Selection day

Early reports tell me that these fuckers trade portions of power back and forth to give alternating factions of Americans the recurring delusion that they retain the capacity for meaningful change while funneling their money ever upward into the pockets and offshore accounts of bankers, multinationals, and increasingly private security forces, but check back every few years for a more expensive update. Back to you.

Selection day

Progress and the NDAA

Last week, Gordon Hirabayashi, a Japanese-American who was imprisoned for refusing the federal government’s internment camps during World War II, died at 93. He’s a little-known hero, and here’s what he was up against:

In February 1942, two months after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in the name of protecting the nation against espionage and sabotage, authorized the designation of areas from which anyone could be excluded. One month later, a curfew was imposed along the West Coast on people of Japanese ancestry, and in May 1942, the West Coast military command ordered their removal to inland camps in harsh and isolated terrain.

Forty years later, and less than 30 years ago, Hirabayashi was finally “vindicated” as his conviction was overturned, but he used his freedom to speak on his Constitutionally protected rights:

Mr. Hirabayashi and his fellow Japanese-Americans Fred Korematsu and Minoru Yasui, who all brought lawsuits before the Supreme Court, emerged as symbols of protest against unchecked governmental powers in a time of war.

“I want vindication not only for myself,” Mr. Hirabayashi told The New York Times in 1985 as he was fighting to have his conviction vacated. “I also want the cloud removed from over the heads of 120,000 others. My citizenship didn’t protect me one bit. Our Constitution was reduced to a scrap of paper.”

Compare what Hirabayashi was fighting in 1942 with what is now legally codified under the most recent National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which President Obama threatened to veto until it included language allowing U.S. citizens to potentially be indefinitely detained.

Here are the relevant sections of the NDAA on indefinite detention:

SEC. 1021. AFFIRMATION OF AUTHORITY OF THE ARMED FORCES OF THE UNITED STATES TO DETAIN COVERED PERSONS PURSUANT TO THE AU- THORIZATION FOR USE OF MILITARY FORCE.

IN GENERAL.—Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the Authorization for Use of Military Force includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons pending disposition under the law of war.

Those “covered persons”:

(1) A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.

(2) A person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.

Length of detention:

Detention under the law of war without trial until the end of the hostilities authorized by the Authorization for Use of Military Force.

Presidential waiver:

WAIVER FOR NATIONAL SECURITY.—The President may waive the requirement of paragraph (1) if the President submits to Congress a certification in writing that such a waiver is in the national security interests of the United States.

Paragraph (1) on United States citizens:

(1) UNITED STATES CITIZENS.—The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.

As you can read, the bill’s language makes little effort to conceal the newly granted power for the president to simply tell congress that it’s in the interest of national security to indefinitely detain U.S. citizens deemed to have “directly supported” American enemies. (Bradley Manning, by the way, is accused of indirectlyaiding the enemy,” so this bill is just a word short of ending his trial altogether.)

I don’t intend to suggest that the potential for indefinite detention of American citizens is inherently worse than that of citizens anywhere else – it’s not. International law is supposed to enforce due process for people anywhere and everywhere.

I also don’t want to overstate how new these powers are: instead, the NDAA merely codifies and legalizes what the Obama administration has already claimed the power to do.

Finally, I’m not suggesting that these NDAA provisions are equivalent to the horribly racist and dehumanizing Japanese-American internment camps. They are merely the legal language used to allow for similarly heinous abuses of the Bill of Rights.

But I think it’s worth noting that in 1942, President Roosevelt claimed “protecting the nation against espionage and sabotage” was sufficient justification for creating internment camps specifically for Japanese-Americans. And 70 years later, how far have we come? We now have a president with substantial progressive support ensuring that American citizens can be indefinitely detained at his whim, all in the name of “national security.”

The erosion of our civil liberties in America is rarely going to be as sharply obvious as it was in 1942, when racism was much more overt, a World War was raging, and the Internet wasn’t around to spread dissenting opinions so easily. Nowadays, the government uses official public language promising us of transparency, respect for the rule of law, and enforced civil liberties to make covert work against those very ideals that much harder to see.

Progress and the NDAA

On Voter Priorities

A Response to Taryn Hart.

As his infamous newsletters resurface, as he gains national support, and as the Iowa caucus is held today, Ron Paul is all over the damn Internet, especially in progressive circles. Matt Stoller, Mike Tracey, Robert Scheer, and Glenn Greenwald – among many others – have all written compelling pieces on the liberal debates surrounding the noted libertarian.

Taryn Hart, who blogs at Plutocracy Files (whose Occupy Wall Street interview work I recommend), joins the discussion to critique Greenwald’s article, and since she requested my thoughts, I’ll provide them here. The piece is called “Glenn Greenwald on Ron Paul: Why Worldview Matters.”

A preliminary reminder: Hart is not among the primary targets of Greenwald’s piece. The article, entitled “Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies,” first and foremost takes aim at progressives who support Obama over Paul and continue to tout their anti-war credentials. As Hart makes explicitly clear in her first footnote, she does not “support Obama nor justify his actions as President.” Hart has claimed she is considering not voting, and I hope she revisits that discussion soon.

But she is a progressive, and the question of support for Paul, or at least his candidacy, remains. Hart’s criticism of Greenwald’s argument goes like this: 

Specifically, Greenwald’s argument assumes that all that matters is a candidate’s positions on isolated issues – as if it’s just a matter of creating a ranked pro and con list for each candidate and crunching the numbers.

Greenwald suggests choosing between the candidates is just a matter of prioritizing a limited list of isolated issues. However, it’s not just a candidate’s positions on individual issues that are important**; what’s also important (in most instances more important) is the candidate’s worldview. A President’s worldview will determine the outcome of thousands of decisions the President will make, almost all of which will not be campaign issues and many of which are unforeseeable.

First, I take issue with the “isolated issues” claim – one I think trivializes progressives’ stance. Paul opposes our current wars (hot, cold, covert, on drugs, and on whistleblowers), opposes imperialism, has called American corporatism a route to “soft fascism,” supports Bradley Manning and WikiLeaks, has praised Occupy Wall Street, and opposes the Patriot Act and the growing surveillance and police state. These are many issues that progressives (especially under Bush) have supported in the past, and they are hardly isolated – reducing the military-industrial complex would reduce our national deficit, removing our troops from the Middle East and ending support for Israeli apartheid would have drastic effects in global relations, to comment on just two.

Furthermore, though, I have a problem with the argument that voters don’t prioritize a list of individual issues. I agree that ideally we’d have candidates who supported our worldview and subsequently would take all the positions we’d want them to take, but the fact remains that we don’t. I get the feeling that Hart would support someone like Ralph Nader or Dennis Kucinich, if they were running. But since we’re discussing who actually is running, and therefore who could actually be the next president, I’d argue that voters do prioritize their lists of issues. Since there will never be a candidate who supports all of our positions, and since Hart is not arguing (here) against voting altogether, I think it’d behoove Hart to reconsider Greenwald’s brutally honest hypothetical, which she quotes and denounces:

It’s perfectly rational and reasonable for progressives to decide that the evils of their candidate are outweighed by the evils of the GOP candidate, whether Ron Paul or anyone else. An honest line of reasoning in this regard would go as follows:

Yes, I’m willing to continue to have Muslim children slaughtered by covert drones and cluster bombs, and America’s minorities imprisoned by the hundreds of thousands for no good reason, and the CIA able to run rampant with no checks or transparency, and privacy eroded further by the unchecked Surveillance State, and American citizens targeted by the President for assassination with no due process, and whistleblowers threatened with life imprisonment for “espionage,” and the Fed able to dole out trillions to bankers in secret, and a substantially higher risk of war with Iran (fought by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. support) in exchange for less severe cuts to Social Security, Medicare and other entitlement programs, the preservation of the Education and Energy Departments, more stringent environmental regulations, broader health care coverage, defense of reproductive rights for women, stronger enforcement of civil rights for America’s minorities, a President with no associations with racist views in a newsletter, and a more progressive Supreme Court.

The point is, someone is going to be president come 2013. If you’re a progressive who plans on voting, you cannot ignore this set of choices. This is a limited version of “lesser-evilism,” or voting for someone who holds positions you dislike in favor of someone whose positions you dislike even more. But for me at least, and I am a progressive who values Paul’s candidacy without endorsing it, it’s a very specific one that puts my anti-war, pro-civil-liberties stances first. It’s saying that if you’re going to choose a lesser evil, stop arguing that Obama is the lesser evil on these many important issues.

There are many examples of liberals putting specific values first. Balloon Juice writer DougJ proclaims:

For a liberal like me, who is primarily interested in the well-being of the American middle-class and in providing opportunity for everyone in the United States, regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion etc., I just don’t see why I should be “challenged” by Ron Paul. I understand that if you’re a liberal who is primarily interested in civil liberties and a less bellicose foreign policy, then you might be conflicted about Paul. But to me, he’s just another racist asshole who wants to fuck the American middle-class.

DougJ is explicitly arguing that the “well-being of the American middle-class” is more important than the lives of the Muslims we’re killing abroad, which he callously disguises as a “bellicose” foreign policy. This reads to me as arbitrary nationalism, dressed up as righteous middle-class protection.

David Atkins, in a particularly pedantic lecture, distorts this prioritizing here:

It’s true that some liberals are so legitimately incensed by President Obama’s transgressions on civil liberties that they are inclined to support Paul in the same way that a person obsessed with illegal immigration might support a hardline anti-immigration Democrat over a Republican like George W. Bush or John McCain. But both of those cases are standard single-issue monomanias. Neither case speaks to any sort of real ideological hypocrisy.

Atkins ignores the other aforementioned progressive stances to minimize the importance of civil liberties in favor of his preferred issues, like regulating corporations and a woman’s right to abortion.

Worldview does matter, but it can be easily overstated. Atkins argues with Paul’s worldview, even when it aligns with his positions:

Ron Paul is against the drug war, yes, but for the same reasons he is against preventing factories from dumping mercury in our rivers: he opposes any sort of intervention at all by the government to assist those in need, or to stop those who would do harm to others, except in the most simplistic cases of the use of force.

Ron Paul is against foreign interventions, yes, but for the same reason he opposes providing healthcare to sick people: he believes that the U.S. government should not be in the business of interfering against almost anyone, on behalf of anyone else.

J.A. Myerson approaches Paul’s foreign policy similarly (emphasize in original):

Yes, Ron Paul’s aversion to foreign policy leads him to adopt a host of positions that are very attractive, but they don’t come from a humane or sophisticated ideology.

To paraphrase both: I agree with Paul’s conclusions, but I disagree with how he got there. Both are putting the ideology above the policy, as is their preference. But if they’re going to be honest about their priorities, we must examine the consequences of those decisions. Is it really OK to allow the continued slaughter of innocent civilians just because it’s in the name of a president who claims to be a liberal? I can hardly stomach typing it out.

Everyone who votes prioritizes in some ways. If you’re arguing against prioritization, you’re arguing against American electoral politics (and I’m with you! Let’s talk about that!). But if you’re going to vote, no candidate will take your every position, and so you value some things above others. That Paul has caused such a progressive uproar speaks volumes about where priorities really lie.

On Voter Priorities

Hillary Clinton’s Justice

Following the fall of Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s “Coalition of the Youth of the 25 January Revolution” refused an invitation to meet with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “due to her negative stance towards the revolution during its inception and the approach of the US Administration towards the Middle East Region” that rendered her subsequent invitation hypocritical and opportunist.

We should learn something from their remarks.

Hillary Clinton, as I suppose is part of her job description, has been repeatedly criticized for hypocrisy, on topics ranging from Internet freedom, selective prosecution, and the use of cluster bombs (which I wrote about here).

Today we have yet another issue to add to that list: summary execution. Continue reading “Hillary Clinton’s Justice”

Hillary Clinton’s Justice

Ron Paul and the Short Term

I recently stumbled upon this April, 2011, Charles Davis post, entitled “I’ll take the reactionary over the murderer, thanks,” in which he decimates the liberal argument that, compared to Obama, Ron Paul is a corporate shill who will send the country back a few decades (or more).

As the title indicates, Davis argues we should be far more concerned with Obama’s murderous foreign policy – the one that kills innocent civilians, shields torturers from accountability, and starts wars of aggression destined to incur blowback – than with Paul’s freewheelin’ capitalism that would allow big corporations to control the government. Two reasons: Paul vows to totally reverse that murderous foreign policy, and the liberal criticism of Paul is already our current status quo under Obama. Read the post; Davis fleshes the argument out well. Not to mention Paul’s plan to end the disastrous war on drugs, crippling the poor for a senseless puritanical fantasy.

The point is, you can’t tout your progressive values and continue to think that Obama is going to act in your interests more than Ron Paul, because that’s not only false, but the exact opposite is true.[1]

That all sounds pretty convincing. But my qualm with the piece is how it lays this all out in depth and detail, and yet dismisses the argument’s logical conclusion: voting for Ron Paul. Continue reading “Ron Paul and the Short Term”

Ron Paul and the Short Term