Although the president’s press secretary noted yesterday then-Senator Obama’s support for a federal shield law to protect reporters from having to disclose their sources, he failed to mention how the White House deep-sixed a comprehensive shield bill back in 2009. That bill could have prevented the extraordinary Associated Press subpoena, which was disclosed this week.
Back in 2009, various stakeholders—including Republicans in the House, Sens. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Arlen Specter (D-Pa.), and a broad coalition of free press and public interest groups—came together to support the Free Flow of Information Act. Although not perfect, the original bill contained express safeguards requiring the administration to exhaust all other means of obtaining the information sought and to tailor subpoenas narrowly, along with other safeguards to preserve source anonymity.
While initially backing the legislation, the administration abruptly reversed course in late 2009, demanding that the bill contain what amounted to an exemption for national security leak cases and severely limiting judicial discretion under the measure. The bill died and has yet to be resurrected.
If there ever were a time to resurrect the federal shield law, it is now.
Although the details are still trickling out, it’s clear that a Justice Department leak investigation sought the dial-out records of 20 phone lines belonging to the AP and its reporters. The request covered both the personal mobile and home phones of targeted journalists, as well as office numbers for the AP in New York, Washington, Hartford, and the House of Representatives’ press gallery. More than 100 reporters work at the offices subject to the subpoenas, and the information pulled covered two months. Perhaps most striking, notice of the subpoena was delayed—meaning that the AP had no opportunity to go to court to contest it before the DOJ secured the records.
I haven’t been able to find any cases of similar sweep. In one of the more recent cases involving a leak subpoena for phone records (involving a tip to The New York Times that the offices of two Islamic charities suspected of funding terrorism were about to be raided), the government notified the news outlet in advance, negotiated with the Times at length, and only sought a subpoena as a last resort. The scope of the subpoena was modest compared to the AP request, covering only a couple of weeks of records and only two journalists. That’s a far cry from what happened here.
The notion of a reporter shield or privilege isn’t to protect journalists; it’s to protect the public. When the Bill of Rights was being drafted, America had a vibrant mass media. Indeed, it even had the 18th century equivalent of the blogger (the proverbial “lonely pamphleteer”). The drafters were well aware of the power of a free media to restrain government excess and to undermine the authoritarian impulse. Many recalled, for instance, the case of John Zenger, the colonial printer charged with libel for printing a periodical critical of the New York governor. That prosecution led in part to calls for express protection for freedoms of press and speech in the Constitution.
An essential element of the journalist’s toolkit is the anonymous source, and this is doubly true in the context of national security reporting. As the government itself acknowledges, the current classification system for sensitive national security information is deeply flawed. Not only is there little incentive not to classify something, too often national security is used as an excuse to prevent disclosure of information about embarrassing or illegal activities.
Absent “leaks,” we would never have learned about the Bush administration’s warrantless wiretapping program, its use of CIA “black sites,” and the unlawful torture of detainees in the Iraq War and the so-called “war on terror.” In more recent days, “leaks” have been instrumental in the public disclosure of the Obama administration’s cyberattacks against Iran and its targeted killing program.
And yet, despite the clear public interest in revealing this government misconduct, the Obama administration—the “most transparent administration in history“—will have as one of its legacies an unprecedented crackdown on the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. It has prosecuted many more leakers (twice as many as all previous administrations combined), and pursued leak investigations more aggressively than anyone else. The time is ripe for a federal law that would protect reporters from having to disclose their sources (with limited exceptions to ensure due process for criminal defendants and to prevent actual and imminent harm).
The AP scandal casts this need in stark relief.
The administration has asked Sen. Schumer to reintroduce the Free Flow of Information Act, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) just announced that he will do so in the House, and Rep. Ted Poe (R-Texas) introduced a similar bill today. The administration should certainly be commended for taking proactive steps to prevent this from happening again. That said, the administration can’t get in the way this time. The demand in 2009 for a broad exception for national security leaks cases delayed the bill, and tempered enthusiasm among Democrats for the bill in the face of strong opposition by certain Republicans. The 2013 bill must protect against what happened here with the AP, and it’s not clear that the 2009 White House compromise would have done so.
US President Barack Obama has reportedly requested more funding to further upgrade American nuclear weapons at the cost of reduced spending on nuclear nonproliferation measures, which it demands from other nations.
The Obama administration’s funding request for continued modernization of its atomic arsenal has reportedly been included in its 2014 federal budget proposal that was released on Wednesday, according to a report in US-based Foreign Policy magazine.
The Obama administration’s plan to further “modernize” American nuclear weapons comes nearly four years after the US president received the Noble Peace Prize in 2009 for the promotion of “nuclear non-proliferation.”
Despite massive cuts in public spending and even some Defense Department programs, under the new budget proposal, funding for US Energy Department’s nuclear arms-related programs would increase by nearly seven percent or about USD500 million, according to the report, which cited American officials that spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The current budget for such programs reportedly stands at more than USD7 billion.
The Energy Department’s nonproliferation programs, however, would be slashed by about 20 percent, or nearly USD460 million, under the new budget plan, according to the report. Its current annual budget stands at almost USD2.5 billion.
The proposed funding would reportedly cover the continuing upgrade of older American atomic warheads as well as the construction of a uranium processing plant in the State of Tennessee.
The so-called modernization program for aging US nuclear weapons is part of a deal between the Obama administration and Congress as part of the ‘New START’ (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) agreement with Russia, its major rival in maintaining massive numbers of atomic weapons.
According to the pact, both nuclear powers should slash their atomic warheads to 1,500 by 2018.
US lawmakers reportedly agreed to support the reduction of the quantity of the country’s atomic warheads if the ones remaining active are upgraded.
The only category of the US Energy Department’s nonproliferation activities that would receive increased funding is its research and development division. It is intended to finance the development of a satellite-based nuclear detonation sensor, according to the Foreign Policy report.
This is while the Energy Department’s nuclear weapon programs was reportedly hindered by mismanagement and overspending issues, prompting the department to ask the Pentagon to cover cost overruns for its W76 warhead upgrade operations, though it only received three billion of the seven billion dollars it had requested.
Meanwhile, the Obama administration’s 2014 budget proposal is reportedly billions of dollars higher than the spending caps mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act. It is, therefore, expected to face strong opposition from congressional members. The White House and US lawmakers have been battling for the past two years over budgetary issues, and are yet to reach a common ground.
- Proponents of ‘first strike’ nuclear war against Iran rob billions from their own citizens (rt.com)
- US to upgrade nuke arsenal while cutting nonproliferation efforts – report (rt.com)
- Nonproliferation in a time of austerity (thebulletin.org)
- Israel hinders efforts aimed at nuke-free Middle East: Iran (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Judge Rejects Obama Administration Argument that Declassifying Guantánamo Case Documents is Too Much Work
The Obama administration has been ordered by a federal judge to declassify the government’s file on a former detainee after officials tried to claim that doing so would require too much work.
Mohammed Sulaymon Barre of Somaliland, who was held at Guantánamo until December 2009, filed a motion to compel the government to disclose the information officials had collected on him.
The government responded by saying it could not meet the request because of the time it would take to sift through the file and redact portions of it.
U.S. District Chief Judge Royce Lamberth rejected the administration’s argument, and said he was “troubled by the government’s apparent lack of urgency in issuing public versions of classified materials filed in Guantánamo proceedings.”
Lamberth added: “The government’s arguments are unavailing and largely boil down to this: ‘Declassification is complicated and time consuming and we already have a lot of work—please don’t pile on.’”
Barre (a.k.a. Mohamed Saleban Bare) was arrested and detained in November 2001 while living as a UN-designated refugee in Karachi, Pakistan. He became a suspect in the eyes of the U.S. because of his alleged ties to Al-Wafa, a Saudi foundation accused of terrorist activities, and because of his job at Dahabshiil Company, a Somali-based financial institution that allegedly sent money to and from customers in Pakistan. Sulaymon maintained that he had done nothing wrong and was picked up because U.S. forces were paying bounties for the capture of alleged enemies.
His detention included being held at military bases in Kandahar and Bagram in Afghanistan, before being transferred to Guantanamo, where he claims he was tortured. Upon his release, he told Agence France-Presse, “Guantánamo Bay is like hell on Earth…. In the cold they let you sleep without a blanket. Some of the inmates face harsher torture, including with electricity and beating…. Some of my colleagues in the prison lost their sight, some lost their limbs and others ended up mentally disturbed. I’m OK compared to them.”
- Ahmed Errachidi: ‘We shared one thing in Guantánamo Bay – pain’ | Q&A (guardian.co.uk)
- Return Guantánamo to the Cuban People (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Pentagon Requests $49 Million to Build New Gitmo Prison (rinf.com)
Having bungled the so-called independent review of foreclosure mistakes, the Obama administration has now decided that the best way to help homeowners is to have the banks—which were responsible for the foreclosure errors—examine the case files and decide how best to fix the situation.
In January, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) shut down the foreclosure review by independent consultants—which had already cost about $2 billion— after it was revealed that the banks had selected said consultants. The process also proved to be taking too long to resolve homeowner grievances, so the administration decided to reach a $3.6 billion settlement with the banks.
But before the money can be distributed to individuals wronged during the foreclosure crisis, more than four million cases need to be reviewed. Instead of federal regulators doing the work, they are trusting the financial institutions, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, to do it properly this time.
Housing advocates, not surprisingly, are worried the banks will shortchange homeowners while they scrutinize their earlier mistakes. “The whole process has been a slap in the face to homeowners and a slap on the wrist to banks,” Isaac Simon Hodes, an organizer with Massachusetts-based Lynn United for Change, told The New York Times. “The latest development shows how there has been no accountability.”
The OCC has promised to check the bank’s work to ensure things go right this time.
- Big Banks Slither out of Mortgage Fraud Review with Minor Costs (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Big Banks Put In Charge of (Their Own) Foreclosure Settlement Payout (reason.com)
On last Thursday’s Daily Show, Jon Stewart boldly went where no mainstream reporter has gone so far this election cycle: asking President Barack Obama why has he embraced Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program after campaigning against it on the grounds that it violated Americans’ civil liberties. While Stewart’s question was commendable, Obama’s answer was puzzling because it seems so obviously untrue.
Stewart first reminded Obama of his Bush-era statements that “we don’t have to trade our values and ideals for our security,” and pointedly asked the President, “do you still believe that?” He then specifically raised warrantless wiretapping, which Obama frequently criticized as a presidential candidate in 2008:
STEWART: I think people have been surprised to see the strength of the Bush era warrantless wiretapping laws and those types of things not also be lessened—That the structures he put in place that people might have thought were government overreach and maybe they had a mind you would tone down, you haven’t.
OBAMA: The truth is we have modified them and built a legal structure and safeguards in place that weren’t there before on a whole range issues.
To the contrary, there’s no indication that the still-active warrantless wiretapping program—which includes a warrantless dragnet on millions of innocent Americans’ communications—has significantly changed from the day Obama took office. With regard to the FISA Amendments Act, the Obama Administration has actively opposed all proposed safeguards in Congress. All the while, his Administration has been even more aggressive than President Bush in trying to prevent warrantless wiretapping victims from having their day in court and has continued building the massive national security infrastructure needed to support it.
But let’s take a closer look at the President’s actions on wiretapping and related issues:
Voting against FISA Amendments Act, Filibuster Telecom Immunity
Early in his first presidential campaign, then-Senator Obama was a leading critic of giving telecom companies like AT&T immunity for breaking the law to assist in the government in warrantless wiretapping. He repeatedly promised to filibuster any bill that contained retroactive immunity for telecom companies. Yet in 2008, when Congress debated the FISA Amendments Act—the law that allowed the President to give telecom companies full, retroactive immunity—Obama not only refused to filibuster the bill, but voted for it.
That decision came full circle just two weeks ago, when Obama’s Justice Department successfully convinced the Supreme Court to deny EFF’s appeal challenging the law’s constitutionality, ensuring AT&T and other telecommunications companies will never face legal consequences for breaking the law, both in the past and in the future.
Fixing FISA Amendments Act After Elected
Despite voting for the FISA Amendments Act, then-candidate Obama still promised to reform the law when he was elected president. But four years later, the FISA Amendments Act is up for renewal in Congress, as it expires at the end of this year. This would be perfect time to implement the reforms Obama promised, and there are several common sense amendments that would do so.
The Obama administration, however, is actively opposing any new privacy safeguards or transparency provisions, saying it is their “top priority” to renew it with no changes.
Stopping the Use of the State Secrets Privilege
Congress isn’t the only place where the President has been hostile to any “legal structure or safeguards” for the warrantless wiretapping. He has steadfastly sought to prevent the courts from engaging in any meaningful review
In EFF’s long-running lawsuit Jewel v. NSA, along with several related lawsuits, the Obama administration has continued the Bush Administration strategy of invoking the ‘state secrets’ privilege and demanding immediate dismissal (a practice which Obama specifically criticized on his 2008 campaign website). This, plus many other invocations of the privilege occurred even after a supposed internal policy change that was supposed to restrict its use.
Using the state secrets privilege for electronic surveillance is plainly wrong, since FISA specifically requires courts to determine the legality of national security spying. And of course the argument that the spying is a secret is increasingly untenable, as multiple whistleblowers, hundreds of pages of already-public evidence—including government admissions—and a massive construction project in Utah attest to its ongoing existence.
In addition, in both Jewel and other cases, the government has raised extremely technical legal arguments that the cases must be dismissed because it has “sovereign immunity.”In Al-Haramain v. Obama, a case where the government was caught red-handed illegally wiretapping attorneys, the Obama Administration was even able to convince the Ninth Circuit to dismiss the case because, according to the court, only government individuals can be sued, not the agencies that actually did the spying.
Declassifying Secret FISA Court Opinions
Both in 2010 and 2011, Obama administration officials promised to work to all declassify secret FISA court opinions that contained “important rulings of law.” These opinions would shed light whether and how Americans’ communications have been illegally spied on.
Since then, the administration has since refused to declassify a single opinion and still refuses to release the full (rescinded) legal memo written by Bush administration lawyer John Yoo that attempted to justify the illegal and unconstitutional program in 2001.
FISA court secrecy has never been more troubling, given the administration admitted in July that the FISA court ruled that collection done by the NSA violated the Fourth Amendment rights of some unknown American on at least one occasion. EFF has since filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit for that opinion, plus any others discussing the constitutionality of warrantless surveillance, but the Obama administration is fighting mightily against it.
Secret Safeguards Aren’t Safeguards
Some have suggested it’s possible when Obama said “safeguards” on the Daily Show, he is referring to some unspecified secret administrative rules he has put into place. Yet if these “safeguards” exist, they have been kept completely secret from the American public, and at the same, the administration is refusing to codify them into the law or create any visible chain of accountability if they are violated. But given the ample evidence of Constitutional violations since Obama took office (see: here, here, and here), these secret safeguards we don’t know exist are clearly inconsequential.
Here’s hoping other reporters follows up on Stewart’s question soon and ask Obama to be much more specific about his past and future plans to make sure the American people are not illegally spied on.
- Warrantless Wiretapping Worse Under Obama; Fascism on the Rise (tenthamendmentcenter.com)
- Supreme Court Allows NSA’s Warrantless Wiretapping to Continue (thenewamerican.com)
- The New York Times Reminds Us the NSA Still Warrantlessly Wiretaps Americans, and Congress Has the Power to Stop It (eff.org)
Nineteen out of 20 cabinet-level agencies under the Obama administration have failed to follow the requirements of the Freedom of Information Act, thereby disobeying the law that demands disclosure of public information.
White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew said in July that the Obama administration “has been the most transparent ever.” But an analysis of government requests filed by Bloomberg News has found an alarming number of transparency violations, particularly when it comes to the taxpayer-funded cost of travel by top officials.
“When it comes to implementation of Obama’s wonderful transparency policy goals, especially FOIA policy in particular, there has been far more ‘talk the talk’ rather than ‘walk the walk,’’ Daniel Metcalfe, director of the Department of Justice’s office monitoring the government’s compliance with FOIA requests, told the news agency.
In 2009, the newly sworn in President Obama promised a new standard of transparency that his administration has not upheld – even accepting awards for what he oversaw as “the most transparent administration in history.”
“I will hold myself as president to a new standard of openness… Let me say it as simply as I can: Transparency and the rule of law will be the touchstones of this presidency,” he said while welcoming his senior staff and cabinet secretaries to his office. Two years later, the administration continued to boast about its supposed transparency.
“This president has demonstrated a commitment to transparency and openness that is greater than any administration has shown in the past, and he’s been committed to that since he ran for president and he’s taken a significant number of measures to demonstrate that,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said in May 2011, before the president accepted an award for transparency.
But Bloomberg’s report highlights specific instances in which secrecy was a normal part of the regime. Under FOIA, the news agency requested documents from 57 federal agencies regarding taxpayer-funded travel. Only eight of 57 agencies responded within the 20-day time frame required by the Act. The other agencies are under violation of FOIA for failing to submit the documents on time.
And Eric Newtown, senior advisor at the Knight Foundation, said there should be no excuses.
“In a 24/7 world, it should take two days, it should take two hours,” he said. “If it’s public, it should be just there.”
Bloomberg eventually received documents disclosing fiscal year 2011 travel costs from about half of the agencies, although most came well past the legal deadline.
Travel costs by top Obama officials, including the transportation secretary, energy secretary, environmental protection agency administrator and homeland security chief, remain undisclosed.
The lack of public disclosure regarding travel costs of many cabinet-level top officials has become concerning since the General Services Administration’s inspector general spent $823,000 of taxpayer money on a one-day event in Las Vegas in 2010.
Another one of Bloomberg’s FOIA request also found that federal agencies have increased their use of exemptions to block the release of information under the Obama administration. Cabinet agencies employed exemptions 466,402 times during Obama’s first year in office, which is a 50 percent jump from the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency.
“I don’t think the administration has been very good at all on open-government issues,” said Katherine Meyer, a Washington attorney. “The Obama administration is as bad as any of them, and to some extent worse.”
Just before a midnight deadline, the Obama administration filed a 50-page brief this evening defending the secrecy surrounding the “targeted killing” program. The administration writes: “Whether or not the CIA has the authority to be, or is in fact, directly involved in targeted lethal operations remains classified.” The case concerns a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the ACLU last year for records concerning the targeted killing program generally as well as the killing of three American citizens in Yemen last year.
The following can be attributed to Jameel Jaffer, Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU:
“The notion that the CIA’s targeted killing program is still a secret is beyond absurd. Senior officials have discussed it, both on the record and off. They have taken credit for its putative successes, professed it to be legal, and dismissed concerns about civilian casualties. If they can make these claims to the media, they can answer requests under the Freedom of Information Act. The public is entitled to know more about the legal authority the administration is claiming and the way that the administration is using it. The administration should release the legal memos that purportedly justify the targeted killing program, and it should release more information about the process by which individuals, including American citizens, are added to government kill lists. It should also release the evidence that led the administration to kill three Americans, including a 16-year-old boy, last year.”
“We continue to have profound concerns with the power the administration is claiming and with the proposition that the President should be permitted to exercise this power without oversight by the courts. That the administration believes a power so sweeping should be exercised in secret is astounding.”
Today’s filing comes after the government sought several extensions to respond to the ACLU’s lawsuit. In its last request for an extension, the government stated to the court that it needed further time to allow for “deliberations at the highest levels of the Executive Branch.”
The government’s brief can be found here:
CONTACT: ACLU national, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Drone strikes ‘threaten international law’ (guardian.co.uk)
Black America’s median household wealth, compared to that of whites, has sharply declined under Barack Obama. That’s a change. Just not a good one.
This is a consequence of the foreclosure epidemic which began in 2007 and 2008 and has always been concentrated in black and poor neighborhoods. But the Obama administration has allowed the foreclosure wave to continue without any letup during its first three and a half years, rejecting demands for foreclosure moratoriums or other measures which would make it easier for large numbers of families to remain in their homes. Where the ratio of white to black household wealth four years ago was around 11 to one, today it is greater than 20 to 1.
African Americans still make up 12 or 13% of the nation’s population, remain more than 40% of its locked down and locked up, No change there at all…
Latinos, who make up another 13%, are about 30% of the nation’s prisoners and rising, a slight change, but distinctly for the worse. So seven of every ten US prisoners are from the one quarter of the nation that is black or brown, and that percentage is rising.
The fifty-year war on drugs continues. No change for the better at all there.
Like every president since Nixon, Barack Obama has thwarted states that wanted to decriminalize small amounts of drugs, refuses to treat drug use as a medical problem rather than a police one. Like its predecessors, the Obama administration has expanded the frontiers of the drug war into places like Mexico and Colombia, where the US demand for illegal drugs has given birth to vast industries which may be among the largest and most lucrative, and certainly the most deadly, in those countries.
“Too big to fail” banksters and other financial criminals are still above the law. No change here either.
Not a single person responsible for crashing the economy in 2007 has seen the inside of a prison. It’s just not going to happen. Wall Street insiders give as much, and often more to Democrats than they do to Republicans. So the Obama administration has protected banks and lenders and their co-conspirators from prosecution, and shoveled more than ten trillion more at banksters, including those based outside the US, than the Bush-Cheney gang ever did.
It’s worth remembering that when Bush could not pass his own bailout bill six weeks before the 2008 election, he called Barack Obama into town to spend the week on the phone with Congressional Democrats getting them to switch their votes. So the only change here has been the party in charge.
Although governments will create trillions of new dollars to give to banksters and borrow it back from them at interest in the name of “fixing the economy”, it still won’t create millions of jobs for the unemployed. No change:
In the 1930s, the federal government addressed the Depression by creating hundreds of thousands of jobs out of thin air. They built roads and subways, parks, recreational facilities, dams and bridges. They did theater and historical research like tracking down and interviewing the last living survivors of slavery. It was called the WPA, or Works Progress Administration, under the administration of Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The White House could do the same today, creating millions of new jobs, repairing and rebuilding infrastructure, building high speed rail, refitting millions of homes for energy efficiency. But Barack Obama disdains the heritage of his own Democratic party. He sounds more like Hoover than FDR today when he says that it’s the exclusive role of the private sector to create jobs.
It’s still almost impossible to organize a union and fight for your own rights on the job anywhere in the US. No change:
There are laws against firing workers who try, but employers are unafraid to break those laws, while working people are very much afraid to lose their jobs. Candidate Obama did promise to put on his comfortable shoes and walk a picket line. Maybe he just lied. President Obama has frozen the wages and pensions of government workers, and endorsed the traditionally Republican idea that public employee and private pensions and health plans cause economic distress to employes and the economy.
The bipartisan corporate-funded drive to “reform” education by breaking teachers unions, turning teachers into Wal-Mart style temps, hi-stakes testing, dissolving public schools and replacing them by privately owned charter schools, exempt from public accountability continues apace. No change there at all.
Bush’s Secretary of Education called teachers unions “terrorist organizations.” Obama’s Secretary of Education declared that Katrina was the best thing that could have happened to public education in New Orleans.
If anything, the Obama administration’s Race To The Top program pushed the envelope further than Republicans would have been able to without sustained resistance. It required states to compete for available federal education funds based upon how many teachers they can fire, how many public schools they can close, how many so-called “merit pay” schemes and similar atrocities they can inflict. Just as only a vicious warmonger like Nixon could have made the first presidential trip to China, only a black Democrat could have successfully pushed the education policy envelope this far in the anti-democratic directions of charters and educational privatization. If anything, Obama’s heinous education policies provide an even further rightward step-off point for Republicans like Mitt Romney. It didn’t have to be that way.
US troops are in more than 140 countries worldwide, and the US, with under 5% of the world’s people, spends more on the military than the other 95% of humanity combined. Not much change there.
On the other hand, in the first weeks of his administration, President Obama received a Nobel Peace Prize. So the pan-European elite, which feared and despised George Bush, loves Obama. That’s a kind of change they call a distinction without a difference.
The Afghan war drags on, apparently indefinitely. A hundred thousand US-paid mercenaries remain in Iraq, and the war there too is far from over. On the other hand, Barack Obama has been able to use cruise missiles and drones to kill black and brown civilians including children in Yemen, Somalia and Pakistan, among other places. US military forces took part in the invasion and overthrow of the African nation of Libya, and the White House has openly rather than covertly sent unknown numbers of US special forces into nobody knows how many countries of Central Africa. A Bush administration doing this would have been greeted with nationwide street demonstrations. But a black Democrat gets a near automatic pass. Is this what the real “race card” looks like?
A US president is still orders torture, murder, indefinite imprisonment without trial, and lets corporations that commit crimes abetting those of government employees completely off the hook. But there has been a change here.
When the Bush-Cheney gang did all this stuff, they did it as scofflaws. The Obama Administration has rammed through legislation in Congress and asked for court decisions to cloak most of the previously illegal torture, murder, kidnapping, warrantless spying and similar crimes with thin veneers of legality. This is the all-important difference between having an MBA as president as opposed to a professor of constitutional law.
Black politics, at one time heavily influenced by what Martin Luther King called opposition to the triple evils of racism, militarism, and economic injustice, has shrunken and shriveled under the influence of a new class of corporate funded black political leaders like Corey Booker and Barack Obama. Deep, real and significant change here.
Black politics ain’t about fighting for decent housing or jobs any more. It’s not about diverting resources from the war machine to uplifting the downtrodden. It’s not about funding education or working for the end of the prison state. It’s certainly not about defying unjust laws in the pursuit of just ends, as the Freedom Movement once routinely did.
People forget that King was murdered in Memphis in the middle of a sanitation workers strike in which the National Guard had been called out to patrol the city, and students had stayed home from high school for days to participate in illegal mass actions.
21st century black politics is about electing black politicians, no more and no less. That, and observing Black History Month.
This is far from an exhaustive list, of course.
We could have mentioned the fact that big oil, big agribusiness, big insurance, and big pharma all continue to get whatever they ask for. We might have pointed out that local and state fiscal crises are constantly being provoked, to which the solutions are always “public private partnerships” a standard euphemism for privatizations of public assets like roads, waterworks, generation facilities and public services like payroll, parking and fleet management. We could have pointed out that medical costs are still factors in a majority of personal bankruptcies, and the FCC has essentially abandoned any pretense of regulating the cable and broadcast industries, preferring to simply lease out or auction off the electromagnetic spectrum and leave it all to the “free market”.
Some things have changed over the last four years, and some haven’t. One thing that seems never to change, as long as our choices are restricted to the two corporate parties, is that while you can squint hard enough to make distinctions between Republicans and Democrats, there are few important differences.
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report. He lives and works in Marietta GA, and is a state committee member of the Georgia Green Party. Contact him at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.
In order to secure a new international trade agreement with Pacific nations, the Obama administration appears willing to grant foreign corporations the power to avoid U.S. laws.
This revelation came in the form of a leaked document posted online by Citizens Trade Campaign. The material came from negotiations to establish a Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact and its authenticity verified by Public Citizen.
According to the Huffington Post, which also reviewed the document, foreign corporations operating within the U.S. could disregard certain domestic requirements and regulations by appealing to an international tribunal—that would have the power to overrule American law.
“The outrageous stuff in this leaked text,” wrote Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, “may well be why U.S. trade officials have been so extremely secretive about these past two years of [trade] negotiations.”
Both Republican and Democratic lawmakers in Congress have complained about the secretive talks and being kept in the dark. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) has introduced legislation requiring the administration to disclose details of the discussions.
Although Congress has not been privy to the negotiations, 600 U.S. corporate advisers have enjoyed access to TPP texts and been permitted to advise U.S. negotiators.
Obama Trade Document Leaked, Revealing New Corporate Powers And Broken Campaign Promises (by Zach Carter, Huffington Post)
Public Interest Analysis of Leaked Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Investment Text (by Lori Wallach and Todd Tucker, Public Citizen)
Trans-Pacific Partnership Trade Agreement Chapter (CitizensTrade.org)
What will be in the New U.S. Asia-Pacific Trade Agreement? It’s None of Our Business (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)