2012 - %3, August

Yes We LAN

| Sun Sep. 30, 2012 4:25 AM EDT

What do our wifi networks tell us about President Obama's chances in November? The folks at OpenSignalMaps, which maintains a web database of cellphone signal strengths and wifi access points, have mapped more than 1,100 routers worldwide with "Obama" in their names. Rigorous polling it ain't, but they figure "ObamaIsBlackNazi" won't be voting Democratic in 2012, while "BahamaMamasLoveObamasLlamas" just might. ("Obamatheflykiller" is a toss-up.) In the States, it's a tight race, with 401 Obama-lovin' routers to 355 haters—a mere 6 percent edge for the prez. But lest Democrats worry, hardly anyone cares enough about Mitt Romney to name a network after him.

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Can an iPhone Keep Election Officials From Blocking Your Vote?

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 9:01 PM EDT

This fall, restrictive new voting laws in more than a dozen states could keep millions of people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. ID and birth certificate requirements, restrictions on early voting, and shutdowns on election day registration happen to affect non-rich, non-white, non-middle-aged, non-male voters most. This flurry of regulatory activity could confound Jane and John Q. Public: how are citizens supposed to know whether they need an ID, license plate number, proof of insurance, blood sample and baptism certificate in order to cast their vote? The answer might be in the interwebs.

Corn on "Hardball": Postgame Analysis of the Clint Eastwood Spectacle

Fri Aug. 31, 2012 7:04 PM EDT

David Corn and Nia Malika-Henderson joined host Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball to discuss Clint Eastwood's bizarre imaginary dialogue at the Republican National Convention. See a full video and transcript of the Eastwood speech and read translations of the baffled responses from foreign newspapers.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

The Holographic Zombie Reagan Lives!

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 5:29 PM EDT

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For anyone disappointed that the GOP convention "mystery speaker" didn't turn out to be a hologram of President Ronald Reagan, but was instead a strange and disheveled Clint Eastwood, we have good news for you.

He lives!

A hologram of the late 40th president was scheduled to appear outside the Republican National Convention hall this week, but GOP officials nixed the idea...But the Reagan hologram is expected to premiere later this year or in 2013, A KickIn Crowd founder Tony Reynolds told Yahoo! (Reynolds works with AV Concepts, a hologram company.) "Even in a hologram form, I think Reagan's going to beat a lot of people in terms of communicating," he said.

In fact, the communicative potential of the holographic zombie Reagan is so great that the original idea was scrapped by event planners out of fear that the hologram would overshadow Mitt Romney accepting the party's nomination.

As of press time, three-dimensional undead laser Reagan has yet to endorse Mitt Romney.

And now, here is footage of another (crude, motionless) holographic Ronald Reagan, from 2010:

 

Investigation of Bush-era Torture Concludes With No Charges

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 3:07 PM EDT
Attorney General Eric Holder.

[UPDATE: For more on this issue, check out Kevin Drum's latest: "It's Official: No One Will Ever Be Prosecuted for Bush-Era Torture."]

Afghan detainee Gul Rahman would never leave the CIA prison known as "The Salt Pit" alive. Interrogators left Rahman in his cell, reportedly "naked from the waste down," after shackling him and dousing him with cold water. In the morning, they discovered that the Rahman, who had reportedly been "uncooperative" with his captors, had died of hypothermia.

Military medical examiners said Iraqi detainee Manadel al-Jamadi died of asphyxiation, a result of his being hung by his arms, and other mysterious injuries sustained during interrogation, such as his five broken ribs. After his death, US Army Reservist Charles Graner Jr. was photographed grinning next to al-Jamadi's frozen corpse. The Associated Press notes that the CIA official who oversaw Rahman's treatment "was reprimanded" and "now works as a defense contractor."

The Justice Department announced Thursday that the investigation into Rahman and al-Jamadi's deaths would be closed with no charges. This means that the Obama administration will be turning the page on the Bush years with almost no accountability for anyone linked to the legalization and implementation of Bush-era interrogation techniques.

Friday Cat Blogging - 31 August 2012

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 2:55 PM EDT

Here's Domino sitting on Marian's lap with her neck twisted at what looks like a really uncomfortable angle. But she seems happy enough, and she cocks her head at even weirder angles than this sometimes. I sure wish I were that flexible. As for what she seems to be peering at outside the frame of the picture, it beats me. After all, there's no one to peer at suspiciously anymore. Maybe she's just keeping a vigilant eye on the food bowl.

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"Movie & An Argument" Podcast: Clint Eastwood, the GOP, and Shia LaBeouf Nakedness

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 2:32 PM EDT

On this week's episode of A Movie & An Argument, With Alyssa and Swin, we discuss (scroll down for the audio):

  • Totally Biased, FX's racially charged news/comedy series hosted by comedian W. Kamau Bell (click here to check out an interview with Bell). Alyssa had visited the set in New York over the weekend, and shared her thoughts on the show's potential.
  • Clint Eastwood, his politics, his movies, and his (then) upcoming address to the 2012 Republican National Convention (click here for the transcript and video of Eastwood's bizarre "Invisible Obama" speech, which apparently upset Paul Ryan).
  • Lawless, a new Western set in Virginia gangland during Prohibition, starring Tom Hardy, Shia LaBeouf, and Guy Pearce (my review here). It's during this part of the conversation that we spend far too much time discussing LaBeouf's dorky nakedness.
  • The first season finale of Aaron Sorkin's HBO drama The Newsroom (and why the series still frustrates us so).

Each week, I'll be sitting down to chat with ThinkProgress critic Alyssa Rosenberg (who also does killer work at The Atlantic and Slate's "Double X"). We'll talk, argue, and laugh about the latest movies, television shows, and pop-cultural nonsense—with some politics thrown in just for the hell of it.

Alyssa describes herself as being "equally devoted to the Star Wars expanded universe and Barbara Stanwyck, to Better Off Ted and Deadwood." I (everyone calls me Swin) am a devoted lover of low-brow dark humor, Yuengling, and movies with high body counts. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and tune in during the weeks to come.

We'll be featuring guests on the program, and also taking listeners' questions, so feel free to Tweet them at me here, and we'll see if we can get to them during a show.

Thanks for listening!

Click here for more movie and TV features from Mother Jones. To read more of Asawin's reviews, click here.

To find more episodes of this podcast in the iTunes store, click here.

To check out Alyssa's Bloggingheads show, click here.

It's Official: No One Will Ever Be Prosecuted for Bush-Era Torture

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 1:37 PM EDT

I don't write about national security and civil liberties issues as much as I should. Partly this is because I find much of it too grim to bear. But it's also because it seems so hopeless: there's really no significant difference between the two major parties on most of these issues, and therefore no real chance of any of them being changed. There are differences at the margin — Obama banned torture and Eric Holder at least tried to institute civilian trials for terrorist suspects — and during campaign season even modest differences become magnified. But really, there's a pretty broad bipartisan consensus on all the big stuff: drones and assassinations and secrecy and military intervention and the ever increasing role of surveillance in our society, just to name a few items.

But ignoring this stuff is a character flaw, not a rule, and today Glenn Greenwald writes about the Justice Department dropping its last investigation into Bush-era torture charges. All of the hundreds of possible cases had already been quietly scrapped years before, but until yesterday there were still two left:

The only exceptions were two particularly brutal cases, both of which resulted in the death of the detainee. One involved the 2002 abuse of Gul Rahman, who froze to death in a secret CIA prison in Afghanistan known as the "Salt Pit", after he was beaten, stripped, and then shackled to a cement wall in freezing temperatures.

The other was the 2003 death of Manadel al-Jamadi at Abu Ghraib, who died in CIA custody after he was beaten, stripped, had cold water poured on him, and then shackled to the wall. It was al-Jamadi's ice-packed body which was infamously photographed with a smiling US Army Sgt Charles Graner standing over it giving the thumbs-up sign.

....Because the Obama administration has systematically blocked all other cases besides these two from any possibility of criminal charges, yesterday's decision means that nobody in the US government will pay any price for the systematic worldwide torture regime which that nation implemented and maintained for close to a decade.

However, as Glenn points out, the Obama administration is still willing to prosecute whistleblowers who spoke out against the torture regime. This is, to say the least, not our nation's finest moment. Or our president's.

Climate Change Is a Great Punchline, Mitt

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 1:12 PM EDT

If you didn't catch Mitt Romney's acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on Thursday night, you really missed an amazing snapshot of how he'll treat environmental issues as president: as a laugh line.

Here's the line from his speech last night. The stage directions are mine:

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans … (Pause for effect, look of mild, mocking amusement on your face. Audience will chuckle here.)

And heal the planet. (Another pause for comedic effect.)

My promise (Pause) is to help you and your family. (Cheers.)

And here's the video:

Did you get the joke? It's hilarious that President Obama cares about climate change and promised to do something about it. Mitt Romney will totally not give a crap about that at all, aren't you glad?

The Gulf Coast is, of course, just starting to recover after yet another major storm hit earlier this week. Climate change makes bad storms worse, and higher sea levels—due to both thermal expansion and the melting of the polar ice caps—also makes storm surge and the resulting flooding way worse, too. And Mitt Romney adjusted his schedule to go to New Orleans on Friday to check out the damage. I'm sure everyone there will finds his remarks really funny.

Does Navy SEAL's New Book Suggest Bin Laden Killing was a War Crime?

| Fri Aug. 31, 2012 1:11 PM EDT

The famously shifting Obama administration narrative of the special forces raid that killed Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden left some understandable doubts about how the operation actually went down. The key question, from a legal perspective, is whether or not the administration had ordered Bin Laden killed no matter the circumstances, and whether or not he had tried to surrender or was otherwise "hors de combat" or "out of the fight" as defined in the Geneva Conventions

No Easy Day, the memoir by "Mark Owens" (later outed as Mark Bissonette), a former Navy SEAL who participated in the raid, sheds light on both questions. According to Owen, Bin Laden was unarmed when he was shot. Here's the description from the Associated Press:

Bissonnette says he was directly behind a "point man" going up the stairs. "Less than five steps" from top of the stairs, he heard "suppressed" gunfire: "BOP. BOP." The point man had seen a "man peeking out of the door" on the right side of the hallway[.]  

Bissonnette writes that bin Laden ducked back into his bedroom and the SEALs followed, only to find the terrorist crumpled on the floor in a pool of blood with a hole visible on the right side of his head and two women wailing over his body.

Bissonnette says the point man pulled the two women out of the way and shoved them into a corner and he and the other SEALs trained their guns' laser sites on bin Laden's still-twitching body, shooting him several times until he lay motionless.

Graphic. But as far as international law is concerned, not necessarily illegal. While most of the legal experts I contacted were reluctant to comment, Daphne Eviatar, senior counsel for Human Rights First, told me that "based on the AP's reporting of what's in the book...the Navy SEALs handled the OBL raid properly," Eviatar said in an email. "They were targeting someone who was a legitimate target under the laws of war, they seemed to legitimately believe it was too dangerous to arrest him under the circumstances, and he didn't seem to be surrendering." Eviatar clarified that while the SEALs would have been obligated to accept a genuine offer of surrender, "they don't have to endanger themselves or others to give him that opportunity."

Another key question, however, is whether or not a Bin Laden surrender would have been accepted, and whether the White House, fearful of the political consequences of bringing Bin Laden back alive to stand trial, urged the SEALs to eliminate him no matter what. According to the Huffington Post's Marcus Baram, Bissonette writes that isn't the case, recalling a White House lawyer who informed him, "I am not going to tell you how to do your job. What we're saying is if he does not pose a threat, you will detain him."

Kevin Jon Heller, a senior lecturer at Melbourne Law School and a blogger for Opinio Juris, has quite a different take. Heller argues that the shots fired at Bin Laden's body after he was already wounded make his killing a war crime. "[Bissonette] and his fellow SEAL thus intentionally killed bin Laden while he was 'otherwise incapacitated by wounds' and hors de combat," Heller writes. "That was a war crime—the war crime of wilful killing." Heller had previously defended the operation as legal.

Kenneth Anderson, a law professor at American University Washington School of Law, disagrees. "Being wounded does not necessarily render one hors de combat; hors de combat means they’re not actually posing a threat to you," Anderson says, citing moments where wounded combatants have used hidden guns or explosives to kill American servicemembers who thought they were surrendering or incapacitated. "There have been far too many incidents in the past, including in Afghanistan and Iraq...cases where American soldiers get killed because they were mistaken about the other side, or parts of the other side surrendering... There’s still no obligation to pause the attack, you’re allowed to put your own safety first."

Bissonette's account is just one of many of course, and unless the video of the operation leaks, only a limited few will ever truly know what happened.