An intellectual freedom blog with an emphasis on libraries and technology

Sunday, April 29, 2007

George Tenet on 60 Minutes

I usually do not watch 60 Minutes as the creative editing of any given interviewee tends to show what the producers and the talking heads want the audience to see. Despite this, I could not resist watching George Tenet's interview. I had already read a juicy passage from his new book, courtesy of Glenn Greenwald's Unclaimed Territory, that woke me up this morning.

A New York Times piece recounts the passage that describes Tenet's discovery of an "off the books" operation to de-stabilize the Iranian government. During a meeting with Italian intelligence officials the Italians ask him about the recent contacts between Pentagon officials and Iranian dissidents living abroad. When they realize that none of the Americans at the table knew what they were talking about they quickly changed the subject.

Tenet on 60 Minutes scared the crap out of me. He refused to acknowledge that the U.S. intelligence agencies use torture. He yelled at the interviewer and insisted that "he wouldn't debate semantics" with him and repeatedly stated that they do not torture. But the use of the words "enhanced interrogation techniques" he left undefined. I also caught how he limited his comments to "just the program we're discussing" in order to confine his comments to only one operation by the CIA while under his leadership. Thus he very deftly avoided incurring any accusation of lying on TV when details of other "programs" come to light (some already have). He can always say he wasn't talking about that program. The talking head interviewing him let this pass.

His account of how the Niger uranium bogus allegation found its way into the State of the Union address sounded very fishy. He claimed that he had shot it down and insisted on its removal from two previous speeches. The State of the Union one he delegated to an underling. Oops. What does that say about the staff in the White House that they kept trying to put this bogus statement into speeches after repeated rebuffs from the CIA director? And what does it say about Tenet that after the speech he did not resign in protest? (Keep in mind that Tenet and other high ranking government officials are millionaires. He wouldn't starve or have to work as a town dog-catcher).

And one additional interesting revelation came during the part about the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. On September 12th Tenet comes to the White House with airline manifests showing the Al-Queda members on the airplane and Richard Perle tells him that Iraq is going to have to pay for this attack. In the interview Tenet stated emphatically that he told the White House that there existed no connection whatsoever between Iraq, and Saddam Hussein with Al-Queda and Bin Laden. How did it happen then, that opinion polls of soldiers on active duty in Iraq showed that over 60% of them believe that Iraq had some involvement in the September 11th attacks? How did they get that idea? Will this 60 Minutes interview find its way to the airwaves in the U.S. Military bases in Iraq (maybe they can squeeze it in between the continuous feeds of Rush Limbaugh shows?)

As a friend of mine commented recently, the rats are leaving the sinking ship, and they're really obvious about it. In his attempt to jump clear of the Bush Administration's coming train wreck Tenet did not come off very well. He and others proved willing and enthusiastic enablers to keep their positions of power and status by going along with the Bush Administration's plans and machinations. I find it very indicative of his character that by his own admission Tenet resigned not when White House staff sidelined his Agency when they opened up a Oliver North-like rouge operation and did not tell him about it. But he resigned when someone (as yet unknown) leaked an embarrassing statement to make him into the scapegoat for the intelligence failure that justified the war. The interview tonight makes clear to me that he had plenty of opportunities to see where allegiance to the Bush Administration would lead him and plenty of opportunities to resign in a way that would have allowed him to "take the high road" and preserve his integrity. If he didn't want to go down with the cult then he shouldn't have drunk the Kook Aid.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Capital Eye

In the 90s I enjoyed reading through web sites such as The Coin Operated Congress by Mother Jones (discontinued in 2001) and The best congress money can buy from the Center for Responsive Politics (Discontinued in 1994). I recently discovered the legacy of one of these sites: The Capital Eye. Although it does not include a searchable database such as the ones from the 90s, it has loads of factual information from the Center for Responsive Politics. Find out who's buying Edwards, Clinton and Obama (as well as Giuliani, McCain and Romney - to name a few).

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Freedom of Speech vs. the Public Airways

I highly recommend to anyone who can find a copy, that you watch the Bill Moyers' documentary Free Speech For Sale. He reviews three instances of the freedom to say whatever you like enjoyed only by those who can afford it. In particular, the Telecommunications reform act of 1996 (a monstrosity signed into law by President Clinton, for those who are keeping score of Republican v. Democratic misdeeds) consolidated a still growing monopoly of broadcast media in the hands of a few billionaires. You can say what you like, but in many cases, you can not even Pay to be heard.

The most notorious of the examples of an advertisement that could not get on the air was in 1993 when a group of non-profit healthcare advocacy organizations could not find a network to air a 15 second spot in which a grandmother sitting in a rocking chair asked simply how much more money we would have for health care if we did not have to pay for marketing, advertising and the high salaries of top management of HMOs and other insurance companies. The do-gooders had the cash to pay for the commercial to air, but no one would take it. At the time the Nation reported that the networks feared antagonizing the Health Insurance industry and lose much more advertising revenue (you know, all those commercials telling us how wonder Kaiser or some other HMO is) than just the few hundred thousand dollars it cost to show a 15-second spot only once. (Beltway bandits: Banned in Boston The Nation. New York: Jun 14, 1993.Vol.256, Iss. 23; pg. 824, 1 pgs)

What does this have to do with some asshole in a cowboy hat making racist comments about a women's college basketball team? I find most the discussion about free speech implications of this incident somewhat absurd. The loud-mouths like Imus or Howard Stern or others have little or nothing to say of any interest to anyone. But they prove entertaining in their pointless rants and pursuit of cheap laughs. They sell advertising. I read this morning that CBS has pulled the plug on Imus' radio show. Does this constitute censorship? No more than Me not having a radio show constitutes censorship. If Imus thinks he has something important and/or entertaining to say he can do his own podcast, just like the rest of us. Imus comes under the same sort of rules that govern the rest of us. We can have a radio or TV show if we can find advertisers to sponsor us. Both inflicting Imus on the airwaves as well as removing him from broadcast media resulted from business decisions.

The networks have a government enforced license to broadcast at a given power level on a given frequency in a given geographic area. Our tax money pays for the FCC and other law enforcement agencies to kick down doors (sometimes literally) to shut down pirate radio stations that "step" on the license holder's frequency. In order to keep the airwaves usable, and not a constant buzz of static as a mass of heterodynes cancel each other out, the FCC and some sort of orderly system for allowing a given party to use a given frequency in a given place must exist. But because the airwaves belong to the pubic, the license holders must provide some form of public service. In theory we should receive a variety of views and investigative reporting that actually reveals something important. Instead they gave us Imus. That the networks pulled the plug on Imus does not constitute censorship. That they inflicted him on us in the first place was the censorship. The empty place in the airwaves that should contain some better service to the public, the empty place in the airwaves where the commercials such as the one mentioned above should have run, the empty space in the airwaves where the public good demands investigative reporting -- they have to fill that empty space in the airwaves with something. If Imus had ever said anything worth listening to in the first place the networks would have pulled the plug on his show ages ago. No one would mention any content or comment as the cause, only "declining advertising revenues." The same reason they have pulled the plug on him now.

The excuse that the networks only give us what we "want" remains absurd on its face. GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. If sponsors refuse to advertise on Air America or Hightower Radio then how can we know what we are missing? Does the world lack dynamic speakers who call attention to aspects of the day's news that others do not? Does the world lack people who can speak eloquently about issues of interest to most of us? How can we know if no one will sponsor a radio show for them? A media monopoly has effectively filtered out anyone who in any way challenges or does not support the corporations that control the airwaves. For the rest of us there are podcasts and blogs. Some asinine shock-jock got his racist ass kicked off the corporate media gravy-train. Imus is nothing more than a monkey who shit on one welcome mat too many. The real problem we have is with the organ grinder.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

What if a Clinton did this?

Standard disclaimer: I am not a fan of the Clintons. I regard Hilary Clinton's "promises" of a national health care system the way that Charlie Brown should regard Lucy's offer not to pull the football away instead of letting him kick it. I do not perceive the Clintons or most any democrat as "liberals." After the fall of labor unions the democrats had to go to the same trough as the the Republicans to gather enough money to run a campaign for public office and had to rely more heavily on privileged white college students for campaign workers. This turned the U.S. into a de facto plutocracy resulting in the degree of cluelessness and paralysis that our government displays, regardless of which "party" happens to be in power. That said, the democrats have proven considerably less toxic than the neocons that the GOP has installed into the Presidency.

And the question of whether the same standards apply to everyone still stands. Do the Republicans' followers and the voters fail to see how inane they look when they have a cow over something that a Clinton does then not raise an eyebrow when one of their own does the exactly the same? I would never seek to defend President Clinton's administration (but my disapproval comes from very different reasons than the silly-assed scandals that Kenneth Star & co. manufactured). But I am certain that if all the people who scream about morality and ethics and "does he have the character to lead" would apply the same principles to everyone more-or-less equally we would have a very different (and somewhat improved) government.

Take a look at this entry in the blog: Neocons in Love. Paul Wolfowitz, currently President of the World Bank and previously the architect of the present war in Iraq, installed his girlfriend in a high position within the World Bank, gave her raises in contradiction to Bank policy. When caught, she landed in a job in the State Dept. (while still on the payroll of the World Bank). Presently, she earns more than Condoleeza Rice.

Now imagine if a Clinton did something like this. To paraphrase one of my favorite bloggers, (Bob Harris : "We'd hear howling and hissing from the right-wing that would frighten wildlife."

Definition: Government run by and for the wealthy.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

What they didn't teach us in Library School

Libraries as 19th century lunatic asylums

This essay in Tomsdispatch describes why I do not work in public libraries anymore. People use them for anything but places to read or research. People use them as free day-care for their children, and also as day facilities for homeless mentally ill people. We're not trained for this and caring for possibly dangerous deeply disturbed people is not what most expect when entering the library profession. But the unwillingness of the rest of the society to deal with this population means, at least during operating hours, we librarians have to.

Librarian Chip Ward wrote an incredible and very imporant essay on his real life experiences dealing with homeless mentally ill people on a day to day basis. Read the essay and introduction for yourself.

The most interesting part of this was the reference to studies that show we pay between $20,000 and $150,000 per mentally ill homeless person per year, depending on the city, for the costs of caring for them when they do go to the hospital or have to be incarcerated. I hope to find more information about these studies and will post them here if I can. If the figures prove verifiable then we are paying an awful lot to ignore people.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Hidden subtexts and innocence is no defense published an editorial by one of the fired U.S. Attorney, Bud Cummings, which contained a reminder of the power that the people have given the government. I must admit, this consideration remained hidden to me until I read a passage of Mr. Cummings' editorial which hit me like a brick:

"When a federal prosecutor sends FBI agents to your brother's house with an arrest warrant, demonstrating an intention to take away years of his liberty, separate him from his family, and take away his property, you and the public at large must have absolute confidence that the sole reason for those actions is that there was substantial evidence to suggest that your brother intentionally committed a federal crime. "

I almost forgot: due to another draconian piece of legislation, The RICO Act, the FBI and other law enforcement agencies can, with only an arrest, strip you of your property. It's called "Civil Asset Forfeiture" and various State and Local police have used it to fund their agencies, even reviewing old cases looking for "seizure opportunities." In the 1990s, Barlett and Steele of the Philadelphia Inquirer reviewed about 10,000 such cases and found a disproportionate number of people who were not really part of organized crime had their property confiscated without a trial or conviction. RICO's asset forfeiture provisions specifically target the suspect's assets before trial because of the resources available to organized crime members to hire high-priced lawyers. But the actual application of this has hit people like cancer or glaucoma patients who grow their own weed for their own use in self-medicating. My favorite is a case that reached the Supreme Court: "Bennis v. Michigan" in which a woman lost the family car she needed to go to work to support her children because her husband was arrested in it-- caught in the act with a prostitute. The majority opinion upholding the confiscation amounted to "innocence is no defense."

Years of the rest of us allowing blatant injustices and draconian legislation come to pass will come back to bite us all. Imagine this sort of power in the hands of someone intent upon using the agencies of government to punish and harass his political opponents. Oops! Already happened. Nixon, whose administration spawned the likes of Cheney and Rumsfeld, already tried that. And now the Bush administration has worked tirelessly to bring about a "unitary President." The steady erosion of civil liberties and protections may someday reach a saturation point (if it hasn't already) resulting in a President who can crush any political opposition with confication of property, IRS audits, and unfounded accusations gone unexplained because of the FBI's policy on not commenting on an ongoing investigation.

For years I have read or heard the rationalization: but if you're innocent you have nothing to worry about. Sorry, but innocence is no defense.

Another historical footnote:

I recall throughout the 80s and 90s the FBI would have a former agent accuse anti-war groups of "links with terrorist organizations" or "involvement in terrorist activities." Every time someone asked for substantiation, the official FBI spokesmen would say the standard disclaimer that the FBI has a policy of not commenting on an ongoing investigation. But starting in the late 1990s the National Security Archive at Georgetown University and the ACLU obtained documents showing no evidence of terrorist or violent activities by these groups. While trying to tack the "terrorist" label on Mothers Against Nuclear War the FBI wasted time and resources in addition to smearing people whose politics the FBI dislikes. One of my favorite references to verify this comes from an FBI agent named John Ryan, who in the 80s the FBI dismissed due to his refusal to follow orders to investigate anti-war groups such as Veterans Fast for Life and Swords to Plowshares. (He worked out of the Peoria, IL office and received the orders from the Chicago office). He stated flatly "I believe that in the past members of our government have used the FBI to quell dissent, sometimes where the dissent was warranted." (Herbert Mitgang's Dangerous Dossiers, NY : Fine, 1988, pp. 312-313).

Those interested in more information about the FBI and its practice of "bad-jacketing" take a look at Churchhill and Wall's Agents of Repression [corrected edition] (Boston : South End, c1990).