December 26, 2010

The Irrelevance of Pork Barrel Spending

                          
Harry Reid, along with appropriations chairman, Senator Daniel Inouye, have dumped a trillion-dollar-plus spending bill on the Senate floor a few days before Christmas.  Of course, the bill’s loaded with pork.  Apparently the Democrats want us to fund a $10 million foundation for the late Congressman John Murtha.  They also want $8 million for the Edward Kennedy Institute.  And $36 million more for public broadcasting so they can fire more people like Juan Williams.  The list goes on and on.  More than $8 billion in absolute waste.

Although I’m not a defender of such spending projects, it’s important to remember that they total $8 billion, which, in relation to the entire federal budget, is almost nothing, 1/5th of 1% of a $3.8 trillion budget. Again, I’d be the last to defend these wasteful projects, but I’m also not going to waste my time railing against them, just as I wouldn’t go to my blog ranting against some teenager picked up for shoplifting a can of soda when people like Bernie Madoff are out there robbing people of their life savings. 

O’Reilly continues:

There is no question that Congress has spent this country into near bankruptcy, and what do we have to show for it?  Do we have high speed trains?  Nope.  Do we have an honest public broadcasting corporation?  Nope.  Do we have updated roads and bridges in most places?  I don’t think so.  Do we have a secure border?  No, we don’t.  How about a smooth airline security system?  Nope.

But the reason we’re nearly bankrupt is not because Congress has dumped money into these pork projects.  Rather it’s because of the $1 trillion we’re spending every year on defense.  One trillion dollars a year.  That’s a lot of money, roughly 50% of all discretionary spending.  Adjusted for inflation, that’s nearly twice as much as we were spending ten years ago.  That’s more than we spent at any point during the Cold War.  You remember the Cold War, right?  When our biggest threat was the Evil Soviet Empire, which had thousands of nuclear missiles pointed our direction, and not this group of pathetic, underfunded, incompetent jihadists who are only at war with us because we’re occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, supporting Israel in its brutal oppression of the Palestinian people, and propping up dictator after dictator throughout the Muslim world. 

Yet O’Reilly would never dream of scaling back the American Military Empire and thus doing anything that might actually save us from bankruptcy.  Nor would he ever dream of ending corporate welfare.  Indeed he was one of the nation’s staunchest defenders of the 2008 Bailout.  Here’s some O’Reilly fearmongering from September 2008:

If the government does not bail out the financial industry, foreign investment will cut and run. That will lead to a worldwide depression. You might lose your job. You will certainly lose value in your house and investments.

Yes, God forbid Bill O’Reilly ever stand up to the establishment.  He’ll spend all day ranting and raving against the likes of NPR, which, by the way, receives only 16% of its funding from taxpayers.  But I doubt you’ll ever find him taking a real stand against his friends in the military industrial complex and on Wall Street. 

December 23, 2010

Remember Palestine This Christmas


If you're able, I strongly encourage you to give to the Carol Chomsky Memorial Fund this Christmas.


By donating to The Carol Chomsky Memorial Fund, you can save lives, increase hope and provide the means for Palestinians to work for a better future. The Carol Chomsky Memorial Fund exists to provide humanitarian aid to Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip and in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon. Partnerships with individuals and aid agencies on the ground in Lebanon, Gaza, in Europe and the United States will assure that your tax-deductible contributions get to the people for whom they are directly intended.

You can make a difference.

GAZA: War, siege and sanctions in the Gaza Strip mean that children suffer from food insecurity and are often malnourished. Some suffer from stunted growth. Many others, perhaps a majority, suffer from some level of post-traumatic stress disorder. Others need costly rehabilitation because of war wounds. An electricity crisis continues to plague the people of Gaza daily exacerbating the difficulty of obtaining clean drinking water and services most of us take for granted. The Gaza Strip lives an environmental nightmare. Cut off from the outside world, Gaza's internal deterioration has affected its physical, social and economic infrastructure pushing Gaza and its 1.5 million people backwards to where they are forced to survive and subsist in ways that hearken back to an earlier century: donkey carts pull wagon-loads of goods to market; a once thriving fishing industry has been ruined by the occupation as fishermen are forced to stay closer inshore where fish are smaller and contaminated from raw sewage pouring into the Mediterranean sea. Businesses are failing, schools are overcrowded and lack sufficient supplies and adequate facilities at all levels. Hospitals and clinics barely function with inadequate medical equipment and supplies. Businesses are failing even as farmers are forced off their once arable lands, lands that now comprise the latest "buffer zone" -- a no man's land patrolled and guarded by Israel 3 kilometers into the Gaza Strip along the entire landed border of the territory. Israeli gunboats patrol the border by sea. Inside the Gaza Strip human rights and solidarity groups work overtime in an effort to help a society purposefully wrecked and impoverished maintain a collective sense dignity.

LEBANON: In the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, close to 300,000 people live abandoned even by the society that acts as their host. As war and economic hardship hit the Gaza Strip and the West Bank more severely than in nearly 6 decades, the Palestinian refugees of Lebanon remain confined to a state of psycho-social and political limbo by their status as voiceless, stateless people lacking the most fundamental rights. In the squalid, still war-ruined refugee camps across the country and unwelcome by many outside the boundaries of their condemned homes, these non-people live ostracized or disqualified from receiving the most basic services provided by the state and even some aid agencies. The Palestinians of Lebanon, prevented from returning to their homes in historic Palestine, are banned from working in over 70 professions inside the country. Without the requisite, nearly unobtainable travel documents, they often cannot leave to seek better lives elsewhere, and if they were to obtain them where would they go? No less are they prohibited by law from repairing the crumbling camps to which they have been condemned like common criminals since the Nakba or Catastrophe of 1947-48. These refugees are the forgotten people of the Middle East. The struggle to maintain a viable, dignified present is offset by the future-less void in front of so many of them. Education, the chance to develop one's individual and creative potential is one of the few avenues open to these non-people -- especially if we can improve their chances of success.

December 19, 2010

Has WikiLeaks Violated the Espionage Act?


The short answer: No.

The long answer: Some believe that WikiLeaks has violated § 793(e) of the Espionage Act, which makes it illegal to “willfully communicate” any document “relating to the national defense” which one believes could be used to “the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation.”  But Trevor Timm points out:

As made clear in the Pentagon Papers case, the word “communicates” was never meant “to encompass publication” or to affect the press. Congress included the word “publish” in three other sections of the Act but intentionally left it out of 793. As the legislative history of this provision states, “Nothing in this Act shall…in any way to limit or infringe upon freedom of the press or of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

Justice Douglas referenced the legislative history in his concurring opinion, when he wrote of Section 793, “it is apparent that Congress was capable of, and did, distinguish between publishing and communication in the various sections of the Espionage Act.”

Others believe that WikiLeaks has violated § 794(a), which makes it illegal to “communicate,” “either directly or indirectly,” any document “with intent or reason to believe that it is to be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of a foreign nation.”  But, just as with § 793(e), this section contains the word “communicate,” not “publish.”  Moreover, it seems clear that WikiLeaks’ purpose in releasing these recent documents has been, not to injure the United States, but rather to make its government more just.  As Julian Assange told Amy Goodman earlier in the year:

We are transparency activists who understand that transparent government tends to produce just government. And that is our sort of modus operandi behind our whole organization, is to get out suppressed information into the public, where the press and the public and our nation’s politics can work on it to produce better outcomes.

It also seems clear that WikiLeaks had no reason to believe that releasing these documents would injure the United States.  Regarding this latter point, former federal prosecutor Baruch Weiss notes:

Well before publishing the cables, [Assange] wrote a letter to the U.S. government, delivered to our ambassador in London, inviting suggestions for redactions. The State Department refused. Assange then wrote another letter to State, reiterating that “WikiLeaks has absolutely no desire to put individual persons at significant risk of harm, nor do we wish to harm the national security of the United States.”

In that second letter, Assange stated that the department’s refusal to discuss redactions “leads me to conclude that the supposed risks are entirely fanciful.” He then indicated that WikiLeaks was undertaking redactions on its own.

Still others believe that WikiLeaks has violated § 794(b) and/or § 798, both of which specifically prohibit publishing certain material.  But a close reading of these sections reveals that they only prohibit publishing very specific information.  Section 794(b) prohibits publishing information regarding “the movement, numbers, description, condition, or disposition of any of the Armed Forces…or with respect to the plans or conduct…of any naval or military operations.”  In other words, as Timm writes, § 794b emphasizes future operations, whereas the WikiLeaks documents deal with the past.  And § 798 prohibits publishing information relating to cryptography and communication intelligence, none of which has been revealed by WikiLeaks.

December 14, 2010

Cablegate: Will It Really Change Anything?

As I’ve made clear over the past two weeks, I wholeheartedly support WikiLeaks’ courageous attempt to bring government wrongdoing to light. And indeed it has disclosed much government wrongdoing.  Glenn Greenwald lists some of its most important revelations:

(1) the U.S. military formally adopted a policy of turning a blind eye to systematic, pervasive torture and other abuses by Iraqi forces;

(2) the State Department threatened Germany not to criminally investigate the CIA's kidnapping of one of its citizens who turned out to be completely innocent;

(3) the State Department under Bush and Obama applied continuous pressure on the Spanish Government to suppress investigations of the CIA’s torture of its citizens and the 2003 killing of a Spanish photojournalist when the U.S. military fired on the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad (see The Philadelphia Inquirer's Will Bunch today about this: "The day Barack Obama Lied to me"); 

(4) the British Government privately promised to shield Bush officials from embarrassment as part of its Iraq War "investigation"; 


(6) “American leaders lied, knowingly, to the American public, to American troops, and to the world” about the Iraq war as it was prosecuted, a conclusion the Post's own former Baghdad Bureau Chief wrote was proven by the WikiLeaks documents;

(7) the U.S.'s own Ambassador concluded that the July, 2009 removal of the Honduran President was illegal -- a coup -- but the State Department did not want to conclude that and thus ignored it until it was too late to matter;

(8) U.S. and British officials colluded to allow the U.S. to keep cluster bombs on British soil even though Britain had signed the treaty banning such weapons, and,

(9) Hillary Clinton's State Department ordered diplomats to collect passwords, emails, and biometric data on U.N. and other foreign officials, almost certainly in violation of the Vienna Treaty of 1961. 

 

Speaking to Amy Goodman earlier this year, Julian Assange stated that WikiLeaks’ goal in revealing such information is to make the world’s governments more just:

We have clearly stated motives, but they are not antiwar motives. We are not pacifists. We are transparency activists who understand that transparent government tends to produce just government. And that is our sort of modus operandi behind our whole organization, is to get out suppressed information into the public, where the press and the public and our nation’s politics can work on it to produce better outcomes.

But will these revelations—will any subsequent WikiLeaks revelations—achieve this goal?

I really doubt it.  Nobody who’s been paying attention to world events over the past decade should be surprised by any of these recent disclosures.  Those who’ve bothered to learn the truth have long known that our government lies to us, they’ve long known that it kidnaps, tortures, and murders innocent people, that it props up dictators overseas, that it continues to subsidize Israel as it systematically violates international law and deprives Palestinians of their most basic human rights.  WikiLeaks has given us a few more details, a few more examples of our government’s criminality, but, aside from these details, it really hasn’t told us anything new.  

Which, I imagine, means that these revelations aren’t going to change much of anything. If the American people really cared about having a just government, they would have taken to the streets a long time ago.  They would have been outraged upon learning that Bush had waged a war based on lies, that he had suspended habeas corpus, that he’d been illegally spying on American citizens.  They would have been equally outraged when Obama continued the worst of Bush’s policies and added an extremely pernicious one of his own, declaring that the executive has the right to assassinate American citizens without any due process.  We didn’t need WikiLeaks to learn about any of this wrongdoing.  Yet, with the exception of a small number of peace activists and civil libertarians, no one cared.  

The problem isn’t that the American people don’t know enough.  The problem is that they don’t care enough. WikiLeaks can bring new facts to light.  And I’m glad that it has.  But it can’t change people’s hearts.  

December 11, 2010

Ron Paul: "Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths, lying us into war or WikiLeaks’ revelations?"



Transcript:

WikiLeaks’ release of classified information has generated a lot of attention world-wide in the past few weeks.

The hysterical reaction makes one wonder if this is not an example of killing the messenger for the bad news.

Despite what is claimed, information so far released, though classified, has caused no known harm to any individual, but it has caused plenty of embarrassment to our government. Losing a grip on our empire is not welcomed by the neo-conservatives in charge.

There is now more information confirming that Saudi Arabia is a principle supporter and financier of Al Qaeda and this should set off alarm bells since we guarantee its Sharia-run government.

This emphasizes even more the fact that no Al Qaeda existed in Iraq before 9/11, and yet we went to war against Iraq based on the lie that it did.

It has been charged, by self-proclaimed experts, that Julian Assange, the internet publisher of this information, has committed a heinous crime deserving prosecution for treason and execution or even assassination.

But should we not at least ask how the U.S. government can charge an Australian citizen with treason for publishing U.S. secret information, that he did not steal?

And if WikiLeaks is to be prosecuted for publishing classified documents, why shouldn’t the Washington Post, New York Times, and others that have also published these documents be prosecuted? Actually, some in Congress are threatening this as well.

The New York Times, as a result of a Supreme Court ruling, was not found guilty in 1971 for the publication of the Pentagon Papers. Daniel Ellsberg never served a day in prison for his role in obtaining these secret documents.

The Pentagon Papers were also inserted into the Congressional Record by Senator Mike Gravel with no charges being made of breaking any National Security laws.

Yet the release of this classified information was considered illegal by many, and those who lied us into the Vietnam War and argued for its prolongation were outraged. But the truth gained from the Pentagon Papers revealed that lies were told about the Gulf of Tonkin attack which perpetuated a sad and tragic episode in our history.

Just as with the Vietnam War, the Iraq War was based on lies. We were never threatened by Weapons of Mass Destruction or Al Qaeda in Iraq, though the attack on Iraq was based on this false information.

Any information that challenges the official propaganda for the war in the Middle East is unwelcome by the administration and supporters of these unnecessary wars. Few are interested in understanding the relationship of our foreign policy and our presence in the Middle East to the threat of terrorism. Revealing the real nature and goal for our presence in so many Muslim countries is a threat to our empire and any revelation of this truth is highly resented by those in charge.

Questions to consider:

1. Do the American people deserve to know the truth regarding the ongoing war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen?

2. Could a larger question be: how can an Army Private gain access to so much secret material?

3. Why is the hostility mostly directed at Assange, the publisher, and not our government’s failure to protect classified information?

4. Are we getting our money’s worth from the $80 billion per year we spend on our intelligence agencies?

5. Which has resulted in the greatest number of deaths: lying us into war, or WikiLeaks’ revelations or the release of the Pentagon Papers?

6. If Assange can be convicted of a crime for publishing information, that he did not steal, what does this say about the future of the First Amendment and the independence of the internet?

7. Could it be that the real reason for the near universal attacks on WikiLeaks is more about secretly maintaining a seriously flawed foreign policy of empire than it is about national security?

8. Is there not a huge difference between releasing secret information to help the enemy in the time of a declared war – which is treason – and the releasing of information to expose our government lies that promote secret wars, death, and corruption?

9. Was it not once considered patriotic to stand up to our government when it’s wrong?

Thomas Jefferson had it right when he advised: “Let the eyes of vigilance never be closed.”

December 10, 2010

Cablegate: Two Important Points

As Glenn Greenwald keeps pointing out:

(1) This is not a “document dump.”  WikiLeaks has not “indiscriminately” released all of the 251,287 cables.  At the time of this writing, WikiLeaks has only released 1,269 cables—that is, about 1/2 of 1%.

(2) WikiLeaks is only releasing these documents once they’ve been redacted to prevent innocents from being hurt.  It initially asked the US government to help it redact the documents, only to be rejected.  From the AP:

The United States rejected talks with WikiLeaks over its planned release of confidential US documents late on Saturday, saying the whistle-blower website was holding them in violation of US law.

The US State Department set out its position in a letter to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and his lawyer that was released to the media... US officials said Assange had sent a letter to the Department of State on Friday, in which he tried to address US concerns that WikiLeaks' planned release of classified documents placed individual persons at risk.

In his letter, Assange said he wanted information regarding individuals who might be "at significant risk of harm" because of WikiLeaks' actions, the officials said.

Rejected by the US government, WikiLeaks decided to work with the newspapers it released the cables to.  For two weeks now, it has been publishing the cables after they’ve been published by these newspapers and it has included the newspapers’ redactions in what it publishes.  Also from the AP:

[WikiLeaks] is releasing only a trickle of documents at a time from a trove of a quarter-million, and only after considering advice from five news organizations with which it chose to share all of the material.

“They are releasing the documents we selected,” Le Monde's managing editor, Sylvie Kauffmann, said in an interview at the newspaper's Paris headquarters.

WikiLeaks turned over all of the classified U.S. State Department cables it obtained to Le Monde, El Pais in Spain, The Guardian in Britain and Der Spiegel in Germany. The Guardian shared the material with The New York Times, and the five news organizations have been working together to plan the timing of their reports.

They also have been advising WikiLeaks on which documents to release publicly and what redactions to make to those documents, Kauffmann and others involved in the arrangement said.

“The cables we have release correspond to stories released by our main stream media partners and ourselves. They have been redacted by the journalists working on the stories, as these people must know the material well in order to write about it,” WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said in a question-and-answer session on The Guardian's website Friday. “The redactions are then reviewed by at least one other journalist or editor, and we review samples supplied by the other organisations to make sure the process is working”…

As stories are published, WikiLeaks uses its website to release the related cables. For example, The Guardian published an article Thursday based on diplomatic cables discussing the assassination of former Russian security officer Alexander Litvinenko by radiation poisoning, and WikiLeaks quickly posted three cables on the same subject…

Days before releasing any of the latest documents, Assange appealed to the U.S. ambassador in London, asking the U.S. government to confidentially help him determine what needed to be redacted from the cables before they were publicly released. The ambassador refused, telling Assange to hand over stolen property. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley called Assange's offer "a half-hearted gesture to have some sort of conversation."

U.S. officials submitted suggestions to The Times, which asked government officials to weigh in on some of the documents the newspaper and its partners wanted to publish.

“The other news organizations supported these redactions,” Keller wrote. “WikiLeaks has indicated that it intends to do likewise. And as a matter of news interest, we will watch their website to see what they do.”

December 9, 2010

$1 Trillion: Not Enough for a World Empire

The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Foreign Policy Initiative, and Heritage Foundation argue in a joint press release that, although many of us are “rightly concerned about the bloated size of the Federal budget,” we must resist the temptation to cut defense spending. The three think tanks proceed to criticize a task force headed by Pete Domenici and Alice Rivlin which called for “a freeze on defense spending and Pentagon cuts that would take the military’s budget down to 2000 levels.” As AEI et al. argue:

Pentagon spending is a drop in the bucket of the government’s $13.3 trillion debt. As Secretary Gates pointed out recently, “If you cut the defense budget by 10 percent, which would be catastrophic in terms of force structure, that’s [only] $55 billion on a $1.4 trillion deficit.”

As many of you no doubt realize, the numbers the think tanks cite here are misleading. Although the “base defense budget” is “only” around $500 billion a year (2009 numbers), when you add the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (which are “largely funded through supplementary spending bills outside the Federal Budget”), the defense budget swells to around $650 billion.

Moreover, as economist Robert Higgs points out, the government hides much of its defense-related spending in other departments. So, for example, our nuclear weapons program is funded by the Department of Energy, veterans’ benefits by the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Military Retirement Fund by the Department of Treasury. When you add all these expenses into the defense budget, it turns out that we’re spending over $1 trillion a year.

And we’ve been spending massive amounts on defense for some time now. So it’s simply false to claim that defense spending is “a drop in the bucket of the government’s $13.3 trillion debt.” And it’s equally false to claim that cutting the defense budget by 10 percent would only save $55 billion, for 10 percent of $1 trillion is not $55 billion but $100 billion. (This, of course, still isn’t enough, which is why it’d make more sense to start by cutting the defense budget by, say, 50 percent, which would result in $500 billion in savings.)
AEI et al. continue:

There is a common misconception that the military has enjoyed ballooning budgets since the beginning of the decade. In reality, the baseline defense budget (not including the costs of the wars) grew from only 3 to 3.5 percent of GDP from the end of the Clinton administration to the time George W. Bush left office, delaying modernization and procurement efforts across all the armed services.

But defense spending has been ballooning for several years now. Even a recent Heritage Foundation report conceded that defense spending nearly doubled from 2000-2010. Indeed the US currently spends more on defense than it did at any point during the Cold War.

It makes no difference that the base defense budget is “only” 3.5 percent of GDP. The bottom line is that we’re spending far beyond our means and that defense accounts for 32 percent of our total spending. When you subtract Social Security from the budget, which, as Ismael Hossein-zadeh writes, should be subtracted given that it’s a trust fund, defense accounts for around 40 percent of total spending.

AEI et al. go on to warn of the perils of cutting defense spending, telling us that doing so “would seriously undermine America’s ability to meet the emerging security challenges of the twenty first century.” The way they talk, you’d think that the Cold War hadn’t ended and that we were still at war with the Soviet Union with its tens of thousands of nuclear warheads. The truth, as Stephen Walt writes, is that, “although perfect security is beyond anyone’s grasp, the United States is as secure as any state could ever expect to be.” He explains:

The U.S. economy is still the world’s largest and most diverse, despite its recent woes, and it is still more than twice as large as the number 2 and number 3 economic powers (China and Japan). We spend more on national security than the rest of the world put together, are the only state with global power projection capabilities, and have the world’s most sophisticated nuclear arsenal. Many of the world’s significant military powers are our allies, so our actual lead is even greater. There are no major powers near to our shores, and we are insulated from many global problems by two enormous oceanic moats.

The United States does face a modest problem from terrorist groups like Al Qaeda [which, according to Obama, remains the greatest threat to national security], but that is due in good part to our own ill-advised meddling in the Middle East and elsewhere. And assuming it never acquires a nuclear weapon (which we can prevent by working with others to enhance nuclear security around the world), Al Qaeda is not an existential threat to our prosperity or way of life. Even if all their thwarted plots had succeeded—and I’m very glad they didn’t—the damage would pale in comparison to the costs of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Indeed, if history is any guide, international terrorism at its worst poses less threat to American life than auto accidents, nut allergies, or falling in a bathtub.

Now I imagine that the AEI crowd would, at least secretly, concede Walt’s point. It should be beyond dispute that we don’t need to continue spending $1 trillion a year to protect ourselves from foreign enemies. But protecting ourselves from foreign enemies has never been the goal of the AEI crowd.

Rather, its goal has been prolonging the American Empire. It’s not enough to keep Americans safe. It wants to rule the world. It wants to keep a foothold in the oil-rich Middle East and Central Asia. It wants to keep its 1,000-plus overseas military bases, which can be found in Germany, Japan, Guam, Greenland, the Netherlands, Portugal, Bulgaria, Brazil, Spain, Diego Garcia, the Philippines, and many other countries. And, of course, above all, it wants to keep the money flowing to its friends at Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

That’s the goal of the AEI crowd. To rule the world and its resources. And to accomplish that they certainly need more than $1 trillion a year.

December 5, 2010

More on Cablegate: The Government's Tactical Blunder

The federal government is now telling soldiers and federal workers not to read the diplomatic cables being published by WikiLeaks.

From AFP:

THE US military in Iraq is trying to prevent its soldiers from viewing WikiLeaks documents and has posted a web advisory suggesting they could be breaking the law, a spokeswoman said today.

From the NY Times:

In a classic case of shutting the barn door after the horse has left, the Obama administration and the Department of Defense have ordered the hundreds of thousands of federal employees and contractors not to view the secret cables and other classified documents published by Wikileaks and news organizations around the world unless the workers have the required security clearance or authorization…

The directive applies to both government computers and private devices that employees or contractors might have, as long as they are accessing the documents on nonclassified government networks.

Now tactically speaking, is this stupid, or this stupid?  If you don’t want someone to read something, the worst thing you can do is tell them not to read it.  I have a friend who was raised in a fundamentalist Christian household.  Growing up, his dad forbade him from reading Stephen King books.  Predictably enough, this just created a temptation that probably wouldn’t have existed otherwise, and my friend made sure that he read as many Stephen King books as he could.

I thought the government’s responses to the release of both the Afghan and Iraq War Logs were much smarter.  Regarding the Afghan War Logs, Obama claimed that “these documents don’t reveal any issues that haven't already informed our public debate on Afghanistan.”  Two months later, just before WikiLeaks published the Iraq War Logs, the Pentagon “said it [did] not expect big surprises.”

Doesn’t the government realize that the American people really don’t care about anything important?  They love Dancing with the Stars, they love football, they love trivial Hollywood gossip.  Hilary Clinton ordering diplomats to steal UN officials’ credit card numbers and DNA material?  Yawn.  The US tried to prevent German authorities from prosecuting a group of CIA thugs who had kidnapped and tortured a completely innocent man?  Time to change the channel.  The cables reveal, as Noam Chomsky puts it, that our leaders have “a profound hatred for democracy”?  Time to run out to the shopping mall and buy more worthless crap.

But by making such a fuss over the cables, by telling people not to read them, the government just might encourage people to do exactly that. 

December 4, 2010

Boycott Amazon.com (Part 2)

Regarding the decision by several peace activists to boycott Amazon.com, Bob Murphy writes:

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that it was Joe Lieberman, representing the might of the U.S. federal government, who caused Amazon to drop WikiLeaks as a customer. I have read some boycotters arguing that Amazon should have put up more of a fight, at least waiting for a court order.

This strikes me as very naïve. The government has all sorts of tools at its disposal. The IRS could’ve hit Amazon with an audit. The company could have lost its sales tax exemption. OSHA could’ve discovered all sorts of safety violations at its offices. If Amazon had wanted to acquire another company, the government could’ve held up approval.

One problem with Murphy’s argument here is that we don’t know how the federal government would have responded had Amazon continued hosting WikiLeaks.  The government certainly might have gone after Amazon, but, then again, it has more than enough on its plate right now and might have just left it alone.  And even if it had decided to do something, Amazon is a giant corporation, and, had it stuck to its guns, it’s hard to imagine that it wouldn’t have come out okay in the end.

Of course, Amazon’s profit margin is beside the point.  As I argued yesterday, the right course of action is not necessarily the one that yields the most money.  Obviously. 

Murphy continues:

It’s ironic to think through exactly why Amazon ended up being the target of the boycott, when even the boycotters would all quickly admit that it was Lieberman who was more culpable than the Amazon executives. Consider: If a would-be boycotter wanted to cause economic pain because of the silencing of WikiLeaks, then the obvious move would be to stop sending more money to the very government that is waging wars and harassing Assange.

Yet the boycotters aren’t saying, "Hey everyone, let’s stop sending our money to D.C." Why? Because they are afraid of what the government would do to them. In other words, they are behaving exactly like the Amazon executives.


It’s simply ridiculous to claim that Amazon’s decision to drop WikiLeaks is essentially no different than my decision to continue paying taxes.  Had Amazon stood up to Lieberman, it might have forfeited a little profit.  If I decided to stop paying taxes, however, I would definitely be thrown into prison.  And although going to prison would mean that the government could no longer take my money for its evil purposes, it would also mean that I could no longer influence voters and consumers.  It would mean that I could no longer support worthy businesses and charities.  It would mean that my wife would be deprived of a husband, my mother of a son, my coworkers of a friend, etc. 

In other words, although refusing to pay taxes would result in some good, it would also result in much evil.  And I just don’t see how Amazon would have caused the same amount of evil had it stood up to Lieberman.

Murphy does make one point in his article that I completely agree with:

If we are to boycott Amazon because it supported WikiLeaks, but then abandoned it when things started to heat up, then surely we should also boycott those corporations which we know would never have supported WikiLeaks in the first place. For example, we should never buy another GE appliance, because of the pro-empire spin of its media outlets.

Absolutely.  Let’s not stop with Amazon, which is far less culpable than many other American companies.  In so far as we can, we should boycott GE and all other immoral companies. 

If we really want to make our government less immoral, then we need to make it unprofitable for all companies who enable this immorality.  By boycotting companies like Amazon, we’re sending a message to other companies: Yes, the feds might try to hurt you if you don’t acquiesce to their every wish, but so will consumers.  The government’s going to be there to pressure companies to do the wrong thing, so we need to be there to pressure them to do the right thing.  And if enough of us applied such pressure, it’s hard to imagine that we wouldn’t eventually start seeing some results.

December 3, 2010

Boycott Amazon.com

(Updated Below)

 As many of you know, Amazon.com kicked WikiLeaks off its servers on Wednesday.  Amazon didn't bother to give WikiLeaks any notice.  It just pulled the plug, causing the website to be inaccessible for a few hours.

Amazon made the decision after speaking with Senator Joe Lieberman's office.  Evidently Liberman staffers called to ask why Amazon had agreed to host WikiLeaks and whether it had plans to shut the site down.  Amazon took the hint and shut the site down within twenty-four hours.

Now I hope you agree that this was a sleazy, cowardly act, and I encourage you to join me in boycotting Amazon.  I also encourage you to go here to sign a petition asking that Amazon apologize to WikiLeaks and agree to host the site for free.

Of course, not everyone supports boycotting Amazon.  For instance, Lew Rockwell writes on his blog:

As we know, Senator Joe Evilman threatened Amazon with destruction–and he is a very powerful henchman–if the company continued to offer server space to WikiLeaks. Amazon complied, and the company had no other choice. It is public firm; the managers may not risk the stockholders’ money in this way. Indeed, Amazon is a victim of US fascism, not a willing enabler.
Nothing against Lew, but his reasoning here is ridiculous.  First, it's simply not true that Amazon "had no other choice."  It obviously had a choice. There was no court order demanding that Amazon drop WikiLeaks.  Federal troops weren't lining up outside of Amazon's corporate office.  Amazon could have said no; it choose to take the easy way out.

Regarding Lew's claim that Amazon "may not risk the stockholders' money in this way," I think that, yes, Amazon does have an obligation to its stockholders, but it also has other moral obligations.  Just because a certain action profits one's stockholders, it doesn't follow that that action is right.  One can think of numerous examples illustrating this point.

If I ran Amazon, I would have informed Lieberman's staffers that they need to go read the First Amendment, as well as the 1971 Supreme Court case New York Times vs. United States.  Then I would have notified my stockholders of my decision. If they wanted to sell their stocks, then they could do so; nothing would be forcing them to stay.

Doing the right thing is difficult.  And it's often unprofitable.  But what's that have to do with anything?

* * * * *

UPDATE, 12/04/10: See also Boycott Amazon.com (Part 2)


UPDATE, 3/12/11: Alternatives to Amazon.com:

December 2, 2010

More on Cablegate

LONDON, ENGLAND - OCTOBER 23: Wikileaks founder Julian Assange (C) arrives to hold a press conference at Park Plaza Hotel on October 23, 2010 in London, England. A series of new leaks of American military documents, nearly 400,000 in total, have been released by the whistleblowing website, Wikileaks. The files detail how the torture and the abuse of detainees by Iraqi police, was ignored by US forces. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
A few quick items today.

First of all, Amazon.com is run by reprehensible statist creeps.  Don't buy from them this Christmas.  Or ever again. From MSNBC:

Amazon.com forced WikiLeaks to stop using the U.S. company's computers to distribute embarrassing State Department communications and other documents, WikiLeaks said Wednesday.

The ouster came after congressional staff questioned Amazon about its relationship with WikiLeaks, said Sen. Joe Lieberman, an independent from Connecticut.
Second, Glenn Greenwald further explains why Julian Assange is a hero and why WikiLeaks is so important:

It is a "scandal" when the Government conceals things it is doing without any legitimate basis for that secrecy.  Each and every document that is revealed by WikiLeaks which has been improperly classified -- whether because it's innocuous or because it is designed to hide wrongdoing -- is itself an improper act, a serious abuse of government secrecy powers.  Because we're supposed to have an open government -- a democracy --  everything the Government does is presumptively public, and can be legitimately concealed only with compelling justifications.   That's not just some lofty, abstract theory; it's central to having anything resembling "consent of the governed."

But we have completely abandoned that principle; we've reversed it.  Now, everything the Government does is presumptively secret; only the most ceremonial and empty gestures are made public.  That abuse of secrecy powers is vast, deliberate, pervasive, dangerous and destructive.  That's the abuse that WikiLeaks is devoted to destroying, and which its harshest critics -- whether intended or not -- are helping to preserve.  There are people who eagerly want that secrecy regime to continue:  namely, (a) Washington politicians, Permanent State functionaries, and media figures whose status, power and sense of self-importance are established by their access and devotion to that world of secrecy, and (b) those who actually believe that -- despite (or because of) all the above acts -- the U.S. Government somehow uses this extreme secrecy for the Good.  Having surveyed the vast suffering and violence they have wreaked behind that wall, those are exactly the people whom WikiLeaks is devoted to undermining.

Third, Juan Cole writes about the Top Ten Middle East Wikileaks Revelations so Far. I found the following particularly interesting:

In an explosive WikiLeaks revelation, Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad, the head of the Political Military Bureau of Israel's Ministry of Defense, while discussing Israeli requests for U.S. military aid, "acknowledged the sometimes difficult position the U.S. finds itself in given its global interests, and conceded that Israel's security focus is so narrow that its QME [Qualitative Military Edge] concerns often clash with broader American security interests in the region," according to the State Department.
Gilad's "typically frank" remarks lend credence to the testimony of Gen. David Petraeus, then CENTCOM Commander, before the Senate Armed Service Committee in March. Petraeus articulated several reasons why U.S. and Israeli interests did not necessarily coincide. The Arab-Israeli conflict, according to Petraeus, "present[s] distinct challenges to our ability to advance our interests," and "foments anti-American sentiment, due to a perception of U.S. favoritism for Israel." Petraeus went on to describe how Israel's ongoing conflicts spurred recruitment efforts for al-Qaeda and increased Iranian influence in the region.
 Finally, Trevor Timm, editor of the New York Law School Law Review, explains that Wikileaks Has Committed No Crime:

[I]n the United States, generally publishing classified information is not a crime. The sort of information that a news organization can be prosecuted for publishing is limited to: nuclear secrets (Atomic Energy Act), the identities of covert agents (Intelligence Identities Protection Act), and certain forms of communications intelligence (Section 798 of the Espionage Act).

Perhaps lamenting that the U.S. does not have an Official Secrets Act like the United Kingdom, right wing columnists have consistently misinterpreted these Acts, or have cited other provisions of our espionage laws which almost surely do not apply to Wikileaks.

The most commonly cited statute by those who advocate prosecuting Wikileaks is Section 793(e) of the Espionage Act. In August, former Bush speechwriter Marc Theissen linked to this section in an article for the Washington Post when he wrote that Wikileaks is “a criminal enterprise” whose founder, Julian Assange, should be arrested by U.S. forces on foreign soil, international law be damned.

But this provision does not apply to those who publish information.

Section 793(e)reads “Whoever having unauthorized possession of, access to, or control over any document…relating to the national defense…willfully communicates… the same and fails to deliver it to the officer or employee of the United States entitled to receive it…[s]hall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both.”

As made clear in the Pentagon Papers case, the word “communicates” was never meant “to encompass publication” or to affect the press. Congress included the word “publish” in three other sections of the Act but intentionally left it out of 793. As the legislative history of this provision states, “Nothing in this Act shall…in any way to limit or infringe upon freedom of the press or of speech as guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States.”

Justice Douglas referenced the legislative history in his concurring opinion, when he wrote of Section 793, “it is apparent that Congress was capable of, and did, distinguish between publishing and communication in the various sections of the Espionage Act.”