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John Nichols

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Is the War on ISIS Illegal?



Last year, when President Obama declared his intention to take the United States off “perpetual war footing,” he identified a crucial mechanism for doing so: repealing the resolution that Congress passed in 2001 authorizing George W. Bush to use military force against those who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” in the September 11 attacks—namely, Al Qaeda.

“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,” Obama said during the speech, adding that his intention was to “refine and ultimately repeal the AUMF’s mandate.”

Now, as the president seeks to vastly expand the footprint of American military action in Iraq and Syria, he’s using that very same 2001 authorization as legal justification for skirting Congress. “I have the authority to address the threat of ISIL,” Obama declared on Wednesday evening in a speech laying out his plans for an indefinite military campaign against militants in Iraq and Syria. He said he would “welcome congressional support,” but indicated he wouldn’t wait for it.

“We believe he can rely on the 2001 AUMF for the airstrikes he is authorizing against ISIL,” senior administration officials said on a press call before the speech. The administration does believe it needs Congress to explicitly approve funding to train and equip Syrian rebels, which is part of the strategy Obama outlined on Wednesday.

The administration’s reliance on the AUMF isn’t just ironic. It’s also based on very tenuous logic. The White House argues the resolution covers a multi-country war on ISIL because the organization is “the true inheritor of Usama bin Laden’s legacy,” according to a statement from the administration, “notwithstanding the recent public split between [Al Qaeda]’s senior leadership and ISIL.”

Some legal scholars view this argument skeptically. Writing in Time, Harvard law professor and former Justice Department official Jack Goldsmith called it “unconvincing,” noting that “if this remarkably loose affiliation with Al Qaeda brings a terrorist organization under the 2001 law, then Congress has authorized the President to use force endlessly against practically any ambitious jihadist terrorist group that fights against the United States.”

Members of Congress have also expressed doubt about the legal justification. “It is my view that the president possesses existing authorities to strike ISIL in the short term, but that a prolonged military campaign will require a congressionally-approved Authorization for Use of Military Force,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Menendez said in a statement. The campaign will most certainly be “prolonged,” as Obama stated clearly that the goal is to “ultimately destroy” ISIS, rather than simply contain it. There are a number of other lawmakers from both sides of the aisle calling on the president to seek authorization from Congress, as my colleague John Nichols reports—something the majority of Americans want, too.

The White House’s dismissal of the need for congressional approval is also in conflict with positions Obama himself expressed as a presidential candidate. “The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation,” Obama declared to The Boston Globe in 2008.

The situation in Iraq and Syria does not appear to meet that standard. Obama acknowledged on Wednesday that “[w]e have not yet detected specific plotting against our homeland.” Meanwhile, intelligence sources say that the threat from ISIS has been grossly exaggerated. “It’s hard to imagine a better indication of the ability of elected officials and TV talking heads to spin the public into a panic, with claims that the nation is honeycombed with sleeper cells, that operatives are streaming across the border into Texas or that the group will soon be spraying Ebola virus on mass transit systems—all on the basis of no corroborated information,” former State Department counterterrorism adviser Daniel Benjamin told The New York Times.

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It’s worth noting that the legality of an extended cross-border campaign isn’t only a question of the separation of powers. As Eli Lake noted at The Daily Beast, the White House has not explained the basis for the strikes under international law.

While the administration’s current attempt to circumnavigate Congress is hypocritical as well as potentially illegal, it’s also consistent with the way Obama has exercised US military power before. As Spencer Ackerman notes, he’s extended drone strikes across the Middle East and North Africa; initiated a seven-month air campaign in Libya without congressional approval; prolonged the war in Afghanistan; and, in recent months, ordered more than 1,000 troops back into Iraq. Promises of no boots on the ground notwithstanding, Obama’s war footprint is large, and expanding.

Read Next: “The Speech on Diplomacy That Obama Should Have Given Last Night

Are Campaigns to Raise the Minimum Wage Really ‘Recruitment Ground for Fascism’?

Mitch McConnell at press briefing

In late August, The Nation published exclusive audio from a secretive summer retreat for billionaire Republican donors organized by the Koch brothers. In the audio, released by Lauren Windsor of The Undercurrent, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) tells those assembled that he will do everything in his power to block government spending on “healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.”

In additional audio from the retreat, top Koch strategist Richard Fink describes the minimum wage as “the recruitment ground for fascism,” and compares liberals to groups ranging from the Nazi Party to modern-day suicide bombers. So yesterday, Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) brought The Nation and The Undercurrent’s reporting to the Senate floor by asking McConnell to denounce Fink’s inflammatory remarks. Later in the afternoon at a press briefing, Windsor again asked McConnell to comment on the Fink recording. McConnell turned away without answering, moving on to the next question.

—Naomi Gordon-Loebl

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

Solver Bo Curry of Redwood City, CA, recently wrote to remonstrate about Puzzle #3333, and in particular this clue at 9D:

SHARON GLESS Tyne Daly’s costar and lead in Hunter admitted to going naked in Malaysia? (6,5)

His e-mail decried what he called a “troubling trend” exemplified by that grid entry.

There is apparently a growing temptation to include answers which are more and more highly topical, even esoteric. Great care must be taken when clues refer to celebrities, the more ephemeral the more dangerous. All educated readers might be expected to know the name of, e.g. Henry James, but I doubt that all educated solvers will know the name of Sharon Gless (at least one such didn’t know it, fersure). This is especially problematic if, as has been known to happen, the puzzles are later reissued in the magazine or in book form for another generation of solvers.

Mr. Curry raises a number of important points, which are worth pulling apart. One is the issue of celebrities and their ephemeral claim to notability. There are solvers (and constructors) who prefer their grids to be stocked only with timeless names and well-established vocabulary. That isn’t us. We prefer to use a mix of the tried-and-true and the up-to-date—to join Henry James and Britney Spears, as it were, in a cruciverbal pas de deux. That’s the sort of variety that keeps a crossword lively and unpredictable.

Secondly, there’s the more general matter of familiarity, and trying to determine what the average solver might reasonably be expected to know. This applies not only to proper names but to words in general and to a range of knowledge. What one solver regards as esoteric strikes another as utterly rudimentary, and vice versa (we touched on this issue here), and the best we can do is to try to keep things within a golden mean, relying on our test-solvers to let us know if we’ve gone too far into obscurity. But we do not regard it as a flaw if a solver learns a new word or name in the course of solving one of our puzzles.

Also, Mr. Curry cautions us against puzzles whose timeliness might limit their appeal to later generations of solvers, but we gaily spurn his advice. Puzzles, like all forms of entertainment, are meant to be enjoyed in the here and now. Posterity may or may not like what we do, but surely a few TV stars more or less will not make the difference.

In the end, though, the issues Mr. Curry raises are a matter of balance—and in truth we are not in very serious disagreement. Famous names, or indeed words of any kind, can get into the puzzle either because they’re inherently notable, or because they lend themselves to particularly vibrant and interesting wordplay. (Or occasionally because there’s no other word that will fit in the grid, but that’s rare.)

We readily concede that Sharon Gless, the co-star of the ’80s TV series Cagney and Lacey, has a somewhat tenuous claim to notability. She’s a B-list star at best. But on the other hand, we thought the nonce coinage “sarongless” was a keeper—and Mr. Curry, in a P.S., agrees. And that’s why she appeared in the puzzle.

This week’s clueing challenge: Write a clue for TYNE DALY that would justify its inclusion in a puzzle grid. To comment (and see other readers’ comments), please click on this post’s title and scroll to the bottom of the resulting screen. And now, four links:
• The current puzzle
• Our puzzle-solving guidelines | PDF
• Our e-books (solve past puzzles on your iOS device—many hints provided by the software!)
• A Nation puzzle solver’s blog where every one of our clues is explained in detail. This is also where you can post quibbles, questions, kudos or complaints about the current puzzle, as well as ask for hints.

Overturned Death Penalty Conviction Sparks Debate in North Carolina

Wrongful conviction overturned.

Innocent North Carolina man Henry McCollum embraced by his father upon being released from death row after thirty years in prison. (AP Photo/Michael Biesecker)



This article originally appeared in The Daily Tar Heel and is reposted here with permission.

The release of a death row inmate wrongly imprisoned for thirty years has shed new light on the conflicted state of the death penalty in North Carolina.

On September 2, a Robeson County judge vacated the convictions of Henry McCollum and his half brother Leon Brown after the state’s Innocence Inquiry Commission tested DNA from the crime scene and found that the evidence implicated a different man.

McCollum and Brown were convicted in 1984 of first-degree murder and rape. Both men spent time on death row, though Brown’s sentence was later changed to a life sentence in prison.

Death row executions in North Carolina have halted since 2006 due to a variety of legal challenges, including several under the state’s former Racial Justice Act, which allowed defendants to use claims of racial discrimination to have their death row sentences converted to life in prison without parole.

The 2006 act was repealed by the North Carolina General Assembly in 2013. Still, four case appeals are pending involving the Racial Justice Act in the state Supreme Court, said Vernetta Alston, an attorney with the Durham-based Center for Death Penalty Litigation.

Until the court decides those cases, Alston said, the future of the law’s role in state death penalty litigation remains unclear.

“It’s our position that everyone who has an RJA motion currently pending—that those motions are not rendered mute by the repeal of a law,” she said.

Lawyers filed a motion under the Racial Justice Act in McCollum’s case, but his release was based on separate litigation, she said.

Jennifer Marsh, director of research and community services at UNC School of Law, said critics of the Racial Justice Act wrongly argued the act would lead people to be released from prison.

“That is not and was never a remedy under the act,” she said.

Support for the death penalty for people convicted of murder stands around 60 percent nationally, according to the most recent Gallup poll on the issue. But capital punishment’s approval is at its lowest point in more than forty years.

And Sarah Preston, policy director for North Carolina’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said she thinks there has been national and state momentum against the use of capital punishment.

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A national advocacy group called Conservatives Concerned About the Death Penalty launched in 2013 to push for an end to the death penalty, Preston said, and North Carolina has a chapter of the organization.

“What we’re starting to see is recognition that is sort of bipartisan—and lots of groups and categories of people are starting to recognize that the death penalty is broken in a variety of different ways,” she said. “It feels different from how it’s felt in the past.”


Read Next: Top Ten Back-to-School Songs

Of Optics and Objectivity: How Journalism Is Failing Our Democracy

Ray and Janay Rice

(AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Click here to jump directly to Reed Richardson.

"The Beatles in Mono" 14 LP set.

Depending on your level of obsessiveness, you can say that Apple et al. saved the best for last. These ten albums, plus a three LP set of singles remastered and a gorgeous 108-page book were mastered in an eleven-step process to reproduce the original sound of the albums as perfectly as possible. (It does not include the "Yellow Submarine" soundtrack, "Abbey Road" and "Let It Be" albums, which were originally released in stereo, nor “The Ballad of John and Yoko”). Everything about this set, from the book to the fold-out covers and photography, is Rolls-Royce quality.

The box set is a kind of a test. Vinyl collectors who would be interested in it probably bought the stereo box. But the stereo albums are not really what the boys intended. Most of the mixing of them was done without their presence or even that of George Martin. I attended a listening session this summer at Electric Lady studios where the music was played on an amazing hi-fi set up by McIntosh and in many cases, one felt as if some of these songs were brand new. One or two are faster than you’ll remember from the CDs. Ringo does not scream "I've got blisters on my fingers!" at the end of "Helter Skelter" on the mono mix. But the overall effect was overpowering. We got to ask questions of the engineers and it was quite touching to hear how much reverence went into the creation of these albums. This really is one of the high points of Western civilization, I’m not kidding. The combination of these four young men coming together as they did and combining their extraordinary talents to reach what remain unmatched heights in creative accomplishments is one of the most moving and powerful achievements of modern times. If I believed in miracles, the music of The Beatles would perhaps be number one on my list.

Universal Music Group says they are pressing a million albums, again, an amazing figure since almost everyone who buys it will already have the music. If you are really crazy, you can buy a special cartridge made by Ortofon for these albums only. It’s only $500, which makes this set feel cheap at only $350 on the Evil One.

And now, here (finally) is Reed:

Of Optics and Objectivity: How Journalism is Failing Our Democracy
by Reed Richardson

We depend upon journalists to tell us what it is that they can see that the public can’t and for the press to bear witness to what the truth really is when the powerful won’t. That’s the duty of the free press in our democracy. But there’s an important qualifier to this relationship for it to work: the press has to actually be looking for the truth—and looking in the right place—for it to work.

Tragically, the press seems increasingly unable to live up that part of the bargain. Instead of offering insightful perspective, the establishment media increasingly exhibits a kind of institutional myopia, one marked by breathlessly near-sighted takes on ephemera and peripheral fixations on the irrelevant. More and more, we’re living in an age of where stagecraft matters as much or more in the media than statecraft, where analysis of the “optics” trumps reporting on actions.

This growing fascination with “optics” reveals a lot about how our press’s news values have been compromised by those that it covers. Back in 2010, Ben Zimmer’s New York Times “On Language” column offered an astute etymological history of the term, one that also speaks volumes about the trap the press has fallen into.

“When politicians fret about the public perception of a decision more than the substance of the decision itself, we’re living in a world of optics. Of course, elected officials have worried about outward appearances since time immemorial, but optics puts a new spin on things, giving a scientific-sounding gloss to P.R. and image-making.”

Optics is anti-journalism, in other words. What it represents flies the face in of a journalist’s charge to find the truth. It excuses all the basest instincts inherent in spinning, deceiving, and lying to the public. Optics involves passive absorption of news versus intrepid reporting of those who make it. Optics begets theater criticism rather than actual accountability.

And yet, optics have become so embedded into our news culture, particularly in the political press, that seemingly not a day goes by without someone in the media fixating on the pageantry—or lack thereof—of our nation’s leaders, often at the expense of reporting what they’re actually doing in our name. Over at Media Matters, Eric Boehlert does a great job of offering a blow-by-blow account of how the press’s obsession with “optics” has played out in the Beltway in recent weeks.

But it’s not just the political press that is so afflicted. It’s endemic to the media at this point. Consider the reaction earlier this week to the elevator video of Ray Rice viciously assaulting this then-girlfriend. Released on Monday morning by the tabloid site TMZ, this new video quickly went viral, igniting a long overdue media firestorm of condemnation of Rice, for his attack, and of his team and the NFL, for having, respectively, engaged in obvious victim-blaming and doling out a laughable two-game punishment. That slap on the wrist, by the way, even NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell admitted was a “mistake,” but nonetheless took no steps to correct. Until that is, Monday afternoon, at which time Rice’s team unceremoniously cut him and the league suddenly decided to suspended him indefinitely from playing anywhere else. Justice, better late than never, right?

Not really. Not when you consider the circumstances that precipitated the NFL’s actions. Think about what had, or, more accurately, had not changed between Sunday and Monday. Did the public, the press, and the league now know more about the assault? Not really. Did the latest video from inside the elevator present damning new evidence? Not at all. (Rice’s defense, that his girlfriend hit him first, could never change the reality that she still ended up being struck unconscious by him.) The facts that everyone knew about that night hadn’t changed, in other words, but what had changed were the optics.

That it took this long for the NFL to act appropriately says all you need to know about the league’s morally bankrupt priorities. But let’s not let the sports media off the hook either. For months, NFL beat reporters showed anemic interest in the story, willingly repeating the talking points thrown their way by Rice’s team and the league. When the league suddenly played dumb about the second video this week, some of the elite sports journalists looked like stooges. Never mind that there was a bigger story here—the NFL has a long history of accommodating domestic abusers. It still took TMZ boldly out-hustling (and, yes, likely out-paying) sports news behemoths like ESPN and Sports Illustrated before the latter were embarrassed into exercising any real broad concern or outrage about Rice's assault. Of course, in minimizing the story for so long, the press all but guaranteed it would take victimizing Janay Rice all over again before her abusive husband would ever get a more deserving punishment.

There’s no excuse for this betrayal, but there is an explanation. The press’s equating of the theatrics of the news with the news itself starts to make sense when you consider it in the context of the profession’s hidebound need to be considered objective. For too many news organizations, being fair and objective has morphed from exercising news judgment about who is—and isn’t—telling the truth to treating everyone’s point of view equally and leaving it to the public to figure out. As a result, the appearance of being fair has become a handy crutch for the establishment media; an easy way to proclaim neutrality and fend off claims of bias while abetting lazy arguments and shallow, he-said, she-said reporting. In other words, the root of this optics obsession originates from within. Journalists—particularly those in high-profile jobs—pay so much attention to optics because they have been trained to think about their own coverage in the very same way. And nowhere is the mirroring more evident than in our political coverage.

Thus, it’s much easier to find endless, fleeting meta-takes of how the president delivers a speech or what he says at a press conference than it is to find trenchant examination of actual policy. But in Washington and elsewhere in the pundit firmament, the hierarchy of what’s considered newsworthy and important has been inverted. There’s little professional esteem to be gained from being right in the long run anymore. (Just ask anyone in the media who opposed the Iraq War.) Similarly, there’s no blowback from being spectacularly wrong on a daily basis. (Consider every neoconservative pundit who supported the Iraq War.) Instead, what gets rewarded most these days are “hot takes” served up 24/7 and the superficial pretense of accountability.

But when the press relies so heavily upon optics, our democratic priorities can easily get scrambled and manipulated. For example, domestic violence plagues our society and millions of Americans are at risk from it every year. And yet institutions like the NFL—with an assist from a compliant press—effectively normalize this epidemic by covering it matter-of-factly, unless, that is, a high-visibility case makes the problem temporarily unignorable. Indeed, if there’s a takeaway for the NFL from the Rice incident, it’s that the media can be played for fools right up until they are humiliated for not doing their job. (The Onion sums up the league’s lesson learned more bluntly here.)

At the same time, our country is now poised to rekindle a war against a terror group in the Middle East, despite the fact that Homeland Security officials say it poses no threat of attack in the United States. Untold billions of dollars will be spent and untold Iraqi (and possibly Syrian) lives will be lost in the campaign to “degrade” and “destroy” ISIS. And yet, an estimated 16,800 Americans die annually from domestic violence-related homicides. Of course, it's not a simply matter of doing one or the other, but it's the sense of proportion that's out of whack. One crisis is so close, so pervasive, and thus so commonplace that the media elite can't be bothered with it, while the other is so far away, so regionalized, and thus so exotic that it sucks up all the media oxygen.

Again, it’s not hard to find the optics blindly driving the difference. The press frenzy over ISIS’s gruesome videotaped beheadings of two U.S. journalists all but begged the president to do something. And the Washington media establishment has never been known for shying away from more war. A few shrewd observers have noted that ISIS’s grisly YouTube taunting is all about setting a trap for the U.S., one that depends upon our national preoccupation with seeing evil everywhere and looking tough in response for it to work.

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Sadly, it would seem our enemies know us better than we know ourselves. Thanks to the veil of fear the media has drawn across the country recently, we stand on the verge of having to learn the same painful, costly truths in Iraq yet again. And whether or not we ultimately “defeat” ISIS militarily likely won’t matter much to the Beltway press in a few years anyway. By then, it will have grown bored and moved on to the latest shiny object, like the 2016 presidential election or the next group of extremists anointed to take ISIS’s place as our nation’s number-one threat. And on and on it goes.

Safe to say, this vicious cycle of short-sighted coverage and bankrupt accountability doesn’t make for very pretty picture of the efficacy of objective journalism. Bad optics, one might even say. But we’re unlikely to see a change anytime soon. Not until we realize that a far bigger threat to our democracy occurs when the press spends too much time consumed with what little it can already see, and too little time trying to seek out so much of what it can’t.

Contact me directly at reedfrichardson (at) gmail dot com.

I’m on Twitter here—(at)reedfrich.

The mail:
Bill Luker Jr.
Denton TX

Message: Your phrase "revanchist foreign policy of Russia" is typical of so-called leftists who spend too much time at the clubs, and too much of their excessively large legacies from rich parents, listening to Jorma Kaukonen and reveling in the "cultural freedom' they enjoy in the US. And as you should know, that is ALL we have left. You and they have completely failed to understand why Russia might react negatively to being surrounded by NATO bases and anti-missile sites, expending relentlessly since 1991, after being told by the US that it would not expand and militarily threaten the Russian homeland. You and they apparently do not understand the nature of fascism in this country, and its insatiable desire for imperial expansion, even to the point of involving us in a Eurasian war, and possibly a Third World War. But here's something you WILL understand: I and many others will never give one fucking dime to The Nation as long as the medium-blue assholes, never-could-be rockers and record nerds like you—who've never lifted a finger on behalf of anyone, as you continue your never-ending quest for empty notoriety and self-aggrandizement—continue to pollute the pages of a once-proud publication that stood four-square against Western aggression and expansionist catastrophes. Please let Katrina van den Houvel know this, as well. Maybe she'll get a clue.

Editor's note: To contact Eric Alterman, use this form

Read Next: Dave Zirin on the beginning of the end for Roger Goodell.

Obama’s Plan for Military Action Requires Congressional Checks and Balances

President Barack Obama

(AP Photo/Saul Loeb)

Buried in the data from the much-hyped CNN poll that suggested Americans were “alarmed” by the actions of the the ISIL, and that they feel “increasingly concerned” that ISIL could pose a threat to the United States, were two key details:

1. Americans want limits placed on the US military response to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant and to the broader political challenges that have developed in those countries. For instance, a majority of Americans, 61 percent of Americans oppose placing US troops on the ground in Iraq and Syria.

2. More than 70 percent of Americans believe that President Obama should seek congressional authorization for military strikes against ISIL.

Amid all the “alarm” and “concern,” the American people remain wary about any rush to war, and they believe that Congress—not just the president—should have a say with regard to expansion of military action. And make no mistake, what President Obama described in his speech to the nation Wednesday night was a dramatic expansion of US military involvement and action in Iraq and Syria.

As Congresswoman Barbara Lee, D-California, said in a statement after hearing the president’s proposals, “The facts are clear. We are no longer talking about limited strikes to prevent genocide and protect U.S. personnel. We are talking about sustained bombing and the use of military force.”

The president seemed to recognize the war wariness—and the war weariness—of the American people. Though he outlined plans for US involvment in a broad effort to “degrade and destroy and ultimately destroy ISIL,” Obama told the nation in a speech Wednesday night:

I want the American people to understand how this effort will be different from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will not involve American combat troops fighting on foreign soil. This counterterrorism campaign will be waged through a steady, relentless effort to take out ISIL wherever they exist using our air power and our partner forces on the ground.

Yet the initiative the president outlined was one of offensive warmaking in Iraq and Syria, with the United States taking the lead in mobilizing “a broad coalition of partners” for military action “to drive these terrorists from their lands.” This military action will involve not just “a systematic campaign of airstrikes” but the deployment of an additional 475 US troops “to support Iraqi and Kurdish forces with training, intelligence and equipment.” According to CNN, that brings the total number of US soldiers on the ground in Iraq to roughly 1,700.

Even as he described a dramatic increase in US military involvement in the region, the president avoided asking for the congressional consultation that is required by a US Constitution that explicitly affords Congress the power “to declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water.”

Rather, Obama announced, “I have the authority to address the threat from ISIL. But I believe we are strongest as a nation when the President and Congress work together. So I welcome congressional support for this effort in order to show the world that Americans are united in confronting this danger.”

Translation: Obama is not inclined to seek the congressional advice and consent that is imagined and intended by the Constitution.

Congressman Jim McDermott, D-Washington, described the “I welcome congressional support” line as “really kind of condescending.”

The question now is whether Congress will assert its clear authority as a co-equal branch of government to debate and vote on plans for war and, through the power of the purse, to define the scope and character of warmaking.

That assertion is unlikely to come from congressional leaders. And many House and Senate Democrats were quick to express support for the president’s plans, while some Republicans argued that he should go further.

But a number of members of House and Senate continue to voice concerns about the lack of definition for the new initiative, and about the lack of clear congressional authorization for military action.

Senator Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, responded to Obama’s remarks by expressing respect for the restraint she said the president had shown. But Baldwin added, “I remain concerned about the potential for open-ended U.S. military engagement in the Middle East.” Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, D-California, expressed “reservations about expanding airstrikes into Syria. Committing U.S. military involvement to a country that is undergoing a complicated and lengthy civil war has serious potential international implications.” Echoing Baldwin, Sanchez added, “I am concerned about the possibility of a protracted military campaign that might put American troops in future danger.”

To address such concerns, Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine who caucuses with the Democrats, says he is working with a bipartisan group of senators to draft a resolution defining the president’s authority. Unlike the open-ended authorizations given President George Bush in 2001 and 2002, King told The Washington Post, “I think that we should be talking about something that is much more limited. For example, in duration or defining who the enemy is.”

King said there should be a congressional debate before the November election. “We have a constitutional responsibility to be engaged in this,” he argued. ”I’m frustrated by Congress’s propensity to criticize and not make decisions. This is an opportunity where we should engage in this. I think it strengthens the country if we do so.”

Senator Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, was blunter: “The Constitution is very clear. The power to declare war resides in Congress. If we are to go to war, Congress must approve.”

That is the view that Congresswoman Lee has long held, and she restated it strongly on Wednesday night, saying, “The Constitution requires Congress to vote on the use of military force. This is not about this President. This is about any President and any Congress. We must re-establish the checks and balances laid out by the Constitution.”

Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, and Keith Ellison, D-Minnesota, joined Lee in asking for immediate debate. “Congress must weigh in when it comes to confronting ISIL through military action,” they said. “The voices of the American people must be heard during a full and robust debate in Congress on the use of military force. Speaker Boehner should put legislation authorizing military action on the floor of the House of Representatives before Congress leaves for the upcoming district work period.”

Appearing on MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes Wednesday night, House Armed Services Committee member John Garamendi, D-California, declared, “This is about war and this is a very serious matter. Mr. President come to Congress and get your authorization.”

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In a statement earlier Wednesday, Garamendi pointed out that “the U.S. Constitution and War Powers Resolution are clear: Congress is obligated to weigh in on extended U.S. military actions. No matter how noble the cause, no matter how just the engagement, Congress’ voice and vote are required within a 60-90 day window.”

Garamendi’s office reports that “the 60-day window in our military campaign against ISIL ends on October 7th, although the precise date is subject to some interpretation.”

While the congressman says “our current limited air strikes and special operations missions against the Islamic State have a clear purpose and are narrow and targeted in scope,” he explains that “it’s incumbent on Congress to vote on that strategy if it involves military action. To do otherwise ignores our Constitutionally-required duty. The people we represent and our brave men and women in uniform deserve better than that. They deserve a vote.”

Garamendi’s sentiments are shared by activists.

Democracy for America, the group formed by backers of Howard Dean’s antiwar presidential campaign of 2004 was pointed in its call for a vote. Even as he decried ISIL as “a collection of brutal barbarians who threaten the stability of the Middle East,” DFA’s Neil Sroka said, “We remain deeply troubled by any plan for U.S. military engagement that has not been explicitly debated by the American people and voted on by Congress.”

“While regional leaders and the global community must respond to ISIS’s growing list of atrocities,” Sroka explained in his statement, “after more than a decade of war, the American people and their representatives in Congress must have a calm, rational public debate of that response and the appropriate level of U.S. involvement.”

That debate, argued the national group Peace Action, should weigh the wisdom of the military response that Obama has proposed. “We agree with the president that there is no military solution to the problems posed by [ISIL],” said Peace Action executive director Kevin Martin. “And yet his proposed strategy relies far too heavily on the use of military force. It’s time to stop the bombing and escalation and use the other tools of U.S. foreign policy—working with allies in cutting off weapons, oil and funding streams for starters—which will be much more active in dealing with [ISIL].”

Read Next: Phyllis Bennis on the speech on diplomacy Obama should have given Wednesday night

‘Erase the Tapes!’: The Beginning of the End for Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)

National Football League Commissioner Roger Goodell’s father was a senator from the great state of New York. A liberal Republican (those existed then) he spoke out against the Vietnam War, sponsoring the first bill to defund the carnage in 1970, earning “the wrath of Richard Nixon.” The response to Senator Goodell by Nixon was so unhinged that looking back it was a sign of the paranoia, the enemies lists, and the secret recordings that eventually did Nixon in. Now the younger Goodell, like his father’s nemesis, can see all of his power and privilege crashing down over a tape.

Roger Goodell, the most powerful man in the Sports World, is now officially fighting for his professional life following a report from the Associated Press that the league did in fact have a copy of the videotape, now public to the world, of Ray Rice striking his then-fiancée, Janay Palmer, into unconsciousness. The $40 million-a-year man has spent the last several days answering questions about whether or not he or anyone in the NFL executive suites actually saw the footage before issuing the now infamous two-game suspension to Rice. His answer has consistently been that no one saw the tape. The official statement from the NFL as reported by MSNBC’s All In with Chris Hayes was as follows: “We requested from law enforcement any and all information about the incident including the video from inside the elevator. That video is not made available to us and no one in our office has seen it until today.” There is no wiggle room, no equivocation, with this statement. But only media members who seem to live to feel the warmth of Roger Goodell’s glow have been buying this steaming pile of sanctimonious tripe.

The reasons for widespread skepticism were abundant. Given that the NFL security staff includes former members of the FBI and Secret Service amongst their ranks, given that the NFL was in regular contact with law enforcement officials in New Jersey after the assault, and given that the NFL is profoundly image-conscious and routinely does the most invasive possible deep dives into the personal lives of their employees, it strained credulity that they never had seen the tape before it was released. Now the strained credulity has officially snapped. A law enforcement official has gone to the AP to say that he sent an NFL executive this video five months ago. This official played the AP a voicemail from an NFL office number on April 9 confirming that the video had made it to their offices. As the AP reported, “A female voice expressed her thanks and says ‘you’re right it’s terrible ‘”

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Within minutes of the AP report, the NFL chose to double down. They released the following statement in response. “We have no knowledge of this. We are not aware of anyone in our office who possessed or saw the video before it was made public on Monday. We will look into it.”

My belief from the beginning of this ordeal has been that the only way Goodell is forced out of office is if the owners decide he has become bad for business. His tenure has been rife with scandal and incompetence, yet he has grown in stature because the profit margins of the league are unmatched. He has benefited from the simple fact that when the glorious game starts, a narcotic perfume drowns the stench. But there is no covering up this particular odor. Week one of the NFL season just ended and all everyone is talking about, other than at the NFL’s own house network, is domestic violence and what Roger Goodell knew and when he knew it. The question is not “Who can challenge the Seattle Seahawks for NFL supremacy?” The question is, “Did Goodell see the tape?” Goodell loves talking about “responsibility” and “accountability.” He will be held to account. If there is tangible evidence he is hurting the owners” bottom line, they will coldly dispatch him like he was a seventh-round draft pick getting cut from training camp. They might anyway. If the NFL really wants to send a message that violence against women will not be tolerated, then they can at long last fire someone who either was so incompetent he did not seek out footage of Ray Rice’s violence against Janay Rice, or so venal, he saw it and did not care. Either way, one thing is without a doubt: we have a commissioner who did not think the substance of what took place in that elevator mattered until it became a crisis of public relations.

Read Next: Dave Zirin on the revictimizing of Janay Rice

In Covering Obama’s ISIS Speech, Can the Media Move Beyond ‘Optics’?

President Obama


As the whole world watches President Obama’s address on combating ISIS tonight, you can depend on the US media to obsess over the “optics.” Is he coming across tough enough, Putin-y enough? Will his demeanor please the Republicans and frighten the terrorists (or vice versa)? And what does his suit have to say about all of this?

From Obama”s refusal to cut short his vacation after the Malaysian plane was shot down over Ukraine, to golfing after commenting on the beheading of journalist James Foley, to his wearing a beige suit (which the press mistakenly called “tan,” a bad habit of white folks, as people of color know), the media has lately been speeding up its favorite game—spitting out millions of words about image (the old word for “optics”) instead of substance.

I’m torn: I write about the nuances of imagery all the time. It holds tremendous power, public figures must know how to advertise themselves, the medium is the message and all that. But today we have so many layers of media interpreting imagery, from cable pundits to billions of tweets, that it’s getting harder for people to see for themselves.

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We don’t know how much optics scolds like Maureen Dowd and Fox News have played into Obama’s decision to strike in Syria. But Eric Boehlert reminds us of what happens to journalists when they continually opt for optics: it weakens their already compromised ability to analyze issues, much less reality. Compared to optics babble, he says, analysis “is more difficult, more rigorous, and it’s much needed.”

And Boehlert chronicles how journalists have actually agreed at times with this or that policy but decide to harp anyway over this or that vocal inflection:

The Washington Post’s Ruth Marcus recently agreed that the country’s current immigration failures were the “fault of House Republicans.” She then proceeded to pen an entire column attacking Obama’s “erratic” style because he “looks weak” and he “looks political” in his decision-making.

The same went for Post colleague Dana Milbank: Obama’s comments about the threat Islamic State posed to the United States were “probably true,” but unnerving nonetheless. Why? Obama wasn’t projecting enough panic, apparently. New York Times columnist Frank Bruni argued that while Obama’s recent foreign policy commentary “reflects a prudent disinclination to repeat past mistakes and overreach,” he non[e]theless failed to deliver “savvy, constructive P.R.”

“Worrying about image projection and the degree of savviness in the Administration’s P.R.,” noted media critic Jay Rosen, represents “signs of a press corps that can be deeply unserious about international politics.”

You can read more on the Media Matters blog.

Beyond Janay Rice: Lessons From a State Where Domestic Violence Runs Rampant

Janay and Ray Rice give a press conference.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice speaks alongside his wife Janay during a press conference about his arrest for assaulting his fiance. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

If any good has come from the release of the video showing former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice knocking out his then-fiancée, it’s that our social media feeds are filled with friends’, family members’ and acquaintances’ unfiltered opinions on domestic violence.

Among those piping up are the holier-than-thou folks who withhold their empathy and outrage because Janay Rice has stayed in the relationship. Then there are the people indignant that we don’t know what she did to provoke her assailant. There are the football fans expressing relief that Ray Rice didn’t play for their team, and so the season can move on without interruption. (Side Eye of the Year Award goes to this camp.) And there are the patient few taking time to explain in Facebook threads and real world conversations why these perspectives—and any that blames the victim or distracts from the reality of that brutal and nauseating knockout—fail to acknowledge the humanity of Janay Rice, survivors of intimate partner violence and women as a whole. A topic typically shrouded in shame and hushed tones has moved to the center of public debate, and it’s an opportunity to get an honest take on where our communities stand and to respond as needed.

It is a shame, as others have eloquently pointed out, that this conversation has come at the expense of Janay Rice’s privacy. It’s worth considering whether we become complicit in the act by viewing the video that TMZ released, especially when there are plenty of survivors who consent to sharing their stories in the hope that their disclosures can bring about real change. Just last month, the daily paper in Charleston, South Carolina, published an extensive investigation into that state’s domestic violence crisis. Regardless of where you live, it’s a must-read. According to the first article in the series:

More than three times as many women have died here at the hands of current or former lovers than the number of Palmetto State soldiers killed in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.

It’s a staggering toll that for more than 15 years has placed South Carolina among the top 10 states nationally in the rate of women killed by men. The state topped the list on three occasions, including this past year, when it posted a murder rate for women that was more than double the national rate.

Thankfully, the abuse so widely discussed this week wasn’t fatal. But reading the series offers answers to questions bubbling up around the Rice debacle, including why the conversation has focused on Ray Rice’s employment rather than criminal charges, and why women in similar situations sometimes stay. Among the factors that lead to the state’s distinction as one of the worst for women hoping to survive their romantic relationships:

  • Lack of will on the part of legislators to pass laws that protect women. According to the series, “A man can earn five years in prison for abusing his dog but a maximum of just 30 days in jail for beating his wife or girlfriend on a first offense.”

  • The challenges prosecutors face in getting cases to stick. According to the series, “A number of factors contribute to this problem, from overcrowded court dockets and under-trained police to victims too scared to testify against the men who beat them.”

  • Trusted pastors in this deeply religious state who advise that staying and working things out is God’s will. According to the series, religious leaders can unwittingly put women in greater danger: “In churches that did acknowledge abuse… pastors often compounded the problem by counseling abusers and victims together—and then sending them home with the sting of their shared grievances still fresh. Back behind closed doors, the abuser would take out his frustrations on his partner all over again.”

Woven throughout the reporting are videos of first-person accounts from women who have survived domestic violence, either as the person abused or as a witness to fatal abuse. These are the stories we should be watching for insight into the crisis, not the video released this week. The series also proposes solutions, including a suggestion that South Carolina law enforcement agencies adopt a system of evaluating when and how an abuser’s tactics escalate toward the homicidal. This so-called danger assessment tool was developed by a Johns Hopkins researcher featured in a recent New Yorker article that should also be required reading for the many observers claiming sudden expertise on domestic violence.

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On Tuesday, Janay Rice asked the media to look away so that her family can heal in peace. We can honor her request without dropping the important (and sometimes maddening) conversation that’s kicked off as a result of this week’s news. Sadly, there’s no shortage of similar stories to learn from. What we do with those stories and our willingness to move beyond voyeurism to action are the real measure of how serious we are about the problem.


Read Next: Obama’s racial justice initiative—for boys only

Stephen Cohen: ‘Europe Is Splintering Over the Ukrainian Crisis’

An pro-Russian separatist in front of damaged buildings following what locals say was shelling by Ukrainian forces in Donetsk (Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin)

“The crisis has split Europe. It’s not quite a barricade, they’re not shouting at each other, but it’s clear that behind closed doors two European…points of view have emerged,” said Stephen Cohen, a contributing editor at The Nation, on The John Batchelor Show. “One is that this Ukrainian crisis shows a resurgent, revanchist, aggressive, imperialistic, soviet-like Russia headed by Putin and that Ukraine is only his first act of aggression—that he’s headed after this to the Baltics and elsewhere. The other Europe doesn’t see it that way at all; it sees it as conflicts of interest, as policies that got out of control that require compromise on both sides, Russia and Europe.”

Pablo Mayo Cerqueiro

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