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DRONE WATCH: U.S. Declassifies Counter-terror Military Campaigns

The Associated Press reports: 

"The White House’s semiannual report to Congress on the state of U.S. combat operations abroad, delivered Friday, mentions what has been widely reported for years but never formally acknowledged by the administration: The U.S. military has been taking “direct action” against members of al-Qaida and affiliates in Yemen and Somalia.

The report does not elaborate, but “direct action” is a military term of art that refers to a range of lethal attacks, which in the case of Yemen and Somalia include attacks by armed drones. … The report applies only to U.S. military operations, including those by special operations forces — not those conducted by the CIA."

Another step toward greater transparency, which can hopefully lead to greater accountability.

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Michigan Legislator Silenced

NPR reports that Michigan state representative Lisa Brown was not allowed speak on other legislation yesterday after she made a speech against a bill restricting abortion in which she used the word "vagina." A Republican spokesperson said Brown had violated the "decorum of the House."

"Brown called a press conference, today," the Detroit Free Press reports"She defended her use of the word "vagina," saying it is the "anatomically medically correct term."

"If they are going to legislate my anatomy, I see no reason why I cannot mention it," she said according to the Free Press.

"Regardless of their reasoning, this is a violation of my First Amendment rights and directly impedes my ability to serve the people who elected me into office," Brown added in a statement released by her office.

Read more here

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DRONE WATCH: That’s Not a UFO, It’s a Drone.

Wednesday evening, a saucer-shaped object was spotted on a flatbed truck being transported on the Capital Beltway.  Some drivers posted photos on Twitter and Facebook, some called the police, wondering why a UFO was being moved on the highway.

Turned out it was an experimental drone dubbed the X-47B being taken to the Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Maryland for test flights. What’s new about it?  According to a military press release:

"The X-47B is the first unmanned vehicle designed to take off and land on an aircraft carrier. As part of the program's demonstration, the X-47B will perform arrested landings and catapult launches at Pax to validate its ability to conduct precision approaches to the carrier."

The military warned that the drones are likely to be seen flying around in the coming months. And as one local resident tweeted, "Don't worry, that's not an alien spacecraft, just a flying military robot. …"

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DRONE WATCH: U.S. Drone Kills Three in Pakistan

In the second attack in two days, AFP reports that a U.S. drone strike killed at least three people early today in a building in the central market of Miranshah, the main town in North Waziristan near the Afghan border.

"A US drone fired two missiles on the first floor of a shop in the main market and at least three militants were killed," a senior official told AFP. … "When the first missile hit the building, I heard cries for help and ran towards it, but militants stopped me at a distance. When they started rescue work, another missile hit," a local tribesman said about Thursday's strike. "I eventually saw them removing three burnt bodies in a really bad shape. They were put in wooden boxes and taken away."

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Vargas: Journalist and Immigration Rights Activist

A year after publically admitting his status as an undocumented immigrant, journalist Jose Antonio Vargas writes for Time Magazine:

"There are an estimated 11.5 million people like me in this country, human beings with stories as varied as America itself, yet lacking a legal claim to exist here. It’s an issue that touches people of all ethnicities and backgrounds: Latinos and Asians, blacks and whites. (And, yes, undocumented immigrants come from all sorts of countries like Israel, Nigeria and Germany.) It’s an issue that goes beyond election-year politics and transcends the limitations of our broken immigration system and the policies being written to address them."

Read more and follow Time's coverage here

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Meritocracy Has Failed

Salon's Editor-at-Large, Joan Walsh writes:

"Thanks to OWS and the work of writers like Stiglitz, 2012 was supposed to be the year America rediscovered and tackled economic inequality. Time magazine closed 2011 by naming OWS its top story of the year, a pretty big honor for a movement that only revved up in the year’s final quarter. But that’s how much its “We are the 99 percent” framing seemed to change the political debate."

Read her full article here

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Senate Seeks Greater Respect for Human Rights in Russia

The Hill reports:

"A Senate panel on Tuesday will move human-rights legislation that lawmakers of both parties say is critical to gaining their support for establishing normal trade ties with Russia.

The Senate Foreign Affairs Committee will vote on the so-called Magnitsky bill, named after a whistleblowing Russian lawyer who died in police custody, along with a number of other bills and ambassador nominations. The news comes after Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) on Tuesday announced his intention to pair the human-rights bill with the trade legislation, which must clear his committee.
 
The Magnitsky legislation targets human-rights violators in Russia with financial and travel sanctions. The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed the bill last week.
 
Without it, several lawmakers say, they cannot support establishing normal permanent trade relations with Russia, which would put U.S. companies at a disadvantage when Russia joins the World Trade Organization this summer. The Obama administration's top trade negotiator has called for a clean vote on the trade issue."
 
Read more here
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DRONE WATCH: How Drones Help Al Qaeda

Ibrahim Mothana, an activist, writer and community worker from Yemen, writes that the anger and despair resulting from civilian casualties of drone strikes are causing Yemenis to join radical militants:

"Anti-Americanism is far less prevalent in Yemen than in Pakistan. But rather than winning the hearts and minds of Yemeni civilians, America is alienating them by killing their relatives and friends. Indeed, the drone program is leading to the Talibanization of vast tribal areas and the radicalization of people who could otherwise be America’s allies in the fight against terrorism in Yemen. … Yemeni tribes are generally quite pragmatic and are by no means a default option for radical religious groups seeking a safe haven. However, the increasing civilian toll of drone strikes is turning the apathy of tribal factions into anger. The strikes have created an opportunity for terrorist groups like Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Ansar al-Sharia to recruit fighters from tribes who have suffered casualties."

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DRONE WATCH: World Opinion Opposes Drones

According to a new Pew Research Center global survey:

"The Obama administration's increasing use of unmanned drone strikes to kill terror suspects is widely opposed around the world.  … In 17 out of 21 countries surveyed, more than half of the people disapproved of U.S. drone attacks targeting extremist leaders and groups in nations such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia."

The major exception? “… in the United States, a majority, or 62 percent, approved the drone campaign.”

You can read the Pew Survey HERE.

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DRONE WATCH: Drones on the Hill

Twenty-six Members of Congress sent a letter to President Obama yesterday demanding the White House’s legal justification for “signature” drone strikes. Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), with 23 other Democrats and two Republicans wrote:

“We are concerned that the use of such ‘signature’ strikes could raise the risk of killing innocent civilians or individuals who may have no relationship to attacks on the United States. Our drone campaigns already have virtually no transparency, accountability or oversight. We are further concerned about the legal grounds for such strikes under the 2001 Authorization for the Use of Military Force. The implications of the use of drones for our national security are profound. They are faceless ambassadors that cause civilian deaths, and are frequently the only direct contact with Americans that the targeted communities have.  They can generate powerful and enduring anti-American sentiment.” 

In the Senate, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) introduced the “Preserving Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act,” which would require the government to get a warrant before using aerial drones to surveil U.S. citizens. According to Sen. Paul:

"Like other tools used to collect information in law enforcement, in order to use drones a warrant needs to be issued. Americans going about their everyday lives should not be treated like criminals or terrorists and have their rights infringed upon by military tactics."

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