At this weekend’s summit in California, Beijing’s new administration needs to get the message that how they treat their citizens matters to America, says activist Yang Jianli.
President Obama’s meeting today with President Xi Jingping is a critical opportunity to send the right message to the Chinese government. Namely, that China’s relationship with America will depend on how the Chinese government treats its own citizens and whether or not it accepts human-rights standards.
If the president fails to stress these points, the Chinese government will be emboldened to continue their repressive policies. Engagement with China on trade relations, North Korea, and other security issues is understandable. Failure to engage as forcefully on human rights will ultimately be counterproductive to American security and Chinese stability.
Twenty years ago, the Chinese government did not even pretend to engage on human rights. Today they do. But in bilateral human-rights dialogues, the Chinese continue to insist on cultural and historical relativism. President Obama should therefore raise specific cases of imprisoned dissidents. Otherwise, the Chinese will see his words are mere lip service.
And why some Bush officials objected to the program back in 2004. Daniel Klaidman reports.
The revelation that the Obama administration authorized the collection of vast amounts of telephone records has the media and experts scrambling to understand the true nature of the program’s intrusion into the privacy of Americans. Earlier today, in an attempt to calm the “hype,” President Obama made his first comments on the surveillance controversy. “Nobody is listening to your calls,” he sought to assure the American people, pointing out that the program sweeps up so-called “metadata,” the time, numbers, and duration of calls rather than the content of communications. But following news of the Justice Department’s spying on reporters to catch leakers, Americans can be forgiven if they are reluctant to simply take the president at his word.
It was President Obama who said at his recent counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University, in the context of drones, that just because a counterterrorism tactic is legal or effective "is not to say it is wise or moral in every instance." The debate on that question has at last begun. (Getty (2))
So how to assess what if any real threat the metadata program poses to our civil liberties? One way is to look at precisely why dissidents within the Bush administration opposed the Terrorist Surveillance Program. The Obama initiative appears to be an outgrowth of the TSP—an effort to warehouse massive amounts of communications data to detect patterns and links that might indicate terrorist activity—with at least one significant difference: under the TSP, which began shortly after September 11, the data was collected without any court authorization.
That is until 2004, when then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey—coincidentally, Obama’s expected nominee for FBI director—refused to reauthorize the wiretapping program. Comey and a number of other top officials concluded that the intelligence effort violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), which requires judicial approval for domestic spying. The standoff led to the famous hospital room scene in which Comey thwarted two top Bush aides from pressuring an ill Attorney General John Ashcroft to reauthorize the program. Comey ultimately told Bush that he and much of the department’s top leadership would resign if the program was reauthorized over their objections. The collection initiative was suspended, while the government looked for ways to place it on a firmer legal foundation.
So why is everyone going crazy over the news that the government collected phone records and Internet data? Caitlin Dickson on how far it’s gone, who’s involved—and how Obama just defended it at a press conference.
This week, The Guardian informed us of a top-secret government order, approved by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, requiring that Verizon hand over millions of Americans’ phone records to the National Security Agency. People started freaking out. Then The Washington Post reported that not only has the government been keeping an eye on whom we call, when, and how long we talk to them, but it’s also been tapping into the servers of nine major U.S. Internet companies and collecting emails, photos, videos, documents, and other user activities. Then people really freaked out. All this freaking out is making it hard to decipher what, exactly, is happening and what it means. So let’s take a deep breath and break down what we know so far.
Since when has the government been collecting phone records?
On April 25, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court approved a top-secret order requested by the National Security Agency. The order requires Verizon, one of the largest telecommunications companies in the country, to hand over records of all its customers’ phone calls, both within the U.S. and to other countries, and regardless of whether they’re suspected of wrongdoing, on an “ongoing, daily basis” until July 19.
President Obama and Chinese President Xi kick off a meeting at a resort today, and while the hope is that the men will become pals, that goal misses the point, says Gordon G. Chang.
President Obama will meet Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, for two days of intensive talks today and tomorrow at the secluded Annenberg estate in Rancho Mirage, near Palm Springs, California. Expectations are high that the weekend discussions will reverse rising tensions and set the U.S. and China onto a cooperative path.
President Barack Obama(R) and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping speak during meetings in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, February 14, 2012. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty)
Why are the two leaders meeting in a desert resort? The concept is that the formalism of past summits has made meaningful conversation difficult. Administration officials believe the relaxed setting will help Obama and Xi develop a friendship—and that this friendship will lead to constructive relations between Washington and Beijing.
Since the early 1970s, the U.S. has talked to China in every conceivable format, formal and informal, bilateral and multilateral, secret and announced. Discussions have been held in Washington and Beijing and many places in between. There have been state visits, the Strategic and Economic Dialogues, and now this upcoming “shirtsleeves summit.” During the previous administration, the number of ongoing bilateral forums involving lover-level officials reached 50. Today, China watchers have lost count.
When it comes to corruption and Congress, the line the law polices is the wrong line, writes Lawrence Lessig.
Seven years after moving from the federal capital to a federal prison, former congressman (and top gun Navy pilot) Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA) is going home. Convicted of bribery for trying to sell defense contracts for $2.4 million in cash and yachts, Cunningham was sentenced to what was then the harshest punishment ever meted out to a bribe-taking congressman.
Republican Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham cried as he resigned in 2005. (Denis Poroy/AP)
The United States Congress needs the likes of Cunningham. Because the rare conviction of a member doing something plainly wrong reaffirms the claim of the others on Capitol Hill that they are not like him. Cunningham was a crook. He engaged in classic quid-pro-quo bribery. But no one credible believes that there are many more that stupid or perfidious. Congress is filled neither with top guns nor with craven criminals. And therefore, its leaders would have us believe, Congress is not corrupt.
But what the conviction of Cunningham should teach us is not that other members Congress should be trusted, but that the line the law polices is the wrong line. Sure, Cunningham was an exception, along with the man who broke his record for harshest sentence, William Jefferson (D-LA), who began a 13-year sentence last year, after federal agents found $90,000 in his freezer and tied that money to a $400,000 bribe. But corruption on Capitol Hill, in the plain meaning of the term that the Framers of our Constitution would have recognized, is endemic.
Washington and Beijing could use a breakthrough in their fraught relationship. And ahead of this weekend’s summit, they have more in common than ever.
Many of those who watch U.S.-China relations have long hoped the two countries could have “a breakthrough”—or some kind of dramatic new agreement that signaled a recognition that our bilateral relations require bold action to make the ways we have been interacting comport with the reality of our radically changed relative power and influence balance.
President Barack Obama meets with Chinese President Hu Jintao at the APEC Summit in Honolulu. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
In the Analects, Confucius emphasized that sometimes language needed “rectification” so that it better comported with the things it sought to describe in reality. “If names be not correct, language will not be in accordance with the truth of things,” he admonished. “And if language is not in accordance with the truth of things, then affairs cannot be successfully carried out.”
U.S.-China relations could certainly stand a little Confucian “rectification.” In so many ways, the manner of our interaction has fallen so radically out of sync with the problems that confront us. It is perhaps a recognition of this fact that has helped make so many Americans and Chinese look back on the 1972 Nixon-Kissinger visits with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai with such nostalgia. That was the last time the U.S. and China had a breakthrough that truly transformed the nature of our relationship. Ever since, we have been left yearning for our leaders to somehow find a way to again transcend differences, recognize our growing common interests, and begin to collaborate in a new and more active way.
Intelligence officials tell Eli Lake that U.S. customer data, secretly collected from phone companies, has been shared with British security agencies.
At least one foreign government has gained access to sensitive data collected by the National Security Agency from U.S. telecommunications companies in dragnet court warrants demanding the secret transfer of U.S. customers’ calling records.
An aerial view of the National Security Agency in Fort Meade, Maryland. (U.S. Government, via AP )
The information collected by the NSA, known as “metadata,” does not include the content of the phone calls or the names of the people associated with the accounts. But it does tell the government when calls were made, what numbers were dialed, and the location and duration of those calls. Current and former U.S. intelligence officials familiar with the longstanding program to collect metadata from American telecommunications and Internet companies tell The Daily Beast that, in a few discreet cases, the NSA has shared unedited analysis of these records with its British counterpart, the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ).
The Guardian on Friday reported that documents the newspaper obtained showed the GCHQ in 2010 gained access to an NSA metadata collection program known as Prism to secretly tap into the servers of leading internet companies such as Apple and Google. The documents showed the British generated 197 intelligence reports from access to the system in 2012, the Guardian reported.
A bill in South Carolina that would effectively nullify the Affordable Care Act is the latest sign of the modern Republican Party’s drift from the ideas that animated its creation, writes Jamelle Bouie.
South Carolina has, again, caught the nullification bug. As reported by The State, Republican lawmakers have proposed a bill that would allow the state attorney general to take a business to court if he has “reasonable cause to believe” that implementing the law would harm people.
South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley has been opposed to the Affordable Care Act since its inception. (Bruce Smith/AP)
One of the co-sponsors, state Sen. Larry Martin, insists that there’s nothing in the bill that would prevent a business from participating in a federal health-care exchange (Gov. Nikki Haley has already refused to build an exchange for her state). But that’s only technically true; under the proposal, there is nothing to stop the state attorney general from deciding that a participating business is harming her employees, and thus can no longer continue implementation.
Obviously, there will be no war if this bill passes—no one plans to fire on Fort Sumter, again. The most likely outcomes involve a lawsuit against the state of South Carolina—filed by businesses, like hospitals and health insurers, who want implementation—or nothing, as the state moves forward and its citizens are kept from access to decent, affordable health insurance. Congrats, South Carolina Republicans! You’ve scored an ideological win at the cost of immiseration of your fellow residents.
Verizon. AP. IRS. Obama’s not the problem—it’s a government that has grown too big to control. John Avlon on how to tame the leviathan and save the president’s second term.
With news that Verizon was required to hand over supposedly private domestic phone records to the government as part of a national security dragnet, the second-term curse just got much more real for the Obama administration.
Britain's Guardian newspaper says the National Security Agency is currently collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a secret court order. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty)
To date, however, the Obama second-term scandals do not seem carelessly self-inflicted from the top like those of the past, from Watergate to Iran-Contra to Monica or even the botched response to Hurricane Katrina.
But that doesn’t mean they aren’t deeply destructive to President Obama’s legacy.
John Kerry beat out Susan Rice for the secretary of state job they both wanted. But as national security adviser, Rice will effectively be Kerry’s boss, report Josh Rogin and Eli Lake.
Earlier this year, John Kerry seemed to prevail over Susan Rice when President Obama selected him to be secretary of State, a job they both coveted. On Wednesday, Rice regained the upper hand when she was appointed national security adviser, giving her a position that clearly outranks Kerry’s in the Obama power structure.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Susan Rice watches as the voting takes place on the resolution to upgrade the status of the Palestinian Authority to a nonmember observer state, November 29, 2012. (Henny Ray Abram/AFP/Getty)
Now, in an administration where all foreign-policy decisionmaking flows through the White House and the president makes key decisions personally, Rice and Kerry will be the two senior officials jockeying for influence over the remaining three-and-a-half years of Obama’s second term.
They have different styles and different agendas, and Rice’s famously sharp elbows and tough management style may prove a difficult fit in a White House where the president values harmony and discourages open infighting. Nonetheless, the two have worked in the past for common policy goals pursued by President Obama, such as the targetting of the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda.
The former National Security Council aide will be the next U.S. ambassador to the U.N. From Darfur to John Bolton, Caitlin Dickson pulls excerpts from the archives of Power’s prolific reporting career.
Samantha Power, President Obama’s pick to replace Susan Rice as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is a former National Security Council aide who has been a part of Obama’s team since he was a senator. But before becoming a part of the political system, Power was a journalist, making a name for herself by focusing a glaring spotlight on the shortcomings of U.S. foreign policy. As the national conversation swirls around Power and the news of her promotion, let’s take a look back at some of her journalistic highlights.
Samantha Power exits the West Wing of the White House in Washington D.C. on Oct. 12, 2010. (Charles Dharapak/AP )
Power wrote several dispatches from Bosnia at the beginning of her career that appeared in U.S. News & World Report and The Economist, among other publications. After contributing several “Postcards” to The New Republic from Sarajevo and Zagreb, she wrote her first major article for the magazine, headlined “Pale Imitation” in October 1996. Power wasted no time in clarifying the significance of the newly elected officials she’d go on to describe in detail, powerfully laying out her argument in a way that would render the state of affairs in Bosnia understandable to readers nearly two decades later:
“The price of the September 14 elections in Bosnia was not simply that ethnic cleansers were legitimized; it was, more mundanely, that ethnic cleansers were elected. Though Radovan Karadzic was not voted into office (indicted war criminals were not permitted to run), his ideas were. All three ruling parties—Serb, Croat and Muslim—spent the election ‘campaign’ cracking down on opposition candidates, obstructing the media, stomping out free expression and blocking refugee repatriation. As a result, the vote proved empowering only to those who already held power. The joint institutions so crucial to preserving peace and so often hailed by the Clinton administration as the ‘way forward’ will now be almost exclusively comprised of undemocratic, uncompromising and generally unsavory individuals.”
A congressional delegation to Russia and Chechnya, joined by Steven Seagal, takes Russia’s bait, hook and all, writes Michael Moynihan.
It was one of those worthless congressional delegations, full of grave purpose, that amounted to nothing more than a taxpayer-funded vacation and a propaganda coup for the wrong side. Congressmen Steve Cohen (D-TN), Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), Steve King (R-Iowa), and Bill Keating (D-MA) slogged around Moscow, appearing at the offices of the dreaded FSB (successor to the dreaded KGB), solemnly visiting the site of the Beslan school massacre, and chatting with various Duma representatives as part of a bumbling “investigation” into the radicalization of Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) speaks with U.S. actor Steven Seagal (L) during the mixed-fight Championship in Russia on August 11, 2012. (Aleksey Nikolskyi/AFP/Getty)
According to Rohrabacher, the group’s mission to Moscow was facilitated by former Hollywood tough guy and current freelance diplomat Steven Seagal, who happens to count fellow martial arts enthusiast Vladimir Putin and Chechen dictator Ramzan Kadyrov as friends. If not for Seagal, Rohrabacher averred, the striped-pants brigade at the State Department would surely mislead and misdirect: “You know what we got [before Steven Seagal]? We got the State Department controlling all the information that we heard. You think that's good for democracy? No way!”
Better that the “control of information” be managed by a slow-witted star of straight-to-video classics like Out for a Kill (as Professor Robert Burns) and The Patriot (as Dr. Wesley McClaren); who declares that he was “born clairvoyant”; who has been accused of sexual harassment by, among others, Jenny McCarthy and Ray Charles's granddaughter; who variously claims to have been a CIA officer and private security guard for the Shah of Iran and Anwar Sadat; who is chummy with Arizona’s birther sheriff Joe Arpaio and is an avowed supporter of Putinism.
John Kerry had no trouble getting Senate confirmation—expect Democrats to raise hell if Susan Rice gets the same rough treatment.
It didn’t take a political genius to foresee the Republican outcry over Obama’s choice of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice to be his new national security adviser. Republicans know when they’re being given the finger, and Obama made no effort to pretend that Rice’s appointment wasn’t a satisfying bit of payback for her torpedoed nomination to head the State Department: Drive off my top pick for Foggy Bottom, will you? Well, let’s see you advise and consent this!
'Don't call it a comeback.' Susan Rice has been here for years.
Rice’s was the one scalp the GOP could claim over Benghazi. Now that she’s come roaring back, this time in a role that Republican lawmakers can’t do a damn thing about, of course they’re spitting mad. If Utah Congressman and Benghazi supercritic Jason Chaffetz gets any more up in Rice’s grill, she may need to slap him with a restraining order.
But while Rice may have slipped beyond the GOP’s embittered grasp, Obama’s choice to replace her, Samantha Power, is preparing to sail straight into it as the president’s choice to succeed Rice at the U.N.—a role that does demand senators’ advice and consent. This leaves a political wrinkle to ponder: will gender play any role in Power’s confirmation hearings?
He may have made mistakes, but the outgoing national-security adviser kept us safe from harm.
Stop for a moment and thank Tom Donilon for his terrific public service and for being a good American. He doesn’t go around saying horrible things about Republicans or people who disagree with him. He wants to work matters out, a quality in desperately short supply in ugly Washington. Most important, as national-security adviser, he has prevented terribly costly stupidities and has lived up to the finest tradition of someone in his office: first, do no harm.
Tom Donilon, who is resigning as head of the National Security Council, applauds the appointment of U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice, at right, during an announcement by the president at the White House on June 5. (Charles Dharapak/AP)
Anyone who has read my rantings these past four years knows I’ve had my differences with Tom Donilon and more so with President Obama. But for all my slings and arrows, I know for a fact that Donilon—more than any other Obama official—did good for our country. He was the key figure in taking U.S. troops out of Iraq quickly, and before we found ourselves in the middle of the bloody civil war now under way there. Sure, some will say that had U.S. troops remained, the internal mess could have been avoided. These critics, however, don’t know any more about Iraq than the leaders who wrongly marched us into that country a decade ago. And Donilon pushed hard for U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan, for the Afghans taking responsibility for themselves as soon as possible. He’s been there with his finger in the dike against sliding into another hopeless civil war in Syria. And don’t forget that he was in the lead on refocusing American power and interests on Asia as the top foreign-policy priority. Each one of these acts has helped save America from mistakes, even grave mistakes.
Yes, I quarreled with various aspects of each of these decisions, mainly with the fact that I saw no evidence that they were encased in strategies that made good use of U.S. power and leadership over time. But each move prevented costly errors or set America in the right direction. And with all the mistakes committed in U.S. foreign policy, this keeping us out of harm’s way deserves high praise.
President Obama tried to dispel concerns over NSA spying on 'Charlie Rose' Monday, saying 'if you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls, and the NSA cannot target your emails... and have not.' So what's the big deal, right? Right?
Laura Colarusso on how Edward Snowden, who wasn’t directly employed by the government, got top-secret intel.
Every week this month, the Supreme Court will hand down rulings. Josh Dzieza on what’s at stake.
Pentagon papers lawyer James Goodale has seen Holder’s actions before—in Richard Nixon.