Thursday, December 15, 2005
Reading the new reports about the Pentagon conducting surveillance of peaceful anti-war groups and protests, I feel like I'm having a bad '60s flashback.
But I'm not seeing psychedelic lights and thinking I can fly. I'm remembering how the Defense Department aggressively infiltrated anti-war and civil rights groups during that era, spying and collecting files on over 100,000 Americans -- and how J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI used every dirty trick in the "black bag operation" handbook to sabotage the anti-war and civil rights movements.
Now it looks like those ugly days of government paranoia and officially sanctioned lawbreaking might be making a comeback. A secret DoD database obtained by NBC News indicates that Pentagon intelligence and local law enforcement agencies are using the guise of the war on terror to keep an eye on the constitutionally protected activities of anti-war activists. And, despite strict restrictions on the military maintaining records on domestic civilian political activity, evidence suggests the Pentagon is doing just that. According to NBC, the DoD database includes "at least 20 references to U.S. citizens," while other documents indicate that "vehicle descriptions" are also being noted and analyzed.
And it's not just the Pentagon. Documents recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act show that the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force has also been recording the names and license plate numbers of peaceful anti-war protesters.
With apologies to Buffalo Springfield: There's something happening here... and what it is is painfully clear.
The Bush administration has a long and ignominious history of rhetorical intimidation, routinely equating dissent with a lack of patriotism and a lack of support for our troops. Now it appears it's moving on to actual intimidation.
The need in a post-9/11 world for greater domestic intelligence gathering, processing, and sharing is obviously paramount. Indeed, don't we all wish someone in authority had been paying attention to the Phoenix memo before the 2001 attacks? And the national security agencies responsible for the Pentagon database were originally tasked with creating "a domestic law enforcement database that includes information related to potential terrorist threats." This intel-gathering system is a tangle of acronyms -- including CIFA (Counterintelligence Field Activity), TALON (Threat and Local Observation Notice), and NORTHCOM (U.S. Northern Command) -- but they are all geared toward helping the government keep ahead of terrorists.
There is even a U.S. Army-operated 800 number for reporting suspicious activity, 1-800-CALL-SPY. I kid you not, dial it and you will hear: "You have reached the U.S. Army Call-Spy Hotline. You may remain anonymous. Please leave a detailed message of the incident you with to report. Your call is important. If you wish to be contacted, please leave your name and telephone number..."
But, as is emblematic of this administration, these agencies now appear to be overreaching, moving away from identifying "possible terrorist pre-attack activities" and heading into the murky waters of spying on U.S. citizens doing nothing more than voicing their objections to U.S. policy.
President Bush and many of his closest associates have always positioned themselves as a counterpoint to the '60s counterculture. (Indeed, Bush was so detached from it that he once claimed he had no memory of anti-war activity at Yale during his time there -- even though the campus was a hotbed of student protest) And now his administration has adopted the worst domestic intelligence practices of the '60s establishment.
That's why Congress needs to flex its oversight muscle -- and make sure that the tragic mistakes of the past are not repeated.
It wasn't that long ago that Hoover's notorious COINTELPRO program was illegally infiltrating Students for a Democratic Society and setting out to destroy "Negro radicals" like Dr. Martin Luther King. Our government lied, cheated, harassed, intimidated, burglarized, vandalized, framed, and spread false rumors -- to say nothing of keeping voluminous files on everyone from John Lennon to Allen Ginsberg -- all in an effort to quash legitimate dissent against the war and the racist practices of the South.
We can't let it happen again. Let's start the chant: Hell no, we won't go... back!
IN THE KINGDOM OF THE HALF-BLIND
By Bill Moyers
(This is the prepared text of the address delivered on December 9, 2005, by Bill Moyers for the 20th anniversary of the National Security Archive, a non-governmental research institute and library at The George Washington University, in Washington D.C. The Archive collects and publishes declassified documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act. Collaborating with him on this speech was Michael Winship. They have been colleagues in public broadcasting for over thirty years, including, most recently, on the PBS weekly broadcast NOW with Bill Moyers. Moyers, who retired from the NOW broadcast last December, is the President of the Schumann Center for Media and Democracy.)
Thank you for inviting me to take part in this anniversary celebration of The National Security Archive. Your organization has become indispensable to journalists, scholars, and any other citizen who believes the USA belongs to the people and not to the government.
It's always a fight to find out what the government doesn't want us to know. And no one in this town has done more to fight for open democracy or done more to see that the Freedom of Information Act fulfills its promise than the Archive. The fight goes back a long way. You'll find a fine account of it in Herbert Foerstel's book, Freedom of Information and the Right to Know: The Origins and Application of the Freedom of Information Act (Greenwood Press, 1999). Foerstel tells us that although every other 18th century democratic constitution includes the public's right to information, there were two exceptions: Sweden and the United States.
But in 1955 the American Society of Newspaper Editors decided to battle government secrecy. The Washington Post's James Russell Wiggins and Representative John Moss of California teamed up to spearhead that fight. President Kennedy subsequently resisted their efforts. When he asked reporters to censor themselves on the grounds that these were times of "clear and present danger," journalists were outraged and agreed that his administration represented a low point in their battle. But Congressman Moss refused to give up, and in 1966 he managed to pass the Freedom of Information Act, although in a crippled and compromised form.
I was there, as the White House press secretary, when President Lyndon Johnson signed the act on July 4, 1966; signed it with language that was almost lyrical - "With a deep sense of pride that the United States is an open society in which the people's right to know is cherished and guarded."
Well, yes, but I knew that LBJ had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the signing ceremony. He hated the very idea of the Freedom of Information Act; hated the thought of journalists rummaging in government closets and opening government files; hated them challenging the official view of reality. He dug in his heels and even threatened to pocket veto the bill after it reached the White House. And he might have followed through if Moss and Wiggins and other editors hadn't barraged him with pleas and petitions. He relented and signed "the damned thing," as he called it (I'm paraphrasing what he actually said in case C-Span is here.) He signed it, and then went out to claim credit for it.
Because of the Freedom of Information Act and the relentless fight by the Archive to defend and exercise it, some of us have learned more since leaving the White House about what happened on our watch than we knew when we were there. Funny, isn't it, how the farther one gets from power, the closer one often gets to the truth?
Consider the recent disclosures about what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin in 1964. These documents, now four decades old, seem to confirm that there was no second attack on U.S. ships on the 4th of August and that President Johnson ordered retaliatory air strikes against North Vietnam on the basis of intelligence that either had been "mishandled" or "misinterpreted" or had been deliberately skewed by subordinates to provide him the excuse he was looking for to attack North Vietnam.
I was not then a player in foreign policy and had not yet become the President's press secretary - my portfolio was politics and domestic policy. But I was there beside him during those frenetic hours. I heard the conversations from the President's side, although I could not hear what was being told to him by the Situation Room or the Pentagon.
I accept now that it was never nailed down for certain that there was a second attack, but I believe that LBJ thought there had been. It is true that for months he had wanted to send a message to Ho Chi Minh that he meant business about standing behind America's commitment to South Vietnam. It is true that he was not about to allow the hawkish Barry Goldwater to outflank him on national security in the fall campaign. It is also true that he often wrestled with the real or imaginary fear that liberal Democrats, whose hearts still belonged to their late fallen leader, would be watching and sizing him up according to their speculation of how Kennedy would have decided the moment.
So yes, I think the President's mind was prepared to act if the North Vietnamese presented him a tit-for-tat opportunity. But he wasn't looking for a wider war at that time, only a show of resolve, a flexing of muscles, the chance to swat the fly when it landed.
Nonetheless, this state of mind plus cloudy intelligence proved a combustible and tragic mix. In the belief that a second attack suggested an intent on the part of an adversary that one attack alone left open, the President did order strikes against North Vietnam, thus widening the war. He asked Congress for the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution that was passed three days later and opened the way for future large-scale commitments of American forces. Haste is so often the enemy of good judgment. Rarely does it produce such costly consequences as it did this time.
But did the President order-up fabricated evidence to suit his wish? No. Did subordinates rig the evidence to support what they thought he wanted to do? It's possible, but I swear I cannot imagine who they might have been - certainly it was no one in the inner-circle, as far as I could tell. I don't believe this is what happened. Did the President act prematurely? Yes. Was the response disproportionate to the events? Yes. Did he later agonize over so precipitous a decision? Yes. "For all I know," he said the next year, "our Navy was shooting at whales out there." By then, however, he thought he had other reasons to escalate the war, and did. All these years later, I find it painful to wonder what could have been if we had waited until the fog lifted, or had made public what we did and didn't know, trusting the debate in the press, Congress, and the country to help us shape policies more aligned with events and with the opinion of an informed public.
I had hoped we would learn from experience. Two years ago, prior to the invasion of Iraq, I said on the air that Vietnam didn't make me a dove; it made me read the Constitution. Government's first obligation is to defend its citizens. There is nothing in the Constitution that says it is permissible for our government to launch a preemptive attack on another nation. Common sense carries one to the same conclusion: it's hard to get the leash back on once you let the wild dogs of war out of the kennel. Our present Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has a plaque on his desk that reads, "Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords." Perhaps, but while war is sometimes necessary, to treat it as sport is obscene. At best, war is a crude alternative to shrewd, disciplined diplomacy and the forging of a true alliance acting in the name of international law. Unprovoked, "the noblest sport of war" becomes the slaughter of the innocent.
I left the White House in early 1967 to practice journalism. Because our beat is the present and not the past - we are journalists after all, not historians - I put those years and events behind me, except occasionally to reflect on how they might inform my reporting and analysis of what's happening today. I was chastened by our mistakes back then, and chagrined now when others fail to learn from them.
The country suffers not only when presidents act hastily in secret, but when the press goes along. I keep an article in my files by Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon ("30 Year Anniversary: Tonkin Gulf Lie Launched Vietnam War") written a decade ago and long before the recent disclosures. They might have written it over again during the buildup for the recent invasion of Iraq. On August 5, 1964, the headline in The Washington Post read: "American Planes Hit North Vietnam After Second Attack on Our Destroyers: Move Taken to Halt Aggression." That, of course, was the official line, spelled out verbatim and succinctly on the nation's front pages. The New York Times proclaimed in an editorial that the President "went to the people last night with the somber facts." The Los Angeles Times urged Americans "to face the fact that the communists, by their attack on American vessels in international waters, have escalated the hostilities." It was not only Lyndon Johnson whose mind was predisposed to judge on the spot, with half a loaf. It was also those reporters and editors who were willing to accept the official view of reality as the truth of the matter. In his book, Censored War, Daniel Hallin found that journalists at the time had a great deal of information available which contradicted the official account of what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, but "it simply wasn't used."
Tim Wells, who wrote a compelling book on The War Within: America's Battle Over Vietnam, told Cohen and Solomon it was yet another case of "the media's almost exclusive reliance on the U.S. government officials as sources of information," as well as "their reluctance to question official pronouncements on national security issues." There are many branches on the family tree of journalism where Judith Miller blossomed. I can imagine that one day the National Security Archive will turn up a document explaining how reporters waited outside the Garden of Eden to snap up Adam and Eve's account of what had happened inside, but never bothered to interview the snake.
I am taking your time with all this hoping you will understand why I have become something of a fundamentalist on the First Amendment protection of an independent press, a press that will resist the seductions, persuasions, and intimidations of people who hold great power - over life and death, war and peace, taxes, the fate of the environment - and would exercise it undisturbed, in great secrecy, if they are allowed.
In a telling moment, the Bush Administration opposed the declassification of 40 year old Gulf of Tonkin documents. Why? Because they fear uncomfortable comparisons with the flawed intelligence used to justify the war in Iraq. And well they might. Just as absurd is their opposition to the release of two intelligence briefings given to President Johnson in 1965 and 1968. The CIA claims they should be kept secret on the grounds that their release could impair its mission by revealing its sources and methods of forty years ago. That's bull. The actual methods used by the CIA back then have largely been declassified, which is why I signed a statement in your support when the National Security Archive went to court over this matter. I was as disappointed as you were when the federal judge, who ruled this past summer, preferred the government's penchant for secrecy to the people's right to know what goes on in their name and with their money.
It has to be said: there has been nothing in our time like the Bush Administration's obsession with secrecy. This may seem self-serving coming from someone who worked for two previous presidents who were no paragons of openness. But I am only one of legions who have reached this conclusion. See the recent pair of articles by the independent journalist, Michael Massing, in The New York Review of Books. He concludes, "The Bush Administration has restricted access to public documents as no other before it." And he backs this up with evidence. For example, a recent report on government secrecy by the watchdog group, OpenTheGovernment.org, says the Feds classified a record 15.6 million new documents in fiscal year 2004, an increase of 81% over the year before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. What's more, 64% of Federal Advisory Committee meetings in 2004 were completely closed to the public. No wonder the public knows so little about how this administration has deliberately ignored or distorted reputable scientific research to advance its political agenda and the wishes of its corporate patrons. I'm talking about the suppression of that EPA report questioning aspects of the White House Clear Skies Act; research censorship at the departments of health and human services, interior and agriculture; the elimination of qualified scientists from advisory committees on kids and lead poisoning, reproductive health, and drug abuse; the distortion of scientific knowledge on emergency contraception; the manipulation of the scientific process involving the Endangered Species Act; and the internal sabotage of government scientific reports on global warming
It's an old story: the greater the secrecy, the deeper the corruption.
This is the administration that has illegally produced phony television news stories with fake reporters about Medicare and government anti-drug programs, then distributed them to local TV stations around the country. In several markets, they aired on the six o'clock news with nary a mention that they were propaganda bought and paid for with your tax dollars.
This is the administration that paid almost a quarter of a million dollars for rightwing commentator Armstrong Williams to talk up its No-Child-Left-Behind education program and bankrolled two other conservative columnists to shill for programs promoting the President's marriage initiative.
This is the administration that tacitly allowed inside the White House a phony journalist under the non-de-plume of Jeff Gannon to file Republican press releases as legitimate news stories and to ask President Bush planted questions to which he could respond with preconceived answers.
And this is the administration that has paid over one hundred million dollars to plant stories in Iraqi newspapers and disguise the source, while banning TV cameras at the return of caskets from Iraq as well as prohibiting the publication of photographs of those caskets - a restriction that was lifted only following a request through the Freedom of Information Act.
Ah, FOIA. Obsessed with secrecy, Bush and Cheney have made the Freedom of Information Act their number one target, more fervently pursued for elimination than Osama Bin Laden. No sooner had he come to office than George W. Bush set out to eviscerate both FOIA and the Presidential Records Act. He has been determined to protect his father's secrets when the first Bush was Vice President and then President -
as well as his own. Call it Bush Omerta.
This enmity toward FOIA springs from deep roots in their extended official family. Just read your own National Security Archive briefing book #142, edited by Dan Lopez, Tom Blanton, Meredith Fuchs, and Barbara Elias. It is a compelling story of how in 1974 President Gerald Ford's chief of staff - one Donald Rumsfeld - and his deputy chief of staff - one Dick Cheney - talked the President out of signing amendments that would have put stronger teeth in the Freedom of Information Act. As members of the House of Representatives, Congressman Rumsfeld actually co-sponsored the Act and as a Congressman, Ford voted for it. But then Richard Nixon was sent scuttling from the White House in disgrace after the secrets of Watergate came spilling out. Rumsfeld and Cheney wanted no more embarrassing revelations of their party's abuse of power; and they were assisted in their arguments by yet another rising Republican star, Antonin Scalia, then a top lawyer at the Justice Department. Fast forward to 2001, when in the early months of George W. Bush's Administration, Vice President Cheney invited the tycoons of oil, gas, and coal to the White House to divide up the spoils of victory. They had, after all, contributed millions of dollars to the cause, and as Cheney would later say of tax cuts for the fraternity of elites who had financed the campaign, they deserved their payoff. But to keep the plunder from disgusting the public, the identities of the participants in the meetings were kept secret. The liberal Sierra Club and the conservative Judicial Watch filed suit to open this insider trading to public scrutiny.
But after losing in the lower court, the White House asked the Supreme Court to intervene. Lo and behold, hardly had Justice Scalia returned from a duck hunting trip with the Vice President - the blind leading the blind to the blind - than the Supreme Court upheld the White House privilege to keep secret the names of those corporate predators who came to slice the pie. You have to wonder if sitting there in the marsh, shotguns in hand, Scalia and Cheney reminisced about their collaboration many years earlier when as young men in government they had tried to shoot down the dreaded Freedom of Information Act that kept them looking over their shoulders (Congress, by the way, overrode President Ford's veto.)
They have much to fear from the Freedom of Information Act. Just a few days ago, FOIA was used to force the Department of Justice to make available legal documents related to Supreme Court nominee Judge Alito's record. The department reluctantly complied but under very restricted circumstances. The records were made available on one day, for three hours, from 3 to 6pm, for reporters only. No citizen or advocacy groups were permitted access. There were 470 pages to review. The blogspot Mpetrelis <http://mpetrelis.blogspot.com> reckons this meant a reporter had about 34 seconds to quickly read each page and figure out if the information was newsworthy or worth pursuing further. "Not a lot of time to carefully examine documents from our next Supreme Court justice."
It's no surprise that the White House doesn't want reporters roaming the halls of justice. The Washington Post reports that two years ago six Justice Department attorneys and two analysts wrote a memo stating unequivocally that the Texas Congressional restricting plan concocted by Tom DeLay violated the Voting Rights Act. Those career professional civil servants were overruled by senior officials, Bush's political appointees, who went ahead and approved the plan anyway.
We're only finding this out now because someone leaked the memo. According to The Post, the document was kept under tight wraps and "lawyers who worked on the case were subjected to an unusual gag rule." Why? Because it is a devastating account of how DeLay allegedly helped launder corporate money to elect a Texas Legislature that then shuffled Congressional districts to add five new Republican members of the House, nailing down control of Congress for the radical right and their corporate pals.
They couldn't get away with all of this if the press was at the top of their game. Never has the need for an independent media been greater. People are frightened, their skepticism of power - their respect for checks and balances - eclipsed by their desire for security. Writing in The New York Times, Michael Ignatieff has reminded us that democracy's dark secret is that the fight against terror has to be waged in secret, by men and women who defend us with a bodyguard of lies and armory of deadly weapons. Because this is democracy's dark secret, Ignatieff continues, it can also be democracy's dark nemesis. We need to know more about what's being done in our name; even if what we learn is hard, the painful truth is better than lies and illusions. The news photographer in Tom Stoppard's play Night and Day, sums its up: "People do terrible things to each other, but it's worse in the places where everybody is kept in the dark."
Yet the press is hobbled today - hobbled by the vicissitudes of Wall Street investors who demand greater and greater profit margins at the expense of more investment in reporting (look at what's going on with Knight-Ridder.) Layoffs are hitting papers all across the country. Just last week, the Long Island daily Newsday, of which I was once publisher, cut 72 jobs and eliminated 40 vacancies - that's in addition to 59 newsroom jobs eliminated the previous month. There are fewer editors and reporters with less time, resources and freedom to burn shoe leather and midnight oil, make endless phone calls, and knock on doors in pursuit of the unreported story.
The press is also hobbled by the intimidation from ideological bullies in the propaganda wing of the Republican Party who hector, demonize, and lie about journalists who ask hard questions of this regime.
Hobbled, too, by what Ken Silverstein, The Los Angeles Times investigative reporter, calls "spurious balance," kowtowing to those with the loudest voice or the most august title who demand that when it comes to reporting, lies must be treated as the equivalent of truth; that covering the news, including the official press release, has greater priority than uncovering the news.
Consider a parable from the past, from the early seventh century, when an Irish warrior named Congal went nearly blind after he was attacked by a swarm of bees. When he became king he changed Irish law to make bee attacks criminal. Thereafter he was known as Congal Caech which means "Congal the Squinting" or "Congal the Half-Blind." If this administration has its way, that description will apply to the press.
Which brings me to a parable for our day.
Once upon a time - four years ago to be exact - PBS asked me to create a new weekly broadcast of news, analysis, and interviews. They wanted it based outside the beltway and to be like nothing else on the air: report stories no one else was covering, conduct a conversation you couldn't hear anywhere else. That we did. We offered our viewers a choice, not an echo. In our mandate, we reached back to the words of Lord Byron that once graced the masthead of many small town newspapers: "Without, or with, offence to friends or foes," he said, "I sketch your world exactly as it goes."
We did it with a team of professional journalists recruited from the best in the business: our own NOW staff; public radio's Daniel Zwerdling, Rick Karr and Deborah Amos; Network veterans Brian Ross, Michele Martin, and Sylvia Chase; Washington's Sherry Jones; The Center for Investigative Reporting's Mark Shapiro; Frontline's Lowell Bergman; Newsweek's Joe Contreras. We collaborated on major investigations with U.S. News and World Report, NPR, and The New York Times.
We reported real stories and talked with real people about real problems. We told how faraway decision-making affected their lives. We reported on political influence that led to mountaintop removal mining and how the government was colluding with industry to cover up the effect of mercury in fish on pregnant women.
We described what life was like for homeless veterans and child migrants working in the fields. We exposed Wall Street shenanigans and tracked the Washington revolving door. We reported how Congress had defeated efforts to enact safeguards that would mitigate a scandal like Enron, and how those efforts were shot down by some of the same politicians who were then charged with investigating the scandal. We investigated the Deputy Secretary of the Interior, Steven Griles, a full eighteen months before he resigned over conflicts of interest involving the oil and mining industries for which he had been a lobbyist on the other side of that revolving door. We reported on those secret meetings held by Cheney with his industry pals and attempted to find out who was in the room and what was discussed. We reported how ExxonMobil had influenced the White House to replace a scientist who believes global warming is real.
We won an Emmy for the hour-long profile of Chuck Spinney, the Pentagon whistleblower who worked from within to expose graft and waste in defense spending. And the blog, Dailykos.com, speculated that it was our interview with Ambassador Joe Wilson, two weeks before the invasion of Iraq and months before Robert Novak outed Wilson's wife Valerie Plame as a CIA operative, that first outraged the administration. "An honor I dreamed not of…"
None of this escaped the attention of the Chairman of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Kenneth Tomlinson, a buddy of Karl Rove and the designated driver for the administration's partisan agenda for public broadcasting. Tomlinson set out, secretly, to discredit our broadcast. He accused us of being unfair and unbalanced, but that wouldn't wash. We did talk with liberal voices like Howard Zinn, Susan Sontag, Sister Joan Chittester, Isabel Allende, Thomas Frank and Arundhati Roy. But we also spoke with right-wingers like Grover Norquist, Ralph Reed, Cal Thomas, Frank Luntz, Richard Viguerie, Robert Bartley of The Wall Street Journal editorial page and then his successor, Paul Gigot.
What got Tomlinson's goat was our reporting. After all, we kept after his political pals for keeping secrets, and over and again we reported on how the big media conglomerates were in cahoots with official Washington, scheming for permission to get bigger and bigger. The mainstream media wouldn't touch this topic. Murdoch, Time Warner, Viacom, GE/NBC, Disney/ABC, Clear Channel, Sinclair - all stood to gain if their lobbying succeeded. Barry Diller appeared on our broadcast and described the relationship between the big news media and Washington as an "oligarchy." Sure enough, except for NOW with Bill Moyers, the broadcast media were silent about how they were lobbying for more and more power over what Americans see, read, and hear. It was left to one little broadcast, relegated to the black hole of Friday night, to shine the light on one of the most important stories of the decade.
What finally sent Tomlinson over the edge and off to the ramparts, however, was a documentary we did about the people of Tamaqua, a small town in Pennsylvania. The Morgan Knitting Mill there had just laid off more than a third of its workforce - the last of 25 textile mills that sustained the townspeople after the demise of the coal industry. The jobs were going to Honduras and China. Our report told how free trade agreements like NAFTA had encouraged companies to lay off American workers, produce goods more cheaply abroad and then import the goods back here. We showed how the global economy contributes to the growing inequality in America, with the gap between the rich and poor doubling in the last three decades until it is now wider than in the days of the Great Depression.
Those are the facts - "reality-based" reporting - that caused Tomlinson to tell The Washington Post that what he saw was "liberal advocacy journalism." Well, if reporting what happens to ordinary people because of events beyond their control, and the indifference of government to their fate, is liberalism, I plead guilty.
Tomlinson was now on the warpath. In secret (his preferred modus operandi) he hired an acquaintance out in Indianapolis named Fred Mann to monitor the content of our show. What qualified Fred Mann for the job has been hard to learn. His most recent position was as director of the Job Bank and alumni services at the National Journalism Center in Herndon, Virginia, an organization that is administered by the Young America's Foundation, which is, in turn, affiliated with the rightwing Young Americans for Freedom. The foundation describes itself as "the principle outreach organization for the conservative movement" and has received funding from ExxonMobil and Phillip Morris, among others. But the trail to Mann went cold there. Several journalists have tried telephoning or emailing him. I tried four times just this week to reach him. One enterprising young reporter even left notes for him at an Indianapolis Hallmark Store where Mann frequently faxed data to Tomlinson. No luck. I guess we'll have to wait for Robert Novak to out him.
Fred Mann never got around to writing his full report, but when members of Congress pressed Tomlinson to show them the notes from Mann, it turns out that he had divided NOW's guests into categories, with headings like, "Anti-Bush," "Anti-business," and "Anti-Tom DeLay." He characterized Republicans Senator Chuck Hegel, who departed from Republican orthodoxy to question the Iraq war, as "liberal," which must have come as a quite a shock to the senator.
During all this I sought several times to meet with Tomlinson and the Board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. I wanted to ask them first-hand what was going on and to discuss the importance of public broadcasting's independence. They refused. I invited Tomlinson more than once to go on the air with me, with a moderator and format of his choosing, to discuss our views on the role of public broadcasting. He refused.
But all the while he was crudely pressuring the President of PBS, Pat Mitchell, to counter NOW. And he himself was in direct contact with Paul Gigot, the rightwing editor of The Wall Street Journal editorial pages, to bring to PBS a show that Gigot had hosted on the cable business network CNBC until it was cancelled for lack of an audience. So the Journal Editorial Report came to PBS, with The Wall Street Journal, that fierce defender of the free market, accepting over $4 million of taxpayer dollars courtesy of Ken Tomlinson.
The emails between Tomlinson and Gigot during this time reveal two ideological soul mates scheming to make sure "our side," as they described themselves, gets "an absolute duplication of what Moyers is doing." But as the record will show, Gigot's show was nowhere near what NOW with Bill Moyers was doing. We were digging, investigating, and reporting; they were opining. We were offering a wide range of opinions and views; they were talking to each other. The participants on Gigot's broadcast were his own staff members at the newspaper whose editorial pages are the Pravda of American journalism, where the Right speaks only to the Right. To be blunt about it, we had more diversity of opinion on a single broadcast than Gigot had all year or than he has ever tolerated on his own editorial pages. Reporting? You have to be kidding. In their private exchange of emails Tomlinson informs Gigot that he doesn't really need to do field reporting. Gigot agrees, and goes on to say that he finds such reporting not only a waste of time and money, but "boring" [I'm not making this up: the editor of the editorial page of a great American newspaper finds field reporting "boring."] So it is that ideologues like Gigot can hold stoutly to a worldview despite being contradicted by what is generally accepted as reality.
I had always thought Gigot an honorable, if ideological fellow. The emails confirm that he is for certain an ideologue - and a partisan. The saddest part of this story, personally, is that on my own initiative - with no prompting from anyone - I had Gigot on my broadcast three times and had asked him to become a regular presence through the elections. I even solicited Pat Mitchell, the PBS President, to urge him to accept my invitation. I had no idea that at this very same time he was secretly negotiating with Tomlinson for his own show. He never bothered to tell me. After reading the emails, I realized this was deceitful on his part. Even as I was asking him in good faith to join me on the broadcast, Gigot was back-channeling with Tomlinson on how they could complete their deal and was advising Tomlinson on "the line" that the CPB chairman should follow.
Of the many disclosures in the email exchange between the two, this is the most intriguing. On August 13, 2004, Tomlinson wrote Gigot: "Protect me on this. I am breaking my word by forwarding this Mintz/Moyers stuff - but it's too rich for you not to see. Please, please don't show it to anyone. But keep in mind as we have fun with this. Cheers-KT."
What's he talking about? Mintz is Morton Mintz, the octogenarian (now retired) and much honored investigative reporter for the Washington Post. I know nothing about his politics; during his long career he broke exposes of both Democrats and Republicans. That August he and I were emailing about the possibility of an appearance by him on my broadcast, and two months later, just prior to the first Bush-Kerry debate, I did interview him about the questions he would put to both candidates if he were an interlocutor who wanted to break through the polite protocol of the staged event in the hope of getting the politicians to touch reality. Neither Mintz nor I can recall the exact subject of our email exchanges that August, long before the debate. Tomlinson somehow gained access to our correspondence - Mintz speculates that he found someone who hacked into our emails -and promised his source that he wouldn't share it with anyone else. Nonetheless, "breaking my word" and begging Gigot to "protect me on this," he forwarded it to his co-conspirator. In a sane world, both men would be drummed out of town for such behavior.
Gigot has now taken his show to FOX News, where such tactics will find a compatible home among like-minded partisans. "Our side" turns out to be the great Republican noise machine. A couple of days after that announcement, The Wall Street Journal published a thoroughly disingenuous editorial, obviously written by Gigot, defending Kenneth Tomlinson and their own involvement with him, while taking potshots at the Inspector General of CPB who had investigated the whole mess at the request of members of Congress. The editorial compared him to Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau.
But in a final triumph of reporting and evidence over ideology and spin, the Inspector found that Tomlinson had committed multiple transgressions: he broke the law, violated the corporation's guidelines for contracting, meddled in program decisions, injected politics into hiring procedures, and admonished CPB executive staff "not to interfere with his deal" with Gigot. The emails show Tomlinson bragging to Karl Rove, who played an important role in his appointment as chairman, about his success in "shaking things up" at CPB. They also confirm that he had consulted the White House about recruiting loyalist Republicans to serve as his confederates in an organization that had been created in 1967 to prevent just such partisan meddling in public broadcasting. (Thanks to Tomlinson and his White House allies, the new President of CPB is the former co-chair of the Republican National Committee. She arrives under a cloud that only her actions can dispel. We shall see.)
Curiously, Gigot's Wall Street Journal editorial conveniently failed to mention that the emails between himself and Tomlinson indicate Tomlinson perjured himself under oath, before Congress, when he said he had nothing to do with the agreement that landed Gigot at PBS. Fact is, they worked hand-in-glove. As I just mentioned, Tomlinson told his own staff not to interfere with "his deal" with Gigot. There's even an email in which Tomlinson says to Gigot, after they have been plotting on how to bring the proposed Gigot show to fruition, "Let's stay in close touch." Obviously, lying by an ally doesn't offend Gigot, who is otherwise known as a scourge of moral transgressions by Democrats, liberals, and other pagans.
As all this was becoming public, Tomlinson was forced to resign from the CPB board. He is now under investigation by the State Department for irregularities in his other job as Chair of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, the agency that oversees Voice of America, Radio Free Europe, and other international broadcasting sponsored by the United States. As I say, great secrecy breeds great corruption.
I have shared this sordid little story with you because it is a cautionary tale about the regime in power. If they were so determined to go with all guns blazing at a single broadcast of public television that is simply doing the job journalism is supposed to do - setting the record straight - you can imagine the pressure that has been applied to mainstream media. And you can understand what's at stake when journalism gets the message and pulls its punches. We saw it once again when Ahmed Chalabi was in town. This is the man who played a key and sinister role in fostering both media and intelligence reports that misled the American people about weapons of mass destruction. Although still under investigation by the FBI, Chalabi has maneuvered himself into the position of Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq. He came to Washington recently to schmooze with the President and to meet with the armchair warriors of the neoconservative crowd who had helped him spin the case for going to war. The old Houdini was back, rolling the beltway press who treated him with deference that might have been accorded George Washington. Watching him knock one soft pitch after another over the wall, I was reminded that the greatest moments in the history of the press have come not when journalists made common cause with power but when they stood fearlessly independent of it. This was not one of them.
In his recent book, The Gospel According to America, David Dark reminds us again of a lesson we seem always to be forgetting, that "as learners of freedom, we might come to understand that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance." He might well have been directly addressing the press when he wrote, "Keeping one's head safe for democracy (or avoiding the worship of false gods) will require a diligent questioning of any and all tribal storytellers. In an age of information technology, we will have to look especially hard at the forces that shape discourse and the various high-powered attempts, new every morning, to invent public reality."
So be it.
Thu Dec 15, 2005 at 01:09:03 PM PDT
War in Iraq, war against terrorism, war in Afghanistan, move over -- today, House GOP leaders have decided there is a more pressing war to attend to: the fictional war against Christmas, which apparently requires protection for Christmas symbols. And what happened when Democrats asked that the symbols of Chanukah be protected along with the symbols of Christmas? The House GOP simply said "no."
[TO RECEIVE MESSAGES LIKE THIS ONE FROM THE NJDC, please go to http://ga4.org/... ]
This afternoon, 26 House Republicans -- together with the GOP leadership -- will be forcing the full House to vote on whether House members support the "symbols and traditions" of Christmas, and whether they disapprove of the utterly mythical "attempts to ban references to Christmas." Today's roll call vote comes on the heels of a House floor debate held last night regarding H. Res. 579, a resolution "Expressing the sense of the House of Representatives that the symbols and traditions of Christmas should be protected." During the debate, Democratic members asked the Republican author of the resolution, Rep. Jo Ann Davis (R-VA), if she would permit the symbols of Chanukah and other holidays to be included in the protection of the resolution -- and she refused.
"Yes, Virginia... and North Carolina, Oklahoma, New Jersey and others... your GOP representatives believe in the imaginary 'war on Christmas,' and apparently they think this is the best use of Congress' time," National Jewish Democratic Council Executive Director Ira N. Forman said earlier today. "And apparently they think nothing of pressing their Jewish House colleagues to actually cast a congressional vote in favor of Christian 'symbols and traditions,' and they refuse to offer the same supposed protections to the symbols of Chanukah. The House GOP will go to any length to erect a straw man for the sole purpose of knocking it down -- anything to avoid dealing with our country's all-too-real problems.
"In this case, House Republicans are adopting the talking points of the most extreme, most divisive far-right elements in today's society -- and making that agenda the work of the people's House. Aside from being a colossal waste of time, it's divisive, it excludes other practices and faiths, and it buys into the conservative fantasy that there's some war against the 95 percent of Americans (according to Gallup) who celebrate Christmas," Forman added.
Below, please find several statements made by House Democrats during last night's debate -- including a humorous poem read on the House floor by the longest-serving member of the House, Rep. John Dingell of Michigan. To view this e-mail on NJDC's web site, please click here.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY):
"There are people around who need an enemy at all times to try to separate us one from the other as Americans in order to advance their own agenda. I do not think we should be playing into their hands. Nobody is attacking Christmas or its symbols.... I am really very saddened by the fact that when given the opportunity to expand this resolution that the sponsor demurred. I am not sure why. If you do not know and you are saying that you want this to be what this is because yours is the religion that has its symbols under attack, when was the last time you walked into Wal-Mart and saw it saying 'Happy Chanukah?' When did you walk into Toys 'R Us and see it saying 'Happy Kwanzaa?' Does that give me the right to say that my religion is under attack, the symbols of my faith or the holiday I wish to celebrate are under attack? It is not, and I am not going to be a crybaby and say that it is. To tell the truth, it is slightly offensive to see people trying to create a war and claiming they are attacked just so that they go on the offense instead of the defense. This is a prefabricated issue that has no merit. Nobody is attacking the symbols of Christmas. Are you objecting to our wanting to be included because the symbols of your religion are more important than the symbols of anybody else's religion in America? Or is it because you think that the symbols of your religion are more official? That is the danger in what we are doing."
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA):
"Madam Speaker, this resolution purports to protect the symbols of Christmas, but what really needs to be protected are not the symbols of Christmas, but rather the spirit of Christmas. The spirit of Christmas demands generosity and goodwill towards others. Instead of legislation that respects the spirit of Christmas, Congress in just these past few weeks has passed a budget that includes mean-spirited attacks on the least of us. For those who are hungry, we are cutting food stamps. For those who are sick, we are cutting Medicaid. For those who are in prison, we are imposing senseless mandatory minimums. For others we are ignoring increases in heating costs and cutting student loans. At the same time we are cutting those programs to help the least of us, we are cutting taxes for the wealthiest in society. Madam Speaker, we ought to express our passion for Christmas through deeds, not words; and we should not be distracted from our responsibility to uphold the spirit of Christmas as we consider the effects our actions on the Federal budget will have on the least of us during this holiday season. For these reasons I oppose this resolution."
Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY):
"The bottom line is there was a good-faith effort made by [Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY)] to change 'recognizes the importance of the symbols and traditions of Christmas' to 'the symbols of Christmas and Chanukah,' and you said no. It was an attempt to change 'strongly disapproves of attempts to ban references to Christmas' to 'ban references to Christmas and Kwanzaa,' and you said no. It was a chance to take this and put it into the words that... [the resolution's sponsor] says that she intends. The question must be, why? For someone who does not celebrate Christmas, the question looms: Why? Why not say to someone who wants to make this inclusive that, indeed, we are going to make it inclusive? The symbols of Chanukah are not valuable? Sure, they are, I think. The symbols of Kwanzaa are not valuable to some? Sure, they are. I cannot imagine why the gentlewoman who is the sponsor of this, who says that she speaks from a sense of inclusion, would not want to include those. Are those not worthy of being protected? What is the message that is being sent?"
Rep. John Dingell (D-MI):
"Madam Speaker, I have a little poem.
'Twas the week before Christmas and all through the House,
no bills were passed `bout which Fox News could grouse.
Tax cuts for the wealthy were passed with great cheer,
so vacations in St. Barts soon should be near.
Katrina kids were all nestled snug in motel beds,
while visions of school and home danced in their heads.
In Iraq, our soldiers need supplies and a plan,
and nuclear weapons are being built in Iran.
Gas prices shot up, consumer confidence fell.
Americans feared we were in a fast track to ..... well.
Wait, we need a distraction, something divisive and wily,
a fabrication straight from the mouth of O'Reilly.
We will pretend Christmas is under attack,
hold a vote to save it, then pat ourselves on the back.
Silent Night, First Noel, Away in the Manger,
Wake up Congress, they're in no danger.
This time of year, we see Christmas everywhere we go,
From churches to homes to schools and, yes, even Costco.
What we have is an attempt to divide and destroy
when this is the season to unite us with joy.
At Christmastime, we're taught to unite.
We don't need a made-up reason to fight.
So on O'Reilly, on Hannity, on Coulter and those right-wing blogs.
You should sit back and relax, have a few egg nogs.
'Tis the holiday season; enjoy it a pinch.
With all our real problems, do we really need another Grinch?
So to my friends and my colleagues, I say with delight,
a Merry Christmas to all, and to Bill O'Reilly, happy holidays.
Ho, ho, ho. Merry Christmas."
Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 09:14:52 PM PDT
This is cross-posted from ToRule.Us, my primary blog, where I've received a few off-blog requests for information about Leo Strauss and his merry band of neo-conservatives. Having composed a fairly long essay on the subject in response, it occurred to me I should probably make it available through the blog, as well. So here it is. It's a dark tale full of evil, wrongdoing, and college professors. Doesn't get much better than that, que no?
So Strauss was this nutjob from the University of Chicago. His core idea was that everyone since Aristotle has been chasing bad ideas, and that we thus need to restore a Platonic purity to our philosophical and political systems. Particularly, the twin evils of liberalism (in the Lockean sense, rather than the Wellstonian) and relativism really raised his hackles. Seems harmless enough at first blush - the sort of crap that spawns a lot of philosophy papers that no one reads. The trouble is, he found some pretty crazy stuff in Plato - and chose to work through the political bureaucracy instead of the academic press.
So here's the rub: Strauss argues that classical philosophical texts (roughly anyone before Kant) contained both exoteric (overt) and esoteric (covert) meanings. The exoteric portion of the text was a cover story (to keep philosophers from getting the Socrates belladona treatment), and the esoteric portion of the text was the "real" part. Indeed, the exoteric text was an example of what Plato termed a "noble lie" - a lie told by the ruling elite, to keep the governed masses away from the unpopular truths of the esoteric text.
Thus for example, in the "Republic," Strauss argued that Socrates' line of reasoning in the dialogue with Thrasymachus was an exoteric cover story: the REAL truth is actually the oratory of Thrasymachus. Ergo, the "Republic" doesn't REALLY demand that a good Philosopher King be limited by morality (as we poor fools learned in school); rather, it argues that truth and morality are tools in the hand of the powerful. Thrasymachus' theory of brutal power is really the way to go, and Socrates' nice-guy-king is just a pleasant cover story to keep non-elites from complaining.
So there's the real core of this philosophy. A tiny cadre of better, more-clear-thinking people are supposed to rule everything, and they should spread lies, willy-nilly, to the general population to keep the masses satiated. As Strauss himself put it, "some are fit to lead, and others to be led." Worse, "those who are fit to rule are those who realise there is no morality and that there is only one natural right, the right of the superior to rule over the inferior." And since the Straussians are the elite, they get to decide who hears the lies, who hears the truth, and what the esoteric meanings of all those classical texts are. The rest of us peons, then, just have to sit here and take it. We're "inferior," and "fit to be led," you see.
On a side note, Strauss had a strong admiration for Machiavelli - and, indeed, helped to rehabilitate ol' Niccolo in the conservative academy. The most powerful lesson he draws from Machiavelli is that true power does not rest in the hands of the Prince; it rests in the hands of the Prince's advisors. Thus, he organized his students, and urged them to take up advisory roles to politicians. To found think tanks and journals. To fill the intellectual void at the center of most politicians with the easy lies and corrupt policies of an elitist, regressive cadre. Well, that and this gem: "...[O]ne ought not to say to someone whom one wants to kill, `Give me your gun, I want to kill you with it,' but merely, `Give me your gun,' for once you have the gun in your hand, you can satisfy your desire."
That's how he reads the core ideological lesson one should draw from Machiavelli.
Thus, we find the contemporary "neo-conservative": just a flashy name for "Straussian." Among Strauss' students one can find Allan Bloom, Harry Jaffa, Irving Kristol (William Kristol's dad) and Norman Podhoretz (John Podhoretz' dad). Among their students, one can find William Kristol (Weekly Standard editor), John Podhoretz (NY Times columnist), Max Boot (LA Times columnist), Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen Cambrone, Robert Bork, Clarence Thomas, Elliot Abrams, Alan Keyes, William Bennett, and dozens of others you'd recognize immediately, as well.
Thinking for a moment about the Kristol and Podhoretz families, one is struck by how fast the "natural leaders" argument leads into a hereditary nobility, isn't one?
One last side-note: this is where the whole neo-con rejection of the "reality-based community" comes from. For them, anyone who is willing to speak the truth is a dupe of Socrate's exoteric text. "Truth" for them is whatever the powerful say it is - as Thrasymachus suggested. Real leaders, who understand the esoteric truths of the world, know that to rule is to lie. To be based in reality is to lose.
Anyhow, that's from whence I derive my strong distrust of anything the wingnuts say. I derive it from the fact that they openly proclaim themselves to be liars.
Here's some pretty good links for further reading:
PS: Strauss, Bloom, and Wolfowitz all show up in Saul Bellow's Ravelstein - it's a Roman a Clef about the Straussians at U Chicago. Ravelstien is Bloom, of course. Davarr is Strauss. Philip Gorman is Wolfowitz.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Wed Dec 14, 2005 at 01:19:30 PM PDT
No one here can forget the spectacle made over the death of Terri Schiavo, whose brain had died long, long ago. But in Texas, the law George W. Bush signed as governor allows doctors to inform the family that further treatment is hopeless (and costly) and Pull the Plug. Literally.
In the latest case to escape the Culture of Life warriors, Tirhas Habtegiris, a young woman and legal immigrant from Africa, was CONSCIOUS and responsive when removed from a respirator and allowed to die.
Let me rephrase that: She was killed by doctors who removed the ventilator keeping her alive. And this action was fully legal under Bush's "economic considerations" law. Her body was ravaged by cancer, but she was alert. She was responsive.
Salvi was stunned to get this hand-delivered notice invoking a complicated and rarely used Texas law where a doctor is "not obligated to continue" medical treatment ....
She wasn't white. Politicians did not speculate on her diagnosis via video tape. Conservative religious zealots did not picket the hospital. She didn't have insurance. Ventilator treatment is expensive. Baylor did not want to incur any more expenses. So they removed a conscious woman from a respirator.
THIS is the true face of "compassionate conservatism" and of the phony "culture of life". They don't give a rat's ass, as long as the insurance will pay the bill. No insurance? Good-bye, you die.
"She wanted to get her mom over here or to get to her mom so she could die in her mom's arms," says her cousin Meri Tesfay.
Ten days was not enough time, they say, to get a mother from Africa to America.
The family and hospital desperately tried to get Tirhas moved to a nursing home but they say no one would take her.
"A fund issue is what I understand. Because she is not insured and that was the major reason the way I understood it," Salvi said.
A statement from Baylor Plano disputes that and says the hospital did its best to comply with the family's wishes in every way.
Still, on the 11th day, Tirhas Habtegiris was taken off the respirator and died.
A dying person's last request: To die with her mother by her side. Yet, "economic considerations" are more important in Texas than compassion. Without insurance, you are literally condemned to death if you need expensive treatment.
After the fact, the hospital claims they were willing to help bring the mother from Africa, but the family here in Dallas says they were told time had run out. Yes, the hospital was willing to help, but only within 10 days. Otherwise... the bill.
Tirhas Habtegiris would not have recovered from her cancer. There is no dispute of that. But... just to see her mother one more time. That was all she asked. And the hospital allowed 10 days before treatment was discontinued.
"It didn't take long -- 15 to 16 minutes," Tirhas Habtegiris' brother recalled.
Can you imagine what it must be like to know you are dying for 15 minutes? Every time some wing-nut Republican politician trots out the phrase "culture of life", remember Tirhas Habtegiris. Reflect on a conscious person knowing that life-giving air was being cut off.
Sit quietly for 15 minutes and contemplate how hopeless and horrifying that must feel. Recall the abject hypocrisy of Schiavo: Bush rushed back to Washington (more than he did for New Orleans) to sign the Schiavo Federal Court review legislation. But, Tirhas Habtegiris died quietly, died for 15 minutes, without anyone knowing, without politicians manipulating her life and death, never uncared about within the phony "culture of life."And she died without seeing her mother one last time.
Bill 0'Reilley Is a Fucking Idiot!
Bill O'Reilley Is a Fucking Idiot!
Bill O'Reilley Is a Fucking Idiot!
Wednesday, December 14, 2005 Posted: 2244 GMT (0644 HKT)
WASHINGTON (AP) -- Ford Motor Co. said Wednesday it would reinstate and expand the scope of its advertising in gay publications after criticism from gay rights groups.
Ford said in a letter it would restore advertising for its luxury Jaguar and Land Rover brands in gay publications and run corporate ads marketing all eight of its vehicle brands in the publications.
"It is my hope that this will remove any ambiguity about Ford's desire to advertise to all important audiences and put this particular issue to rest," wrote Joe Laymon, Ford's group vice president for corporate human resources.
Last week, Ford had said it would no longer advertise its luxury vehicles in several gay publications, citing a need to reduce its marketing costs across the board.
Gay groups asked Ford to restore the advertising -- and suggested a connection between the cutback and pressure from conservative groups. Ford said there was no connection.
In late November, the American Family Association had canceled a boycott of Ford vehicles, which had been announced in May when the organization criticized the nation's No. 2 automaker for making contributions to gay rights groups, offering benefits to same-sex partners and recruiting gay employees.
Several gay rights groups said the move created the perception that Ford had struck a deal with the AFA to reduce its advertising in gay publications. Gay leaders met with Ford on Monday and asked that the automaker reinstitute the advertising and distance itself from the Mississippi-based AFA.
Ford's Laymon said the ads' "content will be appropriate and effective in connecting with the intended audience."
The move was hailed by gay organizations. Neil Giuliano of the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation credited the company with listening to its concerns and making "a clear statement of nondiscrimination and inclusion."
"Fairness and equality wins out in corporate America," said Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign.
A message seeking comment was left for an AFA spokeswoman.
Ford Chairman and CEO Bill Ford had said Monday that the automaker values "all people -- regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation and cultural or physical differences."
Ford has been lauded for offering an inclusive work environment for gays and lesbians. Annual studies by the Human Rights Campaign in 2004 and 2005 gave Ford a perfect score on corporate policies and practices toward the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community.
"The statement released today is representative of the Ford Motor Co. that we've known and respected for years, not the company that was alleged to exist over the last two weeks," said Matt Foreman, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force.
Ford, General Motors Corp. and DaimlerChrysler AG introduced same-sex domestic partner benefits in 2000.
By Georgie Anne GeyerTue Dec 13, 6:21 PM ET
WASHINGTON -- The core question that repeatedly came up on Condi's trip to Europe is the one that defines the "right-to-torture" discussion, which is vexing the United States of America: What if one man knew of a horrible terrorist attack about to be launched -- and only he could tell the world the details?
Neocon columnist Charles Krauthammer has become the grand inquisitor for the hard-line group in the administration. He argues, seemingly eternally, that not only is torture defensible in certain limited circumstances, but in fact it is "morally necessary" if it would save lives from an imminent attack. At the same time, he ridicules the "moral preening" of his critics, and forgets to tell us how we control sadistic kids who take his expositions seriously.
Well, there ARE other answers to that question. My friend Cherif Bassiouni, professor of international law at DePaul University in Chicago and one of the world's great jurists, has them. (Bassiouni was running a conference center on terrorism in Italy long before George W. gave up alcohol or Charles Krauthammer took up Spanish Inquisition training.)
"The fallacy of the 'ticking bomb syndrome' -- that we've got 10 minutes to defuse the bomb or the world blows up -- is that it simply cannot be used to apply to everything else," Bassiouni told me. "If this were happening and I were drafted to get information from this man, I would do what was necessary, and then the next day I would turn myself in and say that I did it. I would not justify myself -- that's the moral difference."
In short, supremely moral men such as Bassiouni -- and others who have had actual, not theoretical, experience in working with terrorism across the world -- recognize that there can be moments in history when anything goes. But these occur so seldom, and they are so theoretical, that to suggest that we base an entire system upon them and reconstitute the principled life of America leaves one breathless with the sheer stupidity of it.
We should know by now that those poor saps who were tortured in Abu Ghraib and elsewhere were largely picked up off the street by naive GIs who could not be expected to walk around with a "Who's Who of Iraq." And even those who support torture admit it doesn't work.
So the administration sent Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on a charm mission to relieve the relative torture of President Bush's recent visits to Europe and Latin America. But nothing has really been made clear. As part of the new policy to keep Americans quiescent about their own innocent, freshly scrubbed kids being sent to punch and sodomize black-hooded Iraqis into the next world, the president now repeats "victory" in every speech; his psychological advisers have told him Americans will sacrifice their kids if they're sure we're going to win.
Meanwhile, broody Vice President Dick Cheney, whose restless nights will not be quieted until he can write torture into law for the CIA to pursue in its hidden inquisitional eyries, is unusually subdued; he is letting the attractive but misleading Condi act as the administration's seductive Lotus Eater.
At the end of his disastrous trip through Latin America (he was mercilessly criticized everywhere), President Bush said, with a strange otherworldly look, in Panama, "The United States does not torture." Ex-cuse me!
Then Condi took off, looking like a million, as my beloved mother would have put it, to woo the Europeans and to "reassure" them at a special NATO foreign ministers' meeting. "At no time did the United States agree to inhumane acts or torture. Even if terrorists are not covered by the Geneva Conventions, they (their captors) have still applied the principles governing those Geneva Conventions."
The Europeans ended up saying, "Condi, si -- America, no!" But as the usually American-friendly German paper Die Welt editorialized: "It is not particularly reassuring if the West's biggest power has to affirm that it does not torture prisoners." In fact, it sounds rather too much like a man protesting that he does not beat his wife.
The truth of the matter is that, despite all the traveling around and posturing, neither the torture question nor its supposed rationale has been in the slightest resolved. The United States remains a ratifier of the "Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman and Degrading Treatment," signed in 1994 by none other than President Bill Clinton, with torture defined as any "cruel, inhuman and degrading" practice that would violate the Fifth, Eighth or 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution. Not to speak of the Geneva Accords, or that old-fashioned idea that the United States is "different" and that agreeing to torture marks a profound departure from our past.
Yet, the administration's lawyers have privately concluded that "waterboarding" (an old trick of the Spanish Inquisition that makes the internee think he is drowning) and other CIA methods don't violate the Constitution. There has been no decision to abandon those practices; nor was "rendition," sending suspects to foreign countries, included in Condi's bright new message to the world.
Professor Bassiouni says: "She was handed an important mission. She has made separate statements without connecting the dots. The president says we don't torture, period. She says, we don't do anything illegal, and move on. Every statement on its own was all right; but by not connecting the dots she leaves each statement on its own. Ergo, the president says we don't do anything illegal.
"But in fact, the Pentagon itself has released the names of 200 people who died under torture under U.S. custody. I hate to put it this way because it sounds irreverent, but it all sounds a lot like the Mafia. When they're caught, it's not that they 'didn't do it' but that they weren't there, they were somewhere else, they ... It's all so transparent that the world is doubly aghast."
On the brink of the important Iraqi elections this week, one garners some of the inner sense of that America which would reform Iraq. Not surprising, is it, that the Iraqis might just think twice.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Secret database obtained by NBC News tracks ‘suspicious’ domestic groups
WASHINGTON - A year ago, at a Quaker Meeting House in Lake Worth, Fla., a small group of activists met to plan a protest of military recruiting at local high schools. What they didn't know was that their meeting had come to the attention of the U.S. military.
A secret 400-page Defense Department document obtained by NBC News lists the Lake Worth meeting as a “threat” and one of more than 1,500 “suspicious incidents” across the country over a recent 10-month period.
“This peaceful, educationally oriented group being a threat is incredible,” says Evy Grachow, a member of the Florida group called The Truth Project.
“This is incredible,” adds group member Rich Hersh. “It's an example of paranoia by our government,” he says. “We're not doing anything illegal.”
The Defense Department document is the first inside look at how the U.S. military has stepped up intelligence collection inside this country since 9/11, which now includes the monitoring of peaceful anti-war and counter-military recruitment groups.
“I think Americans should be concerned that the military, in fact, has reached too far,” says NBC News military analyst Bill Arkin.
The Department of Defense declined repeated requests by NBC News for an interview. A spokesman said that all domestic intelligence information is “properly collected” and involves “protection of Defense Department installations, interests and personnel.” The military has always had a legitimate “force protection” mission inside the U.S. to protect its personnel and facilities from potential violence. But the Pentagon now collects domestic intelligence that goes beyond legitimate concerns about terrorism or protecting U.S. military installations, say critics.
Four dozen anti-war meetings
The DOD database obtained by NBC News includes nearly four dozen anti-war meetings or protests, including some that have taken place far from any military installation, post or recruitment center. One “incident” included in the database is a large anti-war protest at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles last March that included effigies of President Bush and anti-war protest banners. Another incident mentions a planned protest against military recruiters last December in Boston and a planned protest last April at McDonald’s National Salute to America’s Heroes — a military air and sea show in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
The Fort Lauderdale protest was deemed not to be a credible threat and a column in the database concludes: “US group exercising constitutional rights.” Two-hundred and forty-three other incidents in the database were discounted because they had no connection to the Department of Defense — yet they all remained in the database.
The DOD has strict guidelines (.PDF link), adopted in December 1982, that limit the extent to which they can collect and retain information on U.S. citizens.
Still, the DOD database includes at least 20 references to U.S. citizens or U.S. persons. Other documents obtained by NBC News show that the Defense Department is clearly increasing its domestic monitoring activities. One DOD briefing document stamped “secret” concludes: “[W]e have noted increased communication and encouragement between protest groups using the [I]nternet,” but no “significant connection” between incidents, such as “reoccurring instigators at protests” or “vehicle descriptions.”
The increased monitoring disturbs some military observers.
“It means that they’re actually collecting information about who’s at those protests, the descriptions of vehicles at those protests,” says Arkin. “On the domestic level, this is unprecedented,” he says. “I think it's the beginning of enormous problems and enormous mischief for the military.”
Some former senior DOD intelligence officials share his concern. George Lotz, a 30-year career DOD official and former U.S. Air Force colonel, held the post of Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Oversight from 1998 until his retirement last May. Lotz, who recently began a consulting business to help train and educate intelligence agencies and improve oversight of their collection process, believes some of the information the DOD has been collecting is not justified.
Make sure they are not just going crazy
“Somebody needs to be monitoring to make sure they are just not going crazy and reporting things on U.S. citizens without any kind of reasoning or rationale,” says Lotz. “I demonstrated with Martin Luther King in 1963 in Washington,” he says, “and I certainly didn’t want anybody putting my name on any kind of list. I wasn’t any threat to the government,” he adds.
The military’s penchant for collecting domestic intelligence is disturbing — but familiar — to Christopher Pyle, a former Army intelligence officer.
“Some people never learn,” he says. During the Vietnam War, Pyle blew the whistle on the Defense Department for monitoring and infiltrating anti-war and civil rights protests when he published an article in the Washington Monthly in January 1970.
The public was outraged and a lengthy congressional investigation followed that revealed that the military had conducted investigations on at least 100,000 American citizens. Pyle got more than 100 military agents to testify that they had been ordered to spy on U.S. citizens — many of them anti-war protestors and civil rights advocates. In the wake of the investigations, Pyle helped Congress write a law placing new limits on military spying inside the U.S.
But Pyle, now a professor at Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, says some of the information in the database suggests the military may be dangerously close to repeating its past mistakes.
“The documents tell me that military intelligence is back conducting investigations and maintaining records on civilian political activity. The military made promises that it would not do this again,” he says.
Too much data?
Some Pentagon observers worry that in the effort to thwart the next 9/11, the U.S. military is now collecting too much data, both undermining its own analysis efforts by forcing analysts to wade through a mountain of rubble in order to obtain potentially key nuggets of intelligence and entangling U.S. citizens in the U.S. military’s expanding and quiet collection of domestic threat data.
Two years ago, the Defense Department directed a little known agency, Counterintelligence Field Activity, or CIFA, to establish and “maintain a domestic law enforcement database that includes information related to potential terrorist threats directed against the Department of Defense.” Then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz also established a new reporting mechanism known as a TALON or Threat and Local Observation Notice report. TALONs now provide “non-validated domestic threat information” from military units throughout the United States that are collected and retained in a CIFA database. The reports include details on potential surveillance of military bases, stolen vehicles, bomb threats and planned anti-war protests. In the program’s first year, the agency received more than 5,000 TALON reports. The database obtained by NBC News is generated by Counterintelligence Field Activity.
CIFA is becoming the superpower of data mining within the U.S. national security community. Its “operational and analytical records” include “reports of investigation, collection reports, statements of individuals, affidavits, correspondence, and other documentation pertaining to investigative or analytical efforts” by the DOD and other U.S. government agencies to identify terrorist and other threats. Since March 2004, CIFA has awarded at least $33 million in contracts to corporate giants Lockheed Martin, Unisys Corporation, Computer Sciences Corporation and Northrop Grumman to develop databases that comb through classified and unclassified government data, commercial information and Internet chatter to help sniff out terrorists, saboteurs and spies.
One of the CIFA-funded database projects being developed by Northrop Grumman and dubbed “Person Search,” is designed “to provide comprehensive information about people of interest.” It will include the ability to search government as well as commercial databases. Another project, “The Insider Threat Initiative,” intends to “develop systems able to detect, mitigate and investigate insider threats,” as well as the ability to “identify and document normal and abnormal activities and ‘behaviors,’” according to the Computer Sciences Corp. contract. A separate CIFA contract with a small Virginia-based defense contractor seeks to develop methods “to track and monitor activities of suspect individuals.”
“The military has the right to protect its installations, and to protect its recruiting services,” says Pyle. “It does not have the right to maintain extensive files on lawful protests of their recruiting activities, or of their base activities,” he argues.
“The harm in my view is that these people ought to be allowed to demonstrate, to hold a banner, to peacefully assemble whether they agree or disagree with the government’s policies,” the former DOD intelligence official says.
Bert Tussing, director of Homeland Defense and Security Issues at the U.S. Army War College and a former Marine, says “there is very little that could justify the collection of domestic intelligence by the Unites States military. If we start going down this slippery slope it would be too easy to go back to a place we never want to see again,” he says.
Some of the targets of the U.S. military’s recent collection efforts say they have already gone too far.
“It's absolute paranoia — at the highest levels of our government,” says Hersh of The Truth Project.
“I mean, we're based here at the Quaker Meeting House,” says Truth Project member Marie Zwicker, “and several of us are Quakers.”
The Defense Department refused to comment on how it obtained information on the Lake Worth meeting or why it considers a dozen or so anti-war activists a “threat.”
30,000 Iraqis Dead
Then he made a joke. What a sick fucker....
Monday, December 12, 2005
When Alice was in Wonderland, the Red Queen told her that she thought three impossible things every day before breakfast. It's not a bad exercise for anyone living in a world where several impossible things could occur very soon.
Refer back to yesterday's impossible ideas that have come true: The Soviet Union will fall without civil war.
Its satellites will become free without Soviet retaliation. China will have more people earning $40,000 a year than the United States. India will become an economy to reckon with.
Most people still won't accept that an idea has come true if their minds keep labeling it impossible. For example, the impossible idea that the most feared country on earth would be America. Or that our incursion into Iraq would last longer than either the Korean War or America's ground fighting in Europe in World War II. Both have come true, whatever we might wish to the contrary. If those impossibilities don't bother you, how about the idea that the U.S. would have a higher percentage of people in jail than the gulag under Stalin? Or that the only Americans enjoying an actual increase in wage-earning are the very rich?
Reality has already shifted on those fronts. Here are the new impossible ideas that are on the table: The insurgents will sue for peace if the U.S. withdraws from Iraq tomorrow. Saudi Arabia will sell so much oil that it can finance anti-Americanism worldwide forever. Any country will be able to have nuclear arms without fear of reprisal. Half the state of Florida will be underwater. A world population of nine billion will be concentrated in massive urban camps suffering from unspeakable poverty and incurable disease.
It's time the White House started thinking more like the Red Queen.
Thirteen of the prisoners needed hospital treatment amid torture claims. An Iraqi official speaking anonymously said 12 of the 13 men in hospital had suffered torture, including electric shocks and the loss of finger nails.
Many of those inmates were malnourished and some showed signs of torture.
The outcry over that centre, found in a bunker beneath an interior ministry building, sparked the inspection process which resulted in the second discovery.
A statement from the Iraqi human rights ministry said 56 of the inmates in the second prison had been immediately freed and 75 detainees were being transferred to a Justice Ministry prison.
It did not say why the 13 detainees needed treatment, but Iraqi officials quoted by the Washington Post and AP news agency cited the torture claims.
At least 12 had suffered "severe torture", one official said to have first-hand knowledge of the case told the Post.
"Two of them showed me their nails, and they were gone," he said.
Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said an inquiry would be held into what he termed an "unhealthy phenomenon".
"There is a committee following the case," he said. "My military adviser is touring all of Iraq's jails to know if there are such cases. I will not allow such dealing with any prisoner."
After November's discovery of the first prison, Mr Jaafari ordered an investigation into the alleged abuse of the detainees.
No report has yet been given.The conditions were found in the first inspection since some 170 detainees were found in another jail in November.