Wednesday, January 18, 2006

See You at the Bottom of the Rabbit Hole 

You have by now already read, memorized, and begun to quote at length from Al Gore's MLK Day speech (text here, video highlights here), and perhaps even chortled at his rebuttal to White House charges of "hypocrisy." The Gore speech has been widely praised at most lefty venues, but Zemblan patriot M.D., who knows that our readers appreciate being exposed to a variety of viewpoints, was kind enough to send us a dissenting opinion from paleoconservative Paul Craig Roberts, the former WSJ columnist (and assistant Secretary of the Treasury under Reagan) whose writings may be found online at such libertarian hangouts as Antiwar.com and LewRockwell.com:
Former vice president Al Gore gave what I believe to be the most important political speech in my lifetime, and the New York Times, "the newspaper of record," did not report it. Not even excerpts.

For the New York Times, it was a nonevent that a former vice president and presidential candidate, denied the presidency by one vote of the Supreme Court, challenged the Bush administration for its illegalities, rending of the Constitution and disrespect for the separation of powers.

So much for "the liberal press" that right-wingers rant about. If a "liberal press" exists, the New York Times is certainly no longer a member.
Well, we were expecting a dissenting opinion, but of course we'd forgotten that Roberts was calling for Mr. Bush's impeachment shortly after the publication of the Downing Street Memo. Few things please us more than finding common cause with our brethren of the right. Now back to Mr. Roberts's screed:
Bush is angry at the New York Times and at the government officials who leaked the story that Bush illegally spied on American citizens. Both may be prosecuted for making Bush’s illegal behavior public. By ignoring Gore’s speech, is the New York Times signaling to Bush that the newspaper is willing to be a lap dog in exchange for not being prosecuted?

With the US media now highly concentrated in a few corporate hands, has the Democratic Party reached the conclusion that opposition is no longer possible?

Once Bush places Sam Alito on the Supreme Court, he will have a high court majority friendly to his claims that his executive powers are not constrained by congressional statutes or judicial rulings. Once a president is held to be above the law, whether for reasons of his role as commander-in-chief or any other, he can no longer be held accountable.

Conservatives should fear this more than anyone. The separation of powers and our civil liberties are our most precious property rights. They are our patrimony from the Founding Fathers. We are stewards of these rights, which we hold in trust for our descendants. How can any conservative fail to realize that Bush’s attack on these rights is the ultimate attack on property? It is astonishing to watch conservatives wave the flag while they are transformed into subjects to be dealt with as presidential authority decides.
According to Roberts, Dianne Feinstein was the only Democratic senator to attend Gore's speech in person (this would be the same Dianne Feinstein who recently declared Samuel Alito un-filibuster-able). Which means this is one of those nasty days when we feel as though we have more in common with Ronald Reagan's assistant Secretary of the Treasury than with most members of the party that putatively represents our interests.

UPDATE: More strange bedfellows: the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the administration over its domestic spying program, and the individual plaintiffs include both James Bamford and Christopher Hitchens.

UPDATE II: The FBI, as you know, has already revealed that the warrantless surveillance program Mr. Bush defends as a vital tool in the war on terror has so far resulted in a "steady stream" of tips from the NSA, virtually all of which led to "dead ends or innocent Americans." Meanwhile, we are asked to believe that the program targets only terrorists and their associates.

If you doubt for a moment that the administration might turn its domestic spy program toward political ends, kindly recall that Mr. Bush has routinely used the NSA's international monitoring capabilities for just such petty purposes. From the WaPo, Dec. 12, 2004:
The Bush administration has dozens of intercepts of Mohamed ElBaradei's phone calls with Iranian diplomats and is scrutinizing them in search of ammunition to oust him as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, according to three U.S. government officials.

But the diplomatic offensive will not be easy. The administration has failed to come up with a candidate willing to oppose ElBaradei, who has run the agency since 1997, and there is disagreement among some senior officials over how hard to push for his removal, and what the diplomatic costs of a public campaign against him could be.

Although eavesdropping, even on allies, is considered a well-worn tool of national security and diplomacy, the efforts against ElBaradei demonstrate the lengths some within the administration are willing to go to replace a top international diplomat who questioned U.S. intelligence on Iraq and is now taking a cautious approach on Iran . . . .

Each issue has produced some tension between the agency and the White House, and this is not the first time that ElBaradei or other U.N. officials have been the targets of a spy campaign. Three weeks before the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the Observer newspaper in Britain published a secret directive from the National Security Agency ordering increased eavesdropping on U.N. diplomats.

Earlier this year, Clare Short, who served in British Prime Minister Tony Blair's cabinet, said British spies had eavesdropped on U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan's calls during that period and that she had read transcripts of the intercepts . . . .

But even some of the administration's closest friends, including Britain, appear to be reluctant to join a fight they believe is motivated by a desire to pay back ElBaradei over Iraq. Without clear support and no candidate, the White House began searching for material to strengthen its argument that ElBaradei should be retired, according to several senior policymakers who would discuss strategy only on the condition of anonymity.
Here's Norman Solomon on the U.N. surveillance program referenced above:
Despite all the news accounts and punditry since the New York Times published its Dec. 16 bombshell about the National Security Agency’s domestic spying, the media coverage has made virtually no mention of the fact that the Bush administration used the NSA to spy on U.N. diplomats in New York before the invasion of Iraq.

That spying had nothing to do with protecting the United States from a terrorist attack. The entire purpose of the NSA surveillance was to help the White House gain leverage, by whatever means possible, for a resolution in the U.N. Security Council to green light an invasion. When that surveillance was exposed nearly three years ago, the mainstream U.S. media winked at Bush’s illegal use of the NSA for his Iraq invasion agenda.

Back then, after news of the NSA’s targeted spying at the United Nations broke in the British press, major U.S. media outlets gave it only perfunctory coverage -- or, in the case of the New York Times, no coverage at all. Now, while the NSA is in the news spotlight with plenty of retrospective facts, the NSA’s spying at the U.N. goes unmentioned: buried in an Orwellian memory hole . . . .

“As part of its battle to win votes in favor of war against Iraq,” the Observer had reported on March 2, 2003, the U.S. government developed an “aggressive surveillance operation, which involves interception of the home and office telephones and the e-mails of U.N. delegates.” The smoking gun was “a memorandum written by a top official at the National Security Agency -- the U.S. body which intercepts communications around the world -- and circulated to both senior agents in his organization and to a friendly foreign intelligence agency.” The friendly agency was Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters.

The Observer explained: “The leaked memorandum makes clear that the target of the heightened surveillance efforts are the delegations from Angola, Cameroon, Chile, Mexico, Guinea and Pakistan at the U.N. headquarters in New York -- the so-called ‘Middle Six’ delegations whose votes are being fought over by the pro-war party, led by the U.S. and Britain, and the party arguing for more time for U.N. inspections, led by France, China and Russia.”

The NSA memo, dated Jan. 31, 2003, outlined the wide scope of the surveillance activities, seeking any information useful to push a war resolution through the Security Council -- “the whole gamut of information that could give U.S. policymakers an edge in obtaining results favorable to U.S. goals or to head off surprises.”

Noting that the Bush administration “finds itself isolated” in its zeal for war on Iraq, the Times of London called the leak of the memo an “embarrassing disclosure.” And, in early March 2003, the embarrassment was nearly worldwide. From Russia to France to Chile to Japan to Australia, the story was big mainstream news. But not in the United States.

Several days after the “embarrassing disclosure,” not a word about it had appeared in the New York Times, the USA’s supposed paper of record. “Well, it’s not that we haven’t been interested,” Times deputy foreign editor Alison Smale told me on the evening of March 5, nearly 96 hours after the Observer broke the story. But “we could get no confirmation or comment” on the memo from U.S. officials. Smale added: “We would normally expect to do our own intelligence reporting.” Whatever the rationale, the New York Times opted not to cover the story at all.
Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose. Our august colleague Hugo Zoom suggests that the issue might be profitably reframed:

Rights versus Security: stupid. Bush’s enemies list: provocative and timely. We already know that Mohammed El-Baradei is on that list, and in the fall of 2004 the NSA spied on him. Did Bush ok it? A year later El-Baradei won the Nobel prize, along with the IAEA. Why don’t any of the s***-for-brains loonies who go on opinion teevee [on] the cable news networks to discuss NSA spying talk about that?

You want to win with the NSA spy scandal, ask about who Bush is spying on with his presumptive powers. I’d inquire about all the persons who’ve won the Nobel peace
prize who’ve spent time in the USA since 9.11.2001, at a conference, or giving a speech or whatever. How about Sibel Edmonds, or Richard Clark, or Richard Ben-Veniste? Did Bush spy on any of them, just because he decided he could? People who opposed John Bolton’s nomination to the UN. People who testified in ways the White House didn’t care for before the 9-11 comission. Rights versus security? Please. Turn the Fucking Tables.

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