Stories to Watch: 2/14/14.
The Kansas state legislature (i.e., Republicans) was considering a law that would very nearly institute Jim Crow for gay people in the state, in a hopeless attempt to block marriage equality. Seriously, this was a terrible bill that would never have stood up in court. We’re talking human rights abuses bad here. Luckily, the state senate isn’t as dismissive of individual rights and a Republican senator announced that a majority of her caucus would not vote for the bill. Still, the Kansas house passed the bill in a landslide 72-49 vote, which demonstrates just how far the Kansas Republican Party has gone down the road to institutionalized hatred.
On the flip side of that story is the State of Virginia, where marriage equality takes a huge step forward after a judge strikes down a ban on same-sex marriage. No marriages will be allowed there yet, since the judge stayed her own ruling pending appeals, but the national trend suggests it’s here to stay. You can read Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen’s opinion here — and you should, just to be reminded what freedom and liberty really look like.
Ted Cruz’s grandstanding and self-service is starting to worry Republicans who actually give a damn about the party. A lot.
A Delaware pedatrician is convicted for waterboarding his stepdaughter. Dr. Melvin Morse, a frequent TV talking head and an “expert” on near-death experiences, was found guilty on six counts, including “third-degree assault, endangering the welfare of a child and first-degree reckless endangerment, a felony.” Those of us you who lived through the Bush administration will no doubt find this all confusing, since waterbaording is supposedly safe as a walk in the park and absolutely, positively in no way abuse. How could Dr. Morse have possibly been convicted of not torturing or abusing his stepdaughter? Any chance Dick Cheney’s going to chime in here and clear this up? Yeah, I didn’t think so.
Finally, a new study confirms that genetics play a role in sexual preference among men. This leads National Review’s Wes Smith to warn against some sort of abortion Holocaust against gay fetuses, which he assures us he’s against. Who would carry this out: the liberals who are OK with gay people or conservatives who hate abortion? Seriously, who is it we’re supposed to be worried about here? This is the sort of thing that goes on in supposedly serious conservatives’ heads. They apparently don’t give these things a whole lot of thought.
[cartoon via Truthdig]
Dancing to Republicans’ Tune on Security.
Is it legal for a journalist to disclose classified information to the public? That’s something of an open question, although legal opinion seems to lean heavily toward “no.” After all, if you could prosecute reporters for detailing classified info, all the executive branch would need to do to censor any news story would be to direct the appropriate agency to smack that info with the “TOP SECRET” stamp. So the notion that journalists could be jailed for publishing leaked information is a very dangerous one and one that courts have not treated well.
From a historical standpoint, publishing classified info as journalism is completely legal and any finding that said otherwise would upset years of legal opinion.
Which brings us to this:
The Guardian: The partner of the Guardian journalist who has written a series of stories revealing mass surveillance programmes by the US National Security Agency was held for almost nine hours on Sunday by UK authorities as he passed through London's Heathrow airport on his way home to Rio de Janeiro.
David Miranda, who lives with Glenn Greenwald, was returning from a trip to Berlin when he was stopped by officers at 8.05am and informed that he was to be questioned under schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The controversial law, which applies only at airports, ports and border areas, allows officers to stop, search, question and detain individuals.
The 28-year-old was held for nine hours, the maximum the law allows before officers must release or formally arrest the individual. According to official figures, most examinations under schedule 7 – over 97% – last less than an hour, and only one in 2,000 people detained are kept for more than six hours.
Miranda was eventually released, but not before pretty much every electronic gadget he had with him — including “DVDs and games consoles” was confiscated.
The UK is not the US and they don’t enjoy the protections of the First Amendment, obviously. But the US was given a “heads up" from Britain about the planned detention and White House spokesperson "wouldn’t say whether the U.S. tried to dissuade British officials from stopping Miranda." The White House denies any involvement in the detention, but the spokesperson also won’t say "whether U.S. authorities have had access to information collected from Miranda on Sunday" nor "whether President Barack Obama thought it was wrong."
If the US had “tried to dissuade British officials from stopping Miranda,” it might never have happened. And yes, the UK will share any pertinent data with the US. That seems so obvious that I feel a little silly even bothering to type it out.
During the Bush administration, the US shipped terror suspects to other countries to be tortured. The reasoning was that if we sent them where we knew they would be tortured, the neocons could have their cake and eat it to — terror suspects would be torture for info, they’d get that info, and they could pretend their hands were clean because they never actually committed the acts of torture. By outsourcing their war crimes, they created a legal pretense that they committed no war crimes at all.
This situation is somewhat similar. We knew the UK was about to do something that would’ve been illegal if we had done it, but since any info the UK got we’d get — and maybe because the White House had had it up to here with Glenn Greenwald — we let them know we were cool with it. Steve Benen points out that regardless of how you feel about Greenwald and his work with Edward Snowden, you should at least agree that this Heathrow incident is a terrible abuse of police power:
Put it this way: if we remove the names from the story, would Greenwald’s critics endorse what’s transpired? A journalist doggedly covers an important story and publishes classified information (which is legal), prompting a worthwhile national debate. Soon after, prominent federal U.S. lawmakers speak openly about arresting the journalist, while British officials subject his partner to harassment without cause.
Why would anyone defend this?
Because we’ve gotten so used to the post-9/11 surveillance state that we’ve lost the concept of the private citizen. We’ve become so used to having everyone be suspected of plotting anything that this sort of overreach is almost reflexive. After the Boston bombing, I’m legitimately surprised you don’t have to sign your name to a list to buy a pressure cooker, like you do to buy pseudoephedrine. These are dark days for the Fourth and Fifth amendments — stop-and-frisk being another fine example. The neocons haven’t just left their mark on America, they’ve given us a tattoo. And now preventing crime is seen as so important that we’ll ironically allow criminal behavior from law enforcement. All citizens are presumed guilty until proven innocent.
I would hope that it’s merely political cowardice that brings the Obama administration to this point. At least then there’s some hope that they’ll wise up and get over it. After all, who wants to be the guy who ended a certain surveillance program after a terrorist attack? There’s a certain paranoia about being seen as “soft on terror” and “soft on crime” on the left and it drives many Democrats to support things that go against Democratic principles of fairness, justice, and equality. Barack Obama seems to suffer from this disability — the fear that the moment you restore freedoms, a terrorist will strike and you’ll be blamed for it.
What this paranoia does is force us to live in a Republican world. Being afraid of how the GOP will attack you allows them to set the standards for acceptable risk. And Republicans are cowards; they accept very little risk, which means they demand ever greater restrictions on freedom and privacy. You won’t hear a lot of complaining about how Miranda was treated on the right.
You really wish you’d hear more from the left, though.
[photo via Wikimedia Commons]
Stories to Watch: 4/29/13.
Hindsight is 20/20; former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor thinks maybe that the Supreme Court shouldn’t have taken up Bush v. Gore. If the court — which O’Connor served on at the time — hadn’t have stepped in, we might never have had a Pres. Bush II. So yeah, maybe that wasn’t such a terribly good idea.
Joe Biden supports releasing a Senate report on Bush era torture.
Texas Senator Ted Cruz really is a complete dickweed. He seems to be busy making enemies of everybody. And so the GOP Civil War broadens yet again.
So far, the Republican plan to take hostages in the coming debt ceiling fight makes no sense at all. They seem to want tax reform without raising revenues, which means they’ll be demanding that Democrats give in on a plan that will lead to bigger deficits. I guess because that’s fiscal responsibility.
The world is on pace to reach an atmospheric CO2 level of 400 parts per million “in the next few days.” This is a drastically unsustainable number. “The 400ppm threshold is a sobering milestone, and should serve as a wake up call for all of us to support clean energy technology and reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, before it’s too late for our children and grandchildren,” said Tim Lueker, an oceanographer and carbon cycle researcher with Scripps CO2 Group.
Members of the American Academy of Pediatrics will head for the capitol tomorrow to urge lawmakers to do something to keep kids safe from gun violence.
Sen. James Inhofe promotes a popular wingnut conspiracy theory.
Ron Paul joins the rest of the lunatic right in trying to exploit the Boston bombings for political advantage.
Austerity is literally killing people. When your economic policy isn’t working and you still insist on “staying the course,” you’re just an idiot. When it has a death toll and you don’t want to change, you’re a monster. Economic policies should not have body counts.
Finally, Republicans aren’t going to get anywhere with minority voters by lying about their racist, segregationist past. It doesn’t matter how often they tell the lie. The oppressed remember their pasts much more vividly than the oppressor, who has incentive to forget. You can get white Republicans to believe it, because they haven’t been told over and over and over in family histories how things used to be and how it compares with how things still are. But you can’t fool black voters, because they know those stories too well.
[cartoon via Truthdig]
Flashback for rightwing Oscars whiners: Bush did a guest spot on a game show.
The right is all bent out of shape that First Lady Michelle Obama would lower herself to being a presenter at the Oscars. Is nothing sacred? Must we constantly be reminded that the President and his family exist? They’re acting like they need to be talked down off a ledge.
Calm down, Wingnuts — and remember…
President George W. Bush made a highly unusual appearance on U.S. television game show “Deal or No Deal” on Monday, seeking show host Howie Mandel’s help to deal with the federal budget in upcoming talks with Congress.
“Howie, I don’t know if you’re free to come to Washington anytime soon but I have to reach an agreement with Congress on the federal budget. How’d you like to host a $3 trillion dollar ‘Deal or No Deal,’” Bush joked.
In the program, contestants compete to win a $1 million prize and can triple that amount in a bonus round.
Yes, Michelle Obama appearing as an awards presenter was the worst thing ever. It pales in comparison the quiet dignity of Dubya’s appearance opposite Howie Mandel on Deal or No Deal.
Rush to invade Iraq fueled to large degree by congressional ignorance.
On Monday night, Rachel Maddow presented “Hubris: Selling the Iraq War,” a documentary about the run-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003, one of the biggest military blunders in U.S. history. In one segment, she reported that members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, who were charged with determining whether or not the country should go to war, never read the pertinent briefs before giving then-President George W. Bush the go-ahead to launch the Iraq War.
The segment began in September of 2002, when Congress returned from its summer recess. Bush administration officials were lobbying heavily for an invasion of Iraq, using a flawed intelligence brief, the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq, which wildly oversold the case for Saddam Hussein having a nuclear and biological weapons program.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), who sat on the Senate Intelligence Committee at the time, told MSNBC that the main “shop” behind a large amount of slanted, pro-invasion intelligence was the office of Doug Feith, undersecretary of Defense from 2001 to 2005, who was key in positing that Iraq was working with al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that attacked the U.S. on Sep. 11, 2001.
The NIE on Iraq was prepared by the CIA in less than a month, a rush job that contained many thinly sourced claims, as well as outright distortions of the facts on the ground in Iraq. In intent, it was a barely disguised PR document for the Bush administration, hastily cobbled together by CIA Director George Tenet, who was then all but acting as the administration’s spokesperson.
Even within the NIE, however, there were caveats about the whether Hussein’s weapons programs were still active. Unfortunately, as Michael Isikoff, co-author of the book Hubris, noted, “As far as we can tell, only about a half a dozen Senators actually read it. If they’d done so, they would have seen that it was filled with dissents.”
Of course, for a lot of congress critters, reading it would’ve been a waste of time. They were going to go to war no matter what, facts be damned. One way to get a reputation as a “tough” politician is to cast a vote to send Americans to kill and die. John McCain, for example, has never once in his entire career voted against military action. Think of it as an extension of the “tough on crime” spin.
But those who cast their votes without studying the rationale for signing off on creating a mountain of corpses should not sleep soundly at night.