Saturday, July 22, 2006
by David Sirota
The New York Times today posted an excerpt of the first chapter
of Hostile Takeover
as a preview to the review of the book coming out tomorrow by op-ed editor Tobin Harshaw (You will be able to see the review here
tomorrow - I am headed out for a few days of vacation so, as promised earlier
, I am posting my thoughts now since I have seen it already). The Times for months refused to review Hostile Takeover, preferring to try to ignore it. Only when the book hit the bestseller list did the paper realize it was embarrassing itself by its behavior. Not surprisingly, the review that the paper finally agreed to do is indeed a spectacle - and it highlights the fault lines of power that have taken center stage in American politics.
The review first tries to claim that Hostile Takeover
is "directed less at the ruling Republicans than at their main opposition, mainstream Democratic centrists." That's factually inaccurate - the book is roughly 75%-25% critical of Republicans vs. Democrats, respectively, and you may recall that the Washington Post
attacked the book as a Democratic Party "apologia" (I have submitted a letter to the Times' editor demanding a correction on this assertion, though I'm not holding my breath that it will be published).
The inaccuracy, of course, is no accident - it is designed to simply write off the book as just something of interest to Democrats in the upcoming election (thus, the subheadline in the piece that bemoans supposedly "more prescriptions to help the Democrats reverse their electoral fortunes"). What both the Times and Post reviewers display in their dishonest efforts to paint the book as one or another kind of partisan screed is a more fundamental desire to hide the fact that this the book is an analysis of the whole system. They don't want any systemic analysis gaining traction - because god forbid if we start talking about systemic problems, then we can actually have a real debate about the power equations that drive our broken political process and insulate the Establishment from small "d" democratic influence.
The Times review then goes into a barrage of cliched attacks calling me, among others, a "Marxist" and a "high school newspaper editor." Then, unable to hide a classic op-ed page elitism, Harshaw displays outrage that "a blogger tries to write at length" in book format. Beyond the fact that this is a dishonest tactic attempting to make readers forget that, for instance, I regularly write at length for various magazines, the sentiment is telling. Harshaw seems to say: How dare anyone other than someone with New York Times or other Establishment credentials get to write a book or have any sort of voice in our political debate?
The elitism that drips from that sentiment is backed up by the fact that the Times is forced to repeatedly admit that Hostile Takeover provids "creditable analysis" with wholly "accurate" facts and "admirably specific" policy prescriptions that are "on the side of angels." Put another way, what the Times is saying is that while it believes Hostile Takeover says is entirely accurate on the substance and completely supported by the facts, the paper's editors believe I have no right to say it, have it published in book format, or have it promoted in the political debate because I am not inside the Establishment's elite circle of accepted, polite voices who know never to actually challenge power.
That, my friends, is the fault line that is driving everything in today's politics: a battle between the people inside the Establishment whose careers rely on protecting the status quo and the vast majority of Americans who have been locked out of their own political and media debate. Of course, you don't hear that in our current political discourse - everything is always ramrodded into a debate between Democrats and Republicans, red and blue, liberals and conservatives. That's deliberate - the Establishment wants the public to think this battle is about everything OTHER than the struggle between those with power who want to preserve the status quo, and those without power who want democratic control of their country. Because if this fault line is actually brought to the front and talked about, it means a direct challenge to the powers that be.
You can see how frightened the Establishment is in how the elites treat anyone who dares highlight this fault line.
In the book world, books like Hostile Takeover, Crashing the Gates, How Would A Patriot Act?, Lapdogs and others are movement books that represent the desires, aspirations and centrist political positions of the vast majority of Americans. Books like The Good Fight and The World is Flat, on the other hand, are books that not only represent the status quo Establishment, but go out of their way to attack the nerve of those outside the Washington Beltway who want serious change. Not surprisingly, the Establishment aggressively pushes the latter in its corporate media channels, and attacks or suppresses coverage of the former.
In the electoral arena, Washington pundits and incumbent politicians are out in force breathlessly berating Connecticut voters that are backing primary candidate Ned Lamont in his challenge to incumbent Sen. Joe Lieberman (D). The Establishment is outraged that voters would have the chutzpah to believe that elections should be, well, elections - and not coronations for Senators who think they are royalty and think they can sell out their constituents with no consequences.
Even in the policy arena, this Ordinary Americans vs. Establishment s power struggle is occurring. On one side, you see millions of newly engaged citizens involving themselves in Internet activism, union organizing, and political campaigns that take on the status quo and push a policy agenda that represents the vast majority of Americans. You see courageous politicians take principled stands on specific policies that the Establishment has tried to preserve for years.
On the other side, there are organizations like the Democratic Leadership Council, which is holding its "national conversation" in Denver this weekend. The group purports to represent America's political "center" but on issue after issue after issue, the organization and its highest-profile leaders have gone on record advocating for extremist national security, trade and economic policies well outside the mainstream of American public opinion. These policies, undoubtedly influenced by the group's big corporate donors, have helped destroy America's middle class and weaken America's security. The group, of course, purports to represent ordinary Americans. But they can't hide even the farcical nature of that assertion. As just one example, the Rocky Mountain News reports the DLC's supposedly "national conversation" runs "through Monday at the Hyatt Regency hotel and is not open to the public." And now the group is pitching stories to reporters trying to openly position themselves as the counterweight to grassroots political organizing and activism.
The New York Times and other Establishment media try to make everything about one party or another, and about one election or another. But what is clear - and what is frightening them and their friends at their elite cocktail party gatherings - is the realization that a movement is being built that transcends both parties and any one election. This is a movement that sees the principles of standing up for the little guy and the ideology that puts regular people first not as a threat, but as a necessity to rebuilding the foundations this country was built on - foundations that are now under a vicious assault by those in the Establishment.
Even in its angry review of Hostile Takeover, the Times is forced to acknowledge that we, the people fighting for our democracy, have the facts on our side. It is a tacit admission that the Establishment well understands the crimes being perpetrated on us - and simply doesn't care to change its ways. And while Washington's pundits, lobbyists, and other assorted status quo apologists will continue to scream like little children and berate us with epithets whenever we the people assert ourselves - rest assured that the louder their temper tantrums get, the more progress we are making.
Report: Investigators found that Pentagon allowed sensitive military equipment sales to public
WASHINGTON, Jul. 22, 2006
By ANDREW MIGA Associated Press Writer (AP)
Undercover government investigators purchased sensitive surplus military equipment such as launcher mounts for shoulder-fired missiles and guided missile radar test sets from a Defense Department contractor.
Much of the equipment could be useful to terrorists, according to a draft report by the Government Accountability Office, the investigative arm of Congress.
In June, two GAO investigators spent $1.1 million on such equipment at two excess property warehouses. Their purchases included several types of body armor inserts used by troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, an all-band antenna used to track aircraft, and a digital signal converter used in naval surveillance.
"The body armor could be used by terrorists or other criminal activity," noted the report, obtained Friday by The Associated Press. "Many of the other military items have weapons applications that would also be useful to terrorists."
Thousands of items that should have been destroyed were sold to the public, the report said. Much of the equipment was sold for pennies on the dollar.
The list included circuit cards used in computerized Navy systems, a cesium technology timing unit with global positioning capabilities, and 12 digital microcircuits used in F-14 Tomcat fighter aircraft.
At least 2,669 sensitive military items were sold to 79 buyers in 216 sales transactions from November 2005 to June 2006.
"DOD has not enforced security controls for preventing sensitive excess military equipment from release to the public," the report concluded. "GAO was able to purchase these items because controls broke down at virtually every step in the excess property turn-in and disposal process."
In the report, the GAO said it had briefed Pentagon officials on its findings but that the Pentagon had no response because it had not had time to perform a detailed review.
Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee's national security panel, will hold a hearing on the matter Tuesday. Earlier GAO reports also had found lax security controls over sensitive excess military equipment.
"During previous hearings we learned DOD was a bargain basement for would-be terrorists due to lax security screening of excess military equipment," Shays said in a statement Friday. "Based on GAO's most recent undercover investigation it looks like the store is still open."
The GAO findings were first reported by CBS News and ABC News.
From 2002 until this year, NASA’s mission statement, prominently featured in its budget and planning documents, read: “To understand and protect our home planet; to explore the universe and search for life; to inspire the next generation of explorers ... as only NASA can.”
In early February, the statement was quietly altered, with the phrase “to understand and protect our home planet” deleted. In this year’s budget and planning documents, the agency’s mission is “to pioneer the future in space exploration, scientific discovery and aeronautics research.”
David E. Steitz, a spokesman for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said the aim was to square the statement with President Bush’s goal of pursuing human spaceflight to the Moon and Mars.
But the change comes as an unwelcome surprise to many NASA scientists, who say the “understand and protect” phrase was not merely window dressing but actively influenced the shaping and execution of research priorities. Without it, these scientists say, there will be far less incentive to pursue projects to improve understanding of terrestrial problems like climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions.
“We refer to the mission statement in all our research proposals that go out for peer review, whenever we have strategy meetings,” said Philip B. Russell, a 25-year NASA veteran who is an atmospheric chemist at the Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif. “As civil servants, we’re paid to carry out NASA’s mission. When there was that very easy-to-understand statement that our job is to protect the planet, that made it much easier to justify this kind of work.”
Several NASA researchers said they were upset that the change was made at NASA headquarters without consulting the agency’s 19,000 employees or informing them ahead of time.
Though the “understand and protect” phrase was deleted in February, when the Bush administration submitted budget and planning documents to Congress, its absence has only recently registered with NASA employees.
Mr. Steitz, the NASA spokesman, said the agency might have to improve internal communications, but he defended the way the change was made, saying it reflected the management style of Michael D. Griffin, the administrator at the agency.
“Strategic planning comes from headquarters down,” he said, and added, “I don’t think there was any mal-intent or idea of exclusion.”
The line about protecting the earth was added to the mission statement in 2002 under Sean O’Keefe, the first NASA administrator appointed by President Bush, and was drafted in an open process with scientists and employees across the agency.
In the National Aeronautics and Space Act, which established the agency in 1958, the first objective of the agency was listed as “the expansion of human knowledge of the earth and of phenomena in the atmosphere and space.”
And since 1972, when NASA launched the first Landsat satellite to track changes on the earth’s surface, the agency has been increasingly involved in monitoring the environment and as a result has been immersed in political disputes over environmental policy and spending, said W. Henry Lambright, a professor of public administration and political science at Syracuse University who has studied the trend.
The shift in language echoes a shift in the agency’s budgets toward space projects and away from earth missions, a shift that began in 2004, the year Mr. Bush announced his vision of human missions to the Moon and beyond.
The “understand and protect” phrase was cited repeatedly by James E. Hansen, a climate scientist at NASA who said publicly last winter that he was being threatened by political appointees for speaking out about the dangers posed by greenhouse gas emissions.
Dr. Hansen’s comments started a flurry of news media coverage in late January; on Feb. 3, Mr. Griffin issued a statement of “scientific openness.”
The revised mission statement was released with the agency’s proposed 2007 budget on Feb. 6. But Mr. Steitz said Dr. Hansen’s use of the phrase and its subsequent disappearance from the mission statement was “pure coincidence.”
Dr. Hansen, who directs the Goddard Institute for Space Studies, a NASA office, has been criticized by industry-backed groups and Republican officials for associating with environmental campaigners and his endorsement of Senator John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election.
Dr. Hansen said the change might reflect White House eagerness to shift the spotlight away from global warming.
“They’re making it clear that they have the authority to make this change, that the president sets the objectives for NASA, and that they prefer that NASA work on something that’s not causing them a problem,” he said.
by Susan G
Would you hire a babysitter who hates children and thinks they should be eliminated? Or who declares for years in your hearing that children are irritants who should be starved to be small, unseen and mute?
Would you hire cops who think laws are stupid and useless and should be abolished?
Would you hire a conductor for your orchestra who believes music itself an abomination?
Then why would you hire - and you did hire them, America; they are your employees, after all, not your rulers, despite their grandiose pretensions - members of a political party who think government is useless, ineffective, bloated and untrustworthy?
You've hired for your kitchen the chef who spits in your food because he despises preparing meals.
You've hired for your yardwork the gardener who sets out to kill your roses to demonstrate his assertion that they will die in your climate.
You've hired for your office the accountant who's staked his career on proving no accurate books can be kept.
In electing Republicans, America, you put people in charge of institutions they overtly, caustically loathe and proudly proclaim should not exist. Good thinking, USA, and stellar results: Katrina, Iraq, Medicare D, trade and budget deficits, mine disasters and on and on and on and ...
Conservatives have declared officially for decades that they hate public programs and love private business. Why then, do Americans profess shock when these same people run the public credit card up to bunker-busting levels to line the pockets of friendly corporations, leaving taxpayers - current and the as-yet unborn - the bill? It's the dine and ditch mentality writ large, and American citizens are the unfortunate waiters having their lowly pay docked to cover the deadbeat loss - and their future grandchildren's pay docked as well.
We are witnessing an orchestrated, unprecedented transfer of public wealth to private pockets, a national one-party feeding frenzy that's making beggars and beseechers of us all, and yet many Americans stand around muttering in a daze of semi-apathetic befuddlement about gosh darn how did all this come to be and how sure as shit, uh-huh, those Republicans shore were right, government doesn't do a the little guy a damn bit of good, no sirree bob. Better drown it some more. Cut them taxes, privatize something, anything, pronto!
Kee-rist on a pogo stick.
If you put people in charge of running a project they are ideologically committed to proving a failure, it will fail.
Seems pretty straightforward to me. But hey, I'm a Democrat. You know, one of those people who think universal quality public education is a massive good to society, that maintaining our highways and levees and bridges and dams is part of what makes this country great, that paying first-responders and nurses what they're worth helps guarantee our public health and safety, that providing for fellow citizens who fall on hard times is not only the ethical thing to do, but the pragmatic one, ensuring that this country does not incubate a permanently inflamed and disgruntled underclass ready to drop a match on a pool of social gasoline.
Here's a thought - just a thought, mind you, beloved America: Perhaps it's time to return to government the party that has an ideological stake in making it ... you know ... succeed. Maybe, just maybe, it's time to raise our sights a wee bit and elect people who think public service is more than an opportunity for the "Biggest! Fire Sale! Ever!" for their friends and loved ones. Perhaps it's time to insist on greater - if not great - expectations from the employees we decide to hire or fire every two years to carry out our will under the constitution.
As one-party Republican rule has clearly shown, when you expect incompetence, corruption and deceit from your government, you get exactly what you vote for. In spades.
Friday, July 21, 2006
NEW ORLEANS (AP) - The American Civil Liberties Union has asked the state attorney general to release the results of an investigation into a police roadblock on a major New Orleans bridge after Hurricane Katrina.
In a letter to Attorney General Charles Foti, Louisiana ACLU Executive Director Joe Cook said the delay in reporting findings "makes no sense."
In late September, less than a month after Katrina hit, Foti said he would conduct a "fact-finding mission" into reports that New Orleans evacuees were blocked by several law enforcement agencies from entering neighboring Jefferson Parish by crossing the Crescent City Connection over the Mississippi River.
Witnesses have reported being turned away over a period of several days and threatened with warning shots on at least one occasion.
"It has now been eleven months since the incident occurred, and we do not have an answer from your office on the results of your investigation," Cook wrote in the letter dated Tuesday.
Foti could not be reached for comment Friday.
Officers from the Crescent City Connection's police force, the Gretna Police Department and the Jefferson Parish Sheriff's Office blocked the bridge in the days after Katrina, preventing pedestrians from crossing.
Last year, Foti said his investigation had determined that officers fired three warning shots over pedestrians' heads.
Most of those trying to cross the river to were black, prompting criticism that race played a role. But authorities say that race was not a factor, conditions on their side of the river were unsafe and that emergency supplies were running out.
Law enforcement officials said they tried to bus many people to Metairie for medical aid, water and food. About 6,000 people were moved before fuel ran out, authorities said.
Thursday, July 20, 2006
I Don't Fucking Believe This. Flat Earth Republicans in Florida have lost their Fucking Minds. American Taliban Strikes Again.
Published on Monday, July 17, 2006 by CommonDreams.orgFlorida's Fear of History: New Law Undermines Critical Thinking
by Robert Jensen
One way to measure the fears of people in power is by the intensity of their quest for certainty and control over knowledge.
By that standard, the members of the Florida Legislature marked themselves as the folks most terrified of history in the United States when last month they took bold action to become the first state to outlaw historical interpretation in public schools. In other words, Florida has officially replaced the study of history with the imposition of dogma and effectively outlawed critical thinking.
Although U.S. students are typically taught a sanitized version of history in which the inherent superiority and benevolence of the United States is rarely challenged, the social and political changes unleashed in the 1960s have opened up some space for a more honest accounting of our past. But even these few small steps taken by some teachers toward collective critical self-reflection are too much for many Americans to bear.
So, as part of an education bill signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida has declared that “American history shall be viewed as factual, not as constructed.” That factual history, the law states, shall be viewed as “knowable, teachable, and testable.”
Florida’s lawmakers are not only prescribing a specific view of US history that must be taught (my favorite among the specific commands in the law is the one about instructing students on “the nature and importance of free enterprise to the United States economy”), but are trying to legislate out of existence any ideas to the contrary. They are not just saying that their history is the best history, but that it is beyond interpretation. In fact, the law attempts to suppress discussion of the very idea that history is interpretation.
The fundamental fallacy of the law is in the underlying assumption that “factual” and “constructed” are mutually exclusive in the study of history. There certainly are many facts about history that are widely, and sometimes even unanimously, agreed upon. But how we arrange those facts into a narrative to describe and explain history is clearly a construction, an interpretation. That’s the task of historians -- to assess factual assertions about the past, weave them together in a coherent narrative, and construct an explanation of how and why things happened.
For example, it’s a fact that Europeans began coming in significant numbers to North America in the 17th century. Were they peaceful settlers or aggressive invaders? That’s interpretation, a construction of the facts into a narrative with an argument for one particular way to understand those facts.
It’s also a fact that once those Europeans came, the indigenous people died in large numbers. Was that an act of genocide? Whatever one’s answer, it will be an interpretation, a construction of the facts to support or reject that conclusion.
In contemporary history, has U.S. intervention in the Middle East been aimed at supporting democracy or controlling the region’s crucial energy resources? Would anyone in a free society want students to be taught that there is only one way to construct an answer to that question?
Speaking of contemporary history, what about the fact that before the 2000 presidential election, Florida’s Republican secretary of state removed 57,700 names from the voter rolls, supposedly because they were convicted felons and not eligible to vote. It’s a fact that at least 90 percent were not criminals -- but were African American. It’s a fact that black people vote overwhelmingly Democratic. What conclusion will historians construct from those facts about how and why that happened?
In other words, history is always constructed, no matter how much Florida’s elected representatives might resist the notion. The real question is: How effectively can one defend one’s construction? If Florida legislators felt the need to write a law to eliminate the possibility of that question even being asked, perhaps it says something about their faith in their own view and ability to defend it.
One of the bedrock claims of the scientific revolution and the Enlightenment -- two movements that, to date, have not been repealed by the Florida Legislature -- is that no interpretation or theory is beyond challenge. The evidence and logic on which all knowledge claims are based must be transparent, open to examination. We must be able to understand and critique the basis for any particular construction of knowledge, which requires that we understand how knowledge is constructed.
Except in Florida.
But as tempting as it is to ridicule, we should not spend too much time poking fun at this one state, because the law represents a yearning one can find across the United States. Americans look out at a wider world in which more and more people reject the idea of the United States as always right, always better, always moral. As the gap between how Americans see themselves and how the world sees us grows, the instinct for many is to eliminate intellectual challenges at home: “We can’t control what the rest of the world thinks, but we can make sure our kids aren’t exposed to such nonsense.”
The irony is that such a law is precisely what one would expect in a totalitarian society, where governments claim the right to declare certain things to be true, no matter what the debates over evidence and interpretation. The preferred adjective in the United States for this is “Stalinist,” a system to which U.S. policymakers were opposed during the Cold War. At least, that’s what I learned in history class.
People assume that these kinds of buffoonish actions are rooted in the arrogance and ignorance of Americans, and there certainly are excesses of both in the United States.
But the Florida law -- and the more widespread political mindset it reflects -- also has its roots in fear. A track record of relatively successful domination around the world seems to have produced in Americans a fear of any lessening of that dominance. Although U.S. military power is unparalleled in world history, we can’t completely dictate the shape of the world or the course of events. Rather than examining the complexity of the world and expanding the scope of one’s inquiry, the instinct of some is to narrow the inquiry and assert as much control as possible to avoid difficult and potentially painful challenges to orthodoxy.
Is history “knowable, teachable, and testable?" Certainly people can work hard to know -- to develop interpretations of processes and events in history and to understand competing interpretations. We can teach about those views. And students can be tested on their understanding of conflicting constructions of history.
But the real test is whether Americans can come to terms with not only the grand triumphs but also the profound failures of our history. At stake in that test is not just a grade in a class, but our collective future.Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center http://thirdcoastactivist.org/. He is the author of "The Heart of Whiteness: Race, Racism, and White Privilege" and "Citizens of the Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity" (both from City Lights Books). Email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Adam Tanner
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A federal judge rejected on Thursday a request from the head of U.S. intelligence and other government officials to dismiss a lawsuit against AT&T which alleges the firm illegally allowed the government to monitor phone conversations and e-mail communications.
AT&T asked the court in late April to dismiss the case, and two weeks later the U.S. government also asked the federal judge to dismiss it, citing its state secrets privilege.
U.S. director of intelligence John Negroponte told the court in a filing that disclosing the information in the case "could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States."
In a 72-page ruling, Judge Vaughn Walker rejected that request regarding a case that has highlighted the domestic spying program acknowledged by
"The very subject matter of this action is hardly a secret," the U.S. District Court for Northern California judge wrote. "Public disclosures by the government and AT&T indicate that AT&T is assisting the government to implement some kind of surveillance program."
"The compromise between liberty and security remains a difficult one," he continued. "But dismissing this case at the outset would sacrifice liberty for no apparent enhancement of security."
The judge cited what public officials, including Bush, and the media have already said in public about the eavesdropping program.