Alex Pareene

  • May 23, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama has come a long way since he declared during his first term that in fighting the so-called war on terror we should safeguard our fundamental values “as vigilantly as we protect our security.”

    During his much touted counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University in Washington, Obama tried to return to that lofty rhetoric and even suggested an end would come to the indefinite war on terror. At other times, Obama sounded a bit too much like his predecessor in defending an aggressive approach by the CIA and military to hunt down and kill suspected terrorist overseas by way of drone strikes, even if those actions happen to take out a few American citizens and innocent civilians.  

    “America’s actions are legal,” Obama said. “We were attacked on 9/11. Within a week, Congress overwhelmingly authorized use of force. Under domestic law, and international law, the United States is at war with al Qaeda, the Taliban, and their associated forces. We are at war with an organization that right now would kill as many Americans as they could if we did not stop them first. So this is a just war – a war waged proportionally, in last resort, and in self-defense.”

    Regarding drone strikes, which the Department of Justice finally acknowledged has killed some American citizens, Obama offered an equally staunch defense.

    Obama said the “use of drones is heavily constrained. America does not take strikes when we have the ability to capture individual terrorists – our preference is always to detain, interrogate, and prosecute them, America cannot strike wherever we choose – our actions are bound by consultations with partners, and respect for state sovereignty. America does not take strikes to punish individuals – we act against terrorists who pose a continuing and imminent threat to the American people, and when there are no other governments capable of effectively addressing the threat. And before any strike is taken, there must be near-certainty that no civilians will be killed or injured – the highest standard we can set.”

    The New York Times reported that the president would supposedly start “shifting control” of the drone strikes from the CIA to the military. But deeper in The Times story, it’s noted that the president “may not explicitly announce the shift in drones from the Central Intelligence Agency in his speech, since the agency’s operations remain formally classified ….” In a piece for Salon, Alex Pareene notes that formal classification, saying, “Maybe the president’s next policy shift can involve the absurd and ridiculous over-classification of everything to do with national security and the actions of our intelligence agencies.”   

    Reporting for The Times in April, Scott Shane said since the start of the Obama administration, nearly 3,000 people have been killed by the drone strikes. As noted here, McClatchy Newspapers also provided an extensive study, based on U.S. intelligence reports revealed that the drone strikes killed thousands of people in Pakistan and Afghanistan and very few were top al Qaeda operatives. 

  • April 19, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senators beholden to the NRA successfully blocked compromise legislation containing a few new measures to promote gun safety, providing, as many quickly noted, another example of the sorry mess Republicans have made of the Senate, albeit with the help of some powerful Democrats.

    Early this year, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed serious filibuster reform aside to enter into a deal with Sen. Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-K.Y.) that was nonetheless trumpeted as an agreement that would curb the use of the filibuster, often requiring a supermajority to move nominations or legislation along.

    After the failed effort to pass modest measures on guns, Salon’s Alex Pareene took down some of the typical excuses for the Senate’s failure, and cut to the point: “The measure failed because of a bunch of asshole senators voted to filibuster it, and they were able to do so because Harry Reid made a deal with Mitch McConnell to preserve the filibuster a few months ago.”

    He concluded that the “mainstream political press” should start giving a more critical look at the “legitimacy of the 60-vote threshold ….”

    Today as authorities hunted for the second suspect of the Boston marathon bombings -- an immigrant of Chechen origin -- a few senators and right-wing pundits moved quickly to undermine consideration of immigration reform now before Congress.

    Elise Foley reporting for The Huffington Post noted that during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on immigration reform, Ranking Member Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) quickly tied the bombings to immigration reform.

    “How can individuals evade authorities and plan such attacks on our soil?” he said. “How can we beef up security checks on people who wish to enter the U.S.? How do we ensure that people who wish to do us harm are not eligible for benefits under the immigration laws, including this new bill before us?”

    Jillian Rayfield for Salon noted Grassley’s comments, but also provided a stream of Twitter comments from right-wing pundits, like Ann Coulter. Coulter tweeted early this morning: “It’s too bad Suspect # 1 won’t be able to be legalized by Marco Rubio, now,” referring to the comprehensive immigration bill introduced by eight senators, including Sen. Rubio (R-Fla.).

  • April 8, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    Senators will finally get around to considering a couple of judicial nominations this week, which will remind anyone paying attention of the ongoing intransigence of an increasingly conservative Republican Party.

    The Senate will consider the nomination of Judge Patty Shwartz to a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, and the Senate Judiciary Committee will conduct a hearing on the nomination of Principal Deputy Solicitor General Sri Srinivasan (pictured) to one of the four vacant seats on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.

    The Republican obstructionists in the Senate, led by Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (D-K.Y.), have already derailed one of President Obama’s selections to the D.C. Circuit. Last month the obstructionists refused to allow an up-or-down vote on Caitlin Halligan, general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney’s office, to the D.C. Circuit. It was the second time the obstructionists blocked a floor vote on her nomination. Halligan subsequently withdrew her nomination. The D.C. Circuit, hearings some of the most important constitutional cases in the country and currently has a right-wing majority. The few obstructionists who were willing to give reasons for scuttling Halligan’s nomination were incredibly flimsy. The truth is that McConnell and his band of obstructionists like the make-up of the D.C. Circuit, don’t want it to change, and will very likely continue to try to keep vacancies on the Circuit in hopes that they’ll be able to resume seeding all the Circuits with judges who are shills for corporate interests.

    Some beltway pundits like to report that the current obstructionism is nothing particularly new and that both parties are to blame, which is incomplete. Closer to reality is that the Republican Party is a far more conservative party, one devoted largely to coddling the nation’s superrich. The nation’s superwealthy have enjoyed the status quo -- where nothing much on Capitol Hill gets done.

    In an enjoyable article that roams a bit, Salon’s Alex Pareene explores some of the “awful” aspects of the Senate and blasts some of the beltway punditry, especially those who idealize the Senate as a place where Republicans and Democrats once got along splendidly, inspiring speeches were given and meaningful work accomplished.

    Pareene notes that Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) a ubiquitous figure on Sunday morning political talk shows recently took a shot at Sen. Rand Paul (R-K.Y.) for threatening a filibuster of gun-safety legislation. (Rand has promised a talking filibuster, similar to the one he launched last month to rail against the Obama administration’s explanation or lack thereof surrounding its use of drones to kill suspected terrorists – and almost inevitably lots of innocent people right along with them.)

    Pareene points out, McCain is in no place to grouse about the filibuster – he’s part of McConnell’s gang that has silently filibustered or seriously delayed many of the administration’s judicial nominations. (The federal bench has more than 80 vacancies, where they’ve hovered for much of the Obama’s presidency.)

  • January 29, 2013

    by Jeremy Leaming

    President Obama lauded bipartisan Senate work on immigration reform, but went further by calling for a clearer path to citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants, without tying it to rigid border security measures.

    From Las Vegas, the president warned of a pitched battle as reform proposals advance, saying, “We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate. We’ve been debating this a very long time.”

    The New York Times reported that the White House “is also proposing that the United States treat same-sex couples the same as other families, meaning that people would be able to use their relationship as a basis to obtain a visa.”

    During his speech, Obama said, “Think about it – we define ourselves as a nation of immigrants. That’s who we are – in our bones. The promise we see in those who come here from every corner of the globe, that’s always been one of our greatest strengths. It keeps our workforce young. It keeps our country on the cutting edge. And it’s helped the greatest economic engine the world has ever known.” (Video of speech available by clickng picture.)

    Longtime advocates of immigration reform like MALDEF sounded a cautiously optimistic note, and offered praise of the president’s speech.

    MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz said, the president “directly challenged all of us to put aside exclusionary xenophobia and to recognize our common immigrant heritage and our common mission of serving family and country."

    Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), who will conduct a hearing on immigration reform following the State of the Union Address, said in a press statement that he was “particularly pleased to see that the president’s proposal includes better access to visas for victims of domestic and sexual violence, improved laws for refugees and asylum seekers, an enhanced investor visa program, and the assurance that every family, including binational gay and lesbian spouses, receives equal treatment under the law.”

    Right-wing groups have long fought immigration reform and many aren’t likely to halt their efforts to scuttle reform. Rush Limbaugh, right-wing radio host, said he and Fox News must step up to destroy reform.