Surveillance Begins — On Us

On May 11th, George W. Bush gave a speech that included the following words:

After September 11, I vowed to the American people that our government would do everything within the law to protect them against another terrorist attack.

As part of this effort, I authorized the National Security Agency to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al Qaeda and related terrorist organizations.

In other words, if al Qaeda or their associates are making calls into the United States or out of the United States, we want to know what they’re saying.

First, our intelligence activities strictly target al Qaeda and their known affiliates. Al Qaeda is our enemy, and we want to know their plans.

Fourth, the privacy of ordinary Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities. We’re not mining or trolling through the personal lives of millions of innocent Americans. Our efforts are focused on links to al Qaeda and their known affiliates.

Last night on Air America Radio’s Majority Report, host Sam Seder was talking about this blog by ABC investigative reporter, Brian Ross, where Ross mentions that he has been told by a senior federal law enforcement official — in person — that “It’s time for you to get some new cell phones, quick.”


According to the article, “Other sources have told us that phone calls and contacts by reporters for ABC News, along with the New York Times and the Washington Post, are being examined as part of a widespread CIA leak investigation.”

The CIA is reportedly pretty ticked off that someone leaked the story about its secret prisons in Romania and Poland. How dare someone further illuminate our continuing downward ethical spiral on human rights!

So Bush says we’re only using the records to track Al Qaeda, and here we have the CIA using the records NOT for Al Qaeda, but for surveillance on private citizens. This is exactly why a majority of American object to the NSA obtaining or keeping records of their personal phone calls. If you don’t believe that poll, here’s another, and another.

So who knows what your records will be used for some day? All you need to know is that unless you’re a customer of Qwest Communications, the government does have your phone records. They know who you called, and when, and they know who called you, and when. It’s that last bit that you have little control over. Heaven forbid that someone the government is looking at calls you via a wrong number. You could have the CIA knocking at your door.

Actually, I guess they don’t need to knock at your door… They can just… Call you.

Winning Friends & Influencing People

Every time this administration starts talking, we should be prepared to duck and cover. Far from making our world a safer place to live, the Bush administration just keeps fanning the flames of war — everywhere — every time it gets the opportunity to do so.

Let’s take a look at the reactions to Dick Cheney’s recent speech yesterday in Lithuania:
“Cheney’s Sharp Criticism Miffs Russia” – Forbes
“Russian Media Warn of New Cold War” – Washington Post
“Kremlin Calls Cheney’s Remarks Completely Incomprehensible” –
“Cheney Turns Up Rhetorical Heat on Putin” – Wall Street Journal
“Cold War is reheated as Cheney tells off Moscow” –

Here are a few sections from Cheney’s speech. It would seem irony is lost on this administration, as it continually points fingers at other nations regarding tyranny, repression, persecution and human rights.

“Regimes that repress and tyrannize their own people also threaten the peace and the stability of other lands. They feed rivalries and hatreds to obscure their own failings. They seek to impose their will by force, and they make our world more dangerous. We support democracy and reform, because governments accountable to their citizens are peaceful.”

They seek to impose their will by force, and they make our world more dangerous. Hmmmm…

“No one should have to live under repressive rule -??? denied the right to chart their own destiny, or persecuted for the beliefs they hold or the words they speak.”

You mean, like when liberals are called terrorist sympathizers or unpatriotic because they have different beliefs than this administration? Or do you mean like Cindy Sheehan being pulled out of a presidental address and arrested because she wore a shirt on that read, “2,245 Dead. How many more?” The list goes on…

President Yushchenko, also, has pointed out the difficulties of organizing a representative government in a country that had compromised the rule of law, little official respect for human rights, a corrupt bureaucracy, and an intimidated press corps.

Hmmm. Little respect for human rights (Gitmo, Abu Gharib), a corrupt bureaucracy (how many members of this administration and the Republican party in general are up against federal indictments?), and an intimidated press corps (which has been more than willing to take up any cause the Bush administration cares to peddle).

Yet healthy, self-governing, forward-looking societies have the same basic strengths. Democracy starts with citizens casting their votes, but that is only the beginning. Elections must be fair, and regular, and truly competitive.

Are you kidding me?? The Supreme Court of the United States of America intervened in a state election and installed George W. Bush as President of the United States of America. Elections must be fair, and regular, and truly competitive? What about all the illegal redistricting done by the GOP that has all but assured Republican victories in various localities around the US? And does truly competitive mean, for example, what happened to Max Cleland, where his opponent ran an ad picturing Cleland with Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden? Truly competitive? Or what about John Kerry, who was the subject of erroneous claims and debasements by the so-called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth? Is that what Cheney means by truly competitive?? Oh wait a minute, Cheney answers that in the next quote:

In a free society, political parties must be able to function without harassment. Candidates must be able to seek resources and votes in a spirit of competition, not a climate of anxiety. There must be an active, independent news media to keep citizens informed, and to make possible the free exchange of ideas and debate. And election results must yield the voluntary and orderly transfer of power.

So this is another case of “do as I say, not as I do.” OK, Cheney, got it. When you read the next quote, think about all the illegal wiretapping that this administration has conducted. This administration has no respect for law. Who is Cheney kidding?

In a democracy, the state itself has only limited authority over the lives of its citizens, because the true strength of a nation is found in the institutions of civil society — the family, communities of worship, voluntary associations, and free enterprise. Each person is entitled to freedom of conscience — not merely the right to hold a religious belief, but to practice that belief and to share it with others. Citizens deserve basic guarantees of equal treatment under the law, and minority groups should be safe from oppression. Protecting civil society and upholding individual freedom requires the rule of law — and that is at the very heart of government’s reason for being. Government meets this obligation by ensuring an independent judiciary, a professional legal establishment, and honest, competent law enforcement.

And here’s another good one…

When power is accountable and the rule of law is secure, people have the confidence they need to start businesses, invest capital, and plan for the future.

Is that why we’ve basically had a jobless economic recovery in this country? Accountable power? Rule of law? Make me laugh, Cheney, make me laugh.

Nor do I need to remind anyone here just what the alternative is. You have seen it, and you have lived it — centralized control; intimidation of political opponents; unremitting corruption with an undercurrent of violence; economic stagnation; and national decline. That is a nightmare of history that no rational person would ever want to repeat.

That’s for sure! Um, can you and Bush resign NOW? All the sooner we can get back on the right track and end THIS nightmare of history that no rational person would ever want to repeat.

The spread of democracy is an unfolding of history; it is a benefit to all, and a threat to none.

Tell that to the families that have been displaced or who have had members killed because of our activities in the Middle East. Cheney concluded his speech, after pointing a harsh finger at Russia for its violation of democracy’s tenets, with these words:

We have learned, ladies and gentlemen, that the desire of human beings to be free is the most potent force on this Earth. Tyrants may, for a time, deny the hopes of others, violate the rights of others, and even take the lives of others. Yet they have no power to inspire hope or to raise the sights of a nation. The ideals that you and I believe in — liberty, and equality, and justice under law — speak to the best in mankind. We have seen these ideals lift up whole countries and secure generations of peace. And we will see that promise renewed in our own time, in places near and far. So let us persevere in freedom’s cause — united, confident, and unafraid.

I think that speaks for itself. The question is, will the Democratic party continue to merely be the “Republican alternative,” or will it truly get its act together and decide that it believes in core values that it is willing to share with the American people, and that it wishes to offer a vision of inspiration and a raising of sights to this great Nation?

So Much for the Liberal Media (again)

It’s a really good thing that I read my daily briefing from every morning. Otherwise I would probably have missed what was perhaps the most stunning display of courage by a satirist in years.

It’s for sure that The Colbert Report‘s Stephen Colbert will never again be invited to the annual White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner. In stark contrast to the number of comedians and satirists that have met George W. Bush over the years and have played along by shaking the guy’s hand and softening their monologues for the occasion, Colbert delivered a hilarious, but stinging routine aimed at the Bush Administration and the members of the press who pass on the White House press briefings as news… And he did this right to the guy’s face. Not ten feet away from the podium sat George W., who seemed to be at least attempting to be a good sport about the whole thing, but who also hardly acknowledged Colbert (who was the last speaker at the event) when the dinner wrapped up.

The Moderate Voice has a wrap-up and links to the performance, and it’s one of the few places you’ll be able to find any information about the event, and in particular, Colbert’s performance. The NY Times is one of the few mainstream outlets to mention the dinner, and yet did not even mention Colbert. So much for the “liberal media.” Since reporting the event is all on the shoulders of the bloggers out there, the typical right-wing sites are trying to rewrite history and claim that Colbert bombed, and that he was unfunny, and that no one in the room was laughing at his jokes. One of the reader comments to the Salon article noted, “It would have helped if his material were a little cleverer and delivered with a better sense of timing. Instead of appearing as satire on pompous punditry, which is the tone of his CC show, his shtick (sic) came off as unpolished stand-up comedy with bad writing. ”

What is clear upon watching Colbert’s performance is that there was plenty of laughter in the room throughout the presentation, and that those who weren’t laughing were, for the most part, kind of smirking with their mouths open, seemingly a bit stunned that Colbert was actually daring to tread into territory that few would be willing to traverse — criticizing the White House occupant and a press corps that caves to his message. Watch the clips and you’ll see what I mean. In no way can anyone who is watching with any kind of objectivity claim that Colbert “bombed.” In the end, thought, what raises Colbert’s performance to a level of pure brilliance is his courage in doing this in front of the very audience he is satirizing.

So like a good many blogs are doing today, I nominate Colbert for “Man of the Year,” and say thanks for doing what so many in the media are unwilling to do — call things exactly as they see them, unabashedly, and damn the consequences.

Three Years Ago Today

Three years ago today, George W. Bush slipped on a military flight suit (something he had apparently been averse to doing when he was actually enlisted) and swooped down onto the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln in the co-pilot seat of a Navy S-3B Viking. According to CNN, it was the first time a president (sic) had ever arrived on the deck of an aircraft carrier by plane.

Greeted by cheers, he approached the podium and began to speak…

“Thank you all very much. Admiral Kelly, Captain Card, officers and sailors of the USS Abraham Lincoln, my fellow Americans: Major combat operations in Iraq have ended. In the battle of Iraq, the United States and our allies have prevailed.”