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Civil Rights / Liberties
By Dave Lindorff
Americans got a glimpse of what policing is like in a more humane and civilized society last year when four young Swedish cops, on vacation in New York City and riding on a subway, found themselves faced with a bloody fight in the aisle by two angry black men.
If someone has had the good fortune not to encounter the world of U.S. police and prisons, and the misfortune to learn about the world from U.S. schools, entertainment, and "news" media, a great place to start understanding one of the worst self-inflicted tragedies of our era would be with James Kilgore's short new book, Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People's Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time, followed up by Radley Balko's longer Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America's Police Forces.
Both books tell a story of gradual change over the past half-century that has resulted in the police going to war against people they were supposed to serve (call it a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on terror, it's always in fact a war on people). And what do you do with people captured alive during a war? You lock them away as prisoners of war until the war ends. And if the war never ends? Well, then you bring back the death penalty, create life sentences for lots of crimes including for kids, impose mandatory minimums and three-strikes, and transform parole and probation from rehabilitation to reincarceration services.
The story of this gradual change is one of legal changes (court rulings and legislation), behavior, and popular belief -- with each of these influencing the other two in a vicious cycle. You can't quadruple a prison population in 40 years without instituting a different belief system. You can't ship black prisoners to be guarded by rural whites employed by for-profit companies, or lock up immigrants indefinitely while they await hearings, and not alter the belief system further. You can't run several successive election campaigns as contests in meanness and not see changes in policy and behavior. You can't give police military weapons and not expect them to adopt military attitudes, or give them military training and expect them not to want military weapons. You can't give crime 10 times the coverage on the "news" and not expect people to imagine crime is increasing. You can't start smashing in doors without alienating the police and the people from each other.
Kilgore reminds us that the popular movements of the 1960s had an impact on popular thought. Opposition to the death penalty peaked in 1965 and was over 50% from 1957 to 1972, dropping to 20% in 1990. In 1977 only 37% of people polled rated police officers' ethics as high, a number that rose to 78% in 2001 for no apparent substantive reason. As late as 1981 most Americans thought unemployment was the main cause of crime. We've since learned of course that crime is caused by evil demonic forces that possess the bad people of the earth.
The creation of the world's largest ever collection of permanent prisoners of war -- a trend that would translate perfectly to the war "on terror" abroad -- developed through cycles, including partisan cycles. That is to say, Nixon had a horrible impact, Carter briefly slowed the mad rush to prisonville, and Reagan and Bush built on Nixon's policies. The war on drugs was created as a means to militarize the police and involve the federal government in more local law enforcement, not the other war around. Reagan's attorney general announced early on that, "the Justice Department is not a domestic agency. It is the internal arm of the national defense." The end of the Cold War saw the military looking for new excuses to exist, and one of them would be the war on drugs.
When Clinton came along it again made a difference to have a Democrat in the White House, only this time for the worse. Bill Clinton and his would-be president wife and allies such as would-be president Joe Biden accelerated the march to suburban Siberia rather than slowing it. Under Clinton it became possible to throw people out of public housing for a single drug offense of any kind by anyone in the house. And yet Clinton was never evicted from his public housing despite the near certainty that someone in the White House used some kind of drug. Clinton brought us huge increases in incarceration, war weapons for police, and the shredding of social supports.
When the War on Terra began in 2001 whole new pathways to profit and police militarization opened up, including the beloved Fatherland's Department of Homeland Security, which has handed out tens of billions of dollars in "terror grants" that fund the terrorizing of the U.S. public. In 2006 the Buffalo, NY, police staged a series of drug raids they called "Operation Shock and Awe." Adding truly military grade incompetence to meanness, the New York Police Department raided an elderly couple's home over 50 times between 2002 and 2010 because their address had randomly been used as a placeholder in a computer system and remained in any report that had failed to include an address.
The arrival of Captain Peace Prize at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue continued the trends and added an escalation of the war on immigrants, as well as of the war weapons for the police programs.
But the partisan cycles are more subtle as well. As Balko recounts, Congress members and others opposed police militarization when the president was of the other party and supported it when he was from theirs, or opposed it when the discussion focused on drugs but supported it in matters of gun-control (or vice versa). Yet, each acceptance was two steps forward and each resistance one step back, so that what was outrageous one decade became the norm in the next.
National partisan tides and vicious cycles of ever increasing militarization interacted over the years with local advances. Los Angeles, and the leadership of Darryl Gates, brought SWAT teams to U.S. policing. The name originally stood for Special Weapons Attack Teams and the tactics were literally a bringing of the war on Vietnam home as Gates consulted with the military to learn what was supposedly working in Vietnam.
Let me close with the question with which Balko begins his book: Are police constitutional? The police, prisons, parole, and probation did not exist when the U.S. Constitution was created any more than did drones or the internet. The first thing in the United States like police was the slave patrol. The first modern police force in the United States was begun in New York City in 1845. I've argued at length elsewhere that drones are incompatible with the Bill of Rights. What about police?
The Third Amendment grew out of resistance to allowing soldiers to engage in any of the abuses that constitute the work of police. Need we accept those abuses? I think we can at the very least radically reduce them. To do so we will have to declare an end to the wars abroad and the wars at home. Balko quotes former Maryland police officer Neill Franklin on what changing police attitudes will require:
"Number one, you've signed on to a dangerous job. That means that you've agreed to a certain amount of risk. You don't get to start stepping on others' rights to minimize that risk you agreed to take on. And number two, your first priority is not to protect yourself, it's to protect those you've sworn to protect." But that would mean not being at war with people.
By Norman Solomon, Al Jazeera
The U.S. government is trying to destroy Chelsea Manning.
Five years after the arrest of Manning, an Army private, for providing classified information to WikiLeaks, the government’s cruelty is taking another turn — part George Orwell, part Lewis Carroll. But Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning did not fall down the rabbit hole. She’s locked up at Fort Leavenworth, five years into a 35-year sentence — and the fact that she is not scheduled for release until 2045 isn’t enough of a punishment. Prison authorities are now brandishing petty and bizarre charges to threaten her with indefinite solitary confinement.
Why? The alleged transgressions include the possession of toothpaste past its expiration date and an issue of Vanity Fair with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover. Even if all the charges of minor violations of prison rules are found to be true at her closed hearing today, the threatened punishment is cruelly disproportionate.
WikiLeaks whistleblower Manning faces possible indefinite solitary confinement for minor “infractions”, was denied access to prison legal library
WASHINGTON, DC––Advocacy groups supporting imprisoned WikiLeaks whistleblower Chelsea Manning plan to deliver a petition signed by more than 75,000 people to the Army Liason office tomorrow morning, Tuesday, August 18th, at 11:00 am at Rayburn House Building Room B325. Supporters are available to speak to media before and after the delivery.
The petition at FreeChelsea.com was initiated by digital rights group Fight for the Future and supported by RootsAction.org, Demand Progress, and CodePink. It calls for the U.S. military to drop the new charges against Chelsea, and demands that her disciplinary hearing on Tuesday be open to the press and the public.
Chelsea faces possible indefinite solitary confinement, which is widely recognized as a form of torture, for four “charges,” which include possession of LGBTQ reading material like the Caitlyn Jenner issue of Vanity Fair, and having a tube of expired toothpaste in her cell. The charges were first revealed at FreeChelsea.com, and Manning has since posted the original charging documents to her twitter account here and here. She has also posted the complete list of confiscated reading materials here.
On Saturday, Chelsea called supporters to alert them that military correctional staff denied her access to the prison legal library. This development comes just two days before she must present a defense (without her lawyers present) before the disciplinary board that could sentence her to potentially indefinite solitary confinement.
Chase Strangio, Chelsea’s attorney at the ACLU, said: “During the five years she has been incarcerated Chelsea has had to endure horrific and, at times, plainly unconstitutional conditions of confinement. She now faces the threat of further dehumanization because she allegedly disrespected an officer when requesting an attorney and had in her possession various books and magazines that she used to educate herself and inform her public and political voice. I am heartened to see the outpouring of support for her in the face of these new threats to her safety and security. This support can break down the isolation of her incarceration and sends the message to the government that the public is watching and standing by her as she fights for her freedom and her voice.”
Evan Greer, Campaign Director of Fight for the Future, said: “The U.S. government has a terrifying track record of using imprisonment and torture to silence free speech and dissenting voices. They’ve tortured Chelsea Manning before and now they’re threatening to do it again, without any semblance of due process. Perhaps the military thought that now that Chelsea is behind bars she’s been forgotten, but the tens of thousands who signed this petition are proving them wrong. Chelsea Manning is a hero and the whole world is watching the U.S. government’s deplorable treatment of whistleblowers, transgender people, and prison inmates in general.”
Nancy Hollander, one of Chelsea’s criminal defense attorneys, said: “Chelsea is facing serious repercussions and punishment if these charges are upheld, yet the prison has denied her the right to legal counsel, even legal counsel at her own expense. Now we have learned the prison authorities have denied her the use of the prison library to prepare for her hearing. The whole system is rigged against her. She cannot have a lawyer to assist her; she cannot prepare her own defense; and the hearing will be secret. This harassment and abuse must end and we are grateful for the support from the public to demand justice for Chelsea Manning.”
Sara Cederberg, Campaign Director of Demand Progress, said: "The charges against Chelsea Manning set a dangerous precedent for anyone who exercises their civil liberties to speak out against the abuses of our government. Long-term solitary confinement is a form of torture, and no one deserves this cruel and unusual psychological punishment. Today, and every day, thousands of Demand Progress members are standing with Chelsea, democracy and free speech."
David Swanson, Campaign Coordinator at RootsAction.org, said: "Our petition demanding relief from this latest injustice for Manning has been the fastest-starting petition we've ever had, and it's full of eloquent comments from thousands of people who by all rights should have been past the point of outrage overload. Here is a straightforward case of a whistleblower of the sort that candidate Obama in 2008 said he would reward, and she's being punished not only unjustly but in violation of laws back at least to the Eighth Amendment. President Obama has long claimed to have ended torture. The U.S. military in effect is threatening to torture a young woman for having the wrong toothpaste and magazine."
Nancy Mancias, of the peace group CODEPINK, said: "The recent charges are inappropriate, extreme and ridiculous, Chelsea Manning has done a great service by leaking US war crimes in Iraq. Manning should have a right to legal counsel when requested, and threatening to her isolate from community is inhumane."
By Alfredo Lopez
How much noise does the other shoe make when it drops? If the shoe is a law that would complete the development of a police surveillance state in the United States, it's almost silent.
Mississippi Civil Rights Martyrs Memorial Service & Cold Case Justice Initiative Syracuse U College of Law writes:
A plane just left Mississippi carrying the body of Rexdale Henry. His family has asked for an independent autopsy by a Florida board certified pathologist. Mr. Henry was found dead in Philadelphia, Mississippi, in a Neshoba County jail cell on Tuesday, July 14, 2015 just two days after the death of Sandra Bland in a Texas jail. A lifelong community activist and member of the Choctaw tribe, Mr. Henry was arrested July 9 allegedly for failure to pay an old fine.
By Alfredo Lopez
The Internet -- always ablaze with controversy -- is a wildfire these days with revelations about more pernicious government spying, deals between governments and corporate "hacker companies", and Ellen Pao's resignation as head of Reddit.
From the Washington Post comes this story of not only another instance of TSA abuse, but the TSA's bragging about said abuse.
A victory for common sense and decency: 5 Cheers and 4 Raspberries for the SCOTUS as it Bars States from Blocking Gay Marriage
By Dave Lindorff
The pig-headed small-mindedness and intellectual dishonesty of most fundamentalists of whatever religion knows no bounds.
By John Grant
“Our ancestors were literally fighting to keep human beings as slaves and to continue the unimaginable acts that occur when someone is held against their will. I am not proud of this heritage.”
By Linn Washington, Jr.
Does the intense news coverage examining the tragic massacre inside a historic black church in Charleston, S.C. and coverage exposing the travesty of the white woman who claims she’s actually black mean the mainstream media has finally ‘got it right’ regarding reporting on race and racism?
By Dave Lindorff
A few weeks ago, I got a vivid comparative look at how far this country has moved towards becoming a police state. The occasion was a brief visit to Montreal, where my wife was to give a harpsichord recital at an early keyboard music conference.
Killing prisoners through medical neglect: Mumia Attorneys Sue in Federal Court for Prisoners’ Right to Medical Care
By Dave Lindorff
Attorneys from the Abolitionis Law Center in Pennsylvania, an organization defending prisoner rights and challenging the state's penal system, have filed suit in federal court demanding that Pennsylvania's Department of Corrections stop preventing them from even seeing their client, journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal, on occasions when he has to be hospitalized for a critical diabetes condition.
There has been much talk of late about the courage of Caitlyn Jenner. A recent Vanity Fair cover showed the transformation of former 65-year-old Olympic gold medal winner Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn, an attractive woman who appears to be in her thirties.
But let us look for a moment at the definition of courage. Merriam-Webster defines it thusly: “mental or moral strength to venture, persevere, and withstand danger, fear, or difficulty”
By Alfredo Lopez
To get to the point: there is nothing -- nothing at all -- in any recent law or legislative action that will in any way weaken the police state structure our government has put into place for rapid deployment. You are not any more free than you were last week and, no matter what the Congress has done with the expired provisions of the Patriot Act or the newly developed and Orwellian-named "USA Freedom Act", you are not going to be any more free next week.
By Dave Lindorff
Omigod! We're all gonna die!
Three provisions of the USA PATRIOT Act were allowed to expire on June 1 thanks to a Senate disagreement over how to "fix" them (and thanks to Sen. Rand Paul's outspoken opposition to renewal), and now we’re vulnerable to terrorism!
That at least is what President Obama and other fear mongers in Washington are saying.
It’s not just police killings: Tazing and Bust of Videotaper Shows Abuse of Blacks is Just Normal Philly Cop Behavior
By Linn Washington Jr.
A July 2013 Philadelphia police attack on Sharif Anderson, where officers beat, kicked and shot Anderson twice with a Taser, is more than just another ugly incident of abuse by a big city police force long assailed for its persistent brutality and corruption.
Cross-Posted from DeSmogBlog
By Steve Horn and David Goodner
A DeSmog investigation has uncovered the identity of a land agent and the contract company he works with that allegedly offered to buy an Iowa farmer the services of two teenage sex workers in exchange for access to his land to build the controversial proposed Dakota Access pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners.
David Segal is the Executive Director of Demand Progress. He discusses the current struggles to end mass surveillance by the U.S. government and to keep the internet free and open. Segal is a former Democratic Rhode Island State Representative, and served on the Providence City Council as a member of the Green Party. During his eight years as an elected official he oversaw the passage of legislation promoting economic justice, renewable energy and open space, banking reform, affordable housing, LGBT rights, criminal justice reform, and a variety of other progressive causes. He recently ran in the Democratic primary for Rhode Island’s first Congressional seat, supported by much of the netroots and organized labor. His opinion pieces have appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe, and other newspapers, and in a variety of online publications. He has a degree in mathematics from Columbia University. See:
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Yes, I saw the glum faces of prosecutors in the courtroom a few days ago, when the judge sentenced CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling to three and a half years in prison -- far from the 19 to 24 years they’d suggested would be appropriate.
Yes, I get that there was a huge gap between the punishment the government sought and what it got -- a gap that can be understood as a rebuke to the dominant hard-line elements at the Justice Department.
And yes, it was a positive step when a May 13 editorial by the New York Times finally criticized the extreme prosecution of Jeffrey Sterling.
But let’s be clear: The only fair sentence for Sterling would have been no sentence at all. Or, at most, something like the recent gentle wrist-slap, with no time behind bars, for former CIA director David Petraeus, who was sentenced for providing highly classified information to his journalist lover.
Jeffrey Sterling has already suffered enormously since indictment in December 2010 on numerous felony counts, including seven under the Espionage Act. And for what?
The government’s righteous charge has been that Sterling provided information to New York Times reporter James Risen that went into a chapter of his 2006 book “State of War” -- about the CIA’s Operation Merlin, which in 2000 provided Iran with flawed design information for a nuclear weapon component.
As Marcy Wheeler and I wrote last fall: “If the government’s indictment is accurate in its claim that Sterling divulged classified information, then he took a great risk to inform the public about an action that, in Risen’s words, ‘may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.’ If the indictment is false, then Sterling is guilty of nothing more than charging the agency with racial bias and going through channels to inform the Senate Intelligence Committee of extremely dangerous CIA actions.”
Whether “guilty” or “innocent” of doing the right thing, Sterling has already been through a protracted hell. And now -- after he has been unemployable for more than four years while enduring a legal process that threatened to send him to prison for decades -- perhaps it takes a bit of numbness for anyone to think of the sentence he just received as anything less than an outrage.
Human realities exist far beyond sketchy media images and comfortable assumptions. Going beyond such images and assumptions is a key goal of the short documentary “The Invisible Man: CIA Whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling,” released this week. Via the film, the public can hear Sterling speak for himself -- for the first time since he was indicted.
One of the goals of the government’s assault on whistleblowers is to depict them as little more than cardboard cutouts. Aiming to dispense with such two-dimensional portrayals, the director Judith Ehrlich brought a film crew to the home of Jeffrey Sterling and his wife Holly. (On behalf of ExposeFacts.org, I was there as the film’s producer.) We set out to present them as they are, as real people. You can watch the film here.
Sterling’s first words in the documentary apply to powerful officials at the Central Intelligence Agency: “They already had the machine geared up against me. The moment that they felt there was a leak, every finger pointed to Jeffrey Sterling. If the word ‘retaliation’ is not thought of when anyone looks at the experience that I’ve had with the agency, then I just think you’re not looking.”
In another way, now, maybe we’re not truly looking if we figure that Sterling has received a light sentence.
Even if the jury’s guilty verdict was correct -- and after sitting through the entire trial, I’d say the government didn’t come close to its burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt -- an overarching truth is that the whistleblower(s) who provided journalist Risen with information about Operation Merlin rendered a major public service.
People should not be punished for public service.
Imagine that you -- yes, you -- did nothing wrong. And now you’re headed to prison, for three years. Since the prosecution wanted you behind bars for a lot longer than that, should we figure you got a “light” sentence?
While the government keeps harassing, threatening, prosecuting and imprisoning whistleblowers for public service, we’re living in a society where corrosive repression continues to use fear as a hammer against truth-telling. Directly countering such repression will require rejecting any claim or tacit assumption that government prosecutors set the standard for how much punishment is too much.
Norman Solomon’s books include War Made Easy: How Presidents and Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. He is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy and coordinates its ExposeFacts project. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org, which has encouraged donations to the Sterling Family Fund. Disclosure: After the guilty verdict, Solomon used his frequent-flyer miles to get plane tickets for Holly and Jeffrey Sterling so they would be able to go home to St. Louis.
Child Soldier released from jail by Canadian court: US Still Seeks Jail for ‘Fighter’ Captured at 15 in Afghanistan
By Dave Lindorff
The good news is that an appellate judge in Canada has had the courage and good sense to uphold the release from jail on bail of Omar Khadr, a native of Canada who was captured as a child soldier at the age of 15 in Afghanistan by US forces back in 2002 and shipped off to Guantanamo, where he became one of the children held in captivity.
By Linn Washington, Jr.
I was seething inside as I watched the live television coverage of the recent rebellion/riot in Baltimore as we witnessed yet another explosion caused by America’s historic failures to reign in abusive police. Then I received a text message that lead to a conversation that absolutely broke my heart.
The conversation was with my 11-year-old grandson, who himself was seething from what he saw going on in his hometown of Baltimore.
My grandson told me he was mad…mad because police “keep killing black men.”
When I probed further into his anger he said he feared for his own life -– not because of what might happen when he gets older because of what could happen even now if he encountered a police officer.
There just might be a big boost in government honesty soon, as both houses of Congress have now passed with two-thirds votes and sent to the states for ratification a potential 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution bearing the unofficial title "The Truth in Advertising Amendment." This is the text as passed by Congress:
Preamble: The first through tenth articles of amendment to the Constitution of the United States are hereby repealed.
1. Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, apart from tax breaks for churches, and other than appropriate surveillance, entrapment, and drone strikes for members of any non-established religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof except where that exercise withholds taxes that fund war; or abridging the freedom of campaign bribery in any way or the freedom of speech from within adequate caged areas at an appropriate distance from potential listeners, unless that speech reveals wrongdoing by the government; or of the press cartel or of its right to propagandize for war; or the right of white people peaceably to assemble when not organizing a union, opposing a war, or protesting injustice, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances, and to peaceably contemplate the Government's wisdom in ignoring any demands.
2. A well-armed world, being necessary to the profits of the weapons makers, the right of the people, police, government, and foreign nations to keep and bear any weapon they can afford to purchase, shall not be infringed, nor facts about the damage done be openly discussed.
3. No soldier shall, in time of peace be educated in the optional, unnecessary, counterproductive, uncontrollable, murderous, and trauma-inducing nature of war, nor any war veteran be quartered in any house without the proper funding or loan to purchase or rent that house in a manner to be prescribed by law.
4. The right of white people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated much, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized, unless the Government deems it appropriate to collect any electronic or other communication, or to record or film any behavior, or to kidnap, imprison, torture, or murder any person.
5. No police officer shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger, in which cases fuggedaboutit; nor shall any white person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall any high-ranking official be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor any non-whistleblower be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, except as stipulated in section 4; nor shall private property be taken for public use without just compensation, unless someone has smoked marijuana.
6. In all criminal prosecutions of extremely wealthy defendants, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.
7. In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty million dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the White House Office of Legal Counsel.
8. Excessive bail shall not be required of white people, nor excessive fines imposed on high-ranking officials, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted on non-whistleblowers, nor on anyone who has not been designated a military-aged male.
9. The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people, including the right to shop.
10. The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people, at the discretion of the President.
A powerful new film on what's wrong with the U.S. media is now being screened around the country. It's called Shadows of Liberty and you can set up a screening of it as part of an upcoming international week of actions for whistleblowers called Stand Up For Truth. Or you can buy the DVD or catch it on Link TV. (Here in Charlottesville I'll be speaking at the event, May 19, 7 p.m. at The Bridge.)
Judith Miller is on a rehabilitative book tour; the Washington Post recently reported that a victim of Baltimore police murder broke his own spine; and recently leaked emails from the State Department asked Sony to entertain us into proper war support. The proposed merger of Comcast and Time Warner was just blocked, for now, but the existence of those mega-monopolies in their current form is at the root of the problem, according to Shadows of Liberty.
Allowing for-profit companies to decide what we learn about the world and our government, allowing those companies to consolidate into a tiny cartel controlling the formerly public airwaves, allowing them to be owned by much larger companies that rely on the government for weapons contracts, and allowing them to determine politicians' access to the public and to bribe politicians with "campaign contributions" -- this, in the analysis of Shadows of Liberty, this subservience of public space to private profit is what creates news that misinforms, that takes no interest in the poor, that propagandizes for wars, and that shuts out any journalist who steps out of line.
The film is not primarily analysis, but example. The first example is of Roberta Baskin's reports for CBS on Nike's labor abuses in Asia. CBS killed her big story in exchange for Nike paying CBS so much money that CBS agreed to have all of its "journalists" wear Nike logos during their olympics "coverage."
Another example from CBS in the film is the shooting down of TWA flight 800 by the U.S. Navy, a case of media cowardice and government intimidation, which I wrote about here. As Shadows of Liberty points out, CBS was at the time owned by Westinghouse which had big military contracts. As a for-profit business, there was no question where it would side between one good reporter and the Pentagon. (This is exactly why the owner of the Washington Post shouldn't be someone with much larger funding flowing in from the CIA.)
The New York Timesseemed impressed by an earlier film devoted entirely to the TWA flight 800 mass-killing. The Times favored a new investigation but lamented the supposed lack of any entity that could credibly perform an investigation. The U.S. government comes off as so untrustworthy in the film that it can't be trusted to re-investigate itself. So a leading newspaper, whose job it ought to be to investigate the government, feels at a loss for what to do without a government that can credibly and voluntarily perform the media's own job for it and hold itself accountable. Pathetic. If only Nike were offering to pay the New York Times to investigate the government!
Another example in the bad media highlight reel in Shadows of Liberty is the case of Gary Webb's reporting on the CIA and crack cocaine, also the subject of a recent movie. Another is, inevitably, the propaganda that launched the 2003 attack on Iraq. I just read an analysis of Judith Miller's role that blamed her principally for not correcting her "mistakes" when the lies were exposed. I disagree. I blame her principally for publishing claims that were ludicrous at the time and which she never would have published if made by any non-governmental entity or any of 199 of the 200 national governments on earth. Only the U.S. government gets that treatment from its U.S. media partners in crime -- and in fact only certain elements within the U.S. government. While Colin Powell lied to the world and much of the world laughed, but the U.S. media bowed down, his son pushed through yet more media consolidation. I agree with the recommendation of Shadows of Liberty to blame the media owners, but that doesn't subtract any blame from the employees.
To the credit of Shadows of Liberty it includes among the stories it tells some examples of complete media silence. The story of Sibel Edmonds, for example, was totally whited out by the U.S. mega-media, although not abroad. Another example would be Operation Merlin (the CIA's giving of nuclear plans to Iran), not to mention the extension of Operation Merlin to Iraq. Dan Ellsberg says in the film that a government official will tell the big newspapers to leave a story alone, and the other outlets will "follow the lead of silence."
The U.S. public airwaves were given to private companies in 1934 with big limits on monopolies later stripped out by Reagan and Clinton and the Congresses that worked with them. The 1996 Telecom Act signed by Clinton created the mega-monopolies that have destroyed local news and already guaranteed his wife a 2016 presidential nomination on the basis of the money she'll spend on TV ads.
The bad media's greatest hits are finding a miniature progressive echo-chamber but are not, in fact, isolated cases. Rather they are extreme examples that have taught lessons to countless other "journalists" who have sought to keep their jobs by never stepping out of line in the first place.
The problem with the corporate media is not particular incidents, but how it always reports on everything including the government (which always means well) and wars (there must always be more) and the economy (it must grow and enrich investors) and people (they are helpless and powerless). The particular story lines that do the most damage are not always inherently the worst. Rather, they are those that make it into the general corporate echo-chamber.
The Washington Post sometimes admits exactly what it does wrong but counts on most people never to notice, because such articles will not be repeated and discussed in all the papers and on all the shows.
According to Shadows of Liberty, 40-70% of "news" is based on ideas that come from corporate PR departments. Another good chunk, I suspect, comes from government PR departments. A plurality in the U.S. in the last poll I saw believed Iraq had benefitted from the war on Iraq and was grateful. A Gallup poll of 65 countries at the end of 2013 found the U.S. widely believed the be the greatest threat to peace on earth, but within the U.S., as a glaring result of nothing but ludicrous propaganda, Iran was deemed worthy of that honor.
The Tonight Show regularly asks people if they can name a senator and then if they can name some cartoon character, etc., showing that people know stupid stuff. Ha ha. But that's how the corporate media shapes people, and clearly the U.S. government doesn't object enough to do anything about it. If nobody knows your name, they won't be protesting you anytime soon. And there's never any need to worry about being reelected.
Shadows of Liberty is long on problem and short on solution, but its value is in exposing people to an understanding of the problem. And the solution offered is just right, as far as it goes. The solution offered is to keep the internet open and use it. I agree. And one of the ways in which we ought to use it is to popularize foreign reporting on the United States that outdoes domestic reporting. If media tends to report well only on nations in which it is not based, and yet it's all equally accessible online, we need to start finding and reading the media about our country produced in others. In the process, perhaps we can develop some sense of caring what 95% of humanity thinks about this 5%. And in that process perhaps we can weaken nationalism just a bit.
Independent media is the solution proposed, not public media, and not a restoration of the corporate media to its earlier not-quite-so-awful form. The shrinking of newsrooms is to be lamented, of course, but perhaps the recruitment of foreign news rooms and independent bloggers can mitigate that loss in a way that imploring the monopolists to do better won't achieve. I think that part of the solution is creating better independent media, but part of it is finding, reading, appreciating, and using independent and foreign media. And part of that shift in attitude should be dropping the absurd idea of "objectivity," understood as point-of-viewlessness. Another part should be redefining our reality to exist without the blessing of the corporate media, so that we can be inspired to build activist movements whether or not they are on corporate TV. This includes, of course, persuading independent media to invest in stories that are ignored by corporations, not just focus on retelling in a better way the stories the corporations tell wrong.
Independent media has long been the most bang we could get for a buck donated to a useful cause. The next year-and-a-half is a real opportunity, because a completely broken U.S. election system expects hundreds of millions of dollars from well-meaning people to be given to candidates to give to the TV networks to whom we gave our airwaves. What if we withheld some of that money and built up our own media and activism structures? And why think of the two (media and activism) as separate? I think the jury is still out on The Intercept as new independent media, but it's already far superior to the Washington Post.
No independent media will be perfect. I wish Shadows of Liberty didn't glorify the American revolution to sounds of cannon fire. Later we hear President Reagan calling the Contras "the moral equivalent of our founding fathers" while the film shows dead bodies -- as if the American revolution produced none of those. But the point that free press, as theoretically provided by the first amendment, is critical to self-governance is right on. The first step in creating freedom of the press is publicly identifying its absence and the causes.
40 years after Vietnam: Celebrating the End of One War, and Witnessing the Start of a New One Here at Home
By Dave Lindorff
It was 40 years ago today that the last troops from America’s criminal war against the people of Vietnam scurried ignominiously onto a helicopter on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) and fled the country where US forces had killed some 3-4 million people in the name of “fighting Communism.”
Madison's Music: On Reading the First Amendment, a new book by Burt Neuborne, at first appears an unlikely work to serve much purpose today. Who wants to celebrate slave owner James Madison's view of freedom as embodied in a long outdated Constitution in desperate need of updating or rewriting? And who wants to hear it from a former legal director of the ACLU who just signed a petition supporting the hiring of Harold Koh, defender of drone murders and presidential wars of aggression, to teach human rights law at New York University, a petition by a bunch of stuffy corrupted professors countering the moral stand being taken by students?
But Neuborne's main thesis is not the worship of James Madison, and he merely suffers the same blindness to war as the rest of his society, believing, as he writes, that the world is "dependent on the anchor of American power" (whether the world wants it or not). While legalizing murder may not be a problem for Neuborne's view of the Constitution, legalizing bribery is. And that's where Madison's Music becomes useful. Each time the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of plutocracy it is ruling against precedents, common sense, basic decency, and a coherent and plausible reading of the Bill of Rights that reads the various amendments as aimed at strengthening democracy.
It's also ruling against a Constitution that nowhere gave it, the Supreme Court, any right to rule on any such things. While there is, sadly, no way to read the Supreme Court out of the Constitution, it can be quite easily understood as subject to the laws of Congress rather than vice versa. Not that today's Congress gets us any closer to democracy than does today's Supreme Court, but when our culture is ready for reform, the paths available will be numerous and each and every institution subject to reform or abolition.
The first amendment reads: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Neuborne, to his credit, does not choose to read this as the ACLU does, namely as including a defense of bribery and private election spending.
Madison's original draft, severely edited by the Senate -- one of those institutions worthy of abolition, and one for which Madison himself was in part to blame -- began with protection of both religious and secular conscience. The final draft begins by forbidding the government from imposing religion, and then forbids it from prohibiting anyone's religion. The point is to establish, in an eighteenth century manner, the freedom of thought. From thought, one moves on to speech, and from ordinary speech one moves on to the press. Each of these is guaranteed freedom. Beyond speech and press, the trajectory of an idea in a democracy proceeds to mass action: the right to assemble; and beyond that there remains the right to petition the government.
As Neuborne points out, the first amendment depicts a functioning democracy; it doesn't simply list unrelated rights. Nor is freedom of speech the only real right it lists, with the other rights being simply particular instances of it. Rather, freedom of thought and press and assembly and petition are unique rights with their own purposes. But none of them are ends in themselves. The purpose of the whole array of rights is to shape a government and a society in which popular thought (at one time of wealthy white males, later expanded) has at least some significant impact on public policy. Currently, of course, it does not, and Neuborne puts much of the blame for that on the Supreme Court's choices over the centuries, well meaning and otherwise, in how to read the first amendment.
As Neuborne suggests, the right to petition the government has been neglected. Nothing goes to a vote in the House of so-called Representatives unless approved by the majority party leader. Forty-one senators representing a tiny sliver of the population can stop almost any bill in the Senate. A democratic understanding of the right of petition might allow the public to compel votes in Congress on matters of public interest. In fact, I think this understanding would not be a new one. Jefferson's Manual, which is part of the rules of the House, allows for petitions and memorials, which are often submitted to Congress by local and state governments and groups. And at least in the case of impeachment proceedings, it lists a petition and memorial (written statement of facts accompanying the petition) as one of the means of initiating impeachment proceedings. I know because thousands of us collected millions of signatures on petitions to begin the impeachment of President George W. Bush, the desirability of which also reached a majority in public opinion polls despite zero action or discussion in Washington. The public was unable to even compel a vote. Our grievances were not redressed.
The right of assembly has been confined in free-speech cages, the right of free press has been corporate-monopolized, and the right of free speech has been shriveled away in the right places and expanded in the wrong places.
I'm not convinced by those who argue against all limits on speech. Speech is, appropriately enough, not considered free when it comes to threats, blackmail, extortion, false statements causing harm, obscenity, "fighting words," commercial speech urging illegal action, or egregiously false and misleading commercial speech. Under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the United States is a party, "any propaganda for war" must be prohibited, a standard which, if enforced, would eliminate a big chunk of U.S. television viewing.
So, we must choose where to allow speech and where not to, and as Neuborne documents, this is currently done with zero respect for logic. Spending money to elect a plutocratic-friendly candidate is considered "pure speech," deserving of the highest protection, but contributing money to that candidate's campaign is "indirect speech," deserving of a bit less protection and therefore subject to limits. Meanwhile burning a draft card is merely "communicative conduct" and when a voter writes in a name as a protest vote that gets no protection at all and can be banned. The Supremes do not allow judges to hear cases in which one litigant is a major benefactor of the judge, yet allow elected officials to govern people who buy them their seats. Corporations get first amendment rights despite lacking the human dignity to qualify for the fifth amendment's right to remain silent; are we supposed to pretend corporations are human or not? The Court upheld an Indiana voter ID requirement despite understanding that it would disproportionately harm the poor and despite not a single case of voter fraud being found anywhere in Indiana. If the right to outspend anyone else and effectively buy a candidate an election is the highest form of protected speech, why is the right to vote the lowest? Why are long lines to vote in poor neighborhoods allowed? Why can districts be gerrymandered to guarantee election of a candidate or party? Why can a criminal conviction strip away the right to vote? Why can elections be designed to benefit a two-party duopoly rather than the voters?
Neuborne writes that, "the robust third-party culture of the nineteenth century rested on ease of ballot access and the ability to cross-endorse. The Supreme Court has wiped out both, leaving a Republicrat cartel that stifles new ideas that might threaten the status quo."
Neuborne suggests many of the usual, and very good, solutions: creating free media on our air waves, providing tax credits to effectively give every person money to spend on elections, matching small donations as New York City does, creating automatic registration as Oregon just did, creating an election day holiday. Neuborne proposes a duty to vote, allowing an opt-out -- I'd rather add an option to vote for "none of the above." But the real solution is a popular movement that compels one or more branches of our government to view its purpose as supporting democracy, not just bombing other countries in its name.
Which brings us to the primary thing our government does, which even its detractors among law professors approve, namely war. To his credit, Neuborne favors the right to conscientious objection, as well as the free-speech right of groups or individuals to teach nonviolent action techniques to groups labeled "terrorist." Yet he supports hiring as a teacher of so-called human rights law a man who used his law background to tell Congress it had no war powers, to legitimate a brutal and blatantly illegal attack on Libya that has left behind a possibly permanent catastrophe from which helpless people are fleeing by boat, and to sanction the practice of murdering men, women, and children in large numbers by missile from drone.
I would love to see the explanation from Professor Neuborne as to how it can be the government's right to murder him (and anyone near him) with a hellfire missile, while it is simultaneously his right to be secure in his person against unreasonable search and seizure, his right not to be held to answer for a capital or otherwise infamous crime unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, his right to a speedy and public trial, his right to be informed of the accusation and to be confronted by the witnesses, his right to subpoena witnesses, his right to a trial by jury, and his right not to suffer cruel or unusual punishment.