Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade - A Profile in Courage, Honor and Hope

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade - A Profile in Courage, Honor and Hope - by Stephen Lendman

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade was an American contingent of about 2800 volunteers who fought on the side of the Second Spanish Republic during the country's 1936 - 1939 Civil War against the fascist Nationalist rebellion under General Francisco Franco. From 1937 through 1938, it aimed to stop international fascism under Hitler and Mussolini that led to WW II. This essay explains who the "Lincolns" were, why they're important, and what their relevance is to America today under George Bush. First a look at the Spanish Civil War and why these Americans fought in it.

The war began when Franco's troops invaded Spain in July, 1936 to unseat an unstable Republic that developed from the social dislocations after WW I. Post-war saw a wave of revolutionary unrest that led to the military dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera in 1923. Rapid decline followed under him after the boom years of the 1920s. It weakened Spain's monarchy, returned the country to republican rule, but things weakened when a liberal-Socialist coalition tried addressing agrarian problems that beleaguered all Spanish governments for generations. Reforms failed and so did the coalition. It came apart after an attempted military coup on the right and an anarchosyndicalist insurrection on the left that culminated in the Casas Viejas massacre of Andalulsian peasants in January, 1933.

By summer, Spain's many parties and organizations began regrouping and polarizing. In November, the Spanish Confederation of Right Groups (CEDA) coalition replaced the liberal-Socialists. Positions then hardened on the left and right leading to the 1934 "October Revolution" when Asturian miners in northern Spain became the epicenter of a general uprising throughout the country. It brought "Army of Africa" commander Francisco Franco from Spanish Morocco to the mainland for the first time in five centuries to defend "Christian Civilization" from "red barbarism." It was the start of class and regional conflict that became the Spanish Civil War two years later.

It pitted an alliance of Nationalist forces on the right under Franco against a "Popular Front" Republican/Loyalist coalition consisting of trade unionists and their political organizations:

-- the General Confederation of Workers (UGT), a labor federation of the Socialist Workers Party (PSOE), and an anarchosyndicalist General Confederation of Labor (CNT);

-- they, in turn, were allied with the Workers Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) coalition of Spanish Trotskyists, Communist Left (ICE), and Workers and Peasants Bloc; the United Socialist Party of Catalonia (PSUC); and the small Communist Party (PCE).

Few in America remember the Spanish Civil War, its significance or even that it happened which says a lot about the state of education in the richest country in the world. It should be the best anywhere but instead opts for mediocrity, ignorance and an effort to produce good citizens, most barely literate, to serve the nation's ruling class and not the greater good. That, however, is a topic for another time.

The Spanish Civil War - July 17, 1936 - April 1, 1939

Like all extended wars, this one was ugly. Before it ended in April, 1939, hundreds of thousands died and many by mass killings that included Hitler's infamous fire-bombing of Guernica on April 26, 1937 that destroyed the town and killed an estimated 1650 people. An eye witness described it as follows: "The only things left standing were a church, a sacred tree, the symbol of the Basque people....There hadn't been a single anti-aircraft gun in the town. It had been mainly a fire raid....A sight that haunted me for weeks was the charred bodies of several women and children huddled together in what had been the cellar of a house. It had been a refugio." The same scene was repeated throughout the town. Guernica was in flames, but it was just a warmup, a prelude for what lay ahead.

April 1, 1939 marked the end of the Spanish Civil War. Five months later in September, Hitler invaded Poland, and the world again was at war with Spain staying out of it this time. Franco instead concentrated on solidifying power at home while nominally supporting his fascist allies. He imprisoned and slaughtered tens of thousands of his opponents in a post-war bloodbath/reign of terror. The Spanish war, while it lasted, however, was an historic revolution, and how different things might have been had the other side won. A radical working class movement, never seen before or since, lost out to a fascist alliance that became dominant and is now resurgent in America.

Back then, it was a rare time when oppressed workers, peasants and leftist intellectuals stood on one side and were aided by Soviet Russia, the international Socialist movement and the International Brigades. Against them were centralized state power elitists that included monarchists, the Catholic church, and the landowning and industrial fascist right supported by Germany, Italy and Portugal. Workers wanted a classless, stateless social democracy with implications far beyond a civil conflict in Spain.

They were attracted to it when Franco invaded and threatened their vision. Spontaneously they seized factories and other workplaces, collectivized the land, formed workers' militias throughout the country, dismantled the pro-fascist Catholic church, confiscated its property, and established political institutions run by workers' committees. It was a remarkable event for a short-lived social transformation toward a genuinely autonomous, free and democratic society until Franco finally prevailed.

In a decade of economic depression, disillusion, the rise of fascism, torment and turmoil up to WW II, the Spanish revolution was a sign of hope for working-class emancipation across the world, including in the US. It inspired intellectuals, trade unionists, and others as well as freedom-fighting men and women of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade. They went Spain to support the type government they wanted at home and hoped would emerge if the "Popular Front" prevailed.

The Abraham Lincoln Brigade

They were around 2800 American volunteers who fought alongside the "Popular Front" Republican Loyalists as the American contingent of the International Brigades. From 1937 to 1938, they joined with 35,000 others from 52 countries to defend the free Spanish Republic against Franco's Nationalist fascist alliance.

They were mostly young men and women from across America, deeply affected by the The Great Depression's despair, and they feared the fascist scourge engulfing Europe could affect them back home. They were ordinary people - working class, students, teachers, artists, dancers, athletes, the unemployed and others unified in a common belief that it's "better to die on your feet than live on your knees."

Most were members of the Young Communist League (CP). They allied with Industrial Workers of the World members ("Wobblies"), socialists forming their own (Eugene) Debs Column, and unaffiliated others. They were all committed in a common struggle. Some sought escape from The Great Depression, others went to fight for a better world unavailable at home, but all wanted to defeat fascism and risked their lives to do it. They also risked arrest or recrimination back home by defying a State Department prohibition against traveling to Spain so by doing it they broke the law.

It was worth it for what many saw as the quintessential struggle between democracy and tyranny. British author, social critic and journalist Eric Arthur Blair, aka George Orwell, felt the same. He went to Spain in 1936 to be with the Republican side and joined with the POUM coalition. He later wrote about it in what some call his finest work - "Homage to Catalonia." It sold just 50 copies in his lifetime, but another to it with a copy owned, read and admired long ago by this writer. It was more about social revolution than a civil war and centrally about tyranny against socially democratic forces on the left.

The allied groups on both sides, however, had their own agendas. On the left, the socialists (POUM) wanted a worker-controlled government, the communists (PSUC) a centralized one, and the Anarchists/Anarchosyndicalists (CNT) one that was decentralized. On the right, Franco loyalists wanted a fascist Spain like in Germany and Italy, latifundistas (big landowners) wanted a feudal system, and the Roman Catholic Church supported the monarchy and had its own elitist, pro-fascist conservative agenda.

The "Lincolns," wanted democratic freedom and fascism defeated. Its volunteers became known as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade although fighting units chose their own names and identities. In keeping with the "Popular Front" culture, they became part of the Fifteenth International Brigade along with nationals from other countries. They called themselves the Abraham Lincoln Battalion, the George Washington Battalion, and the John Brown Battery that included 125 doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and technicians with the American Medical Bureau. They were all volunteers for a noble cause and among them was the first ever racially integrated unit in US history and first one ever led by a black commander. Most never fired a rifle or had military training, but they were committed to learn and they did fast.

They also practiced what they believed in the ranks and created an egalitarian "peoples' army." Rank-and-file soldiers at times elected their own officers and generally shunned traditional military protocol. With them were well-known, or aspiring, writers, artists, composers and filmmakers, including James Lardner (son of Ring Lardner Sr.), Joseph Vogel, Ralph Fasanella, Conlon Nancarrow, Edwin Rolfe, Alvah Bessie, Phil Bard, William Lindsay Gresham and famed author Ernest Hemingway. He supported the "Popular Front," went to Spain in 1937 to report on the war, and spent most of it with the International Brigades.

After the war in 1940, he wrote his famous novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls." It became a Hollywood film in 1943 and was the top box office hit of the year even though it failed to tell what really happened on the ground. It's the story of a young American in the International Brigades attached to an anti-fascist guerilla unit. The novel's theme is how the main characters react to the prospect of death in a struggle for their vision and how they bond and are willing to die for its sake. It was how Hemingway felt. He spoke publicly on it to raise money for the Republican side he supported.

The "Lincolns" fought bravely and took casualties, including at the town of Brunete near Madrid where half its contingent was wiped out. But they gave as much as they took until Republican forces began losing later in 1938. It took a great toll on both sides, including on the International Brigades as the war continued. It finally ended for the "Lincolns" and other International Brigades volunteers in late 1938. Spanish Prime Minister Juan Negrin struck a futile deal with Hitler to repatriate captured forces and ordered them withdrawn. He didn't understanding what others later learned that Hitler didn't make deals. He imposed them.

Of the 2800 "Lincolns," around one-third perished. Survivors came home heros, got no official recognition for their efforts, were lucky to escape recrimination for breaking the law, but were later harassed and hounded as explained below.

One survivor was its last commander - freedom-fighter, novelist and well-known peace and civil rights activist Milton Wolff. Hemingway described him as "23 years old, tall as Lincoln, gaunt as Lincoln, and as brave and as good a soldier as any that commanded battalions at Gettysburg. He is alive and unhit by the same hazard that leaves one tall palm tree standing where a hurricane has passed." He was part of Spain's bloodiest battles at Brunete, Quinto and Belchite but managed to emerge unscathed.

Wolff arrived in Spain in 1937, trained as a medic, became a machine gunner with the Washington Battalion and then its leader. When Commander Dave Reiss was killed, Wolff took over and led its great offensive across the Ebro and Sierra Pandols. He then went home when the International Brigades left Spain in 1938 but continued fighting fascism as an activist, speaker and novelist in spite of being branded a "premature anti-fascist" and getting caught up in the post-WW II anti-communist hysteria. It affected anyone of prominence who was accused of leftist leanings along with many other "Lincolns" hounded by the FBI, Committee on UnAmerican Activities, and Subversive Activities Control Board (SACB). They lost their jobs and were prosecuted under the Smith Act and state sedition laws although few had convictions hold up.

This was how a nation that defeated fascism rewarded them and then wiped them from the historical record for added shame. They're remembered, however, in the official Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives (ALBA). The effort was founded in 1979 by Lincoln Brigade living veterans as an "educational and humanitarian organization devoted to the preservation and dissemination of the history of the North American role in the Spanish Civil War....and its aftermath."

It's committed to preserving the memory and record of these heroic freedom fighters and their sacrifices by "continually expanding archival collections in exhibitions, educational programs, publications, and performances (to preserve) the legacy of activism and commitment as an inspiration for present and future generations in working conscientiously and effectively toward a better and more just society" - the one "Lincolns" fought and died for 70 years ago without success.

On the eve of the great war, the Spanish Republic ended on April 1, 1939 when Madrid fell to the Nationalists and then Valencia. It held out under great pressure but gave it up the next day. In the end, the revolution failed from its own divergent ideologies and internal conflicts. They frustrated Orwell enough to say "Why can't we drop all of this political nonsense and get on with the war." It also lost to a more powerful Nationalist force that outmanned and outgunned them because Hitler and Mussolini supplied many more aircraft, artillery pieces, tanks, bombs, small arms and ammunition to give Franco the edge.

It let him outlast Spanish Republican forces that got less aid from the Soviet Union while countries like Great Britain, France and the US stayed technically neutral. But a careful look shows otherwise. Britain and France refused to supply arms or assist the Republican side. Even FDR's government was duplicitous. It pressured the Martin Aircraft Company not to honor an agreement made prior to the 1936 insurrection to sell aircraft to the Republic and also strong-armed Mexico not to ship Republicans war materials that were bought in the US for that purpose. The Mexican government complied and instead sent some financial aid.

Roosevelt said companies supplying the Republic were unpatriotic, but had no such feeling for those trading with the Nationalists like General Motors and the Texas Company, now part of oil giant Chevron. It cancelled contracts with Republicans but sold oil to Franco much like the dealings Charles Highham described in his 1983 book, "Trading with the Enemy." He documented how US corporations like Chase Bank, Standard Oil, Ford, GM and IBM did business with the Nazis in WW II in direct violation of the law. They betrayed their country and got away with it.

The Spirit of the "Lincolns" in the Age of George Bush

In their day, "Lincolns" were anti-facist freedom-fighters who are still respected by their admirers. Since the Reagan era, however, they'd be called "terrorists" because they oppose unfettered capitalism and all its harshness.

Reagan launched his war on "international terrorism" that was a precursor for what lay ahead. In 1981, his Secretary of State, Alexander Haig, announced the new administration would shift from Jimmy Carter's so-called "human rights" agenda to one focused on anti-terrorism without saying what it was or that it existed. Unexplained then or now is that the US is the world's leading exponent of the very scourge it claims to oppose. Empires have that privilege. They get to have it both ways. They make the rules that others ignore at their peril.

They weigh on many today under George Bush who makes Reagan's era look tame by comparison. Post-9/11, the administration declared permanent war on the world without boundaries in space and time that won't end in our lifetime. It's against any designated countries we target with ones with the most energy reserves and independent leaders topping the list.

It isn't just countries that are in jeopardy. Any group, organization or individual qualifies if they dare challenge US dominance or have views opposing ours. As an anti-fascist group, the "Lincolns" would be targeted because they wanted democratic freedom, not tyranny. During the Great Depression and rise of Nazism, they were galvanized to go to Spain to "make Madrid the tomb of fascism." They'd now target Washington, their struggle would be nonviolent, but it would put them at risk in an unfriendly environment to dissent and a passion to express it.

Today, there's a serious threat at home no different from the extremist ideology "Lincolns" fought against in Spain - the scourge of fascism now in America. It mirrors the Nazi kind that was based on corporatism, patriotism and nationalism; a claimed messianic Almightly-directed mission; authoritarian rule; bipartisan support; iron-fisted militarism; and thuggish "homeland security" enforcers.

It illegally spies on everyone, conducts warrantless searches and seizures, makes unwarranted mass arrests and incarcerations, and can designate anyone, anywhere for any reason an "unlawful enemy combatant" with no corroborating evidence needed. It tolerates no dissent at a time the law is what the executive says it is, and checks and balances, separation of powers, and equal justice for all no longer exist. It's called fascism, despotism or tyranny that masquerades as a model democracy in an America only beautiful for the privileged, no one else. It's what "Lincolns" fought against in Spain, now threatening the US 70 years later.

The dominant media support it and are part of the problem. They use hard right commentators, pundits, and talk show hosts like CNN's Glenn Beck who also hosts a nationally syndicated radio program as a platform for his type extremism. Media giant Time Warner put him in prime time (starting May, 2006) to boost ratings and billed him as "an unconventional look at the news." It barely disguises a hateful hard right agenda. Beck is one of many right wing hawks. He and the others attack anyone opposing the "war on terror" that includes the Bush agenda of iron-fisted militarism, permanent war, repression at home, and gutting social services so the most vulnerable are on their own and out of luck.

Muslims top their target list in the age of "terror." They're demonized mercilessly on-air overtly and by innuendo as well as being harassed and persecuted through mass witch-hunt roundups, detentions, prosecutions and deportations. So are Latino immigrants with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) shock troops the enforcers and media hosts like Lou Dobbs fully supportive. This writer called him "CNN's Vice-President of Racism" in an August, 2006 article that included others like him. They target others anyone voicing dissent at a time getting along demands going along.

The "Lincolns" would be targets if they were active and and similar groups as well. They'd be savaged in a typical Beck comment like this one about Muslims: "We need to be....lining up to shoot the bad Muslims (meaning all of them) in the head (and) with God as my witness....human beings are not strong enough, unfortunately, to restrain themselves from putting up razor wire (meaning concentration camps, Nazi-style) and putting you (Muslims) on one side of it....(meaning locked up inside)."

He's serious and is backed by an administration targeting any perceived opposition with hardball tactics that include secretly constructed homeland concentration camps. They're for tens of thousands of aliens and anyone considered a threat to absolute rule.

It's extremely threatening because all media giants are supportive. They fill their programming with Beck-like people while opposition voices are silenced. The scheme is to instill fear and demand loyalty of a government that may have in mind ending the republic, replacing it with tyranny, and it's arguable they've already done it.

Renown print journalist George Seldes saw it emerge during the golden New Deal era under Franklin Roosevelt. If fascism threatened then, its could happen any time, and no democracy is secure without constant vigilance. Seldes monitored it around the world as a foreign correspondent and at home. He was one of the great independent journalists of his time and did what's practically extinct today outside alternative spaces.

In his 1934 book "Iron, Blood and Profits," he wrote about a "world-wide munitions racket" citing WW I militarists and weapons makers in Europe and America as proof. Fascism was spreading in Europe, and he saw it emerging in America with powerful corporatists behind it. They included munitions makers, industrialists and Wall Street bankers promoting wars for profits. Seldes called them "merchants of death" financing "patriotic organizations" promoting "imperialism (and) colonization - by means of war....the healthfulness of their business depends on slaughter. The more wars (they got) the richer the profits."

They traded with the enemy, sabotaged disarmament efforts, promoted war scares in newspapers, supported dictators, and lobbied and bribed government officials for continued conflict. "The war to end all wars" was just a slogan as new dark forces arose in the 1930s.

Seldes returned to the theme in his 1943 book, "Facts and Fascism," that explained "Fascism on the Home Front" in the book's Part One called "The Big Money and Big Profits in Fascism." In Parts Two and Three, he went into "Native Fascist Forces" in US industry and the media of his day that had far less reach and influence than now.

Seldes was an archetype crusading journalist. He was a "witness to a century" (the title of his 1987 book) until he died in 1995 at age 104. He saw it all by covering the greats and infamous like Benito Mussolini who expelled him for exposing truths he wanted suppressed. So did Lenin after Seldes interviewed him in 1922. He was very hostile to Seldes' honesty that was forbidden by Russian journalists.

Seldes also covered the Spanish Civil War and believed it was a dress rehearsal for World War II. In "Facts and Fascism" he wrote: "Fascism in Spain was bought and paid for by numerous elements who would profit by the destruction of the democratic Republican Loyalist government." He cited generals wanting glory, the right wing conservative Catholic Church, the aristocracy wanting the old order back, and the "force of (big) Money" in Europe and America that wouldn't let social democracy interfere with business. He named names, knew the risks, but was a rare journalist who did what few others ever do - their job.

Seldes passed before the George Bush era, and the "Lincolns" are just a memory in the ALBA archives collection at New York University's Tamiment Library. It's the largest and most important resource available for study that includes their papers, oral histories, films, photos, posters, and selections of the microfilmed records of the International Brigades. They're maintained to preserve a historic record of their achievements, memory and spirit and as an inspiration to others. They represent courageous freedom-fighters who volunteered to fight and die for equality, justice and social democracy. It's never handed to us, is always imperiled, and is only gotten and kept when men and women like "Lincolns" risk everything for it. That spirit more than ever is needed now with America's freedom imperiled.

Sinclair Lewis feared it in his 1935 novel, "It Can't Happen Here." It was about a charismatic self-styled reformer, populist and champion of the common man senator who became president. It was all a front to hide his alliance with corporate interests and the religious extremists of his day. He takes full advantage of The Great Depression, supports a strong military, and gets unconstitutional laws passed during a national emergency. He further convenes military tribunals for dissenters who are called unpatriotic and traitors.

Fast forward to the current era when we're all potential "unlawful enemy combatants," there are no freedom-fighting "Lincolns," and the threat of full-blown tyranny may be one more real or contrived "terrorist" attack away. Stopping it needs the same spirit of sacrifice "Lincolns" made when they risked everything abroad for what they wanted at home. Something to reflect on over the holidays. Something to act on in the new year.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to the Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US Central time.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Season Hypocrisy

Holiday Season Hypocrisy - by Stephen Lendman

Christmas is observed December 25 by Christians and others celebrating the spirit of the season while for those of the Eastern Orthodox faith the holiday falls on January 7. It's to honor the birth of Jesus Christ even though it's widely acknowledged not to be his birthday. Along with its religious significance, the season is also for other celebratory events like winter festivals, parties, family get-togethers and Kwanzaa from December 26 - January 1 for Africans Americans to reconnect to their cultural and historical heritage. Jews as well celebrate the season with the Hanukkah Festival of Lights. It's to commemorate their struggle for survival, but for Jewish children it's their Christmas with gifts from parents like their Christian friends get.

Christmas is also the time when the national obsession to shop and consume reaches its zenith. It traditionally begins the day after Thanksgiving, runs through Christmas eve, and after the holiday continues into January with plenty of extra buying power from holiday gift cards, year-end bonuses and other resources gotten or borrowed. It's for everything people never knew they wanted until creative advertising wizardry made their lives incomplete without them.

Perhaps this single dominant trait characterizes American culture more than any other. It's a variant of the kind of consumerism economist/sociologist Thorstein Veblen called "conspicuous" in his 1899 book "The Theory of the Leisure Class." F. Scott Fitzgerald explained that "the very rich....are different from you and me." Veblen wrote about their spending habits and coined the phrase "conspicuous consumption." Today, it's called "keeping up with the Joneses" or consumerism, and it's practiced by status-seeking people obsessed with personal gratification. But not just by the rich. Most people, except the poor, do it and to excess.

The term "consumption" originated hundreds of years ago. Then, it referred to infectious tuberculosis or TB. But its original meaning is relevant in today's acquisitive society where consuming for essentials is worlds apart from gluttonous consumerism. This variant refers to overindulgent shopping and spending for things people buy irrespective of need but not without consequences for themselves and society.

Untreated TB, or consumption, consumes its victims in a slow, painful death. Consumerism mimics it with it's similarly harmful fallout: ecological destruction; unhealthy and unsafe consumer products; corporate empowerment; profits pursued over people; militarism and foreign wars; health, education and other essential needs neglected; and democratic decay in a corporatist state disdaining the public interest.

People take pride saying "when the going gets tough, the tough go shopping" - but not without consequences. The personal fallout is over-indebtedness millions can't handle in the wake of unexpected medical emergencies or loss of employment. The toll: since the early 1980s one in seven families forced into bankruptcy, over 2 million in 2005 alone (30% above 2004), and millions more ahead from unchecked borrow and binge-spending made worse by the subprime crisis.

Overindulgent spending is what clinicians call an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). At its worst, it's pathologically characterized by obsessive, repetitive thoughts that need compulsive tasks and rituals to relieve. For addicted consumers, it's an obsession to shop and spend and a compulsion to buy and accumulate. In excess, it's clinically pathological and destructive when it causes bankruptcy.

In America and the West, tens of millions of otherwise normal people shop excessively for what they never knew they wanted until Madison Avenue mind manipulators convinced them. Economist Paul Baran described the process as making us "want what we don't need (all unessential consumer goods and services) and not....what we do (good health care, education, clean air and water, safe food, and good government providing essential services)."

Future insolvency is risked, but few consider the possibility until it's too late. It's worst at Christmas when it becomes a pathological orgy of frenzied spending dismissively called getting into the holiday spirit. Maybe for merchants, but not when bills come due with growing millions unable to pay them or needing more debt to delay for later what they can't handle now.

Institutionalized consumerism also plays into social control. It's empowered when people are focused on bread and circus distractions that include the sights and sounds of the season. Media theorist Neil Postman once called Americans the most over-entertained and under-informed people in the world and wrote about it in books like "Amusing Ourselves to Death." Attracted to self-gratification and its reinforcing images, they're diverted from what matters most - challenging wars of aggression, loss of civil liberties and human rights, violations of law, gutted social services, environmental harm, and policies benefitting the privileged at the expense of beneficial social change.

Consumerism also lets corporate power prosper and grow. It feeds unfettered capitalism and out-of-control greed. It helps direct our tax dollars to a militarized state instead of going for essential social needs. It diverts the national wealth to an imperial juggernaut that consumers finance through overindulgence. The more we shop, the stronger it gets and is better able to exploit new markets, resources and cheap labor at the expense of the more expensive kind at home whose future consumption is endangered by today's self-gratifying excesses.

Adam Smith was capitalism's ideological godfather who was also concerned about concentrated wealth and wrote about it in "The Wealth of Nations." He explained an "invisible hand" of unseen forces worked best in a free market with many small businesses competing locally against each other. He contrasted them with concentrated mercantilism and wrote about the "merchants and manufacturers" who used their power to wreak "dreadful misfortunes" and grave injustices on the vast majority of people using the British East India Company as a case study example.

Today's monopoly capitalism would have been unimaginable in his day, but he'd recognize it. He wrote that throughout history we find the wreckage of the "vile maxim of the masters of mankind....All for ourselves and nothing for other people....unless government takes pains to prevent" this outcome. No invisible hand works in manipulated markets where governments sanction Smith's "vile maxim," and the greater good is nowhere in sight. Under neoliberal rules, capital wins, people lose, and consumerism makes things worse. It's most extreme at Christmas when shopping trumps the holiday's meaning and seasonal sights and sounds drown out everything else.

The toll is tragic. Whatever Christmas was, it no longer is, and our behavior corrupts it and the spirit of the man it honors. He spread it in deeds and teachings from his Sermon on the Mount and message to "turn the other cheek," love thy neighbor, not kill, and do unto others as you'd want them doing to you. The consumerist ethic glorifies receiving, not giving; condoning predatory capitalism and ignoring its harm; neglecting the greater good; sanctifying overindulgence while forgetting those most in need throughout the year. In the spirit of the season, thoughts should be on helping others and giving thanks. In an unfettered marketplace, it's impossible.

It's a sad testimony to a society obsessed with greed and gratification at the expense of beneficial social change. At Christmas, it defiles the holiday spirit and forgets the needy. For them, Christmas is "Bah Humbug," and Santa Scrooge - all take and no give.

New Year's Day

New Year's day is one week after Christmas and concludes the long holiday season. It starts after Thanksgiving, reaches a climax around Christmas, ebbs for a day and builds again for a final celebratory new year's welcome with more overindulgent eating, drinking, partying, and binge-shopping for nonessentials.

The new year is also a traditional time for resolutions that include some with merit like losing weight, quitting smoking and getting fit. Most are forgotten, and those most important never made: working for peace, good will toward others, loving they neighbor, respecting everyone, and treating people as we want to be treated in a society of caring and sharing with equity and justice for all. Wouldn't that be a wonderful resolution for the new year. Long ago in simpler times before the old world became America, it was that way. It can be again, but wishing won't make it so.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US Central time.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Police State America - A Look Back and Ahead

Police State America - A Look Back and Ahead - by Stephen Lendman

Year end is a good time to look back and reflect on what's ahead. If past is prologue, however, the outlook isn't good, and nothing on the horizon suggests otherwise. Voters last November wanted change but got betrayal from the bipartisan criminal class in Washington. Their attitude shows in an October Reuters/Zogby (RZ) opinion poll with George Bush at 24% that tops Richard Nixon's worst showing of 25% at his lowest 1974 Watergate point. And if that looks bad, consider Congress with "The Hill" reporting from the same RZ Index that our legislators scored a "staggering 11%, the lowest (congressional) rating in history," but there's room yet to hit bottom and a year left to do it. Why not with lawmakers' consistent voter sellout and failure record that keeps getting worse.

It's been that way ever since 9/11 with both sides of the aisle complicit with the administration. This article looks back at the record, and year end is a good time to review it. It's hard imagining another as bad with a President defiling the law and once telling Republican colleagues the Constitution is "just a goddamned piece of paper."

He didn't just say it. He governs by it, gets away with it, and former Defense Department analyst Daniel Ellsberg, of Pentagon Papers fame, says "a coup has occurred (with another to come from) the next 9/11....that completes the first (that's) seen a steady assault on every fundamental (aspect) of our Constitution (to create) an executive government (to) rule by decree" no different from a police state.

Author Naomi Wolf spells it out in her April, 2007 Guardian article - "Fascist America, In 10 Easy Steps." In it, she argues the Bush administration is following the same script any "would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms," and she lists them. They range from "invoking a terrifying internal and external enemy" to "creat(ing) a gulag" to spying on everyone to harassing opposition to controlling the media to calling dissent treason to "suspend(ing) the rule of law." She also notes how much "simpler" it is to shut down democracy than "to create and sustain" it, and that's today's threat.

It's not with jackboots in the streets but by a steady "process of erosion" with the public largely unaware and distracted by media mind manipulators. It's happening today, and Wolf sounds the alarm with the words of James Madison saying "The accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands....is the definition of tyranny," and that's the condition now in America. This article reviews the record for the past seven years. It's not pretty.

Even the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, (unlike every Pope in memory) condemned it in a wide-ranging UK Muslim magazine interview. It was quoted in a November 25 Sunday Times column headlined "US is 'worst' imperialist" and wields its power more reprehensibly than Britain ever did in its heyday. He explained that American overseas adventurism led to "the worst of all worlds" and expressed pessimism about the current state of western civilization and Washington's own misguided sense of mission.

He critiqued the "war on terror" and stated America lost the moral high ground post-9/11 and needs to launch a "generous and intelligent programme of aid to the (nations it) ravaged;....check (its) economic exploitation of defeated territories" and demilitarize them. He called the West fundamentally adrift and our "definition of humanity (isn't) working." He denounced America's violence and belief it can solve problems left for "other people (to clean up and) put....back together - Iraq, for example." Another is the condition at home.

Since taking office in January, 2001, George Bush signed a blizzard of Executive Orders and attached dozens of "signing statements" to hundreds of law provisions even though nothing in the Constitution allows this practice, and the Supreme Court banned line-item vetos. He continues to do it while Congress and the courts condone his claiming unconstitutional "unitary executive" authority to ignore the law and do as he pleases in the name of "national security" on his say alone.

It began on 9/11 when George Bush addressed the nation and declared a "war on terrorism," asked for world support to win it, and began what became "our government's emergency (preventive war strategy) response plans." The scheme was to ignore the law, go to war, and destroy our civil liberties to keep us safe from "rogue states, 'bad guys,' and evil-doers" throughout an "arc of instability" from the South American Andean region (mainly Colombia) to North Africa through the Middle East to the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere in Asia. Congress as well acted right out of the box with two audacious resolutions that surrendered its authority to the executive, allowed him to proceed, and signaled what would come.

The first one came September 18, 2001 in a joint "House-Senate Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF)" that authorized "the use of United States Armed Forces against those responsible for the recent attacks launched against the United States." A second followed in the October, 2002 "Joint Resolution to Authorize the Use of the United States Armed Forces Against Iraq," and the rest is history. This article reviews other key congressional legislation to the present along with George Bush's blatant abuse of presidential power.

His first action came November 13, 2001 when he issued Military Order Number 1 that one analyst called a "coup d'etat," and "watershed moment in (the) country," that was a hint of what would follow. This order violated the spirit and letter of a civil society under constitutional law with a firewall separating it from the military. No longer, and it got worse later on when its provisions resurfaced by act of Congress. That's discussed below. First, Military Order Number 1 and what's in it:

-- it let the President usurp authority to capture, kidnap or otherwise arrest any non-citizens (and later citizens as well) anywhere in the world if he claims they're involved in international terrorism and to hold them indefinitely without charge, evidence or allowing them due process in a court of law.

-- however, IF trials are allowed, they would be by special ad hoc "military commissions," not civil courts and in secret, with evidence obtained by torture allowed, those found guilty given no right of appeal, and they can be secretly executed.

-- no civil court has authority in these cases even if victims are identified and legal counsel wishes to represent them.

Few knew then that on November 13, 2001 US citizens lost their civil liberties, but that would come out later on. It's still ongoing with Congress and the courts complicit in the willful destruction of our democracy that was already on life support. Today, it's gone.

Use of National Security ((NSPDs) and Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs)

In the Bush administration, NSPDs replaced the Presidential Decision and Review Directives under Bill Clinton and others under different names since the Kennedy administration began the practice. Earlier ones remain in force unless superseded. They're much like Executive Orders (EOs) with the "full force and effect of law," relate to national security, and for that reason remain classified unless or until made public. In seven years, George Bush issued dozens of NSPD's that are too many to review as well as over 20 Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs). A few key ones are discussed below.

The October 25, 2001 NSPD-9 deserves special note and was titled "Defeating the Terrorist Threat to the United States." On March 23, 2004, Donald Rumsfeld gave this explanation of its classified contents to the 9/11 Commission:

-- "To eliminate the Al Queda network;

-- To use all elements of national power to do so -- diplomatic, military, economic, intelligence, information and law enforcement;

-- To eliminate sanctuaries for Al Queda and related terrorist networks -- and if diplomatic efforts to do so failed, to consider additional measures."

On April 1, 2004, the White House released this statement on the directive:

The NSPD called on the Secretary of Defense to plan for military options "against Taliban targets in Afghanistan, including leadership, command-control, air and air defense, ground forces, and logistics (along with similar efforts) against Al Queda and associated terrorist facilities in Afghanistan."

Here's the problem. The administration adopted these measures on September 4, 2001, seven days before 9/11. George Bush then signed them into binding law in NSPD-9 on October 25, 2001 to conceal when they originated.

Other important NSPDs relate to:

-- combatting WMDs;

-- developing and deploying an anti-ballistic missile defense that's for offense, not defense;

-- biodefense;

-- deploying nuclear weapons and domestic nuclear detection;

-- the Iraq war;

-- a national space policy as part of the goal for "full spectrum dominance" over all land, surface and sub-surface sea, air, space, electromagnetic spectrum and information systems to deter any domestic or foreign threat or challenge to our global hegemony; and,

There's one other crucially important combined NSPD-HSPD:

NSPD-51/HSPD-20 on April 4, 2007 - National Security and Homeland Security Presidential Directive

This is a combined directive from the White House and Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to establish "Continuity of Government (COG)" procedures under a "Castastrophic Emergency" defined as follows:

"any incident (such as a terrorist attack), regardless of location, that results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the US population, infrastructure, environment, economy, or government functions."

COG is then defined as:

''a coordinated effort within the Federal Government's executive branch to ensure that National Essential Functions continue to be performed during a Catastrophic Emergency."

Crucial to understand is that this combined directive gives the President and DHS unprecendented powers free from constitutional constraints. Under NSPD-51, the President can declare a "national emergency" and declare martial law without congressional approval. It allows him to create a de facto militarized police state with him as dictator and DHS as a national Gestapo to an even greater degree than it is already. It also empowers the Vice-President to implement the directives' provisions as part of the "Continuity of Government" plan that in the case of Dick Cheney gives him even more power than George Bush the way this administration operates. This combined directive alone is the face of "police state America" in real time if it's implemented, and it wasn't likely enacted as window dressing. But there's lots more besides.

Other HSPDs relate to:

-- combatting "immigrant terrorism;"

-- a national response plan to domestic incidents;

-- critical infrastructure identification, prioritization, and protection;

-- national preparedness;

-- comprehensive terrorist-related screening procedures;

-- domestic nuclear detection; and others.

Congressional Legislation After 9/11

Post-9/11, Congress acted in lockstep with the President and continues to pass laws any despot would love. Written, on the shelf, and ready to go long before 9/11, the USA Patriot Act was passed and signed by the president 45 days later on October 26, 2001. The legislative process capitalized on a window of hysteria to grant unchecked powers to the executive but created three grave civil liberties threats in the process:

-- the erosion of Fifth and Fourteen Amendment due process rights by permitting indefinite detentions of undocumented immigrants that can now apply to anyone anywhere in the world; more on that below;

-- the First Amendment loss of freedom of association that the Supreme Court considers an essential part of free expression; now anyone may be charged and prosecuted because of his or her claimed association with an "undesirable group;" and

-- loss of the Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and as a consequence, the loss of privacy; the Act grants the administration unchecked surveillance powers to access personal records; monitor financial transactions; student records; conduct "sneak and peak" searches through "delayed notice" warrants; authorize roving wiretaps; track emails, internet and cell phone use; use secret evidence in prosecutions; deny immigrants the right to counsel if they're unable to get their own; and ends built-in safeguards to let domestic criminal and foreign intelligence operations share information so CIA can now spy domestically.

The Act also creates the federal crime of "domestic terrorism" that broadens the definition and applies to US citizens as well as aliens. It states criminal law violations are considered domestic terrorist acts if they aim to "influence (government policy) by intimidation or coercion (or) intimidate or coerce a civilian population." By this definition, anti-war or global justice demonstrations, environmental activism, civil disobedience and dissent of any kind may be called "domestic terrorism." The Patriot Act was just for starters. Much more was ahead with a bipartisan Congress acting like a gift that keeps on giving and the President loving it.

The Homeland Security Act (HSA) of November 25, 2002 followed as a sweeping new anti-terrorism bill, and like the Patriot Act, was planned long before 9/11. It created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) by combining previously separate government agencies under this new authority to prepare for, prevent and respond to domestic emergencies and give the federal government broad new powers to protect the nation within and outside our borders. In March, 2003, its largest investigative and enforcement arm was then established - the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE). It was charged with protecting public safety by identifying and targeting "criminal" and "terrorist" threats to the country who in most cases are NAFTA and globalized trade victims here out of need, not choice, and who aren't terrorists.

DHS is part of the administration's plan to centralize unprecedented military and law enforcement power in the executive branch that aims for greater global dominance - to rule the world unchallenged including repressively at home by suppressing civil liberties in the name of "national security." DHS and USA Patriot Act are two frightening measures to do it.

DHS is insidious. It encroaches on local authority by "mandat(ing) federal supervision, funding, and coordination of 'local first responders.' " This refers to police and "emergency personnel" comprising local law enforcement. The Homeland Security Act (HSA) doesn't mandate local control. Instead, it provides coordination and guidance as a first step measure with more to come. That's why US Northern Command (USNORTHCOM) was established in October, 2002 as an unprecedented move to militarize the mainland plus Alaska, Canada, Mexico, Gulf of Mexico and Straits of Florida and, for the first time ever, allow troops to be deployed on US streets to counter drugs, an "insurrection" loosely defined, and combat crimes with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons. In other words, the President may now deploy military forces on US streets in the interest of "national security." This power is unprecedented and dangerous.

So is another affecting everyone. It's largely below the radar since it was was scheduled to be fully operational in late September, 2006. It's the Pentagon's New Offensive Strike Plan called the Joint Functional Component Command for Global Strike and Integration - or simply Global Strike Command. It grew out of the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that was updated more belligerently in early 2006. NPR is a declaration of preventive war on any nation, group or force anywhere on earth the administration calls a "national security" threat and could be used by NORTHCOM against US-based targets along with a HSA crackdown if martial law is declared.

HSA goes further still by creating a sweeping domestic intelligence agency called the Directorate of Information Analysis and Infrastructure Protection. It's to create and maintain an all-inclusive intrusive public and private information data base on everyone. It can include virtually everything - financial transactions and records, medical ones, emails, phone calls, purchases, books and publications read, organization memberships, and any other personal habit or pattern.

USA Patriot Act and HSA end the distinction between foreign and domestic intelligence gathering and, up to now, the sacrosanct firewall between them. They also no longer allow "critical infrastructure information" from a federal agency to be disclosed through a FOIA request as part of an official policy of secrecy characteristic of police states. There's much more in both Acts as well that's frightening, dangerous and unknown to the public. In sum, they end constitutional protections whenever the executive suspends the law in the name of "national security." That's how "police state America" works that's hidden from public view.

The Detainee Treatment Act of 2005

Torture is official state policy for the Bush administration as its preferred means of intimidation, retribution and social control. The McCain Detainee (anti-torture) Amendment in October, 2005 was a futile effort to deter it. It was passed and weakened by the Graham-Levin Amendment, became the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and was attached to the 2006 Defense Department's Appropriations Act. George Bush signed the legislation after which he gutted its provisions relating to detainees in one of his notorious "signing statements." Its language gave himself the right (irrespective of the law) to "protect the American people from further terrorist attacks" using all his self-given powers as a "unitary executive" that places him above the law, Congress, the courts, the people, and world public opinion.

The legislation's final form went further as well. It denied detainees habeas rights, let US forces use any cruel, abusive, inhumane or degrading treatment in the interests of "national security," prohibited detainees from bringing suits as a result, and allowed statements gotten coercively to be used as evidence against them. It also followed previous policies as far back as September 17, 2001 when George Bush signed a secret "finding" authorizing CIA to kill, capture and detain "Al Qaeda" members anywhere in the world, rendition them to black site torture-prisons for interrogation, and obtain it by any means. From then to now, torture and abuse of anyone have been standard operating procedures for the Bush administration with complicity from Congress and the courts.

Other Repressive Legislation and More

The 107th, 108th, 109th and 110th Congresses will be remembered for likely having done more than all others before them to defile the rule of law and our constitutional protections. They conspired with a rogue administration, wrecked the republic, and for the 109th Congress, October 17, 2006 stands out shamelessly as a day that will live in infamy.

The Military Commissions Act

In a White House ceremony, George Bush signed the Military Commissions Act (MCA) now known as "the torture authorization act," but it's more far-reaching than that. It grants the administration extraordinary unconstitutional powers to detain, interrogate and prosecute alleged terror suspects and anyone claimed to be their supporters. It also lets the President call anyone anywhere in the world an "unlawful enemy combatant" and empowers him to arrest and incarcerate those accused indefinitely in military prisons without needing corroborating evidence proving guilt. The law states for persons detained that "no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause for action whatsoever.... relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission....including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions."

MCA further scraps habeas protection (dating back to 1215 in the Magna Carta) for domestic and foreign enemies of the state, citizens and non-citizens alike, and says "Any person is punishable... who....aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures" and in so doing helps a foreign enemy, provides "material support" to alleged terrorist groups, engages in spying, or commits other offenses previously handled in civil courts.

Other key elements of the act include:

-- legalizing torture against anyone and lets the President decide what procedures can be used on his own authority;

-- denying detainees international law protection and lets the executive interpret it;

-- empowering the President to convene "military commissions" to try anyone he designates an "unlawful enemy combatant," and hold them in secret detention indefinitely;

--denying speedy trials or any at all;

-- allowing evidence obtained by torture or coerced testimony to be used against detainees in trial proceedings;

-- permitting hearsay and secret evidence to be used; and

-- denying due process, destroying human dignity, mocking the rule of law, and establishing the principle of kangaroo court justice for anyone the executive targets.

Revising the 1807 Insurrection Act and Ending 1878 Posse Comitatus Protection

Also on October 17, 2006, the president privately signed into law a hidden provision in Sections 1076 and 333 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007. It amended the Insurrection Act of 1807 and Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 that prohibit using federal and National Guard troops for law enforcement inside the country except as constitutionally allowed or expressly authorized by Congress in times of a national emergency like an insurrection. The executive can now claim a public emergency, effectively declare martial law, suspend the Constitution for "national security," and deploy federal and National Guard troops on the nation's streets to suppress whatever he calls disorder. That means First Amendment-guaranteed peaceful public demonstrations and all organized acts of dissent are no longer constitutionally protected. Neither is the republic in "police state America."

The new law also authorizes the Pentagon to transfer state-of-the-art crowd control weapons and technology to state and local responders. It's to militarize them and blur the distinction between federal and local law enforcement agencies as an operational police state tactic.

The Real ID Act of 2005

Congress passed the Act that threatens personal privacy, it's scheduled to become effective in May, 2008, and it will require states to meet federal ID standards if in takes effect next spring. That's now in question as two dozen or more states passed laws prohibiting its use and refused to fund it.

The federal law mandates that every US citizen and legal resident have a national identity card that in most cases will be a driver's license. It requires that it contain an individual's personal information and means this ID will be needed to open a bank account, board an airplane, be able to vote, or conduct virtually any other essential type business.

In the future, the law may also require that the card contain a radio frequency identification (RFID) technology computer chip that will be able to track all movements, activities and transactions of everyone, everywhere, at all times. In other words, with this technology embedded, the card will become an empowered police state dream (and an Orwellian nightmare) to be able to monitor everyone having one all the time wherever they are.

However, growing state opposition to the law puts its status in doubt. It's because it's costly to establish and administer and will create a bureaucratic nightmare besides. It thus looks likely it won't be adopted in its current form, but it may be revised and reintroduced, so don't yet count this one out as some are ready to do. As of now, measures have been introduced in the House and Senate to repeal it by adopting national ID standards in other legislation and increase federal funding for it. So going forward, the issue of mandating national ID measures is very much alive. It looks like something on it will emerge as federal law going forward, but the cure may be worse than the disease if states adopt it to give "police state America" another repressive tool.

Pervasive Spying on Americans

Under George Bush, spying is a national pastime, but it's no joke. The New York Times reported on December 16, 2005 that his administration had been secretly spying on Americans without warrants since late 2001. He authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to intercept international communications of US citizens with known links to Al Queda, related "terrorist" organizations, or for any other reasons at its discretion. The operation was called the "Terrorism Surveillance Program."

It made no difference to the administration that wiretapping without probable cause or judicial oversight violates Fourth Amendment protections and the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In the current atmosphere, the rule of law is out the window, Congress and the courts condone it, and that's the problem.

It surfaced again when Congress passed the Protect America Act of 2007 that amends FISA with doublespeak language Orwell would love. It supposedly aims to close "communication gaps" but will allow virtual unrestricted mass data-mining monitoring and intercept of domestic and foreign internet, cell phones and other new technology as well as transit international phone call traffic and emails. The Act claims to restrict surveillance to foreign nationals "reasonably believed to be outside the United States" and must be renewed. In fact, the law targets everyone including US citizens inside the country if the Attorney General or Director of National Intelligence claim they pose a potential terrorist or "national security" threat, but no evidence is needed to prove it.

This law allows virtual unrestricted warrantless spying of anyone for any claimed "national security" reason. It thus renders the notion of illegal searches and privacy rights null and void. But that already went on earlier post-9/11 through other unconstitutional speech-related monitoring activities. One was the short-lived Operation TIPS that was dropped when civilian informers refused to be spies. Then, there was the Pentagon's Total Information Awareness (TIA), later renamed Terrorism Information Awareness, that was also ended under pressure but resurfaced in new form so illegal military spying continues. The Threat and Local Observation Notice (TALON) program was part of it to collect domestic intelligence through a huge database focused on "terrorism" that means everyone legally opposing Bush administration practices is targeted.

MATRIX is another new data mining tool that stands for the Multistate Anti-Terrorism Exchange Program. It violates our privacy by mass monitoring the lives and activities of ordinary people on the pretext of learning whether they may be engaging in any type terrorist or criminal activity.

Privacy isn't mentioned in the Constitution, but Supreme Court decisions affirmed it as a fundamental human right. In addition, it's protected under the Ninth Amendment, the Third prohibiting quartering troops in homes, the Fourth prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures, and the Fifth safeguarding against self-incrimination. MATRIX and other intrusive laws violate the letter and spirit of the law and permits Patriot and HSA justice in "police state America."

Executive Orders Issued by George Bush

George Bush loves big numbers. They show up in budgets and spending, in his number of signing statements to congressional legislation, and in over 250 Executive Orders (EOs) in almost seven years. A key one is reviewed below.

July 17, 2007 Executive Order (EO): Blocking Property of Certain Persons Who Threaten Stabilization Efforts in Iraq

The US Constitution has no provision that gives a President power to make new law through one-man executive order decrees. That never deterred others in the past from issuing them, but none ever abused this practice more than George Bush who's issued over 250 of them thus far with more sure to come.

This one on July 17 is especially egregious but right in character for a President who disdains the law and shows it. It starts off: The President's power stems from "the authority vested in me as President by the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America" as well as the International Economic Powers Act he also invokes.

The order continues: "....due to the unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States posed by acts of violence threatening the peace and stability of Iraq and undermining efforts to promote economic reconstruction and political reform in Iraq and to provide humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people," George Bush, in fact, unconstitutionally usurped authority to criminalize the anti-war movement, make the First Amendment right to protest it illegal, and empower himself to seize the assets of persons violating this decree.

By this action, the President again, on his own authority, violated the Constitution, criminalized dissent, and moved the nation another step closer to tyranny in "police state America."

Secrecy As Policy under George Bush

In November 1, 2001, George Bush signed Executive Order 13233: Further Implementation of the Presidential Records Act. In so doing, he established an official administration policy of secrecy in violation of the 1978 Presidential Records Act, the 1974 Freedom of Information Act, and James Madison's 1822 warning that "A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy; or perhaps both." He also violated the Supreme Court's 1977 decision in Nixon v. Administrator of General Services that ruled "executive privilege" is subject to "erosion over time" after a president leaves office, and Congress decided that little or none of an executive's communications with his advisors should remain secret after 12 years.

Secrecy threatens democracy because it avoids accountability and empowers an imperial president way beyond issues of national security that are justifiable. On his own authority, George Bush placed limits on presidential records, the Freedom of Information Act, and a free and open society by giving himself the power to classify information for national security and create a whole new array of categories called "sensitive" information that includes anything he so designates. The result is that classified information doubled since 2001 and efforts to declassify material was stopped by invoking the "State Secrets" privilege to avoid court challenge. These actions characterize police states and represent another threat to a free and open society under an administration that disdains the law and operates freely without constraint.

The Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA)

On November 27, 2006, George Bush signed AETA into law to amend the Animal Enterprise Protection Act of 1992. The new Act has broad and vague language to criminalize First Amendment activities advocating for animal rights like peaceful protests, leafleting, undercover investigations, whisleblowing and boycotts. It shows how out of hand things have gotten with animal protection advocacy now a crime.

Under the old law, anyone convicted of a physical disruption causing $10,000 in damages to an animal enterprise was subject to a $10,000 fine or 10 years to life imprisonment. The new AETA is even harsher with penalties far exceeding comparable offenses under other laws. It expands the original Act by changing activity "for the purpose of causing physical disruption" to actions "for the purpose of damaging or disrupting" an animal enterprise. In this case, "disruptive" means any activity that results in "losses and increased losses" over $10,000 by peaceful protests for consumers boycotts, advocating harmful practice reforms, or a whisleblower doing the same things.

The Act also goes further. It allows for expanded surveillance of animal rights organizations to include criminal wiretapping and makes it easier for a court to find probable cause for the vague crime of economic damage or disruption than for one requiring hard evidence a person or group plans to commit these acts.

The bill exempts "lawful public, governmental or business reaction to the disclosure of information about an animal enterprise," but that provision only applies to economic disruption claims, not damage and makes it hard to distinguish between the two. In addition, AETA:

-- expands the kinds of facilities covered by adding ones that use or sell animals or animal products;

-- it covers any person, entity or organization with a connection to an animal enterprise;

-- it applies to any form of advocacy;

-- it criminalizes threatening conduct and protected speech as well as communication with individuals who engage in these practices; and

-- it potentially includes any form of communication such as emailing across state lines to boycott abusive animal activities;

-- it protects corporate animal abusers with a vested interest in silencing dissent; and

-- it effectively singles out any form of civil disobedience or protest activity and brands animal advocates as terrorists even when nothing they do causes physical harm; even worse, the bill's language is so broad and vague it's hard to know the difference between legal and illegal behavior; this Act is another nail in the coffin of free expression, the rule of law in a free society, and the right of everyone to be protected by law, not targeted by it.

The Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 (HR 1955)

The House overwhelmingly passed this measure on October 23 that some observers call "the thought crime prevention bill." It's now in the Senate (S 1959) where if passed and signed by George Bush will establish a commission and Center for Excellence to study and take action against "thought criminals." The commission will be empowered to subpoena and investigate anyone that will automatically create a perception of guilt that may be highlighted in the media for added emphasis.

This Act is a direct assault on democratic freedoms in the current atmosphere with both parties and a President determined to end them. The bill's language hides its possible intent as "violent radicalization" and "homegrown terrorism" may be whatever the administration says they are. "Violent radicalization" is defined as "adopting or promoting an extremist belief system (to facilitate) ideologically based violence to advance political, religious or social change." "Homegrown terrorism" is used to mean "the use, planned use, or threatened use, of force or violence by a group or individual born, raised, or based and operating primarily within the United States or any (US) possession to intimidate or coerce the (US) government, the civilian population....or any segment thereof (to further) political or social objectives."

This and other repressive laws may be used against any individual or group with unpopular views - those that differ from established state policy, even illegal ones, and historian Howard Zinn is concerned. He says: "This is the most recent of a long series of laws passed in times of foreign policy tensions, starting with the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, which sent people to jail for criticizing the Adams administration." Under Woodrow Wilson in WW I, "the Espionage (and) Sedition Act(s) (jailed) close to a thousand people (who spoke) out against the war." From HR 1955 and other post-9/11 laws, authorities now have the same power to target anti-war protesters or anyone expressing views this Act alone calls "terrorist-related propaganda." Persons charged and convicted face stiff penalties in an effort to deter others. This measure is still another step toward full-blown tyranny in "police state America."

Sections 1615 and 1622 of the 2008 Defense Authorization Act

These provisions authorize DOD to militarize the country under martial law by merging the military with state and local law enforcement during a national emergency described as "an incident of national significance or a catastrophic incident." It also gives the Defense Secretary extraordinary power to determine what military capabilities are needed, to provide them to "active (and) reserve components of the armed forces for homeland defense missions, domestic emergency responses, and (to provide) military support to civil authorities (for) at least five years."

The Act designates the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman to review NORTHCOM civilian, reservist and military positions and increase their number in preparation for a potential catastrophic event requiring "homeland defense missions, domestic emergency response, (and the need for) military support to civil authorities."

Section 1622 then establishes a Council of Governors to advise the Secretaries of Defense and Homeland Security and the White House "on matters related to the National Guard and civil support missions."

The Act is more proof of "police state America." It establishes a martial law apparatus to be used in case of a "catastrophic event" of any kind and empowers the President or Vice-President under NSPD-51 to implement it in a "national emergency" without congressional approval.

Operation FALCON - Police State America in Real Time

Mike Whitney won a 2008 Project Censored Award for his February, 2007 article titled "Operation FALCON and the Looming Police State." In it, he reported that the Bush administration "carried out three massive sweeps in the last two years, rolling up more than 30,000 minor crooks and criminals" that he calls a "blueprint for removing dissidents and political rivals" reminiscent of Nazi Germany or any other repressive police state. Those chickens now reside at home, but the public is largely unaware and unconcerned. We all should be as Whitney raises a "red flag for anyone who cares at all about human rights, civil liberties, or simply saving his own skin."

Operation FALCON stands for "Federal and Local Cops Organized Nationally" and came out of the Bush Justice Department and right-wing think tanks "where fantasies of autocratic government have a long history" and are now playing out in real time. The scheme centralizes power in Washington and uses resources of local authorities for its own purposes.

Whitney traces its short history starting in the week of April 4 - 10, 2005 when over 10,000 criminal suspects were arrested in "the largest criminal sweep in the nation's history" in a "single initiative." Its aim was "quantity," not "quality," but Whitney asked why did the Feds get involved in local police work and suggested something more sinister was involved "than just ensuring public safety." His answer - "to enhance the powers of the 'unitary' executive" by giving Washington power over local law enforcement, and that makes perfect sense under an administration obsessed with wanting unchallengeable control.

Operation FALCON II followed a week later from April 17 - 23 and swept up another 9037 "alleged fugitives." The final FALCON III came from October 22 - 28, 2006 with 10,773 more arrests. Each sweep was the same and concentrated on alleged criminal types out of character for a federal operation, so clearly another motive was involved. Further, no one arrested was charged with a terrorist-related crime, and that alone looks fishy. Whitney thought so and called FALCON "new drills for a new world order" that's waging permanent war, defiles the law, ignores checks and balances, condones torture, repealed habeas, and illegally spies on everyone.

Muslim and US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) Sweeps

As FALCON targeted petty crooks and criminals, Muslims are the administration's main "war on terrorism" victims. Post-9/11, thousands were mercilessly harassed and persecuted through mass witch-hunt roundups, detentions, prosecutions and deportations. Their assets were frozen, and legal immigrants among them were subjected to secret federal immigration court status hearings where those found guilty of minor past infractions were illegally held or returned to their countries of origin where they faced possible arrest and torture.

Others fared even worse and became political prisoners. Professor Sami Al-Arian was one of them because of his faith, beliefs and activism. Palestinian refugee, scholar, academic, community leader, civic activist, and freedom and justice advocate for his people made him a Bush administration target. His ordeal began when he was arrested in February, 2003 and unjustly charged with supporting terrorism, conspiracy to commit murder, racketeering, giving material support to an outlawed group, extortion, perjury and other offenses proved spurious in his subsequent trial in which he was exonerated. Yet he remains imprisoned under harsh conditions as the Bush Justice Department finds ways to hold him.

Another victim was Dr. Rafil Dhafir, a Muslim American of Iraqi descent and practicing oncologist until his license was suspended. He was convicted in a shameless kangaroo court trial of 59 of 60 trumped up charges of violating the Iraqi Sanctions Regulations (IEEPA) for using his own funds and what he could raise through his Help the Needy charity to bring desperately needed essential to life humanitarian aid to Iraqis under sanctions. He's now serving a 22 year sentence in a special Terre Haute, IN "Communications Management Unit" (CMU) for Muslims and Arabs for his "crime of compassion" (see dhafirtrial.net, Katherine Hughes) where he, like Sami Al-Arian, is a Bush administration "trophy" prisoner in the "war on terrorism."

Undocumented Latino immigrants have also been targeted with ICE shock troops mandated to do it. The agency was established in March, 2003 as the largest DHS investigative and enforcement arm and charged with protecting the public safety by identifying and targeting "criminal" and "terrorist" threats to the country. In most cases, they're innocent victims of NAFTA and globalized trade coming north to survive. ICE heads them off at the border, hunts them down ruthlessly once they're here, and boasts how well their multi-billion dollar budget lets them conduct a reign of terror against vulnerable people.

Workplace assaults continue, and on October 3, ICE said it swept up and deported (or will deport) more than 1300 "criminal aliens, immigrations fugitives, and immigration violators" in the "largest-ever" operation of its kind in the Los Angeles area. Most were Mexican nationals, but some were from 30 other countries, and ICE called them "immigration violators." They're Bush administration targets in its "war on terrorism" that soon may come for us.

Police State America Preparations

Today, dissent is an endangered species, and preparations are underway for mass detentions in the "war on terrorism" targeting anyone seen as a threat. Halliburton is the beneficiary with a DHS contingency contract worth nearly $400 million to build US-based camps for "detention and processing" in case of an "emergency influx of immigrants....or to support the rapid development of new programs (for planned) expansion facilities (for anyone with capacity for 5000 or more persons)."

This language is cover for planned US-based concentration camps for anyone labeled an enemy of the state or threat to "national security." The plan is clear - to have facilities in place if martial law is declared with plenty of reasons to fear it's coming. Why else these camps and why all the repressive laws, EOs, NSPDs, and HSPDs put in place if they weren't for a purpose.

The Pentagon is also ready with a DOD action plan called "Strategy for Homeland Defense and Civil Support." It envisions an "active, layered defense" both within and outside the country that pledges to "transform US military forces to execute homeland defense missions in the....US homeland." It lays out a strategy for increased reconnaissance and surveillance to "defeat potential challengers before they threaten the United States." It also "maximizes threat awareness and seizes the initiative from those who would harm us."

These are ominous developments that suggest a likely real or contrived homeland terror attack severe enough to warrant suspending the Constitution and declaring martial law with the public acquiescing out of fear. If it comes, anyone may be targeted as a "national security" threat, indefinitely detained in a camp, and no evidence is needed for proof. The state and military will be empowered by law to act preventively through mass roundups and detentions that appears the reason for three test-run FALCON operations.

Full-scale militarization of the country is already lawful under the 1988 Reagan administration's "national security emergency" EO 12656. It was meant for "Any occurrence, including natural disaster, military attack, technological or other emergency, that seriously degrades or seriously threatens the national security of the United States." "Police state America" has been in the works a long time, and it now may be near the boiling point.

The Role of Blackwater USA in Police State America

Most people know about Blackwater but not how it operates. We better learn because it's coming to a neighborhood near you, and that means trouble. Author Jeremy Scahill wrote the book on the company he calls "the world's most powerful mercenary army" and describes it as a "shadowy mercenary company (employing) some of the most feared professional killers in the world accustomed to operating without worry of legal consequences (and) largely off the congressional radar." It has friends in high places who give it "remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus" with unaccountable license to practice street violence with impunity to include cold-blooded murder wherever their paramilitaries are deployed.

For now, that's mostly abroad, and controversy surfaced about the company after its mercenaries killed two dozen or more Iraqis and wounded dozens more in al-Nisour on September 16. It was the latest incident involving a company with a disturbing history of unprovoked violence and then claiming self-defense. Blackwater is contracted to provide security services for US diplomats, officials and others that once was assigned to the military at one-sixth or less what the company charges under an administration that believes anything government can do private business does better, so let it whatever the cost.

Using Blackwater and other paramilitaries is part of the scheme to militarize America, and New Orleans is its first test case. Scahill wrote that "about 150 heavily armed Blackwater troops dressed in full battle gear" arrived in the Crescent City right after Katrina hit and spread out into the city's chaos. Others came later. Their cover was to provide hurricane relief, but that was a ruse as local residents still around in the wrong places soon discovered. They patrolled like Gestapo in SUVs with tinted windows and their logo on the back. Others used unmarked cars with no license plates, and relief wasn't their mandate. They came to secure neighborhoods from their legal residents and treat those wanting to return like criminals. They wore flak jackets, carried automatic weapons and had extra guns strapped to their legs. They weren't for show.

Instead of helping hurricane victims, they came as vigilantes to terrorize them and be empowered by federal, state and local authorities to do it. Blackwater USA is the face of paramilitarism on US streets as the "war on terrorism" comes to a neighborhood near you with New Orleans the first test case to see if the company can operate here the way it does in Iraq and get away with it. It's doing it.

More than two years after Katrina, New Orleans is still a disaster zone, and many thousands of its residents are still without homes. Instead of helping them rebuild and restore their lives, federal funds instead go to private mercenaries to protect the privileged from desperate people needing help. Blackwater is another element in place in "police state America" where the streets of Boston, Boise or Buffalo may one day resemble Baghdad and bring the "war on terror" to the homeland with chilling implications of what that means.

A Look Ahead in Police State America

This article began and will end with the same chilling thought. It past is prologue, the outlook isn't good in "police state America" under neocon rule that won't appreciably change when the White House has a new occupant in 2009. The nation is at war and laws are in place that end constitutional protections, militarize the country, repress dissent, and our government is empowered to crush freedom and defend privilege from beneficial social change it won't tolerate. It's the price of imperial arrogance we the people are paying, and that won't end until the spirit of resistance gets aroused enough to stop it in our own self-defense. We better hope that happens in time with potentially little of it left.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US Central time.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

FCC Proposes Greater Media Consolidation

FCC Proposes Greater Media Consolidation - by Stephen Lendman

On October 17, FCC chairman Kevin Martin proposed lifting the 1975 media cross-ownership rule that forbids a company from owning a newspaper and television or radio station in the same city even though giant conglomerates like Rupert Murdock's News Corp. and the (Chicago) Tribune Company already do. On November 13, he expanded on his earlier plan claiming changes will only allow cross ownership "in the largest markets where there exists competition and numerous voices."

That's not how Free Press.net's policy director, Ben Scott, sees it in his statement on the same day saying: "Chairman Martin's lofty rhetoric talks about saving American newspapers and ensuring a diversity of voices. But the devil is in the details. His new rules appear to be corporate welfare for the (media giants) in the biggest cities (and) most worrying....the proposed rules appear to contain a giant loophole that could open the back door to runaway media consolidation in nearly every market (in) another massive giveaway to Big Media."

If the ban is ended, that's what will happen, and the trend author and journalist Ben Bagdikian documented since 1983 will continue unimpeded. He did it in six editions of his landmark book, "The Media Monopoly," plus his newest 2004 update titled, "The New Media Monopoly."

Since 1983, the number of corporations owning most newspapers, magazines, book publishers, recorded music, movie studios, television and radio stations have shrunk from 50 to five "global-dimension firms, operating with many of the characteristics of a cartel" - Time-Warner, Disney, News Corp., Viacom and Bertelsmann AG based in Germany. Also large and dominant are companies like cable giant Comcast and corporate behemoth GE with its NBC television and radio operations.

When The Telecommunications Act of 1996 passed, its supporters claimed it would increase competition, lower prices, improve service, and according to Vice-President Al Gore be an "early Christmas present for the consumer." Point of fact - it wasn't passed for the consumer or to discipline the market. It had many anti-consumer provisions in it that included giving media and telecom giants the right to consolidate further through mergers and acquisitions.

Limits on TV station ownership were raised to let broadcast giants own twice as many local stations as before. For radio, it was even sweeter with all national limits on station ownership removed, and on the local level one company henceforth could own up to eight stations in a major market. In smaller ones, two companies could own them all. The bill also consigned new digital television broadcast spectrum space to current TV station owners only and let cable companies increase their local monopoly positions. The clear winners from this bill were the media and telecom giants. As always, consumers lost out, and FCC chairman Martin wants to make it worse by his October 17 proposal to end the cross-ownership ban.

Further consolidation means less diversity when there's already precious little. That's anathema to a healthy democracy that depends on the free marketplace of ideas that's greatly eroded since the 1980s. In 2003, the Michael Powell-run FCC tried to weaken it further through a number of proposed changes Congress blocked in the wake of strong public opposition to them. That even aroused former CNN owner Ted Turner to say a further rule relaxation would "stifle debate (and) inhibit new ideas." The Media Access Project (MAP) also won a Third Circuit Court June, 2004 decision in the Prometheus Radio Project v. FCC case that ruled for diversity and democracy over greater media consolidation and ordered the FCC to reconsider its ill-advised ownership rules changes Powell's FCC proposed that included:

-- ending the cross-ownership ban under consideration now that prohibits a company from owning a newspaper and TV or radio station in the same city;

-- eliminating the previous ban on radio/TV cross-ownership and replacing both types with a single set of cross-media limits;

-- a concocted "diversity index" to determine cross-media limits. It was based on assigning varying weights to the various media to determine if markets retained enough diversity. It would only consider ownership limits if by its formula there wasn't enough. It was pure deception because in major markets like New York the FCC gave equal or greater weighting to a community college radio station than the New York Times and local ABC affiliates;

-- cross-ownership limits only in smaller markets. In ones with eight or more TV stations, proposed rules changes would have no cross-ownership newspaper, TV and radio station restrictions;

-- a company would be able to own two TV and six radio stations in the same market if at least 20 "independently owned media voices" remained after a merger. If only 10 remained, ownership would be limited to two TV and four radio stations;

-- redefining National Market Share to mean the total number of households company TV stations reach and raising the allowable ownership ceiling from 35% to 45%. A 39% compromise was reached to allow News Corp. and Viacom to keep all their stations that already exceeded the allowable limit.

In spite of mass public opposition today, FCC Chairman Martin wants to end limits on media ownership in a plan to take effect in weeks or sooner if not stopped. He's been allowing public comments on the proposal since mid-November with a Republican three to two majority FCC vote planned for December 18. His move is the latest effort to end 1940s restrictions the New York Times said (in February, 2002) were "rooted in the fears of the European experience at the time that the television industry in the United States could come to be dominated by a few powerful interests." Ownership limits were gradually eased thereafter, and mergers and acquisitions followed.

By the mid-1980s, no network was allowed to control local media that reached over a fourth of the nation's households, nor could it own more than 12 stations. The Telecommunications Act of 1996 raised the limit to 35% that made possible almost 200 TV station mergers and acquisitions that followed.

It was no different for the three giant radio broadcasters. They were able to acquire the great majority of the 2000 stations bought between 1996 and 2000, after which Clear Channel Communications bought AMFM Radio to become the nation's largest radio broadcaster with over 900 stations (plus its 19 TV stations) that combined with its international holdings makes it the largest one in the world.

Regulatory easing had a devastating effect on local diversity according to Free Press.net Research Director S. Derek Turner. In testimony before the Senate Commerce Committee on October 23 he said: "Congress must send a message to the FCC to stop its rush toward more consolidation. Ownership rules exist for a reason: to increase diversity and localism, which in turn produces more diverse speech, more choice for listeners, and more owners who are responsive to their local communities."

Free Press, the Consumer Federation of America and Consumers Union voiced their opposition to proposed changes by filing thousands of pages of comments October 22 against the FCC plan. Their research shows ownership limits enhance local news quantity and quality. It refutes FCC's "inconsistent, incompetent and incoherent" opposite claims case and fraudulent press release in mid-November that its proposal was just a "minor loosening of the (cross-ownership) ban....in (only) the very largest markets and subject to certain criteria and limitations." Left out of its comment was the fine print Free Press exposed below on November 26 in 10 facts:

(1) "Martin's proposal (hides) corporate welfare for Big Media (that will) unleash a buying spree in the top 20 (media) markets."

(2) "Loopholes (through waivers) open the door to cross-ownership" anywhere.

(3) "Loopholes allow newspapers to own TV stations of any size (and) top-rated stations to (buy) major newspapers."

(4) "FCC history shows weak standards won't protect the public (and) the FCC hasn't denied any temporary waiver request in years."

(5) "Cross-ownership doesn't create more local news" as dominant companies crowd out competition.

(6) "Cross-ownership won't solve newspapers' financial woes" that are greatly exaggerated.

(7) "The Internet is an opportunity, not a death sentence," and media consolidation won't help traditional media's financial problems.

(8) "Martin's plan would harm minority media owners" by making them takeover targets.

(9) "A broken and corrupt process creates bad policies" that are characterized by FCC's secrecy and rush to change media ownership rules for the media barons it supports.

(10) "The public doesn't want more media consolidation" expressed by 99% of comments to FCC opposing letting media giants "swallow up more local media."

The Prometheus Radio Project (dedicated to a "free, diverse, and democratic media") also expressed its concern about Chairman Martin's plan to weaken rules to allow "unchecked corporate power in media" and the inadequate timeline he set for public comments. Prometheus also wants scheduled proceedings delayed until the Localism Task Force (established in 2003 to strengthen broadcasting localism) integrates the results of its work into FCC's ownership proposals. It stresses that corporations don't own the airwaves. They belong to the public and "setting a reasonable set of limitations on ownership (won't burden) those (given) the privilege (to) broadcast signals for the public benefit." Prometheus wants FCC to retain current ownership rules and devote its efforts to establish more low power radio licenses, preserve net neutrality, expand cable access, better use unlicensed spectrum and promote diversity and localism.

The Senate Commerce Committee is now examining Martin's proposal, and Senator Byron Dorgan predicted it would be greeted by "a firestorm of protest" as in 2003. Other senators voicing concern include Republican Trent Lott and Democrat presidential candidate Barack Obama who called "the proposed timeline and process....irresponsible" and added "the Commission has failed to further the goals of diversity in the media and promote localism, and as a result, it is in no position to justify allowing for increased consolidation of the market." Dorgan and Lott began work on a bipartisan bill to prevent FCC from instituting new media consolidation rules. Dorgan predicted on October 24 he's "confident any plan to allow additional concentration of media ownership will be rejected" by Congress.

He and Lott also said they'd seek support in Congress for a "resolution of disapproval" to overturn the FCC rule if it's passed. It's a rare move that was only once before used in 2003 when the Powell-led FCC tried to change the rules. To take effect, it would have to pass both Houses by two-thirds margins because George Bush is certain to veto it. Presidential vetos are rarely overridden, but that pattern may not hold up this time.

Support is building in Congress to stop gutting media ownership rules. On October 24, over 40 House members sent a letter to Chairman Martin to "resolve significant shortcomings in (FCC's) plan regarding accountability, transparency, and scientific integrity" in its current proposal. Of particular concern were a lack of public hearings, the dismal state of female and minority media ownership, and FCC's tainted research to make its case for changing the rules. Senators Nelson and Snowe also were critical. They called media consolidation "a critical issue (that) requires a completely transparent process" and urged Martin to complete his proceedings on localism and minority ownership before addressing rules changes. Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Inouye agrees and intends to hold hearings on media consolidation, diversity and ownership to address these vital issues.

New developments on November 8 came from a Senate Commerce Committee hearing at which Senators Dorgan and Lott said they'd introduce legislation to quash the FCC's rush to gut current rules. The bipartisan bill with many co-sponsors is called the "Media Ownership Act of 2007." The Senate Commerce Committee unanimously passed it on December 4, and it now goes before the full Senate. If it becomes law, it will require the FCC to publish any proposed rule changes in the Federal Register 90 days prior to a vote, give the public 60 days to comment and another 30 days for reply comments. If the FCC fails to do this, the bill voids any changes it approves. It also directs the FCC to conduct a separate proceeding on localism and create an independent minority and female ownership task force ahead of any efforts to change the rules.

This development, growing public opposition and calls for the FCC to complete its long-running study of how broadcasters serve local communities should have delayed the December 18 vote Chairman Martin wants. Instead, it's now on the agenda to be ruled on according to a December 12 FCC release that puts the agency on a collision course with key lawmakers in Congress who want more time to study the issue and greater public input. Martin is also defying A Media and Democracy Coalition poll released October 31 that showed 70% of respondents opposed media consolidation, and 57% said owning a newspaper and TV station in the same market should be illegal.

Then there's the StopBigMedia.com Coalition. It's made up of grassroots "groups across the spectrum that agree to a set of principles and have banded together to stop the FCC from allowing a handful of giant corporations to dominate America's media system." It's principles state:

-- democracy depends on a "free and vibrant media full of diverse, local and competing voices;"

-- media ownership consolidation "has dangerously reduced the number of (media) voices (that) seek to minimize competition" and promote profits over the public interest;

-- Congress and the FCC must ensure that our media system is "an uninhibited marketplace of ideas in which truth will prevail."

We have a long way to go to achieve these goals, but the StopBigMedia.com Coalition is committed to doing it. Its bottom line: "If we want better media, we need better media policies" that are made by Congress and FCC. But they won't come out of this FCC that's totally beholden to the media giants.

It shows in its practices and reports of its biased research, false claims, and a long history of ignoring the public interest. That has growing numbers on Capitol Hill saying FCC failed to make a case for further consolidation. It now remains to be seen if Congress and the courts will back the public interest the way they did in 2003.

Not if the Wall Street Journal's editorial page view prevails as it weighed in on this issue prominently on October 25. It accused Senators Dorgan and Lott of "shilling for local broadcasters who don't want the competition," when, in fact, that's exactly what they want. It also attacked the "political left's ideological paranoia (over) corporate media ownership" saying it has "no such objection to the left's operational control of National Public Radio or PBS" when, in fact, both broadcasters are corporate America tools and never met a US-led war they didn't love and support.

All the Journal can do is shill for the media giants and note how it's "long favored letting the free market determine the size of a company." It further cites media concentration as a fait accompli new technologies will allow to continue. By Journal logic (and the Martin FCC): "This has led not to monopolies but to a media landscape that is more diverse than ever (with) more news and entertainment options." Media theorist Neil Postman had a different view. He once called Americans the most over-entertained, under-informed people in the world and wrote about it in books like "Amusing Ourselves to Death." Further media consolidation guarantees much more of the same with the public, as always, the loser.

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at lendmanstephen@sbcglobal.net.

Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com and listen to The Steve Lendman News and Information Hour on TheMicroEffect.com Mondays at noon US central time.