The week in me

Over at Salon, I argue that torture is as American as slavery and genocide.

At Take Part, I report on a Drone Expo held in Los Angeles over the weekend where protesters were called racial slurs for interrupting a war profiteer.

And at Capital and Main, I report on how about 200 lawyers and law students held a “die-in” outside an LA courthouse to protest police brutality and a legal system they know is rigged.

Also: I forgot to link to this before, so here’s something I wrote for Salon about how Amazon’s decision to kick WikiLeaks off its servers was tied to the major contract it later received courtesy the US intelligence community.

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LA’s Drone Expo Stresses the ‘Good’ Side of UAVs

“There’s a good chance you will meet the next Steve Jobs here,” said Keith Kaplan, CEO of the Unmanned Autonomous Vehicle System Association (UAVSA), when I called him up earlier this week to talk about the Drone Expo his group was putting on in Los Angeles. Like the Internet, Kaplan argued that the much-maligned drone could do a lot of good – he mentioned “organic farming,” with some farmers using unmanned vehicles to track the growth of weeds on their land – and that we should distinguish the commercial and scientific applications of the technology from its “bad,” military-industrial roots.

B4w7if-CYAIO3O0.jpg:largeThe roots are, of course, totally rotten: From Gaza to Waziristan, drones have been used by the world’s most powerful militaries to extrajudicially execute “suspected militants,” problematic young activists and whoever happens to be standing around them at the time. Meanwhile, police departments around the country have been trying to get their hands on the unmanned surveillance variety, sparking protest from those skeezed out by the idea of robots with high-definition cameras hovering above their homes.

But cops and soldiers were nowhere to be found at Saturday’s expo, hosted in the Memorial Sports Arena just off the University of Southern California’s South Central campus. Instead, what I saw were hobbyists – nerds, who looked like they probably had some very strong opinions about Linux distros – and young women in booty shorts next to exhibitors’ booths trying to the overwhelmingly male crowd to check out were essentially remote-controlled helicopters; patriarchy was present as always, but the police state was pretty much AWOL, with companies gearing their marketing toward people who want to take “epic” nature photos.

Still, there was reason to believe the kinder, gentler face of drones and their potentially, legitimately good uses were being emphasized by some in attendance to deflect from the rightfully bad name drones have gotten from their use in, for instance, wanton murder. Just after the expo opened at 11am, around a dozen activists associated with a campaign against the Los Angeles Police Department’s proposed use of drones disrupted a keynote speaker, Austin Blue, whose company SciFly “operates both fixed and rotary wing aircraft in support of advanced technologies in support of US Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security and law enforcement programs.”

Video of the protest uploaded to YouTube (and since taken down) shows the protesters holding signs and chanting before one poindexter in the audience got up from his seat in a rage and snatched away all their signs. Later, as the activists shouted “hands up, don’t shoot,” a man can be heard saying: “Choke them.” A protester said he also heard a man call one of his comrades a “nigger” as they were being escorted out.

Perhaps affected by the commotion, later speakers stressed that they were for the “good” sort of drones, not those other kind (left undefined), with Captain Dave Anderson, who runs a whale-watching company in Orange County and recorded a popular video of said whales with an unmanned aerial vehicle, explaining that he was committed to using the word “drone” in order to reclaim it from those using the technology for less majestic purposes.

The most offensive part of the expo from the perspective of this left-wing anti-war scold was not the drones themselves – the privacy concerns are real and troubling, but like any technology it seems to me it can be used for both good (journalists exposing corporate agriculture) and bad (basically what the military does) – but former White House counsel Lisa Ellman’s attempt to coin a new word: “polivation,” a portmanteau of “policymaking” and “innovation,” a linguistic equivalent of a war crime that Ellman earlier deployed in a TED talk, achieving Peak Insufferability. Two of the following speakers, all repeating the the mantra that we need to get over our fear of the commercial use of drones and just Legalize It already, also used the term.

I bailed at that point.

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On the 2014 mid-terms and Obama’s inner Marxist

I wrote something for Salon about the 2014 mid-term electionzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz. Make it the only thing you read on the topic.

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Pro-war pundits are always wrong, always claiming to be right

Over at a website called Medium that I guess looks prettier than this website, I explain that neoconservative pundits Max Boot and Deroy Murdoch are heartless monsters who live in nicer homes than you or me. Read it.

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Hooked on finance

My latest piece for Salon is on the recent trend of big banks opening branches literally inside high schools, ostensibly to teach students how to deal with money but also, conveniently — and as they openly admit — to promote their brands. Check it out and may peace be with you.

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The latest in me

Friends! It occurred to me the other day: I have a blog. I should post things on it. Things I’ve written! And so here we go.

“The United States doesn’t ever trade its concern for human rights for any other objective,” US Secretary of State John Kerry said the other day. I respond on Counterpunch.

Despite a bunch of lawsuits, Hollywood production companies continue to rely on unpaid labor — though as I note in The Baffler, they’ll claim it’s a mistake if you ask about it.

That last piece was originally to be published by Vice, a media platform for which I once worked. It was killed because it implicated too many #brands with which Vice may want to partner one day, and because Vice doesn’t exactly have a spotless labor record, but such is life. All that out of the way: I wrote a bunch of things for Vice that I never linked to here.

I love you all. Happy Wednesday.

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New Hampshire makes life harder for military recruiters

The state of New Hampshire has just passed a law that bars schools from handing over “test results, detailed demographic information, and social security numbers to military recruiting services without the consent of parents,” according to the National Coalition to Protect Student Privacy (NCPSP).

The bill, sponsored by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, was signed into law on July 14 by Democratic Governor Maggie Hassan. Specifically, it bars schools from handing over data to recruiters obtained through the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) exam, which is ostensibly a vocational test administered by the Department of Defense. However, New  Hampshire schools are still required by the No Child Left Behind law to hand over so-called “directory information” to military recruiters — names, addresses and phone numbers — unless parents explicitly object (and even then, there’s still no guarantee their child’s information isn’t being stored in a Pentagon database).

The victory, albeit small, comes after a similar bill was defeated earlier this year by Democrats in Connecticut, which I wrote about for Rupert Murdoch. The difference this time, according NCPSP director Pat Elder, was that the lobbying campaign was much more low-key.

“We didn’t mention it publicly,” Elder told me, which meant opponents “were caught off guard.” New Hampshire is the third state to enact such legislation, joining Maryland and Hawaii.

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