Civil Liberties

Netrootin’: Dispatches from the progressive tech networking confab


George McIntire is reporting live from Netroots Nation ’13 in San Jose

Good morning all you liberals, progressives, socialists, leftists, environmentalists, civil libertarians, feminists, queer activists, radical freegan communists and everyone else! Today is the first day of the 8th annual running of the liberals more commonly know as the Netroots Nation Conference and your correspondent for the three-day liberalchella (I promise that’s the only time I’ll use that term) has just arrived in beautiful San Jose.

Everyone is buzzing about the issues du jour of gay marriage (SCOTUS ruling coming soon), immigration (the one issue Congress might actually work on), and civil liberties (all your phone calls are belong to NSA). Will there be a schism due to the Obama’s administration’s abhorrent record on civil liberties? Or perhaps a new era of progressivism will ignite? Maybe Pride will just kick in and everyone will throw on a wig and rainbow boa. Stay tuned to find out!

For the next 60 hours I will be reporting, blogging, and tweeting on the panels, talks, keynote speeches, attendees, and anything else I see fit to report (in addition to photographing the event). Unfortunately for me the paradox of choice will be in full effect and I do not have a way to clone myself. There are 14 events to choose from during the 3-4:15pm time slot and 16 events during the 4:30-5:45 slot, not to mention all the after parties. Here is the schedule.

So I call on you Guardian faithful to help me decide which events to cover. Should I check out “Moving the Needle: How We Won Gay Marriage in 2012” or “Smoke Signals: The Next Steps in Marijuana Reform” or “Beating Back Mansplaining & Sexism in Politics & Organizing”. Please let me know in the comments or you can tweet at me at @gorejusgeorge.

Panel sees Orwellian overtones in NSA spying scandal


It is now public knowledge that the NSA has been spying on us (unless you’ve been living under a rock and, lucky for you, exempt from digital surveillance) thanks to the information leaked by Edward Snowden last week.

In the wake of this scandal, people crowded into St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley on Tuesday, June 11, to participate in a panel discussion titled “Our Vanishing Civil Liberties,” centered around the intricacies of government intrusion and spying in the age of the War on Terror.

Among the panel members were Daniel Ellsberg, famed leaker of the Pentagon papers; Birgitta Jónsdóttir, member of the Icelandic Parliament; Normon Solomon, activist and author; and Nadia Kayyali, a legal fellow with the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.

As Kayyali noted, we now know about the NSA’s capability of obtaining the metadata for all domestic phone calls in the United States, which can include the call length, who you’re calling and in some cases the location of the phone calls.

So is Snowden a patriot or a traitor? For the panel members, the answer was obviously in support of the former. However, for California’s own US Sen. Dianne Feinstein, whose name the crowd constantly met with a crescendo of hissing, Snowden is a criminal, guilty of treason.

Solomon rallied against officials like Feinstein, who he believes should not be entrusted with the protection of our privacy. “What we discover is that the leaders in Congress, the leaders in the White House, the leaders in the courts unfortunately as well cannot be trusted with our lives and that includes our civil liberties,” he said.  

Ellsberg spoke of the comparisons between Snowden and Bradley Manning, an ex-U.S. soldier arrested in 2010 for leaking classified information to WikiLeaks, noting that Manning’s leaks dealt solely with issues “over there,” specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, while Snowden’s case is inherently more domestic.

“The American people, like other humans, are unfortunately not that concerned about what is done to people over there,” said Ellsberg. “Especially when their leaders tell them that it is necessary to their safety. What strikes me about Snowden is that it affects us, you, everybody.”

However, the repercussions of Snowden’s leak are not solely rooted in America. Jónsdóttir informed the crowd that many European Union countries are concerned with the extended power of the NSA. 

“Our leaders in the many different countries in Europe are so worried about this probing into the privacy of citizens of the EU that they are thinking of building a fortress around Europe to protect us against the surveillance and the invasion of our privacy from the United States,” said Jónsdóttir.

Our challenge now, as Ellsberg stated, is escaping the abyss of unchecked government surveillance. But can we do it? For this question, Ellsberg didn’t have an answer.

The panel raised intertwining issues of government overreach and public apathy, painting the picture of a United States embodying the Orwellian dystopia of 1984 combined with Aldous Huxley’s portrait of apathetic hedonism in Brave New World.

However, Kayyali appeared optimistic for the future, calling upon education and public discussion as the only potential to escape from the intrusive acts of the NSA.

“Never stop educating yourself,” Kayyali told the crowd. “Take everything that you’ve learned here tonight and share it with those around you. The only way we are going to see any change is if we have an educated populace, something that we are severely lacking right now.”

Without action, Ellsberg warned of the potential for a country in which privacy is nonexistent, or what he colloquially refers to as, “The United Stasi of America.”

In her closing statement, Jónsdóttir offered this coda in the form of a poem: Now is the time to yield to the call of growth, to the call of action. You are the change makers. Sleepers of all ages, wake up now.”

NSA surveillance scandal goes full tilt clown


The domestic eavesdropping scandal is now entering week three in the news (it’s existed for real a lot longer) and as these things tend to do, the political posturing is headed into Clownland.

Yesterday, Congressman Peter King (R-NY) demanded that UK Guardian journalist (and attorney) Glenn Greenwald be arrested. Not because of anything Greenwald has done, but because Greenwald is threatening to expose CIA assets around the world (Greenwald denies this). Odd that a lawmaker wouldn’t be able to make this distinction and even odder that when a CIA asset was actually exposed in rhe last decade (by an employee of the Bush Administration), King wasn’t this vociferous.Greenwald, fairly consistent on the matter of civil liberties, is a pretty bright guy and snarkily responded that King’s newfound enthusiasm for prosecuting terrorists is somewhat of a joke. King has been a long time supporter of the IRA. You’d think that as a congressman whose Long Island district was impacted hard by 9/11 would be fairly tough on domestic terror, but it hasn’t hurt King electorally at all.

For two reasons. One is the obvious one–The IRA’s membership does bear a strong physical resemblance to King’s constituency, ie, both white and not Muslim, ergo, not terrorists. The second is that the IRA doesn’t bomb New York. London, yes, Manhattan, no. In fact, the US has been a source of IRA cash, donated by people that don’t see the group as terrorists.

Roll that over in your head. The US doesn’t meddle in the affairs of Northern Ireland by planting military bases there (there has been a slight flap over the use of Irish airports for US military purposes). Mostly, American involvement has been muted and even handed, especially in the late 90’s. Therefore the IRA has never attacked the US. Which wouldn’t be all that difficult, given the huge number of Irish-Americans and the ease that an IRA asset or two could fit in.

Because the US doesn’t militarily meddle in Ireland’s affairs, The IRA has no interest in America. 

Perhaps if the same philosophy extended to the Middle East, eh? Nah, better that the clown show go into overdrive, right?



Bully for the ACLU! It went after the real lawbreakers


Scroll down to read the ACLU complaint in the New York Times story

For me, the crucial question was not whether Edward J. Snowden broke the law but whether the U.S. government had broken the law in secretly setting up and secretly expanding what the American Civil Liberties Union called its “dragnet”collection of logs of domestic phone calls.

The ACLU, filing on Tuesday one of its most important lawsuits ever, stated that “this practice is akin to snatching every American’s address book, with annotations detailing who we spoke to, when we talked, for how long, and from where.  It gives the U.S. government a comprehensive record of our associations our associations and public movements, revealing a wealth of detail about our familial, political, professional, religious, and intimate associations.”

The suit stated that this mass tracking violates the Patriot Act and the First and Fourth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.  The ACLU asked for the court to stop the Obama Administration from the practice and expunge the records.

“Every American” needs to read the ACLU suit embedded in the New York Times story. Let’s get our priorities straight and go after the real lawbreakers. Bully for the ACLU. b3

Click here to read the Times story and complaint.

Bruce B. Brugmann, who signs his blogs and emails B3, is the editor at large of the San Francisco Bay Guardian. He writes and edits the Bruce Blog on the Bay Guardian website at He is the former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012.

A ‘reasonable’ cheek swab


On June 3, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that it’s legal for law enforcement to collect DNA samples from people who are arrested — even when the individuals taken into custody are never convicted of a crime. The justices were narrowly split, and the decision immediately drew criticism from civil liberties advocates like American Civil Liberties Union, who characterized it as a blow to American’s Fourth Amendment right to privacy.

Does the historic ruling carry implications for law enforcement practices in California? Not exactly. As it turns out, current state law allows police to collect DNA samples through cheek swabbing on a far more routine basis than in Maryland, where only a handful of serious offenses can trigger this kind of search. And in the Golden State, fewer protections are in place for arrestees.

The Supreme Court issued its ruling with a narrow 5-4 vote. “The majority’s take was that cheek-swabbing is reasonable … even without any suspicion of wrongdoing by the arrestee, because the intrusion is minimal, the arrestee has less of an expectation of privacy than a typical citizen, and the state has a strong interest in using DNA to identify people,” explained Andrea Roth, a law professor at the University of California at Berkeley and founding member of a group that studied and litigated forensic DNA typing.

In contrast, Roth said, conservative Justice Antonin Scalia “was concerned that this is the first time that we’ve ever allowed searches of someone’s body, without any type of individualized suspicion, for the purpose of general crime-solving. He thought that was a line the Constitution draws in the sand, and that the law is on the wrong side of that line.”

Despite drawing a scathing critique from a conservative Supreme Court justice, Maryland’s system for the collection and use of DNA is actually much narrower in scope than the law that went into effect in California in 2004, when Proposition 69 passed.

Maryland’s law “only applies to a limited number of offenses, it doesn’t apply at all to people who are simply arrested but not charged, and they can only make use of the sample after there’s been a judicial finding of probable cause,” Michael Risher, a lawyer with the Northern California Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told us.

“California doesn’t have any of those safeguards,” Risher added. “It’s a different law.”


When Prop. 69 was approved, California voters initially sanctioned DNA collection from people convicted of felony offenses. But on January 1, 2009, a different provision of that initiative kicked in, expanding it to allow police to collect DNA samples from “any adult person” arrested for “any felony offense,” regardless of whether that person is ever charged or convicted of a crime.

When used as a form of identification, DNA samples are processed to yield a 26-number sequence that aids law enforcement in verifying suspects’ identities.

Once they’re collected and used to produce unique identifiers, those cotton-swabbed samples aren’t destroyed; instead, they remain in the hands of a state agency. “The problem is that the state keeps your samples,” Roth said. “It’s not like they develop the 26-number profile and then throw the rest of the sample in the trash. So if you’re in a database, state officials still have your entire DNA strand.”

According to the California Department of Justice, since the start of the program, the DNA data bank had received and logged more than 2.1 million samples as of March 31. The data bank is shared with the National DNA Index System (NDIS), part of the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is linked to federal records.

In its decision, the nation’s highest court determined that “taking and analyzing a cheek swab of the arrestee’s DNA is, like fingerprinting and photographing, a legitimate police booking procedure.”

Yet civil liberties advocates point out that the information contained in a DNA sample can reveal much more about an individual than either a fingerprint or a unique identifier generated from a sample.

“There’s a basic difference between your DNA and your fingerprint,” Risher explains. “Your fingerprint doesn’t tell you anything about yourself. And your DNA is your genetic blueprint. The profile that they generate might not say a lot about you … but they are keeping these physical samples. Current law says they can’t be tested for sensitive things, but laws change, and people can violate them.”

And a properly preserved DNA sample can last hundreds of thousands of years — essentially forever.


Lily Haskell has been fighting the state of California over DNA collection ever since her arrest in March of 2009, at an anti-war demonstration in downtown San Francisco. Held to commemorate the anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, the protest was staged in Civic Center Plaza. “With no prior warning, police charged the crowd, penned us in, arrested us, and charged us with trying to incite a riot,” she told us.

But hours later, after she and a handful of others had been processed at the San Francisco County Jail, Haskell was summoned from her holding cell and presented with what struck her as an odd request. Although she says she had already been fingerprinted, and her identity already confirmed, an officer “told me I had to provide a DNA sample.”

Her first instinct was to decline. “I didn’t believe it was just to have to comply with that,” she said. “I told them I believed it was my right to refuse.” Haskell was told that if she continued to resist the sample collection, she’d be charged with a misdemeanor and would likely spend a few additional nights in jail. So she relented.

Although she was neither charged with a crime nor tried for a felony or any other offense after being released from jail 24 hours later, Haskell’s DNA sample remains in the state databank. Now she’s a lead plaintiff in a class action lawsuit filed by the ACLU.

Haskell said she’s never tried to get her DNA expunged from the state database, because she sees her participation in the lawsuit as an important challenge to a law she views as unjust. “I don’t want my DNA to be held,” Haskell says, “and I don’t want anybody else’s DNA to be held, either.”

Individuals who have tried to go the route of having DNA samples removed have found it can be tedious. “In California, the process of getting your DNA out of a database if your case ends in dismissal or acquittal is an onerous one,” Roth explained. “You have to pay your own filing and attorney fees, you have to wait until the statute of limitations has run, the judge has complete discretion to deny your motion, and you can’t appeal the judge’s decision.”

Legal upshot still unclear

Meanwhile, ACLU attorneys in Northern California were closely watching the Supreme Court case, Maryland v. King, to see how it might affect their class-action challenge to Prop. 69, a case known as Haskell v. Harris. Although a divided panel of Ninth Circuit judges upheld the law in February of 2012, the court took the unusual step last July of voting to rehear the case en banc, with a nine-judge panel. However, the court issued an order after oral arguments saying it wouldn’t issue a ruling until King had been decided in the Supreme Court.

“Yes, they will have to do something with our case — but what they do is actually up to them,” Risher explained. “There’s no binding opinion in our case right now. Everything was up in the air waiting for King to be decided.”

Risher added that in future arguments, the ACLU plans to highlight the differences between Maryland’s DNA collection law and California’s far broader Prop. 69. “If King was a 5-4 decision with a law that was so narrowly focused, with those safeguards,” he said, “well okay — this one crosses the line.”

Solomon: Historic challenge to support the moral actions of Edward Snowden


Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

In Washington, where the state of war and the surveillance state are one and the same, top officials have begun to call for Edward Snowden’s head. His moral action of whistleblowing — a clarion call for democracy — now awaits our responses.

After nearly 12 years of the “war on terror,” the revelations of recent days are a tremendous challenge to the established order: nonstop warfare, intensifying secrecy and dominant power that equate safe governance with Orwellian surveillance.

In the highest places, there is more than a wisp of panic in rarefied air. It’s not just the National Security Agency that stands exposed; it’s the repressive arrogance perched on the pyramid of power.

Back here on the ground, so many people — appalled by Uncle Sam’s continual morph into Big Brother — have been pushing against the walls of anti-democratic secrecy. Those walls rarely budge, and at times they seem to be closing in, even literally for some (as in the case of heroic whistleblower Bradley Manning). But all the collective pushing has cumulative effects.

In recent days, as news exploded about NSA surveillance, a breakthrough came into sight. Current history may not be an immovable wall; it may be on a hinge. And if we push hard enough, together, there’s no telling what might be possible or achieved.

The gratitude that so many of us now feel toward Edward Snowden raises the question: How can we truly express our appreciation?

A first step is to thank him — publicly and emphatically. You can do that by clicking here to sign the “Thank NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden” petition, which my colleagues at will send directly to him, including the individual comments.

But of course saying thank-you is just one small step onto a crucial path. As Snowden faces extradition and vengeful prosecution from the U.S. government, active support will be vital — in the weeks, months and years ahead.

Signing the thank-you petition, I ventured some optimism: “What you’ve done will inspire kindred spirits around the world to take moral action despite the risks.” Bravery for principle can be very contagious.

Edward Snowden has taken nonviolent action to help counter the U.S. government’s one-two punch of extreme secrecy and massive violence. The process has summoned the kind of doublespeak that usually accompanies what cannot stand the light of day.

So, when Snowden’s employer Booz Allen put out a statement Sunday night, it was riddled with official indignation, declaring: “News reports that this individual has claimed to have leaked classified information are shocking, and if accurate, this action represents a grave violation of the code of conduct and core values of our firm.”

What are the “code of conduct” and “core values” of this huge NSA contractor? The conduct of stealthy assistance to the U.S. national security state as it methodically violates civil liberties, and the values of doing just about anything to amass vast corporate profits.

The corporate-government warfare state is enraged that Edward Snowden has broken through with conduct and values that are 180 degrees in a different direction. “I’m not going to hide,” he told the Washington Post on Sunday. “Allowing the U.S. government to intimidate its people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoing is contrary to the public interest.”

When a Post reporter asked whether his revelations would change anything, Snowden replied: “I think they already have. Everyone everywhere now understands how bad things have gotten — and they’re talking about it. They have the power to decide for themselves whether they are willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state.”

And, when the Post asked about threats to “national security,” Snowden offered an assessment light-years ahead of mainline media’s conventional wisdom: “We managed to survive greater threats in our history . . . than a few disorganized terrorist groups and rogue states without resorting to these sorts of programs. It is not that I do not value intelligence, but that I oppose . . . omniscient, automatic, mass surveillance. . . .  That seems to me a greater threat to the institutions of free society than missed intelligence reports, and unworthy of the costs.”

Profoundly, in the early summer of 2013, with his actions and words, Edward Snowden has given aid and comfort to grassroots efforts for democracy. What we do with his brave gift will be our choice.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

 (Bruce B. Brugmann,  or b3 as he signs his blogs and emails, writes and edits the Bruce blog on the San Francisco Bay Guardian website at He is the editor at large of the Bay Guardian and editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian  with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012. He can be reached at

Solomon: An open letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

Dear Senator Feinstein:

On Thursday, when you responded to news about massive ongoing surveillance of phone records of people in the United States, you slipped past the meaning of the Fourth Amendment. As the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, you seem to be in the habit of treating the Bill of Rights as merely advisory.

The Constitution doesn’t get any better than this: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The greatness of the Fourth Amendment explains why so many Americans took it to heart in civics class, and why so many of us treasure it today. But along with other high-ranking members of Congress and the president of the United States, you have continued to chip away at this sacred bedrock of civil liberties.

As The Guardian reported the night before your sudden news conference, the leaked secret court order “shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of U.S. citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk — regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”

One of the most chilling parts of that just-revealed Surveillance Court order can be found at the bottom of the first page, where it says “Declassify on: 12 April 2038.”

Apparently you thought — or at least hoped — that we, the people of the United States, wouldn’t find out for 25 years. And the fact that we learned about this extreme violation of our rights in 2013 instead of 2038 seems to bother you a lot.

Rather than call for protection of the Fourth Amendment, you want authorities to catch and punish whoever leaked this secret order. You seem to fear that people can actually discover what their own government is doing to them with vast surveillance.

Meanwhile, the Executive Branch is being run by kindred spirits, as hostile to the First Amendment as to the Fourth. On Thursday night, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper issued a statement saying the “unauthorized disclosure of a top secret U.S. court document threatens potentially long-lasting and irreversible harm to our ability to identify and respond to the many threats facing our nation.”

That statement from Clapper is utter and complete hogwash. Whoever leaked the four-page Surveillance Court document to Glenn Greenwald at The Guardian deserves a medal and an honorary parade down Pennsylvania Avenue in the Nation’s Capital. The only “threats” assisted by disclosure of that document are the possibilities of meaningful public discourse and informed consent of the governed.

Let’s be candid about the most clear and present danger to our country’s democratic values. The poisonous danger is spewing from arrogance of power in the highest places. The antidotes depend on transparency of sunlight that only whistleblowers, a free press and an engaged citizenry can bring.

As Greenwald tweeted after your news conference: “The reason there are leakers is precisely because the govt is filled with people like Dianne Feinstein who do horrendous things in secret.” And, he pointed out, “The real story isn’t just the spying itself: it’s that we have this massive, ubiquitous Surveillance State, operating in total secrecy.”

Obviously, you like it that way, and so do most other members of the Senate and House. And so does the president. You’re all playing abhorrent roles, maintaining a destructive siege of precious civil liberties. While building a surveillance state, you are patting citizens on the head and telling them not to worry.

Perhaps you should have a conversation with Al Gore and ask about his statement: “Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” Actually, many millions of Americans understand that the blanket surveillance is obscenely outrageous.

As a constituent, I would like to offer an invitation. A short drive from your mansion overlooking San Francisco Bay, hundreds of us will be meeting June 11 at a public forum on “Disappearing Civil Liberties in the United States.” (You’d be welcome to my time on the panel.) One of the speakers, Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, could explain to you how the assaults on civil liberties and the wars you keep supporting go hand in hand, undermining the Constitution and causing untold misery.

Senator Feinstein, your energetic contempt for the Bill of Rights is serving a bipartisan power structure that threatens to crush our democratic possibilities.

A huge number of people in California and around the country will oppose your efforts for the surveillance state at every turn.


Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.”

(Bruce B. Brugmann, or b3 as he signs his blogs and emails, writes and edits the Bruce blog on the website of the San Francisco Bay Guardian  at He is the editor at large of the Bay Guardian and former editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Bay Guardian  with his wife Jean Dibble, 1966-2012.  He can be contacted at b3

NSA spying on Verizon calls is nothing new

So, the federal government is spying on millions of Americans. Still. And this time, there’s a document to prove it.

In a momentous scoop by journalist Glenn Greenwald, the UK Guardian has published a top secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court order requiring Verizon to turn over all call records to the National Security Agency.

It does not matter if you are suspected of wrongdoing, or what your political beliefs are. It’s now been confirmed that if you are a Verizon subscriber, your “telephony metadata” is being handed over the NSA, “on an ongoing daily basis,” along with the records of millions of other subscribers.

What can this metadata reveal about a telecom subscriber?

“Every call made, the location of the phone, the time of the call, the duration of the call, and other ‘identifying information’ for the phone and call,” according to this cogent explanation provided by Electronic Frontier Foundation attorneys Cindy Cohn and Mark Rumold (in full disclosure, my former coworkers). Take a moment to let that sink in. We’re not just talking about every number dialed, but the geographic location of every phone.

Further raising eyebrows: “There is no indication that this order to Verizon was unique or novel,” Cohn and Rumold note. “It is very likely that business records orders like this exist for every major American telecommunication company, meaning that, if you make calls in the United States, the NSA has those records.” (Emphasis mine.)

President Barack Obama has defended the practice, calling it “a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States.” 

Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, said at a news conference in D.C. that the court order in question “is a three-month renewal of an ongoing practice,” according to the Associated Press.

Former Vice President Al Gore tweeted that the domestic surveillance program is “obscenely outrageous.” More than 16,000 people have signed an emergency petition urging Congress to “investigate,” while the American Civil Liberties Union has launched a petition calling on the Obama Administration to stop it already.

Amid the well-founded outrage over a document conclusively revealing a widespread domestic spying program, what’s really fascinating is the ho-hum response of two whistleblowers formerly employed by the NSA, who went on Democracy Now! and basically said, duh, what took the mainstream media so long to notice? 

“Where has the mainstream media been? These are routine orders, nothing new,” Thomas Drake told program host Amy Goodman. “What’s new is we’re seeing an actual order. And people are somehow surprised by it. The fact remains that this program has been in place for quite some time. It was actually started shortly after 9/11. The Patriot Act was the enabling mechanism that allowed the United States government in secret to acquire subscriber records from any company.”

NSA whistleblower William Binney chimed in: “NSA has been doing all this stuff all along, and it’s been all the companies, not just one. And I basically looked at [the top secret order] and said, well, if Verizon got one, so did everybody else, which means that, you know, they’re just continuing the collection of this kind of information on all U.S. citizens. … There’s just—in my estimate, it was—if you collapse it down to all uniques, it’s a little over 280 million U.S. citizens are in there, each in there several hundred to several thousand times.”

The publication of this court order also came less as a revelation, and more of a confirmation of what they’ve been saying all along, for San Francisco-based EFF attorneys, who have been mired in a legal battle against the NSA on warrantless wiretapping for the better part of a decade.

(Things started to get rolling on that front on Jan. 20, 2006, when former AT&T employee Mark Klein waltzed into EFF’s office clutching a manila envelope containing technical corporate documents, “detailing the construction of the NSA’s secret spying room in AT&T’s San Francisco facility” on Folsom Street.)

“This type of untargeted, wholly domestic surveillance is exactly what EFF, and others, have been suing about for years,” Cohn and Rumold remind us.

Legally speaking, much of this debate pertains to Section 215 of the U.S. Patriot Act, which the federal government has relied upon to claim it has legal authority to conduct mass surveillance of communications.

In May of 2011, Sen. Ron Wyden issued a cryptic warning during a debate about the reauthorization of Section 215. “I want to deliver a warning this afternoon,” Wyden said. “When the American people find out how their government has secretly interpreted the Patriot Act, they will be stunned and they will be angry.”

Has that day arrived?

SFPD responds (weirdly) to allegations of racial disparity

The San Francisco Police Department has issued a head-scratching response to charges of racial disparity in marijuana arrests, possibly in an attempt to defuse controversy over a recent incident that already has some members of the African American community up in arms.

This latest flap started Monday, when the New York Times ran a piece about an American Civil Liberties Union analysis finding that nationwide, Black Americans were four times more likely to be arrested than white people on charges of marijuana possession in 2010.

On Tuesday, the East Bay Express drew attention to that report. Then, the Chronicle ran a story suggesting that racial disparity in marijuana arrests extends to San Francisco – a city where white people have such affinity for weed that they’re known to congregate in droves not only on Hippie Hill but also Dolores Park to commemorate 4/20 with collective puffs of smoke.

The Chronicle piece seizes on 2010 data to back up its claim, noting:

“Black residents made up 6 percent of San Francisco’s population in 2010 while whites comprised 55 percent. The ACLU report said that of 298 marijuana possession arrests that year, 99 were black suspects and 195 were white suspects.” This would appear to suggest that a disproportionate number of Black suspects were arrested for marijuana possession. The Chron also pointed out, “the ACLU’s report analyzed arrest data from 2001 through 2010.”

Earlier today, the SFPD issued a response, apparently attempting to set the local press straight. It states: “This is not so. The San Francisco Police Department does not racially profile.”

To back up its claim, officers in the SFPD’s Media Relations Unit wrote: 

“In 2011, the SFPD made over 23,000 arrests, of which 14,000 were classified as misdemeanors. Today, Chief [Greg] Suhr reviewed all 11 misdemeanor marijuana arrest reports from 2011. All 11 misdemeanor marijuana charges were secondary to other charges, e.g., outstanding warrants, weapons possession, drunk in public, for which the person (four white males, three black males, two black females, one Hispanic male, and one white female) were arrested and booked. It is evident that the misdemeanor marijuana arrests cited in the article were made using sound police procedure pertaining to criminal activity and not by racial profiling.”

But this response fails to address the ACLU’s findings head on. If the New York Times and Chronicle pieces specifically hinged on 2010 figures, why did Suhr review data from 2011? The only hint comes in the SFPD statement, which notes that 2011 “was Chief Suhr’s first year as chief.”




Resisting gentrification in San Francisco The Green Arcade bookstore, 1680 Market, SF. 7-8:30pm, free. San Francisco author and political economist Karl Beitel will discuss his new book, Local Protest, Global Movements: Capital, Community, and State in San Francisco, which chronicles the history of anti-gentrification and housing rights activism in the city. The book focuses on the broader historical, political and global context of urban movements. Book talk followed by discussion.

Patent pending: The rise of GM humans Brower Center’s Goldman Theater, 2150 Allston, Berk. 7:30pm, free. In 1997, New York Medical College cell biologist Stuart Newman applied for a patent on a “humanzee” — part human, part chimp — to call attention to the ethical hazards of biotech patenting. Last year, researchers in the UK and US sought approval for creating and implanting genetically modified (GM) human embryos. What is the state of human genetic modification? What is at stake for the species? Join Stuart Newman, PhD, in conversation with Milton Reynolds of Facing History and Ourselves for this talk, part of an East Bay Conversations series on the Promises and Perils of Biotechnology.


Tenth anniversary World Naked Bike Ride Justin Herman Plaza, 1 Market, SF. 10:30am-4:30pm. Organizers of San Francisco’s Tenth Anniversary World Naked Bike Ride are hoping for the largest turnout yet. Meet on the northeast side of Vaillancourt Fountain at 10:30 AM to spend half an hour primping with body and face paint, then get ready to ride as bare as you dare. Route will pass through Fisherman’s Wharf, the Marina, Lombard, North Beach, the Embarcadero, the Civic Center, the Haight, past Golden Gate Park, and finally to Ocean Beach. The WNBR is part of a global against oil dependency.


Our vanishing civil liberties St. John’s Presbyterian Church, 2727 College Avenue, Berk. 7:30-9:30pm, free. This panel talk on the erosion of civil liberties will feature Birgitta Jonsdottir, a member of Icelandic Parliament, Wikileaks and Bradley Manning supporter, and poet; Daniel Ellsberg of Pentagon Papers fame; and Nadia Kayyali of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. Panelists will hit on concerns such as indefinite detention, the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), police militarization, and the prosecution of whistleblowers.

Solomon: Our twisted politics of grief


By Norman Solomon
Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State.”

Darwin observed that conscience is what most distinguishes humans from other animals. If so, grief isn’t far behind. Realms of anguish are deeply personal — yet prone to expropriation for public use, especially in this era of media hyper-spin. Narratives often thresh personal sorrow into political hay. More than ever, with grief marketed as a civic commodity, the personal is the politicized.

The politicizing of grief exploded in the wake of 9/11. When so much pain, rage and fear set the U.S. cauldron to boil, national leaders promised their alchemy would bring unalloyed security. The fool’s gold standard included degrading civil liberties and pursuing a global war effort that promised to be ceaseless. From the political outset, some of the dead and bereaved were vastly important, others insignificant. Such routine assumptions have remained implicit and intact.

The “war on terror” was built on two tiers of grief. Momentous and meaningless. Ours and theirs. The domestic politics of grief settled in for a very long haul, while perpetual war required the leaders of both major parties to keep affirming and reinforcing the two tiers of grief.

For individuals, actual grief is intimate, often ineffable. Maybe no one can help much, but expressions of caring and condolences can matter. So, too, can indifference. Or worse. The first years of the 21st century normalized U.S. warfare in countries where civilians kept dying and American callousness seemed to harden. From the USA, a pattern froze and showed no signs of thawing; denials continued to be reflexive, while expressions of regret were perfunctory or nonexistent

Drones became a key weapon — and symbol — of the U.S. war trajectory. With a belated nod to American public opinion early in the century’s second decade, Washington’s interest in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan did not reflect official eagerness to stop killing there or elsewhere. It did reflect eagerness to bring U.S. warfare more into line with the latest contours of domestic politics. The allure of remote-control devices like drones — integral to modern “counterterrorism” ideas at the Pentagon and CIA — has been enmeshed in the politics of grief. So much better theirs than ours.

Many people in the United States don’t agree with a foreign policy that glories in use of drones, cruise missiles and the like, but such disagreement is in a distinct minority. (A New York Times/CBS poll in late April 2013 found Americans favoring U.S. overseas drone strikes by 70 to 20 percent.) With the “war on terror” a longtime fact of political life, even skeptics or unbelievers are often tethered to some concept of pragmatism that largely privatizes misgivings. In the context of political engagement — when a person’s internal condition is much less important than outward behavior — notions of realism are apt to encourage a willing suspension of disbelief. As a practical matter, we easily absorb the dominant U.S. politics of grief, further making it our politics of grief.

The amazing technology of “unmanned aerial vehicles” glided forward as a satellite-guided deus ex machina to help lift Uncle Sam out of a tight geopolitical spot — exerting awesome airpower in Afghanistan and beyond while slowing the arrival of flag-draped coffins back home. More airborne killing and less boot prints on the ground meant fewer U.S. casualties. All the better to limit future grief, as much as possible, to those who are not us.

However facile or ephemeral the tributes may be at times, American casualties of war and their grieving families receive some public affirmation from government officials and news media. The suffering had real meaning. They mattered and matter. That’s our grief. But at the other end of American weaponry, their grief is a world of difference.

In U.S. politics, American sorrow is profoundly important and revs up many rhetorical engines; the contrast with sorrow caused by the American military could hardly be greater. What is not ignored or dismissed as mere propaganda is just another unfortunate instance of good intentions gone awry. No harm intended, no foul. Yet consider these words from a Pakistani photographer, Noor Behram, describing the aftermath of a U.S. drone attack: “There are just pieces of flesh lying around after a strike. You can’t find bodies. So the locals pick up the flesh and curse America. They say that America is killing us inside our own country, inside our own homes, and only because we are Muslims.

A memorable moment in the film Lincoln comes when the president says, “Things which are equal to the same thing are equal to each other” — in 1865, a daring leap for a white American assessing race. Truly applying the same Euclidean theorem to grief would be just as daring now in U.S. politics. Let’s face it: in the American political culture of our day, all grief is not created equal. Not even close.

We might say ’twas ever thus: countries and ethnic groups mourn their own while yawning or even rejoicing at the agonies of some “others.” And when grief weighs in on the U.S. political scale, the heaviness of our kind makes any other secondary at best. No wonder presidents have always been wary of red-white-and-blue coffins at Andrews Air Force Base. No wonder “Bring our troops home” is such an evergreen slogan of antiwar activism. If the only grief that matters much is American, then just getting Americans out of harm’s way is the ticket. The demand — like empathy for the war-torn grief of Americans — is vital. And grievously incomplete.

The world’s only superpower has been operating with vast impunity to strike targets and, in effect, summarily execute. (President Obama’s big speech on May 23 reasserted that prerogative; as the ACLU’s president Anthony Romero pointed out, Obama “still claims broad authority to carry out targeted killings far from any battlefield, and there is still insufficient transparency.”)  For American politics and mass media — perennially infatuated with the Pentagon’s latest tech advances in military capacities — such enormous power to smite presumptive evildoers has fed into a condition of jingo-narcissism. Some of its manifestations could be viewed as sociopathic: unwilling or unable to acknowledge, or evidently care much about, the pain of others.

Or the terror of others, if we are causing it. In the American political lexicon, terror — the keynote word for justifying the U.S. state of warfare so far in this century — is a supreme epithet, taken as ours to confer and to withhold. Meanwhile, by definition, it goes without saying, our leaders of the “war on terror” do not terrorize. Yet consider these words from New York Times reporter David Rohde, recalling his captivity by the Taliban in 2009 in tribal areas of Pakistan: “The drones were terrifying. From the ground, it is impossible to determine who or what they are tracking as they circle overhead. The buzz of a distant propeller is a constant reminder of imminent death.”

As part of tacit job descriptions, the U.S. network anchor or the president is highly selective in displayed compassion for the grieving. It won’t do to be seen with watery eyes when the Pentagon has done the killing (“friendly fire” a notable exception). No rulebook need be published, no red lines openly promulgated; the gist remains powerfully inherent and understood. If well acculturated, we don’t need to ask for whom the bell tolls; we will be informed in due course. John Donne, meet Orwell and Pavlov.

The U.S. Constitution — if not international law or some tenacious kind of idealism — could prevent presidential “kill lists” from trumping due process. But, as Amy Davidson wrote in a New Yorker online column last year, the operative approach is: “it’s due process if the president thinks about it.” Stephen Colbert summed up: “The Founders weren’t picky. Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock-paper-scissors — who cares?” After all, “Due process just means there’s a process that you do.” Satire from Colbert has been far more candid than oratory from President Obama, whose May 23 speech claimed a commitment to “due process” and declared: “I’ve insisted on strong oversight of all lethal action.”

Bypassing due process and shrugging off the human consequences go hand in hand. At the same time, it can be reassuring when the commander in chief speaks so well. But Obama’s lengthy speech at the National Defense University laid out a global picture with a big missing piece: grief due to U.S. military attacks. The only mention was a fleeting understatement (“for the families of those civilians, no words or legal construct can justify their loss”), instantly followed by a focus on burdens of top perpetrators: “For me, and those in my chain of command, these deaths will haunt us as long as we live…” As usual, the grief of the USA’s victims was quickly reframed in terms of American dilemmas, essential goodness and standing in the world. So, while Obama’s speech called for “addressing the underlying grievances and conflicts that feed extremism, from North Africa to South Asia,” some crucial grievances stoking the conflicts were off the table from the outset; grief and rage caused by U.S. warfare remained out of the picture.

Transcendent and truly illuminating grief is to be found elsewhere, close to home. “The greatest country in the world” presumes to shoulder the greatest grief, with more access to profundities of death. No wailing and weeping at the scene of a drone strike, scarcely reported by U.S. media anyway, can hold a candle. For American grief to be only as weighty as any other just won’t do. We’re number one! A national narrative of emotional supremacy.

Our politics of grief, bouncing off the walls of U.S. media echo chambers, are apt to seem natural and immutable while fueling much of the domestic political rhetoric that drives U.S. foreign policy. The story goes that we’re sinned against yet not sinning, engaged in self-protection, paying to defend ourselves. Consider the Google tallies for two phrases. “U.S. defense budget”: nearly 4,000,000. “U.S. military budget”: less than 100,000.

But for those in communities grieving the loss of people struck down by the USA’s “Defense Department,” the outlook is inverted. To be killed is bad enough. But to be killed with impunity? To be killed by a machine, from the sky, a missile fired by persons unseen who do not see who they’re killing from hundreds or thousands of miles away? To be left to mourn for loved ones killed in this way?

When, from our vantage point, the grief of “others” lacks major verisimilitude, their resentment and rage appear irrational. Heaven forbid that such emotions could give rise to deadly violence approaching the level of our own. People who are uneducated and unclear on the American concept sometimes fail to appreciate that our perception is to be enforced as hegemonic reality. By a kind of fiat we can elevate with fervent validation some — some — others’ grief. As for the rest, the gradations of importance of their grief, and the legitimacy of their resort to violence, are to be determined by our judicious assessment; for further information, contact the State Department.

There may be no worse feeling of human powerlessness than inability to prevent the death of a loved one. The unmatched power of bereavement forces people to cope with a basic kind of human algebra: love + death = grief. Whether felt as a sudden ghastly deluge or as a long series of sleeper waves with awful undertows, real grief can turn upbeat memories into mournful ones; remembering becomes a source of anguish, so that, as Joan Didion wrote, “Memories are what you no longer want to remember.” Ultimately, intimately, the human conditions of loss often move people to places scarcely mapped by standard news coverage or political rhetoric.

Imagine living in a village in Pakistan or Afghanistan or Yemen. From the sky, death has been visited on neighbors, and drones keep hovering. (As now-former Times reporter Rohde pointed out: “Drones fire missiles that travel faster than the speed of sound. A drone’s victim never hears the missile that kills him.”) Overhead are drones named Reaper, shooting missiles named Hellfire. Have the heavens been grabbed by people who think their instruments of death are godly?

“When scientific power outruns moral power,” Martin Luther King Jr. said, “we end up with guided missiles and misguided men.” For America, drones and other highest-tech weapons are a superb technological means of off-loading moral culpability from public agendas; on the surface, little muss, less fuss.

Disembodied killing offers plenty of pluses in U.S. politics, especially when wars become protracted. From Vietnam to Afghanistan, the reduction of troop levels has cut the number of American deaths (easing the grief that “counts”) in tandem with more bombardment from the air (causing the “other” grief). Today’s domestic politics of grief are akin to what emerged after mid-1969, when President Nixon initiated a steady withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Vietnam. During the three years that followed, Nixon reduced the number of soldiers in Vietnam by nearly half a million, to 69,000. During the same three years, the U.S. government dropped 3.5 million tons of bombs on Vietnam — more than all the bombing in the previous five years.

Then, as now, the official scenario had U.S. troops thinning on the ground, native troops taking up more of the combat burden, and the Pentagon helpfully bombing from the sky as only Americans could “know how.” Independent journalist I. F. Stone astutely identified the paradigm in 1970, when the White House struggled with fading public support for the war. The revamped policy, Stone wrote, was “imperialism by proxy,” aiming to buy “low-wage soldier-power,” an approach that “will be seen in Asia as a rich white man’s idea of fighting a war: we handle the elite airpower while coolies do the killing on the ground.” Stone would have swiftly recognized the pattern in President Obama’s upbeat statement on May 23 that “we will work with the Afghan government to train security forces and sustain a counterterrorism force.”

The number of U.S. ground troops in Afghanistan was down by one-third, to 66,000, at the start of this year, when Obama announced plans to gradually withdraw the remaining troops over a period of two years. High-tech warfare would pick up the slack. The outgoing Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta, told a news conference that a key mission in Afghanistan, persisting after 2014, would be “counterterrorism,” a buzzword for heavy reliance on airpower like drones and cruise missiles. Such weapons would give others grief.

A top “national security” adviser to the president, John Brennan, said as much in an April 2012 speech. “As we have seen,” he noted, “deploying large armies abroad won’t always be our best offense. Countries typically don’t want foreign soldiers in their cities and towns.” The disadvantages of “large, intrusive military deployments” were many. “In comparison, there is the precision of targeted strikes.”

But such “precision” is imperfect enough to be an other’s calamity. Likewise, the extreme relativity of “agony.” At his Senate confirmation hearing to become CIA director in February 2013, Brennan spoke of “the agony we go through” in deciding which individuals to target with drones. Perhaps to square some circles of cognitive dissonance, those who inflict major violence often seem moved to underscore their own psychological pain, their own mental wounds. (As if to say, This hurts me as much as it hurts them; maybe even more, given my far more acute moral sensitivities.) When the focus is on the agony of the perpetrators, there may be less room left to consider the grief of their victims.

Shifting the burden of protracted war easily meshes with a zero-sum geopolitical game. Official enthusiasm for air strikes has correlated with assurances that Americans would be facing much less grief than allied others. So, near the end of 2012, the USA Today front page reported that “the number of U.S. deaths in Afghanistan is on track to decline sharply this year, reflecting the drawdown in U.S. forces” — while the death toll for Afghan government forces had climbed to ten times the U.S. level. These developments were recounted as progress all the way around.

As top officials in Washington move to lighten the political load of American grief, their cost-benefit analyses find major strategic value in actions that inflict more grief on others. Political respects must be paid. Elites in the war corps and the press corps do not have infinite tolerance for American deaths, and the Pentagon’s latest technology for remote killing is a perpetual favorite. In the long run, however, what goes around tends to come around.

Advice offered by scholar Eqbal Ahmad before 9/11 bears repeating and pondering: “A superpower cannot promote terror in one place and reasonably expect to discourage terrorism in another place. It won’t work in this shrunken world.”
After the “war on terror” gained momentum, Martin Luther King III spoke at a commemoration of his father’s birth and said: “When will the war end? We all have to be concerned about terrorism, but you will never end terrorism by terrorizing others.” That was more than nine years ago.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death” and “Made Love, Got War: Close Encounters with America’s Warfare State.”

(The Bruce blog is written and edited by Bruce B. Brugmann, editor at large of The San  Francisco Bay Guardian, and editor and co-founder and co-publisher of the Guardian with his wife Jean Dibble (1966-2012). He can be contacted at b3

Bay to Breakers will have video surveillance, license plate scans, and secret “FBI assets”


Police video surveillance was in the spotlight during yesterday’s City Hall hearing on security measures at large events, as supervisors voiced a desire to strike the right balance between security and civil liberties. And while they got some reassurance and small signs of restraint from the SFPD, they also learned about secretive new security measures that go beyond what the public was aware of.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr clarified misleading media reports (a Chronicle story then picked up by Associated Press) that he’s seeking real time video surveillance along Market Street. Right now, Suhr said he just wants an inventory of existing video cameras along Market and downtown that he can request footage from after a crime is committed and that he would make his case to the board if he ever wanted to go beyond that.

“Right now, we only look at footage in retrospect,” Suhr told the Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee hearing, adding that he has no objections to seeking a court warrant to obtain that footage because “we do want it to be admissible.”

Yet Suhr and Deputy Chief James Loftus also revealed that SFPD will be deploying an undisclosed number of temporary real-time video surveillance cameras atop long poles at the Bay to Breakers footrace on May 19, as it did last fall during the World Series and the big parade down Market Street celebrating the Giants victory.

“We always want more video,” Suhr told the Guardian, although he said that he also understands the civil liberties sensitivities of San Franciscans, which is why he isn’t now seeking a permanent increase in SFPD’s real time video surveillance capabilities. “I’m from San Francisco, I get it.”

Other security tools that the SFPD will be employing at Bay to Breakers and other large events are technology that uses video cameras on police cars to capture license plate numbers and run them through a DMV database, what Loftus vaguely described as “specialized resources from surrounding jurisdictions” (watch out for the drones, y’all), and unspecified “FBI assets [that] will be present and assisting in event security.”

When Sup. Eric Mar, who called the hearing, asked about those last two items, Loftus said he wouldn’t discuss them publicly, but “I could talk to you about it offline if you’d like.”

Sup. David Campos said that he doesn’t want San Francisco to be reactionary after incidents like the Boston Marathon bombing and that we should be a model city for balancing security with civil liberties: “I think that’s a very difficult balance to strike, but it anyone can strike that balance, I think San Francisco can.” He also expressed concerns about plans to ban backpacks at Bay to Breakers: “I don’t know if that’s going to address the problem.”

Loftus said the ban only applied to large backpacks (larger than 8.5x11x14 inches) and that runners and spectators will still be allowed to use small backpacks to hold water and changes of clothing. Yet for those concerned about the creeping police state, including several people who spoke during the public comment period, there was little consolation offered in the presentations, and the supervisors said this would be an important ongoing discussion.

“This is a discussion that goes beyond San Francisco,” Campos said. “We as a country need to have this discussion.”

Solomon: It’s time to renounce the “war on terror”


Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

As a perpetual emotion machine — producing and guzzling its own political fuel — the “war on terror” continues to normalize itself as a thoroughly American way of life and death. Ongoing warfare has become a matter of default routine, pushed along by mainline media and the leadership of both parties in Washington. Without a clear and effective upsurge of opposition from the grassroots, Americans can expect to remain citizens of a war-driven country for the rest of their lives.

Across the United States, many thousands of peeling bumper stickers on the road say: “End this Endless War.” They got mass distribution from back in 2007, when a Republican was in the White House. Now, a thorough search of the MoveOn website might leave the impression that endless war ended with the end of the George W. Bush presidency.

MoveOn is very big as online groups go, but it is symptomatic of a widespread problem among an array of left-leaning organizations that have made their peace with the warfare state. Such silence assists the Obama administration as it makes the “war on terror” even more resolutely bipartisan and further embedded in the nation’s political structures — while doing immense damage to our economy, siphoning off resources that should go to meet human needs, further militarizing society and undermining civil liberties.

Now, on Capitol Hill, the most overt attempt to call a halt to the “war on terror” is coming from Rep. Barbara Lee, whose bill H.R. 198 would revoke the Authorization for Use of Military Force that Congress approved three days after 9/11. Several months since it was introduced, H.R. 198 only has a dozen co-sponsors. (To send your representative and senators a message of support for Lee’s bill, click here.)

Evidently, in Congress, there is sparse support for repealing the September 2001 blanket authorization for war. Instead, there are growing calls for a larger blanket. Bipartisan Washington is warming to the idea that a new congressional resolution may be needed to give War on Terror 2.0 an expansive framework. Even for the law benders and breakers who manage the executive branch’s war machinery, the language of the September 2001 resolution doesn’t seem stretchable enough to cover the U.S. warfare of impunity that’s underway across the globe . . . with more on the drawing boards.

On Tuesday afternoon, when a Senate Judiciary subcommittee held a hearing on “targeted killing,” the proceedings underscored the great extent of bipartisan overlap for common killing ground. Republican super-hawk Sen. Lindsey Graham lauded President Obama for “targeting people in a very commander-in-chief-like way.” And what passed for senatorial criticism took as a given the need for continuing drone strikes. In the words of the subcommittee’s chairman, Sen. Dick Durbin, “More transparency is needed to maintain the support of the American people and the international community” for those attacks.

This is classic tinkering with war machinery. During the first several years of the Vietnam War, very few senators went beyond mild kibitzing about how the war could be better waged. In recent years, during President Obama’s escalation of the war in Afghanistan that tripled the U.S. troop levels in that country, senators like John Kerry (now secretary of state) kept offering their helpful hints for how to fine tune the war effort

The “war on terror” is now engaged in various forms of military intervention in an estimated two-dozen countries, killing and maiming uncounted civilians while creating new enemies. It infuses foreign policy with unhinged messages hidden in plain sight, like a purloined letter proclaiming “What goes around won’t come around” and telling the world “Do as we say, not as we do.”

Political ripple effects from the Boston Marathon bombings have only begun. While public opinion hasn’t gotten carried away with fear, much of the news media — television in particular — is stoking the fires of fear but scarcely raising a single question that might challenge the basic assumptions of a forever “war on terror.”

After a city has been traumatized and a country has empathized, a constructive takeaway would be that it’s terribly wrong to set off bombs that kill and maim. But that outlook is a nonstarter the moment it might be applied to victims of U.S. drones and cruise missiles in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere. The message seems to be that Americans should never be bombed but must keep bombing.

The death of Richie Havens days ago is a loss and reminder. Each of us has only so many days ahead. We may as well live them with deeper meaning, for peace and social justice. To hear Havens performing the song “Lives in the Balance” written by another great musician, Jackson Browne, is to be awakened anew:

I want to know who the men in the shadows are
I want to hear somebody asking them why
They can be counted on to tell us who our enemies are
But they’re never the ones to fight or to die

And there are lives in the balance
There are people under fire
There are children at the cannons
And there is blood on the wire

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.








Forum: Art and politics with Rebar 518 Valencia, SF. 7:30-10:30pm, free. Operating in San Francisco since 2004, Rebar has been transforming cities with urban art and creative actions with an aim toward reclaiming the city by and for citizens themselves. Join founder and principal Blaine Merker for a discussion exploring how people both inside and outside positions of power can help the city benefit from urban art and other creative actions.


Protest Gap sweatshops Gap Headquarters, 2 Folsom, SF. Noon, free. Call on the Gap to pay 10 cents more per garment and to join a fire safety agreement to improve conditions in their overseas garment factories. Sumi Abedin, a Bangladeshi garment worker who survived a factory fire that killed 112 workers producing garments for Walmart, and Bangladeshi labor organizer Kalpona Akter will attend this action. Sponsored by Corporate Action Network, International Labor Rights Forum, San Francisco Jobs with Justice, SumOfUs, SweatFree Communities, and United Students Against Sweatshops.

Muslim women’s transformative activism panel California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission, SF. 7-9pm, $15. RSVP. Facilitated by Dr. Anshu Chatterjee, this panel aims to spotlight the activism of Muslim women. Panelists include Samina Ali, a novelist, feminist organizer and curator of the International Museum of Women; Ghazala Anwar, a pioneer in the movement of LGBTIQ Muslims, and Jane Sloane, Vice President of Programs at Global Fund for Women.


“Pipeline Paradigm” panel Commonwealth Club, 595 Market, SF. 11:30am, $20 or $7 for students. Hosted by Climate One, this talk on the Keystone XL pipeline will focus on why the controversial oil pipeline project has inspired “the largest expression of civil disobedience since the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s.” Featuring Sam Avery, author of The Pipeline and the Paradigm, and others in a conversation about climate and activism.

Conference: Socialism versus capitalism Niebyl Proctor Marxist Library, 6501 Telegraph Ave. Oakl., 510-268-9429. 7pm, $5-$10. This three day event will feature a host of speakers exploring socialist theory, attacks on civil liberties, and movements against the corporate elite.


Annual Walk Against Rape The Women’s Building, 3543 18th St, SF. 11am, free. Registration required. Join the movement against sexual violence by participating in the Walk Against Rape. Registration begins at 10am. Followed by a festival from 1-3pm featuring dance, spoken word and musical performances.


Public forum on education and the forces of gentrification San Francisco Community School, 125 Excelsior, SF. 3-6pm, free. Pauline Lipman, an activist scholar and organizer with Teachers for Social Justice in Chicago, will lead a dialogue on the intersection between school closures, the attacks on City College of San Francisco, and the forces of gentrification.


Silent sting


If the FBI is trying to track down a suspect in your neighborhood, investigators could sweep up information from your mobile device just because you happen to be nearby.

It’s been going on for years with little public notice or attention.

Records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act request shed new light on a surveillance device known as a Stingray that allows law enforcement to automatically collect cell phone data from potentially hundreds of subscribers in a given area — even when the vast majority of those affected have nothing to do with the criminal investigation at hand.

The documents came in response to an FOIA request from the Bay Guardian and the Northern California Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Stingray is a brand name; the devices might also be known as a Triggerfish, a digital analyzer, a cell site emulator, or an IMSI catcher, the latter being a technical term describing the gadget’s ability to detect International Mobile Subscriber Identities. It essentially behaves like cell phone tower, putting out a strong signal that tricks mobile devices into connecting automatically.

If there are 200 cell phone customers in an area where it’s being deployed, all of their phones will automatically connect to the device.

Once cell phones are talking to the Stingray, the device scoops up digital information and uses it to help agents ferret out their target. Some Stingrays have the capability to capture actual content — texts or telephone conversations — while others act like eyes and ears that can guide police to the precise geographic location of a targeted suspect, even within a couple meters.

And it doesn’t even require a warrant.

“You can operate it without having to involve the cell phone providers at all,” Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, told us. His organization helped a journalist obtain records about the Los Angeles Police Department’s use of Stingrays.

“The service providers, while they don’t stand as a major barrier, tend to insist on police having some kind of judicial authorization,” Scheer said. “It has been an important check on police use of these technologies.”


The FBI initially refused to provide the documents, but after the ACLU filed suit, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California finally released some information, including a particularly juicy set of internal emails documenting federal agents’ use of these devices.

In one of the emails, Criminal Division Chief Miranda Kane wrote: “Our office has been working closely with the magistrate judges in an effort to address their collective concerns regarding whether a pen register is sufficient to authorize the use of law enforcement’s WIT technology … to locate an individual.”

(“WIT technology” is described as a box that simulates a cell tower and can be placed inside a van to help pinpoint an individual’s location with some specificity.”)

Kane added: “Many agents are still using [this] technology in the field although the pen register application does not make that explicit.” In a clarifying email sent later on the same thread, Assistant U.S. Attorney Kyle Waldinger noted: “Just to be super clear, the agents may not use the term ‘WIT’ but rather may be using the term … ‘Stingray.'”

Kane’s reference to a “pen register application” describes a request for court approval to use an investigative tactic that can trace the outgoing numbers dialed from a particular phone. While Stingrays can potentially sweep in hundreds of cell phone customers’ information, pen-register wiretaps focus narrowly on the digits being punched in by one individual.

The US Supreme Court ruled in 1979 that the use of a pen register is “not a search under the Fourth Amendment,” Susan Freiwald, a law professor at the University of San Francisco, told us. That means law-enforcement agents don’t need a full-scale search warrant. And court orders permitting pen-register wiretaps are “really easy to get,” Friewald explained.

To secure a judge’s blessing, law enforcement agents need only to submit complete applications and show that the phone numbers dialed are “relevant” to an investigation.

Kane’s email, dated in 2011, is significant because it suggests that “many agents” were using Stingrays for investigations after clearing only the low hurdle of court approval for a pen register. “The federal government was routinely using Stingray technology in the field, but failing to make that explicit in its applications to the court to engage in electronic surveillance,” ACLU Staff Attorney Linda Lye wrote in a recent blog post. “When the magistrate judges in the Northern District of California finally found out what was happening, they expressed ‘collective concerns,’ according to the emails.”

The revelation is closely tied to an electronic surveillance case that’s currently making its way through court, most recently prompting the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation to file an amicus brief challenging the constitutionality of a Stingray use.


It all began back in 2008, when FBI agents used the technology to track down a hacker and alleged fraudster named Daniel David Rigmaiden — a guy who sometimes goes by an alias, represented himself in court, and seems to possess enough technical savvy and disposable income to challenge his prosecutors at every turn.

Through discovery proceedings, Rigmaiden “managed to get the government to admit that it has used this location tracking technology to find him,” Lye noted. “That is quite extraordinary, because there have been suspicions that that this device has been around and in use for quite a long time, but there are really very few cases where we talk about it, and this is the only criminal case where the government has plainly admitted to using it to locate a suspect.”

Because FBI agents used a Stingray to locate Rigmaiden, they not only figured out that he was inside a Santa Clara apartment building, but successfully sniffed down to the level of his exact unit.

But the request for court orders that authorized this investigation made only a fleeting mention of a mobile tracking device, without conveying just how powerful the surveillance tool actually is. “When we read the orders, we were very, very surprised and troubled,” Lye said. “Because the government was arguing in the criminal proceeding in Rigmaiden, yes, we acknowledge that we’ve used this cell site emulator, and we’re even … acknowledging that the device is intrusive enough in the way it operates to constitute a search — which is a significant concession.”

In this case, the FBI agents obtained a court order to use a pen register, and separately obtained court approval to solicit Verizon’s help in locating Rigmaiden, which the government claims constituted a warrant (though this is a point of contention). But nowhere did agents make it clear to the judge that in order to work, this surveillance device vacuums up vast amounts of third-party data. The search potentially affected hundreds of subscribers in Rigmaiden’s apartment complex, none of whom were suspected of any involvement in wrongdoing. The government noted in court filings that it purged the third-party data after the fact, presumably as a way to deflect privacy concerns.

“It did not explain that the device broadcasts signals to all devices in the area, receives information about other devices in the possession of third parties, potentially disrupts the connections of third-party devices, and penetrates the walls of every private residence in the vicinity, not solely that of the target,” the ACLU-EFF brief argues.

At the end of March, Lye argued in an Arizona federal court hearing that evidence gathered using a Stingray should be suppressed in the Rigmaiden case, because the government used the tracking tool but failed to tell the federal magistrate judge that it was doing so. But in the course of that hearing, “the government stated … that ‘use of these devices is a very common practice,'” Lye note in an update following the hearing. “It also stated that there were many parts of the country in which the FBI successfully obtains authorization to use this device through a trap and trace [pen register] order.”

Nor is it just federal agencies that use these surveillance tools. The results of a FOIA request filed by a Los Angeles journalist with the assistance of the First Amendment Coalition revealed that LAPD used this technology in 21 out of 155 cell phone investigation cases — from June to September of last year alone. The devices were used to investigate five homicide cases and a roster of other offenses, including a burglary, a narcotics investigation, two suicides, a robbery and three kidnappings.

For civil liberties advocates, the aim is to require stronger judicial oversight and a warrant before this kind of surveillance practice can be used. “The argument here is about, well this technology is so powerful and so intrusive — it really needs to be under extensive oversight by members of the judiciary,” notes Friewald, the law professor. “And in order for that to happen, the judge needs to have that technology described to them.”

Sneaky surveillance


After public outrage stopped the San Francisco Police Department from instituting controversial — and unconstitutional, say civil libertarians — new video surveillance requirements in bars and clubs more than two years ago, the department quietly began inserting that same requirement into new liquor licenses, a move met with concern at City Hall last week.

In late 2010, the SFPD proposed a draconian set of new security requirements for drinking establishments in the city, including requirements that they do video surveillance and take an image of all patrons’ identification cards and make them available to police upon request, without a warrant or any other controls (see “Going to a club — or boarding an airplane?,” 12/7/10).

That proposal ran into a wall of opposition from the American Civil Liberties Union, California Music and Culture Association, progressives on the Board of Supervisors, and others, who said such a blanket policy violates privacy protections in the California Constitution. The Entertainment Commission held a hearing on the proposal in April of 2011 and voted unanimously to reject the proposals.

At that point, they seemed to just disappear, but they didn’t. Instead, SFPD internally decided at that time to begin asking the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to insert a video surveillance requirement in most new liquor licenses in San Francisco, which escaped public notice until Sup. Scott Wiener raised the issue at the April 2 Board of Supervisors meeting.

“If you have an establishment that perhaps has a track record of bad things happening, that’s one thing. But absent that, I don’t believe that this is justified,” Wiener said as he voted against the requirement in a pair of new liquor licenses. Although Wiener was alone in opposing those applications, Sup. David Campos said he shared Wiener’s concern and the pair called an upcoming hearing on the new policy.

Two days later, at the board’s Neighborhood Services and Safety Committee meeting, Wiener again raised the issue and sought to have the new requirement removed from a pair of proposed liquor licenses: Cesar’s Ballroom on 26th and 3rd streets, the latest project of veteran local club owner Cesar Ascarrunz, and Nosa Ria, a market in Hayes Valley that will import gourmet food and wine from Spain.

“It’s the exact opposite of some kind of rowdy bar or nightclub where people are going in and getting drunk and really bad things are happening,” Wiener said of Nosa Ria, for which he persuaded fellow Sups. Eric Mar and Norman Yee to vote to remove the video surveillance condition before approving the application.

That condition stated: “The petitioner shall utilize electronic surveillance and recording equipment that is able to view the outside of the premises, including all entrances and exits, and that is actively monitored and recorded. The electronic surveillance shall be utilized during operating hours. Said electronic recording shall be kept at least 30 days and shall be made available to the Department or Police Department upon demand.”

Mar said he agreed with Wiener that “a broad discussion of electronic surveillance requirements would be important for this committee,” but Mar then voted against removing that condition from the Cesar’s Ballroom application, saying, “I think we need surveillance in certain spots on a case-by-case basis, and I think this is an area that needs surveillance.”


When SFPD first sought new video surveillance tools — back in 2005, when the department asked for 71 video cameras at high-crime intersections around the city — it was rigorously debated in public hearings for months. And when they were finally approved by the Board of Supervisors, they included an extensive set of controls on when SFPD could request footage — the department wasn’t even allowed to control the cameras directly — how it could be used and when it must be erased.

The legislation also required a follow-up study of their effectiveness in deterring and prosecuting crimes. Conducted by the University of California’s Center for Information Technology Research in the Interest of Society (CITRIS) in 2008, the report found the cameras had no impact on violent crime rates but a small deterrent impact on property crimes in the filmed areas.

As a tool for prosecuting crimes after the fact, “There has been limited success with the cameras acting as a ‘silent witness,’ with footage standing in for witness testimony; some anecdotal evidence suggests that the existence of CSC program footage can actually deter witnesses from cooperating under the assumption that the cameras have caught all necessary evidence,” the report said, also noting that twice in the 120 police requests made by 2008, footage resulted in charges being dropped or downgraded.

But today, SFPD apparently believes that times have changed, and that the rigorous oversight and evaluation of video surveillance tactics and their implications on people’s privacy rights — or even the need to notify the public that SFPD is seeking new ways to watch citizens — are no longer necessary.

“Over the last few years, we’ve increased the number of recommendations for video surveillance, for a few reasons,” SFPD spokesperson Gordon Shyy told the Guardian, citing how cheap and ubiquitous the technology has become and the role that video footage can play in solving crimes.

Yet attorney Michael Rischer with the ACLU of Northern California, who actively opposed the SFPD’s proposal in 2011 and was dismayed to hear the department secretly and unilaterally expanded its video surveillance reach after its proposal was rejected, said that reasoning is exactly why there are legal controls on the expanding police state.

“Both of those justifications are exceedingly troubling and they demonstrate why the San Francisco Police Department should not be doing this in some room sealed off from the public,” Rischer said. “The police have this totally backward. The ease and cost of doing this is a reason why these protections are in place.”


Unlike under federal law, Californians have an explicit constitutional privacy guarantee and a body of case law defining that right in great detail. But the SFPD doesn’t seem to be aware of the nuances of that case law, such as the distinction it makes between people’s expectation of privacy on public streets versus in private businesses.

“When you enter a bar or restaurant, you don’t have an expectation of privacy,” Shyy told us.

But Rischer said that just isn’t true under the law. He noted that people do indeed have a reasonable expectation that they can enter a gay bar without being outed, for example, or that police won’t be able to demand video from a gathering in a bar where subversive political ideas are being discussed. And those concerns are exacerbated by SFPD’s policy that bar owners must simply turn over footage “upon demand.”

“The notion that the government is requiring a business to conduct surveillance of its patrons and to turn it over to the Police Department without any judicial oversight or even rules is deeply troubling and probably unconstitutional,” Rischer said.

Shyy said SFPD will “only request them when a crime has been committed,” but he also admitted that the conditions it is requesting on liquor licenses don’t set that limit and the policy hasn’t been reviewed by the Police Commission or other local oversight bodies.

ABC spokesperson John Carr told us his department doesn’t have a position on video surveillance and hasn’t tracked whether other jurisdictions are seeking the condition. As for whether it routinely includes SFPD’s recommended conditions, he said, “ABC reviews each application on a case by case basis.”

There are indications that SFPD sometimes resorts to bullying bar owners into turning over video surveillance without legal authority to do so. Jamie Zawinski with DNA Lounge last month blogged about Officer Simon Chan telling the club that it was required to keep video footage and turn it over upon request, which club operators informed the SFPD wasn’t true. “It’s just another sneaky, backdoor regulation that ABC and SFPD have been foisting on everyone without any kind of judicial oversight, in flagrant violation of the Fourth Amendment,” Zawinski wrote.

Regarding that incident, Shyy would only confirm that most bars aren’t yet required to keep and turn over video footage. And he said SFPD will cooperate with the hearing Campos and Wiener have called. “At this point, we don’t believe we’re violating people’s constitutional rights, but we’re willing to have that discussion,” Shyy said.

Wiener said that on April 3, he discussed the issue with Police Chief Greg Suhr, who indicated a willingness to cooperate with public hearings on the policy. But Wiener said he’s bothered by the fact that SFPD seems to have put this new policy in place right after being unsuccessful in doing this through a public process in 2011.

“I and others expressed opposition to this and I and others thought the Police Department had backed away from it,” Wiener said at the April 4 hearing, noting that “I’m not philosophically opposed to surveillance,” only with how SFPD instituted it. “I have an issue with the Police Department deciding to insert this on its own without a broader policy discussion.”

Feds’ use of spy tools under scrutiny due to privacy concerns

If the FBI is trying to pinpoint the location of a suspect in your neighborhood, investigators could sweep up information from your mobile device just because you happen to be in proximity to their target. Civil liberties advocates are concerned that the practice is a major invasion of privacy.

The results of a Freedom of Information Act request filed by the Northern California chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the San Francisco Bay Guardian last year sheds new light on the federal government’s use of Stingrays, a surveillance technology that mimics a cellphone tower by automatically connecting with mobile devices in the area where a search is being conducted.

Stingray is a brand name, but the devices are sometimes called Triggerfish, digital analyzers, or cell site emulators. They’re known to technologists as IMSI catchers, meaning they can intercept a user’s International Mobile Subscriber Identity.

As the ACLU of Northern California noted recently in a blog post, Department of Justice emails obtained in response to the FOIA request, filed with the US Attorney’s Office of the Northern District of California, revealed that federal agents who sought authorization to conduct searches using this technology were “less than forthcoming” about what the devices actually do.

The issue stems from federal investigators’ request for a search warrant several years ago targeting Daniel Rigmaiden, a hacker accused of committing fraud. The search was authorized, but it seems agents never explained just how wide a net they intended to cast.

Because FBI agents used an IMSI catcher rather than, say, triangulation techniques that can utilize subscriber data to find their target, they were able to pinpoint Rigmaiden’s precise location – not only revealing that he was inside a Santa Clara apartment building, but sniffing down to the level of his exact unit. 

But when a search of this kind is conducted, a Stingray automatically connects with every other mobile device in the immediate vicinity that uses the same provider (in this case, Verizon). It works by masquerading as a cell phone tower, tricking mobile devices into automatically communicating with the spy device. So any other Verizon subscribers who happened to be nearby also had their information caught up in the FBI’s net.

There are various kinds of IMSI catchers, and some are capable of sweeping in the contents of communication, such as text messages. In the Rigmaiden case, investigators said were only able to access subscriber information. Investigators also reported that they “purged” unneeded data after the fact, according to ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye. But purging the data also makes it impossible to prove that the information of particular individuals was wrongfully swept up in a search. 

The FOIA request was filed in April of last year. Last July, after the government failed to provide the information, a lawsuit was filed to get the documents.  

The string of emails that was finally provided suggests that federal agents have been using this sort of technology in the field for some time, without clearly representing to judges that Stingrays can vacuum up third party communications data. Instead of being explicit on this point, agents from the Department of Justice merely stated that they wanted to use a mobile tracking device.

“It has recently come to my attention that many agents are still using [IMSI catchers] in the field although the pen register application does not make that explicit,” notes an internal Department of Justice email obtained through the FOIA request, referring to a different kind of search technique that is more narrowly targeted. 

Lye drilled down on this point in her blog post:

“The federal government was routinely using stingray technology in the field, but failing to ‘make that explicit’ in its applications to the court to engage in electronic surveillance. When the magistrate judges in the Northern District of California finally found out what was happening, they expressed ‘collective concerns,’ according to the emails. Notably, this email chain is dated May 2011, some three years after the Stingray’s use in Rigmaiden’s case – meaning the government was not ‘forthright’ in its applications to federal magistrate judges for at least three years.”

After battling for months in court in a separate proceeding, the ACLU of Northern California also succeeded in unsealing the Northern District DOJ orders that authorized use of the surveillance devices. Now, the civil liberties advocates are partnering with the Electronic Frontier Foundation and other groups to file an amicus brief concerning the constitutional implications of using a Stingray to collect evidence in the Rigmaiden case. “Their use implicates the privacy interests of the suspect, as well as untold numbers of third parties as to whom there is no probable cause,” the lawyers argue.

“When we read the orders, we were very, very surprised and troubled,” Lye noted in a recent conversation with the Guardian. “Because the government was arguing in the criminal proceeding in Rigmaiden, yes, we acknowledge that we’ve used this cell site emulator, and we’re even … acknowledging that the device is intrusive enough in the way it operates to constitute a search – which is a significant concession.”

For more on Stingrays, pick up next week’s issue of the SFBG.

Pizza delivery drones?

Well, this is intriguing. According to an event announcement for an upcoming talk this Wednesday, there are some bizarre new developments on the “innovation in San Francisco” front. “New plans are being launched to help entrepreneurs launch their dreams,” the San Francisco Technology Democrats informs us, “from mobile apps to making pizza delivery drones available.”

Drones? For pizza delivery? Shouldn’t someone warn the American Civil Liberties Union?

In any case, the talk aims to give curious techies, policy wonks, activists and others an opportunity to pose questions to Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and Chief Innovation Officer Jay Nath concerning San Francisco’s Open Data Portal, proposed revisions to Open Data laws, and similar topics of interest. It will be held Wed/20 from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the Marine’s Memorial Club Fireplace Room, 609 Sutter, in San Francisco.

Solomon: Congress: End endless war and stop ‘becoming the evil we deplore’


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Congress waited six years to repeal the Tonkin Gulf Resolution after it opened the bloody floodgates for the Vietnam War in August 1964.

If that seems slow, consider the continuing failure of Congress to repeal the “war on terror” resolution — the Authorization for Use of Military Force — that sailed through, with just one dissenting vote, three days after 9/11.

Prior to casting the only “no” vote, Congresswoman Barbara Lee spoke on the House floor. “As we act,” she said, “let us not become the evil that we deplore.”

We have. That’s why, more than 11 years later, Lee’s prophetic one-minute speech is so painful to watch. The “war on terror” has inflicted carnage in Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and elsewhere as a matter of routine. Targets change, but the assumed prerogative to kill with impunity remains.

Now, Rep. Lee has introduced H.R. 198, a measure to repeal the Authorization for Use of Military Force. (This week, several thousand people have already used a special webpage to email their Senators and House members about repealing that “authorization” for endless war.) Opposed to repeal, the Obama administration is pleased to keep claiming that the 137-month-old resolution justifies everything from on-the-ground troops in combat to drone strikes and kill lists to flagrant abrogation of civil liberties.

A steep uphill incline faces efforts to repeal the resolution that issued a blank political check for war in the early fall of 2001. Struggling to revoke it is a valuable undertaking. Yet even repeal would be unlikely to end the “war on terror.”

At the start of 1971, President Nixon felt compelled to sign a bill that included repeal of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution. By then, he had shifted his ostensible authority for continuing the war on Vietnam — asserting his prerogative as commander in chief. Leaders of the warfare state never lack for rationales when they want to keep making war.

In retrospect, the U.S. “war on terror” has turned out to be even more tenacious than the U.S. war that took several million lives in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Some key similarities resonate with current circumstances. Year after year, in Congress, support for the Vietnam War was bipartisan. Presidents Johnson and Nixon preached against unauthorized violence in America’s cities while inflicting massive violence in Southeast Asia. Both presidents were fond of proclaiming fervent wishes for peace.

But unlike the horrific war in Southeast Asia, the ongoing and open-ended “war on terror” is not confined by geography or, apparently, by calendar. The search for enemies to smite (and create) is availing itself of a bottomless pit, while bottom-feeding military contractors keep making a killing.

Beyond the worthy goal of repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force is a need for Congress to cut off appropriations for the “war on terror.” A prerequisite: repudiating the lethal mythology of righteous war unbounded by national borders or conceivable duration.

What may be even more difficult to rescind is the chronic disconnect between lofty oratory and policies digging the country deeper into endless war.

“We, the people, still believe that enduring security and lasting peace do not require perpetual war,” President Obama said in his 2013 inaugural address, after four years of doing more than any other president in U.S. history to normalize perpetual war as a bipartisan enterprise.

Repealing the Authorization for Use of Military Force will be very hard. Revoking the power to combine lovely rhetoric with pernicious militarism will be even more difficult.

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

What Obama said — and what he meant


OPINION The words in President Obama’s State of the Union speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease. But let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”

We’ve done so little to combat climate change — we must do more.

“I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…”

Climate change is an issue that can be very good for Wall Street. Folks who got the hang of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” can learn how to handle “cap and trade.”

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)

“After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”

How’s that for an applause line? Don’t pay too much attention to the fine print. I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.

“We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.”

We don’t need flag-draped coffins coming home. We’re so civilized that we’re the planetary leaders at killing people with remote control from halfway around the world.

“We must enlist our values in the fight. That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts.

I’m sick of taking flak just because I pick and choose which civil liberties I want to respect. If I need to give a bit more information to a few other pliant members of Congress, I will.

“The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Maybe it’s just about time for another encore of “preemptive war.”

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

Solomon: What Obama said–and what he meant–about climate change, war and civil liberties


By Norman Solomon

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.

The words in President Obama’s “State of the Union” speech were often lofty, spinning through the air with the greatest of ease and emitting dog whistles as they flew.

Let’s decode the president’s smooth oratory in the realms of climate change, war and civil liberties.

“For the sake of our children and our future, we must do more to combat climate change.”

We’ve done so little to combat climate change — we must do more.

“I urge this Congress to get together, pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change…

Climate change is an issue that can be very good for Wall Street. Folks who got the hang of “derivatives” and “credit default swaps” can learn how to handle “cap and trade.” The corporate environmental groups are on board, and maybe we can offer enough goodies to big corporations to make it worth their while to bring enough of Congress along.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. We need to encourage that.”

Dual memo. To T. Boone Pickens: “Love ya.” To environmentalists who won’t suck up to me: “Frack you.” (And save your breath about methane.)

“That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits.”

Blow off steam with your demonstrations, you types. I’ll provide the platitudes. XL Keystone, here we come.

“After a decade of grinding war, our brave men and women in uniform are coming home.”

How’s that for an applause line? Don’t pay too much attention to the fine print. I’m planning to have 32,000 U.S. troops in Afghanistan a year from now, and they won’t get out of there before the end of 2014. And did you notice the phrase “in uniform”? We’ve got plenty of out-of-uniform military contractors in Afghanistan now, and you can expect that to continue for a long time.

“And by the end of next year, our war in Afghanistan will be over.”

If you believe that, you’re the kind of sucker I appreciate — unless you think “our war in Afghanistan” doesn’t include killing people with drones and cruise missiles.

“Beyond 2014, America’s commitment to a unified and sovereign Afghanistan will endure, but the nature of our commitment will change. We’re negotiating an agreement with the Afghan government that focuses on two missions: training and equipping Afghan forces so that the country does not again slip into chaos, and counterterrorism efforts that allow us to pursue the remnants of al Qaeda and their affiliates.”

We’re so pleased to help Afghan people kill other Afghan people! Our government’s expertise in such matters includes superb reconnaissance and some thrilling weaponry, which we’ll keep providing to the Kabul regime. And don’t you love the word “counterterrorism”? It sounds so much better than: “using the latest high-tech weapons to go after people on our ‘kill lists’ and unfortunately take the lives of a lot of other people who happen to be around, including children, thus violating international law, traumatizing large portions of the population and inflicting horrors on people in ways we would never tolerate ourselves.”

“We don’t need to send tens of thousands of our sons and daughters abroad, or occupy other nations. Instead, we’ll need to help countries like Yemen, Libya and Somalia provide for their own security, and help allies who take the fight to terrorists, as we have in Mali. And, where necessary, through a range of capabilities, we will continue to take direct action against those terrorists who pose the gravest threat to Americans.”

We don’t need flag-draped coffins coming home. We’re so civilized that we’re the planetary leaders at killing people with remote control from halfway around the world.

We must enlist our values in the fight. That’s why my administration has worked tirelessly to forge a durable legal and policy framework to guide our counterterrorism efforts. Throughout, we have kept Congress fully informed of our efforts. And I recognize that, in our democracy, no one should just take my word for it that we’re doing things the right way. So, in the months ahead, I will continue to engage Congress to ensure not only that our targeting, detention and prosecution of terrorists remains consistent with our laws and system of checks and balances, but that our efforts are even more transparent to the American people and to the world.”

I’m sick of taking flak just because I pick and choose which civil liberties I want to respect. If I need to give a bit more information to a few other pliant members of Congress, I will. The ones who get huffy about the Bill of Rights aren’t going to get the time of day from this White House. I recognize that some of my base is getting a bit upset about this civil-liberties thing, so I’ll ramp up the soothing words and make use of some prominent Democratic members of Congress who are of course afraid to polarize with me. Don’t underestimate this president; I know how to talk reverentially about our great nation’s “checks and balances” as I undermine them.

“The leaders of Iran must recognize that now is the time for a diplomatic solution, because a coalition stands united in demanding that they meet their obligations. And we will do what is necessary to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon.”

Maybe it’s just about time for another encore of “preemptive war.”

Norman Solomon is co-founder of and founding director of the Institute for Public Accuracy. His books include “War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death.” He writes the Political Culture 2013 column.