Should Christians Embrace Gay Marriage?

The issue of gay marriage appears headed back to the U.S. Supreme Court where the justices may finally decide if states can bar gay couples from marrying or not. Currently, 33 states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage, including Alaska where Rev. Howard Bess lives.

By the Rev. Howard Bess

The phone rang. “This is Ray Briggs. Do you remember me?” The name was familiar, but I could not come up with a face with the name. I had not seen Ray for almost 20 years. However, with a little prompting, I recalled exactly who Ray was.

“Gil and I want to get married. Will you do the job? We figure after 39 years, it is time to get married. We have the license.”

I felt a special joy in being asked to officiate at a gay marriage that has legal standing. I have performed many uniting ceremonies for gay couples, but this will be the first that will have legal standing. Even though I am no longer the pastor of a church, I suspect that I will be doing more marriage ceremonies for gay couples now that the courts have forced legal standing for gay marriages in Alaska.

In earlier ceremonies, I avoided using the word “marriage.” I was willing to leave that word in the hands of the state. I always used the term “holy union.” At last, I am free legally to use the appropriate word, “marriage.”

The story of Ray and Gil follows a pattern that has come to be very familiar to me. Each knew he was gay from early childhood, but it was a closely guarded secret. Both came from religious backgrounds. Ray tried desperately to be someone that he was not. He joined the U.S. Army when he was 17 and served in the Vietnam/Cambodia theatre.

Under social and family pressure, Ray married an unsuspecting woman. He fathered six children, but the marriage did not work. His wife divorced him and took the children. Honorable military service, marriage and fathering children with a woman did not change Ray. He was still a gay man.

Ray met Gil, a shy young man ten years younger than Ray. They soon moved in together and have been together in a faithful, monogamous relationship for 39 years. Ray has maintained a relationship with his children, and one of his grandsons is planning to be his grandfather’s best man. Ray and Gil left churches long ago.

The story of Ray and Gil is one that has repeated itself over and over again in my career as a Baptist minister and advocate of full acceptance of gay and lesbian people. I could write a long book about the gay couples that I have known and still know here in Alaska’s Matanuska Valley. They live in committed relationships, parent children and lead responsible lives.

The legal recognition of gay marriages is a great milestone in the process of gaining full acceptance of gay persons in our society, but we still have a long way to go. In the Valley, gay families are still largely hidden. Gay couples and their children are fearful of social ostracism and physical abuse. Their fears are not unfounded.

Jesus and the Expendables

We are learning more and more about the social and political structures of the days of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus’s time and place a desperately poor region then dominated by rich absentee landowners and governed by the Roman Empire there was a large population of peasant farm workers barely existing.

Below the peasants at the bottom of the social and economic ladder were the expendables. Every era has its expendables. They are people who are deemed to be without value, people whom much of society believes are worthless. It is getting more and more apparent to New Testament scholars that expendables were a high priority to Jesus.

Who are the current expendables of our society? They have many faces, but in my career as a Baptist minister, I found “expendables” in abundance in three places. I found them in jails. I found them suffering from long-term mental illnesses, often times institutionalized. I found them among closeted gays, fearing the stigma from letting the broader society know who they were.

I went out of my way to make these “expendables” my friends. Today, people, who are in jail or have been in jail, people who suffer long-term mental illnesses, and gay people like Ray and Gil make up a large portion of my friendship circle. I have listened to long narratives of rejection by family, church, preachers and society in general.

A tragedy is that we have large numbers of “expendables” in a land where Christians and Christian churches are very popular and public. Self-identified Christians make up a majority of Americans, yet the phenomenon of “expendable” neighbors persists. How can we have so many followers of the great friend of expendables in a nation that professes to uphold his values?

Churches —  their preachers and parishioners — are the key to changing these attitudes. But it can be dangerous work for one’s career and reputation. Out of fear and unfounded prejudice, many Christians keep away from “expendables.”

Two millennia ago, powerful people also decided that Jesus was expendable and brutally killed him. Is it possible that we need to re-examine what it means to be a Christian?

Reciting the Apostles’ Creed can be an act of solemn devotion or it can be Christians’ most fraudulent act. I suspect that Christians and people of all religious beliefs joining with “expendables” in the cause of justice for all is the higher and truer standard.

The Rev. Howard Bess is a retired American Baptist minister, who lives in Palmer, Alaska.  His email address is                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Punishing a Professor’s Criticism of Israel

Criticism of how Israel treats Palestinians has become a firing offense in some circles, including academia where professors must muzzle themselves or face accusations of anti-Semitism. In the case of Steven Salaita, Twitter posts about Gaza cost him his job, as Dennis J. Bernstein explores in an interview.

By Dennis J. Bernstein

As bombs rained down on the people of Gaza this past summer, Palestinian-American professor Steven Salaita shared his outrage and horror about the Israeli assault via Twitter. Then, as he prepared to move his family and start his new job as a tenured professor in American Indian Studies at the University of Illinois, Salaita was abruptly un-hired.

Wealthy donors had objected to his tweets and pressured the university to keep him out, part of a broader campaign to silence people advocating for Palestinian rights, as Salaita described in a recent interview on Pacifica’s “Flashpoints” program.

DB: Before we get into the ugly details. Tell us a little bit about your own background. You were going to be teaching Native American Studies. Tell us about your history as a teacher.

SS: I was set to teach in the American Indian Studies program. I specialize in Native Literatures, Native politics, and Native decolonization and so I got my PhD in Native American Studies at the University of Oklahoma, in 2003.

I’ve been working at the intersections of Palestine and North America, and the similarities of the colonial discourses between the two spaces for quite some time. And so that was, I think, what lead the American Indian Studies Program to their interest in me.

DB: Our senior producer for this show Miguel Gavilan Molina is indigenous Chicano and he always makes the connection, and in fact, now we’ve got the Israelis securing the borders not only here at the Mexican border, but all the way down between Mexico and Guatemala. I mean, you see the Mexican military, it looks like the Israeli army. … So, you were hired as a tenured professor? Why tenured?

SS: Because I had already been tenured at Virginia Tech.

DB: That must have meant that there was a great deal of respect in bringing you on, giving you the tenure, and letting you carry that across. So they must have really wanted you.

SS:  Absolutely, correct. And it came along with an extra intensive round of vetting. A tenured hire always passes through a lot more committees and external referees than an untenured hire.

DB: And then came the latest slaughter in the Gaza Strip and you were not happy about that. You were speaking out.

SS: Of course.

DB: What was on your mind?

SS: The images of destruction, the many war crimes that reporters and human rights organizations were reporting. … What ended up being the murder of around 519 children. The bombing of the shelters to which so many people had been displaced; just the overall horror of the situation.

DB: It was a rather abject slaughter. It wasn’t a war, it was a slaughter. There was … not even a close sense of equal power on both sides.

SS: Exactly. It was a colonial power … rainning death and destruction on the colonized population.

DB: So, you were outraged. I guess you have friends there, maybe family?

SS: No family, lots of friends.

DB: Lots of friends and you were hearing it first hand, what the slaughter looked like.

SS: Yes.

DB: So talk about … what did you tweet?

SS: I tweeted all kinds of things. I’ve been tweeting about the Israel/Palestine conflict for a very long time, ever since I got onto the platform. … About 5 or 6 tweets … were isolated by right-wing groups, who ended up decontextualizing them from a broader narrative. And they were … misread. They were consciously misread.

I was accused of antisemitism. … To conceptualize criticism of Israeli government policy as antisemitism transforms the meaning of the word into something honorable and, therefore, it’s kind of a dangerous move to make. Or at the very least, a troublesome move to make.

Otherwise, I think the tweet that rankled people was … when I noted that if you support what Israel is doing in Gaza right now, you are an awful human being.

DB: Do we know exactly who responded and who the university responded to in terms of these complaints?

SS: We know right now. … It started publicly with a hit piece on me from Tucker Carlson’s website, the Daily Caller. And then the local paper, in Champaign-Urbana, the News Gazette, picked up on it. And then it sort of spiraled out of control.

We do know the Simon Weisenthal Center had some contact with the university administration. And we know from the FOIA, the Freedom of Information Act request that at least a handful of wealthy donors was involved and that the University of Illinois Foundation (that is the fundraising branch of the university) was involved in the conversations as well. But all of the names, at this point, have been redacted.

DB: Tell us … in this thorough vetting of your history, they must have known, in terms of your theories, about the relationship between indigenous communities in this country and the nature of Palestinians, who don’t have a country to live in at this point.

SS: Oh yeah, of course. And the tweets aren’t part of the dossier. If they’re going to be part of the hiring dossier then they need to also count as part our labor. They don’t count as part of our labor. So if they’re going to count our tweets as part of our academic profile then my cv is going to get a lot longer than it already is. And … I have listed on my cv, front and center, my most recent book published by a university press called Israel’s Dead Soul.

I’ve never made any secret as to what my politics are. In fact, I’ve been on the job market a number of times since I’ve gotten out of graduate school. And I’ve always liked hiring committees to know exactly where I stand, so there are no surprises. They … know what my politics are, they know how my scholarship engages in a particular set of material politics, of de-colonial politics. They knew all of this. If you look at the sum total of people at UIUC [University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign] who had looked over my dossier, the number is probably more than one hundred.

DB: More than one hundred. … Did you ever hear from the people who hired you again, after you were fired? Were they sorry? What was the reaction? Because in a hiring structure like this, you must have had a chance to really meet a couple of people. … Tell us about what they said, after the fact.

SS: They were upset, and they continue to be upset. This has been a tremendous blow to the American Indian Studies Program. They uniformly wanted me to be there and continue to want me to be there. The administration really stomped on their hiring autonomy as a department. They trampled on university by-laws in making this unilateral decision.

Even the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences wasn’t informed that this decision was being made. So there’s a huge group of faculty across the campus who are dismayed by the university’s decision and want me to come join them as a colleague.

DB: And, just to be clear, is this a done deal? You’ve been unhired?

SS: It seems to be a done deal but I’m hoping … a lot of us are hoping that reinstatement will still be possible.

DB: Did you get a letter?

SS: I got a letter, yeah.

DB: What did the letter say?

SS: It really didn’t say anything. It was an exceptionally vague letter. I actually had to read it about three or four times to make sure that I had actually been fired, or unhired, or whatever you want to call it.

But it basically said “We…” … it was signed by Phyllis Wise, the Chancellor, and Christophe Pierre, the Vice President for Academic Affairs, and it simply noted that they don’t expect Board of Trustee approval for my hire and that therefore there is no reason for me to turn up. They didn’t give any reason, nothing specific, nothing.

DB: And did you hear from those folks you got to know in the department, about what the behind the scenes dialogue was about?

SS: See, they didn’t know either.

DB: They didn’t even know that you were unhired…?

SS: They didn’t know until I knew. The Dean of the College didn’t know. The Chair of my Department didn’t know. The members of the hiring committee didn’t know. We all sort of found out at the same time.

DB: So who fired you?

SS: We don’t know for sure. It is the responsibility of Chancellor Wise, the Board of Trustees, and I think the system President Robert Easter. I don’t exactly know who made the decision but it appears that it was donors who made the decision. And that the board and the chancellor and the president are just carrying water for them.

DB: In terms of the content … I mentioned the senior producer here considers indigenous folks in this country, the Palestinians of North America. These parallels are made all the time. There’s extraordinary unity between these communities across global lines, and at the United Nations, when they work together. Tell us what you think we’re all losing by this kind of action.

SS: I think so many people are invested in the outcome of this process because a lot of people inside and outside of academe understand that first of all we’re losing a legal definition and a notion of practice of academic freedom. We’re losing the ability to criticize a foreign nation state without recrimination. We’re losing ability to question the imperatives of the American government without recrimination. We’re losing the First Amendment, as problematic as its practice has been throughout American history. It still has remained an important protection against government incrimination, for political speech.

We’re losing faculty governance and democratic educational practices in the universities. And it’s really in some way … symbolic of what’s become of the country in general. And so in universities we have boards of trustees, made up of business people, sort of making decisions about the university in which campuses are becoming, U.C. Berkeley, among them, completely corporatized and models of neo-liberal engagement, just like American society in total.

DB: We’re just down the block from the University of California, Berkeley, and there they have honored a professor named John Yoo with a special chair. And he wrote, essentially, the torture justifications for the Bush administration. And he’s promoted. He’s got his own life chair now. At first they had to hide where his classes were because there were so many protests. There really does seem to be a dual standard in this country … and on the university campus.

SS: Oh, absolutely. And this certainly didn’t start with me. … Just even in the case of Palestine and Israel. There have been so many people who have been fired or who haven’t been tenured or who faced public scrutiny. Or in many cases, who have never been hired in the first place.

But even before that, the suppression of African-Americans, of indigenous peoples, of queers — of any sort of deviant body or deviant idea — has a longstanding history. And what I think the distinction comes down to, more than anything, is whether your speech is critical of the exercise of state power or whether it reinforces or supplements the practices of state power. And if you fall into the latter category, like John Yoo, then you get rewarded.

DB: You know somebody who teaches at the University of Illinois, Urbana Law School is Francis Boyle.

SS: Yes.

DB: Who was, among other things, a representative for the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] at various peace talks. And has represented them in various potential cases of crimes against humanity, human rights. Any of the other professors there, at the university, speaking out? Or maybe they haven’t even heard about it.

SS: Tons of professors at that university are speaking out. There’s been a huge group of faculty and graduate students and community members who have spoken out as Jews, specifically as Jews, saying that the university is totalizing this as Proto-Zionists and invoking a particular ethnic heritage for nefarious purposes that [they] don’t want to be implicated in or involved with.

A lot of faculty, especially those in ethnic studies units have spoken out. But really across the humanities and social sciences there’s been uniform condemnation. It seems to be at the center of campus life this semester.

DB: It’s not exactly a precedent as you say, this happens all the time. I can tell you that … every time we get a new manager [here at KPFA] the Israeli Consulate shows up at the station and they start talking about “If you can just get rid of that Bernstein guy…” In fact, I always have to regularly check my Wikipedia. And it just so happens on the Flashpoints Wikipedia this weekend one of our key contributors, an editor with the Electronic Intifada, Nora Barrows-Friedman is … all of a sudden there’s a write up there that “Flashpoints is a radical program with a radical anti-semite.” And this is on and on. My Wikipedia looks like a slash and burn because of the level and intensity of the attacks.

And sometimes you have to threaten to sue these folks to bring down what is an obvious conjecture and obvious lie. It’s hard to imagine how they can make a case after such a vetting and a hire with tenure  a professor. It would seem to me that there would need to be some kind of civil rights action. Any grounds for that, any exploration on that front?

SS: Yeah. I’m being represented by the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York, which is a terrific organization with really smart attorneys. And they are definitely exploring all of these options. And what you say has happened to you and continues to happen to you is, I think, common for a lot of folks who speak … in even hushed support of the Palestinians … or even mild criticism of the Israeli government.

I think that with my case, people are seeing this as an opportunity to say “Enough! Enough of going to such extraordinary lengths to shut down democratic institutions, and democratic participation, in the service of shielding a colonial nation state from criticism that it so richly deserves.”

DB: But the attackers are fully defended, they’re allowed to say just about anything you can … the e-mails that I get sound something like “Bernstein, if you’re lucky, maybe one day one of your Palestinian friends will slit your throat, Daniel Pearl style, and then you’ll learn something about why it’s important to not be a self-hating Jew.” They can almost say anything, anywhere and this includes major journalists.

SS: Exactly.That comes out of the dynamics of a particular American racism. Those who speak in support of Palestine constantly have to avow their humanity. So in order to even be heard, to even raise our voices, we have to proclaim that we’re not anti-semitic, we have to disavow violence, we have to condemn Hamas. There’s a whole list of things that we have to do, in order to be able to speak in the first place. But those who support Israel never, ever have to disavow themselves of anti-Arab racism. So they occupy the normative position.

DB: If you had a moment to address the writer who wrote that vague letter that unhired you, what would you want to tell them?

SS: I would say that universities are not actually corporate marketplaces and that we cannot conduct hiring and firing based on the desires of donors. If we are going to walk down that road then the university as we know it in the United States will cease to exist and by caving into the outside donor pressure you have set a horrible precedent and you have abdicated your responsibilities to look out for the best interest of the campus, the faculty and the students.

Dennis J Bernstein is a host of “Flashpoints” on the Pacifica radio network and the author of Special Ed: Voices from a Hidden Classroom.

Plumbing the Depths of NSA’s Spying

The complexity of the National Security Agency’s spying programs has made some of its ex-technical experts the most dangerous critics since they are among the few who understand the potential totalitarian risks involved, as ex-NSA analyst William Binney showed in an interview with journalist Lars Schall.

By Lars Schall

William Binney, who spent 36 years in the National Security Agency rising to become the NSA’s technical director for intelligence, has emerged as one of the most knowledgeable critics of excesses in the NSA’s spying programs, some of which he says managed to both violate the U.S. Constitution and prove inefficient in tracking terrorists.

Binney has been described as one of the best analysts in NSA’s history combining expertise in intelligence analysis, traffic analysis, systems analysis, knowledge management and mathematics (including set theory, number theory and probability). He resigned in October 2001 and has since criticized the NSA’s massive monitoring programs. After leaving the NSA, he co-founded Entity Mapping, LLC, a private intelligence agency, together with fellow NSA whistleblower J. Kirk Wiebe.

Lars Schall: You were invited this year as a witness by the NSA commission of the German parliament, the Bundestag. How has it been to speak there and what did you try to get across?

William Binney: I was there for about six hours testifying with a half hour break in the middle. So it was quite intense. There were so many questions. Some of them I didn’t have answers for because I didn’t have knowledge about it, and I tried to make those clear and tried to give them information about things I knew personally. I didn’t want to extrapolate beyond that.

Initially, they were asking questions about my background which was, I guess, setting the stage for the follow on questions, but in the long run they were interested in the relationships with the BND and the NSA. I think part of the break in the middle had to do with something that happened there and that a BND person was implicated in spying on the commission when it was investigating the relationship, and they were also passing that information to NSA, at least that was alleged at that time, I don’t know if that’s true or not.

Anyway, it was quite lengthy and very thorough, and my whole point was to try to get across to them that what NSA and the intelligence community in the Five Eyes, at least, and probably in some of the other countries (I don’t know exactly which ones and I’ve made this clear, but I think they’re not doing it alone) is the idea of collecting massive amounts of data is just like the STASI except this time I kind of tried to get across to them that it’s like the STASI on super steroids.

As Wolfgang Schmidt, the former lieutenant colonel of East German STASI, commented about NSA’s surveillance program: For us, this would have been a dream come true. Well, that’s the whole point of it, it’s so invasive, it’s digital surveillance on a massive scale, and I tried to get that across to them. Because this is basically a fundamental threat to our democracy and every democracy around the world. You know, I call it over here in the United States the greatest threat to our democracy since our Civil War.

LS: Were there some questions that you would have expected that were not asked?

WB: No, I think they pretty much asked all the relevant questions, some of which I dealt with in close session, especially in dealing with the relationship between BND and NSA that I knew.

LS: What’s your view on how Germany is treating Edward Snowden?

WB: I think for the most part he got a lot of popular support in Germany. I think the government there is a little bit sensitive to it simply because of the close and enduring relationship between the United States government and the German government. So I think they’re trying to balance an act there between support from the general populace and also support for the US government from the existing agreements and cooperation with the German government.

LS: What’s your overall view on how the German government behaved in the NSA scandal?

WB: My personal belief is that they only now are starting to get into it and only now they are beginning to realize, just as over here Congress is beginning to realize, how much they cannot trust our own intelligence agencies. This is evident, for example, last year when two representatives attempted to get a bill passed in the House of Representatives to un-fund the NSA activity.

Basically, they just found out through the Snowden releases that a lot of the information they were been fed by the intelligence agencies and the administration was not true. And so they finally began to realize what was going on and tried to get an initiative to stop it. That’s when the President and the director at the time of NSA, Keith Alexander, lobbied the House of Representatives very heavily to defeat that bill, which they did, but the bill only lost by 12 votes in the House of Representatives so that’s not a bad deal, it was a fairly close vote.

The issues are still going on over here and politically people are still talking trying to resolve it and we are trying to help them with that by publishing articles and things that we send over to Germany, as well as the things that need to be done to ensure that these intelligence agencies are kept inline by their governments respecting the rights of their citizens.

LS: A few months ago it was revealed that the NSA could have had access via the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) to data at the DE-CIX internet hub in Frankfurt. If this was the case the DE-CIX Management GmbH Frankfurt denies that this took place   the BND would have violated German law. [See the press release by the DE-CIX Management GmbH Frankfurt (in German)] Can you tell us, please, how such arrangements between NSA and BND come about that are including breaches of law?

WB: The agencies like NSA and BND would set up a separate international agreement between the two agencies that would have to be passed and approved by at least some portion of the government. That is, your government would need to agree to it and so would ours, and that starts with the agencies agreeing on what to cooperate on and how to cooperate and what the ground rules are for that cooperation. That’s then passed to the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, or very restricted numbers of people in administration would also be able to see that kind of agreement, and the same would be true I assume on the BND side and the German government.

There should be some small subset of the German government that’s aware of these agreements and is monitoring them, though I don’t know what the conditions are within the BND and how they do it. Within the United States it’s the House and Senate intelligence committees and the FISA court that is supposed to oversee that these things don’t violate U.S. law, but in fact, what they have been doing over here is advocating violation of U.S. law. They are enabling that it’s not the question of them doing oversight, they aren’t doing it.

And of course they are all doing it on the basis of fear-mongering of terrorism. They try to get everybody afraid so they will do whatever they want, that’s the kind of leverage that they are trying to use not just against the public, but also against Congress. It’s just all based on fear-mongering. The whole point is to get more money and build a bigger empire, which they have done. Over here, we’ve spent, for all the 16 agencies, close to a trillion dollars since 9/11. That’s really been a money-making proposition for them, this fear-mongering. Now they are doing it with cyber security. It’s how you control your population, how you manipulate them, and how you let them pay for things you want done.

LS: Is the BND merely a subsidiary or branch of the US intelligence apparatus?

WB: I wouldn’t call them a branch, but they are certainly a cooperating partner. Again, it’s all written out in agreements as to what the efforts are that they jointly share and work together on and approved again by their agency’s heads and then it goes to certain parts of the governments for approval also. I wouldn’t say that they’re working totally for them, they have their own agenda and own priorities. The cooperation occurs where there’s common interest and common concern about given activities, like terrorism or maybe dope smuggling and things like that.

LS: Is the NSA engaged in economic espionage related to Germany? And if this was the case, wouldn’t it be the task for the BND to prevent this from happening?

WB: You would think so. I can only assume from what it’s been printed that this is happening, but the question really becomes whether or not it is shared with U.S. companies to give them advantage in competition. I am sure that all governments around the world do this to some degree, depending on their capabilities and resources primarily. The question becomes whether or not it’s shared outside of the government channels to industry, for example to gain advantage.

You would expect that government people are keeping it within, but the problem here is in NSA: a good many of the people who are managing all the data that would contain that kind of information are in fact contractors working for other industrial partners in the United States. Some of them like Boeing have many interests and so does Lockheed Martin and so on. These are corporations where people are running that data and managing that data for NSA, so they have access to it. What they are doing to it is another question, but it’s a very risky situation in terms of industrial espionage.

LS: Your own career at NSA culminated as Technical Director for Intelligence in 2001. The very same year you retired. Why so?

WB: What happened after they wanted us to stop doing the ThinThread program, which was the one that solved the massive data problem related to the internet communications they had to get rid of us, so that’s what they did. As part of that process they had to remove me from that rather high position and put me into a smaller position which was out of sight basically. They didn’t want Congress or anybody else to be aware of what I was doing or have access to me. That’s generally what they do when they don’t want people doing things, they move them out of their way.

LS: What did NSA do wrong when it came to uncovering the 9/11 plot? Edward Snowden “suggested that the United States had the proper intelligence ahead of 9/11 but failed to act.” [See “Read Snowden’s comments on 9/11 that NBC didn’t broadcast”, Russia Today, May 30, 2014.]

WB: Yes, that came out of Tom Drake’s use of ThinThread to go through the entire data base at NSA. He went through the data and analyzed it after the fact in early 2002, I believe. He found out that NSA had, in fact, in its data base prior to 9/11 all the information necessary to find out who was involved, where they were you know, to put the whole thing together and be able to stop it.

See, the problem with industry so involved in this and so inculcated inside of NSA I mean, they are inseparable, they work in the same spaces, and when you do that they have a vested interest in continuing to get the next contracts so that they can keep getting more and more money. So what happens is, they try to keep the problem going instead of solving it. So they only do incremental improvements over time that keeps them in the primary position to get the follow on contracts to keep working on it. That’s basically how they’ve been doing it, and they’ve been doing it for decades, by the way, it’s standard practice that they use.

LS: Do you think the expansion of various NSA programs in reaction to 9/11 is justified?

WB: Absolutely not! That’s what I opposed right away. They should have stopped it by using automation against a focused target set for acquisition of information. In other words, they knew the basic targets and people connected to them or those that were in close relationship with them, and they could define that and pull that data out and focus their analytic effort on that and solve that problem, but they didn’t. Instead they decided to build a bigger agency and that they wanted a much larger budget and a much larger set of contractors and contracting agents. That was the path they took. I called that sacrificing the security of the people of the United States and of the people of the free world for money.

LS: NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake stated also in an interview with me that the nexus 9/11 War on Terror is used as an excuse to expand programs that were existing pre-9/11. [See Tim Shorrock: “Exposing Bush’s historic abuse of power”, Salon, July 23, 2008.] One example, I think, would be Echelon. Could you tell us about the development of Echelon, please?

WB: I don’t know too much about what happened with Echelon, because that didn’t really deal with the fiber optic lines, and that’s really where the explosion occurred. The explosion in communications was occurring with the fiber optic lines. There are three types of attacks on it: Either they get corporate cooperation with the telecom companies or the companies running the fiber lines, and if they have that with or without the government’s knowledge (local government if it’s foreign) then they can tap the lines there and do the acquisition there.

On the other hand, if they don’t have a company doing that, then they can go to their counterpart in the government to try to get an agreement like in Frankfurt to try to get taps on that line or in other places. If that’s agreed, then there’s a governmental approval to do that, at least in part by the agency involved, if not by the government itself, too. I don’t know that I mean, that would be the part that would have to be investigated.

And the other possibility, if they can’t get a governmental cooperation or corporate cooperation, then they can unilaterally do it that means they have ways and means to get access to the fiber lines without the cooperation of the government or of the company involved. That’s like the taps that they put on the lines between Google and all the major internet service providers when they are transferring data from their major storage centers back and forth without the knowledge of the companies. That’s the kind of thing that they would do with anybody else that wouldn’t cooperate. In other words, if you want to find out if your lines are tapped, you would need to trace the line all the way through.

LS: On Aug. 17, 1975 Senator Frank Church stated on NBC’s “Meet the Press”: “In the need to develop a capacity to know what potential enemies are doing, the United States government has perfected a technological capability that enables us to monitor the messages that go through the air. Now, that is necessary and important to the United States as we look abroad at enemies or potential enemies. We must know, at the same time, that capability at any time could be turned around on the American people, and no American would have any privacy left such is the capability to monitor everything, telephone conversations, telegrams, it doesn’t matter.

“There would be no place to hide. If this government ever became a tyrant, if a dictator ever took charge in this country, the technological capacity that the intelligence community has given the government could enable it to impose total tyranny, and there would be no way to fight back because the most careful effort to combine together in resistance to the government, no matter how privately it was done, is within the reach of the government to know. Such is the capability of this technology.

“I don’t want to see this country ever go across the bridge. I know the capacity that is there to make tyranny total in America, and we must see to it that this agency and all agencies that possess this technology operate within the law and under proper supervision so that we never cross over that abyss. That is the abyss from which there is no return.”

How do those words sound today?

WB: They were right on the money. Frank Church captured it right away. The point is that they are in the process of perfecting this whole operation, and the point is that now that everybody has a greater capacity to communicate the invasion of privacy or the intrusion into what people’s lives is all about is even worse then what Frank Church could have known. Back then he was only thinking about and looking at the landline telephone calls, where now it’s not only that but also mobile phones, satellite phones, the internet, the computers, the tablets, and so on. All the networks people are carrying around.

There are at least over 3 ½ billion phones in the world, and something very similar in terms of computers. The explosion has been tremendous both in terms of volume and in terms of numbers. Frank Church couldn’t have dreamt about that in his time; he was just talking about a smaller segment of what was available that time. And now the intrusion is even greater.

And I would also point out that those were part of the fundamental grounds for the impeachment of Richard Nixon. They were preparing to throw him out of office, when he resigned. But at that time under the programs MINARETTE at NSA and COINTELPRO at FBI and CHAOS at CIA, Nixon was only spying on a few thousands of people. Now they are doing hundreds of millions in the US, there are almost 300 million US citizens, not counting the billion plus in the rest of the world. If you’re just talking about the US, they’re now doing virtually everybody. If you use a phone or a computer or any kind of bank card or if you’re writing a check or do any kind of that thing, you’re being spied on. So the intrusion is so much greater and so much more encompassing today.

But we are not even thinking about impeaching people. We should have impeached George W. Bush and Richard Cheney for doing this to begin with, but we didn’t. And that’s why they kept it all in secret, by the way they knew that they were violating the U.S. Constitution and they knew they were also violating the laws. That’s also why they had to give the telephone companies retroactive immunity, because they gave them access to the telephone lines and to the fiber optic lines that carried not only the telephone but also the internet. And they also gave them all the records of their customers, which all were violations of the laws and violations of constitutional rights of U.S. citizens in the First, Fourth and Fifth Amendment, at a minimum.

LS: Hearing that I have to ask: Are you disappointed from the reaction of your countrymen related to those NSA revelations?

WB: Yes, but I think that most of them still don’t understand what that really means. I do have some hope here from some of the initial feedback to “CITIZENFOUR”, the movie by Laura Poitras on Edward Snowden, and some of the whistleblowing that we did. That’s been very positive, and I think it’s helping to educate the population here as to what that really means. I think once they really understand what’s going on and what their government is doing to them, that they will in fact react to that and react in a positive way and force the government to change, which they should.

LS: I would also like to discuss some questions related to PROMIS, a software for data mining, that was developed by Bill Hamilton’s software firm INSLAW and stolen by the U.S. Justice Department / U.S. intelligence agencies. Dr. Norman Bailey was the Reagan National Security Council staff person in 1981 responsible for the new Signal Intelligence mission for NSA known as “Follow the Money.”

According to my information, Dr. Bailey told INSLAW that NSA briefed him on the fact that it had obtained the PROMIS software from the U.S. Department of Justice and used it as the principal software installed on computers of wire transfer clearing houses, commercial banks, investment banks, credit card companies, and international financial institutions for real-time surveillance of electronic fund transfers through the banking sector. Dr. Bailey also confirmed the use of PROMIS as “the principal software element” of “Follow the Money” later on publicly in 2008. [For more information on NSA’s “Follow the Money” SIGINT mission and PROMIS see Lars Schall: “Follow the Money: The NSA’s real-time electronic surveillance of bank transactions”,, Feb. 2, 2014.]

Were you aware, while an employee at NSA, of the use of PROMIS by NSA for its “Follow the Money” bank surveillance mission?

WB: I was not personally aware of the program PROMIS or how NSA used it. I did know that there was an effort to look at money transfers, it was a matter of following that for terrorism, for dope smuggling, just international crime. But I wasn’t aware of the PROMIS program.

LS: In retrospective, what would you like to say about PROMIS? I mean, the whole case still isn’t settled although it began in the 1980s and there’s no doubt about it that the software was stolen by U.S. intelligence agencies like CIA and NSA

WB: I’m not surprised of that. I believe they tried to steal some of the intellectual capital we had after we had retired. The way they did it was to send the FBI to raid us, ultimately. I had expected them to actively attack our computers and try to find the information there. We knew these people and so we never documented anything in a computer file anywhere, nothing was documented in the sense that it would be usable for them, either on paper or electronically so we were walking around with all this knowledge in our heads and not putting it down so that anybody could have it.

There was a large intelligence company in the United States, they tried a kind of forced takeover of us, but what they didn’t realize was that all the intellectual capital was in our brains and they could not take that over from us. There was nothing they could do to get the information from us. So they failed. And also the government failed when they were trying to get it from us.

PROMIS was a different story. They went into an agreement and my understanding is that they broke the agreement with Bill Hamilton. I think this is a court issue that should have been resolved in the courts a long time ago.

LS: So PROMIS has never been a topic among your colleagues at NSA?

WB: No, we never talked about it, and I’d never heard about the program PROMIS at all while I was working at NSA.

LS: Is Wall Street a major player of the Deep State in the U.S.?

WB: I certainly think it is politically anyway, because they do contribute a lot of money to the political campaigns. And of course they have their own lobbyists and all that. I can’t imagine them not having some input in the process somewhere. It only seems reasonable.

LS: Well, the CIA for example was formed and launched by investment bankers and lawyers from Wall Street.

WB: Yes, and they of course got billions from us. And if you take the case of Elliot Spitzer for example, he was in New York and going after the bankers for all the defrauding of people. He was going after them in a criminal way, and of course they get rid of him. They had the FBI look through all the data, I allege, because I don’t know where else they get it, the FBI had direct access through the PRISM program, they go into the name data bases at NSA, all the emails, phone calls and financial transactions in those data bases for Elliot and find some evidence against him that they could use to leverage to get rid of him, which they did.

My question to begin with was what was their probable cause to do that in the beginning? I never really heard our government say anything about that, because they don’t like the Fourth Amendment, because it constrains what they can and can’t do. They want to have a free hand to get rid of anybody they want.

Like in my case, in the case of Kirk Wiebe, or also in Tom Drake’s case, they tried to get rid of us by falsifying evidence and drawing up an indictment against us. I caught them at it, okay, so they finally dropped all that. But I mean, that’s our Department of Justice; that’s not justice, that’s criminal. So, what they’re doing, the House and Senate intelligence committees, the FISA court, the Department of Justice and the White House, they are trying to cover up any exposure of this, and that’s why they were really after Snowden, and that’s why they wanted to stop all those leaks. It’s exposing them for the crimes they were committing against the people of United States and against the people of the world.

LS: Two other questions: Who are the largest private contractors who manage IT and telecommunication systems for the NSA, and what is their access and potential use of the data to serve their private interests?

WB: Well, you see, that’s what I was talking about earlier: those who are managing the data for NSA are contractors and those are contracting organizations or companies that have many interests, not just in intelligence. They do have access there, and that’s a real danger of whether or not they would use that for industrial espionage to give them leverage and advantage in a competitive bidding for contracts internationally. That’s always a threat. I don’t know how they are monitoring that, and I don’t know what they are doing to ensure that that doesn’t happen.

Also, I would point out that these kinds of data acquisitions are not just limited to NSA and BND, there are other countries involved that also have sharing agreements and have the ability, like through XKeyscore, to see these data sets. That just opens up an immense array of potential abuses. I don’t know if they have agreements to monitor or prevent it or to stop it if they find it. I don’t know what they’re doing. (laughs.) They haven’t made it clear. I mean, they are doing all of this in secret anyway.

LS: And it’s quite a problem given the fact that roughly 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget is outsourced to corporate contractors. [See Tim Shorrock: “Spies for Hire: The Secret World of Intelligence Outsourcing”, Simon & Schuster, New York, 2008, p. 6.] — One more question, and I know it’s hard to answer, but I think it’s crucial: Are NSA systems used to manage the financial markets, for example related to the NY Fed, the operative arm of the Federal Reserve System?

WB: I do not know that the Treasury or any part of the Federal Reserve System is using those programs. They probably get the benefit of it indirectly, but I don’t know they are using them directly. They are part of the government, too, you know, they share knowledge across the government, how much of that I’m not sure. But again, whatever agreements were made, would be made within the U.S. government as to what kind of sharing would go on and the level to get access to it.

LS: How would you think the indirect use of those systems looks like?

WB: Here is what I think they would do: I would think that they would have the Treasury and all the banks report transfers of money in and out of the country. Also, I would think they would take cooperatively under the business records transfer all kinds of financial transactions, including not just credit cards, but also bank transfers of money back and forth between banks around the world. Also, all personal check-writing and transfers of money from individuals inside the country as well as anywhere else they can get. Those are the kinds of transfers they would be looking for. They are looking for patterns of money transferring that would be indicative of payoff for dope or payoff for money laundering operations or things like that. I would think they are doing that.

LS: And as you know the Treasury Department has this Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence as a Counterterrorism Finance Unit. Do you think the NSA works with them?

WB: I assume they do. The level of cooperation would be laid out in agreements again.

Lars Schall is a German financial journalist.

The Mystery of Ray McGovern’s Arrest

Exclusive: On Oct. 30, ex-CIA analyst Ray McGovern was arrested for trying to attend a public speech by retired Gen. David Petraeus. McGovern had hoped to ask Petraeus a critical question during Q-and-A but was instead trundled off to jail, another sign of a growing hostility toward dissent, McGovern says.

By Ray McGovern

Why, I asked myself, would the New York City police arrest me and put me in The Tombs overnight, simply because a security officer at the 92nd Street Y told them I was “not welcome” and should be denied entry to a talk by retired General David Petraeus? In my hand was a ticket for which I had reluctantly shelled out $50.

I had hoped to hear the photogenic but inept Petraeus explain why the Iraqi troops, which he claimed to have trained so well, had fled northern Iraq leaving their weapons behind at the first whiff of Islamic State militants earlier this year. I even harbored some slight hope that the advertised Q & A might afford hoi polloi like me the chance to ask him a real question.

However rare the opportunity to ask real questions has become, it can happen. Witness my extended (four-minute) questioning of then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in Atlanta on May 4, 2006. The exchange wasn’t exactly the oh-so-polite give-and-take of the Sunday talk shows but it represented what Americans should expect of democracy, a chance to confront senior government officials when they engage in deception or demonstrate incompetence especially on issues of war or peace.

It seems a safe guess that somebody wanted to protect Petraeus from even the possibility of such accountability on Oct. 30. Also, let me make clear that I had no intention of embarrassing the retired four-star general and ex-CIA director with a question about his extramarital affair with his admiring biographer Paula Broadwell, which precipitated his CIA resignation in November 2012.

Many an aging male ego has been massaged by the attentions of someone like Broadwell, and she seemed happy to do the massaging to expedite the research on All In, her biography of the fabled general. I had decided to resist the temptation to refer to the Biblical admonition against entrusting large matters to those who cannot be faithful in small things.

The affair may not have been a small thing to Mrs. Petraeus, but it pales in significance when compared to the death and destruction resulting from Petraeus’s self-aggrandizing disingenuousness and dissembling about prospects for eventual success in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Petraeus Agonistes

Assuming that Petraeus’s expertise in counterinsurgency warfare was more than mere pretense, he knew both expeditions were doomed to failure. And he certainly now knows the inevitable answer to the question he famously posed to journalist Rick Atkinson in 2003 as U.S. forces troops began to get mired down in the sand of Iraq “Tell Me How This Ends.”

The twin conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq “ended” if that’s the right word for these late-stage fiascos with two additional stars pinned to Petraeus’s uniform and with some 6,700 gold stars sent to the wives, husbands, or parents of U.S. troops killed, plus tens of thousands of purple hearts for those badly injured in both body and mind. A bad bargain for the American people and especially the dead and maimed U.S. troops not to mention the hundreds of thousands of dead and maimed Afghans and Iraqis but a pretty successful career move for Petraeus, if not for his fateful extramarital affair.

Surely, in the grim light of all the bloodshed, L’Affaire Broadwell can be seen as a minor peccadillo, the least of Petraeus’s sins. But many of his ardent admirers view the sexual indiscretion as the only blot on his otherwise spotless dress uniform festooned with row after row of medals and ribbons.

It was my intent to put the spotlight, via a question or two, on Petraeus’s far more consequentially dishonest behavior. And this seemed particularly important at this point in time, as his starry-eyed emulator generals seem no less willing than Petraeus to throw a new wave of youth from a poverty draft into a fool’s-errand sequel in Iraq and Syria.

In any event, it seems reasonably clear why they did not let me enter the 92nd Street Y on Oct. 30. Someone thought that the thin-skinned ex-general might be discomforted by a less-than-admiring question. His speech was to be another moment for Petraeus to bathe in public adulation, not confront a citizen or two who might pose critical queries. [For more on Petraeus and his acolytes, see’s “Petraeus Spared Ray McGovern’s Question.”]

Lingering Mystery

But one mystery lingers. The “organs of state security” (the words used by the Soviets to refer to their intelligence/security services) were lying in wait for me when I walked into the Y? Why? How on earth did they know I was coming?

My initial reaction was that the culprit could be a lingering BOLO, the “Be on the Look-Out” warning that the State Department had issued against me earlier for my non-violent anti-war stances. In September, thanks to a civil rights lawsuit filed on my behalf by the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund (PCJF), the State Department rescinded that BOLO alert for me, under which State Department agents had been ordered to stop and question me on sight.

State Department documents acquired under the Freedom of Information Act showed that the damning evidence behind that draconian (and patently unconstitutional) order was “political activism, primarily anti-war.”

The proximate cause was my standing silently with my back to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Feb. 15, 2011, to protest the unconscionably violent policies she had promoted, including her vote for the Bush-Cheney war of aggression against Iraq (which she thought politically smart at the time) and her infamous suggestion during her political campaign that we could “obliterate” Iran.

In response to my silent protest, I was roughed up, cuffed, arrested, and jailed as Clinton delivered a major speech at George Washington University admonishing foreign governments not to stifle dissent. Heedless of the irony, Clinton did not miss a syllable, much less a word, as she watched me snatched directly in front of her and brutally removed. [See’s “Standing Up to War and Hillary Clinton.”]

The charges were immediately dropped, since there were simply too many cameras recording what actually did happen to me. A State Department investigation into my background came up dry; but the words “political activism, primarily anti-war” were enough to get me BOLOed.

The State Department assured my pro bono lawyers at the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund that State not only had rescinded the BOLO but also had notified other law enforcement agencies that the BOLO was “non-operational.” But I remained suspicious that, while the State Department’s assurance may have been made in good faith, God only knows (and then only if God has the proper clearances) what other organs of state security had entered the “derogatory” information about the danger of my “political activism” into their data bases.

Had my “derog” been shared, perhaps, with the ever-proliferating number of “fusion centers” that were so effective in sharing information to track and thwart the activists of Occupy including subversives like Quakers and Catholic Workers? However, as I reflected on the circumstances of my arrest on Oct. 30, I came to discount the possible role of the BOLO.

Taken by Surprise

As I walked up the steps to the 92nd Street Y on Oct. 30, I had no idea there would be a reprise of the treatment accorded me three-and-a-half years ago at Hillary Clinton’s speech.

My friend and associate in Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS) Bill Binney, a former Technical Director at the National Security Agency before he left in protest against NSA’s unconstitutional eavesdropping on Americans, long since advised me to assume that I am one of several thousands subjected to post-Fourth-Amendment surveillance.

So I had taken the precaution of asking a friend, who was in no way linked to me via email or phone records, to order the ticket for me, just on the off-chance the organs of state security might learn I intended to hear Petraeus speak at the 92nd Street Y and might do something to prevent my attending.

Actually, it was pure coincidence that I happened to be in New York on the day of the Petraeus event. Months before, I had committed to teaching classes at Manhattan and Fordham universities on Oct. 30. I learned of the Petraeus event much later.

At that point, I chose what I thought would be a safe way to purchase a ticket. But I apparently failed to practice the kind of “tradecraft” in terms of limiting associations that is needed to function in today’s democratic society.

How did the organs of state security learn I was coming? It is more likely to have been guilt by association than the residue from a BOLO. In short, when I travel to New York to teach, I normally email my friend Martha at Maryhouse in the Bowery the Catholic Worker house founded by her grandmother, Dorothy Day.

If there is a free bed, I gratefully receive Catholic Worker hospitality and have a chance to enjoy the company of those who have been placed at the margins of society, as well to witness the selfless kindness of those forming authentic relationships with them.

Here’s the catch. Catholic Workers are involved not only in extending hospitality but also in activism, trying, as Dorothy Day did, to make the world a less violent, more caring place. It is primarily the activism, of course, that brings scrutiny from the organs of security, but you might call it “political activism, primarily anti-war,” as the State Department did.

Moreover, the Catholic Worker Movement is an international organization widely looked upon as subversive of the Establishment, and this adds to the suspicion. In recent years, many of my Catholic Worker friends have been arrested for protesting the use of drones to kill foreigners dubbed “militants,” most of whom don’t look like most of us.

But the targets can now include American citizens, as President Barack Obama turns the Constitution upside down and takes it upon himself to act as judge, jury and executioner. Yes, the Fifth Amendment has gone the way of the Fourth, and the First has become an endangered species. Worth protesting before it too is extinct, would you not agree?

At The Tombs

In a kind of poetic justice, it turns out my friend Martha has the same court date as I have the morning of Dec. 8 at the New York City Criminal Court building (aka “The Tombs”) at 100 Centre Street in New York, where I spent the night/morning of Oct. 30/31. She was arrested with about 100 others at a Sept. 22 action dubbed “Flood Wall Street,” protesting the important role of the financial industry in facilitating air pollution and global warming.

In an aside, Martha told me that the police had as much trouble getting handcuffs on the “polar bear” sitting next to her that day as they did on Oct. 30 trying to bend my injured left shoulder back far enough to get the cuffs on me. I look forward to standing at the same dock where Martha will be defending her action which was very much in the tradition of “Grannie.”

My Catholic Worker friends comfort the afflicted, while in no way shying away from afflicting the comfortable, as the saying goes. And for that, they often pay a price, including being snooped upon, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, for exercising their rights under the First.

I am not making this up: In the fall of 2010, Justice Department Inspector General Glenn Fine criticized the FBI for conducting “anti-terrorism” spy operations against the Catholic Worker Movement and even the Thomas Merton Center in Pittsburgh. According to Fine, spies were sent into the Merton Center to “look for international terrorists.” One of the informers photographed a woman he thought was of “Middle Eastern descent” to have her checked out by “terrorism analysts.”

So my possible tradecraft lapse may have been contacting my Catholic Worker friends. On Oct. 26, I sent Martha an email with the innocuous title, “Room in the Inn?” It contained the usual request for simple lodging at the Catholic Worker together with details regarding my classes at Fordham and Manhattan and the Petraeus event.

While the title and other metadata accompanying that message might seem singularly unsuspicious, eavesdroppers covering Martha’s or my email addresses (or both) would have had no trouble ferreting out an email exchange following an earlier attempt to attend an event at the 92nd Street Y, three years ago.

On Sept. 8, 2011, a group of Catholic Workers, together with others all of us with valid tickets were summarily expelled, most of us 10 minutes before an event sponsored by the Jewish Policy Center. That event bore the title “9/11 a Decade Later: Lessons Learned and Future Challenges” and featured former Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, ex-Attorney General Michael Mukasey, and George W. Bush’s press spokesman Ari Fleisher. It was moderated by neoconservative talk show host Michael Medved.

Since I was not among those subjected to Y security’s preventive strike before the performance, I sat quietly for Medved’s opening rant about radical, fundamentalist Muslim terrorists, but then stood up in silent witness against the right-wing invective. I was unceremoniously, violently thrown out after a mere two minutes.

More relevant here: I still have in my email inbox a message of encouragement dated Sept. 12, 2011, in which Martha reminded me that every action, “successful” or not, is important; adding, “We of the Catholic Worker are ‘fools for Christ,’ as the saying goes.”

Only Metadata

You are perhaps thinking that the National Security Agency stores only metadata; and, if so, you would be wrong. Content is saved. So if the government wants to access the content of emails from the past, no problem.

As Bill Binney reminded me, former FBI director Robert Mueller let that particular cat out of the bag three-and-a-half years ago. In his testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on March 30, 2011, Mueller bragged about having access to “past emails and future ones as they come in.”

Binney explains that the metadata is used to access the content. And, thanks to the documents provided by Edward Snowden, we know that under NSA’s PRISM operation, data is routinely collected directly from Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, Apple (and God knows where else, again assuming God is cleared).

So my best guess is that I can blame the “subversive” activities of the Catholic Workers and the monitoring of them by the organs of state security, for my recent arrest and overnight accommodations in The Tombs.

The people at the World Can’t Wait in New York, who were also aware of my plan to take in the Petraeus performance, are known to have been targets of eavesdropping, too. With the surfeit of people sorting through emails from suspicious folks, it may be that both the Catholic Workers and the World Can’t Wait were monitored all to keep us safe, of course.

It seems the height of irony that it may have been NSA’s eavesdropping that enabled the White House to get rid of Petraeus, when he was getting too big for his britches (and I allude here not only to his dalliance with Broadwell). To Bill Binney, it is clear as day that the President was ready to move against Petraeus right after Obama’s re-election in November 2012.

A Final, Sad Irony

A couple of days after my arrest and jailing, I received a sympathetic email from “George” in Germany, who described himself as a national security whistleblower in his own right. George strongly suggested I ditch my Gmail account.

“Before Edward Snowden’s revelations last spring,” he said, “I too was using Gmail as my primary address. I was dismayed to learn that Google was an NSA PRISM partner.” George strongly suggested that I switch to a more trustworthy email provider outside the U.S. and actually suggested one in particular.

Why ironic? In the years after my birth in 1939, Germany was widely considered the cutting edge on matters of eavesdropping and enhanced interrogation techniques, and most Germans didn’t challenge these forms of oppression even when it touched them personally. Perhaps saddest of all, those with some pretense to moral leadership first and foremost the Catholic and Lutheran Churches could not find their voice. Is that history repeating itself in the U.S.?

In Defying Hitler, Sebastian Haffner’s journal of his life as a lawyer in training to become a judge in Berlin in the early 1930s, the author (whose real name was Raimund Pretzel) provides an eerily reminiscent account of what ensued after Berlin’s equivalent of the attacks of 9/11 the burning of the Reichstag.

“I do not see that one can blame the majority of Germans who, in 1933, believed that the Reichstag fire was the work of the Communists. What one can blame them for, and what shows their terrible collective weakness of character … is that this settled the matter.

“With sheepish submissiveness, the German people accepted that, as a result of the fire, each one of them lost what little personal freedom and dignity was guaranteed by the constitution, as though it followed as a necessary consequence. If the Communists had burned down the Reichstag, it was perfectly in order that the government took ‘decisive measures.’ … from now on, one’s telephone would be tapped, one’s letters opened, and one’s desk might be broken into.” (pp. 121-122).

Substitute Americans for Germans, terrorists for Communists, September 11, 2001, for 1933, and give some thought to where we seem to be headed. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. warned that “there is such a thing as being too late,” a quotation that, ironically, President Obama is fond of citing. It would be a good thing if we Americans woke from our lethargy before it is too late.

Ray McGovern works for Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. He served as an Army officer and then a CIA analyst for a total of 30 years, including two tours in Germany. He now serves on the Steering Group of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Obama’s Last Chance

Exclusive: For six years, President Obama has bent to the will of Official Washington by reneging on promises to the American people for “transparency” and operating instead as an out-of-touch “insider.” Now, the Democratic election debacle offers him a last chance to remember why he was elected, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

The Democrats clearly deserved to lose on Tuesday, though the Republicans may not have deserved to win. Indeed, there was almost a yin-yang quality to the Democratic rout/Republican victory in which the Democrats played into almost all the Republican themes, making the outcome feel inevitable.

Most notably, President Barack Obama and the Democrats shelved all the “contentious” issues that might have rallied their “base” to turn out and vote. Immigration reform was put on hold; release of the Senate report on “torture” was postponed; what to do about “global warming” was ignored; the argument about the value of activist government was silenced; etc., etc., etc.

On a personal level, supposedly polarizing “liberal” candidates, such as actor Ashley Judd in Kentucky, were pushed aside in favor of supposedly more “electable” candidates, like Alison Lundergan Grimes. Unwilling to say whether she had voted for President Obama in 2012, Grimes managed to win only 41 percent of the vote against the perennially unpopular Republican Sen. Mitch McConnell.

Obama himself was virtually sidelined from many races in what was an implicit Democratic admission of the Republican theme that Obama was a failure and that he deserved an electoral repudiation. The smell of fear pervaded the Democratic ranks and panic is not the most inspiring of emotions.

In some states, the Democrats seemed enamored with what might be called the “nepotism strategy,” counting on the “magic” of political names and family connections to somehow overcome their lack of message and their image of timidity: Pryor in Arkansas, Grimes in Kentucky, Nunn in Georgia all went down to decisive defeat.

In the bigger picture, the Democratic failure seems part and parcel with the broader weakness of progressivism in the United States. The Right continues to dominate in areas of media and messaging, investing billions upon billions of dollars in a vertically integrated media apparatus, from the older technologies of print, radio and TV to the newer ones around the Internet. The Right also has layers upon layers of think tanks and other propaganda outlets.

By comparison, the Left has never made anything close to a comparable investment. And, even the ostensibly “liberal” network MSNBC and the purportedly “liberal” New York Times fall into line behind neoconservative foreign policy initiatives at nearly every turn, such as the “regime change” campaigns in Syria, Iran and Ukraine. So, too, do many of the supposedly “liberal” think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution and the New America Foundation.

Indeed, a remarkable reality about U.S. policy circles is that six years after the end of George W. Bush’s disastrous neocon-dominated presidency, the neocons continue to dominate America’s foreign policy thinking, albeit sometimes rebranded as “liberal interventionism.”

A ‘Closet Realist’

Though President Obama may be something of a “closet realist” hoping to work quietly with foreign adversaries to resolve international crises he has never taken firm control over his own foreign policy.

Obama apparently thought that neocon holdovers from the Bush years, like Gen. David Petraeus or Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, and Democratic neocons, such as his first Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, would somehow drop their ideological certitudes and cooperate with his approach.

Instead, the neocons and their “liberal interventionist” allies burrowed deep into the foreign policy bureaucracy and pop up periodically to press for their war-mongering agendas. A distracted President Obama always seems outmaneuvered from the 2009 Afghan “surge,” to the 2010 stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, to the 2011 civil wars in Libya and Syria, to the 2014 Ukrainian coup d’etat.

Arriving late at each new crisis, Obama usually signs off on what the neocons want, although he intermittently pushes for his “realist” approach, such as collaborating with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in avoiding a U.S. war on Syria in 2013 and negotiating a peaceful settlement to Iran’s nuclear program, which could be completed in 2014 if Obama doesn’t lose his nerve.

The big question now is whether the Democrats’ humiliating defeat on Nov. 4 will teach Obama and the party any meaningful lessons or will the Democrats just kid themselves into thinking that “demographics” will save them or that they will prevail in 2016 by avoiding controversial stands and putting up another famous “name,” in Hillary Clinton.

Will Obama finally realize that he has to revert back to his inspiring messages of 2008 on issues such as his promise of government transparency? For the past six years, transparency has worked only one way: the government gets to look into the secrets of citizens while the citizens have no right to know about the government’s secrets.

There is a fundamental disconnect between this image of an intrusive federal government spying on everyone and the progressive concept that an active federal government is necessary to address fundamental problems facing the American people and the world, such as what to do about global warming, income inequality, corporate power, racial injustice, etc.

What I’m hearing from many young progressives is that they are so resentful of government intrusions into their lives that they are veering more toward libertarianism, even though it offers no solutions to most environmental, economic and social problems. If Obama hopes to stanch this flow of progressive youth to the right, he needs to finally recognize that the people need transparency on the government and the government must learn to trust the people.

An obvious first step would be to override CIA objections and release the report on torture during the Bush years. And while Obama is at it, he should make public the secret pages from the 9/11 report relating to Saudi funding for al-Qaeda terrorists.

I’m also told that Obama has information that contradicts his administration’s early claims blaming the Aug. 21, 2013 sarin gas attack on the Syrian government and faulting Russia for the July 17, 2014 shoot-down of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine. Those two incidents fueled dangerous international confrontations with the United States nearly going to war against the Syrian government in 2013 and starting a new Cold War with Russia in 2014.

If Obama has U.S. intelligence information that points the finger of blame in different directions, he should correct the impressions left by Secretary of State John Kerry and other U.S. officials. The neocons won’t like that and some “liberal interventionists” may have egg on their faces, too but misleading propaganda has no place in a democracy. False information must be removed as quickly as possible.

Similarly, Obama should commit his administration to expediting release of historical secrets. Currently, it takes many years, even decades, to pry loose embarrassing “secrets” from the U.S. government, often allowing false historical narratives to take hold or creating a hot house for conspiracy theories. It’s way past time for the U.S. government to give the American people their history back.

By releasing as much information as possible about important topics, Obama could finally begin to win back the people’s trust, not just in him but in the government. Nothing is as corrosive to democratic governance as a belief by the people that the government doesn’t trust them and that they, in turn, have no reason to trust the government.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Journalism and Reality

From Editor Robert Parry: One thing that I’ve learned from my four-plus decades in journalism is that many people only like reporting that reinforces what they already believe. Facts that go off in a different direction can make them angry and they are usually not hesitant to express their anger.

For instance, in the 1980s, when I was covering the Nicaraguan Contra rebels for the Associated Press, many readers of AP copy, including some of my editors, shared Ronald Reagan’s enthusiasm for these “freedom fighters” whom Reagan likened to America’s Founding Fathers.

So, when I discovered the Contras engaging in a variety of criminal activity, from extrajudicial killings, rapes, torture and drug trafficking, my reporting was unwelcome both inside and outside the AP (and later I encountered the same hostility at Newsweek). The usual response was to challenge my journalism and to pretend that the ugly reality wasn’t the reality.

You might say that that’s just the life of a journalist. Get over it. And you’d have a point. But the larger problem is that this trend toward what you might call “selective narrative” appears to be accelerating. Ideologues and partisans don’t just make arguments for their causes, they create overarching narratives to validate their causes.

And the more money and the more media that a group has the more effective it is in imposing its narrative on the broader unsuspecting (and often ill-informed) public.

In the Contra example, many Americans believed in President Reagan and thus were open to the pro-Contra narrative that Reagan’s team skillfully deployed. Information that ran counter to the propaganda of “white hat” Contras fighting “black hat” Sandinistas was seen as discordant and needed to be stamped out along with anyone associated with it.

In 1996, when San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb called to ask me about my Contra-cocaine experience (before he published his “Dark Alliance” series), it was this hostility toward any criticism of the Contras that I warned him about as he contemplated reviving the scandal.

Tragically, my concerns based on my own experience were well-founded. Not only the CIA and government spokesmen went after Webb’s story but virtually all the major news organizations (which had ignored or disparaged the scandal in the 1980s). These events are recounted in the new movie, “Kill the Messenger.” [Also, see’s “WPost’s Slimy Attack on Gary Webb.”]

But a similar pattern holds true in other cases of presenting facts that conflict with what some people choose to believe. I have seen this both in challenging mainstream “conventional wisdom” and out-on-the-fringe “conspiracy theories.” Many people only want their preconceptions reinforced; they don’t want to rethink them.

False Founding Narrative

Most recently, I have encountered this phenomenon in pointing out fallacies in the right-wing (and sometimes left-wing) Founding Narrative, which presents the Framers of the Constitution in anti-historical ways in order to validate policies being promoted for the present, i.e., to make it appear that some modern position was shared by the Framers.

So, on the radical Left and Libertarian/Tea Party Right, you might get the depiction of the Framers as government-hating revolutionaries who wanted a heavily armed population prepared to kill representatives of an oppressive political system. It has also become an article of faith in some circles that the authors of the Constitution favored strong states’ rights and hated the notion of a strong central government.

Yet, that is simply not the history. The principal Framers of the Constitution were a group known as the Federalists. Led by General George Washington and his able acolytes James Madison and Alexander Hamilton, the Federalists despised the system of states’ rights contained in the Articles of Confederation and they assembled in Philadelphia in 1787, in part, out of alarm over the Shays Rebellion in western Massachusetts, which some of Washington’s former Revolutionary War commanders had just put down.

The Federalists devised as strong a central government as they could possibly get through to ratification. Madison even favored greater federal dominance by giving the U.S. Congress veto power over all state laws, a proposal that was watered down although federal law was still made supreme.

In other words, the Constitution’s Framers wanted to stabilize the young country, protect its fragile independence and rely on a strong central government to build its future. That is the history, albeit an inconvenient history for many folks these days who are selling the American people on a false Founding Narrative.

So, when I point out these facts, there is an angry backlash. I’m accused of being a “statist” or “just a journalist,” not a historian whatever’s necessary to protect the false narrative. Instead of simply arguing their case for a smaller government or a heavily armed population or whatever on the merits, these people get angry because their historical references have been debunked.

Perhaps it’s naive to think that ideologues and partisans will ever surrender what is a useful argument, no matter how false it is. But there should be some honesty in political debate and some respect for the actual facts and the real history.

Robert Parry is a longtime investigative reporter who broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for the Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. He founded in 1995 to create an outlet for well-reported journalism that was being squeezed out of an increasingly trivialized U.S. news media.

The Right’s Tenth Amendment Myth

Exclusive: Millions of Americans have been deceived into a false understanding of what the Constitution’s Framers intended because of a right-wing lie about the significance of the insignificant Tenth Amendment, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

A central part of the American Right’s false Founding Narrative is that the Tenth Amendment trumps the Constitution’s creation of a powerful central government that possesses a mandate to do what’s necessary to provide for the country’s “general Welfare.” In Right-Wing World, the Tenth Amendment gives nearly all powers to the states.

Yet, the reality is that the Tenth Amendment is one of the most meaningless of all the amendments to the U.S. Constitution, except maybe the Eighteenth, which prohibited the sale of liquor and was subsequently repealed by the Twenty-first Amendment.

Indeed, the Tenth Amendment read in the context of the broad powers that the Federalist authors of the Constitution gave to the central government carries almost no weight at all. It says: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by the States, are reserved to the States respectively or to the people.”

But the relevant point is that the Constitution granted nearly unlimited power to the U.S. Congress to enact legislation on behalf of “the general Welfare” within the context of republican governance, with the approval of the U.S. president, and with the sign-off of the U.S. Supreme Court.

This concept — embraced by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, George Washington and other Framers — was to rely on the Constitution’s intricate checks and balances to prevent government overreach, not to hamstring the people’s elected representatives from doing what was necessary to build the nation both then and in the future.

This reality of what was done in Philadelphia in 1787 was not lost on either supporters or opponents of the Constitution. The so-called Anti-Federalists were shocked that the Federalists had, in effect, hijacked the Constitutional Convention away from its original goal of amending the Articles of Confederation, which made the states “sovereign” and “independent” and left the central government as merely a “firm league of friendship.”

But General George Washington, in particular, despised the concept of states’ rights, since he had seen his Continental Army go without pay and supplies to nearly starve during the Revolutionary War. He was joined in this sentiment by his bright protégé Madison and his old wartime aide-de-camp Hamilton.

So, the Constitutional Convention tossed out the Articles of Confederation and proposed a new structure making “We the People of the United States” the nation’s new sovereign and relegating the states to an inferior status, what Madison called “subordinately useful.”

Angry People

I realize that this reality or my pointing it out makes some people angry. They want to believe that their hatred of the federal government matched what the Framers felt. And the Right has done a remarkable job in propagandizing a large segment of the U.S. population into believing this invented narrative.

Some right-wing believers even insist that any action by the U.S. government to provide for “the general Welfare” is “unconstitutional,” such as the Affordable Care Act which addressed what was an undeniable threat to “the general Welfare,” the fact that tens of millions of Americans were forced to live in fear of premature death because they could not afford health insurance.

But the Framers’ mandate to provide for “the general Welfare” was not some mistake or afterthought. It is included both in the famous Preamble and in Article One, Section Eight, which delineates the so-called “enumerated powers.” There, the Constitution states “That Congress shall have Power To provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States,” with the only stated restriction that “all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

Article One, Section Eight further grants Congress the power “To make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution the foregoing Powers, and all other Powers vested by this Constitution in the Government of the United States, or in any Department or Officer thereof.”

Put together, as Alexander Hamilton and other Federalists noted, the Constitution empowered Congress to do what was needed to protect and build the new nation. As historian Jada Thacker wrote, “these clauses restated in the vernacular flatly announce that ‘Congress can make any law it feels is necessary to provide for whatever it considers the general welfare of the country.’”

And that was not just the view of the Federalists back then or some historian today. It was why the enemies of the Constitution fought so hard to block its ratification in 1788. For instance, New Yorker Robert Yates, who walked out of the convention in protest, wrote a month after the Constitution had been completed:

“This government is to possess absolute and uncontrollable power, legislative, executive and judicial, with respect to every object to which it extends. The government then, so far as it extends, is a complete one. It has the authority to make laws which will affect the lives, the liberty, and the property of every man in the United States; nor can the constitution or the laws of any state, in any way prevent or impede the full and complete execution of every power given.”

Madison, then a staunch Federalist, had favored giving even more power to Congress and making the states even more subordinate. “Madison wanted the federal assembly to have a veto over the state assemblies,” wrote David Wootton, author of The Essential Federalist and Anti-Federalist Papers. But Madison’s veto idea was jettisoned in favor of giving the federal courts the power to judge whether state laws violated the Constitution.

Fighting the Constitution

Despite these few concessions, the Constitution emerged from the secret meetings in Philadelphia as a stunning assertion of federal power. Anti-Federalists immediately recognized what had happened and rallied strong opposition to the new governing framework.

As dissidents from the Pennsylvania delegation wrote: “We dissent because the powers vested in Congress by this constitution, must necessarily annihilate and absorb the legislative, executive, and judicial powers of the several states, and produce from their ruins one consolidated government.” [See’s “The Right’s Inside-Out Constitution.”]

The Constitution’s broad powers were particularly alarming to southern slaveholders because of the prospect that the North would eventually gain economic and political supremacy and push through anti-slavery legislation that would wipe out the South’s vast investment in human chattel and thus destroy the region’s plantation aristocracy.

Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason made this argument most aggressively to Virginia’s ratifying convention, with Henry warning the Commonwealth’s slave owners that if they approved the new governing structure, “they’ll free your niggers!”

Faced with these alarms about federal powers, Madison agreed to propose some limiting amendments though he felt that a Bill of Rights was superfluous. Nevertheless, some of the first ten amendments did specifically restrict Congress’s power.

For instance, the First Amendment begins with the phrase “Congress shall make no law” while other amendments assert specific rights of citizens. The Tenth Amendment, however, simply states that powers not granted to the national government by the Constitution remain with the people and states.

Thus, the scope of the Tenth Amendment is entirely dependent on what preceded it, i.e., the nearly unlimited powers that the Constitution granted to the national government. In other words, if the Framers declared as they did that Congress could enact any law that it deemed necessary to promote “the general Welfare” and that federal law would be supreme, then the Tenth Amendment meant almost nothing since there were few powers left over for the states. It was a sop to the Anti-Federalists.

Still, the Constitution’s opponents especially slave owners in Virginia did not just surrender after ratification. Instead, they devised a clever strategy for preventing the possibility that Congress would wipe out their massive capital investment in slavery.

Behind the charismatic Thomas Jefferson, who was in Paris in 1787 and thus did not participate in the Constitutional Convention, the plantation aristocracy simply pretended that the Constitution didn’t mean what it said.

Jefferson’s Wordsmithing

Jefferson, one of Virginia’s biggest slaveholders and a masterful wordsmith, promulgated the absurd notion of “strict construction,” which meant that only specific powers mentioned in Article One, Section Eight could be exercised by Congress. Regarding domestic policy, that meant such relatively narrow powers as coining money, setting up post offices, establishing rules for nationalization, regulating interstate commerce, etc.

Jefferson’s “strict construction” was absurd because it ignored the obvious intent of the Framers and the need for the United States to act in ways that could not be specifically anticipated in 1787, a reality that confronted Jefferson himself after he was elected president in 1800.

Three years later, President Jefferson had the opportunity to buy the Louisiana Territories from France but there was no wording in Article One, Section Eight about expanding the size of the United States. Clearly, the Framers had enacted elastic phrasing for just such an eventuality but Jefferson had insisted on his crazy “strict construction” argument.

So, what did Jefferson do? He simply ignored his previous “principle” and implicitly accepted the Federalist interpretation of the Constitution, which they had principally authored. Congress approved the purchase of the Louisiana Territories doubling the size of the United States and giving Jefferson what is regarded as his greatest accomplishment as president.

Though even Jefferson the inventor of “strict construction” chose to repudiate his own argument, this insidious notion has survived the past two centuries in the fetid swamps of Right-Wing World.

It was a factor in the South’s resistance to anti-slavery restrictions that preceded the Civil War and it has been touted in modern times by such right-wing luminaries as Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia as part of his self-serving “originalism,” i.e., whatever Scalia wants done must have been what the Framers wanted done.

The real history of the Constitution has little impact on these ideologues. They have simply found it useful to wrap themselves in the cloaks of the Framers even when that requires distorting what the actual Framers intended.

While there can be legitimate arguments about the proper size and scope of the federal government (or for that matter any government), the facts should be the facts and the history should be the history. The Right, however, has deceived millions of Americans into believing a false narrative about the U.S. Constitution and the nation’s Founding for the purpose of distorting the debate.

[For more on this history, see’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison” and “Thomas Jefferson: America’s Founding Sociopath.”]

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Will the Right’s Fake History Prevail?

Exclusive: Tea Partiers have convinced millions of Americans that they are standing with the Constitution’s Framers in a common disdain for a strong, activist federal government. That is false history but it is undergirding the expected Republican congressional victories on Tuesday, writes Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

If most polls are correct and voters elect a Republican-controlled Congress on Tuesday, a principal reason is that many Americans have been sold on a false recounting of the nation’s Founding Narrative. They have bought the Right’s made-up storyline about the Constitution’s Framers detesting a strong federal government and favoring states’ rights.

This notion of the Framers as enemies of an activist national government is untrue but has become a popular meme as promoted through the vast right-wing media and accepted by the timid mainstream press, which is unwilling to fight for an accurate portrayal of what the Federalists who wrote the Constitution intended.

So, without much pushback from those who know better, the Tea Partiers, Libertarians and many Republicans have successfully walled off much of the U.S. population from the actual history, which would reveal the American Right to be arguably the opposite of true patriots in its disdain for the assertive national governance devised in 1787.

Plus, the Right’s fake interpretation of the Constitution cannot be disentangled from the disgraceful history of slavery, segregation and today’s renewed efforts to prevent black and brown Americans from voting.

Indeed, race has always been an intrinsic element in the American Right’s history, which can be roughly divided into four eras: the pre-Confederate period from 1787 to 1860 when slave owners first opposed and then sought to constrain the Constitution, viewing it as a threat to slavery; the actual Confederacy from 1861 to 1865 when the South took up arms against the Constitution in defense of slavery; the post-Confederate era from 1866 to the 1960s when white racists violently thwarted constitutional protections for blacks; and the neo-Confederate era from 1969 to today when these racists jumped to the Republican Party in an attempt to extend white supremacy behind various code words and subterfuges.

It is true that the racist Right has often moved in tandem with the wealthy-elite Right, which has regarded the regulatory powers of the federal government as a threat to the ability of rich industrialists to operate corporations and to control the economy without regard to the larger public good.

But the historical reality is that both the white supremacists and the anti-regulatory corporatists viewed the Constitution as a threat to their interests because of its creation of a powerful central government that was given a mandate to “promote the general Welfare.” The Constitution was far from perfect and its authors did not always have the noblest of motives, but it created a structure that could reflect the popular will and be used for the nation’s good.

The key Framers of the Constitution the likes of George Washington, James Madison (who then was a protégé of Washington) Alexander Hamilton and Gouverneur Morris (who wrote the famous Preamble) were what might be called “pragmatic nationalists” determined to do what was necessary to protect the nation’s fragile independence and to advance the country’s economic development.

In 1787, the Framers’ principal concern was that the existing government structure the Articles of Confederation was unworkable because it embraced a system of strong states, deemed “sovereign” and “independent,” and a weak central government called simply a “league of friendship” among the states.

The Constitution flipped that relationship, making federal law supreme and seeking to make the states “subordinately useful,” in Madison’s evocative phrase. Though the Constitution did make implicit concessions to slavery in order to persuade southern delegates to sign on, the shift toward federal dominance was immediately perceived as an eventual threat to slavery.

Fearing for Slavery

Key Anti-Federalists, such as Virginia’s Patrick Henry and George Mason, argued that over time the more industrial North would grow dominant and insist on the elimination of slavery. And, it was known that a number of key participants at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, including Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton, were strongly opposed to slavery and that Washington was troubled by human bondage though a slaveholder himself.

So, Henry and Mason cited the threat to slavery as their hot-button argument against ratification. In 1788, Henry warned his fellow Virginians that if they approved the Constitution, it would put their massive capital investment in slaves in jeopardy. Imagining the possibility of a federal tax on slaveholding, Henry declared, “They’ll free your niggers!”

It is a testament to how we have whitewashed U.S. history on the evils of slavery that Patrick Henry is far better known for his declaration before the Revolution, “Give me liberty or give me death!” than his equally pithy warning, “They’ll free your niggers!”

Similarly, George Mason, Henry’s collaborator in trying to scare Virginia’s slaveholders into opposing the Constitution, is recalled as an instigator of the Bill of Rights, rather than as a defender of slavery. A key “freedom” that Henry and Mason fretted about was the “freedom” of plantation owners to possess other human beings as property.

As historians Andrew Burstein and Nancy Isenberg wrote in their 2010 book, Madison and Jefferson, Henry and Mason argued that “slavery, the source of Virginia’s tremendous wealth, lay politically unprotected.” Besides the worry about how the federal government might tax slave-ownership, there was the fear that the President as commander in chief might “federalize” the state militias and emancipate the slaves.

Though the Anti-Federalists lost the struggle to block ratification, they soon shifted into a strategy of redefining the federal powers contained in the Constitution, with the goal of minimizing them and thus preventing a strong federal government from emerging as a threat to slavery.

In this early stage of the pre-Confederacy era, the worried slave owners turned to one of their own, Thomas Jefferson, the principal author of the Declaration of Independence and a charismatic politician who had been in France during the drafting and ratification of the Constitution and enactment of the Bill of Rights.

Though Jefferson had criticized the new governing document especially over its broad executive powers, he was not an outright opponent and thus was a perfect vehicle for seeking to limit the Constitution’s reach. Even as Washington’s Secretary of State, Jefferson began organizing against the formation of the new government as it was being designed by the Federalists, especially Washington’s energetic Treasury Secretary Alexander Hamilton.

The Federalists, who were the principal Framers, understood the Constitution to grant the central government all necessary powers to “provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States.” However, Jefferson and his fellow Southern slaveholders were determined to limit those powers by reinterpreting what the Constitution allowed much more narrowly. [See’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]

Partisan Warfare

Through the 1790s, Jefferson and his Southern-based faction engaged in fierce partisan warfare against the Federalists, particularly Alexander Hamilton but also John Adams and implicitly George Washington. Jefferson opposed the Federalist program that sought to promote the country’s development through everything from a national bank to a professional military to a system of roads and canals to support for manufacturing.

As Jefferson’s faction gained strength, it also pulled in James Madison who, for reasons of political survival and personal finances, embraced the slave interests of his fellow Virginians. Madison essentially moved from under Washington’s wing to under Jefferson’s. Then, with Madison’s acquiescence, Jefferson developed the extra-constitutional theories of state “nullification” of federal law and even the principle of secession.

Historians Burstein and Isenberg wrote in Madison and Jefferson that these two important Founders must be understood as, first and foremost, politicians representing the interests of Virginia where the two men lived nearby each other on plantations worked by African-American slaves, Jefferson at Monticello and Madison at Montpelier.

“It is hard for most to think of Madison and Jefferson and admit that they were Virginians first, Americans second,” Burstein and Isenberg said. “But this fact seems beyond dispute. Virginians felt they had to act to protect the interests of the Old Dominion, or else, before long, they would become marginalized by a northern-dominated economy.

“Virginians who thought in terms of the profit to be reaped in land were often reluctant to invest in manufacturing enterprises. The real tragedy is that they chose to speculate in slaves rather than in textile factories and iron works. And so as Virginians tied their fortunes to the land, they failed to extricate themselves from a way of life that was limited in outlook and produced only resistance to economic development.”

Because of political mistakes by the Federalists and Jefferson’s success in portraying himself as an advocate of simple farmers (when he was really the avatar for the plantation owners), Jefferson and his Democratic-Republicans prevailed in the election of 1800, clearing the way for a more constrained interpretation of the Constitution and a 24-year Virginia Dynasty over the White House with Jefferson, Madison and James Monroe, all slaveholders.

By the time the Virginia Dynasty ended, slavery had spread to newer states to the west and was more deeply entrenched than ever before. Indeed, not only was Virginia’s agriculture tied to the institution of slavery but after the Constitution banned the importation of slaves in 1808, Virginia developed a new industry, the breeding of slaves for sale to new states in the west. Jefferson even wanted all the new states from the Louisiana Territories to be slave states. [For details on this history, see’s “The Right’s Dubious Claim to Madison” and “Thomas Jefferson: America’s Founding Sociopath.”]

Toward Civil War

Thus, America’s course to the Civil War was set. Ironically the warnings of Patrick Henry and George Mason proved prescient as the growing industrial strength of the North gave momentum to a movement for abolishing slavery. When Abraham Lincoln, the presidential candidate for the new anti-slavery Republican Party, won the 1860 election, southern slave states seceded from the Union, claiming they were defending the principle of states’ rights but really they were protecting the economic interests of slave owners.

The South’s bloody defeat in the Civil War finally ended slavery and the North sought for several years to “reconstruct” the South as a place that would respect the rights of freed slaves. But the traditional white power structure reasserted itself, employing violence against blacks and the so-called “carpetbaggers” from the North.

As white Southerners organized politically under the banner of the Democratic Party, which had defended slavery since its origins in Jefferson’s plantation-based political faction, the North and the Republicans grew weary of trying to police the South. Soon, southern whites were pushing blacks into a form of crypto-slavery through a combination of Jim Crow laws, white supremacist ideology and Ku Klux Klan terror.

Thus, the century after the Civil War could be designated the post-Confederate era of the American Right. This restoration of the South’s white power structure also coincided with the emergence of the North’s Robber Barons the likes of Cornelius Vanderbilt, Andrew Carnegie, John D. Rockefeller and J.P. Morgan who amassed extraordinary wealth and used it to achieve political clout in favor of laissez-faire economics.

In that sense, the interests of the northern industrialists and the southern aristocracy dovetailed in a common opposition to any federal authority that might reflect the interests of the common man, either the white industrial workers of the North or the black sharecroppers of the South.

However, amid recurring financial calamities on Wall Street that drove many Americans into abject poverty and with the disgraceful treatment of African-Americans in the South, reform movements began to emerge in the early Twentieth Century, reviving the founding ideal that the federal government should “promote the general Welfare.”

With the Great Depression of the 1930s, the grip of the aging Robber Barons and their descendants began to slip. Despite fierce opposition from the political Right, President Franklin Roosevelt enacted a series of reforms that increased regulation of the financial sector, protected the rights of unions and created programs to lift millions of Americans out of poverty.

After World War II, the federal government went even further, helping veterans get educated through the GI Bill, making mortgages affordable for new homes, connecting the nation through a system of modern highways, and investing in scientific research. Through these various reforms, the federal government not only advanced the “general Welfare” but, in effect, invented the Great American Middle Class.

Civil Rights

As the nation’s prosperity surged, attention also turned to addressing the shame of racial segregation. The civil rights movement led by remarkable leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr. and eventually embraced by Democratic Presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson rallied popular support and the federal government finally moved against segregation across the South.

Yet, reflecting the old-time pro-slavery concerns of Patrick Henry and George Mason, southern white political leaders fumed at this latest intrusion by the federal government against the principle of “states’ rights,” i.e. the rights of the whites in southern states to treat “their coloreds” as they saw fit.

This white backlash to the federal activism against segregation became the energy driving the modern Republican Party, which abandoned its honorable legacy as the party that ended slavery. Instead, it became home for Americans who feared social change and resented policies that disproportionately helped racial minorities. The smartest right-wingers understood this reality.

On the need to keep blacks under white domination, urbane conservative William F. Buckley declared in 1957 that “the white community in the South is entitled to take such measures as are necessary to prevail, politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically.”

Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Arizona, who wrote the influential manifesto Conscience of a Conservative, realized in 1961 that for Republicans to gain national power, they would have to pick off southern segregationists. Or as Goldwater put it, the Republican Party had to “go hunting where the ducks are.”

Then, there was Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy” of using coded language to appeal to southern whites and Ronald Reagan’s launching of his 1980 national presidential campaign with a states’ rights speech in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the notorious site of the murders of three civil rights workers. The two strands of historic conservatism, white supremacy and “small government” ideology, were again wound together.

In New York magazine, Frank Rich summed up this political history while noting how today’s right-wing revisionists have tried to reposition their heroes by saying they opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 simply out of high-minded “small-government principles.” But Rich wrote:

“The primacy of [Strom] Thurmond in the GOP’s racial realignment is the most incriminating truth the right keeps trying to cover up. That’s why the George W. Bush White House shoved the Mississippi senator Trent Lott out of his post as Senate majority leader in 2002 once news spread that Lott had told Thurmond’s 100th-birthday gathering that America ‘wouldn’t have had all these problems’ if the old Dixiecrat had been elected president in 1948.

“Lott, it soon became clear, had also lavished praise on [the Confederacy’s president] Jefferson Davis and associated for decades with other far-right groups in thrall to the old Confederate cause. But the GOP elites didn’t seem to mind until he committed the truly unpardonable sin of reminding America, if only for a moment, of the exact history his party most wanted and needed to suppress. Then he had to be shut down at once.”

Unholy Alliance

This unholy alliance between the racists and the corporatists continues to this day with Republicans understanding that the votes of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and other minorities must be suppressed if the twin goals of the two principal elements of the Right are to control the future. That was the significance of the 2013 ruling by the Supreme Court’s right-wing majority to gut the Voting Rights Act. [See’s “Supreme Court’s War on Democracy.”]

Only if the votes of whites can be proportionately enhanced and the votes of minorities minimized can the Republican Party overcome the country’s demographic changes and retain government power that will both advance the interests of the racists and the free-marketeers.

That’s why Republican-controlled statehouses engaged in aggressive gerrymandering of congressional districts in 2010 and tried to impose “ballot security” measures across the country in 2012 and 2014. The crudity of those efforts, clumsily justified as needed to prevent the virtually non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud, was embarrassing to watch.

As Frank Rich noted, “Everyone knows these laws are in response to the rise of Barack Obama. It is also no coincidence that many of them were conceived and promoted by the American Legal Exchange Council, an activist outfit funded by heavy-hitting right-wing donors like Charles and David Koch.

“In another coincidence that the GOP would like to flush down the memory hole, the Kochs’ father, Fred, a founder of the radical John Birch Society in the fifties, was an advocate for the impeachment of Chief Justice Warren in the aftermath of Brown [v. Board of Education] Fred Koch wrote a screed of his own accusing communists of inspiring the civil-rights movement.”

Blaming the Democratic Party for ending segregation and coyly invited by opportunistic Republicans like Nixon and Reagan to switch party allegiances racist whites signed up with the Republican Party in droves. Thus, the Democratic Party, which since the days of Jefferson had been the party of slavery and segregation, lost its southern base, ceding it to the new Republican Party.

A Flip of Allegiance

This flip in the allegiance of America’s white supremacists from Democrat to Republican also put them in the same political structure as the anti-regulatory business interests which had dominated the Republican Party from the days of the Robber Barons. These two groups again found themselves sharing a common interest, the desire to constrain the federal government’s commitment to providing for “the general Welfare.”

To the corporate Republicans this meant slashing taxes, eliminating regulations and paring back social programs for the poor or in Ayn Rand vernacular the moochers. To the racist Republicans this meant giving the states greater leeway to suppress the votes of minorities and gutting programs that were seen as especially benefiting black and brown Americans, such as food stamps and health-care reform.

Thus, in today’s neo-Confederate era, the American Right is coalescing around two parallel ideological motives: continued racial resentment (against black and brown people getting welfare to the presence of a black family in the White House) and resistance to government regulations (from efforts to control Wall Street excesses to restrictions on global-warming emissions).

Though the white racist element of this coalition might typically be expected to proudly adopt the Stars and Bars of the Old Confederacy as its symbol, the modern Right is too media-savvy to get boxed into that distasteful imagery of slavery.

So, instead the Right has opted for a rebranding as Revolutionary War-era patriots calling themselves Tea Partiers, donning tri-corner hats and waving yellow banners with a coiled snake declaring “don’t tread on me.” Instead of overtly defending the Confederacy, the Right proclaims its commitment to the Founding Principles found in the Constitution.

But this sly transformation required the Right to rewrite the Founding Narrative, to blot out the initial interpretation of the Constitution by the Federalists who, after all, were the ones who primarily crafted the document, and to pretend that Jefferson’s revisionist view representing the pre-Confederate position of the southern plantation owners was the original one. [For more, see’s “The Right’s Made-Up Constitution.”]

Now this doctored history accepted by millions of Americans as true has become the driving force for what many pundits predict will be a “wave election” for the Republicans and the Right.

Investigative reporter Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories for The Associated Press and Newsweek in the 1980s. You can buy his new book, America’s Stolen Narrative, either in print here or as an e-book (from Amazon and For a limited time, you also can order Robert Parry’s trilogy on the Bush Family and its connections to various right-wing operatives for only $34. The trilogy includes America’s Stolen Narrative. For details on this offer, click here.

Big Media Has Betrayed the People

For years, Americans relied on the mainstream U.S. news media for information; some folks were even convinced the MSM was “liberal.” But the current reality is that the major papers have become mouthpieces for the national security state while amassing a sorry record of deception, writes Greg Maybury.

By Greg Maybury

In his farewell address to the American people in 1961, President Dwight Eisenhower delivered what turned out to be his most memorable public utterance, famously warning Americans about the perils of the growing “military-industrial complex.” He went on to say: “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.”

Although it was the “military-industrial” bit that most folks remember, it was the “alert and knowledgeable” part that also needed to resonate. Unfortunately, instead of an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry,” which Ike suggested was the only bulwark against the continued growth, power and influence of this monster within, much of the American citizenry remained oblivious to it all. They either fell asleep at the democratic wheel or chose to remain ignorant of the already disturbing implications of the military-industrial complex’s encroaching reach into every aspect of the American demos and polity.


When the torch was passed to the new generation as John F. Kennedy declared in his Inaugural Address just days after Ike’s warning — the “good life” beckoned. Few, it seemed, wished to rock the boat. More than a half century after Eisenhower’s warning and nearly 15 years into what some like to call the New American Century, the growth of this “military-industrial complex” has far exceeded anything even the Old Warhorse could have imagined. Yet despite this, most Americans are still asleep at the wheel. There seems little evidence that is likely to change anytime soon.

And here we should ponder at least one of the main reasons why this is so.

For those folks who retain any faith or confidence that the mainstream or corporate media is providing us with all the insight we need to make sense of the world and the driving forces behind the big trends and developments, a reality check of the first order is in order. What was once called the Fourth Estate, a public institution of journalism intended to check on the powerful, has become a Fifth Column against democracy, a means for the Power Elites in business, finance and politics to manage the people, not a way for the people to keep tabs on the powerful.

The big fix is in on behalf of the Agenda Benders of the National Security State. The game is rigged. And it is decidedly not in favor of equality, democracy, freedom, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the majority; nor is it for that matter, designed to nurture “an alert and knowledgeable citizenry.”

The fundamental principles of journalism sound hunky-dory in theory. But when the rubber hits the road these standards are all too quickly deep-sixed in favor of more prosaic and less lofty goals. Professionalism becomes careerism. The “public interest” becomes “private gain.” But finally much of the public is figuring this game out.

The extraordinary growth of the independent and alternative media underscores this premise and surely points to more people looking for news, viewpoints and opinions outside the MSM. The “marketplace of ideas” isn’t just expanding; the monopoly is breaking down and whole new niches are opening up.

This is of course a welcome development although no one should underestimate the residual power of the MSM and the difficulty of producing truly independent journalism. Although there are promising signs the MSM’s readership is waning, there remain many folks implacably wedded to their daily fix of “impropaganda” from the establishment newsmakers and the “opinionocracy” whose positioning statement might well read: “Here is the news we choose, to give you all today.”

The Great Malaise

Yet, as long as we are not relying on the MSM for our daily dose of context and perspective, examples underscoring the broader trend abound everywhere we care to look. Writer Ulson Gunnar reported in an article at the New Eastern Outlook website that Vladimir Putin’s recent address to the Valdai Discussion Club was wide ranging and well worth reading.

But it is Gunnar’s article that’s pertinent here. After applauding Putin’s willingness to point to Washington’s hypocrisy in key foreign policy areas and noting the seemingly irreversible loss of “respect and legitimacy once commanded” by the U.S. in the international arena, Gunnar then cites the MSM’s “utter failure to hold accountable, poor policy driven by corrupt, criminal special interests” as one of the main reasons:

“Leaving it to Putin to point out the sorry state of American foreign policy grants Russia the respect and legitimacy the US would have otherwise held onto were it capable of putting its own house in order. The inability of America’s media to serve public interests is a symptom of America’s greater malaise.” [My Emphasis]

But the reality is even worse than that. The major U.S. media has not simply failed to hold U.S. officials accountable for their destructive arrogance. The MSM chose to mock Putin for his undeniably accurate remarks. For instance, The Washington Post published an editorial entitled (in print editions), “Putinoia on full display,” which said, about Putin’s Valdai remarks, “out poured a poisonous mix of lies, conspiracy theories, thinly veiled threats of further aggression and, above all, seething resentment toward the United States.”

The Post editors then cited examples of Putin’s “Putinoia” such as his statements that the United States had “declared itself the winner of the Cold War” and promoted a “unipolar world [that] is simply a means of justifying dictatorship over people and countries.” Other examples of Putin’s madness, according to the Post, included his observations that Washington’s interventions have created chaos around the world and that the overthrow of Ukraine’s elected President Viktor Yanukovych was a “coup d’etat.” In other words, Putin made observations that were either obviously true or certainly arguably true but the Post insisted on its own reality, one that grossly misleads its readers and implicitly sets the boundaries of MSM-approved debate.

For another exemplary case study of this MSM phenomenon of distortion and deception, we might look at the recently released “Kill the Messenger,” a film treatment of the life and times of investigative journalist Gary Webb. Webb attempted in 1996 to shed light on the CIA’s connections to, and knowledge of, cocaine distribution by the CIA-backed Nicaraguan Contras and their associates, and the consequent crack epidemic that spread across America throughout the 1980s.

Ultimately Webb’s career was destroyed by a concerted, relentless character assassination and disinformation campaign by the Big Three of the U.S. print media  The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, each one of which variously, yet ruthlessly distorted, and then refuted, Webb’s claims, setting up straw men and then knocking them down. Several years later, in 2004, his career and marriage over, and financially destitute, Webb pulled the pin by committing suicide.

If Webb’s fate had resulted from a rare manifestation of an unholy mix of journalistic nonfeasance, misfeasance and malfeasance in the history of reportage and public opinion-making, we might be tempted to view this case as an aberration. But sadly it is not. It is part of a pattern of covering up criminal nonfeasance, misfeasance and malfeasance at the highest levels of the U.S. government, especially in matters of “national security” or in Eisenhower’s phrase, the “military-industrial complex.”

In the Webb case, his destruction also camouflaged the MSM’s own venality and incompetence, since the same Big Three newspapers had missed or disparaged reports of Contra-cocaine trafficking when the crimes were occurring in the 1980s (and when the American people needed to be informed of what the Reagan administration was doing and not doing). It is notable that it was not one but three of the so-called newspapers of record in established MSM circles that led the attack against a fellow journalist.

Taking into account the extraordinary significance of Webb’s reportage, along with the fact it is now generally accepted he largely got his story right, his own personal and professional odyssey is a savage, wholly justifiable indictment on all things MSM in the Home of the Brave. Yet insofar as we can gather, none of them has openly or unequivocally acknowledged its complicity in covering up the details of Webb’s revelations and/or for what they did in destroying his career, his family and ultimately his life. No one has been held to account, and no one has forthrightly apologized.

The fact that at least one of these papers  the redoubtable Washington Post  is still trying to defend the indefensible is surely another nail in the coffin of the ancien régime of the corporate-controlled media, information and news industry. It seems though the Post may only be rubbing salt into its own wounds, as any number of more independent media folk seem determined to set the record straight on Webb’s behalf.

Weapons of Mass Disinformation

As for the rest of the MSM cohorts who jumped onto the Big Three’s “Get Gary Webb” bandwagon, it would appear they are letting sleeping dogs lie in the wake of the film’s release. It’s unknown if they are doing this to preserve whatever integrity they might have left over their own attacks on Webb and/or failure to undertake their own investigations, or whether it is because they really don’t care one way or another. Webb may just have been collateral damage an “expendable” in the perennial War on Truth in mainstream media circles.

If Watergate was a high-water mark in investigative reportage and political news coverage in the U.S. and by some accounts there are compelling reasons after all these years to view this assessment with some skepticism then the Webb affair would have to qualify as a suitable case study at the other end of the spectrum.

As significant as the destruction of Gary Webb was in its implications for a free, fair and fearless mainstream press in America, this MSM behavior has now become the norm, not the exception. (Indeed, President George W. Bush was able to mislead the American people into the disastrous Iraq War with the MSM especially the Washington Post and the New York Times  aiding and abetting his WMD deceptions of the American people).

With this in mind, we can hardly expect that we are going to get the kind of news and information we need to remain “alert and knowledgeable” from the MSM in an age when being so has possibly never been more important in homo sap’s sorry-ass history on the Big Blue Ball. There are now so many examples of that Unholy Trinity’s nonfeasance, misfeasance and malfeasance in journalistic reportage that it’s a challenge to list them all, from Vietnam to the Iran-Contra Scandal; from the first Gulf War to the Balkans War; from Iraq’s WMDs to the War on Terror. And these only skim the surface. If these bastions of fair and fearless reportage are the newspapers of record, the record is patchy indeed. Tragically so.

Moreover, there can be no better example of the double standards that prevail in U.S. politics and in its relationship with the Fourth Estate than Obama’s 2013 honoring of Ben Bradlee  the iconic Washington Post editor who famously presided over the paper’s coverage of the Watergate scandal, the outcome of which was the downfall of an American president with a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

But the real irony is that Obama the president who has done more to curtail and then criminalize the activities of investigative journalists, leakers and whistle-blowers in ways that even Richard Nixon might never have contemplated extolled Bradlee’s determination to ensure Americans are not denied the truth about what their increasingly secretive and subversive government does.

Obama’s own home-grown hypocrisy in these matters is itself something to behold. We should recall this was a president whose government he promised would be truly accountable and more transparent than previous ones.

In an article in OpEdNews recently, contributor Sherwood Ross takes the President to task for his stance against investigative reporters in particular. Among other examples, Ross cites the case of James Risen, whose book State of War looks like it could land Risen in jail in the foreseeable future for refusing to betray a source. Briefly the case which has become something of a cause celebre in the mainstream and alternative media circles involves the Justice Department under first the Bush administration and now under Obama seeking to force Risen to reveal a key source for the book, which the journalist has refused to do.

To an investigative journalist revealing the identity of sources that provide information on condition of anonymity is akin to a priest revealing someone’s confession in a sermon from the pulpit at Sunday Mass; to refuse to do so is an article of faith of the profession. But Risen’s courage in reporting important facts about the national security state and resisting government pressure to surrender his source (and thus make other sources much less likely to talk) is now the exception in the MSM, not the rule. Many such stories simply go unwritten. Career-wise, that’s a lot safer.

There is also the reality that as resources for real reporting continue to decline spending on public relations and other manipulation of the public continues to soar. The highly sophisticated multi-billion dollar lobbying and public relations industries in America are almost entirely employed on the dime of the Powers that Be (industry bodies, political parties, think tanks, Super PACs, sundry foundations, corporations and institutions etc.) Unless the ordinary news consumers go out of their way to seek out reliable sources of information, they don’t hazard a chance in Hades of ever getting anything resembling credible, untainted insight into the zeitgeist, so as to be able to maintain whatever might remain of their “alert and knowledgeable” status.

Yet, the MSM still commands attention from many folks. Why in this day and age of accessible and independent-minded news sources is a mystery inside a conundrum. Perhaps it’s simply because of the MSM’s size and inertia, living off its past reputation for supplying “responsible” news. Maybe people are too busy in their frantic lives or too afraid of being deemed “outside the mainstream,” so they stick with what’s considered traditional and safe.

But it’s no longer possible for anyone who truly wants to be an “alert and knowledgeable” citizen to ignore the establishment media’s lengthening reputation as one collective Weapon of Mass Disinformation.

Greg Maybury is a freelance writer based in Perth, Western Australia.

Powerful Lobbies v. Public Interest

Some American lobbies are so powerful that U.S. politicians cringe in fear, knowing that standing up for the broader national interest would be career-threatening, a reality most notable on issues of Israel and guns, as Lawrence Davidson explains.

By Lawrence Davidson

The problem of special interests or lobbies was one of the foremost concerns of the Founding Fathers of the United States. In their day these pressure groups were called factions.

James Madison, who is considered the architect of the U.S. Constitution, devoted the entire tenth Federalist Paper (1787) to the problem. He defined a faction as “a number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or a minority actuated by some common interest, adverse to the aggregate interests of the community,” and believed that within the context of liberal republicanism, they could never be eliminated.

However, Madison did feel they could be controlled. To this end he sought to create representative bodies with high numbers of delegates and a wide diversity of interests in the hope that they would counterbalance each other.

When George Washington delivered his famous Farewell Address in 1796, he too noted the problem. Washington warned of “combinations and associations” which attempt to “direct, control, counteract and awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities” and thereby substitute their own desires for the “delegated will of the nation.”

As Washington’s continued concern implied, James Madison’s approach to controlling special interests or factions never proved adequate.


Today, the problem is still with us and is worse than ever. That is why in April 2011 I coined the word “lobbification” to describe the corruptive process that bends politicians to the will of special interests that is, to the will of lobbies. The vehicle that makes this process possible is, of course, money, usually in the form of campaign contributions to a politician.

If the politician defies the lobby making the offer (a rare event but not unheard of), that special interest will throw its support to the defiant politician’s electoral opponent. The result is that most politicians are in lockstep with the demands of multiple powerful special interests.

James Madison believed that this corruptive process is a consequence of human nature – self-interest in action. Perhaps that is so, but the results are no less debilitating. So Pavlovian are the responses created by lobbification that, today, politicians in this state of mind cannot tell the difference between the parochial interests of those powerful factions to which they are indebted and the actual national or local interests of their country or community.

Two Examples

Here are two recent examples of the power of lobbification. On July 18, acting in response to the urgings of the Zionist lobby, the U.S. Senate unanimously voted to support Israel’s ongoing attack on the Gaza Strip. This from a Congress known for its inability to agree on just about any legislation important to its own country!

The senators voted their support even though the Israeli action was of the same character as the German attacks on London during the Blitz and the Allied destruction of the German city of Dresden toward the end of World War II. In other words, the Israelis were engaged in a large-scale operation targeting a civilian population. That is a war crime and cannot be justified as an act of self-defense. Yet the U.S. Senate, to a person, publicly supported this criminal behavior.

It might be noted here that there were serious divisions of opinion about Israeli behavior among the American public – that is, the Senate’s constituency. But the senators seemed immune from the popular debate and responded as if they represented the Zionist lobby, not the American public.

On the domestic front, meaningful regulatory gun legislation, be it national or local, appears to be politically impossible because of the influence of the National Rifle Association (NRA). This is so despite a proliferation of gun-related deaths and injuries in our homes, on our streets, and in our schools.

The arguments of NRA supporters usually imply that regulation of firearms would be the death knell of hunting, of target shooting, and of gun collecting, and even the ability to act in self-defense. Yet rational and reasonable gun regulation is not the same as prohibition, and to act as if they are the same is, in my opinion, a paranoid point of view.

Then there is the Second Amendment argument that allows many supporters of the NRA to fantasize that they are enrolled in a “well regulated militia” without which the U.S. cannot remain a free society. Free from what? From the authoritarian potential of the state with its immensely better armed police and military branches? This is just naive. If the government wants to act in a dictatorial fashion, armed members of the NRA will not be able to stop it.

In truth, rational control of firearms does not threaten our freedom. It makes us freer by enhancing our safety from the growing plague of gun violence that NRA lobbying presently forces most of our politicians to ignore or deny.

Here it is important to note that the National Rifle Association leadership often fails to accurately represent its own membership, much less that of the general public. A 2013 Pew survey found that 74 percent of NRA members supported universal background checks for private gun sales (as did 94 percent of the general American public). Nonetheless, at the urging of the NRA the Senate voted against this requirement in the same year.

As with the Zionist lobby and public concern over its particularistic foreign policy, many senators are immune from the popular debate on gun control and respond as if they represent the NRA lobby and not the American public.

Need for Regulation

Madison was right in one regard: regulation of the power of factions/special interests/lobbies to influence politicians and policies is an absolute necessity. However, here we run up against a real Catch-22 dilemma. That regulatory legislation, and other related efforts such as campaign finance reform, must come from the same politicians who are financially bound to special interests.

Like those with a strong addiction, these politicians seem unable to free themselves from the monkey on their back.

If there is a way out of this dilemma it must come from the general public. The long-standing dissatisfaction with politicians, especially on the national level, must be channeled into a popular campaign to free the legislators and policy makers from the influence of narrow interests.

Think of this as an effort to clear away an historical obstacle to good governance. If this does not happen, the foreign policies that have promoted so much anti-American hostility worldwide, and the domestic policy that has allowed the indiscriminate murder of so many innocent citizens, will continue and indeed grow worse.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.