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James Bovard

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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Don't Celebrate Karl Marx. His Communism has a Death Count in the Millions.

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Saturday marked 200 years since the birth of Karl Marx, and tributes are arising out around the globe. In a New York Times tribute headlined, “Happy Birthday, Karl Marx. You Were Right!” philosophy professor Jason Barker declared that “educated liberal opinion is today more or less unanimous in its agreement (with) Marx’s basic thesis” on the flaws of capitalism. But this is true only if “educated liberal opinion” simply does not care about tyranny.

But Marxism in practice didn’t work out so well. Communist regimes produced the greatest ideological carnage in human history, killing more than a hundred million people in the last century. While some apologists claim it is unfair to Marx to blame him, the seeds of tyranny were there from the start.

Marx’s salvation scheme was built on a mystical foundation supplied by German philosopher G.W.F. Hegel. Though The New York Times' eulogy for Marx touted Hegel as an advocate of a “rational liberal state,” Hegel was derided in his lifetime as the “royal Prussian court philosopher” and for promoting the notion that the State is inherently rational. Hegel deified government, asserting that “the State is the Divine Idea as it exists on earth.” 

Marx, perhaps blinded by Hegel, never recognized the inherent danger of Leviathan.  Nor did Marx explain how communism would actually arise after the demolition of capitalism.  Equally important, he never even attempted to reveal how the State would “wither away” after the “dictatorship of the proletariat” commenced. Marx’s humanitarian piffle did nothing to deter Lenin from decreeing that “liberty is so precious that it must be rationed.”
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James Comey’s Forgotten Rescue of Bush-Era Torture

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Here I stand, I can do no other,” James Comey told President George W. Bush in 2004 when Bush pressured Comey - who was then Deputy Attorney General - to approve an unlawful antiterrorist policy. Comey, who was FBI chief from 2013 to 2017, was quoting a line reputedly uttered by Martin Luther in 1521, when he told Holy Roman Emperor Charles V that he would not recant his sweeping criticisms of the Catholic Church. Comey’s quotation of himself quoting the father of the Reformation is par for the self-reverence of his new memoir, A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.
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Bitter Lessons 25 Years After Waco, Texas, Siege

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Twenty-five years ago this week, FBI tanks smashed into the ramshackle home of the Branch Davidians outside Waco, Texas. After the FBI collapsed much of the building atop the residents, a fire erupted and 
76 corpses were dug out of the rubble. Unfortunately, the American political system and media have never faced the lessons from that tragic 1993 day.

Fifty-one days before the FBI final assault, scores of federal Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms agents launched an attack on the Davidians’ homespurred by allegations that they had converted semi-automatic rifles to full-automatic capacity. The ATF’s lead investigator had previously rejected an offer to peacefully search the Davidians’ home for firearms violations. Four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed in the fracas on February 28, 1993. At least one ATF agent told superiors that the ATF fired first, spurring an immediate end to the official shooting review. But the media trumpeted the ATF storyline that its agents had been ambushed, entitling the feds to be far more aggressive in the following weeks.

What lessons can today’s Americans draw from the FBI showdown on the Texas plains a quarter century ago?
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Time for the US to End Democracy Promotion Flim-Flams

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Democracy promotion has long been one of the U.S. government’s favorite foreign charades. The Trump administration’s proposal to slash funding for democratic evangelism is being denounced as if it were the dawn of a new Dark Age. But this is a welcome step to draining a noxious swath of the Washington swamp.

Nineteenth century humorist Josh Billings quipped, “A fanatic is someonewho does what the Lord would do if He knew the facts of the matter.” Similarly, the U.S. government intervenes to rig elections in case foreign voters don’t know the facts of the matter. The U.S. has interfered — usually covertly — in more than 80 foreign elections since World War Two to boost its preferred candidates.

Former CIA chief James Woolsey was asked last month on Fox News whether the U.S. government was continuing to meddle and “mess around in other people's elections?" Woolsey replied with a smile and said: "Only for a very good cause. In the interests of democracy." Obviously, democracy is ill-served if any U.S.-preferred candidate lose.

Nowadays, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is the flagship for U.S. political meddling abroad, and Trump proposes to slash its budget by 60 percent, from $170 million to $67 million. When Congress created the agency in 1983, it prohibited NED and its grantees from directly aiding foreign political candidates. But that law restrains NED as effectively as the Fourth Amendment’s restriction on warrantless searches leashes the National Security Agency.
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