Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Creeping American Totalitarianism: A Nation of Spies and Informers

Sometimes, I wish Orwell was alive today, just to see how his own country became the world's leader in the use of cameras in public places (and in many cases even in private homes), or of course his erstwhile allies in the American government, whose growing likeness for tactics from the playbook of  circa 1937 Soviet Union would make Stalin smile with beaming approval.  And how strange it is to see the so-called freedom lovers in the US calling for Julian Assange's head, Pvt. Manning's "treasonous" acts summarily choked with a hangman's noose (if only he had a fetishism for Confederate flags), the execution of Mike Vick, the spying and torture of us all (except white Christians), etc., but Athena help you if you want health care or some unemployment benefits.  No, that is the kind of socialism the liberty-lovers from Oath Keepers cannot tolerate.  Of course, when it comes time for these two-faced snitches to fork over your information to the same "evil" federal government, it is quite OK, even necessary.  Enter, our Orwellian state.

[Note: I am only posting the first page of this excellent story, as it is too long, even for this blog site.  The URL for the remainder of the article will be posted below.]

Monitoring America
Nine years after the terrorist attacks of 2001, the United States is assembling a vast domestic intelligence apparatus to collect information about Americans, using the FBI, local police, state homeland security offices and military criminal investigators.

The system, by far the largest and most technologically sophisticated in the nation's history, collects, stores and analyzes information about thousands of U.S. citizens and residents, many of whom have not been accused of any wrongdoing.

The government's goal is to have every state and local law enforcement agency in the country feed information to Washington to buttress the work of the FBI, which is in charge of terrorism investigations in the United States.

Other democracies - Britain and Israel, to name two - are well acquainted with such domestic security measures. But for the United States, the sum of these new activities represents a new level of governmental scrutiny.

This localized intelligence apparatus is part of a larger Top Secret America created since the attacks. In July, The Washington Post described an alternative geography of the United States, one that has grown so large, unwieldy and secretive that no one knows how much money it costs, how many people it employs or how many programs exist within it.

Today's story, along with related material on The Post's Web site, examines how Top Secret America plays out at the local level. It describes a web of 3,984 federal, state and local organizations, each with its own counterterrorism responsibilities and jurisdictions. At least 934 of these organizations have been created since the 2001 attacks or became involved in counterterrorism for the first time after 9/11.

(Search our database for your state to find a detailed profile of counterterrorism efforts in your community.)

The months-long investigation, based on nearly 100 interviews and 1,000 documents, found that:

* Technologies and techniques honed for use on the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan have migrated into the hands of law enforcement agencies in America.

* The FBI is building a database with the names and certain personal information, such as employment history, of thousands of U.S. citizens and residents whom a local police officer or a fellow citizen believed to be acting suspiciously. It is accessible to an increasing number of local law enforcement and military criminal investigators, increasing concerns that it could somehow end up in the public domain.

* Seeking to learn more about Islam and terrorism, some law enforcement agencies have hired as trainers self-described experts whose extremist views on Islam and terrorism are considered inaccurate and counterproductive by the FBI and U.S. intelligence agencies.

* The Department of Homeland Security sends its state and local partners intelligence reports with little meaningful guidance, and state reports have sometimes inappropriately reported on lawful meetings.

The need to identify U.S.-born or naturalized citizens who are planning violent attacks is more urgent than ever, U.S. intelligence officials say. This month's FBI sting operation involving a Baltimore construction worker who allegedly planned to bomb a Maryland military recruiting station is the latest example. It followed a similar arrest of a Somali-born naturalized U.S. citizen allegedly seeking to detonate a bomb near a Christmas tree lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore. There have been nearly two dozen other cases just this year.

"The old view that 'if we fight the terrorists abroad, we won't have to fight them here' is just that - the old view," Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told police and firefighters recently.

The Obama administration heralds this local approach as a much-needed evolution in the way the country confronts terrorism.

However, just as at the federal level, the effectiveness of these programs, as well as their cost, is difficult to determine. The Department of Homeland Security, for example, does not know how much money it spends each year on what are known as state fusion centers, which bring together and analyze information from various agencies within a state.

The total cost of the localized system is also hard to gauge. The DHS has given $31 billion in grants since 2003 to state and local governments for homeland security and to improve their ability to find and protect against terrorists, including $3.8 billion in 2010. At least four other federal departments also contribute to local efforts. But the bulk of the spending every year comes from state and local budgets that are too disparately recorded to aggregate into an overall total.


I should also note that Dana Priest is the same reporter who, back in 2005, revealed the existence of CIA flyover torture camps, or 'black sites,' and the cooperative use of extraordinary rendition.  All of this was considered top secret at the time, and I have no doubt there were not an infrequent number of Blue Dogs and Republicans who felt she should have been silenced (or worse) for those revelations (in the same way they want to torture, assassinate, and/or imprison anyone associated with WikiLeaks).  I cannot help but wonder why this is not the focus of anti-government ire and those who think that our government is too centralized and out of control.  As I write this our friends at Fort Meade are spying on us all--cataloging our phone calls, monitoring our internet activity, chats, texts, and doing this without any semblance of respect for a warrant or probable cause. And with any luck the local fuzz might be keeping tabs and handing over information on you, as well.  Such is our respect and love for individualism.

The most upsetting part is that this is the most authoritarian aspect of American political culture since 9/11, and it is one that the two parties will not question or even allow a debate over.  That it takes a libertarian flake like Ron Paul to say anything critical, while the leadership of both parties crumble to their knees in acquiescence to this real existing government takeover of our freedoms, is the worst because it means that this type of police state is here to stay.  

I truly hope that I am wrong, but unless the courts step in I do think I will be.  Our Congress, President (regardless of party affiliation), and Supreme Court are either unwilling or incapable of defending even the most rank violations of our Constitutional rights in this country.  This is compounded by a Supreme Court ruling earlier this year that validated a government prosecution of a human rights group on the grounds of "material support" of terrorism for merely communicating with a terrorist group (even as a means to pacify and convince them of the errors of their ways).  I am not very confident that this court will be stepping in for the rights of any of us from having our lives chronicled and used against us without legal recourse.  And once our government, by fiat, has eliminated any respect for its own laws and traditions, those laws and traditions lose their meaning.  I wish it could be stated another way, one with a more positive outcome in mind, but it would be dishonest to dodge calling things for what they are:  For all intents and purposes, our Fourth Amendment rights are basically dead (with only the duration of this amendment's cancellation and possibility of reintroduction being in doubt).

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

DADT Victory

It is easy sometimes to lose perspective on things, especially if you are a progressive politically.  Simply put, 90% of the time we are on the losing end, even after winning an election.  That is nothing new.  However, we should still look back and pay respects to those times when we (all of us, as citizens) win.

Like with civil rights, we are on the right side of LGBT rights.  It is an issue that is a recent phenomenon in US political history, and it is not one that most people would have seen as a viable issue well into the 2000s.  Indeed, in 1990 80% of Americans polled thought that homosexuality was immoral and/or wrong in some way.  Today, 77% of Americans favor repealing the military's don't-ask-don't-tell policy restricting open gays and lesbians in the armed forces (and the country is almost evenly split on gay marriage).  That is not a minor achievement.  Neither is today's vote, in the US House of Representatives, repealing DADT.

House votes again to lift restrictions on gays

WASHINGTON – For the second time this year the House voted to dismantle the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy, giving the Senate a final shot in the waning days of this Congress at changing a law requiring thousands of uniformed gays to hide their sexual identity.

The strong 250-175 House vote Wednesday propels the issue to the Senate, where supporters of repeal say they have the votes but perhaps not the time to get the bill to the floor. It could be the last chance for some time to end the 1993 law that forbids recruiters from asking about sexual orientation and troops from acknowledging that they are gay.

Democratic leaders in the Senate say they are committed to bringing the bill to the floor before Congress adjourns for the year. But they are challenged by opposition from some Republicans and a daunting agenda that includes finishing work on legislation to fund the government and ratifying a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.

No time has been set for a Senate vote on repealing "don't ask, don't tell." Failure to overturn the policy this year could relegate the issue to the back burner next year when Republicans, who are far less supportive of allowing openly gay individuals to serve in the military, take over the House and gain strength in the Senate.
President Barack Obama, in a statement Wednesday night, said he applauded the House vote. In reiterating his support for ending the ban, he pointed to backing for repeal from the defense secretary and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"Moving forward with the repeal is not only the right thing to do, it will also give our military the clarity and certainty it deserves," Obama said. "We must ensure that Americans who are willing to risk their lives for their country are treated fairly and equally by their country."

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said in a statement after the House vote that Defense Secretary Robert Gates encourages the Senate to lift the ban and thus enable the Defense Department "to carefully and responsibly manage a change in this policy instead of risking an abrupt change resulting from a decision in the courts."

Last May the House voted 234-194 in favor of repeal legislation as part of a larger defense bill. The measure has stalled twice in the Senate, where Republicans have objected to taking up the defense bill laded with contentious issues, including "don't ask, don't tell."

"Now is the time for us to act," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday, and "close the door on a fundamental unfairness in our nation."

Gaveling the end of the vote was Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., one of the House's few openly gay members. Frank, in his floor speech, said it was "bigoted nonsense" that "the presence of someone like me will so destabilize our brave young men and women that they will be unable to do their duty."

"This vote," said Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Pa., the Iraq war veteran who sponsored the bill, "is about whether we're going to continue telling people willing to die for our freedoms that they need to lie in order to do so."
Many Republicans, led by Sen. John McCain of Arizona, argue that it would be a mistake for the military to undergo a major cultural change while the nation is fighting two wars.

Implementation of any new policy should begin "when our singular focus is no longer on combat operations or preparing units for combat," said Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon of California, top Republican on the Armed Services Committee.

The issue also has split the military. Gates and other senior military leaders support lifting the restrictions on gay service, pointing to a recent Pentagon study showing that most people in uniform don't object to serving with gays. But the head of the Marine Corps, Commandant Gen. James Amos, repeated his opposition this week, saying that lifting the ban during wartime could cost lives.

"I don't want to lose any Marines to the distraction," Amos said.

The White House, in a statement in support of repeal, stressed that the change would go into effect only after the president, the secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff certify that implementation is consistent with military readiness, recruiting and retention and unit cohesion.

Joe Solmonese, the president of the gay rights group Human Rights Campaign, said Wednesday's vote means the House has confirmed for the second time what military leaders, most troops and the American public have been saying, that "the only thing that matters on the battlefield is the ability to do the job."

"It is up to the Senate to consign this failed and discriminatory law to the dustbin of history," Solmonese said.
The House, in introducing the stand-alone bill, sought to avoid the complications of combining it with a general defense bill. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., also promoted a stand-alone bill in the Senate. Supporters say they have the 60 votes for passage if they can get it to the Senate floor. 

"It is now the Senate's turn to take the final step toward overturning this discriminatory policy," Collins and Lieberman said in a statement. "We are out of excuses." 

A major hurdle has been a Republican pledge to block all legislation until the Senate completes work on tax cut and government funding. The Senate on Wednesday passed the compromise on extending tax cuts worked out by the White House and Republicans. 

More than 13,500 service members have been dismissed under the 1993 law. 

The Obama administration, while supporting the repeal, is appealing the ruling of a California federal judge that the ban on gays serving openly in the military is unconstitutional. The administration says Congress should overturn the policy. But gay rights groups say they will shift their focus back to the courts if Congress fails to act.
The bill is H.R. 2965.


True, the Senate may not vote to repeal it, although I hope it does.  Senator John McCain and his merry band of anti-big government bigots (who ironically want the government involved on this issue) might get lucky and win the day.  And the courts might rule against it, but all of that is a formality.  Stopping the turns of history in democracies that necessitate extensions of rights to previously excluded groups is going to be, at most, a temporary stopgap.  It is not going to be permanent.  The fact a majority of Republicans and even self-described white Evangelicals support repealing the ban basically means that politically DADT is untenable.  It is going to be coming to an end.  It is just a matter of when.

Yes, I hope it is ending sooner, like this month, right now even, but there is a major cultural shift that is occurring with this country's attitudes toward members of the LGBT community and it is significant.  And if this trend continues, we will finally be fulfilling our claimed belief in equal treatment under the law on the issue of marriage, adoption rights, anti-discrimination and civil rights laws, etc., and it is a wonderful pattern for this country.

If only more of our issues moved this way, but I am certain of this much.  Within my lifetime, LGTB folk will be having state-recognized wedding ceremonies in the Bible belt.

UPDATE:  We won!  The Senate voted to lift the ban, 65-31.  This might seem symbolic but it is huge, considering what this same Senate has done (or refused to do) to/for 9/11 responders, people without health insurance, and immigrants in the past year.  It is nice that we finally won on one issue this session, and to those members of the LGTB community who will be afforded the chance to serve in our armed forces, hopefully, this is just the beginning of the drive for full and equal rights in this country.  It is long overdue.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Ron Paul & WikiLeaks

I am no libertarian or an admirer of the politics of Ron Paul.  He thinks the Confederacy was right, that slavery and segregation could have been resolved by market forces, and that unions should not be allowed to legally exist.  Not surprisingly, Ron Paul supporters tend to be young white cads from middle-to-upper income homes, not infrequently from gated communities, and mirrors (from those I have encountered over the years) the near cultish blindness one would see in a religion.

All of the aforementioned notwithstanding, Ron Paul is also the only Republican in the House or Senate who is not bought and sold.  Love or hate him, you will always know his views on just about every issue, regardless of the assuaging powers of any lobbyist.  There are few Democrats, for that matter, who pass that muster in Congress.  Dennis Kucinich is one.  Russ Feingold is another.  Maybe Bernie Sanders on a good day.  That is it.  Out of 535 members of Congress, there are less than a half dozen who are not repositories for campaign sponsors.

Few issues have upset me more about President Barack Obama than his hypocrisy and cowardice on whistleblowers (well, next to purposely dynamiting, I mean 'compromising' away, the public option and previous opposition to tax cuts for the upper 1% income tax bracket).  Here is candidate Obama on the importance of protecting civil liberties back in 2008.

I am many things (carnivore, evil doer, pinko prof), but I am  no blind supporter of Barack Obama.  When I voted for him back in 2008, I fully expected then candidate Obama to sellout on the economy, taxes, and even health care.  However, there were very few issues in which candidate Obama was more vociferous about than his opposition to the authoritarian national security policies of George Bush.  It is one of the reasons why I voted for him, even knowing he would betray progressives on most everything else.  Well, low and behold, our most esteemed spine-averse President found time to even betray us on that.

Is it any wonder why Bill Clinton is such a supporter of Obama's cave-in to Republicans on tax cuts?  There is nothing a sufferer of Stockholm Syndrome for the American Enterprise Institute loves more than a fellow philistine.

Enter Ron Paul.  Here is his recent speech before the House floor on WikiLeaks.  Notice, he is (at this point) the only member of the US Congress that I know of who has the guts to come out and say these things.

That is exactly the kind of speech and position our President promised to have, but has (like on everything else) stabbed us in the back on. And that is exactly the position the person who wrote our First Amendment would have, if he were alive today. It speaks volumes that Ron Paul is one of the few members of our elected body who has the gumption to call this hysteria for what it is. For that, kudos to you, Rep. Paul. You are on the side of right and Barack Obama, sadly, on the side of those (like Sarah Palin and the rest of the Republican Party establishment) who want to turn this country into a monitor hall, replete with assassination lists, cataloged phone calls, warrantless searches, rationalized torture, and suspension of habeas corpus. If only Rep. Paul had the same love for the common laborer of this country, but at least when it comes to speech he is a vast improvement over the current occupant of the West Wing.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Teabagging for Earmarks

By the standards of the Tea Party Express, our teabagging friends from the right in Congress are certifiably socialist, possibly even Marxist.  Why?  Well, because these welfare cases are taking in over $1 billion of our tax money for earmarks, while telling us how we need to abolish earmarks and cut back on federal spending, of course.

Anti-earmark Tea Party Caucus takes $1 billion in earmarks

by Reid Wilson
National Journal

Members of the Congressional Tea Party Caucus may tout their commitment to cutting government spending now, but they used the 111th Congress to request hundreds of earmarks that, taken cumulatively, added more than $1 billion to the federal budget.

According to a Hotline review of records compiled by Citizens Against Government Waste, the 52 members of the caucus, which pledges to cut spending and reduce the size of government, requested a total of 764 earmarks valued at $1,049,783,150 during Fiscal Year 2010, the last year for which records are available.

"It's disturbing to see the Tea Party Caucus requested that much in earmarks. This is their time to put up or shut up, to be blunt," said David Williams, vice president for policy at Citizens Against Government Waste. "There's going to be a huge backlash if they continue to request earmarks."

In founding the caucus in July, Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said she was giving voice to Americans who were sick of government over-spending.

"The American people are speaking out loud and clear. They have had enough of the spending, the bureaucracy, and the government knows best mentality running rampant today throughout the halls of Congress," Bachmann said in a July 15 statement. The group, she wrote in a letter to House Administration Committee chairman Bob Brady, "will serve as an informal group of Members dedicated to promote Americans' call for fiscal responsibility, adherence to the Constitution, and limited government."

Bachmann and 13 of her Tea Party Caucus colleagues did not request any earmarks in the last Fiscal Year, according to CAGW's annual Congressional Pig Book. But others have requested millions of dollars in special projects.

Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), for one, attached his name to 69 earmarks in the last fiscal year, for a total of $78,263,000. The 41 earmarks Rep. Rodney Alexander (R-La.) requested were worth $65,395,000. Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.) wanted $63,400,000 for 39 special projects, and Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) wanted $93,980,000 set aside for 47 projects.

Rep. Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.) takes the prize as the Tea Partier with his name on the most earmarks. Rehberg's office requested funding for 88 projects, either solely or by co-signing earmarks requests with Sens. Max Baucus (D) and Jon Tester (D), at a cost of $100,514,200. On his own, Rehberg requested 20 earmarks valued at more than $9.6 million.

More than one member can sign onto an earmark. Still, there are 29 caucus members who requested on their own or joined requests for more than $10 million in earmark funding, and seven who wanted more than $50 million in funding.

Most offices did not respond right away to a request for comment. Those that did said they supported Republicans' new efforts to ban earmarks.

Alexander, for one, "stands with his fellow Republicans in the House in supporting the current earmark ban. Since joining the Tea Party Caucus in July, he has not submitted any earmark requests and has withdrawn his outstanding requests that were included in the most recent Water Resources Development Act," said Jamie Hanks, his communications director.

Rep. Gregg Harper (R-Miss.), who requested 25 earmarks in the last Fiscal Year at a total cost of just over $80 million, has agreed to abide by the Republican earmark ban, according to spokesman Adam Buckalew. "He supported the moratorium and the prohibition adopted recently by the Conference on House earmarks for the 112th Congress," Buckalew said of Harper.

"It's easy to be a member of the TEA Party Caucus because, like them, I agree that we're Taxed Enough Already and we've got to balance the budget by cutting spending instead of raising taxes. Deficit spending is not new, but the unprecedented rate of spending in Congress is," Rehberg said in a statement emailed by his office. "Montanans have tightened their belts, and it's way past time for Congress to follow their lead. The TEA Party Caucus is about listening to concerned Americans who want to fundamentally change how Congress spends their tax dollars. On that, we're in total agreement."

Bachmann's office did not respond to emails or phone calls seeking comment.

Still, some Republicans -- albeit none who belong to the Tea Party caucus -- have said they will not abide by the voluntary earmark ban. And, said CAGW's Williams, the anti-spending organization isn't waiting with baited breath.

"Seeing is believing. It's going to take a lot more than rhetoric to convince us," he said.

A list of Tea Party Caucus members and their earmark requests in Fiscal Year 2010, courtesy of Citizens Against Government Waste's Pig Book:
Aderholt (R-AL).................69..............$78,263,000
Akin (R-MO)........................9..............$14,709,000
Alexander (R-LA)..............41..............$65,395,000
Bachmann (R-MN)..............0....................0
Barton (R-TX)....................14..............$12,269,400
Bartlett (R-MD)..................19..............$43,060,650
Bilirakis (R-FL)..................14..............$13,600,000
R. Bishop (R-UT)...............47...............$93,980,000
Burgess (R-TX)..................15...............$15,804,400
Broun (R-GA)......................0....................0
Burton (R-IN)......................0....................0
Carter (R-TX)....................26...............$42,232,000
Coble (R-NC)....................19................$18,755,000
Coffman (R-CO).................0.....................0
Crenshaw (R-FL)...............37...............$54,424,000
Culberson (R-TX)       22        $33,792,000
Fleming (R-LA)         10        $31,489,000
Franks (R-AZ)           8        $14,300,000
Gingrey (R-GA)         19        $16,100,000
Gohmert (R-TX)         15         $7,099,000
S. Graves (R-MO)       11         $8,331,000
R. Hall (R-TX)         16        $12,232,000
Harper (R-MS)          25        $80,402,000
Herger (R-CA)           5         $5,946,000
Hoekstra (R-MI)         9         $6,392,000
Jenkins (R-KS)         12        $24,628,000
S. King (R-IA)         13         $6,650,000
Lamborn (R-CO)          6        $16,020,000
Luetkemeyer (R-MO)      0                  0
Lummis (R-WY)           0                  0
Marchant (R-TX)         0                  0
McClintock (R-CA)       0                  0
Gary Miller (R-CA)     15        $19,627,500
Jerry Moran (R-KS)     22        $19,400,000
Myrick (R-NC)           0                  0
Neugebauer (R-TX)       0                  0
Pence (R-IN)            0                  0
Poe (R-TX)             12         $7,913,000
T. Price (R-GA)         0                  0
Rehberg (R-MT)         88       $100,514,200
Roe (R-TN)              0                  0
Royce (R-CA)            7         $6,545,000
Scalise (R-LA)         20        $17,388,000
P. Sessions (R-TX)      0                  0
Shadegg (R-AZ)          0                  0
Adrian Smith (R-NE)     1           $350,000
L. Smith (R-TX)        18        $14,078,000
Stearns (R-FL)         17        $15,472,000
Tiahrt (R-KS)          39        $63,400,000
Wamp (R-TN)            14        $34,544,000
Westmoreland (R-GA)     0                  0
Wilson (R-SC)          15        $23,334,000
TOTAL                 764     $1,049,783,150
Visit National Journal for more political news.


Notice, this is the same group filled with the loving ranks of people like Rep. King, who compares giving black farmers in this country who were discriminated against monies that are owed them a form of slave reparations.

And Republicans wonder why African-Americans and non-white folk vote Democratic?  And guess how this lover of all things pale voted when it came time to take almost a half trillion tax dollars for government health care, in pure deficit spending, with the Medicare Prescription Drug, Improvement, and Modernization Act, and numerous farm subsidies (over $1 billion worth in his Congressional career) for his corporate agri-business allies back home in Iowa?  Oh, I think we already know the answer to that one.  Naturally, to Steven King, that is not reparations for whitey.  It is just taking your money.  If any of you teabagger supporters have yet to discover, you voted for a bunch of cynics who are taking you for a ride, a ride you richly deserve for being such fools.  Congratulations.