Sunday, January 19, 2014

Sunday Reading

60 Words and a War Without End — Gregory Johnsen in Buzzfeed on how the Authorization to Use Military Force has us at war without declaration and at whim.

AUMF 01-19-14

More than a dozen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, this is what America’s war looks like, silent strikes and shadowy raids. The Congressional Research Service, an analytical branch of the Library of Congress, recently said that it had located at least 30 similar occurrences, although the number of covert actions is likely many times higher with drones strikes and other secret operations. The remarkable has become regular.

The White House said that the operations in both Libya and Somalia drew their authority from the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, a 12-year-old piece of legislation that was drafted in the hours after the Sept. 11 attacks. At the heart of the AUMF is a single 60-word sentence, which has formed the legal foundation for nearly every counterterrorism operation the U.S. has conducted since Sept. 11, from Guantanamo Bay and drone strikes to secret renditions and SEAL raids. Everything rests on those 60 words.

Unbound by time and unlimited by geography, the sentence has been stretched and expanded over the past decade, sprouting new meanings and interpretations as two successive administrations have each attempted to keep pace with an evolving threat while simultaneously maintaining the security of the homeland. In the process, what was initially thought to authorize force against al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan has now been used to justify operations in several countries across multiple continents and, at least theoretically, could allow the president — any president — to strike anywhere at anytime. What was written in a few days of fear has now come to govern years of action.
Culled from interviews with former and current members of Congress, as well as staffers and attorneys who served in both the Bush and the Obama administrations, this is the story of how those 60 words came to be, the lone objector to their implementation, and their continuing power in the world today. The story, like most modern ones of America at war, begins in the shadow of 9/11 with a lawyer and Word document.

Read the whole article.

Another Scare Tactic — Jonathan Chait on the GOP’s latest attempt to rattle Obamacare.

Hiroo Onoda, the Japanese soldier who refused to accept defeat in World War II until finally surrendering in 1974, died today. In thematically related news, Obamacare opponents have organized their latest campaign to repeal the “Obamacare bailout.”

“Bailout” may be the single most unpopular policy concept in American politics. So now that Republicans have discovered, nearly four years after the passage of the law, that Obamacare has a provision that they can spin as a “bailout,” it has whipped the party into a frothy mix of genuine outrage and hand-rubbing opportunism, with repentant immigration reformer Marco Rubio leading the charge with a bill in Congress to repeal the “Obamacare bailout.”

There is no Obamacare bailout. A bailout is an ad hoc reward for a company that takes an egregious risk for profit and loses. The “Obamacare bailout” is a provision in the law called risk corridors. Edwin Park has a long explanation, and Jonathan Cohn has a short explanation, but the even shorter explanation for the lazy among you is that it’s a provision designed to make insurance companies in the Obamacare exchanges compete on the basis of price and quality, rather than cherry-picking the healthiest customers. The way it works is that companies that wind up with unexpectedly healthy customers pay some of their windfall back to the government, and companies with unexpectedly sick customers get compensated for their losses.

The Congressional Budget Office assumed that the gains and losses would probably cancel each other out, resulting in no cost to the taxpayers. It’s possible that there will be more sick customers than expected in the system as a whole this year, and the payout will exceed the payback. Conservatives have already taken it as a given that this will happen. Yuval Levin and James Capretta wax indignant in the Weekly Standard:

Because Obamacare’s design is so flawed and its rollout has been so bungled, enrollees in the exchange insurance plans are likely to be significantly older and sicker than the insurance company actuaries assumed.

It may be the case that enrollees in the exchanges are older and sicker than originally forecast. If so, the bungled website rollout would be one reason for this. (Another, smaller reason would the massive public relations campaign by conservative groups and Republican politicians to persuade young, healthy people to boycott the exchanges — which is to say, conservatives are now angry that taxpayers might have to cover the losses that they have done everything in their power to create.)

But it’s far from certain the exchanges will have unexpectedly sick customers. Aetna’s CEO told Sarah Kliff that the demographics of the customers so far are “better than they I [sic] thought they would have been.” That’s just one firm, and others are more cautious. [Update: Kliff has a more detailed report suggesting insurers may indeed be getting about the same risk pool they expected.] The open enrollment period lasts through the end of March, and the outreach campaign by the law’s allies is just getting started.

Out and About — Nico Lang in Salon on outing celebrities.

2014 is quickly shaping up to be the Year of Celebrity Outings. In the first week of the new year, as the Internet was abuzz over rumors about Republican politician Aaron Schock’s sexuality, Sir Ian McKellen belatedly upped the ante. An interview from a 2012 press junket resurfaced last week, one in which the British thespian casually outed half of his “Hobbit” castmates. Fielding a question on whether it’s getting better for gay actors in Hollywood, McKellen went right to naming names. “Just look only how many openly gay actors in the ‘Hobbit’ with were: two of the dwarves, to Luke Evans, Stephen Fry, Lee Pace,” McKellen said, in a very rough translation from the original German.

The problem is that only one of those actors is actually out: Stephen Fry. Lee Pace has never commented on his sexuality one way or the other. Queerty describes Pace as “not really out.” On Pace’s sexuality, Queerty’s Daniel Villarreal asked, “If you’re famous, like boys and live openly gay in your personal life, but don’t announce your gayness on a magazine cover or talk show, does that mean you’re closeted?” However, Luke Evans is an odder case, an actor who has been “on-again, off-again gay.” Evans described himself as a “gay man” in a 2002 profile in The Advocate, and in 2004, he told Gaydar Nation what he looks for in gay porn stars: “An enormous big fat cock!” Now Evans is straight with a girlfriend, at least in the press.

The gulf of difference between Lee Pace and Luke Evans shows the changing nature of the closet in 2014. Throughout his career, Pace has been as out as you can be without ever saying it, showing a consistent interest in queer projects. Lee Pace’s breakout role was playing a transgender nightclub singer in “Soldier’s Girl.” Since then, he appeared in Tom Ford’s “A Single Man” (based on the landmark gay novel), “Infamous” (about the making of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood”) and “Pushing Daisies,” executive produced by the openly gay Bryan Fuller. His career is similar to that of Zachary Quinto, a character actor similarly attracted to smaller projects. Quinto came out in 2012, and although it may have surprised some to learn their favorite Vulcan was gay, it didn’t hurt his career. Quinto’s coming out didn’t even make the headline in his own profile. It wasn’t considered a lead.

However, a Daily Beast article from 2011 looked at the difference between the Zachary Quintos and Lee Paces and guys like Luke Evans. Evans recently starred in “Fast & Furious 6″ and is the face of the rebooted “Crow” franchise, a rising star in an action genre in which gay actors are untested. “Do you want a career or do you want to be out?” The Daily Beast’s Tricia Romano asked. “It’s, what kind of career do you want? If you are open, you might not become the next Russell Crowe, but you could have a more interesting path. Quinto and Evans are, in a way, taking a parallel ride; but while the former might be seen more as a character actor; the latter, as [Paris Barclay of The Advocate] put it, ‘might be a Captain Kirk,’ and as he noted: ‘There are different dollar signs on different kinds of roles.’”

With Tom Daley and Maria Bello’s double coming out at the end of 2013, it’s easy to wax lyrical about the changing nature of coming out in Hollywood and say that it’s no longer a big deal. When you see a tidal wave of positive publicity from major media, the feeling is that our media culture is post-queer. However, Evans shows that gay actors still face obstacles to coming out, like a homophobic industry mindset that believes gay leads only have worth if they stay in the closet. If not, every gay actor would be out, and Rupert Everett wouldn’t be openly encouraging young queer men who want a career to stay in the closet. Just because it’s getting better for some doesn’t mean it’s great for everyone.

Things Unsaid — Zoë Carpenter in The Nation on what President Obama left out of his N.S.A. speech.

The most illuminating sentences of the speech on intelligence reform that President Obama delivered Friday morning were the first:

At the dawn of our Republic, a small, secret surveillance committee borne out of the ‘The Sons of Liberty’ was established in Boston. The group’s members included Paul Revere, and at night they would patrol the streets, reporting back any signs that the British were preparing raids against America’s early Patriots. Throughout American history, intelligence has helped secure our country and our freedoms.

The choice to begin the speech with an homage to spying—however noble—reflects the practical decision that the president announced: to embrace much of the surveillance activity conducted in the name of national security, while accepting a series of modest reforms that civil liberties advocates greeted as but a first step to curbing the National Security Agency.

The reforms that will likely get the most attention affect the telephone metadata program, which is authorized under section 215 of the Patriot Act. The president said he will end this program “as it currently exists,” by giving the intelligence community two months to develop “alternative approaches” that nevertheless preserve the metadata dragnet. He ordered more immediate constraints on the call records program, too. The FISA court must now approve every query, and analysts will only be able to trace numbers two “hops” from an initial suspect, instead of three.

The really significant parts of Obama’s speech were the things he did not mention. He did not call for a full stop to the bulk collection of communication records, only a transfer of ownership. Instead, he endorsed the idea that data about millions of Americans should be stored and made available to intelligence analysts. Tellingly, Senator Dianne Feinstein and Representative Mike Rogers, the NSA’s most ardent and prominent supporters in the Capitol, applauded the president for affirming that using metadata “is a capability that is ‘critical’ and must be ‘preserved.’”

Even given the new hurdles the government will face in querying the data, its collection alone poses serious privacy questions, as civil liberties advocates have been quick to point out. “The president’s decision not to end bulk collection and retention of all Americans’ data remains highly troubling,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The president should end—not mend—the government’s collection and retention of all law-abiding Americans’ data. When the government collects and stores every American’s phone call data, it is engaging in a textbook example of an ‘unreasonable search’ that violates the Constitution.”

Doonesbury — Selfie portrait.