Give Me Liberty, But Not Too Much

The commencement of a new year brings with it an almost genetic predisposition for optimism. There is a sense of starting over with fresh enthusiasm and a renewed determination to realize your hopes and dreams. Unfortunately, the White House has entered the new year clinging stubbornly to the one whose expiration just came due.

2005 was a year that saw the glaze clearing from America’s eyes. The public’s opinion of the president and his policies declined steadily throughout the year. Social Security privatization, Cindy Sheehan, and Valerie Plame all contributed to this. So did the continuing incompetency in the handling of the war in Iraq, the war on terror, and a new level of incompetency when Katrina came ashore in New Orleans. Certainly the indictments of Tom DeLay, Jack Abramoff, et al, didn’t help the president’s image.

But Bush soldiers on without regret or consolation. He has lately taken to declarations of responsibility (WMDs, Katrina, bad intelligence, etc.), but with an insincerity that negates the point. His version of responsibility contains none. There are no consequences, no restitution, and no modification of behavior. No one has been fired or even punished for these failures. Indeed, many have been promoted and/or rewarded. Policy has not been amended, tactics have not been changed and oversight has been obstructed at all levels of government and law. Exactly what does responsibility mean to Mr. Bush?

On this New Year’s Day, President Bush continues to defend the warrantless eavesdropping that he authorized the National Security Agency to engage in. New reports indicate that even high-ranking officials in the Ashcroft Justice Department refused to go along these measures. And despite the dubious legality of this, he has insisted that it will continue because he says that…
“…the American people expect the Commander-in-Chief to protect them, and that’s exactly what I intend to do.”
But the American people have made it clear that they oppose these violations of their civil liberties. Any expression of this opposition, however, is viewed as de facto treason. Sen. John Kyl (R-AZ) went so far as to preemptively blame any future terrorist attacks on opponents of the renewal of the Patriot Act. The administration view is that Liberty is a bargaining chip in the negotiation for Security. The more Liberty you give up, the more Security you get. Such a deal.

The NSA affair has at least alerted the president to the potential harm that leaking classified information can cause. Well, maybe not when it’s one of his top advisors disclosing the identity of covert CIA agents, but if someone spills to the New York Times that the president may be in violation of federal law, there will be hell to pay. Or maybe not.

The president has recently been whining about the shameless leaks that formed the basis of the Times’ story. This is the story that the Times withheld for more than a year at the request of the president. Now the Justice Department has joined in by announcing that there will be a full investigation. Here’s what I want to know: If leaking these activities to the Times was such a threat to national security, and the White House new about the leaks a year ago when they convinced the Times to hold back, why wasn’t there an investigation initiated a year ago when this so-called national security threat was revealed? Apparently the only threat the White House recognizes is the one to the president’s political viability.

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Bush Appoints Himself Editor In Chief Of America

Much has been written recently about the latest abuses of power by the Bush administration. While these stories are important and necessary, there is a larger concern that seems to be getting less attention than it deserves.

The newsrooms of America are already run by corporations that have a vested interest in many of the people and institutions they cover, including other corporations whose advertising keeps their profits growing, and politicians whose legislating keeps their empires growing.

For a story to be cleared, it has to run the gamut of fact-checkers, editors, lawyers, and publishers. Now there is another checkpoint that must be cleared before a story gets out to the people. That checkpoint is the White House. The president recently summoned the editors of the Washington Post and the New York Times to pressure them not to release stories that were critical of the administration. Both papers published the stories anyway, though the Times waited for a year to do so.

In each case, the articles covered matters of grave importance to the public. The Post’s story was about CIA prisons that were secretly established in Eastern Europe to interrogate terror suspects with methods that would be considered unlawful torture were they to be used in the U.S. The Times reported on the National Security Agency’s illegal practice of wiretapping the phone conversations of American citizens without a warrant.

The fact that the stories were ultimately printed is irrelevant, even if the Times had not sat on it for a year. The problem is that the White House should not be another step in the editorial chain. The thought of the president clapping his imperial hands and demanding an audience with supposedly independent journalists is antithetical to the notion of a free press. The very act is expressly intimidating.

The president far over-reached the boundaries of his office and should have his imperial hands slapped. But this is, sadly, not unexpected from this administration. The president’s behavior was not very far removed from what might be expected of a leader that fabricated evidence in order to engage in America’s first war of aggression; that paid columnists to write articles praising it’s agenda; that planted biased stories in Iraqi newspapers; that produced fake video news releases that ran on commercial television without disclaimers. It’s getting to be a little difficult to blame the administration for being dishonest and immoral when we already know enough to expect that from them.

The real villains here are the editors of the Times and the Post. The media’s behavior in all of this was that of an obedient child that comes when daddy calls. They should never have attended those meetings. But once there, they should have promptly departed and reported what had taken place. [Update: Journalists Say ‘Times’ And ‘Post’ Should Have Disclosed Meeting with Bush]

If the media expects the American people to put any faith in what they produce, they have to start demonstrating some independence and integrity. They have to understand that their mission is to serve the people – not their advertisers; not their colleagues; and most certainly not the government. Acquiescing to this kind of government pressure produces a wave of suspicion that can grow into a tsunami. Were there other meetings that they still have not disclosed? Were there meetings with other news outlets that have not come forward? Were agreements made to withhold or alter reports that they are presently honoring? We don’t know. And we won’t know even if they tell us because, at this point, how can we believe them?

While the abuses detailed in the reporting above are serious, we must start to recognize that what is most serious is the lack of a trustworthy media. With a truly free and independent press, these kinds of abuses would be impossible to engage in. People need to start expressing outrage at the abuse in the media at least as strongly as they do toward political affairs. Honesty in media begets honesty in politics. It is, in fact, the only path to honest politics.

Thomas Jefferson said that he would rather have a free press and no government, than a government but no free press. This is a perfect demonstration of what he meant.


Pres. Bush On The War On Terror: We Can’t Win It

The media has been falling all over itself for a few days now, lambasting DNC Chairman Howard Dean for saying that the war cannot be won. But I have yet to hear any of them criticize Bush for saying the exact same thing:

Mr. Bush was asked if the United States could win the war against terrorism…

“I don’t think you can win it,” Mr. Bush replied. “But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world.”

Hypocrisy in the press? Ya think?


New York Times Sits On Domestic Spying Scoop

About a year ago, the New York Times uncovered evidence that the National Security Agency, under direct orders from the President, conducted unlawful surveillance of American citizens. The significance of this cannot be overstated – A foreign intelligence agency, working out of the White House was, spying on Americans! And what does the NYT do with this shocking discovery? At the request of the perpetrators of the unlawful behavior, the Times agreed to spike the story.

A statement by the Times said that they were asked not to run the story because it might interfere with ongoing investigations. Based on that request, with no evidence or corroboration, they capitulated and held back on a story that had implications of impeachable violations of federal law. For a news organization that has recently been stung by revelations of impropriety and bias on the part of its, now former and disgraced, reporter, Judith Miller, I don’t know if it’s surprising or to be expected that this should occur. And for an administration that has been riddled with ethical breaches (no WMDs, Katrina response, Abramoff, election irregularities, etc.) their non-chalant demeanor in the face of this new crime is astonishing.

The administration is not embarrassed by its criminality. On the contrary, it is going on the attack. This morning, the president gave a belligerently defensive speech saying in part:

Yesterday the existence of this secret program was revealed in media reports, after being improperly provided to news organizations. As a result, our enemies have learned information they should not have, and the unauthorized disclosure of this effort damages our national security and puts our citizens at risk. Revealing classified information is illegal, alerts our enemies, and endangers our country.

Despite offering no evidence that our enemies have benefited from this, he is castigating the media for doing what it should have done a year ago. And if he truly cared about the harm that may result from revealing classified information, you would think he would do something about the members of his circle that disclosed the identity of CIA operative, Valerie Plame. Instead all he does is shift blame to the media, a media that deserves blame, but not for what the President thinks.


Propaganda Courtesy of Abramoff & Co.

Scandal plagued consultant, Jack Abramoff has joined the ranks of propagandists with allegations of his paying a Copley News columnist to write stories favorable to his clients.

Doug Bandow has been suspended from his position at Copley and has resigned his fellowship at the Cato Institute. Bandow admitted taking payments from Abramoff saying, “It was a lapse of judgment on my part, and I take full responsibility for it.”

For a journalist to describe trading money for ink as a lapse of judgement may indicate a lapse of sanity. And his acceptance of responsibility provides absolutely nothing in compensation for the lies published in his name.


Senate Holds Hearings on Decency

This strikes me as akin to turkeys giving lessons on flying. Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), chaired a series of hearings that amounted to a stare-down with cable programmers and operators. On the pretense of addressing indecency in the media, Stevens’ panel actually served to intimidate the media execs into volunteering to offer something called a family-friendly tier of channels. This vague schedule innovation would effectively impose on cable and satellite a set of decency standards similar to those of broadcast networks, who operate on public airwaves.

Family-friendly bundles are being pushed by FCC chair Kevin Martin, who was appointed to the chairmanship by President Bush last March. He previously worked in Bush’s 2000 campaign, and his wife, Catherine, is the chief public affairs strategist for Vice President Dick Cheney. Martin has been using the threat of advancing indecency legislation and a la carte pricing to extort the industry’s acceptence of the family-friendly model. Sen. Stevens is playing along by holding hearings that probably cannot result in constitutionally viable legislation. The courts, since the 1970’s, including the Supreme Court in 2000, have consistently ruled that such legislation violated the first amendment.

So why would these execs go along? The two largest cable operators in the country, Time Warner and Comcast, are in the process of purchasing the assets of Adelphia Cable. The fate of this transaction rests largely with the FCC. In addition, a la carte pricing is looked upon by the industry as a ruinous upheavel of their businesses. While on the surface, it seems appealing to be able to pick and choose the channels you want, in practice it would probably cost viewers more for less service. If channels sold for between $4.00 (i.e. CNN, ESPN, MTV) and $15.00 (i.e. HBO Showtime), you would be unlikely to get 10 channels for under $50.00. Compare this to the $45.00 you can now spend for over 100 channels. And the channels with fewer viewers would probably cease to exist. The decency police at the Parents Television Council think this is a good thing. Says its president, Brent Bozell:

“Maybe you won’t have 100 channels, maybe you’ll only have 20. But good programming is going to survive, and you will get rid of some waste.”

Presumably he means waste like the History, SciFi, and ironically, Family Channels. These lower rated channels would have difficulty pulling in subscribers unless, of course, they were included in the new packaging. But the real hypocricy is that these free market advocates are afraid to let the market decide what it really wants to watch. I would wager that if you gave people the choice of cherry picking the channels they want at $4.00 each, or selecting a bundle with 100 channels for less money, most would go with the bundle. But since the real motivation here is to sanitize the program offerings for the benefit of those most easily offended, the marketplace doesn’t really have anything to say about it.

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20 Years of Unearthing Major Revelations

The National Security Archive, located at George Washington University, has released a list of 20 of its greatest hits . These are declassified documents that the Archive has published that have had an impact around the world. Here’s the top 10:

  1. Pentagon Photographs of Iraq War Casualties, 4/05
  2. Clarke to Rice, “Presidential Policy Initiative/Review — The Al-Qida Network,” 1/25/01
  3. Briefing Notes for Rumsfeld Visit to Baghdad, 3/24/84
  4. Telecon, Secretary Laird, 11/21/69
  5. Guatemala Death Squad Diary, (uncovered 1999)
  6. Oliver North Notebooks, 6/25/86 & 8/6/86
  7. Caribbean Map and Deck Log Book of USS Beale, 10/62
  8. Activities of Cuban Exile Leader Orlando Bosch during His Stay in Venezuela, 10/14/76
  9. DRV Reports Shooting at Two Enemy Aircraft, 8/4/64, and White House Staff Meeting, 5 August 1964
  10. White House E-Mail on Iran-Iraq War (2 versions with different deletions), 1/21/87

Go to their site for the rest. The list is being released in conjunction with their 20th anniversary celebration. Bill Moyers gave the keynote speech at the event commemorating this milestone. The speech, and the subsequent Q & A, are well worth listening to, which you can do here.

Congratulations to the Archives. Keep up the good work.


DeadLines

The Ethics Truce Lives On
Since 1998, there has been an ethics “truce” in the House of Representatives, under the terms of which no member will file an ethics complaint against another member. How could they tell?

Conservative Blogs Rock?
In an argument sure to be challenged in certain sectors of the blogosphere, a story in The New York Times magazine coming up this Sunday declares that conservative blogs continue to best liberal blogs in political and electoral influence.

Phony Story Planted By State Agency to Boost Donations
It was a heart-wrenching story: A 10-year-old boy named John, separated from his mother since the hurricane, was living with other foster children in an emergency shelter, and he had one Christmas wish — to go home…But the story was a work of fiction.

Book Blames Government for Media Crisis
The media crisis is not due to incompetent or corrupt journalists or owners, but rather to a highly concentrated profit-driven media system that makes it rational to gut journalism and irrational to provide the content a free society so desperately requires.

Yahoo Acquires Social Network Del.icio.us
In its latest acquisition of a social networking service, Internet powerhouse Yahoo Inc. on Friday devoured del.icio.us Inc., a startup that enables people to more easily compile and share their favorite content on the Web.


The Central Front In The War On Christmas

The War on Christmas is the latest fabrication from the theo-con hack factory. Its premise is that a cabal of secularists are conspiring to deprive America of its Christmas celebration. But despite the protestations that this is a matter of faith by Christian Ayatollahs like Jerry Falwell (who has initiated a Christmas Friend or Foe campaign), it was Bill O’Reilly who revealed that this is really a matter of profit not Prophet.

War on Christmas, Abu Santa

On his TV program, O’Reilly said:

“Every company in America should be on its knees thanking Jesus for being born. Without Christmas, most American businesses would be far less profitable.”

There you have it. Christ died on the cross for your net receipts and a favorable business environment. That’s a far cry from the guy who threw the moneychangers out of the temple.

The fact is that demagogues like O’Reilly, Falwell, Sean Hannity, John Gibson (whose book The War on Christmas, was released just in time for holiday shopping), and others, are using this manufactured controversy in much the same way that retailers use Christmas. It’s a way to exploit popular culture to increase exposure and profits. But what happened to trusting the market? If these hypocrites truly believed in the free market they purport to worship, then why don’t they let the market decide if campaigns extolling Happy Holidays have appeal to consumers. Not only are they unable to practice the economic values they espouse, they take it much farther by actually integrating Christmas into the economy.

The argument going around is that the economy would suffer devastating losses were there no Christmas. The moronically simplistic justification for that position is that, since people buy things during the Christmas season, if there were not one, they would not buy things. However, it seems unlikely that the money now spent on gifts would get sucked into some fiscal black hole absent this seasonal excuse to consume. Without Christmas, people would still spend their money on themselves and their families. They may put it into retirement or college funds, in which case it would still eventually be spent and circulate through the economy. And even if they just kept it in the bank, the increased personal savings rate would prime economic growth. Where’s the loss?

It should be noted that the exploitation of Christmas as a political cudgel is nothing new. In 1959 the John Birch Society issued a pamphlet titled “There Goes Christmas?!” that warned:

“One of the techniques now being applied by the Reds to weaken the pillar of religion in our country is the drive to take Christ out of Christmas — to denude the event of its religious meaning.”

And Henry Ford’s 1921 tract “The International Jew,” stated:

“The whole record of the Jewish opposition to Christmas, Easter and other Christian festivals, and their opposition to certain patriotic songs, shows the venom and directness of [their] attack…And it has become pretty general. Last Christmas most people had a hard time finding Christmas cards that indicated in any way that Christmas commemorated Someone’s Birth…Now, all this begins with the designers of the cards.”

Here I must make a confession. I am the designer of the cards, and Jewish to boot. I am an artist with a small business wherein I market my artwork on cards, magnets coasters, etc. In fact, the image attached to this article is available at my website, Crass Commerce, along with many more works of fine art, humor, and politics. And need I remind you that they make wonderful Christmas presents.

I can’t say that I’m serving the interests of a secular cabal, but at least I’m contributing to the cornucopia of consumption that O’Reilly, et al, must certainly regard as sacrosanct.


Iraq Gets A Dose Of U.S. Style Propaganda

The Los Angeles Times is reporting that the U.S. military is secretly paying Iraqi newspapers to publish stories intended to portray operations there in a positive light. The stories are not disclosed to the local media as having been written by American troops. This is a valuable lesson in clandestine propaganda that the U. S. is offering, even as they publicly promote their efforts to train Iraqis in basic journalism, including a workshop titled “The Role of Press in a Democratic Society.” I would guess that the first day of class would be a lecture warning the students to, “Do as we say, not as we do.”

The irony is stretched even further with the knowledge that just yesterday, Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld held a press conference where he said about Iraq…

“The country is — has a free media, and they can — it’s a relief valve. They could have hundred-plus papers.”

This breaking news about Iraq’s free media comes from the same great free press advocate that appeared before the American Society of Newspaper Editors in April of last year to say that…

…the United States was founded “on the notion that an unchecked government is a major obstacle to human freedom.” and that American leaders must be “challenged, internally through the complex constitutional system of checks and balances, and externally by a free and energetic press.”

Then, the next month, he famously declared that…

… “I’ve stopped reading newspapers…You’ve got to keep your sanity somehow. I’m a survivor.”

That was in response to the media coverage of the release of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse photos.

What a shining example of consistency and integrity. The behavior of this Secretary of Defense makes the disclosure of the planted stories in Iraqi newspapers somewhat less than surprising. And this cabinet department is not alone as a producer of propaganda. Both the Education and Health and Human Services Departments have been found to be engaging in unlawful propaganda here at home. This must be what Bush means when he says he wants to export American democracy to the rest of the world.