In 2001 a terrible thing happened.
For a while there, it brought out the best in people.
But then all this happened:
Just seeing if you’re paying attention. And you are. Excellent!
And now this terrible thing happened yesterday.
In 2001 a terrible thing happened.
For a while there, it brought out the best in people.
But then all this happened:
Just seeing if you’re paying attention. And you are. Excellent!
And now this terrible thing happened yesterday.
In the Guardian, Glenn Greenwald has a characteristically thorough and scathing critique of Three Democratic myths used to demean the Paul filibuster, which I highly recommended all y’all read.
My time being limited today, I just wanted to highlight three apt quotes included in Greenwald’s article.
1.Teju Cole in Mother Jones
Killing a bunch of people in Sudan and Yemen and Pakistan, it’s like, ‘Who cares – we don’t know them.’ But the current discussion is framed as ‘When can the President kill an American citizen?’ Now in my mind, killing a non-American citizen without due process is just as criminal as killing an American citizen without due process – but whatever gets us to the table to discuss this thing, we’re going to take it.
2. Thomas Jefferson
In questions of power . . . let no more be heard of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.
3. Frederick Douglas
Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have the exact measure of the injustice and wrong which will be imposed on them.
I don’t think I’m alone in being only vaguely aware of who Aaron Swartz was, and for that I am more than a little ashamed.
Nor am I the only one who woke up to the news of his suicide Saturday morning and spent the rest of the weekend reading up on his many causes and splendid accomplishments. What a life!
His passing is doubly tragic, first for its untimely arrival, and second for the shameful fact that our government was so keen to persecute and incarcerate a bona fide genius whose crime, if it could be said to be a crime at all, was something along the order of seriousness of a prank.
But, as Matthew Stoller opines below, we are living in a world where qualities that should be valued are instead stigmatized, even persecuted.
Aaron suffered from depression, but that is not why he died. Aaron is dead because the institutions that govern our society have decided that it is more important to target geniuses like Aaron than nurture them, because the values he sought – openness, justice, curiosity – are values these institutions now oppose. In previous generations, people like Aaron would have been treasured and recognized as the remarkable gifts they are. We do not live in a world like that today. And Aaron would be the first to point out, if he could observe the discussion happening now, that the pressure he felt from the an oppressive government is felt by millions of people, every year. I’m glad his family have not let the justice system off the hook, and have not allowed this suicide to be medicalized, or the fault of one prosecutor. What happened to Aaron is not isolated to Aaron, but is the flip side of the corruption he hated.
As we think about what happened to Aaron, we need to recognize that it was not just prosecutorial overreach that killed him. That’s too easy, because that implies it’s one bad apple. We know that’s not true. What killed him was corruption. Corruption isn’t just people profiting from betraying the public interest. It’s also people being punished for upholding the public interest. In our institutions of power, when you do the right thing and challenge abusive power, you end up destroying a job prospect, an economic opportunity, a political or social connection, or an opportunity for media. Or if you are truly dangerous and brilliantly subversive, as Aaron was, you are bankrupted and destroyed. There’s a reason whistleblowers get fired. There’s a reason Bradley Manning is in jail. There’s a reason the only CIA official who has gone to jail for torture is the person – John Kiriako – who told the world it was going on. There’s a reason those who destroyed the financial system “dine at the White House”, as Lawrence Lessig put it. There’s a reason former Senator Russ Feingold is a college professor whereas former Senator Chris Dodd is now a multi-millionaire. There’s a reason DOJ officials do not go after bankers who illegally foreclose, and then get jobs as partners in white collar criminal defense. There’s a reason no one has been held accountable for decisions leading to the financial crisis, or the war in Iraq. This reason is the modern ethic in American society that defines success as climbing up the ladder, consequences be damned. Corrupt self-interest, when it goes systemwide, demands that it protect rentiers from people like Aaron, that it intimidate, co-opt, humiliate, fire, destroy, and/or bankrupt those who stand for justice.
This morning Marcy Wheeler also noticed the strange and disturbing fact that the Secret Service shoved aside MIT and Cambridge police investigating into Swartz’s downloading of scholarly articles. She could not completely account for why, nor could anyone commenting on her post, but it offers further confirmation, if any were needed, that hounding a young idealistic activist was a top priority with someone high up in the Federal hierarchy. I’ll be interested to see what comes of this loose thread…..
Over at boingboing there is a substantial and growing archive of remembrances of Swartz.
Kiriakou is expected to plead guilty to violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act (IIPA) for “outing” a torturer. “Outing” is quotes because the charge is not that Kiriakou’s actions resulted in a public disclosure of the name, but that through a Kevin Bacon-style chain of causation, GITMO torture victims learned the name of one of their possible torturers. Regardless, how does outing a torturer hurt the national security of the U.S.? It’s like arguing that outing a Nazi guarding a concentration camp would hurt the national security of Germany…..
The only person to be criminal[ly] prosecuted, and now likely jailed, as a result of the Bush-era torture regime is John Kiriakou, who refused to participate in torture, helped expose the program, and said on national television that torture was wrong.
UPDATED BELOW: October 19, 2012
I continue to be drawn to the headline “MAYBERRY UNDER SEIGE: Ramped-up debate security gives Danville new look, feel,” both for its innovative spelling and for the beautiful euphemism for scary-ass security state theatrics. “A lot of people feel like they’re in prison a little bit.” But whatevs…. I just love that.
For the record, almost nobody got in the least bit worked up about the lockdown that came with the VP Debate circus. To most everyone but me, it’s part of a New Normal. A far more typical reaction was to describe close brushes with power, touching the hems of the garments of the great men of politics, or even of MSNBC. “Biden gave me the thumbs up from his limo. You can’t see it, but he did. He waved and gave me the thumbs up.” “OMG Chris Matthews!”
But the prison-worthy lockdown? The locals took it without batting an eye.
And speaking of the New Normal: Americans have gotten a bit jaded about bad things the government does to people that would have been unthinkable prior to the terror attacks of 2001. Still, many would be surprised by recent developments.
Sticking human beings down holes, or into cages–for years, decades, without charge and with no hope of due process–well, that’s just the egg-breaking component of this particular omelette. We’re safer now, don’t you know. Keep telling yourself that.
Until recently, the kinds of people our government snatches and sticks down holes have been nearly exclusively Islamist, or at least Muslim, or at least in some way sympathetic to terrorist groups, or at least sympathetic to groups that are trying to kick an occupying army out of their homeland, or at least let themselves be talked into a cockeyed plot by a paid FBI informant, or at least have a name that sounds sort of Muslim?
But … who saw this coming? The deafening silence that greeted the post-911 civil liberties transgressions has emboldened the government to, ah, cut a corner here and there when it comes to incarcerating and/or intimidating, young American kids (I would say native Americans but that would be, you know, wrong). Anarchists, environmental extremists, as the government would have it, or even … terrorists. Or activists, as they might describe themselves.
People like Leah-Lynn Plante, the 24-year-old woman from Portland in the photo above, who is currently in federal prison, without being charged (habeus corpus: sooooo pre-911) and could remain locked up for 18 months, for keeping silent before a grand jury convened to intimidating her into talking about her associates in the anarchist movement.
Writes Natasha Lennard in Truthout:
Along with two others in the Pacific Northwest, Plante was remanded into federal custody for her refusal to provide a grand jury testimony regarding activists in the region. Matt Duran and Kteeo Olejnik were jailed in previous weeks for, like Plante, refusing to cooperate with a grand jury. All three are now being held in U.S. federal prison, not because they are being punished for crime, but, as the National Lawyers Guild’s executive director Heidi Boghosian told me earlier this year, “to coerce cooperation.”
Writing for Truth-Out in August about the Northwest grand juries and those resisting cooperation, I noted that grand juries “are among the blackest boxes in the federal judiciary system.” The closed-door procedures are rare instances in which an individual loses the right to remain silent. As was the case with the Northwest grand juries resistors, the grand jury can grant a subpoenaed individual personal immunity; Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination are therefore protected, but silence is not. In these instances, refusal to speak can be considered civil contempt. Non-cooperators can be jailed for the 18-month length of the grand jury.
Look at her. Am I being naive here? This girl is in federal prison???? She could be my daughter or the daughter of any of my friends, peers, college classmates. Is she guilty of some treacherous crime? No, not at all. She is not charged with any crime.
Will Potter author of Green Is the New Red, an account of “how animal rights and environmental activists are being targeted as ‘eco-terrorists’, and what that means for our safety and freedom,” writes:
Grand juries have historically been used against radical social movements as a tool to intimidate and to gather information. When activists enter a grand jury proceeding, they check their rights at the door. They are asked about what they believe, what their friends believe, who they associate with, what kinds of activism they support. If they choose to assert their First Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights by refusing to speak about their political beliefs and political associations, they can be imprisoned.
In the New Normal, idealistic young Americans–not just scary foreigners–can be dropped down a hole, without charge, for 18 months for refusing to rat out their friends.
Just another facet of that “new look, feel.”
First and foremost, do not panic.
Leah wanted for us to express these points to you with this news:
- She is extremely traumatized and experienced a lot of very, very bad things, but she is alive. The state of her mental health is also very bad.
- She asks that people do not jump to wild conclusions about her release because they do not apply.
- She spent her whole time in SHU / Administrative Detention (solitary confinement) and was told that that is where she would stay for the duration of her incarceration, up to 18 months. She was classified as “different” from Matt and Kteeo.
I’m hoping that she is indeed free, but the preliminary details of her incarceration temper any urge to celebrate.
There is a good deal of good background info on her case in this excellent Kevin Gosztola piece from last Friday, which I hadn’t consulted before writing my post.
While all the bright people on Twitter were beating Romney’s “binders” gaffe into a pulp, this case has brought to light a new willingness on the part of the state to (ab)use grand juries to intimidate people with alternative ideas. Which seems a much bigger deal than Romney’s misstatements or his argument with Obama over who loves coal more.
John Cusack has moved me to rescind my personal rule to ignore what actors say about anything other than what they do well–which is generally speaking to look good, spend a lot of time at the gym, and learn their lines.
Unlike most of the opinionated members of his profession, Cusack has been intensely critical of both the Bush administration and the current one. He uses a single set of criteria to judge both Bush and Obama. Imagine that!
Apparently, Cusack is also an old school friend of Jonathan Turley, who blogs most expertly on legal issues, in particular those having to do with civil liberties. He has published a meaty interview with Turley which should be read in it entirety. I just wanted to excerpt this terrific little passage, which is especially appropriate this week, as we crown our emperor in the non-union Democratic stronghold of Charlotte.
CUSACK: Oscar Wilde said most journalists would fall under the category of those who couldn’t tell the difference between a bicycle accident and the end of civilization. But why is it that all the journalists that you see mostly on MSNBC or most of the progressives, or so-called progressives, who believe that under Bush and Cheney and Ashcroft and Alberto Gonzalez these were great and grave constitutional crises, the wars were an ongoing moral fiasco — but now, since we have a friendly face in the White House, someone with kind of pleasing aesthetics and some new policies we like, now all of a sudden these aren’t crimes, there’s no crisis. Because he’s our guy? Go, team, go?
Hmm. The version of this interview published in truth-out.com contains a lengthy preamble by Cusack that doesn’t appear on the Turley blog. It ends with a provocative question that I think answers itself.
Now that the Republican primary circus is over, I started to think about what it would mean to vote for Obama…
Since mostly we hear from the daily hypocrisies of Mitt and friends, I thought we should examine “our guy” on a few issues with a bit more scrutiny than we hear from the “progressive left”, which seems to be little or none at all.
Instead of scrutiny, the usual arguments in favor of another Obama presidency are made: We must stop fanatics; it would be better than the fanatics—he’s the last line of defense from the corporate barbarians—and of course the Supreme Court. It all makes a terrible kind of sense and I agree completely with Garry Wills who described the Republican primaries as ” a revolting combination of con men & fanatics— “the current primary race has become a demonstration that the Republican party does not deserve serious consideration for public office.”
… there are certain Rubicon lines, as constitutional law professor Jonathan Turley calls them, that Obama has crossed.
All political questions are not equal no matter how much you pivot. When people die or lose their physical freedom to feed certain economic sectors or ideologies, it becomes a zero sum game for me.
This is not an exercise in bemoaning regrettable policy choices or cheering favorable ones but to ask fundamentally: Who are we? What are we voting for? And what does it mean?
Three markers — the Nobel Prize acceptance speech, the escalation speech at West Point, and the recent speech by Eric Holder — crossed that Rubicon line for me…
Mr. Obama, the Christian president with the Muslim-sounding name, would heed the admonitions of neither religion’s prophets about making war and do what no empire or leader, including Alexander the Great, could do: he would, he assured us “get the job done in Afghanistan.” And so we have our democratic president receiving the Nobel Peace Prize as he sends 30,000 more troops to a ten-year-old conflict in a country that’s been war-torn for 5,000 years.
Why? We’ll never fully know. Instead, we got a speech that was stone bullshit and an insult to the very idea of peace.
We can’t have it both ways. Hope means endless war? Obama has metaphorically pushed all in with the usual international and institutional killers; and in the case of war and peace, literally.
To sum it up: more war. So thousands die or are maimed; generations of families and veterans are damaged beyond imagination; sons and daughters come home in rubber bags. But he and his satellites get their four more years.
The AfPak War is more H. G. Wells than Orwell, with people blindly letting each other get fed to the barons of Wall Street and the Pentagon, themselves playing the part of the Pashtuns. The paradox is simple: he got elected on his anti-war stance during a perfect storm of the economic meltdown and McCain saying the worst thing at the worst time as we stared into the abyss. Obama beat Clinton on “I’m against the war and she is for it.” It was simple then, when he needed it to be.
Under Obama do we continue to call the thousands of mercenaries in Afghanistan “general contractors” now that Bush is gone? No, we don’t talk about them… not a story anymore.
Do we prosecute felonies like torture or spying on Americans? No, time to “move on”…
Now chaos is the norm and though the chaos is complicated, the answer is still simple. We can’t afford this morally, financially, or physically. Or in a language the financial community can digest: the wars are ideologically and spiritually bankrupt. No need to get a score from the CBO.
Drones bomb Pakistani villages across the border at an unprecedented rate. Is it legal? Does anyone care? “It begs the question,” as Daniel Berrigan asks us, “is this one a “good war” or a “dumb war”? But the question betrays the bias: it is all the same. It’s all madness.”
One is forced to asked the question: Is the President just another Ivy League Asshole shredding civil liberties and due process and sending people to die in some shithole for purely political reasons?
Bruce Dixon’s Closer Than You Think: Top 15 Things Romney and Obama Agree On improves and expands upon the point I was trying to make in my WASSUP post a while back.
Basically, I said what is Off the Table is far more important, and more dangerous, than what the parties are arguing about.
Dixon looks back to the post-Civil War era as a comparable era of malign consensus:
Too much agreement between Republicans and Democrats has always been bad news for those at the bottom of America’s class and racial totem poles.
Back in 1875, Frederick Douglass observed that it took a war among the whites to free his people from slavery. What then, he wondered, would an era of peace among the whites bring us? He already knew the answer. Louisiana had its Colfax Massacre two years earlier. A wave of thousands upon thousands of terroristic bombings, shootings, mutilations, murders and threats had driven African Americans from courthouses, city halls, legislatures, from their own farms, businesses and private properties and from the voting rolls across the South. They didn’t get the vote back for 80 years, and they never did get the land back. But none of that mattered because on the broad and important questions of those days there was at last peace between white Republicans and white Democrats — squabbles around the edges about who’d get elected, but wide agreement on the rules of the game.
Like Douglass, the shallow talking heads who cover the 2012 presidential campaign on corporate media have noticed out loud the remarkable absence of disagreement between Republican and Democratic candidates on many matters. They usually mention what the establishment likes to call “foreign policy.” But the list of things Republicans and Democrat presidential candidates agree on, from coddling Wall Street speculators, protecting mortgage fraudsters and corporate wrongdoers to preventing Medicare For All to so-called “foreign policy,” “free trade,” “the deficit” “clean coal and safe nuclear power” and “entitlement reform,” is clearly longer and more important than the few points of mostly race and style, upon which they disagree.
I’m going to get straight to work hammering out a clever little acronym that contains all fifteen of Dixon’s points. It might take me a while.
For a day or two at least, people who are alarmed at Orwellian legal trends can jump up and down and get excited. Katherine Forrest, an Obama-appointed judge (yes, you read that right), has enjoined any enforcement of Section 1021 of the NDAA because she was concerned that the Government was implying speech may equal terrorism (and be subject to indefinite detention)!
This afternoon’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by seven dissident plaintiffs — including Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jonsdottir — alleging that the NDAA violates ”both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
A couple of quotes to give flavor of the caliber (and arrogance) of the government’s lawyers:
The Court then asked: Give me an example. Tell me what it means to substantially support associated forces.
Government: I’m not in a position to give specific examples.
Court: Give me one.
Government: I’m not in a position to give one specific example.
Adam Serwer, filling in for Kevin Drum, and a good thing too:
When Forrest asked the government lawyer charged with defending the statute whether the journalists, who said their work has brought them into contact with groups like Hamas or the Taliban, could be indefinitely detained, the government’s lawyer wouldn’t say….
When asked again whether one of the journalists’ activities would qualify as “substantial” support for a terrorist group, the government attorney said, “I don’t know what she has been up to.”
Behind all of this looms the case of Yemeni journalist Abdulelah Haider Shaye, who continues to be locked up at Obama’s personal insistence, basically for the crime of being an intrepid and independent journalist.
But of course that couldn’t happen here….
And apparently, this could conceivably get (partially) sorted out today, in Congress with passage of the Smith-Amash Amendment.
That would be something. Yesterday, we had a rare instance of the Judicial Branch (an Obama-appointed judge, no less) doing its job and acting as a check on a grotesque power grab by the Executive Branch. Today, Congress has a chance to do something similar.
There is not much to add to this priceless Colbert bit.
Except to point out that nobody really cares. It’s not exactly heartening to see what little impact Holder’s mind-bogglingly brazen (and incoherent) Northwestern speech had. I know. I know. Rush Limbaugh!
I’ll also concede that this is just making it official: the U.S. Government refuses to be bound by any authority beyond its own political calculations. It’s normalizing and codifying the fact that the War on Terror’s largest single consequence may now be that the Government no longer feels it needs to offer its citizens centuries-old rights and protections.
Today, it’s the Obama Administration; a few years earlier, it was Bush, doing it on the sly. The two are presidents from Central Casting. Bush was the blustery Cowboy, Obama the calm bipartisan bureaucrat–but the effect is the same. Regardless of what party is in office, the government realizes that the electorate no longer has any significant leverage. Democrats will support the leader of their party, no matter how conservative or, in this case, downright reactionary his policies are. So a living wage? Why? What are the people gonna do? Constitutional protections? Why? Who’s gonna squawk? The ACLU? Ha.Ha.
So this is where we are. Due process was once the hallmark of American government, (within obvious limitations–for blacks, for women, for Japanese and Germans in wartime, it didn’t apply. Naturally.) But it was there, at least for the people the government claimed to represent. But, like habeas corpus, it belongs to another time. Today, for the unfortunate soul accused of being a terrorist (which used to mean being al qaeda, but now has expanded to include [former allies] the Taliban and associated groups–and adolescent family members), your due process boils down to this:
The President and his underlings are your accuser, your judge, your jury and your executioner all wrapped up in one, acting in total secrecy and without your even knowing that he’s accused you and sentenced you to death, and you have no opportunity even to know about, let alone confront and address, his accusations; is that not enough due process for you?
You gotta hand it to Obama, though. This is great politics. Blowing people up in some dusty land halfway around the world is such a perfect piece of political theater and control. Poll numbers down? Time to get another scalp. The government need only trumpet the successes. Beautiful. (And grudgingly, passive-aggressively sorta kinda own up to the misses. Not that there’s a whole lot of follow-up on these things).
remarkably, see nothing odd or contradictory or WRONG in the president’s more than enthusiastic adaptation of Bush policies he campaigned against. In fact, they cannot contain their glee.
President Obama’s foreign policy has been remarkably successful. Just ask 22 of the top 30 al Qaeda leaders. Oh, wait, you can’t. They’re dead—on Obama’s orders. He has approved 239 Predator drone attacks in just three years. George W. Bush approved 44 in eight years, the wuss.
So that’s the calculus of consummate insider Paul Begala. The more drone strikes, the better the foreign policy. And Republicans are wusses. Nyah! Nyah!
Will the Republicans, those brave representatives of the Constitution-obsessed Tea Party throngs, make Obama face any consequences for, in effect, vaporizing vaguely threatening foreigners (even those who are U.S. citizens) with a mere wave of his finger?
Hell nah! They can’t wait til it’s their turn….