Representative Peter King on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, January 2, 2013. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
New York Congressman Peter King, with his call for the prosecution of journalist Glenn Greenwald, recalls a long and dishonorable American tradition.
Never mind that, as The Washington Post notes, King is guilty of “willfully misquoting and misconstruing the many public comments made by both Greenwald and Edward Snowden.”
The congressman is not satisfied to go after Snowden, the private contractor who has provided a measure of insight regarding the extent to which we live in a surveillance state. King wants at the journalist who dared to tell the people.
Growling that “legal action should be taken against [Greenwald],” the Republican chairman of the House Committee on Homeland Security dismissed First Amendment concerns, declaring that “no right is absolute!”—and that includes the First Amendment right of the people to be served by a free press.
So King is calling for the “very targeted, very selective” prosecution of journalists for informing the American people about what their government is doing—and why it might be wrong.
How very 1798 of him.
It was in that year that President John Adams presided over the enactment of the Alien and Sedition Acts in a mad rush to disregard civil liberties and begin jailing his political and journalistic critics. In doing so, Adams and his allies opened what would be a defining debate when it came to the American understanding of the freedom of the press protection in particular and the broader right to challenge the claims of the government.
It was an intense time, arguably the most dangerous moment faced by the new nation. Dissenters were accused of threatening the safety and security of the republic.
Those who did not meet the approval of Adams and his cronies were punished for sharing information and ideas that provided citizens with dissent from the official line. Vermont Congressman Matthew Lyon was prosecuted and jailed for, among other things, publishing a condemnation of Adams’s “unbounded thirst for ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice” in his newspaper The Scourge of Aristocracy and Repository of Important Political Truth.
Lyon believed that Adams was steering the United States toward war with France, and he wrote and spoke about the folly of that endeavor. Adams and his allies used the hastily enacted Alien and Sedition Acts to punish what was perceived as malicious writing with regard to the government in general, and Adams in particular.
The abuses of basic liberties were so extreme that the sitting vice president, Thomas Jefferson, openly broke with Adams and emerged as the outspoken leader of the opposition.
“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles,” wrote Jefferson after the passage of the laws that would be used to assault not just freedom of the press but also the right to dissent.
The Virginian challenged Adams for the presidency in 1800, declaring, “I have sworn upon the altar of god eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.”
Jefferson defeated Adams, securing a victory that would renew the revolutionary “spirit of ’76” and secure—for a time—the promise of the Bill of Rights.
But only for a time.
In his rant about the current controversy, Peter King said something about crackdowns on a free press being a “certainly very rare” shredding of the Constitution. Actually, it’s not very rare.
The conflict over the right of a free press to speak truth to power—and to state truths that power would prefer to keep hidden—has never really ended.
It stirred during World War I, when the government sought to run socialist and anarchist newspapers out of business.
It stirred in the 1970s, when Richard Nixon’s administration was busy placing the names of journalists on its enemies list—and seeking to thwart the publication of the Pentagon Papers.
It has stirred in recent weeks, with revelations that the Department of Justice has targeted journalists for inquiries that the head of the Associated Press warns could create a circumstance where “the people of the United States will only know what the government wants them to know.”
There have always been Peter Kings—politicians, motivated by “selfish avarice,” who would prosecute and jail those who inform Americans of what is being done in their name but without their informed consent.
What must be just as constant is the confident defense of the Bill of Rights that says, as Jefferson did in the midst of the great struggle to thwart the abuses of Adams, “I am…for freedom of the press, and against all violations of the Constitution to silence by force and not by reason the complaints or criticisms, just or unjust, of our citizens against the conduct of their agents.”
John Nichols and Robert W. McChesney are the authors of the new book Dollarocracy: How the Money and Media Election Complex is Destroying America (Nation Books). Former FCC Commissioner Michael Copps says: “Dollarocracy gets at what’s ailing America better than any other diagnosis I’ve encountered. Plus it prescribes a cure. What else could a reader—or a citizen—ask? To me, it’s the book of the year.”
Tech experts say Glenn Greenwald misinterpreted one of the NSA slides leaked by Edward Snowden. Read Rick Perlstein’s report here.
"WikiLeaks" graphic is displayed on a laptop. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
The debate in the media, and in political circles, over Edward Snowden—Right or Wrong, often doubles back on references to Bradley Manning (especially since he is now, finally, on trial). Sometimes both are hailed or denounced equally. Other times distinctions are drawn. In any event, too often (that is, most of the time), the value and import of the Manning/WikiLeaks disclosures are ignored or dismissed, much as Snowden’s NSA scoops now derided as “nothing new.”
At this point, I don’t expect much more than this, but it was shocking to see Josh Marshall, the much-respected founder/editor/publisher of Talking Points Memo (years ago I wrote a couple pieces for them and conducted book forums), in endorsing prosecution of Snowden and Manning, also make this claim about the Manning/WikiLeaks docs: they revealed only “a couple clear cases of wrongdoing.”
So for Josh, and so many others, who either suffer from memory loss or ignorance on this particular score, here is a partial accounting of some of the important revelations in the Manning leak, drawn from my book (with Kevin Gosztola) on the Manning case, Truth and Consequences. The book has just been updated this month but the revelations below all came before March 2011—many others followed.
First, just a very partial list from “Cablegate” (excluding many other bombshells that caused a stir in smaller nations abroad):
* The United States pressured the European Union to accept GM—genetic modification, that is.
* The Yemeni president lied to his own people, claiming his military carried out air strikes on militants actually done by the United States. All part of giving the United States full rein in country against terrorists.
* The United States tried to get Spain to curb its probes of Gitmo torture and rendition.
* Egyptian torturers trained by the FBI—although allegedly to teach the human rights issues.
* State Dept memo: US-backed 2009 coup in Honduras was “illegal and unconstitutional.”
* Cables on Tunisia appear to help spark revolt in that country. The country’s ruling elite described as “The Family,” with Mafia-like skimming throughout the economy. The country’s first lady may have made massive profits off a private school.
* The United States knew all about massive corruption in Tunisia back in 2006 but went on supporting the government anyway, making it the pillar of its North Africa policy.
* Cables showed the UK promised in 2009 to protect US interests in the official Chilcot inquiry on the start of the Iraq war.
* Washington was misled by our own diplomats on Russia-Georgia showdown.
* Extremely important historical document finally released in full: Ambassador April Glaspie’s cable from Iraq in 1990 on meeting with Saddam Hussein before Kuwait invasion.
* United Kingdom sidestepped a ban on housing cluster bombs. Officials concealed from Parliament how the United States is allowed to bring weapons on to British soil in defiance of treaty.
* New York Times: “From hundreds of diplomatic cables, Afghanistan emerges as a looking-glass land where bribery, extortion and embezzlement are the norm and the honest man is a distinct outlier.”
* Afghan vice president left country with $52 million “in cash.”
* Shocking levels of US spying at the United Nations (beyond what was commonly assumed) and intense use of diplomats abroad in intelligence-gathering roles.
* Potential environmental disaster kept secret by the United States when a large consignment of highly enriched uranium in Libya came close to cracking open and leaking radioactive material into the atmosphere.
* The United States used threats, spying and more to try to get its way at last year’s crucial climate conference in Copenhagen.
* Details on Vatican hiding big sex abuse cases in Ireland.
* Hundreds of cables detail US use of diplomats as “sales” agents, more than previously thought, centering on jet rivalry of Boeing vs. Airbus. Hints of corruption and bribes.
* Millions in US military aid for fighting Pakistani insurgents went to other gov’t uses (or stolen) instead.
* Israel wanted to bring Gaza to the ”brink of collapse.”
* The US secret services used Turkey as a base to transport terrorism suspects as part of its extraordinary rendition program.
* As protests spread in Egypt, cables revealed that strong man Suleiman was at center of government’s torture programs, causing severe backlash for Mubarak after he named Suleiman vice president during the revolt. Other cables revealed or confirmed widespread Mubarak regime corruption, police abuses and torture, and claims of massive Mubarak famiiy fortune, significantly influencing media coverage and US response.
Now, an excerpt from our book on just a small aspect of the Iraq war cables. This doesn’t even include the release of the “Collateral Murder” video earlier.
Al Jazeera suggested that the real bombshell was the US allowing Iraqis to torture detainees. Documents revealed that US soldiers sent 1300 reports to headquarters with graphic accounts, including a few about detainees beaten to death. Some US generals wanted our troops to intervene, but Pentagon chiefs disagreed, saying these assaults should only be reported, not stopped. At a time the US was declaring that no torture was going on, there were 41 reports of such abuse still happening “and yet the US chose to turn its back.”
The New York Times report on the torture angle included this: “The six years of reports include references to the deaths of at least six prisoners in Iraqi custody, most of them in recent years. Beatings, burnings and lashings surfaced in hundreds of reports, giving the impression that such treatment was not an exception. In one case, Americans suspected Iraqi Army officers of cutting off a detainee’s fingers and burning him with acid. Two other cases produced accounts of the executions of bound detainees.
“And while some abuse cases were investigated by the Americans, most noted in the archive seemed to have been ignored, with the equivalent of an institutional shrug: soldiers told their officers and asked the Iraqis to investigate….That policy was made official in a report dated May 16, 2005, saying that ‘if US forces were not involved in the detainee abuse, no further investigation will be conducted until directed by HHQ.’ In many cases, the order appeared to allow American soldiers to turn a blind eye to abuse of Iraqis on Iraqis.”
Amnesty International quickly called on the US to investigate how much our commanders knew about Iraqi tortur.
A top story at The Guardian, meanwhile, opened: “Leaked Pentagon files obtained by The Guardian contain details of more than 100,000 people killed in Iraq following the US-led invasion, including more than 15,000 deaths that were previously unrecorded.
“British ministers have repeatedly refused to concede the existence of any official statistics on Iraqi deaths. US General Tommy Franks claimed, ‘We don’t do body counts.’ The mass of leaked documents provides the first detailed tally by the US military of Iraqi fatalities. Troops on the ground filed secret field reports over six years of the occupation, purporting to tote up every casualty, military and civilian.
“Iraq Body Count, a London-based group that monitors civilian casualties, told the Guardian: ‘These logs contain a huge amount of entirely new information regarding casualties. Our analysis so far indicates that they will add 15,000 or more previously unrecorded deaths to the current IBC total. This data should never have been withheld from the public”’ The logs recorded a total of 109,032 violent deaths between 2004 and 2009.
Citing a new document, the Times reported: “According to one particularly painful entry from 2006, an Iraqi wearing a tracksuit was killed by an American sniper who later discovered that the victim was the platoon’s interpreter…. The documents…reveal many previously unreported instances in which American soldiers killed civilians—at checkpoints, from helicopters, in operations. Such killings are a central reason Iraqis turned against the American presence in their country, a situation that is now being repeated in Afghanistan.”
And now, re the Afghanistan war logs:
The Times highlighted it as “The War Logs” with the subhed, “A six-year archive of classified military documents offers an unvarnished and grim picture of the Afghan war.” Explicitly, or by extension, the release also raised questions about the media coverage of the war to date.
The Guardian carried a tough editorial on its web site, calling the picture “disturbing” and raising doubts about ever winning this war, adding: “These war logs—written in the heat of engagement—show a conflict that is brutally messy, confused and immediate. It is in some contrast with the tidied-up and sanitized ‘public’ war, as glimpsed through official communiques as well as the necessarily limited snapshots of embedded reporting.”
Elsewhere, the paper traced the CIA and paramilitary roles in the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, many cases hidden until now. In one incident, a US patrol machine-gunned a bus, wounding or killing fifteen. David Leigh wrote, “They range from the shootings of individual innocents to the often massive loss of life from air strikes, which eventually led President Hamid Karzai to protest publicly that the US was treating Afghan lives as ‘cheap’.”
The paper said the logs also detailed “how the Taliban have caused growing carnage with a massive escalation of their roadside bombing campaign, which has killed more than 2,000 civilians to date.” Previously unknown friendly fire incidents also surfaced.
The White House, which knew what was coming, quickly slammed the release of classified reports— most labeled “secret”—and pointed out the documents ended in 2009, just before the president set a new policy in the war; and claimed that the whole episode was suspect because WikiLeaks was against the war. Still, it was hard to dismiss official internal memos such as: “The general view of Afghans is that current gov’t is worse than the Taliban.”
Among the revelations that gained prime real estate from The New York Times: “The documents…suggest that Pakistan, an ostensible ally of the United States, allows representatives of its spy service to meet directly with the Taliban in secret strategy sessions to organize networks of militant groups that fight against American soldiers in Afghanistan, and even hatch plots to assassinate Afghan leaders.” The Guardian, however, found no “smoking gun” on this matter. The Times also reported that the US had given Afghans credit for missions carried out by our own Special Ops teams.
Obviously much more in our book.
A member of the audience uses their cell phone to take a picture of President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
President Obama claims that he welcomes debate on the balance between privacy and security. But his administration is keeping the veil over the legal reasoning it used to justify its broad surveillance of phone calls and Internet communication. The absence of this information leaves Americans ill-equipped to even begin to determine whether or not they believe such a sweeping invasion of privacy is justified.
On Tuesday, June 11, a bipartisan group of senators introduced a bill that would require the attorney general to disclose significant opinions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC). The senators argue that the disclosure would provide Americans the information needed to understand what legal authority the government is claiming to spy on them under the Patriot Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
With civil liberties hanging in the balance, this debate is critical. Contact your senators and implore them to end the “secret law” behind government surveillance.
In this recent post, John Nichols details the efforts of a bipartisan group of eight senators to require the attorney general to declassify significant FISC opinions.
National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden, whose revelations sparked the new “secret law” bill, remains in Hong Kong after publicly admitting to leaking information on massive US government surveillance. Snowden said he intends to stay until asked to leave, and vowed to fight any extradition attempt by the US government. Snowden said: “I am not here to hide from justice; I am here to reveal criminality.”
US Army Private First Class Bradley Manning departs the courtroom after day four of his court-martial at Fort Meade, Maryland, June 10, 2013. (Reuters/Gary Cameron)
While attending the court-martial of Pfc. Bradley Manning in Fort Meade yesterday, I was reminded once again that the biggest security breach in US history was as challenging and intricate as instant coffee. Witness after witness from the subcontracted world of “information assurance” took the stand to declaim the military’s ironclad information security (“InfoSec”) protocols and to also mumble about how these rules were never enforced. Installing the instant-message chat program mIRC may have been “not authorized,” but that didn’t keep the military itself from issuing bulletins on how to install it. Reporters from The Guardian long ago sketched the scene in the “SCIF”—“senstitive compartmented information facility”—at FOB Hammer where Manning worked in Army Intelligence as a scene of freshman-dorm indiscipline, with passwords posted on sticky-notes and everyone watching movies and playing online games, against the regs, on their computers. Manning famously exfiltrated the files on CD-ROMs in Lady Gaga drag, got them onto a memory stick which he later uploaded in his secret hideout, a busy Barnes & Noble in suburban Maryland, over an open WiFi signal. There really was no infosec to speak of at Pfc. Manning’s deployment, and the selectivity of punishing him for unauthorized behavior that was pandemic—if not as bold and meaningful as his—will surely come into play when it’s sentencing time.
A bigger question: Why are so many massive national security breaches ridiculously easy?
Consider the crack commando unit that busted into the Y-12 National Security Complex (famous for its uranium processing) in Oak Ridge,Tennessee, last July. By “crack commando unit”: I mean an 82-year-old nun, a housepainter and a man who listed his occupation as “drifter.” And yet these three members of the Transform Now Ploughshares Catholic peace community made it through three layers of security, James Bond–style (hardware-store bolt-cutters through chainlink fence) before eventually being happened upon by security guard Kirk Garland. (Garland was the only one at Oak Ridge fired for the breach; his very creditable lapse was not pulling his gun on the activists.) Sister Megan Rice, Michael Walli and Greg Boertje-Obed, I salute your courage, your message of peace and your mockery of the security at our nuclear facilities.
Airport security, it grows ever more intrusive with porno-scanners, pat downs and ten-plus years of gratuitous shoe removal in what few experts consider to be more than gestural security theater. Have our airports been secured? Ask Daniel Castillo, who accidentally beached his malfunctioning jetski on the embanked border of JFK Airport in New York last summer, climbed over an eight-foot fence and walked across two runways in a fluorescent yellow vest before anyone noticed him. Or the drunk driver who crashed his SUV through a fence and onto a runway at Philadelphia International Airport in March last year. And these two guys weren’t even trying!
But it’s infosec that’s the biggest joke of all. Our government sporadically bestirs itself to prosecute an Aaron Swartz or a Bradley Manning in a vain attempt to look serious. But the way the feds and the military handle information is as sloshy as a tray at the height of Oktoberfest. US military hard drives full of classified material, for sale at the Kabul bazaar! Documents about US war crimes in Iraq turning up at the town dump! Leon Panetta spewing, Tourettes-style, operational intelligence to Hollywood people and a top-secret Navy SEAL identity before an audience of a thousand people! Dana Priest and William Arkin in their fine recent study of grotesque secrecy bloat, Top Secret America, note that all sorts of classified material works its way onto the web, often because the senior intelligence officials don’t understand the file-sharing software that their kids install on their laptops.
“Don’t they vet these people?” has been a common indignant snort in response to the disclosures from contractor Edward Snowden. The truth is, there are 1.4 million people with top-secret security clearance, and you simply cannot vet 1.4 million people in any thorough way. Ben Franklin once said that three can keep a secret, if two are dead. Who are we kidding? Any piece of information that 1.4 million people are authorized to get at is really not a secret.
I write this not to bemoan the sluicing porosity of our national security apparatus—that’s exactly how we find out so much essential information that we need to keep our government in line. Keep the leaks flowing! In the meantime, the self-impressed panjandrums of our national security state might quit pretending that their half-assed security measures are anything other than a public nuisance, whether at the airport or in the world of intel. It’s almost axiomatic: authoritarian states that try too hard at controlling everything end up providing little security—remember when an 18-year-old West German kid flew his single-engine airplane to Moscow and landed next to Red Square? (Matthias Rust signed autographs and shook hands for two hours before anyone arrested him.)
We do not want to become more like Sovietized Eastern Europe, we want to be less like those unhappy nations. We could start by releasing about 99 percent of what’s currently classified, and put genuine security measures around the tiny amount of state secrets that are legitimate. It will only make us safer.
(Further reading: Anything security-related by John Mueller, that rare national security expert who is not an preening piece of fraudulence; Mueller’s a political scientist at Ohio State who was writing about this stuff with great élan and long before 9/11/01.)
UPDATE: Slate's Fred Kaplan asks on Twitter, given that national security breaches are so easy, why are they so rare?
A girl eating a Burger King hamburger. More than a quarter of black households in the United States are food insecure. (Courtesy of Flickr user Steven Depolo)
It’s a rare moment when I’m in the position to soothe white people’s anxiety around an issue concerning race. My usual preference is to start riots. So please allow me this one opportunity I have to assuage any fear white people may be experiencing around the recent news that more white people died in the United States last year than were born. Ready? OK.
Relax. White America isn’t going anywhere.
We went through this last year when the Census Bureau reported that whites were a minority of all newborns, and Jay Smooth did a nice job of calmly explaining why that shouldn’t scare white people. But as the demographics continue to shift and more of these stories become news, our white brothers and sisters may require more consoling. Those of us who are members of historically oppressed racial groups are surely accustomed to a barrage of grim statistics about our community’s future. This isn’t a reality many white-identified people have had to deal with, and I think it’s the humane thing to do to help them through this time of great consternation.
The first thing to note is, if you’re truly in fear of losing the majority, just change the definition of “white.” There is more than enough historical precedence for doing so. We’re told over and over again that race is a social construction. It is not a fixed category. If you simply allow more people to identify as white, problem solved. Jamelle Bouie bets we will reach the point where some groups of Latinos and Asians “will identify themselves as white, with Hispanic or Asian heritage, in the same way that many white Americans point to their Irish or Italian backgrounds.”
But also, understand that holding the majority in terms of population has never been the key to white America’s success. What makes whiteness successful is the control of America’s political and economic systems. The two go hand-in-hand, and so long as wealth is largely concentrated in the hands of a white oligarchy, so too will political power be. The centuries-long project of creating race and then using the idea of racial inferiority to exacerbate the inequality between the races, otherwise known as racism, has done an amazing job of ensuring the capital attached to whiteness will not fade any time soon. White privilege is a hell of a drug.
And if that’s not enough, consider this: according to Feeding America, more than a quarter of black households are food insecure. One in three black children live in households that lack access to enough food to ensure a healthy lifestyle. In fact, “of the 104 US counties with a majority black population, 92 percent of these counties also record high food insecurity rates.”
We can talk about incarceration, wealth, education, housing, healthcare and other important disparities, but black America is struggling with even the most basic of human needs—food. Of course, this is a problem in communities across the country, white and non-white alike, but that’s with anything we discuss. What makes these things unique to non-white people, and what assures me of white America’s bright future, is that they hit communities of color hardest and there is little-to-no political will to do anything about it.
Whiteness is and will continue to be the norm in American society, not because white people have represented a statistical majority of the population, but because of where power and resources have historically been concentrated.
So, fear not white people, the “Rise of the Colored Empires” is not upon you. Whiteness still has the upper hand, and that will change only when more white people decide that racism is a morally corrupt injustice worthy of eradication. Your country is safe for now.
The headline-grabbing debate over immigration reform is happening in the Senate this week, as the entire body debates a series of amendments to the comprehensive legislation passed by the Senate Judiciary Committee last month. There is a very real chance that reform could die there—if, for example, Senator John Cornyn’s border security amendment passes, the bill might become unsupportable for many Democrats.
But lurking in the background is an even more difficult fight in the House, where the Republican caucus is much more hostile to reform. House members are beholden to smaller, more conservative districts, and there are no leaders calling for reform analogous to Republicans Marco Rubio and John McCain in the Senate.
This week began with some promising signs from the office of House Speaker John Boehner. For months, he said virtually nothing about his strategy for passing immigration reform—not even whether one existed—but Politico reported Monday that “privately, the Ohio Republican is beginning to sketch out a road map to try to pass some version of an overhaul in his chamber.” The next morning, during an ABC News interview, Boehner hinted that he might allow an immigration bill to pass the House with a majority of Democratic votes, thereby abandoning the so-called “Hastert rule.”
Without question, that was tremendous news for proponents of immigration reform. But don’t think conservatives opposed to any legislation didn’t notice—and the first unified effort by anti-immigration House members might have now begun.
Thursday morning, Glenn Beck’s website The Blaze had the exclusive news that seventy members of the House GOP “are planning a politically risky showdown” with Boehner. Led by Representatives Steve King, Michele Bachmann and Louie Gohmert, the group is demanding two things from Boehner: (1) a special Republican conference meeting about immigration, and (2) a promise to be true to the Hastert Rule.
The caucus meeting could be perilous for Boehner—his strategy of keeping the House at a very low temperature and mollifying, at least for now, the hardline anti-immigration members couldn’t survive a head-to-head confrontation. Boehner would have to address their Hastert rule request directly. (Note, too, that conservative activists also began pressuring Boehner on the Hastert rule this week—the heads of the Club for Growth, Heritage Action, the American Conservative Union and the Family Research Council sent Boehner a letter on Tuesday demanding he never stray from the Hastert rule again.)
Boehner could of course ignore their request for a meeting, but that’s a somewhat unattractive option as well. [UPDATE: Boehner announced late Thursday that on July 10, there will be a caucus-wide meeting on immigration. It’s not immediately clear if he was acting in response to the conservative push, nor whether they will insist on meeting sooner.] The Blaze report said the letter will arrive in Boehner’s office on Friday.
What’s striking—and potentially catastrophic for the GOP, politically—is how direct the leaders of the looming House revolt are about opposing immigration reform. This is in contrast to say John Cornyn, who is at least claiming to support reform but pushing for stronger border security requirements.
Representative King, for example, not long after the Blaze story broke, characterized undocumented students who came to his Capitol Hill office thusly:
Bachmann just gave an interview to World Net Daily this week that depicted "amnesty" as a master plan to create a permanent “progressive class.” The Blaze included that interview in its exclusive on the new Bachmann-King-Gohmert strategy:
“This is President Obama’s number one political agenda item because he knows we will never again have a Republican president, ever, if amnesty goes into effect. We will perpetually have a progressive, liberal president, probably a Democrat, and we will probably see the House of Representatives go into Democrat hands and the Senate will stay in Democrat hands,” Bachmann said.
She also said that if it passes, the bill would create a permanent progressive class.
“That’s what’s at risk right now. It may sound melodramatic, I don’t mean it that way, but this is that big and that important,” Bachmann said.
And Beck was quick to do his part. Within an hour of The Blaze’s story, Beck appeared on his web television show to herald the House GOP revolt and described it as a potential Waterloo for the entire Tea Party:
These seventy [members] are standing up and saying, ‘Take away all of our power.’ They know that if they lose, they lose. The Tea Party has—this is putting all of the chips on the table. You’ve been asking for it, you’ve been asking for people with a spine.
This one is not going to be easy. They’re going to be called racist, they’re going to be called every name under the sun, and so will you. You have to know why you are for it, why you say… I am not a racist. I am not violent. But I am not going to be silent any more. We have been silent far too long.
You may have noticed Beck’s slight intimation of violence there. As his fifteen-minute rant on the House GOP pushback escalated, he called for both civil disobedience and, apparently, violent struggle:
Is there anything worth losing your life over, more important than this? Is there anything more important than standing up for human dignity? For the rights of all mankind? They are going to try to make this into a civil rights case, and it is not. It is an affront to anyone who understands civil rights. Martin Luther King Jr. was not saying, ‘We’re all breaking the law here.’ Unless the law is unjust, you cannot eat at that supermarket counter. The hell I can’t.
No, I’m not quite sure what that means either. But the point is that Beck wants his audience to see the immigration battle as a must-win, where the entire Tea Party movement is at stake. Seventy House GOP members, including several Tea Party stars, are ready to being the battle. While this was, at some point, inevitable, it's bad news for Boehner, and much more importantly, bad news for immigration reform.
A banner at a protest at Cooper Union in New York City. (Photo courtesy of Flickr user Michael Fleshman. Licensed under Creative Commons.)
This article was originally published by the Institute for Policy Studies website.
If lawmakers can’t come up with a solution, interest rates on federal student loans are set to double from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent starting July 1. When I graduate from college in December, I will join the 37 million Americans with student loan debt.
For me, college has always been synonymous with financial stress. I have spent the last three years on financial aid, scrambling to finish all of my credits in order to graduate early and save on a semester of tuition at my university. If the interest rate on my Stafford loan doubles, I will have to continue to put my dream of law school on hold. The fear of sealing myself into a tomb of debt will prevent me from seizing opportunities at the time in my life when I am supposed to be taking risks.
The number of students and the price of college continue to rise every year. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that not only are more people taking out student loans, but they are also taking out more money. The average student loan balance increased by 49 percent between 2005 and 2012, and more than half of borrowers took out over $10,000 in loans. Total student loan debt is increasing at a rate of about $2,853.88 per second and it is approaching $1.1 trillion. In the last ten years, this number has nearly quadrupled and has already surpassed credit card debt and auto loan debt.
Of particular concern is the effect on women. According to the American Association of University Women (AAUW)’s study “Graduating to a Pay Gap,” 20 percent of women—compared with 15 percent of men—use more than 15 percent of their take-home salaries to pay off educational debt. This is directly related to the fact that women earn only 82 cents to every dollar that a man earns.
The plan proposed by Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), “The Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act,” would allow students to borrow money at the same rate that banks borrow: 0.75 percent. House Republicans passed “The Smarter Solutions for Students Act,” which would increase the rate to an even higher percent than if nothing is done before July 1, based on market rates and fluctuations. In President Obama’s plan, called “Pay as You Earn,” loans would also vary depending on the economy, though it would allow low-income borrowers to cap their monthly loan payments to 10 percent of their income. Among others offering solutions are Senators Jack Reed (D-RI) ,Tom Harkin (D-IA), Harry Reid (D-NV), amd Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), and Representative Joe Courtney (D-CT).
There are lots of ideas but one thing is clear: inaction is not an option. Doubling interest rates on student loans is not an option. Currently, 35 percent of people under 30 and 32 percent of those between the ages of 30 and 49 are near default on their student loans, numbers that will only continue to grow unless something is done. Recent graduates and current students like me have worked hard enough to hear messages of support and encouragement from our lawmakers—not that we are being forgotten about and taken advantage of. When I walk across the stage and receive my diploma this December, I want to feel that the sky’s the limit as it relates to my opportunities, not my debt.
The NSA slide that tech experts say Glenn Greenwald misinterpreted. (The Guardian/NSA, US Federal Government.)
Bloggers and experts in the tech world have been raising an important caveat to a key aspect of Glenn Greenwald’s world-shaking scoop about the NSA’s PRISM story—an aspect my friend Karl Fogel, an open-source software guru, blogger and the proprietor of QuestionCopyright.org, calls an “epic botch” by Greenwald. People outside of the tech world absolutely need to know about this debate too, which is why, though I’m no expert, I’m sharing it with this wider audience. I deeply admire what Greenwald and his team at The Guardian are doing. I write in the interest of helping them do it better.
The “crucial question,” as Fogel frames it in a blog post, is this: “Are online service companies giving the government fully automated access to their data,” as Greenwald says they are, “without any opportunity for review or intervention by company lawyers?” This is what the companies have been denying—in statements that critics have been interpreting as non-denial denials. (Apple: “We have never heard of PRISM. We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer data must get a court order.” So what if Apple et al. knew the formal name of the program? And what about indirect access? Or government contractors? And how are they defining “customer data”? Etc.)
Fogel points out that a widely read post to this effect called “Cowards” from the blog Uncrunched—“What has these people, among the wealthiest on the planet, so scared that they find themselves engaging in these verbal gymnastics to avoid telling a simple truth?”—is “mostly wrong.” He says, “It looks like Greenwald and company simply misunderstood an NSA slide [see image at the top of this post for the slide] because they don’t have the technical background to know that ‘servers’ is a generic word and doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing as ‘the main servers on which a company’s customer-facing services run.’ The ‘servers’ mentioned in the slide are just lockboxes used for secure data transfer. They have nothing to do with the process of deciding which requests to comply with—they’re just means of securely and efficiently delivering information once a company has decided to do so.”
In other words, this slide describes how to move data from once place to another without it getting intercepted in transit: “What the hell are the companies supposed to do?” Fogel jokes. “Put the data on a CD-ROM and mail it to Fort Meade?”
The implications of this interpretation, if correct, completely shift the grounds for the discussion of how the NSA’s PRISM program works—“the difference,” as Mark Jaquith of WordPress writes, “between a bombshell and a yawn of a story.”
(I contacted Google to ask about the issue, and a spokesman pointed me to their open letter to Attorney Holder and FBI Director Mueller and another to users, and reiterated, “We refuse to participate in any program—for national security or other reasons—that requires us to provide governments with access to our systems or to install their equipment on our networks. When required to comply with these requests, we deliver that information to the US government—generally through secure FTP transfers and in person. The US government does not have the ability to pull that data directly from our servers or network.” I followed up by asking whether “refusing to participate in any program…that requires us to provide governments with access to our systems or to install their equipment on our networks” includes refusing to provide government contractors with access to our systems or to install their equipment on our networks,” and the spokesman replied, “Yes.”)
Greenwald has not yet made a public evaluation of whether or not he agrees that he made that mistake. [Update: on Twitter, Greenwald linked to this interview with Chris Hayes as evidence that he has; I'll leave it to readers to judge whether they agree that he's answered the criticism.] He owes it to us to do so, with as much speed as practicably possible. It’s not too much to say that the fate of his broader NSA project might hinge on doing so effectively—because the powers that be will find it very easy to seize on this one error to discredit his every NSA revelation, even the ones he nailed dead to rights. (“It’s not like there aren’t legitimate things to complain about here,” as Fogel notes.) Such distraction campaigns are how power does its dirtiest work. Think of the way the questions about the authenticity of the “Killian documents” were able to obscure the fact that George W. Bush actually did go AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard or how the unrelated or how the unrelated killing of a CIA station chief in Greece was used to discredit the congressional investigations of CIA wrongdoing in 1975—cases with which Greenwald should be well-familiar. So, Glenn Greenwald, what’s the word? The fate of our civil liberties may depend on it.
New York City mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is bringing inequality to the forefront of his campaign. Read Katrina vanden Heuvel’s analysis here.
Bill de Blasio. (AP images)
In our recent special issue, “The Gilded City,” we described New York as “a city of dazzling resurrection and official neglect…remarkable wealth and even more inequality.” As reported by the Fiscal Policy Institute, the top 1 percent of New York City’s wage earners took in nearly 39 percent of the wealth. Between 2000 and 2010, family income in New York City’s wealthiest neighborhoods increased by over 55 percent in spite of the recession, while family income in the city’s poorest neighborhoods actually decreased by 0.2 percent. As reported by the US Census Bureau and cited recently in The New Yorker, if the borough of Manhattan were a country, the income gap between the richest 20 percent and the poorest 20 percent would be equal to that in countries including Sierra Leone, Namibia and Lesotho.
The human cost of this staggering inequality in America’s largest city cannot be understated: neighborhoods without daycare, grocery stores, quality schools or equal access to transit. Residents in one New York City housing complex, in the shadow of the wealthy DUMBO neighborhood, have to walk more than a mile to clean their clothes. The inspiring movement of low-wage workers to organize and fight for higher wages is promising, as is the city’s recent hard-won passage of paid sick days for most (but still not all) New Yorkers. But as The Nation has reported extensively over the last five years, income inequality remains a foundational issue that plagues New York, and many of America’s largest cities.
I was excited to see then, in a speech delivered in late May at The New School, New York City Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio address income inequality head on, describing New York as a “gilded city where the privileged few prosper and millions upon millions of New Yorkers struggle just to keep their heads above water,” and declaring an “Inequality Crisis.” In his speech, de Blasio decried “caviar pizza and edible gold” in a city beset by poverty and stagnating wages for the working and middle class. These rhetorical flourishes drew attention, but most promising to me is that de Blasio backed up his words with a plan and a way to pay for it. In presenting an agenda that The Observer said would “drastically shift the city’s priorities,” DeBlasio released a substantive package of thirty policy proposals to tackle income inequality, “Jobs For All New Yorkers, Growth for All Neighborhoods.”
DeBlasio proposed a wide range of solutions, from dramatically expanded job training and apprenticeship programs to more investments in career paths for indigenous New Yorkers—people who have grown up in many of the devastated neighborhoods described above. In his proposal, DeBlasio focuses extensively on revitalizing New York City’s university system, CUNY, as a pathway to better jobs for immigrant and low-income communities. And he proposes major reforms to the City’s economic development program, challenging the City to focus more intensely on economic development across all five boroughs.
De Blasio’s plan mandates a living wage and a plan to provide healthcare for all workers in businesses receiving city economic development funding. And he pointedly proposes expanding paid sick days for the 300,000 people who were left out of the recent New York City paid sick days bill, which we also support as a critical next step for low wage workers.
Most interesting about the plan though is, what Nation magazine contributor Jarret Murphy called “the Robin Hood aspects,” including a proposal to end corporate subsidies and direct that money to CUNY, and to a revolving loan fund for small businesses. This goes hand in hand with one of de Blasio’s other big ideas—an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers to pay for expanded early childhood education and true universal pre-k, which is given only to a fraction of the city’s 4-year-olds in a hope-for-the-best lottery system. Perhaps no other investment would do so much to help the next generation of New Yorkers. As we have argued in The Nation since the start of the “great recession” and well before, we can’t truly address income inequality without addressing taxes and corporate tax loopholes.
While all the leading Democrats in the race decry inequality, de Blasio so far has the most substantive proposal to raise taxes on the wealthy back to the levels the city set after 9/11. This is a critical component of any serious plan to address inequality, and must be on the table.
Inequality is, of course, a global challenge. The question, then, is how New York City—as America’s largest city and its most extreme example of inequality—can be a laboratory for solutions. What can a mayor actually do about urban inequality? Given the priorities of the last twelve years and a genuine moment for new leadership in New York, this is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to answer that question.
In his speech at the New School, Bill de Blasio spoke bluntly and humanely about income inequality as the greatest challenge facing New York City, and argued for a “dramatic” change of direction. To see this issue take center stage in the mayor’s race—with real proposals behind it—is heartening, and is the kind of big thinking that could echo well beyond the City’s borders. This plan has a lot to commend, and we hope others will follow suit with a substantive vision for ending inequality and moving us beyond New York City’s new “gilded age.”
Read The Nation’s special New York issue for more on Bloomberg’s legacy and the possibilities for a more progressive city.
In this October 6, 2011 file photo, Gan Golan, of Los Angeles, dressed as the “Master of Degrees,” holds a ball and chain representing his college loan debt. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)
With interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford Loans set to double on July 1, from 3.4 percent to 6.8 percent, student debt has finally started getting the attention it deserves. Unfortunately, most of the coverage of the metastasizing student debt crisis fails to take note that the fight over interest rates is but one small battle in the overall war against exponentially mounting student debt.
Senator Elizabeth Warren recently introduced her first piece of stand-alone legislation, the “Bank on Students Loan Fairness Act,” which would set interest rates on federally subsidized Stafford loans at .75 percent, the same rate at which the big banks are able to borrow at the Federal Reserve’s discount window. According to Senator Warren, if we as a society deem it so vital to our economy that we need to subsidize the big banks that nearly destroyed our economy, then what is the rationale for charging students a rate nine times higher simply to obtain an education?
We’ve lost sight of the fact that higher education is not a product but rather both a public good and an investment in our collective future. How are we ever to compete on the global stage in the new, twenty-first-century economy if we’re saddling our best and brightest with mortgage-sized debts just as they’re starting out in life? What most media coverage fails to emphasize is that a well-educated workforce benefits everybody, not just the individuals obtaining the educations in question.
The debate over interest rates for federal student loans is not unimportant but only concerns current and future students and, therefore, legislation like Warren’s does nothing to address the more than $1.1 trillion in outstanding student debt that is collectively owed by more than 39 million Americans—nearly 60 percent of which, by the way, is owed by people over the age of 30, demonstrating beyond doubt that the issue of student debt is not just a young person’s problem—it’s everyone’s problem.
When the housing market crashed, you didn’t need to own a home to be affected by damage it did to the economy. The same can be said for student debt. The effects of this massive drag on the economy can be felt down the line—from auto manufacturers and dealers, to homebuilders and realtors. If you own a small business, your bottom line is affected by the fact that 39 million Americans simply do not have the disposable income necessary to purchase goods or services. And the problem is only getting worse.
While it’s important to stand in solidarity with current and future students to ensure that we never reach the $2 trillion mark, there is so much more that is needed to be done to address the existing $1.1 trillion that has already been accrued. There’s no shortage of good ideas, but there is a serious dearth of political will to lend a helping hand to the millions of Americans who did absolutely nothing wrong, other than seek to better themselves and to better contribute to society by seeking out a higher education.
First and foremost, basic consumer protections, such as bankruptcy rights and statutes of limitations on the collections of student debt must be restored. There is no justifiable reason why student loans should be treated unlike any other type of debt in America. Next, we must provide a right to borrowers to refinance their loans to take advantage of historically low interest rates—a move that would undoubtedly spur economic growth by putting more money into the hands of people who will spend it on ailing sectors of the economy.
Finally, we must invest in our own people by implementing a fair and equitable loan forgiveness program, such as the one my organization, StudentDebtCrisis.org, helped craft and which was introduced in the House of Representatives by Representative Karen Bass (D-CA)—HR 1330, The Student Loan Fairness Act, which would allow borrowers to pay 10 percent of their discretionary income for a period of ten years, after which the remaining amount would be forgiven.
This would be a meaningful, fair and sensible step to help millions of people, both young and old, get back on firm financial footing. Contact your elected reps and implore them to co-sponsor and vote “yes” on the Student Loan Fairness Act of 2013.