Saturday, August 2, 2008

A mere social club for old aristocrats

More from Chalmers Johnson's NEMESIS:

If the corruption of the legislative branch were not enough to scuttle the separation of powers, the Congress regularly goes out of its way to bow down to the president. After the press revealed that the National Security Agency was illegally eavesdropping on the private conversations of American citizens and that President Bush had trashed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the majority leadership in Congress introduced legislation that, in essence, would have retroactively forgiven him. As the New York Times editorialized, "Imagine being stopped for speeding and having the local legislature raise the limit so you won't have to pay the fine. It sounds absurd, but it's just what is happening to the 28-year old law that prohibits the president from spying on Americans without getting a warrant from a judge. It's a familiar pattern. President Bush ignores the Constitution and the laws of the land, and the cowardly, rigidly partisan majority in Congress helps him out by rewriting the law he's broken." A Congress that is indifferent to the separation of powers has given up its raison d'etre as surely as the roman Senate became a mere social club for old aristocrats paying obeisance to Augustus Ceasar.

A bit of sophistry intended to conceal routine corruption

Reading Chalmers Johnson's NEMESIS: The Last Days of the American Republic right now. Found this elucidation explanation of campaign contributions at fund-raisers on page 261:

It is important to stress that the distinction to Congress between a bribe and a legal donation is a bit of sophistry intended to conceal the routine corruption of our elected representatives. As Bill Moyers has put it, "If [in baseball] a player sliding into home plate reached into his pocket and handed the umpire $1000 before he made the call, what would we call that? A bribe. And if a lawyer handed a judge $1000 before he issued a ruling, what do we call that? A bribe. But when a lobbyist or CEO ... sidles up to a member of Congress at a fund-raiser or in a skybox and hands him a check for $1000, what do we call that? A campaign contribution.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Winning elections the old-fashioned way: by stealing them

I've written before about voter elections being stolen (here) and am encouraged that Greg Palast has Obama's ear on the matter. It's getting quite late in the game to do something about the following situations, but if nothing is done, or only small somethings, this election WILL be lost. Please note the results of Palast's investigations:

In swing-state Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State conducted the biggest purge of voters in history, dumping a fifth of all registrations. Guess their color.

In swing-state Florida, the state is refusing to accept about 85,000 new registrations from voter drives –
overwhelming Black voters.

In swing state New Mexico, HALF of the Democrats of Mora, a dirt poor and overwhelmingly Hispanic county, found their registrations disappeared this year, courtesy of a Republican voting contractor.

In swing states Ohio and Nevada, new federal law is knocking out tens of thousands of voters who lost their homes to foreclosure.

Palast needs to raise money to take advantage of a "major network prime time television newscast" opportunity along with an offer to produce a series of reports for national network radio. He needs funding. Neither the television network, nor the radio network are willing to fund the ventures.

Greg is an outstanding investigative journalist who cares about our country and our democracy. Any of you who can afford it, please contribute to his effort by linking to his website. Soon!

As I wrote early last May:

Whomever wins the Democratic nomination, a diligent ground effort will be required in all 50 states, but especially in "swing states" where the Republican party controls the voting apparatus. And that requires boots on the ground. And that means a united combined effort of all factions of the Democratic party, no matter whom their partisan candidate.

Without such an effort, IF this election can be stolen, it WILL be stolen. Right in plain sight. And with the MSM all in line (remember, their corporate owners have a vested interest Republican politicians; and failing that, they'll take the most corporate-compliant Democrat).

And if the election IS stolen, there will be sufficient finger-pointing and name-calling on the left to obscure the larger issue of theft (once again).

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Operating like a stealth paramilitary unit

Writing at Counterpunch, Mike Whitney notes that:

On Friday, after the market had closed, the FDIC shut down two more banks, First Heritage Bank and First National Bank. Kaboom. Two weeks earlier, regulators seized Indymac Bancorp following a run by depositors. The FDIC now operates like a stealth paramilitary unit, deploying its shock troops on the weekends to do their dirty work out of the public eye and at times when it will least effect the stock market. The reasons for this are obvious; there's only one thing the government hates more than seeing flag-draped coffins on the evening news, and that's seeing long lines of frantic people waiting impatiently to get what's left of their savings out of their now-deceased bank. Lines at the bank signal that the system is broken.

When in doubt, blame it all on the usual suspects -- internet blogs (fast becoming the newest threat, right up there next to commies, pinkos, fags, feminazis, dark-skinned aliens, elitists, intellectuals, democratics, and LIBERALS)

An article in the San Francisco Business Times said that the FDIC is worried about the reporting on Internet blogs. They'd rather keep the information about the troubles in the banking system out of the news. Sheila Bair, chairman of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., summed it up like this after the run on Indymac:

"The blogs were a bit out of control. We're very mindful of the media coverage and blogs in controlling misinformation. All I can say is [we're] going to continue to stay on top of it. The misinformation that came out over the weekend fed a lot of depositors' fears."

Monday, July 28, 2008

Did NSA's preemptive warrantless surveillance proposals predate 9-11 by 6 1/2 months?

In a recent post at Firedog Lake, Ian Welsh linked to Hugh's invaluable web site enumerating and documenting the seemingly endless (but as of today, July 28, 2008 - only 371) scandals involving or implicating the Bush adminiStration (BS).

Leaping off the pages of Hugh's was scandal #12:

12. Bush authorized warrantless NSA wiretapping in October 2001. However, Joseph Nacchio former CEO of Qwest convicted April 19, 2007 of insider trading reported that the NSA in a meeting on February 27, 2001 (1 month after Bush became President and 6 1/2 months before 9/11) tried to sign Qwest up to a warrantless surveillance program and that when Nacchio refused the NSA pulled hundreds of millions of dollars worth of contracts from the company.

At least part of Nacchio's account is verified by this USA Today article:

Among the big telecommunications companies, only Qwest has refused to help the NSA, the sources said. According to multiple sources, Qwest declined to participate because it was uneasy about the legal implications of handing over customer information to the government without warrants.

Qwest's refusal to participate has left the NSA with a hole in its database. Based in Denver, Qwest provides local phone service to 14 million customers in 14 states in the West and Northwest. But AT&T and Verizon also provide some services — primarily long-distance and wireless — to people who live in Qwest's region. Therefore, they can provide the NSA with at least some access in that area.


According to sources familiar with the events, Qwest's CEO at the time, Joe Nacchio, was deeply troubled by the NSA's assertion that Qwest didn't need a court order — or approval under FISA — to proceed. Adding to the tension, Qwest was unclear about who, exactly, would have access to its customers' information and how that information might be used.

Financial implications were also a concern, the sources said. Carriers that illegally divulge calling information can be subjected to heavy fines. The NSA was asking Qwest to turn over millions of records. The fines, in the aggregate, could have been substantial.

The NSA told Qwest that other government agencies, including the FBI, CIA and DEA, also might have access to the database, the sources said. As a matter of practice, the NSA regularly shares its information — known as "product" in intelligence circles — with other intelligence groups. Even so, Qwest's lawyers were troubled by the expansiveness of the NSA request, the sources said.

The NSA, which needed Qwest's participation to completely cover the country, pushed back hard.

Trying to put pressure on Qwest, NSA representatives pointedly told Qwest that it was the lone holdout among the big telecommunications companies. It also tried appealing to Qwest's patriotic side: In one meeting, an NSA representative suggested that Qwest's refusal to contribute to the database could compromise national security, one person recalled.

In addition, the agency suggested that Qwest's foot-dragging might affect its ability to get future classified work with the government. Like other big telecommunications companies, Qwest already had classified contracts and hoped to get more.

Unable to get comfortable with what NSA was proposing, Qwest's lawyers asked NSA to take its proposal to the FISA court. According to the sources, the agency refused.

The NSA's explanation did little to satisfy Qwest's lawyers. "They told (Qwest) they didn't want to do that because FISA might not agree with them," one person recalled. For similar reasons, this person said, NSA rejected Qwest's suggestion of getting a letter of authorization from the U.S. attorney general's office. A second person confirmed this version of events.

Interestingly, as reported by the Portland Business Journal an appeals court overturned Nacchio's conviction in March, 2008:

An appeals court overturned the conviction of former Qwest Communications International Inc. CEO Joseph Nacchio on Monday, sending the case back to be retried in district court.

In a 2-1 ruling, the three-judge panel from the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled that the U.S. District Court's exclusion of testimony from Nacchio's expert witness during the trial resulted in an unfair outcome.

In an October 11, 2007 article, WIRED Blog Network wrote about how the original trial Judge's decision to decline the deposition of witness and present a classified defense would be grounds for appeal.

The allegation is peppered throughout the highly redacted documents released by the lower court today, but are most clear in the introduction to this filing (.pdf) from April 2007.

Defendant Joseph P. Nacchio ... respectfully renews his objection to the Court's rulings excluding testimony surrounding his February 27, 2001 meeting at Ft. Meade with representatives from the National Security Agency (NSA) as violative of his constitutional right to mount a defense. Although Mr. Nacchio is allowed to tell the jury that he and James Payne went into that meeting expecting to talk about the "Groundbreaker" project and came out of the meeting with optimism about the prospect for 2001 revenue from NSA, the Court has prohibited Mr. Nacchio from eliciting testimony regarding what also occurred at that meeting. [REDACTED] The Court has also refused to allow Mr. Nacchio to demonstrate that the agency retaliated for this refusal by denying the Groundbreaker and perhaps other work to Qwest.

By being prevented from telling his full story to the jury or from fully and properly cross-examining any rebuttal witnesses, Mr. Nacchio has been deprived of the ability to explaoin why - after he came out of the February meeting with a reasonable, good faith, expectation that Qwest would be receiving significant contracts from NSA in 2001 ... Qwest was denied significant work.

[ed note. James Payne, Qwest's government liason who was also at February 27, 2001 meeting, later spoke with government agents in 2006].

In the interview, Mr. Payne confirmed that, at the February 27, 2001 meeting, "[t]here was some discussion about [redacted]. Mr. Payne also stated: Subsequent to the meeting the customer came back and expressed disappointment at Qwest's decision. Payne realized at this time that "no" was not going to be enough for them. Payne said they never actually said no and it went on for years. In meetings after meetings, they would bring it up. At one point, he suggested they just them, "no." Nacchio said it was a legal issue and that they could not do something their general counsel told them not to do. ... Nacchio projected that he might do it if they could find a way to do it legally.

There was a feeling also, that the NSA acted as agents for other government agencies and if Qwest frustrated the NSA, they would also frustrate other agencies.

Apparently there WAS a Fort Meade meeting with representatives of NSA on 27 February, 2001. What was discussed there has been redacted. It is more than reasonable to guess that it was a surveillance program.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, I suppose is that. We won't find out for certain now, Obama and the other quislings having sold out on FISA.

Content-less happy talk & idealogically driven fundamentalism

At the Center For American Progress, Eric Alternman and George Zornick have written an excellent piece on Al Gore's far reaching proposals to deal with the three inter-realated and immediate problems of the U.S. economic, environmental, and national security by addressing the one problem that is a root cause of these other three: a "dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels ... borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet."

Gore proposes that the U.S. develop technologies that favor renewable energy sources (solar, wind) and to do so within the next ten years. Despite the urgency of this plan, and the clear folly in pursuing the present energy policy (perpetual wars in the middle east to establish military bases there to help control the flow of oil, ratcheting up military antagonism of Russia, the world's leading exporter of energy, begging the Saudi's to increase production, offshore drilling in the U.S. and ANWAR) only 3% of the week's media's news coverage was devoted to energy and global warning.

Much of that 3% focus was "contributed" by the likes of Fox News which has continually dismissed the threat of global warming, been a cheer leader for the Bush administration's war mongering energy policies, and a snarky derider of all things Clintonian (including Al Gore, a Clintonian stand-in by virtue of having been the Vice President).

The Alterman / Zornick article concludes:

The crucial point here is not about Al Gore or even about America’s energy crisis or its environmental crisis; it is about our ability as a nation to discuss, and ultimately come to terms with, the problems we face as a society. It’s true that Gore laid out a daunting challenge, but those who disagree with his prognosis have an obligation to put forth an alternative—one that is based on evidence and is consistent with the scale of the problem. Instead, all we get is mindless chatter—a combination of content-less happy talk and ideologically driven fundamentalism.

The threat will not disappear because we choose to ignore it and mock those who take it seriously. This response is the equivalent of unilateral disarmament against a foe as deadly as any this country has faced since the end of fascism. But to most of the mainstream media, it’s just another cause to smirk and snark and congratulate themselves for their own cleverness.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Like children, easily manipulated

Digby tears apart the perputual RWNM meme about the liberal press:

The problem with our media isn't that they like or dislike a politician that we also like or don't like. It's that they treat politics like a celebrity game show and it makes it very difficult for the people to even know what their interests are, much less who best represents them. It doesn't help us if they are temporarily enamored of one of our candidates --- they are like children, easily manipulated for the right's purposes and after decades of pounding home the myth of the "liberal media" all it takes is the tiniest bit of open affection toward a Democrat to get the wingnut noise machine cranked up and ready to go.

An alien race far removed from ancestral roots

Patrick Lang comments on the overwhelming reception Obama has received in Europe:

Few Europeans understand the complexities of American politics or political culture. They think they do, but they do not. They tend to think that Americans are unsophisticated Europeans who would do better if they knew how. This view is largely self deception and based on a mistaken belief that the US is a cultural extension of Europe.

In fact, we are an alien race, far, far removed from ancestral roots. Most Americans are largely without ideology, without any sense of history that extends beyond the 4th of July and the date of their own birth, and without any interest in the outside world. Even the coastal zones are filled with people who have never been to any foreign country, do not have a passport and certainly do not speak any language other than the "English" of their region. Americans just do not care about worshipful crowds in any European city. A big crowd in Paris might actually hurt Obama's chances.