Jun 102013

onaschoutsmall by Bill Onasch

Steamed Teapots, Shared Call Lists, Invisible Prisms
President Harding had his Teapot Dome Scandal. For weeks now, President Obama has been scrambling to cope with the Teapot IRS Scandal. The loony right are shrilly complaining that approval of their numerous tax exempt “social welfare nonprofit” scams are being unduly delayed, forced by the Internal Revenue Service to go through many more hoops than their pro-Administration counterparts. West Wing damage control quickly arranged the firings or forced resignations of some IRS officials. But the Republican Speaker of the House was not appeased. Welcoming a diversion from repealing ObamaCare thirty-seven times, the Speaker said he didn’t want to hear names of those fired but was waiting to hear who was going to jail.

If you genuinely support democracy it’s sometimes necessary to defend the rights of those with whom you disagree or even despise. Though no group was denied their coveted tax exemption the Tea-Partyers probably had a valid gripe about petty harassment. Regulations should be equally enforced without regard to political views. Jailing the offenders in this instance would seem a disproportional response–but they should be directed to treat all applications uniformly.

I’ll return to the broader question of “dark money” 501(c)4s another time. New scandals of much greater scope and importance are sweeping IRS-gate, along with Benghazi talking points, in to the dust bin of old news cycles. The breaking revelations about domestic spying on Americans by the Justice Department and National Security Agency may prove to be much more damaging to the White House than the Teapot Tempest. Unfortunately for the GOP, they have little to gain from this and will have to come to the Administration’s defense. Let’s review:

The Associated Press broke a story that their reporters phone logs had been secretly obtained by the Justice Department. It was part of a wider government effort to finger those insiders who had leaked information embarrassing to the Administration by connecting them up to working journalists.

It turned out this Justice Department invasion of privacy and privilege was penny-ante compared to high-tech shenanigans of the shadowy National Security Agency. Officially launched with a secret letter by President Truman in 1952, the NSA is part of the Department of Defense with headquarters in Ft Meade, Maryland. The current director is Army General Keith B. Alexander. Not much more information about them than that is available to the public. Even the Agency’s budget and number of employees is classified, known to only a bipartisan handful in Congress. Too big to completely hide is a new one million square-foot facility in the mountains of Utah.

In response to outrage about the exposures of political manipulation of spy agencies and secret police by the White House in the political crisis known as Watergate, during the Carter administration Congress passed the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. It set up a secret FISA Court to monitor spying within the USA. In practice, these unaccountable secret judges provide get-out-of-jail-free card warrants for wiretapping and searches that might normally be questionable.

Of course, after the 9/11 attacks, outrage swung toward terrorists. President Bush II not only used this sentiment to invade Afghanistan–where Afghans, Americans, and NATO allies are still being killed and wounded nearly twelve years later. He also got overwhelming bipartisan approval for the USA PATRIOT Act greatly extending the powers of espionage–and worse–under the FISA umbrella.

It’s now been acknowledged that NSA is obtaining complete telephone meta-records–outgoing/incoming calls and their duration–of all Verizon customers and it can be safely presumed all other carriers as well.

But even that level of domestic snooping didn’t exhaust the bandwith available to the NSA. On Thursday the British Guardian broke a bomb shell story dug up by Glenn Greenwald and others,

“The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian. The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called PRISM, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says. The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims ‘collection directly from the servers’ of major US service providers. Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.”

About the same time, the Washington Post broke a story of their own about PRISM.

Many, including some readers, are undoubtedly shocked. But the only thing new is the technology. If this escalation of spying and provocative sting operations was truly restricted to targeting bad guys preparing to blow us up most would still be willing to let the government take a little bit more than the law allows.

But the American ruling class has long utilized the repressive apparatus of government to spy on, harass, provoke, and frame-up Americans they consider a political or economic threat to their class rule. Often this has been in collaboration with private outfits such as the Pinkertons of old, city police Red Squads such as in New York and Chicago, and shamefully even union bureaucrats out to eliminate opponents.

Our collective class memory will never forget the Haymarket Martyrs, the two imprisonments of Eugene V Debs, the Minneapolis Smith Act Trial Eighteen, the police killing of Fred Hampton, or the numerous other victims of COINTELPRO. All of these were well before the War on Terror.

As we read the dramatic initial exposures in the Guardian and Washington Post, I’m sure most of my generation immediately harked back to Daniel Ellsberg’s submission of the classified Pentagon Papers, that recorded the evolution of Vietnam war strategy, to the New York Times. As it turns out, some of the authors of both articles are associated with the Freedom of the Press Foundation–whose board includes the now 82-year-old Ellsberg, still going strong.

With his consent, the Guardian and Post have identified the source who provided them Top Secret documents–Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA and later employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton–his connection with the PRISM. Snowden will likely request asylum in another country to avoid immediate incarceration.

The latest exposures about the FBI and NSA have already brought about a bipartisan convergence rare these days on Capitol Hill–rallying around the need to subordinate freedom in order to  protect democracy. Whether they will succeed in sweeping the mess under an already bulging rug, or whether it instead escalates like Watergate, remains to be seen.

These revelations, however, are a crystal clear reaffirmation that the politicians, brass hats, and spy agencies beholden to the ruling class cannot be trusted to uphold democracy. Even just their partial record that we occasionally glimpse–only because of brave whistle-blowers and journalists–proves just the opposite.

Just as it has always been since working people forced the inclusion of a Bill of Rights as amendments to the original draft Constitution, it will take a determined effort by our class to maintain the heritage of democracy so many fought and even died for.

In Brief…
* An excellent article about mass demonstrations and strikes in Turkey takes as its title a famous quote attributed to an adviser of the last King Louis of France–“This is a revolt, not (yet) a revolution!”
* From the Washington Post, “Global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use rose 1.4 percent to 31.6 gigatons in 2012, setting a record and putting the planet on course for temperature increases well above international climate goals, the International Energy Agency said in a report scheduled to be issued Monday. The agency said continuing that pace could mean a temperature increase over pre-industrial times of as much as 5.3 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit), which IEA chief economist Fatih Birol warned ‘would be a disaster for all countries.’”
* Samantha Winslow writing in Labor Notes about weekly protests at the North Carolina Capitol, “The group calls them Moral Mondays. Protesters march to the legislature and hold rallies inside. Rank-and-file members and leaders from unions including United Electrical Workers (UE) Local 150 (representing public sector workers), Farm Labor Organizing Committee, and NALC Branch 1729, APWU, the North Carolina AFL-CIO, are part of the labor delegation. They passed out yellow armbands (to symbolize that they are rising like the sun) both at worksites and at the capital protests….Republicans, who control all branches of government in North Carolina, have proposed dozens of bills attacking workers’ rights, health care access, voting rights, and social programs.” 150 participating in civil disobedience were arrested last Monday.
* Dianne Stafford in the Kansas City Star, “ U.S. employers added 175,000 jobs in May, a better net gain than expected. And although the jobless rate ticked up to 7.6 percent from 7.5 percent, that was because more people joined the labor force, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics said Friday. But not enough of the new jobs are going to young adults. In the 20-24 age group, the jobless rate was 13.2 percent — floating about where it’s been stuck for more than a year.”
* From a Physicians for a National Health Program press release, “A study released today on the Health Affairs blog finds that between 29.8 million and 31.0 million people will remain uninsured after the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in 2016 and breaks down those figures by state….The share of the uninsured who are U.S. citizens will rise slightly from 80 percent to 81 percent. White persons (of all ethnicities) will continue to constitute 74 percent of all uninsured Americans. About 59 percent of the uninsured will have incomes between 100 percent and 399 percent of poverty, while 27 percent will have incomes below poverty.”

Reminder–links to news stories of interest to working people can be found on our companion Labor Advocate Blog, posted by 9AM Central, Monday-Friday.

And, since we haven’t applied for a 501(c)4, or solicited any grants, subsidies, or paid advertising, reader contributions are still our sole source of funding. If you want to help, please visit the KC Labor donate page.

That’s all for this week.