With a crush of must-pass bills coming at the end of the year, it's a lobbyist feeding frenzy on Capitol Hill. The prize: a rider tacked onto one of those bills that's worth big bucks. And the biggest winner so far is not the industry you'd normally think of as the most powerful in Washington -- not banking, pharmaceuticals, oil and gas, or telecommunications. Arguably the most successful group when it comes to building bipartisan coalitions to protect their profits and avoid federal scrutiny is auto dealers. Numerous state laws safeguard their existence, by preventing auto manufacturers like Tesla from selling directly to consumers, forcing them to go through local dealerships. Congress has never stepped in to preempt those state laws, and dealers work hard to make sure that never happens. read more
Chris Hedges: We waded into conflicts we did not understand. We were propelled forward by fantasy. The occupation of Iraq was supposed to have seen us greeted as liberators. We planned to implant democracy in Baghdad and have it spread across the Middle East. We were fed the absurd promise that the oil revenues would pay for reconstruction. Instead, our folly spawned political, social and economic collapse, widespread poverty, massive displacement, misery and a rage that gave birth to radical jihadism in Iraq and throughout the region. The disintegration in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan has forced us to form a de facto alliance with Iran to battle Islamic State and the Taliban. This disintegration has upended our goal of overthrowing the Syrian regime of Bashar Assad. We now function, along with the Russians, as Assad's surrogate air force. read more
The general leading the U.S. military's hidden war in Africa says the continent is now home to nearly 50 terrorist organizations and "illicit groups" that threaten U.S. interests. And today, gunmen reportedly yelling "Allahu Akbar" stormed the Radisson Blu hotel in Mali's capital and seized several dozen hostages. U.S. special operations forces are "currently assisting hostage recovery efforts," a Pentagon spokesperson said, and U.S. personnel have "helped move civilians to secured locations, as Malian forces clear the hotel of hostile gunmen." The U.S. has also carried out a shadow war of special ops raids, drone strikes and other attacks, as well as an expanding number of training missions by elite forces. U.S. special operations teams are now deployed to 23 African countries "seven days a week, 24/7," according to [Brigadier General Donald] Bolduc. read more
Venezuela will conduct a "comprehensive review of relations with the United States" and submitted a formal protest over new evidence that the National Security Agency spied on state-owned oil company Petróleos de Venezuela, the country's president announced.
President Nicolas Maduro spoke about the latest spying revelations at an event late Wednesday night. Earlier in the day, The Intercept and teleSUR jointly published reports, based on a top-secret document provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, detailing how the intelligence agency gained large-scale access to PDVSA's internal computer network and successfully targeted top executives for electronic surveillance. read more
U.S. DRONE OPERATORS are inflicting heavy civilian casualties and have developed an institutional culture callous to the death of children and other innocents, four former operators said at a press briefing today in New York.
The killings, part of the Obama administration's targeted assassination program, are aiding terrorist recruitment and thus undermining the program's goal of eliminating such fighters, the veterans added. Drone operators refer to children as "fun-size terrorists" and liken killing them to "cutting the grass before it grows too long," said one of the operators, Michael Haas, a former senior airman in the Air Force. Haas also described widespread drug and alcohol abuse, further stating that some operators had flown missions while impaired. read more