Author Archive

Why Spitzer Had to Go?

Sunday, March 23rd, 2008

Here’s another one sent to me by Chris – this time by my son Chris rather than my friend-since-ninth-grade Chris: As the link points out, the takedown of Elliott Spitzer for admittedly sleazy behavior, using what should have been confidential FBI information, took place shortly after he publicly pointed out the role of the Bush administration in creating the subprime mortgage mess by blocking the efforts of the state attorneys general to regulate lenders and investigate predatory lending. It sort of reminds me of the way Nixon used the IRS as his personal political hit team against people that made his enemies list.

The Biggest Fascist Paramilitary You Never Heard Of

Thursday, February 28th, 2008

Ever heard of Infragard? Well, I hadn’t, until I opened the March 2008 issue of The Progressive. We should have, though, should have heard a lot about it.

Infragard consists of 23,000 private industry officials, organized into 86 chapters overseen by the FBI, who act as intelligence sources for the Bureau and the Homeland Security Department, in exchange for getting “near-daily updates” on terrorist threats before the rest of us and, as The Progressive learned, sometimes before elected officials. According to its website,, “350 of our nation’s Fortune 500 have a representative in Infragard,” and an Infragard executive reports that “Infragard members have contributed to about 100 FBI cases.”

Here’s what may be the best part: according to Matthew Rothschild, author of the Progressive article, “One executive, who showed me his Infragard card, told me they have permission to ‘shoot to kill’ in the event of martial law.”

The second-best part: because these people are in the private sector rather than government, the administration uses the trade secret exemption to bar the release of information about the Infragard program under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).

Now, there’s nothing wrong, and a lot that’s right, with either individual citizens or businesses giving information on crimes and terrorism to the police and other elements of the government. But that process should be transparent (allowing, of course, for anonymity for witness protection).

But this is different. With Infragard we have big corporations deputized as something like an old west posse, but those corporations have access to lots of information about the rest of us ordinary schmoes that is not supposed to be in the public domain. There’s a good chance that includes the people who hold our mortgage, car, and credit card loans if we have them, manage our health insurance, and sell us books, videos, plane tickets, recreational activities, and just about everything else.

And the sheriff has a recent history of going on illegal fishing expeditions through the private affairs of regular citizens not because they’re suspected of anything in particular, but just because you never know what us untrustworthy citizens might be up to – especially if we belong to groups that express disagreement with BushCo’s behavior, like the Quakers, or the ACLU, or a lot of the writers at this and other progressive blogs.

Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power.” That quote is usually attributed to Benito Mussolini; he never really said that, but it does seem to sum up the essence of fascism as practiced in a number of countries, and it seems to be a pretty close description of Infragard.

And don’t think we’ll automatically be able to breathe a big sigh of relief if a Democratic administration takes office 327 days from now – the executive branch, and its functionaries, seem to like to accrue power and hate to give it up, regardless of party. After all, they know that they can trust themselves to use it only for reasons that meet with their own approval. This administration has indeed been cruder and more aggressive about it than most, but both parties have overseen way too many witch hunts. It’s the corruption of power, not of any particular party or left-wing or right-wing orientation. In fact, Infragard was started under the Clinton administration, although it has expanded quite a bit under Bush.

So next time there’s a big terrorist attack in the U.S., or another major natural disaster like Katrina, don’t be too surprised if you see Wal-Mart and Bank of America managers, along with Blackwater’s boys, rolling down your street packing iron. After all, if that’s what it takes to keep Osama from taking away our civil liberties…

Watch Out, You Might Be a Homegrown Terrorist!

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

With little to no publicity or debate, the House of Representatives passed a truly scary law on October 23 - H.R. 1955: Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007, sponsored by Representative Jane Harman (D-CA).  Please excuse this if everyone else already knows about it, but I hadn’t heard of this until my wife Jan passed on some scary info she heard on the radio and I did some online research.  This Orwellian expansion of the Homeland Security Act passed on a vote of 404 to 6 – Dennis Kucinich voted against it, sustaining my faith in him, and Ron Paul abstained from voting.

Looking at the actual text of this act ( ), it sounds benign at first.  The first problem one notices is that it includes some very vague definitions that just beg for abuse based on goofy interpretations.  That may sound paranoid, but we are dealing with an administration and a Homeland Security department that decided a couple of years ago the Quaker congregation of Lake Worth, Florida, were dangerous subversives that need to be spied upon because they committed the dangerous and despicable act of exercising their Constitutional First Amendment rights by protesting military recruitment at high schools.  Yeah, you can just see a bunch of old Quaker ladies having a suicide vest sewing bee, right?

Specifically, this act says that “`homegrown terrorism’ means the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any possession of the United States to intimidate or coerce the United States government, the civilian population of the United States, or any segment thereof, in furtherance of political or social objectives.

It goes on to define “the use, planned use, or threatened use of force or violence by a group or individual to promote the group or individual’s political, religious, or social beliefs” as “ideologically based violence.”

Considering that we’ve already seen the precedent, as in the case of the Florida Quakers, of treating legal dissent as sedition, this looks like a setup to give the feds another way to crack down on any public opposition to whatever the smirking chimp and his shrinking cabal decide to do next (like starting a war with Iran, for instance).  This may also have what the legal types call a chilling effect on people who would otherwise engage in that kind of public opposition.

Where I live, we’ve already seen this kind of thing.  In March of 2003, Albuquerque had its own police riot in response to a peaceful protest march against the Iraq war.  Cops on foot and on horseback blocked the path of marchers and herded them on a route chosen by the police; when the march got back to its starting point near the University of New Mexico, the ACLU’s report found that “As the crowd returned to the original gathering spot and crossed University and Central, officers struck people with batons and used horses to force stragglers to move more quickly. As protestors crossed Harvard Avenue, police launched tear gas canisters into the crowd. The officers eventually maced protestors and shot them with beanbag and pepper rounds, dispersing the crowd. In one incident, a police officer fired 15 pepper-gun rounds at a protestor who lay in a submissive posture in the street. Other protestors reported being hit with tear gas canisters that were fired into the crowd. Several arrests were made.”

There have been enough similar incidents in other places – law enforcement treating people’s physical presence and participation in a protest as what the new law calls “ideologically based violence” – to make it very reasonable to be worried about this.  It’s for damned sure that the next time there was an antiwar protest, people were deciding whether to participate based partly on the risk of having Albuquerque’s finest beat the crap out of them.

Mike German, the ACLU’s policy counsel, called the bill “wrongheaded” – he finds it spooky because it focuses on ideology and not on criminal activity. It calls for heightened scrutiny – read domestic spying - on people who believe, or might come to believe, in a violent ideology.  The ACLU’s view is that the government should focus on people who actually commit crimes, rather than those who merely think about violent ideas, which is legal.  So how does the government decide who “believes, or might come to believe, in a violent ideology”?  Well, what are the best ways to find out who is likely to engage in opposition to whatever the government is doing?   Law enforcement agencies already tend to monitor protest activities and groups who engage in them, and groups (like us) who see patriotism as something other than blind loyalty to the administration in power and tend to say so loudly and repeatedly.  I’d be shocked if they weren’t also looking at lists of subscribers to The Nation, Mother Jones, and similar fora; and for that matter, there’s considerable similar sentiment voiced in a lot of places traditionally considered right wing, like the editorial and letters sections in gun magazines.  There, too, there’s been some lively debate about the current war, and a lot of suspicion about the government’s patterns of bulldozing people’s Constitutional rights.

The law goes on to state some “findings” – a couple of dangerous ones:

The promotion of violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence (eek, Quakers with picket signs!) exists in the United States and poses a threat to homeland security.

The Internet has aided in facilitating violent radicalization, ideologically based violence, and the homegrown terrorism process in the United States by providing access to broad and constant streams of terrorist-related propaganda to United States citizens.  Internet censorship a la China, anyone?

It does go on to state that “Any measure taken to prevent violent radicalization, homegrown terrorism, and ideologically based violence and homegrown terrorism in the United States should not violate the constitutional rights, civil rights, or civil liberties of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents.”  Oops, sorry I said anything – we don’t really have a thing to worry about, because our government would never cheat or violate our rights.  It also says that no one should be targeted for scrutiny based on race, religion, and so on, but makes one of the qualifications for membership on the Commission it creates (see next paragraph) expertise on Islam and other world religions (none but Islam specifically identified, but you know those damn Quakers… gotta watch the Buddhists too.)

The law goes on to order the creation of the National Commission on the Prevention of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism, basically a combination of (1) a study group to figure out just what’s eating those darn domestic terrorists anyway and what we ought to do about it, and (2) a contracting office to funnel more money to private entities that the administration likes to have them carry out some of the Commission’s functions.  Chip Berlet is a senior policy analyst for Political Research Associates, an independent non-profit research organization that studies political violence, authoritarianism, and homegrown terrorism; he called this part “a slush fund for politically connected people inside the Beltway.”  I’d bet a nickel that Blackwater is getting ready to expand its repertoire of services the same way they did when the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq suddenly created a demand for mercenaries security contractors.  After all, they did jump all over New Orleans after Katrina and pulled down a ton of federal funds for that.

It goes on to order the permanent establishment of a “university-based Center of Excellence for the Study of Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism in the United States.”  This will be a think tank to use psychosocial research methods to figure out strategies to control domestic opposition and “contribute to the establishment of training, written materials, information, analytical assistance and professional resources to aid in combating violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism.”

Finally, the law orders the study of methods used in other countries to control “domestic terrorism” with the aim of recommending adoption of new tactics in the U.S.  Doesn’t that just give you a warm fuzzy feeling?

It really does seem that party affiliation is irrelevant, and despite the fact that the 2006 election put Democratic majorities into both chambers of the Congress with the clearest mandate seen in decades, a mandate to get this maniacal executive branch under control and restore the balance of power among the branches of government, the majority of those Democrats will give the Bushies whatever they demand.  It really does seem that both parties are in favor of more intrusive and controlling government.  Maybe the Dems are already thinking about how they can use the expanded power the Bushies have grabbed for the executive branch if the Democratic candidate wins the White House next year.

Speaking for myself, I believe the only appropriate response is to get louder and encourage people not to be intimidated.  The best way to keep our Constitutional rights strong is to exercise the hell out of them and get as many other people as we can to do the same.

The Clergy’s Role in Martial Law

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

The Bush administration and some clergy leaders are putting their heads together to plan how the clergy can help in getting people to submit quietly if/when the administration declares martial law in response to another terrorist attack or major natural disaster - see the story here .

According to the police chaplain quoted in the story, “the government’s established by the Lord, you know. And, that’s what we believe in the Christian faith. That’s what’s stated in the scripture. “

Comforting to those of us who don’t happen to want our government run by anyone’s interpretation of scriptures… we have a pretty serviceable Constitution, if they’d just read it. But it’s “just a goddamned piece of paper”; just ask the Prez.

Brainwashing the Troops (or trying…)

Tuesday, August 21st, 2007

Separation of church and state, my ass - the Bush administration has included a whack-job fundamentalist group called the OSU (Operation Straight Up) in its official program to “support the troops”, and in this case the support consists of evangelical care packages including copies of a so-called Christian video game based on the Left Behind books - see the URL -

In this game, the player is an American soldier fighting the forces of the Antichrist, who by an astonishing coincidence look just like UN peacekeeping troops.  Every time one of the “good guys” kills a UN soldier, the soundtrack says “Praise the Lord!”  This is being endorsed and assisted by the DOD, along with sending an evangelical troupe on a USO-like tour to “entertain” the troops.

Well, as Bush has said, the Constitution is “just a goddamned piece of paper.” (see ) -

Again, another reason why impeachment should NOT be “off the table.”

I’m going to send faxes to both my senators and the representative for my district raising sixteen kinds of hell about this - I urge anyone else who thinks this is outrageous to do the same.

Exceptionalism – Proving the Rule

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

“Exceptionalism” is the idea that someone or something is unique and so special that ordinary rules don’t apply to that person or thing – that he/she or it is an exception to the ordinary. It tends to include a belief that this unique status brings with it a mission or destiny, often with the further claim that this special status, mission, and destiny are assigned by God, or based on ethnicity, or derived from cultural heritage (often partly or completely mythical), or some combination of the above (in some more brazen cases, mostly in the corporate world, the rationale is simply “because we can.) It also tends to involve the assumption that everyone else, all the poor unlucky bastards who don’t share in this status, wish they could.

Exceptionalism is a vice. In individuals, we don’t put up with it beyond a certain point. We usually tolerate a certain amount of eccentricity, but individuals who smugly assume that laws and social rules don’t apply to them end up behind bars one way or another – in asylums, prisons, or jails – unless they have exceptional influence or connections to bail them out.

It’s different with organized groups, though, and the bigger the group, the more they can get away with it. We see corporations, faith communities, and nations practicing blatant exceptionalism, and at that level, the rule seems to be that it’s valid if they have the guile or muscle to get away with it.

The point that these folks so often fail to get – individuals and movements – is that yes, they are unique, but so is everyone else. As one sardonic old fart I used to know put it, each of us is as unique as a snowflake, and as special as an armpit. And when we start trying to remake others in our image or in our service, it’s the armpit aspect that they notice more than the snowflake. It sounds noble to declare that you’re taking responsibility for other peoples’ wellbeing and enlightenment. The problems come in when you don’t consult them first – none of us like it when others do things to/for us “for our own good.”

There’s a lot of talk in recent years – probably justified – about American exceptionalism; our particular flavor of this obnoxiousness has its own entries on Wikipedia and, among other sources. But although “everybody does it” doesn’t justify anything, we are far from the first, worst, or only example. Countless peoples have set out to either make other peoples more like them, or to put those others in their subordinate places. Exceptionalism and its symptoms have gone by quite a few names – chauvinism, Manifest Destiny, jihad, crusade, the White Man’s Burden, and others. The latest flavor, here at least, is neoconservatism. It gets called patriotism, but it’s nationalism, not patriotism. Patriotism is not aggressive or jingoistic, and patriotism doesn’t hold with “my country right or wrong” abandonment of principles or rationalizations that the end justifies the means.

When exceptionalists are confronted with wrongs done by their group or in its name – lies, human rights abuses, and so on – that are in glaring conflict with the group’s professed principles, they often glibly respond that these are the exceptions that prove the rule. But most people misunderstand the phrase, “the exception that proves the rule.” It doesn’t mean that an exception to a rule shows that the rule is valid – that would make no sense. In this context, “prove” is used in an old-fashioned sense, to mean “test.” So what we’re really talking about is the idea that if something appears to be an exception to a rule, it’s a test of that rule. If it’s a true exception the rule doesn’t work, and if the rule’s valid, the exception isn’t really an exception.

Exceptionalism is a serious and growing problem. When it comes to our nation’s character and professed values, to our civil rights and liberties, and to our standing in the world community, the so-called War On Terror is threatening to “destroy the village in order to save it.” Other nationalist exceptionalist movements have caused the world terrible suffering since there have been nations – in the last several generations we’ve seen it in Victorian England’s casual rearrangements of ethnic and religious groups and national borders resulting in ongoing conflicts from the Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland to the Israelis and Palestinians to the Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi’ites jammed together in Iraq. We’ve seen it in the Axis powers in WW II trying to take over the world; and, though I would not equate this administration with the Nazis or their allies, we’ve seen it in the last two generations in the Reagan and Bush I and II administrations. The same smug assumption that we have the right to run the world and everyone else wants to be like us, or more accurately like we claim to be.

On the religious front, it manifests in fundamentalism. We see its results in people who proclaim a “culture of life” and are ready to murder anyone who disagrees with them, who fly airplanes full of innocents into office buildings full of more innocents in the name of what they say is a God of love and peace. You can think of more examples whether the religious exceptionalists in question are Christian, Islamic, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever.

Corporations exercise their version of exceptionalism via their transnational status, using it to dodge taxes and laws they find inconvenient, and via NAFTA, CAFTA, the World Bank, and the IMF, as well as by bankrolling the campaigns of politicians in exchange for legislation that provides them with corporate welfare and shelters them from accountability in their dealings with ordinary folks like us.

So – we’ve defined the problem; what next? Well, the thing that’s missing now is a healthy degree of humility, the antithesis of exceptionalism. The best example I can think of is a comment Lincoln made during the Civil War. When someone made a remark to him about God being on the side of the Union, Lincoln replied that his hope was rather that the Union was on the side of God.

It’s very much in our interest to get this thing contained, grow some humility, and start cutting it back down into a reasonable degree of patriotism, self-interest, and generosity. That’s because exceptionalism, if unchecked, always seems to lead to overreaching and getting smashed – again, as happened with the Axis – the painful route to humility, via humiliation. It’s better to choose humility than to get it force-fed to us. And it’s going to be one or the other.