Constitutional Scholar Tramples Press Freedom

Glenn Greenwald reports: “Each year, Reporters Without Borders issues a worldwide ranking of nations based on the extent to which they protect or abridge press freedom. The group’s 2015 ranking was released this morning, and the United States is ranked 49th. That is the lowest ranking ever during the Obama presidency, and the second-lowest ranking for the U.S. since the rankings began in 2002 (in 2006, under Bush, the U.S. was ranked 53rd). The countries immediately ahead of the U.S. are Malta, Niger, Burkino Faso, El Salvador, Tonga, Chile and Botswana.”

Greenwald quotes former Washington Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr.

“The administration’s war on leaks and other efforts to control information are the most aggressive I’ve seen since the Nixon administration, when I was one of the editors involved in The Washington Post’s investigation of Watergate. The 30 experienced Washington journalists at a variety of news organizations whom I interviewed for this report could not remember any precedent.”

Read More: U.S. Drops to 49th in World Press Freedom Rankings, Worst Since Obama Became President – The Intercept.

FBI Expands Domestic Spy Role

In response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by The New York Times, the Justice Department has partially declassified a report about the F.B.I.’s involvement in administering the warrantless surveillance program authorized by the FISA Amendments Act. When the report was completed in September 2012, it was entirely classified and the department announced only that it existed.

Read the report here: Justice Department Declassifies 2012 Inspector General Report on FBI Activities Under the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 – NYTimes.com.

You can also read the Times’ story concerning the report here: F.B.I. is Broadening Surveillance Role, Report Shows – NYTimes.com.

The Last Gasp

“We increasingly do not remember what it means to be free. And because we do not remember, we do not react with appropriate ferocity when it is revealed that our freedom has been taken from us. The structures of the corporate state must be torn down. Its security apparatus must be destroyed. And those who defend corporate totalitarianism, including the leaders of the two major political parties, fatuous academics, pundits and a bankrupt press, must be driven from the temples of power. Mass street protests and prolonged civil disobedience are our only hope. A failure to rise up—which is what the corporate state is counting upon—will see us enslaved.”

Read More: Chris Hedges: The Last Gasp of American Democracy – Truthdig.

What Is America To Me?

From the Opinions and Editorials Page of the Los Angeles Times – Independence Day of 1991

We are created equal! No one of us is better than any of us! That’s the headline proclaimed in 1776 and inscribed across centuries in the truth of the ages. Those inspired words from the Declaration of Independence mock bigotry and anti-Semitism. Then why do I still hear race and color-haters spewing their poisons? Why do I still flinch at innuendoes of venom and inequality? Why do innocent children still grow up to be despised? Why do haters’ jokes still get big laughs when passed in whispers from scum to scum? You know the ones I mean – the “Some of my best friends are Jewish…” crowd.

As for the others, those cross-burning bigots to whom mental slavery is alive and well, I don’t envy their trials in the next world, where their thoughts and words and actions will be judged by a jury of One. Why do so many among us continue in words and deeds to ignore, insult and challenge the unforgettable words of Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence’s promise to every man, woman and child – the self-evident truth that all men are created equal?

That’s what the Fourth of July is all about. Not firecrackers. Not getting smashed on the patio sipping toasts to our forefathers. Not picnics and parades or freeways empty because America has the day off. Equality is what our Independence Day is about. Not the flag-wavers who wave it one day a year, but all who carry its message with them wherever they go, who believe in it, who live it enough to die for it – as so many have.

OK, I’m a saloon singer, by self-definition. Even my mirror would never accuse me of inventing wisdom. But I do claim enough street smarts to know that hatred is a disease – a disease of the body of freedom, eating its way from the inside out, infecting all who come in contact with it, killing dreams and hopes millions of innocents with words, as surely as if they were bullets.

Who in the name of God are these people anyway, the ones who elevate themselves above others? America is an immigrant country. Maybe not you or me, but those whose love made our lives possible, or their parents or grandparents. America was founded by these people, who were fed up with other countries. Those weren’t tourists on the Mayflower – they were your families and mine, following dreams that turned out to be possible dreams. Leaving all they owned, they sailed to America to start over and to forge a new nation of freedom and liberty – a new nation where they would no longer be second-class citizens but first-class Americans.

Even now, with all our problems, America is still a dream of oppressed people the world over. Take a minute. Consider what we are doing to each other as we rob friends and strangers of dignity as well as equality. Give a few minutes of fairness to the house we live in, and to all who share it with us from sea to shining sea. For if we don’t come to grips with this killer disease of hatred, of bigotry and racism and anti-Semitism, pretty soon we will destroy from within this blessed country.

And what better time than today to examine the conscience of America? As we celebrate our own beginnings, let us offer our thanksgiving to the God who arranged for each of us to live here among His purple mountain majesties, His amber waves of grain. Don’t just lip-sync the words to the song. Think them, live them. “My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty.” And when the music fades, think of the guts of Rosa Parks, who by a single act in a single moment changed America as much as anyone who ever lived.

I’m no angel. I’ve had my moments. I’ve done a few things in my life of which I’m not too proud, but I have never unloved a human being because of race, creed, or color. And if you think this is a case of he who doth protest too much, you’re wrong. I would not live any other way; the Man Upstairs has been much too good to me.

Happy Fourth of July. May today be a day of love for all Americans. May this year’s celebration be the day that changes the world forever. May Independence Day, 1991, truly be a glorious holiday as every American lives the self-evident truth that all people are created equal. God shed His grace on thee – on each of thee – in His self-evident love for all of us.

Frank Sinatra
July 4, 1991

Photo from “The House I Live In

The Obama Administration is Afraid of You

Snowden: “In the end the Obama administration is not afraid of whistleblowers like me, Bradley Manning or Thomas Drake. We are stateless, imprisoned, or powerless. No, the Obama administration is afraid of you. It is afraid of an informed, angry public demanding the constitutional government it was promised — and it should be.”

Read the Full Statement at Wikileaks: Statement from Edward Snowden in Moscow.

The Death Rattle of American Democracy

From Joe Kishore, at WSWS:

The Obama administration’s recently-leaked “white paper” on the assassination of US citizens, and the actions carried out on the basis of the arguments it advances, must be taken as a dire warning to the working class in the United States and around the world. The democratic rights of the people are in grave peril. The American ruling class, steeped in lawlessness and violence, is moving toward dictatorship.

READ MORE: The death rattle of American democracy – World Socialist Web Site.

The Second Bill of Rights

On January 11th of 1944, in his State of the Union Message to Congress, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proposed a “Second Bill of Rights” which would guarantee economic security for all Americans. Sixty-eight years later, we’re still arguing about whether or not people ought by birth to have the right to these basic necessities of life. The right to work at a living wage, the right to education, the right to decent housing, the right to adequate medical care, the right to security in old age – all of these rights that FDR saw as “self-evident” in 1944 have yet to be ensured, and are, in fact, increasingly under attack in our society today.

I wonder what might happen if President Obama were to make these rights the foundation of his bid for re-election. Would the American people rally to such a program? Would we recognize that political rights alone cannot ensure liberty and justice for all? Would we recognize that today our freedom is most threatened, not by the government, but by the tyranny of the marketplace? Would we recognize, at long last, that there is no democracy without economic democracy?

Some, I’m sure, would be quick to shout “Socialist!” Many did during FDR’s day as well. The fact is that we have made little progress toward securing these rights over the course of time. Today we have a President (elected on promises of “hope” and “change”) who has run about as far away from such modest social goals as he can. We have a Congress that has done all that is within its power to block progress and to roll back whatever meager gains have been made. We have one major political party with designs on dismantling Medicare and Social Security, and another that has shown great eagerness to capitulate to such demands. There is little danger that President Obama, or any other candidate with good prospects for his office, would openly embrace such a “radical” platform today.

FDR warned against the dangers of “rightist reaction” to progress under the New Deal. It seems that we have allowed those reactionary forces to become the main stream of American political discourse in this new century.

I commend Roosevelt’s words to your attention and consideration. Hurry the day that at least these fundamental economic rights are assured – not just for all Americans, but for all of humankind.

It is our duty now to begin to lay the plans and determine the strategy for the winning of a lasting peace and the establishment of an American standard of living higher than ever before known. We cannot be content, no matter how high that general standard of living may be, if some fraction of our people – whether it be one-third or one-fifth or one-tenth – is ill-fed, ill-clothed, ill housed, and insecure.

This Republic had its beginning, and grew to its present strength, under the protection of certain inalienable political rights – among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty.

As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however – as our industrial economy expanded – these political rights proved inadequate to assure us equality in the pursuit of happiness.

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. “Necessitous men are not free men.” People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;

The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;

The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;

The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;

The right of every family to a decent home;

The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;

The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;

The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America’s own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.

One of the great American industrialists of our day – a man who has rendered yeoman service to his country in this crisis – recently emphasized the grave dangers of “rightist reaction” in this Nation. All clear-thinking businessmen share his concern. Indeed, if such reaction should develop – if history were to repeat itself and we were to return to the so-called “normalcy” of the 1920’s – then it is certain that even though we shall have conquered our enemies on the battlefields abroad, we shall have yielded to the spirit of Fascism here at home.

★ ★ ★

Read the full text of FDR’s 1944 State of the Union Speech from the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum.

Obama and Civil Liberties

How Obama Became a Civil Libertarian’s Nightmare. | [AlterNet] – When Barack Obama took office, he was the civil liberties communities’ great hope. Obama, a former constitutional law professor, pledged to shutter the military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and run a transparent and open government. But he has become a civil libertarian’s nightmare: a supposedly liberal president who instead has expanded and fortified many of the Bush administration’s worst policies, lending bipartisan support for a more intrusive and authoritarian federal government.

Hedges on Homeland Battlefield Bill Lawsuit

Chris Hedges: The Polite Conference Rooms Where Liberties Are Saved and Lost. [Chris Hedges’ Columns | Truthdig] – The NDAA implodes our most cherished constitutional protections. It permits the military to function on U.S. soil as a civilian law enforcement agency. It authorizes the executive branch to order the military to selectively suspend due process and habeas corpus for citizens. The law can be used to detain people deemed threats to national security, including dissidents whose rights were once protected under the First Amendment, and hold them until what is termed “the end of the hostilities.” Even the name itself—the Homeland Battlefield Bill—suggests the totalitarian concept that endless war has to be waged within “the homeland” against internal enemies as well as foreign enemies.

Watch What You Say (or Tweet, or Post, or Text, or Buy)

“The NSA has become the largest, most covert, and potentially most intrusive intelligence agency ever.”

The NSA Is Building the Country’s Biggest Spy Center (Watch What You Say). [Threat Level | Wired.com] – Under construction by contractors with top-secret clearances, the blandly named Utah Data Center is being built for the National Security Agency. A project of immense secrecy, it is the final piece in a complex puzzle assembled over the past decade. Its purpose: to intercept, decipher, analyze, and store vast swaths of the world’s communications as they zap down from satellites and zip through the underground and undersea cables of international, foreign, and domestic networks.