Tag Archives: congress

New Hope for Defending Democracy Against Executive Power by Fred Branfman

10 Sep


David Duckworth, Corporations.  Acrylic, 2012. Stencil executed by Philippe Barnoud on bridge near Paris University 8, Saint-Denis, for exhibition, Écritures en migration[s].

This is a second installment from Fred Branfman, originally posted at alternet.org.  A first installment appeared here on June 27, 2013.

Knowledge that GCHQ exploits these products and the scale of our capability would raise public awareness generating unwelcome publicity for us and our political masters.’”

Internal British NSA document, cited in “US And UK Spy Agencies Defeat Privacy And Security On The Internet”, The Guardian, 9-06-13

The U.S. Executive Branch is your enemy if you believe in democracy, as described in the just-published article below. We may obey it, as we do any illegitimate power, because we fear the legal consequences of disobedience. But it has no legitimate claim to our moral allegiance. As the quote above indicates, the Executive immorally operates in secret primarily to avoid democratic accountability. Many have until now understandably prioritized other issues over fighting for democracy itself. We can no longer. President Carter correctly says America does not have a functioning democracy, as does Senator Wyden in warning that we must act now before it is too late. A new “pro-Democracy” mass movement in America will be the necessary precondition for making significant progress on any other issue in the coming decade.

Fortunately though, like a bolt of lightning suddenly illuminating a dark graveyard, the potential has arisen for a new mass movement for democracy unlike any we have seen in our lifetime. The July 24th Conyers-Amash amendment forbidding NSA mass collection of our phone and Internet records came within seven switched votes of passing the House. If this new Congressional coalition of strange bedfellows from left and right is paralleled by a similarly broad mass movement, there is new hope for curbing anti-democratic Executive power.

The great moral issue of our time is that we owe our loyalty to democracy not an illegitimate U.S. Executive Branch which does not rule with the “consent of the governed” and has subverted the system of “checks and balances” upon which the U.S. Constitution is based; and that this fact obliges us to fight for democracy against Executive power while there is still time to do so. Fred



“America no longer has a functioning democracy. This invasion of privacy has been excessive, so bringing it to public notice has probably been beneficial”  ex-President Jimmy Carter

Millions of Americans will face a basic question in the coming decade: how much loyalty do we owe a U.S. Executive Branch which extracts huge sums from us to spy upon and lie to us, on the false grounds that doing so is protecting us? Or do we owe our moral allegiance to the ideal of democracy, which requires us to fight the Executive which is its enemy?

Senate Intelligence Committee member Ron Wyden recently issued an urgent call [3] to “rein in this omnipresent, ever-expanding surveillance state”, warning that “if we don’t do it now our generation’s going to regret it forever”. Wyden and his colleague Mark Udall who have revealed that even as Senators they have been consistently denied information, [4] lied to [5], treated like children unable even to take notes [6], and are even now muzzled from revealing [7] far more massive Executive subversions of democracy than is known have become the canaries in the coalmine. They warn us that though still largely odorless, colorless and invisible to most of us, poisonous Executive power is slowly destroying what remains of a “functioning democracy” in this country.

The meaning of an ex-U.S. President’s astonishing statement is clear. For the Executive’s threat is not only to “privacy” or “civil liberties” but the very structure of democracy itself. As Wyden and Udall have demonstrated, the Executive Branch has unilaterally seized power since 9/11, behind a curtain of secrecy, in a way that has destroyed our constitutional system of legislative and judicial “checks and balances” on its power.

This threat has been ignored by many because it so counters our childhood beliefs that our government fights for democracy against foreign enemies. But the evidence clearly indicates that it is the U.S. Executive Branch, not foreigners, which is today U.S. democracy’s main enemy. And it also clear that saving our liberties will require a new pro-democracy mass movement as unprecedented as the Executive’s post-9/11 power grab.

It is our own Executive Branch, after all, not a foreign enemy which has unilaterally and illegally stored [8] our phone calls and emails without even informing us, let alone obtaining the constitutionally-required “consent of thegoverned [9]” to do so; constantly broken the law by violating the Patriot Act, as its Republican author has attested [10], and lying to the Legislative [11] and Judicial [12] branches; illegally accessed [13] our private data on tens of thousands of known occasions while falsely claiming they have not with even these abuses only “the tip of the iceberg[7]; attacked freedom of the press by spying on organizations like the Associated Press [14], intimidating journalists [15], and trying to jail [16] them if they do not reveal their sources; seized emails from private [17] companies and threatened to jail [18] their CEOs if they revealed it; pushed through a law giving them the right to assassinate or jail [19] any of us for life without a trial or other opportunity to prove our innocence; classified trillions of documents [20] annually, less than 5% of which [21] are of any conceivable use to a foreign enemy, so as to hide evidence of their massive waste, fraud, abuse and crimes; prosecuted unprecedented numbers of whistleblowers [22] who reveal their secret crimes and abuses; lied continuously [11] to the American people whenever their mistakes and crimes have been revealed; required millions of their own employees to inform on each other [23], and even threatened to fire them for simply declining to spy on their colleagues; funded SWAT teams already abusing their power [24], and provided paramilitary training and equipment [25] to police forces around the country; begun using drones domestically [26]; and demanded that the Judiciary make decisions [27] based only on Executive assertions, as it withholds any evidence for them on the grounds of “national security.”

As millions of us come to realize the truth of Wyden’s warning over the next decade, we will be forced to ask the most basic of questions: is this the America we grew up believing in, or want to live in now? And, if not, are we willing to fight for democracy before, as Wyden warns, it is too late? It may sound over-dramatic to the comfortable, complacent, or fearful, but he is correct. Our generation must respond to his call to arms for democracy or it will disappear.

This nation has of course faced threats to democracy in the past, in the last century, from the Palmer raids [28] and jailing of Eugene V. Debs [29] for speaking out against World War One, McCarthyism [30], FBI criminality [31] in the 1960s and beyond, the CIA abuses catalogued by Senator Frank Church [32] in the mid-1970s, and Iran-Contra [33] in the 1980s. And, as President Eisenhower [34] warned us, the “military-industrial” complex has been slowly choking off democracy since the end of World War II.

But the Executive’s current assault on democracy is unprecedented. As a result of previous unimaginable technologies of surveillance and control, and the fear generated by the attacks on 9/11, the U.S. Executive has constructed on American soil a massive apparatus of surveillance and potential population control never before seen in our history.

This apparatus includes the mammoth Department of HomelandSecurity [35] and intelligence-gathering and police entities located in 17,000 buildings [1] around the nation; giant data storage [36] and collection centers driven by ever more powerful and intrusive software storing all Americans’ phone and Internet data; 72 police/military intelligence fusion centers [37]”, which have already begun [38] to target [39] domestic dissidents; and, increasingly, paramilitary-oriented [24] police-departments, often with secret police units.

While most of this apparatus is presently directed at potential threats from abroad, it is already devoting an unprecedented amount of time and money surveilling Americans at home. And it can be increasingly turned against the American people, media, Congress and the Judiciary in the likely event of increasing social disruption, and/or new domestic 9/11s, in the coming decade.

And this visible threat to democracy is only part of the problem, as the Executive Branch behaves more like an Occupying Power ruling from above than a democratic institution controlled from below. In the past, it waged its wars abroad and an American middle class still prospered at home. But today its priorities are also accelerating America’s economic and social decline, as its wasted $4-6 trillion long-term [40] on two losing wars in the past decade alone and consumes over $1 trillion annually [41], as the middle class slowly disappears.

As America’s economic health [42], society [43], infrastructure [44], schools [45] and social mobility [46] continue to decline, the rich grow richer and the poor poorer [47], automation [48] and the continued export of jobs [49] leads to rising mass underemployment [50], our youth are increasingly indentured [51] by massive student debt, millions of workers can barely survive even when working two or three jobs [52], and assaults on the safety net [53] grow, it is inevitable that growing numbers of Americans will protest their conditions. And, unless we rein in the Executive, it will inevitably respond to increased protest with increased police tactics threatening democracy itself.

Self-Censorship: The Worst Abuse

And putting aside the flagrant abuses that we now know about, the creation of an Executive Branch Surveillance State already threatens to cast a subtler and ultimately more disturbing pall over the land.

Conservative columnist Peggy Noonan has properly written [54] that “a loss of the expectation of privacy in communications is a loss of something personal and intimate, and it will have broader implications”, and then approvingly quoted the liberal “Nat Hentoff, the great journalist and civil libertarian,” as saying that “Americans will become careful about what they say that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted, and then too careful about what they say that can be understood. The inevitable end of surveillance is self-censorship.”

The little jokes so many now make along the lines of “this email is just between you, me and the NSA” suggest that many Americans are already nervous about expressing views, or writing words, that might trigger government scrutiny. And self-censorship is far more pernicious than heavy-handed government censorship. And, worse, there comes a point when we don’t even realize we are censoring ourselves anymore, when “dangerous thoughts” are not even brought to consciousness.

Millions of our young people, forced to seek scarce government or corporate jobs to pay off massive student loans [55], are increasingly fearful of political associations or activities that they fear might hurt their future employment prospects. Many are careful about what they say or write to each other on the phone or in emails and, unconsciously, even what they think.

And, as McClatchy [56] has reported, millions more federal employees are now required to spy and inform on each other at the risk of losing their jobs. They are not even allowed to remain silent, since employees can be fired if it is subsequently found that they could have reported a co-worker but did not. An estimated 1.4 million public and private sector employees have obtained their “top secret” security clearances by submitting to intrusive and thorough “background checks”. They have done so because such a clearance is, in Dana Priest and Bill Arkin’s words, “a passport to prosperity for life”, offering secure, high-paying jobs. They tend to live close to one another, in some of the wealthiest communities in America [2].

The result is an increasing tendency toward “group think” [57] and conformity, as such individuals lose even the capacity for independent thought outside politically prescribed limits. And those charged with protecting our privacy can hardly be trusted to do so when they have already given up their own.

From “Civil Rights” to a New “Democratic Rights” Movement

The Executive’s unprecedented threat to democracy requires an unprecedented response. The great mass movements of the postwar era have involved issues of social, economic, gender, sexual and racial justice, war and peace, and the environment. “Civil liberties” have largely been left to organizations like the ACLU.

But now a new “Democratic Rights” movement, with at least as much public support as the “Civil Rights” movement of the 1960s, will be required for democracy to exist. And if democracy goes, so too will social justice, the environment and peace. A “Democratic Rights” movement is a necessary precondition for everything else.

A New Politics, A New Hope

Until recently it was difficult to even imagine how Executive power could be limited, as a cowed Congress massively funded it after 9/11 while democracy burned. But on July 24th, like a bolt of lightning suddenly illuminating a dark graveyard, a surprising Congressional vote [58] provided the first hope for asserting democratic control over Executive power.

A unique coalition of 111 Democrats and 94 conservatives came within only seven switched votes of passing a bill to halt the Executive Branch’s unconstitutional collection of all Americans’ phone and Internet records.

The vote’s importance was not only that it was the first major challenge to the Executive’s post-9/11 power grab. It also significantly showed that there was a difference between Congress and the Executive. Overall, members of Congress are controlled by the economic interests upon whose money they depend for reelection, and they have done nothing to halt climate change, growing inequality, and Executive drone and ground assassination abroad, etc. But this vote suggested that there is daylight between Congress and the Executive on the issue of surveillance and, hopefully, other issues fundamental to democracy. The hope that Congress will create a functioning democracy in America may prove to be naïve. But, if a grassroots movement can arise to support this cause, it will be Americans’ only hope of rolling back authoritarian Executive Branch power.

The greatest significance of the Conyers-Amash vote was that embodied a new politics entirely different from the traditional liberal vs. conservative divisions that have brought a moribund Congress to a halt.

This new politics pits both liberal and conservative opponents of government surveillance against an unholy and unprincipled alliance for authoritarianism that includes Barack Obama, Paul Ryan, Nancy Pelosi, Eric Cantor, and John Boehner. After years of gridlock, the House experienced a sudden pushback against Executive power unlike any we have seen in our lifetimes.

This new Congressional coalition gives new meaning to the saying that politics makes strange bedfellows. Republican votes for Conyers-Amash included both principled opponents of surveillance, and those who support [59] surveillance but want it done entirely by the private sector. And Democratic supporters for the amendment included both principled progressives who have long fought for civil liberties and peace, and more centrist types who have rubber-stamped past Executive war-making without a peep.

It is uncertain whether this unwieldy coalition can hold in coming months given these differences, the gravitational pull of the old politics, and the enormous Executive power and deception they will face. We can safely assume that military-intelligence-police firms and the Pentagon itself are already mercilessly pressuring pro Conyers-Amash members back in their districts, and, in D.C., Mr. Obama and Ms. Pelosi are also strongly lobbying for mass surveillance to continue, covering up their betrayal of democracy with meaningless promises of greater transparency. Even if restrictions on NSA spying on innocent Americans pass the House, they would face an uncertain future in the Senate.

But two things are certain: only if the proto-coalition that favored the amendment can hold and expand in coming years will there be any hope of creating a “functioning democracy” in our nation. And second, for this to happen there will need to be a new grassroots movement of similarly strange bedfellows committed to fighting for democracy.

The Amash-Conyers vote also provided dramatic evidence of how the U.S. Executive does not represent the American people. The Executive was only able to spy on Americans because it deceived them by denying it was doing so. When Americans found out about the spying, however, an Economist poll [60] showed Americans opposed NSA surveillance by a 59-35 margin. Americans clearly would not have agreed, had the Executive Branch honestly sought “the consent of the governed,” to allow it collect all their phone and Internet records. By unilaterally, lawlessly and secretly seizing the power to do so, and lying about it when asked, the Executive Branch has clearly lost its moral legitimacy. We may obey the Executive because, like any people living under illegitimate power, we fear the legal consequences of disobedience. But it has clearly forfeited any claim to our moral allegiance.

An Illegitimate Executive Branch Is Endangering Not Protecting Us

The Executive has justified its assaults on democracy, like all authoritarian institutions before it, on the grounds that it is protecting us. We frequently hear, for example, that we must accept less freedom in order to have more security. In fact, under present Executive rule, we have neither.

Executive officials insult reason itself when they claim that to protect us they need to collect billions of innocent Americans’ phone calls and Internet records, at a time President Obama himself has said we face a reduced foreign threat [61] that can best be met by police work. Senators Wyden and Udall have stated [62] that “we have not yet seen any evidence showing that the NSA’s dragnet collection of Americans’ phone records has produced any uniquely valuable intelligence.”

On August 21st, the Washington Post reported [63] that it took a year-long Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit to force the NSA to declassify a secret court ruling revealing they had been illegally spying on American-to-American communications in violation of every public claim they had made on the subject. The idea that this document was classified because some “foreign enemy” could use this FISA report to hurt us is silly. What possible interest could al-Qaeda have in a document proving American agencies were spying on their own people? The FISA court document, like most Executive classified material, was obviously kept secret to hide Executive wrongdoing from Americans, not “foreign terrorists”.

And not only does Executive Branch spying on innocent Americans at home not protect us, as dozens of national security experts have stated, its foreign drone and ground assassination programs are in fact endangering us (please see list of experts cited at the end of Part I [64] of this series). They have created exponentially more enemies than they have killed, strengthening U.S. foes and weakening potential allies, and increased the possibility of more domestic terrorist attacks and nuclear materials falling into terrorist hands. A U.S. foreign policy that turns nations like Pakistan into allies not enemies, e.g. by bringing them electricity rather than drones, will make possible the kind of joint police-work which alone can significantly reduce the foreign terrorist threat to America — at a fraction of present vast over-spending.

The Fundamental Moral Issue: Loyalty to Democracy Not the Executive Branch

Article One of the Federal Code of Ethics [65] adopted by Congress in 1958 states that there is a fundamental distinction between loyalty to country and loyalty to any government entity: “any person in Government service should put loyalty to principles and to country above loyalty to Government persons, party, or department.”

As former Army Colonel Andrew Bacevich, who lost a son fighting in Iraq, has put it [66] in the Washington Post:“to whom do Army privates and intelligence contractors owe their loyalty? To state or to country? To the national security apparatus that employs them or to the people that apparatus is said to protect? What if the interests of the state do not automatically align with those of the country? In that event, the state pursues its own agenda. In doing so, it stealthily but inexorably accumulates power, privilege and prerogatives.”

At the start of each new Congress, members swear [67] to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” This oath clearly obligates them to fight democracy’s chief domestic enemy today: the U.S. Executive Branch. And it is not only Members of Congress and Federal Employees who have a duty to fight to preserve democracy against the Executive. So do we all.

Understanding Democracy’s Enemy: The Problem of “True Believers”

In speaking of the U.S. Executive Branch as the enemy of democracy it is important not to demonize its leaders as individuals. They are like most Americans in their off-hours. Many are patriotic and believe that they are protecting the American people, and their patriotism deserves respect. They presumably love their mates, children and pets in the same proportion as does the general population, also hit Home Depot on the weekends, and enjoy sports and “Downton Abbey” as much as any of us. We are not talking about Nazis here.

But when they go to work for the institution we call the Executive Branch, it is a very different matter. They spy on us, we do not surveil them. They take and waste enormous sums of our money, we do not take theirs. They hide their activities from us and lie to us when they are caught — we do not do so to them. They threaten whistleblowers and journalists, we do not. They claim the right to murder or imprison us without trial, we make no such claim on them. They have endangered us creating exponentially more enemies than they kill, we do not endanger them.

The danger they pose to democracy is not like that of previous authoritarians, who made no secret of their contempt for democracy. On the contrary. This danger arises from people who genuinely think they are protecting democracy even as they destroy it. They have a deep inner need to see themselves as does Rep. Peter King, when he referred [68] to “the thousands of good men and women who every day dedicate their lives to our country, and particularly General Alexander, who is as patriotic as anyone I have ever met in government or anywhere.”

It is the problem of the “True Believer,” one of the most dangerous of social phenomena. Their self-righteous need to feel they are protecting us leads them to feel justified in breaking any law and telling any lie in pursuit of their mission. Freedom of the press, telling the American people the truth, obeying the law, are irrelevant to true believers who decide they have a higher calling. It is the same phenomenon observed during the Iran-Contra scandal after Congress halted military aid to the Contras. Because Executive Branch officials like James Poindexter and Oliver North were so convinced that they were on the side of the angels they felt justified in operating secretly, lying about their actions, and breaking just laws.

As the Executive Comes Home, Americans Can No Longer Ignore Its Illegitimate Power

For the past 50 years many Americans, notably its political-media-intellectual elites who have known the horrific facts, have turned a blind eye to the Executive Branch’s murder, maiming and making homeless over 20 million non-Americans, mainly civilians. (Please see Part 2 [69] of this series, “The World’s Most Evil And Lawless Institution? The Executive Branch Of The U.S. Government”; posted at this blog on June 27, 2013).

CNN commentator Jeffrey Toobin recently reflected the Washington elite’s indifference to this mass murder when he called for [70] Private Manning’s imprisonment because the Foreign Service Officers, “who wrote these cables have devoted their lives to making the world a better place.” Like his compatriots, he simply ignored the fact that those Foreign Service Officers have been an integral part of the U.S. Executive apparatus that ruined those 20 million lives, and has in many other nations propped up savage dictatorships practicing mass murder, assassination, torture and incarceration of the innocent.

Joshua Oppenheimer, producer of The Act of Killing, a filmabout the Indonesian army’s murder of more than one million civilians [following a military coup in 1965], has reported [71] that “you can see that the United States made it very clear that, as a condition for future aid, the Indonesian army must go after the whole Communist Party. And they had guys in the State Department compiling death lists for the army—communist leaders, union leaders, intellectuals who were left-leaning. The signal from the U.S. was clear: ‘We want these people dead.'”

But as the Executive’s indifference to the rule of law and human decency now increasingly comes home, millions of us will no longer be able to ignore Executive wrongdoing. We will be forced to decide whether American democracy is worth fighting for.

Executive Branch secrecy, deception, and surveillance has reached such levels that it has become a revolutionary act simply to insist that the U.S. Constitution be obeyed, i.e. that the Executive obtain the “consent of the governed” for its actions — the trailblazing concept by which America replaced the “Divine Right of Kings” with the will of the governed as the basis for legitimate rule.

The Washington political-media elite who call for jailing whistle-blowers for “breaking the law” has lacked the integrity to demand similar punishment for the far more lawless criminal behavior of such Executive Branch officials as NSA chief Keith Alexander and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper.

The recent FISA Court document declassified as a result of an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawsuit, for example, stated [72] that “the court is troubled that the government’s revelations mark the third instance in less than three years in which the government has disclosed a substantial misrepresentation regarding the scope of a major collection program.”

Does anything threaten democracy more than when Executive Branch officials repeatedly deceive the Judiciary, as well as the Legislature and American people? Should not this behavior lead to criminal sanctions for General Alexander?

Many mass media journalists ask who gave whistleblowers the right to release classified information. It is a fair question. But they have not dared ask a far more serious question: who gave Executive Branch officials the right to secretly and unilaterally collect all Americans’ phone and Internet records?

It certainly wasn’t Congress, almost all of whose members had no idea this was going on. The Republican head of the House Judiciary Committee, Bob Goodlatte, recently stated [73] on Face The Nation that “when this was made known (by) Edward Snowden, the Judiciary Committee conducted a briefing for all of the members of the House. It was very clear then that many of them did not know about these programs or how they worked, including the former chairman of the committee Jim Sensenbrenner, who was the chairman when these laws were written, and myself.” Mr. Sensenbrenner, who wrote the Patriot Act. has stated [74] that“as I have said numerous times, I did not know the administration was using the Patriot Act for bulk collection, and neither did a majority of my colleagues.”

It certainly wasn’t the judiciary which allowed the Executive to spy on us, as the Washington Post recently reported [75]: “the leader of the secret court that is supposed to provide critical oversight of the government’s vast spying programs said that its ability to do so is limited and that it must trust the government to report when it improperly spies on Americans.”

And it certainly wasn’t Mr. Obama, who we now know was elected on false promises that he would bring transparency, respect for civil liberties and a free press, and whistle-blower protection to the Oval Office. He clearly does not have the right to unilaterally and secretly create a Surveillance State in this country without the consent of the governed. Mr. Obama placed his former post as a Constitutional Lecturer at the very core of his identity. Americans certainly did not give him the right to betray them, everything he claimed to stand for, and the constitution. His approval of Executive spying on Americans, and constant lying about it ever since, in no way legitimizes it.

No, the Executive Branch has seized this power simply because it could, in a lawless power grab without precedent in this country. And if democracy is to be preserved here this rule of men not laws, this practice of might makes right must be ended.

Known Executive Abuses: Only “The Tip Of An Iceberg”

The Washington Post recently reported [13] on an internal NSA audit revealing that the NSA had violated the law “thousands of times” a year since 2008 at its Fort Meade headquarters alone. And “a single `incident’ in February 2012 involved the unlawful retention of 3,032 files that the surveillance court had ordered the NSA to destroy.” That is, we now know the NSA had committed tens of thousands, possibly hundreds of thousands, of individual abuses already.

It is important to note also that this audit was kept secret from the American people until Edward Snowden revealed it. Typically, it was hidden because its contents would help America’s enemies. It is laughable to imagine that Ayman al-Zawahari would be helped by knowing that the NSA was constantly breaking American law and lying to its citizens about it. Like the FISA Court report cited above, it was classified secret to keep its findings of NSA abuse from the American people.

This story also revealed that President Obama had again lied [76] to the American people when he stated eight days earlier that “I am comfortable that the program currently is not being abused”. And it was quickly followed by another bombshell. Senate Intelligence Committee members Ron Wyden and Mark Udall, who have been muzzled from revealing specifics, stated [77] that “we have previously said that the violations of these laws and rules were more serious than had been acknowledged”, and, “we believe Americans should know that even these revelations were but the tip of an iceberg of far greater abuses.”

We now know where the most massive Executive Branch abuses of democracy in postwar history have begun. But we have no idea yet where they will end.

A New Movement To Meet “The Generational Challenge”

The surprising support for the amendment forbidding NSA spying on innocent Americans gave hope that Congress could eventually act to curb the Executive threat to democracy. Amazing even its own sponsors, it was only stopped because Mr. Obama and Nancy Pelosi abandoned their core principles to muscle Democrats into opposing it.

In an article entitled “How Nancy Pelosi Saved the NSA Surveillance Program,” Foreign Policy magazine explained [78] how Pelosi betrayed her own constituents, among the most pro-civil liberties voters in the nation: “Hill sources say most of the credit for the amendment’s defeat goes to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi privately and aggressively lobbied wayward Democrats to torpedo the amendment”. It quoted a Democratic aide as saying that “Pelosi had meetings and made a plea to vote against the amendment and that had a much bigger effect on swing Democratic votes against the amendment than anything [NSA Chief Keith] Alexander had to say.” Typically, after killing the bill, the magazine reported that Pelosi sought to cover up her misdeeds: “…despite the minority leader’s instrumental role in swaying the vote, you won’t find her taking credit: She’s busy protecting her left flank from liberal supporters of Amash’s amendment.”

Despite Obama and Pelosi’s short-term success in beating back attempts to limit mass spying on Americans against their will, however, the bill represented a watershed in American political life. Providing a desperately needed fresh and cleansing wind blowing across a sick and dying Congress, it foreshadowed a new movement aimed at saving American democracy before it is too late.

In the concluding section of this series we will discuss what the basic goals of a new “Democratic Rights Movement” must be if we are to end the Executive Branch’s threat to freedom in this country.

Source URL: Links:
[1] http://alternet.org
[2] http://www.alternet.org/authors/fred-branfman
[3] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/q-a-senator-ron-wyden-on-nsa-surveillance-and-government-transparency-20130815?page=3
[4] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/04/congress-nsa-denied-access
[5] http://www.upi.com/Top_News/US/2013/07/02/Wyden-deeply-troubled-by-Clappers-domestic-spying-lie/UPI-69721372748400/
[6] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-08/politics/39834570_1_oversight-programs-government-surveillance
[7] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/aug/16/nsa-revelations-privacy-breaches-udall-wyden
[8] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/28/opinion/the-criminal-nsa.html?pagewanted=all
[9] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consent_of_the_governed
[10] http://www.latimes.com/opinion/commentary/la-oe-sensenbrenner-data-patriot-act-obama-20130819,0,1387481.story
[11] http://www.salon.com/2013/07/01/this_man_is_still_lying_to_america/
[12] http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/ruth-marcus-the-nsa-is-losing-the-benefit-of-the-doubt/2013/08/22/16e5a740-0b4f-11e3-b87c-476db8ac34cd_story.html
[13] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-15/world/41431831_1_washington-post-national-security-agency-documents
[14] http://cnsnews.com/news/article/govt-obtains-wide-ap-phone-records-probe
[15] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/18/david-miranda-detained-uk-nsa
[16] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/10/james-risen-prison-journalism-criminalised
[17] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/us-tech-giants-nsa-data
[18] http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/13/exclusive_owner_of_snowdens_email_service
[19] http://www.truthdig.com/report/item/the_last_chance_to_stop_the_ndaa_20130902/
[20] http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/28/nsa-surveillance-too-many-documents-classified
[21] http://www.huffingtonpost.com/daniel-ellsberg/secrecy-and-national-secu_b_2469058.html
[22] http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/6-brave-govt-whistleblowers-charged-under-espionage-act-obamas-administration
[23] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/20/194513/obamas-crackdown-views-leaks-as.html#.UhYQc3_kevt
[24] http://www.salon.com/2013/07/07/%E2%80%9Cwhy_did_you_shoot_me_i_was_reading_a_book_the_new_warrior_cop_is_out_of_control/
[25] http://www.businessinsider.com/local-police-military-weapons-tactics-2013-3
[26] http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-250_162-57590065/fbi-director-acknowledges-domestic-drone-use/
[27] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/03/us/judge-rules-memo-on-targeted-killing-can-remain-secret.html?_r=1&
[28] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palmer_Raids
[29] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_v_debs
[30] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McCarthyism
[31] https://www.aclu.org/spy-files/more-about-fbi-spying
[32] http://www.aarclibrary.org/publib/contents/church/contents_church_reports.htm
[33] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran%E2%80%93Contra_affair
[34] http://mcadams.posc.mu.edu/ike.htm
[35] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_Department_of_Homeland_Security
[36] http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/03/ff_nsadatacenter/
[37] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fusion_center
[38] http://web.archive.org/web/20110415064139/http:/www.cato-at-liberty.org/we%E2%80%99re-all-terrorists-now/
[39] http://www.democracynow.org/2009/7/28/broadcast_exclusive_declassified_docs_reveal_military
[40] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-03-28/world/38097452_1_iraq-price-tag-first-gulf-war-veterans
[41] http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175361
[42] http://www.google.hu/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CCsQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.economist.com%2Fblogs%2Fdailychart%2F2011%2F09%2Fus-household-income&ei=LbsoUr7tDMrNtQay3YHICg&usg=AFQjCNEzAKKxsAqmjnNbNQXPruqynw-8yw&bvm=bv.51773540,d.Yms
[43] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/19/decline-fall-american-society-unravelled
[44] http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com/archives/21-facts-about-americas-failing-infrastructure-that-will-blow-your-mind
[45] http://www.cfr.org/united-states/us-education-reform-national-security/p27618
[46] http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/05/us/harder-for-americans-to-rise-from-lower-rungs.html?pagewanted=all
[47] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/29/business/racial-wealth-gap-widened-during-recession.html?pagewanted=all
[48] http://www.forbes.com/sites/singularity/2012/07/19/could-automation-lead-to-chronic-unemployment-andrew-mcafee-sounds-the-alarm/
[49] http://staging.workingamerica.org/upload/OutsourcingReport.pdf
[50] http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/7/i_was_a_warehouse_wage_slave
[51] http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/ripping-off-young-america-the-college-loan-scandal-20130815
[52] http://www.democracynow.org/2013/8/2/we_are_slowly_dying_fast_food
[53] http://nbcpolitics.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/08/02/19831109-republicans-to-propose-40-billion-cut-over-decade-to-food-stamps-program?lite
[54] http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323639704579015101857760922.html
[55] http://www.theguardian.com/money/us-money-blog/2013/mar/19/studen-loan-debt-providers-soul
[56] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/07/09/196211/linchpin-for-obamas-plan-to-predict.html#.Uii7on_N5CQ
[57] http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/06/20/194513/obamas-crackdown-views-leaks-as.html#.Uii8oX_N5CQ
[58] http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/25/us/politics/house-defeats-effort-to-rein-in-nsa-data-gathering.html?hp
[59] http://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2013/08/06/nsa-government-surveillance-privatization-column/2620877/
[60] https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/06/multiple-new-polls-show-americans-reject-wholesale-nsa-domestic-spying
[61] http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/05/23/remarks-president-national-defense-university
[62] http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/13/senators-challenge-nsa-surveillance-terrorism
[63] http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/the-switch/wp/2013/08/21/the-fisa-court-got-really-upset-when-the-nsa-didnt-tell-the-truth-on-surveillance/
[64] http://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/executive-branch-threatens-us-national-security
[65] http://usgovinfo.about.com/blethics.htm
[66] http://thewashingtonpost.newspaperdirect.com/epaper/viewer.aspx?key=p%2F9dxkfA95XDKvxKiJi94%2BCjnNha61Sk57tcYaOQK5vydquEb0aUYOGCcc3%2Bn1RK%2Br5aPQelnrXnKNs9VNMajlhPhH8cgJ1SyDUUaFWXKFBulJqesYT3RFnay3%2F8JgtW5YVtUKcORbc%3D
[67] http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/5/3331
[68] http://www.mediaite.com/tv/peter-king-defends-nsa-against-slanders-drives-me-crazy-to-hear-snooping-and-spying/
[69] http://www.alternet.org/investigations/executive-branch-evil-and-lawless
[70] http://livewire.talkingpointsmemo.com/entry/glenn-greenwald-jeffrey-toobin-clash-in-on-air
[71] http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/history/2013/07/the_act_of_killing_essay_how_indonesia_s_mass_killings_could_have_slowed.html
[72] http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-08-22/opinions/41435729_1_oversight-nsa-national-security-agency
[73] http://votesmart.org/public-statement/804930/cbs-face-the-nation-transcript-stop-and-frisk-policies#.UijF43_N5CQ
[74] http://articles.latimes.com/2013/aug/19/opinion/la-oe-sensenbrenner-data-patriot-act-obama-20130819
[75] http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/court-ability-to-police-us-spying-program-limited/2013/08/15/4a8c8c44-05cd-11e3-a07f-49ddc7417125_story.html
[76] http://bigstory.ap.org/article/obama-new-oversight-no-change-spying-power
[77] http://www.wyden.senate.gov/news/press-releases/wyden-udall-statement-on-reports-of-compliance-violations-made-under-nsa-collection-programs
[78] http://thecable.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2013/07/25/how_nancy_pelosi_saved_the_nsa_surveillance_program
[79] http://www.alternet.org/tags/executive-branch
[80] http://www.alternet.org/%2Bnew_src%2B

“It was by staying sane that you carried on the human heritage”
Winston Smith in George Orwell, 1984

“I believe that those who speculate that a full apprehension of man’s condition would drive him insane are right, (e.g.) Pascal’s chilling reflection: ‘Men are so necessarily mad that not to be mad would amount to another form of madness.'”
Ernest Becker, Denial of Death

Fred Branfman
805-284-9391 (Skype)

Tents II

13 Apr

A Nightly Encampment, 2012. Pen-and-ink on Bristol paper, 9 x 12 in. Based on photograph.

“…He seems to be profoundly impressed with the sufferings of mankind and with a belief that there is a deep-laid plan of monopolists to crush the poor to the earth.” — a reporter on Jacob Sechler Coxey, as conveyed in the Pittsburgh Chronicle Telegraph of March 22, 1894

It appears pleasant enough: men sprawled across a grassy area as if at a picnic.  The arduous journey, though, that the many different groups traversed in order to converge on the Washington capitol  in 1894 was anything but a picnic.  Kelly’s Army, the largest of the “unemployed armies,” began their march from San Francisco, organized by Colonel William Baker and led by Charles T. Kelly, a thirty-two-year-old compositor in one of the city’s printing businesses.  Arriving in Council Bluffs, Iowa from Omaha, Nebraska on April 15, the men slept on damp ground.  Upon relocation to Chautauqua grounds three to four miles east of the city, the army slept in the mud and spent the next day standing in cold rain with flurries of snow.  That an otherwise unused amphitheater at Chautauqua Hill housed a militia company instead of Kelly’s men was no mistake: the militia officer in charge kept them out.  Eventually an indignant citizenry demanded the removal of the militia.  Kelly’s army had drawn an estimated 30,000 of the curious to Council Bluffs; the same curiosity followed the various unemployed armies wherever they passed.  Although their demands were lodged with the governor, the people held the railroads responsible for the calling out of the militia and the mistreatment of these men.  Not dissimilar to today’s social discontent over a government run by corporations, this was an intriguing tale of populist agitation to reform government, captured sympathetically in Donald L. McMurry’s 1929 book, Coxey’s Army: A Study of the Industrial Army Movement of 1894 (Little, Brown, and Company; see page 24 for the above quotation and pages 164-6 for the above account; unless otherwise noted, quotations that follow are from same, indicated by page number).

A financial panic in 1893 preceded the movement of these armies, for which the monopolists or “plutocrats” were blamed,  an upheaval in markets resulting in runs on the banks, business closures, and massive unemployment.  This was not the first time the nation’s workers suffered from widespread unemployment.  Franklin Folsom points out, in his book Impatient Armies of the Poor: The Story of Collective Action of the Unemployed, 1808-1942 (University Press of Colorado, 1991), that the first in a recurring cycle of “full-scale, national, modern depression[s]” occurred in 1819 (page 18).  Perhaps two million or more were unemployed in 1894 (see McMurry, page 9, for various estimates).  At the Populist Party’s first national convention in Omaha in July, 1892, a platform was adopted, reading, in part: “We meet…in the midst of a nation brought to the verge of moral, political, and material ruin.  Corruption dominates the ballot-box, the legislatures, the Congress, and touches even the ermine of the bench.  The people are demoralized…The newspapers are largely subsidized or muzzled; public opinion silenced; business prostrated; our homes covered with mortgages; labor impoverished; and the land concentrated in the hands of capitalists…The fruits of the toil of millions are boldly stolen to build up colossal fortunes for the few, unprecedented in the history of mankind; and the possessors of these, in turn, despise the republic and endanger liberty.  From the same prolific womb of governmental injustice are bred the two great classes of tramps and millionaires” (7).

We have come full circle since the cry for reform of 1894.  Today’s Occupiers are dismissed as individuals uninterested in finding jobs and their camps are cited as public health nuisances.  The branding of reform movements as communistic lost its political edge.  Certainly there were anarchists and socialists in 1894.  “Petition in boots” was the phrase applied by Coxey to his endeavor and was perhaps coined by Carl Browne, one of Coxey’s lieutenants, who had long dreamed of a march on Washington.*  The British editor W.T. Stead attributed the origin of the phrase to a Professor Hourwitch at the University of Chicago, who compared the march of Coxey’s army to the “petition in boots” of the Russian peasants, marching “in bodies to present their grievances” (33, ftn. 1).  A Senator Wolcott of Colorado railed against the armies arriving at the Capitol by urging his colleagues to “stand together against socialism and populism and paternalism run riot” (112), the last key word a reflection of a federal government forced to provide for its unemployed.  But the industrial armies’ detractors appeared to focus, for the most part, on labeling the individuals comprising these organized, determined, and highly disciplined bands as tramps, “hoboes,” the “shiftless,” or “vagrants” (apparently even “walking bums” were despised by their own class in regard to those who lacked the “skill and nerve” to hop fast-moving trains).  McMurry carefully describes the estimated forty to sixty thousand “professional hoboes” in the United States during the early 1890s in order to differentiate the “tramp liv[ing] by his wits at the expense of society” from  the unemployed workers comprising the industrial armies converging on Washington (see 12-14).

Coxey was a successful business man based in Massillon, Ohio.  The owner of a sandstone quarry and producer of sand for steel and glass works, Coxey also held extensive farming interests.  He envisioned a federal government that would relieve the unemployment crisis through his Good Roads Bill, which instructed the Secretary of the Treasury to issue 500 million dollars in legal-tender notes for the construction of roads throughout the nation.  The bill would both secure work and circulate money.  Coxey followed this proposal with his Non-interest-bearing Bond Bill, which would authorize any governmental entity to issue such bonds for financing public works projects, the bonds possibly deposited with the Secretary of the Treasury as security for a loan of legal-tender notes.  Coxey, like members of the Greenback Party or Greenbackers, opposed a monetary system based on the deposit of gold bullion because political power then followed the dictates of private banks and corporations, sole determinants of the value of production and labor.

Like the Occupy movement today, the “Coxeyites” or “Commonwealers,” as these various marching groups became known, received popular sympathy.  Their long journey was aided by stays in locales where the armies might receive provisions or shelter for the night.  At Canton, Ohio, a number of Coxey’s men were housed overnight in the jail; at Louisville, Ohio, a number of the men slept in the city hall.  This particular army did carry a circus tent wherein the men slept on straw.  The armies were sometimes greeted by populist sympathizers with brass bands, crowds of onlookers, and supportive speeches in halls.  Train hopping and train stealing were frequently aided by railroad workmen willing to turn an eye or state governors unwilling to call in militia when demanded by railroad corporations.

At times, political sentiment in the Capitol also ran in the industrial armies’ favor.  In an open letter to the press, Senator William S. Stewart, of Nevada, addressed this direct petitioning of Congress, as Coxey progressed through Ohio, by defending the ballot as the only legitimate means of “retain[ing] [the] right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  But he did agree with the overall sentiments of the Coxeyites when looking back on the previous two decades, observing that: “…now a ‘soulless despot of alien origin’, whose name was Money, was ‘monarch of the commercial world’, and administrative and legislative bodies were his servants” (72-3).  While Brigadier General Ordway assembled militia in the Capitol to stop Coxey’s arrival, Populist Senator Peffer, of Kansas, who had introduced Coxey’s bills to Congress, prepared for an open reception of the petitioners, referring to the perception of his senatorial colleagues as an “‘American House of Lords’, out of touch with the people” (107).  In the House of Representatives, Haldor E. Boen, of Minnesota, introduced a resolution instructing the Secretary of War to “provide camping grounds and tents for all organized bodies of laborers that came into the district” (109).  All for naught as Coxey, Browne and Christopher Columbus Jones were arrested on the steps of the Capitol building without having had an opportunity to utter a word on their petition.  As a result, fifty or more people from a crowd gathered at these steps were beaten by police clubs for having cheered Coxey.  Coxey’s intended speech included the observation: “…Upon these steps where we stand has been spread a carpet for the royal feet of a foreign princess, the cost of whose entertainment was taken from the public treasury without the approval or consent of the people.  Up these steps the lobbyists of trusts and corporations have passed unchallenged on their way to the committee rooms, access to which we, the representatives of the toiling wealth producers, have been denied.  We stand here today in behalf of millions of toilers whose petitions  have been buried in committee rooms, whose prayers have been unresponded to, and whose opportunities for honest, remunerative, productive labor have been taken away from them by unjust legislation, which protects idlers, speculators, and gamblers” (119-20).

*Franklin Folsom reprints part of a speech made by Joseph R. Buchanan to a San Francisco labor group in 1886 in which Buchanan outlines a march on Washington for the unemployed (Impatient Armies of the Poor, 147).  Folsom also details Carl Browne’s involvement in Dennis Kearney’s rise to power in San Francisco.  Kearney, an Irish immigrant who formed the Workingmen’s Party of California (WPC), saw the advantage he would have advocating against Chinese American labor: in 1877, one month after witnessing participants of a Workingmen’s Party of the United States rally join an organized group of “hoodlums” to demolish more than twenty Chinese laundries on July 23, Kearney changed his former support for Chinese laborers, and their reputation for working hard, to cries of “The Chinese must go!” in his speeches.  Browne became one of three members of the WPC executive committee and a large stockholder in the corporation controlling it.  Browne’s weekly paper, the Open Letter, served the same party.  Eventually Browne became Kearney’s private secretary (ibid, 131-6).

Bradley Manning

27 Dec

“How come most people don’t vote in this country in elections?  In Australia voting is compulsory.  You have to vote or you get fined.  So when people vote they find out why they vote and they generally vote for their best interests such as free medical care, free education, decent old-age pensions, care for the mentally ill and the indigent.  Therefore the people vote for their taxes to be used to their benefit.  When people don’t vote here, they leave a huge vacuum.  Into the vacuum pour the multinationals.  So your tax dollars are used for corporate benefit.  The best way to make a buck in this country if you’re a corporation is to build weapons, because they make 75% profit.  There’s no competition.  It’s a cost-plus industry, whereas if you make cars you only make 15% profit.  So you can’t afford not to be making nuclear weapons and delivery systems if you are a corporation in this country.  Therefore, every company, directly or indirectly, is involved in making weapons of mass destruction, even General Foods, who make cereals, etc.  How come?  They sell their products to the military.

“So the corporations have you by a stranglehold.  It’s a corporate White House.  Who does Bush represent?  He represents corporations.  Who did Reagan represent?  I don’t know if he knew who he represented.  I think he still doesn’t, but he did represent the corporations.  He was like Chauncey Gardner in Being There…I can say that now.  If I’d said that a few years ago some of you would have had my throat.  I met him in the White House in 1983 and spent 1 1/4 hours with him, and it was a very devastating experience, about the most devastating of my life.  We spent an hour and a quarter in intense dialogue, mostly coming from me.  He said some things but they were all wrong.  I had to hold his hand so that he could be a bit relaxed because he got quite uptight and he quoted me from the Reader’s Digest…He was a nice old man.  He’s not senile.  He’s always been like this.  His I.Q. clinically was about 100, and that’s the truth.  You have to wonder how come a man of that caliber got to be running your country and could press the button if he so desired.  It’s a very serious situation.

Drone, Gold Bars, Uzi, Poppy, Oil Drum, Diamond. Set of six color pencil and pen-and-ink drawings on Bristol paper, 3 x 3 in. ea., from 96 drawings used for performance, Dress for Success, at Jonathan Shorr Gallery, New York, on July 8, 2006; involved built costume and movement, in collaboration with sculptor John Landino.

“So here is a corporate President, and so is Bush.  The Congress is a corporate Congress.  It costs $60 million to run for the Presidency, $30 million to get to the Senate, and $2-$3 million to get to the House of Representatives.  So, you can’t get there unless you’re a millionaire or unless you’re bought out by corporate money before you get there.  That’s not right.  That’s not democracy.  So something has to change.

“”The Pentagon is run by the corporations.  The Department of Energy, which runs the nuclear power plants and builds all the nuclear weapons is run by the corporations.  This last week, as I’ve been traveling the country, reading the New York Times in the airplanes as I fly, articles about the fact that the DOE is run by corporations and the people who are employed by government virtually don’t know what’s going on.  James Watkins, the Secretary of Energy, was embarrassed recently to find a report he gave to Congress about building nuclear weapons was written by one of the corporations who makes the nuclear weapons.  He was really embarrassed.  So the DOE is run by the corporations.  It’s a pretense to think that the American government is run of the people, by the people and for the people.  Now theretofore you need another revolution…And that doesn’t mean sitting on your bottoms writing letters.  It’s [sic] doesn’t mean lobbying Senator Hatfield and whoever else.  It means actually getting out there and putting your bodies on the line like Gandhi did. It means the equivalent of the salt marches.  It means taking over the Department of Energy in Washington and staying there, like the students did in the 1960s, taking over the administrations.  It means taking over the Pentagon, getting in there.  It’s your Pentagon.  Take it over.  It means getting into military facilities and taking them over.  It means dismantling equipment that kills people and other species…” — Dr. Helen Caldicott, excerpted paragraphs from “Helen Caldicott: Lecture given on November 12, 1989, National Radio Broadcast, Portland, Oregon USA,” Open Magazine Pamphlet Series, Pamphlet No. 4 (1991), pages 1-2.

I first listened to Dr. Caldicott lecture on nuclear disarmament watching a film directed by Terre Nash called If You Love This Planet (1982).  Caldicott is an Australian pediatrician and a founder of Physicians for Social Responsibility.  The excerpted text above displays a wonderful randomness and the entire speech at times approaches an incoherence that most listeners would probably find difficult to follow.  Yet, her language is direct and simple and meant to reach those not within the halls of power she speaks of above.  This is how I want to remember Ronald Reagan, the same president who did not publicly speak about AIDS until May 31, 1987 with 36,058 Americans diagnosed with the disease, 20,849 dead, and the spread of the disease to 113 countries, with more than 50,000 cases (see Allen White, “Reagan’s AIDS Legacy / Silence equals death,” sfgate [June 8, 2004]; http://articles.sfgate.com/2004-06-08/opinion/17428849_1_aids-in-san-francisco-aids-research-education-cases; accessed 12/26/2011).  (Dale Carpenter argues that Reagan was prompted by a question from a reporter regarding inadequate funding to speak about the pandemic during a press conference in September 1985.  Carpenter’s article first appeared in the Bay Area Reporter on June 24, 2004 and is available at: http://igfculturewatch.com/2004/06/24/reagan-and-aids-a-reassessment/.  As a man who has lived through the pandemic since its beginning, Reagan’s silence as thousands of people died was palpable.)

What Caldicott teaches us is that nothing is random in the world of politics.  Everything is connected.  Consumer Americans should take into account speech like this because nothing that is presented on their behalf otherwise makes these important connections.  President Dwight D. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex before he left office.  Since then the term has been expanded by some to the military-industrial-media complex.  The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a perfect example of the non-complex terms with which this cyclopean is rendered for American public consumption.  Americans thrilled to scripted visual narratives of a military that bombed its way to the center of Baghdad.  Yet, this public had not been informed by the same media end of the military-industrial complex of prior military incursions into Iraq to destroy vital energy grids and other infrastructure for the purposes of setting up business post-invasion.  This was, after all, a corporate war, including Dick Cheney’s profiteering by sending his company Halliburton to “reconstruct” the damage that the United States had inflicted to Iraq over time.

This particular war was scripted from the very beginning.  President George W. Bush, Jr. depended upon scripted narratives based on false assertions leading up to his decision to engage our country in the invasion of another.  “Weapons of mass destruction” was the war cry, one which Secretary of State Colin Powell repeated to the United Nations to justify our action to the world.  As Daniel Ellsberg, the famous whistle blower of the Vietnam War era, explains in his memoir of that period, Secrets: A Memoir of Vietnam and the Pentagon Papers (Viking, 2002), any truism that secrets cannot be kept within government is false (page 43).  As a special assistant to the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, John T. McNaughton, under President Lyndon B. Johnson, Ellsberg had an insider’s view to the Gulf of Tonkin “attacks” on U.S. warships in August 1964.  These incidents as they were portrayed by the military were important because they allowed the President to press Congress to agree to the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.  This gave the President vague, but wide, discretionary power to choose aggressive action against North Vietnam, including direct combat involvement.  Heretofore, the United States was limited to providing military personnel as advisors in the field to South Vietnam according to the 1954 Geneva Accords.  The Accords were based on agreement made during conference in Geneva, Switzerland between the Soviet Union, the United States, France, the People’s Republic of China, the United Kingdom, and other countries, addressing not only the First Indochina War between France and the Viet Minh, but also the reunification of Korea.  Ellsberg’s account is enlightening.  Although the reports of attacks against U.S. ships were contradictory and dubious, official word up the line to the President, and thence to the American public, portrayed North Vietnam in terms of “naked aggression.”  It was not until years later that these reports were totally debunked.  And, in fact, Ellsberg details what were deliberate actions by our government to provoke North Vietnam (see pages 7-20), actions being withheld from public knowledge.

In 1964, as a liberal Cold War warrior, Ellsberg supported this kind of governmental secrecy and manipulation of truth: “self-discipline in sharing information…and a capability for dissimulation in the interests of discretion were fundamental requirements for a great many jobs…The result was an apparatus of secrecy…that permitted the president to arrive at and execute a secret foreign policy, to a degree that went far beyond what even relatively informed outsiders, including journalists and members of Congress, could imagine” (page 43).  By 1969, Ellsberg was willing to tell the truth to Congress and the press, “to give up clearances and political access, the chance of serving future presidents, [his] whole career, and to accept the prospect of a life behind bars” (page IX).

In 2004, I was outraged when revelations about the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq came to public attention, through a 60 Minutes II news report (April 28) and an article by Seymour M. Hersh in the New Yorker magazine (posted online on April 30 and published days later in the May 10 issue).  Although at the time of this media release of information an initial criminal investigation was underway by the United States Army Criminal Investigation Command, resulting in the Taguba Report, it is easy to imagine a different trajectory if whistleblower, Army Reservist Sgt. Joseph Darby, had not taken a CD containing images of torture to higher command in January of that year.  Darby was given a CD as a memento by one of the torturers, Army Spc. Charles Graner, who would receive a sentence of ten years in prison (see “Introduction: The Abu Ghraib files,” Salon [March 14, 2006], http://www.salon.com/2006/03/14/introduction_2/, and,  Michele Norris, “Abu Ghraib Whistleblower Speaks Out,” NPR [April 15, 2006], http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5651609; both accessed December 20, 2011).  What was especially troubling was the fact that sexual humiliation was within the arsenal of torture techniques under employ by the Army and CIA.  As a gay man, I knew too much of the history of discrimination against gay men and lesbian women in the armed forces.

Chris Clary, 52-Card Pick-Up, installation for Body Commodities / Queer Packaging, Works/San José (2006). Printed photographs on card deck, dimensions variable.

We have today what we had during the Vietnam War: a government and military that lies and covers up.  State secrets are the excuse for preventing an American public from knowing what torture techniques were used, by whom and under whose authority, at what facilities, and for how long.  Soldiers on the lowest rung of military hierarchy were the only individuals convicted of wrongdoing in a few, of a vast number, of incidents, that were actually tried in military court; their superiors were never convicted of crimes.  Classifying information that effectively shuts it away from public scrutiny is good business for corporations as well.  The public is not allowed to know what chemicals are used for the dangerous process known as “fracking” that extracts natural gas from the ground.  So there are corporate secrets that are as powerful as state secrets.

It was troubling, then, for me to know that Pfc. Bradley Manning, a U.S. Army intelligence analyst, imprisoned since July 2010, and not formally charged with crimes until March 2011, was to be tried for “aiding the enemy” by purportedly sharing classified government documents with WikiLeaks.  The military pretrial hearing began on Friday, December 16, 2011.  The presiding officer, Paul Almanza, an Army Reserve lieutenant colonel, actually works as a Department of Justice prosecutor in civilian life, for the same government agency that is  conducting a criminal investigation against Julian Assange, WikiLeaks founder.   No wonder that Bradley’s defense team argued on day one that Almanza should recuse himself because he was biased.  Also questionable is Almanza’s decision to accept unsworn statements from the “original classification authorities,” denying the defense team a request to question these individuals as to why the documents published by WikiLeaks had been classified as secret material (see David Dishneau and Pauline Jelinek, “Manning Hearing Bogs Down Over Dispute,” Associated Press; http://www.salon.com/2011/12/16/manning_hearing_bogs_down_over_dispute/; accessed 12/16/2011).

What is most troubling to me about the hearing is the defense argument that Bradley suffered from gender identity confusion during the time he was sharing documents.  I accept as business as usual that the government would put in place a presiding officer that is working on its behalf to move closer to their real target, a man who was not on trial here (the hearing ended with closing statements on Thursday, December 22nd; for fuller information, visit the website http://www.bradleymanning.org/).  And, of course, the American public should never know about “Iraq and Afghanistan war logs, State Department cables and a classified military video of a 2007 American helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 11 men, including a Reuters news photographer and his driver” (Dishneau and Jelinek).  Oh, no.  But the world knows better now than the American people would ever really want to know about how this government and other governments have acted in collusion.  We can thank this leaked information, in part, for the sudden and unexpected Arab Spring.  And, thus, the current unrest exhibited by the Occupy movement.  I want to think that any individual so brave or foolish to release this kind of information has the integrity of a Daniel Ellsberg.  For what Ellsberg knew, and others have known, is that we are not living in a democracy when secrecy at the highest level of government propels us into wars we have not chosen.  The button pushers Caldicott refers to indeed have the power to initiate or expand nuclear war, but instead exercise a more insidious form of directive by sending us into endless war for the sole purpose of rewarding corporations with obscene profit.  I stand by Bradley Manning, confused or not.

The above photographs without captions are from the performance Detainee, organized and performed by the author at The Roger Smith Hotel, New York, from January 29 to February 3, 2007, in collaboration with Beverly Richey (image projection), Max Yawney (wall painting and performance), Patrick Todd (sound composition) and a host of artists and non-artists who participated as interrogators.  The photographs are unattributed.  The performance was filmed by a bystander and posted at YouTube.  It can be viewed at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFlQv7XeMys