The combination of extensive travel and being quite consumed with a story I’m working on has prevented me from writing for the last couple of days. As the comment section to the prior column has apparently closed, I’m noting here a few very brief items. Regular posting should resume tomorrow.
A mere six days after President Obama’s much heralded terrorism speech, a US drone fired a missile in Pakistan that killed four people
. On Saturday, another US drone killed seven people, this time in Yemen
. There was some debate about whether Obama’s speech really heralded a more restrictive standard for drone use; the early results, though not dispositive, seem to suggest it is business as usual.
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(2) On May 22, an FBI agent shot and killed Ibragim Todashev as they were interviewing him about his association with Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev. From the start, news account – based on official claims – were wildly contradictory in several key respects, but most reports claimed that Todashev had used a knife to attack the agent, who then killed him in self defense. As it turns out, even the FBI now admits that Todashev was unarmed when they killed him. The Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf now examines many of the very strange questions surrounding this episode.
(3) The Washington Post details the numerous high-level Obama aides who are leaving the White House and lavishly cashing in on their political influence, connections and access. The New Republic’s Noam Scheiber previously reported on some of the same sleazy dynamic with many of these same officials. A couple of months ago, a friend who works in DC sent me the below video, which he entitled “the care and feeding of a young imperial bureaucrat”, on how Tommy Vietor, Obama’s former National Security Council spokesman, is now monetizing his access and influence. There’s something unique about how this video viscerally (albeit unwittingly) conveys the sleaze driving this whole process (note, too, the numerous Obama posters Vietor has adoringly hung on his walls the way pre-adolescents venerate teen idols and boy bands: understandable in Vietor’s case, even if somewhat creepy, given that it is his connection to the president that will now generate great personal wealth):
Click here for the video.
(4) Although the Obama administration refused to prosecute a single US official involved in the torture regime, they did prosecute a CIA agent, John Kiriakou, who spoke about that program. He recently began serving his 30-month prison sentence, and wrote this letter about his prison life to FireDogLake, and it is really fascinating.
(5) Terry Adams has written an excellent, thoughtful analysis of the debate I and others have been having with the likes of Sam Harrris and Andrew Sullivan over the causes of anti-American violence. David Mizner also has a very worthwhile analysis on the role played by “blowback” in recent attacks on western countries.
(6) A new book on the political and cultural significance of “the digital age” has just been released, and notably, it is jointly authored by Google Chairman Eric Schmidt and former State Department official Jared Cohen. Something is apparently very broken in the matrix because the New York Times today has a review of the book, and it is written by . . . Julian Assange. He begins by noting (accurately) that their co-authorship “reflects the ever closer union between the State Department and Silicon Valley”, and documents the banal pieties and mandated orthodoxies pervading the book:
“The book mirrors State Department institutional taboos and obsessions. It avoids meaningful criticism of Israel and Saudi Arabia. It pretends, quite extraordinarily, that the Latin American sovereignty movement, which has liberated so many from United States-backed plutocracies and dictatorships over the last 30 years, never happened. Referring instead to the region’s ‘aging leaders,’ the book can’t see Latin America for Cuba. And, of course, the book frets theatrically over Washington’s favorite boogeymen: North Korea and Iran.”
None of this surprises me: Schmidt and Cohen were recently interviewed about their book by the Atlantic’s Robert Wright, and when he asked Schmidt (at the 20:50 mark) about my arguments on the causes of terrorism, Schmidt explained that “The Terrorists” have no political beliefs or grievances but are “just crazy and evil.” The close ties and cooperation between the internet industry and the US government is one of the key ingredients in how the Surveillance State has been erected. Assange argues that as trite and vapid as the book is, it’s worth reading as it provides a depressing window into the mindset of the power factions that drive American policy in these areas.
Regarding item (2): the New York Times is now quoting an anonymous “senior law enforcement official” as claiming that Todashev, the witness killed by the FBI agent during a witness interview, “had knocked the agent to the ground with a table and ran at him with a metal pole before being shot.” It adds that the agent saw “Todashev running at him with a metal pole, according to the official, adding that it might have been a broomstick.” Given how many conflicting version of events have emanated from anonymous, official Washington about this episode, the only thing certain is that it is impossible to know what actually happened here.