Presenting a petition for press freedom to the U.S. Department of Justice, where I spoke along with Phil Donahue and the Committee to Protect Journalists advocacy director Courtney Radsch.
September 01, 2014 | Permalink
[Published by the Columbia Journalism Review -- August 4, 2014]
By Norman Solomon
Ten months after the Committee to Protect Journalists issued its scathing report “The Obama Administration and the Press,” journalists and potential whistleblowers continue to face unprecedented surveillance and legal jeopardy. The report, authored by Leonard Downie Jr., former executive editor of The Washington Post, remains grimly up to date as it describes “the fearful atmosphere surrounding contacts between American journalists and government sources.”
The US Department of Justice seems determined to intensify that fearful atmosphere -- in part by threatening to jail New York Times reporter James Risen, who refuses to name any source for the disclosure in his 2006 book State of War that the CIA bungled a dumb and dangerous operation with nuclear weapons blueprints in Iran.
The government is now prosecuting a former CIA employee, Jeffrey Sterling, for allegedly leaking that information to Risen. Attorney General Eric Holder may soon decide whether he wants to imprison Risen for not capitulating. The Freedom of the Press Foundation calls it “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”
Almost a year ago, under the letterhead of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 46 news organizations sent a letter to Holder urging the Justice Department to withdraw the subpoena issued to Risen. Two months ago, the Committee to Protect Journalists put out a new statement again calling on the Justice Department to cancel the subpoena.
This summer, both RCFP and CPJ have gotten behind a petition, "We Support James Risen Because We Support a Free Press," set for delivery to the Justice Department in mid-August with nearly 100,000 signers.
[To read full article on the Columbia Journalism Review website, click here.]
August 09, 2014 | Permalink
By Abba Solomon and Norman Solomon
Over the weekend, the New York Times sent out a clear signal: the mass slaughter of civilians is acceptable when the Israeli military is doing the killing.
Under the headline “Israel’s War in Gaza,” the most powerful newspaper in the United States editorialized that such carnage is necessary. The lead editorial in the July 19 edition flashed a bright green light -- reassuring the U.S. and Israeli governments that the horrors being inflicted in Gaza were not too horrible.
From its first words, the editorial methodically set out to justify what Israel was doing.
“After 10 days of aerial bombardment,” the editorial began, “Israel sent tanks and ground troops into Gaza to keep Hamas from pummeling Israeli cities with rockets and carrying out terrorist attacks via underground tunnels.”
The choice of when to date the start of the crisis was part of the methodical detour around inconvenient facts.
For instance, no mention of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s June 30 announcement that the “human animals” of Hamas would “pay” after three Israeli teenagers kidnapped in Israeli-controlled territory in the West Bank were found dead. No mention of the absence of evidence that Hamas leadership was involved in those murders.
Likewise, absent from the editorializing sequence was Israel’s June “crackdown” in the West Bank, with home raids, area closures, imprisonment of hundreds of Hamas party activists including legislators.
Most of all, the vile core of the Times editorial was its devaluation of Palestinian lives in sharp contrast to Israeli lives.
The Times editorial declared that Hamas leaders “deserve condemnation” for military actions from civilian areas in the dense Gaza enclave -- but Netanyahu merited mere expressions of “concern” about “further escalation.” Absent from the editorial was any criticism of Israel’s ongoing bombardment of homes, apartment blocks, hospitals, beaches and other civilian areas with U.S.-supplied ordinance.
At the time, there had been one Israeli death from the hostilities -- and at least 260 deaths among Gazans as well as injuries in the thousands. The contrast illuminates a grotesque difference in the Times’ willingness to truly value the humanity of Israelis and Palestinians.
In the morally skewed universe that the Times editorial board evidently inhabits and eagerly promulgates, Hamas intends to “terrorize” Israeli citizens while Israel merely intends to accomplish military objectives by dropping thousands of tons of bombs on Palestinian people in Gaza.
July 21, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
As a matter of faith, some people believe that God can see and hear everything. But as a matter of fact, the U.S. government now has the kind of surveillance powers formerly attributed only to a supreme being.
Top “national security” officials in Washington now have the determination and tech prowess to keep tabs on billions of people. No one elected Uncle Sam to play God. But a dire shortage of democratic constraints has enabled the U.S. surveillance state to keep expanding with steely resolve.
By the time Edward Snowden used NSA documents to expose -- beyond any doubt -- a global surveillance dragnet, the situation had deteriorated so badly because the Bush and Obama administrations were able to dismiss earlier warnings to the public as little more than heresy.
Eight years ago, in the book “State of War,” New York Times reporter James Risen devoted a chapter to the huge expansion of surveillance. A secret decision by President Bush “has opened up America’s domestic telecommunications network to the NSA in unprecedented and deeply troubling new ways, and represents a radical shift in the accepted policies and practices of the modern U.S. intelligence community,” Risen wrote.
Risen added: “The NSA is now tapping into the heart of the nation’s telephone network through direct access to key telecommunications switches that carry many of America’s daily phone calls and e-mail messages.”
More details on the surveillance state came in 2008 with James Bamford’s book “The Shadow Factory,” which illuminated the National Security Agency's program for “eavesdropping on America.” And in August of 2012 -- nearly 10 months before Snowden’s revelations began -- filmmaker Laura Poitras released a mini-documentary on the New York Times website about the NSA’s mass surveillance program.
All three journalists relied on whistleblowers who balked at the NSA’s virtual mission to see and hear everything. Both books (especially “State of War”) depended on information from unnamed sources. The short documentary focused on a public whistleblower -- former NSA executive William Binney, who continues to speak out.
Testifying to a committee of the German parliament in Berlin two weeks ago, Binney -- whose 30 years at the NSA included work as a high-level intelligence official -- said that the NSA has a “totalitarian mentality.”
July 15, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Blowing the whistle on wrongdoing creates a moral frequency that vast numbers of people are eager to hear. We don’t want our lives, communities, country and world continually damaged by the deadening silences of fear and conformity.
I’ve met many whistleblowers over the years, and they’ve been extraordinarily ordinary. None were applying for halos or sainthood. All experienced anguish before deciding that continuous inaction had a price that was too high. All suffered negative consequences as well as relief after they spoke up and took action. All made the world better with their courage.
Whistleblowers don’t sign up to be whistleblowers. Almost always, they begin their work as true believers in the system that conscience later compels them to challenge.
“It took years of involvement with a mendacious war policy, evidence of which was apparent to me as early as 2003, before I found the courage to follow my conscience,” Matthew Hoh recalled this week. “It is not an easy or light decision for anyone to make, but we need members of our military, development, diplomatic and intelligence community to speak out if we are ever to have a just and sound foreign policy.”
Hoh describes his record this way: “After over 11 continuous years of service with the U.S. military and U.S. government, nearly six of those years overseas, including service in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as positions within the Secretary of the Navy’s Office as a White House Liaison, and as a consultant for the State Department’s Iraq Desk, I resigned from my position with the State Department in Afghanistan in protest of the escalation of war in 2009.”
Another former Department of State official, the ex-diplomat and retired Army colonel Ann Wright, who resigned in protest of the Iraq invasion in March 2003, is crossing paths with Hoh on Friday as they do the honors at a ribbon-cutting -- half a block from the State Department headquarters in Washington -- for a billboard with a picture of Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg. Big-lettered words begin by referring to the years he waited before releasing the Pentagon Papers in 1971.
“Don’t do what I did,” Ellsberg says on the billboard. “Don’t wait until a new war has started, don’t wait until thousands more have died, before you tell the truth with documents that reveal lies or crimes or internal projections of costs and dangers. You might save a war’s worth of lives.”
The billboard -- sponsored by the ExposeFacts organization, which launched this week -- will spread to other prominent locations in Washington and beyond. As an organizer for ExposeFacts, I’m glad to report that outreach to potential whistleblowers is just getting started. (For details, visit ExposeFacts.org.) We’re propelled by the kind of hopeful determination that Hoh expressed the day before the billboard ribbon-cutting when he said: “I trust ExposeFacts and its efforts will encourage others to follow their conscience and do what is right.”
June 06, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
In a memoir published this year, the CIA’s former top legal officer John Rizzo says that on the last day of 2005 a panicky White House tried to figure out how to prevent the distribution of a book by New York Times reporter James Risen. Officials were upset because Risen’s book, State of War, exposed what -- in his words -- “may have been one of the most reckless operations in the modern history of the CIA.”
The book told of a bungled CIA attempt to set back Iran’s nuclear program in 2000 by supplying the Iranian government with flawed blueprints for nuclear-bomb design. The CIA’s tactic might have actually aided Iranian nuclear development.
When a bootlegged copy of State of War reached the National Security Council, a frantic meeting convened in the Situation Room, according to Rizzo. “As best anyone could tell, the books were printed in bulk and stacked somewhere in warehouses.” The aspiring censors hit a wall. “We arrived at a rueful consensus: game over as far as any realistic possibility to keep the book, and the classified information in it, from getting out.”
But more than eight years later, the Obama White House is seeking a different form of retribution. The people running the current administration don’t want to pulp the book -- they want to put its author in jail.
The Obama administration is insisting that Risen name his confidential source -- or face imprisonment. Risen says he won’t capitulate.
The Freedom of the Press Foundation calls the government’s effort to force Risen to reveal a source “one of the most significant press freedom cases in decades.”
Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg says: “The pursuit of Risen is a warning to potential sources that journalists cannot promise them confidentiality for disclosing Executive Branch criminality, recklessness, deception, unconstitutional policies or lying us into war. Without protecting confidentiality, investigative journalism required for accountability and democracy will wither and disappear.”
A recent brief from the Obama administration to the nation’s top court “is unflinchingly hostile to the idea of the Supreme Court creating or finding protections for journalists,” Politico reported. The newspaper added that Risen “might be sent to jail or fined if he refuses to identify his sources or testify about other details of his reporting.”
This threat is truly ominous. As Ellsberg puts it, “We would know less than we do now about government abuses, less than we need to know to hold officials accountable and to influence policy democratically.”
So much is at stake: for whistleblowers, freedom of the press and the public’s right to know. For democracy.
That’s why five organizations -- RootsAction.org, The Nation, the Center for Media and Democracy / The Progressive, Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) and the Freedom of the Press Foundation -- have joined together to start a campaign for protecting the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. So far, in May, about 50,000 people have signed a petition telling President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder to end legal moves against Risen.
Charging that the administration has launched “an assault on freedom of the press,” the petition tells Obama and Holder: “We urge you in the strongest terms to halt all legal action against Mr. Risen and to safeguard the freedom of journalists to maintain the confidentiality of their sources.”
May 29, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The most renowned media critics are usually superficial and craven. That’s because -- as one of the greatest in the 20th century, George Seldes, put it -- “the most sacred cow of the press is the press itself.”
No institutions are more image-conscious than big media outlets. The people running them know the crucial importance of spin, and they’ll be damned if they’re going to promote media criticism that undermines their own pretenses.
To reach the broad public, critics of the media establishment need amplification from . . . the media establishment. And that rarely happens unless the critique is shallow.
The exceptions can be valuable. The New York Times publishes articles by a “public editor” -- an independent contractor whose “opinions and conclusions are her own” -- and the person now in that role, Margaret Sullivan, provides some cogent scrutiny of the newspaper’s coverage.
But on the whole, the media critics boosted by big media -- inward-facing ombudspersons and outward-facing journalists on a media beat -- have been conformists who don’t step outside the shadows cast by the institutions paying their salaries. And they’re not inclined to question the corporate prerogatives of other media firms; people in glass skyscrapers don't throw weighty stones.
A year ago, the Washington Post, then still under the ownership of the Graham family, abolished the ombudsperson job at the newspaper after four decades of filling the position with a rotating succession of seasoned -- and conformist -- journalists. The change was a new twist in a downward spiral, but it wasn’t much of a loss for readers.
The Post’s first ombudsman, who took the job in 1970, went on to many years of management roles for the Washington Post Company and then returned to being the ombudsman in the late 1980s. During his second act, he wrote columns denouncing the Newspaper Guild union that was in conflict with the company -- while he praised the firm’s management.
In sharp contrast, the best media critics are truly independent. And so, they’re rarely seen or heard via large media outlets.
April 13, 2014 | Permalink
[This article was published by Al Jazeera America.]
By Norman Solomon
Hope makes history. So does betrayal of hope.
Early in his presidency, Lyndon Johnson inspired enormous hope. But the promise for a Great Society imploded — and disappointment jolted many former supporters, with trust and optimism turning into alienation and bitterness. The negative ripple effects lasted for decades.
Fifty years after Johnson entered the White House, the corrosive aspects of his legacy are easy to discern. A political base for progressive social change eroded as he escalated the Vietnam War and bought time with shameless deceit. For many people, distrust of leaders became the essence of realism.
Initiating a disastrous mix of rhetoric and carnage, Johnson told the nation on Aug. 4, 1964, “We still seek no wider war.” On the same day, he ordered bombing of North Vietnam in tandem with bogus claims that its navy had attacked U.S. ships in the Tonkin Gulf.
Throughout his full term after a landslide victory in the November 1964 election, LBJ continued to claim benign intent in Vietnam. “I do not genuinely believe that there’s any single person anywhere in the world that wants peace as much as I want it,” Johnson said on May 17, 1966. In mid-January 1968, he insisted that “our goal is peace — and peace at the earliest possible moment.”
For many citizens, the president’s willingness to lie while pursuing indefensible policies caused massive — and perhaps irreversible — distrust and even enmity toward the U.S. government. As a consequence, millions came to see history and current events in a starkly clearer light. By the time Jimi Hendrix performed the national anthem at Woodstock five years after Johnson’s Gulf of Tonkin speech, an unprecedented number of Americans heard the musical bombs bursting in air as horrific instead of noble.
Forty years later, the new presidency of Barack Obama was awash in a strong tide of good will, comparable, in its own way, to the wave of public sentiment that lifted Johnson as the new president after the Nov. 22, 1963, assassination of John F. Kennedy. Obama had run and won on hope, and his victory — while not of Johnson’s landslide proportions — provided major momentum.
Obama pursued policies that largely undercut his lofty oratorical appeals to his base. Deference to corporate power, the military-industrial complex and the national-security surveillance state — coupled with scant action on the vastly important matter of climate change — turned him into another president eager to cater to the intersection of Wall Street and Pennsylvania Avenue.
Like Bill Clinton before him, Obama took care of himself and let others shoulder the political consequences. After Clinton and Obama stocked their administrations with corporate heavyweights, their rebuffs to progressive populism went over big with corporate media outlets. But the policy choices dispirited and demobilized the Democratic base, ushering in GOP takeovers of the House in 1994 and 2010.
Taking care of No. 1, Clinton and Obama won second terms, but on paths strewn with wreckage.
March 16, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
Who knows, soon we might see headlines and cable TV shows asking: "Is Dianne Feinstein a whistleblower or a traitor?"
A truthful answer to that question could not possibly be “whistleblower.” It may already be a historic fact that Senator Feinstein’s speech on March 11, 2014 blew a whistle on CIA surveillance of the Senate intelligence committee, which she chairs. But if that makes her a whistleblower, then Colonel Sanders is a vegetarian evangelist.
In her blockbuster Tuesday speech on the Senate floor, Feinstein charged that the CIA’s intrusions on her committee’s computers quite possibly “violated the Fourth Amendment.” You know, that’s the precious amendment that Feinstein -- more than any other senator -- has powerfully treated like dirt, worthy only of sweeping under the congressional rug.
A tidy defender of the NSA’s Orwellian programs, Feinstein went on the attack against Edward Snowden from the outset of his revelations last June. Within days, she denounced his brave whistleblowing as “an act of treason” -- a position she has maintained.
Snowden and other genuine whistleblowers actually take risks to defend the civil liberties and human rights of others, including the most vulnerable among us. Real whistleblowers choose to expose serious wrongdoing. And, if applicable, they renounce their own past complicity in doing those wrongs.
Dianne Feinstein remains in a very different place. She’s 180 degrees from a whistleblower orientation; her moral compass is magnetized with solipsism as a leading guardian of the surveillance state.
This week, Feinstein stepped forward to tweak her tap dance -- insisting that intrusive surveillance, so vile when directed at her and colleagues with august stature, must only be directed at others.
A huge problem is that for the USA’s top movers and shakers in media and politics, nothing rises to the level of constitutional crisis unless their noble oxen start to get gored. It doesn’t seem to dawn on the likes of Senator Feinstein that Fourth Amendment protections for the few are not Fourth Amendment protections at all.
March 12, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The frontrunner to become the next president of the United States is playing an old and dangerous political game -- comparing a foreign leader to Adolf Hitler.
At a private charity event on Tuesday, in comments preserved on audio, Hillary Clinton talked about actions by Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in the Crimea. “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the ’30s,” she said.
The next day, Clinton gave the inflammatory story more oxygen when speaking at UCLA. She “largely stood by the remarks,” the Washington Post reported. Clinton “said she was merely noting parallels between Putin’s claim that he was protecting Russian-speaking minorities in Crimea and Hitler’s moves into Poland, Czechoslovakia and other parts of Europe to protect German minorities.”
Clinton denied that she was comparing Putin with Hitler even while she persisted in comparing Putin with Hitler. “I just want people to have a little historic perspective,” she said. “I’m not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before.”
Yes indeed. Let’s learn from this tactic that has been used before -- the tactic of comparing overseas adversaries to Hitler. Such comparisons by U.S. political leaders have a long history of fueling momentum for war.
“Surrender in Vietnam” would not bring peace, President Lyndon Johnson said at a news conference on July 28, 1965 as he tried to justify escalating the war, “because we learned from Hitler at Munich that success only feeds the appetite of aggression.”
After Ho Chi Minh was gone, the Hitler analogy went to other leaders of countries in U.S. crosshairs. The tag was also useful when attached to governments facing U.S.-backed armies.
Three decades ago, while Washington funded the contra forces in Nicaragua, absurd efforts to smear the elected left-wing Sandinistas knew no rhetorical bounds. Secretary of State George Shultz said on February 15, 1984, at a speech in Boston: “I’ve had good friends who experienced Germany in the 1930s go there and come back and say, ‘I’ve visited many communist countries, but Nicaragua doesn’t feel like that. It feels like Nazi Germany.’”
Washington embraced Panama’s Gen. Manuel Noriega as an ally, and for a while he was a CIA collaborator. But there was a falling out, and tension spiked in the summer of 1989. Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleburger said that drug trafficking by Noriega “is aggression as surely as Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland 50 years ago was aggression.” A U.S. invasion overthrew Noriega in December 1989.
March 07, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
International law is suddenly very popular in Washington. President Obama responded to Russian military intervention in the Crimea by accusing Russia of a “breach of international law.” Secretary of State John Kerry followed up by declaring that Russia is “in direct, overt violation of international law.”
Unfortunately, during the last five years, no world leader has done more to undermine international law than Barack Obama. He treats it with rhetorical adulation and behavioral contempt, helping to further normalize a might-makes-right approach to global affairs that is the antithesis of international law.
Fifty years ago, another former law professor, Senator Wayne Morse, condemned such arrogance of power. “I don’t know why we think, just because we’re mighty, that we have the right to try to substitute might for right,” Morse said on national TV in 1964. “And that’s the American policy in Southeast Asia -- just as unsound when we do it as when Russia does it.”
Today, Uncle Sam continues to preen as the globe’s big sheriff on the side of international law even while functioning as the world’s biggest outlaw.
Rather than striving for an evenhanded assessment of how “international law” has become so much coin of the hypocrisy realm, mainline U.S. media are now transfixed with Kremlin villainy.
On Sunday night, the top of the New York Times home page reported: “Russian President Vladimir V. Putin has pursued his strategy with subterfuge, propaganda and brazen military threat, taking aim as much at the United States and Europe as Ukraine itself.” That was news coverage.
March 03, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
As the world’s biggest online retailer, Amazon wants a benevolent image to encourage trust from customers. Obtaining vast quantities of their personal information has been central to the firm’s business model. But Amazon is diversifying -- and a few months ago the company signed a $600 million contract with the Central Intelligence Agency to provide “cloud computing” services.
Amazon now has the means, motive and opportunity to provide huge amounts of customer information to its new business partner. An official statement from Amazon headquarters last fall declared: “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”
The Central Intelligence Agency has plenty of money to throw around. Thanks to documents provided by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, we know that the CIA’s annual budget is $14.7 billion; the NSA’s is $10.8 billion.
The founder and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, is bullish on the company’s prospects for building on its initial contract with the CIA. As you might expect from a gung-ho capitalist with about $25 billion in personal wealth, Bezos figures he’s just getting started.
Bezos publicly savors the fact that Amazon has proven its digital prowess -- aggregating, safeguarding and analyzing many billions of factoids about human beings -- to the satisfaction of the CIA.
The company’s Amazon Web Services division is “the leader in infrastructure cloud computing,” Bezos boasted at a September 2013 meeting with journalists at the Washington Post (shortly after he bought the newspaper). He lauded the high “rate of invention” of Amazon’s technical web team, adding: “Their product offering is far ahead of anyone else.”
Apparently the CIA agrees. The agency gave Amazon the contract for $600 million even though it wasn’t the lowest bid.
Amazon’s trajectory into the CIA’s spooky arms may be a bit more than just corporate eagerness to land a lucrative contract. In late 2010 -- amid intense public interest in documents that WikiLeaks was posting to illuminate U.S. actions overseas -- Amazon took a notable step. As the Guardian reported at the time, Amazon “pulled the plug on hosting the whistleblowing website in reaction to heavy political pressure.”
It didn’t take much for Amazon to cave. “The company announced it was cutting WikiLeaks off … only 24 hours after being contacted by the staff of Joe Lieberman, chairman of the Senate’s committee on homeland security,” the Guardian noted.
In view of Amazon’s eagerness to dump the WikiLeaks site at the behest of U.S. government officials, what else might the Amazon hierarchy be willing to do? Amazon maintains a humongous trove of detailed information about hundreds of millions of people. Are we to believe that the CIA and other intelligence agencies have no interest in Amazon’s data?
February 20, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
President Obama is now considering whether to order the Central Intelligence Agency to kill a U.S. citizen in Pakistan. That’s big news this week. But hidden in plain sight is the fact that Amazon would be an accessory to the assassination.
Amazon has a $600 million contract with the CIA to provide the agency with “cloud” computing services. After final confirmation of the deal several months ago, Amazon declared: “We look forward to a successful relationship with the CIA.”
The relationship means that Amazon -- logoed with a smiley-face arrow from A to Z, selling products to millions of people every week -- is responsible for keeping the CIA’s secrets and aggregating data to help the agency do its work. Including drone strikes.
Drone attacks in Pakistan are “an entirely CIA operation,” New York Times reporter Mark Mazzetti said Tuesday night in an interview on the PBS NewsHour. He added that “the Pakistani government will not allow the [U.S.] military to take over the mission because they want to still have the sort of veneer of secrecy that the CIA provides.”
The sinister implications of Amazon’s new CIA role have received scant public attention so far.
As the largest Web retailer in the world, Amazon has built its business model on the secure accumulation and analysis of massive personal data. The firm’s Amazon Web Services division gained the CIA contract amid fervent hopes that the collaboration will open up vast new vistas for the further melding of surveillance and warfare.
Notably, Amazon did not submit the low bid for the $600 million contract. The firm won the deal after persuading the CIA of its superior technical capacities in digital realms.
Amazon is now integral to the U.S. government’s foreign policy of threatening and killing.
Any presidential decision to take the life of an American citizen is a subset of a much larger grave problem. Whatever the nationality of those who hear the menacing buzz of a drone overhead, the hijacking of skies to threaten and kill those below is unconscionable. And, as presently implemented, unconstitutional.
February 12, 2014 | Permalink
Barack Obama put on a deft performance Tuesday night. With trills of empathy, the president’s voice soared to hit the high notes. He easily carried a tune of economic populism. But after five years of Obama in the White House, Americans should know by now that he was lip-syncing the words.
The latest State of the Union speech offered a faint echo of a call for the bold public investment that would be necessary to reduce economic inequity in the United States. The rhetoric went out to a country that in recent years has grown even more accustomed to yesterday’s floor becoming today’s ceiling.
The speech offered nothing that could plausibly reverse the trend of widening income gaps. Despite Obama’s major drumroll about his executive order to increase the minimum wage for some federal contract employees, few workers would be affected. The thumping was loud, but the action was small.
Obama of course blames congressional Republicans for obstructing needed reforms — and they certainly deserve blame. But for Americans struggling to make ends meet, the record of the Obama administration is littered with wreckage from its refusal to fight for people of modest means.
During 2009 and 2010 — when Democrats controlled not only the White House and Senate but also the House — Obama skipped past vital options for working and want-to-be-working Americans. For instance, he never really pushed for the Employee Free Choice Act, which would have helped unions regain footing and halt their downward slide of membership, especially after crackdowns in state legislatures in Wisconsin, Michigan and elsewhere.
In a huge blow to the largest unionized workforce in the country — U.S. Postal Service employees — the Obama administration did nothing to undo the extreme pension-prefunding rules that were imposed during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration. And now the Obama White House is presiding over waves of privatization of USPS assets and services, with grave consequences for its workers and the public.
In his speech, while Obama presented himself as an ally of federal workers, he neglected to mention something quite relevant: At the end of 2010, he signed a bill that prohibited pay increases for most of the federal government’s civilian employees. The pay freeze had come at his initiative.
More broadly, Obama never came close to embracing the scale of public investment that would have been necessary to truly move toward a strong and equitable economy.
January 29, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The National Security Agency depends on huge computers that guzzle electricity in the service of the surveillance state. For the NSA’s top executives, maintaining a vast flow of juice to keep Big Brother nourished is essential -- and any interference with that flow is unthinkable.
But interference isn’t unthinkable. And in fact, it may be doable.
Grassroots activists have begun to realize the potential to put the NSA on the defensive in nearly a dozen states where the agency is known to be running surveillance facilities, integral to its worldwide snoop operations.
Organizers have begun to push for action by state legislatures to impede the electric, water and other services that sustain the NSA’s secretive outposts.
Those efforts are farthest along in the state of Washington, where a new bill in the legislature -- the Fourth Amendment Protection Act -- is a statutory nightmare for the NSA. The agency has a listening post in Yakima, in the south-central part of the state.
The bill throws down a challenge to the NSA, seeking to block all state support for NSA activities violating the Fourth Amendment. For instance, that could mean a cutoff of electricity or water or other state-government services to the NSA site. And the measure also provides for withholding other forms of support, such as research and partnerships with state universities.
Here’s the crux of the bill: “It is the policy of this state to refuse material support, participation, or assistance to any federal agency which claims the power, or with any federal law, rule, regulation, or order which purports to authorize, the collection of electronic data or metadata of any person pursuant to any action not based on a warrant that particularly describes the person, place, and thing to be searched or seized.”
If the windup of that long sentence has a familiar ring, it should. The final dozen words are almost identical to key phrases in the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
In recent days, more than 15,000 people have signed a petition expressing support for the legislation. Launched by RootsAction.org, the petition is addressed to the bill’s two sponsors in the Washington legislature -- Republican Rep. David Taylor, whose district includes the NSA facility in Yakima, and Democrat Luis Moscoso from the Seattle area.
January 27, 2014 | Permalink
By Abba A. Solomon and Norman Solomon
Since its founding six years ago, J Street has emerged as a major Jewish organization under the banner “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace.” By now J Street is able to be a partial counterweight to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. The contrast between the two U.S. groups is sometimes stark. J Street applauds diplomacy with Iran, while AIPAC works to undermine it. J Street encourages U.S. support for “the peace process” between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, while AIPAC opposes any meaningful Israeli concessions. In the pressure cooker of Washington politics, J Street’s emergence has been mostly positive. But what does its motto “Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace” really mean?
That question calls for grasping the context of Zionism among Jews in the United States -- aspects of history, largely obscured and left to archives, that can shed light on J Street’s current political role. Extolling President Obama’s policies while urging him to intensify efforts to resolve Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, the organization has staked out positions apt to sound humanistic and fresh. Yet J Street’s leaders are far from the first prominent American Jews who have struggled to square the circles of the moral contradictions of a “Jewish state” in Palestine.
Our research in the archives of the American Jewish Committee in New York City, Johns Hopkins University and elsewhere shows that J Street is adhering to -- and working to reinforce -- limits that major Jewish organizations adopted midway through the 20th century. Momentum for creation of the State of Israel required some hard choices for groups such as the influential AJC, which adjusted to the triumph of an ideology -- militant Jewish nationalism -- that it did not share. Such accommodation meant acceding to an outward consensus while suppressing debate on its implications within Jewish communities in the United States.
In 1945, AJC staff had discussed the probability of increased bloodshed in Palestine -- and a likelihood of “Judaism, as a whole, being held morally responsible for the fallacies of Zionism.” In exchange for AJC support in 1947 for UN partition of Palestine, the AJC extracted this promise from the Jewish Agency: “The so-called Jewish State is not to be called by that name but will bear some appropriate geographical designation. It will be Jewish only in the sense that the Jews will form a majority of the population.”
A January 1948 position paper in AJC records spoke of “extreme Zionists” then ascendant among Jews in Palestine and the United States: The paper warned that they served “no less monstrosity than the idol of the State as the complete master not only over its own immediate subjects but also over every living Jewish body and soul the world over, beyond any consideration of good or evil. This mentality and program is the diametrical opposite to that of the American Jewish Committee.” The confidential document warned of “moral and political repercussions which may deeply affect both the Jewish position outside Palestine, and the character of the Jewish state in Palestine.” Such worries became more furtive after Israel became a nation later in 1948.
Privately, some leaders held out hope that constraints on public debate could coexist with continuing debate inside Jewish institutions. In 1950 the president of the American Jewish Committee, Jacob Blaustein, wrote in a letter to the head of an anti-Zionist organization, the American Council for Judaism, that the silencing of public dissent would not preclude discussion within the Yiddish-language and Jewish press. In effect, Blaustein contended that vigorous dialogue could continue among Jews but should be inaudible to gentiles. However, the mask of American Jewry would soon become its face. Concerns about growing Jewish nationalism became marginal, then unmentionable.
The recent dispute in the Jewish student group Hillel -- whether its leadership can ban Hillel chapters on U.S. college campuses from hosting severe critics of Israeli policies -- emerged from a long history of pressure on American Jews to accept Zionism and a “Jewish state” as integral to Judaism. The Jewish students now pushing to widen the bounds of acceptable discourse are challenging powerful legacies of conformity.
During the 1950s and later decades, the solution for avoiding an ugly rift was a kind of preventive surgery. Universalist, prophetic Judaism became a phantom limb of American Jewry, after an amputation in service of the ideology of an ethnic state in the Middle East. Pressures for conformity became overwhelming among American Jews, whose success had been predicated on the American ideal of equal rights regardless of ethnic group origin.
Generally flourishing in a country founded on the separation of religion and state, American Zionists dedicated themselves to an Israeli state based on the prerogatives of Jews. That Mobius strip could only be navigated by twisting logic into special endless dispensations for Jewish people. Narratives of historic Jewish vulnerability and horrific realities of the Holocaust became all-purpose justifications.
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January 21, 2014 | Permalink
Abby Martin speaks with Norman Solomon, founder of RootsAction.org and Director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, about the potential conflict of interest between the new Washington Post owner, Jeff Bezos and a recent $600 million CIA contract with his other company, Amazon.
By Norman Solomon
American journalism has entered highly dangerous terrain.
A tip-off is that the Washington Post refuses to face up to a conflict of interest involving Jeff Bezos -- who’s now the sole owner of the powerful newspaper at the same time he remains Amazon’s CEO and main stakeholder.
The Post is supposed to expose CIA secrets. But Amazon is under contract to keep them. Amazon has a new $600 million “cloud” computing deal with the CIA.
The situation is unprecedented. But in an email exchange early this month, Washington Post executive editor Martin Baron told me that the newspaper doesn’t need to routinely inform readers of the CIA-Amazon-Bezos ties when reporting on the CIA. He wrote that such in-story acknowledgment would be “far outside the norm of disclosures about potential conflicts of interest at media organizations.”
But there isn’t anything normal about the new situation. As I wrote to Baron, “few journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA.”
The Washington Post’s refusal to provide readers with minimal disclosure in coverage of the CIA is important on its own. But it’s also a marker for an ominous pattern -- combining denial with accommodation to raw financial and governmental power -- a synergy of media leverage, corporate digital muscle and secretive agencies implementing policies of mass surveillance, covert action and ongoing warfare.
Digital prowess at collecting global data and keeping secrets is crucial to the missions of Amazon and the CIA. The two institutions have only begun to explore how to work together more effectively.
January 13, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
To: Martin Baron, Executive Editor, and Kevin Merida, Managing Editor, The Washington Post
Dear Mr. Baron and Mr. Merida:
On behalf of more than 25,000 signers of a petition to The Washington Post, I’m writing this letter to request a brief meeting to present the petition at a time that would be convenient for you on Jan. 14 or 15.
Here is the text of the petition, launched by RootsAction.org:
“A basic principle of journalism is to acknowledge when the owner of a media outlet has a major financial relationship with the subject of coverage. We strongly urge the Washington Post to be fully candid with its readers about the fact that the newspaper’s new owner, Jeff Bezos, is the founder and CEO of Amazon which recently landed a $600 million contract with the CIA. The Washington Post’s coverage of the CIA should include full disclosure that the sole owner of the Post is also the main owner of Amazon -- and Amazon is now gaining huge profits directly from the CIA.”
The petition includes cogent comments by many of the people who signed it.
I hope that you can set aside perhaps 10 minutes on Jan. 14 or 15 for the purpose of receiving the petition and hearing a summary of its signers’ concerns.
For confirmation of an appointment, I can be reached on my cell phone…
Director and Cofounder, RootsAction.org
[January 2, 2014]
Dear Mr. Solomon:
Thank you for your note. I was able to read the petition on the RootsAction.org site and to see the list of those who signed it. I certainly would be happy to review any additional information you might send.
The Post has among the strictest ethics policies in the field of journalism, and we vigorously enforce it. We have routinely disclosed corporate conflicts when they were directly relevant to our coverage. We reported on Amazon’s pursuit of CIA contracts in our coverage of plans by Jeff Bezos to purchase The Washington Post.
We also have been very aggressive in our coverage of the intelligence community, including the CIA, NSA, and other agencies, as you should know. The Post was at the leading edge of disclosures about the NSA in 2013. Most recently, it reported on the CIA’s hidden involvement in Colombia’s fight against FARC rebels, including a fatal missile attack across the border in Ecuador. You can be sure neither the NSA nor the CIA has been pleased with publication of their secrets.
Neither Amazon nor Jeff Bezos was involved, nor ever will be involved, in our coverage of the intelligence community.
The petition’s request for disclosure of Amazon’s CIA contract in every story we write about the CIA is well outside the norm of conflict-of-interest disclosures at media companies. The Post is a personal investment by Jeff Bezos, whose stake in Amazon is large but well less than a majority. The CIA’s multi-year contract with Amazon is a small fraction of company revenues that have been estimated at roughly $75 billion in 2013. Amazon maintains no corporate connection to The Post.
Even so, we have been careful to disclose Jeff Bezos’ connection to The Post and Amazon when directly relevant to our coverage, and we will continue to do so. For example, such disclosures would be called for in coverage circumstances such as the following: CIA contracting practices, the CIA’s use of cloud services, big-data initiatives at the CIA, Amazon’s pursuit of cloud services as a line of business, and Amazon corporate matters in general.
We take ethics very seriously here at The Post. One of our policies is that we seek comment from the subjects of our stories prior to publishing them and that we make a genuine effort to hear and absorb their point of view. By contrast, I am unaware of any effort to hear us out prior to the launch of this petition drive. A personal meeting now does not seem necessary or useful.
I hope this note explains our perspective. And again, if you wish to send additional information that you feel might be helpful to us, we will review it closely.
Executive Editor, The Washington Post
[January 2, 2014]
Dear Mr. Baron:
Thank you for your letter.
Whatever the Post’s guidelines and record on ethical standards, few journalists could have anticipated ownership of the paper by a multibillionaire whose outside company would be so closely tied to the CIA. Updating of the standards is now appropriate.
You write that The Washington Post has “routinely disclosed corporate conflicts when they were directly relevant to our coverage.” But the RootsAction.org petition is urging the Post to provide readers of its CIA coverage with full disclosure that would adequately address -- and meaningfully inform readers about -- relevant circumstances of the current ownership.
Those circumstances are not adequately met by a narrow definition of “corporate conflicts.” A reality is that the Post is now solely owned by someone who is by far the largest stakeholder in a world-spanning corporate giant that has close business ties -- and is seeking more extensive deals than its current $600 million contract -- with the CIA, an agency which the newspaper reports on regularly.
The petition requests that The Washington Post adopt a full disclosure policy that is commensurate with this situation. The gist of the request is recognition that, as the saying goes, sunshine is the best disinfectant for any potential conflict of interest.
When you write that the Post has a policy of routinely disclosing corporate conflicts when “directly relevant to our coverage,” a key question comes to the fore: What is “directly relevant”? Given that few agencies are more secretive than the CIA -- and even the most enterprising reporters are challenged to pry loose even a small fraction of its secrets -- how do we know which CIA stories are “directly relevant” to the fact that Amazon is providing cloud computing services to the CIA?
January 07, 2014 | Permalink
By Norman Solomon
The New York Times is hardly a progressive newspaper -- but when it comes to the surveillance state and ongoing militarism of the Obama White House, the establishment’s “paper of record” puts MoveOn.org to shame.
And so, the same day that the Times editorialized to excoriate President Obama for his latest betrayal of civil liberties, MoveOn sent out a huge email blast sucking up to Obama.
The Times was blunt in its Saturday editorial: “By the time President Obama gave his news conference on Friday, there was really only one course to take on surveillance policy from an ethical, moral, constitutional and even political point of view. And that was to embrace the recommendations of his handpicked panel on government spying -- and bills pending in Congress -- to end the obvious excesses. He could have started by suspending the constitutionally questionable (and evidently pointless) collection of data on every phone call and email that Americans make.”
But, the newspaper added: “He did not do any of that.”
As the Times editorial went on to say, “any actions that Mr. Obama may announce next month would certainly not be adequate. Congress has to rewrite the relevant passage in the Patriot Act that George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama claimed -- in secret -- as the justification for the data vacuuming.”
Let’s reiterate that the Times is far from a progressive outlet. It serves as a highly important megaphone for key sectors of corporate/political elites. Voicing the newspaper’s official stance, its editorials are often deferential to spin and half-truths from favored political figures. And much of the paper’s news coverage feeds off the kind of newspeak that spews out of the Executive Branch and Congress.
But on crucial matters of foreign policy, militarism and surveillance, the contrast between Times editorials and MoveOn is stunning. The “progressive” netroots organization has rarely managed to clear a low bar of independence from reprehensible Obama policies.
December 22, 2013 | Permalink