A recent ruling by the United States Supreme Court represents a big step forward, while another represents a leap backward. Both passed by a five-to-four vote. First the good news. The Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as a right of only heterosexual couples. DOMA was passed by Congress and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1996.
The exposure of the huge surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) of all phone calls in the United States, as well as the vast data mining of all electronic communications through computer servers and search engines worldwide, is one of the most important whistle-blowing events of our times. Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the surveillence Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, says these exposures by Edward Snowden, who worked for a private contractor used by the NSA, said Snowden’s exposures were even more important than the Vietnam War revelations.
The court-martial of US Private Bradley Manning opened on June 3, and is expected to last 12 weeks. The courageous US soldier leaked a large trove of classified material documenting US war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, diplomatic cables exposing Washington’s machinations in the Middle East and elsewhere, and other material. At a previous hearing, Manning admitted he was the source of these leaks. As a result, he opened himself to a potential sentence of up to 20 years in military prison.
Lynne Stewart, a movement attorney who was jailed for the “crime” of being the defense lawyer for alleged terrorist Sheik Omar Abdel-Rahman, is dying in prison of stage-four cancer. Her family and supporters, including Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are asking that she be granted compassionate release so she can live out her final days outside prison walls. The warden of Stewart's prison has approved her compassionate release, however the Department of Prisons has so far refused to grant it.
The Obama administration asserts that presidents of the United States have the power to wage endless war anywhere in the world without permission or hindrance from Congress. This claim is reiterates the position of the Bush administration, which was most strongly pushed by Bush’s vice-president Dick Cheney. It is another example of the seamless transition from Bush to Obama in foreign affairs.
A new scandal has erupted involving the use of the “war on terror” to crack down on the democratic rights of US citizens. The US justice department has acknowledged secretly seizing all the work, home and cell phone records of almost 100 reporters and editors at the Associated Press (AP).
In the aftermath of the bombing of the Boston Marathon, the Obama administration is broadening its definition of “terrorism” to include fighters for Black rights in the US. Washington has already used the term so indiscriminately against enemies internationally that it has become virtually meaningless. For example, every act of resistance to US occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan is labeled “terrorism”. By that definition, George Washington and the other American revolutionists were “terrorists” for resisting British rule.
The continued rightward shift of capitalist politics in the United States was underscored with the official release of President Barack Obama’s proposed budget. In it, Obama proposes to cut the already inadequate pension program for the elderly known as Social Security and the medical insurance program for the elderly, Medicare. These and other programs for the elderly and poorer sections of the working class are under attack. Both major parties claim that spending on social welfare must be cut in the current economic depression.
Since Richard Nixon proclaimed the “War on Drugs” four decades ago, drug use around the world has skyrocketed. From 1998 to 2008 alone, global opiate use rose 34.5%, cocaine 28% and marijuana 8.5%. People in the US are the world’s largest users of cocaine, Colombian heroin, Mexican heroin and marijuana. When Nixon launched the “war”, his initial budget was US$100 million for the first year. This has ballooned year after year, until it was $15.6 billion for 2011. Given this, here are many commentators who proclaim that the “war on drugs” has failed.
The stock market has surged past its former high recorded in October 2007, before the financial crash and Great Recession. “With the Dow Jones Industrial average [at] a record high,” writes a columnist in a front page article in the New York Times, “the split between American workers and the companies that employ them is widening and could worsen in the next few months as federal budget cuts take hold”. “That gulf helps explain why stock markets are thriving even as the economy is barely growing and unemployment remains stubbornly high.