The Commons is a weblog for concerned citizens of southeast Iowa and their friends around the world. It was created to encourage grassroots networking and to share information and ideas which have either been suppressed or drowned out in the mainstream media.

"But if the cause be not good, the king himself hath a heavy reckoning to make, when all those legs and arms and heads, chopped off in battle, shall join together at the latter day and cry all 'We died at such a place;' some swearing, some crying for a surgeon, some upon their wives left poor behind them, some upon the debts they owe, some upon their children rawly left. I am afeard there are few die well that die in a battle; for how can they charitably dispose of any thing, when blood is their argument? Now, if these men do not die well, it will be a black matter for the king that led them to it; whom to disobey were against all proportion of subjection." (Henry V, Act V, Scene 4)

Friday, May 19, 2006

John Dean - How Does President Bush Compare with Other Wartime Presidents With Respect to Free Speech Issues?

Published on Friday, May 19, 2006 by
How Does President Bush Compare with Other Wartime Presidents With Respect to Free Speech Issues?
by John W. Dean

Lately, the Bush Administration has been talking of using the Espionage Act of 1917 to prosecute the New York Times and the Washington Post. Yet these veteran newspapers' "crimes" consist merely of publishing Pulitzer-Prize-winning articles on the CIA's secret prisons, and the NSA's secret surveillance programs.

Not even Nixon sank so low. He might have initiated criminal prosecutions against the Times for printing the Pentagon Papers, yet did not.

And in other respects, the Bush Administration makes Nixon look like a piker when it comes to free speech, as well as other civil liberties issues: Its electronic surveillance of American citizens has been done in utter defiance of the law.

Does the "war on terror" justify the Administration's incursions on civil liberties? Putting this Administration's actions in historical perspective suggests the answer is a resounding no.

Drawing on Professor Geoffrey Stone's Work on Wartime Presidents

Opportunistic president have, from our founding, exploited public fears during wartime for their political advantage. Yet other presidents have recognized the dangers to civil liberties in time of war.

In 2004, University of Chicago law professor (and former dean) Geoffrey Stone published his timely and telling study Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime from the Sedition Act of 1789 to the War on Terror. Stone's work traced the general pattern of repressive action undertaken against civil liberties by the United States government in six periods of American history, so-called "perilous times."

Professor Stone called attention to widely recognized and acknowledged mistakes of the past because he could see that the emerging pattern in the current war against terror was ignoring history. The so-called Patriot Act, for example, was the first sign that America was about to repeat its "long and unfortunate history of overreacting to the dangers of wartime." Stone, obviously, was hopeful that history would not repeat itself.

It turned out, however, that the Patriot Act was the proverbial tip of the iceberg. History, of course, never repeats itself exactly. But what does occur is that patterns of behavior are repeated.

In his 800-page work, Professor's Stone addressed President John Adams's use of the Sedition Act of 1789; Abraham Lincoln's command during the Civil War; Woodrow Wilson's suppression of dissent relating to World War One; Franklin Roosevelt's forcible internment of 120,000 Americans of Japanese descent; the Cold War loyalty hysteria of Senator Joe McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee; and Nixon's suppression of anti-war criticism and protests.

Stone's work strongly suggests that history's mistakes are only being repeated now, in different guises.

President Adams, War with France, and the Sedition Act

When war with France loomed on the horizon in 1789, public fear was widespread. But so was public criticism of going to war with France. Congress played on public fears and enacted the Sedition Act of 1789, making it a crime to utter or publish "false, scandalous, and malicious" statements against the federal government, including Congress or the President. President John Adams, in turn, signed the law and prosecuted Americans under it. (President Jefferson later pardoned those who were convicted.)

Adams's biographer, David McCullough, acknowledges that "fear of the enemy within" provoked the action, which President Adams insisted was a "war measure" - even though there was no war. McCullough observes that the law was "clearly a violation of the First Amendment," and Adams well knew it, since his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, so advised him.

More to the point, McCullough says that the ulterior motive underlying the seditious libel law was the Federalist president and his Congressional supporters' desire to stifle their political opposition with the law, which they did.

Lincoln's Command during the Civil War

The actions of President Abraham Lincoln, Commander-in-Chief of Union forces in the most calamitous war ever in America, have frequently been cited by later presidents (like Franklin Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and George W. Bush) as providing good authority for trampling civil liberties in wartime. In fact, few of these later presidents truly paid heed to the precedents Lincoln actually set.

For example, consider Lincoln's famous decision to suspend the writ of habeas corpus. Lincoln made this decision in response to specific threats: He sought to address the widespread fear that Maryland was going to leave the Union, and knew that riots and disorder threatened troop movements to Washington, DC through Maryland. The result of his action was to prevent the judiciary from reviewing the arrest and imprisonment of individuals by the military.

In addition, while Lincoln initially acted unilaterally, he did not do so for long: He subsequently called a special session of Congress, which ratified his actions. It is hard even to imagine President Bush asking for this kind of ratification from Congress - the very Congress whose specific statutes he bypassed, and whose members he largely kept ignorant - with respect to the NSA surveillance program.

Lincoln's successors also draw on the more general precedent of Lincoln's aggressive prosecution of the war against the Confederacy, which knew few bounds. But in so doing, they utterly fail to recognize his sensitivity to civil liberties.

For instance, in May 1863, with the war well underway, General Ambrose Burnside, who commanded the Department of Ohio, ordered the arrest of Clement Vallandingham, a vocal opponent of Lincoln's. Vallandingham had publicly criticized the President, his Emancipation Proclamation, the military draft, and the war itself, encouraging soldiers to desert the Union forces to "hurl King Lincoln from his throne." When the Chicago Times added its own inflammatory coverage, Burnside shut down the newspaper as well. However, Lincoln biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin reports that Lincoln, rather than supporting Burnside's activities, was deeply troubled, and raised the matter with his Cabinet.

Secretary of War William Seward (Lincoln's Rumsfeld) -- believed by many historians to be the person who convinced Lincoln to suspend habeas corpus - was shrewd enough to realize the arbitrary arrests to suppress dissent had gone too far, and he told the Cabinet so. In the end, the Cabinet unanimously agreed that Vallandingham's arrest had been improper. (Rather than undercut his general's authority, Lincoln simply exiled Vallandingham from the Union, sending him to live within the Confederacy.)

Goodwin also reports that when Lincoln was asked to support closing down the Chicago Times, he rejected the idea. He explained that those behind the idea did "not fully comprehend the dangers of abridging the liberties of the people. Nothing but the very sternest necessity can ever justify it. A government had better go to the very extreme of toleration, than to do aught that could be construed into an interference with, or to jeopardize in any degree, the common rights of its citizens."

In sum, if one looks to Lincoln's entire tenure as war president, one sees that he demonstrated sensitivity to civil liberties that the Bush/Cheney Administration sorely lacks.

Roosevelt's Infamous Internment of Japanese Americans

During World War Two, public fear of domestic sabotage resulted in the federal government's forcibly imprisoning 120,000 people of Japanese descent, many of them American citizens, merely because of their ancestry. Even President Roosevelt's most admiring biographers, like Conrad Black, have nothing favorable to say about this despicable undertaking.

In fact, the conservative Lord Black delights in reciting the list of liberals whose legacy has been tainted by this horrendous action. For example, Walter Lippman led the "mindless clamoring" against the Japanese Americans; Earl Warren, then attorney general of California and later, of course, Chief Justice of the United States, "called publicly upon the War Department to round up the Japanese Americans." Justice Felix Frankfurter told Assistant Secretary of War John J. McCloy, who was handling the roundup, that he was handling it with "both wisdom and appropriate hardheadedness." And FDR himself had no interest in hearing the qualms of his attorney general, Francis Biddle, who buckled, nor those of his wife Eleanor, who was shunted aside; both Biddle and Eleanor had grave misgivings about the action.

Ironically, J. Edgar Hoover, who was then in his seventeenth year (of forty-eight) as director of the FBI, actively opposed the round-up of Japanese Americans. Hoover argued if there was sabotage by Japanese Americans it could, and should, be handled on a case by case basis, when there was probable cause to take action, and with appropriate judicial processes. He was overruled - and of course, went on to establish himself as the country's foremost boogeyman when it came to civil liberties.

Today, the United States government is still apologizing (and paying reparations) for this overreaction to the threat against the nation.

The Cold War Overreaction to Communism

The early years of the Cold War are known, Stone notes, as "one of the most repressive periods of American history." This was an era when criticism was stifled, rigid loyalty oath programs were imposed, invasive (and unfair) Congressional inquiries were conducted, and leaders and members of the United States Communist Party were prosecuted even though they posed no threat whatsoever to national security.

These were the days when Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy and the House Un-American Activities Committee, along with a later edition of J. Edgar Hoover, shamelessly fear-mongered the nation into anti-communism hysteria. Communism purportedly threatened to take over the nation from within. It was a baseless concern.

Yet promoting this outsized fear of communism elevated the careers of a host of demagogues - and none more than that of Richard Nixon. Because fear-mongering and disregard of personal liberty worked for him as a young Congressman, he would later employ these tactics again as President.

Nixon's Quelling of Anti-War Dissent

Nixon won the presidency claiming he had a "secret plan" to end the war in Vietnam. But the real secret was that there was no such plan.

Nixon, who saw himself as a wartime president, believed his national security plans and policies - whatever he determined they would be -- should be unfettered. He wanted to end the war honorably - without appeasing the communists.

When dissent - in the form of leaks and public protests - threatened Nixon's policies, he wiretapped newsmen who reported leaked stories, as well as those among his White House staff whom he suspected of leaking. He also made it as difficult as possible for demonstrators to protest the war, particularly in Washington DC, and approved of arresting countless thousands of them when they did so; he wanted demonstrators quelled with tear gas, billy-clubs and even bullets if necessary (which resulted in the killings of students at Kent State).

Nixon also prosecuted Dan Ellsberg - whom he viewed much as he had communists of an earlier time -- when Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon Papers. And, of course, Nixon approved (after the fact) the break-in into Ellsberg's psychiatrist's office, seeking information to discredit him.

These were the hallmarks of Nixon's effort to prevent dissent against his policies.

Rather than quiet dissent, however, Nixon's tactics exacerbated it.

The reactions of his Administration only elevated the prominence of the debate about his policies. One can see the same dynamic occurring now - as the Bush Administration faces ever-sharper criticism, and Bush's approval ratings dip ever-lower.

This is the consistent lesson of repressive measures during wartime in America - they create their own blowback. They are counterproductive, and they cause more harm than good.

Yet so far, our presidents have failed to learn this lesson. With the exception of Lincoln, their legacy is less than exemplary, and Lincoln will never serve as a poster boy for the American Civil Liberties Union.

Professor Stone does not explain why presidents - and compliant Americans - ignore the mistakes of history. He does note that, in every instance when a president has taken such repressive actions, he has not made the nation noticeably safer. To the contrary, it has weakened the nation. That lesson is more relevant today than ever.

Bush and Cheney Are On Track To Outdo Their Rights-Infringing Predecessors

It's true that Bush and Cheney did not call for the arrest of Howard Dean in 2004, as Woodrow Wilson did with Eugene Debs during World War One - an analogy Stone offers to suggest some progress is being made. But as more and more comes out about what they have done, it is clear that they plan to outdo all their predecessors when it comes to dramatic infringements of civil liberties in the name of wartime necessity. Stone may have been premature in believing progress has been made. The facts suggest otherwise.

Rather than suspend habeas corpus, Bush and Cheney declare people "enemy combatants" and keep them out of the jurisdiction of federal courts. No one knows how many Arab Americans (or Middle Easterners) have been rounded up, but rather than create internment camps, they are deporting them, sending them to secret prisons, or turning them over to countries where civil liberties do not exist, in a process delicately known as "diplomatic rendition" but better described as "torture by proxy." .

More generally, Bush and Cheney have surely topped all their predecessors in their unbridled support for and use of torture. They have outdone all their predecessors, too, in their high-tech, relentless fear-mongering. In their claim of strengthening the presidency, they have shown they are cowards hiding behind the great power of the offices they hold, the prerogatives of which they are determined to abuse.

Professor Stone quotes Justice Louis Brandeis, who wrote "Those who won our independence … knew that … fear breeds repression and that courage is the secret of liberty." There is no such courage in the Bush and Cheney presidency.

John W. Dean, a FindLaw columnist, is a former counsel to the President.

Robert C. Koehler - 'Worst president in history' may force us to reclaim our principles

Shadow America
'Worst president in history' may force us to reclaim our principles

Tribune Media Services

May 18, 2006

Since Congress won’t seriously entertain the impeachment of George Bush, fed-up segments of the American public are taking matters into their own hands and “impeaching” him symbolically. It’s part of the phenomenon of the Bush administration’s unraveling.

Historians recently joined the fun, with more than half the participants in a recent poll conducted by History News Network ranking Bush on a par with such washouts as James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson and Herbert Hoover, and fully 12 percent — a large number for such a wait-and-see bunch — declaring him flat-out the worst president in American history. A cover story in Rolling Stone last month by Princeton’s Sean Wilentz, a leading U.S. historian, announced the ignominious verdict.

“Calamitous presidents, faced with enormous difficulties . . . have divided the nation, governed erratically and left the nation worse off,” Wilentz wrote. “In each case, different factors contributed to the failure: disastrous domestic policies, foreign-policy blunders and military setbacks, executive misconduct, crises of credibility and public trust. Bush, however, is one of the rarities in presidential history: He has not only stumbled badly in every one of these key areas, he has also displayed a weakness common among the greatest presidential failures — an unswerving adherence to a simplistic ideology.”

The case Wilentz makes to support this verdict cites, to my mind, a fairly conservative list of Bush atrocities and incompetencies: the war, the wrecked economy, the deficit, Katrina, Plamegate, fundamentalist hostility to science and subversion of the Constitution. There’s plenty more that belongs in the dossier — e.g., global warming cop-out, pre-9/11 intelligence malfunction, the popularization of torture and (if the truth ever reaches the mainstream media) vote fraud in three elections — but why bother? The stench is already powerful enough to indicate we’re in the deepest part of the landfill. Bush is the worst prez ever. Ouch. History is waiting for him with a broom and dustpan.

Yet contemplating this brings only the hollowest satisfaction — I guess because it feels like nothing more than jeering from the bleachers, and citizenship isn’t a spectator sport.

While one day, when everything’s back on track, W may stand for “Worst,” today it stands for “Warning!” The guy now occupying the White House may well be the most dangerous president in American history, and not because he’s an aberration, but rather because he’s homegrown and recognizable: the worst of who we are, dressed up in a suit and power tie. We need to rouse ourselves, as citizens, and stand between this reeling administration and . . . the Constitution. The rest of the world.

Consider the appalling matter of Bush’s moral leadership: the lies and self-serving leaks and reckless doctrine of pre-emptive war and, maybe most of all, the torture. Bush’s big accomplishment in this area has not been to blaze new ground in the mistreatment of detainees — such techniques as water-boarding, sleep deprivation and sexual humiliation weren’t invented on his watch — but rather to strip America of its face-saving hypocrisy.

“But let’s be clear about what is unprecedented: not the torture, but the openness,” Naomi Klein wrote recently in The Guardian. “Past administrations kept their ‘black ops’ secret; the crimes were sanctioned but they were committed in the shadows, officially denied and condemned. The Bush administration has broken this deal: Post-9/11, it demanded the right to torture without shame, legitimized by new definitions and new laws.”

When we dredge our shadow history, we confront a host of horrors. Every decade has its secret graves. In the ’80s of Ronald Reagan, not only were we allied with a Saddam Hussein at the height of his murderous power, but we were also training Central American death-squad goons at our School of the Americas and supporting and underwriting the regimes in whose names they spread their terror. Both Reagan and Jimmy Carter, of course, were enamored of Osama bin Laden and the mujahideen of Afghanistan, who morphed into the Taliban.

In the ’60s and ’70s, the CIA-run Phoenix Program was responsible for the deaths of 20,000 Vietnamese and the torture of thousands more. And as Alfred McCoy, author of “A Question of Torture,” notes, the CIA spent a billion dollars researching torture and coercion techniques in the ’50s and early ’60s; the extraordinary results of these experiments are now on display at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

“When torture is pseudo-legal and those responsible deny that it is torture,” Klein wrote, “what dies is what Hannah Arendt called ‘the juridical person in man.’ Soon victims no longer bother to search for justice, so sure are they of the futility, and danger, of that quest. This is a larger mirror of what happens inside the torture chamber, when prisoners are told they can scream all they want because no one can hear them and no one is going to save them.”

We dare not wait for history to impeach George W. Bush. We need to head him off at the pass right now, and not let him, in the two and a half years remaining in his term, add to his legacy as “the worst president in history” — by, say, attacking Iran.

Indeed Bush, with his naked agenda, has presented the nation with an extraordinary opportunity to redefine itself. If a citizens’ movement can rescue basic American principles of justice and fairness from the realpolitik compromises of the last half century, we’ll owe W, in his neutered retirement, a thank-you note for waking us up.

"Our world faces a crisis as yet unperceived by those possessing the power to make great decisions for good and evil. The unleashed power of the atom has changed everything save our modes of thinking, and thus we drift toward unparalleled catastrophe." — Albert Einstein

Matthew Yglesias - On Republican Cowardice

"I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties," Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) remarked at yesterday's Hayden confirmation hearings, "but you have no civil liberties if you are dead." This comes via Dave Weigel and nicely encapsulates at least three different pieces of horribly misguided rightingery.

First off is the sheer cowardice of it. Sure, liberal democracy is nice, but not if someone might get hurt. One might think that strong supporters of civil liberties would be willing to countenance the idea that it might be worth bearing some level of risk in order to preserve them.

Second is just this dogmatic post-9/11 insistence on acting as if human history began suddenly in 1997 or something. The United States was able to face down such threats as the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany without indefinite detentions, widespread use of torture as an interrogative technique, or all-pervasive surveillance. But a smallish group of terrorists who can't even surface publicly abroad for fear they'll be swiftly killed by the mightiest military on earth? Time to break out the document shredder and do away with that pesky constitution.

Last, there's the unargued assumption that civil rights and the rule of law are some kind of near-intolerable impediment to national security. But if you look around the world over the past hundred years or so, I think you'll see that the record of democracy is pretty strong. You don't see authoritarian regimes using their superior ability to operate in secret and conduct surveillance to run roughshod over more fastidious countries. You see liberalism prospering -- both in the sense that the core liberal countries have grown richer-and-richer and in the sense that liberal democracy has consistently spread out from its original homeland since people like it better. You see governments that can operate in total secrecy falling prey to crippling corruption. You see powers of surveillance used not to defend countries from external threats, but to defend rulers from domestic political opponents.

The U.S.S.R., after all, lost the Cold War, not because we beat them in a race to the bottom to improve national security by gutting the principles of our system, but because the principles underlying our system were actually better than the alternative. If you don't have some faith the American way of life is capable of coping with actual challenges, then what's the point in defending it?
-- Matthew Yglesias

Study finds Wal-Mart contributes to poverty

Study finds Wal-Mart contributes to poverty
St. Louis Business Journal - 7:02 PM CDT Wednesday

A study focused on the effects of Wal-Mart stores on poverty rates found that an estimated 20,000 families nationwide have fallen below the official poverty line as a result of the chain's expansion.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., based in Bentonville, Ark., ranked No. 5 on the St. Louis Business Journal's most recent list of the area's largest employers. As of Dec. 31, Wal-Mart employed 13,005 people in the St. Louis metro area.

The study -- Wal-Mart and County-Wide Poverty -- written by Stephan Goetz, a professor of agricultural and regional economics at Pennsylvania State University, and Hema Swaminathan for the International Center for Research on Women, was published in the latest issue of Social Science Quarterly.

Authors, Goetz and Swaminathan write that the presence of Wal-Mart was "unequivocally associated" with smaller reductions in family-poverty rates in counties nationwide during the 1990s relative to places that had no stores.

During the last decade, dependence on the food stamp program nationwide increased by 8 percent, while in counties with Wal-Mart stores the increase was almost twice as large at 15.3 percent, according to the study. Although Wal-Mart employs many people living in its communities, for most, the hours worked and the wages paid do not help these families transition out of poverty, the study said.

The study, which sought to identify the independent effect of Wal-Mart stores on changes in U.S. family-poverty rates at the county level, found that one of the greatest effects of a Wal-Mart opening is the closing of mom-and-pop-type operations.

The authors state in the study that "by displacing the local class of entrepreneurs, the Wal-Mart chain also destroys local leadership capacity."

Poverty rates will rise if retail workers displaced from existing mom-and pop-type operations work for Wal-Mart at lower wages because they have no alternatives, all else equal, according to the study.

The demise of mom-and-pop stores leads to the closing of local businesses that supplied those stores, such as wholesalers, transporters, logistics providers, accountants, lawyers and others. Many of these are higher-paying jobs. The study concludes that it is likely that these more highly-educated individuals depart from the rural community in pursuit of better opportunities elsewhere, contributing to the rural-to-urban exodus over the last decade, leaving behind those with fewer opportunities and raising the poverty rate by reducing the number of nonpoor households in the denominator.

Wal-Mart is estimated to employ no more than 2 percent of the average county's work force. The share of Wal-Mart's employment in total county retail jobs is substantially greater than only 2 percent. In addition, the Wal-Mart jobs may be part time as opposed to full time, leading to lower family incomes, all else equal, the study said.

A spokesperson for Wal-Mart was unavailable to comment for this story.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sidney Blumenthal - An American Idea Shatters: The Reawakening of a Virulent Nationalism is Tearing Apart Bush's Conservative Coalition

An American Idea Shatters: The Reawakening of a Virulent Nationalism is Tearing Apart Bush's Conservative Coalition
by Sidney Blumenthal

President Bush's nationally televised address on immigration on Monday night was intended as a grand gesture to revive his collapsing presidency, but instead he has plunged the Republicans into a political centrifuge, breaking the party down into its raw elements, whose collisions are triggering explosions of unexpected and ever greater magnitude.

The nativist Republican base is at the throat of the business community. The Republican House of Representatives, in the grip of the far right, is at war with the Republican Senate. The evangelical religious right is paralysed while the Catholic church is a mobilising force behind demonstrations by Hispanic immigrants. Every effort Bush makes to hold a nonexistent Republican centre generates an opposing effect within his party.

Bush's victory in 2004 depended on the management of highly volatile constituencies: the religious right was shepherded by referendums against gay marriage; the abortion issue was used to elevate Catholic conservatives and isolate progressive-minded bishops; nativists were captivated by hosts of enemies in the whirlwind of September 11.

Bush's political handlers were determined to suppress immigration as an issue. Hispanics made up 14% of the population in 2004, and Bush's ability to capture Catholic and Hispanic voters was one of the decisive factors in winning a second term. However, as Bush's neoconservative foreign policy has been discredited, a virulent form of isolationist nationalism has filled the vacuum. Bush conflated the fears arising from September 11 with Iraq, but the fear of the other is now being directed at immigrants - a nativist tradition that goes back to the Know-Nothing party of the 1850s and the Ku Klux Klan.

The house has approved a bill that would make it a felony to hire or help undocumented workers. On the right this is considered a precondition for the deportation of more than 11 million such workers, and anything short of this solution is branded a treasonous "amnesty".

Bush's modest proposal to allow undocumented workers to stay and eventually be granted citizenship has incited contempt on the right. His dispatch of thousands of troops to the border with Mexico was derided as a "Band Aid" by California's Republican governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Meanwhile, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has identified the church as the moral guardian of immigrants and the proponent of social services and citizenship. Last month, when the Family Research Council, a prominent religious-right group, tried to summon support for the house bill, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference warned it would break away, and the religious right was stymied.

The Republican party as a whole is repeating the self-destruction of the California Republican party. In 1994 the governor, Pete Wilson, advocated proposition 187, which threatened to deny social services, healthcare and education to undocumented workers, and it aroused the Hispanic sleeping giant. From that moment California became one of the safest Democratic states, and only an anomaly like Schwarzenegger, an immigrant, could emerge as a viable statewide candidate. Ronald Reagan's party is a thing of the past.

The delicate coalition Bush put together in 2004 is shattered. And in losing control of the immigration debate he has lost something more - the capacity to speak for the American idea. In 1938 Franklin Roosevelt confidently spoke to the nativist Daughters of the American Revolution. "Remember, remember always," he said, "that all of us, and you and I especially, are descended from immigrants and revolutionists."

Sidney Blumenthal, a former senior adviser to President Clinton, is the author of The Clinton Wars.



By Doug McIntyre

Host, McIntyre in the Morning

Talk Radio 790 KABC

There’s nothing harder in public life than admitting you’re wrong. By the way, admitting you’re wrong can be even tougher in private life. If you don’t believe me, just ask Bill Clinton or Charlie Sheen. But when you go out on the limb in public, it’s out there where everyone can see it, or in my case, hear it.

So, I’m saying today, I was wrong to have voted for George W. Bush. In historic terms, I believe George W. Bush is the worst two-term President in the history of the country. Worse than Grant. I also believe a case can be made that he’s the worst President, period.

In 2000, I was a McCain guy. I wasn’t sure about the Texas Governor. He had name recognition and a lot of money behind him, but other than that? What? Still, I was sick of all the Clinton shenanigans and the thought of President Gore was… unthinkable. So, GWB became my guy.

For the first few months he was just flubbing along like most new Presidents, no great shakes, but no disasters either. He cut taxes and I like tax cuts.

Then September 11th happened. September 11th changed everything for me, like it did for so many of you. After September 11th, all the intramural idiocy of American politics stopped being funny. We had been attacked by a vicious and determined enemy and it was time for all of us to row in the same direction.

And we did for the blink of an eye. I believed the President when he said we were going to hunt down Bin Laden and all those responsible for the 9-11 murders. I believed President Bush when he said we would go after the terrorists and the nations that harbored them.

I supported the President when he sent our troops into Afghanistan, after all, that’s where the Taliban was, that’s where al-Qaida trained the killers, that’s where Bin Laden was.

And I cheered when we quickly toppled the Taliban government, but winced when we let Bin Laden escape from Tora-Bora.

Then, the talk turned to Iraq and I winced again.

I thought the connection to 9-11 was sketchy at best. But Colin Powell impressed me at the UN, and Tony Blair was in, and after all, he was a Clinton guy, not a Bush guy, so I thought the case had to be strong. I was worried though, because I had read the Wolfowitz paper, “The Project for the New American Century.” It’s been around since ‘92, and it raised alarm bells because it was based on a theory, “Democratizing the Middle East” and I prefer pragmatism over theory. I was worried because Iraq was being justified on a radical new basis, “pre-emptive war.” Any time we do something without historical precedent I get nervous.

But the President shifted the argument to WMDs and the urgent threat of Iraq getting atomic weapons. The debate turned to Saddam passing nukes on to terror groups. After 9-11, the risk was too great. As the President said, “The next smoking gun might be a mushroom cloud.” At least that’s what I thought at the time.

I grew up in New York and watched them build the World Trade Center. I worked with a guy, Frank O’Brien, who put the elevators in both towers. I lost a very close friend on September 11th. 103 floor, tower one, Cantor Fitzgerald. Tim Coughlin was his name. If we had to take out Iraq to make sure something like that, or worse, never happened again, so be it. I knew the consequences. We have a soldier in our house. None of this was theoretical in my house.

But in the months and years since shock and awe I have been shocked repeatedly by a consistent litany of excuses, alibis, double-talk, inaccuracies, bogus predictions, and flat out lies. I have watched as the President and his administration changed the goals, redefined the reasons for going into Iraq, and fumbled the good will of the world and the focus necessary to catch the real killers of September 11th.

I have watched the President say the commanders on the ground will make the battlefield decisions, and the war won’t be run from Washington. Yet, politics has consistently determined what the troops can and can’t do on the ground and any commander who did not go along with the administration was sacked, and in some cases, maligned.

I watched and tried to justify the looting in Iraq after the fall of Saddam. I watched and tried to justify the dismantling of the entire Iraqi army. I tired to explain the complexities of building a functional new Iraqi army. I urged patience when no WMDs were found. Then the Vice President told us we were in the “waning days of the insurgency.” And I started wincing again. The President says we have to stay the course but what if it’s the wrong course?

It was the wrong course. All of it was wrong. We are not on the road to victory. We’re about to slink home with our tail between our legs, leaving civil war in Iraq and a nuclear armed Iran in our wake. Bali was bombed. Madrid was bombed. London was bombed. And Bin Laden is still making tapes. It’s unspeakable. The liberal media didn’t create this reality, bad policy did.

Most historians believe it takes 30-50 years before we get a reasonably accurate take on a President’s place in history. So, maybe 50 years from now Iraq will be a peaceful member of the brotherhood of nations and George W. Bush will be celebrated as a visionary genius.

But we don’t live fifty years in the future. We live now. We have to make public policy decisions now. We have to live with the consequences of the votes we cast and the leaders we chose now.

After five years of carefully watching George W. Bush I’ve reached the conclusion he’s either grossly incompetent, or a hand puppet for a gaggle of detached theorists with their own private view of how the world works. Or both.

Presidential failures. James Buchanan, Franklin Pierce, Jimmy Carter, Warren Harding-— the competition is fierce for the worst of the worst. Still, the damage this President has done is enormous. It will take decades to undo, and that’s assuming we do everything right from now on. His mistakes have global implications, while the other failed Presidents mostly authored domestic embarrassments.

And speaking of domestic embarrassments, let’s talk for a minute about President Bush’s domestic record. Yes, he cut taxes. But tax cuts combined with reckless spending and borrowing is criminal mismanagement of the public’s money. We’re drunk at the mall with our great grandchildren’s credit cards. Whatever happened to the party of fiscal responsibility?

Bush created a giant new entitlement, the prescription drug plan. He lied to his own party to get it passed. He lied to the country about its true cost. It was written by and for the pharmaceutical industry. It helps nobody except the multinationals that lobbied for it. So much for smaller government. In fact, virtually every tentacle of government has grown exponentially under Bush. Unless, of course, it was an agency to look after the public interest, or environmental protection, and/or worker’s rights.

I’ve talked so often about the border issue, I won’t bore you with a rehash. It’s enough to say this President has been a catastrophe for the wages of working people; he’s debased the work ethic itself. “Jobs Americans won’t do!” He doesn’t believe in the sovereign borders of the country he’s sworn to protect and defend. And his devotion to cheap labor for his corporate benefactors, along with his worship of multinational trade deals, makes an utter mockery of homeland security in a post 9-11 world. The President’s January 7th, 2004 speech on immigration, his first trial balloon on his guest worker scheme, was a deal breaker for me. I couldn’t and didn’t vote for him in 2004. And I’m glad I didn’t.

Katrina, Harriet Myers, The Dubai Port Deal, skyrocketing gas prices, shrinking wages for working people, staggering debt, astronomical foreign debt, outsourcing, open borders, contempt for the opinion of the American people, the war on science, media manipulation, faith based initives, a cavalier attitude toward fundamental freedoms-- this President has run the most arrogant and out-of-touch administration in my lifetime, perhaps, in any American’s lifetime.

You can make a case that Abraham Lincoln did what he had to do, the public be damned. If you roll the dice on your gut and you’re right, history remembers you well. But, when your gut led you from one business failure to another, when your gut told you to trade Sammy Sosa to the White Sox, and you use the same gut to send our sons and daughters to fight and die in a distraction from the real war on terror, then history will and should be unapologetic in its condemnation.

None of this, by the way, should be interpreted as an endorsement of the opposition party. The Democrats are equally bankrupt. This is the second crime of our age. Again, historically speaking, its times like these when America needs a vibrant opposition to check the power of a run-amuck majority party. It requires it. It doesn’t work without one. Like the high and low tides keep the oceans alive, a healthy, positive opposition offers a path back to the center where all healthy societies live.

Tragically, the Democrats have allowed crackpots, leftists and demagogic cowards to snipe from the sidelines while taking no responsibility for anything. In fairness, I don’t believe a Democrat president would have gone into Iraq. Unfortunately, I don’t know if President Gore would have gone into Afghanistan. And that’s one of the many problems with the Democrats.

The two party system has always been clumsy and imperfect, but it has only collapsed once, in the 1850s, and the result was civil war.

I believe, as I have said countless times, the two party system is on the brink of a second collapse. It’s currently running on spin, anger, revenge, and pots and pots and pots of money.

We’re being governed by paper-mache patriots; brightly painted red, white and blue, but hollow to the core. Both parties have mastered the cynical arts of media manipulation and fund raising. They’ve learned the lessons of Watergate and burn the tapes. They have learned to divide the nation for their own gain. They have demonstrated the willingness to exploit any tragedy for personal advantage. The contempt they have for the American people is without parallel.

This is painful to say, and I’m sure for many of you, painful to read. But it’s impossible to heal the country until we’re willing to acknowledge the truth no matter how painful. We have to wean ourselves off sugar coated partisan lies.

With a belated tip of the cap to Ralph Nader, the system is broken, so broken, it’s almost inevitable it pukes up the Al Gores and George W. Bushes. Where are the Trumans and the Eisenhowers? Where are the men and women of vision and accomplishment? Why do we have to settle for recycled hacks and malleable ciphers? Greatness is always rare, but is basic competence and simple honesty too much to ask?

It may be decades before we have the full picture of how paranoid and contemptuous this administration has been. And I am open to the possibility that I’m all wet about everything I’ve just said. But I’m putting it out there, because I have to call it as I see it, and this is how I see it today. I don’t say any of this lightly. I’ve thought about this for months and months. But eventually, the weight of evidence takes on a gravitational force of its own.

I believe that George W. Bush has taken us down a terrible road. I don’t believe the Democrats are offering an alternative. That means we’re on our own to save this magnificent country. The United States of America is a gift to the world, but it has been badly abused and it’s rightful owners, We the People, had better step up to the plate and reclaim it before the damage becomes irreparable.

So, accept my apology for allowing partisanship to blind me to an obvious truth; our President is incapable of the tasks he is charged with. I almost feel sorry for him. He is clearly in over his head. Yet, he doesn’t generate the sympathy Warren Harding earned. Harding, a spectacular mediocrity, had the self-knowledge to tell any and all he shouldn’t be President. George W. Bush continues to act the part, but at this point whose buying the act?

Does this make me a waffler? A flip-flopper? Maybe, although I prefer to call it realism. And, for those of you who never supported Bush, its also fair to accuse me of kicking Bush while he’s down. After all, you were kicking him while he was up.

You were right, I was wrong.

George Will - Who Isn't A "Values Voter"?

Who Isn't A 'Values Voter'?

By George F. Will
Thursday, May 18, 2006; A23

An aggressively annoying new phrase in America's political lexicon is "values voters." It is used proudly by social conservatives, and carelessly by the media to denote such conservatives.

This phrase diminishes our understanding of politics. It also is arrogant on the part of social conservatives and insulting to everyone else because it implies that only social conservatives vote to advance their values and everyone else votes to . . . well, it is unclear what they supposedly think they are doing with their ballots.

On Sunday a Los Angeles Times article on the possibility of a presidential run by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush reported: "The Family Research Council, an influential evangelical activist group, has invited Gov. Bush to appear at a fall conference of 'values voters.' " On Monday the Wall Street Journal quoted a pastor who is president of a Texas-based organization, Vision America, that mobilizes conservative pastors: "Values voters see their vote as a sacred trust." The phrase "values voters," which has become ubiquitous, subtracts from social comity by suggesting that one group has cornered the market on moral seriousness.

Last Saturday, when John McCain delivered the commencement address at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, he was said to be reaching out to values voters. Hillary Clinton, speaking recently at the annual U.S. Chamber of Commerce convention, scolded "kids," by which she evidently meant young adults, for thinking "work is a four-letter word." She was said to be courting values voters. If so, those voters must value slapdash rhetorical nonsense as well as work.

It is odd that some conservatives are eager to promote the semantic vanity of the phrase "values voters." And it is odder still that the media are cooperating with those conservatives.

Conservatives should be wary of the idea that when they talk about, say, tax cuts and limited government -- about things other than abortion, gay marriage, religion in the public square and similar issues -- they are engaging in values-free discourse. And by ratifying the social conservatives' monopoly of the label "values voters," the media are furthering the fiction that these voters are somehow more morally awake than others.

Today's liberal agenda includes preservation, even expansion, of the welfare state in its current configuration in order to strengthen an egalitarian ethic of common provision. Liberals favor taxes and other measures to produce a more equal distribution of income. They may value equality indiscriminately, but they vote their values.

Among the various flavors of conservatism, there is libertarianism that is wary of government attempts to nurture morality and there is social conservatism that says unless government nurtures morality, liberty will perish. Both kinds of conservatives use their votes to advance what they value.

Only one Republican senator -- let us now praise New Hampshire's John Sununu -- voted for the measure to take the money for Alaska's "bridge to nowhere" and spend it for Hurricane Katrina relief, and also voted against the Federal Marriage Amendment (which would clutter the Constitution with the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman). The former vote affirmed the value of common sense; the latter, by opposing federal usurpation of the traditional state responsibility for marriage law, affirmed the value of cultural federalism. Is Sununu a values voter?

McCain, who also opposes the marriage amendment (but supports an Arizona initiative to define marriage there as between a man and a woman), says he would have voted for the bridge-for-Katrina money swap, had he not been away from the Senate that day. Perhaps he was out wooing values voters. Is he one?

Attempts to assign values-seriousness can get complicated: Freedom and happiness are valuable. Arguably, governmental actions that did much to increase freedom and happiness in the past half-century were state laws liberalizing divorce. These made important contributions to the emancipation of men and especially women from mistaken marriages. Perhaps the most important of these laws -- it was among the most liberal and was in the most populous state -- was signed by a divorced governor, Ronald Reagan. What do socially conservative values voters make of that ?

The two front-runners for the 2008 presidential nominations are studies in contrasts, yet they have two things in common. First, both stand to gain from a Republican debacle this November: The weaker that Republicans look on Wednesday morning, Nov. 8, the easier it will be for Clinton to dampen Democrats' anxieties about her electability, and the larger she looms, the more the Republicans will focus on the electability of their competing candidates, which will favor McCain. Second, both are and will remain busy courting only values voters, because there is no other kind.

Dick Meyer - Bush Is Now a Lame Duck

Bush Is Now a Lame Duck
By Dick Meyer
CBS News

Wednesday 17 May 2006

Forget November, forget '08; president is done.

Washington - The great impulse of the punditocracy right now is to look at President Bush's swelling problems with the public and his party in the context of the elections coming up in November and then in 2008. Big mistake.

Short of another disaster on the scale of 9/11, George Bush no longer has the power, credibility or ability to effectively govern for the rest of his term in office. Contrary to what you hear on television, governing remains more important than campaigning. Government is more important than elections - to the extent the two can be differentiated anymore.

Bush's realm of efficacy will be limited to areas where he can make unilateral decisions, mostly in war and foreign policy. The tax cuts that oozed through Congress last week may well be his last "significant" piece of domestic legislation; I put quotations around significant because they are, in fact temporary. The entire menu of Bush tax tinkering is set to expire in 2010 on someone else's watch, an apt metaphor for this administration.

The Bush administration is now locked in a triple-hammer hold that would defeat Houdini.

Public support for this president has evaporated to historic lows. Last week's CBS News/New York Times poll put Bush's approval rating at an embarrassing 31 percent. In this week's ABC News/Washington Post poll, voters trusted Democrats over Republicans to handle all 10 of the major issues the pollsters asked about. That's a new one. The new polling is consistent with a long, relentless erosion of public support.

Faced with his unpopularity, the Republican Party, quite naturally, is fighting. Senate and House Republicans are in almost open warfare. The House is hawkish and loud on immigration policy, the Senate dovish and conciliatory. House Leader John Boehner called Leader Frist's call for a $100 gas rebate "insulting," a week after Speaker Hastert dissed General Hayden, the president's choice for the CIA. In February, the House shafted both the Senate and the House by killing the Dubai ports deal.

On the more distant right flank, the party's Christian soldiers have stopped being such good soldiers. They are furious that Bush and the Republican Congress have delivered lip service but no action on issues like gay marriage, immigration, prayer in school, obscenity standards and abortion.

"I can't tell you how much anger there is at the Republican leadership," Richard Viguerie, a veteran conservative consultant and activist told The New York Times. "I have never seen anything like it."

An influential pocket of conservatives that doesn't have social issues at the front of its agenda is equally irritated and equally vocal. A fine example is Bruce Bartlett, a conservative economist long influential in the party, who has just written a book called "Impostor" that skewers this administration for its deficits and unwillingness to deal with the great looming crises in entitlement programs.

The vaunted brilliance and corporate organization of Rove/Bush Inc. has been pretty much blown away in the second term. Rove is fighting off an indictment. From the Dubai deal to the Harriet Miers death march, the White House's political ear seems to be getting tinnier. Porter Goss' appointment to the CIA was a disaster not just politically but substantively. In his second term, the president has never reached outside his core circle for advisers, staff or ideas.

Will all this lead to a Democratic field day in November? Who knows; and not to be flip, but who cares? Polls show Congress is held in low esteem similar to the president's. Democratic gains would simply lead to continued do-nothingism. And the ramifications for 2008, I believe, are nil. 2008 will be about two people, not the performance of congressional Democrats in 2007 and 2008.

But what is apparent, is that George Bush has at his disposal none - none - of the tools presidents have used to turn bad situations around: public support, party support or skilled statecraft. He's a lame duck less than two years in to his second term. You are not being governed.

Dick Meyer is the editorial director of

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Steven D - Forever War and The New American Police State

Forever War and The New American Police State
by Steven D
Wed May 17, 2006 at 10:40:17 AM PDT

(Front paged at Booman Tribune)

If any country is always at war, perpetually threatened by one enemy or another, what once seemed impossible soon becomes inevitable. Jason Raimondo at has it exactly right when he writes:

The price of perpetual war is a police state, one in which a permanent state of "emergency" - the threat of a terrorist attack - is utilized to break down institutional safeguards, the system of constitutional checks and balances, that protect us from dictatorship.

A foreign policy driven by the imperial impulse is bound to have grave domestic consequences, none of them conducive to the American form of government. . .

Some may think the Bush administration is an extreme aberration brought on by an overreaction to the 9/11 attacks, and Bush's willingness to exploit that event to garner more power, both for his own Party electorally, and for the Executive Branch of the Federal Government of which he is the head. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. Bush is merely the culmination of a trend that began a half century ago upon the conclusion of the World War II, and with the beginning of the US/Soviet conflict.

The Republican Party first began to fixate on the use of smear campaigns and charges of treason by Democrats and liberals at the beginning of the Cold War. What had once been a party of isolationist fervor, determined enough to deny President Wilson his dream of a strong League of Nations at the end of World War I, took the opportunity the Cold War handed it to create fear and generate the myth of Democratic weakness in the area of National Defense. GOP leaders who had once railed against foreign entanglements and international intervention now raised the specter of Communism as a cudgel to browbeat Democrats and accuse them of being soft, weak and ill prepared to defend America against the Satanic menace of an all powerful International Communist Movement.

Thus, we saw the rise in the GOP of smear merchants, fear mongers and rank opportunists like Nixon, Roy Cohn, the House Unamerican Activities Committee members and, most of all, Senator Joseph McCarthy. It is no surprise that the height of their power came during the Korean War when many innocent men and women in the State Department and elsewhere in the Federal Government had their careers ruined through the judicious use of slander, innuendo and outright lies by these political assassins. Even the great General George Marshall, the man who had successfully led our armed forces during World War II, and then conceived and executed the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was accused of being a traitor and of assisting the Communist drive for world domination.

For the next 40 years, it was a standard refrain of the Republicans that Democrats could not be trusted to protect our National Security from the monolithic and monstrous enemy of International Communism. Democrats were blamed for Soviet domination in Eastern Europe, for losing China to Mao's Red Army and for the resurgence of Communist parties in Europe and across the Third World. That these charges had no basis in fact made no difference to those shameless Republican politicians who proclaimed that at every opportunity.

It mattered little that it had been the Democratic Party, under the stewardship of Franklin Roosevelt, that had foreseen the menace of the Nazis and Japanese militarism, and led us through a difficult and brutal world war to ultimate victory. Nor did it matter that Truman's policy of containment through the use of defensive alliances and a host of international institutions (originally proposed by FDR and Churchill) formed after the war to aid and assist developing countries, ultimately proved to be the means by which Soviet imperialism was held in check. The slander proved to be so successful that it led the Kennedy and Johnson administrations to pursue a disastrous policy in Vietnam, a war that would end up killing thousands of Americans and millions of Vietnamese, in large part to prove their anticommunist bona fides.

The fear of Communist bogeymen also led to abuses by the FBI at home, and by the CIA abroad.

Democratically elected governments in Greece, Iran, Chile, Ecuador, Guatemala, Brazil, the Dominican Republic, Indonesia, Cambodia, the Congo and Nicaragua were overturned by CIA backed military coups and armed rebellions. We supported military dictators around the world by supplying them with arms and other forms of aid so long as they claimed to be opposed to communism, and permitted our largest American corporations to reap economic benefits from the exploitation of their cheap labor and plentiful natural resources. The crimes these "authoritarian" regimes committed against their own people were swept under the rug and ignored, all in the name of fighting the advance of communism.

But the American government's excesses were not restricted to CIA's activities abroad. In the 50's, 60's and 70's, the FBI, under J. Edgar Hoover and his successors, ran rampant over the constitutional rights of American citizens whose only crime was to support civil rights or oppose the Vietnam War. Civil rights and antiwar leaders were illegally wiretapped and their mail opened. Under the COINTELPRO program, FBI agents infiltrated antiwar and civil rights groups violating a number of criminal statutes in the process, including, among other things, the use of "dirty tricks", illegal surveillance, threats and "extralegal violence" against such groups. The host of illegal and unconstitutional practices the FBI and CIA pursued against ordinary Americans was exposed in the wake of Watergate by the Church Commission, and led to many of the laws to guard our fourth amendment rights from such egregious governmental intrusion, such as FISA, that our current President so willfully ignores under his claim of absolute executive power in time of war.

The Cold War ended with the collapse of the Soviet Union and China's capitalist reforms ushered in under the rule of Deng Xiaoping. Most Americans breathed a sigh of relief and looked forward to the promised "peace dividend" which would include a reduction in international tensions and reduced expenditures on Defense. Many Republicans, however, never abandoned their Cold War attitudes, and Manichean geopolitical outlooks. Prominent members of the Republican Party and the Conservative Movement formed the Project for a New American Century to advocate for the use of US military might to impose and maintain an American global hegemony. Its members included a host of former Nixon and Reagan administration officials, and other Republican and conservative luminaries as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, William Bennett, Gary Bauer, James Woolsey, Charles Krauthammer, William Kristol, Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Vin Weber, Dan Quayle, John Bolten, Lewis (Scooter) Libby, and Norman Podheretz.

No doubt you recognize many of these names. Some of them play prominent roles in the current administration, and others are familiar voices on TV and radio, or widely syndicated columnists and pundits. All of them have played a major role in Republican politics over the last 30-40 years. They came of age during the tumultuous years of the 50's and 60's when the Cold War was at its height. Their attitudes were shaped by their anticommunist zeal, and by their reaction against the tremendous social and political changes wrought by the civil rights movement, the Vietnam War and the downfall of their idol (and in many cases mentor), Richard Nixon as a result of the Watergate scandals.

Many of them are deeply suspicious of civil liberties, and have what can only be described as a "black and white" outlook toward international relations and America's role in the world. The Cold War paranoia that drove defense budgets into the upper stratosphere and led to the creation of tens of thousands of dangerous and unnecessary nuclear weapons in the Soviet and US arsenals (more than enough to blow up the world several times over) still pervades their thinking today. They came into office with concerns about "rogue states" like Iraq, Iran and North Korea, a desire to dominate the volatile Middle East and secure its supplies of crude oil and natural gas, and to increase the power and authority of the Presidency. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 handed them a golden opportunity to achieve all of these goals.

However, doing so has led to an unprecedented accumulation of power in the Executive Office, and unprecedented abuses of that power by the President, the Vice President and their many minions. Abuses far worse than those of Nixon in Watergate, and far worse than those of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI (which, for all their excess, did not affect the vast majority of Americans). Under Bush, all of us have been swept up into the National Security State's need for an ever increasing control and accumulation of information about its citizens. Information regarding the private lives of every American, from our telephone call records, our email exchanges, our political affiliations and even our medical records, are all now subject to warrantless seizures by the Federal Government acting under the guise of investigating threats of terrorism or espionage.

Sadly, there has been no organized resistance to these excesses. Indeed, quite the opposite. The institutions, corporations and political factions that enable the Bush administration in its march toward a police state are varied, but each of them has a vested interest in staying the course. Right Wing Dominionist Christians such as James Dobson have no concern about eliminating the right to privacy, because they view that as a potential tool in their efforts to eliminate access to abortion and contraception, to demonize and discriminate against homosexuals, and to re-criminalize sexual behaviors which fall outside the norms of their Christian belief system.

The defense and energy industries favor the war policy since it enormously boosts their profits while concomitantly reducing their risks. Lobbyists and Republican politicians support the war, since they gain clients and campaign contributions from those very same companies in need Congressional largesse and other favors. The Telecommunication companies simply don't want their monopolistic practices disturbed, or the promised deregulation of their businesses from federal restrictions, by opposing government requests for information on their customers. In addition, the mainstream media is afraid of losing access to administration sources, while their corporate bosses are afraid of political retaliation, should they raise too much of a stink in their news broadcasts and newspapers regarding the power grab that Bush and Cheney have engineered, and the trashing of the Constitution that has happened on their watch.

Worst of all has been the failure of the Democratic Party's elected officials and other leaders to unite in opposition to the Constitutional crisis the Bush administration has engineered. Individual politicians have spoken out, yes, but when push comes to shove, all too often these brave souls have been abandoned by their colleagues, left to twist in the wind and forced to endure the massive assault of the Right Wing Wurlitzer alone. Remember Conyers on the Ohio election fraud and the Downing Street Memos; Feingold on his censure motion; Kerry's attempt to filibuster Alito's nomination to the Supreme Court; and John Murtha on Iraq? Again and again, too many Democratic officials have adopted a passive approach, hoping that Republican actions alone will bring them victory in the coming mid-term elections. Too many of them have tempered their criticism of, and opposition to, Bush's policies on the war, torture, unlawful detentions, the environment, tax cuts for the wealthy, the Medicare drug scam, attacks on gay marriage, women's health issues, etc., out of fear of offending that illusive and nebulous independent voter, and thus their cherished sinecures in Congress.

Perhaps now, in the light of these recent revelations, and Bush's extremely low approval ratings, they will find their collective voice and stand as one to oppose this massive invasion of our civil liberties. I for one hope that they do, and that it is already not too late. As Justin Raimondo concludes the time is now to act before the next war of Bush's choice is already underway:

[T]he price of interventionism is liberty itself. With each war, the power of government increases, until, at some point, it spills over the dike of the Constitution, washes away the Bill of Rights, and drowns us all in a flood tide of tyranny.

As recent events have shown, the danger is not theoretical or postponed to some future time: we are not speaking here of some dark dystopia as a kind of "what if" experiment. The danger is imminent: the dystopia is here and now. The only question is: will the American people stand for it?

Bill Maher - It's Not Funny, Mr. President

George Bush has to stop laughing at himself. When your incompetence literally costs lives, giggling at it isn't cute or funny. You know, there's a guy who's been running around the country pretending he's the president. And I believe his name is George Bush. And he wants everyone to know that he doesn't take himself too seriously. Which is working out great, because now nobody else in the world does either. [...]

So, Mr. President, don't laugh at yourself, because breaking the law is not cute. Having Americans torture people isn't adorable. Leaving poor people to drown wasn't enchanting. And WMD's wasn't a shaggy dog story. So I'll make a deal with you. We won't impeach you if you just stay on your estate---I mean "ranch"---and fish on your man-made lake. For perch. Maybe you'll beat your own record.

But, for the next three years, just don't touch anything. I was wrong when I criticized you for taking too much vacation time. It couldn't be more the reverse. Take all the "me" days you want. But if you get any big ideas and try to do something---y'know, like go to Mars or put the Ten Commandments on the flag or turn the ports over to the Amish---then we're going to have to put you in the only place we can be sure we can be safe from you. And it looks like this.

---Bill Maher

Billmon - Plumber's Helper

Plumber's Helper

Earlier I referred to the ongoing revelations about the Cheney administration's domestic spying operations as an Orwellian strip tease act, and now it looks like the pasties are finally coming off:

senior federal law enforcement official tells ABC News the government is tracking the phone numbers we (Brian Ross and Richard Esposito) call in an effort to root out confidential sources.

"It's time for you to get some new cell phones, quick," the source told us in an in-person conversation.

ABC News does not know how the government determined who we are calling, or whether our phone records were provided to the government as part of the recently-disclosed NSA collection of domestic phone calls.

Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.

It appears the "terrorist surveillance program" has undergone a bit of mission creep. And it's not Ross who needs a bunch of disposable cellphones -- Big Brother already knows who he is -- but his sources.

That "creep" reference was actually a lame attempt at a pun. Watergate buffs probably recall the origin and history of the original Plumbers Unit, created by the Nixon White House in 1971 to track down (and punish) Daniel Ellsberg, the guy who leaked the Pentagon Papers to the New York Times. (I know this is all may be Greek to a lot of Gen-Xers, but bear with me here.)

The creation of the Plumbers Unit (officially: the White House Special Investigations Unit) was just one of a series of semi-legal or flat-out illegal steps taken by the Nixon cabal to investigate leaks of classified information. Others included the wiretapping of 11 of Henry Kissinger's top aides and four of their suspected journalistic contacts, and tapping the phone of Joseph Kraft -- one of the celebrity columnists of the day.

The original goal -- or at least, the stated goal -- of these efforts was to plug leaks. But the program quickly metastasized into an all-purpose domestic spying/political dirty tricks operation, beginning with the burglery of Ellberg's psychiatrist's office in an effort to find dirt that could be used to blackmail and/or discredit him. The entire operation was eventually transferred to CREEP (Nixon's 1972 reelection committee), where it generated an increasingly bizarre array of schemes -- like G. Gordon Liddy's idea of luring delegates to the 1972 Democratic convention onto offshore prostitution barges, again for blackmail purposes. The plan failed, however, after the Kennedy family insisted on a group discount.

But seriously.

After Liddy's orginal wacko proposals, burglarizing and wiretapping Democratic Party headquarters must have sounded almost sane -- particularly since Nixon already suspected the DNC Chairman of the time was on the take from Howard Hughes. Turning up evidence of that would have helped cover the traces of Nixon's brother Donald, who was also on the take from Ice Station Zebra's biggest fan.

The rest, as they say, was history -- and a hefty increase in the federal white collar prison population.

My point is that the progression from national security leaks to leak investigations to political dirty tricks to an all-out assault on the Constitution is a movie we've already watched before. True, the remake is playing out a little differently -- the Cheney White House didn't have to create its own Directorate of Dirty Tricks because the official organs of state security are all on board, even if some of them had to be press ganged. And the neoplumbers haven't had to worry nearly as much about Congress finding out, or doing anything to stop them it even if it did. Liddy's "love boat" idea may not have been so crazy after all.

But basic pattern still seems to hold -- small crimes (or at least, less egregious ones) lead to bigger crimes. Indeed, the big crimes can quickly come to seem imperative, if the earlier crimes are to be kept secret. Bud Krogh, the original plumber, has speculated that the Watergate coverup might never have happened if Nixon hadn't known that the Ellsberg break in (and all those other abuses) were also out there waiting to be discovered. And of course, having given the green light to the cover up, Nixon and company had to commit even more crimes to try to cover up the cover up. Once you get on that particular express train to hell, there's no getting off.

We don't yet know how deeply entangled the Cheney administration is its own criminal web -- or how many government or corporate co-conspirators are also dangling from those same threads. There's been no evidence produced, for example, showing the regime has specifically targeted the opposition party for surveillance (why would it bother?) or given its domestic enemies list the full Nixonian treatment.

This may be because the Cheneyites aren't driven by the same inner demons that herded Nixon, and thus aren't as inclined to lash out in paranoid spasms that ultimately prove self-defeating. (The Plame affair, of course, is a powerful argument against that theory.) Maybe it simply reflects the ambiguity of mixed motives -- i.e. is checking a reporter's phone log to find out who might have leaked word of a secret CIA prison an attempt to protect an extreme assertion of executive branch power and secrecy? Or is it a dirty trick aimed simply at intimidating reporters and their sources and protecting the White House from political embarrassment?

Both are bad, obviously, but the latter would seem to mark a more pronounced step towards a true banana republic -- a personal dictatorship that owes more to the political strategies of Karl Rove and Huey Long than the Hobbesian legal theories of David Addington and John Yoo.

Then again, this may be a distinction without a difference. The real lesson of Watergate is that the two phenomena -- national security absolutism and good old-fashioned political ratfucking -- are joined at the skull, like inseparable Siamese twins. You can't have one without the other, particularly in a system that is otherwise designed to prevent the kind of radical accumulation of power the Nixon and Bush II White Houses represent.

That's why it's so easy to suspect that the current drip drip drip of revelations will eventually show the Cheneyites indeed have followed in Tricky Dick's criminal footsteps -- if not to the very end, then at least past the point of no return. And the ABC News story just might point the way.

Posted by billmon at May 15, 2006 06:13 PM

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Robert B. Reich - The $70 Billion Tax Cut: Irresponsible and Obscene

The $70 Billion Tax Cut: Irresponsible and Obscene
By Robert B. Reich
Common Dreams

Monday 15 May 2006

Here we are six months before a mid-term election, with polls showing only about 20 percent of the American public approving the job Congress is doing. Small wonder. The federal budget deficit is still out of control. We've got a war going on that's not going well, and the military is spending over a half a trillion dollars a year. Meanwhile, public services are being slashed. So what's Congress about to give us? A $70 billion tax cut.

The tax cut would be politically irresponsible, but not obscene, if it were going to middle-income workers now facing sky-high fuel prices and soaring health-insurance costs, and variable-rate mortgage payments heading through the roof.

But this tax cut is not going to the middle class. Like the Bush Administration's previous tax cuts, most of this one is going to people who are already very comfortable. Hence, it's both irresponsible and obscene.

The non-partisan Urban Institute - Brookings Institution Tax Policy Center examined its provisions, including a two-year extension of capital gains and dividend tax cuts, and a one-year extension of relief from the Alternative Minimum Tax. It turns out a whopping 87 percent of the benefits of this tax cut will go to the 14 percent of American households earning above $100,000 a year. Twenty-two percent of the benefits will go to the richest two-tenths of one percent of American households earning more than a million dollars a year.

Perhaps I am slow to catch on to something the Bush administration and the Republican Congress understand intuitively. But I'd appreciate it if someone could explain to me why we need another tax cut for high-income Americans. At a time when the gap between the rich and poor, and between every rung on the income ladder, is wider than it's been in almost a century, it would seem imprudent to add to these disparities unless there was a compelling public need.

What is the public need? Some administration apologists, including the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, claim repeatedly that the rich are paying a larger-than-ever share of income taxes, so it's entirely fitting that they get the lion's share of any tax cut. This logic conveniently leaves out two facts. First, the rich are now paying a smaller percentage of their income in taxes than at any time in the last seventy-five years. That they pay a lot of taxes nonetheless is a by-product of the mind-boggling increase in their income and wealth relative to most other Americans.

Second, if you consider not just income and capital-gains taxes but all the taxes people pay - including payroll taxes and sales taxes - you find that middle-income workers are now paying a larger share of their incomes than people at or near the top. We have turned the principle of a graduated, progressive tax on its head.

A second justification given by the White House and the Journal for continuing to cut taxes on the wealthy is that the wealthy invest their extra money in the economy, and that extra investment trickles down to everyone else. The inconvenient missing fact here is the recent real-world impact of such supply-side economic theory. To date, the Administration's capital gains and dividend tax cuts have not reaped what their proponents promised. The rate of new investment during this recovery has trailed the rate of investment during the three previous recoveries.

Meanwhile, almost nothing has trickled down. Productivity is up, but the current annual median wage of around $35,000 is what it was five years ago, adjusted for inflation. While top executives are raking in seven and eight-digit compensation packages, their middle-class workers are stuck in the mud.

Don't expect much of a fight over this tax bill, however. The so-called "reconciliation" procedure, on which it's riding, requires only a simple majority in the Senate and does not allow a filibuster. Members of the American public who believe this bill is irresponsible and obscene will get a chance to express their view in the voting booths, next November.


Robert Reich is Professor of Public Policy at the Goldman School of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley. He has served in three national administrations, most recently as secretary of labor under President Bill Clinton. He has written ten books, including, The Work of Nations, which has been translated into 22 languages; the best-sellers The Future of Success and Locked in the Cabinet, and his most recent book, Reason. His articles have appeared in the New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal. Mr. Reich is co-founding editor of The American Prospect magazine.

Rotten in Denmark

Rotten in Denmark
05/11/2006 @ 2:05 pm
Filed by Nancy Goldstein - Raw Story columnist

Media critic Mark Crispin Miller has been trying to tell us that electronic touch screen voting stinks for years now -- most recently with last fall's publication of Fooled Again: How the Right Stole the 2004 Election & Why They'll Steal the Next One Too (Unless We Stop Them).

He has repeatedly warned us that electronic touch-screen machines are untrustworthy. They are prone to break down. They leave no paper trail. They make fraud almost impossible to detect. And they're manufactured by private vendors with very close ties to the Republican Party, such as Diebold and ES&S. (Waldon O'Dell, the former chief executive of Diebold who was forced to step down this past winter amidst allegations of insider trading, famously told Bush supporters in a 2003 fund-raising letter that he was "committed to helping Ohio deliver its electoral votes to the president next year.")

Miller's theories about widespread systemic voter fraud have not always been kindly received by progressive media outlets (dismissive reviews of his book appeared on Salon and in Mother Jones). So he must have been feeling at least a momentary flush of schaudenfraude when I caught up with him earlier this month. Ohio had just held the first election in which all 88 counties used either touch-screen machines or devices that scan ballots marked by voters. And it had unfolded like a virtual show-and-tell of his key points.

Take Cuyahoga County. With over one million registered voters, it's a must-win for any candidate looking to take the state in November. It is also notorious for having accounted for 1,431 of the 4,166 voting irregularities reported for Ohio in the 2004 presidential elections. Last week's glitches were on a smaller scale, but disastrous nonetheless. Some Cuyahoga voting sites never opened because workers didn't show up; others experienced delays because workers couldn't fire up the new machines. But the biggest news was that more than 17,000 votes had to be counted by hand after new Diebold optical-scanning machines produced inconsistent tabulations.

The problems didn't end there. Machines with three-prong plugs, but no adaptor, were allocated to the Garden Valley Neighborhood Center on Cleveland's east side, where every outlet in the place is two-prong. (Their U.S. representative had to go to court to have the poll held open later to try to make up for votes lost earlier in the day.) And the day after the election, officials were still searching for memory cards holding votes from 74 polling locations.

Two days after the Ohio primaries, Pennsylvania's secretary of state admitted that a "potential security vulnerability" in Diebold machines could let "unauthorized software be loaded on to the system." (Hat tip to the Brad Blog.)

In response to the warning he issued, election officials in Schuylkill and Carbon counties promised that all election equipment will be locked up tight until the May 16 primary.

Of course, the great irony here is that states purchased these new electronic touch-screen voting machines with funding provided by the federal Help America Vote Act. HAVA, which Congress passed in 2002 in the wake of the 2000 presidential election scandal in Florida, "forbids counties nationwide from using lever machines or paper ballots to conduct federal elections because they are deemed unreliable." (In fact, the Department of Justice cited HAVA when it filed suit against the notoriously blue state of New York this past March for not getting their touch-screen machines in place fast enough.)

"Republicans played it beautifully after the 2000 elections," Miller says. "The Democrats were too cowardly in 2000 to say ‘We think you stole this election.' All they would do is say, 'We need electoral reform! We need electoral reform!' So the White House cleverly says 'OK, we need electoral reform,' and they passed a bill that made things much worse."

Miller firmly believes that the touch-screen machines' pre-programming flips votes for the Republican Party. "We know of at least 21 states where there were thousands of complaints on Election Day 2004 from people who tried to vote for Kerry and had their votes flipped to Bush," he tells me. "I've looked very hard for examples of would-be Bush voters who had their votes switched to Kerry, and I've found four." As additional evidence, Miller points to the election incident reporting system (EIRS) that logs telephone complaints made by people on Election Day. For the Ohio 2004 election, it shows 80+ complaints about Kerry to Bush flips vs. three regarding Bush to Kerry flips.

And then there's whistleblower Clint Curtis, a former Republican now running as a Democrat against Congressman Tom Feeney in Florida. Curtis testified to Congress under oath that while he was still working as a programmer for Wang Enterprises in 2000, Feeney asked him to build a computer program that could, undetected, flip a vote in an election. Curtis also passed a polygraph test with his story in March of 2005. But his story has gone virtually untouched by the media -- "mainstream" or "progressive" -- outside of the blogosphere.

Miller's outspoken about not being a Democrat, and he's deeply critical of Kerry's disastrously incompetent campaign in Ohio. Still, he thinks that Kerry won, and that the election was stolen from him through a combination of strategies, some orchestrated from the top (Rove) and others the result of "freelancers" looking to do anything to win.

"Remember, machines weren't the only means whereby Bush/Cheney disenfranchised the majority," Miller says. "Disinformation, intimidation, and obstruction tactics -- the classic, Jim Crow stuff -- were also rampant in 2004; and there were countless citizens who never got to vote at all." (In his new book, journalist Greg Palast alleges that 3 million Democratic votes were never counted.) "The point," Miller continues, "is that they used every trick in the book, and also concocted new ones, to 're-elect' themselves. This stuff was by no means restricted to Ohio, and it's set to happen all over again."

Ohio Secretary of State Kenneth Blackwell, who handily won the Republican gubernatorial primary against an unfunded opponent last week, was one of the architects of voter disenfranchisement in 2004. Just weeks before the presidential election, he asked the U.S. Court of Appeals in Cincinnati to allow GOP challenges to 35,000 voters from mostly urban and minority areas to proceed. He also drew criticism for acting as the state's top election official -- and therefore the leading official in the 2004 recount -- while serving as honorary co-chairman of the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign.

Earlier this month the Ohio Democratic Party requested that Blackwell recuse himself from the probe regarding what went wrong in Cuyahoga County, citing the conflicts of interest he would face as a gubernatorial candidate. Blackwell refused, which means that he will be helping to lead the investigation into an election that handed him a victory.

It's enough to make you think that something stinks in Ohio.

The Problem With Today's Journalism

Theorajones in a comment to a Matt Yglesias post:

You've got reporters that were hired for their ability to write well under deadline, not their analytical skills. Add to that the fact that journalism doesn't privilege objective fact over opinion--that is, "balance" is as important as "accuracy." Throw in the fact that press coverage is largely ahistorical, very bad at telling stories that are systemic rather than anecdotal, obsessed with horse race over substantive policy disagreement, and dominated by an insider corps who need to actively maintain long-standing personal relationships with public figures in order to do their jobs--figure all that in, and you've got a charlatan's paradise.

Why are we surprised that a major party has adopted a platform that's, at heart, nothing more than wishful thinking and appeals to prejudices?

It's pretty simple. If you don't get paid for thinking, you stop thinking and then blame the inevitable and foreseen catastrophies of your poor policy choices on bad luck or someone else's bad intentions. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Jay Ackroyd:

This is a new development. It used to be, before the wingnuts started screaming about liberal bias, that reporters tried to be objective, to report what is true. Since the truth, as Colbert would say, has a liberal bias the response from the media was to balance the truth with false claims.

This has also led to a very successful practice of republicans to treat every substantive objection as political, as if there were no substance at all. No policy, only politics and thirst for power.

This is another instance where what may be going is projection of themselves onto their opponents. We've when given all the levers of government, all they can do is screw things up while violating every single one of their "principles."

Catchy slogans work when your in opposition and can get you elected. But once in power you have to some idea of how to make and execute policy decisions.


You are a reporter on deadline for a story on a subject that you really don't understand. Your first call is an econ professor at a top school, who has classes, doctoral students, research, literature to keep up with, administrative obligations- a life, in other words. You leave a message. Then you call a guy with the title of "fellow" at the Institute for Public Policy Choices or some such - a guy who does not teach or publish (except for non-peer-reviewed stuff put out by his think tank) and whose job is evaluated by how much he influences the public debate as reflected in the press. He takes your call first time, gives you all the time you want, makes it all very simple, emails you his "articles" so you can cut and paste to your heart's content. Next time, who do you call first?

Kim Zetter - The NSA is on the line -- all of them

The NSA is on the line -- all of them

An intelligence expert predicts we'll soon learn that cellphone and Internet companies also cooperated with the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on us.

By Kim Zetter

May. 15, 2006 | When intelligence historian Matthew Aid read the USA Today story last Thursday about how the National Security Agency was collecting millions of phone call records from AT&T, Bell South and Verizon for a widespread domestic surveillance program designed to root out possible terrorist activity in the United States, he had to wonder whether the date on the newspaper wasn't 1976 instead of 2006.

Aid, a visiting fellow at George Washington University's National Security Archive, who has just completed the first book of a three-volume history of the NSA, knew the nation's bicentennial marked the year when secrets surrounding another NSA domestic surveillance program, code-named Project Shamrock, were exposed. As fireworks showered New York Harbor that year, the country was debating a three-decades-long agreement between Western Union and other telecommunications companies to surreptitiously supply the NSA, on a daily basis, with all telegrams sent to and from the United States. The similarity between that earlier program and the most recent one is remarkable, with one exception -- the NSA now owns vastly improved technology to sift through and mine massive amounts of data it has collected in what is being described as the world's single largest database of personal information. And, according to Aid, the mining goes far beyond our phone lines.

The controversy over Project Shamrock in 1976 ultimately led Congress to pass the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and other privacy and communication laws designed to prevent commercial companies from working in cahoots with the government to conduct wholesale secret surveillance on their customers. But as stories revealed last week, those safeguards had little effect in preventing at least three telecommunications companies from repeating history.

Aid, who co-edited a book in 2001 on signals intelligence during the Cold War, spent a decade conducting more than 300 interviews with former and current NSA employees for his new history of the agency, the first volume of which will be published next year. Jeffrey Richelson, a senior fellow at the National Security Archive, calls Aid the top authority on the NSA, alongside author James Bamford.

Aid spoke with Salon about how the NSA has learned to maneuver around Congress and the Department of Justice to get what it wants. He compared the agency's current data mining to Project Shamrock and Echelon, the code name for an NSA computer system that for many years analyzed satellite communication signals outside the U.S., and generated its own controversy when critics claimed that in addition to eavesdropping on enemy communication, the satellites were eavesdropping on allies' domestic phone and e-mail conversations. Aid also spoke about the FBI's Carnivore program, designed to "sniff" e-mail traveling through Internet service providers for communication sent to and from criminal suspects, and how the NSA replaced the FBI as the nation's domestic surveillance agency after 9/11.

Having studied the NSA and its history extensively, were you surprised and concerned to discover that, since 2001, the agency has been amassing a database of phone records, and possibly other information, on U.S. citizens?

The fact that the federal government has my phone records scares the living daylights out of me. They won't learn much from them other than I like ordering pizza on Friday night and I don't call my mother as often as I should. But it should scare the living daylights out of everybody, even if you're willing to permit the government certain leeways to conduct the war on terrorism.

We should be terrified that Congress has not been doing its job and because all of the checks and balances put in place to prevent this have been deliberately obviated. In order to get this done, the NSA and White House went around all of the checks and balances. I'm convinced that 20 years from now we, as historians, will be looking back at this as one of the darkest eras in American history. And we're just beginning to sort of peel back the first layers of the onion. We're hoping against hope that it's not as bad as I suspect it will be, but reality sets in every time a new article is published and the first thing the Bush administration tries to do is quash the story. It's like the lawsuit brought by EFF [Electronic Frontier Foundation] against AT&T -- the government's first reaction was to try to quash the lawsuit. That ought to be a warning sign that they're on to something.

I'll tell you where this story probably will go next. Notice the USA Today article doesn't mention whether the Internet service providers or cellphone providers or companies operating transatlantic cables like Global Crossing cooperated with the NSA. That's the next round of revelations. The real vulnerabilities for the NSA are the companies. Sooner or later one of these companies, fearing the inevitable lawsuit from the ACLU, is going to admit what it did, and the whole thing is going to come tumbling down. If you want some historical perspective look at Operation Shamrock, which collapsed in 1975 because [Rep.] Bella Abzug [D-NY] subpoenaed the heads of Western Union and the other telecommunications giants and put them in witness chairs, and they all admitted that they had cooperated with the NSA for the better part of 40 years by supplying cables and telegrams.

The newest system being added to the NSA infrastructure, by the way, is called Project Trailblazer, which was initiated in 2002 and which was supposed to go online about now but is fantastically over budget and way behind schedule. Trailblazer is designed to copy the new forms of telecommunications -- fiber optic cable traffic, cellphone communication, BlackBerry and Internet e-mail traffic.

Were you really surprised to learn recently that the NSA was eavesdropping on phone calls, as the New York Times reported last December? I think most people assumed, or at least suspected, that the government had been monitoring some domestic conversations for years after the Echelon program was revealed. Echelon, though never confirmed by the government, was described as a global surveillance system that had the ability to intercept every phone, fax and e-mail conversation around the world.

I think it was generally assumed that when I heard breathing on the other end of the phone, it was the FBI and not the NSA listening in.

Since [the movie] "Enemy of the State" came out, everybody has assumed that the NSA had the ability to turn its antennas around and monitor us in the U.S. as much as they did anybody else. But I honestly believe that prior to 9/11, the NSA was not engaged in any domestic work at all. Then 9/11 changed the entire equation, and Congress, in its rush to prove how patriotic it was, passed the Patriot Act, which gave the government unlimited powers to conduct surveillance in the US. Basic freedoms were abridged.

Echelon, in fact, is nothing more than a VAX microcomputer that was manufactured in the early 1970s by Digital Equipment Corporation in St. Paul, Minn., and was used at six satellite intercept stations [to filter and sort data collected from the satellites and distribute it to analysts]. The computer has long since been obsolete. Since 9/11, whatever plans in place to modernize Echelon have been put on hold. The NSA does in fact have a global intercept network, but they just call it the intercept collection infrastructure. They don't have a code name or anything sexy to describe it, and it didn't do domestic spying.

In 1988 Duncan Campbell, a U.K. journalist, wrote an article for the New Statesman based on an interview with a Lockheed Martin employee named Margaret Newsham, who had worked at an NSA satellite listening station in England. She claimed the NSA was eavesdropping on U.S. phone conversations back then and that she herself had eavesdropped on a conversation involving Senator Strom Thurmond. The stories reported then were that the NSA did have the ability to eavesdrop globally on conversations and was doing so domestically.

I'm not sure what she heard, but I can tell you the NSA was not listening to domestic calls -- they were testing the system at the time that [Newsham] was in England, so while playing with the receiver they may have scrolled over some signals, but the system was not yet operational. Lockheed was in the process of installing the brand new processing stations and Newsham was sent to help put it in place. I asked a number of NSA people about this and they said their main focus at the time was the Soviet Union, with a minor focus on the Middle East. They had no U.S. intercept function whatsoever. If there was domestic work being done in the U.S., it was mostly being done by the FBI and not the NSA.

It's true that some elements in the NSA really wanted to loosen the restrictions imposed by FISA but were told it's the law of the land. And we can't go to Congress and ask that the FISA statute be modified to allow the NSA to engage in domestic work. The assumption was that the Justice Department would never agree to it.

Judging by the USA Today article last week they found a way to get around those FISA restrictions and the Justice Department.

The USA Today article doesn't cover how the NSA convinced all of the phone companies to cooperate. Did General Hayden [former NSA director and current nominee to run the CIA] pick up the phone and call the CEOs? Or were they presented with National Security letters saying you will turn over all your records to us and keep it quiet within your organization? But it does seem clear that the Justice Department was excluded from all of this, or at least the parts of the Justice Department that would normally have some oversight over this. For example, they didn't refer the case down to the Civil Rights Division for their approval. They kept the number of people within the Justice Department who had knowledge of the program to a small number of people. I think they feared that if they passed it down to other departments that might have some purview over the program they might have encountered a stream of objections.

It's all coming out now in dribs and drabs, but when it all becomes clear, we'll find out that the key oversight functions -- those functions that were put in place to protect the rights of Americans -- were deliberately circumvented. Key components of the Justice Department that would have rightly objected to this were never consulted or told about the program. Alberto Gonzales when he was the White House counsel knew about it, as did Attorney General Ashcroft and his deputy, but outside of that I don't think there were many others who knew all the details.

According to President Bush, there were apparently some members of Congress who knew about the program.

They can claim that they briefed individual members of Congress but there's a difference between briefing a few members of Congress and briefing a full committee. Only a few members of the intelligence committee were told and they were told in a way in which they couldn't do anything about it. And the briefings were very general and lacking in specifics, as I understand.

What happens is that you're [privately] briefed about the program, and then even if you object to the program, you can't do anything about it because you can't tell the whole committee. Our system only works when information is given to the full committee. But the way they did it effectively handcuffed any opposition because you can't go to the full committee and say I object to this program and we ought to call some hearings and examine the legalistic background and justification for the program. Even if Senator Rockefeller or Congresswoman Pelosi had some issues with it, they couldn't even tell their own staff, much less other members of the committee. They deliberately did it this way so the intelligence committees couldn’t do anything about it.

Who's the person running the NSA's data collection program?

James M. Cusick, assistant deputy director of the NSA for data acquisition. He's Mr. Data Acquisition. He's the specialist in charge of building collection systems that can acquire vast amounts of data, and his unit is the one that is running this program.

Do you think such a program could be effective at catching terrorists?

To the best of my knowledge, in the five years in which the program has been running, it has not caught a single person.

How did we go from having the FBI doing domestic surveillance to having the NSA serve that function? How was the decision made?

The FBI is in a state of shell shock after 9/11. They've become so risk-averse. They've been criticized so many times, for the right reasons, that they're terrified of doing their job anymore. So the White House felt they'd become rather leaky and creaky.

Also, the FBI had to get approval from the attorney general for every tap it used. I've been told on fairly good authority that the reason the FBI's Carnivore telecommunications surveillance program was not used in the fashion that the NSA system has been after 9/11 was because it would require the written consent of the attorney general and the Civil Rights and Criminal Divisions of the Justice Department, any one of which could have scuttled the program. That's a prospect worse than the FISA court, as far as the White House is concerned. So the White House decided to abandon the FBI in favor of an agency that had not done any domestic work since 1975. As a result, the NSA had to spend billions of dollars constructing a system that it didn't have the capability to construct prior to 2001, which may explain why some NSA veterans I talked to say that some parts of the NSA are now short of money.

Do you know how much the NSA has spent on its phone record data collection project?

No. I don't even think the people who have been briefed on the program on Capitol Hill know how the money is being used. Each year the House and Senate intelligence committees pass, by oral vote, the money for the entire intelligence community. Then they pray like the dickens that these people are spending it wisely and properly. It will come as no surprise to anyone that Congress has basically abrogated its responsibility for overseeing the national security establishment of the NSA. And you can't blame one party over the other. It's my experience that many senior ranking Democrats on these committees are also not doing their job for one reason or another.

This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

-- By Kim Zetter