okay, here’s one of the reasons why i have been grumpy and out of sorts for the past 3 days, since i got back from OCF.
i applied for a paypal account for my business back in, oh, i don’t know exactly, somewhere in 2004 or 2005. i applied for their “expanded use program” and they said that they had sent me an expanded use enrollment number on my bank statement in february of 2005, but i never received it. ever since then, about once a month, i have called paypal and tried to work it out to the limit of my frustration, and then given up until next month, having failed to complete my expanded use enrollment. at this point, i don’t even recall why the expanded use enrollment was so important to me, but it probably has to do with money i could be making if i completed it, or something like that.
since then, i have lost count of the number of paypal “associates” i have talked to, but at least ⅔ of them have had extremely heavy indian accents and have spoken quickly enough that i found it very difficult to understand them. not only that, but around ½ of them have given me a completely different story than the other ½, something about how i have a visa card, and there is a policy where they don’t allow more than one expanded use number to be sent for a visa card – which doesn’t really make any difference, because they never sent it me the first time.
finally, two days ago (the day after i got back from OCF), i talked to yet another associate who told me (once again) to look at my february 2005 bank statement (who would have guessed that it would be necessary to save a document for that long) and read off the charges to her. when i read off the charges and they didn’t include a charge from paypal, she wanted me to fax the statements from february and march (just to make sure). i don’t have a fax machine any longer, and they don’t accept email attachments (probably a good thing, considering their general incompetence), so i had moe fax them from her place of employment the next day (yesterday). today i called them…
AND THEY HAVEN’T RECIEVED THE DOCUMENTS YET!
they said that it takes 24 to 48 hours for them to receive faxes, which doesn’t make any sense to me. according to how i understand fax is supposed to work, fax is supposed to be a way to transmit printed documents on an almost instantaneous basis… but they said that it takes 24 to 48 hours. and then, on top of that, they wouldn’t confirm their fax number for me. i don’t know who has my bank statements but i’m thinking more and more that i may have directed moe to fax my bank statements to an unknown and potentially harmful recipient.
not only that, but the first associate i talked to said that she was putting me on hold while she went and checked whether the documents had been received or not, and then hung up on me. the second associate i talked to was very apologetic about the first associate hanging up on me, but she wouldn’t even go check on the documents because it hasn’t been 48 hours yet.
i used to be very nice to telephone drones when i had occasion to call them, but that was a very long time ago. since then i have actually been a technical support engineer (telephone drone) for microsoft, and heard all the phone calls from the other side, and now i have absolutely no patience with idiots, pointless policies, people who assume that they’re never going to talk to me again, so why bother being nice, and outsourced people from another country who don’t know what they’re taking about and can’t speak the language anyway.
if it weren’t for the fact that i actually use my paypal account on a regular basis, i would close my account and go somewhere else in an instant.
and to make matters worse, i have no cannabis and no way to obtain more… and the country is going to hell in a handbasket and there’s nothing i can do about it.
July 8, 2007
By R.J. Hillhouse
Red alert: Our national security is being outsourced.
The most intriguing secrets of the “war on terror” have nothing to do with al-Qaeda and its fellow travelers. They’re about the mammoth private spying industry that all but runs U.S. intelligence operations today.
Surprised? No wonder. In April, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell was poised to publicize a year-long examination of outsourcing by U.S. intelligence agencies. But the report was inexplicably delayed — and suddenly classified a national secret. What McConnell doesn’t want you to know is that the private spy industry has succeeded where no foreign government has: It has penetrated the CIA and is running the show.
Over the past five years (some say almost a decade), there has been a revolution in the intelligence community toward wide-scale outsourcing. Private companies now perform key intelligence-agency functions, to the tune, I’m told, of more than $42 billion a year. Intelligence professionals tell me that more than 50 percent of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) — the heart, brains and soul of the CIA — has been outsourced to private firms such as Abraxas, Booz Allen Hamilton, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon.
These firms recruit spies, create non-official cover identities and control the movements of CIA case officers. They also provide case officers and watch officers at crisis centers and regional desk officers who control clandestine operations worldwide. As the Los Angeles Times first reported last October, more than half the workforce in two key CIA stations in the fight against terrorism — Baghdad and Islamabad, Pakistan — is made up of industrial contractors, or “green badgers,” in CIA parlance.
Intelligence insiders say that entire branches of the NCS have been outsourced to private industry. These branches are still managed by U.S. government employees (“blue badgers”) who are accountable to the agency’s chain of command. But beneath them, insiders say, is a supervisory structure that’s controlled entirely by contractors; in some cases, green badgers are managing green badgers from other corporations.
Sensing problems — and possibly fearing congressional action — the CIA recently conducted a hasty review of all of its job classifications to determine which perform “essential government functions” that should not be outsourced. But it’s highly doubtful that such a short-term exercise can comprehensively identify the proper “blue/green” mix, especially because contractors’ work statements have long been carefully formulated to blur the distinction between approvable and debatable functions.
Although the contracting system is Byzantine, there’s no question that the private sector delivers high-quality professional intelligence services. Outsourcing has provided solutions to personnel-management problems that have always plagued the CIA’s operations side. Rather than tying agents up in the kind of office politics that government employees have to engage in to advance their careers, outsourcing permits them to focus on what they do best, which boosts morale and performance. Privatization also immediately increased the number of trained, experienced agents in the field after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Even though wide-scale outsourcing may not immediately endanger national security, it’s worrisome. The contractors in charge of espionage are still chiefly CIA alumni who have absorbed its public service values. But as the center of gravity shifts from the public sector to the private, more than one independent intelligence firm has developed plans to “raise” succeeding generations of officers within its own training systems. These corporate-grown agents will be inculcated with corporate values and ethics, not those of public service.
And the current piecemeal system has introduced some vulnerabilities. Historically, the system offered members of the intelligence community the kind of stability that ensured that they would keep its secrets. That dynamic is now being eroded. Contracts come and go. So do workforces. The spies of the past came of age professionally in a strong extended family, but the spies of the future will be more like children raised in multiple foster homes — at risk.
Today, when Booz Allen Hamilton loses a contract to SAIC, people rush from one to the other in a game of musical chairs, with not enough chairs for all the workers who possess both the highest security clearances and expertise in the art of espionage. Some inevitably lose out. Any good counterintelligence officer knows what can happen next. Down-on-their-luck spies begin to do what spies do best: spy. Other companies offer them jobs in exchange for industry secrets. Foreign governments approach them. And some day, terrorists will clue in to this potential workforce.
The director of national intelligence has put our security at risk by classifying the study on outsourcing and keeping the truth about this inadequately planned and managed system out of the light. Much of what has been outsourced makes sense, but much of the structure doesn’t, not for the longer term. It’s time for the public and Congress to demand the study’s release. More important, it’s past time for the industry — an industry conceived of and run by some of the best and brightest the CIA has ever produced — to come up with the kind of innovative solutions it’s legendary for, before the damage goes too deep.
Anti-war mother backs Bush’s impeachment
July 8, 2007
Cindy Sheehan, the soldier’s mother who galvanized the anti-war movement, said Sunday that she plans to run against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi unless she introduces articles of impeachment against President Bush in the next two weeks.
Sheehan said she will run against the San Francisco Democrat in 2008 as an independent if Pelosi does not seek by July 23 to impeach Bush. That’s when Sheehan and her supporters are to arrive in Washington, D.C., after a 13-day caravan and walking tour starting next week from the group’s war protest site near Bush’s Crawford ranch.
“Democrats and Americans feel betrayed by the Democratic leadership,” Sheehan told The Associated Press. “We hired them to bring an end to the war. I’m not too far from San Francisco, so it wouldn’t be too big of a move for me. I would give her a run for her money.”
Messages left with Pelosi’s staff were not immediately returned. The White House declined to comment on Sheehan’s plans.
She plans her official candidacy announcement Tuesday. Sunday wrapped up what is expected to be her final weekend at the 5-acre Crawford lot that she sold to California radio talk show host Bree Walker, who plans to keep it open to protesters.
Sheehan announced in late May that she was leaving the anti-war movement. She said that she felt her efforts had been in vain and that she had endured smear tactics and hatred from the left, as well as the right. She said she wanted to change course.
She first came to Crawford in August 2005 during a Bush vacation, demanding to talk to him about the war that killed her son Casey in 2004. She became the face of the anti-war movement during her 26-day roadside vigil, which was joined by thousands. But it also drew counter-protests by Bush supporters, many who said she was hurting troop morale.
Disenchantment with Democrats
Sheehan, who has never held political office, recently said that she was leaving the Democratic Party because it “caved” in to the president. Last week, she announced her caravan to Washington, an undertaking she calls the “people’s accountability movement.”
“I didn’t expect to be back so soon, but the focus is different than it was before,” Sheehan said Sunday. “Instead of talking and making accusations, we’re going into communities and talking to the people who’ve been hurt by the Bush regime. We’re finding out how we can help people.”
Sheehan, who will turn 50 on Tuesday, said Bush should be impeached because she believes he misled the public about the reasons for going to war, violated the Geneva Convention by torturing detainees, and crossed the line by commuting the prison sentence of former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. She said other grounds for impeachment are the domestic spying program and the “inadequate and tragic” response to Hurricane Katrina.
Libby was convicted of lying and obstructing justice in an investigation into the leak of a CIA officer’s identity.
Sheehan said she hopes Pelosi files the articles of impeachment so Sheehan can move onto her next projects, including overseas trips for humanitarian work. But if not, Sheehan said she is ready to run for office.
“She let the people down…”
“I’m doing it to encourage other people to run against Congress members who aren’t doing their jobs, who are beholden to special interests,” Sheehan said. “She (Pelosi) let the people down who worked hard to put Democrats back in power, who we thought were our hope for change.”
Pelosi was elected to the House in 1987 and became the first female speaker in January.
Sheehan said she lives in a Sacramento suburb but declined to disclose which city, citing safety reasons. The area is outside Pelosi’s district, but there are no residency requirements for congressional members, according to the California secretary of state’s office.
July 7, 2007
By JENNIFER LOVEN
President Bush accused Democratic lawmakers on Saturday of being unable to live up to their duties, citing Congress’ inability to pass legislation to fund the federal government.
“Democrats are failing in their responsibility to make tough decisions and spend the people’s money wisely,” Bush said in his weekly radio address. “This moment is a test.”
The White House has said the failure of a broad immigration overhaul was proof that Democratic-controlled Capitol Hill cannot take on major issues. “We saw this with immigration, and we’re seeing it with some other issues where Congress is having an inability to take on major challenges,” said spokesman Tony Fratto.
The main reason the immigration measure died, however, was staunch opposition from Bush’s own base — conservatives. The president could not turn around members of his own party despite weeks of intense effort.
The immigration bill was the top item on Bush’s domestic agenda. With its demise, Bush was left to focus on the annual appropriations process and reining in federal spending.
Twelve annual spending bills dole out approximately one-third of the federal budget. They must be passed each year by Congress, before the Oct. 1 start of the new fiscal year, but lawmakers began considering this year’s batch just in mid-June. The House has passed half and the full Senate has not yet taken up any.
“Democrats have a chance to prove they are for open and transparent government by working to complete each spending bill independently and on time,” Bush said. “I urge Democrats in Congress to step forward now and pass these bills one at a time. ”
Democratic leaders say they are behind because an emergency spending measure funding the war in Iraq came first. They also had to pass an omnibus measure cleaning up last year’s appropriations mess. Then, the Republicans who then controlled Congress failed to pass into law a single spending bill for domestic agencies save the Homeland Security Department — a situation that brought little complaint from Bush.
With the Senate and House now in Democratic hands, this year’s bills are producing skirmishes with the White House that also are causing delays. Almost every domestic bill already has attracted a veto threat because it exceeds Bush’s proposed budget in certain areas.
All told, Democrats plan spending increases for annual agency budgets of about $23 billion above the White House budget request. Bush put it in terms of a five-year outlook, and said their budget plan would be $205 billion bigger than his over that period, and would include “the largest tax increase in history” by allowing some of his tax cuts to expire as planned.
The president said Democrats are embracing “the failed tax-and-spend policies of the past,” and vowed to stand firm for fiscal restraint. Republican lawmakers have pledged to support him and sustain any vetoes.
“No nation has ever taxed and spent its way to prosperity,” Bush said. “And I have made it clear that I will veto any attempt to take America down this road.”
The president also applauded a new jobs report, which showed employers adding 132,000 jobs, paychecks growing solidly and the unemployment rate staying at a low 4.5 percent in June.
Bush said the evidence that the once listless economy is regaining energy is a result of his insistence on lowering taxes and spending.
“Democratic leaders in Congress want to take our country down a different track,” he said.
July 10, 2007
By DOUGLASS K. DANIEL
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., apologized Monday night for “a very serious sin in my past” after his telephone number appeared among those associated with an escort service operated by the so-called “D.C. Madam.”
Vitter’s spokesman, Joel Digrado, confirmed the statement in an e-mail sent to The Associated Press.
“This was a very serious sin in my past for which I am, of course, completely responsible,” Vitter said in the statement. “Several years ago, I asked for and received forgiveness from God and my wife in confession and marriage counseling. Out of respect for my family, I will keep my discussion of the matter there – with God and them. But I certainly offer my deep and sincere apologies to all I have disappointed and let down in any way.”
The statement containing Vitter’s apology said his telephone number was on old phone records of Pamela Martin and Associates before he ran for the Senate.
Deborah Jeane Palfrey was accused in federal court of racketeering by running a prostitution ring that netted more than $2 million over 13 years, beginning in 1993. She contends, however, that her escort service, Pamela Martin and Associates, was a legitimate business.
Vitter, 46, a Republican in his first Senate term, was elected to the Senate in 2004. He represented Louisiana’s 1st Congressional District in the House from 1999 to 2004.
Vitter and his wife, Wendy, live in Metairie, La., with their four children.
Palfrey’s attorney, Montgomery Blair Sibley, told the AP, “I’m stunned that someone would be apologizing for this.” He said Palfrey had posted the phone numbers of her escort service’s clients online Monday, but he did not know whether Vitter’s number was among them. Vitter’s statement was sent to the AP’s New Orleans bureau Monday evening.
Palfrey’s Web site contains 20 compressed files of phone records, dating from August 1994 to August 2006. No names are listed, only phone numbers. Palfrey wrote on the Web site that she believed a disk containing the records had been pirated, and wrote that she was posting the records “to thwart any possible distorted version and to ensure the integrity of the information.”
Silas Lee, a political analyst and pollster in New Orleans, spoke Monday about the possible political impact on Vitter.
“In the short term, I think the issue will dominate the discourse for a few days and weeks, and though he’s up for re-election in 2010, it should dissipate by then,” Lee told WWL-TV in New Orleans.
“But for some of his very conservative constituents, it might not be as easy. In their mind and eyes, they may not be able to forgive. The majority may overlook it in time depending on his job performance and how sincere voters believe he wants them to forgive him.”
Earlier this year Palfrey, 51, of Vallejo, Calif., asked the Supreme Court to delay the criminal case against her – a request the court denied in May. Her attorney had argued that it was unfair to proceed against Palfrey because her assets remain seized in a civil forfeiture case, meaning she lacks the money to hire an attorney of her choice.
Randall Tobias, a senior official in the State Department, resigned in April after ABC News confronted him about his use of the escort service. He admitted that he had hired women to come to his Washington condo and give him massages but denied that he had sex with the escorts.
Palfrey threatened for months to release her client list, which led prosecutors to accuse her of trying to intimidate potential witnesses.
Contending that her escort service was legal, Palfrey revealed details of its operation on ABC’s news magazine “20/20” on May 4. At the time, ABC said it could not link any information provided by Palfrey to members of Congress or White House officials but did find links to prominent business executives, NASA officials and at least five military officers.
Prosecutors contend that Palfrey knew the 130 women she employed over 13 years were engaged in prostitution. She claims that she operated a “legal, high-end erotic fantasy service” and that the women signed contracts in which they promised not to have sex with clients. The service charged a flat rate of $275 for 90 minutes, she said.
Palfrey pleaded guilty to pimping charges in 1991 and was sentenced to 18 months in a California prison.
July 9, 2007
By LAURIE KELLMAN
President Bush directed former aides to defy congressional subpoenas on Monday, claiming executive privilege and prodding lawmakers closer to their first contempt citations against administration officials since Ronald Reagan was president.
It was the second time in as many weeks that Bush had cited executive privilege in resisting Congress’ investigation into the firings of U.S. attorneys.
White House Counsel Fred Fielding insisted that Bush was acting in good faith in withholding documents and directing the two aides — Fielding’s predecessor, Harriet Miers, and Bush’s former political director, Sara Taylor — to defy subpoenas ordering them to explain their roles in the firings over the winter.
In the standoff between branches of government, Fielding renewed the White House offer to let Miers, Taylor and other administration officials meet with congressional investigators off the record and with no transcript. He declined to explain anew the legal underpinnings of the privilege claim as the chairmen of the House and Senate judiciary committees had directed.
“You may be assured that the president’s assertion here comports with prior practices in similar contexts, and that it has been appropriately documented,” Fielding wrote.
Rep. John Conyers, chairman of the House panel, left little doubt where the showdown was headed.
“Contrary to what the White House may believe, it is the Congress and the courts that will decide whether an invocation of executive privilege is valid, not the White House unilaterally,” the Michigan Democrat said.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said the posturing was a waste of time and money and a distraction from the questions at hand: Who ordered the firings, why, and whether Attorney General Alberto Gonzales should continue to serve or be fired.
Specter, a former chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said the Democrats’ threat of taking the standoff to court on a contempt citation was spurious because the prosecutor who would consider it is a Bush appointee.
“On a case like this, does anyone believe the U.S. attorney is going to bring a criminal contempt citation against anyone?” Specter said in a telephone interview. “The U.S. attorney works for the president and it’s a discretionary matter what the U.S. attorney does.”
Historically, such standoffs over executive privilege are resolved before the full House or Senate votes on referring a congressional contempt citation to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. But rather than cooling off over the July 4th holiday, Bush and Democrats returned from the weeklong break closer to a legal confrontation.
The last contempt finding Congress sought to prosecute was against former Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle in 1983. The Democratic-led House voted 413-0 to cite her for contempt for refusing to appear before a House committee. She was later acquitted in court of the contempt charge but was convicted of perjury in a separate trial.
Just before Congress left town, Bush invoked executive privilege on subpoenas lawmakers filed for any documents Taylor and Miers received or generated about the firings. On Monday, Bush again invoked privilege on the women’s scheduled testimony for this week. Through their attorneys, Bush instructed the pair not to testify on the firings.
Lawmakers said they had plenty of questions to ask the women outside the privilege claim.
Both officials were included on e-mails about the firings released earlier this year by the Justice Department, and Miers at one point suggested the firings of all 93 federal prosecutors. Taylor also could have sent e-mails on a Republican National Committee account outside the White House, according to Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, who insisted those communications were not covered by executive privilege.
The dispute squeezes Miers and Taylor between the president’s instructions and the possibility of being held in contempt of Congress. Their lawyers did not respond to requests for comment, but Leahy said he expects Taylor to appear before his panel Wednesday, as scheduled. It was unclear if Miers would appear before Conyers’ committee the next day.
Fielding invoked executive privilege in dismissing a Monday morning deadline set by Conyers and Leahy for the White House to explain and list which documents it was withholding from their committees.
“We are aware of no authority by which a congressional committee may `direct’ the executive to undertake the task of creating and providing an extensive description of every document covered by an assertion of executive privilege,” he wrote.
Bush’s counsel, a veteran of executive privilege disputes, cloaked his tough rejoinder to the Democratic committee chairmen in gentlemanly language. But his message was unequivocal: The White House won’t back down.
He argued that the committees’ “open-ended” investigation into the firings had no constitutional basis, in large part because the president has the right to hire and fire his own political appointees.
Fielding cast the impasse as a natural constitutional tension between branches of government and complained that Leahy, D-Vt., and Conyers had accused the White House of acting in something other than good faith. He called for “a presumption of goodwill on all sides.”
Democrats didn’t bite.
“The president seems to think that executive privilege is a magic mantra that can hide anything, including wrongdoing,” said New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, chairman of the Senate Democrats’ 2008 election campaign operation.
After getting report, attorney general said he knew of no wrongdoing
July 10, 2007
By John Solomon
As he sought to renew the USA Patriot Act two years ago, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales assured lawmakers that the FBI had not abused its potent new terrorism-fighting powers. “There has not been one verified case of civil liberties abuse,” Gonzales told senators on April 27, 2005.
Six days earlier, the FBI sent Gonzales a copy of a report that said its agents had obtained personal information that they were not entitled to have. It was one of at least half a dozen reports of legal or procedural violations that Gonzales received in the three months before he made his statement to the Senate intelligence committee, according to internal FBI documents released under the Freedom of Information Act.
The acts recounted in the FBI reports included unauthorized surveillance, an illegal property search and a case in which an Internet firm improperly turned over a compact disc with data that the FBI was not entitled to collect, the documents show. Gonzales was copied on each report that said administrative rules or laws protecting civil liberties and privacy had been violated.
The reports also alerted Gonzales in 2005 to problems with the FBI’s use of an anti-terrorism tool known as national security letters (NSLs), well before the Justice Department’s inspector general brought widespread abuse of the letters in 2004 and 2005 to light in a stinging report this past March.
‘In the context’ of inspector general reports
Justice officials said they could not immediately determine whether Gonzales read any of the FBI reports in 2005 and 2006 because the officials who processed them were not available yesterday. But department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said that when Gonzales testified, he was speaking “in the context” of reports by the department’s inspector general before this year that found no misconduct or specific civil liberties abuses related to the Patriot Act.
“The statements from the attorney general are consistent with statements from other officials at the FBI and the department,” Roehrkasse said. He added that many of the violations the FBI disclosed were not legal violations and instead involved procedural safeguards or even typographical errors.
Each of the violations cited in the reports copied to Gonzales was serious enough to require notification of the President’s Intelligence Oversight Board, which helps police the government’s surveillance activities. The format of each memo was similar, and none minced words.
“This enclosure sets forth details of investigative activity which the FBI has determined was conducted contrary to the attorney general’s guidelines for FBI National Security Investigations and Foreign Intelligence Collection and/or laws, executive orders and presidential directives,” said the April 21, 2005, letter to the Intelligence Oversight Board.
The oversight board, staffed with intelligence experts from inside and outside government, was established to report to the attorney general and president about civil liberties abuses or intelligence lapses. But Roehrkasse said the fact that a violation is reported to the board “does not mean that a USA Patriot violation exists or that an individual’s civil liberties have been abused.”
Two of the earliest reports sent to Gonzales, during his first month on the job, in February 2005, involved the FBI’s surveillance and search powers. In one case, the bureau reported a violation involving an “unconsented physical search” in a counterintelligence case. The details were redacted in the released memo, but it cited violations of safeguards “that shall protect constitutional and other legal rights.” The second violation involved electronic surveillance on phone lines that was reinitiated after the expiration deadline set by a court in a counterterrorism case.
The report sent to Gonzales on April 21, 2005, concerned a violation of the rules governing NSLs, which allow agents in counterterrorism and counterintelligence investigations to secretly gather Americans’ phone, bank and Internet records without a court order or a grand jury subpoena. In the report — also heavily redacted before being released — the FBI said its agents had received a compact disc containing information they did not request. It was viewed before being sealed in an envelope.
Gonzales received another report of an NSL-related violation a few weeks later. “A national security letter . . . contained an incorrect phone number” that resulted in agents collecting phone information that “belonged to a different U.S. person” than the suspect under investigation, stated a letter copied to the attorney general on May 6, 2005.
At least two other reports of NSL-related violations were sent to Gonzales, according to the new documents. In letters copied to him on Dec. 11, 2006, and Feb. 26, 2007, the FBI reported to the oversight board that agents had requested and obtained phone data on the wrong people.
‘I was upset…’
Nonetheless, Gonzales reacted with surprise when the Justice Department inspector general reported this March that there were pervasive problems with the FBI’s handling of NSLs and another investigative tool known as exigent circumstances letters.
“I was upset when I learned this, as was Director Mueller. To say that I am concerned about what has been revealed in this report would be an enormous understatement,” Gonzales said in a speech March 9, referring to FBI Director Robert S. Mueller. The attorney general added that he believed back in 2005, before the Patriot Act was renewed, that there were no problems with NSLs. “I’ve come to learn that I was wrong,” he said, making no mention of the FBI reports sent to him.
Marcia Hofmann, a lawyer for the nonpartisan Electronic Frontier Foundation, said, “I think these documents raise some very serious questions about how much the attorney general knew about the FBI’s misuse of surveillance powers and when he knew it.” A lawsuit by Hofmann’s group seeking internal FBI documents about NSLs prompted the release of the reports.
Caroline Fredrickson, a lobbyist for the American Civil Liberties Union, said the new documents raise questions about whether Gonzales misled Congress at a moment when lawmakers were poised to renew the Patriot Act and keenly sought assurances that there were no abuses. “It was extremely important,” she said of Gonzales’s 2005 testimony. “The attorney general said there are no problems with the Patriot Act, and there was no counterevidence at the time.”
Some of the reports describe rules violations that the FBI decided not to report to the intelligence board. In February 2006, for example, FBI officials wrote that agents sent a person’s phone records, which they had obtained from a provider under a national security letter, to an outside party. The mistake was blamed on “an error in the mail handling.” When the third party sent the material back, the bureau decided not to report the mistake as a violation.
The memos also detail instances in which the FBI wrote out new NSLs to cover evidence that had been mistakenly collected. In a June 30, 2006, e-mail, for instance, an FBI supervisor asked an agent who had “overcollected” evidence under a national security letter to forward his original request to lawyers. “We would like to check the specific language to see if there is anything in the body that would cover the extra material they gave,” the supervisor wrote.
Sometimes the FBI reached seemingly contradictory conclusions about the gravity of its errors. On May 6, 2005, the bureau decided that it needed to report a violation when agents made an “inadvertent” request for data for the wrong phone number. But on June 1, 2006, in a similar wrong-number case, the bureau concluded that a violation did not need to be reported because the agent acted “in good faith.”
July 6, 2007
By Norman Kent
Editor’s Note: The following is a letter addressed to Minnesota Republican Senator Norm Coleman — a strong advocate of the brutal federal drug laws on the books — reminding him that he used to be a happy, safe, fun-loving pot smoker.
My friend Norman,
Years ago, in a lifetime far away, you did not oppose the legalization of marijuana. Years ago, in our dorm rooms at Hofstra University, you, me, Billy, your future brother-in-law, Ivan, Jonathan, Peter, Janet, Nancy and a wealth of other students smoked dope.
Sure, we had to tape the doors shut, burn incense and open the windows, but we got high, and yet we grew up okay, without the help of the Office of National Drug Control Policy’s advice.
We grew up to become lawyers. Our other friends, as you go down the list, are doctors, professors, parents, political consultants and professionals. No one ever got cancer from smoking pot or diabetes from using a joint. And the days of our youth we look back fondly upon as years where we stood up, were counted and made a difference, from Earth Day in 1970 to helping bring down a president and end a war in Southeast Asia a few years later. We smoked pot when we took over Weller Hall to protest administrative abuses of students’ rights. You smoked pot as you stood on the roof of the University Senate protesting faculty exclusivity. As the President of the Student Senate in 1969, you condemned the raid by Nassau County police on our dormitories, busting scores of students for pot possession. Continue reading 1047
I think war is a dangerous place.
— George W. Bush
Our enemies…never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.
— George W. Bush
Our nation is somewhat sad, but we’re angry. There’s a certain level of blood lust, but we won’t let it drive our reaction. We’re steady, clear-eyed and patient, but pretty soon we’ll have to start displaying scalps.
— George W. Bush
If this were a dictatorship, it’d be a heck of a lot easier, just so long as I’m the dictator.
— George W. Bush
I just want you to know that, when we talk about war, we’re really talking about peace.
— George W. Bush
…the role of the military is to fight and win war and, therefore, prevent war from happening in the first place.
— George W. Bush
Free nations are peaceful nations. Free nations don’t attack each other. Free nations don’t develop weapons of mass destruction.
— George W. Bush
We know that dictators are quick to choose aggression, while free nations strive to resolve differences in peace.
— George W. Bush
Evil men, obsessed with ambition and unburdened by conscience, must be taken very seriously–and we must stop them before their crimes can multiply.
— George W. Bush
These people are trying to shake the will of the Iraqi citizens, and they want us to leave…I think the world would be better off if we did leave…
— George W. Bush (on Iraqi Insurgency)
I respect the jury’s decision.
— George Bush, seconds before changing the decision of the jury
NYC man held for reciting 1st Amendment
July 2, 2007
By TOM HAYS
Reverend Billy says he wants the New York Police Department to get right with the Constitution.
The performance artist — a cross between a street-corner preacher and an Elvis impersonator (but blond) — was arrested on harassment charges last week while reciting the First Amendment through a megaphone in Manhattan’s Union Square. On Monday, he donned his trademark white suit and returned to the scene of his alleged sin to demand that police repent.
“It feels so good to be back on the very spot where I was denied my First Amendment rights by reciting the First Amendment,” he told reporters over the din of an NYPD helicopter hovering overhead.
Reverend Billy, whose real name is Bill Talen, was joined by women in red choir robes who sang a hymn version of the amendment, which guarantees freedom of speech. Other activists distributed an amateur videotape of his arrest.
Eyes closed and hands raised, the pretend pastor whooped, “Bill of Rights-elujah!”
Talen, 57, has spent years using his mock persona as a fire-and-brimstone evangelist to rail against consumer culture — what he portrays as the Disneyfication of Manhattan. He was arrested this year on misdemeanor trespassing charges for protesting at a Starbucks; that case is pending.
His latest run-in with the law began after he turned up to support people gathering in Union Square last Friday for the monthly Critical Mass bike ride asserting cyclists’ rights.
The NYPD has aggressively policed the rides, arguing that they can interfere with traffic and threaten public safety. Advocates for Critical Mass have accused police of infringing on the riders’ constitutional rights to free speech and free assembly.
The video shows Talen preaching the “44 beautiful words of the First Amendment” to a visibly annoyed congregation of police commanders huddled a few feet away. At one point, an officer approaches and warns him that his sermon is breaking the law.
“What’s the law?” Talen asks.
“Harassment,” the officer answers.
When Talen persists, another officer comes up behind him and slaps on handcuffs. When being put in a police van, the satirist shouts, “We have a right to peaceful assembly!”
Talen was held overnight before being released without bail. A criminal complaint alleges he harassed police officers by approaching them and “repeatedly shouting at such officers through a non-electric bullhorn.”
Civil rights attorney Norman Siegel, appearing with Talen on Monday, called on prosecutors to drop the charges.
“The arrest was a false arrest,” Siegel said. “What Reverend Billy did last Friday night does not constitute illegal conduct.”
Prosecutors declined to comment. The New York Police Department, contacted Monday evening, said it had no comment.
July 3, 2007
By MATT APUZZO
The White House on Tuesday declined to rule out the possibility of an eventual pardon for former vice presidential aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby. But spokesman Tony Snow said, for now, President Bush is satisfied with his decision to commute Libby’s 2 1/2-year prison sentence.
“He thought any jail time was excessive. He did not see fit to have Scooter Libby taken to jail,” Snow said.
Snow said that even with Bush’s decision, Libby remains with a felony conviction on his record, two years’ probation, a $250,000 fine and probable loss of his legal career. “This is hardly a slap on the wrist,” Snow said.
U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton, who sentenced Libby to prison, declined Tuesday to discuss the case or his views on sentencing. “To now say anything about sentencing on the heels of yesterday’s events will inevitably be construed as comments on the president’s commutation decision, which would be inappropriate,” the judge said in an e-mail.
With prison seeming all but certain for Libby, Bush on Monday spared the former chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. His move came just five hours after a federal appeals court panel ruled that Libby could not delay his prison term. The Bureau of Prisons had already assigned Libby a prison identification number.
Snow was pressed several times on whether the president might eventually grant a full pardon to Libby, who had been convicted of lying and conspiracy in the CIA leak investigation. The press secretary declined to say anything categorically.
“The reason I’m not going to say I’m not going to close a door on a pardon,” Snow said, “Scooter Libby may petition for one.”
“The president thinks that he has dealt with the situation properly,” he added. “There is always a possibility or there’s an avenue open for anybody to petition for consideration of a pardon.”
Bush’s decision was sharply criticized by Democrats. Republicans were more subdued, with some welcoming the decision and some conservatives saying Bush should have gone further.
“The president’s getting pounding on the right for not granting a full pardon,” Snow suggested.
Asked whether Cheney had weighed in on the decision to commute Libby’s sentence, Snow said, “I don’t have direct knowledge. But on the other hand, the president did consult with most senior officials, and I’m sure that everybody had an opportunity to share their views.”
July 3, 2007
By THOMAS WAGNER
Ayman al-Zawahri, al-Qaida’s No. 2. George Habash of the PLO. Mahmoud Zahar, the Hamas strongman in Gaza. All trained as doctors — as did at least seven suspects in the failed bomb attacks in Britain.
The general public often is shocked to see that doctors — the world’s healers — can become militants or even terrorist killers. But some experts believe it is part of a socio-economic trend in which wealthy families highly educate their sons, who sometimes become radical and have the education they need to become leaders.
“People often assume that terrorists are poor, disadvantaged people who are brainwashed or need the money. But the ones who actually perpetrate violence without handlers and manipulation are highly intelligent by necessity,” said Magnus Ranstorp, a terrorism expert at the Swedish National Defense College in Stockholm.
“It’s only the smart ones who will survive security pressures in a subversive existence. Sometimes they are doctors, a profession that provides a brilliant cover and allows entry to countries like Britain,” he said in an interview Tuesday.
At least five of the eight suspects in the failed terrorist attacks in London and Glasgow, Scotland, were identified as doctors from Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon and India, while staff at a Glasgow hospital said two others were a doctor and a medical student.
“It sends rather a chill down the spine to think that people’s values can be so perverted,” said Pauline Neville-Jones, former head of the Joint Intelligence Committee, which advises the British government.
“It means obviously that you can’t make any assumptions, or have any preconceptions about the kind of people who might become terrorists. It does mean that you widen the net, obviously,” she said on BBC-TV.
Newspapers carried headlines such as “Dr. Terror,” “Doctor Evil” and “Terror cell in the NHS,” the country’s National Health Service.
“It’s really shocking,” said Elaine Paige, an office manager in London. “Given what doctors do in clinics and operating rooms, how could they want to destroy lives?”
But Robert Courtney, a designer in the British capital, said: “Nothing surprises me these days.”
“People from all walks of life are being pushed toward violence by the horrible situations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel and Palestine,” he said.
If doctors were leading the cell that plotted the attacks — which Prime Minister Gordon Brown said were “associated with al-Qaida” — it wouldn’t be a first. Al-Zawahri, an Egyptian who trained as a doctor, is Osama bin Laden’s top deputy, and he often speaks out in audio tapes on behalf of al-Qaida in favor of groups such as Hamas in Gaza.
Three doctors have played prominent roles in militant Islamic groups in Gaza in recent years. Mahmoud Zahar, one of the main Hamas leaders, was the personal physician of the founder of the group, Sheik Ahmed Yassin. Zahar became a Hamas spokesman and leader in the late 1980s alongside his mentor. Yassin, a paraplegic, was killed in an Israeli airstrike in 2004.
Yassin’s successor was Abdel Aziz Rantisi, a pediatrician. He was killed by an Israeli airstrike shortly after Yassin. He was introduced to radical Islam during his medical studies in Cairo.
Also, the founder of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Mohammed al-Hindi, received his medical degree in Cairo in 1980. He returned to Gaza and formed the militant group a year later.
Habash, who trained as a pediatrician in a family of Christian Palestinian merchants, founded and led the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, which was behind a spate of aircraft hijackings in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said people often wrongly conclude that a good education and prosperity works against development of terrorists.
“The Sept. 11 bombers were better educated than the average person,” said Kramer, who also is a senior fellow at the Shalem Center, a Jerusalem think tank. “Educated people have long been drafted to fight in jihadi causes. For example, many mujahadeen fighting the Russians in Afghanistan were highly educated engineers and doctors.”
Whatever happens in the fast-moving investigation of Britain’s terrorist attacks they already have opened a debate about the country’s reliance on foreign doctors.
For years, foreign physicians who lived outside the European Union could travel to Britain on a regular visa — without a job offer or a work permit — and find employment with the National Health Service for up to three years.
That freewheeling system was designed to help Britain cope with a doctor shortage. Last year the regulations were tightened — not out of concern for security but because Britain needs fewer foreign doctors. But today’s National Health Service clinics and hospitals still rely heavily on them.
According to figures supplied by the General Medical Council, a regulatory agency, 37 percent of the 238,739 doctors practicing in Britain trained and qualified as physicians overseas. That includes 27,558 doctors from India, 6,634 from Pakistan, 1,987 from Iraq and 184 from Jordan, the agency said.
and, finally, this comes under the category DUH!
if they don’t remember where osama bin laden, then they might just as well create another one… you can’t have too many osama bin ladens hanging around…
July 3, 2007
By ROBERT H. REID
The U.S. tactic of using armed Sunni tribesmen in the fight against al-Qaida in Iraq offers short-term gains to weaken the insurgency, but could set the stage for a full-scale sectarian civil war when the Americans begin to draw down their forces.
The danger that these alliances of convenience could backfire becomes all the greater if Iraq’s Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish leaders fail to achieve genuine political reconciliation — the key to ending the conflict.
Instead, signs point to further polarization, despite some progress hammering out deals on sharing the oil wealth and returning many former Saddam Hussein loyalists to government jobs. Parliament could take up the oil bill as early as Wednesday.
“If anything, the use of Sunni tribes in the West has created new forms of Sunni versus Shiite polarization,” former Pentagon analyst Anthony Cordesman told a House committee last week.
Nevertheless, U.S. military officials insist the strategy is working to quell the violence, especially in Anbar province. The western desert region — threaded by the Euphrates River — had been largely written off as a haven for insurgents. But major Sunni tribal leaders agreed to come together to fight al-Qaida in Iraq late last year.
Since then, al-Qaida in Iraq has been mostly driven out of Anbar’s main population centers, according to Marine Brig. Gen. John Allen, the deputy commander for U.S. forces in western Iraq. Those include longtime troublespots such as Ramadi, Haditha and Fallujah that had been the major strongholds of the Sunni insurgency.
Encouraged by the shift in Anbar, U.S. commanders have sought to replicate the model in Diyala province northwest of Baghdad — the scene of an ongoing offensive to regain control of the provincial capital of Baqouba.
Breakaway members of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, an insurgent group led by former Saddam backers, serve as scouts and intelligence gatherers, identifying al-Qaida hideouts.
“They are tired of al Qaida and the influence of al Qaida in their tribes and in their neighborhoods,” Maj. Gen. Joseph Fil, the U.S. commander for Baghdad, told reporters last week. “And they want them cleaned out and they want to form an alliance in order to rid themselves of this blight.”
U.S. officials insist they aren’t actually arming the Sunni tribesmen but simply utilizing them. Nearly every household in Iraq has at least one weapon and the country is awash in guns.
“We’ve given them a little ammo, some flares, but mostly humanitarian aid. We’re not arming these guys, we’re just changing the direction they’re pointing their guns in,” Lt. Gen. Raymond Odierno, the U.S. ground forces commander, said last month.
Regardless of where the weapons come from, the risk is that the Sunni tribesmen won’t cooperate with the Shiite-led central government if they succeed in crushing their al-Qaida rivals. The effort could end up simply creating new Sunni militias, further undermining the authority of an already weak central government.
In rural areas, tribal loyalty is often stronger than allegiance to the national government, especially when the central administration is weak.
“There’s no question that the people with guns in Iraq are looking after their own self-interest,” said Jon Alterman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. “And they don’t have any sentimental attachment to the central government in Baghdad.”
Mindful of that risk, the Shiite government’s initial reaction to arming Sunnis in Anbar and elsewhere was cool. Last month, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki said arming Sunnis was simply creating new militias.
Later, al-Maliki said his remarks were misunderstood and that the program should be carried out “under the supervision of Iraqi authorities and through the government.”
But the effort to arm the Sunnis grew in part out of U.S. frustration with Iraqi officials, notably in the Shiite-led Interior Ministry.
U.S. officers had complained privately that they had found Sunnis willing to join but the Shiites at the ministry in Baghdad would not authorize the slots.
“We’ve been forced to go beyond the central government because the central government’s reach doesn’t extend much beyond the Green Zone, and local police are often extensions of militias in any event,” Alterman said. “We’ve been forced to cut out the middleman because there’s no effective middleman to be had.”
The success of the program will likely depend on whether the Iraqis make progress in reaching power sharing agreements among the Shiite, Sunni and Kurdish communities. That would reinforce a sense of national cohesion — which the country now lacks.
Prospects for lasting agreements appear uncertain. The main Sunni political bloc has refused to attend Cabinet meetings to protest an arrest warrant against a colleague. Muqtada al-Sadr’s Shiite faction has also suspended its participation in government.
Those issues would have to be resolved before meaningful agreements can be struck.
Frederick Kagan, a former West Point professor and senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, acknowledges that the Americans and Iraqis must be careful to ensure that the Sunnis are eventually integrated into the security forces.
But Kagan believes the gamble is worth it.
“We are serving as the bridge between the Sunni insurgents and tribal leaders and the Shia government,” Kagan wrote in The Weekly Standard. “Before the end of last year, there were virtually no Sunnis willing to step on that bridge. Now, five months into the surge, tens of thousands are walking on it.”
June 25, 2007
By Eric Bangeman
Former RIAA target Tanya Andersen has sued several major record labels, the parent company of RIAA investigative arm MediaSentry, and the RIAA’s Settlement Support Center for malicious prosecution, a development first reported by P2P litigation attorney Ray Beckerman of Vandenberg & Feliu. Earlier this month, Andersen and the RIAA agreed to dismiss the case against her with prejudice, making her the prevailing party and eligible for attorneys fees.
The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the District of Oregon late last week and accuses the RIAA of a number of misdeeds, including invasion of privacy, libel and slander, and deceptive business practices.
Andersen is a disabled single mother residing in Oregon. In 2005, she was sued by the RIAA for file-sharing, accused of sharing a library of gangsta rap over Kazaa. She denied the allegations and filed a counterclaim alleging fraud, racketeering, and deceptive business practices by the record labels. Despite the lack of any evidence of infringement apart from an IP address, the RIAA continued to press ahead with the case until the abrupt dismissal earlier this month.
Andersen lays out an unsavory account of the music industry’s actions as it attempted to dig up evidence that she was guilty of infringement. Early on, an employee at the Settlement Support Center, the RIAA’s prelitigation collections agent, allegedly told Andersen that he believed she had not infringed any copyrights according to the complaint.
After the RIAA filed suit, Andersen’s complaint says that she provided the name, location, and phone number of the person she believed was behind the Kazaa account “gotenkito,” the account the RIAA accused her of using for copyright infringement. “Instead of dismissing their false claims, the defendant Record Companies persisted in their malicious prosecution of her they publicly libeled her with demanding and repulsive accusations [sic]” that she listened to misogynistic rap music according to the complaint.
The RIAA is also accused of trying to contact Andersen’s then eight-year-old daughter without her knowledge. “Knowing of her distress, the RIAA and its agents even attempted to directly contact Kylee,” reads the complaint. “They called Ms. Andersen’s apartment building looking for Kylee. Phone calls were also made to her former elementary school under false pretenses… Ms. Andersen learned of these tactics and was even more frightened and distressed.”
Andersen says that the RIAA acted negligently throughout the proceedings and engaged in fraud and negligent misrepresentation by demanding that she enter into a four-figure settlement for copyright infringement that she never engaged in. The RIAA is also accused of violating both federal and state RICO statutes, the intentional infliction of emotional distress, and invasion of privacy. Andersen seeks statutory and punitive damages along with attorneys fees.
We explored the possibility of charging the RIAA with malicious prosecution last month. Attorney Rich Vasquez of Morgan Miller Blair told Ars Technica that he believed the RIAA could be vulnerable to such charges, but it would be an uphill battle to make them stick. Still, the complaint paints a very unflattering picture of the RIAA and its agents engaging in activity that was in many cases questionable and unethical at best.
The history of file-sharing litigation shows that Atlantic v. Andersen was not an isolated case of mistaken identity, and should Andersen get a favorable result here, other former defendants may follow her lead. That could lead to a potentially very costly class-action suit against the RIAA. “You’d have to have a lot of winners,” said Vasquez. “If you have enough people bringing charges of malicious prosecution, you could then show a pattern of practices on the part of the RIAA.”
The RIAA told Ars that it would have no comment on Andersen’s lawsuit.
June 26, 2007
By James Vicini
A divided Supreme Court on Monday curtailed free-speech rights for students, ruling against a teenager who unfurled a banner saying “Bong Hits 4 Jesus” because the message could be interpreted as promoting drug use.
In its first major decision on student free-speech rights in nearly 20 years, the high court’s conservative majority ruled that a high school principal did not violate the student’s rights by confiscating the banner and suspending him.
The decision marked a continuing shift to the right by the court since President George W. Bush appointed Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito. The court has issued a series of narrow 5-4 decisions on divisive social issues like abortion and the death penalty.
In another decision on Monday by the same 5-4 vote, the court ruled taxpayers cannot challenge Bush’s use of government funds to finance social programs operated by religious groups.
“Both of these First Amendment cases reflect the clear right-wing trend of the Roberts court. Unmistakably. Both are clearly wrong,” said Abner Greene, a Fordham University law professor.
In the school case, student Joseph Frederick said the banner’s language was meant to be nonsensical and funny, a prank to get on television as the Winter Olympic torch relay passed by the school in January 2002 in Juneau, Alaska.
But school officials say the phrase “bong hits” refers to smoking marijuana. Principal Deborah Morse suspended Frederick for 10 days because she said the banner advocated or promoted illegal drug use in violation of school policy.
The majority opinion written by Roberts agreed with Morse. He said a principal may restrict student speech at a school event when it is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use.
Drug abuse by the nation’s youth is a serious problem, Roberts said.
Liberal Justices John Paul Stevens, David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented on the free-speech issue.
“Although this case began with a silly nonsensical banner, it ends with the court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs,” Stevens wrote.
Justice Stephen Breyer said he would have decided the case without reaching the free-speech issue by ruling the principal cannot be held liable for damages.
The Bush administration supported Morse and argued that public schools do not have to tolerate a message inconsistent with its basic educational mission.
Kenneth Starr, the former special prosecutor who investigated former President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, argued the case for Morse and said the ruling has implications for public school districts nationwide.
Morse said, “I am gratified that the Supreme Court has upheld the application of our common sense policies.”
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented Frederick, criticized the ruling for allowing censorship of student speech without any evidence that school activities had been disrupted.
“The court’s ruling imposes new restrictions on student speech rights and creates a drug exception to the First Amendment,” said Steven Shapiro, its national legal director.
A significant fact barely mentioned by the Court sheds a revelatory light on the motives of both the students and the principal of Juneau-Douglas High School (JDHS). On January 24, 2002, the Olympic Torch Relay gave those Alaska residents a rare chance to appear on national television. As Joseph Frederick repeatedly explained, he did not address the curious message—“BONG HiTS 4 JESUS”—to his fellow students. He just wanted to get the camera crews’ attention. Moreover, concern about a nationwide evaluation of the conduct of the JDHS student body would have justified the principal’s decision to remove an attention-grabbing 14-foot banner, even if it had merely proclaimed “Glaciers Melt!”
I agree with the Court that the principal should not be held liable for pulling down Frederick’s banner. See Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U. S. 800, 818 (1982) . I would hold, however, that the school’s interest in protecting its students from exposure to speech “reasonably regarded as promoting illegal drug use,” ante, at 1, cannot justify disciplining Frederick for his attempt to make an ambiguous statement to a television audience simply because it contained an oblique reference to drugs. The First Amendment demands more, indeed, much more.
The Court holds otherwise only after laboring to establish two uncontroversial propositions: first, that the constitutional rights of students in school settings are not coextensive with the rights of adults, see ante, at 8–12; and second, that deterring drug use by schoolchildren is a valid and terribly important interest, see ante, at 12–14. As to the first, I take the Court’s point that the message on Frederick’s banner is not necessarily protected speech, even though it unquestionably would have been had the banner been unfurled elsewhere. As to the second, I am willing to assume that the Court is correct that the pressing need to deter drug use supports JDHS’s rule prohibiting willful conduct that expressly “advocates the use of substances that are illegal to minors.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a. But it is a gross non sequitur to draw from these two unremarkable propositions the remarkable conclusion that the school may suppress student speech that was never meant to persuade anyone to do anything.
In my judgment, the First Amendment protects student speech if the message itself neither violates a permissible rule nor expressly advocates conduct that is illegal and harmful to students. This nonsense banner does neither, and the Court does serious violence to the First Amendment in upholding—indeed, lauding—a school’s decision to punish Frederick for expressing a view with which it disagreed.
In December 1965, we were engaged in a controversial war, a war that “divided this country as few other issues ever have.” Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School Dist., 393 U. S. 503, 524 (1969) (Black, J., dissenting). Having learned that some students planned to wear black armbands as a symbol of opposition to the country’s involvement in Vietnam, officials of the Des Moines public school district adopted a policy calling for the suspension of any student who refused to remove the armband. As we explained when we considered the propriety of that policy, “[t]he school officials banned and sought to punish petitioners for a silent, passive expression of opinion, unaccompanied by any disorder or disturbance on the part of petitioners.” Id., at 508. The district justified its censorship on the ground that it feared that the expression of a controversial and unpopular opinion would generate disturbances. Because the school officials had insufficient reason to believe that those disturbances would “materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of discipline in the operation of the school,” we found the justification for the rule to lack any foundation and therefore held that the censorship violated the First Amendment . Id., at 509 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Justice Harlan dissented, but not because he thought the school district could censor a message with which it disagreed. Rather, he would have upheld the district’s rule only because the students never cast doubt on the district’s anti-disruption justification by proving that the rule was motivated “by other than legitimate school concerns—for example, a desire to prohibit the expression of an unpopular point of view while permitting expression of the dominant opinion.” Id., at 526.
Two cardinal First Amendment principles animate both the Court’s opinion in Tinker and Justice Harlan’s dissent. First, censorship based on the content of speech, par-ticularly censorship that depends on the viewpointof the speaker, is subject to the most rigorous burden of justification:
“Discrimination against speech because of its message is presumed to be unconstitutional… . When the government targets not subject matter, but particular views taken by speakers on a subject, the violation of the First Amendment is all the more blatant. Viewpoint discrimination is thus an egregious form of content discrimination. The government must abstain from regulating speech when the specific motivating ideology or the opinion or perspective of the speaker is the rationale for the restriction.” Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of Univ. of Va., 515 U. S. 819, 828–829 (1995) (citation omitted).
Second, punishing someone for advocating illegal conduct is constitutional only when the advocacy is likely to provoke the harm that the government seeks to avoid. See Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U. S. 444, 449 (1969) (per curiam) (distinguishing “mere advocacy” of illegal conduct from “incitement to imminent lawless action”).
However necessary it may be to modify those principles in the school setting, Tinker affirmed their continuing vitality. 393 U. S., at 509 (“In order for the State in the person of school officials to justify prohibition of a particular expression of opinion, it must be able to show that its action was caused by something more than a mere desire to avoid the discomfort and unpleasantness that always accompany an unpopular viewpoint. Certainly where there is no finding and no showing that engaging in that conduct would materially and substantially interfere with the requirements of appropriate discipline in the operation of the school, the prohibition cannot be sustained” (internal quotation marks omitted)). As other federal courts have long recognized, under Tinker,
“regulation of student speech is generally permissible only when the speech would substantially disrupt or interfere with the work of the school or the rights of other students. … Tinker requires a specific and significant fear of disruption, not just some remote apprehension of disturbance.” Saxe v. State College Area School Dist., 240 F. 3d 200, 211 (CA3 2001) (Alito, J.) (emphasis added).
Yet today the Court fashions a test that trivializes the two cardinal principles upon which Tinker rests. See ante, at 14 (“[S]chools [may] restrict student expression that they reasonably regard as promoting illegal drug use”). The Court’s test invites stark viewpoint discrimination. In this case, for example, the principal has unabashedly acknowledged that she disciplined Frederick because she disagreed with the pro-drug viewpoint she ascribed to the message on the banner, see App. 25—a viewpoint, incidentally, that Frederick has disavowed, see id., at 28. Unlike our recent decision in Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Assn. v. Brentwood Academy, 551 U. S. ___, ___ (2007) (slip op., at 3), see also ante, at 3 (Alito, J., concurring), the Court’s holding in this case strikes at “the heart of the First Amendment ” because it upholds a punishment meted out on the basis of a listener’s disagreement with her understanding (or, more likely, misunderstanding) of the speaker’s viewpoint. “If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment , it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.” Texas v. Johnson, 491 U. S. 397, 414 (1989) .
It is also perfectly clear that “promoting illegal drug use,” ante, at 14, comes nowhere close to proscribable “incitement to imminent lawless action.” Brandenburg, 395 U. S., at 447. Encouraging drug use might well increase the likelihood that a listener will try an illegal drug, but that hardly justifies censorship:
“Every denunciation of existing law tends in some measure to increase the probability that there will be violation of it. Condonation of a breach enhances the probability. Expressions of approval add to the probability. … Advocacy of law-breaking heightens it still further. But even advocacy of violation, however reprehensible morally, is not a justification for denying free speech where the advocacy falls short of incitement and there is nothing to indicate that the advocacy would be immediately acted upon.” Whitney v. California, 274 U. S. 357, 376 (1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring).
No one seriously maintains that drug advocacy (much less Frederick’s ridiculous sign) comes within the vanishingly small category of speech that can be prohibited because of its feared consequences. Such advocacy, to borrow from Justice Holmes, “ha[s] no chance of starting a present conflagration.” Gitlow v. New York, 268 U. S. 652, 673 (1925) (dissenting opinion).
The Court rejects outright these twin foundations of Tinker because, in its view, the unusual importance of protecting children from the scourge of drugs supports a ban on all speech in the school environment that promotes drug use. Whether or not such a rule is sensible as a matter of policy, carving out pro-drug speech for uniquely harsh treatment finds no support in our case law and is inimical to the values protected by the First Amendment .1 See infra, at 14–16.
I will nevertheless assume for the sake of argument that the school’s concededly powerful interest in protecting its students adequately supports its restriction on “any assembly or public expression that . . . advocates the use of substances that are illegal to minors … .” App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a. Given that the relationship between schools and students “is custodial and tutelary, permitting a degree of supervision and control that could not be exercised over free adults,” Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, 515 U. S. 646, 655 (1995) , it might well be appropriate to tolerate some targeted viewpoint discrimination in this unique setting. And while conventional speech may be restricted only when likely to “incit[e] imminent lawless action,” Brandenburg, 395 U. S., at 449, it is possible that our rigid imminence requirement ought to be relaxed at schools. See Bethel School Dist. No. 403 v. Fraser, 478 U. S. 675, 682 (1986) (“[T]he constitutional rights of students in public school are not automatically coextensive with the rights of adults in other settings”).
But it is one thing to restrict speech that advocates drug use. It is another thing entirely to prohibit an obscure message with a drug theme that a third party subjectively—and not very reasonably—thinks is tantamount to express advocacy. Cf. Masses Publishing Co. v. Patten, 244 F. 535, 540, 541 (SDNY 1917) (Hand, J.) (distinguishing sharply between “agitation, legitimate as such” and “the direct advocacy” of unlawful conduct). Even the school recognizes the paramount need to hold the line between, on the one hand, non-disruptive speech that merely expresses a viewpoint that is unpopular or contrary to the school’s preferred message, and on the other hand, advocacy of an illegal or unsafe course of conduct. The district’s prohibition of drug advocacy is a gloss on a more general rule that is otherwise quite tolerant of non-disruptive student speech:
“Students will not be disturbed in the exercise of their constitutionally guaranteed rights to assemble peaceably and to express ideas and opinions, privately or publicly, provided that their activities do not infringe on the rights of others and do not interfere with the operation of the educational program.
“The Board will not permit the conduct on school premises of any willful activity … that interferes with the orderly operation of the educational program or offends the rights of others. The Board specifically prohibits … any assembly or public expression that. . . advocates the use of substances that are illegal to minors … .” App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a; see also ante, at 3 (quoting rule in part).
There is absolutely no evidence that Frederick’s banner’s reference to drug paraphernalia “willful[ly]” infringed on anyone’s rights or interfered with any of the school’s educational programs.2 On its face, then, the rule gave Frederick wide berth “to express [his] ideas and opinions” so long as they did not amount to “advoca[cy]” of drug use. Ibid. If the school’s rule is, by hypothesis, a valid one, it is valid only insofar as it scrupulously preserves adequate space for constitutionally protected speech. When First Amendment rights are at stake, a rule that “sweep[s] in a great variety of conduct under a general and indefinite characterization” may not leave “too wide a discretion in its application.” Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U. S. 296, 308 (1940) . Therefore, just as we insisted in Tinker that the school establish some likely connection between the armbands and their feared consequences, so too JDHS must show that Frederick’s supposed advocacy stands a meaningful chance of making otherwise-abstemious students try marijuana.
But instead of demanding that the school make such a showing, the Court punts. Figuring out just how it punts is tricky; “[t]he mode of analysis [it] employ[s] is not entirely clear,” see ante, at 9. On occasion, the Court suggests it is deferring to the principal’s “reasonable” judgment that Frederick’s sign qualified as drug advocacy.3 At other times, the Court seems to say that it thinks the banner’s message constitutes express advocacy.4 Either way, its approach is indefensible.
To the extent the Court defers to the principal’s ostensibly reasonable judgment, it abdicates its constitutional responsibility. The beliefs of third parties, reasonable or otherwise, have never dictated which messages amount to proscribable advocacy. Indeed, it would be a strange constitutional doctrine that would allow the prohibition of only the narrowest category of speech advocating unlawful conduct, see Brandenburg, 395 U. S., at 447–448, yet would permit a listener’s perceptions to determine which speech deserved constitutional protection.5
Such a peculiar doctrine is alien to our case law. In Abrams v. United States, 250 U. S. 616 (1919) , this Court affirmed the conviction of a group of Russian “rebels, revolutionists, [and] anarchists,” id., at 617–618 (internal quotation marks omitted), on the ground that the leaflets they distributed were thought to “incite, provoke, and encourage resistance to the United States,” id., at 617 (internal quotation marks omitted). Yet Justice Holmes’ dissent—which has emphatically carried the day—never inquired into the reasonableness of the United States’ judgment that the leaflets would likely undermine the war effort. The dissent instead ridiculed that judgment: “nobody can suppose that the surreptitious publishing of a silly leaflet by an unknown man, without more, would present any immediate danger that its opinions would hinder the success of the government arms or have any appreciable tendency to do so.” Id., at 628. In Thomas v. Collins, 323 U. S. 516 (1945) (opinion for the Court by Rutledge, J.), we overturned the conviction of a union organizer who violated a restraining order forbidding him from exhorting workers. In so doing, we held that the distinction between advocacy and incitement could not depend on how one of those workers might have understood the organizer’s speech. That would “pu[t] the speaker in these circumstances wholly at the mercy of the varied understanding of his hearers and consequently of whatever inference may be drawn as to his intent and meaning.” Id., at 535. In Cox v. Louisiana, 379 U. S. 536, 543 (1965) , we vacated a civil rights leader’s conviction for disturbing the peace, even though a Baton Rouge sheriff had “deem[ed]” the leader’s “appeal to … students to sit in at the lunch counters to be ‘inflammatory.’ ” We never asked if the sheriff’s in-person, on-the-spot judgment was “reasonable.” Even in Fraser, we made no inquiry into whether the school administrators reasonably thought the student’s speech was obscene or profane; we rather satisfied ourselves that “[t]he pervasive sexual innuendo in Fraser’s speech was plainly offensive to both teachers and students—indeed, to any mature person.” 478 U. S., at 683. Cf. Bose Corp. v. Consumers Union of United States, Inc., 466 U. S. 485, 499 (1984) (“[I]n cases raising First Amendment issues we have repeatedly held that an appellate court has an obligation to make an independent examination of the whole record in order to make sure that the judgment does not constitute a forbidden intrusion on the field of free expression” (internal quotation marks omitted)).6
To the extent the Court independently finds that “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” objectively amounts to the advocacy of illegal drug use—in other words, that it can most reasonably be interpreted as such—that conclusion practically refutes itself. This is a nonsense message, not advocacy. The Court’s feeble effort to divine its hidden meaning is strong evidence of that. Ante,at 7 (positing that the banner might mean, alternatively, “ ‘[Take] bong hits,’ ” “ ‘bong hits [are a good thing],’ ” or “ ‘[we take] bong hits’ ”). Frederick’s credible and uncontradicted explanation for the message—he just wanted to get on television—is also relevant because a speaker who does not intend to persuade his audience can hardly be said to be advocating anything.7 But most importantly, it takes real imagination to read a “cryptic” message (the Court’s characterization, not mine, see ibid., at 6) with a slanting drug reference as an incitement to drug use. Admittedly, some high school students (including those who use drugs) are dumb. Most students, however, do not shed their brains at the schoolhouse gate, and most students know dumb advocacy when they see it. The notion that the message on this banner would actually persuade either the average student or even the dumbest one to change his or her behavior is most implausible. That the Court believes such a silly message can be proscribed as advocacy underscores the novelty of its position, and suggests that the principle it articulates has no stopping point.
Even if advocacy could somehow be wedged into Frederick’s obtuse reference to marijuana, that advocacy was at best subtle and ambiguous. There is abundant precedent, including another opinion The Chief Justice announces today, for the proposition that when the “ First Amendment is implicated, the tie goes to the speaker,” Federal Election Comm’n v. Wisconsin Right to Life, Inc., 551 U. S. ___ (2007) (slip op., at 21) and that “when it comes to defining what speech qualifies as the functional equivalent of express advocacy … we give the benefit of the doubt to speech, not censorship,” post, at 29. If this were a close case, the tie would have to go to Frederick’s speech, not to the principal’s strained reading of his quixotic message.
Among other things, the Court’s ham-handed, categorical approach is deaf to the constitutional imperative to permit unfettered debate, even among high-school students, about the wisdom of the war on drugs or of legalizing marijuana for medicinal use.8 See Tinker, 393 U. S., at 511 (“[Students] may not be confined to the expression of those sentiments that are officially approved”). If Frederick’s stupid reference to marijuana can in the Court’s view justify censorship, then high school students everywhere could be forgiven for zipping their mouths about drugs at school lest some “reasonable” observer censor and then punish them for promoting drugs. See also ante, at 2 (Breyer, J., concurring in judgment in part and dissenting in part).
Consider, too, that the school district’s rule draws no distinction between alcohol and marijuana, but applies evenhandedly to all “substances that are illegal to minors.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a; see also App. 83 (expressly defining “ ‘drugs’ ” to include “all alcoholic beverages”). Given the tragic consequences of teenage alcohol consumption—drinking causes far more fatal accidents than the misuse of marijuana—the school district’s interest in deterring teenage alcohol use is at least comparable to its interest in preventing marijuana use. Under the Court’s reasoning, must the First Amendment give way whenever a school seeks to punish a student for any speech mentioning beer, or indeed anything else that might be deemed risky to teenagers? While I find it hard to believe the Court would support punishing Frederick for flying a “WINE SiPS 4 JESUS” banner—which could quite reasonably be construed either as a protected religious message or as a pro-alcohol message—the breathtaking sweep of its opinion suggests it would.
Although this case began with a silly, nonsensical banner, it ends with the Court inventing out of whole cloth a special First Amendment rule permitting the censorship of any student speech that mentions drugs, at least so long as someone could perceive that speech to contain a latent pro-drug message. Our First Amendment jurisprudence has identified some categories of expression that are less deserving of protection than others—fighting words, obscenity, and commercial speech, to name a few. Rather than reviewing our opinions discussing such categories, I mention two personal recollections that have no doubt influenced my conclusion that it would be profoundly unwise to create special rules for speech about drug and alcohol use.
The Vietnam War is remembered today as an unpopular war. During its early stages, however, “the dominant opinion” that Justice Harlan mentioned in his Tinker dissent regarded opposition to the war as unpatriotic, if not treason. 393 U. S., at 526. That dominant opinion strongly supported the prosecution of several of those who demonstrated in Grant Park during the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, see United States v. Dellinger, 472 F. 2d 340 (CA7 1972),and the vilification of vocal opponents of the war like Julian Bond, cf. Bond v. Floyd, 385 U. S. 116 (1966) . In 1965, when the Des Moines students wore their armbands, the school district’s fear that they might “start an argument or cause a disturbance” was well founded. Tinker, 393 U. S., at 508. Given that context, there is special force to the Court’s insistence that “our Constitution says we must take that risk; and our history says that it is this sort of hazardous freedom—this kind of openness—that is the basis of our national strength and of the independence and vigor of Americans who grow up and live in this relatively permissive, often disputatious, society.” Id., at 508–509 (citation omitted). As we now know, the then-dominant opinion about the Vietnam War was not etched in stone.
Reaching back still further, the current dominant opinion supporting the war on drugs in general, and our antimarijuana laws in particular, is reminiscent of the opinion that supported the nationwide ban on alcohol consumption when I was a student. While alcoholic beverages are now regarded as ordinary articles of commerce, their use was then condemned with the same moral fervor that now supports the war on drugs. The ensuing change in public opinion occurred much more slowly than the relatively rapid shift in Americans’ views on the Vietnam War, and progressed on a state-by-state basis over a period of many years. But just as prohibition in the 1920’s and early 1930’s was secretly questioned by thousands of otherwise law-abiding patrons of bootleggers and speakeasies, today the actions of literally millions of otherwise law-abiding users of marijuana,9 and of the majority of voters in each of the several States that tolerate medicinal uses of the product,10 lead me to wonder whether the fear of disapproval by those in the majority is silencing opponents of the war on drugs. Surely our national experience with alcohol should make us wary of dampening speech suggesting—however inarticulately—that it would be better to tax and regulate marijuana than to persevere in a futile effort to ban its use entirely.
Even in high school, a rule that permits only one point of view to be expressed is less likely to produce correct answers than the open discussion of countervailing views. Whitney, 274 U. S., at 377 (Brandeis, J., concurring); Abrams, 250 U. S., at 630 (Holmes, J., dissenting); Tinker, 393 U. S., at 512. In the national debate about a serious issue, it is the expression of the minority’s viewpoint that most demands the protection of the First Amendment . Whatever the better policy may be, a full and frank discussion of the costs and benefits of the attempt to prohibit the use of marijuana is far wiser than suppression of speech because it is unpopular.
I respectfully dissent.
1 I also seriously question whether such a ban could really be enforced. Consider the difficulty of monitoring student conversations between classes or in the cafeteria.
2 It is also relevant that the display did not take place “on school premises,” as the rule contemplates. App. to Pet. for Cert. 53a. While a separate district rule does make the policy applicable to “social events and class trips,” id., at 58a, Frederick might well have thought that the Olympic Torch Relay was neither a “social event” (for example, prom) nor a “class trip.”
3 See ante, at 1 (stating that the principal “reasonably regarded” Frederick’s banner as “promoting illegal drug use”); ante, at 6 (explaining that “Principal Morse thought the banner would be interpreted by those viewing it as promoting illegal drug use, and that interpretation is plainly a reasonable one”); ante, at 8 (asking whether “a principal may … restrict student speech … when that speech is reasonably viewed as promoting illegal drug use”); ante, at 14 (holding that “schools [may] restrict student expression that they reasonably regard as promoting illegal drug use”); see also ante, at 1 (Alito, J., concurring) (“[A] public school may restrict speech that a reasonable observer would interpret as advocating illegal drug use”).
4 See ante, at 7 (“We agree with Morse. At least two interpretations of the words on the banner demonstrate that the sign advocated the use of illegal drugs”); ante, at 15 (observing that “[w]e have explained our view” that “Frederick’s banner constitutes promotion of illegal drug use”).
5 The reasonableness of the view that Frederick’s message was unprotected speech is relevant to ascertaining whether qualified immunity should shield the principal from liability, not to whether her actions violated Frederick’s constitutional rights. Cf. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U. S. 194, 202 (2001) (“The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted”).
6 This same reasoning applies when the interpreter is not just a listener, but a legislature. We have repeatedly held that “[d]eference to a legislative finding” that certain types of speech are inherently harmful “cannot limit judicial inquiry when First Amendment rights are at stake,” reasoning that “the judicial function commands analysis of whether the specific conduct charged falls within the reach of the statute and if so whether the legislation is consonant with the Constitution.” Landmark Communications, Inc. v. Virginia, 435 U. S. 829, 843, 844 (1978) ; see also Whitney v. California, 274 U. S. 357, 378–379 (1927) (Brandeis, J., concurring) (“[A legislative declaration] does not preclude enquiry into the question whether, at the time and under the circumstances, the conditions existed which are essential to validity under the Federal Constitution… . Whenever the fundamental rights of free speech and assembly are alleged to have been invaded, it must remain open to a defendant to present the issue whether there actually did exist at the time a clear danger; whether the danger, if any, was imminent; and whether the evil apprehended was so substantial as to justify the stringent restriction interposed by the legislature”). When legislatures are entitled to no deference as to whether particular speech amounts to a “clear and present danger,” id., at 379, it is hard to understand why the Court would so blithely defer to the judgment of a single school principal.
7 In affirming Frederick’s suspension, the JDHS superintendent acknowledged that Frederick displayed his message “for the benefit of television cameras covering the Torch Relay.” App. to Pet. for Cert. 62a.
8 The Court’s opinion ignores the fact that the legalization of marijuana is an issue of considerable public concern in Alaska. The State Supreme Court held in 1975 that Alaska’s constitution protects the right of adults to possess less than four ounces of marijuana for personal use. Ravin v. State, 537 P. 2d 494 (Alaska). In 1990, the voters of Alaska attempted to undo that decision by voting for a ballot initiative recriminalizing marijuana possession. Initiative Proposal No. 2, §§1–2 (effective Mar. 3, 1991), 11 Alaska Stat., p. 872 (Lexis 2006). At the time Frederick unfurled his banner, the constitutionality of that referendum had yet to be tested. It was subsequently struck down as unconstitutional. See Noy v. State, 83 P. 3d 538 (Alaska App. 2003). In the meantime, Alaska voters had approved a ballot measure decriminalizing the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes, 1998 Ballot Measure No. 8 (approved Nov. 3, 1998), 11 Alaska Stat., p. 882 (codified at Alaska Stat. §§11.71.090, 17.37.010–17.37.080), and had rejected a much broader measure that would have decriminalized marijuana possession and granted amnesty to anyone convicted of marijuana-related crimes, see 2000 Ballot Measure No. 5 (failed Nov. 7, 2000), 11 Alaska Stat., p. 886.
9 See Gonzales v. Raich, 545 U. S. 1, 21, n. 31 (2005) (citing a Government estimate “that in 2000 American users spent $10.5 billion on the purchase of marijuana”).
10 Id., at 5 (noting that “at least nine States … authorize the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes”).
A bloated overclass can drag down a society as surely as a swelling underclass. A great deal of the wealth at the top is built on the low-wage labor of the poor.
June 13, 2007
By Barbara Ehrenreich
Twenty years ago it was risky to point out the growing inequality in America. I did it in a New York Times essay and was quickly denounced, in the Washington Times, as a “Marxist.” If only. I’ve never been able to get through more than a couple of pages of Das Kapital, even in English, and the Grundrisse functions like Rozerem.
But it no longer takes a Marxist, real or alleged, to see that America is being polarized between the super-rich and the sub-rich everyone else. In Sunday’s New York Times magazine we learn that Larry Summers, the centrist Democratic economist and former Harvard president, is now obsessed with the statistic that, since 1979, the share of pretax income going to the top 1 percent of American households has risen by 7 percentage points, to 16 percent. At the same time, the share of income going to the bottom 80 percent has fallen by 7 percentage points.
As the Times puts it: “It’s as if every household in that bottom 80 percent is writing a check for $7,000 every year and sending it to the top 1 percent.” Summers now admits that his former cheerleading for the corporate-dominated global economy feels like “pretty thin gruel.”
But the moderate-to-conservative economic thinkers who long refused to think about class polarization have a fallback position, sketched out by Roger Lowenstein in an essay in the same issue of the New York Times magazine that features Larry Summers’ sobered mood.
Briefly put: As long as the middle class is still trudging along and the poor are not starving flamboyantly in the streets, what does it matter if the super-rich are absorbing an ever larger share of the national income?
In Lowenstein’s view: “…whether Roger Clemens, who will get something like $10,000 for every pitch he throws, earns 100 times or 200 times what I earn is kind of irrelevant. My kids still have health care, and they go to decent schools. It’s not the rich people who are pulling away at the top who are the problem…”
Well, there is a problem with the super-rich, several of them in fact. A bloated overclass can drag down a society as surely as a swelling underclass.
First, the Clemens example distracts from the reality that a great deal of the wealth at the top is built on the low-wage labor of the poor. Take Wal-Mart, our largest private employer and premiere exploiter of the working class: Every year, 4 or 5 of the people on Forbes magazine’s list of the ten richest Americans carry the surname Walton, meaning they are the children, nieces, and nephews of Wal-Mart’s founder.
You think it’s a coincidence that this union-busting low-wage retail empire happens to have generated a $200 billion family fortune?
Second, though a lot of today’s wealth is being made in the financial industry, by means that are occult to the average citizen and do not seem to involve much labor of any kind, we all pay a price, somewhere down the line. All those late fees, puffed up interest rates and exorbitant charges for low-balance checking accounts do not, as far as I can determine, go to soup kitchens.
Third, the overclass bids up the price of goods that ordinary people also need — housing, for example. Gentrification is dispersing the urban poor into overcrowded suburban ranch houses, while billionaires’ horse farms displace the rural poor and middle class. Similarly, the rich can swallow tuitions of $40,000 and up, making a college education increasingly a privilege of the upper classes.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the huge concentration of wealth at the top is routinely used to tilt the political process in favor of the wealthy. Yes, we should acknowledge the philanthropic efforts of exceptional billionaires like George Soros and Bill Gates.
But if we don’t end up with universal health insurance in the next few years, it won’t be because the average American isn’t pining for relief from escalating medical costs. It may well turn out to be because Hillary Clinton is, as The Nation reports, “the number-one Congressional recipient of donations from the healthcare industry.” And who do you think demanded those Bush tax cuts for the wealthy — the AFLCIO.
Lowenstein notes, that “if the very upper crust were banished to a Caribbean island, the America that remained would be a lot more egalitarian.”
Well, duh. The point is that it would also be more prosperous, at the individual level, and democratic. In fact, why give the upper crust an island in the Caribbean? After all they’ve done for us recently, I think the Aleutians should be more than adequate.
June 29, 2007
The Supreme Court ruled 53 years ago in Brown v. Board of Education that segregated education is inherently unequal, and it ordered the nation’s schools to integrate. Yesterday, the court switched sides and told two cities that they cannot take modest steps to bring public school students of different races together. It was a sad day for the court and for the ideal of racial equality.
Since 1954, the Supreme Court has been the nation’s driving force for integration. Its orders required segregated buses and public buildings, parks and playgrounds to open up to all Americans. It wasn’t always easy: governors, senators and angry mobs talked of massive resistance. But the court never wavered, and in many of the most important cases it spoke unanimously.
Yesterday, the court’s radical new majority turned its back on that proud tradition in a 5-4 ruling, written by Chief Justice John Roberts. It has been some time since the court, which has grown more conservative by the year, did much to compel local governments to promote racial integration. But now it is moving in reverse, broadly ordering the public schools to become more segregated.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, who provided the majority’s fifth vote, reined in the ruling somewhat by signing only part of the majority opinion and writing separately to underscore that some limited programs that take race into account are still acceptable. But it is unclear how much room his analysis will leave, in practice, for school districts to promote integration. His unwillingness to uphold Seattle’s and Louisville’s relatively modest plans is certainly a discouraging sign.
In an eloquent dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer explained just how sharp a break the decision is with history. The Supreme Court has often ordered schools to use race-conscious remedies, and it has unanimously held that deciding to make assignments based on race “to prepare students to live in a pluralistic society” is “within the broad discretionary powers of school authorities.”
Chief Justice Roberts, who assured the Senate at his confirmation hearings that he respected precedent, and Brown in particular, eagerly set these precedents aside. The right wing of the court also tossed aside two other principles they claim to hold dear. Their campaign for “federalism,” or scaling back federal power so states and localities have more authority, argued for upholding the Seattle and Louisville, Ky., programs. So did their supposed opposition to “judicial activism.” This decision is the height of activism: federal judges relying on the Constitution to tell elected local officials what to do.
The nation is getting more diverse, but by many measures public schools are becoming more segregated. More than one in six black children now attend schools that are 99 to 100 percent minority. This resegregation is likely to get appreciably worse as a result of the court’s ruling.
There should be no mistaking just how radical this decision is. In dissent, Justice John Paul Stevens said it was his “firm conviction that no Member of the Court that I joined in 1975 would have agreed with today’s decision.” He also noted the “cruel irony” of the court relying on Brown v. Board of Education while robbing that landmark ruling of much of its force and spirit. The citizens of Louisville and Seattle, and the rest of the nation, can ponder the majority’s kind words about Brown as they get to work today making their schools, and their cities, more segregated.
Failed States Index Scores 2007 from the Fund For Peace… it’s instructive to note that the United States is not in the “Sustainable” category, but in the “Moderate” category… i bet most people you ask wouldn’t know that…
June 28, 2007
By LAURIE KELLMAN
The Senate subpoenaed the White House and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office Wednesday, demanding documents and elevating the confrontation with President Bush over the administration’s warrant-free eavesdropping on Americans.
Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee also is summoning Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to discuss the program and an array of other matters that have cost a half-dozen top Justice Department officials their jobs, committee chairman Patrick Leahy announced.
Leahy, D-Vt., raised questions about previous testimony by one of Bush’s appeals court nominees and said he wouldn’t let such matters pass.
“If there have been lies told to us, we’ll refer it to the Department of Justice and the U.S. attorney for whatever legal action they think is appropriate,” Leahy told reporters. He did just that Wednesday, referring questions about testimony by former White House aide Brett Kavanaugh, who now sits on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.
The escalation is part of the Democrats’ effort to hold the administration to account for the way it has conducted the war on terrorism since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. The subpoenas extend the probe into the private sector, demanding among other things documents on any agreements that telecommunications companies made to cooperate with the surveillance program.
The White House contends that its search for would-be terrorists is legal, necessary and effective — pointing out frequently that there have been no further attacks on American soil. Administration officials say they have given classified information — such as details about the eavesdropping program, which is now under court supervision — to the intelligence committees of both houses of Congress.
Echoing its response to previous congressional subpoenas to former administration officials Harriet Miers and Sara Taylor, the White House gave no indication that it would comply with the new ones.
“We’re aware of the committee’s action and will respond appropriately,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said. “It’s unfortunate that congressional Democrats continue to choose the route of confrontation.”
In fact, the Judiciary Committee’s three most senior Republicans — Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, former chairman Orrin Hatch of Utah and Chuck Grassley of Iowa — sided with Democrats on the 13-3 vote last week to give Leahy the power to issue the subpoenas.
The showdown between the White House and Congress could land in federal court.
Also named in subpoenas signed by Leahy were the Justice Department and the National Security Council. The four parties — the White House, Cheney’s office, the Justice Department and the National Security Council — have until July 18 to comply, Leahy said. He added that, like House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., he would consider pursuing contempt citations against those who refuse.
Gonzales, in Spokane, Wash., on Wednesday to discuss gang issues with local officials, said he had not seen the subpoena documents and could not comment on them directly.
“There are competing institutional interests,” Gonzales said.
The Judiciary committees have issued the subpoenas as part of a look at how much influence the White House exerts over the Justice Department and its chief, Gonzales.
The probe, in its sixth month, began with an investigation into whether administration officials ordered the firings of eight federal prosecutors for political reasons. The Judiciary committees subpoenaed Miers, one-time White House legal counsel, and Taylor, a former political director, though they have yet to testify.
Now, with senators of both parties concerned about the constitutionality of the administration’s efforts to root out terrorism suspects in the United States, the committee has shifted to the broader question of Gonzales’ stewardship of Justice.
The issue concerning Kavanaugh, a former White House staff secretary, is whether he misled the Senate panel during his confirmation hearing last year about how much he was involved in crafting the administration’s policy on enemy combatants.
The Bush administration secretly launched the eavesdropping program, run by the National Security Agency, in 2001 to monitor international phone calls and e-mails to or from the United States involving people the government suspected of having terrorist links. The program, which the administration said did not require investigators to seek warrants before conducting surveillance, was revealed in December 2005.
After the program was challenged in court, Bush put it under the supervision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, established in 1978. The president still claims the power to order warrantless spying.
The subpoenas seek a wide array of documents from the Sept. 11 attacks to the present. Among them are any that include analysis or opinions from Justice, NSA, the Defense Department, the White House, or “any entity within the executive branch” on the legality of the electronic surveillance program.
Debate continues over whether the program violates people’s civil liberties. The administration has gone to great lengths to keep it running.
Interest was raised by vivid testimony last month by former Deputy Attorney General James Comey about the extent of the White House’s effort to override the Justice Department’s objections to the program in 2004.
Comey told the Judiciary Committee that Gonzales, then-White House counsel, tried to persuade Attorney General John Ashcroft to reverse course and recertify the program. At the time, Ashcroft lay in intensive care, recovering form gall bladder surgery.
Ashcroft refused, as did Comey, who temporarily held the power of the attorney general’s office during his boss’ illness.
The White House recertified the program unilaterally. Ashcroft, Comey, FBI Director Robert Mueller and their staffs prepared to resign. Bush ultimately relented and made changes the Justice officials had demanded, and the agency eventually recertified it.
Fratto defended the surveillance program as “lawful” and “limited.”
“It’s specifically designed to be effective without infringing Americans’ civil liberties,” Fratto said. “The program is classified for a reason — its purpose is to track down and stop terrorist planning. We remain steadfast in our commitment to keeping Americans safe from an enemy determined to use any means possible — including the latest in technology — to attack us.”
June 28, 2007
By TERENCE HUNT
President Bush, in a constitutional showdown with Congress, claimed executive privilege Thursday and rejected demands for White House documents and testimony about the firing of U.S. attorneys.
His decision was denounced as “Nixonian stonewalling” by the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Bush rejected subpoenas for documents from former presidential counsel Harriet Miers and former political director Sara Taylor. The White House made clear neither one would testify next month, as directed by the subpoenas.
Presidential counsel Fred Fielding said Bush had made a reasonable attempt at compromise but Congress forced the confrontation by issuing subpoenas. “With respect, it is with much regret that we are forced down this unfortunate path which we sought to avoid by finding grounds for mutual accommodation.”
The assertion of executive privilege was the latest turn in increasingly hostile standoffs between the administration and the Democratic-controlled Congress over the Iraq war, executive power, the war on terror and Vice President Dick Cheney’s authority. A day earlier, the Senate Judiciary Committee delivered subpoenas to the offices of Bush, Cheney, the national security adviser and the Justice Department about the administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.
While weakened by the Iraq war and poor approval ratings in the polls, Bush has been adamant not to cede ground to Congress.
“Increasingly, the president and vice president feel they are above the law,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said Bush’s assertion of executive privilege was “unprecedented in its breadth and scope” and displayed “an appalling disregard for the right of the people to know what is going on in their government.”
White House press secretary Tony Snow weighed in with unusually sharp criticism of Congress. He accused Democrats of trying “to make life difficult for the White House. It also may explain why this is the least popular Congress in decades, because you do have what appears to be a strategy of destruction, rather than cooperation.”
Over the years, Congress and the White House have avoided a full-blown court test about the constitutional balance of power and whether the president can refuse demands from Congress. Lawmakers could vote to cite witnesses for contempt and refer the matter to the local U.S. attorney to bring before a grand jury. Since 1975, 10 senior administration officials have been cited but the disputes were all resolved before getting to court.
Congressional committees sought the documents and testimony in their investigations of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ stewardship of the Justice Department and the firing of eight federal attorneys over the winter. Democrats say the firings were an example of improper political influence. The White House contends that U.S. attorneys are political appointees who can be hired and fired for almost any reason.
In a letter to Leahy and Conyers, Fielding said Bush had “attempted to chart a course of cooperation” by releasing more than 8,500 pages of documents and sending Gonzales and other officials to Capitol Hill to testify.
The president also had offered to make Miers, Taylor, political strategist Karl Rove and their aides available to be interviewed by the Judiciary committees in closed-door sessions, without transcripts and not under oath. Leahy and Conyers rejected that proposal.
The Senate Judiciary Committee’s senior Republican, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, said the House and Senate panels should accept Bush’s original offer.
Impatient with the “lagging” pace of the investigation into the U.S. attorney firings, Specter said he asked Fielding during a phone call Wednesday night whether the president would agree to transcripts on the interviews. Fielding’s answer: No.
“I think we ought to take what information we can get now and try to wrap this up,” Specter told reporters. That wouldn’t preclude Congress from reissuing subpoenas if lawmakers do not get enough answers, Specter said.
Fielding explained Bush’s position on executive privilege this way: “For the president to perform his constitutional duties, it is imperative that he receive candid and unfettered advice and that free and open discussions and deliberations occur among his advisers and between those advisers and others within and outside the Executive Branch.”
This “bedrock presidential prerogative” exists, in part, to protect the president from being compelled to disclose such communications to Congress, Fielding argued.
In a slap at the committees, Fielding said, “There is no demonstration that the documents and information you seek by subpoena are critically important to any legislative initiatives that you may be pursuing or intending to pursue.”
It was the second time in his administration that Bush has exerted executive privilege, said White House deputy press secretary Tony Fratto. The first instance was in December 2001, to rebuff Congress’ demands for Clinton administration documents.
The most famous claim of executive privilege was in 1974, when President Nixon went to the Supreme Court to avoid surrendering White House tape recordings in the Watergate scandal. That was in a criminal investigation, not a demand from Congress. The court unanimously ordered Nixon to turn over the tapes.
Federal agencies ignored 30 percent of the laws Bush objected to in signing statements last year, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office. In 2006, President Bush issued signing statements for 11 out of the 12 appropriations bills passed by Congress, claiming a right to bypass a total of 160 provisions in them.
In a sample set of 19 provisions, the GAO found that “10 provisions were executed as written, 6 were not, and 3 were not triggered and so there was no agency action to examine.”
The report, which was requested by House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-MI) and Senate President Pro Tempore Robert Byrd (D-WV), gives the first indication of the impact that President Bush’s signing statements have had on the enforcement of laws passed by Congress.
In a statement, Byrd said the report shows the Bush administration’s desire to grab as much power as possible:
The White House cannot pick and choose which laws it follows and which it ignores. When a president signs a bill into law, the president signs the entire bill. The Administration cannot be in the business of cherry picking the laws it likes and the laws it doesn’t. This GAO opinion underscores the fact that the Bush White House is constantly grabbing for more power, seeking to drive the people’s branch of government to the sidelines….We must continue to demand accountability and openness from this White House to counter this power grab.
Since taking office in 2001, President Bush has issued signing statements challenging over 1,100 laws, claiming that he has the right to bypass them if they interfere with his alleged presidential powers. Though signing statements have been utilized by most presidents, Bush has used them to object to more laws than all previous presidents combined.
Here are a few of the laws Bush has controversially issued signing statements about:
– In 2005, after Congress passed a law outlawing the torture of detainees, Bush issued a signing statement saying that he would “construe [the law] in a manner consistent with the constitutional authority of the President . . . as Commander in Chief,” which experts say means Bush believes he can waive the restrictions.
– In 2006, Congress passed a law requiring minimum qualifications for future heads of the Federal Emergency Management Administration in response to FEMA’s poor handling of Hurricane Katrina. When Bush signed the law, he issued a statement saying he could ignore the new restrictions and appoint a FEMA chief based on whatever qualifications he wanted.
– In 2006, Bush signed a statement saying he would view a ban on “the transfer of nuclear technology to India if it violates international non proliferation guidelines” as “advisory.” Indian newspapers reported that the government of India took note of Bush’s statement, “raising the possibility it would not take the ban seriously.”
The GAO report makes a point of noting that although “the agencies did not execute the provisions as enacted,” it cannot necessarily be concluded that “agency noncompliance was the result of the President’s signing statements.” It does, however, provide creedence to claims that confusion created by differing congressional and presidential interpretations of laws could lead increased laxity in the proper enforcement of the law.
UPDATE: “We expect to continue to use statements where appropriate, on a bill-by-bill basis,” White House spokesman Tony Fratto said.
and this is part of the reason why…
June 26, 2007
By Phil Rockstroh
Why did the Democratic Congress betray the voting public?
Betrayal is often a consequence of wishful thinking. It’s the world’s way of delivering the life lesson that it’s time to shed the vanity of one’s innocence and grow-the-hell-up. Apropos, here’s lesson number one for political innocents: Power serves the perpetuation of power. In an era of runaway corporate capitalism, the political elite exist to serve the corporate elite. It’s that simple.
Why do the elites lie so brazenly? Ironically, because they believe they’re entitled to by virtue of their superior sense of morality. How did they come to this arrogant conclusion? Because they think they’re better than us. If they believe in anything at all, it is this: They view us as a reeking collection of wretched, baseborn rabble, who are, on an individual level, a few billion neurons short of being governable by honest means.
Yes, you read that correctly: They believe they’re better than you. When they lie and flout the rules and assert that the rule of law doesn’t apply to them or refuse to impeach fellow members of their political and social class who break the law, it is because they have convinced themselves it is best for society as a whole.
How did they come by such self-serving convictions? The massive extent of their privilege has convinced them that they’re the quintessence of human virtue, that they’re the most gifted of all golden children ever kissed by the radiant light of the sun. In other words, they’re the worst sort of emotionally arrested brats — spoiled children inhabiting adult bodies who mistake their feelings of infantile omnipotence for the benediction of superior ability. “I’m so special that what’s good for me is good for the world,” amounts to the sum total of their childish creed. In the case of narcissists such as these, over time, self-interest and systems of belief grow intertwined. Hence, within their warped, self-justifying belief systems, their actions, however mercenary, become acts of altruism.
The elites don’t exactly believe their own lies; rather, they proceed from neocon guru Leo Strauss’ dictum (the modus operandi of the ruling classes) that it is necessary to promulgate “noble lies” to society’s lower orders. This sort of virtuous mendacity must be practiced, because those varieties of upright apes (you and I) must be spared the complexities of the truth; otherwise, it will cause us to grow dangerously agitated — will cause us to rattle the bars of our cages and fling poop at our betters. They believe it’s better to ply us with lies because it’s less trouble then having to hose us down in our filthy cages. In this way, they believe, all naked apes will have a more agreeable existence within the hierarchy-bound monkey house of capitalism.
This may help to better understand the Washington establishment and its courtesan punditry who serve to reinforce their ceaseless narrative of exceptionalism. This is why they’ve disingenuously covered up the infantilism of George W. Bush for so long: Little Dubya is the id of the ruling class made manifest — he’s their troubled child, who, by his destructive actions, cracks the deceptively normal veneer of a miserable family and reveals the rot within. At a certain level, it’s damn entertaining: his instability so shakes the foundation of the house that it causes the skeletons in its closets to dance.
By engaging in a mode of being so careless it amounts to public immolation, these corrupt elitists are bringing the empire down. There is nothing new in this: Such recklessness is the method by which cunning strivers commit suicide.
Those who take the trouble to look will comprehend the disastrous results of the ruling elites’ pathology: wars of choice sold to a credulous citizenry by public relations confidence artists; a predatory economy that benefits 1 percent of the population; a demoralized, deeply ignorant populace who are either unaware of or indifferent to the difference between the virtues and vicissitudes of the electoral processes of a democratic republic, in contrast to the schlock circus, financed by big money corporatists, being inflicted upon us at present.
Moreover, the elitists’ barriers of isolation and exclusion play out among the classes below as an idiot’s mimicry of soulless gated “communities” and the pernicious craving for a vast border wall — all an imitation of the ruling class’s paranoia-driven compulsion for isolation and their narcissistic obsession with exclusivity.
Perhaps, we should cover the country in an enormous sheet of cellophane and place a zip-lock seal at its southern border, or, better yet — in the interest of being more metaphorically accurate — let’s simply zip the entire land mass of the U.S. into a body bag and be done with it.
What will be at the root of the empire’s demise? It seems the elite of the nation will succumb to “Small World Syndrome” — that malady borne of incurable careerism, a form of self-induced cretinism that reduces the vast and intricate world to only those things that advance the goals of its egoistical sufferers. It is a degenerative disease that winnows down the consciousness of those afflicted to a banal nub of awareness, engendering the shallowness of character on display in the corporate media and the arrogance and cluelessness of the empire’s business and political classes. It possesses a love of little but mammon; it is the myth of Midas, manifested in the hoarding of hedge funds; it is the tale of an idiot gibbering over his collection of used string.
What can be done? In these dangerous times, credulousness to party dogma is as dangerous as a fundamentalist Christian’s literal interpretation of the Bible: There is no need to squander the hours searching for an “intelligent design” within the architecture of denial and duplicity built into this claptrap system — a system that we have collaborated in constructing by our loyalty to political parties that are, in return, neither loyal to us nor any idea, policy or principle that doesn’t maintain the corporate status quo.
Accordingly, we must make the elites of the Democratic Party accountable for their betrayal or we ourselves will become complicit. The faith of Democratic partisans in their degraded party is analogous to Bush and his loyalists still believing they can achieve victory in Iraq and the delusion-based wing of the Republican Party that, a few years ago, clung to the belief, regardless of facts, that Terri Schiavo’s brain was not irreparably damaged and she would someday rise from her hospital bed and bless the heavens for them and their unwavering devotion to her cause.
Faith-based Democrats are equally as delusional. Only their fantasies don’t flow from the belief in a mythical father figure, existing somewhere in the boundless sky, who scripture proclaims has a deep concern for the fate of all things, from fallen sparrows to medically manipulated stem cells; rather, their beliefs are based on the bughouse crazy notion that the elites of the Democratic Party could give a fallen sparrow’s ass about the circumstances of their lives.
In the same manner, I could never reconcile myself with the Judea/Christian/Islamic conception of god — some strange, invisible, “who’s-your-daddy-in-the-sky,” sadist, who wants me on my knees (as if I’m a performer in some kind of cosmic porno movie) to show my belief in and devotion to him — I can’t delude myself into feeling any sense of devotion to the present day Democratic Party.
Long ago, reason and common sense caused me to renounce the toxic tenets of organized religion. At present, I feel compelled to apply the same principles to the Democratic Party, leading me to conclude, as did Voltaire regarding the unchecked power of the Church in his day, that we must, “crush the infamous thing.”
Freedom begins when we free ourselves from as many illusions as possible — including dogma, clichés, cant, magical thinking, as well as blind devotion to a corrupt political class.
I wrote the following, before the 2006 mid-term election: “[ . . . ] I believe, at this late hour, the second best thing that could come to pass in our crumbling republic is for the total destruction of the Democratic Party — and then from its ashes to rise a party of true progressives.
“[ . . . ] I believe the best thing that could happen for our country would be for the leaders of the Republican Party — out of a deep sense of shame (as if they even possessed the capacity for such a thing) regarding the manner they have disgrace their country and themselves — to commit seppuku (the act of ritual suicide practiced by disgraced leaders in feudalist Japan) on national television.
“Because there’s no chance of that event coming to pass, I believe the dismantling of the Democratic Party, as we know it, is in order. It is our moribund republic’s last, best hope — if any is still possible.”
I received quite a bit of flack from party loyalists and netroots activists that my pronouncement was premature and we should wait and see.
We’ve waited and we’ve seen. Consequently, since the Republican leadership have not taken ceremonial swords in hand and disemboweled themselves on nationwide TV, it’s time we pulled the plug on the Democratic Party, an entity that has only been kept alive by a corporately inserted food-tube. In my opinion, this remains the last, best hope for the living ideals of progressive governance to become part of the body politic.
Governor changes position after earlier opposition
By Tom Precious
ALBANY — Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer, in a reversal of a campaign position, said Tuesday he could support legislation legalizing the use of marijuana for certain medicinal purposes.
The governor’s position comes as lawmakers stepped up a push in the final two weeks of the 2007 session for New York to join 12 other states and allow marijuana for those suffering from cancer, multiple sclerosis and other painful conditions.
In a debate last summer, Spitzer said he opposed medical marijuana. Now he said he is “open” to the idea after being swayed by advocates in the past couple of months.
“On many issues, hopefully you learn, you study, you evolve. This is one where I had, as a prosecutor, a presumption against the use of any narcotic which wasn’t designed purely for medicinal and medical effect. And now there are ways that persuaded me that it can be done properly,” the governor told reporters.
In 2005, lawmakers were close to a measure legalizing medical marijuana but dropped the effort after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said the federal government could prosecute cases against those using marijuana in states that had legalized its use.
But after federal officials signaled no desire to prosecute individual patients using marijuana, a slowly growing number of states has begun moving ahead again to permit the drug to be used in tightly controlled circumstances. Advocates, who include groups representing physicians, nurses and hospices, liken medicinal marijuana to morphine and other drugs that are used to treat pain but are otherwise illegal on the streets.
A measure pending in the Assembly would permit the drug’s use for life-threatening illnesses and diseases, which could include everything from cancer and AIDS to hepatitis-C, and any other conditions designated by the state health commissioner, a provision the Spitzer administration insisted on, legislative sources said.
The Assembly bill, written by Health Committee Chairman Richard Gottfried, DManhattan, is supported by a bipartisan assortment of upstate and downstate lawmakers, including Buffalo Democratic Assembly members Sam Hoyt and Crystal Peoples.
In the State Senate, the author of the 2005 measure, Sen. Vincent Leibell, a Putnam County Republican, is preparing to quickly introduce legislation again with hopes of passage next week. “I think that’s very significant,” Leibell said of Spitzer’s support. The issue has been backed in the past in the Senate by Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, a Republican and a prostate cancer survivor.
Federal court rulings have greatly altered how people medically eligible for marijuana in New York could obtain the drug.
A measure two years ago permitted hospitals, pharmacies and nonprofit groups to apply to grow and sell marijuana for medical use. But the courts ruled the federal government could prosecute, and it has done so in California by raiding state-sanctioned marijuana dispensers. So, New York officials have taken a different route: Marijuana users would be on their own.
Legislation in Albany would permit an eligible patient to grow up to 12 marijuana plants or be in possession of up to 2.5 ounces of harvested marijuana. To get the marijuana, though, patients would need to find their own suppliers, whether on the streets or by other means.
The law would still make it illegal for dealers to sell them marijuana — though not illegal if they give it away. And it would not be illegal for the patient to purchase or possess the drug.
Gottfried, who said the measure now has a greater chance of passage than it has in a decade, believes it could help thousands of New Yorkers suffering from the effects of chemotherapy or severe pain or loss of appetite for HIV-positive individuals. “The current prohibition is political correctness run amok,” Gottfried said.
The State Association of District Attorneys has taken no formal position on the issue, said Rockland District Attorney Michael Bongiorno, president of the group.
“Essentially, personal marijuana use for all intents and purposes has been decriminalized anyway in New York,” said Erie County District Attorney Frank J. Clark, pointing to state law that makes a first marijuana possession subject to only a violation with a $100 fine.
Clark said that he could see some “general benefit” to a medical marijuana law if it “were crafted in the right way and very strictly limited.”
But, he added, “You mean to tell me the only drug that can treat this particular condition or relieve this discomfort or pain is marijuana? I’m a little skeptical from a medical standpoint.”
The Assembly measure requires certification from a physician that no other treatment alternatives are available before marijuana can be recommended for a patient. The individual also must be a regular patient of the physician.
The state’s small but influential Conservative Party opposes the legislation. “We think it’s the wrong way for society to go,” said Michael Long, the party’s chairman. He said the measure could encourage fraud among unethical physicians trying to cash in on writing prescriptions, and he noted the federal courts have already spoken on the issue. “We are looking for trouble,” Long said.
Spitzer gave backers encouraging signals Tuesday but cautioned that his support depends on the final bill that emerges. “It depends upon access control, how you regulate it, how you ensure you’re not just dispensing a narcotic. There are obviously issues there that have to be dealt with,” he said.
Gottfried said he has been quietly working with Spitzer’s office on the matter for the past several weeks and already amended his bill to resolve concerns raised by the governor’s aides, such as pushing off the effective date until January 2009.
How patients would get access to marijuana is a sticking point. Leibell, the Senate backer, said he wants it done in a “controlled setting,” but Assembly Democrats said that could run afoul of the federal court rulings. Leibell said he also would be open to permitting its use for more conditions, such as glaucoma.
“It just doesn’t seem that big a lift in this day and age to try to help people,” Leibell said of medical marijuana.
Officers try to arrest 77-year-old; intended target was next door
June 15, 2007
By Shane Benjamin
Law-enforcement officers raided the wrong house and forced a 77-year-old La Plata County woman on oxygen to the ground last week in search of methamphetamine.
The raid occurred about 11 a.m. June 8, as Virginia Herrick was settling in to watch “The Price is Right.” She heard a rustling outside her mobile home in Durango West I and looked out to see several men with gas masks and bulletproof vests, she said.
Herrick went to the back door to have a look.
“I thought there was a gas leak or something,” she said.
But before reaching the door, La Plata County Sheriff’s deputies shouted “search warrant, search warrant” and barged in with guns drawn, she said. They ordered Herrick to the ground and began searching the home.
“They didn’t give me a chance to ask for a search warrant or see a search warrant or anything,” she said in a phone interview Thursday. “I’m not about to argue with those big old guys, especially when they’ve got guns and those big old sledgehammers.”
La Plata County Sheriff Duke Schirard and Southwest Drug Task Force Director Lt. Rick Brown confirmed Herrick’s story.
Some deputies stayed with Herrick as others searched the house. They entered every bedroom and overturned a mattress in her son’s room.
Deputies asked Herrick if she knew a certain man, and she said no. Then they asked what address they were at, and she told them 74 Hidden Lane.
Deputies intended to raid 82 Hidden Lane – the house next door.
While Herrick was on the ground, deputies began placing handcuffs on her. They cuffed one wrist and were preparing to cuff the other.
“I had gotten really angry, and I was shaking from the whole incident,” she said.
Once deputies realized their mistake, they tried to help Herrick stand up and help her clean up the mess they created.
“I’m kind of a little stiff getting up,” she said.
But Herrick wanted the deputies out.
“Not too much later, the sheriff came up and apologized, and apologized and apologized,” she said.
Schirard and Brown provided context for how the mistake occurred, and said that they ultimately busted the correct house and captured $51,520 worth of meth.
For one month, the Southwest Drug Task Force had been investigating drug activity at 82 Hidden Lane, and investigators made several undercover meth purchases from a man who lived at the house. Brown declined to release the man’s name, citing an ongoing investigation.
On June 8, the task force decided to end the undercover operation and arrest the man. Rather than arrest him inside his home, investigators set up a drug deal to lure him outside.
As the suspect drove toward the meeting location at the entrance of Durango West I, a deputy attempted to pull him over as if it were a routine traffic stop.
But the suspect hit the gas and led deputies on a 57-second chase through the Durango West neighborhood. The chase covered four-tenths of a mile with speeds reaching 45 mph. While driving, the suspect threw bags of meth out of the car and erased phone numbers from his cell phone, Brown said.
The suspect eventually crashed into a power box and was arrested without incident.
While task-force members were detaining him, other law-enforcement-officials were ordered to execute a search warrant at 82 Hidden Lane.
After raiding the wrong house, deputies regrouped and decided to enter the correct house. That raid was successful: Two people were arrested and 7.2 ounces of meth was seized, Brown said.
In all, the task force seized a total of 2.3 pounds of meth during the investigation, he said. That includes the meth investigators bought while undercover and the meth the suspect threw from his car during the chase, Brown said. The street value for 1 ounce of meth is $1,400.
“They were slinging a lot of dope in this community,” Brown said. “We took a lot of meth off the streets.”
Raiding the wrong house was a mistake, but it’s one the task force has been learning from, Brown said. The mistake could have compromised the investigation and deputy safety. Had the true suspects learned of the raid, they could have disposed of the narcotics and armed themselves in anticipation of a raid.
Agencies involved in the raid included the task force and the La Plata County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team.
Herrick’s home and the one next door had similar qualities, Brown said, and it didn’t help that deputies were entering through the back.
In the future, Brown said agents familiar with a particular raid will physically point deputies to the home, and pictures of the home will be distributed to those involved.
Herrick’s son, David Herrick, said investigators surveilled the neighbor’s house before the raid, and it was extremely unprofessional to enter the wrong house.
“There is a big difference between 74 and 82,” he said, referring to the house numbers.
What’s more, Herrick doesn’t understand why his 77-year-old mother was handcuffed.
“Why they thought it was necessary to handcuff her and put her on the floor I don’t know,” he said. “And then they had to ask her what the address was.”
Brown said it is common practice to make all occupants lie on the ground handcuffed in case gunfire erupts.
“It’s just safe for everybody if they’re controlled on the ground,” he said.
David Herrick said he has contacted lawyers about a possible lawsuit.
“It’s pretty upsetting that they do that to a 77-year-old,” he said. “A little common sense, I think, would have helped out on the problem a lot.”
Virginia Herrick said she is glad her meth-dealing neighbors are gone, but also said: “I’m still angry at the whole situation. For them to raid the wrong trailer was not very smart.”
June 13, 2007
By HEATHER HOLLINGSWORTH
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – An Iraq war veteran was kicked out of the Marines early with a general discharge after he wore his uniform during an anti-war demonstration, the military announced Wednesday.
Lt. Gen. John W. Bergman, commanding general of Marine Forces Reserve in New Orleans, agreed Monday to give Marine Cpl. Adam Kokesh a general discharge under honorable conditions, based on a military panel’s recommendation. The general discharge, which is one notch short of honorable, was effective Monday.
Kokesh got in trouble after The Washington Post published a photograph of him in March roaming the nation’s capital with other veterans on a mock patrol.
A superior officer e-mailed Kokesh, saying he was being investigated because he might have violated a rule prohibiting troops from wearing uniforms at protests.
Kokesh, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, responded to the superior with an obscenity, prompting the Marines to take steps to remove him with an “other than honorable” discharge.
Kokesh, who is from Santa Fe, N.M., but is living in Washington, stressed that he removed his name tag and military emblems from his uniform, making it clear he was not representing the military. His attorneys also argued the demonstration was “street theater,” exempting it from rules governing where troops can wear uniforms.
Kokesh’s attorney, Mike Lebowitz, said he planned to appeal to the Navy Discharge Review Board in Washington, D.C., which he described as a step toward getting the case into federal court.
“It’s just an affirmation of a weak decision,” Kokesh said of Bergman’s decision, “and we are going to continue to fight this to re-establish the precedence that the Marine Corps can’t be used for political purposes.”
Staff Sgt. Dustan Johnson, a Marine spokesman, said the review board was separate from the Marine Corps Mobilization Command and he could not comment on the appeal.
During the hearing last week at the Marine Corps Mobilization Command in Kansas City, Kokesh’s attorneys said the case was about free speech, while a Marine attorney said it was about violating orders.
Kokesh’s attorneys argued their client was not subject to military rules because he is a nondrilling, nonpaid member of the Individual Ready Reserve, which consists mainly of those who have left active duty but still have time remaining on their eight-year military obligations.
His IRR service had been scheduled to end June 18; Kokesh had received an honorable discharge from active duty in November.
Because Kokesh was an inactive reservist, the Marines were required to prove that his conduct “directly affects the performance of military duties” for him to receive an “other than honorable” discharge.
The Marine attorney, Capt. Jeremy Sibert, argued that the case met that criterion, noting Congress was debating military spending during the protest.
Two other Iraq veterans were contacted by the Marines about their protest activities and traveled to Kansas City for Kokesh’s hearing. Cloy Richards, 23, of Salem, Mo., cooperated, and the Marines did not act further. A hearing date for the other Marine, Liam Madden, 22, of Boston, has not been set.
“Now that the Marine Corps is going after honorably discharged members, who are in fact civilians, for free speech rights, we are fighting back,” Lebowitz said in a telephone interview Wednesday. “We are seeking a precedent in federal court.”
June 14, 2007
By BRUCE K. GAGNON
I often hear from people asking me, “What should we do about all this? How can we stop Bush?”
I would first say that we must move beyond blaming Bush. The fact of U.S. empire is bigger than Bush. Hopefully by now, all of us are more clear how the Democrats have been, and are now, involved in enabling the whole U.S. military empire building plan. It is about corporate domination. Bush is just the front man for the big money.
So to me that is step #1.
Step #2 is to openly acknowledge that as a nation, and we as citizens, benefit from this U.S. military and economic empire. By keeping our collective military boot on the necks of the people of the world we get control of a higher percentage of the world’s resources. We, 5% of the global population in the U.S., use 25% of the global resource base. This reality creates serious moral questions that cannot be ignored.
Step #3 is to recognize that we are addicted to war and to violence. The very weaving together of our nation was predicated on violence when we began the extermination of the Native populations and introduced the institution of slavery. A veteran of George Washington’s Army, in 1779, said, “I really felt guilty as I applied the torch to huts that were homes of content until we ravagers came spreading desolation everywhere….Our mission here is ostensibly to destroy but may it not transpire, that we pillagers are carelessly sowing the seed of Empire.” The soldier wrote this as Washington’s Army set out to remove the Iroquois civilization from New York state so that the U.S. government could expand its borders westward toward the Mississippi River. The creation of the American empire was underway.
Our history since then has been endless war. Two-Time Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient Major General Smedley D. Butler, U.S. Marine Corps, told the story in his book War is a Racket. Butler recalls in his book, “I spent 33 years and 4 months in active military service….And during that period I spent most of my time as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism….Thus I helped make Mexico and especially Tampico safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefit of Wall Street….I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1902-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. I helped make Honduras right for American fruit companies in 1903. In China in 1927, I helped see to it that Standard Oil went on its way unmolested.”
Step # 4 We have to begin to change how we think about our country. We have to learn to understand what oligarchy means. I’ll save you the trouble of having to look up the definition – A government in which power is in the hands of a few. When you have lost your democracy then what do the citizens do? They must fight (non-violently) to take it back. This of course means direct action and sometimes civil disobedience. Virtually everything good in our nation (abolition of slavery movement, women’s suffrage, civil rights movement, anti-war movements, etc) have come from people stepping up when they were needed. Calling for impeachment by the Congress becomes imperative today. Are you in or out?
Step #5 Forget the “every man for himself” mythology. We are all brainwashed in this country to believe in the rugged individualism story. But movement for change can only happen in community – working with others. So forget the ego centric notion that “one great man” is going to come save us. It’s going to take a village – in fact all the villages. Just like an addict goes to a group to seek help for addiction, knowing they can’t do it themselves, so we must form community to work for the needed change if we are to protect our children’s future.
Step # 6 What about my job? Another smothering myth in America is success. Keep your nose clean and don’t rock the boat. Don’t get involved in politics, especially calling for a revolution of values (like Martin Luther King Jr. did) or you will get labeled and then you can forget about owning that castle on the hill you’ve always dreamed of. In a way we become controlled by our own subservience to the success mythology. We keep ourselves in line because success and upward mobility become more important than protecting free speech, clean water, clean air, and ending an out of control government bent on world domination. Free our minds, free our bodies and we free the nation.
Step #7 Learn to work well with others. Sure we all want to be stars. But in the end we have to learn to set aside our egos if we want to be able to work with others to bring about the needed changes. Cindy Sheehan should not be hammered just for telling the truth about the Democrats playing footsie with Bush on the war.
Step # 8 It’s the money. How can I do this peace work when I have to work full-time just to pay the mortgage? I’d like to help but I’ve got bills to pay! Maybe we can begin to look at the consumerist life we lead and see that our addiction to the rat race keeps us from being fully engaged in the most important issue of our time – which is protecting the future generations. How can we begin to explore cooperative living arrangements, by building community, that free us up economically to be able to get more involved?
Step # 9 Learn to read again. Many of us don’t read enough. We spend our time in front of the TV, which is a primary tool that the power structure uses to brainwash us. We’ve got to become independent thinkers again and teach our kids to think for themselves. Reading and talking to others is a key. Read more history. All the answers and lessons can be found there.
Step #10 Learn to trust again and have fun. Some of the nicest people in the world are doing political work. Meet them and become friends with them and your life will change for the better.
June 7, 2007
By PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS
The war in Iraq is lost. This fact is widely recognized by American military officers and has been recently expressed forcefully by Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, the commander of US forces in Iraq during the first year of the attempted occupation.
Winning is no longer an option. Our best hope, Gen. Sanchez says, is “to stave off defeat,” and that requires more intelligence and leadership than Gen. Sanchez sees in the entirety of our national political leadership: “I am absolutely convinced that America has a crisis in leadership at this time.”
More evidence that the war is lost arrived June 4 with headlines reporting: “U.S.-led soldiers control only about a third of Baghdad, the military said on Monday.” After five years of war the US controls one-third of one city and nothing else.
A host of US commanding generals have said that the Iraq war is destroying the US military. A year ago Colin Powell said that the US Army is “about broken.” Lt. Gen. Clyde Vaughn says Bush has “piecemealed our force to death.” Gen. Barry McCafrey testified to the US Senate that “the Army will unravel.”
Col. Andy Bacevich, America’s foremost writer on military affairs, documents in the current issue of The American Conservative that Bush’s insane war has depleted and exhausted the US Army and Marine Corps:
“Only a third of the regular Army’s brigades qualify as combat-ready. In the reserve components, none meet that standard. When the last of the units reaches Baghdad as part of the president’s strategy of escalation, the US will be left without a ready-to-deploy land force reserve.”
“The stress of repeated combat tours is sapping the Army’s lifeblood. Especially worrying is the accelerating exodus of experienced leaders. The service is currently short 3,000 commissioned officers. By next year, the number is projected to grow to 3,500. The Guard and reserves are in even worse shape. There the shortage amounts to 7,500 officers. Young West Pointers are bailing out of the Army at a rate not seen in three decades. In an effort to staunch the losses, that service has begun offering a $20,000 bonus to newly promoted captains who agree to stay on for an additional three years. Meanwhile, as more and more officers want out, fewer and fewer want in: ROTC scholarships go unfilled for a lack of qualified applicants.”
Bush has taken every desperate measure. Enlistment ages have been pushed up from 35 to 42. The percentage of high school dropouts and the number of recruits scoring at the bottom end of tests have spiked. The US military is forced to recruit among drug users and convicted criminals. Bacevich reports that wavers “issued to convicted felons jumped by 30 percent.” Combat tours have been extended from 12 to 15 months, and the same troops are being deployed again and again.
There is no equipment for training. Bacevich reports that “some $212 billion worth has been destroyed, damaged, or just plain worn out.” What remains is in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Under these circumstances, “staying the course” means total defeat.
Even the neoconservative warmongers, who deceived Americans with the promise of a “cakewalk war” that would be over in six weeks, believe that the war is lost. But they have not given up. They have a last desperate plan: Bomb Iran. Vice President Dick Cheney is spear-heading the neocon plan, and Norman Podhoretz is the plan’s leading propagandist with his numerous pleas published in the Wall Street Journal and Commentary to bomb Iran. Podhoretz, like every neoconservative, is a total Islamophobe. Podhoretz has written that Islam must be deracinated and the religion destroyed, a genocide for the Muslim people.
The neocons think that by bombing Iran the US will provoke Iran to arm the Shiite militias in Iraq with armor-piercing rocket propelled grenades and with surface to air missiles and unleash the militias against US troops. These weapons would neutralize US tanks and helicopter gunships and destroy the US military edge, leaving divided and isolated US forces subject to being cut off from supplies and retreat routes. With America on the verge of losing most of its troops in Iraq, the cry would go up to “save the troops” by nuking Iran.
Five years of unsuccessful war in Iraq and Afghanistan and Israel’s recent military defeat in Lebanon have convinced the neocons that America and Israel cannot establish hegemony over the Middle East with conventional forces alone. The neocons have changed US war doctrine, which now permits the US to preemptively strike with nuclear weapons a non-nuclear power. Neocons are forever heard saying, “what’s the use of having nuclear weapons if you can’t use them.”
Neocons have convinced themselves that nuking Iran will show the Muslim world that Muslims have no alternative to submitting to the will of the US government. Insurgency and terrorism cannot prevail against nuclear weapons.
Many US military officers are horrified at what they think would be the worst ever orchestrated war crime. There are reports of threatened resignations. But Dick Cheney is resolute. He tells Bush that the plan will save him from the ignominy of losing the war and restore his popularity as the president who saved Americans from Iranian nuclear weapons. With the captive American media providing propaganda cover, the neoconservatives believe that their plan can pull their chestnuts out of the fire and rescue them from the failure that their delusion has wrought.
The American electorate decided last November that they must do something about the failed war and gave the Democrats control of both houses of Congress. However, the Democrats have decided that it is easier to be complicit in war crimes than to represent the wishes of the electorate and hold a rogue president accountable.
The prospect of nuking Iran doesn’t seem to disturb the three frontrunners for the Republican nomination, who agreed in their June 5 debate that the US might use nuclear weapons to destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment facilities.
If Cheney again prevails, America will supplant the Third Reich as the most reviled country in recorded history.
June 16, 2007
By Russell Mokhiber
20. Corporate crime inflicts far more damage on society than all street crime combined.
Whether in bodies or injuries or dollars lost, corporate crime and violence wins by a landslide.
The FBI estimates, for example, that burglary and robbery — street crimes — costs the nation $3.8 billion a year.
The losses from a handful of major corporate frauds — Tyco, Adelphia, Worldcom, Enron — swamp the losses from all street robberies and burglaries combined.
Health care fraud alone costs Americans $100 billion to $400 billion a year.
The savings and loan fraud — which former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh called “the biggest white collar swindle in history” — cost us anywhere from $300 billion to $500 billion.
And then you have your lesser frauds: auto repair fraud, $40 billion a year, securities fraud, $15 billion a year — and on down the list.
19. Corporate crime is often violent crime.
Recite this list of corporate frauds and people will immediately say to you: but you can’t compare street crime and corporate crime — corporate crime is not violent crime.
Corporate crime is often violent crime.
The FBI estimates that, 16,000 Americans are murdered every year.
Compare this to the 56,000 Americans who die every year on the job or from occupational diseases such as black lung and asbestosis and the tens of thousands of other Americans who fall victim to the silent violence of pollution, contaminated foods, hazardous consumer products, and hospital malpractice.
These deaths are often the result of criminal recklessness. Yet, they are rarely prosecuted as homicides or as criminal violations of federal laws.
18. Corporate criminals are the only criminal class in the United States that have the power to define the laws under which they live.
The mafia, no.
The gangstas, no.
The street thugs, no.
But the corporate criminal lobby, yes. They have marinated Washington — from the White House to the Congress to K Street — with their largesse. And out the other end come the laws they can live with. They still violate their own rules with impunity. But they make sure the laws are kept within reasonable bounds.
Exhibit A — the automobile industry.
Over the past 30 years, the industry has worked its will on Congress to block legislation that would impose criminal sanctions on knowing and willful violations of the federal auto safety laws. Today, with very narrow exceptions, if an auto company is caught violating the law, only a civil fine is imposed.
17. Corporate crime is underprosecuted by a factor of say — 100. And the flip side of that — corporate crime prosecutors are underfunded by a factor of say — 100.
Big companies that are criminally prosecuted represent only the tip of a very large iceberg of corporate wrongdoing.
For every company convicted of health care fraud, there are hundreds of others who get away with ripping off Medicare and Medicaid, or face only mild slap-on-the-wrist fines and civil penalties when caught.
For every company convicted of polluting the nation’s waterways, there are many others who are not prosecuted because their corporate defense lawyers are able to offer up a low-level employee to go to jail in exchange for a promise from prosecutors not to touch the company or high-level executives.
For every corporation convicted of bribery or of giving money directly to a public official in violation of federal law, there are thousands who give money legally through political action committees to candidates and political parties. They profit from a system that effectively has legalized bribery.
For every corporation convicted of selling illegal pesticides, there are hundreds more who are not prosecuted because their lobbyists have worked their way in Washington to ensure that dangerous pesticides remain legal.
For every corporation convicted of reckless homicide in the death of a worker, there are hundreds of others that don’t even get investigated for reckless homicide when a worker is killed on the job. Only a few district attorneys across the country have historically investigated workplace deaths as homicides.
White collar crime defense attorneys regularly admit that if more prosecutors had more resources, the number of corporate crime prosecutions would increase dramatically. A large number of serious corporate and white collar crime cases are now left on the table for lack of resources.
16. Beware of consumer groups or other public interest groups who make nice with corporations.
There are now probably more fake public interest groups than actual ones in America today. And many formerly legitimate public interest groups have been taken over or compromised by big corporations. Our favorite example is the National Consumer League. It’s the oldest consumer group in the country. It was created to eradicate child labor.
But in the last ten years or so, it has been taken over by large corporations. It now gets the majority of its budget from big corporations such as Pfizer, Bank of America, Pharmacia & Upjohn, Kaiser Permanente, Wyeth-Ayerst, and Verizon.
15. It used to be when a corporation committed a crime, they pled guilty to a crime.
So, for example, so many large corporations were pleading guilty to crimes in the 1990s, that in 2000, we put out a report titled The Top 100 Corporate Criminals of the 1990s. We went back through all of the Corporate Crime Reporters for that decade, pulled out all of the big corporations that had been convicted, ranked the corporate criminals by the amount of their criminal fines, and cut it off at 100.
So, you have your Fortune 500, your Forbes 400, and your Corporate Crime Reporter 100.
14. Now, corporate criminals don’t have to worry about pleading guilty to crimes.
Three new loopholes have developed over the past five years — the deferred prosecution agreement, the non prosecution agreement, and pleading guilty a closet entity or a defunct entity that has nothing to lose.
13. Corporations love deferred prosecution agreements.
In the 1990s, if prosecutors had evidence of a crime, they would bring a criminal charge against the corporation and sometimes against the individual executives. And the company would end up pleading guilty.
Then, about three years ago, the Justice Department said — hey, there is this thing called a deferred prosecution agreement.
We can bring a criminal charge against the company. And we will tell the company — if you are a good company and do not violate the law for the next two years, we will drop the charges. No harm, no foul. This is called a deferred prosecution agreement.
And most major corporate crime prosecutions are brought this way now. The company pays a fine. The company is charged with a crime. But there is no conviction. And after two or three years, depending on the term of the agreement, the charges are dropped.
12. Corporations love non prosecution agreements even more.
One Friday evening last July, I was sitting my office in the National Press Building. And into my e-mail box came a press release from the Justice Department.
The press release announced that Boeing will pay a $50 million criminal penalty and $615 million in civil penalties to resolve federal claims relating to the company’s hiring of the former Air Force acquisitions chief Darleen A. Druyun, by its then CFO, Michael Sears — and stealing sensitive procurement information.
So, the company pays a criminal penalty. And I figure, okay if they paid a criminal penalty, they must have pled guilty.
No, they did not plead guilty.
Okay, they must have been charged with a crime and had the prosecution deferred.
No, they were not charged with a crime and did not have the prosecution deferred.
About a week later, after pounding the Justice Department for an answer as to what happened to Boeing, they sent over something called a non prosecution agreement.
That is where the Justice Department says — we’re going to fine you criminally, but hey, we don’t want to cost you any government business, so sign this agreement. It says we won’t prosecute you if you pay the fine and change your ways.
Corporate criminals love non prosecution agreements. No criminal charge. No criminal record. No guilty plea. Just pay the fine and leave.
11. In health fraud cases, find an empty closet or defunct entity to plead guilty.
The government has a mandatory exclusion rule for health care corporations that are convicted of ripping off Medicare.
Such an exclusion is the equivalent of the death penalty. If a major drug company can’t do business with Medicare, it loses a big chunk of its business. There have been many criminal prosecutions of major health care corporations for ripping off Medicare. And many of these companies have pled guilty. But not one major health care company has been excluded from Medicare.
Because when you read in the newspaper that a major health care company pled guilty, it’s not the parent company that pleads guilty. The prosecutor will allow a unit of the corporation that has no assets — or even a defunct entity — to plead guilty. And therefore that unit will be excluded from Medicare — which doesn’t bother the parent corporation, because the unit had no business with Medicare to begin with.
Earlier, Dr. Sidney Wolfe was here and talked about the criminal prosecution of Purdue Pharma, the Stamford, Connecticut-based maker of OxyContin.
Dr. Wolfe said that the company pled guilty to pushing OxyContin by making claims that it is less addictive and less subject to abuse than other pain medications and that it continued to do so despite warnings to the contrary from doctors, the media, and members of its own sales force.
Well, Purdue Pharma — the company that makes and markets the drug — didn’t plead guilty. A different company — Purdue Frederick pled guilty. Purdue Pharma actually got a non-prosecution agreement. Purdue Frederick had nothing to lose, so it pled guilty.
10. Corporate criminals don’t like to be put on probation.
Very rarely, a corporation convicted of a crime will be placed on probation. Many years ago, Consolidated Edison in New York was convicted of an environmental crime. A probation official was assigned. Employees would call him with wrongdoing. He would write reports for the judge. The company changed its ways. There was actual change within the corporation.
Corporations hate this. They hate being under the supervision of some public official, like a judge.
We need more corporate probation.
9. Corporate criminals don’t like to be charged with homicide.
Street murders occur every day in America. And they are prosecuted every day in America. Corporate homicides occur every day in America. But they are rarely prosecuted.
The last homicide prosecution brought against a major American corporation was in 1980, when a Republican Indiana prosecutor charged Ford Motor Co. with homicide for the deaths of three teenaged girls who died when their Ford Pinto caught on fire after being rear-ended in northern Indiana.
The prosecutor alleged that Ford knew that it was marketing a defective product, with a gas tank that crushed when rear ended, spilling fuel.
In the Indiana case, the girls were incinerated to death.
But Ford brought in a hot shot criminal defense lawyer who in turn hired the best friend of the judge as local counsel, and who, as a result, secured a not guilty verdict after persuading the judge to keep key evidence out of the jury room.
It’s time to crank up the corporate homicide prosecutions.
8. There are very few career prosecutors of corporate crime.
Patrick Fitzgerald is one that comes to mind. He’s the U.S. Attorney in Chicago. He put away Scooter Libby. And he’s now prosecuting the Canadian media baron Conrad Black.
7. Most corporate crime prosecutors see their jobs as a stepping stone to greater things.
Spitzer and Giuliani prosecuted corporate crime as a way to move up the political ladder. But most young prosecutors prosecute corporate crime to move into the lucrative corporate crime defense bar.
6. Most corporate criminals turn themselves into the authorities.
The vast majority of corporate criminal prosecutions are now driven by the corporations themselves. If they find something wrong, they know they can trust the prosecutor to do the right thing. They will be forced to pay a fine, maybe agree to make some internal changes.
But in this day and age, in all likelihood, they will not be forced to plead guilty.
So, better to be up front with the prosecutor and put the matter behind them. To save the hide of the corporation, they will cooperate with federal prosecutors against individual executives within the company. Individuals will be charged, the corporation will not.
5. The market doesn’t take most modern corporate criminal prosecutions seriously.
Almost universally, when a corporate crime case is settled, the stock of the company involved goes up.
Why? Because a cloud has been cleared and there is no serious consequence to the company. No structural changes in how the company does business. No monitor. No probation. Preserving corporate reputation is the name of the game.
4. The Justice Department needs to start publishing an annual Corporate Crime in the United States report.
Every year, the Justice Department puts out an annual report titled “Crime in the United States.”
But by “Crime in the United States,” the Justice Department means “street crime in the United States.”
In the “Crime in the United States” annual report, you can read about burglary, robbery and theft.
There is little or nothing about price-fixing, corporate fraud, pollution, or public corruption.
A yearly Justice Department report on Corporate Crime in the United States is long overdue.
3. We must start asking — which side are you on — with the corporate criminals or against?
Most professionals in Washington work for, are paid by, or are under the control of the corporate crime lobby. Young lawyers come to town, fresh out of law school, 25 years old, and their starting salary is $160,000 a year. And they’re working for the corporate criminals.
Young lawyers graduating from the top law schools have all kinds of excuses for working for the corporate criminals — huge debt, just going to stay a couple of years for the experience.
But the reality is, they are working for the corporate criminals.
What kind of respect should we give them? Especially since they have many options other than working for the corporate criminals.
Time to dust off that age-old question — which side are you on? (For young lawyers out there considering other options, check out Alan Morrison’s new book, Beyond the Big Firm: Profiles of Lawyers Who Want Something More.)
2. We need a 911 number for the American people to dial to report corporate crime and violence.
If you want to report street crime and violence, call 911.
But what number do you call if you want to report corporate crime and violence?
We propose 611.
Call 611 to report corporate crime and violence.
We need a national number where people can pick up the phone and report the corporate criminals in our midst.
What triggered this thought?
We attended the press conference at the Justice Department the other day announcing the indictment of Congressman William Jefferson (D-Louisiana).
Jefferson was the first U.S. official charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.
Federal officials alleged that Jefferson was both on the giving and receiving ends of bribe payments.
On the receiving end, he took $100,000 in cash — $90,000 of it was stuffed into his freezer in Washington, D.C.
The $90,000 was separated in $10,000 increments, wrapped in aluminum foil, and concealed inside various frozen food containers.
At the press conference announcing the indictment, after various federal officials made their case before the cameras, up to the mike came Joe Persichini, assistant director of the Washington field office of the FBI.
“To the American people, I ask you, take time,” Persichini said. “Read this charging document line by line, scheme by scheme, count by count. This case is about greed, power and arrogance.”
“Everyone is entitled to honest and ethical public service,” Persichini continued. “We as leaders standing here today cannot do it alone. We need the public’s help. The amount of corruption is dependent on what the public with allow.
Again, the amount of corruption is dependent on what the public will allow.”
“”f you have knowledge of, if you’ve been confronted with or you are participating, I ask that you contact your local FBI office or you call the Washington Field Office of the FBI at 202.278.2000. Thank you very much.”
Shorten the number — make it 611.
1. And the number one thing you should know about corporate crime?
Everyone is deserving of justice. So, question, debate, strategize, yes.
But if God-forbid you too are victimized by a corporate criminal, you too will demand justice.
We need a more beefed up, more effective justice system to deal with the corporate criminals in our midst.
June 13, 2007
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s parliament on Wednesday voted in favor of a bill that could lead to death penalty for persons convicted of working in the production of pornographic movies.
With a 148-5 vote in favor and four abstentions, lawmakers present at the Wednesday session of the 290-seat parliament approved that “producers of pornographic works and main elements in their production are considered corruptors of the world and could be sentenced to punishment as corruptors of the world.”
The term, “corruptor of the world” is taken from the Quran, the Muslims’ holy book, and ranks among the highest on the scale of an individual’s criminal offenses. Under Iran’s Islamic Penal Code, it carries a death penalty.
The “main elements” refered to in the draft include producers, directors, cameramen and actors involved in making a pornographic video.
The bill also envisages convictions ranging from one year imprisonment to a death sentence for the main distributors of the movies and also producers of Web sites in which the pornographic works would appear.
Besides videos, the bill covers all electronic visual material, such as DVD and CDs. Other material, such as porn magazines and books are already banned under Iranian law.
To become law, the bill requires an approval by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog in Iran.
It is widely believed that the drafting of the bill came about as a reaction to a scandal last year, when a private videotape, apparently belonging to Iranian actress Zahra Amir Ebrahimi and allegedly showing her having intercourse with a man, became available across Iran.
The videotape was leaked to the Internet and released on a black market DVD, becoming a full-blown Iranian sex tape scandal. Ebrahimi later came under an official investigation, which is still ongoing. She faces fines, whip lashing or worse for her violation of Iran’s morality laws.
The unnamed man on the tape, who is suspected of releasing it, reportedly fled to Armenia but was subsequently returned to Iran and charged with breach of public morality laws. He remains in jail.
In an exclusive interview with the British newspaper The Guardian early this year, Ebrahimi denied she was the woman in the film and dismissed it as a fake, made by a vengeful former fiance bent on destroying her career.
In recent years, private videotapes have increasingly been leaked to the public in Iran, riling the government and many in this conservative Islamic country, where open talk of sex is banned and considered taboo.
However, porn material is easily accessible through foreign satellite television channels in Iran. Bootleg video tapes and CDs are also available on the black market on many street corners.
Quasi-legal squads raid street vendors
January 8, 2004
By Ben Sullivan
Though no guns were brandished, the bust from a distance looked like classic LAPD, DEA or FBI work, right down to the black “raid” vests the unit members wore. The fact that their yellow stenciled lettering read “RIAA” instead of something from an official law-enforcement agency was lost on 55-year-old parking-lot attendant Ceasar Borrayo.
The Recording Industry Association of America is taking it to the streets.
Even as it suffers setbacks in the courtroom, the RIAA has over the last 18 months built up a national staff of ex-cops to crack down on people making and selling illegal CDs in the hood.
The result has been a growing number of scenes like the one played out in Silver Lake just before Christmas, during an industry blitz to combat music piracy.
Borrayo attends to a parking lot next to the landmark El 7 Mares fish-taco stand on Sunset Boulevard. To supplement his buck-a-car income, he began, in 2003, selling records and videos from a makeshift stand in front of the lot.
In a good week, Borrayo said, he might unload five or 10 albums and a couple DVDs at $5 apiece. Paying a distributor about half that up-front, he thought he’d lucked into a nice side business.
The RIAA saw it differently. Figuring the discs were bootlegs, a four-man RIAA squad descended on his stand a few days before Christmas and persuaded the 4-foot-11 Borrayo to hand over voluntarily a total of 78 discs. It wasn’t a tough sell.
“They said they were police from the recording industry or something, and next time they’d take me away in handcuffs,” he said through an interpreter. Borrayo says he has no way of knowing if the records, with titles like Como Te Extraño Vol. IV — Musica de los 70’s y 80’s, are illegal, but he thought better of arguing the point.
The RIAA acknowledges it all — except the notion that its staff presents itself as police. Yes, they may all be ex-P.D. Yes, they wear cop-style clothes and carry official-looking IDs. But if they leave people like Borrayo with the impression that they’re actual law enforcement, that’s a mistake.
“We want to be very clear who we are and what we’re doing,” says John Langley, Western regional coordinator for the RIAA Anti-Piracy Unit. “First and foremost, we’re professionals.”
Langley, based in Los Alamitos, California, oversees five staff investigators and around 20 contractors who sniff out bootleg discs west of the Rockies. The former Royal Canadian Mountie said his unit’s on-the-streets approach has been a big success, netting more than 100,000 pieces of unauthorized merchandise during the recent Christmas retail blitz.
With all the trappings of a police team, including pink incident reports that, among other things, record a vendor’s height, weight, hair and eye color, the RIAA squad can give those busted the distinct impression they’re tangling with minions of Johnny Law instead of David Geffen. And that raises some potential legal questions.
Contacted for this article, the Southern California branch of the American Civil Liberties Union said it needed more information on the practices to know if specific civil liberties were at risk.
But if an anti-piracy team crossed the line between looking like cops and implying or telling vendors that they are cops, the Los Angeles Police Department would take a pretty dim view, said LAPD spokesman Jason Lee.
“I will not say it’s okay to be [selling] illegal stuff,” Lee said. “That’s a violation of penal codes.
“But it doesn’t really matter what your status is. If that person feels he was wrongly interrogated or under the false pretense that these people were cops, they should contact their local police station as a victim. We’ll sort it all out.”
For its part, the RIAA maintains that the up-close-and-personal techniques are nothing new. RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy says its investigators do not represent themselves as police, and that the incident reports vendors are asked to sign, in which they agree to hand over their discs, explicitly state that the forfeiture is voluntary.
Lamy and the RIAA are unapologetic about taking the fight against music piracy to the streets. Though the association has suffered a few high-profile legal setbacks in recent months — most notably when a three-judge panel ruled that Internet service providers do not have to squeal on their file-swapping customers — community action is extremely effective.
Langley says the anti-piracy teams have about an 80 percent success rate in persuading vendors to hand over their merchandise voluntarily for destruction.
“We notify them that continued sale would be a violation of civil and criminal codes. If they’d like to voluntarily turn the product over to us, we’ll destroy it, and we agree we won’t sue,” he explained.
The pink incident sheets and photos that Langley’s teams take of vendors are meant to establish a paper trail, particularly for repeat offenders.
“A large percentage [of the vendors] are of a Hispanic nature,” Langley said. “Today he’s Jose Rodriguez, tomorrow he’s Raul something or other, and tomorrow after that he’s something else. These people change their identity all the time. A picture’s worth a thousand words.”
Though Langley says he doesn’t know what tack his new boss will take, the recent hiring of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Director Bradley Buckles to head the anti-piracy unit has some RIAA watchers holding their breath.
On its face, the move looks like a shift toward even more in-your-face enforcement. But don’t expect all RIAA critics to rally to the side of Borrayo and other sellers.
“The process of confiscating bootleg CDs from street vendors is exactly what the RIAA should be doing,” said Jason Schultz, a staff attorney for the San Francisco–based Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF).
The EFF has frequently crossed swords with the record industry over its strategy of suing ISPs and individual listeners accused of downloading tunes from the Internet. A champion of copyright “fair use,” the EFF says Buckles could bring a more balanced approach to the RIAA’s anti-piracy efforts. The more time the association spends rousting vendors, the thinking goes, the less it will spend subpoenaing KaZaa and BearShare aficionados.
Meanwhile, Borrayo will have to keep his eyes open for another source of income. Though he says he still sees nothing wrong with what he did, the guy who once supplied him records hasn’t been around in a couple months.
“They tried to scare me,” Borrayo said. “They told me, ‘You’re a pirate!’ I said, ‘C’mon, guys, pirates are all at sea. I just work in a parking lot.’ “