The Common Good

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Half of Americans Below or Near Poverty Line

Although the Census Bureau has reported that 15 percent of Americans live in poverty, when assets and wages are factored in half of Americans are below or near poverty line. Alternet has compiled a list of five reasons poverty affects so many Americans.

1. Almost half of Americans had NO assets in 2009 - In 2009 47% of Americans had more debt than assets.

2. It’s Even Worse 3 Years Later - An OECD report states that “inequality has increased by more over the past three years to the end of 2010 than in the previous twelve,” with the U.S. experiencing one of the widest gaps among OECD countries.

3. Based on wage figures, half of Americans are in or near poverty - The highest wage in the bottom half of earners is about $34,000. To be eligible for food assistance, a family can earn up to about $30,000 for a family of four.

4. Based on household expense totals, poverty is creeping into the top half of America - After taxes and expenses, a family making $60,000 a year is left with nothing except debt.

5. Putting it in Perspective -  While food support was being targeted for cuts, just 20 rich Americans made as much from their 2012 investments as the entire  2012 SNAP (food assistance) budget, which serves 47 million people.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Strike in Pakistan Kills 7

In the news this morning are reports of a U.S. drone strike in Pakistan that killed seven people, including the unconfirmed death of the number two leader of Pakistan’s Taliban. It is the first strike since Pakistan’s election, and the first since President Obama’s speech last week on drone policy. Reuters reports:

A U.S. drone strike killed the number two of the Pakistani Taliban in the North Waziristan region on Wednesday, three security officials said, in what would be a major blow in the fight against militancy.

The drone strike killed seven people, Pakistani security officials said, including Taliban deputy commander Wali-ur-Rehman, in the first such attack since a May 11 general election in which the use of the unmanned aircraft was a major issue.

Wali-ur-Rehman had been poised to succeed Hakimullah Mehsud as leader of the Pakistani Taliban, a senior army official based in the South Waziristan region, had said in December.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Pakistan Responds to Drone Speech

News reports over the weekend had Pakistani reactions to President Obama’s Thursday speech on drones.

DAWN reported a statement from the Pakistani Foreign Office:

The Government of Pakistan has consistently maintained that the drone strikes are counter-productive, entail loss of innocent civilian lives, have human rights and humanitarian implications and violate the principles of national sovereignty, territorial integrity and international law.

The Associated Press reported that while Pakistanis welcomed the speech and its more restrictive rules on drone strikes, there was also disappointment that strikes will continue:

Obama has finally responded to the popular sentiment in this country, which is fiercely against the drones, and I think that shows a certain sensitivity," said Mushahid Hussain, chairman of the defense committee in Pakistan's Senate. "But for the people of Pakistan that is not good enough unless there is a cessation of drone attacks."

Several Pakistani officials and analysts noted that the President’s comments could help in improving relations between the U.S. and the new government in Pakistan.

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DRONE WATCH: Force Alone Cannot Make Us Safe

Saying that drone killings were “effective” and “legal,” President Barack Obama defended the program in a policy speech this afternoon at the National Defense University. He also conceded that “To say a military tactic is legal, or even effective, is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance.”

The administration, he said, has “worked vigorously to establish a framework that governs our use of force against terrorists—insisting upon clear guidelines, oversight and accountability that is now codified in Presidential Policy Guidance that I signed yesterday.” He did not go into specific detail, but indicated it included more restrictive targeting criteria along with measures to prevent civilian casualties (“before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.”)

The president said that “the use of force must be seen as part of a larger discussion about a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy. Because for all the focus on the use of force, force alone cannot make us safe.” And as an important part of that strategy, “we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship.”

Over the next days and weeks, we will certainly learn more, and we will see what happens on the ground.

Read reports on the speech in The New York Times and The Washington Post.

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DRONE WATCH: Administration Acknowledges American Deaths

The Obama administration formally acknowledged this afternoon that four American citizens have been killed by drone strikes, one intentionally and three who were not targeted. The New York Times reports:

In a letter to Congressional leaders obtained by The New York Times, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. disclosed that the administration had deliberately killed Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who was killed in a drone strike in September 2011 in Yemen.

The American responsibility for Mr. Awlaki’s death has been widely reported, but the administration had until now refused to confirm or deny it.

The letter also said that the United States had killed three other Americans: Samir Khan, who was killed in the same strike; Mr. Awlaki’s son Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, who was also killed in Yemen; and Jude Mohammed, who was killed in a strike in Pakistan.

“These individuals were not specifically targeted by the United States,” Mr. Holder wrote.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Number of Drone Strikes Declines

President Barack Obama will deliver a major speech on drone policy tomorrow. And for a number of reasons—including a smaller number of important al Qaeda targets, issues such as bad weather to diplomatic problems, and concerns about the costs and benefits—the number of drone strikes being carried out is dropping. The New York Times reports:

But lost in the contentious debate over the legality, morality and effectiveness of a novel weapon is the fact that the number of strikes has actually been in decline. Strikes in Pakistan peaked in 2010 and have fallen sharply since then; their pace in Yemen has slowed to half of last year’s rate; and no strike has been reported in Somalia for more than a year.

In a long-awaited address on Thursday at the National Defense University, Mr. Obama will make his most ambitious attempt to date to lay out his justification for the strikes and what they have achieved. He may follow up on public promises, including one he made in his State of the Union speech in February to define a “legal architecture” for choosing targets, possibly shifting more strikes from the C.I.A. to the military; explain how he believes that presidents should be “reined in” in their exercise of lethal power; and take steps to make a program veiled in secrecy more transparent.

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: Serious Moral Questions

In a letter sent to the White House and the leadership of key Congressional committees, Bishop Richard E. Pates of Des Moines, Iowa, chair of the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ Committee on International Justice and Peace, wrote that the use of drones in counter-terrorism “raises serious moral questions.”

Even when viewed through the prism of just war principles, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for targeted killings raises serious moral questions. The Administration seems to have focused narrowly on the just cause of protecting citizens, but other elements of the tradition pose significant questions, including discrimination, imminence of the threat, proportionality and probability of success. Targeted killing should, by definition, be highly discriminatory. The Administration's policy appears to extend the use of deadly force to alleged "signature" attacks and reportedly classifies all males of a certain age as combatants. Are these policies morally defensible? They seem to violate the law of war, international human rights law, and moral norms.

He concludes by asking:

We understand the necessity for operational secrecy in counter-terrorism, but isn’t it critical to have a public discussion of the terms of the Administration’s policy of employing drones for targeted killings? Don’t the moral and strategic issues involved require broader discussion? Shouldn’t a policy with such wide potential consequences be subject to public scrutiny, at a minimum by representative institutions in a democratic society?

Read more here.

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Church Whistle-Blowers Join Forces on Abuse

A group of priests and nuns, some of whom were assaulted as children, has quietly been gathering to publically urge the pope and American bishops to "clean house" on sexual abuse in the church. 

Many members in the group, though vocal on sexual abuse cases in the past, did not know eachother until last year, when a laywoman brought them together for as a "confidential support group."

The New York Times reports:

Their aim, they say, is to support both victims and fellow whistle-blowers, and identify shortcomings in church policies. They hope to help not just minors, but also adults who fall prey to clergy who exploit their power for sex. They say that their motivation is to make the church better and safer, and to show the world that there are good priests and nuns in the church.

“We’ve dedicated our lives to the church,” the Rev. John Bambrick, a priest in the Diocese of Trenton, said at a meeting of the group last week in New York. “Having sex offenders in ministry is damaging to our ministry.”&nbsminp;

Read more here.

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DRONE WATCH: From CIA to Military

One of the ongoing discussions of the U.S. drone program is who should control it. Having it under the military provides more oversight and accountability; having it under the CIA provides more secrecy. The Obama administration has apparently decided to begin moving control of at least some drone operations to the military. Reuters reports:

Four U.S. government sources told Reuters that the decision had been made to shift the CIA's drone operations to the Pentagon, and some of them said it would occur in stages.

Drone strikes in Yemen, where the U.S. military already conducts operations with Yemeni forces, would be run by the armed forces, officials said.

But for the time-being U.S. drone strikes in Pakistan would continue to be conducted by the CIA to keep the program covert and maintain deniability for both the United States and Pakistan, several sources said.

Ultimately, however, the administration's goal would be to transfer the Pakistan drone operations to the military, one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity.

Read more here.

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Tornado Hits Elementary Schools, Levels Homes in Oklahoma

A massive tornado swept through the town of Moore, Okla., on Monday afternoon, destroying homes and hitting two elementary schools. Emergency crews were rushing to the scenes to rescue staff and students trapped in the debris. One MSNBC report indicated at least 75 children and staff were trapped in one of the schools. From MSNBC

Two elementary schools were heavily damaged, possibly completely destroyed, KFOR reported. Those schools are Briarwood Elementary in Oklahoma City and Plaza Towers Elementary in Moore.

It was unknown how many children may have been in the schools when the twister hit, but a KFOR reporter saw a student being rescued from Plaza Towers, where the roof was blown off and the cinderblock walls demolished.

Read more HERE.

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