In a speech yesterday, President Obama laid out his vision for the future of the United States' efforts to stop terrorists from attacking American citizens. He defended his use of drones and the killings of American citizens abroad who pose a threat to Americans. But, as Nation National Security Correspondent Jeremy Scahill points out, Obama provided very little legal justification for the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki. He spoke with MSNBC's Rachel Maddow yesterday about Obama's effort (or lack thereof) to deal with terrorism legally and without killing innocent individuals.
US Marines from the 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment duck their heads in the back of a Humvee as smoke and dust rise from a roadside bomb. (AP Photo/Jim MacMillan)
Before you express an opinion about President Obama’s national security speech yesterday, if you didn’t see it live the read the whole speech on the White House’s website. It’s an important and transformative speech, one that is already drawing howls of outrage from right-wing pundits, hawks in Congress and the neoconservatives.
It was a clarion call to end the war on terrorism. Said Obama: “We have to be mindful of James Madison’s warning that ‘No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.’ ” Al Qaeda is on the “path to defeat” (actually, it’s pretty far along that path), and its imitators, affilates and clones are either focused on local struggles or, like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, are far weaker, he said, adding: “None of AQAP’s efforts approach the scale of 9/11.” Among the Al Qaeda types, he said “While we are vigilant for signs that these groups may pose a transnational threat, most are focused on operating in the countries and regions where they are based.”
That couldn’t be clearer. Global War on Terrorism, R.I.P. Explicitly, Obama said that the United States can go back to its pre-9/11, less-hysterical, less-frantic mindset. “We have to recognize that the scale of this threat closely resembles the types of attacks we faced before 9/11,” said Obama.
In an important section of the speech, Obama insisted it’s time to rewrite, and in so doing, weaken, the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) against Al Qaeda et al.:
The AUMF is now nearly 12 years old. The Afghan war is coming to an end. Core al Qaeda is a shell of its former self. Groups like AQAP must be dealt with, but in the years to come, not every collection of thugs that labels themselves al Qaeda will pose a credible threat to the United States. Unless we discipline our thinking, our definitions, our actions, we may be drawn into more wars we don’t need to fight, or continue to grant Presidents unbound powers more suited for traditional armed conflicts between nation states.
So I look forward to engaging Congress and the American people in efforts to refine, and ultimately repeal, the AUMF’s mandate. And I will not sign laws designed to expand this mandate further. Our systematic effort to dismantle terrorist organizations must continue. But this war, like all wars, must end. That’s what history advises. That’s what our democracy demands.
I’d highlight two phrases. The first, “not every collection of thugs that labels themselves Al Qaeda,” which means that the president is sticking it to the hawks who say that literally dozens of rabble-rousers around the world must be targeted by the CIA and the Pentagon. And second, of course: “This war, like all wars, must end.”
Some controversy surrounds the drone issue, still. The Nation—and its specialist, Jeremy Scahill—have focused enormous attention on the issue, and Code Pink—whose founder, Medea Benjamin, repeatedly interrupted Obama yesterday—has done the same. But too much can be made of this. First of all, a drone is just another weapon in the American arsenal, not unlike cruise missiles, which President Clinton unloaded on Al Qaeda in 1998, and other lethal power. Since taking office, after stepping up the use of drones, Obama and John Brennan, who was Obama’s terrorism adviser in the White House and now the CIA director, have steadily reduced the use of drones every single year since 2009. In his speech yesterday, and in classified instructions to the CIA and the military, Obama is further placing restrictions on their use. The CIA’s ability to use drones is being sharply reduced and restricted to Pakistan’s tribal areas, where the number of strikes has fallen sharply in 2013. By 2014, when US forces leave Afghanistan, the CIA will stop firing drones into Pakistan altogether. Meanwhile, if drones are going to be used by the Pentagon against individual targets, the military will operate under new guidelines that will limit strikes, reduce civilian casualties, and probably prevent the killing of American citizens, except in extreme cases.
As The New York Times reports, in discussing the classified parts of the new drone policy that Obama didn’t mention in his speech, but which underpin what he said:
The new classified policy guidance imposes tougher standards for when drone strikes can be authorized, limiting them to targets who pose “a continuing, imminent threat to Americans” and cannot feasibly be captured, according to government officials. The guidance also begins a process of phasing the C.I.A. out of the drone war and shifting operations to the Pentagon.
Giving operations to the Pentagon still leaves room for abuse and overuse of drones, and the secrecy that attaches to the Pentagon’s Joint Special Operations Command, which will have responsibility for drones, means that it will be opaque, at best, to the public. It’s unclear yet what an “imminent threat” is—in the past, the government has interpreted imminent to mean almost anything, though most people would view that word as implying something like the ticking-time-bomb scenario. And, there’s still some question over the use of so-called “signature strikes,” used against unidentified people and targets. But by insisting on what Obama called a “continuing, imminent threat,” it would appear that drone strikes against nameless “militants”—often the generic “military-age males”—will be ruled out.
In his remarks, Obama didn’t exactly “go Bulworth.” But reading between the lines, I’d say that the president put into words his clearly felt belief that the military and the CIA aren’t the right tool to use against a terrorism threat that can be dealt with, as before 9/11, by intelligence and law enforcement.
Robert Dreyfuss looks into Iran’s critical upcoming election.
Protesters mobilize at Freedom Plaza. Credit: Greg Kaufmann.
Gisele Mata of Whittier, California, never considered herself a political activist. Other than making some calls on behalf of President Obama during the 2012 campaign, her focus was on her work, family, church and volunteering as a Girl Scout troop leader.
But on Monday morning at Freedom Plaza in Washington, DC, she was ready to march to the Department of Justice, where she would risk arrest in order to save her family’s home and stand up for other people facing foreclosure.
“Banks are doing extreme things to get people out of their homes, so it requires extreme action,” Mata told me. “I wouldn’t be here except the banks are not being monitored so we have to stand up as citizens. They are getting away with acts of inhuman behavior and the Justice Department is not reacting.”
Mata was among 500 activists from across the country who came to the nation’s capital to “Bring Justice to Justice”—participating in three days of action organized by Home Defenders League and Occupy Our Homes. They were calling for the criminal prosecution of banks for ongoing illegal activity, including illegal foreclosures; and for resetting mortgages to a property’s fair market value for the more than 13 million homeowners still at risk of foreclosure.
Mata and her family have been in their home for more than ten years. Their struggle began in 2009 when she and her husband were laid off from their jobs in retail and engineering, respectively. They survived by cashing out on their 401(k)s and working in low-wage jobs.
“We didn’t have any problems until last year,” she said, when they no longer could afford both their home and food for their family of five. So Mata and her husband requested a mortgage modification from Bank of America.
“We asked them to tack on what we owed to the principal, and to give us the going interest rate because we still have a high rate,” she said. “We aren’t even asking for a principal reduction. Plus we’re both working, we have equity in our home—but they still refuse.”
Her eldest daughter is now working as a massage therapist. Her husband is again employed as an aircraft parts quality inspector—for $13 an hour, compared to the $19 hourly wage he previously earned—and Mata earns commissions as a sales representative for an energy company. But the high interest payments they are paying force them to choose between a roof over their head or food for the family.
“Right now we’re choosing the roof and getting food from our church in order to make payments on the mortgage,” she said. “And we go to the 99 cent store and buy Top Ramen [noodles] and tuna fish. That’s pretty much how we make it.”
But even as the Matas continue to make their payments, Bank of America continues to push for foreclosure. Her dealings with the bank in an effort to get a modification tell a story that is now all too familiar in this country.
“Negotiating means paperwork multiple times over and over again,” she said. “As soon as you get it in they switch your point-of-contact and then you have to start over again. And as many times as they ask is how many times you do it, or else they won’t consider you for the modification. No one is holding them accountable.”
Ann Haines of St. Paul, Minnesota, was also ready to get arrested after experiencing an even more extreme nightmare in dealing with US Bank. She had lived in her home with her three sons for thirteen years, and was struggling to meet a monthly mortgage payment that had risen from $800 to $1300.
“I work in intake at a methadone program,” she said. “I see people at their lowest and my nature is to help. So I was foolishly thinking that by asking the bank for help I would get it.”
Instead, what she got was US Bank telling her to stop making payments for three months so she would be eligible for a modification, followed by the bank sending her the wrong modification application. She then arrived home one day to find her locks changed and a realtor going out her back door. The bank proceeded with a sheriff’s sale.
“It was terrifying and you don’t know what to do,” said Haines.
Legal Aid was able to stop the sale of her home, since the bank admitted it had sent her the wrong modification application and foreclosed while she was still in underwriting—a process known as “dual tracking.” (This is now barred under the California Homeowners’ Bill of Rights and the just-passed Minnesota Homeowners’ Bill of Rights.)
“But what really inspired me to fight was the attorney for US Bank sitting across from me in court and saying, ‘The only negotiation US Bank is willing to do right now is to get her out,’ ” said Haines. “He didn’t have enough courage to look at me, but he said it.”
“Two days later the eviction case was magically closed,” said Haines.
She described herself as “elated” that she no longer fears losing her home at any moment. But she still felt the need to be in Washington, DC, to support other struggling homeowners.
“I don’t want to be arrested, jail is scary for me,” she said. “But I’m willing to do it to show that this is serious. There are too many people going through this, and the banks have to be held accountable. If I did something wrong they would hold me accountable.”
Cammy Dupuy of Gonzales, Louisiana, isn’t affiliated with any particular group—she had learned about the action in recent weeks on the Internet. She was also prepared for arrest, though not particularly looking forward to it.
“I’m really nervous and scared to go to jail,” said Dupuy. “But if that’s what it takes to let people know they’re not alone—the shame shouldn’t be put on people.”
Since 2006, Dupuy’s mortgage has had so many different banks and loan servicers attached to it that the trail is dizzying. As a result, she has had her paperwork lost as servicers change, not been provided new mailing addresses for payments, fought off two sheriff’s sales and even received modification “offers” that would have had her paying double-digit interest rates and waiving her right to sue for the mishandling of her note.
Throughout her struggle, Dupuy has found herself alone.
“The thing about Louisiana, nobody talks about foreclosures, and they don’t put signs out in people’s yards like in other states, so they really keep it from the public,” she said. “But I’ve been pulling up the sales on my local sheriff’s website and every month there are quite a bit just in my parish alone.”
Dupuy said a lot of people are “just walking away because they don’t know what to do.”
“I’m tired of feeling alone. I want people in Louisiana to start talking about it, start standing up, start doing something,” said Dupuy. “The people in Louisiana fear the law. But if all of us come together and take a stand then fear shouldn’t be a problem.”
By the end of the day on Monday, Mata was arrested on the steps of the Department of Justice along with sixteen other nonviolent activists. (The nonviolence by activists didn’t translate to nonviolent arrests by Homeland Security officers, who used tasers.) The demonstrators had set up an encampment and also blocked traffic along a very busy Constitution Avenue. Mata and others didn’t give their names when booked—they didn’t want this to be just another routine booking and quick release—so she was held until Tuesday evening.
“I told them I was [Bank of America CEO] Brian Moynihan,” said Mata, and many of the other demonstrators who were arrested used the names of bank CEOs as well.
Dupuy was arrested along with six other homeowners Wednesday morning while blocking the lobby entrance to Covington & Burling—a prominent international law firm that has represented JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, UBS and other major banks. Haines was one of the demonstrators blocking the entrance too, but because she was on the outside of the building, police just removed her from the space.
In addition to representing the large banks, organizers said the law firm epitomizes the “revolving door” between serving government and serving Wall Street’s interests, noting that Attorney General Eric Holder was a partner at Covington & Burling before coming to the DOJ, and former Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer left his post in March to become vice chair of the firm.
For three straight days, these homeowners and their supporters—mostly low-income people of color—demonstrated what it means to personally sacrifice for the good of others, to move beyond hopeful words to deeds and actions.
I hope that those of us who seek change feel their urgency, and will follow their lead to take more and greater action—together.
Victories in Minnesota: Progressive Budget and Homeowners Bill of Rights
According to Carol Nieters, executive director of SEIU Local 284, in 1971, Minnesota Governor Wendell Anderson called education equity—poor school districts that were struggling—and high property taxes “the issue of our time.”
The state legislature responded by creating a “general education levy” that equalized and created dedicated funding for schools, and also lowered property taxes.
“It went forward like that for like the next four decades,” said Nieters. “It put Minnesota in a place to be a premier state in education.”
But then along came Governor Jesse “The Body” Ventura who body-slammed the levy, and Governor Tim Pawlenty who presided over nearly a decade of disinvestment from schools and taking from school appropriations to plug other holes in the budget.
“As a result, we’ve now got ten or eleven four-day school districts, and other than core curriculum, everything else is cut out—arts, music, in some cases languages,” said Nieters.
But this week the state reaffirmed its commitment to education. At a time when so many states are opting to close schools that primarily serve low-income students, Minnesota passed a budget that closes corporate tax loopholes and increases education funding and equity.
The 2013 budget erases the state’s $627 million budget deficit, raises the income tax by 2 percent on the wealthiest 2 percent of Minnesotans, raises $424 million by closing corporate tax loopholes and reduces property taxes by $400 million.
The budget uses new revenues to make key investments in education, including: fully funding optional, all-day kindergarten; increasing special education funding by $236 million; and importantly, passing two levies that will make funding for all school districts more reliable, while also providing additional resources to local districts with the greatest need.
“This budget gets to equity in education and reduces property taxes,” said Nieters. “Over four decades later we are doing the same thing we did right in 1971.”
She said the budget was achieved by the union and its progressive allies reaching out to groups all across the state that were pursuing a “common interest of stronger communities [through] an educated society and workforce.” They began organizing prior to the 2012 election with a message that wealthy individuals and corporations must pay their fair share in order to strengthen education. Many Democrats ran on that platform, and the party picked up enough seats to win majorities in both the House and Senate.
After the election, the grassroots coalition kept the pressure on the newly elected legislators to follow through on their commitments. In the last few months alone, there were thousands of calls, visits, letters and e-mails to representatives, and a “Students’ Day” for parents and children at the Capitol, with students from kindergarten through high school attending.
The budget was passed Monday night by the legislature, and Democratic Governor Mark Dayton signed it into law yesterday.
“We engaged organizations all over the state—and we can make a difference if we do that,” said Nieters. “The voice of the people can be heard over the folks with the money. But you gotta get out there.”
* * *
On Sunday, the Minnesota House of Representatives passed the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights by a bipartisan 123-0 vote. The Senate passed a companion bill last week, so now it just awaits Governor Dayton’s signature.
The bill protects homeowners through a number of provisions, including: requiring loan servicers to offer modifications to all eligible homeowners; banning “dual tracking,” which occurs when a bank forecloses on a homeowner before communicating a decision on a loan modification application; and allowing homeowners to take the servicer to court to stop foreclosure if the servicer fails to comply with any aspect of the Homeowners’ Bill of Rights. (Also important, lawyer’s fees and court costs would be covered if the homeowner proves his or her case.)
Ann Haines, the homeowner from St. Paul interviewed in the DOJ story above, testified along with other homeowners at a House hearing on the bill in January.
Democrats and the Farm Bill
I always expect the worst from the House Republicans when it comes to SNAP (food stamps) and the Farm Bill. So while much attention and anger has been focused on the $20.5 billion cut proposed by the House Agriculture Committee—which would take food stamps away from nearly 2 million people and result in several hundred thousand low-income children no longer receiving free school meals—my reaction was more along the lines of… yeah, what did you expect?
I was actually more disturbed that the Democratic Senate Agriculture Committee would vote for a $4.1 billion cut in food stamps—even though the average benefit is about $1.46 per person, per meal, and a recent Institute of Medicine report demonstrates that benefit levels are already too low to stave off hunger. The cut “would mean $90 less a month for 500,000 families already struggling to make ends meet,” according to Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. Berg noted that an amendment by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand would have prevented the SNAP cuts “by instead cutting subsidies for crop insurance companies, many of which are foreign owned.”
Unfortunately, the committee failed to pass Senator Gillibrand’s amendment, and Senate Democrats proved yet again that the party’s commitment to those who are the most economically vulnerable is about as thin as Republican cut proposals are deep.
But the party outdid itself on Wednesday when the Farm Bill was debated on the Senate floor. As Center on Budget and Policy Priorities president Robert Greenstein describes:
Senator David Vitter offered—and Senate Democrats accepted—an amendment that would increase hardship and will likely have strongly racially discriminatory effects. [It] would bar from SNAP, for life, anyone who was ever convicted of one of a specified list of violent crimes at any time—even if they committed the crime decades ago in their youth and have served their sentence, paid their debt to society, and been a good citizen ever since…. The amendment would [also] mean lower SNAP benefits for their children and other family members. So, a young man who was convicted of a single crime at age 19 who then reforms and is now elderly, poor, and raising grandchildren would be thrown off SNAP, and his grandchildren’s benefits would be cut…. Senator Vitter hawked his amendment as one to prevent murderers and rapists from getting food stamps. Democrats accepted it without trying to modify it to address its most ill-considered aspects.
Antipoverty advocates suggest contacting your senators—particularly Harry Reid, Debbie Stabenow and Richard Durbin—to tell them that you oppose this provision. They suggest doing it as soon as possible since it’s unclear how quickly the Farm Bill will move.
You might also suggest to them that the party check Lost and Found for its spine, too.
But at Least We Have Congresswoman Barbara Lee
Congresswoman Barbara Lee and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer introduced the Half-in-Ten Act of 2013, which would establish the Federal Interagency Working Group on Reducing Poverty. The working group would develop and implement a national strategy to reduce poverty by half in ten years, integrating federal policies on poverty reduction, and also provide regular progress reports to Congress.
“Our policies and programs addressing poverty have not kept pace with the growing needs of millions of Americans,” said Congresswoman Lee, who chairs the new Democratic Whip Task Force on Poverty and Opportunity and consistently represents the interests of low-income Americans. “It is time we make the commitment to confront poverty head-on, create pathways out of poverty and provide opportunities for all.”
I would imagine this bill has about as much a shot at passing the House as this blog has at becoming Speaker Boehner’s favorite bedtime reading. Nevertheless, I’m always thankful for Representative Lee—I’m glad the Democratic whip is supporting her efforts—and it’s always worthwhile to keep up with her work and listen to what she has to say.
And That Goes for Senator Bernie Sanders, Too
Senator Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, introduced legislation yesterday to reauthorize and strengthen the Older Americans Act, which supports Meals on Wheels and other critical programs for seniors such as in-home care, transportation, benefits access, caregiver support, chronic disease self-management, job training and placement and elder abuse prevention.
“With 10,000 Americans turning 65 every day, our country’s growing population of seniors includes many who rely on these critical programs to help them stay in their own homes and communities,” said Sanders, speaking at an Older Americans Summit.
Funding has not kept pace with the growth in need or numbers, and recent cuts before the sequester hit have further eroded investments in key services.
In a letter endorsing Senator Sanders’s bill, National Council on Aging president and CEO James Firman writes that the legislation “can empower seniors and improve their health and economic security, bend downward the long-term entitlements cost curve, and promote greater program efficiency and coordination.”
The bill would also require the Bureau of Labor Statistics to create a consumer price index for the elderly that would account for spending on high-inflation goods and services like healthcare, prescription drugs and heating homes.
A Bold Approach to the Jobs Emergency (Tuesday, June 4, 8:30 am – 4 pm, 20 F Street NW Conference Center, Washington, DC) We have a US jobs emergency. More than 11 million Americans are still out of work, and the austerity push is only making matters worse. States have been forced to implement deep cuts to emergency unemployment benefits even though almost 40 percent of the unemployed have been jobless for more than six months. Great panels—with great people—on how to create good jobs and raise labor standards. Among the participants: Dean Baker, Maya Wiley, Ellen Bravo, Sarah Bloom Raskin, Nona Willis Aronowitz, Dorian Warren, Annette Bernhardt, Ai-Jen Poo, Gar Alperovitz, Joseph Geevarghese, Madeline Janis and Deepak Bhargava. Presented by the Roosevelt Institute. Register here.
2013 Mississippi on the Potomac Reception (Tuesday, June 4, 6:30 pm – 8:30 pm, AFL-CIO, 815 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC) The event marks the tenth anniversary of the Mississippi Center for Justice, a not-for-profit public interest legal organization that works against the odds to provide legal assistance to some of the most vulnerable and neglected communities in Mississippi, the poorest state in the country. For more information about the reception, contact Lauren Welford at 601-709-0859 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or click here to sponsor the event or purchase individual tickets.
Clips and other resources (compiled with James Cersonsky)
“Why I Am Fasting to Keep Families Together,” Gabriela Abendano
“SNAP Rolls: They’re Elevated for a Reason,” Jared Bernstein
“What You Should Know About the Philly Student Walkout,” James Cersonsky
“Farmworkers Fight Wendy’s, the ‘Last Holdout’ on Fair Food,” Michelle Chen
“One Community’s Effort to Take Back its Schools,” Equal Voice News
“Ongoing Joblessness in Michigan,” Mary Gable and Douglas Hall
“U.S. Retailers See Big Risk in Safety Plan for Factories in Bangladesh,” Steven Greenhouse
“Poverty Flees to the Suburbs,” Josh Harkinson
“No Head Start for Jacob,” Yannet Lathrop
“Though Enrolling More Poor Students, 2-Year Colleges Get Less of Federal Pie,” David Leonhardt
“Poverty up 20 percent among N.J. children 5 and younger, report says,” Susan K. Livio
“Family Cap Rule Punishes California Kids,” Ashley Morris
“Why I Am Moved to End Domestic and All Types of Violence,” Marcia Olivo
“A Long Cold Summer For Young People Looking For Work,” Isaiah J. Poole
“Unions Make the Middle Class,” Andrew Satter, Lauren Santa Cruz, and Karla Walter [VIDEO]
“Doing away with food deserts in the District,” Michael Shank
Studies/Briefs (summaries written by James Cersonsky)
“A State-by-State Snapshot of Poverty Among Seniors,” Zachary Levinson, Anthony Damico, Juliette Cubanski and Patricia Neuman. Kaiser Family Foundation. The Census Bureau’s standard poverty measure is based on food costs, family size and age of family members. A more recent, supplemental measure covers a range of other poverty-related factors, including homeowner status, regional differences in housing prices, tax credits, in-kind benefits and expenses ranging from income taxes to healthcare. For seniors, half of whom spent at least 16 percent of income on healthcare in 2009, this last factor is critical. Under the supplemental measure, this report finds, the senior poverty rate is higher in every state, at least twice as high in twelve states and roughly 20 percent in six states (California, Hawaii, Louisiana, Nevada, Georgia and New York). Nationally, the senior poverty rate is 15 percent under the supplemental measure, compared to 9 percent under the official measure. For incomes below 200 percent of the poverty level, the percentage of seniors increases from 34 to 48 percent under the supplemental measure. These findings, the authors say, weigh critically on Medicare and Social Security policy.
“The Economic Security Scorecard: Policy and Security in the States,” Wider Opportunity for Women. What constitutes economic security? This report hones in on twenty state-level policy areas covering eighty-five policies: income and job standards, including minimum wages, state earned income tax credits, paid sick leave and unemployment insurance; saving and asset policies, including college savings and retirement plans; supports including childcare assistance, medical assistance and property tax relief; and education and workforce training policy. The report evaluates states according to their performance in each of these areas. Washington is the only state that receives higher than a C grade (B-), followed by Vermont and Oregon (C+). Scoring D+, Mississippi, Alabama and Utah anchor the bottom of the rankings. The report finds that a state’s budget size, median income and overall fiscal health are not strongly related to its economic security score. It finds a stronger relationship between education levels and security; among the top five states, an average of 35.1 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 24.1 percent for the bottom five. Overall, it finds, most states fall short on job quality standards.
“The Wall Street Wrecking Ball: What Foreclosures Are Costing Us and Why We Need to Reset Seattle Mortgages,” United Black Clergy and Washington Community Action Network. Across the country, and particularly among people of color, homeowners are still feeling the aftershock of the financial crisis. This report shines a spotlight on Seattle. A staggering 33.5 percent of Seattle homeowners, 42,411 in total, are underwater on their mortgages. Between 2008 and 2012, 16,515 homes were foreclosed on. The report estimates that if banks reset these underwater mortgages to fair market value, homeowners would save an average of $9,253 annually, pumping $392 million into the local economy and helping to create 5,800 jobs.
US poverty (less than $17,916 for a family of three): 46.2 million people, 15.1 percent.
Children in poverty: 16.1 million, 22 percent of all children, including 39 percent of African-American children and 34 percent of Latino children. Poorest age group in country.
Deep poverty (less than $11,510 for a family of four): 20.4 million people, 1 in 15 Americans, including more than 15 million women and children.
People who would have been in poverty if not for Social Security, 2011: 67.6 million (program kept 21.4 million people out of poverty).
People in the US experiencing poverty by age 65: roughly half.
Gender gap, 2011: Women 34 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Gender gap, 2010: Women 29 percent more likely to be poor than men.
Twice the poverty level (less than $46,042 for a family of four): 106 million people, more than 1 in 3 Americans.
Jobs in the US paying less than $34,000 a year: 50 percent.
Jobs in the US paying below the poverty line for a family of four, less than $23,000 annually: 25 percent.
Poverty-level wages, 2011: 28 percent of workers.
Percentage of individuals and family members in poverty who either worked or lived with a working family member, 2011: 57 percent.
Families receiving cash assistance, 1996: 68 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Families receiving cash assistance, 2010: 27 for every 100 families living in poverty.
Impact of public policy, 2010: without government assistance, poverty would have been twice as high—nearly 30 percent of population.
Percentage of entitlement benefits going to elderly, disabled, or working households: over 90 percent.
Number of homeless children in US public schools: 1,065,794.
Annual cost of child poverty nationwide: $550 billion.
Federal expenditures on home ownership mortgage deductions, 2012: $131 billion.
Federal funding for low-income housing assistance programs, 2012: less than $50 billion.
Quote of the Week
“The banks are throwing families out into the streets with no regard and no one is holding them accountable.”
—Gisele Mata, California homeowner, arrested at the Department of Justice
James Cersonsky wrote the “Studies/Briefs” and co-wrote the “Clips and other resources” sections in this blog.
It’s a classic David and Goliath story: one man with a computer against the world’s most powerful nation. Bradley Manning’s trial starts June 4; he’s charged with espionage and aiding the enemy. His crime: releasing to Wikileaks, and to The New York Times and The Guardian (and The Nation), hundreds of thousands of classified files documenting widespread civilian casualties, torture and corruption in Afghanistan, Iraq and elsewhere. Now award-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney has a new documentary about it: We Steal Secrets: The Story of Wikileaks. His other films include Enron: Smartest Guys in the Room, and Taxi to the Dark Side, which won the Oscar for best feature documentary. We Steal Secrets opens in Los Angeles and New York City on Friday, May 24.
Jon Wiener: Any film about Wikileaks has to make interviewing Julian Assange task number one. You worked hard on that, and finally you met with him to discuss an interview. How did that go?
Alex Gibney: Not so well. I tried over the course of a year and a half to get the interview. He’d already been interviewed by practically everyone on the planet. Finally we had a six hour meeting. He told me that the market rate for an interview was a million dollars. I told him I don’t pay for interviews. He said “That’s too bad, in that case you might do something else for me.” He wanted me to spy on our other interview subjects—which I found a rather odd request from someone concerned about source protection. So I never did get the interview with Julian Assange.
Your meeting with Assange came during the period when he was in Britain fighting extradition to Sweden but before he took refuge in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. This came well after the historic Wikileaks release in 2010 of the Baghdad helicopter gunship video, which showed US pilots gunning down innocent Iraqi civilians, including two children, and two Reuters journalists, and sounding pretty happy about it. It came after The New York Times and The Guardian, along with Der Spiegel, published big, page-one stories on Wikileaks’ Afghan and Iraq war logs; they had cooperated with Julian Assange in researching and then reporting on the documents. What was the major news there?
The key things the Afghan war logs revealed were civilian casualties much higher than anyone had thought, and that the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, was playing a kind of double game, working with the Taliban to destabilize Afghanistan. The Iraq war logs revealed more extensive civilian casualties and also something extremely disturbing: the Bush and then the Obama administrations were handing prisoners over to the Iraqi authorities, who they knew to be torturing these individuals. That is, in fact, a war crime.
The response of the US government was fiendishly brilliant, I thought. They never attacked The New York Times for publishing the documents; instead they focused everything on Julian Assange. They said he had “blood on his hands,” that he was endangering Americans and individuals who had helped America. Several important people said Julian Assange should be killed by the US Government—including Bill O’Reilly.
Yes. We show video of Bill O’Reilly calling for a “drone hit” on Assange. It is true that Assange failed to redact all the names in the Afghan war logs, and that gave the US government an opening to say “you have blood on your hands”—although nobody came to harm as a result of that failure to redact.
Do you have an opinion about who does have blood on their hands?
Obviously the real blood is the blood being shed in Iraq and Afghanistan by the US military.
And if Julian Assange was endangering Americans, wasn’t The New York Times guilty of the same thing?
There’s no doubt. Wikileaks in its essence is a publisher, pure and simple. They were very much in the same position as The New York Times and The Guardian. But The New York Times, not to its credit, helped to marginalize Assange, by calling him a “source” rather than a publisher, and this ended up helping the government.
In my opinion too much of the coverage in the mainstream media has focused on the personality and conduct of Julian Assange rather than on the secrets revealed by Wikileaks. But let’s spend a brief minute on the Swedish legal proceedings. A lot of Assange’s supporters think the Swedish incident is a fabrication created perhaps by the CIA in an effort to discredit Assange and distract the public from what Wikileaks revealed.
That was my opinion initially—the sex charges were some way the US had of silencing Julian Assange. I investigated thoroughly. I went to Sweden and spoke with one of the women that he allegedly treated badly. My conclusion is that this was purely a personal matter. I found no evidence of any effort to fake phony sex allegations. Everything boils down to this fact: he was not using a condom in the way two women wanted him to use a condom. They both confronted him afterwards and wanted him to take an HIV test. He refused. Because he refused, the women went to the police to try to get the police to force him to take an HIV test. Had he taken an HIV test, none of this would have happened.
You also interviewed some of Julian Assange’s top associates and “former comrades” in an effort to understand what happened with him.
One of the key people I talked is a young man names James Ball, a super computer person. While Julian was under arrest, James briefly became the ad hoc press spokesman for Wikileaks. James was concerned about the way that Julian was succumbing to what James called “noble cause corruption”—the idea that, because he was doing something good, he was entitled to do other things that otherwise would not be looked on so well. Like taking money from the till to pay for his own sex defense fund. Like requiring all the people who work for Wikileaks to sign non-disclosure agreements.
This to me is a real betrayal of the ideals of Wikileaks: If you work for Julian Assange, you have to sign a non-disclosure agreement. That’s a standard corporate practice—
—to silence whistleblowers. The penalty for which was millions of dollars. In my opinion he’s tried to hide his own misbehavior behind the sanctity of the higher ideals of Wikileaks.
The higher ideals of Wikileaks remain, whatever Julian Assange is now doing—there is still too much secrecy in America, and we still regard whistleblowers as heroes. You describe this as a classic David and Goliath story, one man with a computer versus the most powerful nation on earth. Who exactly is the real David here? Is it Julian Assange?
No. The real David in this story is Bradley Manning. Now he’s about to go on trial June 4. He’s the whistleblower. He’s the man who leaked all these key materials—the Baghdad helicopter gunship video, the Afghan and Iraq war logs, the State Department logs. He’s pled guilty to violating an oath. But the government is charging him with “aiding the enemy.” The judge could impose the death penalty. What that says about criminalizing journalism is really terrifying. Putting Bradley Manning at the center of this story is the most important thing we can do.
This interview, originally broadcast in LA on KPFK 90.7FM, has been condensed and edited. Image credit: Flickr/David Shankbone.
Strikers from the Ronald Reagan Building. (Credit: GoodJobsNation.org)
Organizers tell The Nation that four food court outlets in a federal building initially refused to let employees return to work following a Tuesday strike, but relented following protests by supporters.
The four establishments—Subway, Bassett’s Original Turkey, Quick Pita and Kabuki Sushi—are located in the Ronald Reagan federal building, one of several Washington, DC, workplaces where employees with taxpayer-supported jobs went on strike as part of the Good Jobs Nation campaign, whose backers include the Service Employees International Union. As The Nation reported Tuesday, the strikers are demanding that President Obama take executive action to improve labor standards for workers who are employed by private companies to do jobs backed by public spending. According to organizers, the one-day strike involved hundreds of workers, and forced about half of the Reagan Building’s food court outlets to shut down at some point during the day. (The Reagan Building is owned by the federal government; many of its food outlets are franchisees of restaurant or fast food chains.)
Bassett’s employee Suyapa Moreno told The Nation in Spanish that three of her outlet’s four staff went on strike Tuesday, and that when they showed up to start their shift on Wednesday, “The owner told my co-worker she was fired. So I said, ‘If you’re going to fire her, I’m not coming back to work.’” She said her manager told them that “she didn’t want to see us again.” Moreno said she believes her co-worker was targeted because management saw her as the ringleader who convinced Moreno and a third Bassett’s worker to strike.
Moreno said the workers then waited at the food court until other workers, organizers and community supporters gathered to protest the terminations. According to the Good Jobs Nation campaign, about a hundred total supporters converged in the food court to protest ten total terminations by four outlets. Once there was a big enough group, said Moreno, “We went back to talk to the owner, and she accepted us back.” The Good Jobs Nation campaign told The Nation that managers or owners from Subway, Quick Pita and Kabuki Sushi also agreed to reverse the terminations once confronted by crowds of supporters.
The federal Office of Management and Budget did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon regarding the allegations, or to The Nation’s prior inquiries this week regarding the Good Jobs Nation campaign. An employee who answered the phone at the Reagan Building Bassett’s Original Turkey location early Thursday evening said that no manager was on the property to comment. A call to the building’s Kabuki Sushi location went unanswered. The person who answered the phone at the building’s Subway location said he was too busy to comment; the Subway corporation did not immediately respond to an inquiry.
Reached on the Reagan Building Quick Pita location’s phone line, a person who identified himself as a manager there said that no strikers had been denied the chance to return to work, and charged that the campaign was making workers “victims for a bigger political agenda.” He declined to give his name, and said that he was not authorized to speak for the Quick Pita company or the franchisee’s owner.
The attempted terminations alleged by Good Jobs Nation could be violations of federal labor law. As I’ve noted previously, the law generally prohibits “firing” workers for striking, but often allows “permanently replacing” strikers by filling their positions during the strike and refusing to reinstate them. But strikes that the government finds to be motivated in part by prior labor law violations, as Good Jobs Nation says Tuesday’s was, receive greater legal protection; and striking for only one day may also provide a shield against “permanent replacement.”
However, labor advocates and activists have long charged that the National Labor Relations Board’s slow process and weak penalties do little to discourage companies from firing activists. In order to deter retaliation, organizers of recent fast food strikes have arranged for delegations of supporters, sometimes including local politicians and clergy, to accompany the strikers back to work the next day. As I reported for Salon in November, activists say that an indoor occupation and outdoor picket of a Wendy’s store led management to reverse the termination of one of the participants in New York’s first fast food strike. Organizers say the same approach worked yesterday in Washington.
“Before, when workers were treated badly or fired unjustly, nothing would happen,” said Moreno. “And so the bosses felt like they could keep doing it.” Following the strike and yesterday’s showdown, she said, “Now they treat us with a little more respect, because they’re afraid that if they keep doing what they’re doing, more of this will happen.”
Will “subcontracted” Missouri mineworkers get a fair deal? Read Laura Flanders’s report.
My new “Think Again” column is called “Remembering the ‘Feminine Mystique’” and it’s here.
My new Nation column is called “Ron Fournier, Doomsayer,” but it could have been called “High Fournierism” or perhaps “Fornierification,” but anyway it’s here.
The Cause is out in paperback and it strikes me as not as long (or thick) as I expected it to be. Here are some of the blurbs we decided to use:
"Alterman’s magnum opus . . . All aspects of liberalism are surveyed . . . the definitive work on its subject.” — San Francisco Chronicle
“What a relief it is…to read Eric Alterman’s superb new book, THE CAUSE. [I]f your goal is to learn about, and understand, one of this country’s most potent political forces, this book belongs in your hands.”— Boston Globe
“The most thoughtful critique of contemporary liberalism written from within that worldview.." —The Weekly Standard
“…an intellectual (and actual) history of liberalism that even [Lionel] Trilling would approve of… excellent….” — Daily Beast
“…an illuminating history of postwar politics, international relations, culture, and philosophy—all in one scrupulously researched volume.” — Publishers Weekly
Alter-reviews: Big week for live-music
A Tribute to Bobby Short at the Allen Room
Chick Corea with the Jazz@Lincoln Center Orchestra at Rose Hall
Friends of Chick Corea: Musicans of the Future at the Allen Room
Tom Jones at the Bowery Ballroom
Jane Monheit at Birdland
Last Thursday night I took in the tribute to Bobby Short at the Allen Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center. MC’ed by Michael Feinstein, it featured Barbara Carroll, whose voice remains full and fingers nimble at 88 and who worked with Short for decades at the Café Carlyle and they were close friends (but I’m not even sure she was the oldest of the performers that night). Paula West sang some bluesy Cole Porter lyrics that he probably didn’t write and T. Oliver Reid came across as a genuine torch-bearer. Marti Stevens made a rare appearance making this group even older collectively, than the Rolling Stones. But they were also pretty great. The band was Tedd Firth, Andy Farber Ed Howard and Mark McLean.
The evening certainly gave the impression that Short was just as jovial and entertaining in “real life” as on stage. I did manage to scrounge one performance of his out of the people at the Carlyle, luckily, but in my youth, I was not confident I would be able to. The prices, however, were so high as to be prohibitive and so I figured it was not to be.
One day, in mid afternoon, crossing Park Avenue not far from the Carlyle, I was noticed Bobby Short waiting next to me for the light to change. I introduced myself and said that while I was a great admirer of his work, I could not afford the prices at the Carlyle. He said that was too bad, and wished luck before going on his way. About a half a block later, however, he turned around with an idea: “You know,” Short advised me, “you could always marry a rich a girl…”
Friday night, I went back to Jazz at Lincoln Center for two shows on the same night: Chick Corea with the (complete) Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and then Beka Gochiashvili and Gadi Lehavi at the Allen Room, playing the music of Corea, with Ravi Coltrane and Wallace Rooney joining in.
Did I mention that Gochiashvili (a Georgian) Lehavi (an Israeli) were only 17? They played piano together. I only caught their final songs--a thoughtful meditation on Corea’s “Matrix,” but the poise and patience each one demonstrated was impressive, especially given the big guns with whom they were performing.
I was forced to miss most of their performance because of the generosity of program being played at Rose Hall by Corea, Wynton Marsalis and the complete orchestra--with new arrangements, per usual, by members of the band. Chick Corea may be the most versatile composer alive in any musical form. I have been buying his albums since I was a teenager and I still can’t keep up. It would be impossible to do more than scratch the proverbial surface and that’s just what he and the band did though what a pleasure it was to hear them filled out by this incredible big band. Despite the formality of the hall, and everybody but Chick sartorially sporting Brooks Brothers suits, the evening had a relaxed, rather laid-back atmosphere, with Corea and Marsalis trading the mc role and the members of the band taking turns on a striking set of solos. (Mrs. Corea, Gayle Moran, stopped in the middle of her song to congratulate her husband for being able to surprise her on the keyboards after forty years of accompaniment. She, also, could not possibly have been wearing Brooks Brothers, to put it gently.) The selections moved back and forth over the past fifty years--including a striking recent piece commissioned for the the 50th anniversary of the MIT jazz program. Thankfully, there was none of the awful L. Rod Hubbard stuff, but even that is forgiveable, given everything the man has given us over the past half-century.
Saturday night I saw an amazing show by the sexiest seventy-two year old man on the planet, no contest. Tom Jones sounds as good or better than ever, and like so many of us, is much more handsome than he was before with his gray goatee. Seriously, Tom Jones has a voice that needs to be heard live to be believed and his choice of material in his newest incarnation makes him one of the most compelling and exciting performers I’ve seen in years.
With a tight-knit four-piece band, Jones did a 95-minute set that included songs drawn primarily from 2010’s gospel album Praise & Blame and this year’s terrific “Spirit in the Room.”
Drinking what he explained was “Gray Goose water,” he opened with “Tower of Song,” and ran through “Dimming of the Day,” “Just Dropped In,” Bad as Me,” “Sould of a Man” and some John Lee Hooker.
The only throwbacks to Jones’ past was a lovely encore of "Green, Green Grass of Home,"and in, in tribute to George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today." Now behold the man’s awesomeness in this video: Crosby, Stills, Nash, Young and Tom Jones in 1969.
Finally, Wednesday night, I caught a shockingly crowded show at Birdland where one of my favorite singers, Jane Monheit, was celebrating the release of her new cd, “The Heart Of The Matter” her eleventh. Highlights include:
“Golden Slumbers/The Long And Winding Road” by The Beatles to Buffy St. Marie’s “Until It’s Time For You To Go” to “Depende de Nos” by Ivan Lins, Randy Newman’s “When She Loved Me,” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “I Get Along Without You Very Well” along with first song recorded by Monheit on which she has written both the words and the music, “Night Night Stars.” Believe it or not, she actually turns that horrible “Sing, Sing a song” song into something moving and almost beautiful—though few things are as beautiful as her live version—one of eight arrangements—of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” Not even loud German tourists who don’t know you’re not supposed to talk during the performance at Birdland could ruin that.
The new album was produced and arranged by Gil Goldstein, with Michael Kanan on piano, Gil Goldstein on electric piano and accordion, Romero Lubambo on acoustic guitar, Neal on bass, Rick Montalbano on drums, Rogerio Boccato on percussion, David Eggar and Richard Locker on cello, Barry Crawford and Kathleen Nester on alto flute and Sheryl Henze on bass flute and c flute.
How the Media Enabled U.S. Drone Policy
by Reed Richardson
For a nation that, by 2009, had grown both physically and politically weary from two interminable wars against ghost-like foes, it’s not surprising that the incoming Obama administration latched onto drone strikes as its favorite counterterrorism weapon. After all, in theory, drones have much to commend them. They’re relatively cheap, more readily deployable, don’t risk the lives of American service members, and, best of all, they dangle the enticing prospect of raining pinpoint, Zeus-like vengeance down upon the heads of specified enemy terrorists. Money saved, world safer, bad guys dead, good guys home for dinner. What could possibly be wrong with that?
Well, as is always true in the fog of battle, a lot, actually. In fact, the remote unbridling of lethal force against hard-to-identify individuals based on sometimes muddy, often chaotic intelligence has proven to be a sure-fire recipe to kill dozens of innocent people for every target hit. What’s more, it’s increasingly apparent the drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere have ensnared us in a kind of moral and ethical tar pit—the more we exercise this weapon to fight terrorism, the more we subvert the principles of justice and due process we’re supposedly fighting to uphold.
Thus, the president’s announcement that he’ll be curtailing the use of drone strikes and re-establishing military control over the program is long overdue good news. Following on the heels of Attorney General Eric Holder’s formal acknowledgment this week that the U.S. government killed four of its citizens overseas, three of them accidentally, the administration seems to have finally arrived at some kind of turning point on drones. However, it’s important to note that the new Presidential Policy Guidance on drones Obama signed on Wednesday is classified. Moreover, the administration, as was obvious by the unbowed tone of Holder’s letter to Congress, has by no means abandoned its troubling legal justifications for drone strikes overseas. It has merely deemed the strikes themselves less necessary. This leaves the door open for it, or a subsequent White House administration, to ramp it all back up again. That’s why a heaping helping of skepticism is in order.
Sadly, we’ve gotten anything but skepticism from the press since the drone program’s inception. Instead, the establishment media’s coverage has mostly been of the dutifully credulous variety, when not outright cheerleading. For instance, news organizations have routinely lauded the latest drone “success” or terrorist killed, by citing only “U.S. officials” or their proxies as sources. Little more than government propaganda, this kind of reporting uniformly ignores collateral damage and civilian casualties, and sometimes proves to be grossly inaccurate. (See this erroneous 2009 Fox News report that repeats a U.S. official’s claim about the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar Awlawki, who actually survived the attack in question unharmed.)
In addition to this steady drip of positive news briefs, the press has also served up several larger, gushing portraits of the drone program. For example, there was this cinematic, behind-the-scenes dive into the CIA’s role as well as this flattering, White House-insider account. When not chock full of macho posturing— “we are killing these son of bitches faster than they can grow them”—this reporting spins scenes of a steely but sober commander-in-chief—“The president is not a robotic killing machine. The choices he faces are brutally difficult.” Rarely encountered in the establishment media, though, was any discussion of the growing toll of innocent lives lost or the broadening legal quagmire that accompanied the rapid expansion of drone strikes during Obama’s first term.
Even when the mainstream media’s coverage of the drone program doesn’t resort to supple obeisance, there’s still a festering unwillingness to connect all the dots. For instance, New York Times reporters Mark Mazzetti and Charlie Savage have been rare bright spots on drone coverage. But I scratch my head in wonder at why Mazzetti and the Times don’t pounce on one of the administration’s key drone strike justifications—that it’s not feasible to capture any of these suspected terrorists on the ground. This is particularly true in light of a Times article co-authored by Mazzetti from this past February, which profiled an elite Yemeni counterterrorism unit trained by U.S. forces for just such a task, but who are stuck doing traffic duty instead.
Indeed, head down to the story’s kicker quote, which raises serious questions about the proffered reasoning for drone strikes in Yemen: “‘For sure, we could be going after some of these guys,’” the [Yemeni] officer said. ‘That’s what we’re trained to do, and the Americans trained us. It doesn’t make sense.’” Ah, but perhaps it does, since any suspected Al Qaeda member captured in Pakistan or Yemen— even if they’re a U.S. citizen as Awlawki was—could end up at the prison in Guantanamo, a civil liberties nightmare that Obama has been unable to close down. Again, this is a critical discussion point that, up until Obama’s announcement today, has been missing from the traditional press’s coverage—until Guantanamo is closed down, it’s almost guaranteed that the drone program won’t be.
But while it’s one thing for the press to fall victim to source bias or a hedging its bets about challenging the government directly, it’s quite another for it to perpetuate a self-fulfilling prophecy among the public—that drone strikes are overwhelmingly popular. Now, it is true that during the Obama’s administration’s first term, the few polls conducted on the topic—including 2011 and 2012 surveys from Pew and one from ABC News/Washington Post—seemed to indicate broad, bipartisan majorities supported the drone program. And as these numbers dovetailed nicely with the Beltway conventional wisdom, the DC press corps gladly ate this narrative up, splashing headlines like “The American public loves drones.” Of course, these same news outlets consistently overlooked the fact that they were busy feeding the public a steady diet of upbeat drone stories in the first place. Round and round we go.
Still, the press’s negligence on the drone program’s popularity extends beyond a mere lack of self–awareness. Its failure involves digging deeper into the polling toplines on drones. If it did, it would have found alarming inconsistencies in the questions and presumptions baked into the drone terminology. For example, the 2011 Pew study’s question was incredibly vague, asking about “the use of unmanned ‘drone’ aircraft for aerial attacks in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.” Conflating a close air support mission in support of U.S. troops against Taliban in Afghanistan with a CIA-approved strike of a possible Al Qaeda member “elsewhere” in Waziristan makes the data gleaned here almost worthless. Similarly, Pew’s 2012 poll posed a question that said drones “target extremists” in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Notably, Pew’s wording allows for no hint of doubt about the guilt or innocence of these extremists, which is akin to gauging the popularity of sentencing already convicted criminals to jail. Indeed, it’s amazing that only 62 percent of Americans supported drones in this context.
Lately, pollsters seemed to have awakened to this stilted language, and most now identify drone targets as “suspected terrorists.” But even this formulation can present problems because just using the word “terrorist” can trigger a strong psychological response that blots out a single qualifier. (How many parents would say they’re OK with a “suspected child molester” living next door?) What’s more, pollsters never ask follow-up questions about the consequences of these suspicions being wrong or point out how often these drones miss their targets, to see if the potential for killing innocent men, women, and children might cool the zeal for drone strikes. Such nuance can make a huge difference, however. Sadly, it took a grandstanding stunt in the shape of a Senate filibuster by drone-supporting Senator Rand Paul for pollsters and the press to figure this out.
Just days before Paul’s filibuster this past March, Fox News, no slouch when it comes to tapping into the latest oncoming right-wing outrage, added more questions to its own drone policy poll, mirroring the objections of Paul. Lo and behold, it found that as you fleshed out drone use scenarios, like the targeting of suspected terrorists who were also U.S. citizens or who were located on U.S. soil, support for drone strikes fell below majority support. Weeks later, a Gallup Poll using a similar array of questions, found broad disapproval< of drone use in all but the most basic (read: least detailed) case.
Does Paul deserve credit for changing the minds of Americans? I highly doubt it. A more likely explanation is that a latent unease for the use of drone strikes already resided among the public or has been slowly growing for years. But the Beltway press was either uninterested or unwilling to ask the right questions to ferret it out. Paul’s most important contribution was not to eloquently argue the moral and legal case against drones—his superciliousness I already linked to previously. It was to provide the “objective” news outlets a convenient Republican stand-in, so they could finally justify covering the drone issue now that it fell within the confines of a partisan debate. It’s telling that the Obama administration’s reset of drone policy took until now to occur, after all the newly critical press coverage and Congressional hearings took place. Or, as Long War Journal editor Bill Roggio—who has covered this issue tirelessly for years—noted about all the newfound sunshine on drones: “I get the sense that the microscope on the program is leading to greater selectivity in ordering strikes.”
That’s perhaps the most important lesson we should learn about the press’s complicit behavior on drones during the past few years. Public scrutiny can eventually translate into political action. But by going along to get along, the media for far too long provided the Obama administration the cover it needed to freely conduct a counterproductive drone policy that will reverberate for years to come. And the press’s passivity, to this day, enables the president to excuse his actions through a poisoned calculus, one that weighs the largely forgotten civilian casualties from U.S. drone strikes against the innocents killed from terrorist attacks by other Muslims. That kind of ugly moral relativity should remind the media that there is still a toll being paid, and a steep one at that, for having failed to hold this president accountable on his drone policy.
Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com. Also, I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.
Sanford Sklansky, Racine
Regarding Watergate, one of the things the precipitated Watergate was that Nixon wanted files that would show at worst that he had committed treason by trying to stall peace talks while Johnson was still president. Johnson had Walt Rostow take those files before Johnson left the White House. The files later went to the Johnson library in 1974 and where not to be opened for 50 years. They were later opened in 1994. While not specifying exactly the Nixon tapes do indicate that this is what they were looking for. Robert Parry does a lot better job of explaining than I can.
Secondly this has not gotten much reporting in the main stream media. Here is Greenwald explaining it all. He wrote a column about this the other day as well.
Hi- Your article "Worse Than Watergate?" was great. But the PPP results included some related results. One was that fewer (70% vs. 74%) thought that Benghazi was worse than Iran Contra. I tend to think this indicates that a few more people actually remember Iran Contra. Similarly, the same number (74%) thought that Benghazi was worse than Teapot Dome! (I had a lot of fun with this fact at my website, if you are interested.) There is no question that almost no one in the poll even knew what Teapot Dome was. And that makes me think that no one remembers what Watergate was either. Regardless, all the poll really tells us is that Republicans don't like Obama and that the conservative media outlets have been pushing the Benghazi scandal. You are right to be concerned that people don't remember Watergate. But that can't be a surprise when they don't know where Benghazi is. On the other hand, I hope they end the embargo so I can visit Benghazi, Cuba before I die! -Frank
PS: Have you seen the brilliant "The Mitchell and Web Look" bit about Watergate-gate? It would go well with your article.
Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form.
For the first time, the Obama administration has admitted to the drone-killing of US citizens overseas. But "Despite that there are these overtures to the anti-targeted killing or assassination crowd, where they're trying to say, well, we're going to do this in a cleaner way," Nation correspondent Jeremy Scahill says, "the whole thing has just been one massive dirty operation." Scahill, author of Dirty Wars, joins Democracy Now! to break down what's at play for Congress and the executive branch.
Just how many Guatemalan leaders have genocidal blood on their hands? Read Frank Smyth's analysis.
A shot from the Star Trek trailer. (Credit: Paramount)
The new Star Trek, as you might have heard, is a mess, even, for some people, a travesty. The good people at io9 have done a fair job of exposing—in extreme plot-revealing fashion, so beware—the absurdities of plot and pacing in the latest iteration. What was once a quasi-meditation on the craze for perfection and the burdens of leadership has now become a sort of special-effects soup. The actors are as winning as ever—in truth I’m half in love with Chris Pine, whose Kirk at least lacks the priggishness of the Shatner iteration. But they are mired in a simultaneously pretentious and idiotic plot that can’t be saved by charm alone. You can blame JJ Abrams himself, or you can blame Damon Lindelof (the, uh, “mastermind” behind Lost), but the result is the same: the thing is a dud, Star Trek by way of the screenwriters of the famed art film Transformers 2.
True, you might need the devotion of a fan to get to a place of tragedy here; Hollywood’s ruining a franchise doesn’t rank too high on the scale of global injustices. And yet, the fans do have a point that goes beyond nerdery. When the first Star Trek remake came out, in 2009, Roger Ebert complained, “The Gene Roddenberry years, when stories might play with questions of science, ideals or philosophy, have been replaced by stories reduced to loud and colorful action. Like so many franchises, it’s more concerned with repeating a successful formula than going boldly where no ‘Star Trek’ has gone before.” Which again, to those of you who’ve always wondered about the magic of warp cores and the high-handed meditations about something called the “Prime Directive,” may seem like the complaint of a sucker. Except, I think, we all need a little suckerdom sometimes, particularly if we’re going to remain a place that still cares about science, ideals or philosophy.
I speak as a kid who was raised not on this original Star Trek crew but on The Next Generation, who will always prefer Picard to Kirk. (Hollywood, hear me now: there’s no reason to recast Patrick Stewart and try that as a reboot, okay? Don’t do it, man!) For reasons of budget, the show rarely had much by way of special effects, and other than the running joke that was the android Data, almost less humor. (Riker’s, uh, “wisecracks” didn’t count.) The thing that kept us all tuning in week after week though, I think, was the dream of it. The dream of travelling around, exploring “strange new worlds,” all under the auspices of a polity devoted to truth and justice, and one in which the citizens all believed, absolutely, and without question. It was a hokey, ridiculous, impossible dream. But it engaged me all the same, so much so that I still sometimes stream it on Netflix, while I’m cleaning house. It’s like a Buddhist meditation tape starring people in impossibly tight polyester outfits.
That might sound like I’m justifying pablum, though I suppose in a way I am. There is a tendency on the left to behave as though the real, serious matter of politics is entirely separate from culture, and particularly from popular culture. The nitty gritty of politics, either the baseball game atmosphere of elections or the dreary slicing up of policy solutions, is treated as the real stuff of social change. I don’t mean to suggest that it isn’t, but it has, for a long time, seemed to me that the left lost its grip on aspiration. That sounds vague, but what I mean is that the articulation of bigger, bolder, better things is no longer as much the priority as getting this bill through the Senate or that idea in front of a committee. Pragmatics have their place, but, they are not everything. Of course, we debate the interaction of vision and politics with respect to Obama, and endlessly argue over whether he’s lived up to the standard he set for himself in those speeches. But there is no larger sense that Americans ought to be articulating that vision to one another. In today’s public conversation, the greatness of the American political structure, or at least its immovability, is taken more or less for granted. There is no need for revision or even flexibility, let alone large-scale change.
There are, of course, many sources for that inertia on the big question. One of them is economics: the question of a more just society recedes into the background when you can’t pay the rent. Another is the corruption that grips political machinery: it’s hard not to be a cynic when you look at all the money in the vote these days. A third is that in this post–”axis of evil” age, there is good reason to suspect high-flown moral vocabulary in public life. But I would certainly add to those that another is that most of our art, such as it is—the art that reaches the vast majority of the country, the stuff that people construct their own dreams out of—is rather afraid of wandering too far afield from “reality.” And I don’t just mean those reality shows, either. I mean that vast aspirations are out of vogue everywhere. I mean that everything has become small and crass and a way to play the “game.”
In this limited case, it’s the box office one. It’s not that the directors and writers don’t know what they do, I think. It seems a deliberate sort of decision that in the new Star Trek, the Prime Directive—which holds that the new cultures the crew comes across should not be subjected to undue interference—is little more than a pretext that allows for the cool special effect of the Enterprise underwater. The rule is an arcane holdover, the kind of thing that bold young men such as occupy the rebooted Enterprise will never listen to, if they want to have true adventures. Who needs world peace and humanitarian values, anyway, when there’s stuff to be blown up?
Is the Susan B. Anthony List the NRA of the anti-choice movement? Read Ilyse Hogue’s take.
In a recent post, we addressed the issue of definition by example, but this is not the only issue facing us when choosing a definition. Here are some other considerations.
A given entry may be correctly defined in many ways, from the obvious to the more deceptive. We will usually avoid obscure definitions, but even then, there are still many choices. To define CHAIR, for example, we might use “piece of furniture,” “seat,” “facilitator,” “position of authority,” “professorship,” “preside” and so on. We usually choose the definition that helps us get the best surface reading.
Because a clue also includes wordplay, a definition need not be super-specific. For example, this would be overkill: “A piece of furniture on which one person sits, often with four legs and a back, sometimes part of a dining room set or placed behind a desk.” But just how vague can we go? Fairness is in part determined by context: How difficult is the wordplay? How difficult are the clues to the crossing words? How difficult is the puzzle as a whole? What do solvers of this particular puzzle expect? Any notion of a fair definition must acknowledge these questions.
And in fact, the definition part of a clue need not even be a definition, just as long as it points the solver in the direction of the answer. Here are two examples from past Nation puzzles:
UNPROVABLE A burp: novel, miraculous, like the existence of God (10)
QUASIMODO He had a hunch involving somewhat tragic doom (9)
Especially as part of a double definition, a definition can be an attempt at humor, often based on a literal or unexpected reading of the answer. For example:
PANTRY Where they store food, or where they make trousers? (6)
STERNLY With a serious demeanor—like a famed violinist? (7)
Such jokey definitions are usually indicated with a question mark.
There are some definitions that have become cryptic clichés, such as “sing” for SNITCH or RAT, “worker” or “colony member” for ANT and “flower” for any river. Those are hard for a constructor to resist, and entertaining to new solvers, but after a while they lose their novelty. We try to use those sparingly.
Naturally, the definition’s part of speech must match the entry’s. No defining a noun with an adjective! (Although of course we love using words whose part of speech is ambiguous, as that helps us mislead you.) A good test of the validity and fairness of a definition is “can one substitute the definition for the entry in a sentence?” If not, we must rethink the clue. And from a solver’s point of view, if your answer fails that substitution test, then chances are you don’t yet have the right answer.
Have you come across some memorably tricky definitions? Please share here, along with any quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle or any previous puzzle. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen.
And here are three links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where you can ask for and offer hints, and where every one of our clues is explained in detail.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is seen before he presents his 2013–14 Executive Budget (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
You’ve got to hand it to them: Republicans know how to find connections between their issues—even if they’re of the perverse, dishonest variety. Last week, New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo urged lawmakers, following Assemblyman Vito Lopez’s sexual harassment scandal, to pass a comprehensive women’s agenda. In a true feat of cynicism and obfuscation, the state GOP responded by attacking proposals for public financing of elections: “The height of hypocrisy is for Andrew Cuomo to claim to support women’s rights while asking New York’s women to spend their tax dollars on reelecting serial sex abuser Vito Lopez and his enabler [Assembly Speaker] Sheldon Silver.”
Needless to say, public financing of elections is not about drafting citizens to endorse particular politicians. Rather, devoting tax dollars to funding campaigns is a smart and urgent way to dilute the influence of big money, which warps our politics and makes citizens bystanders as the public coffers are drained to reward private donors. But there’s a larger lesson here.
As we’ve seen since Cuomo reached the Governor’s Mansion, there’s a big difference between what the governor backs on paper, and what he’s willing to put his considerable political muscle behind (more often than not, it’s “social issues” where Cuomo chooses to champion progressivism). Perhaps the governor believed all along (incorrectly) that he only had the power to pass one of these landmark pieces of legislation, and chose to put them both out there, thereby creating competition between the movements backing each. But we need campaign finance reform, and we need a Women’s Equality Act that takes on domestic violence, sexual harassment, workplace discrimination, pay inequity, and attacks on reproductive choice.
This situation offers a challenge to progressives, who too often allow themselves to be placed into single-issue silos, and thus pitted against each other. We should know by now that regressive policies usually hit women the hardest, and single moms are often the most acutely affected of all. When we treat “women’s issues” as distinct from clean elections, or labor, or foreign policy, we endanger women and hold back progress.
Defeat or delay for clean elections means fewer women in office. There is a ton of data that women candidates win at the same rates as men. The problem is, they don’t run at the same rates. And the #1 issue given by prospective women candidates who consider but then do not run is that they don’t think they can raise the necessary money. New York’s public financing proposal will, in fact, enable enormous numbers of women to run.
(At the moment, National Conference of State Legislatures data show that New York State, despite its progressive reputation, is tied with Arkansas for thirtieth place when it comes to the proportion of its legislature made up of women—New York City is further along. The three states with public financing—Arizona, Connecticut, and Maine—come in third, ninth and tenth, respectively.)
Just look at Arkansas, where last year the Democratic Party lost the state house for the first time since Reconstruction. Culprits include Koch brothers cash. Once elected, Republicans quickly passed a twelve-week abortion ban, a frontal assault on the lives and autonomy of women across the state. That blatantly unconstitutional law will also have to be defended in court. In austerity-era Arkansas, that will no doubt sap needed resources from already-hamstrung programs that women and children count on. For progressives, there may be single-issue campaigns, but there are rarely just single-issue defeats.
There is an alternative. Governor Cuomo has the chance to mount a real fight for a bolder agenda now. That includes centralizing women’s equality in his agenda, and pairing it with public financing, because they go hand in hand if we care about economic justice and social progress. In the meantime, it falls to the rest of us to build deeper ties, and a less compromised and compromising political movement—demanding a government that respects and reflects women’s dignity and autonomy at the workplace, the doctor’s office, and the ballot box. As history has taught us, an injury to one is an injury to all.
Governor Cuomo wants to get rid of that pesky Working Families Party, Katrina vanden Heuvel writes.