Posts tagged Change You Can Believe In

Change You Can Believe In (Vol. V, Nos. 6–8). Wiretaps, Journalists and Drugs.

I know in the past I’ve been down on electoral politics and maverick candidates as a means to political change. But man, this guy sounds pretty awesome. I hope he runs for President in the next election, so we can have a chance to change this Administration’s increasingly repressive policies.

Barack Obama (2007)

. . . This Administration also puts forward a false choice between the liberties we cherish and the security we provide. I will provide our intelligence and law-enforcement agencies with the tools they need to track and take out the terrorists, without undermining our Constitution and our freedom. That means no more illegal wiretapping of American citizens, no more National Security letters to spy on American citizens who are not suspected of a crime. No more tracking citizens who do nothing more than protest a misguided war. No more ignoring the law when it is convenient. . . .

Here is a story for July. From Jennifer Epstein, at Politico.com:

White House opposes defense funding bill amendment.

The White House opposes an amendment to the defense funding bill that would restrict the National Security Agency’s ability to collect communications data, press secretary Jay Carney said in a statement Tuesday evening.

We oppose the current effort in the House to hastily dismantle one of our intelligence community’s counterterrorism tools, Carney said, referring to the amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act put forward by Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) and backed by Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), among others.

This blunt approach is not the product of an informed, open, or deliberative process, Carney said, with no hint to the irony of speaking about a secretive program in such terms. We urge the House to reject the Amash amendment, and instead move forward with an approach that appropriately takes into account the need for a reasoned review of what tools can best secure the nation.

— Jennifer Epstein, White House opposes defense funding bill amendment
Politico.com (July 23, 2013)

Of course the President opposes this attempt at a minor restriction on unbridled Executive power. He is the President.

And when you elect a progressive President, you’re going to find that the fact that he is President is always of much greater practical significance than the fact that he claims to be progressive.

Here’s a story for August. One of the things that the progressive President does with the NSA surveillance apparatus that he does not want to hastily dismantle is to target, monitor, and retaliate against dissident journalists.

Leaker Edward Snowden accused the National Security Agency of targeting reporters who wrote critically about the government after the 9/11 attacks and warned it was unforgivably reckless for journalists to use unencrypted email messages when discussing sensitive matters.

Snowden said in an interview with the New York Times Magazine published Tuesday that he came to trust Laura Poitras, the documentary filmmaker who, along with Guardian reporter Glenn Greenwald, helped report his disclosure of secret surveillance programs, because she herself had been targeted by the NSA.

“Laura and [Guardian reporter] Glenn [Greenwald] are among the few who reported fearlessly on controversial topics throughout this period, even in the face of withering personal criticism, and resulted in Laura specifically becoming targeted by the very programs involved in the recent disclosures,” Snowden said for the article, a profile of Poitras.

Snowden didn’t detail how Poitras was targeted by the NSA surveillance programs he disclosed, but suggested the agency tracked her emails and cautioned other journalists that they could be under surveillance.

— Jonathan Easley, NSA targeted journalists critical of government after 9/11
Qtd. by J.D. Tuccile, in Reason (August 14, 2013)

Another thing they do with that, as you may recall, is to use it to provide secret leads and evidence for the DEA to double down on the U.S. government’s insane war on drugs

A secretive U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration unit is funneling information from intelligence intercepts, wiretaps, informants and a massive database of telephone records to authorities across the nation to help them launch criminal investigations of Americans.

Although these cases rarely involve national security issues, documents reviewed by Reuters show that law enforcement agents have been directed to conceal how such investigations truly begin - not only from defense lawyers but also sometimes from prosecutors and judges.

The undated documents show that federal agents are trained to “recreate” the investigative trail to effectively cover up where the information originated, a practice that some experts say violates a defendant’s Constitutional right to a fair trial.

— John Shiffman and Kristina Cooke, U.S. directs agents to cover up program used to investigate Americans
Reuters news wire, quoted by Matt Welch at Reason (August 5, 2013)

… Which brings us back around to our story for June. From Jacob Sullum, at Reason:

Judging From Prosecutions, Obama is 80 Percent Worse Than Bush on Medical Marijuana

According to a new report from California NORML, over 335 defendants have been charged with federal crimes related to medical marijuana in states with medical marijuana laws. Despite Barack Obama’s promises of prosecutorial restraint in this area, 153 medical marijuana cases have been brought in the 4¼ years of the Obama administration, nearly as many as under the 8 years of the Bush administration (163). In other words, Obama is averaging 36 medical marijuana prosecutions a year, compared to 20 a year under his predecessor. And although Attorney General Eric Holder has repeatedly claimed the Justice Department is not targeting suppliers who comply with state law, the DOJ has targeted many facilities that were in full compliance with local laws and regulations.

The overwhelming majority of these cases, 259, involve California dispensaries. California NORML also counts at least 31 cases in Montana, 15 in Nevada, 12 in Michigan, 10 in Washington, six in Oregon, and two in Colorado. Nine out of 10 cases concluded so far have resulted in convictions, with 158 defendants receiving prison sentences totaling more than 480 years. About 50 are in federal prison right now, while others await sentencing or have been sentenced but have not begun serving their time yet.

— Jacob Sullum, Judging from Prosecutions, Obama Is 80 Percent Worse Than Bush on Medical Marijuana
Reason (June 14, 2013)

I had a joke that I used to run in these features that played off our Progressive Peace President’s 2008 campaign slogan, which was to close off these posts with some variation on The more things Change…. It seemed funny to me at the time. It’s not as funny to me anymore. Because in fact things have not stayed the same, at least not on this front. While campaigning as an alleged supporter of civil liberties — while promising to roll back the abuses of the Bush Administration’s war cabinet — while promising to dial down the rampant drug war and the criminalization of young men of color — and while making one grandstanding lie after another, Obama’s government has spent the last five years actively making the situation worse for civil liberties, and for drug war targets, than it was when he entered office. This Progressive administration’s wholehearted embrace of an authoritarian security state, and expansion of the very policies and programs that they had condemned in the Bush administration, has been aided and abetted by many professional-class Progressive voters and commentators, who have excused this Administration’s policies, vilified its critics, and pragmatically embraced its institutionalization of unchecked executive power. By any standard of individual liberty, social equality, or plain old humanitarian compassion, his record in office has been appalling, and those who promoted this Presidency as a means of improving political conditions ought to be embarrassed and apologetic in light of the practical outcome.

Change You Can Believe In: Mass Deportation Edition

(Via k. gallagher.)

I should mention that even if the Obama administration’s mass deportations had really been mass deportations of criminals or gang bangers that could not possibly have made his horrible record on immigration any more O.K. by me. Most of the crimes that immigrants (documented or undocumented) get deported over are bullshit beefs and things that should not have been crimes in the first place — victimless social offenses, drug possession and the like. The only appropriate punishment for such crimes is no punishment at all and people who are caught doing it should be left free to go on their way, regardless of immigration status. But, moreover, even if someone is caught doing a harm that invades the rights of some other person in the community — if someone is stealing, or beating people up, or threatening people, and the person doing it happens to be an immigrant — then there are already ways of dealing with that that also have nothing to do with immigration status. A crime against person or property doesn’t somehow become worse because the person doing it was born on the other side of an arbitrary political border. And the fact that they were born on the other side of an arbitrary political border doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate to, say, punish petty theft or extortion by forcibly exiling the person who did it from the country. That’s not how a criminal or a gang-banger born in Laredo ought to be treated, and to treat a criminal or a gang-banger born in Nuevo Laredo that way, just because of her birth nationality, is both discriminatory and wildly disproportionate. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that, on this issue, what the Obama administration has been saying about its border-segregation policies is, once again, a smiling promise stretched over a massive lie. In fact the Obama administration has massively escalated aggression against immigrants, and its dragnets have become broader, not narrower, than those under his Democratic and Republican predecessors. Emphasis added.

President Obama used a new word during the presidential debate on Tuesday night to describe the masses of immigrants he’s deported during his tenure. He called them “gangbangers,” as in:

What I’ve also said is if we’re going to go after folks who are here illegally, we should do it smartly and go after folks who are criminals, gang bangers, people who are hurting the community, not after students, not after folks who are here just because they’re trying to figure out how to feed their families. And that’s what we’ve done.

The line was a curious one, given the reality of Obama’s deportation record, which has been marked by mass deportations to the tune of nearly 400,000 every year carried out at a clip unseen by any prior president. The Obama administration has defended its “smart” enforcement tactics by, as Obama did on Tuesday night, pointing out that it makes a point to deport those who have committed serious crimes and are a threat to their communities and national security. And yet, data collected over Obama’s tenure show that among the close to 400,000 people who are deported annually, far from being “gangbangers,” the vast majority have no criminal record whatsoever.

In preliminary data for the January-March 2012 quarter collected by the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, for example, just 14 percent of those deported had any criminal record. (Immigration violations are typically considered civil violations, and do not constitute a criminal offense.) But, a closer look at the data shows that just 4 percent of those deported had a so-called “aggravated felony” on their record, an immigration court-specific designation of crimes that can include crimes as serious as rape and murder, but has also been expanded to include violations like theft or non-violent drug offenses.

And as the Obama administration struggles to keep up with it do-they-or-don-they-have-it deportation quota, immigration officials seem to be tapping out the numbers of deportable immigrants with criminal records. In the last four years, the percent of those deported with any kind of criminal history has dropped from 17.5 to 14 percent, while those with “aggravated felonies” made up 5.2 percent of those deported in 2008. This year they’re 3.6 percent. That is, while the Obama administration continues to deport roughly the same record-breaking number of people annually, it’s grabbing up everyday people whose deportations the Obama administration has said it has protections in place to prevent, including those who would otherwise be eligible for the federal DREAM Act,[1] parents with U.S. citizen kids in the country who have lived quiet lives, students and fathers who have communities and dreams in the U.S.—people who are hardly the “gangbangers” Obama wants you to think he’s kicking out of the country.

— Julianne Hing, Who Are Those Gangbangers Obama’s So Proud of Deporting? ColorLines.

I had a joke I used to run in these features that played off our Progressive Peace President’s 2008 campaign slogan, which was to close off these posts with some variation on The more things Change…. It was funny to me at the time. It’s not as funny to me anymore. Because in fact things have not stayed the same, at least not on this front. While campaigning as an alleged supporter of immigrant rights, and making grandstanding lies one after another, Obama’s government has actively made the situation far worse for immigrants than it was when he entered office. By any standard of individual liberty, social equality, or plain old humanitarian compassion, his record in office has been appalling.

Also.

  1. [1] [See for example this story. Obama promised that he would unilaterally halt deportation proceedings against DREAM-eligible immigrants, in the last few months before the election, in a particularly cynical And Now They Bring Up You move. But the promise was a lie, and was broken within weeks of when he made it. —Ed.]

Change You Can Believe In (Vol. III, No. 12): Emergency Contraception.

From the New York Times (December 7, 2011). Boldface mine, for the parts that feel like getting kicked right in the stomach.

WASHINGTON — For the first time ever, the Health and Human Services secretary publicly overruled the Food and Drug Administration, refusing Wednesday to allow emergency contraceptives to be sold over the counter, including to young teenagers. The decision avoided what could have been a bruising political battle over parental control and contraception during a presidential election season.

The contraceptive pill, called Plan B One-Step, has been available without a prescription to women 17 and older, but those 16 and younger have needed a prescription — and they still will because of the decision by the health secretary, Kathleen Sebelius. If taken soon after unprotected sex, the pill halves the chances of a pregnancy.

Although Ms. Sebelius had the legal authority to overrule the F.D.A., no health secretary had ever publicly done so, an F.D.A. spokeswoman said… .

— Gardiner Harris, Plan to Widen Availability of Morning-After Pill is Rejected, New York Times (Dec. 7, 2011)

Until now.

Ms. Sebelius’s decision on an emotional issue that touches on parental involvement in birth control for teenage children is likely to have powerful political reverberations. Scientists and politicians have been at odds for years over whether to make Plan B available over the counter. The Bush administration at first rejected over-the-counter availability for women of any age, but ultimately allowed it for women 18 and older. After a federal court order, the Obama administration lowered the age to 17 in 2009.

With Ms. Sebelius’s decision on Wednesday, the Obama administration is taking a more socially conservative stance on Plan B, one closer to that of the Bush administration than to many of its own liberal supporters … .

For Dr. [Margaret] Hamburg [head of the Food and Drug Administration], the studies and experts all agreed that young women would benefit from having easy access to the pill and did not need the intervention of a health care provider. The agency’s scientists, she wrote, determined that the product was safe and effective in adolescent females, that adolescent females understood the product was not for routine use, and that the product would not protect them against sexually transmitted disease.

… Dr. Susan Wood, a former F.D.A. assistant commissioner who resigned in 2005 to protest the Bush administration’s handling of Plan B, said that there were many drugs available over the counter that had not been studied in pre-adolescents and that were far more dangerous to them.

Acetaminophen can be fatal, but it’s available to everyone, Dr. Wood noted. So why are contraceptives singled out every single time when they’re actually far safer than what’s already out there?

… The American Medical Association, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have endorsed over-the-counter access to emergency contraception. Plan B was approved in 1999 as a prescription-only product, and it initially had few sales. In 2003, advocates filed an application for over-the-counter sales.

An expert advisory committee recommended approval, and scientists within the Food and Drug Administration unanimously supported that recommendation. Their rationale was simple: women can decide on their own when they need to take it, the drug is effective and its risks are minimal — particularly compared with pregnancy. But in a highly unusual move, top agency officials rejected the application because, some said later, they feared being fired if they approved it.

The agency delayed reconsideration for years despite promises by top Bush administration officials to do so. Then in 2006, the Bush administration allowed over-the-counter sales to women 18 and older but required a prescription for those 17 and younger. In 2009, the F.D.A. lowered the easy-access age limit by a year after a federal judge ruled that its decision had been driven by politics and not science.

— Gardiner Harris, Plan to Widen Availability of Morning-After Pill is Rejected, New York Times (Dec. 7, 2011)

Progressive Pro-Choice Peace President Barack Hussein Obama would like the Washington Post to know that he didn’t do it. He didn’t do it, but he dug it.

President Obama said Thursday that he supports his administration’s decision to block unrestricted sale of the morning-after pill to people younger than 17, a move that dismayed women’s advocates when it was announced by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

Sebelius said Wednesday that she had overruled the Food and Drug Administration, which had decided to make the contraceptive available to people of all ages directly off drugstore and supermarket shelves, without a prescription.

Obama said he did not get involved in the decision to require a prescription for girls 16 and under before it was announced, leaving it up to Sebelius.

But, he said: I will say this. As the father of two daughters, I think it is important for us to make sure that we apply some common sense to various rules when it comes to over-the-counter medicine.

And as I understand it, the reason Kathleen made this decision was she could not be confident that a 10-year-old or an 11-year-old, going to a drug store, should be able to, alongside bubble gum or batteries, purchase a powerful drug to stop a pregnancy, Obama said. I think most parents would probably feel the same way.

— Rob Stein and Anne E. Kornblut, Obama defends administration’s refusal to relax Plan B restrictions, The Washington Post (Dec. 8, 2011).

Especially parents who are trying to win a political election. I wonder if they bothered to ask an 11-year-old girl, who is afraid of becoming pregnant, how she feels about it?

About 10 percent of girls are physically capable of bearing children by 11.1 years of age. It is common knowledge that there are significant cognitive and behavioral differences between older adolescent girls and the youngest girls of reproductive age, Sebelius said.

— Rob Stein and Anne E. Kornblut, Obama defends administration’s refusal to relax Plan B restrictions, The Washington Post (Dec. 8, 2011).

Therefore, the state should ensure that the youngest girls of reproductive age are forced to get pregnant.

Back in the New York Times:

Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, said the Obama administration may be trying to assuage Catholic bishops and others angered in recent weeks by a decision requiring that health insurance programs created under the new health reform law offer contraceptives for free.

I think they’re trying to create some political balance, Mr. Ornstein said.

— Gardiner Harris, Plan to Widen Availability of Morning-After Pill is Rejected, New York Times (Dec. 7, 2011)

Yes, a balance. Marvel as President Obama, liberal voters and the Catholic Bishops defy gravity in a spectacular balancing act! Right on top of a terrified 12 year old girl’s body.

This decision is inexcusable. And what makes it even worse is having to watch to the newsmedia calmly discussing the political calculations that went into it, as if what really mattered here had nothing to do with the lives affected by this decision, with the girls who have to live in fear of an unwanted pregnancy because their access to basic medical treatments has been regimented and sacrificed for the sake of a Democratic politician’s political prospects — as if what was really worth discussing was whether that palavering creep and the rest of his administration will be able to effectively exploit this regulatory backstab to increase their chances at holding onto political power for another four years. There are no English words for just how contemptible this shameful display is.

See also:

Change You Can Believe In (Vol. III, No. 10)

From Adam Serwer, in Mother Jones (18 Oct 2011):

Barack Obama Deported More Immigrants This Year Than Any Other President in American History.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement announced Tuesday that it has reached a new record number of deportations for Fiscal Year 2011: 396,906 removals of unauthorized immigrants.

The numbers should be taken with a grain of salt. Last year ICE miscounted the number of deportations, and the number was revised down to 387,790, still a record. Or at least it was a record, until today. ICE has previously stated it has the resources to deport about 400,000 people a year, which means that Tuesday’s number puts ICE around 3,000 people shy of the total number of people the agency says it has the capacity to deport.

… In the twisted bizarro world of Washington politics, media conventions have obliged journalists to report with equal “balance” the Republican claim that Obama is pursuing a policy of “backdoor amnesty” even as he racks up more deportations than any president ever before… . What you won’t hear about, however, is the human cost to the families, citizen and non-citizen, impacted by the sheer volume and efficiency of the Obama administraton’s immigration removal policy

— Adam Serwer, Open-Borders Obama Sets New Deportation Record, in Mother Jones (18 Oct 2011)

But of course once the U.S. government has stormed your home, locked you in a hellhole detention camp, separated you from your family, and cast you out thousands of miles from your home, they’re not really done with you. Because the United States government hardly stops at United States borders — our Progressive Peace President is a humanitarian and his campaign for peace, democracy and human rights will bring Hope and Change to you in whatever land you may be exiled to. For example, by forcing your former neighbors to subsidize governments that draft child soldiers and send them to kill you:

Barack Obama Forces U.S. Taxpayers To Subsidize Armies That Use Child Soldiers In Conflict Zones

President Barack Obama has decided to waive almost all the legally mandated penalties for countries that use child soldiers and provide those countries U.S. military assistance, just like he did last year.

The White House is expected to soon announce its decision to issue a series of waivers for the Child Soldiers Protection Act, a 2008 law that is meant to stop the United States from giving military aid to countries that recruit soldiers under the age of 15 and use them to fight wars. The administration has laid out a range of justifications for waiving penalties on Yemen, South Sudan, Chad, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, all of which amount to a gutting of the law for the second year in a row.

… In a meeting with NGO representatives on Tuesday afternoon at the White House, State Department officials, led by Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Dan Baer, explained this year’s reasons why the White House will continue to give military funding to countries that use child soldiers.[1]

Fo r South Sudan, State Department officials argued that since the country didn’t exist when the latest report on child soldier abuse came out, that country doesn’t fall under the law. Their reasoning is that the report in question, known as the 2011 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, came out June 27. South Sudan was declared independent 12 days later on July 9. They will receive $100 million in U.S. military aid this year.

“South Sudan may be a new country, but it’s not a blank slate here,” one attendee at the White House meeting told The Cable. “There’s been two decades of child soldier use and unfulfilled promises by the [Sudan People’s Liberation Army].”

For Yemen, the administration’s argument is simply that counterterrorism cooperation with that country is too important to suspend. Yemen is set to receive $35 million from the United States in foreign military financing. What stunned activists in the room, however, was State Department officials’ admission that they don’t know who actually controls the Yemeni military these days.

“The officials said, ‘We don’t even know day by day who we’re even talking to,’” one attendee reported.

— Josh Rogin, Obama waives penalties on countries that employ child soldiers — again! in Foreign Policy: The Cable (4 October 2011)

But I am sure that their collaboration is vital to defeating terror and safeguarding human rights throughout the world. Whoever the hell they are.

Oh well, close enough for government work, anyway. The more things Change….

See also.

  1. [1] Sic. Actually the announcement from Deputy Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Dan Baer — since the White House has nothing to give and countries don’t use soldiers, is that the White House will continue forcing U.S. taxpayers to give multimillion-dollar subsidies to war criminals.