SCOTUS, SPYING AND SECRECY: In a radical assault on the Fourth Amendment, the Supreme Court ruled on February 26 that clients of the American Civil Liberties Union—including The Nation and Nation contributors Naomi Klein and Chris Hedges—could not challenge the sweeping surveillance law known as the FISA Amendments Act. Congress passed the law in 2008, in the wake of revelations that the National Security Agency had conducted surveillance of Americans’ international phone calls and e-mails without judicial review.
In a decision that sounds like it was drawn straight from Kafka, Justice Samuel Alito, writing for the 5–4 majority, threw out the challenge because the plaintiffs (who also include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International USA, the PEN American Center and the Service Employees International Union) couldn’t prove they had actually been monitored—even though no such proof is possible because the surveillance is secret. ACLU deputy legal director Jameel Jaffer, who argued the case, Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, before the Court last October, said, “This ruling insulates the statute from meaningful judicial review and leaves Americans’ privacy rights to the mercy of the political branches.”
In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer argued that the surveillance is far from speculative. “Indeed,” he wrote, “it is as likely to take place as are most future events that commonsense inference and ordinary knowledge of human nature tell us will happen.” And as Hedges points out, “The ability of the government to monitor private communications, especially of journalists, is one that makes the practice of journalism ultimately impossible.” It is particularly disappointing that President Obama, who supported the law but promised to amend its excesses, signed legislation last December extending it without alteration for another five years. For more information, go to aclu.org. ROANE CAREY
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DEAR FCC, TIME TO ACT: Last month, former Federal Communications Commission chair Michael Copps wrote an editorial in our pages titled “One Easy Way to Shine a Light on Dark Money.” In this post–Citizens United era, and in the absence of the political will to “rein in the Super PACs and dark money that made the 2012 campaigns among the least informative and most distorted in American history,” Copps pointed out that the FCC can take action on its own. The Communications Act “requires on-air identification of the sponsors of all advertisements, political as well as commercial,” he wrote. Indeed, “the FCC stipulated years ago that political ads must ‘fully and fairly disclose the true identity of [the entities]’ paying for them.” Copps concluded: “The ball is in the FCC’s court.”
Now, a new report by the Government Accountability Office echoes his claim, finding that under current law, the FCC has the power to require an attack ad’s sponsors to be identified. The report was compiled at the request of Nancy Pelosi, who is pressing the FCC to act. So is California Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, who welcomed the FCC’s findings. “Where power once originated from the general electorate, that balance has shifted in favor of the enormously wealthy, who can now hide their identity and their political expenditures,” she said. “It’s time for the FCC to play a crucial role in bringing greater transparency to America’s electoral system.”
American elections need plenty of reforms. Some of them will be hard, but as Copps pointed out, this one is easy: the FCC should take the lead in requiring transparency in political ads. JOHN NICHOLS
John Nichols, The Nation’s first blogger, brings a grassroots perspective to the crucial issues of our time. His latest dispatch is “Rick Snyder’s Detroit Takeover Plan Is Not What Democracy Looks Like.”
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SPREADING THE LOVE: It was one of French President François Hollande’s campaign promises: legalizing gay marriage and adoption by gay parents. On February 12, after two weeks of fierce debate, France’s National Assembly approved the highly contentious “Marriage for All” bill. The legislation, which passed 329 to 229, will allow gay couples to be married and have the same adoption rights as heterosexual couples. The first and most important article of the legislation redefines marriage as an agreement between any two people of the same or opposite sex.
Polls show that 55 to 60 percent of the French population is in favor of same-sex marriage, and about half support adoption by gay parents. With Hollande’s popularity plummeting since he took office in May, due in part to rising unemployment and austerity measures, his support for same-sex marriage has been embraced as a welcome rallying theme for his liberal government.
The right-wing Union for a Popular Movement party led the charge against the reform. More than 5,300 amendments were introduced in an attempt to stall the legislation, and National Assembly members exchanged insults during parliamentary debates and via Twitter. The reform also sparked public protests. In January, 340,000 demonstrators took to the streets of Paris to oppose the legislation. This was followed two weeks later by a pro–gay marriage rally.
Today, same-sex marriage is authorized in eleven countries as well as nine US states and the District of Columbia. The French bill will head to the left-wing-controlled Senate on April 2. If passed, it will be one of France’s most important social reforms since the abolition of the death penalty in 1981. CATHERINE DEFONTAINE
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AN UNPRECEDENTED HONOR: Among the inaugural winners of a prestigious new literary award given by Yale University, the Donald Windham–Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prize, is our very own national security correspondent, Jeremy Scahill. The prize—awarded to nine writers of fiction, nonfiction and drama—was established with a gift from the estate of the late writer Donald Windham and named for him and his life partner, the journalist and publisher Sandy M. Campbell. It honors accomplished writers at all stages of their careers and provides $150,000 to support their work.
As the prize committee noted, “Jeremy Scahill’s investigative reporting is in the best tradition of speaking truth to power, waging a political campaign by journalistic means, indefatigable in its detail and international in outlook.” We are thrilled that Scahill’s journalistic achievements have been recognized and proud to have published so many of his most ambitious pieces. The recognition arrives as Scahill prepares to launch his new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield, out this April from Nation Books, as well as a documentary by the same name. Congratulations, Jeremy! THE EDITORS