Privacy vs Security: The People’s Choice???

Posted June 13, 2013 on 4:37 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Obama, Terrorism | by Jeff

“The N.S.A. began, in some cases, to eavesdrop on callers (often using computers to listen for key words) or to investigate them using traditional police methods. A government consultant told me that tens of thousands of Americans had had their calls monitored in one way or the other. “In the old days, you needed probable cause to listen in,” the consultant explained. “But you could not listen in to generate probable cause. What they’re doing is a violation of the spirit of the law.”…. “Nobody disputes the value of the tool,” the former senior intelligence official told me. “It’s the unresolved tension between the operators saying, ‘Here’s what we can build,’ and the legal people saying, ‘Just because you can build it doesn’t mean you can use it.’ ” It’s a tension that the President and his advisers have not even begun to come to terms with…”  Excerpt from “Listening In” by Seymour Hersh in the May 29, 2006 issue of The New Yorker

And so it seems that both president George W. Bush and his Democratic successor, President Obama, did come to terms with the tension between having the tools to gather information on American citizens’ private phone calls and email exchanges and any legal impediments. President Obama has been quoted using the same kind of arguments that we have heard over and over since September 11, 2001. They track our phone calls and email messages “for our own good”, to protect us from “the enemy”, and it is a difficult choice between privacy rights and security. Well, maybe so, but it would have been nice if they had asked us to participate in the choice. And in doing so had offered concrete evidence that the loss of individual privacy actually increased our security.
Various leaders of the intelligence apparatus have said that the grand sweep of information had led to the interruption of several terrorist attacks on the U.S. but believing that involves trusting the sources and since they have in the past lied to Congressional oversight committees, trust is – or at least should be, elusive.

At a congressional hearing last March, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore) asked Director of National Intelligence James Clapper if the National Security Agency (NSA) , “collect(s) any type of data at all on millions or hundreds of millions of Americans?” Clapper replied, “No sir … not wittingly.” Thanks to Edward Snowden, we now know he was lying, but anyone who has followed Seymour Hersh’s reporting should not have been surprised. Nor can we believe that Clapper’s lie was “unwitting”. Asked last week by Andrea Mitchell why he had replied to Senator Wyden in that way, his answer was:

“I thought, though in retrospect, I was asked [a] ‘when are you going to … stop beating your wife’ kind of question, which is … not answerable necessarily by a simple yes or no. So I responded in what I thought was the most truthful, or least untruthful, manner by saying, ‘No.’ ”

In some ways the Congress and the press find themselves in a difficult position. Congress is supposed to provide oversight of our intelligence operations and have either failed to do so or are complicit in supporting unconstitutional activities by what are virtually, national police forces. And if they now know they were lied to, their credibility as an oversight body requires them minimally to have Clapper removed from office.

The press shares the role of protecting the people from an overreaching government and has largely failed in that role. Seven years ago Sy Hersh sent up a warning flare in his New Yorker piece and that flare went largely unnoticed by the rest of the press, leaving them to share in Congress’s complicity. It is now predictable that they will argue both sides of the privacy vs. security argument without really arguing about their own role in what is an international embarrassment.

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Newsless in Vieques

Posted March 29, 2010 on 9:26 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Healthcare, McCain, Palin, Politics, Press, Republican Party | by Jeff

A week on the beaches of Vieques left me anxious for news from the Capitol of the World. So I gather we have a healthcare bill of some sort, that president Obama grew some cojones and that the Republicans are in some kind of shocked disbelief that their Tea Party did not prevail. As for Scott Brown, I guess he stayed true to whatever values he might have hidden away and managed to vote against the bill that replicated the Massachusetts Senate bill that he voted for a couple of years before. Go figure.

And oh Lordy, ABC News told me that Obama had made 15 recess appointments that – again – the Republicans are simply shocked that they were not allowed to hold them up for another year or two. I mean talk about uppity? Who does this black dude think he is? President? Interesting that the white guy on ABC ends the broadcast wondering why Obama has not changed the way Washington works. Cannot make this stuff up.

Thankfully for Congressman Boehner (pronounced “boner”) and Senator Mitch Rhino McConnell, their Tea Party comrades got their collective shit together to spit on black Congressmen, yell “nigger’ at them, call Barney Frank a” faggot”, and all in all bring to the forefront what seems to offend the Boners of the world – the country is going to hell with all these different looking people taking over. Throw in the Mexicans and the Asians and all of a sudden the Tea Party begins to look a lot like the hierarchy of the Catholic Church – white, old, male, totally confused about right and wrong and scared of losing the illusion of power.

And good old Big Dick Cheney and his daughter Liz figured out that lawyers who defend accused people in America are not to be confused with patriots, but rather to be lumped in with Arabs, Terrorists, people of color other than Justice Thomas, and Benedict Arnold. Great to see a former Vice President setting an example.

And then I turn the channel to find Sarah Palin pimping for old geezer McCain in Arizona. Poor old Crash McCain has this deranged smile on his face as Sarah points her fingers here and there after exhorting her people via her website to “reload” and go after the President – that would be her President as well as mine. She then moves on to some little town in Nevada, known mostly for being Harry Reid’s hometown – to lead a group of 6 or 7 thousand tea partiers in a semi-Christian bible meeting aimed at driving old Harry the Antichrist out of office.

Probably the best stories revolved around one of my favorite cities – Rome – with side trips to a Wisconsin School for the Deaf, several Bavarian catholic churches, and the evil New York Times. No need to rehash the story here but it sure did not warm my heart to see the  Catholic  Church excusing itself from accountability for the abuse of thousands of young children on the twin bases of “everyone else was doing it” and “the New York Times is picking on us”.

The Vieques beaches are wonderful, there is no wifi on them, and I recommend them to all.

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Fox Presents: Fear and Loathing in America

Posted February 3, 2010 on 11:57 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, McCain, Obama, Politics, Press, Republican Party, Terrorism | by Jeff
  • The TV business is uglier than most things. It is normally perceived as some kind of cruel and shallow money trench through the heart of the journalism industry, a long plastic hallway where thieves and pimps run free and good men die like dogs, for no good reason. – Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

A visit to the barber today – with its typical random comments on the state of the world –provided a vivid reminder of the bizarre power of Fox News as a purveyor of misinformation and fear. That Fox is in the business of misrepresenting reality is not an original discovery since any reasonably intelligent adult who lives in the real world and reads about the real world knows that Fox’s O’Riley, Beck, and Palin etc. are clowns and buffoons – our own strange brand of Iran’s Ahmadinejad.

We have an intelligence deficit in America and it is growing. There have always been fringe movements in America – on both ends of the spectrum. But the current right wing fringe seems to be – or pretends to be – so scared of so many things that one has to wonder how they can come out from under their rocks.

Their major fear is terrorism. No one wants a screw-up the size of Bush and Cheney’s failure to act on warnings that led to 9/11. But just where does Rudy Giuliani get off working up a frenzy over Captain Underpants’ failed airline bombing when his boys Bush and Cheney totally screwed up by ignoring warnings that led to an actual, successful terrorist attack? It is not enough that he is a scumbag – what is infuriating is that the press actually gives that pathetic hack a microphone. The Rudys of the world have conspired to create a country consumed with fear of some possible event but unable to understand that 1) such an event may be inevitable, 2) that the country is doing all possible to prevent such an event – even under Obama(!) – and that 3) we are in this together and to use security threats as political currency is to be one with the enemy. Cowardice is the name to be given to those who would scare the people into giving up their liberties and their constitutional rights – tactics that give the victory to Al Quada. Shame on all of those who have set out to frighten us and shame on those who buy into it without serious thought of the loss of liberties they have accepted.

The PON (Party of No) and Fox and the ranting Tea Partiers have gained a certain power with their use of fear. We are scared to use our tried and true judicial system to bring terrorist criminals to justice – omigod – do not try them here, do not try them there – let’s eliminate the constitution and just throw them into a cell somewhere – but not here – lest we all might have to take a risk that is not even a real risk. Cowardice? No need to sell it here buddies – we got enough. We will take our shoes off in the airport; we will allow you to body search our toddlers and our grandmothers –because it makes us believe we are safe. We believe in Santa and the tooth fairy.

We are afraid to allow natural gas into our ports if it comes from Yemen – let’s live on firewood and refuse to trust the Coast Guard with our safety – they cannot be trusted.

We cannot allow gays in the military unless they lie about being gay; Congressman Hunter from California is scared that we might end up with hermaphrodites and transgenders in the military – now that is truly scary. Senator McCain is also concerned – after agreeing to support the military leadership – he has now jumped ship, illustrating the fragility of courage. The fact that Britain’s, Canada’s, Australia’s and Israel’s militaries have no problem with gays makes no impact – this is America – no gays – unless they lie about being gay. Jesus – you cannot make this stuff up.

Eight years of Bush and Cheney and Republican leadership left us with a useless unwinnable war in Iraq with hundreds of thousands dead, an untenable situation in Afghanistan, a horror show in Pakistan, a deficit of $1.2 trillion, an economy dominated by greed at the top and subservience below, a broken healthcare system, a tax system designed to protect the rich and screw everyone else, and a government committed to eliminating civil liberties. And what do we fear? –decent, affordable healthcare that mythically includes death panels; regulating banks that have royally screwed us; a centrist President Obama who some believe to be a socialist – a Muslim, a terrorist, a Kenyon, or God help us – a black. We are not supposed to consider such possibilities but it is time to grow up and smell the garbage. There is a real stink in the country.

A friend suggests that the anti fluoride folks must have been right and that it is why people are losing their sanity. They fear foreigners, immigrants – legal and illegal; any suggested change of the status quo; terrorists both real and imagined; mythical socialists, black political leaders. Fortunately for them, there is a standing army of banal and venal politicians and newscasters ready to march to the Fox Drummers. We are truly screwed.

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TORTURED LOGIC

Posted April 18, 2009 on 5:45 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Human Rights, Obama, Politics, Terrorism, U.S. Domestic Policy, U.S. Foreign Policy | by Jeff

“Thus, although the subject may experience fear or panic associated with the feeling of drowning, the waterboard does not inflict physical pain. As we explained in Section 2340A Memorandum, “pain and suffering” as used in Section 2340 is best understood as a single concept, not distinct concepts of “pain” as distinguished from “suffering.”… Even if one were to parse the statute more finely to treat “suffering” as a distinct concept, the waterboard could not be said to inflict severe suffering. The waterboard is simply a controlled acute episode, lacking the connotation of a protracted period of time generally given to suffering”….Jay Bybee, former Dept. of Justice Lawyer in the Bush Administration and current 9th Circuit Judge

Judge Bybee, a graduate of the University of Obfuscation Law School, might also have noted that chopping off a prisoner’s leg is allowable since he had two of them. He did not comment on what to do when you run out of legs but perhaps there are other body parts to consider– testicles, arms, kidneys etc. Reading the memoranda makes it clear that in this and other instances our Law Schools have helped create some monsters that would make Goebbels proud.

The release of four selected torture memoranda from the Bush Justice Department have raised two firestorms, each interesting in its own way. From the right we get the old familiar argument to screw the law and do anything we wish to anyone we think might want to hurt us, regardless of evidence and American values. A deep thinker from the Heritage Foundation reminded us on TV that in the white heat of post 9/11 it seemed clear that we needed to make sure we got the information needed to protect the country regardless of our laws or international law. He conveniently forgot that some of the memoranda were written as late as 2005 and that – in fact – we HAD the information that 9/11 was around the corner, that the information was given to Bush and National Security Advisor Rice – and ignored by both, and that there is little if any evidence that the subsequent use of torture ever improved the quality of information received.

It was not a huge surprise to see an op ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, criticizing the release of the information by former CIA Director Michael Hayden and former Attorney General Michael Mukasey who were apparently upset that leaking the memos’ “…effect will be to invite the kind of institutional timidity and fear of recrimination that weakened intelligence gathering in the past, and that we came sorely to regret on September 11, 2001.” They must have missed the part – referred to above – where Rice and Bush were warned well before 9/11 – a warning based on intelligence gathered via more traditional – and legal – means. But then Hayden and Mukasey both have metaphorical blood on their hands in this matter so it’s not so surprising they take this view.

The blast from the left is criticism of Obama for deciding not to prosecute Intelligence operatives for torturing prisoners with the approval, even urging, of lawyers from Bush’s Department of Justice. (a piece in today’s NY Times details one such case) This is a quandary since to say “they were only following orders” has a 1940s reminiscent stink about it, but this was clearly a decision intended to protect intelligence operatives from the consequences of the folly of their masters and to avoid harming those agencies that – like it or not – we depend on for a degree of security. As for bringing the likes of Judge Bybee and others in leadership positions to justice, it seems unlikely until and unless Obama gets a much larger majority in the Congress. And even then, he would more likely argue for a kind of Commission on Reconciliation and Truth but when looking at the Bush administration and his cronies in Congress it is hard to imagine anything like truth or reconciliation being of any concern to them. And to be credible, such a Commission would need to be bipartisan.

In other news: President Obama welcomed Texas Governor Rick Perry’s suggestion that Texas secede from the Union and offered his assistance in facilitating the process. There is a strong rumor that George W. Bush would emerge from retirement to fill the Office of Texas Monarch, leaving Perry with even less of a job than he has currently.

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GOP: The Grand Obstructionist Party, Part I

Posted February 15, 2009 on 5:08 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Economy, Politics, Republican Party, U.S. Domestic Policy | by Jeff

Some of us thought the Democratic Party won the last election. Eight years of the Bush/Cheney fiasco and the budget-busting, deficit-building, war-mongering GOP-led Congress through most of those years had taken their toll on virtually every part of America and in November the people spoke. But the just-completed “debate” on Obama’s recovery plan makes it clear that the GOP refuses to accept both the results of the election and the fact of their mind-boggling eight-year mismanagement of the country’s affairs.

Obama has won this round in the fight to get the economy off its back but at some cost to his view of bipartisanship, and hopefully considerable cost to the American people’s trust in the intentions, courage and judgment of the Republican Party. The recovery program proposed by Obama included a mix of tax cuts, infrastructure spending, other employment-related programs, investments in historically underfunded health and education programs and funds to maintain needed relief programs for the unemployed and underemployed. Based on past experience there was never much of a sense that the tax cuts would be especially productive but they were included to move toward Obama’s apparently mythical bipartisanship.

But in this time of national crisis the GOP produced a bunch of whining know-nothings, committed to pure obstructionist behavior. They wedded sarcasm to ignorance in cherry-picking minuscule pieces of the bill to criticize while working to gut any spending that might advance the interests of the American people. For some it seems hard to remember when President Clinton built huge budget surpluses which Republicans have turned into the largest budget deficit in the country’s history – due largely to ill-advised tax cuts for the very rich and a trillion dollar war, which the GOP eagerly funded.

What would they have us do? Boehner, McConnell, Kyle, Cantor, McCain et alia do not have a clue. They mumble about tax cuts, which they tried under Bush and which increased the budget deficit and made the very rich a bit richer; and they cry about spending money after wasting past and future trillions on the Iraq mess.  But at the end of the day they have no ideas, only the capacity to do all possible to obstruct and drive the country into ruin in the hope that they will get another chance to enrich their pals and further their narrow interests at the expense of the country’s future.

The Obama stimulus package is surely only a down payment on what is necessary to turn the Bush/Republican economy around. The fact that three GOP Senators forced reductions in education-related spending while increasing tax cuts in the bill is an indication of trouble to come as they will no doubt continue to obstruct until the country is in total free-fall and then hope to move in to finish their task of turning American into their own banana republic.

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Reflections on the Inauguration

Posted January 26, 2009 on 2:34 pm | In the category Bush/Cheney, Election 2008, Inauguration, Obama, Uncategorized | by Jeff

“George W. Bush did enormous damage to America’s standing in the world and its strength at home. Yet the vitality of the US system resurfaced, and American voters have chosen in Barack Obama a man of vision and statesmanship. It now falls to him to renew the confidence and restore the reputation of the American republic.” Financial Times editorial, January 18, 2009

The inauguration was a blast –for many reasons: it was the end of the Bush/Cheney era; it was a symbolic period at the end of a long sentence of overt and then nuanced racism; it was the end of a generation of conservative mis-rule of America’s treasure; and an opportunity for people to celebrate possibilities and for a few days put aside the worries produced by the destruction of the Bush years.

As someone who tends to avoid huge crowds I felt some anxiety as I headed for the mall with my friend John for the Sunday concert. Joining some 800,000 people between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument turned out to be a glorious event – full of great music, thankfully brief speeches (has Joe Biden ever before spoke for less than five minutes?) and a huge crowd of happy and grateful citizens. No one complained about the cold or the relatively brief wait to get through security. John and I began our hike back to his car as the President-elect spoke, thinking the concert was over but were brought up short as the recognizable voice of Pete Seeger came loud and clear singing Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is My Land”.  Stopped us in our tracks.

Following a festive dinner Monday night, Tuesday began with an early morning trip to the security point to get to a law office on Pennsylvania Avenue to which a friend’s brother-in-law had gotten invitations for us to view the afternoon parade.  My wife and I then spent three hours in what the press later called a “line” but which was actually a mob. The National Park Police and DC police had efficiently managed Sunday’s security, but on Tuesday we were under the control of the Secret Service. It is enough to say that after 2.5 hours in a “line” two-plus blocks long and 15-20 people across in frigid weather, moving at a dead snail’s pace, we were confronted by a DC policeman who declared a medical emergency and ordered everyone to disperse. This turned out to have no effect; the crowd simply surged forward threatening to crush the people in front against the metal cage security gates. Imagine a Brazilian soccer crowd on an acid trip and you get the drift. So we bagged it.

We gave up standing in the bitter cold for the comfort of seats at a friendly bar at Dupont Circle two feet from a flat screen TV and Bloody Mary mix. The bar was full for the actual inauguration and people drank, wept, cheered and totally ignored Bush and Cheney when they were introduced. Someone wondered whether old white guys would tear up when Obama took the oath. The answer? Yes we can.  Yes we can.

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