Thursday Reads

Good Morning!! I’ve got a mixed bag of reads for you this morning, so I hope there will be something her to interest you.

Did you see the piece in The New York Times on Obama’s “secret kill list?” Very creepy. The article makes it clear that President Obama is actively engaged in decisions about which “terrorists” to target with drone attacks.

Mr. Obama is the liberal law professor who campaigned against the Iraq war and torture, and then insisted on approving every new name on an expanding “kill list,” poring over terrorist suspects’ biographies on what one official calls the macabre “baseball cards” of an unconventional war. When a rare opportunity for a drone strike at a top terrorist arises — but his family is with him — it is the president who has reserved to himself the final moral calculation.

“He is determined that he will make these decisions about how far and wide these operations will go,” said Thomas E. Donilon, his national security adviser. “His view is that he’s responsible for the position of the United States in the world.” He added, “He’s determined to keep the tether pretty short.”

At Slate, William Saletan breaks down the problems with the Times story and explains why the supposedly strict rules for choosing which people to target are really pretty meaningless.

To understand the Times story, you have to go back to a speech given last month by John Brennan, Obama’s counterterrorism adviser. Brennan argued that the administration was waging drone warfare scrupulously. He described a rigorous vetting process. The Times report, quoting some officials and paraphrasing others, largely matches Brennan’s account. But on two key points, it undermines his story. The first point is target selection. Brennan asserted:

The president expects us to address all of the tough questions. … Is this individual a significant threat to U.S. interests? … Our commitment to upholding the ethics and efficacy of this counterterrorism tool continues even after we decide to pursue a specific terrorist in this way. For example, we only authorize a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing. This is a very high bar. … Our intelligence community has multiple ways to determine, with a high degree of confidence, that the individual being targeted is indeed the al-Qaida terrorist we are seeking.

The rules sound strict. But reread the fourth sentence: “We only authorize a particular operation against a specific individual if we have a high degree of confidence that the individual being targeted is indeed the terrorist we are pursuing.” The phrase “against a specific individual” hides the loophole. Many drone strikes don’t target a specific individual. To these strikes, none of the vetting rules apply.

At Salon, Jefferson Morley explores the death of one little girl who was “collateral damage” in one of Obama’s drone strikes in Pakistan in 2010.

Around midnight on May 21, 2010, a girl named Fatima was killed when a succession of U.S.-made Hellfire missiles, each of them five-feet long and traveling at close to 1,000 miles per hour, smashed a compound of houses in a mountain village of Mohammed Khel in North Waziristan along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. Wounded in the explosions, which killed a half dozen men, Fatima and two other children were taken to a nearby hospital, where they died a few hours later.

Behram Noor, a Pakistani journalist, went to the hospital and took a picture of Fatima shortly before her death. Then, he went back to the scene of the explosions looking for evidence that might show who was responsible for the attack. In the rubble, he found a mechanism from a U.S.-made Hellfire missile and gave it to Reprieve, a British organization opposed to capital punishment, which shared photographs of the material with Salon. Reprieve executive director Clive Stafford Smith alluded to the missile fragments in an Op-Ed piece for the New York Times last fall. They have also been displayed in England.

“Forensically, it is important to show how the crime of murder happened (which is what it is here),” said Stafford Smith in an email. “One almost always uses the murder weapon in a case. But perhaps more important, I think this physical proof — this missile killed this child — is important to have people take it seriously.”

Tuna that is contaminated with Fukushima radiation has shown up in California.

Bluefin tuna contaminated with radiation believed to be from Fukushima Daiichi turned up off the coast of California just five months after the Japanese nuclear plant suffered meltdown last March, US scientists said.

Tiny amounts of cesium-137 and cesium-134 were detected in 15 bluefin caught near San Diego in August last year, according to a study published on Monday in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The levels were 10 times higher than those found in tuna in the same area in previous years but still well below those that the Japanese and US governments consider a risk to health. Japan recently introduced a new safety limit of 100 becquerels per kilogram in food.

The timing of the discovery suggests that the fish, a prized but dangerously overfished delicacy in Japan, had carried the radioactive materials across the Pacific Ocean faster than those conveyed by wind or water.

There’s a new smartphone for those in Japan who want to know if they are in a “radiation hotspot.”

Mobile phone operator Softbank Corp said on Tuesday it would soon begin selling smartphones with radiation detectors, tapping into concerns that atomic hotspots remain along Japan’s eastern coast more than a year after the Fukushima crisis….

The smartphone in the company’s “Pantone” series will come in eight bright colors and include customized IC chips made by Sharp Corp that measure radiation levels in microsieverts per hour.

The phone, which goes on sale this summer, can also keep track of each location a user tests for radiation levels.

And get this– NASA says that the earthquake and tsunami in Japan “disturbed the upper atmosphere.”

The massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Fukushima, Japan, last year wreaked havoc in the skies above as well, disturbing electrons in the upper atmosphere, NASA reported.

The waves of energy from the quake and tsunami that were so destructive on the ground reached into the ionosphere, a part of the upper atmosphere that stretches from about 50 to 500 miles (80 to 805 km) above Earth’s surface.

Greg Sargent discusses the surreal double-standard that Romney is using to compare his record in Massachusetts with Obama’s record as President.

You really couldn’t make this one up if you tried.

The Romney campaign is out with a new press release blasting Obama for presiding over a “net” loss in jobs. As I’ve been saying far too often, this metric is bogus, because it factors in the hundreds and hundreds of thousands of jobs the economy was hemorrhaging when Obama took office, before his policies took effect.

But this time, there’s an intriguing new twist in the Romney campaign’s argument.

In the same release attacking Obama over “net” job loss, the Romney camp also defends Romney’s jobs record as Governor of Massachusetts by pointing out … that Romney inherited a state economy that was losing jobs when he took office.

Seriously.

Check it out.

At Alternet, Steven Rosenfeld lists “five reasons the ‘Geezer Empire’ of Billionaire Republicans Are Showering Romney With Cash.” I’m can’t really excerpt this one. You need to go read the article for yourself.

The British supreme court found that Julian Assange must be extradited to Sweden, but in a surprise reversal, Assange has been given 14 days to “consider a challenge to the judgment.”

Julian Assange’s fight against extradition to Sweden may stagger on to a second round at the supreme court after he was granted permission to submit fresh arguments.

Despite losing by a majority of five to two, his lawyers have been given 14 days to consider whether to challenge a central point of the judgment on the correct interpretation of international treaties.

The highly unusual legal development came after the supreme court justices decided that a public prosecutor was a “judicial authority” and that therefore Assange’s arrest warrant had been lawfully issued.

Assange, who is wanted in connection with accusations of sexual assault and rape in Sweden, was not in court; there was no legal requirement for him to be present. According to his solicitor, Gareth Peirce, he was stuck in central London traffic and never made it to the court in Westminster. Assange denies the accusations.

At The Daily Beast, Malcolm Jones discusses how American culture has changed such that Bob Dylan has received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Jones points out that very few folk or rock musicians have been so honored. Certainly, Dylan is a “game changer”:

You don’t have to like or admire Dylan to admit that he was a game changer. He made folk music hip. He made rock lyrics literate or, put another way, he made his audience pay attention to lyrics because he made them mean something. He blew a hole in the notion that radio hits have to clock in at less than three minutes. He proved that you can stand on a stage with just a guitar and not much of a voice and hold people’s attention for, oh, about five decades. He wrote songs in his 20s that he can still sing today without a trace of embarrassment.

But he was once an “outsider.”

Dylan was distinctly an outsider, and there he remained for quite a while. It’s juvenile fun watching old press conferences when reporters did finally come calling later in the decade. The questions are so dorky. But what you realize is that the national press at that time had almost no one in its ranks that we would recognize as music writers. Most of the reporters sent to interview Dylan were 40-somethings in suits who treated him like Chubby Checker, just another flash in the pan phenom to be indulged. Instead, they found a musician who was the smartest man in any room, and someone who was more than happy to make fun of them (“You walk into the room, with your pencil in your hand …”).

The point is, in the mid-60s there really was an establishment and an anti-establishment (to be upgraded to a counterculture in a couple of years), and no one doubted which side of the line Dylan stood on. Back then, there were bitter fights over high culture and low, insiders and outsiders, and who got to say who was who. In 1965, the Pulitzer board refused to give a prize to Duke Ellington.

Over the years, all of that has more or less collapsed in on itself. Pulp fiction writers are in the American canon. Brian Wilson is understood to be a great American artist and not merely a great pop songwriter. The times did change, and Dylan was in the thick of making it happen.

But perhaps most telling is that Dylan is an old man now; his age is the one thing he has in common with others who have received the medal, but Jones says:

It’s cheap and easy to say that Dylan is now a member of the establishment. It’s also wrong, because there is no longer an establishment as we once knew it. And Dylan and his music had everything to do with that.

Interesting. So I’ll end with this:

What are you reading and blogging about today?

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