By Doug Porter
For as long as there’s been a central government in the United States, it’s been attempting to reign in the press.
The 1798 Alien and Sedition Act was an effort by the governing Federalist Party to criminalize criticism of Congress and the President. President Abraham Lincoln signed numerous executive orders which made it both illegal and punishable by death to hold “correspondence with” or give “intelligence to the enemy, either directly or indirectly”.
Twentieth century presidents resorted to covert surveillance and even blackmail when they couldn’t find a handy law to keep the fourth estate in check.
The latest chapters in this ongoing saga involve search warrants that ultimately covered months of work, home and cellphone records used by almost 100 people at the Associated Press and secret court actions naming Fox News reporter James Rosen as criminal co-conspirator in an espionage case.
Clearly, the urgency of the so-called war on terrorism is being used to leverage the provisions of the 1917 Espionage Act to keep sources from talking and reporters from reporting. What may have started out as executive actions by the Obama administration aimed at suppressing leaks is now nothing less than a threat to the right of the people to know about what’s being done in their name.
From the Los Angeles Times:
Neither Fox News nor the Associated Press was told in advance about the government actions or had a chance to challenge them in court, the usual practice. The government ordered Google not to disclose that it had given the FBI access to Rosen’s Gmail account, and Chief Judge Royce Lamberth of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia confirmed in a September 2010 ruling that the government did not have to notify Rosen.
A federal statute, the Privacy Protection Act, normally bars the government from using a search warrant to seize a reporter’s notes or communications as part of a broader criminal investigation. But the law allows an exception if the reporter is specifically accused of committing a crime.
No reporter has ever been charged under the Espionage Act, a 1917 law that criminalizes unauthorized disclosure of “national defense information” with intent or reason to believe the information “is to be used to the injury of the United States.”
The Rosen case marks the first time the government has gone to court to portray news gathering as espionage.
The bleating about these actions by the US press is quite remarkable. So was their silence about all the ‘baby steps’ made along the way over the past dozen years that led up to the present situation. From former MI5 agent and whistleblower Annie Machon, writing in the British edition of the Huffington Post:
Also, who is actually facing the security crackdown here? The US journalists are bleating that their sources are drying up in the face of a systematic witch hunt by the US administration. That must be hard for the journalists – hard at least to get the stories and by-lines that ensure their continued employment and the ability to pay the mortgage. This adds up to the phrase du jour: a “chilling effect” on free speech.
Er, yes, but how much harder for the potential whistleblowers? They are the people facing not only a loss of professional reputation and career if caught, but also all that goes with it. Plus, now, they are increasingly facing draconian prison sentences under the recently reanimated and currently much-deployed US 1917 Espionage Act for exposing issues in the public interest. Ex-NSA Thomas Drake faced decades in prison for exposing corruption and waste, while ex-CIA John Kiriakou is currently languishing in prison for exposing the use of torture.
The US government has learned well from the example of the UK’s Official Secrets Acts – laws that never actually seem to be wielded against real establishment traitors, who always seem to be allowed to slip away, but which have been used frequently and effectively to stifle dissent, cover up spy crimes, and to spare the blushes of the Establishment.
The extreme provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act, the prosecution of anybody remotely connected with Wikileaks (is Wikileaks a source or a publisher?) and acquiescence to suppression of reporting on domestic protests (Occupy, anybody?) were all steps along a path that leads us to where we are today.
The way I see it, the position of the ‘professional’ press that they were somehow above it all was a major contributing factor to the First Amendment mess they find themselves in. The operating premise that it was ‘okay’ for the authorities to maybe bend the rules a little for ‘terrorists’ and ruffians posing as citizen journalists was built on the assumption those same authorities would abide by the rules when it comes to the professional media.
Welcome to the 21st century. Maybe some of these folks will now get a clue that the 99% includes their sorry butts. Sources need to be protected with safer technologies. Every infringement on getting information to people needs to be fought. To quote Ms. Machon once again: “The issue of the free flow of information, democracy and justice is bigger than petty arguments about personality traits.”
As Naomi Wolf said, in talking about this slippery slope we find ourselves on, back in 2010:
As I noted in The End of America, if you prosecute journalists – and Assange, let us remember, is the New York Times in the parallel case of the Pentagon Papers, not Daniel Ellsberg; he is the publisher, not the one who revealed the classified information – then any outlet, any citizen, who discusses or addresses ‘classified’ information can be arrested on ‘national security’ grounds.
If Assange can be prosecuted under the Espionage Act, then so can the New York Times; and the producers of Parker Spitzer, who discussed the WikiLeaks material two nights ago; and the people who posted a mirror WikiLeaks site on my Facebook ‘fan’ page; and Fox News producers, who addressed the leak and summarized the content of the classified information; and every one of you who may have downloaded information about it; and so on. That is why prosecution via the Espionage Act is so dangerous – not for Assange alone, but for every one of us, regardless of our political views.
This is far from a feverish projection: if you study the history of closing societies, as I have, you see that every closing society creates a kind of ‘third rail’ of material, with legislation that proliferates around it. The goal of the legislation is to call those who criticize the government ‘spies’, ‘traitors’, enemies of the state’ and so on. Always the issue of national security is invoked as the reason for this proliferating legislation.
No Health Insurance for You
It’s bad enough that the House of Representatives has now voted 37 times to repeal or defund the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare). That equals 15% of the time that your taxpayer funded Congresscritters have spent on House floor votes.
Now this. If the Tea Party can’t have hassle free tax exemptions, then the rest of us shouldn’t get health care, right? From the New York Times:
Congressional Republicans are trying to exploit two controversies bedeviling the Obama administration to undermine the health care reform law. They are using an uproar over misguided tactics by Internal Revenue Service employees to target conservative political groups seeking tax-exempt status as an excuse to prohibit the agency from playing a pivotal role in carrying out the Affordable Care Act. And they want to use a controversy over efforts by the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, to encourage private donations to help enroll people in new health care exchanges as a cudgel to disrupt such efforts.
Sorry, Oklahoma, We Can’t Afford Disaster Aid
The State of Oklahoma has been rowing with one oar (the right one) for almost a century now, ever since the pretext of the Green Corn Rebellion was used as an excuse to arrest and deport thousands members and supporters of the Working Class Union (WCU) and the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).
Far right is the norm there, as evidenced by its US Senators. From Americablog:
You have to give Oklahoma Republican US Senator Tom Coburn high marks for consistency, if not compassion.
In the face of a major tornado disaster in his home state, that has taken the lives of over 90 Oklahomans, including at least 24 children in a devastated elementary school, Coburn says he won’t support disaster relief for his home state unless the budget is cut elsewhere.
Yes, Coburn is taking his own constituents hostage as budget-cutting human shields.
It’s not the first time Coburn has taken hostages. Last winter, Coburn joined Oklahoma’s other far-right GOP Senator, Jim Inhofe, in voting against the Hurricane Sandy relief bill.
UPDATE: Fatality numbers for the Oklahoma tornado tragedy have been revised downward.
Justice Denied in Guatemala
The trial of former Guatemala dictator Efrain Rios Montt has largely flown under the radar in the US media. (Xeni Jardin has written extensivelyabout the trial at Boing Boing.)
This trial was a rare instance where acts of genocide were prosecuted. It’s been a painful experience for the Guatemalan people and has provoked strong reactions throughout the country.
Yesterday the Guatemalan Constitutional Court overturned the conviction of Montt. It’s important to remember that this regime was strongly supported by the US as part of the war on communism. The trial has been closely monitored by human rights advocates world-wide.
From the Los Angeles Times
The Constitutional Court said the landmark trial of Rios Montt should have been halted and rewound to an earlier date because of a jurisdictional dispute, Guatemala’s Prensa Libre reported on its website. The ruling suggested that Rios Montt would be retried or that parts of the trial, which contained graphic and chilling testimony from victims, would be redone.
A three-judge panel convicted Rios Montt, 86, on May 10 of genocide in the slaughter of more than 1,700 Ixil Maya in the early 1980s, some of the bloodiest years of Guatemala’s long civil war and the period during which he served as de facto president of the country.
Rios Montt was sentenced to 80 years in prison, but that sentence was vacated in the Monday ruling. The conviction had represented a rare prosecution of a former leader on human rights atrocities by a court of his own nation.
Another Big Pharma Scare
KPBS is up with a hair-raising story about Propecia, the wonder drug manufactured by Merck that’s supposed to help men fight baldness.
Some of them grow hair, all right. But an increasing number of men are coming forwards with stories about the side effects of the drug, which include loss of libido, depression and erratic behaviors.
The Food and Drug Administration admits to having reviewed 421 complaints about Procepia’s side effects. Last year the FDA required Merck to change to a more explicit warning label.
The KPBS story profiles a 40 year old patient who started taking the drug on the recommendation of his surgeon after a hair transplant operation. Things started going downhill for him shortly thereafter.
He visited a number of therapists and medical specialists. Over the years, the North County resident took six different anti-depressants. Nothing helped.
Then, Davis discovered a website called propeciahelp.com. It’s a forum for men who’ve suffered side effects from Propecia.
That was a wake up call for Davis. After four years of taking Propecia, he quit. And that’s when things really went downhill.
“My endocrine system crashed,” he said. “My hormones were so far out of whack that it was causing erratic behaviors, erratic thoughts and uncontrollable emotions and crying and curled up on the couch for weeks, months.”
RIP Ray Manzarek
Doors keyboard player Ray Manzarek died yesterday in Rosenheim, Germany after long battle with cancer. His beautiful and haunting organ melodies were at the heart of a band, whose music and lead singer (Jim Morrison) came to symbolize the darker side of LA-LA land.
From a 1968 performance in Copenhagen, Denmark:
On This Day: 1819 – Bicycles were first seen in New York City. They were originally known as “swift walkers.” 1956 – The U.S. exploded the first airborne hydrogen bomb in the Pacific Ocean over Bikini Atoll. 1970 – Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young recorded “Ohio.”
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