Thursday, December 22, 2005

Democracy Now: Juan Gonzales & Frank Emspak on transit strike, Bernard Estrade, Robert Greenstein; Margaret Kimberly ...

Report: NYPD Planted Undercover Agents At Protests, Rallies, Vigil
The New York Times says it has obtained videotapes that show the New York Police Department conducting surveillance by planting undercover officers at anti-war protests, bike rallies, and even a street vigil for a dead cyclist. The officers held protest signs, held flowers with mourners, rode their bicycles and videotaped the people present.
In one case, the faked arrest of an undercover officer at a demonstration outside the Republican National Convention led to a serious confrontation between riot police and bystanders that led to the arrest of two people. The bystanders had shouted "Let him go!" The Times says the tapes show at least 10 undercover operatives taking part in seven public gatherings since the Republican Convention in August 2004.
Cheney Casts Deciding Vote on $40B Cut To Welfare, Student Aid, Medicaid
And in another vote, Senate Republicans managed to pass a fiercely contested $40 billion dollar-budget cutting bill with the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Dick Cheney. The New York Times notes cuts to student aid account for nearly one-third of the budget bill's savings. Students will be forced to pay higher interest rates, banks will receive lower subsidies for student loans, and eligibility for college aid will be narrowed down. David Ward, president of the American Council on Education, said: "This is the biggest cut in the history of the federal student loan program."
The budget bill also grants states new authority to impose fees and scale back benefits for millions of low-income Medicaid recipients. In addition, the bill imposes stricter work requirements for welfare recipients, and penalizes states for not reducing the number of families on welfare rolls.
Judge Threatens to Jail Transit Strike Leaders
Here in New York, the city's subway and bus system remains shut down as 33,000 transit workers have entered the third day of a strike.
_On Wednesday a state judge threatened to jail union leader Roger Toussaint and two union officials for organizing the citywide strike. Judge Theodore Jones ordered the three union officials to appear in court today to face charges of criminal contempt. Under the state's Taylor Law, public employees are barred from staging labor strikes.
_New York Governor George Pataki, who oversees the Metropolitan Transportation Authority vowed there would be no negotiations before the strike ended. We'll have more on the strike in a few minutes.
New Orleans Police Officers Fired Over Videotaped Beating
In New Orleans, two police officers that took part in the videotaped beating of a 64-year old African-America man have been fired. On October 11th, Robert Davis was walking in the city's French Quarter when police accosted him. Three officers hit Davis at least four times in the head, dragged him to the ground, and kneed him in the back. Davis was left bleeding from the head. A crew from the Associated Press caught the incident on tape. Two unnamed FBI agents were also involved in the incident, but their status has not been disclosed.
The above four items are from today's Democracy Now! Headlines and were selected by Marci, Brenda, Micah and Steve. Democracy Now! ("always worth watching," as Marcia says):

Headlines for December 22, 2005

- Judge Threatens to Jail Transit Strike Leaders
- Republicans Lose ANWR Oil Drill Vote in Senate
- Patriot Act Given 6-Month Extension
- Cheney Casts Deciding Vote on $40B Cut To Social Programs
- Appeals Court Rejects White House on Padilla Transfer
- Report: NYPD Planted Undercover Agents At Protests, Rallies, Vigil
- New Orleans Police Officers Fired Over Videotaped Beating
- Evo Morales Wins Bolivian Presidential Elections

Los Titulares de Hoy: Democracy Now!'s daily news summary translated into Spanish

NYC Transit Strike Enters Third Day: Negotiations Resume, Threats to Workers Heat Up, Public Support Remains High

New York City's subway and bus system remains shut down as 33,000 transit workers have entered their third day on strike. On day two of the strike, a state judge threatened to jail union leader Roger Toussaint and two union officials for organizing the citywide strike. As we await the outcome of continuing negotiations, we speak with Democracy Now! co-host Juan Gonzalez about the strike. [includes rush transcript]

NYC Transit Strike Hailed As Battle For Nation-Wide Labor Movement By Pension Reform Advocates

As the NYC transit workers continue to strike into day three, they continue to push for demands including reform of a pension plan, which labor movement activists view as important to the nation-wide movement. We speak with Frank Emspak, director of Workers Independent News, and Juan Gonzalez.

Cheney Casts Tie-Breaking Senate Vote Cutting $40 Billion to the Poor

Yesterday the senate narrowly passed a budget bill to cut $40 billion dollars of federal spending by ending funding for foster care, child support and student loans. The bill would also impose new fees on Medicaid recipients and new work restrictions on state welfare programs. We speak with Robert Greenstein of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities about details of the bill.

Secret Prisons, CIA Kidnappings & Torture: A Look At Europe's Reaction to the Bush Administration's Covert Actions Overseas

As UK Prime Minister Tony Blair rejects calls for an inquiry into whether the CIA secretly used British airports, Agence France Press editor Bernard Estrade joins us in our Firehouse studio to discuss the uproar in Europe over the CIA's actions.

Now we're focusing on highlights from members on governmental spying. First up, a highlight on the press' continued efforts to mitigate the Bully Boy's actions. Zach e-mails to note Robert Parry's "Democracy's Battle Joined, Again" (Consortium News) dealing with the mainstream media's reluctance to face reality:

So, this White House has thrown down the gauntlet to Congress, the courts, the press and the broader American public -- to anyone who opposes an autocratic Executive -- daring them to a fight to the finish.
In this looming showdown, the confidence of Bush and Cheney is buoyed by the fact that they have a huge right-wing media infrastructure that treats whatever they say as truth and will disparage anyone who criticizes them.
This right-wing media machine -- built over three decades from the ashes of Vietnam and Watergate -- demonstrated its power in the 1980s by containing the Iran-Contra scandal and in the 1990s by nearly hounding a Democratic president out of office. [For details, see Robert Parry's Secrecy & Privilege.]
In contrast, American progressives opted for a strategy that eschewed a counter-media infrastructure. Over the past three decades, liberal funders invested mostly in social projects, such as feeding the poor, and in local organizing with the slogan, "think globally, act locally." [For details on this strategy, see's "The Left's Media Miscalculation."]
The consequences of the Right's investments in national media are now becoming obvious, as the Bush-Cheney administration uses its committed defenders to protect against negative public reaction to its historic power grab.
While the White House can count on the Right's vertically integrated media machine -- from cable TV to talk radio, from newspapers and magazines to book publishing and the Internet -- the opposition has mostly scattered voices on the Internet and in fledgling "progressive talk radio" to make its case.
In recent months, the mainstream press -- humiliated over its credulous coverage of Iraq's nonexistent weapons of mass destruction -- has published a few revelations from government whistleblowers upset over Bush-Cheney abuses. But the major news media still shies away from going so far as to invite a right-wing backlash.
How else to explain why New York Times publisher Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr. held the story about Bush's warrantless wiretaps for more than a year, when timely publication before Election 2004 would have given the American voters a chance to deliver a judgment on this extra-legal program. [See's "Spying & the Public's Right to Know."]
Instead of informing the nation, Sulzberger bowed to the administration's demands that the Times spike the story. It was finally published on Dec. 16, 2005, because it was about to be revealed in a book written by one of the reporters, James Risen.
Can't Say Liar
Also note how the mainstream press continues to choke on calling Bush a liar even when the facts are obvious. For instance, the disclosure that Bush signed his order for warrantless wiretaps in 2002 led researchers back to an assurance he made to the American people in a speech in Buffalo, N.Y., on April 20, 2004.
After calling for renewal of the USA Patriot Act, Bush veered off into a broader discussion of wiretaps. "By the way, any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap, it requires -- a wiretap requires a court order," Bush said. "Nothing has changed, by the way. When we're talking about chasing down terrorists, we're talking about getting a court order before we do so."
Though a clip of Bush's statement was carried on network news programs, it was followed by the White House explanation that Bush was only talking about the Patriot Act. The network news reporters presented that claim as the final word on the subject.
But Bush's wording indicates that he is not talking only about wiretaps under the Patriot Act. He clearly deviates from that discussion when he says "by the way" and adds "any time you hear the United States government talking about wiretap." He then insists that "nothing has changed" when the policy had changed two years earlier.

Zach notes also that he's reading Parry's Fooling America: How Washington Insiders Twist the Truth and Manufacture the Conventional Wisdom and wasn't aware of the book until the book discussion at The Third Estate Sunday Review.

Second highlight, Eli notes "ACLU Calls on Gonzales to Appoint Special Counsel on NSA Domestic Spying Investigation of Violations of Law Must Be Independent, Free of Political Pressure" (ACLU):

WASHINGTON - In a formal request to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the American Civil Liberties Union today called for the immediate appointment of an outside special counsel to investigate and prosecute any criminal acts and violations of laws as a result of the National Security Agency’s surveillance of domestic targets as authorized by President Bush.
"President Bush’s disregard and disrespect for the Constitution are evident, but in America, we are all bound by the rule of law," said Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director. "The president took an oath to ‘preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States. He cannot use a claim of seeking to preserve our nation to undermine the rules that serve as our foundation. The Attorney General, who may have been involved with the formulation of this policy, must appoint an outside special counsel to let justice be served."
In its letter, the ACLU called on the Attorney General to "appoint an outside special counsel with the independence to investigate and prosecute any and all criminal acts committed by any member of the Executive Branch in the warrantless electronic surveillance of people in the United States over the past four years by the NSA," noting that, "such crimes are serious felonies and they need to be fully and independently investigated."
An outside special counsel is the only way to ensure that all those who authorized the warrantless electronic surveillance, or engaged in this electronic interception or monitoring, are held accountable for committing serious violations of the law. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 states that electronic surveillance is only permissible following "a search warrant or court order." The statements of the president and other officials make it clear that domestic surveillance, without court approval or review, has occurred and will continue to occur.
The ACLU also rejected the White House position that the "Authorization for Use of Military Force" resolutions passed by Congress granted the president the broad authority to circumvent the Fourth Amendment. As then-White House Counsel, Attorney General Gonzales may have, along with other legal advisors to the president, offered interpretations of the law to encourage the president to authorize the NSA to engage in domestic surveillance. His possible involvement only further underscores the need for an independent investigation.
Additionally, the ACLU noted warrantless domestic surveillance was unnecessary, as well as illegal. FISA already contains a provision to permit the government to retroactively apply for a wiretap order in cases of emergencies. The government had legal means at its disposal to engage in the very surveillance it conducted through the NSA, procedures that had some judicial oversight and review.

Also taking the issue seriously, as noted by Francisco, is Jonathan Schell's "The Hidden State Steps Forward" (The Nation):

When the New York Times revealed that George W. Bush had ordered the National Security Agency to wiretap the foreign calls of American citizens without seeking court permission, as is indisputably required by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), passed by Congress in 1978, he faced a decision. Would he deny the practice, or would he admit it? He admitted it. But instead of expressing regret, he took full ownership of the deed, stating that his order had been entirely justified, that he had in fact renewed it thirty times, that he would continue to renew it and--going even more boldly on the offensive--that those who had made his law-breaking known had committed a "shameful act." As justification, he offered two arguments, one derisory, the other deeply alarming. The derisory one was that Congress, by authorizing him to use force after September 11, had authorized him to suspend FISA, although that law is unmentioned in the resolution. Thus has Bush informed the members of a supposedly co-equal branch of government of what, unbeknownst to themselves, they were thinking when they cast their vote. The alarming argument is that as Commander in Chief he possesses "inherent" authority to suspend laws in wartime. But if he can suspend FISA at his whim and in secret, then what law can he not suspend? What need is there, for example, to pass or not pass the Patriot Act if any or all of its provisions can be secretly exceeded by the President?
Bush's choice marks a watershed in the evolution of his Administration. Previously when it was caught engaging in disgraceful, illegal or merely mistaken or incompetent behavior, he would simply deny it. "We have found the weapons of mass destruction!" "We do not torture!" However, further developments in the torture matter revealed a shift. Even as he denied the existence of torture, he and his officials began to defend his right to order it. His Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales, refused at his confirmation hearings to state that the torture called waterboarding, in which someone is brought to the edge of drowning, was prohibited. Then when Senator John McCain sponsored a bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners, Bush threatened to veto the legislation to which it was attached. It was only in the face of majority votes in both houses against such treatment that he retreated from his claim.
But in the wiretapping matter, he has so far exhibited no such vacillation. Secret law-breaking has been supplanted by brazen law-breaking. The difference is critical. If abuses of power are kept secret, there is still the possibility that, when exposed, they will be stopped. But if they are exposed and still permitted to continue, then every remedy has failed, and the abuse is permanently ratified. In this case, what will be ratified is a presidency that has risen above the law.

Lynda notes our fourth highlight on governmental spying, Stew Albert's "The Spies Who Thought We Were Messy" (CounterPunch) where Albert reflects on when the government spied on Albert and his wife:
With illegal government break-ins and wire tapping back in the news, (it seems even the Patriot Act is too contaminated by concessions to ACLU-card carrying liberals for Bush) I can't resist reminiscing about my documented adventure in the land of super surveillance. The time period ranged from 1973-75 and Judy and I were living in an isolated Catskill cabin, way off the main road. Our only neighbor's were a brisk hike away.
Naturally the Feds assumed that we had moved to such an isolated turf because we wanted to set up a terrorist training camp. We actually decided to to live there because we fell in love with the blazing beautiful lasting forever fall of 1973. And so a period of break-ins and monitoring ensued which had the Feds practically sharing our cabin, reading our mail, installing listening devices, following our friends, tapping our phone calls, and checking on our bank account. All this chicanery was executed without any Judge's permission.
Everything fell apart for the Feds when Judy discovered a homing device on our car. We took civil action. They admitted some crimes and turned over a massive literary account of their adventure in our home. True the FBI files were quite blacked out but enough remained to give the reader an interesting account of what could easily be called a Clash of Cultures, if not Civilizations.
Boy, did the Feds hate our messy house. There are pages of complaints about our sloppiness. How are they supposed to find that secret document from Fidel Castro instructing us in the use of exploding cigars? And they really hated our irregular life style. They would get a solid piece of information that we were planing to leave town and so they would show up at our cabin all bright and ready to break in only to discover we had changed our plans. That left them nothing much to do but bag a few deers and get drunk.

KeShawn provides our fifth highlight which adds some legal perspective, Edward Lazarus' "Warrantless Wiretapping: Why It Seriously Imperils the Separation of Powers, And Continues the Exxectuive's Sapping of Power From Congress and the Courts" (Find Law):

This issue, it's important to note, is not a political one, and should not be divisive. It may be that this country needs to revise its laws to respond effectively to terrorist threats - and that is the policy issue on which right and left will predictably differ, just as they have on the USA Patriot Act.
But what we all should be able to agree on, is that the Executive's simply opting to act illegally -- without even asking its own same-party Congress to change the law - is wrong.
Perhaps FISA needs to be revamped. Notably, it already contains exceptions for emergencies and the FISA court has a long history of working cooperatively with the intelligence agencies, But some say that the kind of "data mining" the government absolutely must do won't pass muster under current FISA court standards, and that therefore, FISA must be amended.
I don't know whether these claims are true; I'm willing to hear arguments on both sides. It's the missing debate on this, that is the national shame here.
Unilateral Executive Power Is Tyranny, Plain and Simple
I might even accept, for the purposes of argument, that, in the panicky aftermath of 9/11, it was understandable for the President to act unilaterally to protect against a potential second-wave attack, regardless of constitutional limits.
But over four years have passed, and there has been copious time for deliberation and, if necessary, Congressional action. In this context, it simply cannot be that the President, acting alone, has the permanent authority he now claims to override a carefully-wrought congressional scheme for fighting terrorism, and enact his own set of secret rules.
Naturally, such a scheme implicates civil liberties, as enshrined in our Constitution. It is not the President's job, alone, to make the nation's trade-offs between security and privacy. Congress ought to legislate, and if it goes too far, the Supreme Court ought to make sure its legislation stays within constitutional bounds.
But even worse, such a scheme threatens basic democratic principles. This Administration wants virtually unlimited power with essentially no accountability. I might almost be able to stomach Bush's "just trust me" claims of Executive power, if the President could be made truly accountable for his decisions down the road. But Bush wants the power with no public debate and a minimum of public disclosure.
I wouldn't trust any Administration with such a blank check. And this isn't just any Administration. It's an Administration with a deeply troubling history of mistakes and obfuscation, an Administration that seems to expand its definition of terrorism however it finds convenient, an Administration that brooks none of the internal dissent that might check authoritarian impulses.
Against that backdrop, the new revelations of warrantless wiretapping, and the Administration's latest set of explanations, sound less like a plan to fight terror than like tyranny's engines, raring to go.

It's Thursday and Cindy e-mails to note Margaret Kimberly's "Australia's Racism" (Freedom Rider, The Black Commentator):

This history lesson is needed in order to understand the rioting that occurred recently in Sydney, Australia. A rumor that Arabs had punched a white lifeguard in the nose sent the laid back white Aussies into a frenzy. Encouraged by hate speech on radio stations and text messaging from white supremacists, they set aside a day to act upon their outrage. A mob of 5,000 Aussie red necks went on a rampage at a beach near Sydney. They set upon anyone Middle Eastern looking and assaulted even white police officers who stood in the way of their good time.
It is interesting to note the lack of anger and indignation as America's press witnessed Australia's red necks acting like animals because of a fistfight. There was none of the condemnation that is always directed at people of color who act out. Right wing pundits reserved criticism only for Lebanese and other Middle Eastern immigrants who defended themselves against the white rioters.
Australia's nearest neighbors are New Guinea and Indonesia. White Australians really are down under, white people living in a sea of very dark people. It is little wonder that immigration by non-whites was restricted or that they recently rejected republic status in favor of remaining in the British Empire.
Australian Prime Minister John Howard placed his country among the "coalition of the willing," the nations who aided and abetted the United States in its occupation of Iraq. Bush and Howard are good buddies, and Howard has learned from Bush how to take advantage of fear itself. It takes one to know one.

Thursday means the latest edition of The Black Commentator is available. There wasn't an evening post last night. My apologies. Some house guests due this afternoon arrived early (last evening). The intent is to have evening posts tonights. (Indymedia.)

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