What we need to do is optimize transparency on these issues, but at the same time, optimize secrecy.

— CIA Director nominee John Brennan, testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee

Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth.

— George Orwell, 1984

I believe that every American has the right to know when the government believes it has the right to kill them. 

— Senator Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), letter to John Brennan

Catch-22 states that agents enforcing Catch-22 need not prove that Catch-22 actually contains whatever provision the accused violator is accused of violating.

— Joseph Heller, Catch-22

This week everybody was talking about targeted killings

In particular: When can a president send a drone or a strike team to kill an American citizen he thinks (or says) is a terrorist? How can we square the war-fighting power the Constitution grants a president with a citizen’s constitutional right to due process of law? When does traitorous-death-in-battle shade over into execution-without-trial?

And the answer is: It’s a secret. Maybe if you discovered the conditions under which the government could kill you, the government would have to kill you.

OK, that was flip. Here’s what’s actually true: The memo that explains the Obama administration’s reasoning process on killing Americans has not been released to the public. It hasn’t even been released to Congress, though by Friday the Senate Intelligence Committee had received a copy, and the parallel House committee has been promised one. The rest of Congress will remain in the dark.

Like most liberal bloggers, I was all over this kind of thing when President Bush was doing it. A few (notably Glenn Greenwald and Marcy Wheeler) stayed on it when Obama continued (or sometimes even expanded) Bush’s policies. I came back to the topic now and then (Execution Without Trial when Anwar al-Awlaki was killed in 2011, and again last June in Who Can Obama Kill?), but never gave it the week-in-week-out attention that I had in the Bush years.

This week, the hearings to confirm John Brennan as CIA Director brought it all back to center stage. Reading and watching the coverage, I think it’s important to keep the right issues in mind. Don’t get distracted by the technology of drones, because this isn’t a technological issue. And while you should definitely pay attention to the who-can-Obama-kill issue, there’s something even more important to keep your eye on, because it concerns one of the deepest and oldest principles of democracy and the rule of law: The law should never be secret.

I lay this out in more detail in Secret Laws II: It’s just as bad when Obama does it.

and the weather …

We had some snow in the northeast. Maybe you heard about it.

and guns and immigration …

About that path to citizenship: House Republicans would rather have a permanent underclass.

The NRA says we don’t need new gun laws, we just need to enforce the laws we have. But it also lobbies to undermine the enforcement of gun laws at every turn, both by underfunding the ATF and by tying ATF agents up in red tape. USA Today has the details.

Republicans still live in their own universe. PPP asked 508 Republican primary voters “What do you think is a bigger safety threat in America: guns or violent video games?” [It comes late in the survey. If you follow the link, scroll way down.]

Guns 14%
Video games 67%
Not sure 19%

Steve Benen, God bless him, responds as if evidence and logic matter.

Gaming is a huge cultural phenomenon in countries like South Korea, England, Japan, and Canada — and they’re all playing many of the same games Americans enjoy — and yet, none of these countries comes close to the U.S. when it comes to deadly shootings. … [S]ocieties with fewer guns have less gun violence, whether they’re playing “Halo” or not.

(Benen also responded with evidence and logic when a Fox News “expert” claimed that solar energy works in Germany because it’s so sunny there.)

Being more cynical, I question whether any Republicans believe video games are more threatening than guns, or if ideology just obligates them to say so. If there are two open seats on the subway — one next to a stranger with a gun, the other next to a stranger with a video game — do two-out-of-three of Republicans really feel safer taking the seat next to the gunman?

Anti-NRA political advertising seems to be working in Illinois.

and you also might be interested in …

If the Pope expected his resignation to make his critics let up, I’m sure he’s disappointed.

It’s not just the filibuster or voter suppression or rigging the electoral college, Republicans have a comprehensive strategy for minority rule.

That hype about energy independence: to the extent it happens at all, it’s only temporary.

Sam Killermann is compiling examples of privilege: middle-to-upper-class privilege, male privilege, and Christian privilege.

My father was a white farmer (well, ethnically European farmer — the exposed parts of his face and arms got pretty brown by August) who drove a tractor and a pick-up truck, so I was touched by the Dodge Ram Super Bowl commercial based on the Paul Harvey prose-poem “So God Made a Farmer”.

But that points to one more example of privilege: A Super Bowl commercial full of people like me seems normal. Here’s the same Paul Harvey narration with a slideshow of (the far more numerous) Latino farmers.

I like that response. It expresses no hostility towards white farmers or Paul Harvey or even Dodge. It just rights the balance.

And TV critic David Hinckley provided what Paul Harvey used to call “the rest of the story”.

[F]or almost a century America has been driving the person Harvey and this ad are celebrating, the family farmer, out of business. … [The ad] felt a little like erecting a beautiful statue to a species we are hunting into extinction.

And of course there were parodies like, “So God Made a Banker.

This week in hypocrisy. Ron Paul is using the machinery of world government against his fans.

For years now, has been a Ron Paul fan site, promoting Paul’s ideas, books, candidacy etc., but not owned or run by Paul himself. It’s been an active site, with numerous postings getting thousands of comments.

Now Paul has decided he wants to own the URL. The current owners have offered him (which they also own) for free, but they want $250,000 for — and they’ll throw in their 170,000-name mailing list, which they claim is worth the quarter million on its own.

Instead, Paul has filed a case with the World Intellectual Property Organization under rules designed to root out cyber-squatters — the kind of people who register for no other purpose than to sell it to the band for an exorbitant price.

“Ron Paul,” his filing claims, “enjoys a national reputation in the United States as premier advocate for liberty in American politics today.” Or at least he used to.

Dick Cheney, the mastermind behind the Iraq War, criticized President Obama for appointing “second-rate people” like John Kerry and Chuck Hagel to key national security posts.

My current supply of snark is insufficient to generate a proper response.

Bill Maher schools Donald Trump on why you should never start an absurd argument with a comedian. It’s their turf.

Every now and then you see an idea that has to be somebody’s ultimate fantasy. Here’s one: a TED talk by a supermodel. It’s actually pretty good.

And every now and then, people convince you that they’re even worse than you thought. Here’s one: a writer at cuts through all that nonsense about concussions and dementia and gets to the heart of why liberals seem to be down on football: President Obama wants us to be a nation of pansies, because real men with balls threaten his power.

Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern keeps it real: The pro-gun “Sandy Hook father” isn’t really a Sandy Hook father. And the actual anti-gun Sandy Hook father didn’t really get “heckled”.

If nobody is dancing at your Occupy/Tea Party Unity party, cue this up.

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  • A  On February 24, 2013 at 6:03 pm

    Hello, Mr. Muder – I just discovered your website and have been greatly enjoying browsing through it. However, I would like to note that I found your comment about the TED talk by a supermodel (i.e. “It’s actually pretty good”) problematic, especially considering your additional links to lists of privilege (male privilege, etc.) in the exact same post.

    You linked to a TED talk by a woman who happens to be a supermodel. If I may, and I am genuinely interested, which of those elements led you to be so surprised that her talk was “acutally pretty good”? I propose two possible reasonings below, and although neither are likely your intended reasoning, they are how I read your comment.

    In my understanding, individuals are all chosen for TED talks – no person arbitrarily gets to decide that they, themselves, deserve a talk. So, what, besides the fact that she had something interesting and worthwhile to say, would have gotten her a spot? I’m aware I am heavily implying that the underlying reasoning, according to your comment, is that she got a talk because it satisfies somebody’s fantasy, not because of her inherent worth. She got it, in other words, because she is a supermodel. Because of her looks. Thus, it was surprising when the talk was good.

    Or, perhaps, the surprise was due to having a woman who is a supermodel saying that looks are not everything? In which case, was it just the fact that she makes money through her looks that led to surprise – as in, suprise that a female supermodel could also critically assess that which is her livelihood?

    [Considering you’ve described it as “a TED talk by a supermodel” not ‘a TED talk by a supermodel about looks not being everything,’ your following comment about it ‘actually’ being good does seem to fit the first reasoning better.]

    I enjoy your writing and your analysis of issues, and will continue to do so. As I’ve mentioned above, neither of the aforementioned reasonings may truly represent your feelings. But as a woman, albeit definitely not a supermodel, this piece does make me wonder – why does a liberal, well-educated, male blogger find it newsworthy that a TED talk by a female model “was actually pretty good”?

    • weeklysift  On February 25, 2013 at 6:59 am

      I don’t routinely search the TED website for talks; they come to my attention because they’re popular. My first reaction on seeing this one pop up was “I know why this is popular — you can watch a supermodel and feel virtuous about it because it’s a TED talk.” So, yes, I was surprised when it turned out to be a good talk, the same way I’m surprised when a catchy hit tune turns out to have good poetry in its lyrics.

  • A  On February 25, 2013 at 8:58 pm

    Dear Mr. Muder – in the end, this is a blog concerning your point of view and your writing, and you must write on things as you perceive them. My discomfort still stands with what I perceive as ‘judging a book by it’s cover’ type reasoning, and I am, I admit, a little downcast about ingrained societal perceptions of attractive and/or powerful women. However, I did state I was interested in your reasoning, and you provided your explanation – so whether I agree or not, thank you for that.

    I hope in turn you read my initial comment as something worth considering, whether you may agree with it or not. (We may just have to agree to disagree.) Either way, thank you for your prompt reply, and I wish you the best in your further blogging.


  • By Alms from the Poor | The Weekly Sift on March 11, 2013 at 1:28 pm

    […] torn about Paul’s filibuster. Many of the points he was making were points I’ve made here: It’s very dangerous to allow the executive branch to assemble a “kill list” […]

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