Tuesday, January 31, 2006
Class-Action Lawsuit Against AT&T for Collaboration with Allegedly Illegal Domestic Spying Program
According to EFF, a nationwide class of AT&T customers is suing to stop this allegedly illegal conduct and hold AT&T responsible for its allegedly illegal collaboration in the government's domestic spying program, which has allegedly violated the law and damaged the fundamental freedoms of the American public. The lawsuit requests an injunction and damages. EFF claims the laws under which the plaintiffs seek relief provide that the victims can receive damages of at least $21,000 for each affected person.
The lawsuit alleges that under the NSA domestic spying program, major telecommunications companies-and AT&T specifically-gave the NSA direct access to their vast databases of communications records, including information about whom their customers have phoned or emailed with in the past. The lawsuit alleges that AT&T, in addition to allowing the NSA direct access to the phone and Internet communications passing over its network, and gave the government unfettered access to its over 300 terabyte "Daytona" database of caller information -- one of the largest databases in the world.
A copy of the Complaint filed in United States District Court for the Northern District of California is here.
Monday, January 30, 2006
Historian Questions Influence of 9/11 on U.S. Foreign and Domestic Policy
In this piece, Ellis questions the historical significance of 9/11 and whether 9/11 should be the defining influence on United States foreign and domestic policy.
As a threat to national security, Ellis suggests, because, while it placed lives and lifestyles at risk but did not threaten the survival of the American republic, 9/11 pales in comparison to the War for Independence, the War of 1812, the Civil War, World War II, and the Cuban missile crisis of 1962.
Ellis suggests that the U.S. government's responses to 9/11, such as the Patriot Act, and wiretapping of American citizens, are destined to be judged by history as similar to the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II because their ancestry made them potential threats to national security and the McCarthy scare of the early 1950's, which used cold war anxieties to pursue a witch hunt against putative Communists in government, universities, and the film industry.
It will be interesting to see whether Ellis's invitation to have a serious debate on these issues will simply be ignored, or whether Ellis will be smeared with ad hominem attacks as unpatriotic and liberal, which, to some conservatives, are synonymous.
Sunday, January 22, 2006
Gary Burton and Makoto Ozone Concert
Burton said he has been living in Fort Lauderdale full-time for about a year and a half. He announced an upcoming project with Pat Metheny, and a DVD Video from one of his concerts that will be released in March or April 2006. He explained the vibraphone was invented in 1930 and that, as a musical instrument, it is in its adolescence. He said he was lucky because when he came up as a young musician, there were not many jazz vibraphone players other than Lionel Hampton. But now there is a crop of younger vibes players coming up who are excellent. He declined to say which one of them was his favorite. Burton talked a lot about his work with and admiration for Astor Piazzolla, the Brazilian king of Tango. He mentioned his recent work with acclaimed guitar prodigy Julian Lage whom Burton said he discovered playing in a student band during a Grammy broadcast.
Ozone said his jazz playing was inspired by his initial desire to emulate Oscar Peterson, whom he saw in Osaka, Japan, at a concert he attended accidentally, at the age of 19. He said he initially rebuffed efforts by his music teachers to get him to stop copying Peterson. He told them it didn't matter as he was never going to make any CDs. He was not at all ashamed to say Chick Corea later heavily influenced his jazz style. He talked about his subsequent efforts to find his own unique style, much of the success of which he attributed to Gary Burton's suggestion that he get more into composing.
Burton's dexterity with four sticks and two hands is astonishing. He plays with blinding speed at times, and did not make one mistake that my untrained ear could discern. His sound is clean and strong and precise. His arrangements of standards, modern jazz, tangos, and his own and Ozone's compositions, combined with mastery of his instrument, command of the entire field of jazz and beyond, and his natural flair for making music, make him a not only a musical genius, but a towering figure of legendary proportions in the music world.
Ozone is, of course, a technically brilliant player. Burton has said Ozone is one of the best musicians he has ever worked with, and that is a huge compliment from a major, experienced player like Burton who has played with some of the giants of jazz such as Stan Getz. And Ozone plays with a surprisingly much higher level of soulfulness, enthusiasm, and pure grooving than might be expected from a kid who grew up in Japan.
Burton and Ozone played a good mix of standards, original compositions, and pieces by other jazz composers. The highlight of the first set was their rendition of Chick Corea's Brazilia, which is the fifth movement of Corea's Lyric Suite for Sextet. Both Burton and Ozone drew enthusiastic applause with every one of their inventive improvisational solos. But the comping each did for the other was just as awe-inspiring.
The effect their performance had on me was one of being transfixed, more on an intellectual level than emotional, as the huge number of crisp, flawlessly-executed notes they play within a single measure of music, and relentlessly measure after measure, seems beyond the immediate comprehension of someone who is not a trained music theorist. For me, by the time my emotional response had time to catch up to what I had just heard, they had already progressed to a musical statement of equal or greater intensity. Two days after the concert, I feel as if I am still emotionally processing the music I heard at the concert. To me, theirs is the kind of music that rewards many repeated listenings, as there is so much "musical information" in it, it is difficult for me to even come close to understanding it all from one listening session, which is one reason I enjoy their recordings so much.
Saturday, January 21, 2006
Why I Am Neither A Republican Nor A Democrat
For me, the Republican party is the party of moral conservatism. It is the party of those who seek to impose by legislation their personal moral or religious values on every other member of society. Republicans advocate economic freedom and the "deregulation" of business. But when it comes to personal freedom, Republicans, in general, seem eager to repress self-regarding behavior, often hypocritically so. For example, Republicans came to power in 1980 with an agenda to reduce the federal government and a renewed commitment to the right of individual states to make their own laws. But when some states passed referenda decriminalizing marijuana possession or authorizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, the Republicans in Washington seemed to have forgotten about states' rights and were ready with federal legislation and arguments about federal preemption in order to, in effect, overrule the laws voted on and passed by the states. The truth is that the Republicans believe in states' rights only as long as they agree the states are right.
Another example is in the area of homosexual rights. I believe people do not choose to live their lives as homosexuals. Homosexual people are the way they are not because they chose to be that way but because they were genetically predisposed from birth to become homosexual. And who does it hurt if homosexuals have sex with each other or are allowed to marry or enter into legally recognized domestic partnerships, as some states are now officially recognizing? Apparently, it hurts a lot of Republicans. Despite all their self-righteous, holier-than-thou blathering about the "sanctity of marriage" and the "protecting the traditional American family," their objections boil down to the fact that they are simply horrified by the thought of two people of the same sex making love, getting married, or having a legally recognized partnership. And that is reason enough for many Republicans to push for federal legislation and even constitutional amendments to stop any states who, by a democratic process, have already dared to or would dare in the future to take a more enlightened approach to the issue. I find the Republican party, in general, too much inclined to repress and restrict personal liberty for me to feel comfortable affiliating with it.
What about the Democratic Party? The old but still-echoing critiques of the Democrats as "tax and spenders" increasing the bureaucracy of the federal government, allowing a bloated welfare system that created a permanent underclass, and imposing unworkable and unreasonable regulations on business were not wholly undeserved. But in terms of tax and budget policy, government operations, human services, and economic regulation, there is no longer a meaningful difference between the Democratic and Republican parties.
In general, both parties primarily represent and favor the interests of multinational corporations and big business over the interests of individual American taxpayers and consumers. The only difference is that, unlike the Republicans, the Democratic party pretends to be on the side of the "little guy," and is more likely to enact programs purportedly aimed at helping individuals, but which, in fact, are purely cosmetic and devoid of any real, substantive measures to protect individuals from the depredations of the large corporations.
In addition, the Democratic party is more likely to favor programs and legislation that interfere in economic freedom to promote and pander to the interests of certain constituencies, like labor unions and African-Americans, deemed essential to the party's political viability. For example, affirmative action laws that require, simply based on race, gender, or national origin, the hiring, promotion, or acceptance of less qualified people over those who are better qualifed and more deserving based on merit unduly interfere with economic liberty. At the same time, when big business comes calling with their big money, the Democratic party will happily sell those constituencies right down the river with everyone else. Although it is to their credit that the Democrats are not as likely to favor repression of self-regarding personal behavior, the Democratic party, when you remove the sugar-coating, is too similar to the Republican party and too hypocritically unprincipled for me to feel comfortable affiliating with it.
Friday, January 20, 2006
Congressional Ethics Reform: Real or Cosmetic?
Congressional Republicans and Democrats have offered dueling ethics-reform proposals -- in the Republicans' case, to try to stem the Abramoff lobbying scandal; and in the Democrats' case, to exploit it. Predictably, the Democrats are trying to use this scandal as an opportunity to portray Republicans as corrupt. The Republicans have tried to deflect such charges with the lame mantra they enunciate whenever they are accused of some wrongdoing: but the Democrats did it too!
The truth is that both political parties are guilty of the same conduct. The mutual finger-pointing by Republicans and Democrats would be similar to an argument between the Gambino and the Lucchese organized-crime families as to which of them had stolen the least amount of money or committed the least amount of murders.
Whether Congress actually will clean up its own act remains to be seen. Many of the proposed "reforms" are only cosmetic, such as extending from one year to two the time a lawmaker has to wait to register as a lobbyist after leaving Congress, or banning former members who have become lobbyists from the House floor. Who really believes that will make any difference?
If Congress wants to make changes that will be more than cosmetic, here are a few real reforms:
- Hold the pork: end the growing practice of unauthorized earmarks, which refers to language in spending bills that directs federal dollars to private entities for projects that are unrelated to any existing federal program or purpose.
- End welfare for lobbyists: some organizations that receive federal tax dollars actually lobby for and sometimes receive more money to enable the organization to hire and pay more lobbyists to get more money for the organization. Institutions that receive federal dollars should not be allowed to use that money to lobby for more tax dollars.
- End corporate welfare: Eliminate the estimated $100 billion a year in corporate welfare subsidies.
If we see some of these reforms enacted, then we'll know Congress is interested in more than its usual political expedient of appearing to do something about a problem as opposed to actually fixing the problem.
Monday, January 16, 2006
Alito: "He Did A Brilliant Job"
The confirmation hearings have become farcical, an obnoxious hide-and-seek
ritual in which the administration's ultimate goal is to have the public
know as little as possible - as opposed to as much as possible - about
individuals being appointed to the most powerful court in the land.
On January 15, 2006, on ABC News This Week, in the Roundtable Discussion, ABC's Claire Shipman and George Stephanopolous confirmed the farce by openly admiring Alito's automaton-like ability to dodge and weave in response to questions:
CLAIRE SHIPMAN (ABC NEWS): I think, George, also people keep talking about did
the Democrats fail? I think we're overlooking the fact that Alito succeeded. He
did a brilliant job. Expectations were so low. Nobody thought he'd be able to
charm the Senators the way John Roberts did and indeed he did not but he did a
brilliant job at not taking their bait. I mean not only did he not answer
questions he barely showed any emotion.
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS (ABC
NEWS): Well, and he sort of answered the questions. He just would analyze them
to death and take all the air out of it.
CLAIRE SHIPMAN (ABC NEWS): Yes,
Tuesday, January 10, 2006
Alito: Empty Platitudes Served Up Fresh
A judge's only obligation "is to the rule of law. And what that means is that inAlito's statement is devoid of any substantive content. The reason a case is before the U.S. Supreme Court is because there is considerable and significant disagreement as to what the "rule of law" is, or what specific outcome the "rule of law" requires with regard to a particular set of facts.
every single case, the judge has to do what the law requires."
For example, a case that might come before the U.S. Supreme Court presents the following issue: "Does a municipal ordinance prohibiting picketing on the public sidewalks in a residential neighborhood violate the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which says Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech?" There was a split in the circuits: some said yes, some said no. In 1988, by a 6-3 vote, the Supreme Court said yes. This is the nature of the constitutional cases the Supreme Court typically decides. The Supreme Court does not and should not usually bother with cases that have easy answers. If there was an easy answer to the question, there would not have been so much disagreement about it.
According to Alito, a judge's only obligation is to the "rule of law" and "the judge has to do what the law requires." How does such guidance assist a judge in determining whether the residential picketing ordinance violates the First Amendment? Alito's guidance is miserably superficial, and probably on purpose.
No doubt some Supreme Court nominees and the Presidents who nominate them wish the Senators would keep their inquiries at the same level of inane generality. Of course, generally speaking, the Senators who favor the nominee will do so, and it is unlikely that doing so will trouble them in the least.
But every judge has a judicial philisophy (or in some instances just a really bad temperament) whether he or she knows it or admits it to others. Judicial philosophies are constant themes or basic analytical propositions about the law and justice that provide a common thread in a judge's decisions viewed in the aggregate.
Here are a few examples: some judges, and I am not referring only to Supreme Court Justices, when you look at the decisions they have made in the course of their careers, have exhibited some of the following constant themes: (1) "to hell with consumers and their petulant whiny complaints about getting personally or economically injured by large corporations;" or (2) "I believe God has a plan for my life, and I am so wonderful, and I feel it is my obligation to impose my moral opinions, beliefs, and values on everyone else, because I know better how every single person on this planet should live and what they should think, and, after all, America was founded by Christians was it not?;" or (3) "hmmmmm, this case is really boring....when are these damn lawyers gonna shut up so I can go play golf with Mayor McCheese?"
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how much you actually care about knowing a Supreme Court nominee's judicial philosophy before you give him or her a lifetime appointment and free health insurance, some of those pesky Senators will be a bit nosy about Alito's judicial philosophy.
And anyone who takes up the mind-numbing task of watching or reading the transcript of the confirmation hearings will be witness to Alito putting on a brilliant forensic display of the art and skill of circumlocution, dodging questions, uttering copious amounts of words, sentences, and paragraphs that mean absolutely nothing, and expecting people to accept he does not really believe the things he said he believed in when he was a lawyer in the Reagan adminstration because he only said them when he was a lawyer and, after all, everyone knows lawyers say anything they think they have to say in order to win any particular advantage, whether they actually personally believe it or not, and besides that was a long time ago and he doesn't think the same way anymore, but he is sorry he can't tell you what he really thinks now because he doesn't want any potential litigants to be concerned he may have decided their case before he hears the facts.
The Senate Confirmation hearings are just political theater. They only serve the purpose of finding out the nominee's acumen for being obsequious to the Senators who support his nomination, and playing "hide the ball" from Senators who want to learn about anything meaningful about the nominee's judicial philosophy. This is the true test of a Supreme Court nominee. If he or she cannot handle this ritual with the necessary aplomb and intellectual alacrity, then he or she is not qualified to serve on the nation's highest court.
Alito did just fine.
Thursday, January 05, 2006
Abramoff and Lobbying: Business As Usual, No?
There are no explicit quid-pro-quos involved. The politicians who benefit from these "donations" know that if they do not do the bidding of said lobbyists and their clients, then they will not receive such "donations" or be the recipients of such largesse in the future, or worse, campaign funds will be given to, or direct expenditures will be made on behalf of, their election opponents.
This is politics as usual in the United States. This is how public business is conducted every day in the United States. This is our legalized system of bribery of public officials.
I can understand the charges against Abramoff in terms of his defrauding his lobbying clients. What I do not understand is, in terms of the bribery charges, how anything Abramoff did or is accused of doing is any different from politics as usual. How exactly did his conduct deviate from politics as usual? Or are we witnessing a redefinition of what constitutes illegal bribery of public officials? I suspect it is the latter possibility that has the political recipients of Abramoff money falling all over themselves to part with it.
Tuesday, January 03, 2006
Response to William Kristol on NSA Surveillance Program
He accuses anyone who questions the President's actions of, in essence, being delusional because they must believe that "the terror threat is mostly imaginary," and being paranoid because they are "ready to believe the worst about American public servants."
Kristol asserts FISA was "broken" well before 9/11. Kristol constructs a straw man out of the following questions which assume facts established nowhere other than the blathering of his fellow Bush apologists: "Was the president to ignore the evident fact that FISA's procedures and strictures were simply incompatible with dealing with the al Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner? Was the president to ignore the obvious incapacity of any court, operating under any intelligible legal standard, to judge surveillance decisions involving the sweeping of massive numbers of cell phones and emails by high-speed computers in order even to know where to focus resources? Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed?" Kristol in his characteristically smug fashion topples his own straw man when he writes: "The questions answer themselves."
Mr. Kristol, here are the correct answers to your questions:
1. Was the president to ignore the evident fact that FISA's procedures and strictures were simply incompatible with dealing with the al Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner?
- The FISA Court which issues the warrants is and has always been a rubber-stamp. In the past twenty years, only something like five warrant requests were denied by the FISA Court.
- In addition, FISA contains a provision, 50 U.S.C. sec. 1810, allowing the President, through the Attorney General, to authorize electronic surveillance without a court order to acquire foreign intelligence information during wartime for a period not to exceed 15 days. At or before the end of the 15 day period, the President could apply for and obtain the necessary warrants for the continuation of such surveillance. No facts have been disclosed to date to suggest that the nature of the NSA electronic surveillance program is such that applying for warrants to continue wartime surveillance beyond the 15 day period would be impracticable.
- Shortly after 9/11, in the process of passing the Patriot Act, changes to the FISA statute were recommended by the Bush Administration, passed by Congress, and signed into law by President Bush. If President Bush truly believed that FISA's procedures and strictures were incompatible with dealing with the al-Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner, then the President could have and should have proposed the necessary fixes to amend FISA's procedures and strictures so that they will be compatible with dealing with the al-Qaeda threat in an expeditious manner.
- The unstated premise of Kristol's question is that President Bush chose not to comply with FISA because its procedures and strictures were incompatible with dealing with threats in an expeditious manner. Kristol's question is, therefore, simply a disingenous rhetorical tactic because the President's legal advisors have taken the position, not that the President ignored FISA because the law does not work, but that, during wartime, the President has the constitutional power to ignore any federal law that might interfere with action he, in his sole discretion, deems advisable concerning the conduct of war.
- Thus, the President did, in fact, ignore any perceived inadequacies in the FISA procedures. In fact, the President regards FISA as irrelevant in these circumstances.
2. Was the president to ignore the obvious incapacity of any court, operating under any intelligible legal standard, to judge surveillance decisions involving the sweeping of massive numbers of cell phones and emails by high-speed computers in order even to know where to focus resources?
- This question adds the unstated premise that not only is FISA incompatible to deal with the al-Qaeda threat, but that there is no conceivable legal standard by which surveillance decisions involving sweeping massive numbers of cell phones and e-mails by high-speed computers can be judged by any court.
- High-speed computers can only perform those tasks human programmers instruct them to perform. The human programmers presumably design algorithms that instruct the computers how to decide what cell phones and e-mails to sweep and how to determine what constitutes a "hit" worthy of further surveillance. There is no reason why a legal standard could not be developed by which a court could reasonably judge whether the instructions to be fed into the computers will or will not result in sweeps that are overly broad or intrusive for their intended purpose.
- Kristol's unstated premise begs an interesting question. If there is no conceivable legal standard by which any court could judge surveillance decisions of the type posited by Kristol, what standard is used by the NSA to make such surveillance decisions, assuming the NSA applies any standard at all? Of course, this is a national security secret that is unlikely to be divulged. But if there is such a standard, and it can be articulated by the NSA, then why would a reviewing court necessarily be precluded from utilizing that standard to judge the surveillance decisions?
- Again, however, Kristol is being disingenous. The President's stated legal position is that, during wartime, he is not bound by any law or legal standard that might limit his power as commander-in-chief to conduct war as he determines best. When it comes to the conduct of war, the President has unbridled discretion. Thus, the President did not order warrantless surveillance because there is no conceivable legal standard or court capable of judging his decisions. The President did so after his legal advisors opined for him that his decisions concerning the conduct of war are not required to comply with any law or legal standard.
- Thus, the President, in fact, ignored the alleged incapacity of any court to judge surveillance decisions. In fact, the President regards legal standards and reviewing courts as irrelevant to the surveillance decisions at issue.
3. Was the president, in the wake of 9/11, and with the threat of imminent new attacks, really supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA, if it could even be fixed?
- No one has suggested the President was supposed to sit on his hands and gamble that Congress might figure out a way to fix FISA.
- Presumably, the President and his advisors were, at all relevant times, fully capable of figuring out a way to fix FISA.
- But why would they worry about fixing FISA when the President's legal advisors had concluded that the President is authorized by Article II of the U.S. Constitution to issue orders for warrantless surveillance during wartime regardless of what limits might be imposed by federal law?
Those who question the legality of the President's authorization for the NSA to conduct warrantless surveillance against U.S. citizens in circumvention of FISA do not believe "the terror threat is imaginary." The threat of terror is real. But now, in addition to the threat of terror, we are faced with the threat of a president who appears to have arrogated to himself the power to act in blatant disregard of federal law. As former Republican Congressman Jim Rogan stated during the House debate on impeaching President Clinton: "National security is not more important than the rule of law, because without it, there can be no security and there is little left to defend." Or as American Founding Father Benjamin Franklin once said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Apparently, Kristol sides with those Bush apologists who ask "what good are civil liberties if you're dead?" Those who question the legality of the President's actions side with Patrick Henry who famously declared his preference for death over the absence of liberty.
Is it really a sign of paranoia not to trust American public servants to do the right thing? Who does Kristol think he's kidding? It is paranoid to believe you are being spied on when you are not. For today's U.S. citizen, the belief that he or she is being spied on is more realistic than ever.
Conservative Business Magazine Editorial on Potential Bush Impeachment Inquiry
President Bush is stretching the power of commander-in-chief of the Army and Navy by indicating that he can order the military and its agencies, such as the National Security Agency, to do whatever furthers the defense of the country from terrorists, regardless of whether actual force is involved.
Surely the "strict constructionists" on the Supreme Court and the federal judiciary eventually will point out what a stretch this is. The most important presidential responsibility under Article II is that he must "take care that the laws be faithfully executed." That includes following the requirements of laws that limit executive power. There's not much fidelity in an executive who debates and lobbies Congress to shape a law to his liking and then goes beyond its writ.
Willful disregard of a law is potentially an impeachable offense. It is at least as impeachable as having a sexual escapade under the Oval Office desk and lying about it later. The members of the House Judiciary Committee who staged the impeachment of President Clinton ought to be as outraged at this situation. They ought to investigate it, consider it carefully and report either a bill that would change the wiretap laws to suit the president or a bill of impeachment.
It is important to be clear that an impeachment case, if it comes to that, would not be about wiretapping, or about a possible Constitutional right not to be wiretapped. It would be about the power of Congress to set wiretapping rules by law, and it is about the obligation of the president to follow the rules in the Acts that he and his predecessors signed into law.
Personally, I do not believe President Bush will actually face impeachment for this. Although the President arguably disregarded FISA in ordering the warrantless NSA surveillance, he will be able to say he was motivated by his duty to protect the American people, and that he relied on qualified legal advisors who told him he was not required to comply with FISA. Similar to his defense that he relied on flawed intelligence that he claims he did not know was flawed in deciding to invade Iraq, the President will say it is not a high crime or misdemeanor to rely on legal advice that he had no reason to believe was erroneous. And nothing short of a U.S. Supreme Court decision saying so will legally establish that the President's legal position is erroneous. The likelihood of such a case ever reaching the U.S. Supreme Court is miniscule, at best.
The New American Slavery?
Spence asks: "What if we have never known freedom and have been taught to embrace our bondage, to fight for it, even to worship it?....What if we are taught in school the state religion called capitalism, a religion that condemns as heresy all that interferes with the monied class extracted yet more money from those least able to protect themselves?...What if a form of subtle slavery has been taught to us, made acceptable to us, made to appear even as freedom itself?"
Spence asserts that we, i.e., Americans, have become a nation of slaves. He defines slavery as "that state in which the person has no effective control over the course of his or her life."
For an individual, "If no matter how he schemes or toils he cannot explore his boundless uniqueness, if he has lost his only power, the power of the self, he is enslaved."
For an entire nation, "In the same way, the people of a nation are enslaved when, together, they are helpless to institute effective change, when the people serve the government more than the government serves them."
Spence elaborates: "When the course of government, like a descending glacier, cannot be altered by any action, by any petition, by any protest, by any desperate striking out, the nation is enslaved.
"When the people have at last discovered that it makes no palpable difference to their well-being which party takes power and, in despair, display the pain of their impotence by shunning the polls on election day, the people are enslaved."
According to Spence: "Our bondage is more pernicious than the slavery of old, for the New American Slave embraces the myth of his freedom as he would a dead puppy and, with all affection, speaks to it as if it were alive."
If we are slaves, who is our master? Spence answers this question as follows:
"The New Master is an entanglement of megacorporations on the one hand and an omnipowerful national government on the other, each stuck to the other like a pair of copulating dogs, each unable to move without dragging the other behind it, each dependent on the other, hating the other, but welded to the other in a dissolute enterprise."
Spence finds the seeds of what has flowered as our current condition of slavery in the birth of America as a nation:
"Can we not see them - Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and the others - waving the Declaration of Independence in the face of King George III, crying that, as a self-evident truth, 'all men are created equal'? And in George Washington's slave quarters, when the light of liberty penetrated the fog of hypocrisy, three hundered African men and women huddled half naked and half starved, their backs bearing the scars of the overseer's whip."
According to Spence: "America was founded on slavery and prospered from the sweat and misery of black slaves for nearly two hundred years before the Civil War."
What Spence views as our current slavery is attributable, at least in part, to our ability to accept and feel comfortable with contradictions:
"That many of the Founding Fathers - including Washington, Madison, and Jefferson - were slave owners is seen as but a fascinating contradiction. We have grown used to contradictions and accept them. Democracy and the corporate ownership of our politicians is a contradiction. Free speech and the control of the airways by the corporate few is a contradiction. Free enterprise and vast numbers of the population who are so poor they cannot begin to rise up from the pit of poverty is a contradiction. That the Founders made their fervid entreaties for liberty while they laid their whips to the backs of their slaves was a contradiction explainable, we say, by the fact that slavery was an accepted institution, acceptable because that abomination had become the way of things."
In Spence's view: "By the time of the American Revolution, the prevailing religion in America was profit, a religion demanding freedom for those with the power to pursue it and slavery for the helpless whose labor produced it. Slavery could be immensely profitable. James Madison told a visitor shortly after the American Revolution that he could make $257 a year on every Negro, and that the cost to him for the poor wretch's keep was in the neighborhood of but $12 or $13 annually. By 1776 slaves were at ignoble toil in all of the thirteen colonies....King George III's crime was, of course, that he dared collect taxes without representation. But before 'the shot heard round the world' was fired, the colonists had pressed into labor for their own profit over a million black human beings who, without tolerable food, clothing, and shelter, and without hope, toiled under lash and torture."
Spence asks us to look again at the Founders without the glare of their halos:
"They were never the champions of the struggling masses. In the colonies, they occupied the high ground of power and enlisted powerless poor whites to support them. Possessing power, they exercised it for themselves. Can we not see slave owner Patrick Henry in his wig standing at the precipice of the Revolution, stabbing his fist in the direction of the throne, the great defender of the rights of men, ensconcing his immortal words in the wet cement of history? 'I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!'
"But who spoke for the slaves in the squalid quarters within earshot of Patrick Henry? And for the free women? And, at last, the poor? And in this weary, repetitive drama, who now speaks for the great masses of the powerless in America, both the rich and the poor, who have abdicated their right to govern to the corporate oligarchy?"
Monday, January 02, 2006
Global War on Truth
By Robert Parry
January 2, 2006
George W. Bush’s dysfunctional relationship with the truth seems to be shaped by two complementary factors – a personal compulsion to say whatever makes him look good at that moment and a permissive environment that rarely holds him accountable for his lies.
How else to explain his endless attempts to rewrite history and reshape his own statements, a pattern on display again in his New Year’s Day comments to reporters in San Antonio, Texas?
In that session, as Bush denied misleading the public, he twice again misled the public.
Bush launched into a defense of his honesty by denying that he lied when he told a crowd in Buffalo, N.Y., in 2004 that “by the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires – a wiretap requires a court order.”
Two years earlier, Bush had approved rules that freed the National Security Agency to use warrantless wiretaps on communications originating in the United States without a court order. But Bush still told the Buffalo audience, “Nothing has changed, by the way. When we’re talking about chasing down terrorists, we’re talking about getting a court order before we do so.”
On New Year’s Day 2006, Bush sought to explain those misleading comments by contending. “I was talking about roving wiretaps, I believe, involved in the Patriot Act. This is different from the N.S.A. program.”
However, the context of Bush’s 2004 statement was clear. He broke away from a discussion of the USA Patriot Act to note “by the way” that “any time” a wiretap is needed a court order must be obtained. He was not confining his remarks to “roving wiretaps” under the Patriot Act. [For Bush’s 2004 speech, click here.]
In his New Year's Day remarks, Bush further misled the public, by insisting that his warrantless wiretaps only involved communications from suspicious individuals abroad who were contacting people in the United States, a policy that would be legal. Bush said the eavesdropping was “limited to calls from outside the United States to calls within the United States.”
But Bush’s explanation was at odds with what his own administration had previously admitted to journalists – that the wiretaps also covered calls originating in the United States, which require warrants from a special court created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978.
The White House soon “clarified” Bush’s remarks to acknowledge that his warrantless wiretaps did, indeed, involve communications originating in the United States. [NYT, Jan. 2, 2005]
Though occasionally the news media notes these discrepancies in Bush’s claims, it rarely makes much of an issue out of them and often averts its collective gaze from the deceptions altogether.
Lying & Enabling
For years now, there has been a troubling pattern of Bush lying and U.S. news media enabling his deceptive behavior, a problem especially acute around the War on Terror and the Iraq War, which has now claimed the lives of nearly 2,200 U.S. soldiers and tens of thousands of Iraqis.
Yet, even on something as well known as the pre-war chronology, Bush has been allowed to revise the history. In one favorite fictitious account, he became the victim of Hussein’s intransigence, leaving Bush no choice but to invade on March 19, 2003, in search of Iraq's supposed weapons of mass destruction.
Less than four months later – facing criticism because no WMD was found and U.S. soldiers were dying – Bush began to claim that Hussein had barred United Nations weapons inspectors from Iraq and blocked a non-violent search for WMD. Bush unveiled this rationale for the invasion on July 14, 2003.
“We gave him a chance to allow the inspectors in, and he wouldn’t let them in. And, therefore, after a reasonable request, we decided to remove him from power,” Bush said. [See the White House Web site.]
The reality, however, was that Hussein had declared that Iraq no longer possessed WMD and let the U.N. inspectors into Iraq in November 2002 to check. They were allowed to examine any site of their choosing. It was Bush – not Hussein – who forced the U.N. inspectors to pull out in March 2003, so the invasion could proceed.
But this historical revisionism – which Bush has repeated in varying forms ever since – spared him the need to defend his decisions forthrightly. By rewriting the history, he made it more palatable to Americans who don’t like to see themselves as aggressors.
Even before the invasion, Bush pushed the fiction that he went to war only as a “last resort,” rather than as part of a long-held strategy that had a variety of goals including changing regimes in Iraq, projecting U.S. power into the heart of the Middle East, and securing control of Iraq’s vast oil reserves.
For instance, on March 8, 2003, 11 days before invading Iraq, Bush said he still considered military force “a last resort.” He added, “we are doing everything we can to avoid war in Iraq. But if Saddam Hussein does not disarm peacefully, he will be disarmed by force.”
But former Bush administration insiders, such as Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and counter-terrorism chief Richard Clarke, have since disclosed that Bush long wanted to conquer Iraq, an option that became more attainable amid the American fear and anger that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Those insider claims about Bush's Iraq War premeditation – heatedly denied by the White House – were buttressed in 2005 by the release of the so-called “Downing Street Memo,” which recounted a secret meeting on July 23, 2002, involving British Prime Minister Tony Blair and his top national security aides.
At that meeting, Richard Dearlove, chief of the British intelligence agency MI6, described his discussions about Iraq with National Security Council officials in Washington.
Dearlove said, “Bush wanted to remove Saddam, through military action, justified by the conjunction of terrorism and WMD. But the intelligence and facts were being fixed around the policy.”
The memo added, “It seemed clear that Bush had made up his mind to take military action, even if the timing was not yet decided. But the case was thin. Saddam was not threatening his neighbours, and his WMD capability was less than that of Libya, North Korea or Iran.”
Despite the Downing Street Memo, Bush and his spokesmen continued to deny that the White House was set on a course to war in 2002. On May 16, 2005, White House spokesman Scott McClellan rejected the memo’s implication that Bush’s pre-war diplomacy was just a charade.
“The president of the United States, in a very public way, reached out to people across the world, went to the United Nations and tried to resolve this in a diplomatic manner,” McClellan said. “Saddam Hussein was the one, in the end, who chose continued defiance.” [For more on Bush's pretexts for war, see Consortiumnews.com’s “President Bush, With the Candlestick…”]
Despite all the evidence to the contrary, Bush’s historical revisionism still has mesmerized even elite elements of the U.S. news media.
During an interview in July 2004, for instance, ABC News anchor Ted Koppel repeated the administration’s “defiance” spin point in explaining why he thought the Iraq invasion was justified.
“It did not make logical sense that Saddam Hussein, whose armies had been defeated once before by the United States and the Coalition, would be prepared to lose control over his country if all he had to do was say, ‘All right, U.N., come on in, check it out,” Koppel told Amy Goodman, host of “Democracy Now.”
This media fear of questioning Bush’s honesty seemed to have reached a point where journalists would rather put on blinders to the facts than face the wrath of Bush’s defenders.
So, as Koppel showed, Bush had good reason to feel confident about his ability to manipulate the Iraq War reality. He even made his phony Hussein-defiance case during an important presidential debate on Sept. 30, 2004.
“I went there [the United Nations] hoping that once and for all the free world would act in concert to get Saddam Hussein to listen to our demands,” Bush said. “They [the Security Council] passed a resolution that said disclose, disarm or face serious consequences. I believe when an international body speaks, it must mean what it says.
“But Saddam Hussein had no intention of disarming. Why should he? He had 16 other resolutions and nothing took place. As a matter of fact, my opponent talks about inspectors. The facts are that he [Hussein] was systematically deceiving the inspectors. That wasn’t going to work. That’s kind of a pre-Sept. 10 mentality, the hope that somehow resolutions and failed inspections would make this world a more peaceful place.”
Virtually every point in this war justification from Bush was wrong. The reality was that Hussein had disarmed. Rather than the U.N. resolutions having no consequence, they apparently had achieved their goal of a WMD-free Iraq. Rather than clueless U.N. inspectors duped by Hussein, the inspectors were not finding WMD because the stockpiles weren’t there. Bush’s post-invasion inspection team didn't find WMD either.
Despite the importance of this setting for Bush’s rendition of these falsehoods – a presidential debate viewed by tens of millions of Americans – most U.S. news outlets did little or no fact-checking on the president’s bogus history.
One of the few exceptions was a story inside the Washington Post that mentioned Bush’s claim that Hussein had “no intention of disarming.” In the middle of a story on various factual issues in the debate, the Post noted that “Iraq asserted in its filing with the United Nations in December 2002 that it had no such weapons, and none has been found.” [Washington Post, Oct. 1, 2004]
But there has been no media drum beat – either in mid-2003 when Bush began revising the history of the U.N. inspections or since then – that drove the point home to Americans that Bush was lying. So his pattern has continued.
Snowing the Times
New revelations about Bush’s secret warrantless wiretaps indicate that the Bush administration undertook another disinformation campaign against the press during Campaign 2004 – to keep the lid on his wiretapping program.
In December 2005, explaining why the New York Times spiked its exclusive wiretap story for a year, executive editor Bill Keller said U.S. officials “assured senior editors of the Times that a variety of legal checks had been imposed that satisfied everyone involved that the program raised no legal questions.”
But the Bush administration was concealing an important fact – that a number of senior officials had protested the legality of the operation.
In the months after the Times agreed to hold the story, the newspaper “developed a fuller picture of the concerns and misgivings that had been expressed during the life of the program,” Keller said. “It became clear those questions loomed larger within the government than we had previously understood.”
In March 2004, Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey refused to sign a recertification of the wiretap program, the Times learned. Comey’s objection caused White House chief of staff Andrew Card and Bush’s counsel Alberto Gonzales to pay a hospital visit on then-Attorney General John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. But Ashcroft also balked at the continuation of the program, which was temporarily suspended while new arrangements were made. [NYT, Jan. 1, 2006]
After disclosure of Comey’s objection on New Year's Day, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., called for a congressional examination of the “significant concern about the legality of the program even at the very highest levels of the Department of Justice.” [NYT, Jan. 2, 2006]
But at a crucial political juncture – before the Nov. 2, 2004, election – the Bush administration kept its secret wiretapping operation under wraps by misleading senior editors of the New York Times. The Times, which had been fooled about Iraq’s WMD, was fooled again.
This tendency to always give George W. Bush the benefit of every doubt raises serious questions about the health of American democracy, which holds that no man is above the law. It’s also hard to imagine any other recent president getting away with so much deception and paying so little price.
Yet, the lack of accountability has been a hallmark of Bush’s charmed life, from young adulthood through his political career. [For details, see Robert Parry’s Secrecy & Privilege.]
When Bush ran for president in 2000, American political reporters – both conservative and mainstream – tilted that pivotal U.S. election toward him by applying starkly different standards when evaluating the honesty of Democrat Al Gore in comparison with Bush and Dick Cheney.
Reporters went over Gore’s comments with a fine-toothed comb searching for perceived “exaggerations.” Some of Gore’s supposed “lies” actually resulted from erroneous reporting by over-eager journalists, such as misquotes about Gore allegedly claiming credit for discovering the Love Canal toxic waste problem. [For details, see Consortiumnews.com’s “Al Gore vs. the Media.”]
By contrast, Bush and Cheney were rarely challenged over falsehoods and misstatements, even in the context of their attacks on Gore’s honesty. Cheney, for instance, was given almost a free pass when he falsely portrayed himself as a self-made multimillionaire from his years as chairman of Halliburton Co.
Commenting on his success in the private sector during the vice-presidential debate in 2000, Cheney said “the government had absolutely nothing to do with it.” However, the reality was that Halliburton was a major recipient of government contracts and other largesse, including federal loan guarantees from the Export-Import Bank.
But Cheney was allowed to get away his own resumé -polishing even as he went out on the campaign trail to denounce Gore for supposedly puffing up his resumé. [See Consortiumnews.com’s “Protecting Bush-Cheney.”]
This pattern of “protecting Bush-Cheney” intensified after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks when the U.S. news media rallied around the embattled president and concealed evidence of Bush’s shaky reaction to the crisis.
Though pool reporters witnessed Bush sitting frozen for seven minutes in a Florida classroom after being told “the nation is under attack,” the national news media shielded that nearly disqualifying behavior from the public for more than two years, until just before the release of Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11,” a 2004 documentary that featured the footage.
Major news organizations were equally solicitous of Bush and Cheney during the run-up to war in Iraq. While Fox News and other right-wing outlets were unabashed cheerleaders for the Iraq War, the mainstream media often picked up the pom-poms, too.
It took more than a year after the invasion and the failure to find WMD caches for the New York Times and the Washington Post to run self-critical articles about their lack of skepticism over Bush's war claims.
Nevertheless, the Times’ top editors were still willing to give Bush the benefit of the doubt in fall 2004 when his aides offered more false assurances about the legal certainty surrounding Bush’s warrantless wiretap program.
Now Bush's latest comments in San Antonio suggest that he still feels he has the magic, that he still can convince the U.S. press corps and the American people that whatever he says is true no matter how much it diverges from the well-known facts.
One might also presume – given the continued deceptions in his San Antonio remarks – that Bush did not make a New Year’s resolution to stop lying.
Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Secrecy & Privilege: Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq, can be ordered at secrecyandprivilege.com. It's also available at Amazon.com, as is his 1999 book, Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & 'Project Truth.'