Thursday, October 31, 2013

Shelley tried to warn us. Creating monsters never ends well

The blog (redundant much?) has an article today entitled, “The Surveillance State is a Gigantic Beast that Values Self-Preservation, not National Security.” The article covers a topic that I’ve written about a number of times — the monster that Dr. Bush and Igor Cheney built now has a life of its own and its will to survive trumps all other concerns.

Those who defend the current surveillance state do so for a lot of reasons, but despite what they say in public, defending us against terrorism is a ways down the list. Power, reputation, perks, protecting turf, job security, pet projects, funding, supporting corporate America’s intelligence needs…these are the real obstacles to reform, not terrorist threats.

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Bush created a monster that refuses to be constrained by the rule of law. Obama may defend it in public, but my guess is that he is as afraid of it as we are and he has little power to bring the creature to bay. And, no one, not even a president, wants to get on the monster’s bad side.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Dianne Feinstein is shocked, shocked I tell you, over foreign surveillance

Today Dianne Feinstein, who chairs the Senate's intelligence committee, publically blew a gasket about the NSA spying on foreign leaders. “I am totally opposed to this,” she declares.

What’s troubling is that up to this moment, Feinstein has been one of the Senate’s most vocal supporters of the NSA and its surveillance policies, defending its practices whenever she had a chance. Just a day or two ago, she cut short a public briefing when pressed by a reporter about domestic spying and why it’s not contradicted by the fourth amendment. Today she’s in a snit.

Why is it okay to trash the Constitutional rights of Americans, but not okay to eavesdrop on the Chancellor of Germany? What are we, chopped liver? The senator’s ire seems oddly timed and misplaced to me. Maybe the heat from the public is finally getting to her and she pounced on an opportunity to find fault with the agency she had so vigorously defended.

Does she really believe that the eavesdropping on foreign leaders is the only time the NSA has kept her out of the loop? Could she be that na├»ve (or frightened)? The NSA has lied to Congress and the president often. Isn’t it about time it faced some sort of punishment? If you or I blatantly and repeatedly lied to Congress, we’d be serving time in prison.

Have you finally found a pair, Dianne or will there be a short-lived brouhaha and then it’s back to business as usual?

Monday, October 28, 2013

How the NSA and CIA keep politicians in line

As new revelations about NSA spying break almost daily, I can’t help but ask myself how we can stop this monster with tentacles stretching around the globe and deep into our private lives? Articles published today claim that Obama didn’t know the NSA was spying on world leaders. I doubt that’s true, but if it is, what else doesn’t the President know about our surveillance operations?

Putting an end to these technically legal but clearly unconstitutional practices is going to be very difficult for many reasons, but here is one thought I had about why I think Congress has been so “cooperative” in giving the spooks what they want and allowing them to lie with impunity. I call it the silent conspiracy.

Let’s say I’m a congressman who is not comfortable with what’s going on with our super secret surveillance policies. Now I’ve been in many closed-door meetings over the years with our top cyber spies and I’ve learned a lot about how they operate and the amazing ways that they can gain access to information about individuals. I’ve also learned how they routinely eliminate enemies in ways that make it look like an accident or suicide. And when they say “enemies,” they’re not talking only about terrorists.

As I think about my objections to the current surveillance programs, and then weigh that against what I know the NSA or CIA could do to me if they saw me as an enemy, I decide to shelve my doubts and welcome the new world realities. No one has to make any overt threats. Words are not necessary. I give them what they want or I will face consequences. Some embarrassing event from my past might suddenly go public. I could wake up one morning to headlines about my drug problems or a tax issue. And, if I really insist on pushing the issue, I might one day find my car’s computer has been hacked and I’m heading for a light pole at 90 miles per hour.

Those few politicians and journalists who are willing to stand up to the NSA are truly brave souls. It will take many more people with courage, and our encouragement and votes, to put the brakes on the Orwellian state of affairs in which we find ourselves today.

Friday, October 25, 2013

To question, or not to question, that is the question

There’s a lengthy and interesting comment thread related to “conspiracy theories” and those who believe them under a Reddit article today. Some of the comments revolve around the question of where to draw the line between what could be characterized as legitimate concerns about something and the undeniably wacky beliefs of some theorists.

I’m not sure where that line should be. There are people who believe that the Bush family and other elites are actually shape-shifting Reptilians from another planet. Crazy, right? Yet how many people in 1964 questioned the government’s story about what happened in the Gulf of Tonkin, the incident (that never happened) used to justify a dramatic build up of American forces in Vietnam? There may have been some, but they were probably not taken seriously and marginalized. Same thing for the rush to war in Iraq. In the 1950s, if you claimed that the CIA was conducting experiments on unsuspecting American citizens testing mind-altering drugs and bacteria strains, do you think you would have been taken seriously?

Just go back a few years. Would you have believed your neighbor if he said that the government was listening in on everyone’s phone calls and reading everyone’s emails? My point is that there are conspiracies in the real world. People who were considered nuts or anti-American for claiming that the CIA was assassinating people and overthrowing governments around the world during the 1950s were right. We can’t legitimately lump all conspiracy theorists or theories together, yet that happens all the time.

The mainstream news media is particularly guilty of ridiculing or marginalizing those who question the status quo. Subjects such as UFOs, 9/11, the Kennedy assassination and others are either ignored or laughed off as absurd. When it comes to government conspiracies, it is in Washington’s best interest to characterize questioners as being kooks who are out of touch with reality, and they get plenty of support from the press.

Conspiracy theories are just that, theories. Some theories have more evidence to support them than others. The theory of evolution has mountains of research and data behind it. The theory of alien bases on the moon does not. Yet, I think it is lazy, and sometimes dangerous, to live an unquestioning life, and I sometimes wonder who is more out of touch with reality, the people who question the official story or the people who accept as true everything they are told?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Drone strikes violate international law and should be stopped

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have issued a joint report calling for those in charge of U.S. drone strikes in the Middle East to be tried for war crimes. I totally support this effort.

“The report is issued in conjunction with an investigation by Human Rights Watch detailing missile attacks in Yemen which the group believes could contravene the laws of armed conflict, international human rights law and Barack Obama's own guidelines on drones.”

Drone attacks are nothing but high-tech terrorism. Bombs can make no judgment about whom they kill, and anyone in the vicinity of an attack, man woman or child, is going to be collateral damage. And on top of everything else, our government is lying to us about the number of civilians hurt and killed by these attacks.

I don’t know much about international law, but it’s always been hard for me to believe that a drone strike in another country wasn’t a crime. If it happened here, we’d be at the UN and the World Court within hours, after retaliatory bombings, of course.

The war on terror continues to be used by the U.S. as justification for all manner of illegal and immoral activities around the world. How long will we allow this to continue? 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why’s Maddow so mad about 9/11?

Although I don’t watch her show regularly, I’ve always liked Rachel Maddow. Her articulate, intelligent and snarky approach to the political circus in Washington is a refreshing counterweight to the mainstream corporate media’s script readers.

So I was surprised to watch some clips from recent shows where she angrily attacks 911-truthers as not only being wrong, but dangerous. Dangerous? She is certainly entitled to her opinions about what happened on 9/11, but it was the vehemence of her attack that I found odd.

Maddow hosts a show that is based on exposing the lies and hypocrisy of our political leaders, from the insanity of the recent government shutdown to the NSA surveillance revelations to the drone program that is far more aggressive than we were led to believe. Day in and day out Maddow lambasts government officials who are caught in misstatements, obfuscation and lies. There is certainly no lack of material for her show.

Yet when it comes to 9/11, she is adamant that the government’s account of what happened is 100 percent accurate, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary. It just seems strange to me that someone who makes her living questioning the government’s motives on just about every issue imaginable should turn around and defend that same government over its deeply flawed assessment of what happened on 9/11. Curious.

Friday, October 18, 2013

We may have won this battle, but the war is far from over

The editors at The Nation make a good point in the magazine’s latest issue. While in many ways, Republicans in Congress “lost” much in this latest attack on Obama and his priorities, Democrats are now forced to work with a budget where sequestration levels are the new starting point. In other words, Republicans did lose this battle, but they continue to be successful in the larger war by pulling the government and the country further and further to the political right.

We have to give kudos to the President for standing firm in this latest showdown, but he has already conceded too much to Republicans and there is nothing to keep the Tea Party anarchists from resorting to extortion in the future to get what they want. For a variety of reasons, some good and many bad, before this week, Obama never drew a line in the sand in regards to the budget or anything else for that matter, and demanded that Republicans work with him on his terms. I’ve said this many times in the past, but Democrats continue allowing Republicans to set the parameters of the debate.

As Democrats, we should be the ones setting priorities on national issues. We need far more angry progressives like Elizabeth Warren and Alan Grayson and Dennis Kucinich in leadership roles and far fewer establishment rollovers like Pelosi, Reid and Feinstein. We need our own Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz, passionate politicians (who aren’t clinically insane) willing to fight for progressive causes and not be cowed by the childish, name-calling haters on the Right.

The one great hope to come out of all of this is that Republicans have damaged themselves enough for Dems to keep the Senate and take back the House in the next election.