Bradley Manning and the Downfall of the Fourth Estate

Sometime this week, Judge Col. Denise Lind will render a verdict in the trial of Pfc. Bradley Manning, the young Army intelligence analyst accused by the government of making public thousands of classified documents, images, and videos (including the infamous “Collateral Murder” linked be). Manning has already admitted to leaking hundreds of thousands of documents, but has plead not guilty to several more serious charges, including a charge of “aiding the enemy” which could result in him spending his life behind bars. Manning’s attorneys have put up a spirited defense, arguing that he was a “good-intentioned” but naive youth who could not stand idly by as the US government commits war crimes. The government, on the other hand, argues that Manning is a ‘fame-seeking anarchist” who leaked the documents and videos to get attention and undermine American power.

The case being brought by the government is so disingenuous it strains belief. The essence of the “aiding the enemy” charge is that Manning knowingly released the documents so that members of al-Qaeda could view them, and that the documents and videos gave a material advantage to the terrorist organization. Much of the prosecution’s case for this charge revolves around the fact that several of Manning’s leaked documents were found in the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound in Pakistan. Government prosecutors, somewhat ludicrously, claim that Manning was aiding the enemy because he knew that al-Qaeda had access to the internet. Col. Lind ruled in her instructions to the attorneys that the government must prove “evil intent” on the part of Manning – in other words, the United States must show that Manning wanted the information he leaked to be used against American forces, rather than simply showing that al-Qaeda had ultimately obtained it.

In response, the prosecution jumped to the even more ludicrous argument that “Pfc. Manning knew the consequences of his actions and disregarded that knowledge in his own self-interest.” Apparently, these days, “self-interest” means risking your freedom and life to secretly expose US military misdeeds. “Self-interest” means taking no credit for exposing the evils of US imperialism, with the only rewards being detention without charge for over a year and being subject while in prison to treatment that the United Nations special rapporteur on torture concluded was cruel, inhumane, and torturous. “Self interest,” in the eyes of the American government, means being disgusted with drone strikes, sickened by murder and torture and indefinite detention. “Self interest,” in other words, means responding with basic human decency to the depredations and overreaches of colonialist American foreign policy.

In their attempt to prove “evil intent,” the prosecution also pulled perhaps the most Orwellian move seen in any court, civilian or military, in this country in several generations: the prosecution refused to demonstrate the harm caused by Manning’s leaks on the grounds that doing so would cause harm to US forces and interests. In other words: we know he’s the bad guy because…we know he is. Trust us. For another stunning depiction of Orwellian language: the prosecutor at one point had cause to describe the events of the “Collateral Murder” video. The phrase he used? The video depicts “…the actions and experiences of U.S. service members conducting a wartime mission.” Cold, bloodless, and antiseptic; the exact opposite of the video’s contents (or US foreign policy, for that matter).

What is truly disgusting about the Manning trial, however, is not the case being brought by the prosecution – it is, sadly, the expected result of a deeply flawed system under attack – but rather the deafening silence of major news organizations in response. Manning’s defense has eloquently painted his prosecution as a dangerous precedent for future whistleblowers, as the charges leveled against Manning could potentially be applied to civilian officials as well as military members. Suspiciously – and notably – Obama’s campaign website, change.org, recently removed his promise to protect whistleblowers from prosecution as “Often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government.” The prosecutor in the Manning case even stressed that the prosecution of Manning would have occurred had he leaked the documents to the New York Times or other “respectable” news outlets. These same news organizations have taken no steps to aid Manning’s defense, nor have they spoken out against the prosecution of an individual they should theoretically be most interested in protecting – an inside source revealing government transgressions. A far cry from the days of Deep Throat and the Pentagon Papers, indeed. Instead, the news media has continued a disturbing trend that has been ongoing for the last decade-plus: cooperate with the government, lead the charge for war and excess and abuse, throw dissenters under the bus. The refusal of the Times and the Washington Post to even accept the leaked documents when they were first offered screams their guilt and complicity. This is the first time in over 150 years that someone has been charged with aiding the enemy for releasing information to the media for general publication – and the same media is doing nothing to intervene. As Edward Wasserman of the Miami Herald writes: “He was a great source. His information was solid. The world’s best news organizations believed it was of immense public value. So now he goes to jail, perhaps for life, and the media stand in silence?”

The Manning case speaks volumes about the “fourth estate” and their newfound willingness to stand in silence as their sources are eviscerated by the government. It speaks volumes about the corporate media’s priorities and complicity with state power. The editor of the Times referred to the Manning leaks as a “treasure” that “contained the makings of many dozens of stories.” Yet his paper is, of course, content to take their cut of the sale of those stories while Bradley Manning faces life in a military prison. Those journalists that have bothered to attend the trial are mainly from online publications – Wikileaks itself, the Huffington Post, and others – and they have been met with utter resistance from the military, including drawn weapons and censorship of tweets and articles. This is America in the 21st century: the press is free, so long as they toe the government line and betray the trust of those who attempt to do the press’ job for them by keeping the government honest.

Regardless of the outcome of the Manning trial, the US government has certainly accomplished something: the next person will think twice before blowing the whistle on their crimes. Edward Snowden fled to Russia to escape the treatment given to Manning; who can guess how many more individuals now sit on evidence of government misdeeds but fear for their very lives? The role of the press is to encourage these people and offer them their protection…instead the American news media acts the part of the castrated lapdog of US policy – craven, beholden, and the true traitor in these sad proceedings.

PRISM: Real Choices Ahead

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“You can’t have 100 percent security and then also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. You know, we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

President Barack Obama

We are at a crossroads.

Edward Snowden’s exposé on government surveillance tactics has revealed to the American public the extent to which their government is willing to go to collect information for security purposes. PRISM, the governmental data gathering source, has the power to access virtually any electronic communication method. Increasingly, internet privacy appears to be a misnomer.

The people are outraged. Their voices ring clearly: internet platforms are crowded with denouncements of the administration and Obama’s popularity has suffered a precipitous 11 point decline within the past month, the largest drop since he took office. Businesses that participated by giving the government access to their data have not so much run from the scandal as sprinted. Facebook wrote in a press release that they do not “provide any government organization with direct access to Facebook servers.” Similar statements have been made by Yahoo!, Google, and Microsoft. Clearly, to be touched by PRISM is to be touched by public relations death.

Yet those loudest voices are actually in the minority. According to a Pew Research Poll released on June 10th, 56 percent of the public think that the NSA’s extraordinary actions were acceptable against just 41 percent that find their actions unacceptable. Were this election, the NSA would be beating Snowden by a landslide.

The issue the United States now faces is the most important civil rights question of the twenty-first century: how do we measure the importance of the right to privacy against national security? The answer will define policy doctrine for decades.

The case for privacy is difficult to make. Our collective intuition screams to save life when possible, and PRISM has almost certainly saved lives. Obama did not wake up one morning and decide to play the lead role in an Orwellian nightmare. He, and the bipartisan Congressional minority that approved the program, must have very good reason to believe the collection of data somehow benefits the country. PRISM has, according to the NSA director, contributed to stopping over forty-five terrorist attacks in the past dozen years. Almost four terrorist attacks per year is an impressive track record.

Compared to that, privacy does very little. The right to privacy saves no lives. It does not stop terrorism or prevent wars. It is not sexy. It is not alluring. Most importantly and devastatingly, it is not directly protected through the Constitution. In fact, it is not exactly clear what privacy is or how we are supposed to defend it.

Why, then, is security a right worth protecting?

From a sweeping macroscopic perspective, the answer lies in social advancement. Society would not be ideal if every person marched in step, following every random law and ordinance that manages to make it through the legislative process. If we all fell in line, like so many toy soldiers, our society would be neat and orderly—but we would never progress. Many of our truly great social rights advancements have come from those coloring outside of the lines: the Underground Railroad, Gandhi’s March to the Sea, Freedom Riders and sit-ins were all examples of civil disobedience. And oddly, many of the worst atrocities came at the behest of governments: slavery, the Armenian Massacre, the German Holocaust, genocide in Darfur, and South African Apartheid. Fighting these crimes took courage, vision, and hope. It also took secrecy.

The United States is not Nazi Germany. The government is (probably) not currently using its database to wage war against its own citizens. You should still, however, be wary of governmental abuse. The Guantanamo Bay detention facility serves as a reminder that should it choose to, the United States can easily ignore rights even when those rights are enshrined by international treaties. Our right to exist outside an iron grip of law is why privacy matters.

Privacy is not precisely a right worth protecting on its own; however, privacy is vital to the protection of all our rights. This is a very broad argument, but it is an important one—much is made of our personal rights, but privacy also remains as a check against the government. Ask Egypt whether that is important.

George Zimmerman and the Storming of the Bastille

Two hundred and twenty-four years ago today, a group of several hundred French peasants marched on the Bastille, the hated monarchical prison of the Ancien Regime, and touched off a Revolution that would prove to the world that no force can stop a dedicated citizenry from changing the very nature of the world.

An all-white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty last night. Last year, Marissa Alexander, a black woman, was sentenced to 20 years in prison for firing a warning shot in an attempt to stop her abusive husband from beating her and her children. Both individuals had tried to invoke Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law in relation to their cases. George Zimmerman killed an unarmed minor and will serve no prison time. Marissa Alexander shot a wall and will spend the next two decades behind bars.

A review of “Stand Your Ground” cases by the Tampa Bay Times finds that a defendant’s success rate when invoking the law goes up drastically when the victim is black – 73 percent of defendants who killed a black person faced no penalty, versus 59 percent of those who killed a white person. Over 70 percent of all cases in which the law was invoked resulted in no penalties to the defendant, in part because the law places the burden of proof on the prosecution to prove a negative – that the defendant did not believe themselves to be in life-threatening danger.

The existence and application of these laws is yet another shot at the black community in America; the latest in a long history of attacks that stretches back to Emmett Till and beyond. To be black in America is to be on your guard constantly, to know that your life is worth inherently less, to know that the military, the police, and now even fellow citizens can snatch it from you at will with no consequences. To be black in America is to live in a world that your white neighbors cannot comprehend, nor would they choose to endure it if given the option.

At the rally tonight to protest the Zimmerman verdict, a young woman at one point took the mic. “I am a poor, black, queer, trans woman,” she said, “and I am here to tell you that this is bigger than Trayvon Martin. This is bigger than any one person. This is about a small number of Them screwing all of Us, like they have for centuries.”

At the end of the day, I do believe that the letter of the law makes George Zimmerman, technically, rightfully innocent. This is exactly the problem. When the same set of laws that legalizes Wal-Mart union busting and firing employees for their sexuality and raping drunk women and jailing debtors is applied to white people hunting down and murdering people of color, can anyone say they are truly shocked at this outcome?

If you are angry, good. If you aren’t, if you don’t think this case has anything to do with you, wake up and look around. There is an in-group – primarily rich, straight white men – who are determined to divide, conquer, and oppress out-groups. All of them. And if you aren’t in the Club (and chances are you aren’t) you are in for a lifetime of disappointment, stagnation, fear, and danger. Some out-groups will be more equal than others…but everyone will get screwed.

But today is Bastille Day. And today, more children of color will be born than white children. Today, people will be demonstrating in cities across America for Trayvon Martin. Today, someone who had not been paying attention will read something or see something or be told something that creates a spark. Today, I hope, you will be one of those people. Today, remember the spirit of the vainqueurs de la Bastille and go change the world, because there is nothing that the People cannot do when sufficiently motivated. Only when Stand Your Ground is repealed, only when black youths stop being disproportionately incarcerated, only when women can walk down the street without fear of rape, only when people of all genders and sexualities can live and love in freedom, only when we have created a better America to leave to our children…only then will we have truly rendered justice for Trayvon.

This justice is coming. The only question is, which side of the Bastille walls do you prefer to be on?

VRA Ruling: In Need of Great Expectations

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“Half a century ago, the amazing courage of Rosa Parks, the visionary leadership of Martin Luther King, and the inspirational actions of the civil rights movement led politicians to write equality into the law and make real the promise of America for all her citizens.  But in the fight for justice and the struggle for freedom, there is no end, because there is so much more to do to ensure that every human being can fulfill their potential.”

–David Cameron, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to fulfill the promise of equality to all citizens of the United States. By granting the federal government oversight over state voting regulations, they were able to end the most egregiously discriminatory laws, including poll taxes and near-impossible “literacy tests.” Over the last half-century, the VRA has helped protect the voices of millions of citizens. But it is that very success that has recently helped the Supreme Court decide to effectively prevent the VRA’s enforcement, a la Shelby County vs Holder. They believe that we have progressed as a country and that our worries are largely behind us. Chief Justice John Roberts writes in the majority opinion:

“By the time the Act was reauthorized in 2006, there had been 40 more years of it…During that time, largely because of the Voting Rights Act, voting tests were abolished, disparities in voter registration and turnout due to race were erased, and African-Americans attained political office in record numbers.”

Unfortunately, by comparing ourselves to the past, the Supreme Court has sold our future short. By saying we are doing well enough, the Court diminishes the potential of our nation, resigning us to merely moderate inclusivity. Our country is capable of so much more, but we are at risk of becoming so much less. The abolition of blatantly racist legislation was just the beginning. We now face far subtler, but equally insidious, forces in voter ID laws and racial gerrymandering, and the court has left the door wide open.

The decision by the court immediately will free Texas, South Carolina, and Mississippi to pursue voter ID laws. Texas has already charged ahead with theirs. These laws sound noble in purpose. They seek to protect the purity of American elections by preventing mass voter fraud from illegal immigrants. The charge that United States elections are rife with invalid ballots, however, is simply untrue. The statistics are staggering. Between 2000 and 2010 there have been 13 cases of in-person voter fraud (the kind vote ID laws are supposed to protect against) while over 649 million votes were tallied in general elections. It’s more common for someone to be killed by dogs, lightning, or falling out of a bed then it is for them to commit voter fraud. Why, then, has there been a recent charge to increase voting restrictions? The answer is largely political.

There is no politically delicate way to say it: voter ID laws favor Republicans and that is why they are by far more popular in red states. When listing his party’s accomplishments for the year, Pennsylvania House Majority Leader Mike Turzai noted that Pennsylvania had passed “Voter ID, which is going to allow Governor Romney to win the state of Pennsylvania. Done.” The laws help Republicans by excluding the minority youth vote, a predominately Democratic demographic. Over 700,000 young African Americans, Latinos, Asian Americans, Native Americans and Pacific Islanders we prevented from voting due to voter ID laws in the 2012 election, when only a handful of states enforced the restrictions. As the laws proliferate more of the youth vote, more democrats will inevitably be removed from the voter pool.

But voter ID laws are not the most troubling consequence of Shelby County. They only allow the party in power to indirectly tinker with demographics. Far worse is the newfound freedom that Republicans have to shape districts to their own choosing. Texas again is leading the charge and is already considering shifting their districts so that Republicans gain even more influence in their House legislature. The district that elected the newly famous Wendy Davis, for example, would be unrecognizable under their newly drawn lines, since they no longer have to worry about minority turnout or federal oversight, they can simply shape districts in whatever way benefits their party best—without even waiting for an excuse like a census. Republicans are losing the demographic war. They know it and so does the country. Instead of changing their views and evolving, they are attempting to shift political districts and electoral math. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court is helping them do it.

Perhaps the Court’s ruling was Constitutional, but the argument they presented ignores the deeper cultural undercurrents of our society. Merely because we have made progress does not mean we have arrived at our destination, and merely because we have helped the African-Americans that the VRA set out initially to protect does not mean that the VRA has lost all purpose. The VRA was, at the time it was signed, one of the single largest steps forward for civil rights in the history of the United States. Now, its repeal could represent one of the largest steps back.

A Nation Worth Fighting For

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There are some fundamentally challenging questions pressing modern America. We argue them, engage in grand compelling rhetoric, condemn the opposition, but mostly, we just fight. We fight furiously and passionately about the things we care about.  We fight for freedom, liberty, and the rights we hold dear. It seems, however, in the midst of the passion we often forget the most basic ideals for which we’re fighting.

We at Fear Itself frequently write colossal pointed arguments directed at those we believe to have done wrong. However, we frequently fail to address what we believe to be worth protecting, and why we furiously defend it. So on this fourth of July, I take a break from it all, and recognize why it is we do what we do. Because despite the left leaning highly critical nature of what I write, I love this country, and do what I do because America is so valuable an idea, it deserves nothing less.

As a nation, while highly flawed as all thing are, we began with perhaps some of the most sweepingly powerful words written by man. Our founding fathers issued in the Declaration of the Independence such profound statements as “all men are created equal,” as well as equally profound ideas including “inalienable rights” beyond the reach and power of the government bestowed upon every man (and, of course, woman). They made clear in no uncertain terms that the people not only had the right, but the responsibility to alter (or even remove) a government which derives its power from the consent of the people.

The power of these ideas remains self evident. As a country of free people we flourished. We created magnificent machines, wielded powerful armies, inspired things of incredible beauty, all while attempting to hold true the ideals set forth in the Declaration of Independence.

However, the most astonishing things we as a nation ever did was not stoically holding on to the values laid down by our forefathers; it was how America improved them.

That is our greatest achievement, and it was not a simple one. President Lincoln himself asked “ whether that nation, or any nation so conceived, and so dedicated, can long endure.” It was a question worth asking. Could a nation founded on equality, and a government so responsible to its people that the people themselves had the right to change it survive such sweeping monumental changes?

We did.

We survived the Civil War and the freeing of all men. We survived the civil rights movement. We survived the women’s suffrage movement, and we survived the ethics changing imperatives of being a nuclear power.

But we’re not done enduring.

We will survive gay rights.  We will survive transgender rights. We will see the day when women are truly made equal to men in law and practice. We will endure until the racial profiling of Latin Americans ceases to be. We will witness the expunging of racist incarceration rates towards minorities. We will cheer on the day when all young men and women have the opportunity for a quality education despite where they were born.

See, that’s the point. That’s the greatest gift our founding fathers left us. It isn’t the constitution, the amendments, the three pillared federal structure, or even the bill of rights.  The greatest gift is our right and destiny to evolve as a people. To alter the government, to never stop improving. To be our own government and change it in ways they never could have predicted in 1776. It is a gift I do not intend to squander.

These battles are difficult, but they are our responsibility. We honor this Independence Day with a continued legacy, the legacy of fighting, the legacy of making a change because its not only our right but our duty. Because we the people will always strive to form a more perfect union. That is real patriotism.

Happy Independence Day

Ohio: Keeping the Government Out of Our Lives, in Your Uterus

Shortly after the world watched in awe as Texas State Senator Wendy Davis stood for ten hours to defeat (temporarily) a stringent anti-abortion law backed by Rick Perry, the Ohio State Legislature was quietly debating the most recent budget proposal. Normally, the passing of a state budget is one of the least comment-worthy instances in public policy – unless you happen to live in California - but in this case, Governor John Kasich and conservative state lawmakers added something more contentious to the state budget proposal: the most stringent restrictions on abortion in the country.

Don’t worry ladies, these men know how to keep you safe! (Credit: WKYU)

Under the new law, state funding for Planned Parenthood will be shifted to “crisis pregnancy centers” – the conservative Christian’s answer to family planning that are notorious hotbeds for outright lies about abortion, birth control, and rape. Under previous Ohio law, abortion clinics (which are classified as “ambulatory surgical centers”) must sign a transfer agreement with a local hospital, ostensibly to ensure that women who experience complications during an abortion have a hospital to go to. Under the new state law, clinics are forbidden from making these agreements with public hospitals. Abortion advocates maintain, correctly, that there is literally no reason for this, and this restriction will result in clinics being forced to seek agreements with private hospitals – many of which are religious institutions opposed to abortion. Ultimately, this law will force the closure of clinics in rural and poor urban areas, where the only available hospitals are often public ones. Finally, the law forces abortion doctors to seek a fetal heartbeat through ultrasound and inform the patient if one is detected.

And there may yet be more: H.R. 200, a bill working its way through the Statehouse, will pile on abortion providers and patients even further. H.R. 200, if enacted, would require doctors to show the patient an ultrasound of the fetus, describe fetal pain (even if it’s medically impossible at that point), list the “risks” of having an abortion (many of which are not actually medically supported), and explain to the patient exactly how much money the clinic will make from the abortion. In other words: we can’t legally prevent you from having an abortion, but we’ll do our damndest to shame you and your provider until you stop. Doctors who do not obey the regulations will be prosecuted as felons and potentially face a million-dollar fine.

This is utterly absurd.

Aside from the Kafkaesque notion of medical doctors being required by law to give their patients incorrect medical information, bills like these reveal a disgusting lack of trust in women. The implicit message behind these laws is this: women can’t be trusted to make this decision themselves, and if we don’t do something, women will get abortions like they’re haircuts. This attitude rests on a fundamentally flawed view of abortion recipients as white suburban teenagers. In reality, abortion-seekers are likely to be people of color in their early twenties who already have children. Most of these women are single mothers. Most of these women are not financially secure. Most of these women, in other words, are making a difficult decision about their ability to raise another child.

The GOP seems bound and determined to leave poor women of color without a chance. Didn’t want a kid? Should have used birth control; except we’re shutting down the Planned Parenthoods and mandating sex education that teaches people that condoms don’t work and the pill will kill you or make your family hate you. On welfare and having kids? You’re a welfare queen and a burden on the state.Want a better job or to go to school, to pull yourself up by those bootstraps? Sorry, you’re gonna have to plan around that kid you were dumb enough to have. Oh, and we’re going to focus on making sure you keep having kids instead of passing jobs legislation or anything else important. Want to get health insurance under Obamacare? Sorry, we’re turning down free federal money because letting you see a doctor is Communism. In short: stay poor, stay marginalized, stay oppressed, fuck you.

But we value life.