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James Bovard

Barack Obama's Return Just Reminds Us How He Fueled the Distrust That Led to Donald Trump

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Former president Barack Obama is back. He kicked off a series of campaign appearances last week with a blistering attack on the Trump administration and said the Republican Party had “embraced a rising absolutism.” President Donald Trump deserves plenty of harsh criticism, but Obama’s indictment is akin to the kid who killed his parents and then sought mercy from the judge because he was an orphan.
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Have you gained or lost weight? Congrats, TSA is now tracking you for suspicious activity.

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If you fall asleep or use the bathroom during your next flight, those incriminating facts could be added to your federal dossier. Likewise, if you use your laptop or look at noisy children seated nearby with a “cold, penetrating stare,” that may be included on your permanent record. If you fidget, sweat or have “strong body odor” — BOOM! the feds are onto you.

Welcome to the latest profiling idiocy from the Transportation Security Administration. TSA’s Quiet Skies surveillance program is spurring federal air marshals to target dozens of Americans each day on the flimsiest of pretexts. The secret program, first exposed by Jana Winter in The Boston Globe, is security theater at its best. 

What does it take to become a Quiet Skies target? “The criteria for surveillance appear fluid. Internal agency emails show some confusion about the program’s parameters and implementation,” The Globe noted.
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That Time the Media Cheered for Gestapo Immigration Tactics

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Every Trump voter is effectively "standing at the border, like Nazis, going 'you here, you here,'" MSNBC guest Danny Deutsch declared on Friday. Former CIA Director Michael Hayden also compared the Trump administration's immigration crackdown with Nazi concentration camps. The media is showcasing the anguish of parents and children forcibly separated at the southwestern border.

Eighteen years ago, the media had a mirror-image reaction to perhaps the most famous immigration raid in American history. Though some critics back then complained of Gestapo-like federal raid, much of the media downplayed or whitewashed the alleged brutality.

On April 22, 2000, 130 federal agents conducted a pre-dawn raid in Miami’s Little Havana section to seize Elian Gonzalez, a six-year-old Cuban boy. The raid shattered doors, broke a bed, roughed up Cuban-Americans, and left two NBC cameramen on the ground, writhing in pain from stomach-kicks or rifle-butts to the head. The raid seemed to go off without a hitch until a photo surfaced taken by Associated Press stringer Alan Diaz showing a Border Patrol agent pointing his submachine gun toward the terrified boy being held by the fisherman who rescued him six months earlier from the Atlantic Ocean.

While Trump administration’s falsehoods on immigrations have been widely hammered, few people recall the Clinton administration’s rhetorical backflips. A few hours after the Elian raid, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder asserted in a press conference that the boy "was not taken at the point of a gun ." When challenged about the machine gun in the photo, Holder explained: "They were armed agents who went in there who acted very sensitively ."
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Pro-War Media Deserve Criticism, Not Sainthood

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The media nowadays are busy congratulating themselves for their vigorous criticism of Donald Trump. To exploit that surge of sanctimony, Hollywood producer Steven Spielberg rushed out The Post, a movie depicting an epic press battle with the Nixon administration. Critics raved over the film, which the New York Post enthusiastically labeled “journalism porn of the highest order.” Boston Public Radio station WBUR called it the “most fun you’ll ever have at a civics lesson.”Spielberg, touting his movie, claimed that “the free press is a crusader for truth,” But the media hoopla around The Post is akin to geezers boasting of having shown moments of courage when they were almost 50 years younger.

The Post is built around the Pentagon Papers, a secret study begun in 1967 analyzing where the Vietnam War had gone awry. The 7000-page tome showed that presidents and military leaders had been profoundly deceiving the American people ever since the Truman administration and that the same mistakes were being endlessly repeated. Like many policy autopsies, the report was classified as secret and completely ignored by the White House and federal agencies, which most needed to heed its lessons. New York Times editor Tom Wicker commented in 1971 that “the people who read these documents in the Times were the first to study them.”

Daniel Ellsberg, a former Pentagon official, heroically risked life in prison to smuggle the report to the media after members of Congress were too cowardly to touch it. The New York Times shattered the political sound barrier when it began courageously publishing the report despite a profusion of threats from the Nixon administration Justice Department. After a federal court slapped the Times with an injunction, the Washington Post and other newspapers published additional classified excerpts from the report.
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Inspector General's Report on FBI and Clinton's Emails Shows Secrecy Threatens Democracy

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The inspector general report on the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton contained plenty of bombshells, including a promise by lead FBI investigator Peter Strzok that “we’ll stop” Donald Trump from becoming president. The report reveals how unjustified secrecy and squirrelly decisions helped ravage the credibility of both Clinton’s presidential campaign and the FBI. But few commentators are recognizing the vast peril to democracy posed by the sweeping prerogatives of federal agencies.

The FBI’s investigation of Clinton was spurred by her decision to set up a private server to handle her email during her four years as secretary of State. The server in her mansion in Chappaqua, N.Y., was insecure and exposed emails with classified information to detection by foreign sources and others.

Clinton effectively exempted herself from the federal Freedom of Information Act. The State Department ignored 17 FOIA requests for her emails before 2014 and insisted it required 75 years to disclose emails of Clinton's top aides.

A federal judge and the State Department inspector general slammed the FOIA stonewalling.

Clinton’s private email server was not publicly disclosed until she received a congressional subpoena in 2015. A few months later, the FBI Counterintelligence Division opened a criminal investigation of the “potential unauthorized storage of classified information on an unauthorized system.”
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A Politically Weaponized FBI is Nothing New, But Plenty Dangerous

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The Justice Department Inspector General is expected to release on Thursday its report on alleged FBI misconduct during the 2016 presidential campaign. Trump supporters and opponents are already pre-spinning the report to vindicate or undercut the president. Unfortunately, the report will not consider fundamental question of whether the FBI’s vast power and secrecy is compatible with American democracy.

According to some Republicans, the FBI’s noble history was tainted by its apparent favoritism for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Democrats have gyrated over the past 18 months, first blaming the FBI for Clinton’s loss and then exalting the FBI (along with former FBI chief and Special Counsel Robert Mueller) as the best hope to save the nation.

In reality, the FBI has been politically weaponized for almost a century. The FBI was in the forefront of the notorious Red Scare raids of 1919 and 1920. Attorney General Mitchell Palmer reportedly hoped that arresting nearly 10,000 suspected radicals and immigrants would propel his presidential campaign. Federal Judge Anderson condemned Palmer’s crackdown for creating a “spy system” that “destroys trust and confidence and propagates hate.” He said, “A mob is a mob whether made up of government officials acting under instructions from the Department of Justice, or of criminals, loafers, and the vicious classes.”
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After pointlessly groping countless Americans, the TSA is keeping a secret watchlist of those who fight back

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"I need a witness!" exclaimed the security screener at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. Because I had forgotten to remove my belt before going through a scanner, he explained, I must undergo an "enhanced patdown." I told him that if he jammed his hand into my groin, I'd file a formal complaint. So he summoned his supervisor to keep an eye on the proceedings.

I thought of this exchange last week when the New York Times revealed that the Transportation Security Administration has created a secret watchlist for troublesome passengers. The TSA justified the list by saying that its screeners were assaulted 34 times last year, but did not release any details about the alleged assaults.

Naturally, the TSA's official definition of troublemaking goes well beyond punching its officers. According to a confidential memo, any behavior that is "offensive and without legal justification" can land a traveler on the list, as can any "challenges to the safe and effective completion of screening." Anyone who has ever "loitered" near a checkpoint could also make the list. So could any woman who pushes a screener's hands away from her breasts.
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Your Tax Dollars Bankroll Afghan Child Molesters

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Donald Trump was hailed by the media last August when he announced he was sending more US troops to fight in Afghanistan. A Washington Post editorial praised his “principled realism” and saluted “a rare but welcome story of self-correction” (since Trump had portrayed Afghanistan as a lost cause when he was a presidential candidate). A New York Daily News op-ed praised the president because “Trump said ‘win’ and ‘victory’ more times in 15 minutes than President Barack Obama did in eight years.” CNN cheered that expanding the Afghan war allowed Trump to “stake out a more conventional presidential posture.”
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Spare me claims Gina Haspel will 'speak truth to power'. Real truth-tellers go to jail.

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In the Senate Intelligence Committee secret vote today on whether to confirm Trump nominee Gina Haspel as chief of the CIA, she will likely again be praised for promising to “speak truth to power.” This has recently become one of the favorite accolades in the least trusted city in America. But will Americans be as gullible this time around?

Porter Goss muzzled CIA

When 7-term congressman and dutiful Republican functionary Porter Goss was nominated in 2004 to become CIA chief, Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) endorsed him after he promised to “always speak truth to power.” Fat chance: after he was confirmed, Goss speedily sent a memo to CIA employees muzzling them, declaring that their job was to "support the administration and its policies in our work.” Goss bungled the CIA so badly that the Bush administration heaved him out after less than two years on the job; Goss later became a lobbyist for the Turkish government.

“Speaks truth to power” had a starring role in the 2005 Senate coronation of John Negroponte, America’s first Director of National Intelligence. While working as Reagan’s ambassador to Honduras, Negroponte perennially denied that the Honduran regime was committing vast atrocities, despite its killing of tens of thousands of its own citizens. (Honduras was aiding the Nicaraguan Contras at the time.) But that did not deter Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., and Sen. Mikulski from recycling the “truth to power” phrase in speeches endorsing Negroponte.
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Washington Secrecy is Creating a Know-Nothing Democracy

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Washington may be more secretive nowadays than at any time in recent decades. Federal policymakers have become accustomed to rationing what they release while citizens are assured that official secrecy makes them more secure. But American democracy cannot survive perpetual bipartisan coverups from the political ruling class.

recent analysis by Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States as 45th in the world in press freedom — worse than Romania and barely better than Botswana. Unfortunately, this dismal grade is not due to Trump’s endless denunciations of the media. The sharpest plunge in America’s press freedom rating occurred during the Obama administration — thanks in part to its zealous prosecutions of journalists. But Trump is continuing policies started by earlier presidents that mock freedom of the press and Americans’ right to know about federal activities.

Secrecy may cast the most important confirmation vote for Trump’s nominee to be CIA chief, Gina Haspel. The CIA withheld from the US Senate much of the information on Haspel’s 33 year career with the agency. The CIA did disclose that Haspel met with Mother Teresa, presumably exonerating Haspel of subsequent sins for her role in Bush-era torture. Even though Haspel wrote the cable ordering the destruction of dozens of videotapes of waterboarding and similar brutalities, the Trump administration apparently expects senators to presume that Haspel would deal straight with Congress and the American people. However, Haspel's evasive testimony Wednesday morning failed to answer key questions about her role in the most controversial aspect of the war on terror.
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