In this April 8, 2013 picture, a boy whose family asked that he not be identified plays across the street from a partially collapsed row house in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
The Half in Ten campaign — launched in 2007 by the Center for American Progress, Coalition on Human Needs and Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — set an ambitious goal: to cut poverty in half over ten years. Today, it seems almost fantastical on the face of it, given the nation’s polarization and soaring political and economic inequality.
But with 200 coalition members across the nation combatting poverty, Half in Ten remains steadfast, as campaign manager Erik Stegman described at the release of the third annual report which tracks progress towards the campaign’s ultimate goal.
“It’s an achievable goal because we’ve done it before,” said Stegman, who co-authored the report along with other contributors, including a foreword by Sister Simone Campbell. Stegman writes that the War on Poverty contributed to cutting poverty by 43 percent between 1964 and 1973, “to a historic low of 11.1 percent.”
“We know how to do it, and we can do it again,” asserts Stegman.
Half in Ten has always done an exceptional job laying out the policy choices that are there for the taking if we want to dramatically reduce poverty. But the heart of its work lies in showing how public policy decisions intersect with the lives and experiences of real people. MORE
Sustainability activist Annie Leonard is known for her short, animated “Story of” films. In 2007, she made The Story of Stuff, looking at the excessive consumerism our economic system encourages, and its harmful consequences. Then, last year, she made The Story of Change , examining what it will take to break away from this system.
Leonard frames our economy as a game with a dubious path to “winning.” “It’s as if we’re getting better and better at playing the wrong game,” she says. The end goal, at the moment, is “more:” more things, a larger GDP. Leonard proposes changing the game to one where the goal is “better.”
Former House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas stands next to the Texas pillar while touring the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., on July 29, 2005. (AP Photo/Yuri Gripas)
Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright has voted in every election since 1944 and represented Texas in Congress for 34 years. But when he went to his local Department of Public Safety office to obtain the new voter ID required to vote – which he never needed in any previous election – the 90-year-old Wright was denied. His driver’s license is expired and his Texas Christian University faculty ID is not accepted as a valid form of voter ID.
To be able to vote in Texas, including in Tuesday’s election for statewide constitutional amendments, Wright’s assistant will have to get a certified copy of his birth certificate, which costs $22. According to the state of Texas, 600,000 to 800,000 registered voters in Texas don’t have a valid form of government-issued photo ID. Wright is evidently one of them. But unlike Wright, most of these voters will not have an assistant or the political connections of a former speaker of the house to help them obtain a birth certificate to prove their identify, nor can they necessarily make two trips to the DMV office or afford a birth certificate. MORE
Google “NSA” –> Google CEO Eric Schmidt is not terribly pleased by reports that the spy agency has been digging into the company’s data, reports Deborah Kan in the WSJ.
Hackery –> Texas tea partiers trying to recruit the widely discredited religious right “historian” David Barton to primary John Cornyn.
School showdown –> Josh Eidelson writes for Salon about a school board election in Connecticut that could prove pivotal in the battle over Michelle Rhee’s neoliberal school reforms.
Hipster Christians –> As more young people become turned off by the culture wars, over at AlterNet, Amanda Marcotte takes a look at a new crop of religious right leaders trying to make the church look hip and cool.
Trial gets underway –> Ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi says he’s still president as his trial begins. Nancy Youssef reports for McClatchy.
Quite a headline –> “Hottest September on Record, Fastest Pacific Warming in 10,000 Years, Warmest Arctic in 120,000 Years.” Joseph Romm rounds up the dark facts at ThinkProgress.
Wedge –> ENDA, which would bar employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation, has broad public support, but Jeff Laz and Justin Phillips write at The Monkey Cage that Republican legislators tend to lag far behind their constituents when it comes to supporting LGBT rights. ALSO: Andrew Sullivan on why he isn’t cheering for ENDA.
Would he write his own challenge? –> Caught stealing passages from Wikipedia for a speech, Rand Paul says he wishes dueling were still legal so he could defend his honor.
Forgot something? –> Alligator found beneath an escalator at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, reports the AP.
Part one of this series, “The High Cost of Low Taxes,” noted that while Americans enjoy a tax burden lower than that of other wealthy countries, we also pay four timesas much as they do, on average, for out-of-pocket “social costs” in the private sector – on health care, retirement security, disability and unemployment insurance, and the rest of the safety net. When you add up what we pay in taxes and what we pay out of pocket, the US spends about the same amount on social costs overall as some of the most generous, heavily taxed social democracies, but we get a far less secure safety net in return.
But those are just numbers on a spreadsheet. Fran and Randy Malott understand those costs more viscerally. The Whittier, Calif., couple aren’t living the American dream right now. They haven’t for a while. They were slammed when Wall Street’s house of cards came tumbling down, and now they’re feeling the squeeze of the Great American Rip-off.
Fran lost her job as a customer service representative in 2009, at the height of the Great Recession. “A lot of companies are getting rid of customer service these days,” explains Randy. He lost his job managing a temp agency a year or so later. The Malotts are two of what Paul Krugman called “the forgotten millions” – the long-term unemployed who face unique barriers to reentering the workforce, including discrimination by potential employers just because they’ve been out of work for an extended period. “And our age doesn’t help either,” says Randy. He’s 59 and she’s 60. “There was unemployment for a while,” Randy says, “and now we’re getting by on savings.”
He tells Moyers & Company, “we live pretty frugally,” but the $1,600 a month they’re forking over for health insurance represents about half their total spending. The Malotts are a healthy couple, yet they’re watching their life savings drain away, in large part due to their health insurance company. The $140,000 the Malotts had socked away for retirement is now down to around $45,000. “We’ve got quite a ways to go before Social Security and Medicare kick in,” says Randy.
The Malotts are in a tough spot, like a lot of people who find themselves in similar circumstances. Studies have shown that long-term unemployment causes stress and illness. In the rest of the world’s highly developed countries, the Malotts’ health care would be covered by their government – the risk of long-term unemployment would be spread across an entire society – which means they’d have one less serious stressor, and around $45,000 more in the bank than they do today. MORE
Ted Cruz recently visited Iowa, where he went hunting with Rep. Steve King. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)
Ted Cruz has made it abundantly clear that he doesn’t care for the ways of Washington.
From the moment of his arrival in the nation’s capital, the brash Texas senator has challenged the Washington establishment and old order, declaring political war on Democrats, many of his fellow Republicans, Beltway insiders, the executive branch and pretty much everything else. More than any than other politician, Cruz was responsible for the recent government shutdown and brinksmanship that brought the country to the edge of default. Evidently, he rejects governing on any terms but his own.
“I made promises to the people of Texas that I would come to Washington to shake up the status quo,” Cruz told The New York Times in February. “That is what I intend to do, and it is what I have done in every way possible in the responsibilities that have been granted to me.”
Well, it turns out he’s not out to shake up Washington in “every way possible.” When it comes to political money, the old ways that he so often derides seem to suit Senator Cruz just fine.
So-called Leadership PACs, for example, are a staple of the status quo, as vehicles for soliciting Washington influence-money and for creating cozy relations between members of Congress and Washington lobbying interests seeking government favors. Here’s how they work: While a donor can give $5,200 to a member’s campaign committee during a six-year election cycle, the same donor can give an additional $30,000 during the six-year period to the member’s Leadership PAC. These Leadership PACs can then be deployed to support other candidates, but are more often used to pay for political and other expenses incurred by the member, other than his campaign expenses.
Cruz apparently likes this particular old way of doing business so much that it took him less than a week after he was elected to create his very own Leadership PAC – the Jobs, Growth and Freedom Fund. Even before he was sworn in as a senator, Cruz was playing the Washington money game.
And from whom did Senator Cruz solicit and receive contributions for his Leadership PAC?
How about representatives of such Washington establishment players as the American Bankers Association, Lockheed Martin, Intel, Northrop Gruman, CSX Corporation, Altria Group (parent company of Phillip Morris) and Comcast? And add to that list representatives of Union Pacific Corporation, FMR Corp (Fidelity Investments), the National Association of Broadcasters, Burlington Northern Santa Fe Corporation, Norfolk Southern, Compass Bancshares, among others.
Not exactly the voices of ordinary citizens and grassroots America.
In his new book, Extortion: How Politicians Extract Your Money, Buy Votes and Line Their Own Pockets, Peter Schweizer, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, describes Leadership PACs as instruments for “a form of legal extortion designed to extract campaign contributions.”
Leadership PACs have long been considered political slush funds designed first and foremost to benefit the members of Congress who control them rather than to support other candidates. They are certainly not viewed as a means for challenging the old ways or the Washington establishment, which is the principal funder of most Leadership PACs.
Cruz is certainly not taking on the old ways with his strong defense of secret money in American politics. In October, when Cruz put a hold on Thomas Wheeler’s nomination as a commissioner of the FCC, the federal agency that oversees the broadcasting industry, he said he wanted to know Wheeler’s views about whether the FCC had the authority or intent “to implement the requirements of the failed congressional DISCLOSE Act,” according to a Cruz spokesman. Cruz dropped his hold on Wheeler this week after Wheeler reportedly agreed not to make disclosure of political ads by broadcasters a priority for the agency.
But Cruz seems almost obsessed with the DISCLOSE Act, intended to close loopholes that have allowed hundreds of millions of dollars in secret contributions to be spent in federal elections; earlier in the year, he claimed that it raised “grave constitutional concerns for speech protected by the First Amendment.”
Cruz might want to brush up on his First Amendment law. By an 8 to 1 vote, the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case upheld disclosure requirements for corporations and others who make independent campaign expenditures. Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the court, said in upholding disclosure: “Shareholders can determine whether their corporation’s political speech advances the corporation’s interest in making profits, and citizens can see whether elected officials are ‘in the pocket’ of so-called moneyed interests.”
Campaign finance disclosure requirements were first upheld as constitutional by the Supreme Court in 1976 in Buckley v. Valeo, on the grounds that they “deter actual corruption and avoid the appearance of corruption,” and aid voters “in evaluating those who seek federal office.”
Conservative Justice Antonin Scalia provided one of the most powerful defenses of disclosure in Doe v. Reed, a 2010 case involving a referendum petition. Scalia wrote in a concurring opinion, “Requiring people to stand up in public for their political acts fosters civic courage, without which democracy is doomed.”
So what, then, are we to make of Cruz’s “war” on the status quo? Leadership PACs and secret money play a central role in the exercise of power in Washington – and on both subjects, the Texas senator is on the side of powerful, wealthy interests at the expense of ordinary Americans.
Not that it’s stopping him from donning populist garb. In Iowa last week, Cruz, who is flirting with a president run, styled himself as a Beltway outsider. “I’m convinced we’re facing a new paradigm in politics; it is the paradigm of the rise of the grassroots. It has official Washington absolutely terrified,” he said.
But back in Washington, Cruz is already playing the insiders’ influence-money game, and competing with the best of them.
Fred Wertheimer is the founder and president of Democracy 21, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization that works to strengthen our democracy and promotes government integrity, accountability and transparency measures to accomplish its goals.
Jennifer Epps-Addison (with bullhorn) leads a march of striking fast-food and retail workers and community supporters in Milwaukee on August 29, 2013, a nationwide day of strikes in more than 60 cities across the country.
Historian and author Peter Dreier recently sat down with Bill to discuss the new generation of activists agitating for progress as our political infrastructure remains gridlocked. At BillMoyers.com, Dreier profiled 19 who he sees as leaders on the front lines of today’s social movements. We reached out to viewers on Facebook, Twitter and BillMoyers.com and asked for nominations of local activists you admire to round out Dreier’s list. We’re grateful for the hundreds of responses we received. One person in particular stood out — Jennifer Epps-Addison — so we’ve named her our 20th activist to watch. MORE
In this Jan. 31, 2010 file photo, an unmanned US Predator drone flies over Kandahar Air Field, southern Afghanistan, on a moon-lit night. (AP/Kirsty Wigglesworth)
On our show this week, Bill Moyers asks viewers to weigh in on the use of unmanned spy planes in our segment America’s War on Drones. In the war on terror, we are told, either we put boots on the ground and put our own in harms way or we put drones in the sky firing missiles at strangers who can be seen only from a distance. We want to know: What would you say to President Obama about balancing our national security concerns against the killing of innocent civilians? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.
Patrick Lamanske of Champaign, Ill., works with Amanda Ziemnisky, right, of the Champaign Urbana Public Health District office in Champaign to try to sign his wife, Ping Lamanske, left, up for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. (AP Photo/David Mercer)
Far too many breathless news stories about insurance plans being “canceled” or people facing “sticker shock” fail to convey even the most basic context: this is almost exclusively a phenomenon of the individual insurance market, which covers between 5 to 6 percent of the population.
Some of those people – mostly younger, healthier people who, because they’re in the top third of the income distribution aren’t eligible for subsidies – will have to pay higher premiums for more comprehensive coverage, even if they don’t want to. This can cause real economic hardship, and that’s a legitimate issue.
But it’s still an issue that will affect only a small slice of the population. Jonathan Gruber, a health care expert at MIT, estimates that around half of those six percent won’t experience any real change. “They have to buy new plans, but they will be pretty similar to what they had before,” he told Ryan Lizza. “It will essentially be relabeling.”
Gruber adds that most of those plans being canceled run afoul of a provision of the law banning any policy that requires people to pay more than $6,000 per year in health care expenses – plans that may lead to medical bankruptcies, the number one type of bankruptcy in the US. MORE
In America, we expect that our courts are fair and impartial — that their primary interest is to serve justice under the law. But increasingly, state high courts are falling prey to the same out-of-control, post-Citizens United election spending that has plagued legislative and executive races during the past two election cycles.
A supporter looks on during a news conference by the Iowa State Bar Association in Des Moines, Iowa. In 2012, the Iowa State Bar Association had to take a bus tour to counteract a smear campaign of Justice David Wiggins by out-of-state conservative politicians who opposed the Iowa Supreme Court.
Thirty-eight states elect their state Supreme Court justices and, despite the courts’ supposed insulation from politics, during the 2011-2012 cycle huge sums of money poured into these elections. A new report by the Brennan Center for Justice, Justice at Stake and the National Institute on Money in State Politics finds that over $56 million was spent on state high court races across the country. A significant chunk of this money came from special interests one would expect to find operating at the national level, such as the Koch brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity and the National Rifle Association-linked Law Enforcement Alliance of America. The spending was concentrated among a small handful of interest groups and political parties — the top 10 spenders shelled out $19.6 million of the $56.4 million total.
And 2011-2012 also saw a new high for TV ad spending for state high court races — $33.6 million. The report found that when candidates create their own ads, or when political parties create ads to help a candidate’s campaign, the ads are positive, promoting the candidate. But when special interest groups buy ads in judicial elections, the content promotes a candidate less than half the time, and is more focused on portraying the opposing candidate in a negative light. These groups often have opaque names — Iowans For Freedom, Greater Wisconsin Committee — making it difficult for voters to determine who is behind them. Increasingly, the courts are becoming as much of a target for well-funded groups with an agenda as the other two branches of government.
“The courts are a great target because they can’t fight back on their own,” says Bert Brandenburg, executive director of Justice at Stake, a nonpartisan campaign working for fair and impartial courts. MORE
On January 21, 2013, Barack Obama was inaugurated for his second term as president of the United States. Just as he had promised when he began his first campaign for president six years earlier, he pledged again to turn the page on history and take US foreign policy in a different direction. “A decade of war is now ending,” Obama declared. “We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war.”
Beyonce sings the national anthem at the ceremonial swearing-in at the U.S. Capitol during the 57th Presidential Inauguration in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, file)
Much of the media focus that day was on the new hairstyle of First Lady Michelle Obama, who appeared on the dais sporting freshly trimmed bangs, and on the celebrities in attendance, including hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, who performed the national anthem. But the day Obama was sworn in, a US drone strike hit Yemen. It was the third such attack in that country in as many days. Despite the rhetoric from the president on the Capitol steps, there was abundant evidence that he would continue to preside over a country that is in a state of perpetual war.
In the year leading up to the inauguration, more people had been killed in US drone strikes across the globe than were imprisoned at Guantánamo. As Obama was sworn in for his second term, his counterterrorism team was finishing up the task of systematizing the kill list, including developing rules for when US citizens could be targeted. Admiral William McRaven had been promoted to the commander of the United States Special Operations Command (SOCOM), and his Special Ops forces were operating in more than 100 countries across the globe.
After General David Petraeus’s career was brought to a halt as a result of an extramarital affair, President Obama tapped John Brennan to replace him as director of the CIA, thus ensuring that the Agency would be headed by a seminal figure in the expansion and running of the kill program. After four years as Obama’s senior counterterrorism adviser, Brennan had become known in some circles as the “assassination czar” for his role in US drone strikes and other targeted killing operations.
When Obama had tried to put Brennan at the helm of the Agency at the beginning of his first term, the nomination was scuttled by controversy over Brennan’s role in the Bush-era detainee program. By the time President Obama began his second term in office, Brennan had created a “playbook” for crossing names off the kill list. “Targeted killing is now so routine that the Obama administration has spent much of the past year codifying and streamlining the processes that sustain it,” noted The Washington Post.
Brennan played a key role in the evolution of targeted killing by “seeking to codify the administration’s approach to generating capture/kill lists, part of a broader effort to guide future administrations through the counterterrorism processes that Obama has embraced,” the paper added. “The system functions like a funnel, starting with input from half a dozen agencies and narrowing through layers of review until proposed revisions are laid on Brennan’s desk, and subsequently presented to the president.”
Obama’s counterterrorism team had developed what was referred to as the “Disposition Matrix,” a database full of information on suspected terrorists and militants that would provide options for killing or capturing targets. Senior administration officials predicted that the targeted killing program would persist for “at least another decade.” During his first term in office, The Washington Post concluded, “Obama has institutionalized the highly classified practice of targeted killing, transforming ad-hoc elements into a counterterrorism infrastructure capable of sustaining a seemingly permanent war.”
Redefining “Imminent Threat”
In early 2013, a Department of Justice “white paper” surfaced that laid out the “Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a US Citizen.” The government lawyers who wrote the 16-page document asserted that the government need not possess specific intelligence indicating that an American citizen is actively engaged in a particular or active terror plot in order to be cleared for targeted killing. Instead, the paper argued that a determination from a “well-informed high level administration official” that a target represents an “imminent threat” to the United States is a sufficient basis to order the killing of an American citizen. But the Justice Department’s lawyers sought to alter the definition of “imminent,” advocating what they called a “broader concept of imminence.”
They wrote, “The condition that an operational leader present an ‘imminent’ threat of violent attack against the United States does not require the United States to have clear evidence that a specific attack on US persons will take place in the immediate future.” The government lawyers argued that waiting for a targeted killing of a suspect “until preparations for an attack are concluded, would not allow the United States sufficient time to defend itself.” They asserted that such an operation constitutes “a lawful killing in self-defense” and is “not an assassination.”
Nine-year-old Nabila Rehman holds a photo with a drawing she made depicting a drone strike that killed her grandmother, Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/ Evan Vucci)
Jameel Jaffer of the ACLU called the white paper a “chilling document,” saying that “it argues that the government has the right to carry out the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen.” Jaffer added, “This power is going to be available to the next administration and the one after that, and it’s going to be available in every future conflict, not just the conflict against al-Qaeda. And according to the [Obama] administration, the power is available all over the world, not just on geographically cabined battlefields. So it really is a sweeping proposition.”
In October 2002, as the Bush administration prepared to invade Iraq, Barack Obama gave the first major speech of his national political career. The then-state senator came out forcefully against going to war in Iraq, but he began his speech with a clarification. “Although this has been billed as an anti-war rally, I stand before you as someone who is not opposed to war in all circumstances… I don’t oppose all wars.” Obama declared, “What I am opposed to is a dumb war. What I am opposed to is a rash war.” During his first campaign for president, Obama had blasted the Bush administration for fighting the wrong war — Iraq — and repeatedly criticized his opponent, Senator John McCain, for not articulating how he would take the fight to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.
As his first term in office wound down, the overwhelming majority of US military forces had been withdrawn from Iraq and plans for a similar drawdown in Afghanistan in 2014 were being openly discussed. The administration had succeeded in convincing the American public that Obama was waging a smarter war than his predecessor. As he ran for reelection, Obama was asked about charges from his Republican opponents that his foreign policy was based on appeasement. “Ask Osama bin Laden and the 22 out of 30 top al-Qaeda leaders who have been taken off the field whether I engage in appeasement,” Obama replied. “Or whoever is left out there, ask them about that.”
As the war on terror entered a second decade, the fantasy of a clean war took hold. It was a myth fostered by the Obama administration, and it found a ready audience. All polls indicated that Americans were tired of large military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan and the mounting US troop casualties that came with them. A 2012 poll found that 83 percent of Americans supported Obama’s drone program, with 77 percent of self-identified liberal Democrats supporting such strikes. The Washington Post–ABC News poll determined that support for drone strikes declined “only somewhat” in cases where a US citizen was the target.
President Obama and his advisers seldom mentioned the drone program publicly. In fact, the first known confirmation of the use of armed drones by the president came several years into Obama’s first term. It was not in the form of a legal brief or a press conference, but rather on a Google+ “Hangout” as the president took questions from the public. Obama was asked about his use of drones. “I want to make sure that people understand actually drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” Obama said. “For the most part, they have been very precise, precision strikes against al-Qaeda and their affiliates. And we are very careful in terms of how it’s been applied.”
He rejected what he called the “perception” that “we’re just sending in a whole bunch of strikes willy-nilly” and asserted that “this is a targeted, focused effort at people who are on a list of active terrorists, who are trying to go in and harm Americans, hit American facilities, American bases, and so on.” Obama added: “It is important for everybody to understand that this thing is kept on a very tight leash. It’s not a bunch of folks in a room somewhere just making decisions. And it is also part and parcel of our overall authority when it comes to battling al-Qaeda. It is not something that’s being used beyond that.”
Michael Boyle, a former adviser in the Obama campaign’s counterterrorism experts group and a professor at LaSalle University, said that one of the reasons the administration was “so successful in spinning the number of civilian casualties” was the use of signature strikes and other systems for categorizing military-aged males as legitimate targets, even if their specific identities were unknown. “The result of the ‘guilt by association’ approach has been a gradual loosening of the standards by which the US selects targets for drone strikes,” Boyle charged. “The consequences can be seen in the targeting of mosques or funeral processions that kill non-combatants and tear at the social fabric of the regions where they occur.” No one, he added, “really knows the number of deaths caused by drones in these distant, sometimes ungoverned, lands.”
Are our own actions, carried out in the name of national security, making us less safe or more safe?
Using drones, cruise missiles, and Special Ops raids, the United States has embarked on a mission to kill its way to victory. The war on terror, launched under a Republican administration, was ultimately legitimized and expanded by a popular Democratic president. Although Barack Obama’s ascent to the most powerful office on Earth was the result of myriad factors, it was largely due to the desire of millions of Americans to shift course from the excesses of the Bush era.
Had John McCain won the election, it is difficult to imagine such widespread support, particularly among liberal Democrats, for some of the very counterterrorism policies that Obama implemented. As individuals, we must all ask whether we would support the same policies — the expansion of drone strikes, the empowerment of Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the use of the State Secrets Privilege, the use of indefinite detention, the denial of habeas corpus rights, the targeting of US citizens without charge or trial — if the commander in chief was not our candidate of choice.
But beyond the partisan lens, the policies implemented by the Obama administration will have far-reaching consequences. Future US presidents — Republican or Democratic — will inherit a streamlined process for assassinating enemies of America, perceived or real. They will inherit an executive branch with sweeping powers, rationalized under the banner of national security.
In 2012, a former constitutional law professor was asked about the US drone and targeted killing program. “It’s very important for the president and the entire culture of our national security team to continually ask tough questions about ‘Are we doing the right thing? Are we abiding by the rule of law? Are we abiding by due process?’” he responded, warning that it was important for the United States to “avoid any kind of slippery slope into a place where we’re not being true to who we are.”
That former law professor was Barack Obama.
The creation of the kill list and the expansion of drone strikes “represents a betrayal of President Obama’s promise to make counterterrorism policies consistent with the US constitution,” charged Boyle. Obama, he added, “has routinized and normalized extrajudicial killing from the Oval Office, taking advantage of America’s temporary advantage in drone technology to wage a series of shadow wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. Without the scrutiny of the legislature and the courts, and outside the public eye, Obama is authorizing murder on a weekly basis, with a discussion of the guilt or innocence of candidates for the ‘kill list’ being resolved in secret.” Boyle warned:
“Once Obama leaves office, there is nothing stopping the next president from launching his own drone strikes, perhaps against a different and more controversial array of targets. The infrastructure and processes of vetting the ‘kill list’ will remain in place for the next president, who may be less mindful of moral and legal implications of this action than Obama supposedly is.”
In late 2012, the ACLU and The New York Times sought information on the legal rationale for the kill program, specifically the strikes that had killed three US citizens — among them 16-year-old Abdulrahman Awlaki. In January 2013, a federal judge ruled on the request. In her decision, Judge Colleen McMahon appeared frustrated with the White House’s lack of transparency, writing that the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests raised “serious issues about the limits on the power of the Executive Branch under the Constitution and laws of the United States, and about whether we are indeed a nation of laws, not of men.”
She charged that the Obama administration “has engaged in public discussion of the legality of targeted killing, even of citizens, but in cryptic and imprecise ways, generally without citing to any statute or court decision that justifies its conclusions.” She added, “More fulsome disclosure of the legal reasoning on which the administration relies to justify the targeted killing of individuals, including United States citizens, far from any recognizable ‘hot’ field of battle, would allow for intelligent discussion and assessment of a tactic that (like torture before it) remains hotly debated. It might also help the public understand the scope of the ill-defined yet vast and seemingly ever-growing exercise.”
Ultimately, Judge McMahon blocked the release of the documents. Citing her legal concerns about the state of transparency with regard to the kill program, she wrote:
“This Court is constrained by law, and under the law, I can only conclude that the Government has not violated FOIA by refusing to turn over the documents sought in the FOIA requests, and so cannot be compelled by this court of law to explain in detail the reasons why its actions do not violate the Constitution and laws of the United States. The Alice-in-Wonderland nature of this pronouncement is not lost on me; but after careful and extensive consideration, I find myself stuck in a paradoxical situation in which I cannot solve a problem because of contradictory constraints and rules — a veritable Catch-22. I can find no way around the thicket of laws and precedents that effectively allow the Executive Branch of our Government to proclaim as perfectly lawful certain actions that seem on their face incompatible with our Constitution and laws, while keeping the reasons for their conclusion a secret.”
How to Make Enemies and Not Influence People
It is not just the precedents set during the Obama era that will reverberate into the future, but also the lethal operations themselves. No one can scientifically predict the future consequences of drone strikes, cruise missile attacks, and night raids. But from my experience in several undeclared war zones across the globe, it seems clear that the United States is helping to breed a new generation of enemies in Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan, Afghanistan and throughout the Muslim world.
Those whose loved ones were killed in drone strikes or cruise missile attacks or night raids will have a legitimate score to settle. In an October 2003 memo, written less than a year into the US occupation of Iraq, Donald Rumsfeld framed the issue of whether the United States was “winning or losing the global war on terror” through one question: “Are we capturing, killing, or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?”
More than a decade after 9/11, that question should be updated. At the end of the day, US policymakers and the general public must all confront a more uncomfortable question: Are our own actions, carried out in the name of national security, making us less safe or more safe? Are they eliminating more enemies than they are inspiring? Boyle put it mildly when he observed that the kill program’s “adverse strategic effects… have not been properly weighed against the tactical gains associated with killing terrorists.”
In November 2012, President Obama remarked that “there’s no country on Earth that would tolerate missiles raining down on its citizens from outside its borders.” He made the statement in defense of Israel’s attack on Gaza, which was launched in the name of protecting itself from Hamas missile attacks. “We are fully supportive of Israel’s right to defend itself from missiles landing on people’s homes and workplaces and potentially killing civilians,” Obama continued. “And we will continue to support Israel’s right to defend itself.” How would people living in areas of Yemen, Somalia or Pakistan that have been regularly targeted by US drones or missile strikes view that statement?
Toward the end of President Obama’s first term in office, the Pentagon’s general counsel, Jeh Johnson, gave a major lecture at the Oxford Union in England. “If I had to summarize my job in one sentence: it is to ensure that everything our military and our Defense Department do is consistent with US and international law,” Johnson said. “This includes the prior legal review of every military operation that the Secretary of Defense and the President must approve.”
As Johnson spoke, the British government was facing serious questions about its involvement in US drone strikes. A legal case brought in the United Kingdom by the British son of a tribal leader killed in Pakistan alleged that British officials had served as “secondary parties to murder” by providing intelligence to the United States that allegedly led to the 2011 strike. A UN commission was preparing to launch an investigation into the expanding kill program, and new legal challenges were making their way through the US court system. In his speech, Johnson presented the US defense of its controversial counterterror policies:
“Some legal scholars and commentators in our country brand the detention by the military of members of al-Qaeda as ‘indefinite detention without charges.’ Some refer to targeted lethal force against known, identified individual members of al-Qaeda as ‘extrajudicial killing.’
“Viewed within the context of law enforcement or criminal justice, where no person is sentenced to death or prison without an indictment, an arraignment, and a trial before an impartial judge or jury, these characterizations might be understandable.
“Viewed within the context of conventional armed conflict — as they should be — capture, detention, and lethal force are traditional practices as old as armies.”
The Era of the Dirty War on Terror
In the end, the Obama administration’s defense of its expanding global wars boiled down to the assertion that it was in fact at war; that the authorities granted by the Congress to the Bush administration after 9/11 to pursue those responsible for the attacks justified the Obama administration’s ongoing strikes against “suspected militants” across the globe — some of whom were toddlers when the Twin Towers crumbled to the ground — more than a decade later.
Today, decisions on who should live or die in the name of protecting America’s national security are made in secret…
The end result of the policies initiated under President Bush and continued and expanded under his Democratic successor was to bring the world to the dawn of a new age, the era of the Dirty War on Terror. As Boyle, the former Obama campaign counterterrorism adviser, asserted in early 2013, the US drone program was “encouraging a new arms race for drones that will empower current and future rivals and lay the foundations for an international system that is increasingly violent.”
Today, decisions on who should live or die in the name of protecting America’s national security are made in secret, laws are interpreted by the president and his advisers behind closed doors, and no target is off-limits, including US citizens. But the decisions made in Washington have implications far beyond their impact on the democratic system of checks and balances in the United States.
In January 2013, Ben Emmerson, the UN special rapporteur on counterterrorism and human rights, announced his investigation into drone strikes and targeted killing by the United States. In a statement launching the probe, he characterized the US defense of its use of drones and targeted killings in other countries as “Western democracies… engaged in a global [war] against a stateless enemy, without geographical boundaries to the theatre of conflict, and without limit of time.” This position, he concluded, “is heavily disputed by most States, and by the majority of international lawyers outside the United States of America.”
At his inauguration in January 2013, Obama employed the rhetoric of internationalism. “We will defend our people and uphold our values through strength of arms and rule of law. We will show the courage to try and resolve our differences with other nations peacefully — not because we are naive about the dangers we face, but because engagement can more durably lift suspicion and fear,” the president declared. “America will remain the anchor of strong alliances in every corner of the globe; and we will renew those institutions that extend our capacity to manage crisis abroad, for no one has a greater stake in a peaceful world than its most powerful nation.”
Yet, as Obama embarked on his second term in office, the United States was once again at odds with the rest of the world on one of the central components of its foreign policy. The drone strike in Yemen the day Obama was sworn in served as a potent symbol of a reality that had been clearly established during his first four years in office: US unilateralism and exceptionalism were not only bipartisan principles in Washington, but a permanent American institution. As large-scale military deployments wound down, the United States had simultaneously escalated its use of drones, cruise missiles, and Special Ops raids in an unprecedented number of countries. The war on terror had become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The question all Americans must ask themselves lingers painfully: How does a war like this ever end?
Jeremy Scahill is national security correspondent for The Nation magazine and author of The New York Times bestsellers Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army and most recently Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield (both published by Nation Books). He is also the subject, producer and writer of the film Dirty Wars, an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the US documentary cinematography prize, now available on DVD. This essay is the epilogue to his book Dirty Wars.
Investors are hungry for more information about the companies they invest in. Shareholders — the owners of the company — deserve to know where their money is going. Currently, it’s too easy for one person in corporate management to secretly spend company money on pet political projects. Disclosure would empower shareholders to engage in oversight and ensure that political expenditures are in the firm’s interest. And transparency helps investors avoid companies where corporate management consistently engages in risky political behavior.
Top corporate leaders increasingly recognize the value of transparency. For example, Microsoft has made its political activity public since 2007. As Microsoft executive Dan Bross explained, “By not being transparent and open, we’d be increasing the risk to the corporation.” Bross has pushed transparency as a way for corporate America to regain the public’s trust. Now the software giant has made its reports even more detailed, in response to shareholder requests.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel uses her mobile phone at the German Federal Parliament Bundestag in Berlin, Germany. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
The foreign leaders are dropping like flies — to American surveillance. I’m talking about serial revelations that the National Security Agency has been spying on Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, two Mexican presidents, Felipe Calderón (whose office the NSA called “a lucrative source”) and his successor Enrique Peña Nieto, at least while still a candidate, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. It’s now evidently part of the weekly news cycle to discover that the NSA has hacked into the emails or listened into the phone conversations of yet another allied leader. Reportedly, that agency has been listening in on the phone calls of at least 35 world leaders. Within 48 hours last week, President Obama was obliged to call an irritated President François Hollande, after Le Monde reported that the NSA was massively collecting French phone calls and emails, including those of politicians and business people, and received a call from an outraged Merkel, whose cell phone conversations were reportedly monitored by the NSA. Of course, when you build a global surveillance state and your activities, thanks to a massive leak of documents, become common knowledge, you have to expect global anger to rise and spread. With 196 countries on the planet, there are a lot of calls assumedly still to come in, even as the president and top Washington officials hem and haw about the necessity of maintaining the security of Americans while respecting the privacy of citizens and allies, refuse to directly apologize, claim that an “exhaustive” review of surveillance practices is underway, and hope that this, too, shall pass.
In the meantime, on a second front, the news is again bad for Washington, as upset and dismay once largely restricted to the tribal backlands of the planet seem to be spreading. I’m talking here about the global assassination campaigns being conducted from the White House, based in part on a “kill list” of terrorist suspects and using the president’s private air force, the growing drone fleets of the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command. In the last week, both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have come out with reports on the US drone campaigns in Pakistan and Yemen debunking White House claims that few civilians are dying in those strikes and raising serious questions about their legality. In two of the six drone strikes it investigated in Yemen, Human Rights Watch reported the killing of “civilians indiscriminately in clear violation of the laws of war; the others may have targeted people who were not legitimate military objectives or caused disproportionate civilian deaths.” In a surprising development, Amnesty brought a powerful, historically resonant term to bear, claiming that some of the cases of civilian drone deaths it investigated in Pakistan might constitute “war crimes” for which those responsible should stand trial. (“Amnesty International has serious concerns that this attack violated the prohibition of the arbitrary deprivation of life and may constitute war crimes or extrajudicial executions.”)
And just arriving, reports from the UN special rapporteur on drones, Ben Emmerson, and its special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns. It’s already clear that these will not please the White House, where the usual denials and self-justifications – however lame they may increasingly sound outside the United States — still rule the day. (“US counterterrorism operations are precise, they are lawful, and they are effective.”) After a recent visit to Pakistan, Emmerson said, “The consequence of drone strikes has been to radicalize an entirely new generation.” A former high-level US State Department official in Yemen claims that each US drone strike in that country creates “40 to 60 new enemies of America.” Emmerson and Heyns are now demanding far greater “transparency” from a secretive Washington on the subject of its drone killings.
Call both the blanketing surveillance and the drone revelations symptoms of a larger disease. In the years before 9/11, the US focused its global attentions on what it then called “rogue states.” Devoted since that date to perpetual war across significant parts of the planet and to a surveillance apparatus geared to leave no one anywhere in privacy, the US now resembles a rogue superpower to an increasingly resistant and restless world. No single reporter has done more than Jeremy Scahill to bring us back news of how, in the post-9/11 years, Washington took its wars into the darkness, how it helped create a landscape of blowback abroad, and just how such roguery works when it comes to a superpower — from missile strikes in Yemen to a secret CIA prison in Somalia to kick-down-the-doorkillings of innocents by Special Operations types in Afghanistan. His bestselling book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, is a revelation, a secret history of twenty-first-century war, American-style.
Since then, those Dems must have had a change of heart. On Tuesday, nearly all of them flip-flopped, and voted against a House bill that would have undermined the same safeguards the letter opposed.
Here’s some background, which was covered in our August report: The Department of Labor, which oversees the law that sets minimum standards for many retirement plans, is considering a rule that would simply require retirement investment advisers to act in the best interest of their customers. The letter, which was signed by 28 out of the 43 members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) — a group of lawmakers that advocates for low-income people and minorities — and four other Democratic lawmakers, sought to delay and weaken the rule. Consumer advocates and government officials argued the rule could provide much need protection for small investors: MORE