Daily Archive: 02/22/2013

Feb 22 2013

The Drone In Your Future

But it’s all good because we should just trust the President.

This Administration has not carried out drone strikes inside the United States and has no intention of doing so.

Obama officials refuse to say if assassination power extends to US soil

Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian

Friday 22 February 2013 09.46 EST

The crux of this issue goes to the heart of almost every civil liberties assault under the War on Terror since it began. Once you accept that the US is fighting a “war” against The Terrorists, and that the “battlefield” in this “war” has no geographical limitations, then you are necessarily vesting the president with unlimited powers. You’re making him the functional equivalent of a monarch. That’s because it is almost impossible to impose meaningful limitations on a president’s war powers on a “battlefield”.

If you posit that the entire world is a “battlefield”, then you’re authorizing him to do anywhere in the world what he can do on a battlefield: kill, imprison, eavesdrop, detain – all without limits or oversight or accountability. That’s why “the-world-is-a-battlefield” theory was so radical and alarming (not to mention controversial) when David Addington, John Yoo and friends propagated it, and it’s no less menacing now that it’s become Democratic Party dogma as well.

Once you accept the premises of that DOJ white paper, there is no cogent limiting legal principle that would confine Obama’s assassination powers to foreign soil. If “the whole world is a battlefield”, then that necessarily includes US soil. The idea that assassinations will be used only where capture is “infeasible” is a political choice, not a legal principle. If the president has the power to kill anyone he claims is an “enemy combatant” in this “war”, including a US citizen, then there is no way to limit this power to situations where capture is infeasible.



Out of the good grace of his heart, or due to political expedience, Obama may decide to exercise this power only where he claims capture is infeasible, but there is no coherent legal reason that this power would be confined that way. The “global war” paradigm that has been normalized under two successive administrations all but compels that, as a legal matter, this power extend everywhere and to everyone. The only possible limitations are international law and the “due process” clause of the Constitution – and, in my view, that clearly bars presidential executions of US citizens no matter where they are as well as foreign nationals on US soil. But otherwise, once you accept the “global-battlefield” framework, then the scope of this presidential assassination power is limitless (this is to say nothing of how vague the standards in the DOJ “white paper” are when it comes to things like “imminence” and “feasibility of capture”, as the New Yorker’s Amy Davidson pointed out this week when suggesting that the DOJ white paper may authorize a president to kill US journalists who are preparing to write about leaks of national security secrets).

A Bad Idea Gets Worse

By Charles P. Pierce, Esquire

Feb 21, 2013 at 12:30AM

Of all the various Washington mystery cults, the one at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue is the most impenetrable. This is why the argument many liberals are making — that the drone program is acceptable both morally and as a matter of practical politics because of the faith you have in the guy who happens to be presiding over it at the moment — is criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future. The powers we have allowed to leach away from their constitutional points of origin into that office have created in the presidency a foul strain of outlawry that (worse) is now seen as the proper order of things. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then the very nature of the presidency of the United States at its core has become the vehicle for permanently unlawful behavior. Every four years, we elect a new criminal because that’s become the precise job description.

What a Targeted Killing in the US Would Look Like

By: emptywheel

Tuesday February 19, 2013 1:03 pm

The arrest was staged at a warehouse controlled by the FBI, outfitted with 5 closed circuit video cameras that gave the FBI full visibility into anyone entering and leaving the warehouse, as well as pallets loaded with sandbags to provide cover. Altogether 66 FBI Agents participated in the arrest, with 29 Agents, including a K-9 team and snipers, inside the warehouse itself, along with helicopter cover, another K-9 team, and a control room nearby. Members of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue and SWAT teams participated, with Agents flying in from Columbia, South Carolina and DC via a previous operation in Los Angeles. The team had practiced the arrest scenario up to 10 times before the actual arrest.

The arrest started when the FBI detonated 3 pre-positioned diversionary explosives in the room in which the leader, 4 accomplices, two undercover officers and an informant had been moving boxes (the FBI insiders had already left the scene). That allowed the FBI team, wearing bullet proof gear and helmets, to move into place.

On orders, “FBI, show me your hands, on the ground!” the leader’s four accomplices put their hands up and got down on the ground (for a variety of reasons, the FBI doesn’t have recordings of the audio of the event). The leader hesitated, but then got face down on the ground, though the FBI claims his hands were not visible.

At that point, 62 seconds after the diversionary explosions, the K-9 handler, who had been briefed that the leader was the main target of the investigation, released the dog and gave the “bite” command, the first time he had ever done so in the year he had been a K-9 handler; the dog lunged at the leader’s arm or face. The FBI claims the leader raised a gun and shot the dog three times. One accomplice disagrees, describing that the leader had both hands on the dog, trying to keep him away from his face. Two FBI Agents who admitted shooting their rifles also had Glocks, though of a different caliber than the one allegedly used by the leader. There was no gunpowder residue found on the leader and no fingerprints found on the Glock.

In the next 4 seconds, 4 different FBI officers shot the leader with their Colt M4 rifles (3 were from the Hostage Rescue Team that had flown in for this arrest), set on semiautomatic. He was hit a total of 21 times. He died within a minute.

This was the culmination of a 3-year counterterrorism investigation into Imam Luqman Abdullah, a black Muslim who led a mosque in Detroit.

Warning: Several minutes into this video (included at the link), graphic images of a corpse appear. Also, the government may start tracking your online viewing if you view this YouTube, as someone started following my mostly defunct YouTube account after I watched it.

Feb 22 2013

Punting the Pundits

“Punting the Pundits” is an Open Thread. It is a selection of editorials and opinions from around the news medium and the internet blogs. The intent is to provide a forum for your reactions and opinions, not just to the opinions presented, but to what ever you find important.

Thanks to ek hornbeck, click on the link and you can access all the past “Punting the Pundits”.

Follow us on Twitter @StarsHollowGzt

Paul Krugman: Sequester of Fools

As always, many pundits want to portray the deadlock over the sequester as a situation in which both sides are at fault, and in which both should give ground. But there’s really no symmetry here. A middle-of-the-road solution would presumably involve a mix of spending cuts and tax increases; well, that’s what Democrats are proposing, while Republicans are adamant that it should be cuts only. And given that the proposed Republican cuts would be even worse than those set to happen under the sequester, it’s hard to see why Democrats should negotiate at all, as opposed to just letting the sequester happen. [..]

But the looming mess remains a monument to the power of truly bad ideas – ideas that the entire Washington establishment was somehow convinced represented deep wisdom.

E. J. Dionne, Jr.: The Tea Party’s Ghost

The deficit that should concern us most right now has to do with time, not money. Money can be recouped. Time just disappears.

And time is what Washington is wasting now on an utterly artificial crisis driven not by economics but by ideology, partisan interest and an obsession over a word-“sequester”-that means nothing to most Americans.

Here is the most important thing about the battle raging in the capital over $85 billion in automatic spending cuts: Republicans are losing the argument but winning the time war.

The more time we spend on pointless disputes about budget cuts no one is expected to make soon, the less we spend trying to solve the problems that confront us right now-and, God forbid, thinking about the future.

Lisa Graves; ‘Fix The Debt’ and Pete Peterson’s Long History of Deficit Scaremongering

Fix the Debt financier Peter G. Peterson knows a thing or two about debt: he’s an expert at creating it. Peterson founded the private equity firm Blackstone Group in 1985 with Stephen Schwarzman (who compared raising taxes to “when Hitler invaded Poland”). Private equity firms don’t contribute much to the economy; they don’t make cars or milk the cows. Too frequently, they buy firms to loot them. After a leveraged buyout, they can leave companies so loaded up with debt they are forced to immediately slash their workforce or employees’ retirement security. [..]

Now Peterson wants to loot Social Security. For decades he has warned of a “Pearl Harbor scenario” in which spending on Social Security and Medicare causes an epic economic meltdown. Fix the Debt is only his latest project pushing the message that the deficit poses a “catastrophic threat,” and the media have been content to echo his warnings. But people should know better than to be frightened by this chorus of calamity. Peterson is no master of prediction when it comes to economic crises. When an actual threat to the economy-the $8 trillion housing bubble-loomed ominously overhead, Peterson said nothing, even as credit markets froze, subprime lenders filed for bankruptcy and economists like Dean Baker shouted from the rooftops.

Eugene Robinson: No Winners in This Game

The standoff over the package of budget cuts known as “the sequester” is the dumbest, most self-defeating fight between President Obama and Republicans in Congress since … let’s see, since the last dumb, self-defeating fight less than two months ago.

Obama is winning this showdown, but only in a relative sense. The truth is that everybody loses-Republicans a little more, Democrats a little less. And the American people, who have a right to expect adult behavior from their elected officials, will inevitably be the biggest losers of all.

It’s hard to believe, but this is the way the richest and most powerful nation on earth runs its affairs these days, lurching from artificial crisis to artificial crisis amid threats of self-inflicted harm. The enemy, truly, is us.

Joe Conason: Staying Stupid: Why the ‘Hip’ Young Republicans Can’t Change Their Party (or Themselves)

Savvy Republicans know that something is deeply wrong with the GOP – frequently mocked these days by Republicans themselves as “the stupid party” – which has lost the popular vote in five of the last six presidential elections. Some have noticed as well that their congressional majority is so widely despised-its main achievement being historically low public approval ratings-as to be sustainable only by gerrymandering. During the last election cycle, those fearsome Republican super PACs, funded by the overlords of Wall Street and Las Vegas, spent hundreds of millions of dollars-with no discernible impact on an alienated electorate. [..]

But like many troubled people grappling with serious life issues, they aren’t truly ready for change. They want to maintain the status quo while giving lip service to reform-and changing as little as possible beyond the superficial. They would do anything to project a fresher image, more attractive and effective, without confronting their deeper problems.

Peter Hart: Middle-of-the-Road Obama and Presidential Distortion

The message we’ve been hearing from the mainstream media about Obama’s push for a renewed brand of liberalism is flagrantly false.

Here’s a thought: Maybe, just maybe, Barack Obama isn’t a socialist. [..]

But let’s consider reality for a moment. The highest-profile clash raging in Washington is over Obama’s selection of a Republican senator as his Pentagon chief. He’s nominated a Treasury secretary who was making big bucks on Wall Street at the height of the financial meltdown. His nominee to head up the Securities & Exchange Commission spent the past decade as a lawyer defending the banks she’ll now be keeping an eye on.

If Obama is intent on carrying out his secret socialist agenda – or even a muscular liberal one – he has a funny way of showing it.

Feb 22 2013

Access Progressives

I’ve cleaned the links up a little and added some emphasis.- ek

Yes, Katrina, Wall Street Won Again, and Progressives Need to Face Up to That

Dave Dayen, Naked Capitalism

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Katrina vanden Heuvel, editor and publisher of The Nation, got very upset at my characterization of the task force (Residential Mortgage Backed Securities Working Group), and scolded me for taking a “victory lap.”



Vanden Heuvel closes by linking to reporting from The Nation that’s five months old and actually says nothing about targets of the task force, as she claims. My favorite statement of hers about the potential value of the task force is when she says it has a significant “pending congressional appropriation.” A pending appropriation! Because everyone knows that in an age of sequestration, where every federal line item is due for a 6% haircut in a couple weeks, this is the perfect time for new congressional appropriations to take root! Just ask the House Republicans!



I’m sure the Administration trembles at the pressuring from the groups that sent out glowing press releases a year ago about the “real leadership” shown by the President in announcing a task force that, by this own admission, carried no guarantee of resources or prioritization.

Look, nobody likes having to admit they’ve been duped. But I reject the assertion that there are only two courses of action here, that “we can either fight to see that this investigation is real or we can take our ball and go home.” That fight over the investigation is doomed. What would be useful is to examine the role of these DC progressive groups, who continue to build coalitions aimed at “pressuring” the White House and who continue to fail in spectacular fashion.

Well-meaning people all over this country concerned about any number of issues hand over their hard-earned money to these groups, and they aim to speak broadly for liberal values. The accountability doesn’t stop on Wall Street. It needs to be shared by the DC progressive community. I’ve gotten enough correspondence in the wake of my Salon piece to know that the majority of them now believe they were fooled, vanden Heuvel’s bravado notwithstanding. It would be incredibly worthwhile to exercise some self-examination at this point, to question the entire value of building these ad hoc organizations at the edges of the halls of power, and then working through polite channels and gentle nudges to get as much progress as possible, as long as it doesn’t disrupt being able to sit in on meetings with senior Administration officials and the like.

We talk a lot about broken models. The DC progressive model is broken. It does nothing but facilitate the injustices readily evident in this case. A good use of time at the next board meeting would consist of a moment of self-examination, and maybe entertaining a motion for dissolution. Those of us demanding justice and accountability will always have to fight for it, and maybe next time we could use some colleagues with more than a squirt gun.

Feb 22 2013

On This Day In History February 22

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

February 22 is the 53rd day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 312 days remaining until the end of the year (313 in leap years).

On this day in 1980, the U.S. Olympic hockey team makes “miracle on ice”.

In one of the most dramatic upsets in Olympic history, the underdog U.S. hockey team, made up of college players, defeats the four-time defending gold-medal winning Soviet team at the XIII Olympic Winter Games in Lake Placid, New York. The Soviet squad, previously regarded as the finest in the world, fell to the youthful American team 4-3 before a frenzied crowd of 10,000 spectators.

The United States did not win the gold medal upon defeating the USSR. In 1980 the medal round was a round-robin, not a single elimination format as it is today. Under Olympic rules at the time, the group game with Sweden was counted along with the medal round games versus the Soviet Union and Finland so it was mathematically possible for the United States to finish anywhere from first to fourth.

Needing to win to secure the gold medal, Team USA came back from a 2-1 third period deficit to defeat Finland 4-2. According to Mike Eruzione, coming into the dressing room in the second intermission, Brooks turned to his players, looked at them and said, “If you lose this game, you’ll take it to your graves.” He then paused, took a few steps, turned again, said, “Your fucking graves,” and walked out.

At the time, the players ascended a podium to receive their medals and then lined up on the ice for the playing of the national anthem, as the podium was only meant to accommodate one person. Only the team captains remained on the podium for the duration. After the completion of the anthem, Eruzione motioned for his teammates to join him on the podium. Today, the podiums are large enough to accommodate all of the players.

The victory bolstered many American citizens’ feelings of national pride, which had been severely strained during the turbulent 1970s. The match against the Soviets popularized the “U-S-A! U-S-A!” chant, which has been used by American supporters at many international sports competitions since 1980.

Feb 22 2013

The Outlaw In the Oval Office

The word in beltway circles is that President George W. Bush Barack Obama is negotiating with Republicans to provide more information on the lethal attack last year on the American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya in order to insure the confirmation of his nominee for CIA Director, John Brennan, who headed the CIA torture program under the Bush administration. So why you ask is this of any importance? It would seem this new capitulating to Republican whining, as reported in The New York Times is a tactic to hold back the Department of Justice memos authorizing drone attacks:

The strategy is intended to produce a bipartisan majority vote for Mr. Brennan in the Senate Intelligence Committee without giving its members seven additional legal opinions on targeted killing sought by senators and while protecting what the White House views as the confidentiality of the Justice Department’s legal advice to the president. It would allow Mr. Brennan’s nomination to go to the Senate floor even if one or two Democrats vote no to protest the refusal to share more legal memos. [..]

Only after an unclassified Justice Department white paper summarizing the legal arguments was leaked to NBC News this month did the administration make two legal opinions on the targeted killing of American citizens briefly available to members of the Intelligence Committees.

But the documents were available to be viewed only for a limited time and only by senators themselves, not their lawyers and experts.

This news set off a most righteous rants by Esquire‘s Charles Pierce that prompted Glenn Greenwald to tweet:

After reading The New York Times article and Ed Kilgore’s reaction at the Washington Animal, Charles Pierce had this to say about a bad idea that is getting worse:

This is what happens when you elect someone — anyone — to the presidency as that office is presently constituted. Of all the various Washington mystery cults, the one at that end of Pennsylvania Avenue is the most impenetrable. This is why the argument many liberals are making — that the drone program is acceptable both morally and as a matter of practical politics because of the faith you have in the guy who happens to be presiding over it at the moment — is criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future. The powers we have allowed to leach away from their constitutional points of origin into that office have created in the presidency a foul strain of outlawry that (worse) is now seen as the proper order of things. If that is the case, and I believe it is, then the very nature of the presidency of the United States at its core has become the vehicle for permanently unlawful behavior. Every four years, we elect a new criminal because that’s become the precise job description.

(emphasis mine)

The previous paragraph was just as bruising.

So much for the pledge of greater transparency made by Pres. Obama in his last State of the Union address:

I recognize that in our democracy, no one should just take my word that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage with Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.

The most worrisome parts of all of this is that these criminal acts by the president, vice president or any of the civil officers of the United States are now the norm, unconstitutional laws that have been passed and unlawful executive orders are acceptable and rubber stamped by the courts. The system of checks and balances no longer exists since Congress has refused to hold the Executive Branch accountable for high crimes and misdemeanors since Ronald Reagan ignored the law with the Iran/Contra affair and literally taken off the table by the Speaker of the House never to be mentioned. Now, Congress and the Courts nonchalantly brush aside the concerns that President Barack Obama has become judge, jury and executioner of American citizens for crimes against the United States that they might commit simply for what they said or for whom they were associated. The proud principles that we cherished have been not merely diminished but dismissed and the Constitution is now just a lovely document that is on display in the National Archive.

Charles Pierce has it only partially right when he said liberals were “criminally naive, intellectually empty, and as false as blue money to the future.” If they aren’t speaking out and standing against this criminal in the Oval Office, demanding that Congress fulfill its sworn duty, then they too are criminals under the law.

Democracy in the United States is on life support with little hope for recovery.

Feb 22 2013

Justice and the Law for Aaron Swartz

Law professor Lawrence Lessig marked his appointed as Roy L. Furman Professor of Law and Leadership at Harvard Law School with a lecture dedicated to the memory of internet activist Aaron Swartz and his work. Prof. Lessig was a close friend and mentor to Aaron and his death was a great loss to him. He had planned to lecture on corruption but after Aaron’s death decided to discuss Aaron’s Law and his work:

At the center of [Aaron’s] struggle is and was copyright.  In the debate between people who are pro and anti copyright, Aaron was on neither side.”  Rather, he opposed “dumb copyright.”  A perfect example was Swartz’s efforts to liberate data from PACER the database of public court records, which charged 8 cents a page.  He was not violating copyright, technical restraints, terms of service or any other prohibitions.  He had found a loophole.  “A loophole for public good” as opposed to the loopholes used for private gain by lobbyists and tax lawyers.  Swartz did the same thing with the government’s database of issued copyrights.  The PACER project got Aaron FBI surveillance; the copyright project, on the other hand, was met with approval by the Copyright Office.  Using all this as proof Lessig continued to emphasize that Aaron was a hacker.  He defines “hacker” as one who uses technical knowledge to make a better world.

According to Lessig, Aaron was his mentor, not the other way around.  The two worked together, upon Aaron’s insistence, on anti-corruption campaign for a while before they split again: while Aaron wanted to turn Barrack Obama into Elizabeth Warren, Lessig wanted Obama to pick up the fight with corruption he had promised in 2008.  Without that fight, the defenders of the status quo would defeat real change.

Aaron’s Laws – Law and Justice in a Digital Age’