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If U.S. citizens knew how it felt to be targeted by deadly flying robots, it might shape domestic attitudes toward the Obama administration’s drone program. Artist Tomas Van Houtryve is using video and photography to foster that discussion by putting average Americans under drone-like surveillance.
“The drone has become the preferred tool of the ‘War on Terror,’” says Van Houtryve. “We live in the most media-connected age ever, and yet the American public has no visual narrative of the drone war. This is a secret war, making it easier to push to the back of our minds or only think about in abstract terms.”
To make the abstract real with his series Blue Sky Days, Van Houtryve mounted his DSLR on a quadcopter he bought online. He flew it over weddings, funerals, groups in prayer, and people exercising in public places—circumstances in which people have been killed by U.S. drone strikes abroad. “We’re told that the drone program saves American lives, and that civilian casualties are avoided with the surgical precision [of the technology]. The former claim is true, the latter is seriously in doubt,” says Van Houtryve.
The Obama administration doesn’t release a lot of details, so firm figures are hard to come by. But the Bureau of Investigative Journalism estimates unmanned aerial vehicles have killed between 2,296 and 3,718 people, as many as 957 of them civilians. Last week, Dr. Larry Lewis of the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded military research organization, called on the government to to gather and disclose more accurate data regarding civilian casualties from drone strikes. Many of these strikes are covert, which makes it difficult for the public to even know about them, let alone debate their merits. “If a technology with extremely powerful spying and killing capabilities is shielded from public scrutiny there is bound to be abuse,” says Van Houtryve.
President Obama may want to think twice now before casually approving a selfie with a celebrity. A self-portrait taken with Obama by Red Sox baseball player David Ortiz is being used by Samsung as a promotional pic, and the administration isn’t happy about it.
The Red Sox were visiting the President at the White House this past Tuesday to celebrate their World Series victory, and Ortiz was given the privilege of handing an honorary Red Sox jersey to Obama.
After posing for some press photos, Ortiz asked if he could take another picture with his own phone. “He wants to do a selfie. It’s the Big Papi selfie,” Obama responded before posing for the picture.
He’s become the Republican party’s primary voice on issues of poverty, but Rep. Paul Ryan’s newly unveiled budget is full of deep cuts to many key safety net programs destined to hurt the nation’s neediest Americans.
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday expanded how much political donors can give candidates and parties in federal elections by striking down a key pillar of campaign finance law.
On a 5-4 vote, the court struck down the overall limits on how much individuals can give to candidates, parties and political action committees in total during the federal two-year election cycle.
The ruling leaves in place base limits on how much a donor can give individual candidates and laws that require candidates, parties and political action committees to disclose information about donors.
The court was divided over how sweeping the ruling actually is. The biggest impact is that a single donor can now give the maximum amount by law to as many federal candidates, parties and committees as he or she wishes.
The 5-4 split was along party lines, with the five justices appointed by Republican presidents joining the majority and the four appointed by Democratic presidents dissenting.
Chief Justice John Roberts, writing on behalf of the court, said the justices did not reach the question of whether to overturn a key 1976 ruling, called Buckley v. Valeo, which upheld limits on campaign finance donations while also describing how courts should analyze such regulations. Justice Clarence Thomas, who voted with Roberts, said the court had gone further than the chief justice claimed.
Roberts said in his opinion that the aggregate limits violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which protects free speech. He rejected the contention of President Barack Obama’s administration that the limits are needed to fight corruption.
The caps “do little, if anything, to address that concern, while seriously restricting participation in the democratic process,” wrote Roberts, appointed by former President George W. Bush, a Republican.
Tomas van Houtryve takes on the proliferation of drones as weapons and as tools of surveillance in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, in a photo essay titled “Blue Sky Days.” At 16 pages, it’s the largest picture story ever published by Harper’s.
Back in 2007, world-renown visual storyteller Platon took on an assignment to capture a photograph of Russian president Vladimir Putin. In what would end up being one of the scariest assignments of his life (which is saying a lot given some of the stuff he’s covered), his portrait session for TIME‘s person of the year award involved just a few more guns and guards than most.
In the video above, put together by CNN, Platon runs through the shoot from start to finish, giving us some insight into the rather frightening environment he found himself working in.
The important takeaway is that he didn’t go in without a plan. Before the assignment, he did some research on the Russian president and found out Putin is a massive Beatles fan. Using that as a bit of an ice-breaker, Platon was able to strike a positive chord with “the face of cold authority” by pursuing this topic of conversation.
Murals of Northern Ireland: Conflicting Ideologies
The following was written by photographer Stephen Reel, who is currently based in New York City but was born in Dublin. As a photographer, his passion is documenting civil rights struggles and exploring the human condition. The work in today’s photo gallery was taken between 2000 and 2013, but the photographer has been documenting murals in Northern Ireland for over 20 years. Follow Reel’s Instagram to see the full series. He has over 100.
“I started to document these murals as a way to preserve them for future generations. During the height of the ‘Troubles’ some of the murals wouldn’t last too long due to opposing opinions and political differences, often being painted over and, in some cases, doused in petrol and set on fire.
I find it interesting how politicized and message-focused the job of White House photographer seems to have become. In interview after interview in Obama’s first term, official photographer and Director of the White House Photography Office, Pete Souza, insisted that his job was to create photographs of the President that would last for the next 50 to 100, to up to 500 years. (That’s in response to petty name calling that is likely good for about one news cycle.)
Specifically, were referencing a back-and-forth from a week ago. The catalyst was the photo above of the President on the phone with President Putin taken by Souza on March 1st and posted to the White House Flickr site. What happened was, after news site @Storyful noted the photo in a tweet, it was replied to by Geoffrey Zakarian, the (apparently right wing) celebrity chef (93k followers) who has a show on the Food Network. (The tweet has been since deleted.)