Monday, July 28, 2008

Chalmers Johnson on the Continued Rise of the Military-Industrial Complex

Professor and author Chalmers Johnson has written a new piece in which he continues to warn us about the ever present build-up of the military-industrial complex within the United States. The term "military-industrial complex" was first coined in the farewell address of President Dwight Eisenhower:

This conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence-economic, political, even spiritual-is felt in every city, every state house, every office of the Federal government. We recognize the imperative need for this development. Yet we must not fail to comprehend its grave implications. Our toil, resources and livelihood are all involved; so is the very structure of our society.

In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.

We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

Johnson argues that while this portion of Eisenhower's speech may be well known, it is the warning of the "unwarranted influence" that has been ignored.

Johnson starts in the 1940's where there was still a great deal of public distrust of the private ownership of industrial firms due to the fallout from the Great Depression. This led to a new kind of "public-private relationship" with this industry, which was sponsored by FDR and worked to rearm the United States as well as other allied nations against the forces of fascism. This not only led to the public approval of such a relationship, but it also found private sector approval since it would gain the public trust and hide profits that were made during wartime. Hence, this new relationship between government and corporate officials was born.

Found in the creation of these "public-private relationships" were some of the protections that are often afforded to private corporations yet not to public institutions. Critics pointed to this as a major problem but these criticisms were never fully explored due to the enthusiasm for the WWII efforts and the economic boom that followed. Johnson writes:

Beneath the surface, however, was a less well recognized movement by big business to replace democratic institutions with those representing the interests of capital. This movement is today ascendant...Its objectives have long been to discredit what it called “big government,” while capturing for private interests the tremendous sums invested by the public sector in national defense. It may be understood as a slow-burning reaction to what American conservatives believed to be the socialism of the New Deal.

Today, we find the continued privatization of governmental activities and as Sheldon Wolin believes, such privatization is not only undercutting our democracy but leaves us with a government that is incapable of performing its duties at all. Wolin writes in his new book:

“The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture, from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributory elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements of the state and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled.”

Today, we see various departments within the United States government that are dependent on private contractors in order to do their job. Companies like KBR and Blackwater receive large, no-bid contracts in order to provide necessities to troops as well as security to various officials that operate within Iraq. Johnson states:

The end result is what we see today: a government hollowed out in terms of military and intelligence functions. The KBR Corporation, for example, supplies food, laundry, and other personal services to our troops in Iraq based on extremely lucrative no-bid contracts, while Blackwater Worldwide supplies security and analytical services to the CIA and the State Department in Baghdad. (Among other things, its armed mercenaries opened fire on, and killed, 17 unarmed civilians in Nisour Square, Baghdad, on September 16, 2007, without any provocation, according to U.S. military reports.) The costs — both financial and personal — of privatization in the armed services and the intelligence community far exceed any alleged savings, and some of the consequences for democratic governance may prove irreparable.

The "consequences" that Johnson references in the above quote are as follows:

1. The sacrifice of professionalism within our intelligence services
2. The readiness of private contractors to engage in illegal activities without compunction and with impunity.
3. The inability of Congress or citizens to carry out effective oversight of privately-managed intelligence activities because of the wall of secrecy that surrounds them.
4. The loss of the most valuable asset any intelligence organization possesses — its institutional memory.

The sacrifice of professionalism within intelligence services can easily be seen in the lead up to the Iraq War, when (by the Bush Administration's claims) the intelligence was so wrong that it led us into a war on false pretenses. No one lost their job at the CIA because of this. In fact, George Tenet was given the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

The readiness of private contractors to engage in illegal activities without compunction and with impunity can be seen in Blackwater's role in the Nisour Square massacre. In this incident, Blackwater employees gunned down 17 unarmed civilians without provocation and as of this writing, no one has been charged with a crime and Blackwater's contract was renewed.

The inability of Congress to carry-out any effective oversight can be seen by the circumstances surrounding the DARPA program. Johnson states:

For example, following 9/11, Rear Admiral John Poindexter, then working for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) of the Department of Defense, got the bright idea that DARPA should start compiling dossiers on as many American citizens as possible in order to see whether “data-mining” procedures might reveal patterns of behavior associated with terrorist activities.

On November 14, 2002, the New York Times published a column by William Safire entitled “You Are a Suspect” in which he revealed that DARPA had been given a $200 million budget to compile dossiers on 300 million Americans. He wrote, “Every purchase you make with a credit card, every magazine subscription you buy and medical prescription you fill, every web site you visit and every e-mail you send or receive, every bank deposit you make, every trip you book, and every event you attend — all these transactions and communications will go into what the Defense Department describes as a ‘virtual centralized grand database.’” This struck many members of Congress as too close to the practices of the Gestapo and the Stasi under German totalitarianism, and so, the following year, they voted to defund the project.

However, Congress’s action did not end the “total information awareness” program. The National Security Agency secretly decided to continue it through its private contractors. The NSA easily persuaded SAIC and Booz Allen Hamilton to carry on with what Congress had declared to be a violation of the privacy rights of the American public — for a price. As far as we know, Admiral Poindexter’s “Total Information Awareness Program” is still going strong today.

This is a prime example of the inability of Congress to effectively oversee such programs.

Chalmers Johnson believes that the most dangerous consequence could indeed be the loss of institutional memory. It has been stated that at the turn of the century, much of the institutional memory of the United States can now be found in the private sector. Johnson:

This means that the CIA, the DIA, the NSA, and the other 13 agencies in the U.S. intelligence community cannot easily be reformed because their staffs have largely forgotten what they are supposed to do, or how to go about it. They have not been drilled and disciplined in the techniques, unexpected outcomes, and know-how of previous projects, successful and failed.

All of this, is greatly alarming for the future of American democracy. Chalmers Johnson, along with others, have been warning us for some time now that the United States has been slowly slipping away from a democracy and towards more of a corporatist state and the continued privatization of some of the industries discussed above, are clear cause for concern. All Presidential candidates need to make their views clear on this issue. Barack Obama, when questioned by Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!, stated that if we drew down the over 140,000 contractors in Iraq, then we would have to replace them with US troops. He states in the video that he wants to draw down their numbers like he wants to draw down the troop level, but he does not go so far as to say that he will ban them. This exchange is telling in the reliance that the United States has on such contractors and is a prime example of just how far we have come since the days of FDR.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Democratic and Republican Conventions, Sponsored by...

As this campaign season continues to move through the summer months, attention is starting to become focused on the national conventions of both major political parties.

The Democrats are first, rolling into the Pepsi Center in Denver, Colorado from August 25-27 and INVESCO field on August 28th. The Republicans then arrive in St. Paul, Minnesota where their convention will be held at the Xcel Energy Center from September 1-4. Both conventions will act as a 4 day political ad for each respective party with media attention focused on speeches and the nominating process itself. Each convention will have music, performances, speeches from various delegates, and will culminate in the acceptance speech by the presumptive nominees for President...John McCain and Barack Obama.

Both conventions will have their share of protests and as in 2004, the practice of limiting protests to "free speech zones", will be a strategy that the authorities use to attempt to keep the peace.

As these lavish political productions approach, it is interesting to take a look at who pays for all of the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the conventions and the connection between funding the conventions, policy making, and access to political candidates.

Take a look at an image of the welcome bag that delegates and entrants into the convention will receive at the DNC in Denver:

AT&T is one of 146 companies or organizations that have given money to the Democratic and Republican Conventions. 70 companies have given money only to the Democratic host committee to fund the convention, 39 companies have donated solely to the host committee for the Republicans, and 37 companies have donated money to both conventions according to the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute. It is interesting that AT&T's logo is on the welcome bag to the DNC considering it was the Democrats (including Barack Obama) who joined with the Republicans recently in passing the FISA legislation which gave retroactive immunity to telecommunications companies (like AT&T) which broke the law and spied on Americans.

The amount of soft money that has been given to these host committees for both parties, is very high and seems to work directly against the type of campaign finance reforms that both major party candidates have pledged to follow. In an interview on Democracy Now! this week, Steve Weissman from the Campaign Finance Institute stated:

“In return for this money, the parties, through the host committees, offer access to top politicians, to the president, the future president, vice president, cabinet officials, senators, congressmen. They promise these companies who are giving that they will be able to not only get close to these people by hosting receptions, by access to VIP areas, but they’ll actually have meetings with them.”

This sounds to me like a great opportunity for these companies to meet with some of the most important decision makers within both parties, and discuss issues and policies that would greatly benefit each organization. Money does indeed buy access.

There are three tables that the Campaign Finance Institute has put together to break down the campaign contributions of some of the companies that have donated to the conventions thus far.

This table shows the Organizational Donors to the Host Committee for the Democratic Convention and their Federal Contributions and lobbying expenditures.

This table shows the Organizational Donors to the Host Committee for the Republican Convention and their Federal Contributions and lobbying expenditures.

This table shows the Organizational Donors to the Host Committee for BOTH the Democratic and Republican Conventions and their Federal Contributions and lobbying expenditures.

Since the Campaign Finance Institute's first report was released, 39 other companies were acknowledged as donors and that information appears here. In addition to this information, the CFI wrote to all 146 and requested that they provide how much money they contributed to each convention's host committee. Not many companies responded, but of the ones that did you can see their contributions here.

Amy Goodman, host of Democracy Now, wrote in a follow-up to her interview with Steve Weissman:

Disclosure of what corporations are giving is not required until 60 days after each convention, which is essentially Election Day, so there is no time to challenge a candidate on particular corporate donors. Weissman reports that most of the corporations that are giving to the convention “host committees” also have serious business before the federal government.

Serious business before the federal government, much like the lawsuits that have been filed in response to the newly passed FISA legislation which directly affects the likes of AT&T.

Corporate sponsorship of the biggest gathering of top-level decision makers within the government, complete with special access in order to discuss important policies. Call me crazy, but something doesn't sound quite right about this process. It should not strike anyone as odd when the Democrats join with the Republicans in passing legislation that benefits corporations while the majority of the population of this country does not benefit from the same policies. After all, those that disagree with such a process are locked away in "free speech zones", out of earshot of the convention. The free-flow of corporate dollars into the election process continues to pollute democracy. As the CFI suggests:

More fundamentally, Senators Obama and McCain should take steps to permanently end the soft money system for political convention financing. Specifically, they should support the recommendation of CFI’s diverse and bipartisan Task Force on Presidential Primary Financing for legislation that would ban host committee soft money for convention expenses and instead allow the parties to collect and spend limited hard money contributions to help fund their conventions.

This would be a step forward in ending the type of corporate funding of the conventions, but we also need to look beyond and support ways which will help to reverse the corporate sponsorship of our government.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Barack Obama: The Man and The Myth

I have written previously on this blog about Barack Obama's complete reversal in position on the FISA legislation that was signed into law in the last few weeks, but what really needs to happen is a very open conversation about why Obama has seemed to shift positions on several key issues that surround the current campaign for the Presidency.

There are many Obama supporters that have lined up behind the Senator because of the belief that he is a "true progressive" and that his election in November will allow for progressive values to take hold of this country and that he will implement the change that so many wish to see. Throughout the primary season, Obama positioned himself as the "anti-establishment" candidate to further emphasize that he would be a different kind of President and many of his supporters believe that Obama's candidacy operates outside of the traditional Washington model. However in a recent piece by Paul Street, it is argued that Obama is far from the progressive that both the left and the right make him out to be.

Street argues in his extensive piece, that Obama's recent "shift to the right" was actually a shift back to the politician that Obama has become since his early days in the Illinois State Senate. This counters the very notion that Obama is putting on a mask to appeal to more conservative voters and once elected, will implement policies that are truly progressive. This belief, that of Obama as a sleeper candidate, is largely unfounded yet is a viewpoint held by both the left and the right. As Street points out, the left refer to him as a closet "true progressive" while the right refer to him as "a dangerous leftist" or even a "socialist". Street sites three reasons why there is serious doubt that Obama is indeed this closeted individual who will enact leftist policies once in office:

First, very few if any people in key positions in the "radically centrist" [7] Obama campaign seem remotely predisposed to following such a path.

Second, it must have take practically super-human "eyes on the White House prize" restraint for a "truly progressive" U.S. Senator Obama not to have used his already considerable power and notoriety (after 2004) to become a leader (in the Paul Wellstone mode) of left-liberal opposition to the Bush agenda at home and abroad. Instead he did things like:

* vote with Republicans to cap consumer legal damages ("tort reform").

* confirm the war criminal Condoleezaa Rice as (of all things) Secretary of State.

* lecture "bloggers" (Obama's new code name for the growing number of activists and voters who dare to openly disagree with Him from the left) on their need to show proper respect for U.S. Senators who approved the appointment of arch-reactionary opponents of womens' and civil rights to the rule-for-life Supreme Court.

* distance himself from Rep. John Murtha's (D-PA)call for early withdrawal from Iraq and from his fellow Illinois U.S. Senator Dick Durbin's courageous criticism of American Gestapo-like practices in Guantanamo.

* lend his campaign support to pro-war against antiwar candidates in the Democratic congressional primaries of 2006 and otherwise distance himself from the movement against the Iraq War.

* advance the energy agenda of the nuclear and ethanol industries.

Third, Obama's career prior to his emergence as a national celebrity and politician does not jibe particularly well with the "stealth progressive" hypothesis. During his seven years in the Illinois Senate between 1997 and 2004, Obama developed strong and interrelated reputations for limitless personal aspiration, for working closely with Republicans, for "pragmatic" compromise, and for staying close to the great hidden secret to success under the rules of American "market democracy" - corporate money [8]. As Ryan Lizza notes in an important recent New Yorker sketch of Obama's early political career, "Perhaps the greatest misconception about Barack Obama is that he is some sort of anti-establishment revolutionary. Rather, every stage of his political career has been marked by an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them" [9].

This "eagerness to accommodate" can be seen simply by looking back at Obama's record within the Illinois Senate versus the positions he has taken since he declared that he would run for President in 2007. Obama's biographer David Mendell weighs in:

"For them, it didn't seem to matter that since the aggressively liberal state lawmaker had gone to Washington he had taken a dramatic turn toward calculation and caution, or that he had yet to propose anything philosophically new, or that Obama was, in his own words, "a blank screen on which people of vastly different political stripes project their own views," or that the higher he soared, the more this politician spoke in well-worn platitudes and the more he offered warm, feel-good sentiments lacking a precise framework. It also didn't seem to matter that in his first two years....he avoided conflict at all costs, spending none of his heavily amassed political capital on even a single controversial issue he believed in"

Prior to Obama's election into the US Senate, he was booked to give a keynote address at the Democratic National Convention in 2004. This appearance at the convention and subsequent speech has been marked by many as the official start of "Obama-mania". During this address, Obama did not take the opportunity to denounce the Iraq War on the grounds of its illegal nature, but rather criticized the Bush Administration for not sending in enough troops to effectively do the job. Obama also did not call for a withdrawl of troops or an end to the unjust occupation, but used the opportunity to endorse John Kerry whose candidacy was built on the position that he would more effectively manage the war. This position was also a shift for Obama which underscores the very point that he has an "eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them." Obama was largely outspoken against the war during his October 2002 speech in Chicago. Paul Street states:

Obama opposed what he called "the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz and other armchair, weekend warriors in this administration to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats, irrespective of the costs in lives lost and in hardships borne." He denounced "the attempt by political hacks like Karl Rove to distract us from a rise in the uninsured, a rise in the poverty rate, a drop in the median income, to distract us from corporate scandals and a stock market that has just gone through the worst month since the Great Depression" [26].

This use of strong wording against the Administration was rightly placed, but a far cry from his position in 2004:

But Obama's most telling Iraq war comments during the 2004 convention did not occur during his famous keynote address. One day before he gave his historic speech, Obama told the New York Times that he did not know how he would have voted on the 2002 Iraq war resolution had he been serving in the United States Senate at the time of the vote. Here is the relevant Times passage: "In a recent interview, [Obama] declined to criticize Senators Kerry and Edwards for voting to authorize the war, although he said he would not have done the same based on the information he had at the time.' But, I'm not privy to Senate intelligence reports,' Mr. Obama said. 'What would I have done? I don't know.' What I know is that from my vantage point the case was not made'" [33].

It is argued that based upon these shifts on foreign and domestic policy as well as the rise in corporate money largely being thrown at Obama, that Obama is not a progressive posing as a "centrist", but in fact he has been a "centrist" posing as a progressive. It is argued that the kind of shift that we have seen from Obama in the most recent weeks, is Obama's same old song and dance of accommodating himself to the very system that his supporters expect him to change. Obama is not a radical progressive that exists outside of the traditional Washington model, to the contrary Obama is a typical politician who has shown his willingness to shift positions on issues in order to enhance his electability. There is simply little reason to believe that Obama will radically change this country if he is elected President and to view him as a candidate who "needs to lean to the right in order to win so he can implement his real agenda" is a misguided viewpoint that is inconsistent with his political career.

Yes, the candidacy of Barack Obama has invigorated the population's interest in electoral politics, but we need to be careful. We (as a country) need to be careful that we are not so eager for change that we get caught up in the slogans and fail to look at the policies. This country has slid so far to the right in the past eight years that it is easy to fall behind someone who so eloquently promises that he will bring this country out of the deep hole that we have fallen into. Citizens need to closely examine if support for this candidate will really get them the change that they desire. Citizens need to look at this candidates past, his policy shifts, and his corporate backing and ask themselves if this is the mark of a revolutionary or of a typical politician.

I, for one, cannot vote for someone who has "an eagerness to accommodate himself to existing institutions rather than tear them down or replace them." We (as a society) have played this tired game for too long, putting all of our hopes and efforts into the idea fundamental change while still voting for and supporting the status quo. This is why I am supporting Cynthia McKinney's candidacy for President in 2008 on the Green Party ticket. I will not vote for Barack Obama because he is simply "better than John McCain" rather I will vote for Cynthia McKinney because she is the best overall choice for true progressive change in the 2008 election. We need leaders who live up to the standards of the people in this country, not leaders who give up their principles for status quo. As we continue forward in this election year, let's continue to critically examine all of those running for public office and hold all of them accountable to the public interest.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Upholding the President's Authority to Hold American Citizens Indefinitely and Without Charge

I wonder how many Americans would agree with the following statement:

The President should have the power to designate any American citizen that he sees fit, an "enemy combatant" and that citizen can then be held without charge or trial for an indefinite period of time.

It seems to me that this type of dictatorial power fundamentally goes against even the basic protections of the Constitution. The Fouth Circuit Appellate Court however, ruled 5-4 on Tuesday that the President should have this power.

The case that the Fourth Circuit was deciding, involved a man named Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. al-Marri was a citizen of Qatar in 2001 when he was legally in the United States on a student visa. Al-Marri was attending classes at Bradley University in pursuit of a graduate degree in computer science. (al-Marri earned his undergraduate degree from Bradley a decade earlier.) Al-Marri was living in Peoria, Illinois shortly after 9/11 when he was arrested as a material witness and charged with credit card fraud as well as making false statements as a part of a 9/11 investigation. In June of 2003, al-Marri was preparing for his criminal trial which was to start a month later, when President Bush declared him an enemy combatant and ordered the US military to seize him and place him in a navy brig in South Carolina. This is where al-Marri has remained for the past five years, much of the time in solitary confinement.

The ruling by the appellate court on Tuesday, upheld the President's ability to detain al-Marri without charge much like the similar ruling that was issued against Jose Padilla in 2005. The difference between Padilla's ruling and al-Marri's ruling is that al-Marri was never accused of fighting US troops or even going to Afghanistan, he was just accused by President Bush of being "involved" in a terrorist plot. It is stated in the ruling:

If properly designated an enemy combatant pursuant to legal authority of the President, such persons may be detained without charge or criminal proceedings 'for the duration of relevant hostilities'

Currently, the "relevant hostilities" that are referenced, refer to the so-called "War On Terror" which the Administration has claimed, could go on indefinitely.

This ruling amounts to the President having the power to hold any American citizen indefinitely and without charge by simply signing a sheet of paper that would designate such a citizen as an "enemy combatant". This power is truly frightening and should strike a chord within anyone who has respect for the very basic laws that have held this country together and kept America from slipping towards authoritarian rule. Today we find ourselves with a government who has such a warped view of executive power, that an Attorney General has stated that the President is his client.

This ruling further demonstrates the disrespect for the Constitution that this Administration continues to show and how those surrounding the Administration continue to defend such a view.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Shock Doctrine and it's Continued Implementation

Journalist Naomi Klein came out with her novel "The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism" in September of 2007. In this book Klein labels "The Shock Doctrine" as what happens when populations go through a collective shock--wars, floods, an economic crisis--and in the immediate aftermath, governments push through public policies that would otherwise be unpopular. Examples that she outlines in the book range from Pinochet's coup in 1973 to the closing of public housing and public schooling after Hurricane Katrina, to the massive privatization of the so-call "War on Terror". The implementation of the "Shock Doctrine" traces its roots back to the belief by economists like Milton Friedman who believed that "Only a crisis real or perceived, produces real change."

It is this belief that forms the historical context for the "Shock doctrine" as well as the idea that when such "opportunities" arise in the form of natural disasters or wars, it is the ideas and policies that are lying around that can be implemented in the immediate aftermath. Also relevant to the discussion of the "Shock Doctrine" is the longstanding belief that the global market has triumphed democratically. Instead, it is shown in the book how the expansion of the global market has often been a violent and un-democratic process in order to push through policies that would otherwise be rejected by the public.

Given this brief background to the basic concept of the "Shock Doctrine" I will move on to a recent interview that Naomi Klein gave on Decomcracy Now! Klein begins with discussion of how the "shock doctrine" has become much more relevant even in the last 10 months since her book originally came out. She makes the current oil crisis into a prime example for what she discusses in the book. Klein states:

There is a clear political strategy, and has been for several decades, to exploit these moments when people are desperate for quick-fix solutions and more inclined to believe in a kind of a magical cure, to push through very, very unpopular policies that don’t actually solve the crisis at hand, that don’t actually help people, but are incredibly profitable for multinational corporations.

Klein goes on to apply this to the current oil crisis and with President Bush lifting the Federal Ban on Offshore Drilling. She states that President Bush is "holding the country at ransom" by failing to address any long-term solution to our dependence on oil and by demanding that Congress pass a law to allow oil companies to drill off the American coast. Klein states that the President is "selling a myth" because most experts agree that oil would not flow from newly established rigs for another 7-10 years and would not cause any significant change in our current oil prices. Many of the proponents of offshore drilling as well as drilling in ANWR claim that just the announcement of drilling for more oil will drive prices down, but in addition to the realization that after Bush's announcement, the price of oil went up, Klein states:

There’s a speculative bubble going on right now, and this market is being played. I mean, I think this is really the new bubble. Actually, it’s replacing the housing bubble. And, you know, any time anything bad happens in the world, that’s the indication for speculators to drive the price up. It happened yesterday. Bush announced that he would be opening up to offshore oil drilling, but at the same time, there was an oil strike in Brazil, so the price of oil went up. So everything drives the price of oil up. I think it’s really a classic bubble. Certainly, there are some supply issues, but I actually don’t think that that is the main reason why the price of oil is going up.

Implementation of policies that are often unpopular among the population, but preferential to corporate interests during times of distress and crisis; we are seeing the Shock Doctrine in its current form and it is essential that the public realizes they are being "shocked" and push back against the massive media campaign that is being rolled out by the big oil and gas companies.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Casey Porter: Undercover Soldier

Meet Casey Porter. He is one of thousands of US soldiers who have been subjected to the program of stop-loss. This program involuntarily extends the duty of enlisted servicemen and women in order to retain their services beyond their original end of service date. Casey was slated to return home after his tour in Iraq this past January, but was stop-lossed and redeployed just three months later. He is currently stationed in Iraq. Below is a video from his hometown news station about being stop-lossed:

Casey has returned to Iraq as an "undercover solider", a term which he uses to describe himself and also as a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War. Armed with an interest in making films after he gets out of the service, Casey has started a YouTube channel that is devoted to covering his time in Iraq and showing all of us some of the realities of the war as well as the effects of the stop-loss program on fellow servicemen and women. Casey mentioned in a recent interview on Democracy Now! that he doesn't believe his superiors know what he is doing. Below I have posted just a few of the videos that are present on his YouTube channel:

Friday, July 11, 2008

Michael Savage Suggests Bombing Iran and Seizing Their Oil Fields in the Name of Democracy

Commentator Michael Savage has long been a controversial figure both on his long running radio program as well as his short-lived television show. (Savage was fired for telling a caller to "get AIDS and die" on the air.) On his radio program he has advocated putting the homeless in workcamps, stated that he would hang every lawyer who went down to Guantanamo, and played a song for Ted Kennedy by the band the Dead Kennedys after the Senator was diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Savage came out with a short piece entitled "Making the World Safe for Theocracy" in which he likens the current situation in Iran to the rise of Hitler and advocates that the United States take military action against the country. Savage states that Iran "continues to challenge Western democracies" and has tested "missiles designed to do in 6 seconds what Hitler did in 6 years to 6 million Jews". Savage fails to provide this situation with much context including mention of the Israeli military exercise that took place a couple of weeks ago that was largely seen as a rehearsal for a strike against Iranian targets. Washington, the Bush Administration, and Israel have been rattling sabers toward Iran for quite some time over their nuclear ambitions and Iran has responded to the threats by test firing missiles and stating that they will retaliate if their country is attacked.

The Bush Administration continues to argue that Iran is on the path to develop a nuclear weapon dispite the fact that the National Intelligence Estimate stated that there is no evidence that Iran is developing such a weapon post-2003. Iran maintains that they are enriching uranium for peaceful purposes but contrary to the NIE report, both Presidential candidates in addition to the Bush Administration have continued to falsly claim that Iran is developing nuclear weapons.

Despite these facts, Michael Savage states that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is "flaunting his nation's nuclear technology" and compares his actions to Hitler's defiant military build-up in the 1930's. Savage continues by labeling President Bush the "Chamberlain of our time" who just rattles sabers and "refuses to act".

Savage begins his last paragraph by asking the question: "And why won't Bush act to save Western democracies from this madman?" Posing this question implies that Western democracies are at a risk of destruction from Iran, this is misleading and quite contrary to the NIE findings. Savage concludes his piece:

And so to fuel his own vanity, he lets the cancer of Iran metastasize and spread throughout the world. If Bush were to unleash the military might of the United States on this petty dictator and seize control of the Iranian oil fields, we could regain control of the Middle East, boost John McCain's poll numbers, greatly reduce oil prices, and save Israel from a second Holocaust. Instead Bush has decided to make the world safe for theocracy. And that's something everyone but the far left Democrats understand we have to fight.

That's right, Michael Savage actually suggests that we "unleash the military might" of the United States on Iran and "seize control of the Iranian oil fields" in order to "greatly reduce oil prices". That is called pillaging and invading a country to gain control of their resources is against International Law. Nothing says democracy quite like pre-emptively striking a sovereign nation in order to gain control of their resources! Kudos Mr. Savage, you always seem to out-do yourself.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Passage of the FISA Legislation and the Disrespect for the Rule of Law

Today members of the Senate voted to approve the FISA legislation that would allow retroactive immunity to be granted to telecommunications companies that spied on Americans in violation of the Constitution. This bill would also allow the telecom companies to cooperate with the government in the future by continuing to spy on Americans without a warrant and without fear of prosecution.

The Senate began with debate over the bill and followed up the debate with votes on proposed amendments to the FISA legislation. Senators Chris Dodd and Russ Feingold proposed an amendment which would have stricken the immunity title from the overall bill. This amendment failed 32-66. Barack Obama voted in favor of this amendment and John McCain was not present and did not cast a vote, but has expressed his support for the bill.

The next amendment that was voted upon was proposed by Senator Arlen Specter and would have required a court to review the constitutionality of the NSA programs before giving immunity to the telecom companies. This amendment also failed 37-61. Barack Obama voted in favor of this amendment and John McCain was not present and did not cast a vote, but has expressed his support for the bill.

The third and final amendment that was voted upon was proposed by Senator Jeff Bingaman and would allow for a stay on prosecution of the telecom companies until 90 days after a review of the Inspector General's report. This amendment also failed 42-56. Barack Obama voted in favor of this legislation and John McCain was not present and did not cast a vote, but has expressed his support for the bill.

After the defeat of these amendments, the Senate voted for cloture on the bill. Cloture would allow for the Senate to overcome any filibuster of the legislation. This measure passed 72-26. Barack Obama voted for cloture and John McCain was not present and did not cast a vote, but has expressed his support for the bill. The amazing part about this vote, is that it shows a complete reversal in position for Barack Obama. Obama's position during the primary was that he would support any filibuster of legislation that would give retroactive immunity to telecom companies. Voting for cloture of the bill is the complete opposite of supporting a filibuster. It is assuring that the Senate can override any filibuster of the bill.

After the vote on cloture, the Senate voted on the unchanged FISA bill and passed the legislation 69-28. Barack Obama voted in support of this bill and John McCain was not present and did not cast a vote, but has expressed his support for the bill. The bill will now move on to President Bush's desk, where he has praised its passage and stated that he will sign it.

This vote marks a dark day for the Fourth Amendment and for the very idea of the rule of law in the United States. Not only does this give the telecom companies immunity from breaking the law, but it also shields the Administration from their illegal acts in instructing the telecom companies to spy on Americans in violation of the original FISA agreement. The original FISA legislation clearly states that this is a violation of the law, a felony, that can be punished by up to 5 years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each offense. This is also a violation of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution in that it violates the very clear understanding of needing probable cause in order to obtain a warrant for search and seizure. Both of these violations of law underscore the abuse of power shown by President Bush in ordering the telecom companies to break the law in spying on Americans. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out the other day, it is helpful to look at Thomas Paine's view on how America is supposed to function:

But where says some is the King of America? I’ll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America the law is King. For as in absolute governments the King is law, so in free countries the law ought to be King; and there ought to be no other. But lest any ill use should afterwards arise, let the crown at the conclusion of the ceremony be demolished, and scattered among the people whose right it is.

No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law, or that is how things are supposed to work in this country. Instead we find ourselves immersed in the thinking of former President Nixon who believed that "when the President does it that means it is not illegal." That belief was partly the reason for which Nixon had to resign and avoid the articles of impeachment that were drafted against him. Today, 35 years later, we find ourselves in a country where our legislative representatives have voted not to hold the Administration accountable for breaking the law, but instead they have voted to retroactively protect and condone such behavior while expanding the power of the government to eavesdrop in the future. All of this being done under a Democratically controlled Congress and with both major presidential candidates supporting this action. There is simply no justification for such actions and all those who supported such detrimental legislation need to be held accountable.

Monday, July 7, 2008

The Fairness Doctrine, the Broadcaster Freedom Act, and the Expansion of Public Discourse

Martha Zoller has a new column that I happened to run across today that voices its support for the "Broadcaster Freedom Act". The "Broadcaster Freedom Act" will effectively bar the FCC from making any new rules or regulations that would reinstate or re-implement standards once set in the Fairness Doctrine. The Fairness Doctrine was established in 1949 to provide for a more balanced discourse on controversial issues that were discussed on public airwaves. The belief was that there were fewer broadcast licenses than there were people who would like to have them, therefore licensees accept certain public responsibility for the use of the airwaves. Given this acceptance of public responsibility, the Fairness Doctrine required broadcasters to devote some of their time to discussion of issues in the public interest and to give airtime to opposing viewpoints. Broadcasters could air opposing views in many different formats (news segments, editorial spots, etc.) but were not required to air the opposing views within the same program. The Fairness Doctrine also didn't require broadcasters programming to be split down a 50/50 line, but merely provide a balance in discussion of issues in the public interest.

The Fairness Doctrine stopped being enforced in the mid-1980's when then FCC Chair Mark Fowler expressed the belief that the view of broadcasters as community trustees should be replaced with the view of broadcasters as marketplace participants. In other words, Fowler advocated the position that content being broadcast on the airwaves should be left to the "free-market". Fowler would also argue, as does Martha Zoller, that the Fairness Doctrine limited free speech by giving the government control over a station's editorial content. Zoller states:

We must protect the free market everywhere it is being assaulted, and talk radio is a free speech market that should be left alone by regulation.

We must remember when discussing this issue, that the airwaves belong to the public and that broadcasters should serve the public interest. Since the end of the Fairness Doctrine we have seen continued concentration of the media into the hands of just a few companies. Though some would argue that we have more channels now with the existence of cable, I am reminded of Senator Byron Dorgan's observation that this is like many voices coming from the same ventriloquist. We have seen opinion and viewpoints become more limited on the airwaves, not expanded since things have been turned over to the "free-market". You can see this firsthand in the coverage in the lead-up to the Iraq War and in the "post-9/11 world" where dissenting opinion was suppressed. Zoller further claims in her article:

The marketplace doesn’t want liberal talk radio. There have been some shows that have done well, but the numbers are not in their favor. This year at the Talkers New Media Seminar, there were more liberal/progressive/independent hosts represented, but the bread and butter still goes to conservative talk because conservatives are so under-represented in the rest of the media market.

When we discuss topics such as the public airwaves, which are owned by the public and should serve in the interest of the public, it is not productive to speak about such topics as "products" subjected to the "marketplace". Public forums for debate, discussion, and the expansion of ideas are fundamental to democracy and speaking about different viewpoints as if we are choosing between brands of soda pop, is grossly missing the point. Simply stating that the public "doesn't want" the other view is no excuse for its suppression and in a society that benefits from debating all viewpoints, it is completely necessary to further open up the level of discourse.

Media consolidation has hurt democracy and it is not productive to think about the issue in terms of a "liberal" or a "conservative" media, but rather recognize that our media outlets are largely stenographers to power. Our media outlets produce sanitized infotainment that passes as news and keeps advertisers coming back for more. Perhaps it is more beneficial to look at this issue of "Fairness" through the eyes of a 1969 Supreme Court decision that upheld the Fairness Doctrine:

A license permits broadcasting, but the licensee has no constitutional right to be the one who holds the license or to monopolize a...frequency to the exclusion of his fellow citizens. There is nothing in the First Amendment which prevents the Government from requiring a licensee to share his frequency with others.... It is the right of the viewers and listeners, not the right of the broadcasters, which is paramount.

— U.S. Supreme Court, upholding the constitutionality of the Fairness Doctrine in Red Lion Broadcasting Co. v. FCC, 1969

Friday, July 4, 2008

Analysis of Barack Obama's Reasons for Supporting the FISA Legislation

I would like to draw your attention to Glenn Greenwald's superb and in-depth analysis of the FISA legislation that will be voted on in the Senate next week. I have already discussed in a previous entry, Barack Obama's complete reversal in position on this issue but it is worth restating. Barack Obama's previous position is that he would support the filibuster of any legislation that contained immunity for the telecom companies. Now, Obama has come out in support of the new FISA legislation that will do just that.

This current revision of the FISA legislation will essentially give retroactive immunity to telecom companies that broke the law by spying on Americans in violation of the Constitution. President Bush has claimed that it is important for immunity to be granted so that telecom companies will not be deterred from helping in the future.

Obama has received a backlash of anger from some of his own supporters on this issue who are even using his own website as an organizing tool to petition Obama to reject the FISA legislation. So Obama released a statement yesterday in response and to justify his new stance on the bill.

Glenn Greenwald has also posted a point-by-point analysis of Obama's statement, detailing how it is both misleading and contrary to logic. I will give you some brief highlights of Greenwald's analysis.

1. Obama states that the bill indeed does give immunity to the telecom companies that broke the law and that he will work to strike this Title from the overall bill.

Greenwald's response:

Obama says he will vote to remove immunity from the bill, but he knows full well that this effort will fail and that the final bill will have telecom immunity in it. The bottom line is that he will nonetheless end up voting for this bill with immunity in it even though he previously vowed to support a filibuster of "any bill" that contains retroactive immunity. Put another way, Obama claims he opposes telecom immunity but will vote for a bill that grants it.

2. Obama states that the bill is much better than the "Protect America Act" which he voted against last year.


Whether it's better than the Protect America Act (PAA) is irrelevant. The PAA already expired last February. If the new FISA bill is rejected, we don't revert back to the Protect America Act. We just continue to live under the same FISA law that we've lived under for 30 years (with numerous post-9/11 modernizing amendments). So whether this bill is a mild improvement over the atrocious, expired PAA is not even a coherent reason to support it, let alone a persuasive one.

3. Obama states that the exclusivity provision of the bill makes it clear to both telecom companies and any President that no law supercedes FISA.


The current FISA law -- as a federal court ruled just yesterday -- already has the same exclusivity provision, and it did nothing to stop the President and the telecoms from breaking the law anyway. The fact that Obama is now going to vote to end the telecom lawsuits and immunize the lawbreakers means that there will be no consequences for their having broken the law. How can Obama possibly claim that the "exclusivity" provision in the new FISA bill has value when the current law that they broke already has the same provision?

As I wrote today:

They're presenting as a "gift" something you already have, and telling you that you should give up critical protections in exchange for receiving something that you already have -- namely, a requirement that the President comply with eavesdropping laws. What they're doing is tantamount to someone who steals your wallet, takes all the money out, gives the empty wallet back to you, and then tells you that you should be grateful to them because you have your wallet.

Exclusivity is obviously no reason to change the current FISA law since it already has exclusivity in it.

4. Obama states that in a dangerous world, the government needs the authority to collect intelligence it needs to protect Americans.


The government already has "the authority to collect the intelligence it needs to protect the American people." That authority is called FISA, which already allows the Government extremely broad authority to spy on any suspected terrorists. The current law results in virtually no denials of any spying requests. So how can Obama -- echoing the Bush administration -- claim a new law is needed to provide "the authority to collect the intelligence we need to protect the American people" when the current FISA law already provides that?

5. Obama states that authority cannot be unlimited in a free society and that independent monitors must exist to "watch the watchers". He claims that this new bill assures that the FISA court will be able to do this to protect against abuses.


This is just false. The new FISA bill that Obama supports vests new categories of warrantless eavesdropping powers in the President (.pdf), and allows the Government, for the first time, to tap physically into U.S. telecommunications networks inside our country with no individual warrant requirement. To claim that this new bill creates "an independent monitor [to] watch the watchers to prevent abuses and to protect the civil liberties of the American people" is truly misleading, since the new FISA bill actually does the opposite -- it frees the Government from exactly that monitoring in all sorts of broad categories.

Why else would Bush and Cheney be so eager to have this bill if it didn't substantially expand the Government's ability to eavesdrop without warrants?

6. Obama states that the Inspectors General report provides an additional mechanism for accountability. He claims the court can look at past misconduct without the "hurdles" of the federal courts.


Having the Executive Branch investigate itself for alleged lawbreaking is not "oversight." In our system of Government, government officials and corporations which are accused of breaking the law are subjected to courts of law -- just like everyone else -- not to "investigations" by agencies within their own branches of government with very limited powers. Marcy Wheeler has more on the extremely limited capacity of Inspectors General to investigate lawbreaking at high levels of government.

7. Obama states that it is important for the government to be able to track those who want to attack the United States. Obama claims that since "certain electronic surveillance orders will begin to expire later this summer" he would rather vote for an imperfect bill than lose important surveillance tools.


This is the most misleading part of Obama's statement. The "certain surveillance orders [which] will begin to expire later this summer" -- that Obama claims we must maintain -- are warrantless eavesdropping orders that were authorized by the PAA, which Obama voted against last August. As I asked the other day:

Had Obama had his way, there never would have been any PAA in the first place, and therefore, there never would have been any PAA orders possible. Having voted against the PAA last August, how can Obama now claim that he considers it important that the PAA orders not expire? How can he be eager to avoid the expiration of surveillance orders which he opposed authorizing in the first place?

Moreover, the Government already has "the ability to monitor and track individuals who want to attack the United States" under the current FISA law. Citing the need for such monitoring in order to justify this new FISA bill is just pure fear-mongering ("you better let us eliminate FISA protections if you want us to keep you safe from the Terrorists"). Obama has always said in the past that "the FISA court works." When did he change his mind and why?

8. Obama states that once he is sworn in, he will ask his Attorney General to do a comprehensive review of all the surveillance programs and recommend ways to both further protect civil liberties and prevent abuse from the executive branch.


This expression of Obama's "intention" has so many equivocations and vague claims as to be worthless. In a society that lives under the rule of law, government officials and corporations which break our laws are held accountable by courts of law, not by vague promises from politicians of some future "review" and "recommendation" process grounded in claims that we can trust the Leader to do the right thing, whatever he decides in his sole discretion and infinite wisdom that might be. That is no consolation for blocking courts from adjudicating whether laws were broken here, which is what the bill that Obama supports will do.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

In Reaction to Barack Obama's Speech on Patriotism

This week, Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a speech in Independence, Missouri on patriotism. Obama has been criticized by many on the right for not wearing a flag pin on his lapel and not putting his hand over his heart during the National Anthem so Obama decided to address the underlying issue behind these attacks in a speech.

Like Obama's speech on race ,which he gave following the comments of Rev. Wright, Obama's speech on patriotism was reactionary and designed not to dismiss his critics baseless attacks but at defining his own idea of acceptable and patriotic actions.

Obama states early in his speech, "I will never question the patriotism of others in this campaign and I will not stand idly by when I hear others question mine." Shortly after Obama makes this declaration he states that much of the debate on today's patriotism can find roots in the culture wars of the 1960's. Obama states:

Meanwhile, some of those in the so-called counter-culture of the '60s reacted not merely by criticizing particular government policies, but by attacking the symbols, and in extreme cases the very idea of America itself, by burning flags; by blaming America for all that was wrong with the world; and, perhaps most tragically, by failing to honor those veterans coming home from Vietnam, something that remains a national shame to this day.

Obama equates the "counter-culture of the 60's" with flag burning, blaming America for the world's wrong doings, and not honoring veterans coming home from Vietnam. This simplistic view of this era does little to understand the different viewpoints during the decade and resorts to tactics used by right-wing factions in this country. The phrase "blaming America for all that is wrong in the world" or "the blame America crowd" has been used recently by several pundits in the media to attack dissenting voices. Obama, who earlier in the speech claims that he will not attack anyone's patriotism in this campaign, does just that by painting members of a dissenting counter-culture in blanket terms and by failing to give examples of what exactly makes up the views of the people who he feels are "blaming America" for all the world's problems. Obama also makes no mention of the illegalities of the Vietnam War nor does he take into account veterans own testimony at the Winter Soldier hearings which call into question the honor of some of those who served. Are the soldiers who testified to atrocities which were committed in Vietnam part of the "national shame that remains to this day"?

Obama continues:

All too often, our politics still seems trapped in these old, threadbare arguments, a fact most evident during our recent debates about the war in Iraq, when those who opposed administration policy were tagged by some as unpatriotic, and a general providing his best counsel on how to move forward in Iraq was accused of betrayal.

Obama's reference to the "general in Iraq" who was "accused of betrayal" refers to this ad run by which criticized General David Petraeus for being a political General who would report findings favorable to the goals of the Bush Administration. There is no mention by Obama of the criminality of the Iraq War , but rather he equates the critique of Gen. Petraeus with the "counter-culture of the 60's" that he had already denounced. It is also noteworthy to remember that Congress passed a resolution denouncing for running this ad and while Obama did not vote for the specific resolution, he did vote for a similar one to "strongly condemn all attacks on the honor, integrity and patriotism” of anyone in the United States armed forces."

Barack Obama's speech on patriotism was a reaction to the criticisms of the right and also served to put himself into a position that secured his support for the military while at the same time aligning himself with members of the right by denouncing the counter-culture of the 60's in simplistic terms. Barack Obama spoke about the sacrifice of those who served in Iraq, but failed to address that it was a forced sacrifice in an aggressive and illegal war. Obama praised the service of those who are fighting in Iraq "for a greater cause" but fails to address exactly what the cause is. This speech was an opportunity to have a deeper conversation about how patriotism can often obscure reality but instead the speech acted to echo baseless claims of the right and signal that he is in support of dissent, as long as it is the right kind of dissent.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Wesley Clark and his comments on John McCain

This previous weekend, Gen. Wesley Clark appeared on "Face the Nation" in support of Barack Obama's candidacy for the White House.

Following this appearance, Clark has been attacked in the corporate media mainly for the comment(s) below:

...I certainly honor his service as a prisoner of war. He was a hero to me and to hundreds of thousands and millions of others in Armed Forces as a prisoner of war. He has been a voice on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and he has traveled all over the world. But he hasn't held executive responsibility. That large squadron in Air- in the Navy that he commanded, it wasn't a wartime squadron. He hasn't been there and ordered the bombs to fall. He hasn't seen what it's like when diplomats come in and say, 'I don't know whether we're going to be able to get this point through or not...I don't think riding in a fighter plane and getting shot down is a qualification to be President.

This statement was immediately jumped upon by members of the corporate media as well as in the conservative circles as an attack on John McCain's military service. Some have even gone so far as to say that this is proof that the Obama campaign is demeaning not only McCain's military service, but military service in general.

Regardless of what you think of Wesley Clark it is important to take a look at what was actually said. Clark stated that McCain hasn't held executive responsibility and that he doesn't believe that his time spent in the military (which includes being shot down) qualifies him to be President. Certainly these points can be refuted, discussed, and debated, but is it an "attack" on John McCain's service to question if said service is really a qualification for President? One can even argue that McCain's service was brave, honorable and for love of his country, but that is not what was being disputed. What was in dispute was if the skill set that John McCain received through his military service has prepared him to be President. Clark did not argue that McCain does not have the ability to be President, just that his military service does not inherently qualify him. We can box ourselves into a corner by arguing that any mention of McCain's service as a Presidential qualification is an attack on McCain simply because he has served.

The point I make is a focused one and one can make various arguments about Obama and McCain in regard to experience, executive responsibility, and Clark's own authority. All of this falls outside of the issue of whether this comment attacked McCain's service. In fact, Clark could be completely wrong in his assertion and it would still not "dishonor" the service of McCain. I only bring up these distinctions to attempt and counter the misrepresentation of what was said in this instance. I have no desire to defend Clark or McCain in this instance, only to point out what I feel, was a misrepresentation of Clark's comment.