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Obama's New Free Speech Threat

An Executive order seeks to punish U.S. citizens even for "indirectly" obstructing dictatorial rule in Yemen.

Barack Obama
© AP Photo/Carolyn KasterPresident Barack Obama speaks at the White House in Washington, Tuesday, May 15, 2012.
There is substantial opposition in both Yemen and the West to the new U.S.-backed Yemeni President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Hadi was the long-time Vice President of the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, and after Saleh finally stepped down last year, Hadi became President as part of an "election" in which he was the only candidate (that little fact did not prevent Hillary Clinton from congratulating Yemen "on today's successful presidential election" (successful because the U.S. liked the undemocratic outcome)). As it does with most U.S.-compliant dictators in the region, the Obama administration has since been propping up Hadi with large amounts of money and military assistance, but it is now taking a much more extreme step to ensure he remains entrenched in power - a step that threatens not only basic liberties in Yemen but in the U.S. as well:
President Obama plans to issue an executive order Wednesday giving the Treasury Department authorityto freeze the U.S.-based assets of anyone who "obstructs" implementation of the administration-backed political transition in Yemen.

The unusual order, which administration officials said also targets U.S. citizens who engage in activity deemed to threaten Yemen's security or political stability, is the first issued for Yemen that does not directly relate to counterterrorism.

Unlike similar measures authorizing terrorist designations and sanctions, the new order does not include a list of names or organizations already determined to be in violation. Instead, one official said, it is designed as a "deterrent" to "make clear to those who are even thinking of spoiling the transition" to think again. . . .

The order provides criteria to take action against people who the Treasury secretary, in consultation with the secretary of state, determines have "engaged in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, such as acts that obstruct the implementation of the Nov. 23, 2011, agreement between the Government of Yemen and those in opposition to it, which provides for a peaceful transition of power . . . or that obstruct the political process in Yemen."

Light Saber

Best of the Web: US Judge Blocks Obama's Fascist NDAA Indefinite Detention Law

NDAA
© Unknown
Manhattan, New York - A federal judge granted a preliminary injunction late Wednesday to block provisions of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act that would allow the military to indefinitely detain anyone it accuses of knowingly or unknowingly supporting terrorism.

Signed by President Barack Obama on New Year's Eve, the 565-page NDAA contains a short paragraph, in statute 1021, letting the military detain anyone it suspects "substantially supported" al-Qaida, the Taliban or "associated forces." The indefinite detention would supposedly last until "the end of hostilities."

In a 68-page ruling blocking this statute, U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest agreed that the statute failed to "pass constitutional muster" because its broad language could be used to quash political dissent.

"There is a strong public interest in protecting rights guaranteed by the First Amendment," Forrest wrote. "There is also a strong public interest in ensuring that due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment are protected by ensuring that ordinary citizens are able to understand the scope of conduct that could subject them to indefinite military detention."

Weeks after Obama signed the law, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Chris Hedges filed a lawsuit against its so-called "Homeland Battlefield" provisions.Several prominent activists, scholars and politicians subsequently joined the suit, including Pentagon Papers whistle-blower Daniel Ellsberg; Massachusetts Institute of Technology professor Noam Chomsky; Icelandic parliamentarian Birgitta Jonsdottir; Kai Wargalla, an organizer from Occupy London; and Alexa O'Brien, an organizer for the New York-based activist group U.S. Day of Rage.

They call themselves the Freedom Seven.

In a signing statement, Obama contended that the language in Section 1021 "breaks no new ground" and merely restates the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF).

Government lawyers whistled the same tune to swat away the lawsuit, but they failed to convince the judge that no changes had been made.

"Section 1021 tries to do too much with too little - it lacks the minimal requirements of definition and scienter that could easily have been added, or could be added, to allow it to pass constitutional muster," Forrest wrote.

Crusader

By Their Fruits: Ayn Rand or Jesus Christ? Conservatives Can't Have It Both Ways

Ayn Rand
© pursuethepassion
Many conservatives swear on a stack of Bibles that they worship Jesus Christ when they really bow down to the philosophy of Ayn Rand

Last week Paul Ryan said that his fondness for the philosophy of Ayn Rand is an "urban legend." You have to give these wild and crazy Republicans credit for at least one thing: they have cojones the size of the elephants which are the mascots for the party.

The urban myth quote came after a career of Ayn Rand idolatry special even for right-wing Republicans: giving the book to his interns, speaking at Ayn Rand tributes, doing videos about her, saying her philosophy inspired him to get involved in politics. This was no youthful fling, but a lifelong love affair -- until last week , apparently. I've always wondered what politicians are thinking when they say something like this that is so obviously easy to check and refute. Do they really think people are that stupid? Maybe they just think that with the kind of money they can raise, and the Fox News-style, right-wing media to help support them, they can just obliterate the truth with bluster and deafening bombast.

So why is Ryan, who is on the short list for Romney's VP candidate, so eager to erase his (very recent) past obsession with Ayn Rand, whom so many other right wingers adore as well? Because her writing really is so blatantly offensive to anyone not besotted with her. She preached not only the virtue of selfishness, but that any compassion and generosity was a moral wrong because it helped those who were weakening society. She despised not only the poor but even people with disabilities as leeches draining strength from society. She actually hated the Christianity Ryan and every other Republican is obligated by their base to claim they believe in because Jesus taught that the poor were to be cared for, making her views dangerous for Republican politicians to adhere to as much as they love all that pro-selfishness talk.

Attention

Black Boxes in Cars Will Likely Become Mandatory

Car Blackbox
© MinyanvilleYou'll never ride alone!
Cue the Big Brother talk. This year's transportation bill has a section mandating the installation of event recorders or so-called black boxes in all new cars by 2015.

According to Autoblog.com
, the Senate has already passed the bill and the House is expected to pass it as well. To assuage at least some privacy concerns, the Senate bill also makes it clear that any data taken from the boxes is the property of car owners, unless there are extenuating circumstances.

Car and Driver calls the language in the Senate bill vague, and quotes it saying that the boxes "must capture and store data related to motor vehicle safety."

What specific data relates to "motor vehicle safety" is not defined.

Of course, the language in the bill will change as the House and the Senate work to agree on a final version.

Before anyone gets too worked up, it should be pointed out that black boxes have existed since 1996 and, as of right now, 85% of new cars come equipped with them. Beyond that, as Slate points out, many insurance companies offer lower rates to customers who have boxes installed.

Bad Guys

Accidentally Released - and Incredibly Embarrassing - Documents Show How Goldman et al Engaged in 'Naked Short Selling'

SOTT psychopaths rule our world
© SOTT.net
It doesn't happen often, but sometimes God smiles on us. Last week, he smiled on investigative reporters everywhere, when the lawyers for Goldman, Sachs slipped on one whopper of a legal banana peel, inadvertently delivering some of the bank's darker secrets into the hands of the public.

The lawyers for Goldman and Bank of America/Merrill Lynch have been involved in a legal battle for some time - primarily with the retail giant Overstock.com, but also with Rolling Stone, the Economist, Bloomberg, and the New York Times. The banks have been fighting us to keep sealed certain documents that surfaced in the discovery process of an ultimately unsuccessful lawsuit filed by Overstock against the banks.

Last week, in response to an Overstock.com motion to unseal certain documents, the banks' lawyers, apparently accidentally, filed an unredacted version of Overstock's motion as an exhibit in their declaration of opposition to that motion. In doing so, they inadvertently entered into the public record a sort of greatest-hits selection of the very material they've been fighting for years to keep sealed.

I contacted Morgan Lewis, the firm that represents Goldman in this matter, earlier today, but they haven't commented as of yet. I wonder if the poor lawyer who FUBARred this thing has already had his organs harvested; his panic is almost palpable in the air. It is both terrible and hilarious to contemplate. The bank has spent a fortune in legal fees trying to keep this material out of the public eye, and here one of their own lawyers goes and dumps it out on the street.

The lawsuit between Overstock and the banks concerned a phenomenon called naked short-selling, a kind of high-finance counterfeiting that, especially prior to the introduction of new regulations in 2008, short-sellers could use to artificially depress the value of the stocks they've bet against. The subject of naked short-selling is a) highly technical, and b) very controversial on Wall Street, with many pundits in the financial press for years treating the phenomenon as the stuff of myths and conspiracy theories.

Attention

20% 'Fat Tax' Needed to Fight Obesity

Food Choices
© Subbotina Anna | ShutterstockIf unhealthy foods packed with saturated fats were more expensive than healthy alternatives which would you choose?
It's a proposition some might find hard to swallow: a 20-percent tax on unhealthy food to improve the health of the nation.

Yet such a tax - spread across the food chain from manufacturer to consumer, coupled with changes in food policy to spur production of healthier food - is needed to reverse the pandemic of obesity and chronic diseases, researchers say.

Two articles published online today (May 15) in the British Medical Journal describe this course of action. These opinion pieces come one week before the 65th World Health Assembly, to convene on May 21 to 26 in Geneva, where diet-related diseases will be the primary topic.

Size of fat tax

One article, led by Oliver Mytton of Oxford University's Department of Public Health, looked at tax schemes worldwide to see what has worked, however marginally. Many countries are now using such "sin" taxes, which have curbed tobacco and alcohol use, to limit the consumption of unhealthy food, Mytton said. These taxes are based on the basic economic theory that, as the price of an item rises, the consumption of that item will fall.

But this theory isn't necessarily true with food, Mytton said. Just because the price of microwave-ready, deep-fried, gooey cheese sticks goes up doesn't mean the nation will switch to kale. People might continue eating deep-fried, gooey cheese sticks, because that's what they like to eat and that's all they know how to eat.

Mytton's group, however, found numerous cases in which a relatively high tax altered food consumption in a healthful way. One example comes from Denmark, where early assessment is showing that a new relatively high "fat tax" on oh-so-cherished saturated fat has prompted people to eat foods with a healthier fat profile. Another study comes from Boston, at the Brigham and Women's Hospital cafeteria, where a 35-percent increase in the price of sugary drinks led to a 26-percent reduction in consumption.

Analyzing such food tax schemes, Mytton's group eyeballed a 20-percent tax as the level at which changes on food consumption become noticeable.

Mytton is cognizant of unintended consequences of food taxes - for example, trading one evil for another, less sugar for more fat, or buying less healthy food for lack of money to buy any food. For this reason, he suggests introducing a sugary beverage tax, in which the alternative is usually drinking more tap water.

"A tax isn't going to fix obesity; it's not going to fix diet-related diseases," Mytton said. "There's no single solution. But it can have a role in moving people in the right direction" with their eating patterns. Mytton also would like to see subsidies for healthy foods, such as fruit and vegetables.

Dollar

Obama financial forms show big JP Morgan account

Image
Maybe it's a case of putting your mouth where your money is.

President Barack Obama praised JP Morgan Chase in an interview recorded Monday as "one of the best managed banks there is" and its CEO, Jamie Dimon, as "one of the smartest bankers we got." On Tuesday, the White House made public financial disclosure forms showing the president and First Lady Michelle Obama had between $500,001 and $1,000,000 in a "JP Morgan Chase Private Client Asset Management Checking Account."

The annual peek into the Obamas' finances showed that the president held between $1,000,001 and $5,000,000 in U.S. Treasury Notes, generating between $5,001 and $15,000 in interest. They also held between $500,001-$1,000,000 in Treasury Bills.

Dollar

The JPMorgan debacle: Dictatorship of the financial aristocracy

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Snake in a suit? JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon
The economic and political fallout from JPMorgan Chase's sudden announcement last Thursday night that it lost more than $2 billion from speculative bets on credit derivatives continued to grow on Monday. The biggest US bank announced the forced retirement of Ina Drew, who headed up the bank's London-based Chief Investment Office, which placed huge bets on the creditworthiness of a collection of US corporations. Other top executives and traders are expected to be sacked or demoted.

The bank's shares fell another 3.2 percent, bringing its two-day market capitalization loss to nearly $19 billion. The Wall Street Journal reported that JPMorgan was prepared for a total loss of more than $4 billion over the next year from its soured stake in credit default swaps - the same investment vehicle that played a central role in the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the government bailout of insurance giant American International Group (AIG) in September of 2008.

In an interview on NBC's "Meet the Press" program on Sunday, JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon sought to present the loss as an innocent mistake, resulting from "errors, sloppiness and bad judgment." Only a month ago, Dimon, who has led the public campaign by Wall Street against even the mildest restrictions on speculative banking practices, dismissed warnings over the massive bets being made by his Chief Investment Office as "a complete tempest in a teapot."

Coffee

Why JP Morgan's $2 Billion Gambling Loss at Will NOT Speed Financial Reform

American Casino
Among the more laughable features of commentaries on Jamie Dimon's recently revealed $2 billion (at least) gambling losses are earnest pronouncements that the debacle will stymie the efforts by Dimon and Wall Street in general to further deregulate the financial industry.

A scheduled vote this coming Thursday in the House Agriculture Committee should reassure Wall Street that nothing has changed.

Bad Guys

Best of the Web: Perverted Justice: The Rise of Secret Trials in America

guantanamo
One of the lasting challenges to America's federal judiciary will be addressing American complicity in the tortures and disappearances of the past ten years. Two recent appeals-court decisions show us how judicial panels are tackling these issues: by shielding federal officials and their contractors from liability, and even by glorifying the fruits of their dark arts. In the process, legal prohibitions on torture are being destroyed through secrecy and legal sleight of hand, and our justice system is being distorted and undermined.