Author Archives: PB Goodfriend
“Well the protester I think is a very powerful thing. It’s basically a mechanism of democracy that, along with capitalism, scientific innovation, those things have built the modern world. And it’s wonderful that the new tools have empowered that protestor so that state secrets, bad developments, are not hidden anymore.”
Microsoft founder, Bill Gates
Spy agency bean spiller Edward Snowden has once again embarrassed the US National Security Agency, and sent shockwaves through the capitals of our allies, with revelations that we have been monitoring the phone calls of their citizens and leaders. Whether you think Snowden’s actions have been heroic or criminal or both, they point to a breakdown in our intelligence community, one that happens when we start compromising the integrity of our civil rights laws, and sacrifice the art of discretion for the expediency of widening the boundaries of classified secrecy.
In other words, we’ve decided to say more things are secret because it’s easier than trying to teach people about the value of being discrete. Secrecy is a one or a zero, on or off, depending on who in whichever agency has a right to know. Discretion is more nuanced, taking a kernel of information from what one knows to be a secret and using it, without revealing it, either to find out more information or, otherwise, to turn the circumstances to one’s advantage.
Let’s take the classic analogy that the media has been bandying about, recently, from the film, “Casablanca.” In that movie, Claude Rains’ character, Caption of the Police, Louis Renault, feigns surprise when the Nazis force him to shut down Rick’s Cafe, telling Humphrey Bogart, “I’m shocked, shocked to find gambling going on in here,” as he pockets his winnings. The media uses this to say that the leaders of Europe and Latin America who are professing outrage already knew things like this have been going on, and are just feigning surprise for the benefit of their people.
But it goes deeper. The secret, as Renault fully well knows, is there is something much more serious than gambling going on. There is sedition. The discretion is that, in order to protect his friend, Rick, Renault uses gambling as an excuse rather than revealing that secret to the Nazis.
So is our intelligence community less smart than the operatives of the past, despite its “new tools,” or perhaps even because of them? Possibly, but it could have more to do with the fact that there are thousands more classified secrets, now. In December, 2012, the New York Times reported on a study presented to the White House that said, in part, “Present practices for classification and declassification of national security information are outmoded, unsustainable and keep too much information from the public.”
That came more than six years after the NY Times reported on President George W. Bush’s “accelerated” reclassification of documents that were unclassified in the Clinton administration:
“The restoration of classified status to more than 55,000 previously declassified pages began in 1999, when the Central Intelligence Agency and five other agencies objected to what they saw as a hasty release of sensitive information after a 1995 declassification order signed by President Bill Clinton. It accelerated after the Bush administration took office and especially after the 2001 terrorist attacks, according to archives records.”
And with contractors handling the important task of data gathering, these days, maybe it was just easier to tell them to gather it all, distill it all, from everywhere they can, and call it all “classified.” Everyone understands “classified.” Not everyone understands “discrete.”
To which this statement from Thomas Jefferson (in an 1820 letter to William C. Jarvis) might apply:
“…if we think [the people are] not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power.”
And maybe that’s what Snowden and Chelsea (nee Bradley) Manning have been trying to do – inform our discretion.
“The very word ‘secrecy’ is repugnant in a free and open society,” President John F. Kennedy told a group of newspaper publishers, in 1961, adding, “We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it.”
Think of Snowden what you will, but blame the government for its lack of discretion, here. It’s not about secrets, but about how and why they kept them, even from the commander-in-chief. President Obama’s admission that he was not informed about the surveillance of our allies until this summer is part of the problem, for a key component of discretion is oversight, and that was obviously absent in this case.
White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney, told the press, Monday, in his daily briefing, “…the president clearly feels strongly about making sure that we are not just collecting information because we can, but because we should.” That, finally, is discretion, but is it enough?
“If it hadn’t been for the church, we wouldn’t have the country.”
- Evangelical revisionist historian David Barton, claiming, in 2011, that the Constitution purposely incorporates Old Testament principles to reenforce the Christian beliefs of the Founders
“The Constitution would not have been written by Freemasons. They [the Freemasons] go against God. You cannot serve two masters.”
- House stenographer, Dianne Reidy, in an outburst from the dais during the vote to reopen the U.S. government, October 16, 2013
Rulers are elected, inaugurated and anointed. There’s holy power imbued in the one who wears the crown. After all, the millennia of primogenital Western monarchies are all geared to the unification of God and Kingdom, and being the one who stands at the walls of Jerusalem to open the gates for Jesus. And that’s just who Michele Bachmann, Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin and other extreme politicians envision themselves to be – paving the way to God’s glory, through His strongest kingdom on Earth, the United States of America.
For those who endorse this pantheon of false prophecy, Sen. Ted Cruz is the anointed one. He is the one they have chosen to be the head of the Kingdom of Government, one of Seven Mountains of Influence they believe they must rule. The other six are business, media, arts and entertainment, education, family and religion. As David Barton described it, “if you can have those seven areas, you can shape and control whatever takes place in nations, continents, and even the world.”
While that might just sound like a political philosophy and not necessarily the Machiavellian plan of a secretive group of extreme Christians, Barton put it more plainly:
“Now that’s what we believed all along is you got to get involved in this stuff. Jesus said ‘you occupy ’til I come.’ We don’t care when he comes, that’s up to him. What we’re supposed to do is take the culture in the meantime and you got to get involved in these seven areas.”
Still, there are others in this movement who think just to occupy and wait isn’t enough. They want to hasten Judgement Day, which they characterize as bringing God’s “mercy.”
“I think the process of mercy,” evangelist David Lane told a right wing radio host, this past summer, “looks like probably car bombs in Los Angeles, Washington D.C. and Des Moines.”
Both Barton, a former Vice Chairman of the Texas Republican Party, and Lane were two of the many participants in a laying-on-of-hands, prayer ceremony in Des Moines, this past summer, where Cruz was prayed for as “the heritage of the servant of the Lord.”
That heritage, say observers like writer Bruce Wilson, includes a ministry where, according to Cruz’ evangelical father, Rafael, “it is through the kings, anointed to take dominion, that that transfer of wealth is going to occur.”
The Senator’s success as a young lawyer in the 2000 election Supreme Court fight, in getting George W. Bush elected, or “anointed” by SCOTUS, argues Wilson, led to Bush’s establishing a Faith Based Initiative, where “billions of dollars” from the U.S. treasury were “funneled” to some of the largest Evangelical churches in the country. To the dominionist pastors who pray for Ted Cruz, that is the fulfillment of the “transfer of wealth” prophecy.
“We need to rejoice, Maranatha, come Lord Jesus, His day is at hand,” said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn) in an interview with a Right Wing, Christian radio show, earlier this month. She was referring to President Obama approving aid to some of the Syrian rebels fighting Bashir al-Assad, because, to her, “the leaf is on the fig tree and we are to understand the signs of the times… we are to understand where we are in God’s end times history.”
This holding of being “in God’s end times history” is the driver of the extreme Right’s political agenda, evidenced in its Dominionist leaders.
When the reports of Christian extremism began to come out during the 2012 Republican presidential primary season, the participants dismissed it as a conspiracy theory. Like other conspiracy theories, the one about the End Times only has as much power given to it as those who believe in it allow. And these guys really believe in it.
It has become, for them, an ideology, one that crosses the boundary dividing Protestants and Catholics. “My God,” exclaimed Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, in an interview with New York magazine, “Are you so out of touch with most of America, most of which believes in the Devil?”
Scalia asserted to the reporter that “of course” the Devil is “a real person. Hey, c’mon, that’s standard Catholic doctrine! Every Catholic believes that.” But is it right for a Supreme Court justice to use that doctrine of faith as part of his Constitutional ideology, where he says, for example, that the “democratic right” of religious people to despise gay marriage trumps any ability of a court to “mandate” marriage equality?
Perhaps that is what the pope meant, the other day, when he warned of the danger of such “rigid” thinking.
Their “ideology does not beckon,” Pope Francis said in his daily Mass, last Thursday. “And when a Christian becomes a disciple of the ideology, he has lost the faith: he is no longer a disciple of Jesus, he is a disciple of this attitude of thought…
“But it is a serious illness, this of ideological Christians. It is an illness, but it is not new, eh?”
- Ted Cruz Is A Grifter Who Believes In Divine Wealth Transfers (crooksandliars.com)
- Obama nurtures his faith away from the spotlight (AP, via myrtlebeachonline.com)
- Harry Reid: Ted Cruz is “a laughingstock” (salon.com)
- Chamber President: Maybe Ted Cruz Could Sit Down And Shut Up (talkingpointsmemo.com)
“The American people expect in Washington, when we have a crisis like this, that the leaders will sit down and have a conversation.”
- House Speaker John Boehner, Sunday, on ABC’c This Week with George Stephanopoulos
Really, Mr. Speaker? That may be true if it were a crisis caused by uncontrollable or unforeseen forces, but this is a crisis you created, by allowing a small number of stubborn, unfit-to-govern conservatives to push you into holding the government hostage over your party’s profound dislike for President Obama and his signature healthcare law.
Polls show sixty-five percent of the American people, including half of the ones who identify themselves as Republicans (a group which has lost considerable support since the 2012 election), are overwhelmingly against Congress using its power to control government funding as leverage against the Affordable Care Act. There’s no doubt who the American people see as being responsible for this crisis, Mr. Boehner – you and the Republican led House of Representatives.
Yet the latest GOP proposal, revealed Thursday, to lift the debt ceiling for only six weeks, still precludes resolving the ten-day-old government shutdown without talking to the White House and Senate Democrats about making changes to Obamacare, and other GOP budgetary pet peeves. Boehner calls it “a good faith effort on our part to move halfway, halfway to what [President Obama has] demanded.”
Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters at the White House daily briefing, Thursday, the president still insists keeping government agencies shuttered on the condition of agreeing to cuts to the Affordable Care Act and entitlement programs, and changing the tax code, amounts to paying a “ransom in exchange for the Republicans in the House doing their job,” something Obama has, so far, said he will not abide.
There is a political trap in Speaker Boehner’s “good faith” proposal, for Democrats, and it’s one based on what many Americans may understand about what’s going on in Washington, right now. Although we would all prefer to think otherwise, there’s a good chance the American people do not, for the most part, understand the difference between the government shutdown and the debt ceiling. To them, the distinction between the two is wonky nuance (even though they are completely different things), and they’ll assume that with the GOP offer, Boehner’s “crisis” is over.
After all, part of the DC cacophony the last two weeks has been the Senate Democrats screaming that they have been calling for a conference for months to reconcile, in “regular order,” their own budget, which they passed earlier this year, with the bill passed by the Republican House around the same time. If President Obama insists he will not sit down with Republicans to discuss changes to the budget until there’s a continuing resolution, it could be that people will then view Obama and the Democrats as being the chief obstructionists, and shift the blame to them.
According to Politico’s report of Thursday night’s White House meeting between Obama and Republican House members to discuss Boehner’s proposal, that may be the only way the GOP has to claw its way out of the corner in which it has painted itself:
“House Republicans told Obama at the White House that they could reopen the federal government by early next week if the president and Senate Democrats agree to their debt-ceiling proposal. After the debt ceiling is lifted, a House GOP aide said they would seek some additional concessions in a government funding bill.
“Obama repeatedly pressed House Republicans to open the government, asking them ‘what’s it going to take to’ end the shutdown, those sources said. The meeting was described by both sides as cordial but inconclusive.”
Read that as “no change,” except that even House Republicans are trying to find a way out of the disapproval of the majority of Americans.
To be sure, some of the more reasonable voices are the ones getting the least attention in this mess, and I don’t mean those, like Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), who see repealing the ACA’s medical device tax as a way toward compromise. (That’s not reasonableness; that’s pimping your vote for an industry.) Still, at least they see the value of trying to find a solution to the shutdown as well as raising the debt ceiling.
“I’d like to do both,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) told reporters. “I don’t think we’re serving any policy or political goals by keeping the government shut down.”
The Senate has already passed a non-binding resolution that would require budgets be passed on a biennial basis, in odd number years, so they avoid election year grandstanding. Yes, 2013 is an odd number year, and there is definitely some grandstanding going on, but that’s because no budget has passed both Houses of Congress in years. The Republican sponsor of the Senate proposal, Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), calls this inevitable quagmire a “conundrum.”
“It’s the right way to do business and it ends the necessity of having continuing resolutions at the last minute because you didn’t do our job,” he said. “Let’s face it: We’re here today in the conundrum we’re in because we did not do our jobs.” At least some Senate Republicans don’t have trouble finding agreement with the president. Now, if they can only convince their comrades in the House to do their own job.
War brings camaraderie. The men and women who fought World War Two, what Tom Brokaw called America’s “Greatest Generation,” came together to fight a war, and taking care of your buddy in a foxhole taught them that we all have to watch out for each other. It’s how we achieved victory, and when the war was over, it’s how we became a hard working and strong democracy, a leader in the world’s economy and, for a while, at least, the global standard for human and civil rights.
But a nation at war with itself finds its comrades-in-arms with blinders on, seeing only the side of the road those like them choose to toe. It doesn’t matter that politicians of all persuasions have tried to build bridges across the divide. The stubborn perspective of Republican hardliners ignores, disavows or buries any outreach as if it were an apple from Eden’s serpent. The foxholes where they have planted themselves for this battle are dimly lit gutters, and their comrades tend to be the rats in three-corner hats that scamper through the flotsam of rotten, old ideas.
That’s why it was particularly galling to see the Republican National Committee use a group of aged World War Two veterans as props when they “forced” the reopening of the memorial to that war, Wednesday, less than 48 hours after they refused to budget the National Park Service and allowed the government to shutdown. Those vets are the generation that gave us the Great Society, and a more enlightened approach to the nation’s foundational, “pursuit of happiness” principle. They taught us the meaning of working toward the common goals of leaving no one unfairly slighted, leaving no one without the ability to feed their children, and respecting immigrants (of which many were less than a generation removed).
What Speaker Boehner and his House caucus have chosen to do, by holding government spending hostage to extract changes to the Affordable Care Act, is punish the very people they rushed to the Mall to defend. They have no respect for workers – especially government workers, whose jobs they can’t wait to privatize to their well heeled sponsors. They have no respect for the working poor, calling them moochers and refusing to raise the minimum wage to a living wage; no respect for the reproductive rights of women; no respect for the people they supposedly represent.
The truth is, the Republicans in the House are the takers. They fight the poor at every step to the benefit of the rich. They preserve corporate welfare and cut benefits from their neediest constituents. And they do it all – the 40-plus votes to repeal Obamacare, the Ryan budgets, the government shutdown – to raise money from big donors and astroturf aggregators.
Even before Tea Party hero, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), gave a big, rambling speech that was neither filibuster nor debate, last month, his rhetoric that ginned up hopefulness in the House that he would take up the Obamacare fight in the Senate, got the Senate Conservatives Fund an off-year record $1.5 million in August, more than $1.3 million of it in small donations of less than $200. That money is sure to find its way back to the Texas Republican when he runs for reelection or more likely, the presidency, next time around.
As Dave Weigel wrote in Slate, last month, crippling the ACA is great tool for raising money for conservative stalwart groups like the Family Research Council, as well as many Tea Party groups. In August and September, Weigel says, “the path to defunding Obamacare ran through their donation apps” on their websites.
The lobbying groups for the medical device industry is also dumping a bunch of money on both sides of the aisle, to get the tax on their products, that helps fund the ACA, repealed. You may have heard the medical device tax repeal has been offered as a “compromise” to the CR impasse a “bipartisan group of lawmakers.”
The LA Times printed the “raw numbers,” Thursday:
“Supporters of the repeal have contributed $39.8 million to current members of Congress since the tax was enacted. In the house, the top collector is Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) ($485,428), with Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) a close second at $464,974. On the Senate side, the top money-grubber is Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) at $471,263, followed by Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) at $333,984.”
The Nation reported, last week, that “[t]he medical device industry, led by AdvaMed, a trade association that spends $29 million a year, has pushed aggressively to ensure that medical device companies contribute nothing to the financing of the ACA.” They also revealed that a letter signed by 75 conservative lawmakers urging the inclusion of the tax repeal in the House’s eleventh hour CR bill “was authored by Ryan Strandlund, a member of AdvaMed’s government affairs team.”
The shutdown is nothing more than the political petulance of a Congress spoiled by lobbyists and indulged by corporate media, unworthy of an America that became strong by raising up those who struggle, giving our children a critical education, and showing appreciation for the value of a well paid working class. I wish that Michele Bachmann would have spent less time posing for photos with the WW2 veterans, Wednesday, and more time learning from them what it really means to be an American, responsible for your buddy in the foxhole, with explosions echoing overhead, and not the pundit next to you in the echo chamber on the set of FOX News.
You know the mantras of the Obama administration’s call for attacking Syria, by now: no “boots on the ground;” no “long term campaign;” no “open ended commitment.”
“What we will do,” the President said, August 30, “is consider options that meet the narrow concern around chemical weapons, understanding that there’s not going to be a solely military solution to the underlying conflict and tragedy that’s taking place in Syria.”
When U.S. Secretary of State, John Kerry made an off-handed reference, Monday, to securing the Bashar al Assad’s chemical weapon stockpiles as a possible way out of this narrowing column march to war, and it was seized on by the Russians as a diplomatic alternative, it became clear that there really could be no “military solution” without Assad agreeing to have his stockpiles contained and confiscated by the international community. It is likely the scenario that the Pentagon envisioned for getting that done played out differently, aiming first to cripple Assad’s military, until he finally agreed to turn over the keys to the chemicals.
Russia wants the U.S. not just to step back, but to stand down, before Syria turns over its poison gas. That’s not going to happen, especially because, as Secretary of Defense, Chuck Hagel put it, before the House Armed Services Committee, Tuesday, the White House believes “it was the president’s determination to hold Assad accountable, and the fact that he put military action on the table, that enabled this new diplomatic track to maybe gain some momentum and credibility.”
Even if Assad were to surrender his caches of WMDs, it would not make an attack moot, just moot for now. The cobbled, fragile and incomplete eleventh hour proposal to secure Syria’s poison gas, as it stands, will not even get through the UN Security Council. Early points under discussion have Assad admitting his government used the weapons, and agreeing that those responsible for ordering and carrying out the gassing of innocent civilians be arrested and tried in the International Criminal Court for war crimes. With neither the Russians nor the Syrians willing to concede the first point, there is no way for them to agree to the second.
There are still those itching to topple the Syrian dictator by any means necessary, and we still have allies concerned about the civilian carnage, the refugee crisis and the involvement of Iran and Hezbollah in the conflict, on the side of Syria’s dictator. All those concerns are legitimate, but the dilemma President Obama has himself caught in, is fighting against those who choose an enemy and then move heaven, earth and the truth to “make a case” for war – as happened in the lead up to the invasion of Iraq – and those who see a legitimate cause for war in Syria, but think the president isn’t going far enough.
Those folks, like Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), see virtue in taking down Assad the way we enabled the collapse of Qaddafi in Libya. Maybe he believes, to paraphrase former Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war against the enemy you have now, not the enemy you’ll have after you beat this one.
While President Obama may be taking the long view here, something we may not be used to after the days of shock and awe, most of us don’t like the intangibles. We don’t like making new enemies, or pulling back the curtain and finding they were hiding there all along, in plain sight. But the events of the last two days have shown that there are other ways out there to avert the heavy hand of America’s military might.
No one doubts we have a big stick; we just don’t like how vulnerable we make ourselves when we bring it out. Maybe we’re still healing from the deceit of our leaders regarding Iraq, and, like the comic who jokes within days of a tragedy, it’s just too soon. Let the man with the long view be a visionary, and find another way to solve this.
“…eyewitnesses and reporters say troops were firing indiscriminately at the crowd, including with snipers who picked-off unarmed civilians at an alarming rate.”
- GlobalPost story about the Egyptian military’s Wednesday massacres against Islamists, in Cairo
The Muslim Brotherhood and their backers say they will sacrifice themselves to preserve the integrity of their fledgling democracy, and the abrogated presidency of Mohammed Morsi. “As soon as he left the house with a Koran in his hand,” a brother of a killed Islamist told reporters, “he was ready to become a martyr.”
The New York Times tells the story of snipers firing at crowds of panicked protesters, an old man yelling, “We only meet one death. Let it be martyrdom.”
There is even an ongoing “live list” of “massacre martyrs,” being promoted by members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“It is becoming increasingly clear that history is repeating itself as tragedy in Egypt,” said Mohammed Ayoob, a University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. In a blog for CNN, he wrote, “This year reminds me of 1954, when Colonel Nasser, who had led the Egyptian military coup against the then corrupt monarchy in 1952 with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, turned against his Islamist allies, banned the party, threw its leaders in jail and ultimately executed several of them.” The result, he said, was the radicalization of the Islamist movement.
Movie analogies can often trivialize a tragedy like the one going on right now in Egypt, but this one seems somehow appropriate. It is a scene from Godfather II, when Michael Corleone is in Cuba, visiting the elderly Hyman Roth, who is looking for Michael to invest in a country which is in the middle of a violent revolution.
I saw an interesting thing happen today. A rebel was being arrested by the military police, and rather than be taken alive, he exploded a grenade he had hidden in his jacket. He killed himself, and took a captain of the command with him… it occurred to me. The soldiers are paid to fight — the rebels aren’t.
What does that tell you?
They can win.
Dr. Ayoob warns that “Wednesday’s events must have made clear to the Brotherhood faithful, not only in Egypt but across the Arab world, that [Muslim Brotherhood founder, Sayyid] Qutb and his disciples were right and that politics in the Muslim world is indeed a zero sum game and the taghuti (Satanic) regimes will never allow Islamist political formations access to political power.
“The time is therefore ripe for the rise of another Sayyid Qutb and his call to arms.”
The United States’ reaction to the coup has been ambiguous and confusing to a country and a region struggling to find a way to succeed with their new democracies, while fathers hold their murdered children in their bloodied arms. President Obama’s statement, Thursday, condemning the violence and announcing that we would not participating in biennial Bright Star war games with the Egyptian military, was a pointless gesture. There have been other times when we didn’t hold those joint maneuvers, and it’s probably something that wouldn’t have happened, anyway, because Egypt’s army is otherwise occupied.
Even the State Department’s spokesperson, Jen Psaki, admitted in Thursday’s press briefing, “I don’t think anyone in the government thinks that simply the cancellation of Bright Star is going to change actions on the ground.”
Earlier this week, Psaki’s boss, Secretary of State John Kerry, rather than calling the overthrow of Morsi a coup – which would have meant halting more than a billion dollars in aid to the country – called it “a restoration of democracy,” a phrase Ayoob characterizes as “Orwellian.”
Meanwhile, Psaki said, the administration continues to evaluate the situation because “we believe the door remains open for dialogue and to return to a long-term sustainable democracy. That’s why we’re continuing to work with all parties on it.”
And that’s why they won’t call it a coup, because they don’t want to piss off the Egyptian army leadership who are running – or perhaps ruining – that country. But maybe we need to piss them off, call it a coup and hold back the money, to get their attention.
It’s as if the Obama administration is following the advice of Hyman Roth, when he confronts the wisdom of Michael’s discernment:
I wouldn’t want it to get around that you held back the money because you had second thoughts about the rebels.
“To continue to fight through the months ahead for my personal vindication would almost totally absorb the time and attention of both the President and the Congress in a period when our entire focus should be on the great issues of peace abroad and prosperity without inflation at home.
“Therefore, I shall resign the Presidency effective at noon tomorrow. Vice President Ford will be sworn in as President at that hour in this office.”
- President Richard M. Nixon, in his resignation address to the people of the United States, August 8, 1974
No politician, least of all, the president, leaves office with a positive legacy, until the people find agreement that it is so. The good old boys can pat each other on the back and give each other medals, as was done in the Bush 43 administration, or claim they act in the best interest of their oaths to “preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” as this administration and its Congressional supporters claim they do. The final word, though, is for the voters to decide whose service we laud, and whose we condemn, before it gets left to history.
By definition, in order to lead, one must have a compelling message, with an understandable plan, addressing important issues in a way that enrolls others to follow. So hungry are we for this kind of leadership, that we transfer our desire to be led to pop-culture heroes, like rock gods and movie stars, who tend to disappoint us because we bestow upon them a mantle, for which the never asked, and shake from their shoulders like an unwelcome chill.
Political leaders, however, are happy to acknowledge that we have high expectations of their service, and are not afraid to indulge us in any quality we want to assume they endorse, if it helps them gain a following, whether they actually have a stated commitment to our pet cause, or not. President Obama, for example, did not hide his disdain for the actions of the Bush administration, when it came to the warrantless acquisition of telephone data, during his tenure in the U.S. Senate, or when he was running for his current office, in 2008.
Then we hear phrases like the one President Obama uttered, Tuesday night, during his appearance on the Tonight Show, with Jay Leno. “We don’t have a domestic spying program,” he said, adding, “What we do have are some mechanisms where we can track a phone number or an e-mail address that we know is connected to some sort of terrorist threat.”
And then he proceeded to talk about how those tools helped with the follow up after the Boston Marathon bombing, to track the cellphone records of the Tsarnaev brothers. (Of course, as part of the investigation, one might assume that any court, FISA or not, would have approved a warrant for such an inquiry.)
What is lost in the plausible explanations offered by the administration strongest supporters – like, now it’s legal, or once you’re Commander in Chief, your perspective changes – is the spirit of change his campaign promises seemed to offer: a clear distinction between our unhindered self-determination, and the disintegration of freedom under a profit-driven, security industrial complex.
But we cannot blame Obama for us letting ourselves be misled by the mythical, Camelot-like persona with which we were anxious to endow him. After all, we were coming out of eight years in the wilderness of terror, war, Dick Cheney, and the blasted stumps of a once thriving economy. We were easily swayed by his heartfelt words that belie the political pragmatism with which he chooses to govern.
All politicians err in carrying out their duties. We leave perfection to the gods, and it is a mistake to expect that of the people we choose to lead us. I’m not talking about the personal sexual proclivities that have been in the news so much, lately. Rather, this is a discussion about whether the women and men in our representative form of government leave us with the desirable impression that they did their best to move our republic forward, that they worked for the interests of every American, regardless of race, religion, gender preference or financial status.
Can my friend get affordable medical care for herself and her three young children, even while holding a full time job? Can anyone who wants a job find one that pays a living wage? Are there children going hungry, unchallenged intellectually, and uneducated? Is my country sending young men and women to their deaths in distant lands to protect us from a direct threat, or is this some construct of propaganda and lies meant to preserve access to exotic chemical resources, and make money for profiteers in our name?
The conservative right and the liberal left can’t agree on much, except they don’t like being shunned from their place at the policy table. The leadership holds the middle, working from the paradigm of political fear and the prospect of losing the next election. Every issue becomes the “third rail,” leaving any meaningful action unaccomplished.
No wonder that even House Republicans have had enough, and are calling it quits. Just this week, Rep. Rodney Alexander, a six term, conservative Republican from Louisiana, decided he was not going to run for reelection in 2014. In what should be an all too familiar refrain, by now, his statement said:
“Rather than producing tangible solutions to better this nation, partisan posturing has created a legislative standstill. Unfortunately, I do not foresee this environment to change anytime soon. I have decided not to seek reelection, so that another may put forth ideas on how to break through the gridlock and bring about positive change for our country.”
And that brings us back to Mr. Nixon. He was in some deep, deep shit when he decided to resign, 39 years ago, this week. But he was right about one thing – government doesn’t function if the people are distracted by political fighting. “America needs a full-time President and a full-time Congress, particularly at this time with problems we face at home and abroad,” he told the nation.
With our “full time Congress” in recess more than they are in session, and spending part of every legislative day, when they are in session, raising money for the next election, nothing is getting done. For them, showing your support for their agenda is when you vote for them, because that is the only part of their agenda they are ever really committed to.
“These types of programs allow us to collect the information that enables us to perform our missions successfully – to defend the nation and to protect US and allied troops abroad.”
- National Security Agency statement to The Guardian, on the phone and internet surveillance programs
The dribble of revelations coming from Edward Snowden, via Glenn Greenwald of The (UK) Guardian, poured out a little flood of information, Wednesday, that looks into the nuts and bolts of the process the National Security Agency goes through to monitor our emails and phone calls. Complete with screen-grabs from the user interfaces of the software the secretive agency uses, the revelation refers to an intelligence monitoring system called XKeyscore.
You may remember that one of the first things Snowden said, in that video interview taped for the Guardian, two months ago, was a reference to being able to find out everything he needed to know, even about President Obama, if all he had was a valid email address. “Any analyst at any time can target anyone, any selector, anywhere,” he said. “…I sitting at my desk certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone from you or your accountant to a Federal judge to even the President if I had a personal e-mail.”
According to Greenwald’s latest article, that is precisely one of the tools XKeyscore makes available to the NSA. “XKeyscore provides the technological capability, if not the legal authority, to target even US persons for extensive electronic surveillance without a warrant provided that some identifying information, such as their email or IP address, is known to the analyst.”
And there’s more: “Beyond emails,” he writes, “the XKeyscore system allows analysts to monitor a virtually unlimited array of other internet activities, including those within social media.”
Meanwhile, the White House released documents, Wednesday, related to the subpoenaing of metadata from phone records. Specifically, they revealed a FISA court warrant, issued in April, requesting records from a redacted telephone service provider, through July 19, 2013. According to the New York Times, the government’s disclosure matched a secondary order by the FISA court, previously revealed by Snowden, naming Verizon as the provider.
The data subpoenaed includes:
“…all call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
There are a couple of reasons the federal government decided to release their information on metadata collection the same day that Snowden’s recent revelations were published in The Guardian. A remote possibility could be that this is a deliberate effort to conflate the stories, and make it seem that the United States chose to release the details of the XKeyscore program, even though that was the NSA leaker’s doing.
But the more likely reason for the coincidental disclosures is, it gave the administration a way to answer critics of the NSA surveillance program, without actually addressing Snowden’s allegations directly. The FISA warrant issued to Verizon has some language the government definitely wants you to see, albeit in a footnote, regarding the scope of the order:
“Telephony metadata does not include the substantive content of any communication … or the name, address, or financial information of a subscriber or customer.”
The document also makes clear that no record should be kept for longer than five years. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif), the chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and an outspoken supporter of the data gathering programs, said in an op-ed in the Washington Post, Tuesday, that she would like that cut to two or three years. She also called for greater transparency, and “ideological diversity” of judges on the FISA court, an overwhelming majority of whom (86%) have been appointed by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts.
As for XKeyscore, Greenwald writes, the NSA defends the integrity of that program, as well. “Allegations of widespread, unchecked analyst access to NSA collection data are simply not true,” the agency wrote, in a statement to The Guardian. “Access to XKeyscore, as well as all of NSA’s analytic tools, is limited to only those personnel who require access for their assigned tasks … In addition, there are multiple technical, manual and supervisory checks and balances within the system to prevent deliberate misuse from occurring.”
Meanwhile, the House narrowly defeated a bipartisan attempt, unsanctioned by either party’s leadership, to pull the plug on the surveillance activities, and the Senate continues to question the NSA’s dragnet approach to data gathering. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Wednesday, questioned representatives of the office of the Director of National Intelligence about the veracity of the NSA’s claims that the phone surveillance programs have thwarted 54 attacks. “If this program is not effective, it has to end,” he said.
President Obama has reportedly invited Senators from both parties, on both sides of the issue, from both sides of the Capitol, to the White House, Thursday, to discuss possible changes to the law that allows the NSA programs to continue. The invitation came after the president met with Democrats on the Hill, to discuss his push for middle class jobs. According to Sen. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, the president said he wants to talk about “the balance we are all trying seek between privacy and national security.”
If you care about this at all, and you want to be in the room with the president, call your representatives and let them know you would like to see changes to the NSA programs. There is rare, bipartisan political will on this issue. Let’s show them that at least we support that.
It’s been less than a month since five men on the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the essential part of the Voting Rights Act that determines which districts and states in the country are required to have clearance from the Department of Justice, before changing any laws and practices that could have an effect on a person’s vote, and their right to equal representation.
In the wake of that decision, before the ink was even dry, Texas Attorney General, Greg Abbott, declared that his state was moving ahead to implement a voter ID law that had been held up by the DoJ during the pre-clearance process. Several other states, including North Carolina, moved to follow the Lone Star State’s lead.
But today, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced that he was pursuing a lawsuit against Texas, based on the remaining sections of the VRA, that allow a state or district to be listed as needing pre-clearance, not because of the Section 4 formula which SCOTUS struck, but because it continues to show a pattern of discrimination. In this case, DoJ says, it is over the state’s redistricting map, drawn up after the 2010 Census.
The 2011 map, which reflected an increase in Texas’ population over the previous decade, added four congressional seats to the state – two Latino and two Anglo. The problem is, the population growth in the state is directly attributable to an increase in minority communities.
As a result, a Washington, DC, federal court blocked the redistricting plan, under Section 5 of the VRA, before the SCOTUS ruling. Meanwhile, back in Texas, several Latino advocacy groups sued the state in U.S. District Court, alleging discrimination in the redistricting map. It is that lawsuit that DoJ is joining, under Section 2 of the VRA. As a plaintiff, the government is requesting that the San Antonio court, where the suit was brought, rule that the map demonstrates a continuing pattern of discrimination, under Section 3 of the VRA.
According to the Justice Department brief, in the case, “the basic fact that Texas had failed to create any new House districts in which minority voters would have the ability to elect their preferred candidates of choice, despite dramatic growth in the State’s Hispanic population in the decade preceding redistricting,” is indicative of a continuing problem with discrimination.
If the court rules in DoJ’s favor, Texas will go back on the pre-clearance list for another ten years, and that will place their new voter ID law under federal scrutiny.
Abbott, who is running for governor, to replace Rick Perry, next year, voiced his displeasure in a Tweet, ahead of Holder’s announcement: “I’ll fight #Obama’s effort to control our elections & I’ll fight against cheating at [the] ballot box.”
For his part, although Holder’s department is taking this action, he sees this only as the best available solution, but not the ideal one. Congress, he insisted, must still act. As he told the National Urban League, Thursday, when he announced DoJ’s course, “[I]t’s incumbent upon Congressional leaders from both parties to guarantee that every eligible American will always have equal access to the polls; to ensure that we will never turn our back on the hard-won progress of the last hundred years; and to consider new solutions that are equal to the challenges of the 21st century.”