What power doesn’t the US President have? When does the Left start organizing?

Despite being ill, Glenn Greenwald puts his finger on the issue:

A very intense case of food poisoning in New York on Thursday, combined with my traveling home all night last night, prevents me from writing much about this until tomorrow (and it’s what rendered the blog uncharacteristically silent for the last two days). But I would hope that nobody needs me or anyone else to explain why this assertion of power is so pernicious — at least as pernicious as any power asserted during the Bush/Cheney years. If the President has the power to order American citizens killed with no due process, and to do so in such complete secrecy that no courts can even review his decisions, then what doesn’t he have the power to do?

Which strikes me as yet another issue to add to the pile: Maintaining the Drug War (the longest American war), illegal and unethical occupations, maintaining international gulags, environmental disaster inaction, corporate bailouts and give-aways while citizens lose their homes, and targeting Americans for assassination.

How bad do things have to get before the Progressive Left organizes even a march against the President like they did shortly before the Iraq invasion (large, in major cities, coordinated, and thus hard for the mainstream corporate media to ignore)? With the standards for impeachment being harder and harder to meet (thanks to an apparently politically inactive and apathetic public), how hard will it be to begin the process of telling the US President you don’t like what he’s doing and he needs to be replaced with someone else who won’t screw the public (this process starts with impeachment)? Wouldn’t this send a strong signal to Congress that the public is organized and if Congress doesn’t start seeing things the public’s way they’re next to leave office?

Tariq Ali says Obama is “continuing with many of the old [Bush] policies”

Democracy Now!‘s guests today offer plenty of appropriately harsh criticism aimed at explaining how Pres. Obama’s administration is more of what the US came to hate under Pres. George W. Bush (transcript, video, audio). Tariq Ali discussed the continuity of warring:

AMY GOODMAN: […Tariq Ali] has a new book out; it’s called The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad. Some might say that’s a little harsh.

TARIQ ALI: I know some of his supporters might feel it’s a little harsh, but I think that we’ve had two years of him now, Amy, and the contours of this administration are now visible. And essentially, it is a conservative administration which has changed the mood music. So the talk is better. The images of the administration are better, the reasonable looks. But in terms of what they do””in foreign policy, we’ve seen a continuation of the Bush-Cheney policies, and worse, in AfPak, as they call it, and at home, we’ve seen a total capitulation to the lobbyists, to the corporations. The fact that the healthcare bill was actually drafted by someone who used to be an insurance lobbyist says it all.

So, it’s essentially now a PR operation to get him reelected. But I don’t think people are that dumb. I’ve been speaking to some of his, you know, partisan supporters, and they’re disappointed. So the big problem for Obama is that if you do nothing and promise that you would bring about some changes, you will not have people coming out to vote for you again. And building up the tea party into this great bogey isn’t going to work. It’s your own supporters you have to convince to come out and vote for you, as they did before. I can’t see that happening.

AMY GOODMAN: The cover of your book, The Obama Syndrome: Surrender at Home, War Abroad, is a picture of the face, the head of President Obama, and half of it is peeled away to reveal President Bush.

TARIQ ALI: Well, this, you know, I think, is a sort of very brilliant West Coast montage artist, and they are the best. Whenever there’s a crisis, they come up with an image which says it all. And I like that image a lot, and I used it very deliberately to show the continuation, that it’s not a case that we have a new administration. We do, technically, but it’s continuing with many of the old policies in the””how it deals with the economy. When you have people like Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz, occasionally Frank Rich in the New York Times, Maureen Dowd, these people who were desperate for a Democrat administration being incredibly critical of some of its things, when you have venerable professors like Gary Wells saying, “I’m disappointed,” the honeymoon didn’t last long with Obama. It lasted much, much longer with Clinton. And one reason for that is that he had raised hopes and was unable to deliver. He turned out to be an apparatchik and a political operator from one of the worst Democrat areas in the country, Chicago, and that’s what he behaves like.

Happy Software Freedom Day!

Software freedom is the freedom to run, share, and modify computer programs. When you have these freedoms, you are free to make your computer do what you want it to do instead of being restricted to whatever the programmers want your computer to do. Free software respects a user’s freedom to learn and participate in an egalitarian society. Free software is the opposite of proprietary software— software which restricts your inspection, copying, and modification.

Having this freedom is not about skill; having freedom of speech doesn’t make anyone a great writer. Freedom means permission to take control over your computer by using software that is free to be shared and improved as you wish. Software freedom is a necessary component for people to live as equals in society.

Today we celebrate software freedom by encouraging all computer users to install and run more free software on their computers so they too can be free. Since 1983 the free software movement has made a conscious political and ethical choice to pursue software freedom for themselves and all other computer users by writing and using computer software that is licensed to share and modify.

Obama no different than George W. Bush on economy, war

From today’s Democracy Now! (transcript, audio, low-res video, high-res video):

AMY GOODMAN: Robert Scheer, your last chapter, “Sucking Up to the Bankers: Crisis Handoff from Bush to Obama”””has Obama done anything different about the economy than Bush, do you feel?

ROBERT SCHEER: No. Obama has been a disaster. And I say this as someone who was suckered into contributing to his campaign financially. You know, my wife maxed out in her contributions, pushing those buttons every time. I still get emails from the Obama campaign telling “We’re winning here, we’re winning there.” But it’s been a disaster.

Meanwhile President Obama’s occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan continue apace at the cost of trillions of dollars; trillions Americans could have pumped into schools, roads, jobs, buying houses, and so much more. Obama’s drone war against Pakistan and killings in Yemen and Somalia go on and on. Clearly the US will not be on the road to justice until its leaders are tried for war crimes and sitting in prison. AWARE’s most recent flier tells the tale. The financial cost is more than the American economy can bear.

Update (2010-09-10, 2010-09-11): Terry Jones is a pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center, a small church in Gainesville, Florida which planned to mark September 11, 2010 by burning printed Qur’ans. Recently President Barack Obama said that Dove World Outreach Center’s protest “could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan”. Democracy Now! and the BBC report that Defense Secretary Robert Gates echoed Obama’s sentiment to Pastor Jones by phone. The BBC also notes that some unnamed person from “[t]he FBI had visited Mr Jones to urge him to reconsider his plans“. Obama explained the logic behind his statement to ABC News: “this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaeda. You know, you could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan.”. The BBC quotes Obama saying “We’ve got an obligation to send a very clear message that this kind of behaviour or threat of action puts our young men and women in harm’s way.”.

Obama, Gates, and their sympathizers who oppose Jones’ protest on these grounds are shamefully trying to deflect responsibility for the continued Iraq & Afghanistan occupations and the Pakistan drone attacks onto Jones’ misguided protest. Amazing how Jones’ small protest captures so much American corporate media attention and is blamed for so much while anti-war activists struggle for national coverage. This alone tells us that there’s something about Jones’ message that is acceptable to corporate media while anti-war protests are not acceptable for corporate media to cover—if you challenge the occupation on ethical grounds you must be kept away from the mic but if your message can be co-opted by those who benefit from war, your effort may be called news. Whether Al Qaeda or anyone else, the occupations and attacks are “a recruitment bonanza” for anyone who wants to end American occupation. The American occupation proceeded under former US President George W. Bush. People are unwilling to be occupied and occupiers have no rights. This desire for freedom in turn “puts our young men and women in harm’s way”. Occupation and a thirst for war are two of the strongest links tying together the two major corporate parties in the US. Burning Qur’ans is notably intolerant but non-lethal and incredibly minor in comparison to occupation. As Jones told CNN, “We are burning the book. We are not killing someone. We are not murdering people.”.

The Sleeping Left: Obama feeds them reasons to object, where’s the outrage?

The Iraq and Afghanistan occupations rage on with no national marches in the US in sight, even while a majority of students are available to participate on summer holiday. In Afghanistan the Obama drone attacks kill civilians a third of the time. On top of all this, “the United States must reserve the right to act unilaterally” according to Obama administration’s first National Security Strategy just like what George W. Bush’s administration said. But apparently there’s no time to organize a national protest in a major city, something akin to protesting the Iraq invasion before it began.

The gusher of oil coming out of the Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico is officially the worst oil spill in US history. It’s not hyperbole to call it a gusher. Images from the live camera feed tell the tale.

Obama’s limited moratorium on deepwater drilling doesn’t seem to cover BP’s next oil rig named “Atlantis” from going online soon. Atlantis is said to have 5X more oil than “Horizon”, the rig which blew up and is currently leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico apparently out of control. Atlantis will produce 8.4 million gallons of oil per day. And we know how well BP handles problems: BP is actively damaging recovery efforts by preventing cleanup workers from wearing respirators and ignoring cleanup workers complaints of illness. The wise thing to do is stop all of BP’s rigs since BP refuses to do their work safely. Lawmakers should pass laws that make BP pay 100% of recovery effort costs (yes, despite BP saying they intend to clean up “every drop” of oil from the Gulf’s shores). Strong punitive laws keeps corporate power in check. BP was running Horizon without a remote control shut-off switch used in two other major oil-producing nations, Brazil and Norway, as a last resort protection against underwater spills. The Wall Street Journal points out that American law doesn’t require this switch. Regardless of the efficacy of the switch, you can’t engage an uninstalled failsafe device.

Lax enforcement of extant regulations helped get us to where we are now with Horizon, apparently leading to the deaths of 11 oil rig workers when Horizon exploded. According to McClatchy newspapers, following on are BP’s inadequate responses and inadequate training of personnel tasked with cleaning up their own oil spill. What are the odds that Atlantis received similarly shoddy setup inspection work? What systemic incentive does BP have to train Atlantis personnel better than they apparently trained Horizon personnel?

Yet there’s no large-scale organized outcry from the Left.

Update: Others are noticing how the Left gives Obama a pass on environmental degradation.

Update: The New York Times reports that BP knew of the Horizon’s problems almost a year ago. The NYT says federal regulators only required under 10 minutes to approve BP’s request.

Read John Pilger’s acceptance lecture and his analysis of President Obama

In November 2009 Australian journalist and filmmaker John Pilger received the 2009 Sydney Peace Prize at a ceremony at the Sydney Opera House. In a lecture as worth watching as Harold Pinter’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Pilger points out an uncomfortable truth about the American president:

It doesn’t matter who is president ”“ George Bush or Barack Obama. Indeed, Obama has stepped up Bush’s wars and started his own war in Pakistan. Like Bush, he is threatening Iran, a country Hillary Clinton said she was prepared to “annihilate”. Iran’s crime is its independence. Having thrown out America’s favourite dictator, the Shah, Iran is the only resource-rich Muslim country beyond American control. It doesn’t occupy anyone else’s land and hasn’t attacked any country – unlike Israel, which is nuclear-armed and dominates and divides the Middle East on America’s behalf.

In Australia, we are not told this. It’s taboo. Instead, we dutifully celebrate the illusion of Obama, the global celebrity, the marketing dream. Like Calvin Klein, brand Obama offers the riske thrill of a new image attractive to liberal sensibilities, if not to the Afghan children he bombs.

This is modern propaganda in action, using a kind of reverse racism ”“ the same way it deploys gender and class as seductive tools. In Barack Obama’s case, what matters is not his race or his fine words, but the class and power he serves.

John Pilger

Pilger’s article on Obama as brand and the success with which the American people were led to believe Obama would oppose Bush’s policies reminds us that

In his first 100 days, Obama has excused torture, opposed habeas corpus and demanded more secret government. He has kept Bush’s gulag intact and at least 17,000 prisoners beyond the reach of justice. On 24 April, his lawyers won an appeal that ruled Guantanamo Bay prisoners were not “persons”, and therefore had no right not to be tortured. His national intelligence director, Admiral Dennis Blair, says he believes torture works. One of his senior US intelligence officials in Latin America is accused of covering up the torture of an American nun in Guatemala in 1989; another is a Pinochet apologist. As Daniel Ellsberg has pointed out, the US experienced a military coup under Bush, whose secretary of “defence”, Robert Gates, along with the same warmaking officials, has been retained by Obama.

John Pilger

Why has the liberal left who supported Obama ceded the streets to the Tea Party? What happened to groups like “United for Peace and Justice” organizing millions in the streets of major US cities?

Patent Absurdity: A short movie on the problems of patents covering algorithms used in software

Patent Absurdity explores the case of software patents and the history of judicial activism that led to their rise, and the harm being done to software developers and the wider economy. The film is based on a series of interviews conducted during the Supreme Court’s review of in re Bilski — a case that could have profound implications for the patenting of software. The Court’s decision is due soon.

You can also download the movie from multiple sources (PatentAbsurdity.com, The Internet Archive, or locally using the links below) and share it with others because this movie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.


More in-depth

Richard Stallman, founder of the free software movement and one of the speakers in the movie, has been talking about the dangers of software patents for many years. Listen to or download his talk from 2002 or read the transcript of this talk which includes pointers to more information about various points in Stallman’s talk. This talk is interesting because Stallman systematically explains how software patents are harmful to all computer users (Paul Heckel’s threats to Apple and Apple’s response is quite instructive), 3 strategies for dealing with software patents, and the multiple perversites of the patent process.

Stop Software Patents is documenting the case against software patents worldwide.

Frontline’s “Obama’s Deal” doesn’t explain what HMOs fear most

I watched PBS’ “Frontline” called “Obama’s Deal” which attempts to explain the behind-the-scenes machinations that produced an HMO-written American health care plan which essentially forces Americans to purchase a health care insurance package from an HMOs. But I didn’t see any clear examination of what the HMOs were fighting against. Frontline’s report mentioned a little about a “public option” (the details of which were unclear)—a government-funded health care plan. But I knew there was more to it than that.

HR676, Medicare for all, is a long-standing bill which would get the US a larger single-payer health care plan that would cut out the HMOs entirely. This bill is short and easily read in an afternoon. A clear explanation of what this bill says would help audiences understand more of the pressure the HMOs are facing.

Polls of the American people have long indicated what CBS and CNN’s polls indicated in 2007: Americans want universal health care even if it costs more in taxes to get it. A clear explanation of the implications of this for HMOs would have framed the debate around health care more clearly as well.

But Frontline viewers didn’t get any cogent explanations of either HR676 or poll results. Instead Frontline viewers got what commercially-sponsored media is designed to give—mischaracterizations that divert attention away from what its’ sponsors fear.

Dr. Margaret Flowers, M.D. was one of the protesters in Sen. Max Baucus’ hearings in which single-payer advocates were purposefully left out and HMO corporations were overrepresented. Dr. Flowers wrote an article about “Obama’s Deal” in which she explains how and why, as she says, “The producers at Frontline carefully cut single payer out of the film”:

When the host, Mr. Kirk, interviewed me for “Obama’s Deal,” we spoke extensively of the single payer movement and my arrest with other single payer advocates in the Senate Finance Committee last May. However, our action in Senate Finance was then misidentified as “those on the left” who led a “counterattack” because of “liberal outrage” at being excluded. This occurred despite an email exchange following the release of the preview in which I specifically requested that the producers identify that we are a nonpartisan group fighting for single payer: a health reform model based on evidence of what is effective here and abroad and on health policy principles. This mischaracterization unfortunately mirrors the way in which the health industry has portrayed the single payer movement (verified by Wendell Potter, a former Cigna executive).

Dr. Margaret Flowers, M.D.

Update 2010-04-25: More on this from FAIR.