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  • The United States of ALEC: Bill Moyers on the Secretive Corporate-Legislative Body Writing Our Laws (2 of 2)

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-29 17:17:54
  • The United States of ALEC: Bill Moyers on the Secretive Corporate-Legislative Body Writing Our Laws (1 of 2)

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-29 17:17:00
    'Democracy Now! premieres "The United States of ALEC," a special report by legendary journalist Bill Moyers on how the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council has helped corporate America propose and even draft legislation for states across the country. ALEC brings together major U.S. corporations and right-wing legislators to craft and vote on "model" bills behind closed doors. It has come under increasing scrutiny for its role in promoting "stand your ground" gun laws, voter suppression bills, union-busting policies and other controversial legislation. Although billing itself as a "nonpartisan public-private partnership," ALEC is actually a national network of state politicians and powerful corporations principally concerned with increasing corporate profits without public scrutiny. Moyers’ special will air this weekend on Moyers & Company, but first airs on Democracy Now! today. "The United States of ALEC" is a collaboration between Okapi Productions, LLC and the Schumann Media Center. [includes rush transcript]...



    AMY GOODMAN: We begin our show today with a look at the secretive American Legislative Exchange Council. The organization, often known as just ALEC, brings together major corporations and state legislators to craft and vote on "model" bills behind closed doors. It’s come under increasing scrutiny for its role in promoting "stand your ground" gun laws, voter suppression bills, union-busting policies and other controversial legislation. The organization’s agenda has sparked so much controversy that 40 major U.S. companies, including Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Kraft and General Motors, have recently severed ties with ALEC.

    ALEC is the focus of a new documentary by the legendary journalist Bill Moyers titled The United States of ALEC. It will air this weekend on Moyers & Company but is premiering today here on Democracy Now!

    STATE REP. STEVE FARLEY: I’ve often told people that I talk to out on the campaign trail, when they say, "State what?" when I say I’m running for state legislature, I tell them that the decisions that are made here in the legislature are often more important for your everyday life than the decisions the president makes.

    JOHN NICHOLS: If you really want to influence the politics of this country, you don’t just give money to presidential campaigns, you don’t just give money to congressional campaign committees. Smart players put their money in the states.

    PRESIDENT RONALD REAGAN: ALEC has forged a unique partnership between state legislators and leaders from the corporate and business community. This partnership offers businessmen the extraordinary opportunity to apply their talents to solve our nation’s problems and build on our opportunities.

    LISA GRAVES: I was stunned at the notion that politicians and corporate representatives, corporate lobbyists, were actually voting behind closed doors on these changes to the law before they were introduced in statehouses across the country.

    HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER: ALEC has been, I think, a wonderful organization. Not only does it bring like-minded legislators together, but the private sector engagement and partnership in ALEC is really what I think makes it the organization that it is.

    BILL MOYERS: You might have heard the name ALEC in the news lately.

    CHRIS MATTHEWS: The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, for short.

    REPORTER: The American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

    BILL MOYERS: ALEC is a nationwide consortium of elected state legislators working side by side with some of America’s most powerful corporations. They have an agenda you should know about: a mission to remake America, changing the country by changing its laws one state at a time. ALEC creates what it calls "model legislation," pro-corporate laws like this one that its members push in statehouses across the country. ALEC says close to a thousand bills, based at least in part on its models, are introduced every year, and an average of 200 pass. This has been going on for decades, but somehow ALEC managed to remain the most influential, corporate-funded political organization you had never heard of—until a gunshot sounded in the Florida night.

    RACHEL MADDOW: Trayvon Martin, unarmed, but for a bag of candy and an iced tea that he was carrying.

    BILL MOYERS: You’ll recall that the shooter in Trayvon Martin’s death was protected at first by Florida’s so-called "stand your ground" law. That law was the work of the National Rifle Association. There is its lobbyist standing right beside Governor Jeb Bush when he signed it into law in 2005. Although ALEC didn’t originate the Florida law, it seized on it for the "stand your ground" model it would circulate in other states. Twenty-four of them have passed a version of it.

    RASHAD ROBINSON: How did this law not only get in place in Florida but around the country? And all the fingers kept pointing back to ALEC.

    BILL MOYERS: When civil rights and grassroots groups learned about ALEC’s connection to "stand your ground" laws, they were outraged.

    RASHAD ROBINSON: ALEC doesn’t do its work alone; they do it with some of the biggest corporate brands in America.

    BILL MOYERS: Before long, corporations were pulling out of ALEC, including Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, McDonald’s, Mars, Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson. Caught in the glare of the national spotlight, ALEC tried to change the subject.

    KAITLYN BUSS: You know, I think that the entire debate needs to be reframed. And really what ALEC is is a bipartisan association of state legislators. We have, you know, legislators of all political stripes coming together to talk about the most critical issues facing the states and trying to come up with the best solutions to face some of the problems we’re having.

    MEGYN KELLY: Right. So, your point is it’s not a partisan organization.

    BILL MOYERS: But ALEC is partisan. And then some.

    LISA GRAVES: In the spring, I got a call from a person who said that all of the ALEC bills were available, and was I interested in looking at them. And I said I was.

    BILL MOYERS: Lisa Graves, a former Justice Department lawyer, runs the Center for Media Democracy. That’s a nonprofit investigative reporting group in Madison, Wisconsin. In 2011, by way of an ALEC insider, Graves got her hands on a virtual library of internal ALEC documents. She was amazed by its contents: a treasure trove of actual ALEC model bills.

    LISA GRAVES: These are the bills that were provided by the whistleblower. That’s just the index.

    BILL MOYERS: There were more than 850 of them, 850 boilerplate laws that ALEC legislators could introduce as their own in any state in the union.

    LISA GRAVES: Bills to change the law to make it harder for Americans to vote, those were ALEC bills. Bills to dramatically change the rights of Americans who are killed or injured by corporations, those were ALEC bills. Bills to make it harder for unions to do their work were ALEC bills. Bills to basically block climate change agreements, those were ALEC bills. When I looked at them, I was really shocked. I didn’t know how incredibly extensive and deep and far-reaching this effort to rework our laws was.

    BILL MOYERS: She and her team begin to plow to ALEC’s documents, as well as public sources, to compile a list of the organizations and people who were or have been ALEC members. They found hundreds of corporations, from Coca-Cola and Koch Industries to ExxonMobil, Pfizer and Wal-Mart; dozens of right-wing think tanks and foundations; two dozen corporate law firms and lobbying firms; and some thousand state legislators, a few of them Democrats, the majority of them Republican.

    STATE REP. MARK POCAN: ALEC is a corporate dating service for lonely legislators and corporate special interests that eventually the relationship culminates with some special interest legislation, and, hopefully, that lives happily ever after as the ALEC model. Unfortunately, what’s excluded from that equation is the public.

    BILL MOYERS: In the Wisconsin Statehouse, Democratic Representative Mark Pocan is trying to expose ALEC’s fingerprints whenever he can. By one count, over a third of Pocan’s fellow Wisconsin lawmakers are ALEC members.

    STATE REP. MARK POCAN: When you look around, especially on the Republican side of the aisle, a lot of members of ALEC. Front row, ALEC. When you start going down to, you know, the chair of finance and some of the other members, are all ALEC members—in fact, ALEC co-chair for the state—row by row, you can point out people who have been members of ALEC over the years.

    There’s two main categories they have. One is how to reduce the size of government. And the other half of it is this model legislation that’s in the corporate good—in other words, this profit-driven legislation: how can you open up a new market, how can you privatize something that can open up a market for a company? And between those two divisions, you’re kind of getting to the same end goal, which is really kind of ultimate privatization of everything.

    BILL MOYERS: Mark Pocan is something of an expert on ALEC. In fact, to learn as much as he could, he became a member.

    STATE REP. MARK POCAN: What I had realized is if you join ALEC for a mere $100 as a legislator, you have the full access, like any corporate member.

    BILL MOYERS: He also took himself to an ALEC conference for a firsthand look.

    STATE REP. MARK POCAN: Hi. I’m State Representative Mark Pocan, and welcome to my video blog. I’m outside the Marriott on Canal Street in New Orleans at the ALEC convention, the American Legislative Exchange Council.

    That was where you watched the interaction of a room full of lobbyists. You know, free drinks, free cigars, wining, dining. Many people just came from a dinner that was sponsored by some special interest, coming to a party that’s sponsored by a special interest, so they can continue to talk about special interests.

    LISA GRAVES: This is from the New Orleans convention. This includes a number of seminars that they held for legislators, including one called "Warming Up to Climate Change: The Many Benefits of Increased Atmospheric CO2."

    BILL MOYERS: That 2011 ALEC conference, lo and behold, was sponsored by BP, ExxonMobil, Chevron and Shell, among others. Another of its events featured guns.

    LISA GRAVES: This is the NRA-sponsored shooting event, for legislators and for lobbyists. Free.

    BILL MOYERS: There was even one offering free cigars.

    LISA GRAVES: Sponsored by Reynolds American, which is one of the biggest tobacco companies in the world, and the Cigar Association of America.

    BILL MOYERS: It sounds like lobbying. It looks like lobbying. It smells like lobbying. But ALEC says it’s not lobbying. In fact, ALEC operates not as a lobby group but as a nonprofit, a charity. In its filing with the IRS, ALEC says its mission is education, which means it pays no taxes and its corporate members get a tax write-off. Its legislators get a lot, too.

    STATE REP. MARK POCAN: In Wisconsin, I can’t take anything of value from a lobbyist. I can’t take a cup of coffee from a lobbyist. At ALEC, it’s just the opposite. You know, you get there, and you’re being wined and dined by corporate interests. I can go down there and be wined and dined for days in order to hear about their special legislation. I mean, the head of Shell Oil flew in on his private jet to come to this conference. The head of one of the largest utility companies in the country was there on a panel, a utility company in 13 states. And here he is presenting to legislators. I mean, they clearly brought in some of the biggest corporate names in special interestdom and had them meeting with legislators, because a lot of business transpires at these events.

    AMY GOODMAN: The United States of ALEC. We will return to Bill Moyers’ special report in a moment.

    [break]

    AMY GOODMAN: We turn to part two of The United States of ALEC, a special report by Bill Moyers. It’s airing this weekend on Moyers & Company but is premiering today here on Democracy Now!

    BILL MOYERS: The most important business happens in what ALEC calls "task forces." There are currently eight of them, with a corporate take on every important issue in American life, from health and safety to the environment, to taxation. In ALEC task forces, elected state officials and corporate representatives close the doors to press and public and together approve the bills that will be sent out to America. But Americans have no idea they come from ALEC, unless someone like a Mark Pocan exposes it.

    STATE REP. MARK POCAN: When I went down to New Orleans to the ALEC convention last August, I remember going to a workshop and hearing a little bit about a bill they did in Florida and some other states, and there was a proposal to provide special needs scholarships. And lo and behold, all of a sudden I come back to Wisconsin, and what gets introduced? Get ready; I know you’re going to have a shocked look on your face. A bill to do just that.

    BILL MOYERS: Twenty-six ALEC members in the Wisconsin legislature sponsored that special needs bill, but the real sponsor was ALEC. Pocan knew, because the bill bore a striking resemblance to ALEC’s model. Have a look.

    But Pocan isn’t only concerned that ALEC sneaks bills into the state legislature. The intent behind the bills troubles him, too.

    STATE REP. MARK POCAN: Some of their legislation sounds so innocuous, but when you start to read about why they’re doing it, you know there’s a far different reason why something’s coming forward, and that’s important. If the average person knew that a bill like this came from some group like ALEC, you’ll look at the bill very differently, and you might look at that legislator a little differently about why they introduced it.

    This is not about education. This is not about helping kids with special needs. This is about privatization. This is about corporate profits. And this is about dismantling public education.

    BILL MOYERS: The bill passed in the Wisconsin House but failed to make it through the Senate. However, in its education report card, ALEC boasts that similar bills have passed in Oklahoma, Louisiana, North Carolina and Ohio. ALEC’s education agenda includes online schooling, as well. Take a careful look, and you’ll find the profit motive there, too.

    LISA GRAVES: What you see is corporations that have a direct benefit, whose bottom line directly benefits from these bills, voting on these bills in the ALEC task force. And so, corporations like Connections Academy, corporations like K12, they have a direct financial interest in advancing this agenda.

    BILL MOYERS: Those corporations, Connections Academy and K12, which specialize in online education, can profit handsomely from laws that direct taxpayer money toward businesses like theirs. In 2011, both sat on ALEC’s Education Task Force. But the two companies didn’t just approve the model bill, they helped craft it. The proof is in one of ALEC’s own documents. And there’s more to the story.

    STATE SEN. DOLORES GRESHAM: Thank you, Mr. Speaker. House Bill 1030 has to do with the establishment of virtual public schools.

    BILL MOYERS: Last year, an online schooling bill based on the ALEC model turned up in another state where ALEC has a powerful influence: Tennessee. It was introduced in both the state Senate and House by ALEC members. The bill passed, making private corporations eligible for public money for online education. Then, within weeks, the K12 corporation got what amounted to a no-bid contract to provide online education to any Tennessee student from kindergarten through the eighth grade.

    So, let’s review. The ALEC member corporations helped craft the bill. ALEC legislators introduced it and vote on it. And now there’s a state law on the books that enables one of those corporations to get state money. Game, set, match. But remember, this story isn’t about one company and the education industry and one law in Tennessee; it’s about hundreds of corporations in most every industry influencing lawmakers in state after state, using ALEC as a front.

    Here’s another example. The American Bail Coalition, which represents the bail bond industry, pulls no punches about writing ALEC’s model bills itself. In a newsletter a few years back, the coalition boasted that it had written 12 ALEC model bills fortifying the commercial bail industry. Here’s Jerry Watson, senior legal counsel for the coalition, speaking at an ALEC meeting in 2007. He has a law to offer.

    JERRY WATSON: There is a model bill for you to review, if you might be interested in introducing such a measure.

    BILL MOYERS: He’ll even help legislators amend it.

    JERRY WATSON: Now, if you don’t like the precise language of these suggested documents, can they be tweaked by your legislative council? Well, absolutely. And will we work with them on that and work with you and your staff on that? Absolutely.

    BILL MOYERS: All the lawmakers have to do is ring him up.

    JERRY WATSON: There is a phone number there for our executive offices in Washington, D.C. We’re prepared to help you and your staff and support this legislation in any way that we can.

    BILL MOYERS: And guess what? There’s gold at the end of the rainbow.

    JERRY WATSON: But I’m not so crazy as not to know that you’ve already figured out that if I can talk you into doing this bill, my clients are going to make a—some money on the bond premiums.

    BILL MOYERS: And corporate interest conflated with the public interest.

    JERRY WATSON: But if we can help you save crime victims in your legislative district and generate positive revenue for your state and help solve your prison overcrowding problem, you don’t mind me making a dollar.

    BILL MOYERS: ALEC members are seldom as upfront as the American Bail Coalition. In fact, ordinarily, ALEC’s hand is very hard to see at all. But if you know where to look, you’ll often find ALEC hiding in plain sight.

    LISA GRAVES: ALEC has, in addition to its regular vacation resort trips, it also has special, what it calls "boot camps" on particular substantive issues.

    BILL MOYERS: In March 2011, ALEC held one of those boot camps for legislators at the North Carolina Capitol in Raleigh. The subject was so-called tort reform, how to keep the average Joe from successfully suing a corporation for damages. The day after the boot camp, two state representatives presented the draft version of a House bill chock-full of ALEC priorities. It would, among other things, limit corporate product liability in North Carolina. One of the representatives, Johnathan Rhyne, was quoted in the Raleigh News [&] Observer saying of ALEC, "I really don’t know much about them." That’s odd, because Rhyne had been listed as a featured speaker at the ALEC tort reform boot camp. The paper also reported that Rhyne said the bill wasn’t copied from ALEC model legislation. That, too, is odd, given how the sections covering product liability could have passed as twins.

    The bill was controversial. It passed, but only after the product liability sections were taken out of it. But the tort reformers didn’t give up. They were back a year later, this time with a draft bill aimed specifically to limit the liability of drug manufacturers. When the public was allowed to comment before a legislative panel, people who had lost loved ones came to testify against the bill. A son who had lost a father.

    SURVIVING SON: You know, my dad’s gone. All I can do is sit here and be a voice for him. He can’t speak anymore.

    BILL MOYERS: A grandfather mourning his granddaughter.

    SURVIVING GRANDFATHER: If this bill passes, an innocent victim in North Carolina like Brittany could not hold a manufacturer accountable. Everyone needs to be accountable for their actions.

    BILL MOYERS: Unmentioned to those in the room, ALEC was present, too, in the form of a lobbyist with drug manufacturing giant GlaxoSmithKline. His name is John Del Giorno.

    JOHN DEL GIORNO: Several of the opposing testifiers today brought up very compelling, sad, empathetic stories.

    BILL MOYERS: Not only is Glaxo an ALEC corporate member, Del Giorno himself is also a vice chairman of ALEC’s national private enterprise board. The North Carolina bill has been tabled for now.

    So now you’ve seen how it works for corporations. How about for the politicians?

    ANDERSON COOPER: Last night was, as the president finally acknowledged today, a shellacking. Republicans gained control of the House, picking up 60 seats so far.

    BILL MOYERS: When all of the returns were counted on election night 2010, ALEC was a big winner. Eight of the Republican governors elected or re-elected that night had ties to the group.

    GOV.-ELECT JOHN KASICH: Guess what? I’m going to be governor of Ohio!

    GOV.-ELECT NIKKI HALEY: There’s going to be a lot of news and a lot of observers that say that we made history.

    GOV. JAN BREWER: A clean sweep for Republicans!

    BILL MOYERS: And a star was born that election night: Wisconsin’s new governor, a son of ALEC named Scott Walker.

    GOV.-ELECT SCOTT WALKER: Wisconsin is open for business!

    JOHN NICHOLS: I’ve known Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin, for the better part of 20 years. And Scott is a classic career politician. And I don’t say that in a negative way.

    BILL MOYERS: Journalist and Wisconsinite John Nichols has tracked Scott Walker’s career since the ’90s, when Walker was a state legislator and then-ALEC member.

    JOHN NICHOLS: And in 2010, he ran, not presenting himself as an ALEC alumni or as a ally of big corporations or big business people outside the state; he ran a very down-home campaign.

    SCOTT WALKER: This is my lunch. I pack a brown bag each day so I can save some money to spend on, you know, the more important things in life, like sending my kids to college.

    BILL MOYERS: Nichols says that despite the folksy image, in the years leading up to Walker’s 2010 campaign, he had become a master political fundraiser.

    JOHN NICHOLS: And he began to really forge incredibly close ties with a lot of corporate interests that he had first been introduced to in ALEC, individuals and groups like the Koch brothers.

    BILL MOYERS: David and Charles Koch, the billionaire businessmen behind the vast industrial empire, are also political activists with an agenda. Their companies and foundations have been ALEC members and funders for years.

    JOHN NICHOLS: The Koch brothers were among the two or three largest contributors to Scott Walker’s campaign for governor of Wisconsin. And the Koch brothers get that if you really want to influence the politics of this country, you don’t just give money to presidential campaigns, you don’t just give money to congressional campaign committees. The smart ones, the smart players, put their money in the states.

    SCOTT WALKER: Hi. I’m Scott Walker.

    JOHN NICHOLS: It’s state government that funds education, social services. And it taxes.

    SCOTT WALKER: If you want lower taxes and less government, I’m Scott Walker, and I know how to get the job done.

    JOHN NICHOLS: And so, the smart donors can change the whole country without ever going to Washington, without ever having to go through a congressional hearing, without ever having to lobby on Capitol Hill, without ever having to talk to the president.

    JUSTICE SHIRLEY ABRAHAMSON: Please raise your right hand and repeat after me.

    BILL MOYERS: The new governor moved quickly with a raft of ALEC-inspired bills. They included one similar to Florida’s "stand your ground." Another made it easier to carry concealed weapons. There was a resolution opposing the mandated purchase of health insurance. And, of course, there was one limiting corporate liability. The Wisconsin legislature passed a so-called tort reform measure that included parts of eight different ALEC models. ALEC was elated, praising Walker and the legislature in a press release for their, quote, "immediate attention to reforming the state’s legal system." But Scott Walker was also shooting for another big ALEC prize.

    GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Now, some have questioned why we have to reform collective bargaining.

    BILL MOYERS: Taking away workers’ collective bargaining rights, that had long been an ALEC goal. A candid video caught Scott Walker talking about it with one of his financial backers, the billionaire businesswoman Diane Hendricks.

    GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Well, we’re going to start in a couple weeks with our budget adjustment bill. The first step is, we’re going to deal with collective bargaining for all public employee unions.

    DIANE HENDRICKS: Right.

    GOV. SCOTT WALKER: Because you just divide and conquer.

    BILL MOYERS: Despite an extraordinary public outcry and after a brief but intense political struggle, Walker’s anti-collective-bargaining measures became state law.

    JOHN NICHOLS: It was ALEC’s ideas, ALEC’s values, that permeated the bill and undid almost 50 years—more than 50 years of collective bargaining law in Wisconsin.

    BILL MOYERS: But again, remember, this isn’t just about one state. It’s about every state. Take Arizona. It’s practically an ALEC subsidiary. One report this year found that 49 of the state’s 90 legislators are members. And two-thirds of the Republican leadership are on ALEC task forces. And, of course, the governor, Jan Brewer, was an ALEC member, too. So, not surprising, Arizona is among the states passing ALEC-inspired laws to privatize education at taxpayer expense. And no surprise again, Arizona is also getting ALEC-like laws to limit corporate liability.

    REPORTER: Police will also be able to ask anyone to prove their legal status.

    BILL MOYERS: And Arizona, you’ll recall, made news in 2010 with a law allowing police to stop someone for looking Hispanic and detaining them if they weren’t carrying proper papers. So, it probably won’t shock you to learn that Arizona’s immigration law also inspired an ALEC model, a version of which was passed in five other states.

    STATE REP. STEVE FARLEY: All of us here are very familiar with ALEC and the influence that ALEC has with many of the members here.

    BILL MOYERS: ALEC’s nomination of Arizona proved too much for State Representative Steve Farley.

    STATE REP. STEVE FARLEY: I just want to emphasize, it’s fine for corporations to be involved in the process. Corporations have the right to present their arguments. But they don’t have the right to do it secretly. They don’t have the right to lobby people and not register as lobbyists. They don’t have the right to take people away on trips, convince them of it, and send them back here, and then nobody has seen what’s really gone on and how that legislator has gotten that idea and where is it coming from.

    BILL MOYERS: Farley has introduced a bill to force legislators to disclose their ALEC ties, just as the law already requires them to do with any lobbyist.

    STATE REP. STEVE FARLEY: All I’m asking in the ALEC Accountability Act is to make sure that all of those expenses are reported as if they are lobbying expenses, and all those gifts that legislators received are reported as if they are receiving the gifts from lobbyists, so the public can find out and make up their own minds about who is influencing what.

    BILL MOYERS: Steve Farley’s bill has gone nowhere. ALEC, on the other hand, is still everywhere, still hiding in plain sight. Watch for it coming soon to a statehouse near you.

    AMY GOODMAN: The United States of ALEC, a special report by Bill Moyers. It will air this weekend on Moyers & Company. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Back in a minute.


    http://www.democracynow.org/2012/9/27/the_united_states_of_alec_bill
  • Calling U.S. Drone Strikes 'Surgical' Is Orwellian Propaganda

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-29 17:05:05
    'A moment's reflection is enough to understand why intellectually honest people should shun the loaded metaphor.


    The Obama Administration deliberately uses the word "surgical" to describe its drone strikes. Official White House spokesman Jay Carney marshaled the medical metaphor here, saying that "a hallmark of our counterterrorism efforts has been our ability to be exceptionally precise, exceptionally surgical and exceptionally targeted." White House counterterrorism adviser John Brennan attributed "surgical precision" and "laser-like focus" to the drone program. He also spoke of "delivering targeted, surgical pressure to the groups that threaten us." And a "senior administration official" told The Washington Post that "there is still a very firm emphasis on being surgical and targeting only those who have a direct interest in attacking the United States."

    They've successfully transplanted the term into public discourse about drones.

    I've been told American drone strikes are "surgical" while attending Aspen Ideas Festival panels, interviewing delegates at the Democratic National Convention, and perusing reader emails after every time I write about the innocents killed and maimed in Pakistan, Yemen, and elsewhere.

    It is a triumph of propaganda.

    The inaccuracy of the claim fully occurred to me as I played back a recent interview I conducted with Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution. (His book Wired for War is a fascinating read.) "You used to measure a surgeon by how still could he hold his hand," Singer told me. "How precise could he make the cut? Well, robotic systems, it isn't a matter of shaking at minute levels. It doesn't shake. You are amazed by a surgeon doing a cut that is millimeters in precision. With robotics it is in nanometers." He was explaining why unmanned systems make sense in a variety of fields, not commenting on the Obama Administration's rhetoric in its ongoing, multi-country drone war.

    But that is how we think of surgeons, isn't it?

    They use a scalpel. Their cuts are precise down to the millimeter. Once in a great while there is a slip of the knife, a catastrophic mistake. In those cases, the surgeon is held accountable and the victim lavishly compensated. Oh, and there's one more thing about surgical procedures: While the person being cut into is occasionally victimized by a mistake, there is never a case where the scalpel is guided so imprecisely that it kills the dozen people standing around the operating table. For that reason, orderlies and family members don't cower in hospital halls terrified that a surgeon is going to arbitrarily kill them. And if he did, he'd be arrested for murder.

    So no, drone strikes aren't like surgery at all.

    "As much as the military has tried to make drone pilots feel as if they are sitting in a cockpit, they are still flying a plane from a screen with a narrow field of vision," Mark Mazzetti reports. "Then there is the fact that the movement shown on a drone pilot's video screen has over the years been seconds behind what the drone sees -- a delay caused by the time it takes to bounce a signal off a satellite in space. This problem, called 'latency,' has long bedeviled drone pilots, making it difficult to hit a moving target." That's one more way drones strikes are unlike surgery.

    Are they "surgical" compared to an H-bomb?

    Er, no, they're less destructive and more precise. To conjure a surgeon with a knife is to lead the listener astray. And it is a downright dishonest metaphor when invoked by an administration that could make their strikes more like surgery but doesn't. For example, the Obama Administration could make certain of the identity of the people it is "operating on." Instead it sometimes uses "signature strikes," wherein the CIA doesn't even know the identity of the people it is killing. It could also attempt autopsies, literal or figurative, when things go wrong. Instead, it presumes sans evidence that all military-aged males killed in drone strikes are "militants."

    Said George Orwell in 1946:

    In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism, question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness. Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements. Such phraseology is needed if one wants to name things without calling up mental pictures of them.

    The phrase "surgical drone strike" is handy for naming U.S. actions without calling up images of dead, limb-torn innocents with flesh scorched from the missile that destroyed the home where they slept or burned up the car in which they rode. The New America Foundation, which systematically undercounts these innocents, says there have been at least 152 and many as 192 killed since 2004. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism puts the civilian death figure at between 474 and 881 killed. Either way, would "surgical" strikes kill innocents on that scale in a region with just 2 percent of Pakistan's population? Using data that undercounts innocents killed, The New America Foundation reports that 85 percent of Pakistanis killed in drone strikes are "militants," while 15 percent are civilians or unknown. What do you think would happen to a surgeon that accidentally killed 15 in 100 patients? Would colleagues would call him "surgical" in his precision?

    Unlike the Democratic politicians and former Obama Administration officials I heard speak in Aspen, retired Brigadier General Craig Nixon didn't say that American drone strikes were surgical.

    He was asked to explain how a farmer was accidentally killed.

    And he used a different metaphor when recounting his field experience:

    A drone or another intelligence device is sorta like being at a football game sitting on the 50-yard line and looking through a soda straw. I mean you see what you see. But there's a lot of other context that you don't see.

    As technology improves, he said, it's a little better, like looking through multiple straws, but there's still a lot of missing context.

    It's a very different image than a "surgical drone strike," isn't it?
  • Guantanamo: The Model for an American Police State

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-28 10:45:14
    “The means of defense against foreign danger historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home.” ~ James Madison

    'For most Americans, the detention center at Guantanamo Bay — once the topic of heated political debate by presidential hopeful Barack Obama but rarely talked about by the incumbent President Obama — has become a footnote in the government’s ongoing war on terror.

    Yet for the approximately 167 detainees still being held in that godforsaken gulag, 86 of whom have been cleared for release yet continue to be imprisoned at the facility, Guantanamo Bay is a lesson in injustice, American-style. It is everything that those who founded America vigorously opposed: kidnapping, torture, dehumanizing treatment, indefinite detention, being “disappeared” with no access to family or friends, and little hope of help from the courts.

    For Adnan Latif — a 30-something-year-old Yemeni native detained at Guantanamo for ten years without a trial, despite a court ruling ordering his release and repeated military clearances ordering his transfer — his cell became his tomb. Latif, who had repeatedly engaged in hunger strikes and suicide attempts while proclaiming his innocence, was found dead in his cell in Guantanamo Bay mere days before the 11th anniversary of 9/11.

    If Guantanamo is the symbol of American injustice, Latif’s death is the realization of that injustice, the proclamation of how far we have strayed from the original vision of America as a shining city on a hill, a beacon of freedom and hope for the world. Ten years after opening for business, Guantanamo Bay stands as a manifestation of America’s failure to abide by the rule of law and its founding principles in the post-9/11 era. As Baher Azmy notes in the New York Times, its defining features have been the denial of judicial oversight and its exclusion of lawyers. Making matters worse, “far from closing the prison camp as he promised, President Obama is steadily returning Guantanamo to the secretive and hopeless internment camp that he vilified as a candidate.”

    Examples of torture in Guantanamo and other American black site prisons are widely known, including waterboarding, beatings, and sensory deprivation. What is less widely known is that most of those forcibly arrested and tortured in Guantanamo have had nothing to do with terrorist activities. Most prisoners in Gitmo, including Murat Kurnaz, a detainee for five years, were not captured on the “battlefield,” but rather kidnapped and sold to the American government by local tribesmen. Kurnaz fetched $3,000 as a result of American fliers distributed across Afghanistan promising poor Afghans “enough money to take care of your family, your village, your tribe for the rest of your life” in return for prisoners. Kurnaz, who was punched in the gut, dunked under water, and hung from ceiling chains during his imprisonment, was eventually sent back to his native Germany on a C-17 military flight which cost American taxpayers over $1 million.

    Lakhdar Boumediene was arrested in late 2001 while working as the director of a humanitarian aid clinic helping the victims of the Balkan conflicts. Despite having no evidence that he was tied to any terrorist activity, he was arrested and shipped to Guantanamo Bay and kept there without charge for seven years. Boumediene eventually challenged his detention. In 2008, the US Supreme Court ruled in Boumediene v. Bush that Guantanamo prisoners are guaranteed a “meaningful opportunity” to challenge their continued imprisonment.

    Despite this ruling, indefinite detention is still the norm at Guantanamo. The Obama Administration shares the blame for this state of affairs. Having once promised to abolish Guantanamo, the president has now urged the U.S. Supreme Court to avoid reviewing Guantanamo detainees’ appeals. Incredibly, the Supreme Court has abided by this request, refusing to hear the appeals of any prisoners. As journalist Adam Serwer wrote for Mother Jones, “Gitmo detainees have now lost virtually every avenue – other than dying in detention – for leaving the detention camp.”

    And die they do. The most recent detainee to “leave” Guantanamo was Adnan Latif, who spent most of his time at Guantanamo in solitary confinement with his hands in cuffs. He was recommended for transfer out of Guantanamo three times. However, Latif, along with 56 other Yemenis who have been cleared for release, continued to languish in the prison because the Obama Administration has placed an indefinite moratorium on transferring innocent Yemenis back to their native country.

    What is the legacy of Guantanamo Bay? 171 men continue to languish there. The Bush torture program has been legitimized by the Obama administration, and indefinite detention has been codified as law. Guantanamo bleeds our coffers, costing $800,000 a year per detainee. And with a government that possesses the awesome power to indefinitely detain whomever it pleases, we are much, much less safe than we were 11 years ago.

    Despite these obvious warning signs of a coming authoritarian state, a CNN poll from 2010 indicates that 60 percent of Americans would like Guantanamo to remain open. Yet what most Americans fail to realize, however, is that Guantanamo Bay is no different from every other aspect of America’s military empire, whether it be weaponry or military strategy, which has been tested against so-called “insurgents” abroad only to be brought home and used against American citizens. In this way, we are being conditioned to not only tolerate the government’s constant undermining of our freedoms but to actually condone the increasing assaults of our rights in the name of national security.

    To put it more bluntly, we are being conditioned to live as prisoners in an Orwellian police state. Worse, we are being taught to enjoy our prison walls.

    Encouraged by politicians and pundits to wade through life in a constant state of fear and apathy while being fed the bread and circuses of the corporate-entertainment complex, Americans have become accustomed to the illusion of security. In the process, we are finding ourselves subjected to a veritable arsenal of military firepower, government surveillance and battlefield tactics.

    Such was the case with so-called “non-lethal” weapons of compliance — tear gas, tasers, sound cannons and barf beamers — all of which were first used on the battlefield before being deployed against civilians at home. Similarly, drones — unmanned aerial vehicles — were used exclusively by the military to carry out aerial surveillance and attacks in Iraq and Afghanistan only now to be authorized by Congress and President Obama for widespread use in American airspace.

    To anyone connecting the dots, it all makes sense — the military drills carried out in major American cities, the VIPR inspections at train depots and bus stations, the SWAT team raids on unsuspecting homeowners, the Black Hawk helicopters patrolling American skies. All of these so-called training exercises habituate Americans to an environment in which the buzz of Black Hawk helicopters and the sight of armed forces rappelling onto buildings or crashing through doors is commonplace.

    The enactment of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) in January 2012, which allows the military to arrest and indefinitely detain anyone, including American citizens, only codifies this unraveling of our constitutional framework. Viewed in conjunction with the government’s increasing use of involuntary commitment laws to declare individuals — especially American military veterans — mentally ill and lock them up in psychiatric wards for extended periods of time, the NDAA appears even more menacing.

    Throw in the profit-driven corporate incentive to jail Americans in private prisons, as well as the criminalizing of such relatively innocent activities as holding Bible studies in one’s home or sharing unpasteurized goat cheese with members of one’s community, and you have a 10-step blueprint for how to transform a republic into a police state without the populace cluing in until it’s too late.'
  • US investigates possible WikiLeaks leaker for 'communicating with the enemy'

    posted by Keito
    2012-09-28 10:32:20
    'US military's new legal theory threatens to convert unauthorized leaks into a capital offense. Who is the real 'enemy'?


    A US air force systems analyst who expressed support for WikiLeaks and accused leaker Bradley Manning triggered a formal military investigation last year to determine whether she herself had leaked any documents to the group. Air Force investigative documents, obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, show that the analyst was repeatedly interviewed about her contacts with and support for WikiLeaks - what investigators repeatedly refer to as the "anti-US or anti-military group" - as well as her support for the group's founder, Julian Assange.

    The investigation was ultimately closed when they could find no evidence of unauthorized leaking, but what makes these documents noteworthy is the possible crime cited by military officials as the one they were investigating: namely, "Communicating With the Enemy", under Article 104 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).

    That is one of the most serious crimes a person can commit - it carries the penalty of death - and is committed when a person engages in "unauthorized communication, correspondence, or intercourse with the enemy". The military investigation form also requires investigators to identify the "victim" of the crime they are investigating, and here, they designated "society" as the victim:

    How could leaking to WikiLeaks possibly constitute the crime of "communicating with the enemy"? Who exactly is the "enemy"? There are two possible answers to that question, both quite disturbing.

    The first possibility is the one suggested by today's Sydney Morning Herald article on these documents (as well as by WikiLeaks itself): that the US military now formally characterizes WikiLeaks and Assange as an "enemy", the same designation it gives to groups such as Al Qaeda and the Taliban. This would not be the first time such sentiments were expressed by the US military: recall that one of the earliest leaks from the then-largely-unknown group was a secret report prepared back in 2008 by the US Army which, as the New York Times put it, included WikiLeaks on the Pentagon's "list of the enemies threatening the security of the United States". That Army document then plotted how to destroy the group.

    But it's the second possibility that seems to me to be the far more likely one: namely, that the US government, as part of Obama's unprecedented war on whistleblowers, has now fully embraced the pernicious theory that any leaks of classified information can constitute the crime of "aiding the enemy" or "communicating with the enemy" by virtue of the fact that, indirectly, "the enemy" will - like everyone else in the world - ultimately learn of what is disclosed.

    Indeed, the US military is currently prosecuting accused WikiLeaks leaker Bradley Manning on multiple charges including "aiding the enemy", also under Article 104 of the UCMJ, and a capital offense (though prosecutors are requesting "only" life imprisonment rather than execution). Military prosecutors have since revealed that their theory is that the 23-year-old Army Private "aided al-Qaida by leaking hundreds of thousands of military and other government documents" -- specifically, that "Manning indirectly aided al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula by giving information to WikiLeaks."

    It seems clear that the US military now deems any leaks of classified information to constitute the capital offense of "aiding the enemy" or "communicating with the enemy" even if no information is passed directly to the "enemy" and there is no intent to aid or communicate with them. Merely informing the public about classified government activities now constitutes this capital crime because it "indirectly" informs the enemy.

    The implications of this theory are as obvious as they are disturbing. If someone can be charged with "aiding" or "communicating with the enemy" by virtue of leaking to WikiLeaks, then why wouldn't that same crime be committed by someone leaking classified information to any outlet: the New York Times, the Guardian, ABC News or anyone else? In other words, does this theory not inevitably and necessarily make all leaking of all classified information - whether to WikiLeaks or any media outlet - a capital offense: treason or a related crime?

    International Law Professor Kevin Jon Heller made a similar point when the charges against Manning were first revealed:

    "[I]f Manning has aided the enemy, so has any media organization that published the information he allegedly stole. Nothing in Article 104 requires proof that the defendant illegally acquired the information that aided the enemy. As a result, if the mere act of ensuring that harmful information is published on the internet qualifies either as indirectly 'giving intelligence to the enemy' (if the military can prove an enemy actually accessed the information) or as indirectly 'communicating with the enemy' (because any reasonable person knows that enemies can access information on the internet), there is no relevant factual difference between Manning and a media organization that published the relevant information."

    Professor Heller goes on to note that while "WikiLeaks or the New York Times could not actually be charged under Article 104" because "the UCMJ only applies to soldiers", there is nonetheless "still something profoundly disturbing about the prospect of convicting Manning and sentencing him to life imprisonment for doing exactly what media organizations did, as well".

    What these new documents reveal is that this odious theory is not confined to Manning. The US military appears to be treating all potential leaks - at least those to WikiLeaks - as "aiding" or "communicating with" the enemy. But there is no possible limiting principle that would confine that theory only to such leaks; they would necessarily apply to all leaks of classified information to any media outlets.

    It is always worth underscoring that the New York Times has published far more government secrets than WikiLeaks ever has, and more importantly, has published far more sensitive secrets than WikiLeaks has (unlike WikiLeaks, which has never published anything that was designated "Top Secret", the New York Times has repeatedly done so: the Pentagon Papers, the Bush NSA wiretapping program, the SWIFT banking surveillance system, and the cyberwarfare program aimed at Iran were all "Top Secret" when the newspaper revealed them, as was the network of CIA secret prisons exposed by the Washington Post). There is simply no way to convert basic leaks to WikiLeaks into capital offenses - as the Obama administration is plainly doing - without sweeping up all leaks into that attack.

    Of course, that outcome would almost certainly be a feature, not a bug, for Obama officials. This is, after all, the same administration that has prosecuted whistleblowers under espionage charges that threatened to send them to prison for life without any evidence of harm to national security, and has brought double the number of such prosecutions as all prior administrations combined. Converting all leaks into capital offenses would be perfectly consistent with the unprecedented secrecy fixation on the part of the Most Transparent Administration Ever™.

    The irony from these developments is glaring. The real "enemies" of American "society" are not those who seek to inform the American people about the bad acts engaged in by their government in secret. As Democrats once recognized prior to the age of Obama - in the age of Daniel Ellsberg - people who do that are more aptly referred to as "heroes". The actual "enemies" are those who abuse secrecy powers to conceal government actions and to threaten with life imprisonment or even execution those who blow the whistle on high-level wrongdoing.'

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/sep/27/wikileaks-investigation-enemy