After an amazingly encouraging week or two, we head into the July 4th weekend with a whole bunch of stuff we've been trying to clear off our desk. Plus: Lots of breaking news and an encouraging ending for the weekend...
Amidst the understandable sound and fury of the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decisions on marriage equality and their activist zeal to gut the Voting Rights Act in their determination to legislate from the bench that which is specifically mandated by the Constitution to be legislated by Congress, a number of their other end-of-term decisions managed to fly largely beneath the radar.
One of those decisions came late last month when the five right-wing members of the Court ruled that citizens who are severely injured, maimed or even killed by FDA-approved --- but unreasonably dangerous --- generic prescription drugs, have no right to seek compensation from the giant pharmaceutical companies which manufacture and market them to unsuspecting consumers.
In his majority opinion, Justice Samuel Alito described her injuries as "tragic" and acknowledged that over 65% of Bartlett's body "was burned off, or turned into an open wound. She spent months in a medically induced coma, underwent 12 eye surgeries, and was tube fed for a year. She is now severely disfigured…and is nearly blind."
For Alito, and the rest of the Court's right-wing majority, the severity of Bartlett's injury proved inconsequential when measured against Big Pharma's bottom line and their interest in selling generic drugs, which account for 75% of the prescription drugs sold in the U.S.
As a result, as it applies to generics, for the first time in our nation's history, FDA permission to market has been treated as a final stamp of approval as to the generic drug's safety, irrespective of the scope of subsequently obtained scientific evidence that reveals otherwise.
Anyone who is now injured, maimed or killed by what turn out to be generic, poison pills are S.O.L....
I have been unable to find any evidence that even one single primetime program at cable news channel MSNBC --- which bills itself as "The Place for Politics" --- spent even one minute of coverage on this week's 3-hour oversight hearing in the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee for President Barack Obama's nominee to be the next Director of the FBI.
The current Director of the FBI, Robert Mueller, was appointed by George W. Bush, and has served in that position since the week prior to 9/11/2001. During his tenure, there has been a vast, radical expansion of the use of torture, indefinite detention, and massive foreign and domestic surveillance by the U.S. Government. While the term for an FBI Director is ten years, Mueller has served almost twelve, following a two-year extension requested by Obama and authorized by the Senate --- which is responsible for advice, consent and confirmation of FBI Director nominees --- in 2011.
James Comey, Jr., who served as U.S. Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush administration, after having served as one of Bush's U.S. Attorneys, has been nominated by Obama to become the next Director of the FBI. He will, in theory, serve ten years if confirmed by the U.S. Senate and will be the first FBI Director appointed after 9/11.
According to the FBI's website, the Director oversees "56 field offices located in major cities throughout the U.S., approximately 380 smaller...resident agencies in cities and towns across the nation, and more than 60 international offices called 'legal attachés' in U.S. embassies worldwide." The Bureau employees almost 36,000 people and has an annual budget of just over $8 billion.
Even without the ongoing national (and international) debates about the U.S. use of torture, indefinite detention and its massive worldwide and domestic surveillance policies in the wake of disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, it seems the oversight hearings for any new FBI Director, which, in this case, would be only the 7th in its history, would be newsworthy.
Given the importance of the role and the enormity of the appointment, especially at this moment in history, the fact that the entirety of MSNBC's primetime line-up seems to have completely ignored those hearings entirely, seems newsworthy as well.
All of that even more so, given the man who was nominated for the job and the extraordinary content of the hearings...
"Some countries are willing to stand up to the United States right now," Michael Ratner told Amy Goodman earlier this week, as he heaped praise upon Ecuador, the nation which previously granted political asylum to Ratner's client, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Ecuador has defied the U.S. by saying it will consider NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden's request for political asylum.
It is likely that Ecuador is already furnishing Snowden with some level of diplomatic protection. AP reports that, according to WikiLeaks, Snowden was being "escorted by diplomats and legal advisers" during his travels from Hong Kong to Russia last weekend. It seems likely that Snowden was met at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport by Ecuadorian diplomats. A black BMW with diplomatic license plates assigned to the Ecuadorian Embassy was reportedly, waiting at the airport last Sunday in advance of Snowden's arrival.
Ecuador is not the only nation that is unwilling to cooperate, for differing reasons, with an apparently vengeful U.S. government which has sought to make an example of Snowden by charging him with espionage. Some, like Hong Kong, have a longstanding commitment to free speech and the right to due process. Others, like Russia, have an interest in closer political and economic ties to the Bolivarian Alliance for the Americas (ALBA) --- a group of socialist and social democratic Latin American and Caribbean nations that includes three potential Snowden destinations, Cuba, Venezuela and Ecuador.
In all cases, there appears to be a growing revulsion towards the overreach of the NSA's increasingly privatized, "Big Brother"-like intrusions and a growing recognition that the United States has long-since abandoned its mantle as a beacon of democracy and a nation devoted to "equal justice under the law"...
And somehow we managed to fit in a few phone calls and a thought or two on Wendy Davis' stand in TX late last night and the state Republicans attempt to fraudulently pass a radical anti-abortion bill anyway. We got all of that into an incredibly fast moving single show, which follows for you below. Enjoy!
A sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court handed down two 5-4 decisions today, both of which can be seen as positive, if narrow, decisions favoring equal rights.
One SCOTUS decision had the effect of reinstating a 2010 U.S. District Court ruling that California's Proposition 8, banning marriage equality in the state, was unconstitutional. The other decision established that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutionally violated the constitutional rights of same-sex couples who have been married in a state which recognizes the right of same-sex couples to marry.
However, by ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry [PDF] (hereinafter the "Prop 8 case") that the proponents of Prop 8 --- a voter approved ballot initiative --- lacked standing to appeal U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's 136-page decision in Perry v. Schwarzenegger and by limiting its decision in United States v. Windsor [PDF] (the "DOMA case") to the constitutional rights of same-sex couples who have been married in a state which recognizes the right of same sex-couples, the court left open to future adjudication of two vitally important questions:
Do same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry in states which have not formally recognized the right to do so?
Must states, which do not permit same-sex couples to marry, recognize the marital rights of those same-sex couples who have chosen to marry in other states where it is permitted?
Those questions remain, even as today's Supreme Court decisions provide an important pair of victories that move the United States two steps closer to the day when sexual preference will no longer be seen as a measure of an individual's or a couple's character...
In a remarkable display of judicial overreach, activism and legislating from the bench, the five Republican-appointed U.S. Supreme Court Justices, in a narrow 5-4 ruling today [PDF] have, in the words of dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, "demolished" the center-piece of the nation's beloved 48-year old Voting Rights Act, ignored the court's own repeated rulings, overridden a repeated and unambiguous mandate by the U.S. Congress (most recently, as led by two Republican chambers and signed by a Republican President), and made an absolute joke of the no-uncertain-terms directive of the U.S. Constitution's 15th Amendment.
In short, the nature of today's SCOTUS ruling, effectively gutting the central provision of what is arguably the most important Constitutionally-mandated and successful civil rights legislation in the nation's history, encompasses everything that the Republican Party has, in recent years, pretended to abhor when it comes to the judiciary --- everything, that is, but the partisan politics of its historic reach...
That said, given this "Catch Me If You Can" international chase, this may be one (very brief) moment, in which I can (for now) forgive the mainstream corporate media for their breathless worldwide, man-of-mystery manhunt coverage. Snowden's Run is, after all, just one helluva good thriller story.
The New York Times' David Carr described it this way: "[A]s Edward J. Snowden made his way across the globe with a disintegrating passport and newly emerged allies, Twitter was there, serving up a new kind of chase coverage, with breathless updates from hovering digital observers speculating about the fleeing leaker’s next move. All day Sunday, it was like watching a spy movie unfold in pixels, except it was all very real and no one knows how it ends."
What is impossible to forgive, however, is another sideline distraction to the substance of Edward Snowden's disclosures that happened on Sunday, though it's a disturbingly important one that needs more light amidst the other, thrilling, if less important distractions. This part of the story came via the national embarrassment otherwise known as NBC's Meet the Press with David Gregory, when the titular host suggested that Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald, who helped break many of the Snowden disclosures, had "aided and abetted" the former NSA contractor, and should, therefore, be "charged with a crime" himself.
Gregory's friendly help to the U.S. Government's surging War on Journalism was echoed again today, by yet another supposed journalist, when Andrew Ross Sorkin, a financial columnist for the national embarrassment otherwise known as the New York Times, offered (also on live television) that he would "almost arrest" Greenwald in addition to Snowden...
In a ruling hailed by voting rights advocates today, Arizona's requirement that newly registered voters submit proof of citizenship with their registration has been struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in a 7-2 decision. Justice Antonin Scalia authored the opinion for the majority, while Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.
The court rejected provisions of Proposition 200, a ballot measure approved by AZ voters in 2004, which mandated that state election officials reject all applications to register to vote that did not include documentary proof of citizenship. Those documents, however, are not currently required by the Federal Form for voter registration, as approved by the Elections Assistance Commission (EAC) pursuant to provisions of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
Today's ruling in Arizona v. Inter Tribal Council of Arizona [PDF], is grounded upon the plenary power given to Congress by the Elections Clause (Art. I §4 of the U.S. Constitution) empowering Congress to preempt state regulations governing the "Times, Places and Manner" of holding federal elections. The court found that the NVRA mandate that states "accept and use" the Federal Form for voter registration takes precedence, and that Prop 200 is invalid because it conflicts with the Congressional intent that the NVRA help ease the ability of citizens to register to vote.
Writing for the majority, Justice Scalia observed that if a state could "demand of Federal Form applicants every additional piece of information the State requires…the Federal Form ceases to perform any meaningful function, and would be a feeble means of 'increas[ing] the number of eligible citizens who register to vote in elections for Federal office.'"
This does not close the door on the issue altogether, however. Justice Scalia noted that, pursuant to the NVRA, any state can ask that "the EAC alter the Federal Form to include information the State deems necessary to determine eligibility." If the EAC then rejects such a request, the state "may challenge the EAC's rejection of that request [in court]"...
Earlier this week, CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed The Guardian's Glenn Greenwald about the baseless claim made by Rep. Peter King (R-NY), on Fox "News", that Greenwald was "threatening to disclose" the identities of covert American CIA operatives.
Cooper and Greenwald then discussed the claim that American national security has been harmed by the disclosures made by Snowden, and why both citizens and journalists should never merely accept, at face value, such claims from public officials...
ANDERSON COOPER: King also says that you should be prosecuted because of what you've already published, saying it puts American lives at risk…When Wikileaks released huge amounts of information…a lot of people said, you know, "They had blood on their hands. Julian Assange has had blood on his hands." But then U.S. officials privately admitted to people in Congress and even publicly that even though the revelations were embarrassing, were a problem, that they couldn’t name anyone who really had lost their lives because of it. So now, when people are saying that you have put American lives at risk, do you believe that at all?
GLENN GREENWALD: No. And Anderson, that point that you just made, in my opinion, is really the crucial point, for anybody listening, to take away. Every single time the American government has things that they’ve done in secret exposed or revealed to the world and they're embarrassed by it, the tactic that they use is to try and scare people into believing that they have to overlook what they have done --- they have to trust American officials to exercise power in the dark, lest they be attacked; that their security and safety depend upon placing this value in political officials. And I really think it’s the supreme obligation of every journalist and every citizen when they hear an American official say --- 'this story about us jeopardizes national security' --- to demand specifics; to ask, what exactly it is that has jeopardized national security.
King's blatant lies about Greenwald ought to underscore his point that such officials are not to be merely trusted.
Video of Anderson Cooper's 6/12/2013 interview of Glenn Greenwald follows below...
There's a reason I argued we are now living on Planet Partisan the other day. In what is now, apparently, our continuing series on partisans attempting to justify their all-new positions on the massive, secret, US national security surveillance state by completely ignoring and/or reversing their very strong previously held positions, we first had...
EXCLUSIVE: Legendary 'Pentagon Papers' whistleblower offers frank comment on the NSA whistleblower; the dangers of our privatized surveillance state; the failure of Congressional oversight; and journalists 'discrediting their professions'...
"I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America," Church said, "and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision, so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return."
On Wednesday, during a fascinating interview on The BradCast on KPFK/Pacifica Radio, Ellsberg said directly, in the wake of Snowden's disclosures: "We're in the abyss. What he feared has come to pass."
The Guardian has asserted that former NSA contractor Edward Snowden "will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning," do it seemed the perfect time to chat with Ellsberg about all of this.
He offered a number of thoughts about Snowden himself, from one of the few people in the world who may have real insight into what the 29-year old leaker must be thinking and dealing with right about now, and why he may have chosen to both leave the country and then come out publicly. He describes Snowden as "a patriotic American, and to call him a traitor reveals a real misunderstanding of our founding documents."
"What he has revealed, of course, is documentary evidence of a broadly, blatantly unconstitutional program here which negates the Fourth Amendment," Ellsberg said. "And if it continues in this way, I think it makes democracy essentially impossible or meaningless."
As usual, Ellsberg pulled no punches in his comments on the dangers of our privatized surveillance state; the failure of our Congressional intelligence oversight committees (which he describes as "fraudulent" and "totally broken"); and on those who have been critical of Snowden and of Glenn Greenwald, the journalist from The Guardian who has broken most of the scoops on Snowden's leaked documents.
He said that folks like attorney Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker and author Thomas Friedman at New York Times and Senator Dianne Feinstein "are being very strongly discredited," by their attacks on Snowden. "The criticisms they're making, I think, are very discreditable to them in their profession," he says.
And, while answering to my request for a response to Josh Marshall's recent piece at TPM, in which Marshall weights his own conscience on this matter and frankly revealing his natural tendency to support the government over whistleblowers in cases like this, Ellsberg was particularly pointed. "Marshall has a lot to be said for him as a blogger," he said, before adding: "I think what he said there is stupid and mistaken and does not do him credit." He went on to describe some of Marshall's comments as "slander" against Snowden.
One other point that merits highlight here for now, before I let ya listen below. The difference between Ellsberg's circumstances and those in play today.
Ellsberg noted that after leaking top secret Defense Department documents to the New York Times in 1971, detailing how the Johnson Administration had lied the nation into the Vietnam War, President Nixon, at the time, ordered a break-in of his psychiatrist's office and discussed having Ellsberg "eliminated".
"All the things that were done to me then," he noted chillingly, "including a CIA profile on me, a burglary of my former psychiatrist's office in order to get information to blackmail me with, all of those things were illegal, as one might think that they ought to be."
"They're legal now, since 9/11, with the PATRIOT Act, which on that very basis alone should be repealed. In other words, this is a case right now with Snowden that shows very dramatically the dangers of that PATRIOT Act, used as it is. So the fact is, that all these things are legal. And even the one of possibly eliminating him"...
Several days ago, I posted a video showing the stark differences between the positions on massive surveillance programs by candidate Barack Obama in 2007 and President Barack Obama in 2013.
And now, since we're nothing if not "fair and balanced", here is a short video of Sean Hannity of Fox "News" repeatedly lauding massive NSA surveillance programs during the George W. Bush Administration...and then decrying the very same programs as "tyranny" and a blatant violation of the U.S. Constitution now that Obama is doing it.
With all due respect to Hannity --- and I have none --- his over the top hypocrisy then versus now trumps even Obama's, hands down. Not to mention the small detail that the programs, as carried out under Bush were, at the time, illegal, while under Obama they have been made "legal". (Or so we are told. There is so much secrecy around them, of course, it is virtually impossible for the public to know either way.) Enjoy!...
Ever since last week's disclosures about our massive surveillance state began pouring out from the Guardian's Glenn Greenwald, via leaked documents from NSA contractor Edward Snowden, detractors of the leaks have been pillorying them both for, among other things, supposedly putting national security at risk.
The attacks have come from both the Right and non-Right this time around, unlike during the Bush Administration when the attacks on whistleblowing came largely from the Right (and from some elected Democrats.)
At the end of this article over the weekend, I wrote a bit about how bizarre it's been to see partisan Obama supporters literally switching places with their partisan Bush-supporting counterparts, using arguments that are virtually identical to those by made by Republicans to defend Bush on these very same matters during his administration. Those same arguments, almost to the phrase, are now employed by many Democrats to defend the Obama DoJ's crackdown on whistleblowers, secret subpoenas of journalists and, now, as a call to arms against Snowden and Greenwald both for, somehow, putting the nation in danger. (At the same time, as I've also noted on severaloccassions, it's also amazing to witness some Republicans who've suddenly discovered a new found concern about Big Government Executive Branch overreach and the secret surveillance of U.S. citizens.)
Related to all of this, and true to many of those who have been critical of Snowden and Greenwald from both the Democratic and Republican side, is that while the recent disclosures have put us at risk (or something), as they argue, the issue of our massive, secret, privatized, surveillance state is, nonetheless, a very important issue about which we must have a public debate as a nation. On that, detractors from both sides seem to agree.
Here are just a few examples of that and some thoughts on how twisted this logic seems to be...
Whistleblower Edward Snowden did more than simply expose a level of NSA surveillance that suggests the entire system has grown dangerously close to that of "Big Brother" in George Orwell's 1984.
In disclosing that he served at the NSA as a third-party contractor employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, Snowden's revelations touch upon the disturbing fact that the U.S. has become not only a national security surveillance state, but a privatized national security surveillance state. Our national security apparatus is now run, in no small part, by massive private corporations whose financial interests may be better served by operating in secret and by exploiting and exaggerating public fears.
As reported by The New York Times on Monday, Booz Allen "has become one of the largest and most profitable corporations in the United States almost exclusively by serving a single client: the government of the United States." The company "reported revenues of $5.76 billion for the fiscal year ended in March."
The majority shareholder in Booz Allen is The Carlyle Group, the massive global asset management firm whose defense industry contracts raised questions of a conflict of interest during the George W. Bush administration in light of the direct financial ties and active rolls in Carlyle maintained by Bush's father, former President George H.W. Bush, his Sec. of State, James Baker, III, Ronald Reagan's Defense Sec. Frank Carlucci and even Shafiq Bin Laden (Osama's brother).
These new revelations serve as a reminder that 9/11 did more than serve as an economic boon for the military-industrial complex. The events of that horrible day gave rise to an endless "war on terror," to the starkly swift passage of the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 and eventually, along with it, --- as Sen. Russ Feingold, the only U.S. Senator to vote against the Act, predicted at the time --- to the massive reach of the NSA surveillance state. Feingold's prediction echoed the ominous warning provided by Sen. Frank Church (D-ID) some thirty years earlier, that if the NSA's surveillance capabilities were ever allowed to go unchecked, there would be "no place to hide."
But what Senators Feingold and Church do not seem to have anticipated was that this Orwellian level of surveillance capabilities would be placed into the hands of private cyber security contractors, and their billionaire benefactors, whose financial interests lie in an exaggerated state of fear and secrecy. The merger between the NSA and private corporate power raises the specter that this never-ending "war on terror" has given rise to a national security apparatus whose real purpose is to protect wealth and privilege against the threat democracy poses to our increasingly stark levels of inequality.
So, is it terrorism or democracy which is the real target of an omnipresent NSA surveillance capability? Or is it something else entirely?...