Friday, April 09, 2010

Judge, Jury, and Executioner...Star Courts in the USA?

Wednesday, Apr 7, 2010 04:08 EDT
Confirmed: Obama authorizes assassination of U.S. citizen
By Glenn Greenwald
Anwar al-Awlaki

(updated below - Update II - Update III - Update IV)

In late January, I wrote about the Obama administration's "presidential assassination program," whereby American citizens are targeted for killings far away from any battlefield, based exclusively on unchecked accusations by the Executive Branch that they're involved in Terrorism. At the time, The Washington Post's Dana Priest had noted deep in a long article that Obama had continued Bush's policy (which Bush never actually implemented) of having the Joint Chiefs of Staff compile "hit lists" of Americans, and Priest suggested that the American-born Islamic cleric Anwar al-Awlaki was on that list. The following week, Obama's Director of National Intelligence, Adm. Dennis Blair, acknowledged in Congressional testimony that the administration reserves the "right" to carry out such assassinations.

Today, both The New York Times and The Washington Post confirm that the Obama White House has now expressly authorized the CIA to kill al-Alwaki no matter where he is found, no matter his distance from a battlefield. I wrote at length about the extreme dangers and lawlessness of allowing the Executive Branch the power to murder U.S. citizens far away from a battlefield (i.e., while they're sleeping, at home, with their children, etc.) and with no due process of any kind. I won't repeat those arguments -- they're here and here -- but I do want to highlight how unbelievably Orwellian and tyrannical this is in light of these new articles today.

Just consider how the NYT reports on Obama's assassination order and how it is justified:

The Obama administration has taken the extraordinary step of authorizing the targeted killing of an American citizen, the radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who is believed to have shifted from encouraging attacks on the United States to directly participating in them, intelligence and counterterrorism officials said Tuesday. . . .

American counterterrorism officials say Mr. Awlaki is an operative of Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, the affiliate of the terror network in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. They say they believe that he has become a recruiter for the terrorist network, feeding prospects into plots aimed at the United States and at Americans abroad, the officials said.

It is extremely rare, if not unprecedented, for an American to be approved for targeted killing, officials said. A former senior legal official in the administration of George W. Bush said he did not know of any American who was approved for targeted killing under the former president. . . .

"The danger Awlaki poses to this country is no longer confined to words," said an American official, who like other current and former officials interviewed for this article spoke of the classified counterterrorism measures on the condition of anonymity. "He’s gotten involved in plots."

No due process is accorded. No charges or trials are necessary. No evidence is offered, nor any opportunity for him to deny these accusations (which he has done vehemently through his family). None of that.

Instead, in Barack Obama's America, the way guilt is determined for American citizens -- and a death penalty imposed -- is that the President, like the King he thinks he is, secretly decrees someone's guilt as a Terrorist. He then dispatches his aides to run to America's newspapers -- cowardly hiding behind the shield of anonymity which they're granted -- to proclaim that the Guilty One shall be killed on sight because the Leader has decreed him to be a Terrorist. It is simply asserted that Awlaki has converted from a cleric who expresses anti-American views and advocates attacks on American military targets (advocacy which happens to be Constitutionally protected) to Actual Terrorist "involved in plots." These newspapers then print this Executive Verdict with no questioning, no opposition, no investigation, no refutation as to its truth. And the punishment is thus decreed: this American citizen will now be murdered by the CIA because Barack Obama has ordered that it be done. What kind of person could possibly justify this or think that this is a legitimate government power?

Just to get a sense for how extreme this behavior is, consider -- as the NYT reported -- that not even George Bush targeted American citizens for this type of extra-judicial killing (though a 2002 drone attack in Yemen did result in the death of an American citizen). Even more strikingly, Antonin Scalia, in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, wrote an Opinion (joined by Justice Stevens) arguing that it was unconstitutional for the U.S. Government merely to imprison (let alone kill) American citizens as "enemy combatants"; instead, they argued, the Constitution required that Americans be charged with crimes (such as treason) and be given a trial before being punished. The full Hamdi Court held that at least some due process was required before Americans could be imprisoned as "enemy combatants." Yet now, Barack Obama is claiming the right not merely to imprison, but to assassinate far from any battlefield, American citizens with no due process of any kind. Even GOP Congressman Pete Hoekstra, when questioning Adm. Blair, recognized the severe dangers raised by this asserted power.

And what about all the progressives who screamed for years about the Bush administration's tyrannical treatment of Jose Padilla? Bush merely imprisoned Padilla for years without a trial. If that's a vicious, tyrannical assault on the Constitution -- and it was -- what should they be saying about the Nobel Peace Prize winner's assassination of American citizens without any due process?

All of this underscores the principal point made in this excellent new article by Eli Lake, who compellingly and comprehensively documents what readers here well know: that while Obama's "speeches and some of his administration’s policy rollouts have emphasized a break from the Bush era," the reality is that the administration has retained and, in some cases, built upon the core Bush/Cheney approach to civil liberties and Terrorism. As Al Gore asked in his superb 2006 speech protesting Bush's "War on the Constitution":

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution?

If the answer is yes, then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?

If the president has the inherent authority to eavesdrop on American citizens without a warrant, imprison American citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can't he do?

Notice the power that was missing from Gore's indictment of Bush radicalism: the power to kill American citizens. Add that to the litany -- as Obama has now done -- and consider how much more compelling Gore's accusatory questions become.

UPDATE: When Obama was seeking the Democratic nomination, the Constitutional Law Scholar answered a questionnaire about executive power distributed by The Boston Globe's Charlie Savage, and this was one of his answers:

5. Does the Constitution permit a president to detain US citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants?

[Obama]: No. I reject the Bush Administration's claim that the President has plenary authority under the Constitution to detain U.S. citizens without charges as unlawful enemy combatants.

So back then, Obama said the President lacks the power merely to detain U.S. citizens without charges. Now, as President, he claims the power to assassinate them without charges. Could even his hardest-core loyalists try to reconcile that with a straight face? As Spencer Ackerman documents today, not even John Yoo claimed that the President possessed the power Obama is claiming here.

UPDATE II: If you're going to go into the comment section -- or anywhere else -- and argue that this is all justified because Awlaki is an Evil, Violent, Murdering Terrorist Trying to Kill Americans, you should say how you know that. Generally, guilt is determined by having a trial where the evidence is presented and the accused has an opportunity to defend himself -- not by putting blind authoritarian faith in the unchecked accusations of government leaders, even if it happens to be Barack Obama. That's especially true given how many times accusations of Terrorism by the U.S. Government have proven to be false.

UPDATE III: Congratulations, Barack Obama: you're now to the Right of National Review on issues of executive power and due process, as Kevin Williamson objects: "Surely there has to be some operational constraint on the executive when it comes to the killing of U.S. citizens. . . . Odious as Awlaki is, this seems to me to be setting an awful and reckless precedent. " But Andy McCarthy -- who is about the most crazed Far Right extremist on such matters as it gets, literally -- is as pleased as can be with what Obama is doing (or, as Gawker puts it, "Obama Does Something Bloodthirsty Enough to Please the Psychos").

UPDATE IV: Keith Olbermann's coverage of this story was quite good tonight -- see here.

Da Nukes

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Glenn Beck Inc
Lacey Rose, 04.26.10, 12:00 AM ET

Five and a half hours before showtime Glenn Beck still isn't quite sure how he'll provide tonight's entertainment, "The Future of History"--two hours of monologue (and answers to preselected questions) before a nearly sellout crowd of 1,000 or so people at the Nokia Theatre in New York City's Times Square. "But that's me--I'm the next-event guy," says Beck, flanked by two bodyguards as he walks the four blocks between the Fox News Channel studio, where he has pretaped the day's show, and the theater. He won't have to create tonight's performance from scratch, since he's left a long trail of words--millions of passionate, angry, weepy, moralizing, corny, offensive words--in his wake. "The body of work is pretty much the same," explains Beck, 46. "What I'm trying to do is get this message out about self-empowerment, entrepreneurial spirit and true Americanism--the way we were when we changed the world, when Edison was alone, failing his 2,000th time on the lightbulb."

At the theater he runs through images that will appear on one of three projectors behind him. There's David Sarnoff (the NBC founder), Philo Farnsworth (the early television pioneer) and someone Beck can't quite place but, he assures the handful of staffers dancing around him, will remember by the time the curtain goes up. "Does anyone know how many minutes of high-def TV equal one gigabyte?" Onstage Beck paces like a comic Hamlet, eyes bulging every time he figures out how to weave the props (stalks of corn, a chalkboard, a cockatoo he rented for $750 a night) he has ordered into the monologue.

He could rattle off the overarching themes in a deep sleep. He starts with the construction of the Manhattan skyline, using replicas of the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building as visual aids. Then he moves on to the birth of radio and TV. Theme: thinking big, creating the American dream. He will work in several plugs for tonight's featured offering, a Web subscription service called Insider Extreme ($75 a year for behind-the-scenes footage, a fourth hour of his radio show, ten-minute history lessons and so on). "I can multitask like crazy," says Beck. "I'm riddled with ADD--a blessing and a curse."
In Pictures: How Glenn Beck Makes His Money
Video: Brand It Like Beck

His hyperactivity is a blessing and a curse for his 34 full-time staffers, too, who chase after Beck and his volcanic mental eruptions, helping him turn those words into new productions and sources of profit. Glenn Beck Inc., formally known as Mercury Radio Arts (after Orson Welles' Mercury Theatre on the Air), pulled in $32 million in revenue during the 12 months ended Mar. 1. You may love or hate him for his outlandish words, but that is how he gets an audience--and sometimes repels advertisers. Some classic Beckisms: "This President, I think, has exposed himself as a guy over and over and over again who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture" (2009). "Al Gore's not going to be rounding up Jews and exterminating them. It is the same tactic, however. The goal is different. The goal is globalization" (2007). "I'm thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I'm wondering if I could kill him myself or if I would need to hire somebody to do it" (2005).

With a deadpan, Beck insists that he is not political: "I could give a flying crap about the political process." Making money, on the other hand, is to be taken very seriously, and controversy is its own coinage. "We're an entertainment company," Beck says. He has managed to monetize virtually everything that comes out of his mouth. He gets $13 million a year from print (books plus the ten-issue-a-year magazine Fusion). Radio brings in $10 million. Digital (including a newsletter, the ad-supported and merchandise) pulls in $4 million. Speaking and events are good for $3 million and television for $2 million. Over several days in mid-March Beck allowed a reporter to follow him through his multimedia incarnations, with one exception, his 5 p.m. daily show on Fox News, which attracts just under 3 million viewers. (FORBES has a relationship with that channel via Forbes on Fox.)

By now everyone knows Beck's curriculum vitae--at least, the hideous details (which he doesn't hide) of his drug and alcohol addictions and the pettiness of firing an assistant for supplying a pen he didn't like for signing autographs. In the popular mythology his career was born twice: first after Sept. 11 (his national radio show, The Glenn Beck Program, launched officially in January 2002); then again when Barack Obama was inaugurated (his Fox News show first aired two days before, on Jan. 19, 2009). The summary omits a few details of his climb to fame and, more important, to fortune.

Raised in Mount Vernon, Wash., just north of Seattle, Beck received a present from his mother on his eighth birthday that changed his life: a record collection of Depression- and World War II-era radio productions. When he wasn't putting on magic shows, Beck imitated radio voices into a handheld recorder. At 13 he won a contest that got him a guest gig on Mount Vernon's am station, KBRC. Two years later his life began to unravel after his mother, an alcoholic, died in a boating accident that Beck has since judged a suicide. He started drinking and smoking a lot of pot. "I had convinced myself that I was going to repeat my mother's life, that it was all genetic," he recalls. "It gave me permission to get even worse." By age 18 he was crisscrossing the country, serving as a Top 40 deejay in markets that took him to Provo, Utah; Washington, D.C.; Louisville, Ky.; Phoenix; Houston; Baltimore; and New Haven, Conn., where he cratered.

Married, with two kids, Beck barely held things together; ratings at New Haven's KC101 were sinking, and his salary and responsibilities were being slashed. "Every single minute of every single day was a struggle for me," he says. His worst moment: blacking out at night, then breakfasting the next morning with his kids when "they said, 'Dad, Dad, that was the best one ever, tell us that [nighttime] story again.' I realized that not only could I not remember the story, I didn't even remember tucking them in." Beck took himself to Alcoholics Anonymous. But he credits Tania, his second wife, whom he met three or four years later, for pulling him out of the deep ditch. At her insistence they shopped around for a church and became Mormons.

In the late 1990s (Beck is fuzzy on dates), while filling in as a talk radio host at WABC in New York City, Beck got a lucky call from media agent George Hiltzik, who had been tipped off by the program director. Beck told him he had an offer to do talk radio in Tampa. Hiltzik was impressed with Beck's passion--and his urge to make a lot of money. They cut a deal with WFLA in Tampa, and in early 2000 Beck headed south. Within a week or so he read a story about parents who had built a tree house for a child with leukemia and were fighting the homeowners' association that claimed the structure violated height restrictions. Could he do the broadcast from the tree house? He was off and running.

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Mercury Radio Arts, formed in 2002, holds all the pieces of Beck's media dominions, managing the live performances and producing (or co-producing) the radio and TV broadcasts and everything on the Web. At the center is Christopher Balfe, the 31-year-old president of Mercury. He first flung himself at Beck 14 years ago in New Haven after the radio host announced on the air he needed someone to build a Web site. Balfe juggled high school, then college (University of Connecticut), while working for Beck. When the "Pasty Patriot" headed for Tampa, Balfe went to work for Accenture, consulting for the likes of RCA and the U.S. Air Force. In 2003 Beck lured him back to expand the company beyond the radio show, offering a 70% pay cut and no benefits. How could he resist? "There's only one Glenn," says Balfe.

But not nearly enough staffers, apparently. Every day Balfe meets with the division heads and gathers the larger group on Monday afternoons to review their plans and to make sure they're all on message--and cross-promoting the hell out of one another's projects. Chris' brother Kevin, 35, runs the publishing unit and coauthors Beck's books; their mom, Patricia, sorts and responds to fan mail (and hate mail, prominently displayed on the Web site) and passes along news tips to producers. Hiltzik's son Matthew is Beck's personal publicist. Carolyn Polke, Mercury's digital czar, also came from Accenture; Richard Bonn, who runs the tour division, moved over from Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates The Glenn Beck Program. Steven (Stu) Burguiere, the radio executive producer and sidekick, has been with Beck for more than a decade. Like many employees, Burguiere started out as an intern with little relevant experience. Beck likes them that way since they tend to come at things with a fresh perspective.
In Pictures: How Glenn Beck Makes His Money
Video: Brand It Like Beck

Chris Balfe has two goals: building on existing businesses and creating new ones. "We have 400 radio stations; we could have 500. We sold 3 million books last year; we could try to sell 4 million or 5 million. We have 5 million [monthly unique visitors] on; we could have 10 million." Balfe is constantly prowling for new stuff. "The Insider Extreme is an example that didn't exist two weeks ago and is now core to a lot of the things that we're trying to do," says Balfe. Overseeing it all is Beck himself. "I think I drive everybody nuts," Beck says. "I care about the paper [the book is printed] on, I work with the director of the TV show on lighting and camera angles and the boxing of the show. I am instrumental in the writing of the theme song of the radio show ... and the music behind the documentaries on the Internet."

How do the different pieces work?

Start with publishing, the most lucrative unit. Kevin Balfe keeps a spreadsheet of every new idea Beck blurts out. At last count there were 17--fiction, nonfiction and self-help--that survived a vetting; that doesn't include 10 or so potentially marketable thoughts Beck dropped during a semiannual skull session with his publisher, Simon & Schuster, earlier this year. Most of his six published books--each hit the New York Times bestseller list, with five debuting at No. 1--have grown out of some other performance or activity. The first, The Real America: Messages from the Heart and the Heartland (2003), came to him on the bus between several rallies he staged to show solidarity with the U.S. military on the eve of the Iraq invasion. Arguing with Idiots: How to Stop Small Minds and Big Government (2009), a diatribe against unions, health care, progressivism and so on, emerged from his radio and TV shows. His tribute to Thomas Paine, Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government (2009), seemed to Beck, who wrote it over several 2 a.m. fits of energy, to have little commercial possibility; he planned to release it anonymously on the Web. Simon & Schuster disagreed and got the book on shelves in roughly 12 weeks, where it climbed to the top of the charts.

Ideas feed off one another. The Christmas Sweater (2008) is a quasi-autobiographical account of Beck's troubled childhood told through a 12-year-old named Eddie. Beck has turned the effort into books for adults and kids, along with a traveling stage show simulcast in 450-plus movie theaters. After a live performance in Salt Lake City in December 2008 he told his staff to take a seat. With a sweat-drenched towel still wrapped around his neck, Beck described a story that will one day appear on bookshelves, something he'd cooked up while onstage. "It downloaded in my head during this scene," he recalls, "and I could have given my right arm for a pencil." Beck acknowledges he wasn't taking his medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the time (he rarely does on tour, he says). "I bet you it's safe to say I lose 20% of what goes on in my head because I'm currently doing something else, and I can't stop to write it down." Adds Chris Balfe, "Thank God."

Radio is Beck's third lung--and the second-largest generator of cash for Mercury. That's thanks to a five-year, $50 million participation deal with Premiere, which picked him up in 2002. With a weekly average of 9 million listeners, Beck's is the third-highest-ranked radio talk show in America, behind Rush Limbaugh (15.3 million) and Sean Hannity (14.3 million). On a recent day Beck plugged the evening's Insider Extreme event and advertised LifeLock, the identity-theft company, in a particularly personal way: "I wish I could protect my children--[my daughter's] got a boyfriend in New York City--I can't lock my children up, but I can lock my computer up. ... "

Then he spurs his favorite hobbyhorse. "Our future is being decided right now," he says. "It's being decided by special interests. We've entered a European period of America. ... " A good warm-up for some carpet bombing of pet targets: Obama, Nancy Pelosi and health care. A rapacious reader, Beck defends his decision to give prominence to "evil" books like The Coming Insurrection (2009, MIT Press), written anonymously by a group of French radicals, who postulate the coming implosion of capitalism. "Why?" Beck asks. "Because I'm not one who bans books. That's what Nazis do." No cultural sensitivity training for him anymore, something he and his colleagues once had to swallow at KC101 in New Haven after dropping some Asian ethnic slurs.

"I think I say the things that people are afraid to say--and sometimes the things people are too smart to say," Beck laughs. Even to his occasional regret. "I would take back the things that I say right from the hip, without thinking," he says, without getting specific.

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"I don't necessarily believe that [what Beck says] is reflective of his own personal politics--I don't even know if he has personal politics," says Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers, a trade magazine devoted to talk radio. "I see him as a performer."

In the halls of Mercury's midtown Manhattan office hang pictures of Beck's heroes: Orson Welles, Jack Benny, Paul Harvey, Ronald Reagan, Bob Hope. But it is a photo of Walt Disney that hangs alone outside Beck's corner office. "I aspire to Walt Disney's never-ending quest to try to improve the quality of what he's doing," Beck says, hands flailing, eyes intense, "his never-ending vision of yes, it can be done." Not to mention his building one of the most lucrative and durable entertainment empires of all time.
In Pictures: How Glenn Beck Makes His Money
Video: Brand It Like Beck
Monetizing a mouth

Beck's media empire is bringing in $32 million a year. Here's how:

Publishing: $13 million
Includes profit participation with Simon & Schuster, which sold 3.5 million copies of his books, and Fusion Magazine.

Radio: $10 million
Includes five-year, $50 million participation deal with Premiere Radio Networks.

Digital: $4 million
Includes an ad-supported Web site and newsletter, plus Insider and Insider Extreme services and merchandise.

Events: $3 million
Includes tours, performances and various speaking engagements.

Television: $2 million
A three-year contract with Fox News.

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Is This Obscene?

April 08, 2010

Quote of the Day
"I knew that we'd be buddies when I met her when she said, 'Drill here, drill now.' And then I replied, 'Drill, baby, drill' and then we both said, 'You betcha!'"

-- Sarah Palin, quoted by the Wall Street Journal, recalling a previous meeting with Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN).

Sarah Begone?

What We're Up Against?