and an insurgency that has assumed an increasingly hands-on role in the trade, according to law enforcement officials and counternarcotics experts. As the war economy contracts, opium poppies, which are processed into heroin, are poised to play an ever larger role in the country's economy and politics, undercutting two key U.S. goals: fighting corruption and weakening the link between the insurgency and the drug trade.

The Afghan army opted this spring for the first time in several years not to provide security to eradication teams in key regions, forgoing a dangerous mission that has long embittered rural Afghans who depend on the crop for their livelihoods.

Experts say that, in the end, efforts over the past decade to rein in cultivation were stymied by entrenched insecurity in much of the country, poverty, and the ambivalence - and, at times, collusion - of the country's ruling class.

With a presidential election just months away, political will for anti-drug initiatives is weak among members of the Afghan elite, many of whom have become increasingly dependent on the proceeds of drugs as foreign funding dries up, said Jean-Luc Lemahieu, who heads the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) in Afghanistan. "Money is less and less available within the licit economy," he said. "The real danger is the weakened resistance to corruption and to involvement in a distorted political economy, which weakens your resistance to collusion with the enemy."

As U.S. forces have withdrawn from Afghanistan - roughly 51,000 American troops are left, down from a peak of 100,000 - insurgents have fought particularly hard to reclaim lost ground in Helmand province, the center of Afghanistan's poppy industry, U.S. military officials have said.

In its latest progress report on Afghanistan to Congress, the Pentagon warned that the 2013 poppy harvest was expected to be "considerably" bigger than 2012's, citing warmer early-season weather, the drawdown of NATO troops and the high price for poppies.

Comment: In reality, rather than fighting against the opium trade, the US military was tasked with guarding Afghan poppy fields, from which opium is derived, in order to protect this multibillion dollar industry that enriches Wall Street, the CIA, MI6, and others who profit from the drug trade. After 9/11, the US military-industrial complex quickly invaded Afghanistan and began facilitating the reinstatement of the country's poppy industry. According to the United Nations Drug Control Program (UNDCP), opium cultivation increased by 657 percent in 2002 after the US military invaded the country under the direction of then-President George W. Bush.

See:
War On Drugs Is A Hoax - US military Admits to Guarding, Assisting Lucrative Opium Trade in Afghanistan
Iran blames NATO for Increasing drug production, trafficking in Afghanistan

Eye 1

NSA infiltrates links to Yahoo, Google data centers worldwide, Snowden documents say

NSA slide from “Google Cloud Exploitation” presentation
© Unknown
In this slide from a National Security Agency presentation on “Google Cloud Exploitation,” a sketch shows where the “Public Internet” meets the internal “Google Cloud” where user data resides. Two engineers with close ties to Google exploded in profanity when they saw the drawing.
The National Security Agency has secretly broken into the main communications links that connect Yahoo and Google data centers around the world, according to documents obtained from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden and interviews with knowledgeable officials.

By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.
Pistol

No more arms to Iraq, Obama

© Sean Smith
Iraqi soldiers search the area around a Mahdi army weapons cache discovered in Shulla, north-west Baghdad.
Barack Obama is meeting Iraq's prime minister, Nouri al-Maliki, today in Washington. According to the official Iraqi story, they are to discuss Maliki's plea to train and equip Iraqi forces with advanced weapons to fight terrorism.

If this is heeded, it will add to the crimes committed by the US against Iraqis since the invasion of 2003, as weapons and equipment made available to the regime have, to date, been used only against Iraqi people.

The Maliki regime blames all terrorist acts (frequent car explosions, often in markets, cafes and mosques) on al-Qaida, selectively choosing not to mention the regime's own militias: Asa'ib Ahl al-Haq, Iraqi Hezbollah, factions of the Mahdi army, the Badr brigades and the Mokhtar army.

A common belief among Iraqis is that only agents connected to the nearly 1 million strong army and security forces, and especially to the Special Forces (inherited from the occupation, trained by the US and now attached directly to Maliki's office) could carry out such sustained and widespread campaign of terror.
Arrow Down

Consequences of U.S. decline

© unknown
I have long argued that U.S. decline as a hegemonic power began circa 1970 and that a slow decline became a precipitate one during the presidency of George W. Bush. I first started writing about this in 1980 or so.

At that time the reaction to this argument, from all political camps, was to reject it as absurd. In the 1990s, quite to the contrary, it was widely believed, again on all sides of the political spectrum, that the United States had reached the height of unipolar dominance.

However, after the burst bubble of 2008, opinion of politicians, pundits, and the general public began to change. Today, a large percentage of people (albeit not everyone) accepts the reality of at least some relative decline of U.S. power, prestige, and influence.

In the United States this is accepted quite reluctantly. Politicians and pundits rival each other in recommending how this decline can still be reversed. I believe it is irreversible.

The real question is what the consequences of this decline are. The first is the manifest reduction of U.S. ability to control the world situation, and in particular the loss of trust by the erstwhile closest allies of the United States in its behavior.

In the last month, because of the evidence released by Edward Snowden, it has become public knowledge that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has been directly spying on the top political leadership of Germany, France, Mexico, and Brazil among others (as well, of course, on countless citizens of these countries).
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