Sunday, November 15, 2009

National Security Letters, the Deceitful Media & the Convergence of Interests

This week we interviewed Mark Klein, the AT&T whistleblower; the interview should be posted in 3 or 4 weeks. I know you’re going to find it interesting and enlightening. Speaking of AT&T, check out our contributor Ishmael’s informative interview with Jeff Farias here.

I have a few noteworthy tidbits below. Don’t pay attention to their publication dates, since the issues, these cases and reports, are ‘timeless’ in nature.

Another Police State Government Villains & an Irate Minority Fighter Story

MakingsofapolicestateThis week the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), a privacy watchdog organization, released a comprehensive and eye-opening report on a bogus subpoena issued by a US attorney in Indiana to force , an independent alternative news site to hand over all the data containing about their users who visited the site on a particular day. Not only that, consistent with other National Security Letters practices, the Justice Department issued gag order to prevent the site from speaking about the subpoena:

The report describes how, earlier this year, U.S. attorneys issued a federal grand jury subpoena to administrator Kristina Clair demanding “all IP traffic to and from” for a particular date, potentially identifying every person who visited any news story on the Indymedia site. As the report explains, this overbroad demand for internet records not only violated federal privacy law but also violated Clair’s First Amendment rights, by ordering her not to disclose the existence of the subpoena without a U.S. attorney’s permission.

Because Indymedia follows EFF’s Best Practices for Online Service Providers and does not keep historical IP logs, there was no information for Indymedia to hand over, and the government withdrew the subpoena. However, as the report describes, that wasn’t the end of the tale: Ms. Clair wanted EFF to be able to tell the story of the subpoena and shine a light on the government’s illegal demand, yet the subpoena ordered silence. Under pressure from EFF, the government admitted that the subpoena’s gag order had no legal basis, and ultimately chose not to go to court to try to force Ms. Clair’s silence despite earlier threats to do so.

This is another story of our government villains determined to butcher the Constitution and speed up our descent towards a police state. This is another example illustrating how government abuses are thriving and expanding in secrecy. In this case, it took an irate, a determined, and a believer in Constitutional Rights, to get up and challenge the attempted despotism. In this particular case, the despotic villains backed down. But as EFF appropriately questions:

How often does the government attempt such illegal fishing expeditions through internet data? How many online service providers have received similarly bogus demands, and handed over how much data, violating how many internet users’ privacy? How many of those subpoena recipients have been intimidated into silence by unconstitutional gag orders?

Let’s hope the number of those who choose to speak up and fight back keeps increasing. But meanwhile, in addition to sitting and wishing and hoping, let us each be one of the irate minority who keeps on fighting until we become the majority, and the villains are restrained and ruled by we the people.

The Deceitful Media Pimping Tyranny

PimpingMediaFreedom daily had a well-presented piece by James Bovard on the US media. I get tons of links and references everyday, and usually all I can do is a quick glance. With this one I was hooked after the first paragraph, and I’m sure those of you who’ve been visiting my site for a while would know why:

Why do politicians so easily get away with telling lies? In large part, because the news media are more interested in bonding with politicians than in exposing them. Americans are encouraged to believe that the media will serve as a check and a balance on the government. Instead, the press too often volunteer as unpaid pimps, helping politicians deceive the public.

And no, it is not because he uses my favorite adjective, pimp! Keep reading the article, because Bovard goes on providing some good and highly relevant examples and cases. Here is another right-on-target remark after he presents relevant cases supporting his view:

Deceit has become ritualized in U.S. foreign policy. From 2002 onwards, the White House Iraq Group spewed out false information that the New York Times and other prominent media outlets routinely accepted without criticism or verification. After many of the assertions were later discovered to be false, the White House and much of the media treated the falsehoods as irrelevant to the legitimacy of the U.S. invasion. The lack of attention paid to political lies is itself symptomatic of the bias in favor of submitting to rulers regardless of how much people are defrauded.

The pursuit of respectability in Washington usually entails acquiescing to government lies. Many if not most members of the Washington press corps are government dependents. Few Washington journalists have the will to expose government lies. That would require placing one in an explicitly adversarial position to the government. It is not that the typical journalist is intentionally covering up government lies, but that his radar is not set to detect such occurrences. Lies rarely register in Washington journalists’ minds because they are usually supplicants for government information, not dogged pursuers of the truth. Raising troublesome questions will not help you get any “silver platter” stories.

And finally his conclusion, the punch line, to which I wholeheartedly subscribe:

If Americans wish to retain the remnants of their liberty, they cannot trust the media to warn them about government tyranny. In order to recognize government deceit, there is no substitute for more citizens to make more effort to find the truth for themselves.

Don’t worry about the article’s November 5 date. It’s been relevant for many years, and will be relevant for the foreseeable future. So I encourage you to go read the piece, and come back

as an even more determined and irate minority!

The Convergence of Interests: MIC & Members of Congress

MICandCongressOur friend and regular Boiling Frogs Post commenter Metem kindly sent this over a year old but way under-reported and highly important report my way, assuming I’d seen it already. Well, I had not, and although not surprised by its content, I am grateful to have it and share it with you here.

This article, Congress Invested in Defense Contracts, made it to the Project Censored top 25 censored stories for 2009-2010. It is based on a report issued by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics, which made public the fact that more than 151 members of Congress have up to $195 million invested in major defense contractors that are earning profits from the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:

When General David Petraeus, the top US military officer in Iraq, went to Capitol Hill to brief Congress in April of 2008, he was addressing lawmakers who had a lot more than just a political stake in the Iraq occupation. Along with their colleagues in the House and Senate, the politicians who got a status report from the general and the US ambassador to Iraq had millions of dollars of their own money invested in companies doing business with the Department of Defense (DoD).

Guess which lawmaker made it to the top of the list, became number one, with the most money invested in companies with DoD contracts? Someone I am not familiar with: Rep. Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ), with $49,140,000.

But the number two man is familiar to all. I bet many of you are guessing McCain or Lieberman. Well, that’s not the case. Number two happens to be Senator John Kerry (D-Mass), with up to $38,209,020. Just in case the comas cause this to be difficult to make out, that is more than 38 million dollars, my friends.

Here are a few others who made it into the top 10: Rep. Hayes, with $37+ Million; Rep. Sensenbrenner Jr., with $7+ M; Rep. Harman, with $6 +M; Rep. Upton, with $8+M; and Sen. Rockefeller, with $2 million dollars.

And the implications:

Forty-seven members of Congress (or 9 percent of all members of the House and Senate) in 2006 were invested in companies that are primarily in the defense sector. The average share price of these corporations today is nearly twice what it was in 2004. Lawmakers’ investments in these contracting firms yielded them between $15.8 million and $62 million in income between 2004 and 2006, through dividends, capital gains, royalties and interest, the Center found.

Companies with congressional investors received more than $275.6 billion from the government in 2006. The minimum value of Congress members’ personal investments in defense contracting firms increased 5 percent from 2004 to 2006, but because lawmakers are only required to report their assets in broad ranges, the value of these investments could have risen as much as 160 percent—or even dropped 51 percent.

The above data is only the personal gain minus ‘the lobby’ gain. There is more into this:

Lawmakers aren’t just benefiting from the defense sector personally, but also politically. In the first three months of 2009, the defense sector gave nearly $2 million to candidates, party committees and political action committees, with 57 percent of that going to Democrats. In the 2008 election cycle, the sector gave $23.5 million. Rep. John Murtha (D-Penn.), House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee chairman, has collected more money from the sector than any other lawmaker since 1989 at $2.6 million. Murtha has gotten some heat—and a lot of attention—this year for his connections to now-defunct lobbying firm PMA Group, which the FBI is investigating for allegedly violating campaign finance laws. The firm’s clients were primarily defense companies that sought earmarks from Murtha’s subcommittee.

This is the sorry state of those entrusted with the oversight of our government and its practices. So who has the oversight of these overseers? Who gets to watch for these kinds of mammoth conflicts of interests, and who gets to hold the overseers who’ve been given the authority to exercise accountability accountable? Last time I checked, that was ‘we, the people.’ Now when will we, the people, start exercising these rights? When will we say ‘it is time to kick out, haul out, some from the place called the United States Congress? Just asking…