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U.S. lawmakers ask for disclosure of number of Americans under surveillance

Reuters US Politics - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 12:09
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A U.S. congressional committee on Friday asked the Trump administration to disclose an estimate of the number of Americans whose digital communications are incidentally collected under foreign surveillance programs, according to a letter seen by Reuters.

US strikes in Syria: This isn't regime change (but it might be)

MiddleEasteye - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:58

The only way to bring about a real change in the government in Damascus would be through destroying the regime militarily

Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC) Statement on Syria Strikes

Antiwarblog - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:53

Today (4/7/17), Congressman Walter B. Jones (NC-3) released the following statement regarding the launch of U.S. airstrikes in Syria:

“Regardless of the circumstances, no American president has the constitutional right to commit acts of war against a sovereign nation without approval from Congress,” said Congressman Jones. “As clearly stated in the Constitution, Congress has the sole power to declare war. This is a dangerous precedent for the president to set for the new administration.”

For additional information, please contact Allison Tucker in Congressman Walter Jones’ office at Allison.Tucker@mail.house.gov.

Under Armour stock slides 3% to lead S&P 500 decliners

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:25

Shares of athletic clothing and shoes Under Armour Inc. slid 3% Friday to lead S&P 500 decliners, after The Baltimore Sun reported job cuts at the company's Connected Fitness unit. The unit makes apps for wearable devices to allow users track fitness. About two dozen workers were affected, mostly in Copenhagen, Denmark, where Under Armour acquired fitness app Endomondo in 2015, the paper said. Under Armour stock was downgraded earlier this week at FBR & Co., where analyst Susan Anderson assigned it a rare underperform rating and slashed her price target to $14, or about 24% below its current trading level. Anderson said channel checks suggest a growing price war with Nike Inc. after UA's entrance into department store chain Kohls Inc. . Under Armour shares are down 27% in 2017 so far, while the S&P 500 has gained 5%.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

America Should Never Be 'Great Again'

RealClearPolitics - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:07
J.M. Opal, Time
Our origin myths are built on terrible history

Okta soars above $17 issue price in market debut

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:06

Shares of Okta Inc. opened at $23.70 Friday, above the company's $17 issue price, in the software company's debut on the Nasdaq. Okta, which helps companies securely mange sign-ons, priced its IPO at $17 a share, the top end of its range, to raise $187 million. That issue price put the company's public market capitalization above its last private valuation, when it sold shares for $12.02 at a valuation of $1.2 billion. Goldman Sachs, J.P. Morgan and Allen & Co. were the lead underwriters on the offering. The underwriters have the option to buy up to 1.65 million additional shares.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

Trump Quietly Racking Up Big Wins

RealClearPolitics - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:06
Matt Lewis, The Daily Beast
They don’t hold Rose Garden signing ceremonies when a governmental regulation is repealed. But if they did, Donald Trump’s still-nascent presidency would be getting a lot more respect.

The Trump Doctrine: Unpredictability & Incoherence

RealClearPolitics - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:52
Andrew Sullivan, NY Magazine
With little notice, the candidate who promised to avoid military conflict in the Middle East has become an interventionist.

Cruise operator Carnival raises quarterly dividend by 14%, adds $1 billion to share buyback program

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:43

Cruise operator Carnival Corp. & plc said Friday it is raising its quarterly dividend 14% to 40 cents a share from 35 cents. The new payment will be made June 16 to shareholders of record as of May 26. The company's board also approved an additional $1 billion share buyback. Shares were flat Friday, but are up 13% in 2017 so far, while the S&P 500 has gained 5%.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

New President Shows He's Willing to Act Forcefully, Quickly

RealClearPolitics - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:34
Lee & Radnofsky, WSJ
President Donald Trump's decision to order military strikes in Syria sets his presidency on a new and unpredictable course that is likely to shape his time in office.

Trump Enforces 'Red Line' on Chemical Weapons

RealClearPolitics - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:33
David Ignatius, Washington Post
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Even for a president who advertised his coldblooded pragmatism, the moral dimensions of leadership find a way of penetrating the Oval Office. In the case of Donald Trump, the emotional distance seems to have been shattered by simple, indelible images of suffering children in Idlib, Syria.

'Assad is not mad' enough to use chemical weapons: Former UK ambassador

MiddleEasteye - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:33
Language Undefined

Many of Peter Ford’s encounters with Assad concerned Lebanon in the aftermath of the assassination of Rafik Hariri

Trump’s New War for America

Future of Freedom Foundation - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:32

With President Trump’s undeclared attack on Syria, a sovereign and independent nation, he has confirmed, once and for all, that he is just another foreign interventionist, no different from his predecessors Barack Obama and George W. Bush. That means, of course, another four years of war, bombings, assassinations, shootings, terrorism, war on terrorism, travel restrictions, walls, surveillance, incarceration, POW camps, torture, out of control federal spending and debt, and everything else that comes with an imperialist and interventionist national security state.

It’s important to point out that Trump’s decision to fire 59 Tomahawk missiles at a Syrian air force base was carried out without a congressional declaration of war. This should, of course, mean something to conservatives, given their purported devotion to the Constitution, which prohibits the president from waging war without first securing a declaration of war from Congress. But don’t count on opposition to Trump’s new war coming from conservatives. They love foreign wars because it means ever-bigger government, along with more spending, taxation, and debt to fund them.

No congressional declaration of war against Syria is important for two reasons:

One, it’s the law — the higher law that we the people have imposed on federal officials, including the president, the Pentagon, the CIA, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When these people enact laws against us, such as drug laws, they expect us to obey them even if we disagree with their legitimacy. By the same token, we expect them to obey the laws that we impose on them, as represented by the Constitution.

Two, going to Congress to seek a declaration of war against Syria would require Trump and his national-security state people to provide evidence and justification for going to war against Syria.

No one really knows whether the Syrian regime actually initiated the attack. So far, all we have are the pronouncements and accusations, none of which constitute evidence. It might well be the Syria regime that conducted the attacks, but, by the same token, it might well be someone else. One might reply, “But, Jacob, who else could it be?” It could be anyone who would like to make it seem like the Syrian regime is guilty, including people who would like to destroy the friendly relationship that exists between the Trump administration and Russia.

Recall Operation Northwoods. It was a top-secret Pentagon plan that called for terrorist attacks and airplane hijackings to be carried out by secret agents of the U.S. national security state. The attacks would be made to look as though they were carried out by communists from Cuba. Under the plan, the president, who was John Kennedy, would then formally blame Fidel Castro and Cuba for the attacks, thereby providing a false and fraudulent pretext for invading Cuba and effecting regime change there. (To his everlasting credit, Kennedy rejected the plan.)

Is it really beyond reasonable possibility that some other groups around the world would take a page out of the Pentagon’s handbook and implement their own modified version of Operation Northwoods? What better way to provide a justification for a U.S. bombing attack on Syria, which would be certain to damage U.S.-Russia relations, than a supposed chemical attack carried out by the Syrian regimes?

As an aside, it’s somewhat ironic that U.S. interventionists are celebrating the 100th anniversary of World War I because that was the war in which the British government knowingly and deliberately used false and fraudulent propaganda as a way to get the United States embroiled in the war. For example, they put out stories that Germans were impaling Belgium babies, knowing full well that they were making it up but also knowing full well the impact it would have in inducing America to get involved in the war. Of course, by the time Americans discovered that they had been deceived, the war was over. That’s one of the many reasons they so fervently opposed getting embroiled in World War II.

Even if Syria did carry out the attack as part of its attempt to suppress a revolution in that country, what business is that of the United States? That is, who appointed the U.S. government the policeman of the world? Thus, even if Trump had followed the law and secured a congressional declaration of war, that still wouldn’t make his war legitimate given that the U.S. government has no legitimate business going abroad in search of monsters to destroy.

Trump said that he was only doing it for the Syrian children and other victims of the chemical attack. Really? Aren’t these the same children, along with their parents, who he won’t permit to freely come to the United States as war refugees? Isn’t this the same president who doesn’t give a hoot about American children of illegal immigrants whose parents he is deporting? What’s with this new-found compassionate conservatism?

Moreover, let’s not forget some inconvenient truths about the U.S. national-security establishment in all this.

One, the CIA partnered with Syria’s president Assad in the torture of Canadian citizens Mahar Arar. We still don’t know how the partnership got established and what its exact terms were because the mainstream press has never pressed the CIA for an answer. But there is no question but that the CIA did partner with this brutal dictator whose nation they are now bombing because he is a brutal dictator.

Two, Assad isn’t the only brutal dictator the CIA has partnered with over the years. The Shah of Iran and Gen. Pinochet come to mind. Indeed, today the United States is partnering and reinforcing the dictatorships of Egypt and Bahrain. Indeed, let’s not forget the infamous Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein himself. I’ll bet that many Americans have forgotten that the U.S. government partnered with him and even provided him with chemical weapons that he could use against the Iranian people. (See “Where Did Iraq Get Its Weapons of Mass Destruction, Part 1 and Part 2, by Jacob G. Hornberger.

Indeed, I wonder if the U.S. position on Assad’s supposed use of WMD would change if Assad were to say that the reason he used them was to bring a quick end to the war and to save the lives of Syrian soldiers? Why might that change the perspective of U.S. officials? Because that is the answer they still give to justify the U.S. use of WMDs on children, seniors, and women at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

What we all need to realize is that Trump’s attack on Syria means that the United States is now at war with Syria, just as the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor meant, as a practical matter, that the United States was, at that point, at war with Japan. While the national-security establishment under President Obama was attacking targets within Syria, Obama could claim that he wasn’t really attacking Syria but rather ISIS. Trump’s attack is different. It is a direct attack on Syria itself.

That means, of course, that Syria might well strike back. We don’t know when and we don’t know how. But it is the nature of war for combatant nations to attack and counterattack. If and when the counterattack comes, you can bet your bottom dollar that Trump is going to say the same thing that his predecessors have said — that they just hate us for our “freedom and values” and that that the counterattack has nothing to do with the fact that Trump, like Bush and Obama, has initiated a war with another sovereign and independent nation.

What Americans need to realize that the fundamental problem facing our country is not Donald Trump. Instead, it is a structural problem — one involving the Cold War era structure of the U.S. government — and a philosophical problem — one involving the entire concept of foreign empire and foreign interventionism. As long as the American people continue to keep the federal government as a national-security state, one whose mission includes imperialism and foreign interventionism, America will continue traveling down the road to bankruptcy, moral debauchery, hypocrisy, death, and destruction of libertyand privacy here at home. There is but one solution to all this: the restoration of a constitutional republic to our land and the complete rejection of empire and foreign intervention.

The post Trump’s New War for America appeared first on The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Observe and Collect: How Law Enforcement Exploits People of Color in Search of Profit

Truth-Out - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:10

Civil asset forfeiture fits comfortably within a long historical trajectory that connects convict labor leasing to the current model of property seizure. Under President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, civil asset forfeiture will continue unabated.

(Photo: Elvert Barnes; Edited: LW / TO)

In one of the few comments then-presidential candidate Donald Trump made about the criminal legal system, he promised to be the "law and order candidate." Now as president, his appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his nomination of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court show that the issue of civil asset forfeiture might be central to this promise.

Civil asset forfeiture allows law enforcement officials to seize cash and other assets they simply suspect have been used to commit a crime. No warrant, official charge, trial or even conviction is required under civil asset forfeiture laws to confiscate property, which is in clear violation of due process. Discontinued by the Justice Department in 2015 only for its federal own agents (although the "Equitable Sharing Program" was reinstated in March 2016), civil asset forfeiture could see a reemergence on the federal level during the Trump administration. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for one, has extolled the virtues of civil asset forfeiture in the past. Civil asset forfeiture has already been expanding on the state and local level across the country. The return of civil asset forfeiture to the Justice Department could accelerate this expansion, allowing it continue without even the illusion of oversight.

With the potential addition of Neil Gorsuch, whose nomination could come up for a final vote as early as Friday, April 7, the Supreme Court might offer little in the way of resistance to such an expansion. As a federal judge on the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals, Gorsuch ruled in 2012 that the vehicle of an individual driving without a valid license had been legally seized by law enforcement officers. Perhaps more disturbingly, Gorsuch additionally reasoned that even if the law enforcement officers had removed the vehicle from his possession only to forfeit it for profit, as the individual claimed, they had still done so lawfully.

A History of State-Sanctioned Exploitation and Theft

For people of color, who are disproportionately impacted by civil asset forfeiture, the use of state-sponsored extortion to deprive them of their resources is troublingly familiar.

In 1901, John Davis, a young African American man, was traveling to Goodwater, Alabama. Along the way, he was erroneously accosted by local constable Robert Franklin. Franklin demanded that Davis pay him the money he owed. When Davis refused, repeatedly asserting his innocence, Franklin arrested him.

Within the span of a single day, Davis was hastily convicted, following what could only be described as a kangaroo court. He was literally purchased from the court by Franklin, who then sold his labor to John Pace, a wealthy Tallapoosa, Alabama, landowner.

Powerless to stop either Franklin or Pace, Davis signed a contract that he could not read. He was trapped in the convict labor leasing system, having been targeted by restrictive laws purposely designed to criminalize African American life. Such laws were made possible by a loophole in the 13th Amendment, which rendered slavery a very real possibility for those convicted of crimes as a form of punishment.

These laws made inconsequential behaviors such as "loitering," walking along the side of railroad tracks or speaking loudly in the company of white women crimes punishable by many years of imprisonment. New vagrancy laws criminalized anyone unable to offer proof of their employment at any given time. Prosecution was carried out injudiciously, effectively nullifying hard-won African American rights to due process and fair trials. Together, these laws represented the collusion of state and private interests through the criminal legal system towards the mutually beneficial aim of subjugating African Americans and profiting financially from that subjugation.

Profits indeed abounded from the stolen labor of tens of thousands of African American men and women throughout the South. By 1890, Alabama alone had made $164,000 -- or $4.1 million in today's dollars -- from "leasing" people convicted of crimes.

To law enforcement officers and state officials, African Americans' citizenship and constitutional right to due process were nothing more than words on paper. Greed meant more.

And in many ways, it still does.

Like John Davis, James Morrow was a young African American man traveling through the South when he was accosted by law enforcement in August 2007. On his way to a dental appointment, the Arkansas native was pulled over on the highway for the ridiculous charge of traveling too closely to the white dividing lines on the road. Officers searched Morrow's car, violating his Fourth Amendment right to security from unreasonable search, claiming that it smelled of marijuana. Finding none, the officers instead arrested him and literally committed highway robbery, confiscating the $3,900 Morrow had saved to pay for his dental work and violating his right to due process in doing so. To further underscore their lack of regard for Morrow's Fourth Amendment right, officers forced him to exchange his remaining valuables, including his car, for his freedom. Having successfully utilized civil asset forfeiture, officers abandoned Morrow on the side of the road with nothing but the clothes on his back.

The motivating factor behind civil asset forfeiture is not "to serve and protect," but instead to observe and collect.

The principles at work that made convict labor leasing possible at the expense of African Americans endure in civil asset forfeiture. Like convict labor leasing, this unconstitutional practice is characterized by often egregious (and unsubstantiated) charges, violations of the constitutional right to due process, and profits from external and coerced sources of labor. Had John Davis and Robert Franklin lived in 2017, Constable Franklin might have stolen Davis's property instead of his labor.

Indeed, the motivating factor behind civil asset forfeiture is not "to serve and protect," but instead to observe and collect. Civil asset forfeiture empowers law enforcement to liquidate seized assets to fill their departments' coffers, alleviating the financial strain on states to support their criminal legal systems. The Department of Justice alone shared $4.5 billion in seized assets with 8,000 state and local law enforcement agencies before 2015.

So strong are the financial incentives that law enforcement departments create wish lists of potential assets to seize -- assets they feel they are entitled to, thanks to civil asset forfeiture.

When civil asset forfeiture is invoked, the founding principle of our legal system -- the presumption that a person is "innocent until proven guilty" -- can be ignored. Property owners must prove the innocence of the property in dispute, regardless of whether they themselves are innocent or guilty.

The burden of these seizures, which are increasingly happening under the guise of standard highway interdiction, falls heavily on people of color. Studies have shown that people of color are more likely to be stopped, searched and arrested by law enforcement officials than are whites, but are less likely to actually possess illegal contraband. Correspondingly, there exists a positive correlation between communities with predominantly African American populations and high arrest rates, making them especially ripe targets for civil asset forfeiture.

These statistics bear out anecdotally as well: While looking into 400 cases in which owners sued to have their property returned to them following seizures from civil asset forfeiture, The Washington Post found that the overwhelming majority of these owners were African American or Latino. According to Oklahoma Watch, in 2015, a whopping 65 percent of those from whom assets were seized by law enforcement in 10 counties across Oklahoma were people of color.

Civil asset forfeiture fits comfortably within a long historical trajectory, from convict labor leasing to the current model of property seizure. Under President Trump and Attorney General Sessions, the government will likely perpetuate this trajectory of state-sanctioned exploitation and theft.

But that doesn't have to be the case. Concerned activists, policymakers and voters alike can pressure local and state representatives to follow the examples set by Montana, which as of 2015 requires a criminal conviction before property can be legally seized; Florida, which now forces law enforcement officers to arrest suspects before a given asset can be legally seized; and New Mexico, which requires a conviction or guilty plea before civil asset forfeiture can be legally invoked and issued budgetary reforms to reduce incentives for the practice. To allow this practice to continue not only undermines the integrity of our Constitution, but cements structural racism.

The impending confirmation of Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court, who has shown himself to be somewhat of a proponent of civil asset forfeiture, speaks to the depth of the expansion of this practice, and the urgency with which it must be addressed. As it stretches closer to the highest court in the land, it's obvious that civil asset forfeiture is showing no signs of abating on its own.

We can either be mindful of the historical forces that made convict labor leasing and make civil asset forfeiture possible, or be doomed to perpetuate them.

U.S. wholesale inventories rise 0.4% in February

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:06

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) - Wholesale inventories in the U.S. rose 0.4% in February, rebounding from a decline at the start of 2017, the government said Friday. The inventory-to-sales ratio was unchanged at 1.28 months, but it was down from 1.36 a year earlier. The ratio reflects how long it would take a company to sell all the goods sitting on warehouse shelves. A lower number is usually better than a higher one.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

US air strikes signal dramatic shift in Syria policy

MiddleEasteye - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:03
Language Undefined

UN Security Council to meet after 59 cruise missiles directed at a Syrian airbase in a quick-fire response from Trump

Grassroots Movement Looks to Smash Monopolies

Who What Why - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 09:56

PICKS are stories from many sources, selected by our editors or recommended by our readers because they are important, surprising, troubling, enlightening, inspiring, or amusing. They appear on our site and in our daily newsletter. Please send suggested articles, videos, podcasts, etc. to picks@whowhatwhy.org.

Data is in: Presidential Race Was About Race (Jeff C.)

The Intercept cites numerous academics in concluding the Democrats were wrong to assert the election hinged on economic issues. Yeah, no: It was about racism.

Russia and Iran Condemn US Airstrikes (Dan)

The alliance between Russia and Trump is further proved fiction while Iran, and Russia, compare the strikes to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

Kentucky Coal Museum Installs Solar Panels (Reader Steve)

Not what you’d expect from a part of the country that plans to bring coal mining back.

Has a 4-Star General Declared War on Somalia? (Russ)

General Thomas David Waldhauser is declaring now that a certain area in southern Somalia is a war zone. The move apparently both exposes and represents a new authority that Trump may have in effect passed on to the Pentagon and military officers.

Budding Movement Wants to Smash Monopolies (Jimmy)

Almost every facet of our economy is controlled by a handful of large corporations. The Chicago School’s perveance of neoliberal economics has largely muffled traditional progressive concerns about monopoly power. But the “New Brandeis” movement is starting to challenge the status quo.

Gorsuch, Legal Elites, and Financial & Corporate Power (Jimmy)

Matt Stoller writes, “And what this highly choreographed, deferential song and dance revealed is that an insular clique operates our machinery of governance, one that stretches across both parties, and that on the critical issue of unaccountable concentrations of power, legal elites in both the Democrat and Republican parties stand with big finance.”

The post Grassroots Movement Looks to Smash Monopolies appeared first on WhoWhatWhy.

Comcast's new Xfinity Mobile phone service should help prevent subscriber churn

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 09:55

Comcast Corp.'s new mobile phone service Xfinity Mobile is likely to help keep its customers wrapped up in its suite of services, mainly cable, said Instinet analysts. Lead analyst Anthony DiClemente wrote in a note to clients that Xfinity Mobile's main value driver is its ability to reduce churn. "For now, Comcast plans to leverage its existing cutomer base and network infrastructure in order to provide a strong wireless customer experience that is profitable to Comcast on a standalone basis," DiClemente wrote. DiClemente maintains his buy rating and $43 12-month price target for Comcast. With Xfinity Mobile's $45 to $65 per month unlimited data plans and the cost of up to three lines totaling $135 a month at the high end, DiClemente said Comcast's mobile offering is competitive and even cheaper than plans from Verizon Communications Inc. and AT&T Inc. . "Overtime, we believe wireless could serve as an incremental tailwind to the already steadily improving fundamentals as Comcast," DiClemente wrote. Shares of Comcast have gained more than 24% in the trailing 12-month period, while the S&P 500 index is up more than 15% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up nearly 18% during the same time frame.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

Fitch cuts South Africa's credit rating to junk

MarketWatch Market Pulse - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 09:55

Fitch Ratings on Friday cut its ratings on both South Africa's foreign- and local-currency debt to junk, leaving Moody's Investors Service as the only major ratings firm with an investment-grade rating on the country's debt. South Africa's currency, the rand, fluctuated between gains and losses after the decision. It recently traded at 13.79 to the dollar, little-changed from its late-Thursday level. Earlier in the week, S&P Global Market Intelligence cut its rating on the country's foreign-currency debt to junk. The country's currency, stocks and bonds sold off dramatically after President Jacob Zuma late last week fired respected Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan.

Market Pulse Stories are Rapid-fire, short news bursts on stocks and markets as they move. Visit MarketWatch.com for more information on this news.

Just Asking…

LibertarianInstitute - Fri, 04/07/2017 - 09:53

I don’t say Assad didn’t attack Syrians with chemical weapons. I simply ask what Rumpole, Columbo, Matlock, Rockford, and Tom Barnaby would be asking.

The post Just Asking… appeared first on The Libertarian Institute.

Just Asking… was first posted on April 7, 2017 at 8:53 am.