Banned In America – Congress Condemns The New York Times

The House is voting on, and will likely pass, H. Res 895 (PDF), a bill designed to condemn the New York Times for publishing a story that disclosed government spying on private banking transactions. The program is just another effort on the part of the Bush administration to further erode civil liberties in pursuit of their agenda of fear.

Never mind that the story disclosed nothing that wasn’t already publicly available (as Glenn Greenwald expertly illustrates), or that the Wall Street Journal and the L.A. Times also ran the story, or that, while this leak outrages the administration, they have no problem leaking the identity of covert CIA operatives in order to punish their critics.

This bill is about one thing only: Intimidating the press into silence. Ironically, it is directed at a press that is already silent most of the time on the important matters that face our nation and world. This is just a continuation of a policy to manage the media through fear. Earlier this month, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) called for the criminal prosecution of the editors of the Times just because they finally started to do their job. Bill O’Reilly has been castigating the Times and asking his viewers if they would rather side with government or the press. Thomas Jefferson already answered that question saying:

“…were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

The media is already a doddering institution that, more often than not, fails to satisfy its mission. But this sort of legislative assault on the first amendment can only make things worse.

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Prosecute The Messenger, Part III

In the wake of the New York Times story on the government prying into banking transactions, an army on the right has formed to denounce, not just the story, but the Times for revealing what they consider to be a program vital to the safety of Americans. Politicians and pundits on the right are crawling all over themselves to condemn the Times, and others who published this material, as traitors. They are calling for the Times to have its press credentials revoked and for the paper and its reporters to be prosecuted under anti-espionage laws.

Glenn Greenwald at Unclaimed Territory has masterfully summarized and responded to the nonsense being spewed by these repressive opponents of a free press.

They believe that the Bush administration ought to be allowed to act in complete secrecy, with no oversight of any kind. George Bush is Good and the administration wants nothing other than to stop The Terrorists from killing us. There is no need for oversight over what they are doing because we can trust our political officials to do good on their own. We don’t need any courts or any Congress or any media serving as a “watchdog” over the Bush administration. There is no reason to distrust what they do. We should — and must — let them act in total secrecy for our own good, for our protection. And anyone who prevents them from acting in total secrecy is not merely an enemy of the Bush administration, but of the United States, i.e., is a traitor.

The whole article, and the case made in it, is worth reading and disseminating as far and as wide as bloggingly possible.

The MySpace World Domination Conspiracy

OK, here it is. This blows the lid off of the totalitarian overlords once and for all. The mother of all conspiracies and MySpace is at the center of it.

Go back with me to February 2002, when the existence of the Total Information Awareness (TIA) Office at DARPA was disclosed by the New York times. John Poindexter, the former Reagan National Security Advisor who was convicted of lying to Congress about his management of the Iran-contra affair, was the head of TIA, whose mission was to:

…gather as much information as possible about everyone in a centralized location for easy perusal by the United States government, including Internet activity, credit card purchase histories, airline ticket purchases, car rentals, medical records, educational transcripts, driver’s licenses, utility bills, tax returns, and any other available data.

After having been revealed, the hue and cry from the public resonated through the halls of Congress. Russ Feingold introduced the Data-Mining Moratorium Act of 2003, to suspend operations at TIA until a review of its practices could be completed. Not surprisingly, the review was never initiated by the Republican majority and the program just seemed to fade away.

In fact, some of the critical technologies were surreptitiously transferred to other intelligence agencies including the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Advanced Research and Development Activity (ARDA), a branch of the NSA. The NSA, of course, was already engaging in illegal covert programs to wiretap phone conversations and collect records from the phone companies. The NSA chief through much of that time was General Michael Hayden, who was also a deputy to John Negroponte, Director of DHS. Negroponte was also Ambassador to El Salvador while Poindexter was at the White House funding contras in Nicaragua. More recently we learned that the government is also tracking private banking transactions without obtaining warrants or submitting to any judicial oversight. And Hayden went on to become the Director of the CIA.

Stay with me now – here’s where it gets interesting. ARDA, which has changed its name to the Disruptive Technology Office (I’m not kidding), has been funding research into the mass harvesting of the information available on social networks like MySpace. The New Scientist reports that:

By adding online social networking data to its phone analyses, the NSA could connect people at deeper levels, through shared activities… the NSA could combine with social networking details includes information on purchases, where we go (available from cellphone records, which cite the base station a call came from) and what major financial transactions we make.

Combining that data with the personal information that MySpace collects, the recorded network of friends, and the communications that are made and stored online, will produce some pretty thorough profiles.

Now, with the government creating these clandestine agencies, shuffling them around and changing their names, supporting them with ever more technology to pry deeper into our personal lives, and attacking the media any time they report on some aspect of these activities so as to insure their secrecy, what is the next piece of this puzzle to fall into place?

Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of News Corp and Fox News, buys MySpace for $580 million dollars. Never mind that MySpace, while growing its membership exponentially, has lost money since its inception. What better steward for this program of privacy obliteration than the committed right-wing baron of one of the world’s largest media empires?

Am I just paranoid, or does it seem like there really is a governmental and corporate cabal that is positioning itself to become the Big Brother that Orwell warned us about?

Vets For Freedom: Fronts For GOP

Vets For Freedom (VFF) claims to be “a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote the unbiased, nonpartisan truth of military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.” They are marketing their services to media firms for whom they offer to provide reports from Iraq as embedded correspondents. The only problem is that they are actually a fiercely partisan group of Republican operatives who are purposefully concealing their biased connections and funding.

Source Watch has learned that Taylor Gross, whose PR firm is pitching for VFF, is a former White House spokesman for President Bush – a fact that Gross omits when offering the group’s services as non-partisan reporters. The Buffalo News was solicited by Gross and published an article about the encounter.

But the real meat of this melowdrama is the information turned up by Source Watch. Their investigation reveals associations with a variety of GOP connected organizations including:

  • The Herald Group
  • Campaign Solutions
  • Creative Response Concepts
  • The Donatelli Group
  • The Republican Party
  • Swift Boat Veterans for Truth

The ties to these organizations suggest a sophisticated degree of coordination. This can only be described as deliberate campaign to plant positively biased propaganda in the media. While they have not yet had any success in syndicating their faux correspondents, they have had their representatives appear in broadcast media (including CNN) as spokespersons for veterans.

These imposters are deeply rooted in Republican politics, but they are also somewhat inept. The attempt to cover their tracks was executed so amateurishly that Source Watch was able to paint a pretty complete picture of this deceit. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need to keep an eye on them. Undoubtedly they will continue to spread their misinformation and they are well positioned to be this year’s Swiftboat Liars group. They have already begun disparaging other vets that are critical of the war and the Bush administration like Democrat John Murtha and Republican Chuck Hagel.

This is a band of weasels that we will need to be prepared to smack down with the truth whenever they raise their shiny snouts.

Stalking Points Memo – Warmongers At Home

Warmongers At Home

Gather round as Bill explains the geo-political complexities of the conflict in the Middle-East. By the time this lesson is over, you too will be an expert at building strawmen and posing questions that are deftly left unanswered.

(Click the pic here to go to Stalking Points Memo page, then click the pic there to start the Flash movie)

Washington Post: Jon Stewart, Enemy Of Democracy?

With that headline, the Washington Post commences a serious mischaracterization of a study centered on Daily Show viewers. The study’s authors, Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan Morris of East Carolina University, sought to define “The Daily Show Effect” on its audience.

The WP says:
“Two political scientists found that young people who watch Stewart’s faux news program, “The Daily Show,” develop cynical views about politics and politicians that could lead them to just say no to voting.”

The researchers themselves found that:
Daily Show viewers, primarily young adults in their late teens and early 20s, tend to trust their own knowledge of politics. And that, …whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, we don’t know. But that, As “Daily Show” viewers grow more confident in political knowledge…they could become more active voters…”Participation breeds more participation and informed participation” he said. “So that by itself would be a net positive.”

So amongst the conclusions of the researchers was the possibility that the Daily Show may produce a greater likelihood of voting. The Post doesn’t cite that possibility anywhere in its article, while featuring the notion that the program could suppress voting.

I would submit that any program that leads viewers “to be cynical about individual candidates, the electoral process and the media…[and]…to trust their own knowledge of politics,” is performing an essential public service. It proves that the program is producing an enlightened skepticism that is firmly rooted in reality – contrary to the ramblings of the folks at the Washington Post.

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SWIFT Invasions Of Privacy

The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT) is opening the vault to reveal your banking transactions to the federal government. This is being done with what they call an “administrative” subpoena that is not approved by any judicial agency. Once again, this administration has found a way to peek into private matters of law-abiding citizens by spreading the fear of terrorism and proclaiming that they will protect our sorry butts.

The story was investigated by the New York Times who proudly asserted that they went forward with publication, despite pressure from the White House. But it appears that the truth is that they held the story for several weeks when they were negotiating with officials that sought to suppress the news. The NYT only rushed to print because they were about to be scooped by the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.

NYT reporter, Eric Lichtblau, even admitted that the paper’s decision to publish was partly based on the fact that, “It was done at the cabinet level this time around,” and that the president did not get involved directly. Does that mean that if the president had directly made the request to kill the story, the paper would have complied? That doesn’t seem like a point of pride to me.

Guantanamo Press Ban Update

Since the Pentagon booted reporters out of Guantanamo last week, they have apparently relented and invited a reporter back in. By happenstance, it is a reporter from Fox News.

ThinkProgress has the story about how Andrew Napolitano was singled out for a guest pass to the Cuban detainee facility. But since the original story claimed the prior evictions were to prevent lawsuits from news outlets that were not present, does this mean that these other media outlets are now free to sue because Fox was allowed in and nobody else?

Stop Big Media – The Battle Begins

Via Free Press:

The FCC is preparing to hold new hearings on media ownership. The last time they did this, they succeeded in passing a rule that drew widespread opposition from the public and Congress. It was ultimately thrown out by a Federal Court for not having justified its conclusions.

They’re at it again, but this time a coalition of public advocates is determined to preempt any mischief they try to engage in. The coalition, dubbed StopBigMedia, will seek to encourage greater public involvement in the debate over the future of the media.

“For far too long, media policy in this country has been made behind closed doors in the public’s name but without our informed consent,” said Robert W. McChesney, president of Free Press. “Despite overwhelming public opposition to greater media consolidation from across the entire political spectrum, the FCC and industry lobbyists are trying to sneak through the same misguided rules rejected in 2003.

Concentration of ownership and Net Neutrality are without a doubt the most critical media reform issues of the day. Your participation is needed and will surely have an impact. This is the time to make a stand. Go to StopBigMedia and register to join the effort to beat back the monopolists that seek to dominate the media and pervert its mission. We won this battle last time and we can do it again. But it will not happen without everybody taking responsibility and getting involved. You can be a part of this victory. So, please… it.

The All American Conservatism Rejects

With the publication of American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia, we now have a pretty good idea on whom to blame the nation’s problems.

The 997 page book casts itself as:

“…the first comprehensive reference volume to cover what is surely the most influential political and intellectual movement of the last half century. More than fifteen years in the making-and more than half a million words in length-this informative and entertaining encyclopedia contains substantive entries of up to two thousand words on those persons, events, organizations, and concepts of major importance to postwar American conservatism.”

Unfortunately, it is not as comprehensive as it’s publisher claims. Some of the most notorious pounders of conservative pap were egregiously omitted. Nowhere in this massive tome will you find the conservative stylings of Ann Coulter, Tom DeLay, Grover Norquist, Bill O’Reilly or Karl Rove. At the same time that they disassociate with these rightist stalwarts, they embrace the likes of John Birch, Joseph McCarthy, and George Wallace. They honor James Dobson but spurn Billy Graham. They include Charles Colson but not G. Gordon Liddy or Ollie North. And Jeanne Kirkpatrick makes the cut but not Henry Kissinger.

It’s hard to tell what their standards for inclusion are, but maybe that’s the point. When preparing a compendium of individuals with such uniformly low standards for the welfare of society and Constitutional rule, at some point you just have to throw your hands up and decide that it’s done. There are plenty of candidates for future volumes.