Daily Archive: 07/23/2015

Jul 23 2015

The Slaughter of Nine African Americans an Act of Terrorism

Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced a 33 count indictment against Dylann Roof on federal hate-crime charges for the June 17 killing of nine African American worshipers in Charleston, South Carolina This leaves a bigger question that was asked by Jenna McLaughlin at “The Intercept,” why wasn’t Roof charged with terrorism?

Some media outlets, lawyers, public figures and activists have called for Roof to be charged not just with a hate crime, an illegal act “motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias,” but with the separate label of domestic terrorism. Critics contend that the label of terrorism is too often only applied to Islamic extremists, and not white supremacists or anti-government anarchists. Many were outraged after FBI Director James Comey balked at the term during a June 20 press conference, telling reporters he didn’t see the murders “as a political act,” a requirement he designated as necessary for terrorism.

Roof’s crime certainly seems to fit the federal description of domestic terrorism, which the FBI defines as “activities … [that] involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law … appear intended to (i) intimidate or coerce a civilian population, (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping.” [..]

It turns out there was one major obstacle in charging Roof with domestic terrorism: The crime does not exist. [..]

Even when the USA Patriot Act, post 9/11, redefined terrorism to include domestic crimes, the provision simply allowed the government to investigate more broadly what it called “terrorism.” Actually charging someone with domestic terrorism remains a separate matter. Even criminals who use bombs or send money to ISIS – or Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev – are not charged with the crime of terrorism. [..]

But shootings, regardless of motivation, intention or number of deaths, likely don’t count. “It doesn’t seem like a shooting would fit,” says Faiza Patel, co-director of the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program. “Or else a lot of crime would get caught up” in the terrorism net, she tells me.

There are, however, “aggravating factors” to be considered during sentencing, which prosecutors usually list on a formal indictment, and which can be used to determine whether the death penalty is justified, and those include “substantial planning and premeditation,” to”cause the death of a person” or “commit an act of terrorism.”

In Roof’s case, the DOJ did not mention terrorism as an aggravating factor, but did reference (pdf) “substantial planning and premeditation to cause the death of a person” for several of his charges.[..]

Lynch did not explain why “terrorism” was not listed as an aggravating factor in Roof’s indictment, though she did emphasize that the DOJ views hate crimes as “the original domestic terrorism.” She noted that Roof’s case, including his “discriminatory views towards African Americans” and his decision to target “parishioners at worship,” made his crime a clear-cut case of a federal hate crime. [..]

Lynch was asked whether or not there should be a federal domestic terrorism penalty to help bridge the gap between crimes like the shooting of five military personnel in Chatanooga, Tennessee – which was immediately branded as terrorism, by law enforcement and media alike – and Roof’s case, which was not. Lynch acknowledged the argument that leaving out the word terrorism may cause people to feel like the government “doesn’t consider those crimes as serious.”

Ms. McLaughlin is incorrect in her statement that “domestic terrorism” does not exist in the law. This FBI’s definition of 18 U.S.C. § 2331 which defines “international terrorism” and “domestic terrorism” for purposes of Chapter 113B of the Code, entitled “Terrorism”:

“International terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

   Involve violent acts or acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

   Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping; and

   Occur primarily outside the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S., or transcend national boundaries in terms of the means by which they are accomplished, the persons they appear intended to intimidate or coerce, or the locale in which their perpetrators operate or seek asylum.*

“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:

   Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;

   Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and

   Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.

18 U.S.C. § 2332b defines the term “federal crime of terrorism” as an offense that:

   Is calculated to influence or affect the conduct of government by intimidation or coercion, or to retaliate against government conduct; and

   Is a violation of one of several listed statutes, including § 930(c) (relating to killing or attempted killing during an attack on a federal facility with a dangerous weapon); and § 1114 (relating to killing or attempted killing of officers and employees of the U.S.)

Emphasis mine

And just as a note, to those in this piece who don’t think that guns are not “dangerous weapons,” well, they are

By his own statement and the fact that Rev. Clementa Pinckney was an elected state official, Dylann Roof’s acts, under this definition, is clearly an act of terrorism.

The argument against the charge of terrorism by a young white man who was clearly influenced by the politics of racial hatred is specious. It is clearly indicative of the Obama administration and its Justice Department think that black lives do not matter as much as instilling the fear in US citizens of attacks by those who have been influenced by Islamic extremism. Racism is political and it is an extremist view and it is endemic in this country. it is long past time that the law is brought down to bear on the greater threat that racism is to Americans and our democracy.  

Jul 23 2015

The Ghost of Judith Miller: NYT Still Shilling For Government

In 2004 a editorial, the editors of The New york Times profoundly apologized for its complicity in the run up to the Iraq war and for not having been more aggressive in its examination of the claims made by government officials. Much of the blame for the erroneous reporting was placed on one writer, Judith Miller, who resigned from the paper. But still today, despite the promises to be more questioning of anonymous sources, the spirit Judith Miller persists in the Times reporting on national security and international affairs. As Glenn Greenwald observes in  his article at The Intercept, the writers are still blithely taking to word of anonymous sources as the truth.

Let’s look at an illustrative example from yesterday to see how this toxic process works. The New York Times published an article about ISIS by Eric Schmitt and Ben Hubbard based entirely and exclusively on unproven claims from officials of the U.S. government and its allies, to whom they (needless to say) granted anonymity. The entire article reads exactly like an official press release: Paragraph after paragraph does nothing other than summarize the claims of anonymous officials, without an iota of questioning, skepticism, scrutiny or doubt.

Among the assertions mindlessly repeated by the Paper of Record from its beloved anonymous officials is this one:

The Islamic State has also studied revelations from Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor, about how the United States gathers information on militants. A main result is that the group’s top leaders now use couriers or encrypted channels that Western analysts cannot crack to communicate, intelligence and military officials said.

Leave to the side the banal journalistic malpractice of uncritically parroting the self-serving claims of anonymous officials, supposedly what the paper is so horrified at Judy Miller for having done. Also leave to the side the fact that the U.S. government has been anonymously making these Helping-The-Enemy claims not just about Snowden but about all whistleblowers for decades, back to Daniel Ellsberg, if not earlier. Let’s instead focus on this: the claim itself, on the merits, is monumentally stupid on multiple levels: self-evidently so.

To begin with, The Terrorists™ had been using couriers and encryption for many, many years before anyone knew the name “Edward Snowden.” Last August, after NPR uncritically laundered claims that Snowden revelations had helped The Terrorists™, we reported on a 45-page document that the U.K. government calls “the Jihadist Handbook,” written by and distributed among extremist groups, which describes in sophisticated detail the encryption technologies, SIM card-switching tactics and other methods they use to circumvent U.S. surveillance. Even these 2002/2003 methods were so sophisticated that they actually mirror GCHQ’s own operational security methods for protecting its communications.

This “Jihadist Handbook” was written in 2002 or 2003: more than a full decade before any Snowden revelations. Indisputably, terrorists have known for a very long time that the U.S. government and its allies are trying to intercept their communications, and have long used encryption and other means to prevent that.

The New York Times‘ claim that ISIS learned to use couriers as a result of the Snowden revelations is almost a form of self-mockery. Few facts from Terrorism lore are more well-known than Osama bin Laden’s use of couriers to avoid U.S. surveillance. A 2011 article from the Washington Post – more than two years before the first Snowden story – was headlined: “Al-Qaeda couriers provided the trail that led to bin Laden.” It described how “Bin Laden strictly avoided phone or e-mail communications for fear that they would be intercepted.” [..]

If one were engaged in journalism, one would include some of these facts in order to scrutinize, question and express skepticism about the claims of anonymous officials that ISIS now uses encryption and couriers because of Snowden reporting. But if one is engaged in mindless, subservient pro-government stenography, one simply grants anonymity to officials and then uncritically parrots their facially dubious claims with no doubt or questioning of any kind. Does anyone have any doubts about what these New York Times reporters are doing in this article?

There’s one more point worth noting about the New York Times‘ conduct here. As has been documented many times, Edward Snowden never publicly disclosed a single document: Instead, he gave the documents to journalists and left it up to them to decide which documents should be public and which ones should not be. As I’ve noted, he has sometimes disagreed with the choices journalists made, usually on the ground that documents media outlets decided to publish should have, in his view, not been published. [..]

Look at what the New York Times, yet again, has done. Isn’t it amazing? All anyone in government has to do is whisper something in its journalists’ ears, demand anonymity for it, and instruct them to print it. Then they obey. Then other journalists treat it as Truth. Then it becomes fact, all over the world. This is the same process that enabled the New York Times, more than any other media outlet, to sell the Iraq War to the American public, and they’re using exactly the same methods to this day. But it’s not just their shoddy journalism that drives this but the mentality of other “journalists” who instantly equate anonymous official claims as fact.

You can read the entirety of Glenn’s article at “The Intercept.”

Jul 23 2015

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

Trevor Timm: It ain’t over til it’s over: America’s wars drag on no matter what officials say

In all three of the countries where the Obama administration declared US wars “over” in the past few years – Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – the US military is expanding its presence or dropping bombs at an ever-increasing rate. And the government seems to be keeping the American public in the dark on the matter more than ever. [..]

What’s troubling about all of this is that it is happening with little debate in Congress and almost no input from public. The US is ramping up its war efforts across the Middle East and now North Africa. They want to increase drone strikes, continue to spend billions to train Afghanistan and Iraqi troops, despite the fact that the last decade of “training” has been a disaster where whole armies have deserted and billions of dollars in US weapons are now in the hands of Isis. And of course, the specter of adding more US ground troops always lurks in the background.

There is growing realization from experts that we’re not going to be able to bomb our way out of this. Is there no one in charge in Washington who is willing to admit that doubling down yet again on military force is only going to keep making matters worse?

Steven W. Thrasher: Cameras aren’t stopping police misconduct. Exhibit A: Sandra Bland

Until this summer, we haven’t much seen or heard police abusing black women’s bodies with the visual clarity of video. We have witnessed the worst of police abuse on video a lot with black men, from Rodney King back in 1991 to Tamir Rice, John Crawford, Walter Scott and Eric Harris just in the past year. But until last month, we have mostly only seen agents of the state abusing black women recreated in fiction, on shows like Orange is the New Black. [..]

Depressingly, though, bringing this long-standing treatment into stark visibility might not be enough outrage to end the terror.There was great hope by social scientists that police body cams could de-escalate officer encounters and mitigate the level of violence. But with their increasing use, alongside citizens taking videos of arrests, police killings have not slowed in this past year of the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Nor, as some of the most recent videos suggest, are cops prone to act with much more humanity, whether they’re unwittingly on camera or knowingly so. I know the “well, if she’d just been more obedient!” crowd will justify Encinia’s abusive treatment of her, disregarding that the chain of events leading to her death could have been stopped by him.

And I am quite simply terrified that this latest pornographic video will visually reinforce the American misnomer that black women’s bodies are there for the taking – and that’s just the way things are.

Rep. Keith Ellison and Van Jones: Pollution isn’t colorblind: environmental hazards kill more black Americans

Thanks to people’s movements like Black Lives Matter and the Fight For 15, the call for racial and economic justice is getting louder and stronger. But while we are out on the streets fighting for equality, our kids are being poisoned by the air they breathe. Environmental injustices are taking black lives – that’s why our fight for equality has to include climate and environmental justice too.

African-Americans are more likely to live near environmental hazards like power plants and be exposed to hazardous air pollution, including higher levels of nitrogen oxides, ozone, particulate matter and carbon dioxide than their white counterparts. The presence of these pollutants increases rates of asthma, respiratory illness and cardiovascular disease. It puts newborn babies at risk. It causes missed days of work and school. We can’t afford this. Black kids already have the highest rate of asthma (pdf) in the nation, and our infant mortality rate is nearly double the national rate.

Dean Baker: Will the Fed ruin presidential candidates’ job plans?

If the Fed is committed to stopping job creation, there’s little a president can do

As we complete the fields for the Republican and Democratic presidential nominations, most of the leading contenders are putting forward plans to create jobs. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton and her leading rival, Bernie Sanders, are pushing plans for increased infrastructure investment. This would generate jobs in the short term directly by increasing demand. In the longer term, improved infrastructure should make the economy more productive, which would increase wages and make more people want to work. [..]

Whatever the merits of these various proposals, the argument that they would create more jobs depends on the assumption that the Federal Reserve Board will allow more jobs to be created. If that sounds strange, then you haven’t been paying attention to the Federal Reserve Board.

The Fed has an enormous impact on the economy, primarily through its control of interest rates. During the recession, the Fed was trying to boost growth and job creation by pushing down interest rates as low as possible. It pushed the federal funds rate, the short-term interest rate that is directly under its control, to zero and has held it there since early 2009.

As the economy continued to languish, the Fed tried to provide a further boost with its policy of quantitative easing. This meant buying up trillions of dollars in government bonds and mortgage-backed securities in order to put more direct downward pressure on mortgage rates, car loans and other long-term interest rates.

With the economy recovering, the Fed has backed away from its quantitative easing policy, ending bond purchases last year. It is now preparing to raise the short-term interest rate for the first time since before the recession. The explicit goal is to slow the economy and the rate of job creation out of a fear that the economy could overheat, meaning that too many people have jobs.

Robert Reich: Why Progressives Must Stay United

Poverty rates are nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians. Problems are most severe in South and Southwest. Particularly troubling is a large increase in the share of children living in poor communities marked by poor schools and a lack of a safe place to play.

Which brings me to politics, power, and the progressive movement.

The main event at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Arizona last weekend was a “Presidential Town Hall” featuring one-on-one discussions between journalist and undocumented American Jose Antonio Vargas and presidential candidates Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders.

It was upstaged by ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter activists who demanded to be heard.

It’s impossible to overcome widening economic inequality in America without also dealing with the legacy of racial inequality.

And it is impossible to overcome racial inequality without also reversing widening economic inequality.

They are not the same but they are intimately related.

Poverty rates are nearly double among African-Americans and American Indians. Problems are most severe in South and Southwest. Particularly troubling is a large increase in the share of children living in poor communities marked by poor schools and a lack of a safe place to play.

Which brings me to politics, power, and the progressive movement.

The main event at the Netroots Nation conference in Phoenix, Arizona last weekend was a “Presidential Town Hall” featuring one-on-one discussions between journalist and undocumented American Jose Antonio Vargas and presidential candidates Governor Martin O’Malley and Senator Bernie Sanders.

It was upstaged by ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter activists who demanded to be heard.

It’s impossible to overcome widening economic inequality in America without also dealing with the legacy of racial inequality.

And it is impossible to overcome racial inequality without also reversing widening economic inequality.

They are not the same but they are intimately related.

David Cay Johnston: The housing recovery favors high-end homes

The wealthy and big banks are winning, but the rest of America is struggling to buy homes, thanks to government policies

The housing market is slowly recovering, more than seven years after the economy collapsed into a pit of toxic mortgages. But look closely at the recovery and you can see another story: how government policy helps the affluent, not the desperate.

House prices are rising, home sales are increasing, and new building permits in May were up 30 percent from a year earlier, though that just restored them to 1994’s level. And while America has enjoyed a record 64 straight months of job growth, wages barely budged for most workers, making housing costs for many Americans a continuing struggle.

By contrast, the recovery has been much faster for the big banks, where many top executives remain in charge who got rich issuing mortgages that they knew were unlikely to ever be repaid.

Jul 23 2015

On This Day In History July 23

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.

Click on images to enlarge

July 23 is the 204th day of the year (205th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 161 days remaining until the end of the year.

THE GREAT COMET OF 1997. Above, the bright head of comet Hale-Bopp, called the coma, is pointed towards the Sun. The coma is composed of dust and gas, masking the solid nucleus of the comet made up of rock, dust and ice. Photo taken by Jim Young at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories Table Mountain Observatory in March 1997.

The comet was discovered in 1995 by two independent observers, Alan Hale and Thomas Bopp, both in the United States. Hale had spent many hundreds of hours searching for comets without success, and was tracking known comets from his driveway in New Mexico when he chanced upon Hale-Bopp just after midnight. The comet had an apparent magnitude of 10.5 and lay near the globular cluster M70 in the constellation of Sagittarius. Hale first established that there was no other deep-sky object  near M70, and then consulted a directory of known comets, finding that none were known to be in this area of the sky. Once he had established that the object was moving relative to the background stars, he emailed the Central Bureau for Astronomical Telegrams, the clearing house for astronomical discoveries.

Bopp did not own a telescope. He was out with friends near Stanfield, Arizona observing star clusters and galaxies when he chanced across the comet while at the eyepiece of his friend’s telescope. He realized he might have spotted something new when, like Hale, he checked his star maps to determine if any other deep-sky objects were known to be near M70, and found that there were none. He alerted the Central Bureau of Astronomical Telegrams through a Western Union telegram. Brian Marsden, who has run the bureau since 1968, laughed, “Nobody sends telegrams anymore. I mean, by the time that telegram got here, Alan Hale had already e-mailed us three times with updated coordinates.”

The following morning, it was confirmed that this was a new comet, and it was named Comet Hale-Bopp, with the designation C/1995 O1. The discovery was announced in International Astronomical Union circular 6187.

Jul 23 2015

The Daily/Nightly Show (Sinister)

The whole show. You can watch it if you can stand it.  Here are the standard links (1, 2, 3) and the web exclusive extended (1, 2).  At least it’s out of the way and we can concentrate on what makes Jon good and not on what makes him suck.

This week’s guests-

Jake Gyllenhaal will be on to talk about Southpaw, a kind of grittier Rocky (Adrian dies).

The Whitely Show

Tonightly our special guest is Felonious Munk talking about #BlackLives vs. #AllLives.  The panel is Lavell Crawford, Gary Owen (not the one you are thinking of), and Uzo Aduba.

The real news below.