Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The year in review

This year, 2013, wasn't a bad year for me, all told, but it was a weird wooden roller coaster of a 12-month period with highs that were high and lows which are better left for my LiveJournal. In this weirdest of years, I wrote some things, some of which got traction and some of which even I've already forgotten. Among the pieces I remember writing which you should get busy reading, in no particular order:

"Sharing Science is a Crime," Al Jazeera English -- If you discover the cure for cancer while working for a corporation or school, you better keep it a secret.

"Steal This Article," The New Inquiry -- It may not always be practical, but it's almost always moral to take what you need from someone who has plenty (and doesn't deserve it).

"The Exploited Laborers of the Liberal Media," VICE -- The liberal magazine Mother Jones gave its interns/"fellows" a $500 a month raise after this piece was published, meaning they will now be paid almost the bare minimum legally allowed in San Francisco (almost).

"Libertarians Are Very Confused about Capitalism," Salon -- Libertarians like to point out that America does not enjoy a "free market," but if that's true: why are they always so busy defending America's wealthy?

"US Hedge Funds Paint Argentina as Ally of Iran (& part two)," Inter Press Service -- Wall Street is trying to extract tens of billions of dollars from Argentina and it's using warmongers in Washington to try and get it.

LA considers IDs for inmates

Every year in Los Angeles County, thousands of people are released from jail without any way to prove who they are, which makes it that much harder to find a job and a place to live -- to stay out of jail, in other words. In my latest for VICE, I report on an effort to change that.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Sorry, those are the rules

Barack Obama may not have pulled the trigger that led 15 members of a wedding party in Yemen to lose their lives — to be murdered by an anonymous killer remotely piloting an American drone — but according to the US president’s own administration, he bears responsibility for their deaths just as much as if he had carried out the killings with his own two hands.

“The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership,” said the US State Department four months ago, “even if command and control – he’s not the one that pushes the button or said, ‘Go,’ on this.”

Since the United States is a country where the rule of law is respected and political leaders are judged by the same standards they impose on others, Obama’s trial for murder should begin any day now, which raises the obvious question: How will this impact the race for the White House in 2016?

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The NSA likes 'em young

A week after I named them in my piece for VICE on liberal outlets exploiting their laborers, Salon published my latest piece, on the NSA's use of (paid) interns as young as 15. So, thanks to Salon for being the better left-of-center website. Now pay your interns.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

My only VICE

On Monday, VICE published a piece of mine concerning the liberal media's reliance on unpaid and barely paid labor ("interns"). As I explained later to a writer for Romenesko.com, no traditionally "left" outlet was willing to publish the piece -- only VICE -- which is itself a commentary on the state of progressive media. I'm tempted to send all the outlets that declined or ignored my pitch a link to this.

On Friday, Inter Press Service published my interview with Madiha Tahir, a journalist who spoke to survivors of US drone strikes in Pakistan for her new documentary, Wounds of Waziristan.

I had another piece on interns that was supposed to be published this week by an outlet named in my VICE piece. Maybe next week.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Religous students found guilty of being Pakistani

When a man shot up a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year, Barack Obama announced how “deeply saddened” he was that such an attack "took place at a house of worship.” His Republican challenger for the presidency, Mitt Romney, likewise expressed his disgusted at “a senseless act of violence . . . that should never befall any house of worship.”

At the time, that was grotesquely funny because, by that point, Barack Obama had himself committed numerous acts of senseless violence against houses of worship. And, being the commander-in-chief of a military fighting a war in Afghanistan and Pakistan that he dramatically expanded upon taking office, he has continued to bomb religious institutions ever since.

A suspected U.S. drone fired on an Islamic seminary in Pakistan's northwestern region of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa early on Thursday, killing at least five people, police said.
Fareed Khan, a police officer, said the unmanned aircraft fired at least three rockets at the madrassa in the Hangu district, killing two teachers and three students just before sunrise on Thursday.
Now, and this is important: an anonymous official did say a potentially bad person was potentially seen at that madrassa a few days earlier (potentially), so Barack Obama can sleep soundly at night knowing he authorized the killing of a few people who were probably familiar with that bad guy, even if that bad guy himself is currently back at home alive and well playing Call of Duty: Death to America.

The attack took place a day after Pakistan's foreign policy chief Sartaj Aziz was quoted as saying that the United States had promised not to conduct drone strikes while the government tries to engage the Taliban in peace talks.
The United States has not commented on Aziz's remarks.
I'm really pretty sure that it has.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Help MSNBC bring liberal values to the workplace

Rachel Maddow, Chris Hayes and Al Sharpton are some of the biggest names in televised liberal commentary, but when it comes to supporting the rights of those who work under them at MSNBC, these big names have come up rather small.

According to the Writers Guild of America East, “Producers and associate producers at Peacock Productions, NBC’s nonfiction and reality unit at 30 Rockefeller Center, have been organizing and fighting against unionbusting at NBC for over a year now.” What they want are the benefits of being in a union, such as health insurance, better pay and less outrageous hours.

“These producers and APs [associate producers] have had enough of NBC’s attempts to stop their organizing drive,” says the guild. “They are asking MSNBC hosts to do one simple thing: sit down with them and hear their stories.”

So far, that has not happened. But it is not like MSNB’s on-air talent is unaware of what their producers do to make their shows happen.

“The staff of @allinwithchris works so so hard,” Chris Hayes tweeted yesterday. “It’s a marvel to watch every day.”

Hayes should do more than just tweet about how great his producers are: he should let some of them come on his show to explain the work they do – and why they need the benefits that come with being part of a union.

“The reality of freelance employment in nonfiction TV,” said Writers Guild of America Executive Director Lowell Peterson, “is that even creative professionals face grueling hours, no job security, no benefits, and no certainty about compensation.”

As a former non-fiction television producer who enjoyed neither job security nor benefits, join me and the guild in helping draw the attention of the following hosts at MSNBC to their producers’ organizing drive – and be sure to report what you hear back:

Rachel Maddow, “Rachel Maddow Show,” @maddow

Ed Schultz, “The Ed Show” @wegoted

Tamron Hall, “NewsNation” @tamronhall

Al Sharpton, “PoliticsNation” @thereval

Chris Hayes, “All In with Chris” @chrislhayes

Lawrence O’Donnell, “The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell” @lawrence

Monday, November 11, 2013

US federal prisons overflowing with drug offenders

No country imprisons more of its citizens than the United States, where more than 2 million people are behind bars, or roughly 1 in 100 adults. The majority of those behind bars did not commit acts of violence, but were convicted of non-violent offenses, mostly involving drugs. Indeed, the war on drugs is responsible for quadrupling the U.S. incarceration rate over the last 30 years, which a new report shows has created dangerous levels of overcrowding in federal prisons.

In 1980, federal prisons held under 25,000 people. In 2013, federal prisons are now home to more than 219,000 people.

“This growth is unsustainable,” said Julie Samuels, a co-author of a new report from the Washington, DC-based Urban Institute, a think tank founded by US President Lyndon Johnson. For one, housing that people in state institutions is costly, with the federal prison budget for fiscal year 2014 of a projected $6.9 billion set to eat up more than a quarter of the Department of Justice’s total budget.

“Second, overcrowded federal prisons are dangerous, posing safety risks for staff and prisoners alike,” said Samuels. And US federal prisons are extremely overcrowded.

According to the report, “Stemming the Tide: Strategies to Reduce the Growth and Cut the Cost of the Federal Prison System,” the average federal detention center exceeds its planned capacity by 35 to 40 percent. Overcrowding is even more of a problem in high-security prisons, which as of 2012 were operating at 151 percent of their capacity.

Part of the increase is due to increased law enforcement targeting of immigrant communities. President Barack Obama has ordered more deportations than of his predecessors: 2 million people kicked out of the United States and counting, many of whom were picked up for minor infractions. But, “Though the number of inmates sentenced for immigration crimes has also risen, long drug sentences are the main driver of the population’s unsustainable growth.”

Bipartisan blame

The war on drugs, characterized by long mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenders, disproportionately people of color, is not the product of any one president or party, but a policy agreed to by both major parties in the United States and prosecuted with enthusiasm by every president in modern history. Today, half of those in federal prisons are there for drug crimes that were once not treated as offenses worthy of prison time.

What changed is in 1984, the US Congress – at the time controlled by liberal Democrats – passed legislation requiring judges to issue long, mandatory minimum sentences to non-violent drug offenders. Called the “Sentencing Reform Act,” the bill was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, a conservative Republican. The signing of that bill and later, bipartisan “tough-on-crime” legislation in the 1986 and 1988 at the height of the media-fueled “crack epidemic,” coincided with a trend of state psychiatric hospitals shutting down and kicking out patients who, in addition to mental health problems, often had serious substance abuse issues. While there were more than 500,000 people in such institutions in 1960, by 2010 that number was closer to 50,000. People who would have been put in a hospital were instead put in a prison.

As the Urban Institute notes, before the massive escalation of the drug war in the 1980s, “a quarter of all federal drug offenders were fined or sentenced to probation, not prison.” Today, “95 percent are sentenced to a term of imprisonment,” with the average time served about twice what it was in 1983.

Slashing sentences

Reducing the federal prison population requires undoing the policies that have put more people behind bars in world history while doing little to affect actual rates of drug use. “The most effective way to reduce overcrowding,” according to the report, “is to lower mandatory minimums for drugs, which, alone, would reduce overcrowding to the lowest it has been in decades.”

Indeed, “Reducing the number of drug offenders is the quickest way to yield an impact on both population and cost,” says the report. “In 10 years, reducing certain drug mandatory minimums by half would save $2.485 billion and reduce prison crowding to 20 percent above capacity.”

There is actually some political support for that. In 2010, Congress passed the “Fair Sentencing Act,” which reduced – but did not eliminate – the disparity in sentencing for crack cocaine offenses compared to powder cocaine. Though crack and powder cocaine are chemically identical, possessing 1 gram of crack used to be treated exactly the same as possessing 100 grams of powder cocaine, whose users are generally more white and affluent than users of crack. The act, passed with the support of all but one member of Congress, cut that disparity to 18 to 1.

The report argues one way to reduce overcrowding in federal prisons is to make that reform retroactive: there are more than 3,000 people behind bars who would not be there had they been sentenced under the 2010 guidelines. Conservatively, releasing them would “lead to savings of $229 million over 10 years,” according to the report. Like other federal inmates, those drug offenders are currently ineligible for parole, another policy the Urban Institute says should change.

“Even with a mix of reforms, federal prisons may continue to be overcrowded,” says the report. “But a smart combination of policies will save taxpayers billions, make prisons less dangerous, and improve the quality and reach of programs designed to keep inmates from offending again.”


The outlet that was to publish this piece ran out of money mid-week in case you're feeling generous and would like to provide me a form of validation that can be exchanged for goods and services.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

No capitalism? No wealth.

Over at Salon, I argue that libertarians who insist we do not have true "capitalism" today -- and believe that's a bad thing -- should then logically support the radical redistribution of wealth, as money not made on a "free market" is money made in contravention of their own libertarian ethics.

Go ahead and give it a read. It's more fun than it sounds.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

God bless Glenn Beck

You know, it can be really tiring, always arguing and bickering about deportations and drone strikes and all that not-so-good stuff about our continually surveilled lives in 2013. Sometimes we need a diversion from the awful and so today -- and just today -- I express my gratitude to Glenn Beck. I express my gratitude to Glenn Beck because I like to believe he truly thought that he met a man this afternoon who in fact died in 2007. I am also currently entertaining the idea that Glenn Beck did in fact come across Jerry Falwell's reanimated corpse and thought, you know what? The guy looks pretty good for being dead 6 years.


God, I love Glenn Beck so much right now.

Liberals should stop and frisk Bill de Blasio

Over at The Nation, a debate is raging over whether students at Brown University acted inappropriately when they shouted down New York police chief Ray Kelly, preventing him from delivering an undoubtedly dull lecture about the power and glory of stopping and frisking brown people in New York City with no more probable cause then, “they're brown and shifty eyed.”

Columnist Katha Pollitt is one who thinks the students Went Too Far. Her particularly patronizing entry in the debate, “Campus Leftists, Use Your Words,” begins by creating a false choice between heckling assholes like Ray Kelly and “informational picketing, holding a teach-in or other counter event, [and] campaigning for a speaker's of one's own.” One can do all of those things, actually, while still heckling assholes like Ray Kelly.

But Pollitt's broader point is that “campus leftists” – children – didn't win any converts by appearing to bully a poor police chief. It may have been emotionally satisfying, but radical tactics like those only suggest the left lacks for ideas. So what should have those college hot heads done? Vote Democrat and write letters to the editor and good wholesome stuff like that:
It’s fashionable on the left to mock liberalism as weak tea—and sometimes it is. But you know what is getting rid of stop-and-frisk? Liberalism. A major force in the campaign against stop-and-frisk was the NYCLU, which carries the banner of free speech for all. And Bill de Blasio, who just won the mayoral election by a landslide, has pledged to get rid of the policy and Ray Kelly too. Those victories were not won by a handful of student radicals who stepped in with last-minute theatrics. They were won by people who spent years building a legal case and mobilizing popular support for change.
This is wrong and I don't just say that as a radical leftist who thinks liberalism is weak tea compared to my anarcho-espresso. It is factually wrong. Bill de Blasio, the next mayor of New York City, has not in fact “pledged to get rid of the policy” of stop-and-frisk. What he has pledged to do is rather different. And very liberal.

Under the heading, “Fighting for Meaningful Stop-and-Frisk Reform,” de Blasio's campaign website informs us that he “has pushed for real reforms in stop-and-frisk” and called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg “to immediately end the overuse and abuse of this tactic.” So de Blasio isn't looking to “get rid” of anything but, if we're being cynical – and since we're dealing with politicians we should be – the public anger over stop-and-frisk. His issue is that the tactic is being overused and abused, not that it's being used at all. He also boasts that he backed an initiative "which significantly expanded the number of NYPD officers on the streets." Anyone know what the NYPD's been up to lately?

Like other successful politicians, de Blasio campaigned in such a way that supporters of all stripes could see what they wanted. If you don't like stop-and-frisk, you maybe read his condemnations of its “abuse” as a condemnation of the program as a whole – and he took advantage of that, benefiting from a public sick of Mike Bloomberg the same way Barack Obama took advantage of a public sick of George Bush, his mere election seen as repudiation of what came before. By now, we really ought to know better; we ought to know we should wait for concrete action before celebrating a promise; we ought to know those promises, even as weak as they may be, are made to be broken.

Meanwhile, prisoners at Guantanamo Bay that aren't stuck inside being force-fed can expect partly cloudy skies and highs in the upper 80s over the next week, with a slight chance of rain.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Barack Obama, enemy of equality

According to the president of the United States, "we're all created equal and every single American deserves to be treated equally in the eyes of the law."

Of course, Barack Obama, like other US politicians, does not actually believe we, the people of Earth, are all created equal. That's clear enough from his exclusion of non-Americans when he describes who "deserves" equal treatment before the law. As a conservative nationalist, Obama believes some nationalities are more entitled to legal protections than others. Born in America, he might deign to give you a trial; born in Pakistan, he won't even bother identifying the remains left in the wake of a Predator drone.

But Obama wasn't talking about state-sanctioned murder. Instead, in a blog  for the Huffington Post, he was condemning the continued, legal discrimination on the part of employers against LGBT employees.

"It's offensive," an Obama staffer presumably wrote. "It's wrong. And it needs to stop because, in the United States of America, who you are and who you love should never be a fire-able offense."

This is a great bit of rhetoric that's ready to be slapped on a photo of a happy gay couple and shared 83,000 times on Facebook. It's also incredibly disgingeous.

Barack Obama, right now, without needing to convince any bad mean stupid Republicans in Congress, could sign an executive order banning federal contractors from engaging in discrimination based on perceived sexual orientation. He could have done that yesterday. He doesn't need legislation: he could have ended that discrimination instead of blogging, instantly providing greater job security to the tens of thousands of people working right now for the private contractors who effectively provide government services any more.

But he didn't because Obama and the Democratic Party run a neat little scam, whereby they set themselves up as 0.05 percent more progressive than the GOP -- for which they expect accolades and tribute -- and then rely on the public's ignorance of process to explain away why they're not actually doing anything to make things even 0.05 percent better. In this case, John Boehner and his gang of angry white homophobes in the House get blamed for setting back Progress; discrimination against LGBT people continues; and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee then sends out a mailer with that happy gay couple meme on it asking if you will please donate to help defeat the forces of darkness.

And then they laugh and they laugh and they laugh.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Slate Columnists: Stop Getting Published

Advice columnist Emily Yoffe is not blaming the victims when she suggests that young women getting drunk is why young men sexually assault them. We know this because she says it about 13 times in her piece for Slate, though you could get a different impression from the headline, premise and content of the article:

The problem with the article is not contention that drinking to the point of excess is probably unwise. The problem is the implication that a college woman's decision to get drunk is the chief factor in their being sexually assaulted and Yoffe's assertion that, "a misplaced fear of blaming the victim has made it somehow unacceptable to warn inexperienced young women that when they get wasted, they are putting themselves in potential peril."

Like many who style themselves brave tellers of uncomfortable truths, Yoffe is doing nothing of the sort. She's not saying anything that young women have not already heard hundreds of thousands of times by the time they are 21 from everyone with a tongue. Her advice is commonplace -- and about as useful as telling young women not to dress that way.

The reason women are so frequently assaulted on college campuses is not because, like male students, they choose to drink alcohol. They are so frequently assaulted because many college-age men do not respect women. With or without alcohol, women would still be sexually assaulted -- rapes did not stop during Prohibition -- because too many guys do not recognize the autonomy of the differently gendered and, worse still, many "good guys" do not even recognize they are doing it.

Yoffe makes much of the fact that many assaults on campus are "linked" to alcohol, but the real link is something called "patriarchy", or: all that shit I wrote in the preceding paragraph. In the context of a patriarchal culture that already blames women for what men do to them, Yoffe is indeed engaged in tired old victim-blaming when she infers from the alcohol-assault correlation that women getting drunk is the causation. Changing a patriarchal culture is not easy, which is why lazy thinkers instead go on blaming individuals, but changing the culture starts with not doing that; with not dispensing "helpful advice" that really isn't so helpful and really only reinforces the notion that victims of violence were irresponsible and sort of asking for it.

Yoffe makes another error when she writes more generally about the college culture of excessive drinking. In the column, she writes that, "Reducing binge drinking is going to require education, enforcement, and a change in campus social culture," which is both vague and wrong.

There's the word "culture" there, which seems promising, but Yoffe is actually once again blaming victims here. When I was in college, I primarily drank to excess in dorm rooms, parking lots and in the back seat of a friend's mom's minivan. I did that primarily because I was barred from drinking at restaurants and bars and non-fraternity parties. My clandestine and irresponsible drinking was not the product of my own, but of a system that demands tee-totalling from people old enough to go to war and inflicts harsh punishments on those that get caught, such as expulsion and the loss of one's driver's license (meaning, in many areas, one's job and social life).

If you want to reduce binge drinking, you don't lecture young adults on the need to save themselves for their 21st birthday. You let young adults drink, legally, in the same places Slate columnists can, thus taking away the compulsion to binge knowing you can't drink later -- and demanding a little more responsibility than is required when chugging Bacardi on a bunk bed. You don't implicitly blame people for a situation they had imposed on them against their will. But that's just what Yoffe does.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Shut it down

Last week, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote a letter to House Speaker John Boehner. In that letter, Reid played the role of seasoned, wise statesman and extended offered some sage political advice: "Ignore your base."

With respect to the Republican base, that advice is admittedly sound. The problem was that Reid contrasted the GOP's shutting down of the government over Obamacare to his refusal to hold up funding for the war in Iraq, which he claimed would have been "devastating to America."

In my latest for Al Jazeera English (the one not safe for American IP addresses), I argue that there's no comparison between Obamacare and a war that killed hundreds of thousands of people, whatever one's opinion on the Affordable Care Act. And I maintain that, if it did come down to it -- which it probably never would have -- one would probably be justified shutting down a government for a few days if it meant saving tens of thousands of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Bomb Syria for Obamacare

On Thursday, Democratic Congressman Alan Grayson told MSNBC's Chris Hayes that Syria is "simply not our problem." I am not a fan of this argument. The civil war in Syria may not be the US government's "problem," or at least it shouldn't be given its record from Vietnam to Iraq of killing the people it ostensibly wants to save, but I don't think people here should simply avoid addressing a problem because it's happening to people over there. We should probably just do it without bombs.

Some have called Grayson's comments disgusting, language they'd never use to describe a US air strike that kills civilians. I think Grayson's just trying to make what he believes to be the most compelling antiwar argument to the American public: that shit's bad enough here at home, so what are we doing trying to fix other people's problems? But Grayson is still perpetuating the idea that one's concern for a fellow human being should be determined by which nation-state they were born in, which is indeed gross. A better argument is that the US government never goes to war for "humanitarian" reasons and, when it says it does, it ends up making things worse.

But Grayson could be on to something: his argument may be the most compelling to the average American who still thinks Syria is a George Clooney film. And far more troubling than nationalist arguments against killing people is the partisan argument that we ought to maybe just give Obama his little war because: Republicans. That argument was put to Grayson by Hayes, who told the congressman:
You're going to have a conversation with Nancy Pelosi in the next few days in which she's going to say to you, not I think implausibly, if this vote goes down you're destroying the last three years of this president's administration, you're destroying his political capital and frittering away any opportunity to get any meaningful legislation passed because you have essentially declared your own party's president a lame duck.
There's nothing grosser than the suggestion that we must drop bombs on people in another country, not because it's a "last resort" or in self-defense or to save the whales or whatnot, but because the president needs his "political capital." Hayes says he would vote against an attack on Syria were he in Congress, so I don't fault him for bringing the argument up. It's revealing, though, as that is clearly the argument on the lips of Democratic partisans or else it wouldn't make it's way on to their preferred cable news network.

Indeed, the Democratic partisan's favorite political magazine, Mother Jones, notes the same argument. As editor David Corn writes, while Democrats in Congress may have "anti-war inclinations" -- let's let that one slide -- "this time the decision for many Democrats is more difficult due to the overarching political context." What's that context?
The president is about to engage the Republicans on two contentious fronts: a battle over the funding of the federal government (with a possible government shutdown at risk) and a fight over raising the debt ceiling (with a possible financial crisis at risk). And tea party Republicans are attempting to bring Obamacare into the brewing mess. (Their threat: If you don't defund Obamacare, we'll shut down the government.) With all this looming, Democrats certainly don't want Obama's standing weakened, and if he loses the vote on the Syria resolution, he will be diminished.
There are arguments for and against the bombing of Syria. Some of them are bad, some of them not so bad. That we need to bomb Syrians so Americans can be forced to buy overpriced health insurance is the worst.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

Syria is not Iraq (and apples are not oranges)

Like other Democratic consultants with careers to keep in mind, Robert Creamer, husband of liberal Illinois Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, is currently busy reassuring progressives that Barack Obama's desired attack on Syria will be "completely different" from the shock and awe that George W. Bush and Senate Democrats helped bring to Baghdad. And, it should be said, there's a lot of truth to that. They are, indeed, different situations occurring at different times (the US government had more allies when it destroyed Iraq, for instance).

But while the situations differ and lazy comparisons should always be avoided, Creamer's number one reason for why Syria is not Iraq is wrong in a big way. Being generous, it's the result of a lazy misremembering of history. Being realistic, it's a lie.

According to Creamer, writing for The Huffington Post:
1). The President is asking for a narrow authorization that the U.S. exact a near-term military price for Assad's use of chemical weapons. He is not asking for a declaration of War - which is exactly what George Bush asked from Congress in Iraq.
George W. Bush did not ask Congress for a declaration of war, which no president has done since WWII. He asked Congress to pass an, "Authorization for Use of Military Force Against Iraq." Barack Obama, meanwhile, is asking Congress to pass an, “Authorization for the Use of Military Force Against the Government of Syria to Respond to Use of Chemical Weapons."

Obama's request does include a clause stating that it is not intended to authorize the use of "combat" troops on the ground. At the same time, while there does not appear to be much elite interest in a full-scale occupation of Syria at this point -- though calculations on all sides of the conflict could change when the bombs start falling -- the AUMF recognizes the president's "inherent" right to use military force to counter what he perceives to be threats to national security. Limits on "combat" troops are there for political reasons, not legally binding ones.

In other words, what Obama is asking for is "exactly" what Bush asked for, which is: political cover for using the US military any way he sees fit. What's different is the target and the perception that there's no real risk of being embroiled in a quagmire: just a few bombing raids carried out in time to pick up the kids from soccer practice.

You may be not at all surprised to learn that Creamer, who somehow managed to get this basic fact wrong, is a convicted liar. Indeed, he pleaded guilty to multiple felonies for defrauding a bank. But the people Creamer is lying to now don't run banks. Defrauding the public in order to sell a war won't get him a conviction, but a new hot tub and perhaps an appearance or two on a liberal chat show.

In terms of the dishonesty involved in selling a war on it, Syria is looking a lot like Iraq, actually.

Go ahead and take it

I have a new piece up over at The New Inquiry in which I argue that there is nothing wrong with stealing from thieves (i.e., capitalists). Please copy and paste it broadly.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Rules for them, not US

"The commander-in-chief of any military is ultimately responsible for decisions made under their leadership, even if . . . he's not the one that pushes the button or said, 'Go,' on this."

-- US State Department Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf, 28 August, 2013
Let's all remember this assertion at the next war crimes tribunal when the commander-in-chief of the US military is held responsible for things such as the Granai massacre, which you probably haven't heard of because it was not't carried out by an enemy state, but by America's own forces of freedom and stable petroleum supplies.

According to investigation conducted by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, as reported by the New York Times, "at least 86 women and children" were killed by US forces who bombed their village in Afghanistan, not long after President Barack Obama announced his surge there. Altogether, "as many as 97 civilians died," the commission found (the Pentagon described the report as "balanced" and "thorough").

Then, of course, there's the hundreds of civilians that have died in the US drone war in Pakistan, including attacks on first responders, which the US commander-in-chief unilaterally escalated. And the dozens of women and children in Yemen who died in cluster bomb attack authorized by the head of the US military. And so on.

One gets the feeling that Ms. Harf did not mean to suggest that her boss, US President Barack Obama, should be indicted for the murder of innocent civilians. But international law and the responsibility to protect demands we act in response to this moral obscenity, lest he feel emboldened to kill yet more people. Basic human decency requires it.

(A shout-out to Twitter user "Nick," who was the first I saw to post the quote.)

On vultures and Chelsea Manning

I had two pieces published recently that I have yet to tell you to read. They are:

1) A piece for Al Jazeera English on the bipartisan transphobia that followed the announcement that the whistleblower known as Bradley Manning wishes to identify as a woman named Chelsea.

2) A piece for Inter Press Service on a recent US court ruling that, if not overturned by the Supreme Court or overruled by the Obama administration, will make it easier for so-called vulture funds to buy up developing-world debt for cheap and then force said countries to pay them back tens, sometime hundreds of times what they originally paid.

Good day to you.

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

That cure is a trade secret

In my latest piece for Al Jazeera, I explore how militarism and the profit motive are holding back science -- and what steps scientists can take to undermine capitalism. Read, share, love.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

The money behind the smearing of Argentina

My two-part investigation into the money behind a recent campaign painting Argentina as a "bad actor" and BFF of Iran has now been published by Inter Press Service. Check out part one and then read part two to find out all the dirty details.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Stop keeping secrets

Senator Dick Durbin said he had information that could have maybe stopped a war. Senator Ron Wyden said he knew the NSA was collecting data on millions of Americans. However, both said they couldn't tell us. They took an oath not to reveal the state's secrets.

As I argue over at Al Jazeera, they could have told us, but that would have required courage. And we don't put courageous people in the Senate.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How to get away with murder (non-state actor edition)

If you're wearing a uniform, murdering someone you don't like and getting away with it is only marginally harder than shooting a Rubik's cube with a police-issued Glock. For the rest of us, it can be a real pain in the ass, success depending on a lot more than a blue code of silence. You really have to plan this stuff out! And with this modern life, with all its iPhones and picking Joey up from soccer practice and crushing institutional poverty, who has the time?

If you want to get away with murder while still maintaining a social life, here's a few helpful tips:

1. Be a cop. I know we've covered this already, and this guide explicitly set out to help those aren't cops, but it's really the best way. And if your frenemy lives abroad, be a soldier.

2. Be related to, and on good terms with, a cop or other member of law enforcement. Have a sheriff's deputy for an uncle? Make him your favorite uncle.

3. This is a good one: Pick a fight – and lose it. Once you start losing, you can do what your favorite uncle does: pull out a gun and murder the target. In many jurisdictions, you are permitted to use lethal force in self defense. This can be tricky, because technically your target may be able to claim the same defense, particularly since you started the fight, so the trick is start losing early and pull your gun first.

As far as the law and any future jury is concerned, the clock starts when the person who pulls the trigger first gets scared they'll get their ass kicked.

4. This is by far the most important factor in whether you can pull this off: have lighter skin than the victim the thug.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Israel: A great place to be white!

Not everyone who lives in Israel is of pasty white European heritage, but you wouldn't know it from the Israeli government's outreach. For reasons only fully understood by the gods and the person trolling me, I was recently subscribed to the newsletter of the Jewish National Fund (JNF), a quasi-governmental organization that seeks to replace brown people in Israel with Jews and trees.

An explicitly racist organization (Israel's second largest property owner, it refuses to rent land to Arabs), it was not surprising to find that JNF's printed propaganda featured almost exclusively smiling white people. On one page, smiling white college kids whose trip to the Holy Land totally rocked. On another page, a smiling white foodie dishing the inside scoop on Israeli cuisine. Here a white person; there a white person; everywhere a white person. The reader at home's takeaway: Go to Israel and you won't have to mix with the coloreds, unless of course you book the 4 day / 3 night Ethnic Immersion tour package.

What's a little weird is that when I tweeted something snarky about the awful lot of white folk in JNF's newsletter, the CEO of JNF, seemingly awful white person Russell Robinson, saw fit to retweet it. Judging by the rest of his tweets -- yes, older friends, I too find my generation's language insufferable -- it does not appear this was an act of passive aggression, though I probably shouldn't jump to any conclusions. Perhaps he was just distracted by how pasty white I am and hit the wrong button.

PREVIOUSLY: In 2012, Israel's Interior Minister Eli Yishai said, "Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man."

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Are liberals stupid?

Whether liberals are "stupid" is probably the wrong question. A lot of smart people support stupid things; their intelligence is irrelevant. But there can be no doubt that American liberals support -- and lord knows, say -- a lot of stupid things. Barack Obama, for instance.

Supporting Barack Obama on the basis that he was anything but a slightly lesser evil -- itself very much arguable -- was highly stupid. If you hated John McCain or Mitt Romney more, fine. Understandable, even. But claiming Obama was a great progressive leader in the making was always stupid. But a lot of smart (and stupid) people thought such things.

It's worth revisiting, as a lot of bad things have happened because of it.

Quite by accident, this afternoon I came across a draft email from 2008 that I never sent containing excerpts from two different articles that I undoubtedly thought at the time were stupid, stupid, stupid, but which I apparently had neither the energy nor heart to dissect. Let's look at them now, though, because it's worth looking at and mocking what liberals, in this case the former head of Air America, Beau Friedlander, were saying before Barack Obama took office. It's really embarrassing and it should give you pause when these very same people cast themselves as sophisticated and pragmatic realists.

In a piece published by the Huffington Post on November 23, 2008, Friedlander wrote this about the president-elect's plans to fix the economy:
[W]hile many of us have expressed a range of positions from caution to strident criticism regarding the way Obama's White House started shaping up this past week, there are some indications now that--contrary to the vague fear of a more centrist tendency that some, including myself, decried--Obama may well assume a fairly radical solution to the economic problems facing the nation, one that eclipses the craziest notions dreamt up by the progressive fringe. This will happen because he is a great leader, and the hallmark of great leaders is their ability to listen to the needs of his or her people and then translate what s/he hears into programs and workable deeds. 
That didn't happen. Whoops. I don't feel like writing anything else about the above excerpt, except: look at that part in bold again. Ha ha.

In another piece published December 21, 2008, Friedlander wrote this about our great leader:
At first glance, sure, the president-elect might seem to be the ultimate confidence man. His manner is unflappable as he looks you right in the eye, calms you with that winning smile, and robs you blind. He's from Illinois, after all. To many on the progressive side, the campaign for change seems like a good old fashioned bait and switch, with the final indication being Team Obama's announcement last week that Rick Warren would deliver the invocation at the inauguration on January 20.

Here's what's missing from the grouch and brainstorm so rife among the dyspeptic tide of liberal resentment: a coherent thought. Obama is precisely who we wanted. He's going to deliver the promised change, and we just can't see it. And that's how it should be, folks, because if we could see what Obama sees, we wouldn't need a transformative leader. Remember, we elected him because he had the vision thing.
Oh, gosh. So close in that first paragraph! But Friedlander, being a liberal Democrat, doesn't know how to turn his ideal programs into "workable deeds," so he falls back on the tried-and-true partisan platform of trust, but don't verify (that only helps the Republicans).

We all know liberals think they're the smartest ones in the room, especially if there's some hipster anarchist in it pointing out how full of shit their blood-soaked heroes are. But when they adopt the cynic's stylings to piss on anyone who hopes for anything better -- "This is the best we can do. The only hope worth having is the hope that things don't get worse." -- it's worth remembering what they and their idols once promised. And how stupid it all sounds.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Nationalism is an invention

"As long as you know that all of this stuff is arbitrary—that karate is invention, that Catholicism is invention, that America in an invention—but that humanity is an actual thing, we don't have to all pretend to believe this shit." 
Read the rest.

Monday, June 17, 2013

How a Lhasa Apso made me eat my vegetables

For a long time, I thought about eating my dog. After years of devouring cows and chickens and pigs and little lambs, why not deep fry a Lhasa Apso? So yeah, I thought about it. Though clever, he still wasn't as smart as the animal that gave me bacon. Though cuddly, his hygiene was in serious doubt. And the nail in the miniature coffin: none of the other animals I ate without a second's thought had ever bit me.

Horrifying, you say? Absolutely. My little schnookems wasn't just another animal, he was a friend. He had a little personality. He got happy. He got scared. He got pissed. Sure, he couldn't solve a Rubic's cube, but then neither could I. The point is that he was a complex character, one capable of sensing your mood and licking your hand when he thought you were down, while also having the independence of mind to launch premeditated raids on trash cans for spoiled Pastrami sandwiches while you had your back turned.

What got me thinking about rolling my dog around in flour and setting him in the oven for 45 minutes wasn't that I'm some sick, broken soul, though that may have been part of it. It's that I couldn't make a good case for not eating him while still eating other animals capable of being happy and scared and pissed. Living in Nicaragua at the time, I regularly saw big, fat, lumbering pigs hanging out in people's front yards, playing and cuddling with the family dog. Little piglets looked like puppies from afar, some black, some white, some with spots.

My heart would melt when I saw the little critters. I gained newfound respect when one of their 400-pound elders was walking down the street in my direction and it decided, no, buddy, you cross to the other side. And got to thinking and was forced to confront an uncomfortable thought: I was fucking Cruella De Vil, at least if she wore v-necks and had an active social media presence.

Apparently, and this makes sense to people, it is incredibly wrong to turn dalmatians into fur coats, but not to hang a pig or cow by its hind legs and sever its jugular vein with a knife and watch it bleed to death. If you actually think about this, which I studiously avoided doing for a good 27 years, it makes no damn sense. And indeed, in some cultures your furry little friends often end up on the dinner plate, not because the people are more cruel, but because they are just more consistent. They don't necessarily see a morally significant difference between a dog or a cat and a pig or a cow.

And if you think about it, there isn't. That occurred to me when I, a little piglet in my eye, began trying to rationalize my meat eating. I wasn't confident in my position. I was defensive. Mostly, I was lazy. It was a behavior to which I had grown accustomed and I couldn't, or wouldn't, consider it rationally. Ugly as it was, and this is no real excuse, but: I had grown up in a speciesist household, calling animals names like “sausage patty” and “hamburger” that I'd never address them by face to face.

Put aside your strawmen. No one is saying animals are people too. No, angry white men, Little Miss Piggy will not be taking your job. You will not be denied entrance to law school because of some lefty, “PC” board of admissions decides to take a chance on some muskrat from a broken home. And no, blades of grass do not experience consciousness the way an animal does, which is why even meat-eaters will concede trampling to death the one is very much different from trampling to death the other.

We know that animals, including the ones we eat the most of, can experience suffering. We know that some animals, including the ones we eat the most of, are arguably smarter than the dog you will cry over when it dies. We know this. And we know that we can get by just fine without inflicting this suffering. In fact, science suggests those who give up eating animals aren't just fine, but better. One recent study found that vegetarians have a 32 percent lower risk of heart disease. Numerous studies have found that vegetarians live longer. Eating plants isn't just good for your nagging liberal guilt, but for your body.

What do you have to lose? Maybe there's nothing morally wrong with eating an animal (there is), but why take that chance and inflict unnecessary suffering? There's a reason many states are trying to ban video footage of corporate slaughterhouses: they don't want you to see what goes on inside. Because it's fucking terrible. Your steak went through a lot of torture before it reached the steakhouse. And it didn't have to.

Eat a salad, you asshole.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Just give up

I only read Kevin Drum when I want to get upset, which is probably something I should speak to a mental health professional about. Yesterday, I read something Drum wrote and, yes, I got upset. That was why I did it. I got upset because it is boring, unimaginative liberals like Drum who regularly call anyone to their left who doesn't see the Democratic Party as a great ally in the fight for social justice a "cynic," condemning them for preferring the comfort of purist apathy to the often slow, messy job of making the world better -- but adopting the cynic's pose as soon as anyone starts talking about change.

Writing about the broad NSA spying operation revealed by whistle-blower Edward Snowden, Drum wrote that his basic view on surveillance hasn't changed since Bush was president. "I didn't like this stuff in 2005 and I don't like it now." However, and of course there's a "however" because this is Mother Jones (we would rebrand, "but that takes a lot of money."), Drum's views have in fact changed: he's not sure what the point of caring is anymore.

"I'll confess that it's hard to sustain a feeling of outrage over this," Drum admitted. "We had a huge fight about all this stuff five years ago and we lost. Now everyone is supposedly shocked, shocked" -- editor's note: a firing squad for the next person who does that double-shocked thing -- "that NSA is hoovering up huge amounts of data. Well, of course they are. We lost."

What Drum does here is what sensible liberals like him do every election cycle, which is tell those of us who hope for a world superior to the status quo to quit dreaming and accept that this is the best we can do, folks. Barack Obama, kill lists and bail outs and record deportations and all, is the best we can do. The two-party system is the best we can do. Oligarchy disguised as representative democracy is the best we can do. Give up. We lost.

I think we can do better. Spurred by the economic collapse and the continuity under Obama, people are having conversations today that they wouldn't have had a decade ago (albeit they are now being recorded by the government). Yes, absolutely: some days caring about the world and thinking we can make it better feels like a laughable error in judgement. But even if my optimism is irrational, as even I believe it is before coffee, who wants to be an above-it-all loser? I'd rather be the underdog who doesn't go down without a fight than the guy suggesting defeat is the most reasonable option.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

We could use more rebels

What should you do if you uncover wrongdoing and the people responsible are the same ones who are supposed to investigate it? The way our politicians and elite media figures talk, you would think there's something honorable about tipping them off (or shutting your mouth). In the political arena, the bold person of conscience – the rebel, the maverick, the damn-the-costs truth-teller – is the bad guy, not the action hero; the company man is played by Bruce Willis.

When Edward Snowden gave up a lucrative career in an island paradise to blow the whistle about the US government's staggeringly broad spying operations – revealing what thousands of others with access to the same information wouldn't – he was going up against a system that values loyalty to those who sign your paychecks over loyalty to principle or the public. A columnist for The New York Times, which is very much a part of that system, denounced him in terms one would think would be reserved for our leaders, declaring that Snowden had “betrayed the Constitution” and “the privacy of us all” by leaking evidence of the Obama administration doing just that.

Snowden need not be the world's greatest human being for us to recognize the courage it took to do what he did. When compliance with a system makes one an accomplice to wrongdoing, there's no virtue in being compliant. There's no virtue in abiding by the “honor codes of all those who enabled [one] to rise,” as the Times columnist put it, when that code doesn't respect the rights of everyone else. We recognize that when we go to the movies. Maybe we should stop condemning it in real life?

Instead of getting caught up in media attempts to pathologize a whistle-blower, we should also probably look more closely at what the whistle was blown on, because what Snowden revealed should be concerning, even if you don't have relatives in Yemen.

This Matters

According to leaked classified documents, the US National Security Agency (NSA) is collecting data on nearly every call made by nearly every American, from the time it was placed, who was called and from where it originated. The NSA also has relationships with nearly every major Internet company, from Facebook to Google, granting the agency streamlined access to your user history. Everything you email or post to your wall could end up on an NSA server somewhere. That's a lot of data, which is why the agency is building a 1.5 million square feet server farm in Utah to hold it, at a cost of $1.2 billion.

The Obama administration claims the information it belatedly admits it collects is only later accessed with a court order. But then, those court orders are classified, granted by judges in a secret court in front of which only the government can appear. Meanwhile, the White House has refused to release its legal rationale for the spying program, which senators from the president's own party suggest is both illegal and unnecessary. It has, however, publicly credited the program with breaking up terrorist plots, though those claims – like its earlier denials that the spying program existed – have proven false.

But while it's intrusive, sure, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, right? Well, no. Even if you don't have grandparents in Yemen, you should be concerned about any agency – that is, a collection of fallible human beings – that claims the right and has the power to know pretty much everything you've ever done on your iPhone. Go ahead and assume the best motives on the part of those in power, just don't forget that even the most honorable people have ex-lovers too. Even saints can be seduced by power.

Most spooks aren't saints, either. They're like us: fallen. And what would you do if you were invisible? For some NSA employees, listening to your phone calls is the equivalent of sneaking into the locker room, several of them telling ABC News that the agency routinely eavesdrops on the phone calls of Americans abroad as they call friends and family back home.

“Hey, check this out,” the agents would tell each other, according to one whistle-blower. "There's good phone sex or there's some pillow talk, pull up this call, it's really funny, go check it out.” Not exactly the model of professionalism one would hope for in someone who has god-like eavesdropping powers.

"These were just really everyday, average, ordinary Americans who happened to be in the Middle East, in our area of intercept and happened to be making these phone calls on satellite phones," said another military whistleblower. Journalists and aid workers had their communications intercepted on a regular basis.

That was a decade ago.

It's Gotten Worse

These days, the NSA is now known to be intercepting a much broader range of communication. Revelations to The Guardian show it claims the ability to tap into not just email communication, but live Skype calls. Basically everything you do on the Internet could potentially be viewed by a US government agent. There's no need for black helicopters when you voluntarily divulge your life secrets with the help of a black box made by Sony. Or a white one by Apple.

You should be especially concerned if you have opinions about things going on in our world. When a group of Pennsylvanians began working to stop a natural gas fracking project in their community, they found themselves listed on a state Department of Homeland Security bulletin. “We want to continue providing this support to the Marcellus Shale Formation natural gas stakeholders while not feeding those groups fomenting dissent against those same companies,” the Secretary of Homeland Security, a Democrat, stated in an email.

If you oppose corporate America's destruction of your community, you could end up being lumped in with actual terrorist threats. And once the word “terrorism” is invoked, all bets are off, potentially leading to a government agent, working on behalf of their corporate stakeholders, going through every ill-considered email you ever sent.

Sometimes, simply stating one's political beliefs is enough to grab the state's attention. In Seattle, the NSA's partners in surveillance at the FBI tracked a group of young anarchists to a May Day demonstration, not because they were wanted for any crimes, but because they called themselves anarchists.

“Although many anarchists are law-abiding,” an FBI agent explained, “there is a history in the Pacific Northwest of some anarchists participating in property destruction and other criminal activity in support of their political philosophy.” And so we track them. And with the surveillance capabilities we have today, it's not hard to make even the most innocent acts seem sinister, particularly when one has unpopular political beliefs or presents a challenge to corporate or state power.

It Could Be You

Combined with expansive terrorism laws, that could be a nightmare for those who fall in the arbitrary crosshairs of a government prosecutor looking to make a name for themselves. In 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that humanitarian groups can be convicted of “material support” for terrorism even if that support consists solely of helping seek conflict resolution. As former president Jimmy Carter said at the time, “the vague language of the law leaves us wondering if we will be prosecuted for our work to promote peace and freedom.”

Others don't have to wonder. Since 2010, antiwar activists across the country have been subpoened and forced to testify before grand juries into a “material support” for terrorism investigation that has succeeded in scaring those who do humanitarian work in Palestine and Colombia, but as of yet yielded no convictions. Perhaps our broad spying and terrorism laws are working, just not in the way our leaders tell us. And, as these activists can attest: you don't need to be convicted of anything to be constantly spied on.

As another NSA whistle-blower, William Binney, recently told journalist Amy Goodman, “if you're doing something that irritates or is against what the government wants to be expressed to the American public, then you can become a target.” It's as easy as that. And whenever you call a friend, keep in mind that you're calling every friend your friend has ever called. Are you absolutely sure you have nothing to hide?

In Washington, most politicians seem annoyed that you now know this. They wish you didn't. As Senator Al Franken explained, “Anything that the American people know, the bad guys know so there's a line here, right?”

That's how those in Washington often view those they claim to represent in our representative democracy: lumped in with the bad guys. Indeed, aiding us in our knowledge of what the government is doing in our name, as Bradley Manning and now Edward Snowden have done, is often likened with aiding the enemy.

“I don't look at this as being a whistle-blower,” Senator Dianne Feinstein said of the NSA leaks. “I think it's an act of treason.”

Feinstein voted for a war in Iraq that she and her husband personally profited from, so she knows a thing or two dozen about treachery. But she's off base here. The American public is not the enemy, nor should informing them about the things being done to them with their own money be construed as the act of a traitor. Edward Snowden may not be the world's greatest human being; who reading this has met him? What we do know his act did a lot of good by exposing a lot of wrong and took a lot more courage than it takes to criticize him on Capitol Hill. Since they don't see that very often there, no wonder they mistake it as treason.

Friday, June 07, 2013

Does he fear getting droned too?

Barack Obama said some shit today. Among the shit he said was this, in response to reports his administration is tracking every phone call made in America, while also directly tapping into the servers of Facebook and Google:
"I came in with a healthy skepticism about these programs," Obama said. "My team evaluated them. We scrubbed them thoroughly. We actually expanded some of the oversight, increased some of the safeguards."
The president says he was skeptical of this power until, friends, you have to hear this funny story: the power became his. And what head of state wants to be less powerful than their predecessor? Also there was scrubbing and safeguarding involved (we can't really get into details).

But Obama won't be a head of state forever, he reminded the press, actually saying this out loud in front of people who didn't snicker:
"With respect to my concerns about privacy issues: I will leave this office at some point—sometime in the next three and a half years—and after that I'll be a private citizen," he said. "And I suspect that on a list of people who might be targeted so that somebody could read their emails or listen to their phone calls, I’d probably be pretty high on that list. So it's not as though I don't have a a personal interest in making sure my privacy is protected."
If you honestly believe the world's most powerful man is honestly concerned he will be subject to the same sort of scrutiny as other private citizens -- and, more importantly, that he fears facing the same consequences (what, is he going to be Jose Padilla'd?) -- you should immediately transfer power of attorney to a trusted love one. Once he leaves office, Obama will be making millions of dollars a year giving speeches at stockholder meetings. Maybe a spook or two will glance at his email now and again, but that won't be because of any program he established; they'd do that anyway. And legally speaking, he'll face the same consequences as George W. Bush.

When presidents and former presidents do it, that means it's not illegal.

Also, this. Obama said this:
"If people can’t trust not only the executive branch but also don’t trust Congress and don’t trust federal judges to make sure that we’re abiding by the Constitution, due process and rule of law, then we’re going to have some problems here."
Barack Obama already claims the right to unilaterally kill all sorts of people endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them I recall being "life." We have some problems here.

'The Wire' wasn't that great

David Simon, creator of the American television series, The Wire:
  • Opposes marijuana legalization because he says it will only help rich white kids, which isn't true.
  • Opposes the free dissemination of information, encouraging major media companies to form a cartel aimed at ensuring only rich people like him can afford to read the news.
  • Supports intellectual property laws that guarantee people like him are overpaid, arguing that "journalism, literature, film, music -- these endeavors need people operating at the highest professional level," by which he means: I like living in a big house (ask yourself: does the best journalism, literature, film and music tend to be produced by the really rich or those that don't much care for money?)
  • Supports Barack Obama's dragnet PRISM program, which collects data on all phone calls placed in the United States, on the look how much I know basis that the government has done stuff like this before, the only thing different being "the scale." Yes, David. And LOL
All of which is to say: The Wire had its moments, but it was still just a cop show and as a one-time straight news reporter I found the last season to be unwatchable. Newspapers always sucked and I hope the next gig David Simon is up for is given to a blogger.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

Chuck Hagel and the fight to keep Hope alive

Before he was confirmed, some on the liberal left sold US defense secretary Chuck Hagel as a voice for "less war, more diplomacy." I don't have to tell you what has happened since confirmation, but then I also won't get money for rent if I don't, so read my latest piece for Qatar's state-controlled media to see if Hagel has lived up to his billing.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Stockpiling inmates

I was unaware that Sarah Palin was still a meme, but the Democratic Party is apparently still using her to raise money and build their email lists. Apparently, because who cares enough to look it up, the former Alaska governor said the US government is "stockpiling bullets" to use against the public. And so a petition has been launched by the Democratic Governors Association to demand an apology because that is important:
Accusing our government of actively stockpiling weapons to use against its own people is not only offensive and wrong -- it's downright dangerous. For Sarah Palin to insinuate that the United States is similar to the tyrannical governments in Syria and Iran who do carry out those types of atrocities is completely reprehensible.
Good on the governors for looping Iran into the mix, rather than a Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. President Hillary may have to bomb them someday, so it's important to lay the groundwork now. Sarah Palin and Iran: Bad. Got it.

Of course, the unfortunate thing is that the US government is "actively stockpiling weapons to use against its own people" (no one cares about it using them against other people). You don't end up with 2.3 million Americans in prison cells by asking them nicely. You force them in at the point of a gun. The FBI alone gets over $8 billion a year to do this. Federal prisons get over $8 billion to keep them there.

Is that the same as the sort of political repression that goes on in Syria or Iran? No, it's different. The people getting shot in the streets by security forces are usually Black or Latino. And no one has anywhere near the size prison population that America does.

(via @FireTomFriedman)

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

James Comey ain't your homie

President Obama is reportedly picking a former hedge fund executive turned senior Bush administration official at the Justice Department by the name James Comey to be his next head of the FBI. Like Chuck Hagel, this largely meaningless nomination in terms of actual policy is being played up as meaningful by the hacks whose job it is to do that sort of thing.

Forget the pundits. Here's what the nomination means, if anything, by way of remarks Comey made at a press conference in 2004:
Had we tried to make a case against Jose Padilla through our criminal justice system, something that I, as the United States attorney in New York, could not do at that time without jeopardizing intelligence sources, he would very likely have followed his lawyer's advice and said nothing, which would have been his constitutional right. 
He would likely have ended up a free man, with our only hope being to try to follow him 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and hope -- pray, really -- that we didn't lose him.
Trials can be so inconvenient, especially when the criminal justice system only affords the state a 93 percent conviction rate. You really don't want to take any risks when it comes to national security. Indeed, "We could care less about a criminal case when right before us is the need to protect American citizens and to save lives," Comey told reporters, presumably grabbing his genitals. "We'll figure out down the road what we do with Jose Padilla." His remarks mean he will do well at the FBI, that Comey, leading a department where protecting Americans has long served as justification for ignoring their rights.

Padilla ended up being labeled an "enemy combatant" and stashed away in a Naval brig, spending nearly four years in solitary confinement, which in the words of a psychiatrist who examined him led to the "destruction of a human being’s mind.” Despite his years spent being tortured in military custody, however, Padilla was ultimately tried and convicted within the civilian criminal justice system. A final punch to the gut, because this America and we are terrible: the mentally destroyed Padilla's original conviction of 17 years in prison for expressing an interest in (if not actually engaging in) violent jihad was overturned for being too lenient.

I hope you like your humor dark.

(Transcript via Kevin Gosztola)