Photographs of 'Free Barrett Brown' posters at freebarrettbrown.org.
In May of this year, Barack Obama gave a speech effectively declaring the end of the “War on Terror.” Like many people, I was pleased. The War on Terror, which embodies the idea that terrorism is such an existential threat that all other threats the United States has faced pale before it and therefore we had permission abandon every moral standard we ever held to and wage a global military campaign that never ends, has been a poison coursing through our national bloodstream. Its effects can be seen in things that don’t on their surface seem to have almost anything to do with terrorism. And despite Obama’s speech, it doesn’t seem like much has changed.
It was only a few weeks after that speech that Edward Snowden’s revelations about the scope of NSA surveillance began to come out, and it wasn’t as though President Obama said, “You know what? This just shows how things have gotten out of hand. We’re going to be dialing this stuff back.” He defended every bit of it as necessary and proper. Why do we need this positively gargantuan apparatus of surveillance? The answer is always terrorism. Oh, we’re using it to spy on state actors too — both enemies and friends — but it’s harder to argue that Chinese officials or the president of Brazil want to kill your children, so when challenged, the justification inevitably turns back to terrorism. MORE
This post first appeared on the FAIR website on September 1, 2013.
Right-leaning pundit Mike Murphy defends the NSA while his firm works for NSA contractors.
On an episode of NBC’s Meet the Press (6/23/13), right-leaning pundit Mike Murphy called Edward Snowden a “so-called whistleblower” and defended the NSA’s wide-ranging surveillance programs. “The Internet is an incredibly effective tool for terrorists and outlaws,” he said. “So it’s not surprising that the security side of the state is trying to compete with that.”
What might have been surprising to viewers, as Lee Fang reported for The Nation (6/24/13), is that “Murphy himself has a stake in this debate that arguably ought to have been disclosed.” The lobbying firm he founded, Navigators Global, represents large private contractors that work with the NSA. MORE
President Barack Obama, flanked by Vice President Joe Biden, left, speaks about the crisis in Syria in the Rose Garden of the White House on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2013 in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
When Barack Obama announced his determination to strike the Syrian government after it allegedly deployed chemical weapons against civilians, he explained his rationale. “Out of the ashes of world war, we built an international order and enforced the rules that gave it meaning,” he said. “If we won’t enforce accountability in the face of this heinous act, what does it say about our resolve to stand up to others who flout fundamental international rules?”
The tragic irony is that the U.S. violated a cornerstone of international law at that very moment in the White House Rose Garden. Article two of the United Nations charter not only bars member states from using force, except in self-defense or in conjunction with the international community, it also prohibits states from threatening to use force. Under the charter, it’s the only international norm that countries are empowered to enforce unilaterally.
This is the central paradox of Obama’s promise that he will intervene in Syria without international support if he must. MORE
Climate change is already hurting the world’s most vulnerable populations. Those who live in areas hit hard by drought, severe storms or rising seas and can’t relocate because of economic or social factors bear the brunt of our planet’s increasing volatility.
One way the changing climate has already made itself known is through a devastating drought — and ensuing food shortage — in Syria; it created a powder keg, and played a significant role in sparking the country’s civil war. We can expect to see similar scenarios unfold in the future.
Moyers & Company’s John Light spoke with Francesco Femia, co-founder of the Center for Climate and Security — a think tank with an advisory board consisting of retired military commanders and international affairs experts — about how climate change serves as a “threat multiplier” in volatile regions such as Syria, Egypt and Pakistan, and what America’s role should be in a world in which climate change increasingly exacerbates — and causes — international crises.
John Light: What’s been going on with Syria’s water resources over the past several years?
Francesco Femia: Essentially, a massive, five-and-a-half-year drought. From 2006 to 2011, 60 percent of Syria’s land experienced, in the words of one expert, the worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilizations began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago. That, on top of natural resource mismanagement by the Assad regime — subsidizing water-intensive wheat and cotton farming and unsustainable irrigation techniques — led to a large amount of devastation. MORE
This summer’s heated battles over the implementation of “Obamacare” are a microcosm of a much larger and longstanding ideological clash over the role of the government in society.
(AP Photo/Ezequiel Abiu Lopez)
The hard-right is taking a scorched-earth approach, obstructing the law’s implementation by any means necessary and spinning the hiccups and glitches that are inevitable with any complex new system as an unmitigated disaster.
It’s a perfect example of a structural advantage enjoyed by politicians who rail against “big government”: they claim that government is, by definition, hopelessly inept and can’t do anything to improve people’s lives, and when they get into power they have the opportunity to obstruct, cause havoc and ultimately prove the claim.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration, officials in around half of the states and a network of the program’s supporters are desperate to get the new health insurance scheme up and running. It’s shaping up as a particularly ugly fight in an era that’s come to be defined by “crisis governance.” MORE
U.S. Navy officers and sailors stand at attention as U.S. Navy ship USS Freedom (LCS 1) berths at the Changi Naval Base on Thursday April 18, 2013 in Singapore. (AP Photo/Wong Maye-E)
When Congress returns from vacation in a week and a half, the Senate will take up the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the bill that sets the Department of Defense (DoD) budget — and defense-related budgets for other departments — and mandates how America’s military leaders use that funding.
Last year, the fight over the NDAA got stuck on the Pentagon’s plans to make the military’s operations greener and more sustainable. Republicans in particular went after Navy Secretary Ray Mabus’ plan for a “great green fleet” powered on alternative energy — a play on Theodore Roosevelt’s vision of a “great white fleet” that would circumnavigate the world and define the U.S. as a key international player. Mabus’ goal is for his forces to draw 50 percent of their energy from alternative sources by 2020. MORE
Hassan Nemazee, the wealthy Manhattan investment banker, steps over a security chain as he leaves federal court in Manhattan after being sentenced to 12 years in prison for bank fraud. (AP Photo/Larry Neumeister)
Two studies released last week confirmed what most of us already knew: the ultra-wealthy tend to be narcissistic and have a greater sense of entitlement than the rest of us, and Congress only pays attention to their interests. Both studies are consistent with earlier research.
In the first study, published in the current Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Paul Piff of UC Berkeley conducted five experiments which demonstrated that “higher social class is associated with increased entitlement and narcissism.” Given the opportunity, Piff also found that they were more likely to check themselves out in a mirror than were those of lesser means.
Piff looked at how participants scored on a standard scale of “psychological entitlement,” and found that those of a high social class — based on income levels, education and occupational prestige — were more likely to say “I honestly feel I’m just more deserving than others,” while people further down the social ladder were likelier to respond, “I do not necessarily deserve special treatment.” MORE
In this photo taken on a government organized media tour, a Syrian army soldier walks on a street in the Jobar neighborhood of Damascus, Syria, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2013. (AP Photo)
As we barrel toward the possibility of yet another shooting war in the Middle East, we seem to have forgotten to have a conversation about whether it’s a good idea. The consensus forming among the mainstream chattering class seems to be that the United States simply must use military force in Syria because of a “red line” – because Barack Obama said that deploying chemical weapons against the Syrian people would not be tolerated — and because someone has to do something, anything, to curb the intolerable bloodshed.
But it’s crucial to understand that everyone also seems to agree that no good outcome from U.S. intervention is possible. There are no “good guys” to aid in this bloody and chaotic civil war; if we are successful and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is toppled, we won’t like the people likely to fill the vacuum. A limited strike, most agree, will accomplish little or nothing. A more intense engagement will result in heavy civilian casualties and possibly American service members coming home in caskets. Escalating and internationalizing the conflict will further destabilize an already unstable region. MORE
Yemeni women hold banners during a protest to denounce U.S. drone attacks in Yemen, in front of the U.S. embassy in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, April 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
“The use of drones is heavily constrained,” said President Obama during his May speech about national security matters, held in response to growing criticism of the U.S. drone program. “Before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured.” Obama went on to promise to repeal some of his own war powers, saying that he intends to “engage Congress about the existing Authorization to Use Military Force, or AUMF, to determine how we can continue to fight terrorism without keeping America on a perpetual wartime footing.”
Obama’s speech elicited praise from many as signaling a shift towards a more restrained drone policy overseas. The New York Times editorial board said that it was “the most important statement on counterterrorism policy since the 2001 attacks,” and that the president “stated clearly and unequivocally that the state of perpetual warfare that began 12 years ago is unsustainable for a democracy and must come to an end in the not-too-distant-future.”
Seven thousand miles away in Yemen, Obama’s words seem to be disintegrating along with the wreckage strewn along strike sites, where the U.S. launched nine drone strikes in recent weeks. The bombardment makes Yemen the epicenter of the air war this year with 21 airstrikes. (Pakistan is a close second with 18.) Far from narrowing war powers, the strikes in Yemen seem to be widening them. The terror threat that spawned the closing of U.S. embassies across the Arab world “expanded the scope of people we could go after” in Yemen, one unnamed administration official told The New York Times. “Before, we couldn’t necessarily go after a driver for the organization; it’d have to be the operations director. Now that driver becomes fair game because he’s providing direct support to the plot.” MORE
For those who took the recent Supreme Court decision that gutted the Voting Rights Act as vindication that discrimination no longer lingers deep in the heart of Texas, one only need look back to the summer of 2012 to see evidence to the contrary.
Voters arrive during the first day of early voting at a Travis County mega voting site in Austin, Texas, in 2008. (AP Photo/Harry Cabluck)
Last summer, a federal court ruled that Texas Republican lawmakers discriminated against minority voters while redrawing voting districts in 2011. U.S. Circuit Judge Thomas Griffith wrote that the 2011 redistricting map contained numerous irregularities and that Texas lawmakers drew the new boundaries “with discriminatory purpose.”
Only by reading the voluminous lawsuits filed against the state can one appreciate just how creative Texas Republicans had to be to so successfully dilute and suppress the state’s minority vote. According to a lawsuit filed by a host of civil rights groups, “even though Whites’ share of the population declined from 52 percent to 45 percent, they remain the majority in 70 percent of Congressional Districts.” To cite just one of many examples: in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, the Hispanic population increased by 440,898, the African-American population grew by 152,825 and the white population fell by 156,742. Yet white Republicans, a minority in the metropolis, control four of five Congressional seats. Despite declining in population, white Republicans managed to pick up two Congressional seats in the Dallas and Houston areas. In fact, whites are the minority in the state’s five largest counties but control twelve of nineteen Congressional districts.
Tea party activists attend a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, June 19, 2013. The IRS has been under fire from Democrats and Republicans in Congress since May, when one of its officials publicly apologized for targeting conservative groups' applications for tax-exempt status for close examination. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The first few days of the IRS scandal that would consume Washington for weeks went like this: Conservatives were indignant, the media was outraged, the president had to respond, his allies turned on him … and only then, the Treasury Department’s inspector general released the actual report that had sparked the whole controversy — in that order. It’s a fitting microcosm of the entire saga, which has gone from legacy-tarnishing catastrophe to historical footnote in the intervening six weeks, and a textbook example of how the scandal narrative can dominate Washington and cable news even when there is no actual scandal.
While the initial reports about the IRS targeting looked pretty bad, suggesting that agents singled out tax-exempt applications for Tea Party and conservative groups for extra scrutiny, the media badly bungled the controversy when supposedly sober journalists like Bob Woodward and Chuck Todd jumped to conclusions and assumed the worst from day one. Instead of doing more reporting to discover the true nature and context of the IRS targeting, or at least waiting for their colleagues to do some, the supposedly liberal mainstream press let their eagerness to show they could be just as tough on a Democratic White House as a Republican one get ahead of the facts. We expect politicians to stretch reality to fit a narrative, but the press should be better.
And they would have gotten away with it, too, had their narrative had the benefit of being true. But now, almost two months later, we know that in fact the IRS targeted lots of different kinds of groups, not just conservative ones; that the only organizations whose tax-exempt statuses were actually denied were progressive ones; that many of the targeted conservative groups legitimately crossed the line; that the IG’s report was limited to only Tea Party groups at congressional Republicans’ request; and that the White House was in no wayinvolved in the targeting and didn’t even know about it until shortly before the public did.
In short, the entire scandal narrative was a fiction. But it had real consequences, effectively derailing Obama’s agenda not long after a resounding reelection, costing several people their careers, and distracting and misinforming the public. It’s not that nothing went wrong at the IRS, but that the transgression merited nowhere near the media response it earned. But instead of acknowledging its error or correcting the record, the mainstream political press has simply moved on to the next game. Now that the emperor has been revealed to have no clothes, it’s worth looking back at what went wrong.
The pace at which the scandal went from zero to Watergate was breathtaking, with the narrative of a Nixonian plot to sic the feds on political enemies forming in the immediate hours after the IRS’ initial apology for the targeting on Friday, May 10. On NBC’s “Nightly News” that day, the first words out of White House correspondent Chuck Todd’s mouth were: “It harkens back to a Nixonian-type tactic, if you will, a political tactic here in the White House.” MORE
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid speaks with reporters following a Democratic strategy session at the Capitol in Washington, May 7, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The Washington Post’s Greg Sargeant reports that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) is threatening to make filibuster reform a reality if Republicans block three key Obama cabinet nominees in coming weeks.
President Obama’s picks to head the Department of Labor, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Consumer Financial Protections Bureau are in danger of — or already are — being filibustered. Apparently, Harry Reid has had enough. MORE
A China Southern Cargo jet takes off at LAX International airport in Los Angeles Monday, April 22, 2013. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)
Just as we’re bemoaning our narcoleptic Congress (see our latest, “Do-Nothing Congress Gives Inertia a Bad Name”), the august body suddenly awakes and springs into action as if someone upped the amperage on its power massage recliners.
Of course, it turns out they were pretty much acting in their own self interest and not exactly the enlightened kind either. No, they briefly rousted themselves to alter the sequestration rules – the ones calling for across-the-board budget cuts – so that airlines and airports won’t be entangled in flight delays caused by the furloughing of air traffic controllers employed by the government’s Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).
True, the lengthened waiting lines and extended time on the tarmac were quickly frustrating families on vacation and business travelers especially (and your elected representatives certainly don’t want to offend business, do they?), but the timing of the House and Senate pushing through the change just as members were about to fly back to their states and districts for a week’s recess was infelicitous at best. Plus, they moved the goal lines far more eagerly than they’ve been willing to do for any of the domestic social programs that already are feeling the bite of the sequester-mandated budget cuts. MORE
Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy told reporters that he is concerned that many politically charged issues are coming before the high court. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)
Starting today, the Supreme Court is hearing two monumental cases relating to same-sex marriage, both at a time when public opinion polls show a growing number of Americans support marriage equality.
A Pew Research Center poll released last week found that 49 percent of Americans support gay marriage and took a deeper look at the reasons why.
The Pew data is most applicable to the case before the Supreme Court determining whether California’s Proposition 8, banning gay marriage in the state, is constitutional. The other case deals with the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which officially defines marriage as between a man and a woman and denies federal benefits to same-sex partners of government employees. A Gallup poll released on Friday found that, if it were put to a vote, 54 percent of Americans would cast a ballot to allow same-sex partners of federal employees to receive benefits, while only 37 percent would vote to not allow it. MORE
Despite these horrific outcomes, the anniversary of the Iraqi invasion passed with little fanfare in the nation’s capitol. As Peter Baker writes in today’s New York Times, Tuesday came and went “with barely passing notice in a town once consumed by it” in what amounts to a “conspiracy of silence.”
Neither party had much interest in revisiting what succeeded and what failed, who was right and who was wrong. The bipartisan consensus underscored the broader national mood: after 10 years, America seems happy to wash its hands of Iraq. …
President Obama, who rose to political heights on the strength of his opposition to the war, made no mention of it in appearances on Tuesday. Instead, he issued a written statement saluting “the courage and resolve” of the 1.5 million Americans who served during eight years in Iraq and honoring the memory of the nearly 4,500 Americans “who made the ultimate sacrifice.”