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Obama to Announce Afghan Plans Wednesday

Obama
© Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
US President Barack Obama
President Obama is in the final phase of determining how many U.S. troops he will withdraw from Afghanistan next month and plans to announce his decision Wednesday, administration officials said.

The announcement is also expected to lay out a glide-path for further withdrawals between now and the end of 2012, including the 33,000 so-called "surge" troops he sent there early last year as part of a broad counterinsurgency strategy that the administration has said succeeded in clearing Taliban fighters from key areas in southern Afghanistan.

The number and pace of the withdrawals, from a current total of about 100,000 troops, has been a contentious issue within the White House and between the administration and the U.S. military, which has warned against a significant withdrawal before gains of the last year are solidified.

The administration had hoped to couple Obama's announcement on troop withdrawals with news of progress on political reconciliation with Taliban leaders. But discussions have stalled following several rounds of talks this spring between U.S. officials and Taliban interlocutors, first in Qatar and later in Germany.

Bad Guys

Time for Plan B: How the Euro Became Europe's Greatest Threat

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© European Commission 2011

The euro is becoming an ever greater threat to Europe's common future. The currency union chains together economies that are simply incompatible. Politicians approve one bailout package after the other and, in doing so, have set down a dangerous path that could burden Europeans for generations to come and set the EU back by decades.

In the past 14 months, politicians in the euro-zone nations have adopted one bailout package after the next, convening for hectic summit meetings, wrangling over lazy compromises and building up risks of gigantic dimensions.

For just as long, they have been avoiding an important conclusion, namely that things cannot continue this way. The old euro no longer exists in its intended form, and the European Monetary Union isn't working. We need a Plan B.

Bizarro Earth

The Psychopath's Science: War Evolves With Drones, Some Tiny as Bugs

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© Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
A microdrone during a demo flight at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.
Two miles from the cow pasture where the Wright Brothers learned to fly the first airplanes, military researchers are at work on another revolution in the air: shrinking unmanned drones, the kind that fire missiles into Pakistan and spy on insurgents in Afghanistan, to the size of insects and birds.

The base's indoor flight lab is called the "microaviary," and for good reason. The drones in development here are designed to replicate the flight mechanics of moths, hawks and other inhabitants of the natural world. "We're looking at how you hide in plain sight," said Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, as he held up a prototype of a mechanical hawk that in the future might carry out espionage or kill.

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© Raven Industries
A giant blimplike spy balloon, called an aerostat, keeps an eye on insurgent activity in Afghanistan. The helium-filled aerostats are the largest in the drone arsenal. They are tethered to the ground by cables and float 15,000 feet in the air. An attached camera pans 360 degrees for constant, real-time surveillance as far as 30 miles away. There are now more than 60 aerostats in Afghanistan, with double that number expected in the next year.
Half a world away in Afghanistan, Marines marvel at one of the new blimplike spy balloons that float from a tether 15,000 feet above one of the bloodiest outposts of the war, Sangin in Helmand Province. The balloon, called an aerostat, can transmit live video - from as far as 20 miles away - of insurgents planting homemade bombs. "It's been a game-changer for me," Capt. Nickoli Johnson said in Sangin this spring. "I want a bunch more put in."

From blimps to bugs, an explosion in aerial drones is transforming the way America fights and thinks about its wars. Predator drones, the Cessna-sized workhorses that have dominated unmanned flight since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, are by now a brand name, known and feared around the world. But far less widely known are the sheer size, variety and audaciousness of a rapidly expanding drone universe, along with the dilemmas that come with it.

Brick Wall

The MSM Mental Block: Jon Stewart and Chris Wallace

I don't have time to do more than mention this, and it's all over everywhere in any case. But, seriously, sometime take a look at the Jon Stewart / Chris Wallace exchange this weekend on Fox. The 24 minute version is below, not the 14 minutes that was apparently on-air.


If you see nothing else (after the 30-second embedded intro ad), watch the three and a half minutes starting around time 6:45. What is most striking is Wallace's either feigned or genuine inability to grasp the main point Stewart is making, and making not once but about ten times. Stewart seems genuinely appalled by Wallace's "moral equivalence" riff between Fox News and Comedy Central. "You think we're the same?" Stewart says with real animus. And he goes on to lay out the difference between an operation whose goal is principally satirical, but from an ideological perspective, and one that is principally ideological and is satirical or comedic only as it helps toward that end.

The point is not really that difficult, and Stewart tries to illustrate it this way: "What am I, at my highest aspiration? Mark Twain? Or Edward R. Murrow?" Wallace correctly says "Twain" but seems not to register the larger point Stewart is making. Maybe that's him*; maybe it's a for-the-team game face. (The same "can he believe what he's saying?" issue comes up with Wallace's insistence that he was shocked and offended to have to watch South Park and didn't consider it funny.)

Bad Guys

12 Things That The Mainstream Media Is Being Strangely Quiet About Right Now

CNN
© Unknown
As the mainstream media continues to be obsessed with Anthony Weiner and his bizarre adventures on Twitter, much more serious events are happening around the world that are getting very little attention. In America today, if the mainstream media does not cover something it is almost as if it never happened. Right now, the worst nuclear disaster in human history continues to unfold in Japan , U.S. nuclear facilities are being threatened by flood waters, the U.S. military is bombing Yemen, gigantic cracks in the earth are appearing all over the globe and the largest wildfire in Arizona history is causing immense devastation. But Anthony Weiner, Bristol Palin and Miss USA are what the mainstream media want to tell us about and most Americans are buying it.

In times like these, it is more important than ever to think for ourselves. The corporate-owned mainstream media is not interested in looking out for us. Rather, they are going to tell us whatever fits with the agenda that their owners are pushing.

That is why more Americans than ever are turning to the alternative media. Americans are hungry for the truth, and they know that the amount of truth that they get from the mainstream media continues to decline.

Arrow Down

Wal-Mart Wins in Sex-bias Case at Top U.S. court

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© Reuters/Larry Downing
Canadian protester Elizabeth Plank, from Montreal, holds a sign in front of Supreme Court while class action lawsuit Dukes v. Wal-Mart is being argued inside the court in Washington, March 29, 2011.
The U.S. Supreme Court threw out on Monday a massive class-action sex-discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart Stores Inc, the biggest ever such case, in a major victory for the world's largest retailer and for big business in general.

The justices unanimously ruled that more than 1 million female employees nationwide could not proceed together in the lawsuit seeking billions of dollars and accusing Wal-Mart of paying women less and giving them fewer promotions.

The Supreme Court agreed with Wal-Mart, the largest private U.S. employer, that the class-action certification violated federal rules for such lawsuits.

It accepted Wal-Mart's argument that the female employees in different jobs at 3,400 different stores nationwide and with different supervisors do not have enough in common to be lumped together in a single class-action lawsuit.

The ruling was cheered by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce business group as the most important class action case in more than a decade but denounced by women's groups.

It represented a major victory for Wal-Mart, which also has faced legal battles including an attempt to unionize and to block the giant retailer from opening stores in New York and other places.

USA

Don't Call Us Occupiers When We're Dying for Your Country, U.S. Tells Karzai

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© The Associated Press / Steve Ruark
The remains of Lance Cpl. Joshua B. McDaniels, 21, of Dublin, Ohio, and Lance Cpl. Sean M. O'Conner, 22, of Douglas, Wyo., arrive at Dover Air Force Base, Del., on Tuesday, June 14, 2011. The Defense Department says both men died on June 12 in combat in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
U.S. Ambassador rebukes Karzai for 'hurtful, inappropriate' rhetoric

The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan warned Sunday that the American people are growing weary of being viewed as "occupiers" by the leaders of a country where so much American blood has been spilled.

Karl Eikenberry's candid and impassioned remarks came a day after President Hamid Karzai in a televised speech accused U.S.-led foreign troops of being in the country "for their own national interests."

On Sunday, Karzai met with Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi - on the first ever official visit by Iran's top defense official - and the two discussed problems arising from "the presence of foreign forces" in Afghanistan, according to reports in Iranian state media. Last week Karzai held talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on the sidelines of a Eurasian summit in Kazakhstan, and similar sentiments were expressed.

Attention

Pakistan: Girl, Nine, Used as Human Bomb

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© The Associated Press
Sohana Jawed, the nine year old Pakistani girl, who said she was kidnapped to be used as a suicide bomber
A girl of nine has told how she escaped Pakistani terrorists who tried to use her as a human bomb.

Sohana Jawed said she was kidnapped on her way to school in Peshawar, and forced to wear a remotely-controlled suicide jacket. But she escaped her captors as they prepared to send her towards a paramilitary checkpoint.

Sohana, wearing her a blue and white school uniform, recounted her ordeal during a news conference with police in Lower Dir district. Militants in Pakistan have often used young boys to carry out attacks, but the use of young girls is rare.

Sohana said she was going to school on Saturday when she was grabbed by two women and forced into a car carrying two men. One of the kidnappers put a handkerchief on her mouth that knocked her unconscious, she said in an interview with a local TV station.

"This morning, the women and men forced me to put on the heavy jacket and put me in the car again," said Sohana.

Bad Guys

Tim DeChristopher: This Hero Didn't Stand a Chance

Tim DeChristopher
© Unknown
Tim DeChristopher

Tim DeChristopher is scheduled to be sentenced in a Salt Lake City courtroom by U.S. District Judge Dee Benson on July 26. He faces up to 10 years in prison and a $750,000 fine for fraudulently bidding in December 2008 on parcels of land, including areas around eastern Utah's national parks, which were being sold off by the Bush administration to the oil and natural gas industry. As Bidder No. 70, he drove up the prices of some of the bids and won more than a dozen other parcels for $1.8 million. The government is asking Judge Benson to send DeChristopher to prison for four and a half years.

Tim DeChristopherHis prosecution is evidence that our moral order has been turned upside down. The bankers and swindlers who trashed the global economy and wiped out some $40 trillion in wealth amass obscene amounts of money, much of it provided by taxpayers. They do not go to jail. Regulatory agencies, compliant to the demands of corporations, refuse to impede the destruction unleashed by the coal, oil and natural gas companies as they turn the planet into a hothouse of pollutants, poisoned water, fouled air and contaminated soil in the frenzied quest for greater and greater profits. Those who manage and make fortunes from pre-emptive wars, embrace torture, carry out extrajudicial assassinations, deny habeas corpus and run up the largest deficits in human history are feted as patriots. But when a courageous citizen such as DeChristopher peacefully derails the corporate and governmental destruction of the ecosystem, he is sent to jail.

"The rules are written by those who profit from the status quo," DeChristopher said when I reached him by phone this weekend in Minneapolis. "If we want to change that status quo we have to step outside of those rules. We have to put pressure on those within the political system to choose one side or another."

Chess

US: How Our Government Has Merged With Corporations

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© Alternet
The government of the United States is largely rented to corporations.

The 20th century was the bloodiest and most violent in human history. This led some countries to fascism - a system characterized by the state and large business becoming almost indistinguishable. The first decade of the 21st century suffers from that anti-democratic legacy.

The government of the United States, for example, is largely rented to corporations. Big business sends multiple thousands of lobbyists to Washington, DC, to buy favors and get their point of view across in Congress and the executive branch: The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and the new war in Libya have been a boon to munitions manufacturers, "security" companies and private mercenary armies. They are part of a permanent war economy, making the US the world's sheriff.

This so-called "defense" has spawned America's largest businesses, besides being the mother of the military-industrial complex. One company, Lockheed Martin, gets more than $29 billion per year for making weapons for the Pentagon. Lockheed Martin also makes foreign policy for America.(1)