A Former President Suggests Self-Censorship; What Does That Mean for America?

A Different America is Being Created

By Linda Lewis

Recently, at the Clinton Global Initiative in Chicago, Trish Reagan asked former President Bill Clinton to share his thoughts on domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency (NSA) for Bloomberg TV.

Clinton defended the NSA programs as necessary, saying, “I don't see any alternative to trying to track all of these groups around the world that are trying to basically wreck the ordinary operations of life in America or kill a lot of people, and so far I'm not persuaded that they've done more harm than good." [Read more...]

The King’s Propaganda

The Astounding Hypocrisy of King Obama

“We must tell our children about how this evil was allowed to happen -- because so many people succumbed to their darkest instincts, and because so many others stood silent.”  – Barack Obama

propagandaWhen President Obama spoke those words at the Holocaust Memorial Museum last Monday, he was referring to atrocities committed by the government of Nazi Germany.  He urged nations to learn from the Holocaust and commit to preventing new atrocities. Then, he unveiled a plan for America’s implementation of this “core responsibility.”

“I’ve signed an executive order that authorizes new sanctions against the Syrian government and Iran and those that abet them for using technologies to monitor and track and target citizens for violence. These technologies should not empower -- these technologies should be in place to empower citizens, not to repress them. And it’s one more step that we can take toward the day that we know will come -- the end of the Assad regime that has brutalized the Syrian people -- and allow the Syrian people to chart their own destiny.”Barack Obama

The president made no mention in his speech of torture and extraordinary rendition under his predecessor; no mention of his own administration’s efforts to silence disclosures of government wrongdoing.  In the US government lexicon, “evil” apparently means the use of technology by a government to monitor, track and target citizens for human rights abuses except when the government is the United States or when the government is too powerful to risk angering or a US ally.  This propagandistic definition of evil provides the framework for US foreign policy and the executive order mentioned in Obama’s speech. [Read more...]

UNESCO Shuns WikiLeaks as Speaker at Conference on Implications of WikiLeaks

… And, that’s not all that doesn’t make sense

unescoThis week, the organizers of a UNESCO conference, “The Media World after WikiLeaks and News of the World,” refused to let a WikiLeaks representative participate as a speaker. In so doing, they deprived the world of a full and balanced discussion of issues critical to protecting human rights.  Neither UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) nor the conference organizer, the USA-based World Press Freedom Committee, are apologizing, and traditional news media (with one exception) looked the other way.

As the central player in information-sharing partnerships that changed journalism, WikiLeaks unquestionably has important insights to share on conference topics such as the relationship between new and traditional journalism. But, only half of that partnership, WikiLeaks points out, was invited to speak at the UNESCO conference—and a bias was evident even in the questions selected for debate. [Read more...]

FBI Enlists Internet Café Owners to Spy on Customers

The Government’s Pretexts for Arresting Virtually Anyone

cafeThe US government has developed massive surveillance capabilities to monitor communications, travel and financial transactions in this country and abroad. But, even the government cannot monitor everything Americans do—not directly, anyway.  Thus, it created the Communities Against Terrorism (CAT) program to enlist your friendly local businesses as spies for the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The CAT program, funded by the State and Local Anti-Terrorism Training program (SLATT) is described as a “tool to engage members of the local community in the fight against terrorism.” The program interprets “local community” to mean businesses, and only registered businesses may access the program’s flyers listing “potential indicators” of terrorist activity.

Each flyer is designed for a particular kind of business. For example, this list was prepared for owners of internet cafes. Unquestionably, someone planning a terrorist attack has engaged in one or more of the “suspicious” activities on that list. But so, too, have most of the estimated 289 million computer users in this country. [Read more...]

Notes from the Star Chamber-Blacklisting in the Digital Age

US Prepares to Censor Internet Access While Urging Internet Freedom for the Rest of the World!

bidenAt the London Conference on Cyberspace, November 1-2, Vice President Joe Biden urged other nations to protect internet freedom of expression.

“Biden did not name countries he felt were offenders. But he criticized the efforts of some nations pursuing an "international legal instrument that would lead to exclusive government control over Internet resources, institutions and content and national barriers on the free flow of information online." (PCWorld)

Meanwhile, back in the US, Congress was preparing to pass a law granting extraordinary powers to censor the internet. The proposed law, described as “the Great Firewall of America,” has the support of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who also favors Internet freedom for other countries. If the US government still had any credibility on this issue after banning access to websites posting leaked cables, the latest hypocrisy should have killed it.

Last week, Representatives Lamar Smith (R-TX), John Conyers (D-MI), Bob Goodlatte (R-VA) and Howard Berman (D-CA) introduced a House bill called the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). A Senate version, called the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA), had been introduced last May by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), and Charles Grassley (R-IA). The bills propose to let the federal government block public access to websites accused of violating intellectual property rights. They would also require Internet access providers, search engines and payment providers to deny services to websites upon request from rights holders.

A devil in the lack of details

banned The bills have been criticized for their vague language and lack of due process, making them ripe for abuses.

Imagine a world in which any intellectual property holder can, without ever appearing before a judge or setting foot in a courtroom, shut down any website's online advertising programs and block access to credit card payments. The credit card processors and the advertising networks would be required to take quick action against the named website; only the filing of a “counter notification” by the website could get service restored.

Finally, and for good measure, Internet service providers and payment processors get the green light to simply block access to sites on their own volition—no content owner notification even needed. So long as they believe the site is “dedicated to the theft of US property,” Internet providers and payment processors can't be sued. (ArsTechnica)”

Such a law could be used to chill criticism of corporate and government policies. [Read more...]

Jamiol Presents

SecretCourt

Notorious “Star Chamber” Courts Protect Government Wrongdoing

U.S. Embraces Tool of Despots


starchamberRecently, Mark Hosenball dropped the bombshell that a secret panel of White House Security Council members meets to draw up a “kill list” of American militants. Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald wrote a scathing critique of the panel, comparing it to a notorious English court known as the “Star Chamber.”

“[A] panel operating out of the White House — that meets in total secrecy, with no known law or rules governing what it can do or how it operates — is empowered to place American citizens on a list to be killed by the CIA, which (by some process nobody knows) eventually makes its way to the President, who is the final Decider.  It is difficult to describe the level of warped authoritarianism necessary to cause someone to lend their support to a twisted Star Chamber like that.”

The Star Chamber, an English court dating back to the middle ages, reportedly was named for the stars on the ceiling of the courtroom, located at Westminster Palace.  Over time, it grew increasingly powerful and corrupt.  By the 17th century, under Charles I, it had become a vehicle for prosecuting political dissent.  The court’s procedures made it virtually impossible for defendants to get a fair hearing and served as a rubber stamp for the monarchy.

“Court sessions were held in secret, with no indictments, no right of appeal, no juries, and no witnesses. Evidence was presented in writing. Over time it evolved into a political weapon, a symbol of the misuse and abuse of power by the English monarchy and courts.”

The Star Chamber also punished religious dissent, ultimately driving the Puritans to seek refuge in North America’s wilderness. Their descendents would form a new nation and endow it with laws that prohibited Star Chamber abuses. Today, “star chamber” is a pejorative term used to describe any administrative body with “strict, arbitrary rulings and secretive proceedings” that “cast doubt on the legitimacy of the proceedings.”  Notwithstanding its infamous past, the Star Chamber appeals to government officials who abhor accountability.

The panel that authorized the killing of U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki is the most public U.S. example of a star chamber--but it is far from the only one.  The federal government operates a network of star chamber courts administered by government agencies for the purpose of hearing appeals from military and civilian federal employees stripped of their security clearances. Many of those employees are whistleblowers who have disclosed government wrongdoing, thus implicating senior officials.  Senior officials use the star chambers to punish whistleblowers, to discredit their disclosures and to discourage other employees from exposing negligence, waste and corruption.  Existing whistleblower protection laws are helpless to protect federal employees with security clearances from agency reprisal.

Security clearance star chambers violate the U.S. Constitution’s due process protections by presidential order--Executive Order (E.O.) 12968.  These courts go by a variety of names.  The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Star Chamber is the “Personnel Security Review Board.” The Department of Defense (DOD) calls its star chamber the “Department of Hearings and Appeals.” Each federal agency interprets the executive order differently, and some—for example, USDA—actually provide less due process than E.O. 12968 allows.  All are offensive to modern notions of justice, but none have been held accountable.  Government officials argue that national security requires the suspension of due process; but, a close examination of the appeals process shows that the government’s claim is a fraud. [Read more...]

Government on a String

Politicians aren’t as Incompetent as They Seem

By Linda Lewis

 Just who's pulling the strings?
I'm all tied up in you
But, where's it leading me to?

--“Puppet on a String” (1967) by Bill Martin & Phil Coulter. Performed by Sandie Shaw.

American voters disagree on many issues but nearly all agree that government’s performance has been abysmal.

Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States has fallen back to 11%, the lowest level since December 2008 and just four percentage points above the all-time low recorded in October 2008…The all-time low of 7% came in an Oct. 10-12, 2008, poll, conducted shortly after stock values plummeted following Congress' passage of the TARP legislation in response to the September 2008 financial crisis. (Gallup.com, August 18, 2011)

The data show that public confidence fell most sharply when the President and Congress rejected majority public opinion on economic issues, namely bank bailouts and federal debt reduction. Those were not the only disappointments, by any means. On a variety of issues, from healthcare reform to credit card legislation, government officials have given lip service to the wishes of their constituents.

Political commentators and candidates for political office regularly attack government officials as inept.  President Bush was labeled incompetent. President Obama is criticized as a poor negotiator.  Democrats, in general, are described as weak while Republicans are viewed as cold-hearted. Unsurprisingly, that is how voters perceive the parties, also.

Marionettes for saleFew of these politicians were really incompetent. Many failed to produce the results voters said they wanted.  But, that may be because the politicians were serving a different constituency: a wealthy corporate elite.  With a coterie of lobbyists constantly tugging on their strings, political puppets are bound to appear clumsy. They know how to get what they want, though. Most freshman members of Congress are millionaires, after all.
The only downside for political puppets is the possibility of voter backlash at election time. Economically, however, politicians are well-insulated from public displeasure. Whether they are booted from office or decide to retire, they can look forward to cushy jobs with corporations, corporate lobbies, and corporate-funded think tanks.

Elected officials have another incentive to be responsive to corporate lobbying:  their stock portfolios. For example, eight members of Congress hold $50,000 or more in Apple stock, reports OpenSecrets.org (August 25, 2011), and one of the eight (Nancy Pelosi) reportedly has Apple stock worth $1 million or more. Observers have noticed that Congressional investments out-perform the stock market and even out-perform investments held by corporate insiders.

Some outraged citizens have called for mass demonstrations.  But, demonstrations against government policies tend to fail when the policies are profitable for corporations, observes psychologist Bruce Levine. In his book, Get Up, Stand Up, Levine writes: [Read more...]

The Oath to Defend the Constitution vs. the Forced Pledge to Protect Government Secrecy

“Which of the applicable laws has priority?”

By Linda Lewis

oath In the debate on reducing the national debt, members of Congress have focused on two options--tax increases and entitlement cuts---both considered unhelpful to restarting a stalled economy.  Congress seemingly has forgotten that it has another option for reducing the debt: eliminating waste, fraud and corruption in government programs. Perhaps, Congress knows that the success of such a plan would correspond with the effectiveness of whistleblower protections—protections it has been reluctant to provide to the thousands of whistleblowers who hold security clearances.

Insiders are critical to identifying government waste, particularly in agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security, where much of the information is classified and not available for public review.  But, insiders are vulnerable to retaliation from managers embarrassed by their disclosures. The Obama administration has been particularly aggressive toward whistleblowers, launching criminal prosecutions against several of them.

Most Americans would be surprised to know that thousands of federal workers with ordinary jobs--food safety, for example--are required to have security clearances even if they may never handle a classified document.  Agencies pay dearly for the necessary background investigations. But, they just can’t seem to pass up the opportunity to give themselves an end run around civil service laws. Steve Kohn, of the National Whistleblowers Center, writes:

A 1989 law was supposed to protect federal employees who expose fraud and misconduct from retaliation. But over the years, these protections have been completely undermined. One loophole gives the government the absolute right to strip employees of their security clearances and fire them, without judicial review. Another bars employees of the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency from any coverage under the law. And Congress has barred national security whistle-blowers who are fired for exposing wrongdoing from obtaining protection in federal court.

Knowing that they are vulnerable to retaliation, few federal employees are inclined to report wrongdoing.  Nevertheless, they are required to report wrongdoing.

Every employee takes an oath or affirmation, required by Article VI of the U.S. Constitution to “support the Constitution.” Since 1884, employees have taken this   expanded version of the oath, described in the U.S. Code (Title 5, Chapter 33).

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

Incredibly, through court decisions and Congressional foot-dragging, civil servants tasked with defending the Constitution are forced to do so with an abridged set of Constitutional protections, particularly with regard to free speech and due process—essential elements for holding a government accountable.

Civilian federal employees also must adhere to the federal code of ethics (Executive Order 12674, as amended).  It states, in part:

Employees shall disclose waste, fraud, abuse, and corruption to appropriate authorities.”

The code also directs that employees “shall protect and conserve Federal property and shall not use it for other than authorized activities.”  This is important because agencies tend to treat classified information as government property, although it’s more accurate to say that a representative government holds information in trust for its citizens.

TopSecSometimes, classified information contains evidence of waste, fraud or corruption, documents abuses of human rights, or it exposes negligent handling of national security.  In such cases, classifying the information was illegal. Executive Order 13526 forbids classifying information to hide violations of law, inefficiency, or administrative error or to avoid embarrassing officials.

An employee who encounters classified evidence of wrongdoing therefore is compelled to ask, “Which of the applicable laws has priority?”  Agencies provide little or no guidance to employees for dealing with the moral hazard dumped in their laps. Think of it as a ticking black box with protruding wires in several colors.  Does one pull the blue wire, the yellow or the red? Pull the wrong one and your career explodes.  [Read more...]

BFP Independent Perspective: Social Security Math Doesn’t Add Up

The Unanswered Question of “Social Security Surplus”

By Linda Lewis

sscardAs some politicians describe it, the Social Security program is an economic disaster forced upon younger generations by the demands of greedy baby boomers. News media obediently parrot the scare stories, seldom questioning the math in a story that is all about the numbers. A rare departure from that script occurred on July 29 when an alert Washington Journal moderator stalled a Businessweek editor’s argument for Social Security cuts by observing that the data he brought with him showed a projected Social Security surplus.[C-SPAN Video: Washington Journal, July 29, 2011. Interview begins at the 28-minute mark.]

Bloomberg’s Peter Coy was on the program that day to discuss his article, Why the Debt Crisis is Even Worse than You Think. Coy described a long-term “fiscal gap” of $211 trillion dollars, which he explained is “the difference between tax revenue…and everything we expect to spend.” His published article provides a bit of additional explanation.

A more revealing calculation is the [Congressional Budget Office’s] measurement of what’s called the fiscal gap. That figure is conceptually cleaner than the national debt—and consequently more alarming. Boston University’s Kotlikoff has extended the agency’s analysis from 2085 out to the infinite horizon, which he says is the only method that’s invulnerable to the frame-of-reference problem.

sschartSocial Security, Medicare and Medicaid entitlements bear most of the blame for the $211 trillion shortfall, Coy said. As he spoke, C-SPAN moderator Susan Swain pointed to the article’s accompanying chart of the data, entitled “The Debt Deluge.” Seconds later, the wheels came off Coy’s talking points.“You're saying Social Security is part of the solution,” commented Swain. “[But], in this illustration…it shows Social Security with a surplus…right?” She pointed to the chart where it clearly indicated a Social Security debt of $110 trillion and projected Social Security receipts of $132 trillion.“ Am I reading that correctly?” Swain asked politely.

Weakly, Coy answered, “Yeah.” After fumbling for a better response, he concluded by telling Swain that he would look again at the data and provide an explanation the following week. But, the following week, Ms. Swain was not there--a male moderator appeared, instead. Coy did not revisit the $22 trillion surplus and did not offer a correction. [Read more...]