National Security

Look Past the Turban

Sunday’s shooting at a Sikh temple couldn’t be described as surprising, which is a problem that has plagued our country for a long time.

(AP Photo/John Minchillo)
It had happened. When I received the first phone call about the Wisconsin shooting on Sunday, I felt shock, grief, and immense horror. But I could not register surprise. Since the September 11th attacks, Sikhs like me had spent years preparing for this day and trying to ward it off. But with hate crimes and discrimination against Sikhs still rampant, an attack on our gurdwaras—the community’s gathering spaces and houses of worship—seemed inevitable. We just didn’t know when or where or who. Now we do. Last weekend’s massacre sparked many of the same conversations that came up in the wake of the Colorado tragedy. Politicians, family, and media pundits have commented on gun control, mental health issues, and the gunman’s “normal” childhood. What is different this time, however, is the discussion of the deceased’s identities. Unlike Colorado or Columbine, all of those killed in the Wisconsin massacre adhere to a common religion, Sikhism, which appears to have been the reason they were...

The Army's Bizarre Cover-Up

(AP Photo/ U.S. Navy Petty Officer 2nd Class Ernesto Hernandez Fonte)
Lieutenant General William Caldwell, a rising star in the Army who formerly oversaw the training of Afghan security forces, was recently accused of impeding a 2010 investigation of corruption in the Afghan military medical corps to avoid affecting the outcome of congressional elections, as reported by Danger Room . Caldwell, who now commands the U.S. Army North based in Texas, was supposedly worried that a revelation of mismanagement and neglect would hurt Democrats’ electoral chances, damaging the close rapport he enjoyed with Obama. “He calls me Bill,” Caldwell is said to have told his officers. As Danger Room notes, his fears weren’t without basis; after all, General Stanley McChrystal was relieved of his command for immature comments just a few months prior. Caldwell’s relationship with the President Obama may be about to take a turn for the worse. But don’t count on the president taking much heat from the voters. To begin, Americans don’t care much for foreign policy; in 2010,...

Lockheed Martin's Creative Lobbying

Lockheed Martin federal contracts.
When the Supreme Court handed down the Citizens United decision, many people predicted that big corporations would start buying elections, now that they were allowed to spend as much money as they wanted on campaigns. While that certainly might happen in the future, it hasn't happened so far, probably because they're worried about the PR backlash that could result from too much partisan activity. Instead, the ones donating millions have been extremely rich individuals, most of whom are Republicans. But that doesn't mean corporations don't have clever ways of playing the political game. To wit : Lockheed Martin is contemplating a pre-election move that could shake up the political landscape. Right before Election Day, the company is likely to notify the "vast majority" of its 123,000 workers that they're at risk of being laid off, said Greg Walters, the company's vice president of legislative affairs. Walters's comments are some of the most specific threats yet from an industry that's...

Talking Honestly About Our War Dead

Arlington National Cemetery (Flickr/Celine Aussourd)
The endless string of mini-controversies that occupy the attention of the media usually run the gamut from stupid to extra-stupid to super-stupid. But sometimes, one comes along that is profoundly dispiriting, the kind of thing that makes you wonder whether we'll ever be able to have a real debate about anything important. I'm speaking of what happened after MSNBC host Chris Hayes had a brief on-air discussion about the use of the word "hero" to apply to every person in the military who died in war. This came in the middle of a show devoted to Memorial Day, the larger theme of which was that Americans don't fully appreciate the sacrifices made by people in the military and their families. When he raised the question of the overuse of the word "hero," Hayes was careful to say that he didn't want to disrespect the memory of any fallen soldier, but that the word sometimes made him uncomfortable, because he was concerned its repetition makes it easier justify future wars. Like everything...

A Plan to Privatize a State's Entire Male Prison System

(Flickr/Tim Pearce, Los Gatos)
It's been tough times for the prison privatization industry. The two biggest companies both have extra space thanks to a recent drop in the number of people sent to private prisons. The companies just can't seem to expand their share of the market. The poor guys really lost out when the Florida Senate killed a bill that would have privatized 27 prisons and displaced more than 3,500 workers. The lobbying was so aggressive, one senator with health problems actually had to get protection from her colleagues. Then there's the not-so-great press—a two-part series from NPR last year included particularly horrifying tales . All told, these poor private prison company execs have not had much to smile about. So imagine what joy they must have had when New Hampshire put out an RFP to privatize the state's entire prison system. That's right—the entire system. According to the New Hampshire Business Review , previous state debate on privatization didn't exactly win anyone's affection, and the...

Keyboard Jihadist?

(John Ritter)
I t’s unusual for a domestic terrorism suspect to have a fan club. But every morning of Tarek Mehanna’s eight-week trial late last year on federal terrorism charges, supporters packed the domed, ornate courtroom in downtown Boston, smiling and waving whenever Mehanna turned to face them. Their support was unflagging, even though Mehanna was charged with crimes prosecutors called “among the most serious a person can commit,” including material support of terrorism and conspiracy to kill American soldiers in Iraq. The government had been collecting information on Mehanna, a 29-year-old second-generation Egyptian American, for more than eight years. In court, prosecutors provided transcripts from online chats in which Mehanna had praised Osama bin Laden, calling him “my real father,” and invited friends over for “movie night” to watch a video of a beheading in Iraq that he called “Head’s Up.” Most damning, the government also claimed that Mehanna had gone to Yemen to find a terrorist...

Tired of War

(Flickr/The US Army)
Obama campaign thinks a general election on foreign policy works toward their favor, as the past few weeks have made clear. The President is trying to stake out a middle ground between the typical hawk and dove divide, highlighting his success in killing Osama bin Laden and engagement in Libya while also recognizing the country’s war-weary sentiment by extracting the country from Iraq and signing an agreement with the Afghanistan government to remove the United States from combat operations by 2014. For a time it looked as if Mitt Romney might not fall under the influence of the neoconservative dogma that dominated the GOP’s foreign policy vision during the last decade. Like many of the other Republican presidential candidates, he expressed hesitance toward an indefinite military force in Afghanistan, recognizing the quagmire of the decade-long war. His tone has changed since he’s dispatched his nomination opponents and has attempted to contrast his views directly with Obama. Perhaps...

The Beginning of the End in Afghanistan

(White House/Flickr)
If anyone was expecting President Obama to spike the proverbial football during his address this evening from Afghanistan, they were sorely disappointed. In a sober, 11 minute message, Obama retraced the path that brought the United States to Afghanistan, and outlined the next two years of American policy in the country. First, he noted the extent to which the United States had mostly achieved its military goals in the country—“One year ago, from a base here in Afghanistan, our troops launched the operation that killed Osama bin Laden,” the president said. “The goal I set—to defeat Al Qaeda, and deny it a chance to rebuild—is now within our reach.” From there, he announced a strategic partnership with Afghan President Hamid Karzai that would begin the process of withdrawal for American troops, leading to their complete departure in 2014. Between now and then, the United States—with the help of its NATO allies—would transition responsibility for security to Afghan troops, and step back...

Why CISPA Isn’t SOPA

Privacy hawks are in danger of fighting the same battle over Internet legislation fought in January.

(Flickr / Search Influence)
Privacy activists are taking aim at Congress’ latest attempt to legislate the Web this week—the Cybersecurity Information Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) being debated in the House today. So far, the measure’s sponsors have managed to fly beneath the radar, avoiding much of the attention that doomed two earlier attempts at Internet policing, the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) in the House and its Senate counterpart, the Protect IP Act (PIPA). But if CISPA’s opponents get their way, the lawmakers’ strategy of keeping quiet won’t work for much longer. Luckily for Representative Mike Rogers, the Michigan Republican leading the charge on CISPA, he doesn’t need to hold out for more than a couple days. The bill is scheduled for a Friday vote and is expected to pass the House, despite condemnation from key groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF). The bill comes in two parts. Under one part of CISPA, businesses and corporations...

I’ve Got Some Assignments for Rachel Maddow

(AP Photo / Chris Pizzello)
Last week, the authorities here at the Prospect were calling me the substitute teacher. I got grumpy about that at first (all kinds of anti-woman and bad childhood associations). But I’ve decided to embrace it. Rachel Maddow, here’s your homework. When Leon Wieseltier wrote a snarky review trashing the snarky tone of Rachel Maddow’s Drift— and more important, suggesting that the nation had yet more wars to fight and that Maddow was foolish not to understand this—I pledged over on Alternet to pay retail, read the whole book, and comment. I’m delighted to say that the book came onto The New York Times bestseller list at No. 1 this past weekend, even though I allowed her publicist to tempt me into a free copy. So now I’ve read the book, and I’ve read half a dozen reviews of the book, from gushing to dismissive . I think I’ve now been through all the Elisabeth Kubler-Ross stages of reaction when a prominent person writes a book on a subject one knows well: Excitement, Pleasure at content...

Paul Ryan No Longer Thinks the Military Is Lying

(Flickr/SpeakerBoehner)
Last Friday I noted Paul Ryan’s comments where he, in essence, accused the top military brass of lying to Congress to cover-up potential harm to the nation’s security in Obama’s proposed budget. To Ryan’s credit, he went on the Sunday shows to retract the claims. Per TPM : “I really misspoke,” he said on CNN’s State of the Union . “And I did not mean to impugn the integrity of the military in any way.” Asked whether he has apologized to Gen. Martin Dempsey, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Ryan said, “Yeah, I called him and told him that.” It was not the impression I meant to give,” Ryan added on ABC’s This Week . “I talked to General Dempsey on it, and expressed that sentiment.” Calling his words “clumsy,” Ryan doubled down on his broader point that the Pentagon is conforming to adjusted military spending levels in President Obama’s budget, when he argues they should have put out their plan first. Good on Ryan for stepping back rather than going for the typical politician...

Paul Ryan's "Smoke and Mirrors"

(Flickr/Gage Skidmore)
Paul Ryan, the supposed champion of fiscal restraint among right-wing Republicans, has put his colleagues in an awkward bind. His budget includes a host of unpopular provisions, and if implemented, would eviscerate almost every part of the government except defense, health care, and Social Security by 2050 according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Yesterday, all but 10 House Republicans entered their name in the congressional record as supporters of the bill, providing Democrats with ample material for negative campaigning this fall. Ryan's proposal shows a reckless disregard for the country's less fortunate. Any social safety net for non-senior citizens would disappear, and while the plan would largely maintain Medicare for current retirees, the move to premium support would rob future generations of needed health care coverage, all to achieve lower taxes It might seem like Ryan has never run across a federal program he would like to destroy, but he debunked that...

Americans Want Out of Afghanistan

(Flickr/The U.S. Army)
The Afghanistan War is on shakier ground with each passing day. The Obama administration has been eying the conflict warily for some time, and the massacre of Afghani citizens by an errant soldier has forced the White House and its NATO allies to re-evaluate the conflict and its potential end date. According to reports, the Obama administration is weighing if it should speed up the withdrawal of the troops before the 2014 exit date. The 33,000 sent over as part of the surge in 2010 are scheduled to depart next summer, but that will leave 68,000 troops on the ground, and the administration is still considering whether to heed the advice of military leaders to leave the troops in place or to pack up and admit that the fight has become an impossible quagmire. The doves in the administration have growing public sentiment on their side. A New York Times /CBS News poll released Monday revealed an American public increasingly weary of the conflict. A 69 percent majority said that the country...

Romney Shouldn't Be Ashamed of Not Having Served In the Military

Mitt Romney speaking to troops in Afghanistan (Flickr/isafmedia)
No matter who the Republican presidential nominee turns out to be, this will be the first election in pretty much forever in which neither major party candidate served in the military. As a post-boomer, Barack Obama never had to worry too much about this question, since he came of age after the transition to an all-volunteer military. But Mitt Romney was of prime fighting age during Vietnam, a conflict he avoided with deferments for college and missionary work. This provides just one more topic for him to squirm through questions about, but as Conor Friedersdorf argues , it's pretty ridiculous to imply that in retrospect the proper course of action would have been for young Mitt to do everything he could to fight in a conflict nearly everyone acknowledges to have been a huge mistake: I don't fault Mitt Romney or his sons for not serving, and the reason a lot of people feel as I do is a great unspoken reality of American politics. I have no idea how Romney actually feels about having...

You Want to Kill Bad Guys? Prove That They’re Bad.

Last week, I took a break from my regularly scheduled gender beat to be grieved , as a citizen, about the Obama administration’s newly announced policy that asserted, as Charlie Savage reported in the New York Times : … that it is lawful for the government to kill American citizens if officials deem them to be operational leaders of Al Qaeda who are planning attacks on the United States and if capturing them alive is not feasible. A friend called me to argue with me about my recoil, saying that surely I had misunderstood. There is a process, my friend argued, a very reasonable one: Administration officials define someone as a terrorist who’s an imminent threat to the U.S., and are reviewed by a Congressional committee. So I went back and checked. That’s not what Holder said. He outlined some possible scenarios that would justify extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens, but he did not limit the President’s power to those scenarios. And he said that the administration would...

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