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?...
29-year old former CIA technical assistant and current NSA third-party contractor Edward Snowden has decided to out himself as the source of the leaked national security documents exposing the U.S. government's massive secret telephone records collection and secret access to nine major Internet services providers, as published by journalist Glenn Greenwald of the Guardian over the course of the past week.
"Any analyst, at any time, can target anyone...anywhere," he tells Greenwald in a video interview published this morning by the Guardian, as recorded in Hong Kong where Snowden has taken refuge for the time being. He adds that, "increasingly", secret intelligence collection is "happening domestically."
"Not all analysts have the ability to target everything," he explains. "But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant to a federal judge or even the President if I had a personal email."
Prior to his decision to leak certain classified and top secret documents about "this massive surveillance machine" he said is being secretly built by the government --- documents which, he says, he reviewed specifically to make sure nobody was personally exposed by them --- Greenwald reports, in a separate article, that he "had 'a very comfortable life' that included a salary of roughly $200,000, a girlfriend with whom he shared a home in Hawaii, a stable career, and a family he loves."
"I carefully evaluated every single document I disclosed to ensure that each was legitimately in the public interest," he is quoted as telling the Guardian. "There are all sorts of documents that would have made a big impact that I didn't turn over, because harming people isn't my goal. Transparency is."
Thanks to his leaks from the NSA, "Snowden will go down in history as one of America's most consequential whistleblowers alongside Daniel Ellsberg and Bradley Manning" writes Greenwald, with fellow Guardian journalists Ewen MacAskill and Laura Poitras today.
"The public needs to decide whether these programs and policies are right or wrong," Snowden tells Greenwald in the fascinating video interview...
NSA and the intelligence community in general, is focused on getting intelligence where ever it can by any means possible, that it believes, on the grounds of sort of a self-certification, that they serve the national interest. Originally, we saw that focus very narrowly tailored, as far as intelligence gathered overseas. Now, increasingly, we see that it's happening domestically. And to do that, they --- the NSA, specifically --- targets the communications of everyone. It ingests them by default. It collects them in its system, and it filters them and it analyzes them and it measures them and it stores them for periods of time, simply because that's the easiest, most efficient and most valuable way to achieve these ends. So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they're collecting your communications to do so.
A decade ago, Snowden had enlisted in the U.S. Army in hopes of going to Iraq with the Special Forces, the Guardian reports. He became disenchanted, he says, when "Most of the people training us seemed pumped up about killing Arabs, not helping anyone." Following a serious injury during training, he was discharged, and eventually made his way into the intelligence field, and now the pages of history.
When asked why he decided to expose these programs, and now come out publicly about them at this time, as opposed to staying in the shadows until otherwise discovered, Snowden explains in the video...
This one is a classified 18-page Presidential Policy Directive issued by President Obama last October detailing "Offensive Cyber Effects Operations (OCEO)" which "can offer unique and unconventional capabilities to advance US national objectives around the world with little or no warning to the adversary or target and with potential effects ranging from subtle to severely damaging".
It is said, by an Administration national security spokesperson, to be an update to "a similar directive dating back to 2004."
In case you can't read it, the text of the identical letters, believed to contain deadly ricin --- as sent last week to President Barack Obama, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and to his gun safety organization, Mayors Against Illegal Guns (as well as to an Air Force Base and the CIA) from a Shreveport, LA post office --- follows below...
You will have to kill me and my family before you get my guns. Anyone wants to come to my house will get shot in the face. The right to bear arms is my constitutional God given right and I will excersice [sic] that right til [sic] the day I die. whats in the letter is nothing compared to what ive [sic] got planned for you.
Well, that tears it! I'm convinced by his water-tight argument. We must fight to ensure every American --- just like the guy who wrote the letter above --- is able to buy any weapon he likes, with as much ammo as he likes, with as many magazines, of any size, as he likes, with no oversight, tracking or background checks whatsoever! I see no down side.
It is, after all, a "constitutional God given right" and who are we to put limits on what God wants (and wrote directly into our Constitution)?
Sure, laugh now. But, to paraphrase, "First they came for the attempted assassins," etc...
* * *
Rachel Maddow's quick take on the above, and a spate of similar incidents of late, follows below...
AP and others are reporting that President Obama plans to nominate, for FBI Director, Republican James Comey, former Deputy Attorney General under then AG John Ashcroft, during some of the darkest days of the George W. Bush Administration.
The news offer a moment to revisit what a real White House scandal looked like --- back when Republicans had no interest in them and back when there were real investigative Congressional hearings and no need to create pretend "whistleblowers" in order to gin up political "outrage" and "scandal"!
For those of you who believe Benghazi is an actual scandal, or even that the IRS idiocy has anything to do with "tyranny" or "abuse of power", you need only look back to Comey's riveting, could-hear-a-pin-drop, 2007 testimony before the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, as he described publicly, for the first time, a very real Executive over reach and astonishing abuse of power that concerned not only the federal government spying on all Americans without warrant or cause, but a White House willing to secretly take advantage of a critically ill Attorney General in order to get approval for a program by having it "certified as legal", even when it clearly was not.
That's what Comey described in his May 15, 2007 testimony --- during hearings on the U.S. Attorney Scandal (another very real one) --- about a remarkable event that took place on the night of Wednesday, March 10, 2004, which threatened to result in the mass resignation of the Attorney General, his Deputy AGs, much of their top-level staff, as well as the Director of the FBI. When asked during the hearing why he had determined to submit his resignation after what he saw and what had happened on that fateful night, he responds to Sen. Chuck Schumer: "I believed that I couldn't stay if the Administration was going to engage in conduct that the Department of Justice said had no legal basis. I just couldn't stay."
His testimony describes the night that the Bush's NSA warrantless eavesdropping program was set to expire, as then AG Ashcroft lay in a hospital Intensive Care Unit with a critical case of pancreatitis. Comey, designated as Acting AG during the AG's illness, had refused the White House demands to certify the NSA program as "legal", as was needed for it to continue. The White House was said to have been furious about it, so Dubya, reportedly, personally called Ashcroft's wife to inform her that his own legal adviser Alberto Gonzalez (who was not yet AG) and Chief of Staff Andy Card, were on their way over to the hospital to have the ailing AG personally sign off on the program.
What happened next, as Comey describes it in his testimony below, was an astonishing moment in a very real Constitutional crisis...
After he was interrupted, several times, by CODEPINK founder Medea Benjamin during his foreign policy speech on Thursday, President Obama said: "The voice of that woman is worth paying attention to."
I agree with that part of his response, which was met with applause in the room. I rather liked the questions that Benjamin shouted out before and as she was eventually led out of the room. She offered a pretty well constructed set of thoughts and questions, particularly under the circumstances. And I'd love to hear the President's answers to a few of her questions.
Here's what she said, as well as I was able to capture her remarks from the video...
It's not Congress. It's you, sir. There are 102 people on a hunger strike [in the Guantanamo Bay prison]. These are desperate people. 86 have been cleared for release. You are Commander-in-Chief. You can close Guantanamo today. You can release those 86 prisoners today.
How about Abdulrahman al-Awlaki, a 16-year-old American killed by drones. Is that the way we treat a 16-year-old American? Why was he killed? Can you tell us why Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed?
Can you tell the Muslim people their lives are as precious as our lives? Can you take the drones out of the hands of the CIA? Can you stop the signature strikes that are killing people on the basis of suspicious activities? Will you apologize to the thousands of Muslims that you have killed? Will you compensate the innocent family victims? That will make us safer here at home.
I love my country! I love the rule of law! The drones are making us less safe. And keeping people in indefinite detention in Guantanamo is making us less safe. Abide by the rule of law. You're a Constitutional lawyer!
For the record, the President absolutely can release the 86 prisoners who have been cleared for release immediately, as Benjamin noted. He does not have to, as he likes to suggest, get approval from Congress to do that. He can release them immediately. He only needs Congressional approval to move prisoners (such as the ones who may actually face some sort of trial or military tribunal) to another prison on the U.S. mainland.
Despite his assertions to the contrary, as seen in the video below, Obama did not address the concerns of Benjamin. He did not explain why 16-year-old U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki was killed. He did not answer whether drone strikes would be taken out of the hands of the unaccountable CIA and given to the slightly-more-accountable military. He did not respond to the question about compensation to the families of innocent victims killed in drone strikes. He did not speak to whether "signature strikes" with drones (attacks based on profiles of those believed to be gathered at a particular location, rather than a specific person believed to be in the group) would be ended. He should address all of those issues.
* * *
Video of the section of his speech during which the President was interrupted several times by Benjamin --- remarkably, she was not removed the first several times --- and his responses to her, follows below...