Time reports: President Barack Obama traveled to California on Friday to highlight the state’s drought emergency at two events near Fresno, calling for shared sacrifice to help manage the state’s worst water shortage in decades. He then spent the rest of the weekend enjoying the hospitality of some of the state’s top water hogs: desert golf courses.
Vacationing with DVDs of his favorite television shows and multiple golf outings with his buddies, the duffer in chief played at two of the most exclusive courses in the Palm Springs area. On Saturday, Obama played at the Sunnylands estate, built by the late billionaire Walter Annenberg, which features a nine-hole course that is played like 18 holes. The following day he golfed at billionaire Oracle founder Larry Ellison’s 19-hole Porcupine Creek. On Presidents’ Day, Obama hit the links at Sunnylands once again.
The 124 golf courses in the Coachella Valley consume roughly 17% of all water there, and one-quarter of the water pumped out of the region’s at-risk groundwater aquifer, according to the Coachella Valley Water District. [Continue reading...]
Imagine this: a president and his top officials as self-professed assassins — and proud of it, even attempting to gain political capital from it. It’s not that American presidents have never been associated with assassination attempts before. At a National Security Council meeting, Dwight D. Eisenhower personally ordered the CIA to “eliminate” Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba, then feared as a future “Castro of Africa.” “After a dead silence of fifteen seconds,” Tim Weiner tells us in Legacy of Ashes, his history of the CIA, “the meeting went on.” And of course, the Kennedy brothers were directly involved in at least one of the many Agency attempts to kill Fidel Castro, while the CIA of Lyndon Johnson’s era mounted a massive assassination program in Vietnam. Still, in those days, something dark and distasteful clung to the idea and presidents preferred to maintain what was called “plausible deniability” when it came to such efforts. (In 1981, by Executive Order, President Ronald Reagan actually banned assassination by the U.S. government.)
Now, top officials connected to the White House proudly leak details about their ongoing efforts to use drones to assassinate obscure suspected terrorists in the backlands of the planet. They take pride in comparing their activities to a religious calling. They want the public to know that they and the president spend significant time and effort on such “targeted killings.” The most recent case to see the light of day is the prospective assassination of an American citizen and suspected “al-Qaeda facilitator,” evidently in the tribal borderlands of Pakistan. When it comes to this possible future assassination, they seem eager to emphasize via leaks the care they are taking in preparing the way.
In the process, they have produced legalistic documents so secret that they can’t be shown to the public, though their existence and import can indeed be publicized. These justify to their satisfaction the killing of Americans without what once would have been considered “due process” or any role whatsoever for the actual legal system. The president and his top officials are ready at a moment’s notice to discuss in public, with a legalistic turn of mind and a finicky attention to bureaucratic detail, whether such killings can properly be carried out in the U.S. as they are abroad, or whether the angels of death should be the U.S. military or the CIA — as if this were of any legally binding import. (Congress, in turn, has been balking at appropriating money for the military to take over more of the CIA’s drone killings.) No less striking, the media is by now almost instantly bored with such reports, which prove, at best, to be minor one-day ripples in the vast tide of the news.
And in the face of all this, Americans seem to exhibit a remarkable lack of interest. The transformation of the White House into a killing machine? Whether any of this has anything to do with legality? More than 12 years after the 9/11 attacks, it’s evidently just everyday life in America. That the president is our assassin-in-chief and that drones are acceptable weapons of choice in such killings are givens. It’s also a given that, in the name of American security, anything goes as long as it’s wrapped in an exculpatory, feel-good legalistic package, even if it bears no actual relationship to what Americans might once have called legality. Today, Peter Van Buren, ex-State Department whistleblower, TomDispatch regular, and author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People, explores the deep derangement of all this and what it means in the building of a “post-Constitutional America.” Tom Engelhardt
Drone killing the Fifth Amendment
How to build a post-constitutional America one death at a time
By Peter Van Buren
Terrorism (ter-ror-ism; see also terror) n. 1. When a foreign organization kills an American for political reasons.
Justice (jus-tice) n. 1. When the United States Government uses a drone to kill an American for political reasons.
How’s that morning coffee treating you? Nice and warming? Mmmm.
While you’re savoring your cup o’ joe, imagine the president of the United States hunched over his own coffee, considering the murder of another American citizen. Now, if you were plotting to kill an American over coffee, you could end up in jail on a whole range of charges including — depending on the situation — terrorism. However, if the president’s doing the killing, it’s all nice and — let’s put those quote marks around it — “legal.” How do we know? We’re assured that the Justice Department tells him so. And that’s justice enough in post-Constitutional America.
Through what seems to have been an Obama administration leak to the Associated Press, we recently learned that the president and his top officials believe a U.S. citizen — name unknown to us out here — probably somewhere in the tribal backlands of Pakistan, is reputedly planning attacks against Americans abroad. As a result, the White House has, for the last several months, been considering whether or not to assassinate him by drone without trial or due process.
The Guardian reports: The Obama administration came under renewed pressure to disclose the legal grounds for its drone programme on Monday, amid reports that another US citizen accused of plotting attacks against Americans for al-Qaida overseas is to be assassinated.
Legal experts and civil liberties campaigners urged the White House to explain the basis for a potential strike against the suspect, alleged to be an active “facilitator” for the terrorist network and already responsible for deadly attacks on Americans.
Senior US officials were reported by the Associated Press to be weighing the benefits of killing the man against the likelihood of international condemnation and domestic criticism for targeting an American who has not been not charged with a crime. The Washington Post said it had confirmed the story.
Hina Shamsi, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) National Security Project, said the Obama administration “continues to fight against even basic transparency” about how it justifies the executions of thousands of people under the programme.
“The targeted killing of an American being considered right now shows the inherent danger of a killing programme based on vague and shifting legal standards, which has made it disturbingly easy for the government to operate outside the law,” she said.
Citing several US officials, the AP reported that the man was accused of planning further strikes with improvised explosive devices. He was reported to be hiding, well guarded, in a remote part of a state unwilling to allow US operations on its soil and “unable to go after him”, prompting speculation that a strike would mean the drone programme being extended into a new country, such as Libya. [Continue reading...]
James Bruno writes: When hotel magnate George Tsunis, Obama’s nominee for Oslo, met with the Senate last month, he made clear that he didn’t know that Norway was a constitutional monarchy and wrongly stated that one of the ruling coalition political parties was a hate-spewing “fringe element.” Another of the president’s picks, Colleen Bell, who is headed to Budapest, could not answer questions about the United States’ strategic interests in Hungary. But could the president really expect that she’d be an expert on the region? Her previous gig was as a producer for the TV soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful. She stumbled through responses to Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) like, well, a soap opera star, expounding on world peace. When the whole awkward exchange concluded, the senator grinned. “I have no more questions for this incredibly highly qualified group of nominees,” McCain said sarcastically.
For the purposes of comparison, Norway’s ambassador to the Washington is a 31-year Foreign Ministry veteran. Hungary’s ambassador is an economist who worked at the International Monetary Fund for 27 years.
The resumé imbalance, of course, owes to a simple fact: The United States is the only industrialized country to award diplomatic posts as political spoils, often to wealthy campaign contributors in an outmoded system that rivals the patronage practices of banana republics, dictatorships and two-bit monarchies. [Continue reading...]
Mohamed Soltan, an American citizen who is a 26-year-old graduate of Ohio State University, moved to Egypt last year. In August he joined a sit-in at Rabaa Square in Cairo to defend what he considered the norms of American-style democracy.
Soltan was shot in the arm when security forces broke up sit-ins at Rabaa and another square, killing nearly a thousand people. “He was recovering from surgery to remove the bullet when the police raided his home and arrested him. His family, which is collecting signatures on a petition calling for his release, has released the following text of a letter Mr. Soltan wrote to President Obama from a cell in Cairo’s Tora Prison on his 26th birthday in November.”
Last week, I underwent a procedure to remove two 13” metal nails that were placed in my left arm to help support and repair the damage sustained from a gunshot wound I suffered at the hands of Egyptian security forces. The bullet that punctured my arm was paid for by our tax dollars. I was forced to undergo this procedure without any anesthesia or sterilization because the Egyptian authorities refused to transfer me to a hospital for proper surgical care.
After the nails penetrated the skin at my elbow from below, and ripped through my shoulder muscle from above. The doctor who performed this procedure is a cellmate. He used pliers and a straight razor in lieu of a scalpel. I laid on a dirty mat as my other cellmates held me down to ensure I did not jolt from the pain and risk permanent loss of feeling and function in that arm. The pain was so excruciating, it felt like my brain could explode at any given point. I was finally given two aspirin pills almost an hour later when the guards found my cellmates screams for help unbearable.
I share these details here because my mind drifted to 2007 as I stared at the ceiling of my cramped cell after surgery. During your first presidential campaign, I was moved by your message. I was so passionate about everything you represented. Finally, “change we can believe in.” I saw you, as many Americans did then, a true civil servant looking to put the disadvantaged first, and to pioneer a new model of governance. I felt I was part of the making of a great chapter in my country’s history. You were someone I wanted to stand behind, someone I wanted to support, so I volunteered and worked for your campaign in Ohio, a crucial swing state. As an O.S.U. student, I went door-to-door, made phone call after phone call, urged people to join the movement that would revolutionize American politics. It was time to go back to a government “for the people, of the people.”
Now as I sit in this crowded cell, I can’t help but ask myself, was I naïve to think you were a departure from the norm? [Continue reading...]
Michael Lind writes: What do you call an employer that refuses to pay its workers any salary at all? Answer: The White House.
President Barack Obama has called for an increase in the U.S. minimum wage. And yet his administration expects hundreds of young people each year to work at the White House for an hourly wage of zero.
According to a White House website, White House interns are expected to work “at least Monday-Friday, 9 am-6pm.” Nice touch — “at least.”
In return for a full week’s worth of work and possible overtime, the White House provides its interns with no pay and no housing help. The latter is significant, because the Washington, D.C., metro area has among the highest costs in the U.S.
The problem with the unpaid internship program, which Obama inherited from previous Oval Officers and which has continued, is not sweatshop exploitation — it’s blatant class discrimination. [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports: Google, which briefly considered moving all of its computer servers out of the United States last year after learning how they had been penetrated by the National Security Agency, was looking for a public assurance from President Obama that the government would no longer secretly suck data from the company’s corner of the Internet cloud.
Microsoft was listening to see if Mr. Obama would adopt a recommendation from his advisers that the government stop routinely stockpiling flaws in its Windows operating system, then using them to penetrate some foreign computer systems and, in rare cases, launch cyberattacks.
Intel and computer security companies were eager to hear Mr. Obama embrace a commitment that the United States would never knowingly move to weaken encryption systems.
They got none of that. [Continue reading...]
The Washington Post reports: After months of revelations that strained U.S. relations with allies and cast a harsh light on the National Security Agency’s global surveillance reach, President Obama’s speech Friday was aimed at least in part at reassuring the world of American intentions.
But the initial reaction overseas suggested he still has a significant way to go to heal the rifts, with many wondering why he didn’t offer more specific protections.
In Germany, where revelations that the NSA had been eavesdropping on the calls of Chancellor Angela Merkel stirred deep anger and unusually tough criticism of Washington, Obama’s promises to rein in the excesses of U.S. spying were met with a tepid welcome from the German government — and scorn from some analysts.
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert tweeted that the government would appreciate better safeguards of the rights of non-U.S. citizens but would need more time to review Obama’s words in detail. [Continue reading...]
Barton Gellman reports: President Obama said Friday, in his first major speech on electronic surveillance, that “the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don’t threaten our national security.”
Obama placed restrictions on access to domestic phone records collected by the National Security Agency, but the changes he announced will allow it to continue — or expand — the collection of personal data from billions of people around the world, Americans and foreign citizens alike.
Obama squares that circle with an unusually narrow definition of “spying.” It does not include the ingestion of tens of trillions of records about the telephone calls, e-mails, locations and relationships of people for whom there is no suspicion of relevance to any threat.
In his speech, and an accompanying policy directive, Obama described principles for “restricting the use of this information” — but not for gathering less of it.
Alongside the invocation of privacy and restraint, Obama gave his plainest endorsement yet of “bulk collection,” a term he used more than once and authorized explicitly in Presidential Policy Directive 28. In a footnote, the directive defined the term to mean high-volume collection “without the use of discriminants.” [Continue reading...]
A transcript of Obama’s full speech can be read here.